Knesset passes controversial ‘transparency’ law on NGO funding


The Knesset passed controversial legislation that requires nongovernmental organizations to publicly declare their foreign government funding.

The so-called NGO transparency bill, which was proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party, passed its second and third readings late Monday night after six hours of debate by a vote of 57-48.

Left-wing human rights organizations, which would be disproportionately affected, had slammed the measure. In a statement, Peace Now said it would challenge the law in Israel’s Supreme Court.

 

Under the law, NGOs that receive more than half their support from “foreign political entities” – including foreign governments or state agencies — must declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report and advocacy literature, or speak with a public official.

An earlier draft would have required representatives of such groups to wear badges identifying themselves as lobbyists of foreign governments, but the provision was scrapped. However, the NGOs are required to inform the chair of a Knesset committee that they are on the list whenever they appear before the committee.

Nearly all the 27 Israeli organizations identified by the Justice Ministry as being affected by the new rules belong to the left wing, including B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Breaking the Silence.

Many right-wing NGOs are funded by private Jewish individuals in the United States and other countries — sources whose disclosure is not required under the new law.

In a statement, Peace Now said the law “is a blatant violation of freedom of expression.”

“Tailored specifically to target only peace and human rights organizations, its true intention is to divert the Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition to the government’s policies,” the group said. “While the law will delegitimize left-wing organizations, pro-settler NGOs who receive millions of dollars in foreign donations without any transparency will remain unaffected.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel also issued a statement saying the law “is intended to harm organizations that promote democracy and worldviews that differ from the views of the majority in the current coalition.”

It also said: “The law is but one of a series of bills and initiatives that oppose legitimate social and political action. Instead of facilitating debate, there are individuals who wish to silence criticism.”

Drug abuse, shame and the Holocaust figure in film about family of notorious Dutch lawyers


In a country where 75 percent of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Moszkowicz family of lawyers stood out as a unique Jewish success story.

Descended from Max Moszkowicz, a steel-willed Auschwitz survivor who became Holland’s first modern celebrity attorney, his four lawyer sons took the family business to new heights, turning their name into a household brand here with winning arguments in some of the country’s most famous trials.

Max Moszkowicz himself in 1987 obtained a mere four-year sentence for the kidnappers of the beverage mogul Freddy Heineken. His second son, Robert, in 1976 became Holland’s youngest person to pass the bar exam at 23 (he was a millionaire by 29). Another son, Bram, kept making international headlines – including through the 2010 acquittal of the anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders of hate speech charges.

 

The Moszkowiczes were widely recognized as legal geniuses in the media and at events held in their honor.

But over the past decade, they have fallen from grace. Three of Max Moszkowicz’s sons were disbarred for improprieties, starting in 2005 with Robert — a former heroin addict and flamboyant womanizer who was accused of cheating his clients — and ending in March with the oldest brother, David.

This month, the Moszkowiczes are again making headlines in Holland because of “We Moszkowicz,” the first revealing documentary film about the remarkable family. Made by the first-born son of Robert Moszkowicz, the television production retraces the Holocaust’s deep effects on three generations that for many represent Dutch Jewry’s struggle to return to normalcy after the trauma of the genocide.

Combining footage from Amsterdam, Jerusalem and Auschwitz, the critically acclaimed work by Max Moszkowicz — a 37-year-old filmmaker who is named for his 89-year-old grandfather — offers an unprecedented insight into the rise and fall of a now notorious family.

The filmmaker describes to his father his own panic as a child at seeing Robert – then still a celebrated and practicing lawyer — collapse into a drug-induced stupor at his mansion near Maastricht. Heroin was in plain sight at the father’s Amsterdam apartment, the filmmaker recalls. Robert told him as a child that the beige powder and tin foil were for making special flu medicine.

Standing opposite his father, Max Moszkowicz confronts him over his shame at elementary school following Robert’s publicized arrest. Over the space of six years, the filmmaker followed his father around, assembling the portrait of a vain, sometimes selfish and ultimately unrepentant man who never apologized for actions that apparently have scarred several of his nine children, whom he had with four women.

But “We Moszkowicz” is no damning indictment, filmmaker Max Moszkowicz told JTA in an interview last week about his film, which the Volkskrant daily described as “confrontational, moving and often painful.”

Rather it’s a story about three generations of a troubled but loving family, and an attempt to examine their dysfunctions in light of secondhand emotional damage in siblings attempting to live up to their fathers’ ideals and legacy. The film reveals that the patriarch, determined to rebuild the Jewish family destroyed by the Nazis, disowned Robert because he married a non-Jewish wife — the filmmaker’s mother.

The rejection was so absolute that in 1993, the elder Max Moszkowicz and three of his sons appeared as a family on a television talk show without ever mentioning Robert.

“Four musketeers,” Bram Moszkowicz told the host in describing his family on the show. “One for all, all for one.”

David concurred, saying with a grin: “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Filmmaker Max Moszkowicz said the images, which he saw at 14, “cut like a knife.”

“I wanted to understand what my father had done to be cut from the family as though he never existed,” he said.

Ostracized by his kin, Robert Moszkowicz, a handsome fast talker who enjoyed Italian designer suits and expensive cars — though he struggles with debts, he still owns a late model Jaguar — was driven over the edge following the death of his third child. Jair lived less than one year. Robert had him with his second wife, a heroin addict who kept injecting throughout her pregnancy.

Robert Moszkowicz in Amsterdam in 2015. Photo from Max Moszkowicz
 
Following his first arrest in the 1990s for drug dealing, Robert received a visit in jail from his father, who despite their harsh disagreements took on his son’s legal case because not doing so “would’ve meant losing my son forever,” as the patriarch said during a television interview.

During the charged jailhouse meeting, the father told his wayward son that the facility reminded him of the concentration camp.

“That’s what I want to experience,” Robert replied in what he explained in the film as “a typical desire to feel what my father felt” in the Holocaust.

It’s a key moment in the documentary for understanding the Moszkowiczes’ self-destructive streak, the best-selling Dutch Jewish author Leon de Winter told JTA.

“It’s no coincidence that three sons of this amazing family were disbarred,” de Winter said.

Bram Moszkowicz’s disbarment for mismanagement of funds was “disproportionate,” de Winter said, noting that it ultimately came from legal transgressions motivated by an insatiable drive to please the family patriarch, who lost his parents and two siblings as a teenager in the Holocaust.

Max Moszkowicz, right, with Bram Moszkowicz in Amsterdam in 1987. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
 
The patriarch Max “raised his boys to be invincible,” de Winter said. “And they, in their desperate love and dedication to him, felt the only way to get close and equal to him was to follow him into hell.”

And though they built an empire, the Moszkowiczes always remained outsiders in the Netherlands post-Holocaust, separated from the intellectual elites they frequented by their own traumas and weaknesses for flashy cars and expensive clothes.

“It’s as though they overcompensated in a delayed and tragic effect of the hell that Max Moszkowicz went through in Auschwitz,” de Winter said of the family.

For all its tragic retrospection, “We Moszkowicz” also offers a sense of hope and redemption.

The filmmaker and his father are close, their bond cemented on a two-week trip they made to Israel in 2014. In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Robert Moszkowicz, who is somewhat Jewishly observant and recites his prayers in Hebrew, is overcome with emotion at the Western Wall and is hugged by his son as he cries against the ancient stones.

Robert is also a devoted father to his youngest children with his fourth wife. Opening up in this unprecedented manner to his son’s camera, the filmmaker said, “is his way of making up for mistakes.”

It was with an eye to the future that the younger Max Moszkowicz began making the film in the first place, he said, not wanting to repeat his father’s mistakes with his own first son, Ilai, who was born last year.

“Six years ago, I came drunk to a house party with a bloody mouth that I got from falling down en route,” the filmmaker recalled. “I had an alcohol and drug problem. I saw my bloodied reflection in a mirror at the party and I could see my father’s self-destructive pattern.”

That evening, filmmaker Max Moszkowicz decided to take a hard look at his life that resulted in the film.

“I feel I treated my demons,” he said. “I can move on with my life.”

Florida State U. prof Dan Markel slain in home shooting


Dan Markel, a law professor at Florida State University, died after being shot in his home.

Markel died Saturday morning, a day after being discovered shot in the back in his home and taken to the hospital, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. He was 41.

No suspects have been identified, the Democrat reported.

“I am deeply saddened to report that our colleague Dan Markel passed away early this morning,” FSU law school dean Donald Weidner said in a statement issued Saturday, adding that the case was still under active investigation by local authorities.

A memorial service was held Sunday at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Tallahassee. A memorial service will be held at the university in the fall when students return to campus.

Markel was a graduate of Harvard Law School and primarily taught criminal law at Florida State.

Markel’s writings have been featured in The New York Times, Slate and The Atlantic. He is the author of the 2009 book “Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties.” He also wrote a law blog called “Prawfsblawg.”

The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage


Last year, I officiated at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of my synagogue.  For a Conservative congregation, this was quite a break with tradition.  Nevertheless,  I was proud to stand beneath the wedding canopy with this couple, who affirmed the sacredness of their union “in accordance with the laws of Moses and the people of Israel.”  Before I chose to officiate, I studied the texts, teachings, and arguments in my tradition.  I didn’t make this decision lightly.  Today, I am unfazed by the apparent biblical injunction against homosexuality as an “abomination.”  I am confident in my stand, despite a 3,000-year-old tradition that has no precedent for such a marriage.  In fact, it is from a place of humility and awe before my tradition and God that I have chosen take this stand.

The Hebrew word for wedding is “Kiddushin,” which means ‘Sanctification,’ or ‘Holiness.’  A wedding is the formal declaration of the holiness of love.  All the blessings and rituals and formulae under the wedding canopy affirm one idea:  when two human beings find each other and love each other, it is Godly:   a taste of the World to Come, a world of perfected justice and joy.   It is in our capacity to love that we are holy, and most fully in the image of God.  If there’s anything that 3,000 years of Jewish history has shown us—3,000 years of so much exile and persecution—it’s that the only hope for humankind is to strive toward ever-more loving and just societies. 

We Jews are a people who have never quite fit into the same categories of peoplehood or religion that other nations do.  We are a distinct people, even as we bear a message of God’s universality.  We affirm that we are different from other peoples, even as we know that we are no different than any other human being.  Our presence in the world has often been a source of anxiety for other nations, religions, and people.  In this way, we Jews have always been a queer people .  And yes, I use the term ‘queer’ deliberately.  To be queer is to be troubling, unsettling, not meeting expectations of the way others might want things to be.

It is, in fact, the Jews’ queerness in the world that captures our particular Divine message to all humanity.  As Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, creator of Queer Spiritual Counseling teaches, the existence of God is the queerest thing about the universe.  God, too, cannot be categorized or boxed in. The inexplicable mystery of God is a source of unspeakable anxiety to so many of us who long to reduce God to our simplistic categories.  Finally, we declare the love of a wedded couple to be holy because love, too, defies all classifications and can never be bounded–it’s a feeling, but not just a feeling; it’s a state of being that “have,” that we “are,” but it is larger than any one individual or relationship.  Love is queer, and in recognizing this, we find its holiness, its Godliness.

It is no accident that the famous Levitical injunction concerning homosexuality appears in a section of the Torah called “Kedoshim,” meaning “Holy.”  When seen in context, the homosexual act described comes amidst a series of many kinds of human couplings—all of which are abusive because they are not loving acts.  When one man rapes another man simply because he does not have access to a woman, such an act is indeed an abomination, a desecration of God’s holiness, a desecration of love.  Such an act is the farthest thing from the love of two human beings—of whatever gender—that we can and must sanctify whenever it arises in our human condition. 

I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman.  Love is queer — it can never be limited to our categorizations of roles and gender.  Love is commitment, presence, and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it.  We must, in our very imperfect world, celebrate, sanctify, and lift up love wherever we find it; because our loving relationships are the only way that we will bring Godliness to this world.  For these reasons, I proudly stand for the evolution of Judaism,  in awe of the wisdom of my Jewish people and tradition, the of holiness God and the queerness of  love.


Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

Jewish pot activist Mason Tvert hits new high with marijuana legalization vote in Colorado


Say what you will about Mason Tvert, the Jewish activist behind the marijuana legalization campaign that passed in Colorado, the man clearly has a sense of humor.

Some years ago, in his efforts to persuade the public that marijuana is far less of a health menace than alcohol, Tvert famously challenged both the mayor of Denver and the heir to the Coors brewing fortune to a sort of intoxication duel: Tvert would smoke pot while the others drank, and they would see who dropped dead first.

Neither man took up Tvert on his offer.

[Related: Recipe for marijuana cholent]

But after Colorado voters on Nov. 6 adopted a newly permissive approach to marijuana following a campaign for which the 30-year-old was the public face and a leading strategist, Tvert's tomfoolery is no longer just a laughing matter. The measure, and a similar one adopted last week in Washington state, is a watershed, permitting residents over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to six plants for recreational use.

Though somewhat overlooked amid the cacophony of a hard-fought presidential campaign, the new laws in Colorado and Washington are unprecedented.

Colorado's Amendment 64: The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 is more liberal than even the Netherlands' famously permissive drug laws, which still consider pot possession a misdemeanor. The new law goes well beyond the medical marijuana provisions now on the books in 18 states that permit use of the drug with a doctor's permission, and directly challenges federal authority, which still considers cannabis a Schedule I controlled substance along with heroin and LSD.

“We have forced a major international, let alone national, discussion on this issue,” Tvert, the executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER, told JTA. “And I truly believe the more people talk about this issue amongst each other, the quicker we're going to see broader change in how our country and our state and our world treats marijuana.”

Tvert grew up in a Jewish family in Scottsdale, Ariz., and attended the University of Richmond. His consciousness around marijuana reform was galvanized in college when, for reasons he claims not to know, he was subpoenaed in a multijurisdictional investigation into marijuana use.

“It was really just a shakedown, more or less,” Tvert said. “They start with college kids who probably have a lot to lose. They work their way up from there.”

Tvert likes to compare that to an earlier incident in which, taken unconscious to the hospital to have his stomach pumped after excessive alcohol consumption, he was later released without any questioning from the police — despite being under age. The discrepancy informs one of the pro-legalization campaign's most frequent talking points: They say marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol, which itself was once the target of a costly and failed effort at prohibition, and should be regulated as such.

Critics counter that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug whose legalization would legitimate its use by the young and lead to a range of social ills.

After graduation, Tvert moved to Colorado and co-founded SAFER, a small group that raised just $132,000 in 2010 and shares office space with Colorado's Jewish newspaper, the Intermountain Jewish News. He was instrumental in two earlier legalization efforts in Colorado: the 2005 adoption of the Denver Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative, which permitted the possession of marijuana in Denver, and a 2007 measure that required officials to make marijuana offenses the city's “lowest law enforcement priority.” State law remained unchanged, however, and thousands of Coloradans still were being arrested each year for possession of marijuana.

Tvert persevered, developing a reputation as someone with a knack for media stunts.

In 2008, after a rash of alcohol-related disturbances at Denver's airport, Tvert called a news conference to urge authorities to allow marijuana in the airport's smoking lounge to cut down on traveler stress. Two years earlier he had a billboard erected near a speech by the visiting White House drug czar, John Walters, that quoted Walters saying that marijuana is the safest drug around. Tvert has called the state's governor — an owner of a popular Denver brew pub — a “drug dealer” whose product just happened to be legal. In another Tvert billboard, a woman in a marijuana-colored bikini appeared above the caption “Marijuana: No hangovers, no violence, no carbs!”

“He is just almost a media force of nature,” said Steve Fox, the president of SAFER and the director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which provided about 90 percent of the funds for the $2.2 million Colorado campaign.

“He's just been brilliant in terms of being on message at all times, developing relationships with the media so they trust him and are willing to come out when he's doing some sort of event. And just the body of communications skills were just excellent for this. That's really where he's excelled.”

As the campaign moved to the state level, advocates buttoned up their image somewhat, attracting some high-profile support in the process. Former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo, who is best known for his staunch opposition to immigration, endorsed the initiative. Actress Susan Sarandon recorded a robocall targeting Colorado voters. Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge did a radio spot.

The group also upgraded its message from one that emphasizes marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol to one that emphasizes the potential tax revenues of regulated marijuana, misplaced law enforcement priorities and overcrowded prisons. Amendment 64 specifically requires the first $40 million in marijuana tax revenues be used to support capital funding for Colorado schools and, unlike a similar but failed attempt in 2010 in California, requires the state to design a tight regulatory regime.

The legalization campaign in Colorado no doubt benefited from a sea change in American attitudes toward the drug. A 1969 Gallup poll found that 84 percent of Americans opposed legalization; by last year the number was down to 46 percent, with 50 percent favoring legalization.

It's unclear exactly what happens next for Tvert and the wider marijuana legalization campaign. Washington could justify a crackdown under the doctrine of federal supremacy, but it's still unclear how the administration will react to the new laws in Colorado and Washington. After years of looking the other way at the budding medical marijuana industry in California, the Justice Department last year cracked down on pot shops in the state.

But it may not have the same incentive to repeat that in Colorado, marijuana activists say.

“There's no need for a knee-jerk federal response,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York and one of the country's top marijuana activists. “There is ample time for rational discussion of how state regulatory authorities will accommodate federal concerns.”

Besides, Nadelmann added, “Colorado is an important swing state. Why make enemies unnecessarily?”

Anat Hoffman’s arrest at Western Wall galvanizing liberal Jewish groups


Last week’s episode was hardly the first time Israeli police stopped activist Anat Hoffman while she was leading a women’s prayer service at the Western Wall in violation of Israeli law.

But this time, police actually arrested Hoffman — a first, she says — and the incident appears to be galvanizing liberal Jewish groups in the United States and Israel.

In the United States, the Union for Reform Judaism called for a police investigation and expressed its dismay to Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador in Washington. The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism announced a global “Shema flash mob” for Monday — a nod to the prayer Hoffman was reciting when she was arrested.

In Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, which Hoffman leads, launched a petition to the Supreme Court requesting that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which runs the holy site also known as the Kotel, change its decision-making process to include non-Orthodox Jews.

“There is no voice around that table for women, for the paratroopers who liberated the Wall, for the variety of pluralist voices,” Hoffman, who is also chairwoman of Women of the Wall, told JTA. “We want to dismantle this body. If the Wall belongs to the Jewish people, where are the Reform, Conservative, secular?”

For now, however, there is no grand coordinated strategy to challenge the laws governing Israel’s holy site, which bar women from praying while wearing a tallit prayer shawl or tefillin, or from reading aloud from the Torah. In a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court decision, those rules were upheld on the ground that “local custom” at the Wall did not allow for such practices.

So with Women of the Wall intent on continuing its practice of organizing a women’s prayer service at the site every Rosh Chodesh — the beginning of the Hebrew month — another incident likely is not far off.

Hoffman’s arrest during last week’s Rosh Chodesh service on the evening of Oct. 16 garnered more attention than previous incidents in which Hoffman was detained but not arrested. Hadassah, which was holding its centennial celebrations in Jerusalem, had sent some 200 women to pray with Hoffman, giving a significant boost in numbers to the service, which totaled about 250 women.

After Hoffman was arrested, she claims Israeli police chained her legs and dragged her across the floor of a police station, leaving bruises. She also claims that police ordered her to strip naked, and that she spent the night in a cell without a bed. She was released the following morning after agreeing to stay away from the Kotel for 30 days.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said Hoffman’s claims about her treatment are “not accurate and not right.”

As the incident received wide coverage in the American Jewish media, the condemnations of Hoffman’s arrest poured in, particularly from women’s groups such as the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the National Council for Jewish Women. Hadassah’s national president, Marcie Natan, told JTA that Hadassah “strongly supports the right of women to pray at the Wall.”

Yizhar Hess, executive director of Israel’s Conservative movement, said that if Hoffman actually is charged with a crime, it would force a reexamination of the rules governing the Western Wall.

“It’s not an easy experience to be accused in criminal law, but it will take this debate to a different phase: What can be done and what cannot be done in the Western Wall plaza,” Hess said.

Hoffman says she wants the courts to allow her group to pray for one hour per month at the Wall, and ideally wants the Wall’s council to allocate some time for prayers without mechitzah — the divider that separates men and women. She sees an opening in the Supreme Court’s reliance on “local custom” as the basis for upholding the current rules. The The Israel Religious Action Center's petition aims to change who defines “local custom.”

Shari Eshet, director of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Israel office, said legal initiatives are the best way to effect change on the issue.

“With all of the screaming and yelling and American Jews banging on the table, at the end of the day this is a land with a court system,” Eshet said. “We need to find another way to bring this back into the court system.”

Leaders of some religiously pluralistic American Jewish groups admit that their efforts to date on this issue have not worked. Some hope that Hoffman’s arrest will galvanize their constituents anew.

“This is a moment for us to think differently,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He said his organization was considering an array of options and that more details would be forthcoming in a matter of weeks.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said a new strategy is needed.

“We’ve been very reactive thus far to these circumstances when they come,” he said. “Whatever strategies that we’ve been doing previously are not enough because this issue in recent years is getting progressively more difficult and troublesome.”

In Israel, groups working for religious pluralism face a dual challenge: They are fighting legal and legislative battles on a range of issues, and most Israelis are not motivated to join the fights — especially when it comes to the Western Wall.

“Israelis view the Wall as something not relevant to day-to-day life,” Hess said. “What could have been a national symbol to connect Jews from all over the world is now only an Orthodox synagogue.”

Women of the Wall could attract more of an Israeli following if it linked its cause to other religious freedom issues, said Rabbi Uri Regev, president and CEO of the Israeli pluralism organization Hiddush. “As emotionally attractive and justified as Women of the Wall is, there are bigger and more compelling issues,” like legalizing non-Orthodox Jewish marriage in Israel or funding non-Orthodox Jewish rabbis, he said.

Hoffman says she hopes Diaspora Jews will push the issue with Israeli leaders. Wernick says he wants the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors to put the issue of women praying at the Western Wall on its agenda. He also is pushing for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about it. USCJ, however, will not press for a new Israeli law on the matter, he said.

“We’re not Israeli citizens and we respect Israel’s right to determine its own course,” Wernick said.

Hoffman says, “The Western Wall is way too important to be left to the Israelis.”

Israeli law making it tougher for athletes to shine, report claims


Israel’s sports law significantly reduces the chances for its athletes to excel, a new study concluded.

The study by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies was released Tuesday.  Israel failed to win any medals at the recently completed London Olympics—the first time in 24 years that the country’s athletes came home empty handed from the Games.

Yarden Gazit, a Jerusalem Institute fellow and the report’s author, said the sports law contains measures that are extremely costly for aspiring athletes and dissuade many from competing in areas where they might be able to excel on the international level.

“While any observer would encourage prudence when it comes to ensuring that athletes are healthy and fit enough to compete,” Gazit said in a statement, “Israel seems to be practicing an unnecessary level of caution which makes competing impossible for those athletes without the financial means to cover these costs.”

The sports law enacted by the Knesset requires athletes in an official competition, including children, to pass a yearly medical examination at a sports medicine clinic recognized by the Ministry of Health. Athletes aged 17 and older are required to take an exercise cardiac stress test. In addition, the law requires athletes to purchase accident insurance.

The report recommended easing requirements for adults’ medical exams, allowing children younger than 18 to compete in sports with the approval of a family doctor, and allowing sports federations to recognize collective insurance policies such as those of schools and universities, thereby saving parents and athletes unnecessary insurance payments.

Corrine Sauer, the Jerusalem Institute’s president, said that a change in Israeli policies could lead to a significant increase in athletic participation throughout the country.

“This report concludes that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of our national athletic potential,” Sauer said in a statement. “There is no better time than now to reassess our approach to sports and with such a re-evaluation, Israel could certainly add significant athletic achievement on the international level to our growing list of remarkable national accomplishments.”

N.J. Gov. Christie signs law imposing Iran sanctions


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law new sanctions against Iran that prohibit public contracts with any company or person that invests in Iran’s energy and finance sectors.

Christie shared the announcement of the new legislation in remarks at a gala in Whippany on Tuesdasy celebrating the merger that created the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

With Christie’s signature, New Jersey becomes the sixth state after New York, Florida, California, Indiana and Maryland to enact such legislation. The state Senate and Assembly had approved the bill in June with broad bipartisan support.

Max Kleinman, executive vice president and CEO of the Greater MetroWest federation, had testified before the Assembly supporting the legislation in June.

“We are very pleased to see that the governor has signed the Iran Sanctions Act and would like to thank him as well as all the sponsors who moved the bill,” said Gordon Haas, chair of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ. “Our gratitude goes to both the Assembly and Senate, who voted for the bill unanimously.”

The move to impose sanctions follows a July 2010 law signed by President Obama that gives states and local governments the authority to prevent contracting with companies that do business in Iran.

“With this law, the State of New Jersey is bolstering the United States government’s stand in support of the rights of the people of Iran and against the dictatorial regime and the economy on which it relies,” according to a news release from Christie’s office.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who signed on as a prime sponsor of the legislation, noted the latest bill goes beyond a resolution he introduced last year urging more aggressive federal sanctions.

“By exercising the federal authority granted to the states by enacting our own state sanctions,” he said, “New Jersey’s message remains strong and clear: Until Iran confirms that it will curtail its nuclear ambitions and join in the pursuit of peace, we will continue to act forcefully to meet the danger that a nuclear Iran poses to everyone. “

Rob Eshman: Who will protect us from the NRA?


The National Rifle Association (NRA) claims it exists to protect our rights. My question is this: Who will protect us from the NRA?

The gun lobby is not responsible for the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colo., last week that has so far claimed 12 victims. 

But its consistent and effective efforts to thwart common-sense laws to reduce gun deaths have turned the NRA into a public health threat. To the mayhem of Aurora, it adds its own brand of madness.

I’m not saying the NRA doesn’t have a right to do what it does. I’m not saying gun laws are a panacea that will stop spree killings or gun deaths — more on that below. I’m saying that by standing up to the NRA and passing a handful of sensible gun laws, we can prevent thousands of gun-related deaths each year.

I say this as a former NRA member. I still enjoy shooting guns, and I probably know more about them than your average concealed-carry diehard. There are Red Staters who drive Leafs and Blue Staters who shoot skeet. We can have both guns and common sense in this country – right now we only have the former.  

“Aurora was a tragedy,” Adam Winkler, author of the book “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” told me by phone when I called him just four days after the shooting. “But since Aurora, 240 people have died from guns in this country. Two hundred and forty.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns claim 35 victims each day in this country — a statistic that does not include suicides (as Winkler’s number did). About 86,000 people are either killed or wounded by firearms each year, of which 12,612 people die. That means that 10 days after Aurora, guns will have killed another 350 people.

The key to driving these numbers down, Winkler said, is to enact federal laws that address the most egregious flaws in gun legislation.

Winkler, like me, is not anti-gun. He’s a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, a Westside native (and yes, the son of legendary film producer Irwin Winkler) who has focused his considerable intellect on the Second Amendment, which has resulted in America’s patchwork of state laws regarding guns. Because of the inconsistencies across state lines, restrictions are bound to be ineffective, as guns are easy to conceal and transport.

I asked Winkler to name one or two federal laws that sensible people and courageous politicians could support.

He suggested new laws aimed at improving criminal background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. New federal laws should also require these checks for all gun sales. Right now, they only apply to sales by licensed gun dealers, who only account for 60 percent of all gun sales. That means 40 percent of all gun sales—via private parties and gun shows, for example—take place with no background check.

That’s a good place to start, President Obama.

Even such a law, Winkler acknowledged, still might not prevent the next Aurora. Twisted men (it is almost always men) intent on killing will find a way to procure one of the 200 million guns in this country, as well as the millions of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

People who really want to wreak havoc will find a way. Norway has strict gun laws, yet still one of the worst mass shootings in history took place there a year ago this week. And in America, the problem of violence goes far beyond guns. Our homicide rate is four times that of France and the United Kingdom — the highest of any advanced democracy. Switzerland and Israel both have a high percentage of gun ownership but low or negligible amounts of gun-related homicide.

The causes of such carnage may be spiritual, sociological, economic, historical or all of the above. 

But smart, universal background checks could save two or three or five lives each week.

“You could say you’re just addressing the margins,” Winkler said, “but those margins are human lives.”

To save those lives, people have to funnel their outrage over Aurora into two things: contributions and votes.

“Gun control supporters don’t do that,” Winkler pointed out. “Gun control opponents do that.”

He’s right. The NRA, whose founding vision has been hijacked by people with a maximalist agenda, is flourishing. Meanwhile, gun control advocacy organizations flounder. Last May, the Los Angeles-based Women Against Gun Violence held a fundraiser honoring New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, and the event brought in much less money than expected. Foundation grants have also slacked off, the group’s executive director, Margot Bennett, told me. The economy may be partly to blame, but so are politicians from across the spectrum who lack the courage to confront the NRA, and people like you and me who have given up the fight.

The annual budget of Women Against Gun Violence is $300,000. The NRA’s annual budget? $220 million.

“Mayor Bloomberg said we need more leadership on this issue,” Winkler told me. “But he’s got it exactly backwards. We don’t need more leadership, we need more followership.”

This is a fight between those willing to sacrifice American lives for a maximalist political agenda, and those who want to find the right balance between our constitutional rights and the sanctity of human life. 

To all those in favor of balance: It’s time to step up.

Calif. Supreme Court upholds lawsuit against Jewish cemetery firm


The California Supreme Court upheld class-action status for a lawsuit alleging gross misconduct by a Jewish funeral services provider that had paid a $100 million settlement over similar misconduct.

On July 23, the court upheld a lower-court ruling on the suit against Texas-based Service Corp. International (SCI) alleging mass desecration of grave sites at a Jewish cemetery in Mission Hills, Calif., clearing the way for families to collectively seek hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have estimated damages at more than $500 million. A trial was scheduled for Oct. 15.

The lawsuit, filed in September 2009, claims that SCI and its employees purposely desecrated hundreds of Jewish graves and improperly disposed of human remains and bones in mass graves in order to make room for new burials, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. 

The lawsuit alleges that groundskeepers were repeatedly instructed by cemetery management to secretly break concrete vaults with a backhoe and remove, dump and discard the human remains — including human skulls — to make room for new burials in the interest of increased profits.

In 2003, SCI agreed to a $100 million settlement with Menorah Gardens in Southwest Ranches, Fla., after being accused of misplacing bodies, smashing vaults and overselling plots at its graveyards near Palm Beach Gardens and Fort Lauderdale.

SCI, along with other companies, also is facing a $200 million lawsuit in Florida for desecrating burial plots and placing the wrong bodies in several grave sites.

Israeli law pushes rabbinical courts on Jewish divorce decrees


Israel’s Knesset passed a measure requiring rabbinical courts to follow up on divorce cases to ensure that the husband gives his wife a Jewish writ of divorce.

According to the law enacted Monday, a husband must give his wife a get, a religious divorce, within 45 days of the court ruling. If he does not, a rabbinical court must hold a hearing within another 45 days and discuss leveling sanctions, including seizing his drivers’ license and jail. The rabbinical court would reconvene regularly on the case until the get is received.

Jewish law maintains that a woman cannot remarry until she receives a get from her husband. Men have withheld the Jewish divorce in order to receive more favorable child custody agreements or to pay less in spousal or child support.

There are officially hundreds, and anecdotally thousands, of women, called agunot, or chained women, whose husbands have refused to give them a get

Otniel Schneller of the Kadima Party and Zevulun Orlev of the Habayit Hayehudi Party sponsored the bill.

Bibi bypassing Cabinet on extending yeshiva students’ military service law


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring a vote on extending a law that allows yeshiva students to delay their military service directly to the Knesset floor, bypassing his Cabinet.

Netanyahu’s office said Thursday that the Cabinet will not vote on extending the Tal Law at its regular meeting on Sunday. Netanyahu had said last week he would ask the Cabinet to extend the law, which was adopted 10 years ago to allow haredi Orthodox students to delay military service and then make the transition to a shorter service, for five more years.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said he would like to end the Tal Law ended and have a fairer system put into place.

The Tal Law allows yeshiva students older than 22 to take a year off their studies for professional training without being drafted. In doing so they must commit to a shorter army service or a year of national service, or return to yeshiva studies.

Also Thursday, Israeli reserve soldiers set up what they are calling a “suckers camp” in Tel Aviv to protest a decision to extend the Tal Law. Politicians, high school students about to be drafted and university students visited the camp, Haaretz reported.

Picks for rabbinical judges’ panel riles Israeli women’s groups


Women’s and human rights groups in Israel criticized the Israel Bar Association’s decision not to appoint any women to a committee that appoints rabbinical judges.

In its selections Tuesday for the Appointments Committee for Rabbinical Judges, the bar association for the first time in 12 years did not have any female representatives on the panel picking rabbinical judges, or dayanim.

The committee elects judges to the country’s 12 regional rabbinical courts, which are responsible for matters including divorce.

The appointment of two males to the committee reportedly came about as part of a political deal struck with the bar association’s haredi Orthodox faction despite a written promise from Yuri Geiron, the head of the bar association’s largest internal faction, to the International Coalition for Agunah Rights to appoint a woman to replace the woman who was being rotated off the committee, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“The lack of female representation deepens the outrageous [religious and gender] imbalance that exists on the committee, which also includes only three non-haredi members,” Batya Kehane, director of the women’s divorce rights organization Mavoi Satum, told The Jerusalem Post. “The rabbinical courts are a state institution which are supposed to serve the general public.”

Bill would cut U.S. funds to backers of Palestinian state


Legislation that would cut off U.S. funds to countries that support granting the Palestinians a state unilaterally was introduced in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act on Tuesday.

The bill, which has 57 co-sponsors, would cut off U.S. contributions to any U.N. entity that grants membership or any other upgraded status to the Palestinian observer mission. The legislation also would withhold some U.S. dues to the United Nations if it does not change its funding system, making dues voluntary rather than assessed.

“It is time to use all our leverage to stop this unilateral Palestinian scheme—for the sake of our ally Israel and all free democracies, for the sake of peace and security, and for the sake of achieving a U.N. that upholds its founding principles,” Ros-Lehtinen, a longtime critic of the U.N.‘s operations, said in an Op-Ed in the Miami Herald in which she described the legislation.

Ros-Lehtinen pointed out that in 1989, when the Palestine Liberation Organization pushed to have a Palestinian state join the United Nations, that then-President George H.W. Bush “made clear that the U.S. would cut off funding to any UN entity that upgraded the status of the Palestinian observer mission in any way. The UN was forced to choose between isolating Israel and receiving U.S. contributions, and they chose the latter.”

The Palestinian Authority reportedly will ask the United Nations to recognize Palestine as an independent state on Sept. 20, the first day of the body’s new session.

The aftermath of the proposed circumcision ban


With the latest turnaround by a San Francisco court removing the anti-circumcision measure from its city’s upcoming ballot, all of us who advocate circumcision on religious grounds can breathe a sigh of relief.  Gone, 6 weeks ago, from the ballot in Santa Monica proposed for this September’s vote, and now most recently stricken from the San Francisco elections slated for November’s 2011 election are any mention banning circumcision for males under the age of 18. 

But in the aftermath of the legal threat, we who take Jewish tradition seriously must constantly re-evaluate the ceremony and procedure of circumcision to ensure its prominence and adherence within Jewish life.

To begin, it’s important to acknowledge there is nothing esthetically beautiful about a Brit Milah, the circumcision procedure performed on an 8 day old Jewish baby boy.  To witness a barely one-week-old child strapped down to a “Circ Board,” his genitalia exposed within sight of everyone gathered—many of whom, are taking pictures or video—is visually unappealing, if not spiritually uninspiring. (As such, the procedure should take place behind closed doors in a quiet setting limited to the officiant and very close friends and immediate family.) If that were not enough, some officiants still engage inMetzitzah—the oral suction of blood from the circumcision. If not done by mouth directly, a pipette is used.

To make matters worse, some ceremonies are complete with crude, unholy behavior and locker room jokes. I can’t repeat, let alone write down, what one officiant said as he un-swaddled his grandson in preparation of the baby’s Brit Milah.  Let alone, some Mohalim (ritual circumcisers) pass around their business cards to those gathered—offering discounts for families with multiple sons.

Is there any wonder why Jewish parents are slowly opting out of the ancient ritual of circumcision performed on their newborn sons independent of the ongoing medical debate as to whether or not the procedure’s even warranted?  Is there any wonder why circumcision was under attack by California’s two leading liberal cities?

But leaving aside all the issues that may or may not compel one to ritually circumcise their son, the decision is for the family to ultimately decide, not the government—or even one’s religion for that matter.

As a congregational rabbi, all I can do is attempt to make the case to my congregants for having their son’s circumcised in accordance with Jewish law and tradition.  I can actively recommend to them officiants who conduct ceremonies with the utmost professionalism, skill and compassion, without silly jokes and embarrassed laughter.

I can tell them the ceremonies to which these hand-selected officiants preside are warm, offering meaningful words and explanations.  They welcome the child into the covenant of God and the Jewish people making clear that our hopes for this young life—once grown—consist of “Torah, marriage and acts of goodness.”

I can teach them the overarching purpose of a Brit Milah is not biological, but rather theological. It is a physical reminder intentionally made on the male organ of progeny.  It states before God and community the male drive, be it sexual or otherwise, is a good and healthy force. But left unchecked and without limits can become destructive and all consuming.

I can inform them that the current debate among doctors and researchers regarding circumcision is mixed.  I can tell them that while science is an indispensable discipline to the enrichment of life—it is far from exact and is constantly changing.

It seems that over a 7 to 10 year period, conventional “state-of-the-art” medical wisdom is turned on its head and re-evaluated.  I recently took a CPR course offered at my synagogue that contradicted and rewrote what was taught to me just 4 years earlier.

Today circumcision is under scrutiny.  Even though all over Africa where AIDS kills scores of people, billboards exhort men to get circumcised, since circumcision prevents AIDS in many cases. Years ago it was recommended without hesitation. I suspect 7 to 10 years hence doctors and researchers will again offer a different and “new” perspective on the subject.

In the meantime the wisdom of a 3,500-year-old Jewish tradition continues to advocate circumcision on religious grounds.  Parents who choose to have their 8-day-old son circumcised are not mutilating his genitalia, anymore than piercing a little girl’s ears is mutilation.  Furthermore, it is un-provable that a child, who is circumcised as a baby, will grow up having less sexual satisfaction as an adult.

But those who advocate outlawing circumcision equating it with a clitoridectomy are deeply misguided.  One is genital mutilation, denying a woman sexual pleasure, the other—male circumcision—is not.  I can’t help but think underlying the anti-circumcision movement is a disdain for religious expression cloaked in a concern for a child’s well being.

The American Jewish Committee calls the movement to prohibit circumcision as “making a direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the U.S.”  That may be true.  Truer still, we Jews must be ever vigilant in assuring the ceremony that accompanies the rite of circumcision is meaningful and holy; that it is done with great care and sensitivity—for the child and everyone who is in attendance. That challenge is ours, independent of the government, the anti-circumcision movement, or any other outside influence.  When we don’t provide substantial answers and motivations to our fellow Jews, encouraging them to engage in a particular ritual, not least of which the age-old rite of circumcision, at a given point, we have only ourselves to blame.

LAUSD schools accountable to new law


Los Angeles public schools could be poised for revolution due to a controversial state law gaining momentum locally.

The landmark “Parent Trigger” law, passed by the California government in January 2010, grants parents at failing schools the power to force their district to make sweeping changes in a bid to improve school performance. Petitions are now under way at several Southland schools, but the law remains little known among many Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) families who could benefit from it most, according to Los Angeles education reform advocate Larry Sand.

To that end, a panel of education experts held a public discussion at the Skirball Cultural Center on March 21 to parse the merits of the law, which the Wall Street Journal recently dubbed “the radical school reform you’ve never heard of.” Moderated by Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, the talk provoked spirited conversation between parents, teachers and school reformers — all of whom agreed the current system is broken beyond repair.

“Our public schools are failing because they weren’t designed to succeed,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, the L.A. advocacy group that lobbied for the law’s passage. “They were designed to serve the interests of adults, not kids. The goal of Parent Trigger is to make the conversation about kids.”

Under the law, families can “trigger” one of four overhaul models at failing schools if 51 percent of parents sign a petition. They can choose to hand over the school to a charter company, force the district to replace the principal, fire half the staff and restructure the administration, or even close the school.

Essentially, Parent Trigger gives parents the option to unionize and bargain collectively for the fate of their school.

Qualifying schools are those identified as third-year “program improvement” schools, meaning they have been failing by state standards for five consecutive years. Currently, about 1,500 of California’s 9,000 public schools are eligible.

Compton’s McKinley Elementary School was the first to make headlines in December, when 62 percent of parents signed a petition to convert the school to a charter school. McKinley parents took the Compton Unified School District to L.A. Superior Court in February when the school board rejected the petition, claiming it didn’t meet state requirements. A judge ruled March 21 that Compton Unified violated parents’ First Amendment rights by imposing excessive demands on the parents to verify their signatures.

The California Board of Education is slated to meet April 21 to hammer out clearer rules for districts to implement Parent Trigger petitions.

Opponents of the law, including teachers unions, have said Parent Trigger is unnecessary because elected school board members should be able to handle parents’ education concerns. Union officials have also said charter school companies stand to benefit unfairly from the law.

But parents at Lydia Grant’s Mount Gleason Middle School in Sunland-Tujunga didn’t want a charter school — they just wanted LAUSD to make good on neglected promises to shore up the school’s safety and discipline policy. Now Grant, a mother of three, is organizing fed-up parents to petition for a transformation at the failing school.

“We don’t want the sun, the moon and the stars — we just want a safe school for our children,” Grant said.

Supreme Court upholds state tuition tax credit program


The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to an Arizona tuition tax credit program that benefits parochial schools, with all three Jewish justices dissenting.

The court on Monday threw out a lawsuit against the program, which provides tax credits to those who donate to “school tuition organizations” that grant scholarships to private schools, including religious schools.

The decision prompted the first written dissent by Jewish Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, who said the 5-4 ruling “threatens to eliminate all occasions for a taxpayer to contest the government’s monetary support of religion.”

Kagan used a hypothetical case relating to Jews in her dissenting opinion, writing: “Suppose a State desires to reward Jews—by, say, $500 per year—for their religious devotion. Should the nature of taxpayers’ concern vary if the State allows Jews to claim the aid on their tax returns, in lieu of receiving an annual stipend?”

She was joined in her dissent by the other two Jewish justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The Anti-Defamation League called the court’s decision “a significant setback for religious liberty in America.”

“The Supreme Court has dramatically undercut the ability of taxpayers to protect religion and government by intervening when government money is improperly spent,” Robert Sugarman and Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national chair and national director, respectively, said in a statement.

The Orthodox Union, which supports educational vouchers for parochial schools, applauded the decision. The OU had joined several other faith-community representatives in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the constitutionality of the program.

“The high court upheld school choice today,” said Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union. “The principles of government respect for private choices in education and government neutrality in programs which can aid and support such private choices is a critical issue for the Orthodox Jewish community and other American faith communities.”

Katsav sentencing shows Israeli leaders not above law


Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav’s sentence to prison on rape and sexual assault convictions shows that not even the country’s leaders are above the law, Israeli leaders stressed.

A panel of three Tel Aviv District Court judges on Tuesday sentenced Katsav to seven years in jail and ordered him to pay compensation to his victims. The sentence came nearly five years after he was first accused.

Katsav, 65, reportedly began sobbing after the verdict was read and then yelled out several times, interrupting the judges, saying “It’s all lies,”  “the sentence is a mistake” and “it’s not true.”

Katsav’s prison sentence is set to begin May 8. He was also ordered to pay more than $28,000 to the rape victim and about $7,000 to the sexual assault victim. Following his release from prison, Katsav will serve two years of probation.

“The defendant committed the crime and like every other person, he must bear the consequences. No man is above the law,” the judges wrote in their sentence, which was read out in the courtroom. “The contention that seeing a former president of the country go to jail is too painful to watch is an emotional argument, but it definitely cannot be accepted as an ethical argument.”

In a minority opinion, Judge Judith Shevach said that Katsav was judged prematurely in the media and she slammed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz for his public statements during the investigation.

“The attorney general isn’t supposed to operate in the media arena,” Shevach said. “If he already decided in 2006 that Katsav was a sexual offender – what else can the public decide?” Premature judgment of the accused by the media put him in a shaky opening position.”

Katsav has 45 days to appeal the sentence. 

“This is an extraordinary day in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the sentencing. “This is a day of sadness and shame, but it is also a day of deep appreciation and pride for the Israeli justice system. The court issued a sharp and unequivocal ruling on a simple principle, that of equality before the law; nobody is above the law, not even a former president, all are subject to the law. This distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”

Netanyahu said the court also ruled on equality between men and women.

“Every woman has the right to her body, the right to respect and freedom, and nobody has the right to take these from her,” the prime minister said. “This also distinguishes the State of Israel to a very large degree.”

The closed-door trial of Katsav lasted for one year, ending with a guilty verdict on Dec. 30. Two years ago, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain—one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence—saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, became president when the Knesset elected him in 2000, upsetting candidate Shimon Peres. Peres became president in 2007 after Katsav resigned in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term.

The allegations came to light when Katsav went to the attorney general, telling him that he was being blackmailed by a female employee. The investigation turned against Katsav when the employee alleged rape and sexual harassment.

During a meeting with soldiers in northern Israel, Peres said he did not think a bust of Katsav should be removed from the President’s Residence, as some have advocated.

“You mustn’t change history, for good or for bad,” Peres said. “History is full of bad and good things.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima Party, said the harsh sentence did not make it “a happy day.”

“A day when a president of the State of Israel goes to prison for rape is not a happy day. You can’t negate the presidency after the fact, but you can deny liberty,” she said, referring to the prison sentence.

The lawyer representing “A,” the former Tourism Ministry employee raped by Katsav, said following the sentencing that his client was “relieved and satisfied.”

“I never sought vengeance, and the severity of the sentence did not mean that much to me,” A told Ynet. “The most important thing for me was the verdict, the fact that the court, unanimously, believed me and did me justice, even if it was stalled. I shall be happy to return to my daily life, family and anonymity. “

Katsav is not the first president of Israel to be accused of a crime. President Ezer Weizman resigned his position in 2000, less than halfway through his second term, after being accused of accepting cash gifts from businessmen. He was not put on trial, however, since the statute of limitations had run out.

What is western society’s place in determining halachah?


The Orthodox community is rapidly approaching a moment of truth. The many issues that the Orthodox community is debating internally are rapidly collapsing into one overarching issue, one macro-question, with which it must grapple head-on. And this is: whether the ethical norms of Western society should figure into the process of determining halachah (Jewish law).

Consider the issues that have most roiled Orthodoxy just over the past year or so. There is the controversy over the statement of principles concerning the place of homosexuals within the Orthodox community, a document that while upholding the biblical prohibition on homosexual behavior, mandates that people who are homosexual be afforded full dignity and respect, and that they be included in their Orthodox communities. Signed by 150 Orthodox rabbis and educators, it was flatly rejected by at least as many. There is also the ongoing debate over whether women may serve as synagogue presidents, as well as the sure-to-return debate over women being ordained as rabbis. More recently, we have seen renewed controversy over whether halachah permits us to donate our organs following our brain-stem death, even as it is clear that we are permitted to receive organs from non-Jews who are brain-stem dead. And, most recently, we have witnessed the controversy in Israel as to whether halachah prohibits the sale or lease of apartments to non-Jews in the land of Israel. Each of these issues is complex in its own way, and none can be facilely decided in the absence of rigorous halachic analysis. But over and over again, the wedge issue turns out to be whether consideration of Western ethical norms is relevant to the analysis.

This emerged clearly last week, as the Rabbinical Council of America registered its objection to the ban on renting to non-Jews in Israel, saying that the halachic analysis of this issue demands “special sensitivity to societal realities, widely held ethical principles, and historical injustices.” Which is to say that when we examine our universe of viable halachic alternatives, our choice of alternative can and should be influenced by wider ethical considerations. Yet this is, of course, precisely the point of contention.

The story is the same with regard to the organ donation issue. Here, too, viable and scholarly halachic positions have existed on both sides of this issue for many decades. Last month though, a Rabbinical Council of America report (ironically), which preferred the position that effectively prohibits Jews from donating organs, elicited the following response from Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, a prominent scholar and bio-ethicist (and a longtime proponent of the brain-stem definition of death, which results in the permissibility of organ donation): “Their final conclusion is that a Jew who is in need of a heart transplant can receive a heart from a brain-dead patient but he can’t donate his heart if he is brain dead. Such a ruling defames Judaism and exposes every Jew to the hatred of non-Jews. It is saying that a Jew can take a vital organ from a non-Jew even though Jews consider him still alive — that his life doesn’t count. How could you justify such a ruling?”

The wedge issue is the same when it comes to the place of homosexuals in the Orthodox community. The opening words of the above-referenced Statement of Principles are: “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.” While it is of course true that the idea that all people are created in the image is biblical, its specific application to homosexuals is a distinctly modern historical development. It is our way of clothing in our religious language the modern, Western ethical assertion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The relevance of such ideas to our halachic calculus is again what stands at the center of the controversy. Similarly, when rabbinic scholars in pre-State Palestine debated whether women ought to have the right to vote in Yishuv elections, the old/new “image of God” idea was one of the main pivots of the discussion. And it continues to play out in today’s controversies over the position of women in the Orthodox community.

Are the ethical norms of modern Western society essential to halachic discussion or are they irrelevant? Are they to be integrated or to be shunned? This is, in the final analysis, the central issue that the Orthodox community is grappling with. And the answer will determine Orthodoxy’s long-term viability as a positive force in the wider Jewish community, and the wider world.

Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea (bnaidavid.com), a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Lawmaker: Knesset will consult with Diaspora on conversions


An Israeli lawmaker told a delegation of American Jewish leaders that he would consult with Diaspora Jewry on issues involving conversion.

David Rotem, the author of a bill that will allow local rabbis in Israel to perform conversions to Judaism, made his comments Monday during a meeting in the Knesset with Diaspora Jewish leaders led by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Jewish Federations of North America Senior Vice President Rebecca Caspi.

Overseas Jewry is concerned about a provision in the conversion bill which says that a convert to Judaism who visited Israel before converting either in Israel or overseas would be prohibited from becoming an Israeli citizen under the Law of Return.

The Jewish Federations of North America has issued a statement strongly rejecting the proposal and has written directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the subject.

Explaining that no law will be passed before the Knesset’s Passover break, Rotem assured the group that no future bill would affect the status of conversions outside of Israel. Rotem, of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, also stressed that Netanyahu is aware of the importance of these issues for Jews around the world.

“From my conversations with the prime minister and the government secretary, it is clear that the law that is viewed as problematic by Jews in the Diaspora will not be passed during the current Knesset session which goes into recess on March 21,” Sharansky said. “We have received assurances that we will be consulted in this process, so that the views of world Jewry are taken into consideration.”

New Conservative seminary leader outlines goals


Long before he emerged as a leading scholar of American Jewry, and decades before he would be looked to as the potential savior of the Conservative movement, Arnold Eisen was gunning for a journalism internship at the Washington Post.

As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Eisen was in the running for editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian — the position brought with it an automatic summer job at the Post.

Eisen lost the election in what he says was then the greatest disappointment of his life.

That election diverted Eisen’s career path from journalism to academia and initiated a journey that culminated Wednesday when he was inaugurated as the seventh chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism.

But even as he settles into his new post as head of the movement’s chief academic institution, it is the values of the profession he did not pursue more than those of the academy that are figuring prominently in his plans.

In describing his vision for the coming year, Eisen speaks of dialogue rather than direction. He intends to spark conversations within the movement, facilitated by JTS, in place of “canned lectures.” And he believes being a Conservative Jew is largely about what journalists — and Jews — love most: talking.

“To be a Conservative Jew is in large part to want to be part of a certain conversation in word and in deed,” Eisen said recently in a wide-ranging discussion in his JTS office.

As workers made final preparations for the inauguration seminary in the courtyard below, Eisen described Conservative Judaism not as an ironclad ethos or series of principles, but as “a constellation of attitudes and behaviors and commitments that are coherent and that distinguish this movement from others.”

Eisen takes the JTS helm at a time when the Conservative movement is being seen by many as floundering, its numbers in decline and its ideological clarity muddled.

His predecessor, Rabbi Ismar Schorsh, in his parting message said the movement suffered from a “grievous failure of nerve.”

Once the largest synagogue denomination in America, Conservative Judaism has fallen into second place behind the Reform, and it has become routine to speak of the movement’s lack of direction and coherence.

All those challenges were awaiting Eisen when he arrived at his new office on Broadway and 122nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But what concerns the incoming chancellor most is not the supposed apathy within the movement — a notion he says is “nothing less than absurd” — or even the decline in its numbers.

“Numbers don’t keep me up at night; Israel keeps me up at night,” Eisen said. “I’m worried about the security of Israel, and I’m worried about the apparent decline in attachment on the part of American Jews to Israel. This literally, from time to time, keeps me up at night.”

In the coming year, Eisen plans to focus his efforts on building stronger ties between American Jews and the State of Israel. It is part of a commitment by JTS to the Jewish people, one of three constituencies — along with the Conservative movement and the broader North American society — that Eisen wants the seminary to serve.

He also plans to promote dialogue between Jews and Muslims similar to the Jewish-Christian dialogue begun by Louis Finkelstein, the seminary’s legendary leader from 1940 to 1972.

It is the third constituency, the Conservative movement, where expectations for Eisen’s tenure are the greatest. In addition to declining numbers, the movement has been through a bruising year in which a controversial decision to ordain gay clergy polarized the rabbinic leadership and sparked fears that the denomination in the center of the ideological spectrum could not hold.

Eisen has said that the movement’s historic commitment to religious pluralism — the notion that competing views of halacha (Jewish law) can peacefully coexist — is not enough to hold Conservative Judaism together.

Instead, he wants Conservative Jews to think more deeply about the notion of mitzvah — a term normally described as a “good deed” or “commandment,” but which Eisen says is really a much richer idea. He has urged rabbis to talk about the concept in their High Holy Days sermons, and he intends to pilot a mitzvah project in 10 congregations to get Jews talking about what they feel obligates them.

It is a task, Eisen says, that is urgent for a movement that has struggled to straddle the gap between fidelity to traditional Jewish law and principled adaptation to modernity.

“To bring Jews closer to mitzvah, one has to enrich the conception they’re walking around with,” Eisen said. “And that’s part of the task.”

Eisen’s emphasis on the concept of mitzvah could end up further muddying the theological line between Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, has been firm in insisting that his movement is best understood as mitzvah-oriented, not halachic-oriented — a distinction aimed at explaining that even as the Reform movement increases its embrace of ancient practices and rituals, it rejects the traditional Orthodox and Conservative notion of Jews being bound by an overarching system of religious law.

Eisen shows no indication of wanting to follow Yoffie’s lead in affirmatively severing the direct relationship between mitzvah and halacha. Yet he clearly sees the Conservative predicament in sociological terms, as a conflict between the traditional sense of commandedness and the modern ideology of the “sovereign self,” the notion that each person is lord and ruler of their own lives and practice.

In other words, Eisen’s opening of a discussion on mitzvah could be understood as an attempt to address the challenge of how to inculcate a sense of obligation among followers without their feeling from the start that they are being told what they must do.

Since being tapped for the chancellorship, Eisen has traveled the country on a “listening tour,” and what he found has made him optimistic. Conservative Jews want greater JTS involvement in their lives, he said. They want a clear message about what their movement stands for. They want improved quality and greater cooperation across the various arms of the movement. And on the eve of his inauguration, Eisen says he is poised to give it all to them.

Ugly ties bind genocide past and present


Genocide.

The word evokes different, powerful references, depending upon who hears it.

For Jews, the primary thought is the Holocaust, officially recognized in the United States as the first genocide.

For Armenians, it refers to mass killings by the Ottomans in Turkey in 1915, though many countries, including the United States, have not recognized those as such.

These days the word immediately points to Africa — to Rwanda, Darfur and other recent bloodbaths that have involved ethnic cleansing.

But genocide is not a modern invention, and although the term has legal connotations — specific conditions must apply in a conflict for the U.S. government to officially use the designation — acts of genocide can be traced back to the Bible. Some scholars argue that there have been 15 or more additional occurrences that could qualify in the 20th century. And while the motives of the perpetrators, the identity of the victims and the region of the carnage have changed over time, genocides almost always share one common thread:
Religion.

“Whenever genocide takes place, religion is involved — before, during or after — in one way or another,” said John K. Roth, founding director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College and the author of “Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and Its Legacy.”

Roth spoke last month at a conference titled “Genocide and Religion: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Resisters,” a collaboration between the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Pepperdine University School of Law, Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics.

The Feb 17-19 symposium, which was open to the public and attended by a few hundred students, scholars, rabbis and community members, aimed to broaden the discussion beyond the usual focus on a single genocide, such as the Holocaust — the subject of many books, studies, films and classes.

It also went deeper than many such conferences by examining as many as possible of the various groups involved in a genocide — the perpetrators, the victims, the bystanders and resisters — all of whom can be found in every such conflict, past and present.

“We didn’t want it to be just another conference on perpetrators’ responsibility,” said Roger Alford, an associate professor in the law school at Pepperdine, who organized the conference with professor Michael Bazyler, of Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa.

“We wanted to basically focus on the issue of how law and genocide and religion connect with one another: Is there a religious motivation, why are certain groups targeted, why is it the resisters try to resist, is there a religious component to that, what is it about bystanders and why do they not do more?” Alford said of the three days of lectures by academics, legal scholars and government officials from around the world.

There are four motivations for genocide, Roth said: To implement a belief, a theory or ideology; to eliminate threat; to spread terror among enemies; and to acquire economic wealth.

“Religion can be an agitating factor in genocides,” he said, noting that it is impossible to understand the numbers of people affected by the devastation, which has effects for generations to come, because it destroys cultures and traditions. “The effects of genocide have not stopped. On the contrary. Genocide has gone on and on. It might continue to do so.”

Religion plays a role in conflicts today, said Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Human Rights. “The less religious freedom, the higher the religious persecution, and it sets the stage for possible genocide.”

Today, she pointed out, “there is higher religious persecution in countries with Muslims.”

Of 143 countries monitored for the highest level of persecution, 40 percent had a Muslim majority, versus 3.9 percent with a Christian majority.

On speakers’ and audience members’ minds was the role that Islam plays in world conflicts today — conflicts that have not been designated as genocide, but which involve terrorism, murder and group persecution.

Is there something inherent in Islam that is responsible for the terrorist tactics we see being perpetrated around the world today?
“We have to be very careful about demonizing religion,” Bazyler said in an interview. “We in the Jewish community have to be careful not to do that; it doesn’t serve us well.”

Instead of condemning the entire community or religion, we should “criticize individuals in the Muslim communities for not condemning enough the extremist elements, and we can reach out to what we believe are moderate Muslims.”

Others at the event lamented a climate in academia in which there’s “a fear of political incorrectness,” in the words of Israel Charney, executive director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Although Charney is against those who completely vilify Islam, such as Daniel Pipes and Arianna Fallaci — “who are so inciting they inflame the process I’m against,” he said — he allowed that “the violent position has prevailed” many times in Islamic society, and he said that it’s important to tell it like it is.

Of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call to eliminate Israel, Charney said, “I don’t think you send that to a committee for discussion; you treat it as incitement, you treat that as a call to kill, you add that to your evaluation to what it means that they’re seeking nuclear weapons, and unless you’re a complete jerk, you start looking for what actions to take, but you don’t do nothing and say, ‘We don’t really know if he means it, we don’t know if he has influence,’ That’s been the rationalization [so] that you don’t have to respond to stop him.”

Others at the conference were less certain.

“How Islam is to be interpreted,” Roth said, is still up for discussion. “If you go back to the Hebrew Bible or other traditions, you can see there’s a struggle taking place” between the injunction against murder and the allowances for it.

Putting a question mark on Jewish earmarks


This year’s loss of earmarks, the spending amendments lawmakers attach to larger bills, has cost Jewish federations millions of dollars, officials say. And earmark-reform proposals could present even more headaches in coming years.

The new Democratic majority in Congress, backed by some conservative Republicans, is considering reforms that would curtail lawmakers’ ability to anonymously insert funding for local projects into spending bills.

The aim is to stop the proliferation of non-essential programs and pet projects, but the earmark reforms also could inhibit funding favored by Jewish nonprofit organizations, including programs that benefit seniors, the disabled and the poor.

The decision by Democrats to remove all earmarks from the 2007 budget is already having an effect. Gone from the appropriations bill that covers the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services is more than $9 million in earmarks for Jewish groups and programs, according to an analysis of reports that accompanied the draft bills.

“There are real people in the Jewish community that will not receive critical services due to the lack of earmarks this year,” said William Daroff, United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) vice president for public policy.

Democrats blame Republicans in the last Congress for the earmarks’ removal, saying that after the midterm elections ended their 12 years in the majority, Republicans all but abandoned the lame-duck session and left behind a vindictive mess by failing to pass nine of 11 appropriations bills.

“The Republicans have taken their ball and gone home and are pouting,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the new majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, said last month.

Debate on the 2008 budget starts next week, which Democrats say leaves them little choice but to abandon much of the process that would otherwise attend the 2007 budget, including earmarks and new spending. Instead, the 2007 budget is now likely to be funded by “continuing resolutions” that hew to the broad outlines of the 2006 budget.

Some social services would be affected, Hoyer acknowledged, but “we want to make that suffering as short-term as we can.”

The earmarks affecting Jewish groups were mostly for less than $500,000 each and served a variety of programs, from equipment upgrades to Jewish hospitals to Jewish community service programs for the mentally ill and educational programs.

Earmarks are preferred by local Jewish groups, which maintain strong constituent relations with lawmakers. The earmarks allow federations to garner millions of dollars for social service programs without having to compete for grants from federal agencies.

They have been used to support Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs, fostering programming in areas with large numbers of retirees, allowing them to live semi-independently and close to family.

Local NORC programs so far have received $25 million from the federal government, all through earmarks, UJC officials said. About $7 million in NORC funding was stripped from the 2007 spending bills.

In 2004, the omnibus spending bill included 37 earmarks for programs with “Jewish” in the name, amounting to more than $9 million.

Including the terms “Hebrew” and “Sephardic,” the number climbed to 41 earmarks and more than $10 million.

Many other projects of importance to local Jewish communities may not have identifiably Jewish names and could be buried in the vast spending documents.

Despite such salutary effects, earmarks are more notorious as pork, or federal funds funneled to lawmakers’ campaign contributors and for local initiatives. A slate of recent scandals has led to the reform proposals.

Those have drawn mixed reviews from the Jewish community. Jewish groups long have sought political oversight and reform, but at the same time have benefited greatly from spending measures inserted by lawmakers.

“We wholeheartedly endorse measures that are intended to increase the transparency of the spending process,” Daroff said. “We think deals that are cut in the middle of the night is not good government, so we encourage reforms.”

But cutting all earmarks would not be wise, Daroff said. The earmarks Jewish groups receive are not designed to help big companies but are for essential community programs.

Hoyer said worthy earmarks would stay in place.

“I am a proponent of not eliminating earmarks,” he said, noting that the president has considerable spending discretion and giving up earmarks would “badly skew the balance” between the two branches.

“Congress ought not to give up that authority,” Hoyer said. “Some earmarks are good, some bad, but we’re going to make sure the public knows about them. Is this a good investment of American taxpayer dollars?”

UJC and the federations back such transparency, supporting reforms that would require lawmakers to attach their names to each spending provision rather than inserting it anonymously.

“The House passed earmark reform earlier this month as part of its rules package.

The Senate is now considering measures that include attaching naming to spending provisions, as well as allowing senators to strike earmarks from spending bills and prevent earmarks from being added to the final drafts of legislation that emerge from House-Senate conferences.

Jewish leaders acknowledge that as earmarks fall out of vogue, they will need to garner funding through federal agencies. UJC was able to secure language in the Older Americans Act to authorize a national NORC program, which will distribute funding for the senior-citizen initiatives across the country through the Department of Health and Human Services. UJC will seek funding for the program in the next budget.

Most of the federal funding Jewish groups receive comes from agencies, largely through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. But Daroff worried that removing earmarks would hurt the ability to fund pilot programs such as NORCs and other innovative solutions to social-service issues.

“The Jewish federation system will adapt to the changing environment and will do what it needs to do to bring necessary services to the community,” he said. “Our initiatives are innovative public policy approaches that are welcomed by members of Congress because they see it as not funding the same old program the same old way.”

R.E. Hard Crash? Soft Landing? Bursting Balloon? Leaking Balloon?


Mark Cohen thinks those doomsday scenarios about an impending Southland housing crash miss the mark. And the founder and president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group has learned a thing or two about real estate over the last 20 years.

With an MBA from USC and a law degree from Loyola Law School, the 47-year-old mortgage broker helped secure nearly $1.1 billion in home loans last year, making him the No. 1 individual mortgage loan originator in the country, according to Mortgage Originator Magazine.

When not spending time with his three children and wife Laurie, Cohen has been involved in the local Jewish community.

A member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Real Estate and Construction Division, Cohen has also played an active role at Sinai Temple for more than two decades. He and his wife have long supported ATID (which translates as future in Hebrew), a Sinai program that trains future Jewish leaders. They also recently contributed funds toward the writing of a new Torah.

The Jewish Journal spoke to Cohen about the recent reversal in the local housing market.

Jewish Journal: Why has the housing market slowed in Southern California?

Mark Cohen: Southern California is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to live here. However, that also means the supply of apartments, houses and condos is limited. Over time, this supply-and-demand situation in housing has pushed prices up dramatically, pricing many people completely out of the market. Added to this are the interest-rate hikes by the Fed. Rates have increased by about 2 1/2 percent over the past few years, and that has made the cost of borrowing more expensive, closing the door on even more potential homeowners.

JJ: If the Fed raises interest rates to keep inflation in check, will that help or hurt the market?

MC: The jury is still out on whether or not the Fed will continue to raise rates. It all depends on whether or not they can keep inflation under control. If there are more rate increases in the near future, they will likely have a negative effect on the market in the short term. However, if the Fed is successful in keeping inflation in check, they can keep the door open for future rate cuts should there be a slowdown in the economy. Recent economic reports are showing that inflation has moderated for the time being, which means the Fed’s tightening cycle may be over. And that would have a positive impact on the real estate market.

JJ: What areas of the Southland are most at risk of having the bottom drop out? Why?

MC: It’s difficult to single out specific areas in Southern California that have the most risk. However, right now, San Diego seems to have an oversupply of new condominiums on the market due to all the speculation that occurred over the past few years. There’s also usually a deeper correction in areas where there has been excess in new construction. Palm Springs is an example of this. On the other side of the coin, the Westside, South Bay and San Fernando Valley will likely fare better during a slowdown because of the lack of new construction, limited supply of homes and desirability.

All in all, Southern California is a great place to live and historically, over time, real estate here has proven to be a great investment.

JJ: Do you anticipate a hard or soft landing locally?

MC: A soft lading will depend on several factors. First, the direction of interest rates will have a big impact, as will the strength of the local economy. As long as jobs are being created and the economy stays at its current growth levels, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience a hard landing.

Obviously, the actions by the Fed in the next few months will affect the local real estate market for the foreseeable future.

JJ: How long do you expect the market to remain soft?

MC: It really depends on the economy. If we have continued job creation and continued economic growth, the market will recover more quickly. Fewer jobs created and slower growth will mean a longer slowdown. The real driving force behind the real estate market isn’t interest rates; it’s the economy. That’s because even though fixed-interest rates have risen recently, they are still at manageable levels.

JJ: How is this housing market of today different from the boom-and-bust cycle of the late 1980s and early 1990s?

MC: This is a very different market from the one we saw in the late 1980s or early 1990s, primarily because the Southern California economy is now much more diverse. During that period, the economy here was based on the aerospace, defense and entertainment industries. Today our economy is much more diverse, with financial services, technology, biotechnology and other industries playing major roles on the region’s vitality. A more diverse economy means the chances of a hard economic landing are reduced, and this, in turn, helps to support the housing market.

JJ: What kind of industries might suffer in a soft housing market, and how could that impact the entire local economy?

MC: The real estate industry has a large effect on the Southern California economy, because there are so many people employed in it either directly or indirectly, including lenders, title companies, escrow agents, real estate sales agents, contractors, and developers, This means that a prolonged slowdown would hurt the folks employed in these industries and the overall local economy as well.

JJ: How much do you expect housing in Southern California to drop in the next year? What price ranges will be hit hardest?

MC: I don’t expect prices will fall more than 5 percent to 10 percent from the market highs of a couple years ago, with the hardest hit homes being those in the mid-level price range between $1 million to $3 million.

JJ: What advice would you give to someone who is considering buying or selling a home in Los Angeles?

MC: I’m a big proponent of home ownership. Don’t we all work hard so we can eventually own our own home? My advice is for people to feel comfortable living in a new home for at least five years so interest rates and real-estate-cycle influences are reduced. I don’t think we’re in a market that allows for short-term housing speculation, since the market is extremely volatile.

Jewish Journal September 1, 2006 43

T

Circuit


The Reagan Library was the setting when more than 500 Jewish Republicans gathered to pay tribute to U.S. and Israeli armed forces.RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set a powerful model of the necessity for firm resolve at this time of international crises.

Guests also heard from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Jewish Republican statewide candidate for insurance commissioner, and Tony Strickland, statewide candidate for controller.

After touring the library and taking photos on the impressive Air Force One at the musuem, guests enjoyed a kosher cocktail party and dinner.

Larry Greenfield, Republican Jewish Coalition’s California regional director, says what is motivating their membership is the quality of the conversation.”RJC members and guests consistently value an honest appraisal of the international situation and a realistic approach to a dangerous world that the Jewish community respects,” he said. “Support for a beleaguered Israel, concern about a UN that has broken its promises, and moral clarity about Islamo-Fascism all resonate with American Jews today.”

According to Greenfield, under RJC CA Chairman Joel Geiderman, the RJC would continue to focus on supporting Jewish college students and the need for “fair play.” The RJC has been working with other Jewish groups to confront anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at universities.

“We have begun to mature as a Jewish political community. Those in attendance included current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, past and present Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“Many thoughtful Jewish Republicans are making a strong contribution rooted in Jewish values, both as, and with senior access to, American policymakers,” Greenfield said.

The Great Statesmen

Van Nuys High School American government students enjoyed an informative Q-and-A with Stanley Sheinbaum and Mike Farrell on June 8. The event, titled “14th Amendment Equal Protection Under the Law,” was the first in a series of discussions produced by California Safe Schools.

The two celebrated statesmen in the social justice community have been recognized for their humanitarian efforts: Sheinbaum for the protection of constitutional rights, education, public justice, human rights and international peace efforts; Farrell for his opposition to the death penalty and children’s rights. Farrell is also well-known for his portrayals of B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series “M*A*S*H” and as veterinarian Dr. James Hansen on the NBC drama “Providence.”

“It was inspiring to see the students so well versed in national, international and environmental issues. We look forward to replicating these programs for other students throughout the State and Country,” said Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools.

Both men were honored at the event with the California Safe Schools Humanitarian Award for their decades of service. The office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) joined in the celebration presenting additional awards to each. The event as moderated by David Allgood, Southern California director of the state’s League of Conservation Voters.

Fond of the New Rabbi

Native Angeleno Rabbi Devora Fond became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia in July, following her recent ordination by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ). Fond received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, and a master’s degree in rabbinic studies from the UJ in 2002. She has served in a variety of capacities, including hospital chaplain at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, rabbinic intern at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley and educator and rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

Fond feels called to serve God by helping Jews connect with themselves, others, God and Torah, and through working with people of all faiths to make this world a better place. Fond says she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to build relationships with the people in her community: to touch other people’s lives and be touched by others. She is committed to reaching out to new members, leading spiritually meaningful and innovative services, and making Judaism come alive through creative programming and thought-provoking teaching.

All About Ethics

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo nominated Helen Zukin, a lawyer in private practice and an active member of the State Bar of California, to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“Helen’s skill as a lawyer and commitment to the highest ethical standards will be tremendous assets to the Ethics Commission,” Delgadillo said. “Her counsel and insight will serve the Commission well as it takes up the challenge of interpreting and implementing changes to our campaign finance laws, as well as maintain its critical role as city watchdog.”

Zukin, who also serves as a temporary judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, served on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for nearly a decade. She has a long history of community and professional involvement, including membership on the Board of Governors for the Consumer Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles and as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation.

A civil litigator, Zukin’s practice has an emphasis on toxic torts, product liability and environmental property damage.

In addition to the city attorney, the mayor, controller, city council president and council president pro-tem each nominate one member to the five-member Ethics Commission. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and are subject to review by the City Council’s Rules and Elections Committee, and to confirmation by the full L.A. City Council.

The commission was established in 1990 as part of a comprehensive package of local government ethics and campaign finance laws.

Family Law Center Thanks Its Founding ‘Angel’


If you meet Grace Quinn sunning herself on the patio of her home at Westwood Horizons Retirement Residence or pushing her bright red walker in Trader Joe’s, you wouldn’t guess that this nonagenarian is one of the founders of Levitt & Quinn Family Law Center.

In 1981, a 66-year-old Quinn and two other partners traded the Beverly Hills life of country clubs and card games for a rat-infested storefront practice in Silver Lake, where the streets teamed with drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members. Even after moving to Westwood Horizons at 80, she’d leave the retirement community where everything was geared to making her comfortable and commute almost an hour each way to do the work she loved. She continued to work for the center for five more years before she retired in 2001.

Although its original founders are no longer with the center, the nonprofit continues to offer low-cost legal services to help lower-income households resolve family conflicts. Quinn says she misses rolling up to the Sunset Boulevard center with partner Ethel Levitt (who died of a stroke in 1995), in her beige Cadillac featuring the license plate “LAWMAMA.”

“Life was good to me,” she said. “I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to give something back.”

The center doles out legal advice to the working poor, aiding neighborhood residents with divorce, custody, paternity, adoption and guardianship — issues that could well become a matter of life and death.

Although Quinn no longer devotes her time to Levitt & Quinn, her name continues to grace the organization’s stationery with the title “founder” right next to it. This past year the nonprofit honored her 90th birthday at their 24th annual Awards Dinner.

In her comfortable apartment at Westwood Horizons, Quinn reminisces, rummaging through scrapbooks for photos, repositioning meaningful art work on her wall and, in the end, pointedly nodding at the red walker parked in a corner, next to a rarely used cane.

“I just use them when I go out,” she says with pride as she walks past them, straight as a stick.

Quinn grew up in a middle-class home, but when she graduated from Roosevelt High School the Great Depression had devastated her parents’ life savings. Money for college was out of the question, but a perk of her job as a registrar for the dean of Pacific Coast University College of Law was the opportunity to attend law school at night.

Quinn was one of about five women in the class, and when she graduated four years later she was at the top of her class. She passed the bar in 1937, and took a civil service job as a researcher.

After marrying journalist Joe Quinn in 1941 and giving birth to her sons, Tom and Bob, she left her legal job to become a stay-at-home mother.

Once her youngest son started school, Quinn started work as a volunteer attorney with the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation. Around the same time, her husband began working as L.A. deputy mayor under Mayor Sam Yorty, serving out three terms from 1961 to 1973. Eventually, she left her work with Legal Aid to become an adjunct ambassador to work beside her husband, traveling around the world to countries like German, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

When Joe died at 76, the always-practical Quinn returned to Legal Aid after telling herself, “Time to go back to work.”

In 1980, after President Reagan cut back funding to the family law division of Legal Aid, Quinn, Levitt and Ziva Naumann, who had all met at a United Way luncheon, decided to found Levitt & Quinn.

“We had a huge backlog of cases, about 10,000 people waiting to be interviewed. Some people had been on the list for years,” Quinn said.

By 1981, Levitt & Quinn incorporated as a nonprofit law firm. They found an office on Sunset Boulevard that was cheap as well as convenient to bus lines and the courthouse. Neither partner ever took a salary and both supported the firm with their own funds.

“I had a law degree and I wanted to help people who didn’t know how to help themselves,” Quinn said. “We developed do it-yourself divorce classes, which empowered women to get involved in their own cases — filling out paperwork, filing forms at the court house — so they felt more like partners than clients.”

In the beginning, the money came out of their savings accounts. To supplement, they organized fundraisers — rummage sales, Las Vegas nights, buffet dinners — their guest list straight out of their phone books, with Naumann catering most of them herself.

Today, the law firm is more vibrant than ever and supports five paid attorneys (along with volunteers), a staff of 10 administrators and legal assistants, as well as a 12-member advisory council and a 17-member board of directors. And the firm has since moved to new digs on Beverly Boulevard, still close to the courthouse.

“We still operate on the same vision our founders created in 1981,” says Joan Alexander, director of development. “The difference is we’re bigger and more streamlined.”

“I loved working with these women,” Quinn says. “We were good friends, and we respected each other. It was the friendship of a lifetime.”

On a recent visit to the newly renovated law firm, Quinn entered the front door where, as usual, a crowd of people was waiting to see a lawyer. On the wall was a striking photo of the three founders, archangels of the firm.

A young Latino man looked Quinn up and down, then looked at the photo, then back at Quinn. A smile came over his face. As she proceeded to leave, he followed her out to the parking lot, asking if he could help her down the stairs and into her car. He was almost in tears, and, almost embarrassed to say it to Quinn directly.

“This woman is an angel,” he said. “She saved my life.”

Nation-World Briefs


U.N. Asks Israel to Stop Making Nukes
A U.N. commission recommended that Israel refrain from manufacturing any more nuclear weapons as a step to a nuclear-free Middle East. The United Nation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by weapons inspector Hans Blix, released its 60 recommendations on Monday. Regarding the Middle East, Blix recommended that most nations commit to not possessing any nuclear weapons. However, with Israel he recommended only that it commit to not manufacturing any more weapons. Israel is highly unlikely to agree to dismantle the 200 warheads it is believed to possess as the region’s sole nuclear power. Israel’s agreement would be a start, Blix said.

State Dept. Blasts Israel for Human Trafficking
Israel is on a U.S. State Department watch list of nations that fail to effectively prevent human trafficking. Israel was classified as being on the Tier Two watch list in the report released Monday. Tier Three is the worst classification, reserved for countries that fail to comply with minimum U.S. standards. Israeli law enforcement has made strides in cracking down on sex trafficking, the report said, but the same was not true of labor trafficking and “the estimated thousands of victims of forced labor were not provided with protection.” It described fees demanded of laborers ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, “a practice that often leads to debt bondage and makes these workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Israel,” it said.

FDA Approves Israeli Parkinson’s Drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an Israeli drug that treats Parkinson’s, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled shaking and muscle stiffness. Marketed under the name Azilect, this is the first once-daily oral treatment for Parkinson’s to be distributed in the United States; it was developed by Technion professors Moussa Youdim and John Finberg and is being manufactured by Tel Aviv-based generic pharmaceutical giant Teva. The drug is expected to become available by prescription in the United States by July or August.

While not a cure, the drug slows the progression of the disease. Azilect works by blocking the breakdown of dopamine, which tells the body how and when to move.

Parkinson’s currently affects 1 million people in the United States.

“This is a welcome development for the more than 50,000 Americans who are each year diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ” said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Parkinson’s is a relentless disease with limited treatment options, and each new therapy is an important addition to the physicians’ treatment options.”

However, the FDA is warning that the drug could carry an increased risk of hypertensive crisis — a precursor to a stroke — if taken with tyramine-rich foods (cheese, chocolate, red wine), dietary supplements or cough/cold medicines. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Nazi Papers Declassified
The U.S. government declassified more than 8 million pages of files related to Nazi war crimes. The material including documents relating to the CIA’s employment of suspected Nazi war criminals after World War II. The members of the government’s Interagency Working Group said at a news conference Tuesday that the revelations pointed to the dangers of working with war criminals, as the United States did after World War II. Among other revelations, the papers show that former Nazis employed by the United States were more susceptible to recruitment as double agents by the Soviet Union. Additionally, the papers show that the United States had a strong lead on the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann in 1958, but did not pursue it because of fears that his capture would expose the Nazi past of high-ranking officials in the West German government, which was allied with the United States.

Trump Fires Jewish Contestant
An observant Jew failed in his bid to become Donald Trump’s next apprentice. Lee Bienstock was fired Monday on the season finale of “The Apprentice.” Bienstock and another Jewish contestant, New Jersey’s Dan Brody, observed Rosh Hashanah together early in the season missing the third episode’s task but only Bienstock, who grew up in the New York area, stayed in the show long enough to observe Yom Kippur, missing another task.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Disengagement Dashes, Spurs Dreams


The evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements is not just a struggle over the question of the future of the territories. At the very core, the pullout was the first big battle on the question of religion and state.

They [religious settlers opposed to the withdrawal] have their own dream. The first stage is the “whole land of Israel,” filled wall-to-wall with Jews-only towns. True, Palestinians and Thai workers can come in to do the dirty work but no more.

The second stage is to transform Israel into a halachic state, a country ruled by Jewish religious law. Elections, the Knesset, the government and the courts may continue to function, but settler rabbis will decide just what issues are appropriate for these bodies to decide and what issues are too “holy” and important to be left to the people and their elected officials.

In their dream world, there is no place for secular Israel: Its culture is not culture; its values are not values; its opinions are not opinions.

In the eyes of the settlers, we are all poor, underprivileged children who never had the chance for a Jewish education. In their dream, our task is to become religious and to join them or at least not to stand in the way while they bring the Messiah.

We must nullify ourselves, and in return, they will hug us, sweetly, of course, and with lots and lots of brotherly love. But if we refuse, the brotherly love and the hugs will go out the window, and we will become little more than traitorous leftists or Nazis.

But we nonreligious Israelis also have a dream. We want to live in an enlightened, open and just country, not in some messianic, rabbinic monarchy and not in the whole land of Israel. We came here to be a free people in our own land.

To be a free people means each person is entitled to choose which parts of Jewish tradition are important to him and which to leave behind. It means to have the freedom to run our country according to our free will, rather than rabbinic dictates.

It means recognizing we are not alone in this land — and demanding from the Palestinians that they do the same.

It means to free ourselves, once-and-for-all, from the nightmare of being an occupying, uprooting, exploiting, settling, expropriating, humiliating, discriminatory country.

For more than 30 years, the settlers’ dream has choked the dream of free Israelis. The dream of the whole land of Israel and a messianic kingship drains daily the hope of being a people free to build a just society.

For more than 30 years, the settlers’ dream has trampled my dreams and those of my friends. But because of this, I can understand the settlers’ pain and desperation as they watch their dream collapse before their eyes.

They are experiencing exactly what my friends and I have gone through because of them, all this time. I opposed their project from the onset, from the very first settlement.

I look into their eyes, and I see true desperation and true pain, and without the slightest joy, I can say: The pain you are going through today is very similar to the pain you have put free Israel friends through for more than 30 years.

I will respect your mourning by remaining silent, but I cannot share in your grief.

And what will be after all the grief? Israel, for all her faults, is all we’ve got. It’s easy to throw stones at her, but this is not the country we prayed for.

The floor is deep, the ceiling cracked, the lights go off three times a day.

It’s easy to come up with substitutes for this Israel, easy to build castles in the sky about messianic monarchies on one hand and post-Israelism on the other.

But Israel, for all its faults, is all we’ve got.

Perhaps instead of kicking her, the time has come to get up and start fixing a little bit: to free ourselves of the occupation that continues to corrupt us; to renew our social solidarity.

A bit less “brotherly love,” a bit more responsibility for others less fortunate than ourselves. A bit less holiness; a bit more justice. A bit less of the whole land of Israel, and a State of Israel a bit more whole with itself.

Through the murky cloud of poetic words and sobs, we can sometimes see during these very days the State of Israel’s quiet, beautiful face: [These are] the faces of youngsters in uniforms who chose, despite the pressure and violence, despite the curses and false hugs and emotional manipulation, to get up and protect with their body the dream of being a free people — to not rule over the Palestinians and to not be ruled over by rabbis.

The beaten, humiliated, slapped-on-the-face soldier boy, the police officer who was spat in the face — at this time they are the brave defenders of the State of Israel in the face of the unruly wave of zealousness.

The young soldier girl, her throat choked by tears, barely 19 years old, already carries the burden of the 2,000-year hope to be a free nation in our country on her shoulders.

Not in Palestinian Gaza, but rather, in our country.

With assertiveness and silent courage, but also with restraint, wisdom and compassion, this female soldier is currently protecting our most vital border — the border between what is allowed and what is not.

This is the border without which we will have no state and without which there is no freedom, no society, nothing but fiery zealousness, messianic-hysterical extremism and complete destruction — a state of affairs the Jewish people has known more than once in the past.

Reprinted with permission www.ynetnews.com.

Amos Oz is one of Israel’s most celebrated authors. This essay originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on Aug. 21, 2005, following the disengagement. He will speak at Sabbath services on Friday, May 19, at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood. The public is invited. For more information, call (310) 475-7311.

 

Nation & World Briefs


Israel Upholds Contested Immigration Law

Israeli Arabs are upset after Israel’s top court upheld a controversial law that prevents Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from living in Israel.

By a vote of 6-5, the High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected petitions filed against the Citizenship and Entry Law.

While acknowledging that the law violates the human rights of the thousands of Israeli Arabs married to Palestinians, the High Court said national security must take precedence.

At least one of the Palestinian suicide bombers to have struck since 2000 was a resident of Israel through marriage, and Israeli Jews are all the more suspicious of Palestinians since they voted in a Hamas government earlier this year.

“The Palestinian Authority is an enemy government, a government that wants to destroy the country and is unwilling to recognize Israel,” Justice Mishael Cheshin wrote.

But Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population, voiced their opposition to the decision.

“On this day, the High Court effectively approved the most racist legislation in the State of Israel: legislation which bars the unification of families on the basis of national belonging: Arab Palestinian,” Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, said in a statement.

Adalah likened the ruling, which means that many Israeli Arabs will either have to live apart from their Palestinian spouses or move to the West Bank or Gaza Strip, to South Africa under apartheid. Israeli officials have long rejected such comparisons as false, given the open conflict with the Palestinians and other constitutional rights generally enjoyed by Israeli Arabs.

First passed in 2002 at the height of the terrorist attacks, the Citizenship and Entry Law all but banned residency rights for the Palestinian spouses of Israelis.

An amended version in 2003, when the High Court petitions were first filed, loosened the law to allow eligibility for female candidates older than 25, and men older than 35 — ages at which Palestinians are statistically far less likely to take up arms.

Then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said national security justifies the law. But she also cited growing fear of an influx of Palestinians seeking the better life on offer in Israel, some of them through fictitious marriages with Israeli Arabs.

“There is nothing wrong with looking to safeguard Israel’s Jewish majority by law,” she said at the time.

Her successor, Haim Ramon, said Sunday that he would seek to enshrine the Citizenship and Entry Law in Israel’s Basic Laws.

“The High Court ruling appears to apply to a certain population sector, but I intend to make a law that will apply to everyone,” he told Army Radio. “Under the law, a citizen of a hostile country won’t be able to adopt Israeli citizenship, except under certain circumstances that the state will determine.” — Dan Baron, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

American Teen Dies of Bomb Wounds

An American teenager died of wounds sustained in last month’s Tel Aviv suicide bombing. Daniel Wultz, 16, succumbed Sunday in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, becoming the sole American fatality of the April 17 attack. Wultz, of Weston, Fla., was visiting downtown Tel Aviv with his father over Passover when they were hit by shrapnel from a Palestinian suicide bomber. Tuly Wultz, who suffered light injuries, went on to organize prayer campaigns for his son’s recovery. Daniel Wultz was the 11th fatality from the bombing, which was carried out by Islamic Jihad. Another casualty, 26-year-old Israeli Lior Enidzer, died last Friday. He had recently married.

Israel Gets Spot on U.N. Committee

Israel was appointed to a spot on the United Nations committee on nongovernmental organizations. The committee of the U.N. Economic and Social Council meets twice annually and reviews applications for special status with the commission. “Maybe our membership in the committee will help make Israeli NGOs more aware of this avenue and encourage them to seek a relationship with the economic and social council,” said Marco Sermoneta, a counselor at Israel’s mission to the United Nations. In addition, he said, membership would be a “good way to diversify our visibility in the United Nations.”

Poet Stanley Kunitz Dies at 100

Stanley Kunitz, a former U.S. poet laureate who made metaphoric use of the Talmud and other Jewish images in his poetry, died Sunday at 100. Kunitz, who was known for writing on themes ranging from life and death to gardens, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1959. The son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, he gave up his dream of earning a doctorate at Harvard after being told that non-Jewish students wouldn’t enjoy being taught English literature by a Jew. A pacifist, Kunitz was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and, later, U.S. military involvement in Central America and Iraq.

Abbas Criticizes Hamas

Mahmoud Abbas assailed Hamas for harming the Palestinians’ image abroad. In a speech broadcast Monday, the Palestinian Authority president called on the Islamic terrorist group to renounce violence and accept peacemaking with Israel now that it’s leading the P.A. government.

“We must not resign ourselves to fiery speeches and slogans that could bring about international isolation,” Abbas said.

He added that by continuing to call for the Jewish state’s destruction, Hamas justifies Israeli arguments that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. Abbas also appealed to Israel not to implement Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s “convergence plan,” under which it will withdraw unilaterally from parts of the West Bank and annex others in the absence of peace talks.

Pilgrims Flock to Tunisian Synagogue

Thousands of people attended the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to the Tunisian island of Djerba. The two-day celebration at the Ghriba Synagogue marks the end of a legendary plague 2,000 years ago. The synagogue was the site of a 2002 Al-Qaida terrorist attack that killed 21 people, mostly German tourists. The synagogue is the oldest Jewish house of worship in Africa and serves one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities.

Holocaust-Era Archives to Open?

A commission of 11 nations is expected to vote to open Holocaust-era archives. Representatives of the countries that oversee the former Nazi files met Tuesday. Germany recently agreed to open up the archive, which contains 50 million files and is administered by the Red Cross.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Dr. Freud at 150


“Why,” Sigmund Freud once asked rhetorically, “did it [psychoanalysis] have to wait for an absolutely irreligious Jew?”

Why indeed?

Freud was born in Freiberg, in the Austrian empire, on May 6, 1856, 150 years ago this weekend. Three years after his birth, his family moved to Vienna. There, the reaction of Freud’s personality to the mix of cultural, political and scientific forces was such that — we may state in hindsight — psychoanalysis could not have been created by anyone else in any other time or place.

Already for 1,000 years, in the Islamic and Christian worlds, medicine had been a Jewish profession par excellence. In late 19th century Vienna, as well, a vastly disproportionate number of doctors were Jews, and they were contributing mightily to the explosive development of modern medical science.

But the Austrian political climate was souring. A few decades of liberalism (in the European sense of individual freedom) were followed by a reactionary wave of Austro-Germanic nationalism and anti-Jewish politicking.

In the new age of medical specializations, the prejudiced academic powers that be were channeling Jewish medical students away from the prestigious mainstream fields, like internal medicine and surgery, into marginalized specialities: dermatology, ophthalmology — and psychiatry.

Yet if some Jewish doctors were being pushed into psychiatry, many others were voluntarily drawn to it. For the Jews of late 19th century Vienna were facing mental pressures different from any in past Jewish history.

For centuries, Diaspora Jewish physicians and philosophers, such as Maimonides, had written on the means of attaining spiritual well-being, often in a sea of hostile humanity. Their compass was the age-old Jewish religious and cultural values.

Now, however, Jews were being set adrift in an era of modernity that they themselves were doing so much to create. Nowhere more so than in Vienna, as the 20th century approached — where Josef Popper-Lynkeus and Ludwig Wittgenstein were developing their radical philosophies of science and technology, and Arnold Schoenberg would soon experiment with daringly atonal music.

Little wonder that the pioneering psychiatrist-anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, author of “Man of Genius,” attributed the apparently high rates of insanity among his fellow Jews to “intellectual overactivity.”

Such was the atmosphere in which Freud found himself. No longer a Jew in the religious sense but of the rationalist tradition of Judaism (“free from many prejudices which restrict others in the use of their intellect,” as he put it), Freud first made important, if unrevolutionary, contributions to our understanding of aphasia (major speech impairment due to physical trauma or stroke).

By the 1890s, however, Freud became intrigued by more cryptic language disturbances as signs of neurotic conflicts caused by hypothesized unconscious forces: slips of the tongue in wakefulness, and the largely imagistic and apparently nonsensical — but in fact symbol-laden — “language” of dreams at night.

Freud famously called dreams “the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious.” And his own dreams and their analysis revealed to him a whirl of conflicts around his Jewish identity.

Thus to cite just one of many examples, Freud dreamt that he sat almost in tears beside a fountain at the Porta Romana in Italy. The children had to be moved to safety, and a boy who was but wasn’t Freud’s son said to him in farewell the nonsensical “auf ungeseres,” instead of the usual “auf wiedersehen.”

Among a labyrinth of free-associations the next morning, Freud recalled his actual viewing of the Porta Romana (the gateway to Rome and, by implication, the Roman Catholic Church) during a recent visit to Siena, where the Jewish director of a mental hospital had been forced to resign. Returning to Vienna, Freud had attended a play on the Jewish question called, “The New Ghetto.”

Freud linked the dream fountain to the refrain, “By the waters of Babylon … yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” The seemingly nonsensical farewell, “auf ungeseres,” derived from the German word for unleavened bread and a Hebrew word for imposed suffering. Clearly, the life as a Jew in fin-de-si?cle Vienna was one of exile, with professional barriers and social burdens imposed on him and his children.

Such encumbrances could be relieved in a day with a splash of baptismal water and assimilation into Austria’s Roman Catholic majority. But Freud would have none of that.

“I considered myself German intellectually, until I noticed the growth of anti-Semitism. Since that time, I prefer to call myself a Jew,” he defiantly declared. “A Jew ought not to get himself baptized — it is essentially dishonest.”

If Freud’s view of dreams had been limited to analyzing them for various personal and cultural conflicts — some of which are lurking below the level of consciousness — it would have been a significant but unrevolutionary contribution to psychology.

But to repeat Lombroso’s term, the “intellectual overactivity” characteristic of so many modern Jews was part and parcel of Freud’s genius. Thus he went on to develop his psychoanalytic model with its Oedipus and Electra sexual complexes, supposedly laid down in early childhood, and continuing to dominate the unconscious id of the adult mind.

The libido, Freud theorized, ultimately supplies the driving force behind all dreams. A task of civilization was to channel such forces to higher goals. This, too, was part of the millennia of Jewish tradition.

“In his inner being, the Jew, the true Jew, feels only one eternal guide, one lawgiver, one law,” Freud proudly declared. “That is morality.”

Such radical theories faced a long uphill battle against the conservative medical establishment. But, as Freud told his B’nai B’rith lodge brothers, “As a Jew, I was prepared to join the opposition and to do without agreement with the ‘compact majority.'”

The psychoanalytic theory ultimately did gain much acceptance. It was Freud’s international reputation that allowed him to flee Vienna after the genocidal Nazis took control of Austria in 1938.

When Freud died in London two years later, he was more of an exile than even he would ever have dreamt when first developing his model of the mind. But disciples of his were in the Land of Zion — pursuing a Jewish dream that would become reality.

Dr. Frank Heynick’s most recent book is “Jews and Medicine: An Epic Saga” (KTAV, 2002), in which Sigmund Freud plays a prominent role.