A Developing Reputation


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This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

Special Report

A Developing Reputation – Messinger channels Jewish help to non-Jewish world

 

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Is Indoor Play Good for Your Kids?


Debbie Friedman was visiting with two other moms at Serrania Park in Woodland Hills on a spring day in 2002 when she noticed their children were talking to a man walking his dog on the other side of the park fence. She went over to see what was happening.

“He said, ‘How old are you kids?’ They replied 4 and 5. He said, ‘Well, I’m 6. What are your names?’ It was a really creepy conversation,” she said.

Friedman said she thanked the man for showing the kids his dog and then sent the kids away.

“A lot of parents have fears of predators in the park watching them. It’s hard to keep an eye on two little ones…. You’re afraid they’re going to run off and someone’s going to snatch them,” she said.

Parents cite a variety of reasons for shying away from taking their children to local parks, from safety to excessively hot, cold or inclement weather to unsanitary conditions on playgrounds and in bathrooms.

When many Jewish parents do take their kids to play outdoors, the locales they pick are often the tonier parks frequented by other Jewish parents, sometimes requiring them to drive 10 or 20 miles. Favored parks include Beeman Park in Studio City, Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills and Serrania Park.

Galit Almog is a working mom from North Hollywood who makes time to take her child to Beeman Park or Balboa Park in Van Nuys, but she said it’s difficult to coordinate play dates with other parents because they also have busy schedules. As a result she said she’s been gravitating toward Gymboree Play & Music, an indoor “edutainment” center.

Structured indoor learn-and-play venues have become increasingly popular as children lead more regimented lives. Academic expectations and after-school activities chew up free time for outdoor exploring, which was once the mainstay of childhood. Experts agree that the amount of play time available to the average child has been dramatically reduced to an hour or less each day. Factor in that many households require both parents to work and it’s easy to understand why indoor play areas are gaining in popularity among young families.

“It’s more structured, you have a teacher, you have music, things to play with and a routine kids get used to,” Almog said.

Brentwood mom Natalie Bernstein is equally enamored with Gymboree after encountering unsanitary conditions at a neighborhood park.

“It’s cleaner, safer and there’s a greater choice of toys,” she said.

Indoor play can also address the needs of parents, said Adrian Becker, the owner of Gymboree Play & Music franchises in Sherman Oaks, Northridge and Calabasas for the last 23 years. Becker said parents — mostly women — come to Gymboree to play with their children, learn songs and develop new parenting skills they can use at home, but most of all they’re looking to make friends.

“I think parents are looking for community, and this is their way of connecting with like-minded people,” she said. “The neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be. It’s hard to make friends in your neighborhood now.”

Suzy Epstein, preschool director of Conservative synagogue B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, said that parents want their children academically prepared, especially since many schools now teach kindergarten as if it were first grade.

“Kids already need to have so many skills that [parents] want children in a structured program, because they’re afraid they won’t be ready for kindergarten,” Epstein said. “It’s our job to prepare them, because that is what they have to face.”

But some experts in children’s recreation say that structuring play and confining it to temperature-controlled environments for safety and comfort reasons isn’t good for children’s development. They call for a balanced approach that includes unstructured outdoor play and caution that too much time spent indoors can have negative physical, social and psychological impacts.

“What’s happened is what [UC Davis play expert] Mark Francis calls ‘the childhood of imprisonment,'” said Randy White, CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group, a firm that designs children’s play and learning centers.

“It’s because of a total fear of public spaces and child abduction. Parents today are horrified. Some parents won’t even let their children play in their own backyard unsupervised. The ‘secured, sanitized spaces’ are what kids are restricted to today,” he said.

White believes this is stifling children.

“Most of these activities are very structured, and young children need play — spontaneous free play, not directed play,” he said.

One indoor venue offering an unstructured approach is Playsource, a playground set up in a Woodland Hills shopping center storefront on Ventura Boulevard. Children stow their shoes in cubbyholes, run across a carpeted floor and choose from jumping in an inflatable castle bounce, scaling a rock wall, climbing inside a spaceship or playing house in a scale model, among other activities. The only time limits placed on kids are the operating hours and their own stamina. Parents take a seat at picnic tables next to the play area and visit with each other, read or eat while the kids play.

Friedman started the playground six months ago as a way to work and spend more time with her own children.

“Parks aren’t relaxing; you’ve got to chase your kids,” Friedman said. “Here, you come in, pay your eight bucks, you pass the gate and sit down.”

Jessica Gottlieb said she drives her two kids to Playsource at least once a week from Sherman Oaks.

“My kids beg for it,” she said. “They aren’t going to get hit, they’re not going to get sand thrown in their eyes. They like that they can be more independent.”

Gottlieb said she tries to split time evenly between outdoor parks and venues like Playsource, but if it gets too hot “we do indoor exclusively.”

Parents who spoke with The Journal said lack of shade at parks adds to their reluctance to visit. Trees in parks have been purposefully cut back from playgrounds out of fear that a parent might sue the city if a falling branch were to strike a child, said Kevin Reagan, the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department’s western regional superintendent.

Reagan said that L.A. Parks and Recreation offers some indoor programs, like gymnastics and dance, as well as some indoor play areas in child-care centers, but there are no plans to cover playgrounds or move them indoors.

“There’s really nothing negative with parents choosing to take their kids to those other facilities,” he said. “We have a lot of people living here and there is no way that the city can provide enough recreational opportunities for every person that needs them.”

However, researchers are finding that spending too much time focused on indoor activities can have detrimental impacts on children’s physical and emotional health. They advise parents to take their children outside more and let them play in ways that they determine for themselves.

“There’s an enormous amount of research finally being done, which is documenting the importance of these types of experiences to children’s development,” White said.

Parents are doing their children a disservice by shielding them from hot or cold days, said Robert Bixler, associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Bixler warns that children will become accustomed to a narrow range of temperatures if they spend too much time in controlled environments. “Air conditioning and heating is wonderfully comfortable, but it ends up limiting the experiences we have,” he said.

Another physical impact on children being traced to an indoor lifestyle is the growing problem of myopia, or nearsightedness. According to research conducted in Japan and Singapore by the Australian National University in Canberra, as kids spend more time indoors, focusing on close objects such as books, TVs and GameBoys, their vision is affected. Another study found that myopia rates in Israel among observant 14- to 18-year-old boys, who focus tremendous amounts of time studying religious texts, is 80 percent; only 30 percent of students in Israel’s secular state schools exhibit such problems.

In addition to physical problems, emotional and social issues also come into play. Can guided play impact a child’s sense of independence? You bet, said Jan Tolan, a CSUN leisure studies and recreation professor who specializes in play and recreation therapy.

“Depriving children of the freedom to explore or learn on their own is hurtful and damaging in many ways,” she said.

Experts acknowledge that directed indoor play can positively impact on a child’s development. But they also believe that when parents de-emphasize the importance of spending time outdoors it reduces a child’s desire to explore the world and can potentially prejudice them against participating in future outdoor activities. “There’s a whole range of experiences people shut themselves off from due to comfort,” Bixler said.

Self-direction, decision making and problem solving can be learned outside of a park, but Tolan believes that these natural spaces encourage greater personal exploration, especially when done in a way that is entirely independent.

“Don’t neglect that free time when the child can interact with the environment in any way they want to,” Tolan said.

She said parents still need to supervise their children for safety reasons when they take them to a park, but from a distance.

“Step in only when it’s absolutely necessary, or when invited by the child,” she said.

Ultimately, recreation experts say parents should provide their children with a much-needed break in the structure of their busy days that will allow for the opportunity to independently explore the world and have fun.

“Balance is a guiding principal in anything. Yes, Gymboree has some things to offer that will help your child develop, but don’t deprive your child of the park experience as well,” Tolan said. “The park is a learning environment, too.”

Five Steps to an Ethical-Action Child


Everything teaches something. Here are five ways to help your children develop an ethical-action consciousness in their everyday lives.

First, be an ethical-action cheerleader and acknowledge your children’s positive behavior. Few learning experiences are as effective as being caught in the act of doing something right. One of the most important things you can do is to simply make sure that your children know that you notice their ethical behavior.

Look for opportunities to acknowledge their ethical decisions and praise them for good moral judgments. When a child offers to help a younger sibling with homework or spontaneously does a favor for someone without expecting anything in return, that child deserves recognition for behavior that reflects good character and values.

Second, reinforce integrity. Every day is filled with opportunities to teach lessons in integrity and trust. Begin by giving children small, easily managed tasks, such as carrying silverware to the dinner table or putting laundry away, and then let the chores become increasingly complex as they grow older.

Every time your child completes an assigned task, tell her how proud you are that she can be trusted to keep her word and follow through on her commitments. This creates a link between integrity, trustworthiness and earning the respect and admiration of loved ones.

Third, use your children’s heroes as teaching examples. Integrity is one of the main ingredients of which children’s media heroes are made — and so, for that matter, are courage, honor, altruism and other positive ethical values. One good way to begin instilling these values is to bring their attention to the way they are expressed by Batman, Superman or other heroes from cartoons, TV and movies.

Any time these heroes act in a way you want your child to emulate can become a teaching moment.

A simple comment like, "What I like most about Steven Seagal’s movies is that he always helps people in need," or "Isn’t it neat how in all the Batman movies he will do just about anything to help the people who need it the most?" will get them thinking in the right direction.

Fourth, find teachable moments in popular culture. Helping your children identify the negative messages they encounter in song lyrics or on TV will to some degree help mitigate the negative effect of the messages themselves. For example, you might ask your children to share with you the words to some of their favorite rock songs, then ask them what they think your impression might be and why. Their answers will reveal much about their attitudes toward the values you think are important, and about how effective you have been in instilling these values in them.

Fifth, nurture your child’s awareness of self. To lead an ethical life, children must be taught the skill of stepping away emotionally from their actions, looking at them objectively and making intelligent choices about whether or not they want to repeat them in the future.

Most children act without examining what they are doing. Teaching them the skill of self-examination and reflection is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

This article originally appeared at jewishfamily.com.

Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi at Kehillath Israel in Pacific Palisades.

Divorced-Dad Dater


For the past two years I’ve been swimming exclusively in the dating pool of divorced dads (DDs). This makes me a Divorced-Dad Dater (DDD).

I love DDs because they will always make sure you’ve had enough to eat and have gone to the bathroom before long car rides. To me, DDs are more colorful than single men, with greater complexity to their lives, navigating sanity, maturity and alimony coupled with the juggling capabilities of a high-wire performer.

My first date with a DD usually begins with his “last marriage soliloquy” delivered with a frown. Then that face transforms into beaming delight as he shares the names and ages of his kids. I always ask to see a photo, because I can see how proud he really is of his offspring. Also, when I see his children’s faces I get an idea of how pretty and/or non-Jewish his ex-wife is. I ask a DD a lot of questions about his kids, because how he treats his children is a lesson in how he’ll treat his date — namely, me. This I learned from my rabbi and Dr. Phil.

Last summer I was seeing two DDs, eager to choose one. Dad A said, “My son came home from summer camp crying because he didn’t have his bathing suit today. It was drying at his mom’s house, so I sent him without it.”

“Why don’t you get your son another bathing suit?” I asked.

“I pay enough child support so that she can go out and get him a swimsuit,” he groused. I felt sad for Dad A’s son.

I called Dad B and said, “How many bathing suits do your kids have?”

“I think they each have five. But today my youngest was pulling at her suit like it was too tight for her. So we ran to the store and got her a new one,” he explained. “It took five minutes and 10 bucks.”

Dad A was history.

Don’t get me wrong, being a DDD is quite complicated, and not for everyone. Many DDs have shared custody of their kids, which includes a major part of every other weekend. That means you’ll have dateless nights and weekends without him — unless you date two DDs who have custody on alternate weekends.

Another downside to DDs is they have other mouths to feed besides yours. Money (and the lack of it) is a frequent topic of conversation, as well as the reason for less-extravagant dates around holidays, birthdays and the back-to-school season. Also, newly DDs often live in small cramped places, where a child may share their bed on custody nights. In the past, when I’ve slept over at a single guy’s house, I’ve turned the pillow on occasion and found another woman’s thong. As a DDD, I’ve turned the pillow and found their 5-year-old daughter’s drool.

Every Sabbath and Jewish holiday that I sit in synagogue with dear friends but without a life partner, I’m reminded that I’m an only child with deceased parents who is alone way too often. What better way to fill those empty places than with the laughter of kids I never diapered?

The allure of DDs for me is that their life experience is more multifaceted than carefree, never-married single men or childless divorced guys. Some of their emotional baggage can walk and talk. I like the thought of getting close to children after they’ve been toilet trained. Having a relationship with a DD gives me the opportunity to build a loving relationship that could lead to a full family, instantly: a loving husband and children to share nightly dinners, summer vacations, Rosh Hashanah, Passover and everything in between.

Still, DDs have just as much dating anxiety, fear of commitment and intimacy issues as single men. One twice-DD canceled a New Year’s Eve date stating, “I can’t get too close to anyone while my kids are still young. When I look at you I see alimony in your eyes. Three strikes and I’m out.”

Yet DDs work hard, play hard and try to please everyone. At the end of the day DDs need an adult to curl up to. According to my guy’s child-care agreement, this Saturday and Sunday is a nonparenting time. I look forward to my visitation weekend.


Arlene Schindler is a writer for numerous national publications and was a relationship expert/guest guru for AOL’s Love-on-Line.

A Ramah Union


David Ross and Lauren Schmidt met for the first time in Los Angeles in May 2000. Or at least, the couple is pretty sure that was the first time.

Raised in Palo Alto, David was an active member of United Synagogue Youth since his early childhood, and spent every summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai, first as a camper and then as a staff member.

Little did he know that his future wife slept only a few bunks away during those summers at Ramah.

Lauren grew up in Austin, Texas, and was involved with Young Judea and various Jewish summer camps. In the summers of 1992 and 1993, Lauren traveled west to work as a counselor at Camp Ramah.

Despite spending summers at the same camp and sharing a passion for music, Lauren and David did not remember meeting each other when their paths crossed again through a mutual friend in 2000.

"It’s almost impossible that we never even said ‘Hello’ through two entire summers at camp," David said. "But we really didn’t remember each other at all."

Although they sensed a connection, Lauren still lived in Austin, and 2,000 miles was enough to dissuade David from pursuing a relationship.

"I remember telling my friends, ‘Too bad she lives in Texas,’" David said. "I thought we really hit it off, so the distance was pretty disappointing."

David’s disappointment soon turned to excitement when he traveled to Texas with his band, Milot Ha’Nefesh, to open for musician David Broza at Young Judea’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Lauren watched, then met David and his band. Even though they barely remembered each other, sparks flew and, three weeks later, David was in Austin meeting Lauren’s family. After a 10-month long-distance relationship, Lauren packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles in February 2003.

Only two months after her move, Lauren found more than matzah in the afikomen bag on the second night of Passover: David had hidden an engagement ring among the broken crumbs.

"Then I got down on one knee, and she said yes," David said. "It worked out well. We had been joking about wedding lists after we were together for three weeks, so it didn’t really surprise either of us."

The couple currently lives in the Pico-Robertson area and is strongly involved in the Jewish community. Lauren, a graduate of the University of Kansas with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas, is a school therapist in Santa Monica. David, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in music composition, still works for Ramah and travels with his band. They will be married on Nov. 2, 2003, at Camp Ramah.

"It’s a little bit like ‘When Harry Met Sally,’" David said. "Their paths had crossed several times over 10 years, but nothing happened. The same was true with us — it just proves to us that it was meant to be."

War Marks Defining Moment for Jews


The current war with Iraq marks a defining moment in the
lives of American Jews and their lives in this country. For generations, Jews
have lived, for the most part, on the left-wing edge of the
American commonwealth.

They have been — in Hollywood, in the political world,
academia and the media — generally hostile to the idea of the projection of
American power and the idea of a new American empire.

This may soon be changing. Although initially somewhat less
supportive of the Iraq invasion than other Americans, Jews are far more behind
the projection of American power, arguably, than at any time since World War
II. Over half of Jews strongly supported the Bush policy before the outbreak of
hostility, according to the Pew Research Center; that percentage has likely
increased more recently, as has occurred in the rest of the population.

How should Jews deal with the fact that America, by invading
Iraq, has become in many ways an openly more assertive kind of empire?

This is no exaggeration. The utter failure of the European
“allies” and the U.N. to stop Iraq’s weapons programs has forced the United
States, with whatever allies it can muster, to operate largely without NATO,
E.U. or U.N. approval.

Yet is becoming an empire necessarily bad?

It depends, clearly, on the nature of the empire. Given the
current world chaos, not only in the Middle East but in North Asia as well,
some power needs to assert itself over the outlaw regimes that seek to gain
weapons of mass destruction.

The U.N. is useless for this; France too interested in
selling its products; Germany too shell-shocked by its past; Russia still
resentful of its decline. Only America can, or better, will, provide a
counterweight for order.

Jews, for many reasons, need to rally to this notion, not
only because of Iraq’s lethal anti-Semitic and anti-Israel stance, but because
Jews, as an exposed minority, need a legal, responsible ordered world system.
The alternative — a world controlled by the likes of Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong
Il — is terrifying.

This support should not be simply couched in terms of
support for Israel. The latent anti-Semitic elements on the left and right —
from Arab activists to Democratic Rep. James Moran and Pat Buchanan — can
easily make the point that Jews pushed the Iraq war simply for Israel’s sake.
Would they, for example, back a possible strike at North Korea or somewhere
else that could be launched for the same principles?

In a sense, we need to transcend two now powerful notions of
Jewish identity. The first, now largely predominant, is one tied up with the
current State of Israel.

This loyalty is understandable but not sufficient for
American Jews’ political identity. As great an idea as the Jewish State may be,
it is only a comparatively small force or ideal compared to that projected by
the might of diverse American republic.

The other is what could be called the “perpetual shtetl”
notion of Judaism. In this, we are always victims and must associate with those
forces — minorities, Third World nations, oppressed genders and sexual groups —
no matter what the consequences to ourselves or the nation. This view
represents a kind of nostalgic identification with either czarist oppression of
the last century or with the experiences of the 1960s.

Neither of these views takes into account the new world
situation. Today it is only America — in Iraq today, in Bosnia before and
perhaps North Korea tomorrow — that stands between global disorder, including
the eventual destruction of Israel and any hope for progress in the 21st
century.

This American empire represents something new and worth our
loyalty. It was designed, as Thomas Jefferson suggested, as “an empire for
liberty.” We do not seek to conquer Iraq like scores of invaders leading up to the
Turks or British, most recently.

After our victory in 1945, we did not occupy permanently
Germany or Japan. Indeed, we even endure strong dissent from these countries
and those we saved from conquest, like France and South Korea. We acknowledge
that dissent is a testament to our national virtues.

But is this new empire good for the Jews?

Throughout our history, Jews have flourished under strong,
and at least basically just, empire. This was true under Cyrus the Great of
Persia, under Alexander and the Ptolemies of Egypt, where Jews constructed
their greatest centers of learning, first in Babylon and then Alexandria. By
the time of the birth of Christ, and before the collapse of the Judaic State,
two-thirds of all Jews already lived outside Palestine, mostly in areas under
some form of strong imperial control.

Even under Rome, which extinguished Jewish independence,
many of our scholars, teachers, craftsmen and traders found a comfortable
existence. Many became citizens, perhaps most famously, Saul of Tarsus, later
to be known as St. Paul. Indeed, after the Second Revolt and the expulsion from
Jerusalem, Jews largely benefited from Pax Romana.

This was particularly true under the enlightened Antonine
emperors. Jewish cultural and community life flourished from the Galilee —
Tiberius alone boasted 13 synagogues — to Mesopotamia, in Alexandria, Spain,
France and Rome, itself.

It was under Roman rule, for example, that the Mishnah was
written. Synagogues were even established and named after emperors like Severus.
Under Rome, we became, for the first time, a truly Diaspora people with global
influence.

This was no accident. At its best, Rome, like America, posed
an ideal of breathtaking scope and cosmopolitan vision. It sought to be a
transnational empire open to diverse races and, in exchange for loyalty,
allowing a wide breadth of religious practice and philosophical practice.

“Rome,” wrote Areistedes, a Greek writer in the second
century, “is a citadel which has all the peoples of the earth as its villagers.”

This universalist notion was perhaps best expressed by
Marcus Aurelius, the emperor and philosopher, who assumed the principate in 161
C.E. at the death of highly regarded Antoninus Pius. Aurelius claimed that he
arose each morning to “do the work of man.”

“For me, Antoninus,” Aurelius wrote, “my city and fatherland
is Rome, but as a man, the world. “

When the order of this empire came about, it was a disaster
for the Jews. As cities declined, commerce waned and superstition, including
within both Christianity and Judaism, waxed, our civilization declined. It was
only with new and healthier imperial structures — notably the Persian
Sassanians and, ironically, the early Islamic empire — that Jewish culture
began to revive again, most notably in Muslim-controlled Spain.

Today’s American empire, not surprisingly, now serves as the
primary center of Jewish culture, creativity and commerce. Israel is important,
but it is essentially a dependency of the American empire.

The connections of Israel to Europe, so beloved by many
liberal Israelis, are likely to weaken further as anti-Semitism and
pro-Islamicist force grow, particularly in France. Israelis, likely in the
hundreds of thousands, gravitate here.

The question is what do Jews owe as citizens of this empire?

I think we have much to offer. To survive, America must keep
its moral compass. It is right for us to question unjust acts and also require
virtue, particularly in areas such as overconsumption of fossil fuels. Our
intellectual and commercial sharpness, and history-shaped experience, represent
an important asset to America.

Will this mean a new American Jewish identity?

Yes, to some extent. Clearly the war in Iraq will accelerate
the gradual shift of Jews toward the center and, to a lesser extent, even to
the right.

Both the old shtetl mentality and that of the 1960s will
also fade, particularly among the young and more recent newcomers to the
country. Recent Russian or Persian immigrants are not likely to be as
enraptured by an old Stalinist like Castro or willing to cut a break to an
anti-Semitic monster like Saddam, as those Jews still romantically attached to
the spent utopianism of the left.

At the same time, the left, the traditional home for many
Jews, seems destined to become increasingly inhospitable to Jews. We have
already seen the marginalization of pro-Israel leftists.

The antiwar movement, with its powerful links in both Europe
and America, with those sympathetic or even supportive of terrorists, places
the opposition uncomfortably in bed with those who want to kill Jews, simply
because they are Jews, in Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires, Tunisia and New York — or LAX
and Sherman Oaks.

Does this mean all Jews will become conservatives after the
war?

No, although most will become further to the right on
foreign policy, as the fact that few Jews in Congress, including liberals, have
been prominent in the opposition to the war. But they will not, I believe,
become a bunch of Rush Limbaugh or even Dennis Praeger “dittoheads.” There are
simply too many issues — abortion, school prayer and economic justice — that
separate most Jews from the Republican mainstream.

But, Jews, like other Americans, will emerge from this war a
changed people. We will come, I believe, with an enhanced notion of connection
to the American empire and to our critical place within it.  

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