Bending the rules

Bending the Taharah Rules By Rick Light


He was a boy of 19.  He had a full curly beard and brown hair that flowed in waves.  His father found him.  He had duck-taped a plastic bag over his head and inserted a propane hose.

Only two of us were available to perform the taharah, the first taharah for both of us in many months, although both of us were experienced in this holy ritual.  I was asked to lead.  When we arrived at the funeral home, right away things were unusual.  The father met us almost immediately and made two very specific requests: (1) that he (the father) be allowed to see his son prior to closing the casket, as he needed to see him differently than the horrid vision so compelling that met him when he found his son; and (2) that their son be buried in the street clothes provided, a strong demand of his wife.  No, they didn’t want tachrichim under the clothes.  And, no, they didn’t want the tachrichim laid on top of their son.

A rush of feelings overwhelmed me.  I could immediately relate to the father, who just lost his son and more than that, had found him and had that image burned into his memory like a hot brand.  And, of course, I wanted to help him in any way that I could.  Coupled with these feelings and deepening my concern were the strong feelings inside me that taharah has specific ideas on how things are to happen, and right away we were not “following the rules.”  On one hand we were supposed to be anonymous, the family and community were not supposed to know who participated in the taharah, and especially, the family was not to know us so as not to feel obligated to thank us.  So the fact that the father had approached us directly was already an assault on regularity.  Then there were the requests he made, which again were outside of the norm, and on the surface seemed extraordinary and something inappropriate to request; but upon a moment’s thought, it was obvious that these could be accommodated if we were just willing to not follow strict traditional practices.  Inside I felt overwhelmed with compassion for this father and family, torn between doing traditional practices and breaking tradition to meet the needs of this family.  In the end, through all of this, which lasted only moments, I remembered to ask myself, “whose death is this?”, and I was given a way to navigate these strong waves of emotion, and come to a clear resolution as to how respect both tradition and this family.

We promised to honor the father, the wife, and the son.

The taharah process was not difficult.  There were no medical devices to worry about, no bleeding to worry about, no bedsores, no open wounds, nada.  This was a healthy young man in his prime.  It was a bit tricky at times since there were only two of us, but it was manageable.

But the taharah itself was difficult. Very difficult.  This was a healthy young man in his prime.  He was the same age as my colleague’s son, and a decade younger than my son.  We both have children and could not easily accept this young man’s death.

In addition, it occurred to me that bending the rules (doing something other than what is Jewish tradition under the local minhag for taharah) to honor the family was certainly not new.  Yet, these requests seemed hard to do.

After some reflection, and with inner guidance, I thought of a respectful and meaningful way to make this work for the two of us on the taharah team, and for the family.

We proceeded to do a “normal” taharah on this young man, just the two of us.  We had to pour the taharah water twice as we had an unexpected break in the flow of water.  No worries, we just did it again.  When we finished drying him after the pouring of the water, it was the normal time to dress and casket the deceased.  But instead, we were to dress him in street clothes, and not the vernacular suit and tie, rather we were given an old shirt, colored underpants, jeans, fun socks, and shoes.  I halted.  The dressing is part of the liturgy, part of the midwifing of this holy soul.  So I could not just “dress him in street clothes.”

I remembered another taharah many years ago, in which a man’s wife requested that he be buried in a robe he had received when he was awarded an honorary degree.  We agreed to honor her request, and when the time came, we simply dressed him in the normal tachrichim, and afterwards had the funeral home personnel come in to cut the robe up the back and lay it over him like a blanket.  It worked beautifully.  But today we were not allowed to do that.

We looked for the first time at the clothes provided by the family.  The shirt had metal snaps.  Another rule to bend?  I thought of yet another taharah, years ago for a teenaged girl, where the father had requested that her favorite jacket be included in the casket; it had metal snaps and metal zippers not only up the front but also elsewhere on the jacket as part of its style, all of which I painfully removed preserving the integrity of the jacket before giving it to the team to place into the aron (a process that took over an hour).  This time, however, honor for the family required that I leave the shirt alone.  I wrestled with this for a bit and then decided it was simply OK, in fact it was more than OK, for kavod hameit dictated that it was required for us to honor this family and this youth by dressing him in this shirt.  The pants were simple black denim jeans with a belt (with a metal buckle).  Again, the same principles applied.  We laid the clothes aside until needed.

We prepared the aron as usual, with sovev in place and earth from Israel sprinkled inside.

Once the aron was ready, we didn’t just dress him in street clothes as requested.  Instead, we carefully laid each piece of tachrichim over his body where that piece belonged, and said the liturgy for that part of clothing, and then removed it and dressed him in his street clothes.  And so it went with each piece of the tachrichim, each piece with its liturgy followed by street clothes, everything but the head covering, which we left off until after the father had seen him.

Well, almost everything.  I just couldn’t put shoes on him.  Just didn’t seem right.  So we left his feet wearing his colorful fun socks.

Before casketing him, I carefully folded and laid the tachrichim into the sovev creating a bed upon which he would rest, with the tallit laid in waiting over these, to be wrapped around his shoulders. We laid him into the waiting sovev, wrapped his tallit around him and took him out to say goodbye to his father.

After the father had spent time with him, we brought the son back into the taharah room, where we tied the gartel of the tachrichim around his waist, being careful to make sure the knots were just right.  Then we tucked the removed tzitzit from his tallit into the gartel, placed the sherbloch over his eyes and mouth, and placed the head covering over his kippah.

We asked for forgiveness, closed the lid, read the remaining prayers and readings, and returned him to the waiting room with a candle on the casket over his head, where he stayed for only a few minutes before being whisked away for burial.

As we began to clean up, I felt numb.  We had completed our task, yet it was not over.  Something seemed unfinished.  We went through the process of finishing, but I felt both that we had done something very good here, and at the same time, I felt that something was truly out of harmony.  This death was simply wrong and we were unable to fix that.

After cleaning up and ending the taharah process as usual, we went to a local restaurant for a meal and some decompression.  Then it hit me how hard this had been for each of us.  Neither of us could express what we felt, nor how deeply it had impacted us.  But after an hour of sharing and just being together, we both felt almost whole again.

After getting home, and thinking about this, I realized that although I had thought our luncheon discussion had enabled me to process this taxing and unusual ritual experience, it became obvious as I began to write this story that I needed to write this, as I was still processing the deep emotional impact of that day.  And, yes, it was a blessing and a very humbling thing in which to participate.  But it was also a very hard thing to do, and it will take time to integrate.

I pray that he be guided on his new path, and that we be forgiven for our inadequacies.  I know I wasn’t up to my usual skill level, and, I although I felt that we did the best we could, we didn’t do it perfectly, we tried to do the right things under the circumstances, and still, still, I felt we didn’t do enough, we couldn’t do enough.  And, that emptiness remains…

Yet, how can one ever do enough for one so young and prime and beautiful?

May his memory be a blessing.

Rick Light has been teaching spiritual development in various ways for more than 30 years and has been studying and practicing meditation for more than 40 years. He is a leader in the community of those who prepare Jewish bodies for burial, has published four books in this regard, and for 18 years was President of a local Chevrah Kadisha he started in 1996. He is on the Board of Directors of Kavod v’Nichum, is a faculty member of the Gamliel Institute, and continues to lecture and raise awareness about Jewish death and burial practices at the local, state, and national levels.  For more information see richardalight.com.

Richard A Light

Rick Light

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting roughly in January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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My Jewish Credo


About 20 years ago, a Jewish publication in Australia invited me to make a list of my basic Jewish beliefs. I found the exercise much more difficult and much more significant than I had anticipated. I have come to believe that all those who consider themselves thoughtful individuals should draw up a list of their fundamental beliefs — not only religious ones, but political, social and moral as well. At least as much as our psyche and our nature, our core beliefs are what make us who we are.

Unlike my list of 20 years ago — which I have not looked at in preparing this list — I have appended a “therefore” to each belief. The reason is that the “therefores” are even more important than the beliefs themselves. They are the consequences of the beliefs, and the consequences of any belief are what matter.

Here, then, are one Jew’s core Jewish beliefs.

1. There is a God who is the Creator of the world.

Therefore, life is not a meaningless coincidence, but has ultimate meaning — even if we humans are not fully capable of knowing what that meaning is.

2. This God is a personal God — meaning that God knows each of us.

Therefore, God matters and we matter. If there is a Creator God who does not know His creations, He doesn’t matter and we don’t matter. That is why there is no meaningful difference between belief in a God who does not know us and atheism.

3. “Personal God” does not mean that God necessarily intervenes in the life of each of us.

Therefore, we humans should be more concerned with what God wants from us than what we want from God.

4. This God is known as “the God of Israel.”

Therefore, those who say they believe in God but are unwilling to identify this God as the God of Israel believe in another god than believing Jews and Christians do.

5. God is moral and just.

Therefore, God judges all men and women.

6. There is ultimate justice.

Therefore, there is an afterlife. If there were no afterlife, God would neither be good nor just, since there is little justice in this life.

7. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.”

Therefore, the secular West has produced a plethora of foolish, often dangerous, substitutes for God-based religion. These include substitute religions such as socialism, feminism and environmentalism, and evils such as communism and Nazism.

8. The Jews are God’s Chosen People, which means they have been chosen to bring humanity to God and His ethical standards (ethical monotheism).

Therefore, (1) the most evil regimes and doctrines of each generation focus their hatred on the Jews and, (2) there is transcendent meaning to the Jews’ existence and even to the Jews’ suffering.

9. Most Jews do not understand the meaning of chosenness.

Therefore, the greatest Jewish tragedy is that few Jews engage in this mission of the Jewish people. The Jews who talk to the world rarely live or advocate Judaism; and the Jews who live Judaism rarely talk to the world.

10. God blesses those who bless the Jews and curses those who curse the Jews (Genesis 12:3).

Therefore, America, which has blessed the Jews more than any nation in history, has been uniquely blessed; and the Arab world, which curses the Jewish state and Jewish people, is benighted. Conversely, should America abandon Israel, it will cease to be blessed. And only when the Arab world abandons its hate-filled preoccupation with the Jewish state will it begin to leave its benighted state.

11. God cares about goodness more than He cares about anything else. “The holy God is sanctified through righteous conduct” (Isaiah 5:16).

Therefore, God is not sanctified when Jews place law above goodness or when Christians place faith above goodness.

12. Human beings, not animals, are created in God’s image.

Therefore, human life is infinitely more valuable than animal life.

13. God, not human beings, is the author of the Torah.

Therefore, even when the Torah’s laws are time-bound— for example, the temple sacrifices or the potion drunk by an accused adulterer — its values are eternal even when unpopular (for example, man-woman marriage, taking the life of murderers, honoring a parent one does not love).

14. At the present time, conservative Christians — such as Evangelicals — and conservatives generally — such as Wall Street Journal columnists and talk radio hosts — are Israel’s, and therefore the Jews’, best friends. Meanwhile, universities throughout the Western world are centers of Israel hatred.

Therefore, most Jews ought to be suffering from major cognitive dissonance. That which they most distrust — Christians and conservatives — are Israel’s greatest defenders; and that which they most venerate — the universities — are Israel’s greatest antagonists.

15. The Israel-Arab conflict is the morally clearest dispute in our time.

Therefore, anyone who sides with Israel’s enemies or who works to delegitimize Israel has a broken moral compass, is to be feared, and is to be fought by all good people.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Can you say fiduciary duty? Jewish nonprofits must follow new rules


Based on all reports, the evil criminality of Bernard Madoff has decimated the portfolios of hundreds of individuals and charitable organizations. The consequences for ongoing charitable programs and future gifts will be felt for many years to come.

While there should be no limit to the outrage at Madoff, the Jewish not-for-profit community must recognize that this crisis has highlighted grave shortcomings in professional controls in place related to the investment of their funds. Judging from press reports and public communications from numerous institutions, it seems apparent that the basic standards of fiduciary oversight were not in place. Both professional staff and lay leadership should undertake comprehensive reviews of their policies and take responsibility for their shortcomings.

Complete Madoff CoverageAs the community looks forward, it is imperative that the oversight of investments be executed in a manner that meets the highest fiduciary standards. After all, those responsible for overseeing the investments quite literally have the future of many of the most important programs in the Jewish community in their hands.

The large, often undiversified allocations to Madoff indicate that the foundations fell into the worst pitfalls that trap individuals into unwise investments. Among these are: lack of diversification, belief in “genius managers” who promise to deliver above market returns with minimal risk, not understanding the strategy of the funds in which they invest, investing based on reputation rather than doing due diligence and not monitoring the investment activity. While it is bad enough to find individuals who fall into some or all of these traps, to find evidence that those overseeing large sums for the community were no better is very disturbing, to put it mildly.

It also seems from this affair and my research on the investing policies of not-for-profits that many of these institutions joined with the fad of not-for-profits investing in “alternative investments.” Enticed by the success of Yale and Harvard’s enormous endowments they sought to “be like Yale and Harvard” and invest in hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital, commodity funds and other products despite little real knowledge or professional staff. Yet even David Swensen, Yale’s esteemed manager, has written that neither individuals nor small institutions should follow Yale’s strategies since they lack the large professional staff and resources required to properly screen and manage such investments.Yale has 19 full time professionals overseeing their investments, Harvard Management has a full- time staff well over 100.

A Business Week article in May 2006, “Big Risk on Campus,” reported on smaller endowments investing like the big guys, noting that larger endowments (averaging $1 billion or more) had an average of 21.7 percent of their assets in hedge funds. In second position in the article’s table of smaller endowments with big hedge fund stakes was Yeshiva University’s $1.1 billion endowment with 65.3 percent. Yale’s allocation to hedge funds is 23 percent; Harvard’s, 18 percent.

Ironically, while many foundations concentrated on seeking out exotic, high-risk “alternative” investments, they did not look into allocating a portion of their investments to a better “alternative,” such as investments that would not have entailed above-average risks. Examples would include: socially responsible index funds, a broadly diversified index fund of Israeli stocks or investments in indices of companies investing in clean energy. The vast majority of foundations ignored the opportunity for “doing well by doing good” in their quest to find a “hot hand” to manage their money.

Looking forward, it is imperative that our institutions draft clear investment policy statements and establish appropriate policies and controls. Ideally, the foundations would wind up with an investment portfolio in line with the “best practices” of investment strategy and not much different than that of a prudent individual: broadly diversified with low cost, transparent and liquid index instruments.The parameters of such policies would include:

  • A target allocation for the portfolio among international and domestic stocks, bonds and cash, along with controls for keeping the portfolio within those parameters.
  • No investments in bonds below investment grade.
  • Restrictions on investments in asset- backed securities.
  • Restrictions prohibiting any investments that make use of leverage or derivatives.
  • Restrictions on investments in illiquid investments, such as venture capital and private equity, and on investments that do not have transparent pricing and valuation.
  • No investments in any entities affiliated with members of the investment committee, the board or the professional staff. As a consequence of this one policy, the New York Jewish Community Foundation had no investments with Madoff.
  • Ability to price all investments in the portfolio on a daily basis. Confirmations of all transactions by the next business day.
  • Transactional activity and financial reporting performed by different individuals.
  • Monthly performance reports available to all investment committee members.
  • Annual audit of all investments and procedures by an independent third party.

In addition to the above, serious consideration should be given to an even higher level of transparency: complete posting on the Internet of the full portfolio and its value and performance. Given the extreme lack of controls evidenced by the Madoff affair, such an easily implemented step would go a long way to restoring confidence in the community and in fact may be essential for any success in raising the funds necessary to keep many programs afloat.

Lawrence Weinman is an independent registered investment advisor working with individuals and institutions. He teaches a course on investment management for nonprofits at the AJU and has worked with Jewish nonprofits in their investment strategies. He blogs at www.sensibleinvestments.blogspot.com.

Thanks, but No Thanks


As far as I know, there are no such things as federal laws pertaining to dating. Oh, sure, there was that book “The Rules,” a few years back, but those weren’t federal laws; those were simply man-made, or rather, woman-made rules or suggestions. As to why there are no federal laws governing dating — that’s a no-brainer.

Men, for the most part, make the laws. And men, no doubt, realized that if there were actual laws governing dating behavior, no way would there be even one-eighth the necessary jail cells available to hold all the men who regularly violate said dating laws. Hence, no dating laws.

Of course, every now and then one encounters a dating law violator of the female persuasion. Which brings me to my recent date with “Alison.”

Admittedly, I would never have pegged Alison as the date lawbreaking type. Attractive, intelligent, sensitive, good sense of humor and, most importantly, seemed to really like me. Our meeting on an online singles site led to very encouraging e-mail, followed by phoning and, finally, the all-important first meeting — lunch, my treat, good chemistry; ending with her suggesting that I call her to set up date No. 2. So far, so good.

Of course, that was back in the good old days, before Alison and my relationship took several sudden and (at least on my part) unexpected turns toward The Dark Side. The afternoon following our lunch, I called Alison, reached her voice mail, and left a message thanking her for a lovely lunch, saying how much I enjoyed meeting her and that I was very much looking forward to our next date, which we could arrange when she called me back.

I’m big on courtesy and appreciation, both giving it and receiving it, and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t already gotten a “thanks for the lunch/nice meeting you” e-mail from Alison. But I realize not everyone thinks like I do, otherwise the world would be even scarier. I’ll probably get that thank you when she calls me back, I reasoned.

As it turned out, it’s a good thing I’m not a wait-by-the-phone-for-a-return-call kind of guy. Because she did not return my call that afternoon, evening, the following day or even the day after that. Unless, God forbid, something terrible happened to her, thereby immobilizing her, it slowly dawned on me that People magazine would most likely not be reserving photo space for us in their Lovers of the Year issue.

Any reasonable man in this situation would have simply gotten the silent message loud and clear, written Alison off and moved on to greener, more appreciative pastures. But this is me we’re talking about. I felt the need to let her know that although I got the message (or lack thereof) that she was not interested in meeting again, I felt it was discourteous on her part to a) not e-mail a “thank you for lunch, it was nice meeting you but I didn’t feel the magic, good luck” kind of acknowledgment, and b) to have ignored my call after she invited me to call.

This, finally, motivated Alison to respond, and I quote: “While it is obvious you know nothing about me, your missive revealed so much about you. You are a pompous, pathetic man. Grow up.”

OK, that did it. I immediately crossed Alison’s name off my Chanukah card list. But in truth, I was baffled. Perhaps I delude myself in thinking that most people, and especially women, have a certain degree of humanity, sensitivity and consideration. And perhaps this is payback, with Alison having reversed the traditional male-female roles, with her taking on the male role of the love ’em and leave ’em cad, and me becoming the female who needs to communicate feelings. I’d rather, though, think of it this way — most people I meet are sensitive, appreciative and caring. So when I encounter one who does not have those mensch-like qualities, it only serves to make me appreciate the others all the more. Of course, when I become King of the Universe, dating laws will require thank-yous and immediate, considerate responses. Too bad, Alison. You could have been my queen.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian, and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net

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World Court Poses U.S., Israel Threat


The new International Criminal Court sounds like such a good idea, why would either the United States or Israel oppose it?

The court came into existence on July 1, when 60 countries ratified the treaty establishing it. The court’s mission is to punish genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes — a noble and uncontroversial goal.

Yet both the United States and Israel have announced that they will not sign the treaty or participate in the court. The U.S., in particular, has worked to undermine the new tribunal, passing legislation that protects American troops from an International Criminal Court prosecution and pressuring allies to agree not to extradite Americans to the court.

Shunning an institution that fights genocide and war crimes may seem sinister, and human rights activists have protested the United States’ and Israel’s stance. For Jews, who were victims of genocide during the Holocaust, opposing such a court is far from comfortable.

But opposition to the court is justified. Far from having power to prosecute only heinous offenses that all civilized nations condemn, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, will be applying a complicated series of new rules set forth in the Rome Statute (adopted at a U.N. conference in Rome) governing the court. The list of "crimes" in the Rome Statute goes on for 12 pages. The description of the elements of those crimes runs nearly 50.

The result is a legislative act of extraordinary complexity that authorizes the ICC to impose criminal punishment in cases where international law is far from clear.

Consider one of the crimes that the ICC will interpret and prosecute: "Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilian objects … which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated."

One of the horrors of war is that it often causes the death of innocent civilians. How would the allied bombing of Dresden in World War II — not to mention the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — have fared under this indeterminate standard? Or recent bombing campaigns in Afghanistan or the Gaza Strip that caused civilian deaths?

The question of whether such bombing is appropriate — or whether it is a war crime — will be left to the sole discretion of ICC judges.

Another crime that was included in the Rome Statute — at the request of the Egyptian delegation, and over Israel’s bitter protests — is "the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." The crime is an adaptation of language in the post-WWII Hague Convention that forms the basis for the charge that Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law.

The definition of this crime is limited only by a footnote that says that the term "transfer" needs to be "interpreted in accordance with the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law," without providing any further guidance

While much is unclear about the International Criminal Court’s future, the following is certain: Israel’s opponents will make every effort to have Israelis tried for the crime of building settlements.

Rejection of the treaty does not automatically exempt Americans or Israelis from the court’s self-defined authority. The Rome Statute allows the ICC to assert jurisdiction not only over citizens of countries that have ratified the treaty but also whenever the alleged crime occurs on the territory of a ratifying country.

So if the United States undertakes a peace-keeping mission in the Congo, which has ratified the treaty, the court could hold a trial and imprison U.S. troops who act inconsistently with the regulations of the Rome Statute. If Syria ratifies the treaty, it could argue that the ICC should assert jurisdiction over settlement building on the Golan, since this alleged crime is taking place on Syrian territory.

The court’s supposed procedural safeguards offer little comfort. The ICC is supposed to assert jurisdiction only if the national court, like the U.S. or Israeli court system, is "unable or unwilling" to prosecute the accused war criminal. But this provides no protection where the court and the country disagree in principle on what conduct constitutes a crime.

For example, if an Israeli court were to determine that settlement activity does not constitute a "war crime," it is unlikely that such a decision would deter the ICC from proceeding with its own prosecution. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC itself investigates, decides its own jurisdiction, acts as judge and jury and doles out punishments.

This poses far too much risk for both the U.S., which undertakes sometimes unpopular military action in its role as the world’s sole remaining superpower, and for Israel, which suffers persistent international browbeating at the hands of the United Nations.

The specter of politically motivated prosecutions of Americans or Israelis cannot be ignored, because the Rome Statute is broad enough to allow them to go forward unchecked.


Joseph M. Lipner is a Los Angeles attorney.

Law and Order


In a Sept. 11 New York Times Op-Ed piece by Thomas L. Friedman on the feelings of angst that linger a year after Sept. 11, 2001, the distinguished columnist reports that he turned to Rabbi Tzvi Marx, a teacher in the Netherlands. Here’s what Marx told Friedman:

"To some extent, we feel after Sept. 11 like we have experienced the flood of Noah — as if a flood has inundated our civilization and we are the survivors. What do we do the morning after?

"What was the first thing Noah did when the flood water receded and he got off the ark? He planted a vine, made wine and got drunk.

"But what was God’s reaction to the flood? Just the opposite. God’s reaction was to offer Noah a more detailed set of rules for mankind to live by — rules which we now call the Noahite Laws. God’s first rule was that life is precious, so man should not murder man. [Additionally, put in place were prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, blasphemy and theft.]

"It is as though God said, ‘Now I understand what I’m up against with these humans. I need to set for them some very clear boundaries of behavior, with some every clear values and norms, that they can internalize.’

"God, after the flood, refused to let Noah and his offspring indulge themselves in escapism, but God also refused to give them license to live without moral boundaries, just because humankind up to that point had failed."

It’s so very typical of Friedman to focus on a tragic event and to help lead us out of the darkness of despair not only by means of his own sagacious observations, but with the guidance of a contemporary seer.

While we continue to work ourselves through the grief and shock that Sept. 11 heaved upon our hearts and minds, as that flood of feelings recedes, are we willing to be like Noah or do we have the capacity to emulate God?

Even though Noah is described as a righteous man, the Torah provides us with a caveat; namely, it is written that he was "the most righteous man in his generation." This is hardly a flattering statement!

After all, his peers were constantly disappointing God — to the point that they had to be totally blotted out from existence. So, it’s obvious that Noah was barely better than they were.

Therefore, if a new world and a more reliable set of human beings were to arise out of the ruins of the flood, God had no choice but to reluctantly use Noah as the progenitor, and to add to the mix a plethora of rules and regulations.

Today, we are witnessing a considerable number of men and women who have come away from the tragedy that was wrought upon victims and their survivors in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania — and upon each one of us — acting like Noah. They are so blinded by anger and drunk with power that they want to lash out at the world about them.

Falling prey to stereotyping and scapegoating, they choose to believe that most Muslims, Arabs and non-Jewish residents in or immigrants from the Middle East are either terrorists or advocates of terrorism. They want to settle their differences by trampling upon constitutional guarantees of freedom and due process. They want to unleash the military might of our nation upon its enemies — real and imagined.

Noah-like, we can join their ranks or we can emulate God as depicted in this week’s Torah portion by giving evidence that we are wise and prudent, strong and patient and ever-reliant on laws instead of raw passions.

Certainly, America has its enemies and we need to deal with them in ways in which their threat to our way of life is totally wiped away. But this does not give us license to cast blame on an entire people simply because of their religious affiliation or national origin.

Rather, we must concentrate on those specific individuals who are our antagonists, marginalize them and strip away their power and influence on others.

"Military operations, while necessary, are not sufficient. Building higher walls may feel comfortable, but in today’s interconnected world they’re an illusion," Friedman said. "Our only hope is that people will be restrained by internal walls — norms and values. Visibly imposing them on ourselves, and loudly demanding them from others, is the only survival strategy for our shrinking planet.

"Otherwise, start building an ark."

This is sound advice that we and everyone else better listen to and accept before it’s much too late.

Southern Scandals


TV writer Loraine Despres dreamed up her award-winning debut novel, "The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc," (William Morrow, $24) after a creative writing class stirred her memories of growing up Jewish in Amite, La.

Despres recalled the bullet holes in her bedroom wall, courtesy of the night the anti-Semitic "Just Our Kind" gang tried to run her family out of town in the early 1900s. "They galloped into the yard of our white, columned house yelling, ‘Prepare to meet your maker!’" says Despres, who’ll speak about her book at the National Council of Jewish Women on Dec. 4. "Fortunately, my great-grandmother was a good shot."

Another family story was the time a neighbor walked into her grandfather’s store after spying his wife with another man in a nearby bar. "He bought a gun, walked back to the bar, and shot them dead," the author says. "My grandfather felt so guilty that he vowed he’d never sell another handgun on credit."

Over time, Despres’ reminiscences began congealing into a story — a fictional love triangle set at the dawn of the civil-rights movement in an anti-Semitic hamlet just like Amite. The author envisioned the illicit lovers as Sissy LeBlanc, a 32-year-old housewife stuck in a sham marriage; and Parker Davidson, her tall, dark and Jewish high school sweetheart, just returned to town. Despres decided that the first time Sissy sees Parker again, she’d notice that "his shrink-to-fit jeans had shrunk just right."

"Sissy began to bother me after that," confides Despres, who now lives in Beverly Hills with her husband, a TV producer. "She kept coming to me at night. I’d be lying in bed, and I’d have to get up to write down what she said."

Like the fictional Parker, Despres had parents who admonished her not to embarrass them in front of the town gentiles. "We played down our Jewishness, but I still felt like an outsider," confides the author, who attended Christian Bible schools because there wasn’t a synagogue for miles.

It wasn’t until she was 12 and her family moved to Chicago that Despres enrolled in Hebrew school and learned about Judaism. Eventually, she studied theater at Northwestern University, moved to Los Angeles in 1975 and began writing for "Love Boat" and "Dynasty." She says she went to work for "Dallas" because "I was Southern, and the show had no Southern writers. They were all New York Jews."

After penning the show’s famed "Who Shot J.R.?" episode, Despres taught screenwriting at UCLA, but tired of the genre by the late 1990s. "I didn’t feel like I had any ideas anymore," says the author, who instead became determined to write her first novel.

As "Sissy" took shape, Despres decided to head each chapter with a different rule from the "Southern Belle’s Handbook" — which is what she had ironically titled the compendium of helpful hints and rules her aunt and grandmother had tried to instill in her.

Despres’ "rules" include tart tips like "When deciding whether or not to have sex, a Southern Belle does exactly what she wants, while perpetuating the illusion that, although this might not be her first time, it’s certainly the first time that ever mattered." She believes her rules have helped out "all those Yankee readers who are beautiful, worked-out, but miserable because they don’t know how to handle a man." Yet she insists her "handbook" is not to be confused with the 1995 self-help book, "The Rules," also for single women, by the Yankee Jewish authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. Those rules include tips like "Don’t talk to a man first." "But a Southern woman does what she pleases," Despres sniffs.

For information about Despres’ appearance at the National Council of Jewish Women, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, call (323) 852-8518.

Rules for Today’s Dating Game


Dating Scenario 1: You meet a Ben Stiller look-alike at a friend’s party. He’s cute, funny and intelligent. You think he could be your leading man until he asks you out for Tuesday night bowling instead of Saturday night for dinner and a movie. You think he just wants to be your buddy. What you don’t know is that he liked you so much he didn’t want to wait until Saturday to see you.

Dating Scenario 2: You’re an environmental lawyer working 80 hours a week. You’re about to join the ‘dateless in despair’ until an activist whose screen name is eco-Babe responds to your online personal. Four weeks later, when the online romance moves offline, she confesses she’s really just a secretary for a politician.

If these misadventures sound familiar, chances are you’re out of touch with the latest rules on how to play today’s dating game. Then again, your date may be a “Rules Girl” while you’re a new-millennium kind of guy, taking your cues from “Kosher Sex,” a book by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, JDate’s matchmaker-in-chief, who has debated “The Rules” authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. And don’t forget that TV addicts may take their dating tips from popular shows such as “Sex and the City” and “Ally McBeal.”

Playing by two different sets of rules — whatever they may be — can generate some serious confusion and mixed signals. Things can get so mixed up that it seems as if you’re stuck inside the “Twilight Zone” of love — where one date is more bizarre than the last. In desperation to find someone “normal,” maybe you’ve tried positive imaging. Unfortunately, when you think about your love life, all you see is a big jigsaw puzzle with a piece perpetually missing.

Whether you’re searching for romance in cyberspace or at a SpeedDating event, the rules can be complicated and downright frustrating. Should you religiously adhere to the three-day waiting period to dial her digits? If the guy wants to go Dutch treat on a first date, will that seal his fate as a cheapskate? Or when you meet your match, do the rules suddenly cease to matter? Here’s the scoop on no-nonsense rules that real singles have used to navigate this brave new world of dating.

Rule No. 1: If you think you’ve found The One, ignore the three-day waiting period.

On a Saturday night in October 1998, Gordon Schwartz, a Young Leadership Division (YLD) member, made a connection with Dawn Sidney (now Mrs. Schwartz). Dawn, a television producer, had just relocated to Chicago from New York and didn’t know anyone. The first phone call she made was to the Jewish Federation. That same day, YLD’s Mr. Social, John Schulman, invited her to a party at Liquid, a Chicago nightclub. She and Schwartz totally clicked. The big question for Schwartz, 33, was how long to wait to call. While some guys might wait a week, he waited less than 48 hours. “I like to think I follow my own book of rules,” said Schwartz. “If you really know someone is The One, you don’t want to let her get away. I really wanted to call [Dawn] the next day, so that’s what I did. We talked for five hours. We got engaged after nine months.”

“I was blown away,” said Dawn, 32. “A guy in New York would never call you the next day. He’d wait a week. You wouldn’t know if you had a good time with him.”

Rule No. 2: Asking a woman out for a Saturday night date is a big deal.

If you ask some women out for a Monday or even a Thursday evening, beware. You could have the phone receiver slammed in your ear. “A woman takes it very seriously when she is not asked out on a Saturday night,” said Dawn. “She has a different attitude. She thinks the guy doesn’t think she’s special.”

Rule No. 3: Fools shouldn’t rush in.

To Shawna Gooze, 23, a human resources assistant, it doesn’t matter what day of the week a guy wants to see her. What happens after the date is more important. “I went out with a very good-looking, nice guy I met at a bar, but he started e-mailing me so much after the first date, it was a turn-off,” she said. “In the beginning, it’s better not to rush a relationship or come on too strong.”

Rule No. 4: Give long distance love a chance.

There’s probably another rule somewhere that says if you enter into a long-distance relationship, you must be meshuge. In May 1998, YLD board member Dan Lichtenstein, 30, saw Liora Gabay, 29, of Kiryat Gat dancing at the Israeli wedding of a mutual friend. When he returned to Chicago, he couldn’t get her off his mind. Six months later when he returned to Israel for a Partnership 2000 site visit, Lichtenstein learned Liora was unattached, so he called her. They went on five dates during Lichtenstein’s 10-day stay in Israel.
“When some of my friends learned I was dating a woman from Israel, they said, ‘Dan, are you crazy?'” he recalled. Not crazy, just head over heels and determined not take the little time he spent with Liora for granted. “When I dated people in Chicago, I followed certain procedures. I saw the movie ‘Swingers’ [the 1996 flick with the “cool guy” lingo] — that’s where I learned my lessons,” he said. “They all flew out the window when I met Liora. I couldn’t just drive 10 minutes to see her.”

Distance made their hearts grow fonder. In June 1999, Liora moved to Chicago. She left behind her family, friends, a job as a social worker, and the Tel Aviv apartment she shared with her sister. On May 25, 2000, Dan and Liora tied the knot in Ashkelon, Israel. Almost a year after the move, Liora reflects, “I still miss my family, but my husband is worth it.”

Rule No. 5: When you move an online romance offline, go public.

When trying to find a date in cyberspace, a set of unwritten rules applies, and some online daters simply make up the rules as they go along, according to Leslie Zimmer, 40, who works for a Lakeview synagogue and has tried several Jewish online dating services.

Zimmer, whose online dating odyssey has most been both frustrating and humorous, followed two main rules. First, she didn’t disclose personal information such as home address, telephone number or work location. Second, she met an online date at a public place such as a coffee shop or restaurant. She also chose to have a few “phone dates” with an online dater before meeting him in person.

Hoping to attract a Jewish Travolta, she began her personal ad with, “Shall we dance?” One guy responded with a cute, clever message that discussed their common interest in dancing. For their first date, they agreed to meet at the 95th Aero Squadron to show off some fancy footwork.

“There was definitely a chemistry,” she said. “We spent three hours dancing, talking and laughing. “After we danced, he just said, ‘Goodnight.’ I was dumbfounded. I happen to have a lot of moxie, so I e-mailed him. He e-mailed back that he just didn’t feel any chemistry. I thought, when he finds someone with chemistry, it must be like an explosion!”

Rule No. 6: If you’re a woman seeking cyberromance, don’t be afraid to initiate the first cybercontact.
The anonymity of online dating makes it easier to sever a bad connection, said Michael Slater, 25, a regional sales manager for MovingStation, a Chicago-based corporate relocation company. In other ways, it’s leveled the playing field by making it acceptable for a woman to initiate cybercontact. “I know from several friends using JDate.com that women are e-mailing guys and asking them out,” he said.

Rule No. 7: Seek advice from a trusted friend if you’re stuck in the dating doldrums.

While it’s clear the Internet has changed the rules of dating, some things never change. Singles still seek advice and support from friends and family, said Slater, who is currently attached. “Sometimes a friend will ask me what I think of a woman’s profile, and I’ll say, ‘You’re not going to know unless you try.’ They just need an extra boost to click that “send” button,” he said. “I don’t want to be known as a yenta (matchmaker), but I just give my friends a push in the right direction. They’ve done the same for me.”

Rule No. 8: Unfortunately, there are no hard-and-fast formulas that guarantee romantic success — except maybe to love as if you’ve never been hurt before and to be yourself.

For helpful hints on the do’s and don’t’s of online dating, check out the SephardiConnection (sephardiconnect.com), which features a discussion forum for Jewish singles.

Jennifer Brody is associate editor of JUF News in Chicago.

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