Shimon Peres on Facebook: I’m not quite dead yet


Amid rumors of his death, Shimon Peres took to social media to reassure the public he was very much alive.

Rumors flew around social media Monday that the 92-year-old Peres had died, starting on Whatsapp groups and snowballing from there.

“I wish to thank the citizens of Israel for the support, concern and interest, and wish to clarify that the rumors are false,” Peres said in a Facebook post. “I’m continuing with my daily schedule as usual to do whatever I can to assist The State of Israel and its citizens.”

Peres retired as president of Israel in 2014 after more than half a century in public life.

It is believed the death of someone else named Shimon Peres may have sparked the rumors.

Post-election healing — kumbaya in class and at the beach


Alison Weinreb, a teacher at Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, invited her sixth-grade social studies class to her home for an election-night viewing party.

As the electoral map turned increasingly blue, she noticed that her scattered Obama supporters were keeping pretty quiet — embarrassed even in victory to be in the minority among their McCain-supporting friends.

At the same time, McCain supporters — who have been the majority of students at Orthodox day schools like Maimonides — needed a fair amount of reassuring that an Obama presidency would not spell immediate disaster for Israel and the Jews, the message they had been hearing throughout the election from their friends and gleaning from conversations at home.

Weinreb wasn’t the only one facing a distressed and confused community in the aftermath of this year’s presidential race. Jews battered one another in passionate arguments throughout this election season, as each side staked out their positions, often spilling over into questionably grounded rhetoric and incivility. Friends and institutions squared off around Shabbat tables and at debate lecterns in what each considered life-or-death debates.

How children have interpreted such passion offers a revealing, though slightly distorted, mirror in which to view adult political discourse.

While children selectively perceive and then reinterpret information that comes their way, they reflect an atmosphere where issues of race, security, economic class divisions and Israel’s future have stirred up strong emotions.

At Orthodox day schools, mock elections yielded landslide McCain victories.

Students from at least one elementary school came home reporting that friends told them that if Obama were elected, he would “kill all the Jews.”

On the other side, at a another, more liberal school, one mother reported that her daughter was afraid to let on that her parents were McCain supporters, since everyone around her was so enamored of Obama.

Now that the election is over and campaign exaggerations can give way to reality, in schools, and everywhere else, people are making efforts to put things back into perspective.

At Maimonides, Weinreb helped organize a post-election assembly on Wednesday morning. On the stage, between the American and Israeli flags, two piñatas — an elephant and a donkey — stood side by side. Rabbi Karmi Gross, headmaster of the school, invited the sixth- through eighth-graders to come together to celebrate this historic triumph for American freedom and democracy.

“But we also come together for a different reason,” Gross continued. “We come together because this was one election — and I have seen quite a few — where the battle lines in America were drawn more clearly than ever, which pitted American against American, the red and the blue states, the left and the right, against each other in ways I do not recall. And sometimes the debates became very loud, and many times the debates became very nasty.”

Gross, using a talmudic parable, urged the children to understand the difference between disagreeing with an idea — which is fine — and attacking the person who holds such ideas, which is not.

Students together watched a video of McCain’s concession speech, and were asked to pull out some of the major themes.

“He said he was more proud to be associated with America than anything else,” one student offered.

“He said that we shouldn’t be upset that Obama won, because he’ll do good things for this country,” another said.

One rabbi acknowledged that many of the students were worried about Israel, but he assured them that Israel was strong, and that Israel’s ultimate fate lies in God’s hands, not in any president’s.

Jews who believed McCain was the better choice for Israel had to do a delicate dance with children.

One father, who asked not to be named to protect his son’s privacy, described a conversation he had with his 6-year-old son about the historic nature of this election and about the many reasons he was voting for McCain. In an age-appropriate way, they talked about security, the economy and issues that were important to them — such as having a president who had a record of supporting Israel. And the father posed the idea that he didn’t know whether Barack Obama would be a friend to Israel and the Jews, because there was not a very long record to rely on.

“Then — like all kids do, they pick up a small amount of what you tell them — he picked up from that that Barack Obama may not be nice to the Jewish people,” the father said, a declaration the boy made to his horrified mother.

The couple talked to their son again, softening the stance and saying that Obama might end up being a very good friend to the Jews. By the time Obama’s picture covered the front pages on Nov. 5, the boy seemed fine with his new president.

Helping kids process the broken-telephone game of information coming from the home and through their friends was a major focus at Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks, where teachers integrated ideas about democracy or the specific campaign issues into the curriculum.

“But there were also moments where the students made baseless or exaggerated claims, repeating things they had heard,” said Gabriela Shapiro, general studies principal at Emek. “What we did at the time and will continue to do is teach the students about discernment — in other words, if someone makes a negative comment about Obama, we want the student hearing the claim to ask ‘what is the basis for your claim?'”

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills brought in Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, who introduced a pre-election debate by highlighting a moment several weeks ago in which McCain asked riled-up ralliers to stop relying on rumor and innuendo to attack Obama as a person, and to focus instead on the issues.

Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, headmaster of Hillel, plans to use examples from the election when the school starts a conflict-resolution and community-building program next week.

“We’re going to deal with issues of perception and judging others favorably, and attacking issues, not people. We’re going to talk about accepting people’s differences and understanding what you have in common,” he said.

It’s a tough message to get across to kids, when adults themselves haven’t been behaving well.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom said he found the rancor among Jewish voters “painful and discouraging.” At a pre-election debate in his synagogue, Feinstein had to put on his former middle school principal hat to discipline the crowd.

“It’s discouraging to me as an American and as a person who believes in democracy, and it’s discouraging to me as the rabbi of a synagogue where important things should be discussed that you can’t have a serious political debate without hooting and hollering and drowning out the other side,” Feinstein said.

ALTTEXTIt was such rancor that a Healing Havdalah — the ritual marking the end of Shabbat — last Saturday night aimed to overcome. The event was organized by LimmudLA, the apolitical, nondenominational, Jewish-unity organization that will hold its second annual conference in Orange County over Presidents’ Day weekend, in February.

Saturday’s event, organized by Gary Wexler, a Jewish marketing expert, attracted 150 people to Dockweiler Beach, where drums and guitars competed with the wind and planes taking off from the nearby LAX.

Warming themselves around a crackling fire, participants talked about how Havdalah, like the election, marks the end and the beginning, the perfect moment for healing.

Many kids were at the Havdalah, joining their parents in singing and dancing, basking in the very Limmud idea that no matter our differences, we can come together for a kumbaya moment of Jewish oneness.

While a lot of healing may still be needed before that sort of unity can move beyond a Saturday night at the beach, one uniting factor all agree on is that this election brought a new level of political awareness and passion across party lines and across ages.

“I’ve heard kids saying that for the first time in their lives they care about politics and elections and personally feel involved, and that is amazing — that energy is constructive,” Vicki Helfand, a teacher at Maimonides, told the students at the assembly. “When you care about something, you can do amazing things. Now that this election is over, we encourage you to keep being passionate, to keep believing that what you think matters — because it does.”

Danielle Berrin and Orit Arfa at Dockweiler Beach. Photo by Joe Haber http://funjoel.blogspot.com

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One rabbi familiar with politics welcomed the rabbinical group.

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

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

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

Not all rabbis feel comfortable with publicly endorsing a candidate.

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

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

VIDEO: Mayor Bloomberg urges Florida Jews to fight Obama rumors


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged Jewish voters in Florida to disregard damaging rumors about presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Dean Reynolds reports.

 

AUDIO: Iranian American Jews — Death and violence in the community (taboo?)


Local Iranian Jewish community leaders on recent incidents of violence in the community and the traditional taboo on discussing the topic.

http://jewishjournal.com/audio/IAJPodCast20080429.mp3

From Karmel Melamed’s Iranian American Jews blog.

Change of Command on ‘Commander in Chief’


Was it sex, TV politics or controversial opinions about the Middle East? Or something else entirely?

News reports and sources cite conflicting reasons why Israeli-born Rod Lurie was booted or departed as show-runner of the successful new ABC drama, “Commander in Chief,” about the first female president of the United States. Lurie, the show’s creator, was replaced by TV veteran Steven Bochco (“NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law”) last week — a highly unusual move on a show that is doing so well in the ratings.

Neither Lurie nor Bochco was available for comment on the backstage drama of who deposed the show’s real-life commander in chief and why.

However, rumors began circulating when well-connected entertainment columnist Nikki Finke reportedly told “The Drudge Report” that Lurie was sacked for wanting a “rough” limo sex scene between the president’s daughter and a Secret Service agent.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that Lurie and his bosses had “creative differences” about future episodes. A source told The Journal that the pro-Israel producer had hoped to create episodes in which the fictional president grapples with the Middle East conflict — episodes that may have been too controversial for the network.

Lurie is the son of Ranan Lurie, the famed Israeli political cartoonist, who often entertained Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in the family’s Herzelyia home. Young Rod moved with his parents to Greenwich, Conn., as a boy. He studied Middle East politics at West Point and worked for the U.S. military, before becoming a film critic and, ultimately, a director in 1999.

His first film, “Deterrence,” revolved around a Jewish president of the United States (Kevin Pollock) who must decide whether to drop the atomic bomb on Iraq.

The Post also surmised that Lurie was “stretched too thin trying to handle writing, producing and directing on the series, while juggling those helpful ‘notes’ from 25-year-old studio and network suits.”

Production reportedly fell so far behind that executives worried that they wouldn’t have enough episodes to push the show through sweeps month in November. Another potential looming problem is the show’s mixed critical reception: Some reviewers speculated that the appealing premise and stars – — Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland – — would not be enough to retain viewers, unless the quality or depth of the product improves.

Lurie will retain his executive producer title on the series, but will focus on developing new projects under his recent deal with Touchstone, a Touchstone press release said. Touchstone produces the ABC series.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Bochco’s for over two decades. I’m blown-away, excited to see how much more he will electrify ‘Commander In Chief,'” Lurie said in the release.

“I have always been a big Rod Lurie fan, and I’m excited about … helping to realize Touchstone’s and Rod Lurie’s vision,” Bochco said in the release.

This season, the Jewish Bochco unveiled Hollywood’s first TV drama on the Iraq War, “Over There,” which aims at a realistic depiction of war that Bochco insists is apolitical. One can only surmise whether Bochco’s approach will translate, for example, to dealing with an issue such as the Middle East in “Commander in Chief.” And whether the show will rise or fall as a result.

 

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