Monday, April 30, 2007

Beauty and Godliness

In my wanderings in Miami, i came across the following shop. Obviously, the two (mentioned in the title) are more intertwined that I could have ever imagined. The special, which is first on the sign, was only $20. It looks like a good deal!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Agunot and Broken Promises

Since I am traveling, it might be hard to write, but I am going to try. I know in an earlier post I promised i would not keep on ranting about the Agunah issue. I lied. Sort of. I received a response from "anonymous" who identified themself as a family member. Their email to me was critical in nature, saying that writing about this merely added "fuel to the fire and made things worse". The utter irony is that what i actually did in my post was to defend Michael Milgraum, someone I do not know who is the brother of the alleged recalcitrant husband. I also took the opportunity to criticize JOFA, (an organization that i like very much) for putting out information suggesting that the Jewish community boycott Michael Milgraum. I said then, and i reiterate, that there was something about that that felt wrong, and i wrote about it in the earlier post. I decided to include the email that i received it in its entirety with the following proviso: The Agunah issue is an ugly issue. I don't know the specifics of the Milgraum case. I do know that there are usually two sides to most stories, sometimes, only one side is true. In this case, I don't know which side is the true one. Here is the email that i received:
Note: At the request of family members, I have deleted the email referenced herein. It is out of the concern for their feelings that I have done this, and feel very strongly that the issues raised both above, and in the more recent post of 5/3/07 need to be addressed.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baltimore's Response to Allegations of Sex Abuse

With all due respect to my friends from the Baltimore Community, i think I am going to be sick.
The Jewish Daily Forward ran an article today on the ongoing debate over the handling of the publishing of the allegations of sex abuse by a former principal of the Baltimore Talmudical Academy, who is now deceased. I wrote about this a few days ago, and expressed my disappointment in the Torah sage, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, for telling his constituents to boycott the Baltimore Jewish Times, ostensibly because of the article they published about Rabbi Shapiro. The article in today's Daily Forward clears up the fact that some in the Orthodox community have wanted the paper banned for a while, for publishing interfaith wedding announcements, advertising non-Kosher food, and showing pictures of women whose dress fails to meet orthodox standards. While I don't agree, at least those reasons I can accept. Banning the paper for publishing stories about alleged molesters is not an acceptable reason. In any event, here is what made me sick. In the article, the following quote appears: "We were outraged by the way they dealt with the molestation case,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, a prominent rabbi living in Baltimore who heads up the Washington office of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America. “The person who is accused is dead,” Cohen added. “We need to ask what good does publishing his name do and what harm does it cause his family.” OMYGOD!!!! Hello? What good does it do? How about helping dozens of victims heal? Don't we learn anything? A few days ago I made reference to Baruch Lanner, a convicted orthodox Rabbi sex offender and the damage he did to so many. How can we (yes, i mean "we" for I am part of this community) allow this to continue? As someone who witnessed the damage done by these perpetrators, (I worked with children who had been abused for many years) burying the information with the perpetrators merely pepetuates the abuse. All those, and there appear to be many, who suffered silently, can now begin to, or if they are lucky, finish the need to heal brought on by these events.
Many in the Orthodox community of Baltimore have done an amazing job in helping the community deal with this. Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, of congregation Shomrei Emunah, devoted a recent sermon to the need to speak out against sexual abuse. For many, this is an unprecendented step. We need it. Because of people like Abba Cohen (above) who made this thoughtful, caring comment: What are they going to do next? Have a molester of the week feature?” G-d help us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moron (that's "more on") Rabbis, Agunot, and the faulty system

I promise that I am not going to keep ranting about the Aguna issue, or the rampant abuse of the Rabbinical Courts, but I want to follow up on some earlier posts.I will then "give it a rest" for a while. It is also something I feel strongly about, and believe the inequity of the system requires us to do something about it. This inequity is steeped in Jewish law, that on its face, is the one issue that I have always has serious problems understanding in our religion. It puts the entire power for divorce only in the hands of the husband. It is he who decides IF he will grant a divorce, and until he does, there is nothing that the wife can do. She cannot date, she cannot remarry. She is "chained" which is the definition of Aguna. However, sometimes, what we do about this inequity can in and of itself be awful. I will get to that in a few minutes, when I take issue with an email I received today from an organization of which I think very highly. But first, a short lesson and story. The Talmud dictates that under certain circumstances, if a Jewish Court orders the dissolution of a marriage, and the husband refuses to comply, the use of coercion is acceptable. There was a story I was once told about a man brought forcibly before the Rabbinical court demanding that he give his wife a Get (Jewish divorce). He refused. Finally, the Chief Rabbi of the court looked him straight in the eye and said, "in Judaism, there are two ways that a man can divorce his wife.... voluntarily, or if he dies. Which would you prefer?" I am told it is a true story. So we see that our tradition has a long history of trying to help these chained women free themselves where it is appropriate. And to use drastic means. So it comes as no surprise that I received an email letter from JOFA today asking to support a woman by the name of Sima Milgraum, who has been an Aguna for ten years. I don't know Sima's story, but I am sure she is worthy of my, and your support. No woman, for any reason, should be allowed to be an aguna for ten years. However, and here is where I have the problem, they recommend that the public stop using the services of the recalcitrant husband's brother. This brother, Michael Milgraum is a divorce mediator, and recently wrote an article titled Divorce: Individual and Communal Responses to a Difficult Problem. It occurs to me that Michael Milgraum may not have a relationship with his brother. Maybe he hates him. Maybe this is his way of trying to get the community mobilized to prevent what his brother did. Maybe he is an idiot and deserves the condemnation and boycott. But I don't know that, and JOFA didn't tell me that. I would never want to damage the fine work of JOFA. In addition to their work on behalf of Agunot, their education of the community on Women's issues is terrific. I think if they have more information that would convince me that this is an appropriate way to "get to" Sandy Milgraum, they should tell us. If not, they should refrain from harming someone to get to someone else. If you have any additional information, email me, or leave a comment, and i will correct it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

People Do the Dumbest Things..... April 24th edition

There was a short article in my hometown newspaper today about Jasrahel King, a 29 year old, who last month stole a jeep from a lot in Norwalk, Ct. It seems that after test driving a few cars on a lot, Mr. King, and the Jeep, whose keys were left in the ignition, disappeared. Imagine the surprise of the manager of the lot when Mr. King returned with the Jeep on Saturday afternoon, looking to trade it in for a larger car. "I was left speechless" said the manager of the lot, who remembered King from the previous month. I guess so!
Mr. King was arrested.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Reform Movement Responsible for Holocaust

JTA published this news item about Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu's comments on the radio in Israel that the Reform movement is responsible for the Holocaust. A wonderful way to commemorate Yom Hashoa. I wonder how many reform children and babies died because of the sins of the reform movement. Prime Minister Olmert blasted the comments and the media implied that it is precisely this type of behavior that leads the chiloni (secular) Jews to hate the Orthodox in Israel.

Rabbinic Sexual Abuse of Children

My former brother in law lives in the Baltimore area. Over the last week or so, he has been keeping me in the loop regarding the story that broke last week of the alleged abuse of hundreds of children by Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, the former principal of the Talmudical Academy. A few days ago, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, one of the great Torah sages of our day issued an edict calling for the boycott of the Baltimore Jewish Times, who originally broke the story. (below, left) Now I am not the first or only one to write about this, (link here and here) but yesterday, I wrote about the abuse of adults by Rabbis. Today, it is the abuse of kids by rabbis. As a human service professional who spent over a dozen years working with children who were abused, I am appalled by the continuation of "keeping the secret." Didn't we learn our lesson with the Boruch Lanner affair? I can't begin to tell you how many of these cases one finds EVERY SINGLE DAY that go unreported or covered up. To ban a newspaper because they report the truth for fear of lashon hora or some such nonsense is a crime that the rabbis will have to account for in the world to come. What in the world happened to protecting our children? How about the collusion among the institutions that shuffle one abuser to another location only to allow them to abuse again? I once attended a lecture as part of a conference of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists where they talked about sexual abuse of children in the orthodox community. Wanna be scared? Listen to some of those lectures. Frightening doesn't begin to describe it. Like the case of the chassidic child molester who was brought before the Rebbe. His "sentence" was to be "transferred" to the upstate (NY) community where the sect has a presence. His new job? School bus driver. Come on, you have got to be kidding me. One of the best ideas to come along in years is JSAFE, started by a friend of mine, Rabbi Mark Dratch. It is an organization that promotes "abuse free environments" for children. No big surprise, given its voluntary nature, the organizations are not turning out in droves to sign up. It would be great if we could all pressure every Jewish camp, school, synagogue and other organization to sign up with JSAFE to ensure that our children are in safe and protected environments. Then, the Rabbis would not be able to cover it up.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The (Downward) Roller Coaster of Rabbinic Abuse

Yesterday was my birthday. On my way into the City (that would be New York, for the un-initiated) for a celebratory dinner at Abigael's , an awesome steak house, my wife received a call from her friend, whom I will call Malka to preserve some anonymity. Malka got divorced not too long ago, but in keeping with her desire to work within the framework of Halacha, agreed with her manipulating, lying ex-husband (no strong feelings here) to allow the beth din to have the power to decide all matters regarding her, her assets and the children. Ok, not the smartest move, I admit, but what has happened is unbelievable. I grew up "orthodox" and am still observant, I was taught, like many, to revere Rabbis, and to trust. We all know from the sensational cases over the last few years, and what is going on right now in the Baltimore community (good link here) I think that some of that infallibility thinking has gone by the wayside. Unfortunately, rabbinic abuse is something that just won't go away.
Our friend Malka is the prime example. She has repeatedly been subjected to totally unfair and Misogynistic rulings and opinions by the Rabbis she has entrusted to deal fairly with her. In the end, they get to do what they want, with absolutely no oversight or review, and she has virtually no recourse. Having signed a legal document empowering the beth din to act as a court, she has limited ability at this point to challenge their rulings. And the rulings, SURPRISE!!! are often in favor of the ex-husband despite their incredibly, painfully obvious bias, lack of judgement and understanding. And she can't do anything about it. It sucks. As a someone who works with people for a living, listening to the "rulings" that these men have made, using "psychology" as a basis, something of which they have little knowledge, makes me ill. Until the issues are resolved, I am sure unsatisfactorily, there is little that can be done to right the wrongs, or publicise the craziness. It will merely end up hurting Malka. They won't even allow her to bring a representative to their kangaroo court to help an obviously intimidated woman present her case fairly. Fortunately, she was able to find one Rabbi, who was able to assert himself and be present at many of the meetings. My understanding is that while he doesn't do much in the sessions, his presence and his knowledge of Halacha is enough to stop the rampant abuse.... sometimes.
I await the day when we can go public with this information. These rabbis have hurt Malka. Financially, emotionally, and impacted her children. I only hold off to help Malka. I wonder how many others there are like her.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Unprepared for the Beauty in Everyday Life

I came across an interesting article by the title above by David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He raises some interesting points on both sides of the coin. Here is how the article starts:

IN THE annals of newspaper tricks and gimmicks this ranks amongst the best. Not, perhaps, as good as when James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald sent Stanley to find Livingston. But a whole lot better than showing how hot it is outside in midsummer by frying an egg on a sidewalk. Earlier this year, the Washington Post asked Joshua Bell, one of the world's most renowned violinists, and a matinee idol besides, to stand at a subway stop, play his instrument, and see if anyone noticed.

Click here for the rest of the story.

Rainy Sundays

While I was at synagogue yesterday, someone was telling me about a tour that a group of Jewish communal professionals was taking in Israel. The first day, they travelled up north. The guide pointed to a spot and said "You see that spot there? It is the burial place of Shmuel" Duly impressed, the group moved on. The following day, they toured the south. The guide again pointed and said "See that spot? It is the burial place of Shmuel" One of the members of the group said "How can that be? You showed us the burial place of Shmuel yesterday!" Silly!, exclaimed the guide. Yesterday I showed you the burial place of Shmuel Aleph. Today, you saw the burial place of Shmuel Bet.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Its my blog and I'll write if I want to.....

My friend Duvid says I shouldn't write about nonsense that goes on in my life, like our move, or whether I have to time to write or not. I say Hooey! With that in mind, I have not had time to write a word in a week. It is amazing how much guilt I have about it. My site meter says people are visiting, but there is nothing new to read, so I am going to try to change that. The next few days are going to be rough since I will be at a conference during the day, but i wilt try to talk about it somewhat. I haven't written a post because of the move I have mentioned... But we did it!!! We finally moved. And what an experience it has been. Funny. You become an expert, but for what? I doubt I will be able to use what i learned in the move since we won't do that again. Hey. I know... I am going to become a move consultant.... yeah, that's it!

Some things ARE funny

Ok, so now you get two for the price of one....... One of the blogs I try to read somewhat regularly is Life on the far side. (No link, because you will find it to the right in the link list) His last two posts are great for different reasons. He has a John Oliver parody that is a must see. Once you have checked that out, go look at his Pesach post, which you must print out and test yourself. It was the most comprehensive list I have seen, and it is really neat.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Disappearing American Jewry - Getting our Groove Back

It is a somewhat borrowed title from a book by Scott Shay called "Getting our Groove Back - How to Energize American Jewry" and a combination of Alan Dershowitz' book of a similar title a few years back, which paints a chilling, but IMHO a realistic picture of the fate of American Jews. Shay writes that there are 10 critical "planks" facing American Jewry. One of them is the shrinking of the Jewish population. According to Shay, in 1980, there were 5.9 million Jews in the U.S. Today, that number is 5.2 million, with 2.6 million "committed." He goes on to say that if that trend continues, the American Jewish population will be halved by 2030. He maintains that American Jews contribute greatly to our people hood, and we must find a way to reverse not only this trend, but others as well. He contends that we need to find a way to have 50% of all children receive day school educations. And not only the type found in Orthodox institutions, but we need to also find a way to create sustainable, viable institutions for all Jewish children. And at a fraction of the cost. Day school tuitions today cost in the area of $15,000 - $25,000 depending on the location and type of institution. This puts it beyond the means of some, and the desire of others. If you have three children who attend day schools, you will pay at least $30,000, even after scholarships, if you qualify. That is a lot of money! Shay suggests finding a way to ensure that every child, every family, be given a way to afford a Jewish education.
Shay also points to the "existential crisis" of the Conservative movement. He states that they are losing members at the rate of 2,000/month, and have fallen from the largest of the three denominations to second place.
He suggests that they must re-invent themselves, which they have started to do, in my opinion, with the synaplex concept, and the admission of gay Rabbis, whatever your feelings on that might be. The end of the waffling is a good thing for the movement, even if it is not what some want.
Additionally, Shay suggests that we need to have more children. He says that even if we factor in the Ultra-orthodox, we are replacing ourselves at a rate of 1.2. In 50 years, that leads to a 50% reduction in the population.
Shay has a total of "10 planks", the others I will not go into here. Feel free to read his book. On this holiday of Freedom, he paints a scary picture of the future of our people, who, according to him, will not be here in force in 50 years if we don't do something to change the current trend.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Fifth Question

Leo Pores, in an article published in the New York Jewish Week writes one of the more moving pieces that I have read recently. Instead of giving a link, I include it here in its entirety, with thanks to both Leo and The Jewish Week:

The Fifth Question

Leo Pores - Special To The Jewish Week

“What,” cried Grandpa Samuel, “did you just ask?”I was 8 years old, and it was almost 80 years ago. It was the traditional seder. I had just recited the Four Questions to a round of applause. Terrified, I slumped in my seat.I had asked a Fifth Question: “Why are matzah squares instead of round matzah balls to be served for dinner?”Grandpa Samuel bristled and was turning red. Taking me by the hand, he marched me into the kitchen where Grandma Sarah stood in a defiant mood. She motioned to Grandpa to approach the stove. There, floating in a golden chicken soup, were two-inch matzah squares, about a half-inch thick.“You are not really going to serve this, are you?” asked Grandpa, menacingly.“You bet I am,” replied Grandma, her voice raising an octave.Cousin Marcia entered the kitchen. “What’s all the commotion?” she demanded. “We could hear you arguing in the living room.”Grandpa turned brusquely, grasped my hand and pulled me into the dining room. “I’ll explain it later,” he reluctantly said, his voice trailing over his shoulder.The seder proceeded somberly, and we finally read the page with the ominous warning: Partake of the Festive Meal.Conversation continued to be lively when the gefilte fish and horseradish were served. The usual accolades about the fish ensued. Then came the chicken soup with matzah squares floating majestically to and fro. There was a hush and complete silence.Grandpa could contain himself no longer. Contrary to his better judgment, he was compelled to answer the Fifth Question.“The matzah squares,” he began hesitatingly, “were made by accident.“When we moved here, Grandma and I joined the Orthodox synagogue,” he continued. “We made many friends. Every year I bought a ticket for the High Holy Days and had a reserved seat. Grandma sat upstairs with the women.“Because they were a sisterhood, the women decided to make a communal seder. They would prepare the meals in the shul’s kitchen. The rabbi agreed to conduct the seder. There was much anticipation, and I was eagerly looking forward to it.” Grandpa’s voice trembled with emotion.“What happened next?” asked Cousin Aaron.Grandpa continued somberly. “They served the soup” – and pandemonium broke loose. “What is the meaning of this? Square matzahs!” the men shouted. “Have you lost your minds?”“Please let me explain...” The rabbi’s wife. Rebbetzin Sylvia timidly began the explanation. “We were so busy chatting away that we left the batter in the refrigerator too long. It froze, and was hardly manageable. It would not form round, so we had a tray with two-inch squares and we formed them.”She recited this as if divulging a secret recipe.Arguments erupted among the men. One half said it would by OK – dayenu. The other half gathered their coats, their women, their children and left the shul.Saturday morning was a revelation. Half the congregation, the Squares, sat on the left. The other half, the Rounds, sat on the right.The rabbi was obviously dismayed. In spite of all his efforts, he could nor bridge the gap.So when, a few weeks later, the Rounds announced that they had bought a building and were starting their own shul, the rabbi was not surprised.“We were on the Square side – we became Reform Jews.”Grandpa stopped talking. There was a pause, a lengthy pause, while everyone pondered the dilemma.Grandma Sarah broke the silence.“All those that want matzah squares, raise your hand,” she said. “All those that want round matzah balls, nod your head.“You see,” she said in a spirit of compromise, “I also made round matzah balls for you traditionalists. Even though we differed on some rituals, we Squares make round matzah balls to remind us that we are one people.”“If that is the case,” I said to Grandpa, “What is the answer to the Fifth Question?” I spoke as a precocious 8-year-old.“The answer to the Fifth Question,” replied Grandpa, “is ... it is the matzah that is important, regardless of its shape. It is to remind us that we were slaves in Egypt and to never forget our fellow Jews. Israel stands as our guardian, so that whenever a Jew is threatened in the world, whether Round or Square, we can say ‘Never Again.’”I was so glad I asked the Fifth Question. Leo Pores lives in Brooklyn.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Not your grandfather's Malaga wine - Just in Time for Passover

If you are like me then you have begun to appreciate the new Kosher wines. Today, there are hundreds of varieties from literally all over the world. I just picked up a new one from South Africa, though I have had South African wines before. When I was in Israel two years ago, i had the opportunity to be at a wine tasting that featured Dan Rogov, the pre-eminent wine connoisseur and he told us about the dozens of new kosher Israeli wines that were coming out, and how they were world class. And now we have proof! In the April edition of Wine Spectator magazine, they feature a review of 25 kosher wines. We have truly made it to world class status. It is great. So tonight, at the Seder, no malaga or heavy, sweet wines for me. We can all enjoy a nice Cabernet, or Merlot. It's enough to make an observant Jew intimidated. But in the infamous words of Dan Rogov at that taste testing a few years back, "the best wine, no matter how much it costs, is the wine you like to drink best!"

The Time of our Freedom?

I know this is not an original thought, but it occurs to me that Pesach is anything but a time of Freedom for modern Jews. First there is the enslavement of the cleaning and preparation for the holiday. The spending of hundreds of dollars on new(meaning those items that you have in your cabinets but have been opened) or special food. If you are fortunate enough to be able to go away for the holiday, the spending of tens of thousands of dollars for the hotel in Miami or Aruba. For those who have gone away, at some point it becomes an expectation, and not a privilege, Hence, you become a slave to that experience. It is no longer something that you want to do, it becomes something you MUST do. Then there are all the other things: the cooking, the clothes shopping and all the other things that go along with it. At least since there are so many products for Pesach now it has become pretty easy to maintain the comforts of year-round while still observing Pesach.
But let's assume you can get through all this, and still feel that you are truly free. Not all of us are. Many are slaves to addictions. Slaves to all sorts of negativity in our lives. And worse yet, some of us are truly not free in the literal sense of the word. And all of the above things pale in comparison. We have several Israeli soldiers that many of us have forgotten about: Gilad Shalit, Udi Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, and the "other missing soldiers": Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman, Zachary Baumel and Ron Arad, our brothers who were taken captive while fighting for the people and the security of the State of Israel. There are those who have suggested that we add some meaningful prayers/thoughts to our seder to remember thise missing soldiers. One is a Passover Prayer to add right after "Avadim Hayinu" Another is to add a "Kos Shvuyim", a cup of wine, right after Elijah's cup for the captured Israeli soldiers. I think they are both great ideas.
Tonight, let us lift up, or pour a cup of wine and recite the readings above (the link) in order to make sure that we do not forget our brothers who
are still in captivity.