Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekly WND Mash-Up

Because throbbing temple pain is best when shared.

- Dennis Prager claims to have discovered deep American values from going through his loose change:
I only came to realize what these values are in the way medical researchers sometimes happen upon a major discovery – by chance. One night, as I emptied my pockets, I stared at the coins I had removed, and, lo and behold, there they were: America’s values. The designers of all of America’s money – paper and coin – had been telling me and every other American for well over a century what America stood for. And I hadn’t noticed:
 “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” and “E Pluribus Unum” (“From Many, One”).
Uh huh. Good thing there were no Sacajewa dollars or this might have turned into a rant about PC pandering mucking up the integrity of our precious currency. I like how Dennis is bragging about all his profound thoughts being collected in a new book and yet apparently his deepest insights come from bumping into random objects. He's like Andy Rooney with no sense of humor or self-awareness. "I can't think of a better example of American values than potato salad. Cubed potatoes, creamy mayo, slivered bits of egg, and just a hint of acidity from some pickle relish. E Pluribus Unum indeed!"

- Patrice Lewis "proves" Earth Day is a Communist plot through the magic of calendrical coincidence:
Why is it the green agenda is so compatible with socialism and incompatible with personal freedom?
The answer is quite simple. Apparently the first Earth Day was chosen to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s birth, a man whose very existence was dedicated to the eradication of personal freedom for everyone but himself.
 It's interesting that as "proof", Lewis links to Wikipedia. Hmm, I wonder what information Wikipedia might have on Earth Day? Great Kalinin's Ghost!
Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an "environmental teach-in". He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet as it did not fall during exams or spring breaks. Moreover, it did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.
That Socialist bastard, trying not to conflict with Easter or spring break! Just read his comment about the timing of the day in his epic Marxist tome:
The date aroused the suspicions of the conservative John Birch society... which perceived some sinister communist plot was under way... the society charged that the event was "Sen Nelson's ill-concealed attempt to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lenin." Obviously, the John Birch Society was better informed about Lenin than I was.
Incidentally, WND, what kind of good conservative publication puts out op-eds coinciding with Lenin's birthday? J'accuse, Uncle Joe Farah.

- Tom Tancredo is nervous because Latinos still identify as Latinos. No, really.
A recent Pew Hispanic Center report, “When Labels Don’t Fit,” shows that the 50 million Americans of Hispanic descent have some huge gaps still to bridge if assimilation to American society is to be achieved. It obviously has not been achieved yet for an alarming number of Hispanics into the third generation. 
...Probably the most important item to emerge from the Pew poll is that 51 percent of the 50 million Americans of Hispanic origin still identify primarily with their country of origin, and only 21 percent use the term “American” to describe themselves. Some might say the silver lining is that this identification as an American increases dramatically from only 8 percent among first generation immigrants to 48 percent by the third generation. 
But if only 48 percent of third-generation Hispanic adults describe themselves as Americans first and Peruvians or Mexicans or Cubans second, can anyone say that assimilation is working well for Hispanic immigrants? That glass is clearly not half full. Shouldn’t we expect that third-generation number to be closer to 90 percent? 
To put the question in perspective, would anyone have been alarmed in 1935 if a similar poll had revealed that only 48 percent of U.S.-born third-generation Germans or third-generation Italians identified themselves as Americans? Don’t we expect assimilation to accomplish more than that? 
Apparently YOU do, Tom. All I really need is people to follow the law and be able to communicate. How they "identify" is neither my business nor particularly my problem. I guess I'm just libertarian that way. Incidentally, I love that you're looking at all of this in a total vacuum as if Latinos are deciding, "Nope, no assimilation for me!" How about the fact that they've been continually held up as poster children for immigration and Americanization failures for the last 15-plus years? I wonder if that could have anything to do with them not feeling 100% American. It's interesting you only mention Germans and Italians. You know what I hear did wonders for Japanese identification as Americans? Internment Camps. Maybe we could try that next.

- Last one and boy is it a doozy. This is the headline that showed up in my email:
Schools brainwash kids into preferring non-existence
Seriously? This is how slow a news day it was?
A 12-year-old girl has responded with the stunning “I wish we didn’t exist” to questions about how she feels about pollution and humanity’s impact on the earth... 
The response came from a 6th-grade girl identified only as Kalie, from Gault Elementary. Sussman met her during Earth Day events in Santa Cruz, Calif., recently, where he traveled to ask “What is the most serious threat facing mankind?”
....“How many other youngsters like Kalie have been led to believe that the human species should be eliminated?” he wondered.
Ok, first of all, non-existence is not the same thing as being dead. Example: Dino-Lincoln, a re-animated T-Rex with Abraham Lincoln's brain who goes around solving mysteries, does not exist. Ronald Reagan, by contrast, is dead. See the difference? The girl is expressing her desire for a hypothetical, not a death wish. Second, it's a little hard for me to take this bit of "news" seriously given that it's part of a puff piece promoting a silly anti-green documentary by my childhood weatherman-turned-conservative-muckraker.

Look Brian, you're entitled to be a conservative crank if that floats your boat. But I know you. I spent the better part of a decade listening to you in the car on the way to school. And when it comes to discussing important matters like concerning wave of eco-nihilism endangering pre-teens everywhere, my first news source isn't going to be the guy who couldn't predict rain on a stormy day.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Obligatory Wittily-Titled Yom HaShoah Post

Shoah Day is here again. Look for the oldies under the Shoah label. After several years I've finally updated my In Loving Memory list.

There have been some interesting Shoah-related tidbits floating around the Judeosphere the past couple of days. Item One: A Haredi crank that has complained about Yad Vashem whitewashing the Haredi experience has done it again, and once again while he may have a point somewhere, you'd be hard-pressed to find it in his shrill, hyperbole-filled attack. Here are my two favorite parts:
According to some experts, between 50%-70% of those murdered by the Nazis, were "traditionally religious Jews." There is no reason to assume the percentage of survivors who were religious was any less. But in the rooms of Yad Vashem only one of the 50-60 video monitors playing taped testimonies of Holocaust survivors shows a Haredi Jew. By choosing to record and display taped testimonies of mostly secular Jews, Yad Vashem is giving a distorted picture of the religious affiliations of the survivors. This gives the false impression that few ultra-orthodox Jews survived the Shoah.
First of all, there is a scholarly argument to be made for a relatively slow survival rate for Haredi Jews. Simply put, the more Haredi you were, the more you were likely to stand out and thus be singled out for persecution. The more risks you were willing to take for your Judaism (trying to keep kosher in a camp, fasting on Yom Kippur, growing a beard, etc), the lesser the likelihood of you surviving the war. However, let's not even go there. Instead let's talk a little about extremely broad criteria and poorly sourced statistics. Exactly what rubric is being used to identify people as Haredi as opposed to some other stream along the Orthodox/traditional continuum? Beards? Hats? Membership in specific political parties or community institutions? I love how there's no consideration of the documented fact that plenty of Jews started the war religious and ended it with major crises of faith. How do we count them? Are yeshiva students who became secular for a decade after 1945 but then became b'aalei teshuvah included as "Haredi" after the fact? This whole thing is not as simple as Dr. Crankypants would have us believe. There may be an issue with a lack of representation at Yad Vashem (which could also be related to a historic distrust of the institution by the Haredi community, hint hint), but you're playing fast and loose with some goalposts here, sir.

Second favorite part:
Unfortunately, these changes fall far short of what is needed. As the premier Holocaust museum under Jewish auspices, Yad Vashem dishonors the memory of the six million by continuing to present a distorted and incomplete record of the Shoah. No, not all those who perished in or survived the Shoah were Haredim. But many more Haredim did survive than the 2% represented by the one videotaped testimony currently on display.
Got that, Holocaust museum? You're not doing your job to my satisfaction, so you are dishonoring the memory of every Shoah victim. Way to go. Yeah, good luck getting Haredi input going with the Yad Vashem board now, man. I'm pretty sure just about the worst insult you can say to curators of a Holocaust museum is that they dishonor the memory of the Holocaust.

I suppose the one bright side of this whole thing is that after generations of disparaging Yad Vashem as a godless enterprise of the Zionist state, the fact that now people in the Haredi community are offended at being left out can only be seen as progress.

Item Two: Peres and Netanyahu both participated in Yom HaShoah ceremonies in Israel. It's interesting to examine their speeches:
The president and the prime minister both mentioned Iran, but while Peres dedicated it one small paragraph, preferring to draw from the Holocaust lessons of Israel's duties to its non-Jewish citizens and the ideal of tikkun olam instead, Iran occupied nearly two thirds of Netanyahu's address. 
...Netanyahu, as he has done in previous years on Holocaust Remembrance Day, lost little time in drawing the historical comparison. This time though, he went a step further and launched on a lengthy reckoning with those "who do not like when I speak such uncomfortable truths. They prefer that we not speak of a nuclear Iran as an existential threat." 
He asked whether "these people lost all faith in the people of Israel?" and accused them that they "have learned nothing from the Holocaust." Here also he had an historical comparison. Netanyahu likened himself to the Likud's spiritual father, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who warned the Jews of Poland in the 1930s of the impending storm "but the leading Jewish intellectuals of the day ridiculed Jabotinsky, and rather than heed his warning, they attacked him." So now, Israeli politicians who disagree with Netanyahu on Iran are being equated to those who failed to foresee the Holocaust. 
He didn't mention Barack Obama by name but Netanyahu also had a historical comparison for the American president. He is the equivalent of Jan Karski, leader of the Polish resistance who refused to speak up on behalf of his Jewish compatriots. 
"Karski was a decent, sensitive man, and they begged him to appeal to the conscience of the world against the Nazi crimes. They described what was happening, they showed him, but to no avail. They said: 'Help us. We have no country of our own, we have no government, and we even have no voice among the nations.'” 
He also had an answer for "those who believe that the unique evil of the Holocaust should never be invoked in discussing other threats facing the Jewish people. To do so, they argue, is to belittle the Holocaust and to offend its victims." To them Netanyahu said:
"Not only does the Prime Minister of Israel have the right, when speaking of these existential dangers, to invoke the memory of a third of our nation which was annihilated. It is his duty."
What I find particularly fascinating about this is that a few years ago, Peres seemed fully aboard the Iran-is-the-New-Nazi-Germany train, too.

It is hard to fathom why despots such as Hitler the Nazi, Stalin the Bolshevik and Ahmadinejad the Persian chose the Jews as the main target for their hatred, their madness and their violence. Perhaps they targeted the Jewish people because of its spiritual power -- a nation poor in material possessions, but rich in values -- for he who is infected with megalomania fears the power of the spirit...
We have learned that our spiritual heritage is dependent on physical security. A people that lost a third of its members, a third of its children to the Holocaust, does not forget, and must not be caught off-guard. 
The first lesson we took from the Holocaust, therefore, was the need to immediately establish a Jewish homeland -- a Jewish state. Without it, the survivors would have been left homeless, and their lives would have remained exposed and prey to destruction. The State of Israel is not merely the Jews' protective shield, but an ideal of historic import: to be a nation with a moral message. 
Existence and heritage are inextricably linked. We never asked other nations to defend us, and we have made the decision that spiritual conflict will not divide us. 
We must not let the memory of the Holocaust diminish, and we must ensure that the memory-bearers do not lessen in number. The Jewish state must ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, for our people have just one country... 
Israel must be an example to its children and a source of pride for those Jews who do not live here. The Jewish people helped establish the State, and the State must now help its people, preserve its identity, give its children a Jewish education and enable the Jews to ensure that their descendents remain Jewish. 
The IDF has given security to the State of Israel, whose soul thirsts for peace. In Israel's eyes, peace is not just a matter of political wisdom, but a fundamental Jewish imperative.

Interesting progression there.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tzvi Update

You may remember back in October when Tzvi Fishman announced he was tired of people only reading his terrible blog instead of also reading his terrible books. Since then, Tzvi's grand experiment to force his good taste on his readers using his blog has sadly ended. The INN brass have taken down his blog post, but IIRC Tzvi wrote a long missive publishing some emails between him and the editor, which contained the fantastic line, "We hired you thinking we were giving you a soapbox, not a place to plug your books." Zing?

Since then, Tzvi has announced his departure from INN for greener pastures, where he'll have more free rein to publish random junk to his heart's content.
I would like to thank Israel National News for giving me the opportunity these past few years to spread the light of Torat Eretz Yisrael to readers who have never been exposed to the true light of the Torah in all of its national fullness, and for being able to clarify the overwhelming centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Jewish life, as compared to the tragedy of Jewish life in the Diaspora. We are also thankful for having had the privilege of alerting our holy brothers and sisters to the dangers of Internet surfing and for being the first to discuss the subject on the web.
Actually, I'm pretty sure frum Jews had been talking about the dangers of the web long before you. Something tells me it probably came up for those rabbis who don't let their followers have internet access.
Last week, with the infinite kindness of G-d, we had the great joy of seeing our eldest son married, and we hope to have another three weddings this year. Accordingly, my free time to write blogs is limited, and I will be devoting, G-d willing, more hours to translating (for parnassah) books which deal with the revitalized national identity of Am Yisrael in our time of Redemption and with the great mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael. For the time being, my occasional essays will appear on the new “Times of Israel” website, which has agreed to publish my words and even allow me to post an occasional link to my books.
Boo-ya! Tzvi's moving on, your loss, INN! He's found someone who'll treat him right!

Or maybe not: over at the Times of Israel, Tzvi's gone back to op-ed writing. And he's already gotten censored.

18.Thanks for the memories at the Times of IsraelThis is their reaction to my latest blog about Gunter Grass: "I'm sorry but we can't run a piece that accuses all Germans of being Nazis or implies that another Holocaust is imminent in the US. You're welcome to edit these suggestions -- as well as the implication that all Europeans are anti-Semites -- out of the piece. If not, I have to ask that you take it down."
When did truth become so unacceptable?
Tzvi Fishman, Yerushalayim (12/4/12)

Tzvi, if you want to strike out on your own, the answer is very simple: stop insisting on writing for someone else and just start your own crazy religio-political-firebrand-shameless-plugging blog. Believe me, you have plenty of fans (just maybe not the kind you thought you'd have).

Change is a good thing

Or so I keep telling myself.

There have been a lot of changes lately.

First, I went to New York for Bubbe Yid's funeral. After almost four years of basking in self-righteous indignation over my uncles' misheggos, I decided that I was just going to act as if nothing had happened. As counter-intuitive as that seemed, it actually wound up working: I was civil to them (in fact I was even a little extra-nice, letting them know that at the end of the day, they had both stepped up to the plate in different ways, and that we all appreciated it), and, much to my surprise, they were civil back. It was a bizarre contrast that even while feeling sad (or at least feeling like I should be feeling sad), there was more family connection happening than had been going on in years-- and for the most part, it was overwhelmingly positive.

Bubbe Yid died on a Friday, and the funeral was planned for the following Friday. Being in aninut (pre-mourning) that long was a little strange, but I liked that it gave me time to make preparations at work. It was an interesting sociological process; I had heard about all these aspects of Jewish mourning but had never experienced them first-hand. Given that we were not going to sitting shiva, I decided that I wanted to experience as much of the funeral practices as I could first-hand.

The burial was surreal; there was an emotional intensity that kept coming and going, as if in waves. One minute I would be thinking of my grandmother down there, in a box, in the ground, and the next minute I would be focusing on the physical sensations of the moment. The weather was cold, gray and wet, which my family didn't like but I found appropriate. The funeral was near the airport and planes kept flying overhead during the rabbi's eulogy, making him have to stop and wait until they had passed, which I found both sad and kind of funny. The most intense part was actually burying the casket. As a resident cranky-pants, I find my generations' lack of engagement with the real world often embarrassing. I feel like we've gotten way too removed from the physical and emotional realities of life, as well as death.

Here, however was something entirely real and entirely physical. There was nothing virtual here. It was incredibly, almost painfully, simple and direct. Bubbe had died, and it was her family's responsibility to bury her. Unlike her end of life care, unlike the eulogy, this was not something that could be passed off to someone else, to some professional. This was our job, and I for one was happy that there was something uncomfortable, something intense, something hard, that we had to do, something to get us out of our comfort zones. Death shouldn't be too easy. Bubbe's four children went up onto the mound of dirt and each shoveled in a few scoops of earth along with the rabbi, standing precariously near the open grave.

After my father and aunt had a turn, my two uncles started shoveling as fast as they could, as if desperate to finally be done with it and get it over. After a while Abbot Yid and I took over from them. It was important to do that with him. I was there for me, I was there for Bubbe, but I was also there for him. I remember the heft of the heavy shovel, and the jarring thud of the dirt falling on the casket. As hard as it was, I was glad to be there, and I was glad to be a part of this. I was the only grandchild that helped bury, the only grandchild who asked for a ribbon to perform keriyah. I wasn't looking to punish myself, but I felt that it was important to fully participate, for my own sake as well as Bubbe's.

Afterwards, we went to a restaurant and spent hours talking and telling stories about the family. I thought how sad it was that it took their mother dying for Abbot Yid and his siblings to come together, and that after all the bad blood that had passed during the past year it seemed unlikely they would be spending much time together after this. Still, I had and continue to hold out some hope.

Another ongoing change has been our attitude towards Beth Elderly. Mrs. Yid and I have gone back to the shul again, and people have continued to be very nice to us. The services definitely aren't on par with what we like at Evil Minion, but everybody is always happy to see us afterwards, and that's a huge plus. Who knows, maybe with enough turnout we can wind up voting with our feet and have a Carlebach night once or twice a month. At least the old folks seem open to new ideas. I said Kaddish for the first time, and that was kind of heavy. I still haven't cried since I heard about Bubbe's death, and I'm not sure that I will, but when I said Kaddish and added her name to the shul yarzeit list, I came close.

Still another big change is on the job front. I had a long talk with my new principal after getting my contract letting him know that though I like the school and the kids, I couldn't rationalize being an assistant for a fifth year. Surprisingly enough, he wound up agreeing with me. Even better, he gave me some inside information about why I had been passed up for jobs in the past. Though I didn't agree with the criticism, it was nice to finally get the feedback (I told him that I thought it was pretty unfair that no one had had the guts to tell me any of this previously, though). The good news was that he said that past complaints about me from individual colleagues didn't match up with anything he had observed from me this year, and that as far as he was concerned, I was absolutely a viable candidate for a job they have opening up.

I've gone on a few other interviews at other schools as well. I haven't been super satisfied with my school over the last few years so if something else pops, I'd be happy with that. That said, I'd rather have a teaching job, even half-time, than no teaching job. Oh, and I got into the grad school program I applied for, so that's sitting on the back-burner as a backup as well. One way or another, next year I will be doing something different. As a way of nudging myself further towards this decision, I wrote a letter of resignation for the following year for the head of school-- and during our seder this year, burned my contract after Havdalah. No turning back now!

So here's to change and progress. This year we are slaves, next year let us be free.