Did Jewish Values Die with the Six Million?

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How can you be a Jewish state when you have no Jewish values? Do we need to quote Tanach and Talmud to remind ourselves of the Jewish values that have been ingrained on our souls since we were tykes? Don’t we do that every week in the synagogue? Is anyone listening? Isn’t Israel supposed to be, you should forgive the expression, the Mecca of Diaspora Jewry?

So why is it that fewer and fewer Jews care about Israel? Maybe it is because they don’t like what they see in a host of Israeli policies, from making nice with some of the vilest governments in the world to treating refugees from genocide like criminals. It is something that is hard to wrap your head around. As hard as trying to understand how rabbis in New York refuse to let victims of child abuse dial 911 without their permission.

Who are the people throwing rocks through black-owned shop windows in Tel Aviv and setting fire to Eritreans in Jerusalem? People who were educated in the Land of Yad Vashem? How many billions did we spend trying to teach people how to live together and prevent genocide? As Jews and as a Jewish community, we yell “hate crime” every time someone looks at us cross-eyed, denies the Holocaust, or paints a swastika on a wall, including at Yad Vashem in early June. In the meantime, we Jews treat each other, our children, and the strangers among us like we are less than worthless.

Did the Six Million die for nothing? They had faith in a free, democratic and ideal state of Israel that would be the salvation of the world. Ani Mamin they sang in the Ghettos and camps. Hatikvah was on their lips together with the Shma as they went to the gas. We sing those songs on Yom Hashoah along with the Partisaner Hymn and Kaddish.

Where is that land of Israel, the land of Jewish values and ideals? Today it’s a place where Israeli government officials tell the big lie about North Africans, and prevent their own people from protesting peacefully. Government officials said that these refugees from genocide are raping Israeli women, giving them AIDS, and are a cancer on Israeli society. And they are deporting them back to their countries of origin with ugly rhetoric and violence reminiscent of Kristallnacht.

The ideal Israel in our souls, the Israel of blue skirts and embroidered blouses, of campfires and idealism, only exists in our imaginations. As a student of history, not bubbeh mayses, the story of the birth of Israel, the story of how the Jewish community behaved before, during and after the war in Mandate Palestine, in Europe, in America, in community after community–except for a handful of people who put themselves on the line in the attempt to rescue Jews–is not a pretty story.

The fictional Ari Ben Canaans of Exodus and the Rabbi Michoel Wiessmandls were rare characters. The Israeli right wing murdered the man who saved my mother and thousands of others during the Holocaust. To this very day, the behavior of the established Jewish communities in the secular and denominational world is shameful–from the treatment of the North Africans, including Ethiopian Jewry and women in Israel and everywhere else where they are forced to sit in the back, not drive, not go to school, etc.(in the organizational Jewish world there is equal work, not equal pay and glass ceilings) to the decades of covering up child abuse and domestic violence everywhere. And if anyone tells you that women in Judaism are free, look them in the eye and say “Agunot.”

The typical American Jew looks on, aghast, as Israel self-immolates in front of Diaspora Jewry, and Diaspora Jewry faces its own house of horrors. So much for being a light unto the nations. So much for the lessons from the Holocaust. So much for Jewish values. How the hell did we become the monsters we teach our children not to be. How can we, just four generations after the Holocaust, remain silent in the face of our leaders’ moral bankruptcy? How can we tolerate it when a Jew calls another Jew a Nazi? How can we tolerate it when our own people behave the way they do?

Maybe Jewish values died with the Six Million. Maybe that’s when Jewish leadership died. Elie Wiesel once said, “Jeanette, don’t wait for leaders. Be your own leader.”

Listen to Wiesel. Speak truth to power. If you don’t like what you see in the Jewish community, don’t wait for someone to lead you. Pick up a phone, post something to facebook, make your voice heard. Protest and demand the end of hypocrisy. Be your own leader.

In New Jersey, Vice is Nice–But Incest is Best!

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By doing an end run around Roe v. Wade, States and the Feds are making incest legal by redefining its victims as minors only.

by Jeanette Friedman

In the Soprano state where vice is nice, incest is best and legal among consenting adults. It is incredible that in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie and Congressmen Chris Smith and Scott Garrett are political paragons of virtue, incest among consenting adults is perfectly legal, but therapeutic abortions to save the life of the mother wouldn’t be if those same men have their way.

This is the same state that arrogantly cut $1 billion from education, and who knows how much more from programs that provide women with low cost screenings for reproductive diseases, including ovarian, cervical and breast cancer and programs that provide children with food. Looks like the language in HR 3, HR 217, and HR 358, Congressional bills designed to do an end run around Roe v. Wade, was born in New Jersey. It’s also a sneaky way to make incest legal in America, since all three bills state incest only applies to people under 18.

New Jersey does not apply any penalties when both parties engaged in incest are 18 years of age or older. The county prosecutor I spoke to, who stayed on background, wouldn’t say outright that it was legal and kept referring to sexual assault. He asked me to read the sexual assault statute, and I kept asking, “What if the victim doesn’t understand that this is sexual assault? What if Daddy is in control?” There was no comment–but they won’t prosecute if the victim is 18+.

A 2006 Harvard Law Review article said it all: “Inbred Obscurity: Improving Incest Laws in the Shadow of the ‘Sexual Family'”. Harvard Law Review. June 2006. Get it here. It’s legal in France, Belgium, and in Brazil from the age of 14. But you can get up to life in prison for it in Ireland. The Irish understand that incest is always rape.

There are plenty of people who say it’s not a problem, especially the Libertarians. Even Supreme Court Justice Arthur Kennedy says it’s no one’s business. ..Amazing how they keep their noses in women’s private parts, but no one’s permitted to stick noses into their crotches. They clearly understand the uses of power.

I wrote “What do you mean it’s not rape?” because people are inserting the word forcible in front of the word rape for legal purposes–as if rape is not a forcible act, with or without the use of threats, weapons or drugs. Everyone knows it’s all about power and has nothing to do with sex. That’s why rape is used as a weapon of war. Imagine, if you aren’t marked up or if you’ve been drugged, you won’t be a victim, you’ll be an accuser, In Georgia, at least, they want to go that route, and Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican, would make all abortions, described as “prenatal murder,” illegal based on the belief that all life begins at conception. Miscarriages in Georgia will become felonies if the mother cannot prove there was no “human involvement.” Unlike New Jersey, at least, in Georgia, incest is still a crime at any age–until the Feds make it legal.

America has lost its collective mind: they are legalizing incest while they send women back to the stone age. Move-on did a PSA with Lisa Edelstein of HOUSE (like young people watch it, not!) and it ends with a lone wire clothes hanger in the closet. How many women under 40 know what that hanger is for? How many of them can even imagine what it was like before Roe V. Wade? We’re talking pregnancies resulting from incest, rape, or affected by drugs and disease that result in non-viable fetuses…
As a result, some hospitals will let women die. Creating non-viable fetuses via incest? Those lawmakers just gotta have those babies.

In South Dakota, they debated for days to decide if your doctor or family member could become a victim of justifiable homicide if he or she takes the fetus to save the life of the mother. They finally shelved it when outsiders reacted.

It’s not just women’s reproductive rights under attack. It’s Head Start, nutritional programs, day care centers, all those things that help single mom families struggling at the edge of poverty keep families and soul together.

Even The Daily Show noticed.

But maybe we are mistaken. Perhaps this is part of a Republican jobs plan. If they get what they want, funeral directors will get plenty of work, emergency room and neo-natal ICU units will need more medical personnel. Prisons will need to be expanded and more prison guards hired…as well as social workers, parole officers…and everything it takes, like $73,000 a year per kid, to keep these unwanted and damaged kids in Juvenile Hall for a year. But if it’s incest, they won’t prosecute because it costs too much.

The men who think they are cutting the budget are gutting American values–diminishing rape victims by calling them accusers; by not allowing American women to make decisions about their own bodies, and denigrating their own mothers, sisters and daughters when they legalize incest between consenting adults in the name of ending abortion.

It makes you wish they’d hurry up and legalize marijuana.

Naomi Graetz, Biblical Scholar, on Human Trafficking

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Naomi Graetz, the biblical scholar and author of groundbreaking books on the sources for coping with discomfiting Jewish topics like wife-beating, talked about slavery and trafficking at the Rabbis for Human Rights North America Conference on December 6. Graetz, who lives in Omer, a Beersheva suburb, came to the States for that meeting and a biblical scholar’s conference in Atlanta.

Graetz explains that slavery and trafficking resonate from biblical times. Poverty and circumstance have always forced some women into the trade — where they are dehumanized. And while there are those who say prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, Graetz notes that pimps came first, and it is a very lucrative trade, indeed. According to the U.S. State Department, 12.3 million people are in slavery and forced prostitution around the world — most of them women and children. “The practice of closing one’s eyes to a social phenomenon with distressing overtones creates denial — and that prevents the establishment from responding effectively to trafficking,” she said.

read more here.

CGI: How a global effort encourages local action

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TUESDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER 2010 15:43




About a week before I covered the Clinton Global Initiative in Manhattan, I read the galley proofs for Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age by Douglas Rushkoff. Rushkoff has written lots of books about how our lives are affected by computers and marketing, corporations and the media, and he’s invented words we now use all the time. But instead of just re-writing the material from Wikipedia, you can read all about him here. His new book focuses on how computers and smartphones have changed our lives and what we have to do to make those tools work for us, so that we aren’t used by them.

But in a more subtle way, it is also about weapons of mass distraction — if we are all distracted by all the things we are doing on our computers and phones, we will be too busy to notice how America has fallen by the wayside. We may not realize until it’s too late that we have turned ourselves into a nation of ignoramuses — and it is just one of the issues Rushkoff talks about, issues that were significantly related to issues addressed last week at CGI.



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Lenore Skenazy asked recently about the “Jewishness” of NYC and why that’s so. She asked in a NY Magaziney kind of way, but I bit and wrote that it’s hard to say in a few words why NYC is the center of the Jewish universe. It’s not a NY Magazine poll. It’s a hefty question on lots of levels. I did some editing since I sent it, but here’s my response, for better or worse.

I was born in NYC, one of twins born to survivors in Bed Stuy. I grew up in the ultra-O Jewish world, my father was politically and religiously active, I went to Jewish schools and Brooklyn College, and some powerful people grew up with me. I learned early on how things worked in town–in the Jewish world and the “real world.” I am a writer and editor who covers the Jewish world and more. I used to work for Tiger Beat and RightOn! and write nightlife guides to the city–now one of the things I do is edit a newspaper for Holocaust survivors.

New York City is the international center of the Jews–regardless of what others want to believe. Religiously, culturally, politically, intellectually–from the insane Netura Karta, to JewBus and Ethical Culture, to the world of the Jewish mind, theatre, music, business, entertainment, and even in terms of Zionism. NYC is the central hub, where Jewish power resides. Not Israeli power. Jewish power, and there is a profound difference.

Israel cannot be a world Jewish center because it officially denies vibrant Jewish denominations, old and new, that deviate from their standards of Halachic Judaism, which grows more Talibanistic with each new edict they issue (ie. arresting women who pray in prayer shawls at the wall, refusing to grant a divorce to a woman whose husband has been sexually abusing their daughter because he hasn’t harmed HER). Israel is problematical Jewishly because the American Jews who go there haven’t been able to make it a more egalitarian and tolerant country…yet.

And some of them don’t even want to do that. Many settlers went to the West Bank from Brooklyn, Queens and Riverdale, Manhattan, and the West Bank of the Hudson (Manhattan’s best kept secret). They became activists, like Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the pioneer rabbi in Efrat on the West Bank (came from the West Side) –and even he comes back to NYC to recharge his batteries.

As for America outside the greater NYC metro area, yes, there are Jews in the center of the country and on the other coast doing interesting things, but this town is where the Jewish heart beats, where the money is raised, where the media is met, and the UN confronted, and where most of the American Friends of offices are located. We feed the beast, so to speak, with our money and our kids and our ideas. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But our ideas inspire and spread everywhere. And when ideas come from the outside, we absorb them and make them our own.

We’ve got the Conference of Presidents, the WZO, the Jewish Agency, the headquarters of Hadassah, National UJA in its latest incarnation, UJAFedNY (arguably the largest charity in the city) Jewish Outreach, if I’d look it up, EVERYTHING Jewish is either headquartered here or has a branch office here.

Can NY be more Jewish than that? Yes–because here the assimilated generation walks around town with some of the wildest T-shirts proudly proclaiming their jewishness with a small j. The social media center of the Jewish world is located in this city, so the techies that built jewishnetworld are hanging all over town. Even Matisyahu is here. Along with the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, and a gospel singing Orthodox Jewish Black congregation in Harlem.

Most New York Jews have a New York City State of Mind–that translates into a brash ballsiness, an unwillingness to put up with crap and refusal to beat around the bush–and when there are conferences out of town, the NY Jews often have to contain their impatience with their slower paced sisters and brothers.

NYC is where every denomination of Judaism feeds its spirit, using the differences and similarities among them to spark up some amazing stuff, like Dayenu (Enough) the domestic violence initiative taken up by The New York Board of Rabbis, consisting of rabbis of every denomination and beyond, or the Auditory Oral School of New York, founded by a Hareidi couple in their home ten years ago, who teach profoundly deaf and language delayed kids from every walk of life–including Arabs, Chinese, Asians, Chassidim, African Americans, etc, etc, etc,–to hear and speak and get ready for regular schools.

It’s where the largest contingent of Holocaust survivors and their children live, and where Ben Meed, who founded the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, and his wife Vladka, set the tone for Holocaust commemorations around the globe that led to the empowerment of survivors all over the world, and where New Yorker Ernie Michel was able start realizing a dream he had in Auschwitz–to bring Holocaust survivors together in Israel. New York is where the first meeting for the World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors took place. And Elie Wiesel is a New Yorker, too. He earned his stripes!

There’s something else the Holocaust survivors did in New York–they rebuilt neighborhoods in the images of their lives in Europe in Boro Park and Williamsburg, Flatbush, Crown Heights, Staten Island, Rego Park, Forest Hills–revitalizing synagogue life and Judaism of all sorts in this town. And if I try to name all the Jewish brainiacs (and not such smarties) in every conceivable field who have shaped this town and the world, I would never finish the list, and would be giving us an eyin hora (evil eye), (poo-poo-poo).

As for Jew food–it’s not about pastrami and killer kolesterol anymore! I’m waiting for someone to come up with Fro-Jew fusion any minute now!

Last bit–At Brooklyn College, in 1981, I took a course in Jewish ethics (hold the jokes). This question was asked on the final exam (you can check with the prof. He’s still at BC, his name is Sid Leiman):

According to the Talmud, do you have the right to deflect a massive nuclear bomb headed for NYC to Paducah, KY?

I said no, but I would deflect it anyway, and take my chances with God at the Pearly Gates because in addition to the numbers of people who lived here (compared to the numbers in Paducah) by allowing NYC and the surrounding area to be destroyed I would be destroying the center of the Jewish universe, and I am selfish enough not to want to do that.

And that is still true, and while I believe it’s one of the reasons NYC was targeted by the terrorists, our NYC attitude is ‘f’em!, we’re gonna do what we gotta do, and ain’t no one gonna stop us.

Jeanette Friedman

With apologies to the song
I’m that Jew York City girl
grew up ridin’ the subways, running with people
Up in Harlem, down on Broadway
I’m no tramp, but I’m no lady, talkin’ that street talk
the heart and soul of New York City
who should know the score by now
a native Jewish New Yorker, that’s me!

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