Wednesday, August 31, 2005
A "hot-headed" volunteer ambulance driver was detained by cops last night after refusing to yield to a city ambulance crew that had arrived first at the Lower East Side home of an Alzheimer's patient, police said.
The driver, from the Jewish volunteer corps Hatzolah, was hauled off by cops. But he was later sprung after about two dozen supporters, as well as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, rushed to the Pitt Street station house.
"The outcome was totally in our favor," a man who identified himself as the president of Hatzolah said as he jumped into his car.
Silver said he had rushed to the precinct simply to "help mediate the dispute."
"It was a jurisdictional dispute," the state's most powerful Democrat said. "They all have to work together for the betterment of the people here."
According to police, the EMS crew was already on the scene when the Hatzolah team pulled up to the Grand Street apartment.
The city crew was assisting the emotionally disturbed woman — who is Jewish, police sources said — when the Hatzolah driver tried to force his way into the apartment.
A cop closed the door on the driver, but the driver stuck his foot inside and demanded to treat the patient, police said.
"The officer again asked him to leave but he didn't," said a police spokesman. "He started to leave, but then he stayed in the hallway and started yelling and screaming."
That's when the driver — whom a Hatzolah source described as "sometimes a hothead" — was brought to the station house, police said.
"He's a guy who sometimes causes problems," the source said.
When the crowd of Hatzolah supporters gathered outside, police said they were questioning the driver only to determine if he was, indeed, a medical technician for the 38-year-old group.
A swastika remains Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, after vandals burned it into the lawn of a Jewish family Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005, in Lawrenceville, Ga.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Who knew? About the Hasidic man in a long, black coat and fur hat – who prays to win the lottery? About the young Orthodox Jewish dude – who wears a Grateful Dead yarmulke? About the 'Better You Schlepp It Than Us' sale – where you buy three polka-dot yarmulkes and get one free?
For 10 months, this eastern Sullivan County hamlet is dead, with all 17 shops boarded up. But in the summer, orthodox and Hasidic Jews from as far away as Miami open the stores and hit the streets. They nosh kosher sushi at Mazel Wok. They kibitz by Bubby's variety shop. They check out everything from "Juggling Moishe" children's books to the "Get High" sayings booklet of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach at Hakol B' Sefer Judaica.
And the highlight of their week is Saturday night in Woodbourne.
"It's the place to be," says Avi Hauptman.
These Jews rest all day on the Saturday Sabbath, when you're not allowed to light a match or turn on a light. This is when the wide streets are so dead, all you hear is the chirping of crickets and the hum of a streetlight.
But at 9:30, when Woodbourne Kosher Pizza Ice Cream Falafel and Knishes turns up its ovens, the hamlet transforms itself into a place that's teeming with so much life, it's like a Hollywood set with chutzpah.
The action begins when the young Hasidic man in a fur hat and black silk coat strolls down the street, beneath the yellow Mazel Wok sign for Chinese and Sushi Glatt Kosher Cuisine.
Sam Greenwald is doing something he couldn't do for the 24 hours of Shabbos: buy, light and smoke Marlboro Lights – and play the lottery.
"I pray to God I'll win," he says.
As he explains why he wears his fur hat – "a European Hasidic tradition" – and ankle-length coat – "so we don't take big steps and think we're a big shot" – three young guys in baggy jeans and T-shirts stroll up. One is wearing that Dead yarmulke.
"We're looking for Jewish girls," says the Deadhead named Yakov.
Ten minutes later, Greenwald walks back from the convenience store. He has not won the lottery, but he is holding a cigarette. The Hasidic man asks the Deadhead for a match.
As the dark night fills with young Hasidic Jews with beards, modern Orthodox Jews in SUVs and Jewish families with sleeping babies and dressed-up children, Greenwald and Yakov the Deadhead ignore the crowds around them. Instead, they debate.
Greenwald doesn't believe in Israel. Yakov does.
"I believe the Jewish people shouldn't have a Jewish state until the Messiah comes," says the Hasidic man.
Veterans of this Saturday night scene may tell you that Woodbourne isn't as busy as it used to be, before Wal-Mart in nearby Monticello, before many of the Orthodox had second homes with air conditioning, but by 10:30 p.m., car horns are honking. Drivers jockey for parking spots. A green Subaru Forester with black tape over one of its lights squeals to a stop near a curb. Five college dudes jump out.
And the line at the cash register is seven deep at the 27th Annual "Better You Schlepp It Than Us" close-out sale at Hakol B' Sefer.
A few feet from the counter sit two young women who look like they're straight out of a Greenwich Village bookstore. One of the 19-year-olds has an earring in her nose. They both have long wavy brown hair and wear long skirts and J Crew-style long-sleeve jerseys. They're checking out books like "The Song of the Universe."
"Did you know every animal has an essence?" asks Shoshonna Steinmentz.
The girls are students in Israel – "an amazing, awesome place," says Rebecca Hager. And they've been coming to Sullivan County from Connecticut since they were kids.
For them, the night has just begun. They'll grab a couple of slices and Diet Cokes at Woodbourne Kosher Pizza, etc. They might even check out the new Saturday night Jewish hot spot, Wal-Mart.
"It's cool at 3 in the morning," they say.
When they head out for their slices, Rebecca and Shoshonna run into Yakov the Deadhead and his pals. The girls are carrying $90 worth of books – and something called a Kosher Lamp.
Shoshonna describes how her Kosher Lamp works, so you can use it on the Sabbath.
"You just twist the shade," she says. "You don't turn it on or off."
Rebecca can't stop talking about that spiritual essence of animals.
"We learn about modesty through cats," she says. "They don't even urinate in public."
To which this newcomer to Woodbourne on Saturday night asks:
Monday, August 29, 2005
In response to yesterday's vicious attack on two yeshiva students, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Lubavitch Educational and Social Services Divisions, issued a statement urging a swift and unequivocal response by the Ukrainian government.
Yesterday’s violent attack on two yeshiva students in Kiev, which leaves one fighting for his life, raises serious concerns about a climate that has allowed anti-Semitic elements to spiral out of control.
The vicious attack demands a swift and unequivocal response by Ukrainian authorities. I urge law enforcement agents to locate this evil at its root, and do everything in its power to eradicate it.
It is apparent that tolerance of any expression of anti-Semitism ultimately emboldens its proponents to act in criminal and insane ways such as was unleashed yesterday on innocent yeshiva students.
Chabad-Lubavitch has a significant number of representatives, women, men and children, who, with no small measure of sacrifice, have dedicated themselves to rebuilding Jewish life and Jewish communities in Ukraine. I am sanguine that the Ukrainian government will continue to extend its support and protection to help facilitate this remarkable revival. Chabad-Lubavitch and the larger Jewish community anticipate that Ukrainian authorities will prosecute this crime under the full measure of the law, and take all action to ensure the safety of its Jewish population.
One of two young Jewish men beaten in downtown Kiev on Sunday evening was reportedly in "very serious condition" on Monday, the latest victim of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
The man was identified in an Israel Radio report as 28-year-old yeshiva student Mordechai Ben-Avraham and by Interfax as Mordekhay Molozhenov. According to one report, he and/or his colleague is an Israeli citizen.
A police spokesman told The Associated Press that Ben-Avraham/ Molozhenov was in a coma after undergoing brain surgery.
"The doctors say he is between life and death," Eduard Dolinsky, executive vice-president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, said on Monday afternoon.
The two yeshiva students were reportedly beaten and struck with sticks and glass bottles by seven or eight assailants whom police classified as teenagers associated with a nationalistic "skinhead" group.
Dolinsky said no suspects had been arrested, despite the fact that skinheads were reportedly seen perpetrating the attack and that their whereabouts were known.
"We in the Jewish community believe that the police know who did it and, if they want, they could catch them any time. The [skinheads] hang out in a public square every day, and the police know them," he said.
Anti-Semitic attacks have occurred frequently of late, he added.
"We have had seven attacks in the past month – from verbal attacks to physical attacks [causing] light injuries. This case is very difficult and tragic for the whole community. People are frightened."
Anti-Semitic rhetoric in Ukraine has also grown increasingly violent. Earlier this month, Ukrainian nationalists asked President Viktor Yushchenko to open criminal proceedings against "Judeo-Nazis," singling out Chabad rabbis and the main work of Chabad hassidic literature, the Tanya.
In an open letter to Yushchenko, members of the Conservative Party and several far right-wing editors demanded that Jews be prevented from teaching the Tanya in Jewish schools and synagogues, so as to stop the spread of "this misanthropic religious system."
Dolinsky said this latest attack would likely receive the same kind of attention that others had, explaining, "We never saw results in previous cases, so we are pessimistic about anything happening now. Without a government showing the political will to fight it, we will not survive this wave of anti-Semitism."
Spokesmen for Ukraine's Foreign Ministry were unavailable for comment about the attack or about the police's response to it.
In Jerusalem, the Jewish Agency announced on Monday that it would provide aid to the two young men who were wounded in the attack.
The Bocher from Chasan Sofer that was burned from the camp fire in Camp Yeshivah is doing B"H better, and his burns are healing well.
Filmmaker Menachem Daum on finding sparks of the sacred on a journey to the Holocaust's heart of darkness in Poland.
Why did you decide to make “Hiding and Seeking”?
I don’t know if you had a chance to see my previous film that I did with Oren Rudavsky, which was called "A Life Apart: Hasidism in America." We made the film in ’97, and it was on PBS and it was nominated for an Emmy. It was a pretty good film.
My parents’ grandparents were Hasidim. My parents were Holocaust survivors who came to the United States after the war. I grew up in a very Hasidic environment. Once we came to Brooklyn from Schenectady, my father immersed us in a very closed Hasidic world. But in a way, the Holocaust was all around us. The schools, the yeshivas we went to, were named after towns that were destroyed in the Holocaust. And all my classmates were children of survivors and my teachers were survivors themselves. And the Holocaust just permeated everything about my growing up, though in school it was rarely discussed. Actually it was never discussed: it was like a third rail, you touch it and you die. There was no way of explaining it satisfactorily.
Generationally, that was appropriate. American Jews avoided talking about the Holocaust for a long time afterward to their children
Yeah, and especially in that part of the Jewish world that I was part of growing up, which was the Hasidic portion of it. Nowadays, I’m very disturbed by the yeshivas that my children and grandchildren attend, they are dealing with the Holocaust, but they’re explaining it as God’s punishment and displeasure with the Jews for abandoning tradition and faith. This is something that, had I come home from school and told this to my parents, they would have been horrified. The schools wouldn’t have had the audacity to say something like this while the survivors were still able to voice an opinion. But now that that generation has largely moved on, the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas have resorted to this simplistic explanation of the Holocaust.
Can you say what that simplistic explanation is?
It’s the traditional explanation for all the unexplainable tragedies. That it was the traditions that had governed Judaism for so many centuries were broken down and people were moving more and more toward enlightenment and laxity in observance, and trying to become like the goyim [gentiles], and abandoning tradition. And God expressed his displeasure through the Holocaust. This is the traditional explanation: because of our sins, we have been exiled from our land. But this explanation didn’t fly well, it was never mentioned when I was a child. I’ve got to tell my parents, my pious father who, even if he wanted to sin, he wouldn’t even know how to begin to sin. You tell him that he died because of sins? Now I’m very troubled that this is the explanation that has become sort of standard in the yeshiva world.
But I grew up in this world, and part of that thinking was "Thank God God made us Jews rather than goyim." And clearly the whole outside world was connected to what had happened to the Jews in Europe during World War II. That was like the personification of the goyim. You know, some goyim are more overt, some hide their hostilities, but basically we were raised with the sensation that goyim are dangerous, goyim are at heart murderous, anti-Semitic, and we've just got to keep our heads below their radar screens, so to speak. It was really only much, much later, when I started stepping out of that closed world and encountered really exemplary people who were Catholics, non-Jews, whatever, that I realized the extent to which we had been misinformed, and sheltered from the fact that there is decency among all people, and there is villainy--there are saints and sinners among all of us.
In the film, it appeared that you experienced some of this sense of the sacred among gentiles, during moments of political activism, for example, peace marches.
Literally, that was my first step outside the world of yeshiva, and the world that I had grown up in. This was in the '60s. And all these young people were fighting for tikkun olam, to make the world a better place. There were fighting against injustices in the South, in Southeast Asia, for civil rights. All the causes that motivated the young people of that age. It was alien to me, because I never even been involved in these issues. I could see that what was driving these people was a real, sincere desire to make the world a better place. And that seemed to me clearly a spiritual and holy motivation. So that was the beginning, I guess, of my continuous encounters with decency among people whom I had been told that decency couldn’t be found amongst.
And I guess as I just kept encountering more and more people whom I wouldn’t have met in that little world, I gradually kept on revising my thinking. While my children were growing up, I really started questioning many of the certainties that I had always taken for granted. And I think I mentioned in the film, that I really felt that I don’t know all the answers to these questions.
Meanwhile, I sort of abdicated to some extent. I didn’t share with them, just like my parents had not shared with me fully, all of their experiences during the war, I didn’t [share my doubts about traditional Jewish ideas toward gentiles] when my kids were 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, I was living the life of an observant Jew, I observed the shabbas, kosher, I studied the Talmud with them, and all that.
So you reinforced certainties with your children rather than sharing doubts?
Well, I didn’t share doubts, but on the other hand, I allowed their spiritual education to be taken care of by the schools that I sent them to.
Did they attend yeshiva?
Yes, very similar to the ones I had gone to. I tried to have my father have an influence on them, because my father to me was always the example, the role model of what a pious Jew should be. And my wife was also very influential. I sort of enjoyed the fun parts of the ritual with them. I enjoyed the holidays, I enjoyed telling the stories, I enjoyed even studying the Talmud was an opportunity for us to interact, but I never was really, really dogmatic about any of this.
But the only time I’ll really intervene was when my kids would come home from school with some derogatory notions about the other, where I felt that their minds were being poisoned with demeaning attitudes towards outsiders. Because I had already gone past that, so I would try to disabuse them of such notions.
But "Hiding and Seeking" is really about what happens when your sons go much further in that direction on their own, and away from your perspective.
I went to Brooklyn College, but by the time my kids graduated high school, it was no longer acceptable in the ultra-Orthodox world to even consider going to college. The world had sort of constricted even further. But in my days it was okay after you graduated high school to continue your Talmudic studies in the morning and afternoon, and go to Brooklyn College in the evening. So you’d sort of split your day between secular and religious studies.
When my kids graduated high school, that was no longer an acceptable option. So they both went to Israel and left my home, and spent 14, 15 years and got married and started having their families, and really, really immersed themselves in that [ultra-Orthodox] world.
They didn't go to a secular college?
Not at all.
They’re still part of the Haredi--ultra-Orthodox--community in Israel?
Yes, very much.
And that was one of the motivations for your making this film?
Despite my disagreements with the Hasidic and Haredi worlds, I still have great admiration for their tenacity, for their ability to rebuild after God had seemingly abandoned them. They persisted in their relationship and rebuilt these communities and schools. That was the subject of our previous film, "A Life Apart." And in that film, it does have some critical voices. There’s an angry black man who’s talking about how the Hasidim are raising their kids, and there’s a Reform woman rabbi who takes on the Hasidim.
I gave critics of Hasidism an opportunity to come to the plate and give it their best shot, but on the whole, the film was a pretty warm portrayal of these people who everybody had counted out, and said there’s no way they’re going to rebuild after the Holocaust, and especially in America, and they went ahead and did it. So on the one hand I was critical, but I cut them a considerable amount of slack. But after 9/11, I realized I couldn’t cut them the kind of slack I had.
So 9/11 was a major turning point?
This was clearly a post-9/11 film. It was a response to what I really felt. I felt I could understand Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. I could understand this concept of blinding yourself and losing yourself in this religion that you don’t see your connectedness to the rest of humanity. I knew it. I had never been in one, but I sort of felt I could understand where they’re coming from. And I realized that much of what drives them is very parallel to some of the less-attractive elements of the Haredi world.
One of the complicated things that you’re doing in the film is that you’ve undertaken a project of reconciliation--multi-generational, and across Jewish and gentile lines. You’re trying to reconcile the perspectives of your sons, your own father and in-laws, all of whom are Holocaust survivors, and the gentile Poles who you know had rescued your father-in-law and his two brothers from the Nazis. It’s a family story, and something larger than a family story.
I see this as larger: it’s about the world I live in. But it has applicability to all religions. Anybody who believes they have a monopoly on truth, and they have an absolute certainty that doesn’t leave room for the others’ certainties, is who this film is addressed to. I don’t see this as a “Jewish film,” because the issues it deals with transcend all of those. But it is a family story.
I think Alfred Hitchcock once said, “In a documentary, God is the director.” And in a way, that’s sort of what happened. This started out as a film that had a different focus. Originally, it was an exploration of my parents, and how they can continue to have faith after what they had gone through. And we interviewed a lot of survivors. I was really not even supposed to be in front of the camera, but just moving little pieces along.
But my partner [filmmaker] Oren Rudavsky thought that the story of myself, my kids, our differences of opinion, was the real story. So he kind of saw this film before I did. It wasn’t meant to be totally the way it turned out. Just like we were led to Dzialoszyce [the Polish village where Daum's father-in-law had lived and was hidden from the Nazis], and we found the rescuers; I felt like we had a mission to complete.
I couldn’t have scripted this film. If I had come a year or two later--Mr. Mucha [the husband of the woman who helped to hide Daum's father-in-law] passed away this past April, and Mrs. Mucha [the Polish Catholic woman who helped her parents hide the Jews on their farm] is very frail. I’m going to be [in Dzialoszyce] next month; I was there a few months ago. I maintain a relationship with them. But literally, we came at the last minute. We just had a chance to connect and start making amends.
What year were you there for the first time?
The first time I was there was in the summer of 2002. We came back the following summer, of 2003, to give them the awards [for righteous gentiles, from Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Authority] and recognize their heroism. And it took us about another year or so to finish the film.
In the film, it's clear that your sons were reluctant participants in this search for meaning, at least at the outset.
They’re really immersed in their studies of the holy books and the texts, and they really weren’t too thrilled about the prospect of spending a week or 10 days in Poland. But I said perhaps we’ll look at cemeteries, maybe we’ll meet some people. But basically I convinced them because all of the great talmudists, whose works they continue to study, a lot of them are buried in Poland, and this would be a way for them to honor and pay respect to these great talmudic rabbis. So that was the attraction for them. Clearly, there’s a certain–my son Akiva, and even my other son, Tzvi--they sort of questioned the rationale for this whole trip.
One of them referred rather acerbically to being on "a family hajj."
A family hajj. (Laughs) So I sort of had to drag them on this expedition. I couldn’t have known we were going to find the Muchas. I was hoping we would.
There was something astonishing about that, almost mystical or predestined. Do you feel there was any sort of divine hand in guiding you there?
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, sometimes I’m not always certain about divine providence and to what extent it guides us in our daily lives, I sometimes fail to see it, but in this instance, it was really clear because we were really skating on thin ice. We could have gone to Poland and not found them, or they had just passed away, or missed each other. Everything just sort of fell into place, like it was meant to happen. It was long overdue.
And that was pivotal for one of your sons. And he underwent what is called in Judaism teshuva, turning. He had a moment of turning toward a different perception of the gentiles, and a moment of reconciliation, whereas your other son came away largely unmoved in the bigger sense of attitudes toward gentiles. Can you comment on that?
Well, my older son, Tzvi, who actually spoke at the presentation ceremony [of a righteous gentile award from Yad Vashem to the Muchas], he referred to Mrs. Mucha’s parents, Stanislaw and Mariana Matuszczyk, “ of blessed memory.” Usually that term is reserved for revered ancestors, pious rabbis. The fact that he’s applying it to Polish peasants, “of blessed memory,” to me that sort of indicates that his moral universe is expanding. My second son, Akiva, he’s the one who made some comments, like, “Okay, you showed me this, some exceptions to the rule.”
And the truth is that, while I think my older son has opened up more and more to the outside world, I think my second son has re-immersed himself in his insular world with a vengeance.
But as I say, it’s a seed, it takes time to grow. Before we went to Poland, there’s no way that the idea that there’s a righteousness among Poles, may have been a theoretical abstraction or some sort of theoretical possibility. But I think once you meet these people face to face, and have an encounter with them, it’s got to have an impression upon you. Before, he probably would have said there’s no exceptions, they’re all beyond redemption. The fact that he’s even beginning to qualify, “okay maybe there’s a few,” is a step. A small step, a little step, but it’s getting there.
And I should tell you that the first time I went to Poland with Rabbi [Shlomo] Carlebach, I had the same attitudes as my sons. Even as I was beginning to open up to the outside world, Poles to me were… I mean, maybe Americans, even if they’re secular, they’re egalitarian and democratic, but Poles were just a throwback to darkness, people who are beyond redemption, who are inherently anti-Semitic. I think it was Yitzhak Shamir [now-deceased prime minister of Israel] who said they were fed anti-Semitism together with their mother’s milk. And growing up, hearing all the stories that I heard, I had this impression. And I didn’t want to go to Poland; my parents didn’t want to go to Poland, because they were all just incurably anti-Semitic. And that’s why I was totally unprepared and flabbergasted by Shlomo Carlebach.
Talk about Shlomo Carlebach and his understanding of Jewishness. What did you learn from him?
Well, one thing the film shows is this hatemongering Orthodox rabbi, who has a version and a vision of Orthodoxy, which is, in order to maintain this strong Orthodoxy, we have to denigrate [gentiles] and create impenetrable barriers between us and them. And Shlomo [in contrast] was an Orthodox rabbi who tried to create a vision of Orthodox Judaism that had respect and dignity for all people.
That notion of the sacred spark in every person was something that you pointed out in the film, and was something he imparted to you, and he modeled for you by going to Poland and performing Jewish music in front of an exclusively gentile audience.
I thought he was going to speak to some Jews, reach out to the few Jews in Poland, but he put his whole heart and soul into reaching out to [the Poles]. During every intermission, he would take a break, and just throw himself into the audience.
Sadly most Jews today, you go to Poland, you go to a few concentration camps, you go to some cemeteries, you go to a ghetto, and you rush out of the country as quick as you can, you spit on the ground and you go to Israel to sort of decontaminate yourself.
That’s an Orthodox perspective?
Unfortunately that’s the way it is. So here’s Shlomo coming to Poland, and [Polish journalists] ask him what would you like to accomplish in Poland? And he says I would like to shake the hands of every man, woman, and child in this country. Which just threw them for a total loop. And they played this clip over and over in Poland.
This was January 1, 1989. We were there for 10 days. And everybody in Poland saw this clip, and wherever we were going on the streets, people came over to shake his hand and [have him] kiss their babies. It was an amazing thing. His reasoning was, if we want to be the spiritual descendents of our forefather Abraham, we can’t just concern ourselves with the wellbeing of those like us, we have to reach out even to the darkest places. In his days, the worst of the worst was Sodom, and even there, Abraham put himself on the line on behalf of the sinners of Sodom.
And no matter how much you’re going to tell me about what the Poles did and collaborated, that obligates us even more to bring light here. And it took me about a year for his ideas to make sense. For me the Poles were the complete other. So for me it was a breakthrough. Once I was able to break down that barrier and see our connectedness, for me that was my major epiphany.
Your father-in-law is one of the most enigmatic figures in the film. He was saved by a Catholic Polish farm family from the Nazis. They hid him in their barn, in a pit in the ground, and they risked their own lives to protect him and his brothers. And yet your father-in-law never contacted them after the Holocaust. What is your understanding of that?
First, to his credit, he didn’t lie about it. And when confronted by my sons, he was the first to say, yes, we didn’t treat these people right.
That was a shocking moment.
We didn’t treat them the way other people would have treated them. We left and we forgot about them.
And Tzvi and Akiva ask your father-in-law what he would have done if the tables were turned?
And he says no, I wouldn’t have done what they did. And my father-in-law, he passed away two months ago, he never was able to lie. He never made any excuses. He just said we didn’t do the right thing. I spoke to people in the mental health field who have various explanations for this sort of denial, and not wanting to go back in your memory to places like this, but he never talked about that. There was some initial contact, which both Mrs. Mucha and my father-in-law forgot about, but there was some exchange of letters. We were going through Mrs. Mucha’s attic and found some old letters.
So that takes away some of the moral perplexity?
Yes and no. It doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t properly recognize and show appreciation. One or two letters. But I should tell you it was not easy to communicate in the Communist era, late 1940s. There were circumstances that I’m still trying to verify. I should say there were three brothers, and my father-in-law was not the brains, was not the mastermind behind this. He had an older brother whom he thought was going to give [the Polish rescuers] the deed to their property. But to this day I could never figure out why [it didn't happen], because his brother passed away quite a number of years ago. So I don’t know this story. I can guess, but it’s only a guess. So there is no answer. And I’m not going to try to give you one.
I think he was honest and said, if the tables were turned, I wouldn’t have done it. It is sadly correct, and it really touches upon something deeper that is not going to endear me to a number of my co-religionists, especially if they come from Polish-Jewish backgrounds. It’s the recognition that Jews, while we were in [Poland] for almost 800 or 1,000 years, didn’t really respect the hosts whose country we were in.
We didn’t respect their religion. We didn’t respect, sometimes, even their language enough to learn it. We didn’t, probably due to the religious insularity of the world which the heder children were growing up in and the kind of worldview they were being instilled with to create these impenetrable barriers. You’re morally superior to these inferior, dumb, drunken, immoral people--that was the view.
Do you think that’s an inevitable defense mechanism for a minority in the midst of an often-hostile majority? Or is that just an excuse for bad behavior, for a kind of mutual intolerance?
Clearly, the feelings were mutual. We talk about anti-Semitism, but we don’t really talk about Jewish anti-Polandism. And that’s something that we don’t really want to acknowledge. That we didn’t see the Pole as our fellow human being who was also made in the image of God. We focused on what distinguished us from the Poles rather than on what we had in common.
When you spoke with your father about your trip to Poland, he asked you not to go. He was afraid for you. But he then cried, and said he wanted to go home. So obviously he had some positive feelings in his emotions and his memories about Poland. And that was so touching. It was not explained particularly in the film, but he seemed to have a different attitude then your father-in-law.
Oh, but he’s said some nasty things about the Poles. He talks about how when he came back after the war, [the gentiles] said, “So many zydeks [Polish slur for Jews]. He wanted to go back not to see the Poles. All his life he never wanted to go back to Poland, but he realized that this might be his only chance to see his childhood home again. It was pure nostalgia. He had no great love for the Poles. And neither did my father-in-law. My father-in-law told me horrific stories of what he saw. He was in hiding and he was in the fields. He saw Polish peasants rounding up Jews who were hiding, and he saw them getting gunned down by Poles: there were no Germans around for miles. Like [the massacre of Jews in the Polish town of] Jedwabne.
I cannot fault any survivor for feeling the way they do. They saw things I can’t imagine anybody seeing. They’ve been traumatized, and I have no intention of trying to challenge their thinking. The only thing is, I don’t think we do our children and grandchildren a favor by passing on their trauma, especially to a new generation of Poles.
I’m continuing to work with the high school students in Dzialoszyce.
In the film, on your first trip to Poland with your sons, you meet Camilla, a young woman who has dedicated herself to preserving the Jewish history—and the Jewish cemetery—in the town your father's family came from. This interest in Jewish studies throughout Eastern Europe, Jewish studies without Jews–strikes many Jewish thinkers and writers as a distasteful form of kitsch. What’s your sense of the phenomenon?
In the case of Camilla, I know that she is doing this on her own. But she also likes to invite high school students from the town to come to the cemetery and give them tours and explain Jewish history and customs, and what each of the symbols on the gravestones means. She and I share this idea that we have to stop the intergenerational transmission of hatred. And that’s largely what I believe motivates her.
And I should mention that, I helped a little bit, but she had always wanted to go for her doctorate in Judaic studies. She wanted to study more about the Jewish history in Poland. But I helped a little bit to get her into university in Krakow, and she’s now studying for her doctorate.
She was the first Pole that my sons met that sort of defied their simplistic stereotypes. All of a sudden, they’re meeting this wonderful woman, they come into her house, and she’s telling them all about the Jewish ghetto, and what happened there, and she takes us to the cemetery, and she helps us find the tombstone [of my grandfather], and she was so happy that we were able to find it. You can see her face, when I’m reading the tombstone inscription to her, how moved she is. I think it was important. It was the first step in my sons’ encounter with the Poles. So the phenomenon of Judaism without Jews is one that--I’m not a sociologist or a historian, but people have written about this. I think they call it the "presence of absence."
There’s been a lot of cynicism about it.
Well, I don’t feel so cynical about it. I think it’s healthy. I think the more thoughtful Poles, and the new, young generation of Poles, are more open, and they’re more questioning. I’m hopeful that there’s a new mentality among this younger generation of Poles. And a lot of them recognize that Jews contributed a disproportionate amount to the creation of Polish culture. Some of the greatest poets and writers that they admire were actually Jewish. There’s sort of a sense that Jewish culture and Jewish history are interwoven with Polish culture and history.
Do you feel you accomplished what you set out to do in making the film?
There’s a Talmudic sage named Hillel who said, “It’s not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but just because you can’t necessarily finish it is not an excuse for you not to even make the attempt." You do the best you can. You can’t say, I’m not going to change the world, so why even bother. You do what little you can, and hopefully if enough of the people do their little bit, it will make a difference.
In "Hiding and Seeking," you talk about the journey to Poland and the attempt to bring about healing as a kind of ethical will for your children and grandchildren. One of the most moving aspects is the multi-generational, in which you bring your granddaughter on your second trip to Poland. Those are the countervailing themes in the movie: the healing versus all of these various discontinuities, ruptures, breaches, hatreds, mutual suspicion. Is the attempt to bind things together the essence of your ethical will?
It’s the recognition that my influence on my children and my grandchildren is already limited. My children are adults. There are so many other factors on my grandchildren: their parents, their schools, the worlds they’re being raised in. By calling this film my tzavaah [Hebrew for ethical will] to my children, it’s my attempt to concretize whatever I was trying to teach them so that it will have some resonance after I’m gone.
It’s a legacy?
I don’t want to sound too pompous. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my offspring and their children. I want them to just know what I was wrestling with, and maybe they’ll wrestle with it too, that’s all.
Vandals burned swastikas and obscenities into the lawn of a Jewish family, splattering windows with eggs and fouling the front porch of their home.
Two swastikas were spray-painted in the road in front of Ginger Ragans' two-story home Sunday and a third was etched onto her lawn, along with the word "Fascist" and an obscenity scrawled in the grass. Her trees were draped with toilet paper and someone had urinated and defecated on the porch.
Gwinnett County police are investigating the vandalism in the town northeast of Atlanta and are uncertain whether to classify it as a hate crime, spokesman Darren Moloney said.
Ragans, 36, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, said the incident likely was the work of neighborhood teens retaliating against her for her work as a neighborhood liaison for a community watchdog program.
In a recent edition of the community's newsletter, she mentioned that cameras had caught groups of teens hanging around the tennis courts long after the county's midnight curfew.
Although this is not the first time neighborhood homes have been vandalized, she said she's concerned the culprits are becoming more aggressive.
"I could handle the toilet paper and the egging," she said. "But for them to put swastikas and write 'fascist,' that turned it personal."
Jean Paul Gaultier is running late, so his right-hand man, Lionel Vermeil, offers me a glass of water and leads me into an almost empty room. In the centre, two oval-backed Perspex chairs face each other at a transparent table. The effect is somewhere between Sixties modern, Louis Quinze and state penitentiary.
Moments later, Lionel returns. Perhaps, he suggests, I'd like to cast my eye over this while I'm waiting. He waves a few sheets of paper at me with practised indifference. 'It's something I wrote about Jean Paul,' he shrugs. 'It's my vision of him.'
Lionel has worked with Gaultier for 20 years. He used to operate the lifts at the Eiffel Tower, then he saw Gaultier on TV and decided to come and work for him instead. This career move is so perfectly pitched to Gaultier's aesthetic - in which Parisian cliches are reworked into avant-garde yet media-friendly fashion statements - that you wonder if the two of them haven't conspired to make it up.
'You might find it's a bit too psychoanalytic,' says Lionel, as I begin to read his work. Lionel, it turns out, has been in Lacanian analysis, and feels it gives him insights into the personalities of others. Without hesitation, he goes on to inform me that Jean Paul Gaultier has always wanted to remain a child. His grandmother adored him - 'Too much, in my view,' he adds, cupping a hand around his mouth unnecessarily - and ever since he went to school, where boys and girls were separated, Gaultier has been in search of love. The best way to get on with him, says Lionel, is simply 'to be human and to listen'. He treats his employees like family ('which can be a bit of a trap'), and this means that if Gaultier gets upset about something, he stores it up and up until it explodes, because he so wants to be loved that he's afraid of saying anything. I'll see what an overgrown child he is, Lionel sniffs, when he traipses in with his rucksack.
By now, I am hoping that Gaultier won't turn up at all, and that I'll be able to write about him based purely on the indiscretions of his in-house therapist. But after 40 minutes or so we hear he is in the building. I wander down into the main hallway of the former theatre that has been Gaultier's HQ for the past year, and as I gaze up its extravagant stairway, a small bleachedblond head pops over the balustrade, grinning.
At 53, and about to celebrate 30 years of his ready-to-wear label, the designer still has trouble shaking off the epithet of 'enfant terrible'. He is the industry's longest-serving rebel. But he also, paradoxically, has become Paris's most triumphant couturier - he now closes couture week, having inherited that coveted spot from his retired hero, Yves Saint Laurent, and is seen by many as Saint Laurent's successor.
Even without Lionel's helpful hints, it might be possible to surmise that Gaultier had based his entire persona on some forgotten French cartoon character of the post-war period. (In fact, he once published an autobiographical book made up of cartoons.) He is speedy, in his actions as in his speech, he smiles unstintingly, and he gives the impression that there is no form of silliness he wouldn't be happy to embrace.
Back in the Perspex penitentiary, I ask if he ever aimed to shock.
'No,' he reflects. 'I don't think I was ever concerned with shocking people. Was I conscious of the fact that it could be shocking? Yes. But I just wanted to show what I found fair or normal or beautiful. If anything, I was the one who was shocked, by certain kinds of intolerance.'
Gaultier first encountered intolerance as a teenager, when he went to work for Jean Patou. (He had been hired by Pierre Cardin on his 18th birthday, and moved on to Patou after that.) 'There were very precise dress codes,' he says. 'Like: everything that is beige and gold is beautiful and chic. Of course there were often people dressed in beige and gold who were total monstrosities - it was absurd! The shop assistants at Patou would be indignant when I'd walk in wearing riding boots, even though I wasn't going riding. They'd say you couldn't use black models because American clients didn't like it - things like that used to shock me. When I started my own collection I thought, "I'm going to trample all over those barriers."'
The trampling wasn't indiscriminate. According to Lionel, 'If something is a tradition, he doesn't touch it. If it's a convention, he pulverizes it.' For example, the traditional slippery lining in jacket sleeves (a 'mignonette') is kept, because it serves a purpose - it makes the jacket easier to slide on. But the fact that women's and men's jackets cross over in opposite directions is a convention which was born because men needed to access their wallets in order to pay for dinner, whereas women, it was thought, did not. Once Gaultier realised this, he crushed the convention by reversing the directions.
This is perhaps Gaultier's defining trait - and his most misunderstood: it is because he adores fashion's dying traditions that he seeks to revive them through his puckish reworkings. He never does anything, he claims, for the political sake of it. Though he made a bra for his teddy when he was 13, and became famous for putting men in skirts, he soon realised that, anatomically speaking, a bra for men was ridiculous. Putting a skirt on a man is not a travesty,' he has said. 'Putting a bra on him is.'
Gaultier has based entire collections on the attire of Hasidic Jews, or the seal skins of Inuits. He has created extraordinary one-offs, like a bolero made of feathers in primary colours or a strapless leopard-skin dress, in which the bodice is the animal's flattened head. There were the legendary torpedo corsets that pierced through men's suits on Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour. Yet no matter how outre the outfit, Gaultier claims only to have been reflecting a change that was already taking place in society'.
An early influence was the Sixties designer Andre Courreges, whom he once saw on TV. Instead of talking about clothes, the way others used to,' Gaultier explains, 'he talked about an active woman: who drove her own car, who worked, who ran, and who was alive. And suddenly thought, "My God, that's incredible." It was about human beings, and extremely modern.'
Gaultier has always 'preferred the company of women to that of men'. (Young men are another matter - Gaultier has been out since his early teens, and has said it was while reading Romeo and Juliet that he realised he was more interested in Romeo.) He believes that women are 'quite frankly more intelligent than men, perhaps because have to think more in order to get what they want, because the world is run by machos'.
Gaultier grew up in a suburb of Paris, and the only child of a book-keeper and a secretary he spent a good deal of time with his maternal grandmother, a nurse, beautician faith healer rolled into one. She would read her female clients' tarot cards and advise them on new hairstyles, while her grandson drew pictures of them.
'I'd do "before and after" portraits them,' Gaultier remembers. '"After" would what I'd seen on TV - Ava Gardner or whoever. And I'd listen to my grandmother's advice they'd be having problems with their husband and she would tell them to dress differently. I learned what you could do through clothes, and I learned about the psychology of human beings - that fashion is about people's desires, however unformulated.'
Gaultier's grandmother had a closet full corsets (she told him that she used to drink a swig of vinegar before putting one on, so her stomach would contract and the laces could be pulled even tighter). A widow, she dressed entirely in black, and once forgot to put her skirt on over her slip, so that she found herself in the middle of the street wearing lingerie. These details are what Lionel calls the 'sartorial incidents' of Gaultier's life, as if his childhood were an accident or crime scene littered with clues to his future creations.
For better and for worse, 1990 was a turning point for Gaultier. His lover and business partner, Francis Menuge, died of Aids, and while Menuge was very ill, Gaultier was asked to do the costumes for Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour. These are hardly equivalent events, and Gaultier quite rightly corrects me for equating the two: 'The sadness of the death of Francis Menuge had nothing to do with the joy of Madonna. They happened in the same year, but it wasn't that working with Madonna was what helped me to survive.' Still, he admits, when Menuge died he thought he would give up and, coincidentally, that was the moment when his fame took on a much-hyped new layer. He became forever connected in people's minds to the person who, he says, 'really represented that free-willed, decisive and liberated woman who still played the game of femininity while being so strong she was almost macho'.
Gaultier says he would never have set up on his own had it not been for Menuge: 'I wanted to be a designer, but I would have been happy without my own label.' But Menuge gave him confidence, and ran the business for half of its 30-year existence. 'It was like the baby we had together,' Gaultier says now. 'That's why, for the show after he died, I wrote: "1+1=1; Francis et Jean Paul = Jean Paul Gaultier." It was symbolic. When he died, I thought I'd done what I wanted - even beyond what I'd imagined was possible. I hadn't anticipated my own fame, which can have its bad side but, I have to say, wasn't unpleasant. And so I did think, after all, "Why carry on? Maybe it's best if I stop now." But it's the only thing I know how to do.'
Since then, he has designed costumes for the films of Peter Greenaway, Luc Besson and Pedro Almodovar, he has worked in theatre, and last year he took over the reins at Hermes. He also designs a range for the mass-market catalogue La Redoute. What with his perfume and make-up and menswear, Gaultier works on nine lines at once. He is the sleepless head of an enormous independent company who, by his own admission, doesn't know how to delegate.
Gaultier showed his first couture collection 10 years ago, after being passed over for the top job at Dior - due, he believes, to the camp, self-lampooning antics of his TV series, Eurotrash. There is a mad sort of grandeur about doing couture now, when there are only about 200 clients worldwide, shared by all couturiers, and those clients are dying off fast. The business, which makes a loss, essentially exists as a very expensive advert for perfume, which accounts for half the company's turnover. (When Gaultier's first perfume, the famous bust in a tin can, went on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue, it broke the store's records for a launch.)
Though he readily admits that 'Couture as it used to be is dying,' Gaultier takes that as an opportunity to relish its 'fascinating decadence'. He thinks it has been revived by mavericks such as Galliano and McQueen. You could say that by joining it in its dying days, Gaultier may turn out to be one of fashion's last great auteurs.
In what must once have been the theatre's auditorium, the translucent supermodel Jade Parfitt is being turned back into the bride she played at Gaultier's autumn/winter couture show. She is wearing white hair extensions and slithering into several layers of bleached animal skin. There is an underskirt of sheep's wool, crimped and brushed to look like ostrich feathers, and a delicate dress of devore rabbit. She is a magnificent, towering figure, and adds to the room's Dadaist splendour. White satin jersey lines the walls, sweeping up all the furniture in its web, so that baroque sofas and chairs are pushing through their stretchy wrapping like ghosts wading through ectoplasm.
Parfitt changes for another photograph. This time she is wearing one of the most famous dresses in Gaultier's archives - a skin-coloured corset dress with a torpedo brassiere. Parfitt has been working with Gaultier regularly for the past seven years, and considers him one of the kindest of all designers. Today, he camps it up for the camera, smiling at her, holding his foot up to her back, as if pulling her laces impossibly tight, picking up a hair extension and holding it to his lip, turning himself into an ageing Asterix.
He stops to look at Parfitt while the photographer changes a film. 'That is a 25-year-old dress,' he smiles, 'and it's still alive because of you.'
Marguerite Duras once said of Yves Saint Laurent that he knew what women wanted before they themselves did. In a way, this is what Gaultier hasdone, too. He once knew a girl who wore a bra and liked to show a little bit of strap. He found it more suggestive than no bra at all, so he worked underwear into his clothes. He made dresses that fell off the shoulders, because he saw women allowing their tops to slide off - all these intimate gestures he would expose and turn into ready-made garments. 'It's not my fantasy,' he explains, 'it's about looking, spotting desires and being seduced by those desires themselves.' Fashion, he says, is 'the fruit of evolutions, wars, problems,joys, desires and discoveries', he is merely their 'humble representative'.
Over the years, Gaultier has broken human boundaries as well as dress codes. He has used older models and larger models and women of all races. He has been criticised for staging shows in largely Arab areas of Paris. I ask him if there are colours he doesn't like. 'A colour can't exist until there is someone who wears it and whom it suits. In that sense I like all colours that suit different skin textures.'
He chuckles a little shyly, and adds: 'I can say things with clothes better than I can with words.' But, after thinking for a moment, he arrives at what he meant. 'My raw material isn't fabric,' Gaultier says, 'it's human beings. Voila!'
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Last night seven Bocherim left from Gateshead Yeshivah by car to go somewhere. A little while into their trip they saw a deer come out into the road. The driver tried to avoid the deer. He missed the deer but crashed into a tree. Two of the seven Bocherim were killed and another was badly injured. One of the Bocherim that was killed in the car accident was the roommate of the Bocher that was stabbed and killed in Israel last week.
Menachem Daum, the Producer and Director of the film A Life Apart, went on the Zev Brenner radio show last night and blamed the Holocaust on Heimishe Yidden to be the result of their attitude towards the Polish. He then went on to say that certain verses in the Torah regarding non-Jews made no sense and were inexplicable, he also said that he disagreed with the P'sokim of various Gedolei Hador with regard to Halachas concerning Jews and non-Jews. Daum further explained that the Jews had no reason to be negative in any way towards the Polish before the war, and had the Jews been nicer to the Polish Goyim before the war, they may never have banded with the Germans to help Annihilate the Jews. I wonder if Menachem Daum was in Poland during the war, even more I wonder if he was a Capo and how many Jews exactly did he beat mercilessly in order to befriend and show his allegiance to some Nazi.
For 30 prestigious generations, the men in Aaron Twerski's family became rabbis. But for his career, he chose the law.
But taking the literal sense of the word "rabbi" - it means teacher - he became a rabbi after all.
Since earning his law degree in 1965, Twerski has taught at Hofstra University School of Law and other law schools, including Harvard, Cornell and the University of Michigan.
On Tuesday, Twerski, 66, will officially become the new dean of Hofstra University School of Law, making him the first Hasidic Jew to be dean of an American law school.
"When I tried to get into the teaching profession, I faced pretty substantial discrimination," he said. "I was told quite directly that it was because of the way that I was dressed."
Judges, politicians, scholars and colleagues are expected to attend the convocation, which will include a keynote address by state Chief Judge Judith Kaye.
Twerski's goals for the law school include expanding programs in business litigation, family law and international law.
When Twerski began his career, lawmakers were just beginning to write some of today's seminal consumer protection laws. He is credited with helping to shape the legal landscape of product liability law.
Over his 40-year legal career, Twerski has become a national expert in tort law. His extensive writing about the topic include 60 law review articles, five books and a tome he co-wrote that has become the de facto guide used by courts and judges in product liability lawsuits.
"I've always had a love for tort law that may have been spurred by my background in Talmudic law," he said. "It's something that all of us come into contact on a daily basis.
"We've all had some issue of personal injury," he said.
Twerski said that how the legal system changes medical malpractice, bankruptcy, product liability and civil rights laws in coming years "will be the test of the humanity of our society."
A descendant of two influential rabbinical lines, Twerski also is ordained as a rabbi. He is the first man not to become a practicing rabbi and the first lawyer in his family.
An older, now deceased brother and Twerski's twin became rabbis, but younger brothers followed his nonconformity, choosing accounting and psychiatry.
Still, Twerski, who has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with his wife of 45 years, Kreindel, said his religious and Talmudic background is an ongoing influence on his legal career and his personal life.
Twerski also has become another kind of rabbi, acting as the unofficial ombudsman for his Borough Park Hasidic community. On a typical night, Twerksi counsels people at his home until 1 a.m. on everything from rental disputes to hospital billing errors to family legal issues.
"My friends joke about that, saying, 'You started off as a law professor and ended up as a rabbi,'" he said.
Despite his new post, Twerski will still spend time in the classroom, teaching one course a year. He'll also be busy with his commitments outside work, which include spots on the boards of Maimonides Hospital, Agudas Israel - which represents the interests of the U.S. Hasidic community - and Mishkon.
"I have a sign on my desk that says no," he said, "but it faces the other direction and it doesn't seem to do any good."
Saturday, August 27, 2005
There is an extra heavy Police presence tonight in Woodridge. Cops are pulling over cars for picking up hitchers.
Mobile Email from a Cingular Wireless Customer http://www.cingular.com
Friday, August 26, 2005
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg met with Orthodox leaders and health officials at City Hall on Aug. 11 to discuss a practice that some rabbis consider integral to God's covenant with the Jews requiring circumcision.
A circumcision ritual practiced by some Orthodox Jews has alarmed city health officials, who say it may have led to three cases of herpes - one of them fatal - in infants. But after months of meetings with Orthodox leaders, city officials have been unable to persuade them to abandon the practice.
The city's intervention has angered many Orthodox leaders, and the issue has left the city struggling to balance its mandate to protect public health with the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.
"This is a very delicate area, so to speak," said Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden.
The practice is known as oral suction, or in Hebrew, metzitzah b'peh: after removing the foreskin of the penis, the practitioner, or mohel, sucks the blood from the wound to clean it.
It became a health issue after a boy in Staten Island and twins in Brooklyn, circumcised by the same mohel in 2003 and 2004, contracted Type-1 herpes. Most adults carry the disease, which causes the common cold sore, but it can be life-threatening for infants. One of the twins died.
Since February, the mohel, Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, 57, has been under court order not to perform the ritual in New York City while the health department is investigating whether he spread the infection to the infants.
Pressure from Orthodox leaders on the issue led Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and health officials to meet with them on Aug. 11. The mayor's comments on his radio program the next day seemed meant to soothe all parties and not upset a group that can be a formidable voting bloc: "We're going to do a study, and make sure that everybody is safe and at the same time, it is not the government's business to tell people how to practice their religion."
The health department, after the meeting, reiterated that it did not intend to ban or regulate oral suction. But Dr. Frieden has said that the city is taking this approach partly because any broad rule would be virtually unenforceable. Circumcision generally takes place in private homes.
Dr. Frieden said the department regarded herpes transmission via oral suction as "somewhat inevitable to occur as long as this practice continues, if at a very low rate."
The use of suction to stop bleeding dates back centuries and is mentioned in the Talmud. The safety of direct oral contact has been questioned since the 19th century, and many Orthodox and nearly all non-Orthodox Jews have abandoned it. Dr. Frieden said he hoped the rabbis would voluntarily switch to suctioning the blood through a tube, an alternative endorsed by the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest group of Orthodox rabbis.
But the most traditionalist groups, including many Hasidic sects in New York, consider oral suction integral to God's covenant with the Jews requiring circumcision, and they have no intention of stopping.
"The Orthodox Jewish community will continue the practice that has been practiced for over 5,000 years," said Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organization in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after the meeting with the mayor. "We do not change. And we will not change."
David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, an umbrella organization of Orthodox Jews, said that metzitzah b'peh is probably performed more than 2,000 times a year in New York City.
The potential risks of oral suction, however, are not confined to Orthodox communities. Dr. Frieden said in March that the health department had fielded several calls from panicked non-Orthodox parents who had hired Hasidic mohels unaware of what their services entailed.
Defenders of oral suction say there is no proof that it spreads herpes at all. They say that mohels use antiseptic mouthwash before performing oral suction, and that the known incidence of herpes among infants who have undergone it is minuscule. (The city's health department recorded cases in 1988 and 1998, though doctors in New York, as in most states, are not required to report neonatal herpes.)
Dr. Kenneth I. Glassberg, past president of the New York section of the American Urological Association and director of pediatric urology at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, said that while he found oral suction "personally displeasing," he did not recommend that rabbis stop using it.
"If I knew something caused a problem from a medical point of view," said Dr. Glassberg, whose private practice includes many Hasidic families, "I would recommend against it."
But Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a microbiologist and professor of Talmud and medical ethics at Yeshiva University, said that metzitzah b'peh violates Jewish law.
"The rule that's above all rules in the Torah is that you cannot expose or accept a risk to health unless there is true justification for it," said Dr. Tendler, co-author of a 2004 article in the journal Pediatrics that said direct contact posed a serious risk of infection.
"Now there have been several cases of herpes in the metro area," he said. "Whether it can be directly associated with this mohel nobody knows. All we're talking about now is presumptive evidence, and on that alone it would be improper according to Jewish law to do oral suction."
The inconsistent treatment of Rabbi Fischer himself indicates the confusion metzitzah b'peh has sown among health authorities, who typically regulate circumcisions by doctors but not religious practitioners.
In Rockland County, where Rabbi Fischer lives in the Hasidic community of Monsey, he has been barred from performing oral suction. But the state health department retracted a request it had made to Rabbi Fischer to stop the practice. And in New Jersey, where Rabbi Fischer has done some of his 12,000 circumcisions, the health authorities have been silent.
Rabbi Fischer's lawyer, Mark J. Kurzmann, said that absent conclusive proof that the rabbi had spread herpes, he should be allowed to continue the practice. Rabbi Fischer said through Mr. Kurzmann that the twin who died and the Staten Island boy both had herpes-like rashes before they were circumcised and were seen by a pediatrician who approved their circumcision. The health department declined to comment on its investigation.
Ten minutes from the heart of Budapest, on the Danube River, floats the Sziget, the Obudai Island. Every year, in the beginning of August, the Island sees hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world coming together under the common sky for the largest open-air music festival in all of Europe.
On the Island: Dreadlocks are not dreaded; tie-dyes have not died; and to be a hippy is, once again, to be hip. Hygiene is looked upon as nuclear energy; mud is welcomed as a natural phenomenon; and normalcy is the natural enemy. Beer flows like the infinite watts of music; the drugs here do not come from any pharmacy; and sobriety is lying under a rock somewhere with a hangover.
Amidst all the chaos, and not thirty seconds from the main stage, there stands a little nucleus vibrating with energy. Young rabbis -- their beards not so uncommon in this rowdy crowd of Beatle wannabes but their reasons for being here very much so -- have pitched tent.
They are here for only one reason: They are the Lubavitch Hassidim and they encourage all Jewish men - not caring if the man is tattooed or pierced - to come put on Teffilin. Their philosophy: no ink or needle can ever tattoo a Neshama and no stud or ring can ever pierce a soul.
The ways of covering the Island with "The knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea," are many, and the seven days with which to do it very few. The young kindred spirits exploit every means, and take advantage of every second, to spread Jewish awareness along the collective human body like an epidemic - an epidemic that cures. Indeed, people would pass along the contagious phenomena to their friends - "did you here about the Jewish Tent?" - and the next day the friends would pass it on to their friends - until the "Knowledge" was really getting into the know.
The question of "What exactly happened at this 'Jewish Tent'?" must be tackled in two time periods - "When The Sun Rose", and, "When The Sun Went Down" - because they are as different as, you guessed it, night and day.
When the Sun Was Up
At noon, when the "Islanders" peek out of their tents for the first time and squint at the glaring sun, they see four kippa-sporting young men weaving through the plethora of bodies, schlepping sound systems and tangled wires passed the main stage, along the many booths and tents that line the walkway, their Tzitzis flying in all directions, until they reach a tent with a sign reading Zsido Sator, or Jewish Tent.
After all is set up and Jewish music - from classical Chabad Niggunim to Hasidic reggae phenomenon Matisyahu - is blaring from the speakers, the people start showing up. The "Ask The Rabbi" stand, where one can do just that, start heating up. The Island is probably the most popular place to be a rabbi. Questions range from the intellectual to the emotional to the sexual; from the physical to the spiritual to the hypothetical, from the practical to the theoretical to the whimsical - and, yes, everything, and anything, in between. One man asks, "How do I curb my anti-Semitism"? One woman asks, "What's the recipe for Charoseth (a Passover dish)?" "Is it expected of a rabbi to know the recipe for Charoseth?"
One person wonders, "How can you guys sit here at this festival all happy when your brothers and sisters are being pulled from their homes in Israel?" Wow. The reply: "We believe the only way to really achieve peace in Israel, and for that matter the world, is by spreading the knowledge of G-d, or whatever word you wish to use if you do not like the G word, throughout the world. And that is how we, here on the Island, are helping our brethren in Israel." Every mitzvah we do here helps our brothers in the Holy Land.
"What exactly is this knowledge of G-d"? The questioner continues. "The knowledge that all things physical and, of course, spiritual, are G-dly, and that, at the root, we all come from the same place - G-d", the young rabbinical student answers, and then continues, "if we would all see the world that way, there would be true peace upon all humanity."
And then there is the Teffilin, small leather boxes containing sacred passages from the Bible that Jewish men place against their hearts and on their minds every morning to bind them to G-d. Though Teffilin is not as popular as "Ask The Rabbi", for the simple reason that only Jews can put on Teffilin and asking the rabbi is limited to no one, hundreds of Jewish men, many for the first time, connect their hearts and minds to G-d.
"Are you Jewish"? The answers vary: mostly "No's", very few "Yes's", and an occasional "Half" or "Quarter". "Which quarter?" "My mother's mother." "So you are Jewish." "Really?!" This exchange happened more than once.
When the Sun was Down
Things may have seemed pretty orderly when the sun was up, but once the sun departed so did all pretense of order. In the shadows of the moon, chaos reigned. The young rabbis, who in daylight were "mind & soul doctors", with dusk turned into "rock & roll doctors". And that is exactly what they did - rock n' rolled.
A rabbinical student plugs in his electric guitar and - "Jimmy move over, let Mendy take over." Near him, another young Hassid has his fingers caressing the keyboard as if it were a "geshmaker sugya" in Gemara, a delicious portion of the Talmud. The rest of the "free weelin' yeedin" are dancing in front of the tent with more energy then should be legal. A semi-circle of about 200 wide-eyed people forms; they have never seen anything like it. Before long, the spectators become participants and the dance floor, dirt and beer caps, is soon beaten by hundreds of feet. Of course the men and women dance separately - its all part of the novelty. Chabad has taken over the scene.
Close to midnight, the beat turns into a Hip-Hop-slash-reggae progression and one of the rabbinical students starts improvising a reggae rap. After the crowd gets over the initial shock of seeing a Hasid with a beard, Tzitzit, and Kippa, doing a Jamaican accent and an inner city ghetto rhyme, they start bouncing - and it gets crazy from there. You had to see it to believe it: hundreds of dreadlocked, tattooed, pierced, stoned, drunk people screaming after the rapper words like "We are all created in the image of G-d" and "We want Moshiach now." Just wild.
When the music, dancing and rapping comes to a rap, around one in the morning, the crowd wants more; but the rabbis, after a full day of spreading the knowledge, wish to spread out on a bed and recharge for tomorrow.
After seven days of this type of chaos, we can only hope that this epidemic of knowledge has spread passed the Island and into the Mainland. And as one of the Hungarian newspapers quipped: "If you haven't seen the joy at the Jewish Tent you haven't seen true joy" - a line which, knowingly or not, comes from the Talmud's description of the joy that was in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Before the sun rises may we dance, with our physical feet, to the beat of the Levites in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
A notorious car thief that had been swiping cars in Williamsburg for the last couple of days was apprehended in an amazing joint effort between Hatzolah and Shomrim. A Hatzolah member spotted the thief breaking into a car in middle of the night and called Shomrim to report it. Shomrim immediately dispatched units to the scene and together, Hatzolah and Shomrim apprehended the thief and put him behind bars. Now if only Chaveirim had shown up they could have had a gezinte barbecue.
The blogger known as Nice Jewish Girl is a successful woman in her 30s. Like countless other single women who have Web journals, she writes about men, sex and marriage: her vibrator, her ex-boyfriends, her crush on the cute WASPy guy in her office. Unlike the stiletto-heeled masses, though, she has a more complicated take on dating. Nice Jewish Girl is Shomer Negiah: She won't touch a man until she gets married.
ýocated at shomernegiah.blogspot.com, NJG's blog is smart and moving. She approaches her deeply private subject matter with a voice that is both passionate and thoughtful. The anonymity of the blogosphere is key for her; it offers a venue in which she is free to speak her mind. As she explains on her blog, "I write about the not-dignified things here because I have nowhere else to go."
From Modern Orthodox writers for whom blogging is just another part of a daily Internet routine, to Hasidim for whom online activity is generally frowned on, more and more Orthodox Jews are turning to Web journals as an outlet of expression. And they are using blogs in a range of ways, from NJG's cry for help to Dina Orron's outreach work.
Orron is a Lubavitcher Hasid who runs Dina Does Brooklyn (no relation, she said, to the 1978 skin flick "Debbie Does Dallas"). Orron calls her blog "a window into the holy shechunah [neighborhood] of the Lubavitcher Rebbe" and fills it with semiweekly descriptions of her life as a Lubavitcher woman: joy-filled stories about shopping, celebrating holidays and playing with friends' children. Every Friday, she posts a Torah lesson.
Orron said part of the reason she blogs is that she wants to tell non-Lubavitch readers about the happiness she finds in her way of life. In an e-mail to the Forward, she described her writing "as a kind of shlichus (outreach work): If I, as a Lubavitcher, have the ability to make a blog, I should make sure that I am reaching out to Jewish people, because my mission is to reach out to Jews in everything that I do."
With their blogs, both NJG and Orron are doing something that would have been unthinkable before the rise of the Internet: They are inviting the world to witness their lives as Orthodox Jews. Jewish blogs are a fast-growing phenomenon; Jewishblogging.com, a new aggregator, lists nearly 200 of them, one-quarter of which are Orthodox. For many people — the guy who sits next to a stranger on the airplane and launches into his life story, the girl who announces to the clerk at the supermarket that she thinks President Bush is a moron — there's nothing foreign about the way that blogs broadcast personal details and opinions. The very religiously observant, however, don't usually take part in the culture of exposure. With the rise of an Orthodox — or even ultra-Orthodox — blogosphere, secular readers, both Jewish and gentile, are suddenly getting access to what's usually a closed-off realm.
But not all corners of the Orthodox world are welcoming the development with open arms. In many circles, the Internet itself is considered unkosher; many communities insist on using Web filters designed to censor trayf content. Reached by phone, author Hella Winston, who spent two years living in Hasidic communities in Brooklyn's Williamsburg and in upstate New York to write her forthcoming book, "Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels," put it like this: "The official party line — except for Lubavitch — is that they're so caught up in how awful and evil the Internet is that they don't even get to the blog issue. They don't like the fact that there is a window into these communities: Why are you exposing this stuff for all the world to see?"
Which begs the question: Who is looking? Take the case of the blog A Hasid and a Heretic and its author, who calls himself Shtreimel. Married with several children, Shtreimel still lives in the Hasidic community where he was born. He continues to go through the motions, but on his anonymous blog he records his frustrations with Hasidic life. Shtreimel's first posts addressed a secular audience, giving readers a sarcastic primer on Hasidism. As his blog evolved, though, it began to attract a religious audience. "Most readers are from Brooklyn or other frum [religiously observant] concentrations," he estimated by e-mail. (Most of the anonymous bloggers contacted by the Forward would communicate by e-mail. The exception was Nice Jewish Girl, who worried that doing so could lead to her being unmasked.)
Dissident Hasidim such as Shtreimel have formed a small blogging community online, connecting via their comments sections. "More than anything," Winston said, "I've come to think of these blogs as a way for people on the inside to talk to each other. That seems to be one of the biggest functions they're serving: a way for people to connect."
This is true for more devout bloggers, as well. Religious writer Dov Bear told the Forward that the debates in his comments section are a point of pride. "My favorite moments are when the comment threads fill up with people from all different corners of the Jewish world — from haredi [ultra Orthodox] to atheists — talking about a community issue that matters to us. We've done a few posts like that, with comments numbering in the hundreds. And providing a place where all these different types of Jews can yell and scream and argue and learn from each other and — hopefully laugh a little bit, too — is far and away the most satisfying thing about being a blogger."
In a way, Orron's window metaphor might be more appropriate than she knew. Like windows, blogs allow outsiders a way to see in, but they also can serve as mirrors, offering insiders fresh perspectives on their own communities. Of course, these perspectives are a little skewed, as even the most conservative blog is a break from a tradition that prizes discretion and modesty. Ultra-Orthodox Internet communities are still in their infancy; while many Jewish bloggers are very religiously observant, not many fervently Orthodox Jews blog.
Still, online expression has signaled a change in the frum world. Much has been made of the way blogs opened up journalism, allowing the average person a voice in public debate. In the world of Orthodox Jews, blogs are doing much the same thing.
A Bochur Staff Member at Chasan Sofer's Camp Yeshivah was badly burned last night when a camp fire collapsed and fell on him. The Bochur was sitting on a Gator mini tractor near the camp fire when the entire structure started falling apart. A large piece of wood fell on his head fracturing his skull and sending him to the ground. The entire structure of wood, which was in flames at the time, then fell on him and buried him beneath it. Hatzolah arrived at the scene but did not immediately realize that he was still trapped under the wood. When they did realize this, a frenzy broke out, none knew how to handle the flames. The Bochur was eventually rescued and taken to the Hospital by chopper. He is now conscious and in stable condition with a fractured skull and burns over a large part of his body.
An Israeli military raid on a West Bank refugee camp left four militants dead Wednesday and an Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed to death in Jerusalem — an eruption of violence a day after Israel completed its evacuation of 25 settlements.
At the Tulkarem refugee camp, Israeli soldiers surrounded a house and exchanged fire with militants inside and outside, witnesses said.
The bodies of the four dead were brought to the Tulkarem hospital an hour after the incident. Residents said they were members of Islamic Jihad. Two other Palestinians were wounded, they said.
Israeli military officials identified the Palestinians involved in the confrontation as top local leaders of the Islamic Jihad, responsible for the last two suicide bombings in Israel — in Tel Aviv in February and Netanya in July.
Earlier in Jerusalem, a Palestinian stabbed two young ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Old City, police said, calling it a terror attack. One of the victims later died of his wounds. The assailant escaped.
Israeli media reported that the dead man was a young seminary student from Britain. His name was not released.
Also Wednesday, the Justice Ministry said Israel issued orders to seize Palestinian land to build its separation barrier along a route that would effectively annex the West Bank's largest Jewish settlement to Jerusalem.
Palestinians objected to the seizure, and said that the barrier would cut them off from the part of Jerusalem they claim for a state and reinforce Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's intention to solidify Israel's grip on its main West Bank settlement blocs after the pullout from the all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank.
The settlement, Maaleh Adumim, three miles east of Jerusalem in the Judean desert, has about 30,000 residents. Sharon has said repeatedly that it will remain in Israel even after a final peace accord with the Palestinians.
Israel says the barrier is needed to keep suicide bombers from entering the country. When complete, the 425-mile complex of walls, electric fences, trenches and barbed wire is expected to include about 8 percent of the West Bank on the "Israeli" side.
Amos Gil, executive director of Ir Amim, an Israeli settlement monitoring group, said the Maaleh Adumim barrier confiscation would seize about 23 square miles of land.
Attorney General Meni Mazuz approved the order after a legal review, the Justice Ministry said.
"Such decisions will only serve to undermine any efforts to resume negotiations," said a senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat.
The United States issued a statement saying the barrier "is a problem to the extent that it prejudges final borders, confiscates Palestinian property or imposes further hardship on the Palestinian people."
Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem for a state, complaining that that barrier route unilaterally sets a border. Palestinians have praised Israel's pullout from Gaza and the West Bank, but insist it must be followed by an exit from the rest of the territory.
In the aftermath of the pullout from Gaza, Israeli media reported that a West Bank rabbi was brought to court to face allegations that he led the most violent episode, where extremists battled soldiers from the roof of the Kfar Darom synagogue, dousing them with paint and other liquids. Rabbi Yaakov Savir is to be charged with aggravated assault, the reports said, and 60 of his young followers are in prison.
On Wednesday, Israel proposed a dual crossing between Gaza and Egypt, defense officials said. The current Rafah crossing would allow for free exit of people and goods, and a new crossing would be built at the Gaza-Egypt-Israel border for entry under Israeli supervision. Palestinians rejected the idea.
The issue of the Rafah crossing is seen as critical to the future of Gaza. The crossing is Gaza's only land link to the outside world without passing through Israel, which plans to maintain control over the territory's Mediterranean seacoast and its airspace.
Israel is concerned about terrorists and weapons entering Gaza after its evacuation, and also about being flooded with cheap goods through Gaza.
Palestinian Economics Minister Mazen Sonnoqrot rejected the Israeli proposal. He said the Palestinians want to maintain the Rafah crossing for both people and goods, with no Israeli supervision in either direction.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Mohammed Dahlan expected an agreement in the coming week. "We are still following with the Israeli side the possibility to carry out substantial changes on border crossings," he said.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
A Chasidishe bus driver was let off easy in court tonight. The bus driver had received two tickets. One a misdemeanor for operating a school bus without a registration and another for operating a school bus filled over capacity. The Judge offered the driver on the misdemeanor offense a plea bargain where he would pay a fine of $50 plus a $55 court surcharge with no points off his license. And on the other ticket he would only have to pay the $55 court surcharge also with no points off his license. The bus driver took the deal and shelled out the total of $160 to the Clerk. I bet the bus driver is going around accusing the Judge of being an anti-Semite for making him pay the $160.
Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini says a Hasidic community has withdrawn its petition to form a separate village.
The Rockland County-based Viznitz sect had filed papers with the Town of Thompson last month to incorporate as the Village of Ateres off Route 42 between the Village of Monticello and South Fallsburg on Gibber Road.
Viznitz members said the community wants more control over its zoning and building codes in planning another 200 to 300 homes or condominiums and shops.
Town officials had been meeting with members of the Viznitz sect in hopes of working out an agreement.
Earlier this month Cellini said negotiations had fallen apart, saying, "we are not going to give the store away."
Cellini today says he has been in "constant contact and negotiating with Abraham Taub, one of the petitioners" and that the group will be withdrawing their petition in writing on Monday, August 29.
A special town board meeting has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, September 31, at the Thompson Town Hall.
Feminists and human rights activists slammed yesterday the continued deferment of the appointment of rabbinic dayanim, or religious court judges.
The committee for appointment of dayanim, headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, was supposed to appoint eight new dayanim yesterday. However, the treasury informed the committee it would approve a budget for only six new positions, and the decision was pushed off to a later date.
It is unclear whether the treasury will agree to increase that number, and therefore the appointment may be delayed for many more months.
"If the same kind of foot-dragging were employed in the appointment of [secular] judges, the country would be in an uproar," said Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv from the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).
Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, of the Ruth and Emmanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women at Bar-Ilan University, said, "Again an opportunity has been missed to appoint dayanim with a legal education and who exhibit fairness toward women."
Over the past two months, the committee's ultra-Orthodox faction has been in the minority, as Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger is barred from participating in discussions while waiting to be served an indictment over a discount he received at a Jerusalem hotel.
However, as MK Haim Ramon (Labor) refuses to support the appointment of rabbis who are not ultra-Orthodox, in actuality the committee is split evenly.
The rabbinic courts are the only legal institution in Israel authorized to grant divorces to Jewish couples. The courts also make decisions in all matters pertaining to the personal status of Jews, including adoption, alimony and the Jewish status of new immigrants.
For more than a year, the committee's ultra-Orthodox members have been fighting the secular and national-religious members, who wish to appoint two judges with legal training and a lenient approach to women's issues. The move is broadly supported by social justice and feminist organizations, as well as the Reform Movement in Israel.
The ultra-Orthodox members want to appoint only dayanim who meet the approval of Shas and Degel Hatorah leaders, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, respectively. Agudat Yisrael is demanding an additional dayan to represent Hasidic Judaism.
Eleven days after Lois and Mitchell Fuchs packed up their Smithtown home to escape a stream of racist mailings -- aimed at her because she's black and him because he's Jewish -- their attorney filed a federal lawsuit against the couple they say is responsible.
The civil suit filed in Central Islip names Karen and Salvatore Rizzo, who at one time lived less than a block from the Fuchses.
The suit, which seeks a jury trial, claims the Fuchses' civil rights were violated.
In July 2002, shortly after the Fuchses moved in, the Rizzos "repeatedly harassed the plaintiffs and other non-Caucasians who had the misfortune of living in the defendants' neighborhood by calling them racial epithets ... ," the lawsuit charges.
The Rizzos did not return calls for comment yesterday or answer the door at their home. A background check by Newsday showed that neither has a criminal record.
The Suffolk County Hate Crime Bureau investigated the mailings with the help of the FBI and the Postal Service. Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks said because no explicit threat occurred, a crime had not been committed.
Reecks said yesterday the Rizzos were interviewed during the investigation, but no charges were filed.
"I don't have a crime, so I can't have a suspect," Reecks said.
The Fuchses' attorney Robert Kronenberg said he believes they have a strong civil case against the Rizzos.
The lawsuit seeks $20 million in damages and asks that the Rizzos be forbidden by the court from engaging in future discriminatory conduct.
The hate mail began arriving in the Fuchses' mailbox in March, the suit said. Racial epithets were in place of the couple's last name, including a misspelled derogatory word for blacks and a slur for Jews.
"As a direct consequence of the defendants' conduct, plaintiffs have suffered extreme mental anguish, anxiety and distress, have been rendered physically and emotionally ill, and have been compelled to resign from their jobs, withdraw their children from school, and to sell their home and move away from the metropolitan New York area," read the suit.
Before day break on Aug. 11, the Fuchses left Smithtown for North Carolina.
Lois Fuchs gave up her teaching position at Hofstra University for a professor position at Guilford College in Greensboro, teaching criminal justice.
Mitchell Fuchs, once an accountant, said he is now out of work. Both are in a doctorate program at Dowling College in Oakdale, and said they will have to commute between New York and North Carolina until they graduate in May 2007.
The "defendants' conduct was to deprive, and did deprive, plaintiffs of the same rights as enjoyed by white citizens to purchase and hold real property solely on the basis of plaintiff's race ... ," says the suit.
Lois Fuchs said since the move, her seven children are happier.
"Now we're telling them, we've moved here for a better life," she said. "And it's true."