Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bosnia and Kosovo: A Challenge and an Oppportunity

videoThe Hidden Army of Radical Islam


The Balkans sit astride many boundaries. The split between Rome and Constantinople still reverberates in the Republics of the former Jugoslavia. Doctrinal differences between Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics are at least as political there as they are doctrinal. The lasting influence of Turkish rule and the Islamic imprint that it left on the region can not be overstated. From the manner in which coffee is prepared to the sound of their music, the echoes of Turkish rule linger in the Former Jugoslavia.
The majority of Muslims in Bosnia and also Kosovo practice a very lenient strain of Islam. Beer and slivovitz are still to be found at the tables of Muslims. During the decades of Tito's rule, interreligious dating was commonplace.
Despite this, nationalistic passions are never far from the surface. The Croatian yearning for independence and Bosnian Muslim's desire to stake out their identity was skillfully exploited by the Nazis, who used cunning as much as brute force to conquer Europe. The Nazi puppet state of Croatia seemed like a dream come true to all too many Croats. The genocidal passions unleashed by the puppet state shocked even the Germans. Jasenovac, Croatia's own concentration camp was a place of squalor, sadism and death for Serbs, Jews and gypsies.
With the support of Hitler, the Mufti of Jerusalem organised an SS brigade that was active in the Salonika deportations as well as other crimes.
In the wars of independence in the 1990's in Bosnia and Croatia, the many years of people living as neighbours gave way to separate lives for Serbs, Croats and Bosnians.
Clinton's policies in Bosnia and Kosovo were misguided from the beginning. Choosing a side in the conflicts of the region was impossible . I believe that the manner in which America walked a neutral path in the region was poorly thought out. By denying arms to Bosnians and Kosovars, it created a disparity of armed strength that invited aggression. It may sound very nice to condemn arms dealers, but the extent to which much of the world enjoys peace is because it is well armed. The refusal of America to offer any help or even to allow Bosnians to achieve parity of arms created an opening in the Balkans for Islamic militants to enter Bosnia and Kosovo. Had the warring groups been allowed to achieve a standoff in the local arms race the there could have been the type of cold war that exists across the Taiwan Straits.Like the Mufti of Jerusalem during World War Two, the Arabs who came to Bosnia in the nineties wanedt to create a strain of Islam in the Balkans that is politically useful to them. The majority of Bosnian Muslims did not heed the Wahabi call. But it is possible for a person to be a secular extremist. Beer and rock music do not automatically make a political moderate. We must bear in mind that Baathism in Syria and Iraq is a secular nationalist movement.
America has opportunities to expand and maintain its relationship with Turks, Bosnians and Kosovars. There are often turning points in political alliances. According to some historians, Ho Chi Minh could have been persuaded to ally with America during World War Two. Ho Chi Minh was ignored at Versailles at the end of World War One by the representatives of the victorious powers when he attempted to discuss with them Vietnamese national aspirations. The devil with whom Ho Chi Minh eventually dealt was not the Wahabis but the Bolsheviks.
When I take a taxi in New York, I am very diplomatic when discussing Balkan wars. New York has taxi drivers from all six Republics of the former Jugoslavia. Each republic has in turn its own official take on history and its dissenting historical narratives. It is not too hard to imagine the difficulties of balancing a foreign policy in the region.
There is much good will among Balkan Muslims towards America. America's enemies have offered them visible support such as arms and rebuilding destroyed mosques. There is a bidding war for the hearts and minds of Muslims in the Balkans. In this war we have a powerful advantage. We have a society in which people of every imaginable race, nationality and faith live together in a peaceful land. More than anything we can give the peoples of the Balkans, they want this peace for themselves. In America, people who in their homelands would be at war find ways to live together. The cooperation that thrives here can and should be transplanted to the soil of strife torn nations. It is in defense of this hope that America struck back so fiercely after 9/11. We have many friends in the Balkans. A wisely conceived policy in the former Jugoslavia would be to our benefit and that of the people in the Balkans. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Free Lionheart !!! No Prosecution for Thoughts and Opinions!!!


I was shocked to read on Radar Site and Monkey in the Middle about the travails of British blogger who goes by the pen name "LIONHEART. Lionheart is a devout Christian and a British patriot who has expressed in his blog his concerns about the concessions the British government has made to radical Islam. He sees moderate Muslims as having the same aims as the radicals.He sees their divergence from radical Islam as tactical rather than moral. Paul Ray, whose has been stripped of his anonymity in highly dubious court proceedings has been very forthright in expressing his disagreement with Islam on both political and theological grounds.
I have examined his website. It is devoid of any call to violence. It does not call for illegal behavior against Muslims. Despite this, he has been accused of inciting ethnic hatred. He has actually been ordered to appear in court in May to hear the intent of the Crown to either dismiss the charges against him or proceed to trial.
In Britain, the widest latitude is given to those who preach hatred of Britain and Christianity. Those who protest are subjected to the scrutiny of the legal system. The principle of "tolerance" has been turned into a hammer to stifle political dissent. In America, such "diversity policing "is for now confined to universities and educational institutions . We have a constitution against which any abridgement of our freedoms can be measured. Despite this, activist judges are constantly trying to hammer the constitution into an unrecognisable facsimile of its former self. The term used is "judicial activism" or" legislating from the bench." Although it remains a force to be reckoned with, this approach to constitutional law is strongly disliked by the majority of Americans. Britain has legal precedents and a body of tradition. Unfortunately, it has no constitution. The battle for freedom of speech and the press takes place on a much different legal landscape. Despite this, the basic values of freedom of expression are essentially the same. It is not only Lionheart who is in danger. The precedent created by the legal action against him is a danger to all who live in the United Kingdom. Along with the specific threat of the Islamisation of Britain is the spectre of judicially enforced political acquiescence . The Britain of Oswald Mosley and King Edward the Eighth, both advocates of German supremacy in their time find their kindred spirits in the ranks of the radical Islamists and their minions on the British left.
It is essential to make a stand against Britain sinking slowly into the quicksand of totalitarianism. The possibility of a boycott of British goods should be entertained as a last resort. Short of this, there should be protests to British consulates and embassies. The attack on Lionheart is an attack on us all, whether we are bloggers, journalists in the mainstream media or common citizens. The political and legal developments in the United Kingdom can influence America as well. I thank "Radarsite" and" Monkey in the Middle" for calling this to my attention. Bloggers must lead the fight and unite against attacks on our freedoms.

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I am putting up a list of all who post in defense of the blogger "Lionheart" The list will be called "Lionheart's Defenders". If you have published or republished a story defending Lionheart, I will list your blog as one of "Lionhearts Defenders." After this battle is over, we should remain vigilant against the next attack on our freedom. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kick 'Em They're Still Moving: The Death of Communism and the New Threats to World Peace

Why Killing is Essential To Communism(From a Latvian Documentary on You Tube


There is a time tested police tactic for intervening in domestic disputes. It has been used to put criminals behind bars with unimpeachable success. Very often, when the police arrive at the scene of a violent argument, they will listen as a couple argue, hurling accusations at each other. A woman whose boyfriend is dealing drugs or is living under an alias will shout out her accusations in front of the police at her partner. If she has an outstanding warrant for passing bad checks, he will hurl that right back at her. As long as it's all talk, the cops will listen quietly and follow up on the treasure trove of leads that grew out of the domestic dispute.
Communism and National Socialism remind me of the aptness of the analogy of a warring yet wedded couple who are more like each other than they can bring themselves to admit. As students of history and political decision makers, it is wise to listen to the scoundrels of both the hammer and sickle and the swastika as they propagandise against each other.
Latvia spent over forty years under the Soviet yoke as a "republic" of the Soviet Union. Prior to that they were a puppet republic allied with Nazi Germany. Whatever resentment they had towards Nazi rule was not due to love for their Jewish population, well over 90% of whom were killed with the help of eager Latvian collaborators.
Latvia is now an independent republic. It is revising its entire history. It is on the historic fault line of Communism and National Socialism. They have produced a historical documentary in Latvian called "The Soviet Story" which documents the similarity between Nazi and Communist ideology. Those like me who were deluded into believing the communists to be the shock troops of the war on racism are treated to shocking quotations of ethnic hatred from Karl Marx against those he believed to be "inferior" nationalities. Later, Nazis openly declared that the differences between them and the Marxists are trivial. The aesthetic similarities between Nazi and Communist propaganda appear in the documentary not as an eerie coincidence but a conscious outgrowth of their innate similarities. The statements are documented in a manner that elevates the Marx-Hitler comparison from the level of explosive accusation to a level of established historical fact.
One of the enduring images of the 1920's is that of Nazis and Communists uniting to battle police. "The Soviet Story" exposes the historical roots of this alliance, and recasts the 1939 Nazi Soviet Friendship Treaty as being more like the rekindling of a youthful affair than a marriage of convenience.
With the world wide threat of radical Islam unfolding, it is clear that history is rapidly in the making. The radical Islamists are not alone in their desire to subjugate the west. They have powerful allies and a host of useful idiots doing their bidding. Today we seek to gain a deeper understanding of Marxism and National Socialism through understanding their relationship with each other. We should likewise examine the Islamic radicals of today and their friendships. The past has much to teach us about the future. We must not be asleep in class.


video Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 28, 2008

Uncomfortable Truths, Uncomfortable Questions

What is an ideologue? It is a person who will ignore or deny a body of facts that threaten his personal or political philosophy. Every day I seem to run into this willful blindness. Here are some of the questions I ask every day.
Companies spend millions of dollars on advertisements based on proven evidence that these ads are effective. Money is even paid to movie producers to show a product for a split second in the middle of a move. How can we seriously debate the influence that movies, TV and music have on personal behavior? It kind of reminds me of the denial engaged in for years by the tobacco companies.
Why do we talk about reverse racism? If someone dislikes someone because of the colour of their skin, that is plain old racism, regardless of who they hate.
If someone gets into a college because his father went there or made big donations to the college, is that affirmative action for rich people?
What if a college decides to give a chance to a poor kid from a single parent home who went to a lousy school and kicked a drug habit? Is that a poor disadvantaged kid? If his or her numbers and his life story add up as eligible for affirmative action why not wait until the first day of school to see what race he or she is?
The ancestors of most Blacks in America came in on slave ships. Their birth records have been mostly erased. That is why they have Black Pride instead of Senegalese pride or Kenyan pride. That is why White pride or Euro American pride doesn't add up for me. Irish pride or Cajun pride makes a lot more sense.
If 40% of white people in an African American neighbourhood are robbed and only 5% of the African Americans in the area are targeted, are the criminals guilty of ethnic profiling?
Opponents of a Jewish state say they want Jews and Arabs to have full civic equality in the state they envision. Why do they support a state in which Jews may not live?
When was the last time you saw a clergy person scripted into a positive role on TV? How much more frequently are they ridiculed?
If you produce too much corn or copper, their prices will go down. What happens when you flood the labour market?
When a white person rails against African Americans, he is a white supremacist. Is Reverend Wright a Black supremacist?
Why do you need health insurance and dental insurance? It is known that heart disease can be caused by bad teeth. Why not have one policy for everything?
Why are children in public school not allowed to pray out loud but in jail they will get a chaplain? Would chaplains in public schools help kids stay out of jail?
While we are on the subject of prisons, why don't we care more about violence in prisons? The liberals don't want to deal with "oppressed" people who oppress others and conservatives tend not to care about what prisoners do to each other. How much violence on outside of prison walls is caused by people who as perpetrators or victims learned new patterns of brutality in prison?
"Right to life" and family values resonate strongly with me. So do universal health care and a living wage. If you value the family, then value the labour with which that family is supported.
Each political party tends to ask some questions and avoid others. Most people ask all of those questions. Maybe our leaders should too. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Welcome To The DPRB!! (Democratic People's Republic of the Bronx)



In my political almanac, New York City is listed with North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba as an entity with no meaningful opposition party. In voter registration drives, people are advised to register as Democrats if they want projects in their district funded. Many people in Crown Heights, Boro Park, Flatbush and Williamsburg have political beliefs well to the right of the political spectrum yet register as Democrats. My one criticism of Rudolph Giuliani is that he did not revive the political fortunes of the Republican Party on a long term basis. Mayor Bloomberg ran on the Republican ticket only because it was cheaper than fighting his way to the top in the Democratic primaries.
My opinion of New York City as a one party system found some vindication in an article in The Gothamist. According to the article, Robert Johnson, the District Attorney for the Bronx used the powers of his office to launch an investigation into 'Room Eight , a blog frequently critical of the Bronx GOP . Compounding the "sin" of being out of step with Bronx Republicans was the recommendation of the offending columnist, "Republican Dissident" that a candidate be found to run against Robert Johnson for District Attorney.
The Bronx District Attorney's office actually subpoenaed "Room Eight" for the IP address of "Republican Dissident" and ordered the blog to keep the existence of the subpoena a secret. This put the editorial staff of "Room Eight" in an ethical quandary. They did not know if the Bronx DA was investigating a crime of violence or not. The DA refused to provide details. When the bloggers sued in court for information as to why they should comply with the subpoena, the Bronx DA's office backed down. Unfortunately, "Republican Dissident" was sufficiently cowed by the judicial sabre rattling that he removed all of his posts from "Room Eight."
The State Attorney General should, it seems investigate this brazen attack on free speech. To use the authority of the District Attorney to stifle political dissent should be considered far beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. If our political leadership is so stagnant that it must rely on the tactics of a dictatorship to survive, then New York's political machine is more rotten than I had thought. New Yorkers want a free spirited exchange of ideas and an examination of a candidate's merits to determine who holds power. This fraudulent investigation should itself be investigated. New Yorkers deserve no less.
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Article Below Reprinted From The Gothamist 7/15/08

The legal travails of Room Eight, a blog dedicated to NY politics (its name refers to "Room 9," which is where the press corps are located in City Hall), are examined in today's NY Times. In a nutshell, Bronx DA Robert Johnson's office subpoenaed the blog's co-founders Ben Smith and Gur Tsabar, demanding the IP address of an anonymous contributor. And what's more, they were not allowed to even disclose the existence of the subpoena of they “could impede the investigation being conducted and thereby interfere with law enforcement."

The subpoena related to information about a blogger--Republican Dissident--who was critical of the Bronx GOP and recommended someone run against DA Johnson. When Smith and Tsabar asked for more information about why the subpoena was needed, they were given none--Smith told the Times he's not averse to helping the authorities, but "Was somebody found face-down on their keyboard and the I.P. address was going to help identify the killer?...We’re not free speech absolutists here." So they sued with the help of a pro bono legal organization and the subpoena eventually withdrawn. Today, Smith and Tsabar write on Room 8:

"The district attorney’s office refused to offer any details of their investigation, leaving us with the concern that the crime they were investigating was the criticism itself, most of which involved linking – with harsh, at times mean, caricatures – to news stories and to publicly available documents, like a deed in [Republican Dawn] Sandow’s name to a house outside the Bronx.

"We don’t have any position on Republican Dissident’s views or his style of expressing them. We do, however, feel very strongly that he has a right to do so without fear of exposure in an investigation that – as far as we know – appears to have concerned nothing beyond his online political speech...

"More broadly, the scary reality is that here in the free speech capital of the world, a prosecutor tried both to demand confidential information about an anonymous critic and insisted, under penalty of law, that his request for the information be kept secret. We’re glad he backed down, and confident that the courts would have rebuffed his demands."

The blogger, Republican Dissident, eventually removed all the blog posts from the site.

Daily Gotham's Bouldin thinks Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should investigate the matter and the Observer's Azi Paybarah writes, "What in the world was Johnson (and, certainly, the A.D.A who wrote up the subpoena) thinking?"

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 25, 2008

Random Thoughts About Obama's Grand Tour

Today's news reports state that Obama's rally at the Brandenburg Gate was a wild success with crowds estimated at over 100,000. Mr. Obama, according to his own campaign had been working for two weeks on his speech in front of the Berlin electorate of about four hundred and seventy nine absentee voters in Berlin registered as Democrats in their home states. Like drugs rejected by the FDA and shipped to India, like wannabe pop stars traveling to Mongolia to find the stardom that has eluded them at home, Barack Obama and his trusty teleprompter set off for Berlin after the dizzying success of his visit to the Middle East, during which he was lovingly guarded by the Al Akhsa Martyr's Brigade, which is on the State Department terrorist watch list.
Perhaps it is worth asking why both Obama and Jimmy Carter are so warmly received in Ramallah. What does Hamas see that doesn't show up in his campaign speeches?
The Obama Campaign lost a voter but won an endorsement as Dale Leo Bishop, a death row inmate in Mississippi gave Obama his heartfelt endorsement before being put to death by lethal injection for his role in the claw hammer murder of a man in a fight. Both Fidel Castro and the North Korean News Agency have also endorsed Obama. Although voting by convicted felons is o prohibited, there is speculation that the prison pen pal community might be swayed by the Bishop endorsement.
There is speculation that a more inclusive campaign song might be needed to encompass the many changing positions of the Obama campaign. "Both Sides Now" has been suggested as a fitting title for such a song. Negotiations are under way with Joni Mitchell, a Canadian citizen for rights to the music. The lyrics are being outsourced to an Indonesian songwriter who reportedly went to madrassa with Mr. Obama. This has alienated some trade unionists, who are upset that the Obama campaign has been sending its work overseas.
Europeans are eager to lecture Americans on race relations and militarism. The Brandenburg Gate is a fitting backdrop to such pious pronouncements. Americans eagerly await Germany's first chancellor of Turkish ancestry, and for France to nominate an Arab prime minister. Perhaps a a Romany (or Gypsy as they are commonly known ) could become president of the European Union. It is not known if Obama discussed any of these possibilities with his European hosts.
How would Obama function on a day to day basis without a teleprompter ? The video with this posting gives us a good idea. The continent that brought us two world wars as well as civil wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Sarajevo now wants to tell us who we should elect for president. I think we can figure this one out ourselves.

video Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fond Thoughts of the Abuyudaya (Sons of Judah)of Uganda

There is a Midrash that says that every nation in the world was offered the Torah and that aside from Israel not one nation accepted it. However, within each nation was a minority that wanted to accept the Torah. It is said that one of the reasons for the exile is to gather in the souls of those who wanted to follow the six hundred and thirteen commandments.
There is a commandment to three times attempt to discourage a prospective convert, informing him or her of all the difficulties that await those who become a part of the Jewish people. The difficulty of religious observance as well as the spectre of anti Jewish hatred are cited as reasons for a would be convert to be hesitant.
If someone is living in a country with a large Muslim minority, the spectre of persecution is very real. Even in European countries such as France and Sweden there is a significant plurality of militants among the Muslim population who intimidate not only non Muslims but also moderates in their own community who do not share their extremist views.
By these standards, the Abuyudaya of Uganda have proven the sincerity of their commitment to Judaism more than would ever be possible for an American convert. The leader of the Abayudaya , Semei Kakungulu started to practice his understanding of Judaism in 1919. After circumcising all of his children, he built up a following of believers who practiced whatever they were able to glean from their study of scripture and the knowledge of Jewish visitors. Aside from isolation from the Jewish mainstream, the Abuyudaya endured murderous persecution and forced conversions under the regime of Idi Amin.
The Conservative movement on America has reached out to this sincere group of truth seekers. They have assisted them in training a rabbi and in providing other types of assistance. It is a pity that Orthodox Jewish groups do not have a record of reaching out to truth seekers in this remote community. In America and Israel there is considerable acrimony between the Conservative and the Orthodox rabbinic groups. The declarations of change in Jewish law that are voted in at meetings of Conservative rabbis such as permission to drive on Shabbos seem presumptuous to Orthodox Jews. The Abuyudaya (or "sons of Judah" in the Luganda language) have suffered greatly for their lonely path of faith. They deserve the respect and assistance of any Torah Jew willing to assist them in rejoining the Jewish people. Even without an Orthodox conversion they are worthy of respect as sincere truth seekers. The Abuyudaya deserve the opportunity to accept an interpretation of Torah law that is not watered down.Jews like me are concerned about resolving situations that fall into a halachic (Jewish legal) twilight zone. I have heard of cases where the discovery of a grandmother who was not Jewish put a brake on marriage plans. I have heard of cases where a rabbinic student discovered that he was not actually Jewish and quietly arranged for a rabbinic court to ascertain his sincerity and to convert him. Torah law provides the means by which we may bridge a spectrum of languages and pigmentations that exist within our community.
I would love to welcome the Abuyudaya, to recite the Shabbos blessings on a cup of their wine. It is easy to imagine that the ingathering of exiles that precedes the coming of Moshiach will include some chaotic moments. The delay of Orthodox rabbis in meeting with the Abuyudaya seems to be just such an episode of chaos as would precede the coming of Moshiach.
I love the Abuyudaya. I want to welcome them. It feels as though the Jewish people is incomplete without them. I hope this situation is resolved soon.

Article in the English Forward About the Abuyudaya



Thu. Jul 17, 2008

Nabugoye Hill, Uganda - Atop Nabugoye Hill, I joined 1,500 sojourners in the flower-filled green of Eastern Uganda, among banana plantations, maize fields, mango trees and drooping jackfruit.

The crowd was there, overlooking the Mount Elgon foothills, to witness the installation ceremony of Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who, serenaded by drum and dance ensembles, took his place as the first sub-Saharan African rabbi of the Abayudaya (Lugandan for “Children of Judah”) and chief rabbi of Uganda.

Joined by his wife Tzipporah, and their three children, Igaal, Daphna and Navah, Sizomu spent the past five years in the United States as a student at American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, where he trained to become a Conservative rabbi. Following his ordination this past May in the United States, Sizomu returned home to Nabugoye Hill to serve the 89-year-old Abayudaya community, founded in 1919 by Semei Kakungulu, a local military leader and renowned elephant hunter.

Many Abayudaya members said they are confident that having an “official” rabbi will help them gain greater acceptance by the global Jewish community. Among them is Moses Sebagabo, born and raised on Nabugoye Hill. Sebagabo described Sizomu’s installation as a “unifying moment” offering “new potential to grow and learn.” Sebagabo is married with two children and holds a law degree, but he dreams of someday becoming a rabbi.

“I want to judge people equally,” Sebagabo explained, “and this I can do only with Torah. I want to use Torah to better the world.”

With five synagogues in Uganda — three of which are little more than mud huts — and a yeshiva that is currently being built, Sebagabo hopes to join Sizomu as part of a rabbinic team. Should funding become available, Sebagabo hopes to follow Sizomu’s lead to become the second member of the Abuydaya to receive formal rabbinic training outside Uganda.

Semei Kakungulu, founder of the Abayudaya community, was originally a Christian, but he became unconvinced by the teachings of the New Testament. He resisted the influence of surrounding Christian missionaries and began leading a Jewish life. Kakungulu and his 3,000 followers lived in the region as sustenance farmers, adopting the Jewish dietary practices, observance of the Sabbath and circumcision, all of which they learned from a Jewish visitor from Jerusalem who stayed with the community for six months in the 1920s. Nearly half a century later, Uganda’s oppressive military regimes of the 1960s and ’70s outlawed Judaism, shrinking the Abayudaya to a mere 300. Yet, the hill and its people survived.

Today, with a population estimated at 900 to 1,050, Nabugoye Hill has erected two Jewish schools open to Abayudaya children as well as to neighboring Muslims and Christians. At its base sits the refuah sh’leima health clinic bordered by the Moses Synagogue, where the glow of Sabbath candles illuminates lizards on the stucco sanctuary walls, and where prayer is a fusion of Hebrew and Luganda, ringing with harmonies, drumming, and ululating shrills.

The past few decades have yielded a growing relationship between the Abayudaya and the American Jewish community. Organizations such as Kulanu, based in New York City, have helped the Abayudaya grow —from commissioning the community’s first running water system, to constructing new classrooms, to developing a public health education program. The American-Abayudaya relationship further evolved in 2002, when a group of Conservative rabbis and rabbinical students visited Nabugoye Hill to establish rabbinical courts and officially convert the Abayudaya to Judaism in the absence of concrete ancestral ties. More than half the community underwent the practice, complete with a ritual bath in the synagogue’s mikveh, a pool in the middle of a cornfield.

Now, six years later, Sizomu’s homecoming marks a new wave of change for the community. After a succession of self-taught spiritual leaders — among them, Sizomu’s father, grandfather and Sizomu himself — Sizomu is the first to receive formal rabbinic training, bringing the Abayudaya to deeper contact with Western Judaism.

“I return to Nabugoye Hill with the powerful responsibility to share my knowledge and help our Jewish community grow more learned,” Sizomu said during the ceremony. “I am committed to advancing educational opportunities for my fellow brothers and sisters, and I thank you for accepting my leadership.”

The installation began with lively entertainment from indigenous song-and-dance troupes comprising Abayudaya children; Muslim and Christian singers, and orphaned, AIDS-afflicted adolescents. The Ugandan national anthem and “HaTikvah” followed the performances. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, American Jewish University’s dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, offered a welcome speech followed by remarks from Ugandan government officials. Two kilometers from a pit once used by the Abayudaya to ferment bananas for Sabbath wine, Rabbi Richard Camras, Sizomu’s personal mentor and rabbi of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, Calif., led a Kiddush ceremony and the recitation of the Kohanic priestly blessings.

Where I sat, to my right, was a row of local imams from neighboring Muslim communities; the imams wore long white robes. To my left were the dignified matriarchal figures of the Abayudaya, wearing cranberry- and lime-colored dresses with puffed sleeves and patterned headscarves. An arm’s length away, American Jewish volunteers met the gazes of Ugandan dignitaries as Israeli backpackers plunked their gear in the grass.

Perhaps the most notable attendees were the world’s newest Jews, from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. Twenty-four hours earlier, these Africans, along with 250 others, stood in front of a beit din (rabbinical court) — upon which Sizomu sat — to undergo Jewish conversions officiated by Conservative rabbis from the United States. These Africans have studied and lived as Jews for quite some time. Excited by Sizomu’s return to Africa, and with the expectation that his knowledge will both strengthen and expand pan-African Jewry, many “new” African Jews traveled great distances to attend Sizomu’s installation.

Conservative Judaism’s encounter with the Abayudaya unearths a slew of questions concerning the mixing of culture with ritual practice and theological interpretation. In a community in which women have, traditionally, neither chanted from the Torah nor led services, what will it mean to have a rabbi ordained by a movement in which women’s religious leadership is welcome? In a community in which instrumental music is an essential part of prayer, what will it mean for a community to embrace the rabbinic leadership of Sizomu who, in recent years, has come to know its absence?

As Judaism takes a stronger hold in Africa, there is likely more history to be made on Nabugoye Hill and on other hills in the sub-Saharan communities where newly converted African Jews returned after Sizomu’s installation.

“How does this feel for you?” I asked Natan, a Nigerian Jew who taught me new melodies and a special additional prayer to say during Havdalah, the ceremony that concludes the Sabbath.

“It feels like the coming together of worlds,” he said, “full of powerful joy.”

Jordan Namerow was in Uganda as a volunteer with the American Jewish World Service.


Thu. Jul 17, 2008

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Western Wall, Yad Vashem and a Proposal for Self Respect




Every time a political figure is brought to Israel, there seems to be a Yad Vashem photo opportunity or a visit to the Western Wall with flash bulbs blazing. I'm sick of it. The Western Wall is the last standing piece of our temple, the Beit HaMikdash. It was liberated from systematic desecration by the Jordanians in 1967. Yad Vashem is a memorial for millions without tombstones. Its sanctity is imparted by the blood of those murdered for their Jewish ancestry.
Israel is far more free than its Arab neighbours. We can't stop news photographers from snapping pictures of the latest politician from abroad trolling for votes. We can't prevent campaign managers from framing a Yad Vashem poignant sound bite on the way to Arafat's grave in Ramallah.
If someone wants to visit the Western Wall or Yad Vashem for a time of prayerful reflection let them have the opportunity.Jerusalem after all is not Mecca or Medina. All are welcome. But why can there not be an understanding that cameras are not welcome? All too many have autographed the Yad Vashem guest book and go forth with calls for "painful concessions"," risks for peace" or an end to the "cycle of violence" . Their meaningless condolences are followed by proposals that are a danger to all Jews in Israel, proposals that whet the enemy's appetite for Jewish blood.
Israel's government needs to meet with visitors from abroad to present its case in the court of world opinion. In this effort, the input of Jews from Arab countries is critical. Israeli independence was accompanied by a de facto population exchange between Israel and Its Arab neighbours. Nothing meaningful is said about something that should be reiterated and emphasised by Israel's foreign ministry.
For our self respect, there should be codes of decorum at the Western Wall and at Yad Vashem that preclude photo ops. To visitors from abroad we should offer the most extravagant hospitality in the complete absence of cameras. If visitors to Israel see in us a respect for the sacred, it will be far better for our diplomatic efforts than getting trapped into a pity contest with Palestinians.
It should understood that we want to be in our own land close to that which is sacred to us . It should be understood that many Israelis fled to Israel with nothing from countries in which they were in danger. In the future, we should state simply and honestly that we will do whatever is needed to guard our physical safety as dictated by strategic military considerations. Such resoluteness will save many lives, both Jewish and Arab as well. The time is long past to respect our holy sites and to respect ourselves.

Photo notes (1 bottom picture) at Western Wall 1898 (2 middle picture) Stone in Yad Vashem honouring towns in Czechoslovakia from which Jews were deported. (3 top picture) Jimmy Carter, at the high point of his trip to Israel visits Yasir Arafat's tomb, which is to him a holy site. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thoughts About Obama's campaign

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Black Republican Anti Obama Ads

Barack Obama has been doing his best to avoid gaffes in the press that could cause him embarassment. He could engage in such damage prevention through doing his homework. Unfortunately, he has avoided the press almost entirely , not traveling with them and certainly not permitting candid questions that might shed light on his future policies. He has even Kept his wife home rather than risk any unmanaged moments.
Christoph von Marschall, the Washington correspondent of the Berlin Tagesspiegel takes a symapathetic view of Obama, as do many Germans . Even he has taken issue with Obama's seeming fear of the press. In an ironic signoff to a recent article in the Washington Post, von Marschall said "Surely a man who has said he would talk with U.S. adversaries such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can spend a few moments with journalists from friendlier countries."
The press has become impatient NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell has expressed open impatience with the Obama campaign for so thoroughly shielding their candidate. Whatever Obama expects to gain from his insular approach is likely to be more than offset by the growing doubts about his ability to think without a teleprompter.
In another development, the New York Times refused to print an article by John McCain after accepting an article on the same topic by Barack Obama. According to the McCain campaign, the objections of the New York Times editorial staff were on specific points rather than questions of style. Readers who were interested in McCain's article were able to read it on Drudge Report. Any support the Democrats have for a "fairness doctrine" mandating equal time for both parties would have to condemn the New York Times for their biased management of their editorial page.
The National Black Republican Association has taken Obama at his word to look beyond race and produced a series of ads critical of Barack Obama, criticising him for voting against a minimum wage increase and against school choice as well as his support for late term abortions. The long standing axiomatic support for Democrats by the majority of African Americans under any circumstances gets well deserved rigourous scrutiny from the Black Republicans.
It appears that Obama's gentle treatment by the mainstream media is coming to a well deserved end. If he does not face the press in unscripted forums, it will be noted by the press. The public has a right to observe how he functions under pressure.Anyone aspiring to the highest office in the land should not be spared the ordeal of candid questioning. And Obama is no exception. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bahais and MandaeansIn Iran Still Suffer Discrimination

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testimony before Congress about Iranian and Egyptian Bahais

Unlike western countries which have blanket religious freedom for all, the Islamic Republic of Iran rules specifically on each faith, deciding which qualify as "people of the book" for limited subordinate minority status. Today, the Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are deemed to be worthy of this subordinate "protection". Although the Bahai faith is monotheistic, its founder Baha u'lah was born a Muslim. Because of this, the Bahais are considered to be a heretical offshoot of Islam and are in the strictest sense considered to be worse than idolators. They suffer from systematic discrimination from the Islamic government. They are discriminated against in employment and in university admissions. As shown in the video with this posting, both instructors and students who are barred from regular universities are now attending underground classes in Iran established for the Bahais. Other minorities in Iran are denied any civil rights at all, most notably the Mandaeans.
So pervasive is discrimination against the Mandaeans that doctors who treat them are considered to be "unclean". Muslim men who rape Mandaean women are considered to have "purified "them. According to many scholars, the Mandaeans are among the original protected faith communities of early Islam . Their mistreatment shows an ignorance of Islamic law and history among those who pay Islamic piety the most ostentatious lip service.
Even Christians who have some civil rights under Islamic law endure serious curtailments of their freedom to speak of their religious beliefs. It must be asked why the most intolerant interpretations of Islamic law from over 1400 years of Islamic history are now being made the law in large parts of the Islamic world. When contrasting societies in which tolerant variants of Islam were practiced with the heart of the Islamic world today, bloodlust and avarice are more convincing explanations than that of religious piety. The fate of all religious minorities in Iran should be of foremost concern to governments and individuals in the west. As we focus on the danger Iran presents to world peace, we must not forget the plight of Iran's own minorities.


video Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Photo Ops Over Substance : Barack Obama in a War Zone



















Is Barack Hussein Obama conducting his own foreign policy abroad? Remember Hillary Clinton's listening tour? She wanted to travel and listen to the concerns of voters before running in 2000 for a U.S. Senate seat. It was a clever photo op and it worked. If ever a "listening tour" were called for , it would be when an opposition candidate is traveling abroad in a war zone. It would be far wiser for Obama to say that he wants to be well informed in the event that he is elected President of the U.S. When it comes to war, it is far better to be dignified and low key about the possibility of a policy shift in the event of a Democratic victory.
It was not very long ago that Obama was expounding on the need for Arabic translators in Afghanistan, forgetting that Afghans speak Dari and Pashto, which are related to Persian. Obama might, however have an advantage in knowledge of domestic policy. His opponent, John McCain is aware of only fifty American states. Obama has already visited fifty seven U.S. states. I assume Obama as a Senator is aware that there are one hundred members in the U.S. Senate. He is also aware that each state has two Senators. So does fifty seven times two equal one hundred? Oh well. At least he can spell "potato", or as Dan Quayle would say "potatoe."
If Barack Obama wants to really show that he supports U.S. troops, he could instruct Democrats at the local level to make sure that all military ballots are counted. During the 2000 election that Democrats claim was stolen by Bush, Democratic lawyers schemed to throw out military ballots . Surely those who risk their lives to defend democracy should have their votes counted.
Obama ran a rough campaign against his opponent, community activist Alice Palmer for the State Senate in Illinois, bringing in a team of lawyers to knock her off the ballot.
Democrats have a record of disenfranchising opponents with cumbersome legal challenges. Obama has shown himself to be a master of this tactic in past races. As much as he talks about inclusion, he seems very willing to exclude if it will tilt an election his way.It takes more than photo ops abroad make a statesman. Some of the troops photographed with him during his trip did not look too happy. If you left click on the photo at the top of this post, they look downright glum.
People in the military like to be well equipped to do their jobs. They also want to be able to support their families in decent style on whatever Congress votes to provide them. The antiwar democrats who gave Obama his victory have a record of taking lightly the needs of the military. Obama has a lot of back pedaling to do and a lot of voters to convince. Is he evolving or flip flopping? Do you want to take a chance? Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 18, 2008

Albanian Cartoons and Art Under Dictatorship

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Albanian Cartoon From Communist Era

My grand son was in one of his moods that reminded me of his father at the same age. He had no idea what he wanted, but he wanted it right away. I did what any caring grandfather would do under the circumstances. I sat down with him and watched some Albanian Cartoons compliments compliments of You Tube. I was always fascinated by that country, which for years was strictly off limits to Americans unless they were of Albanian ancestry.
There is a certain type of animation that has no dialogue, but relies on visuals to convey the plot. "Road Runner" is such a cartoon. Russia has a series "Nu Pagodi " which can be understood with a vocabulary of about four words of Russian. It is the same idea as "Tom and Jerry", with a sly underdog outsmarting a stronger adversary.Nu Pagodi is rare among Russian cartoons in its technical quality,which is comparable to American animation.
Albania was, during the communist era an isolated country. It is interesting to look at entertainment from that hermit kingdom that was not overtly political. Although less technically advanced than American cartoons, the video with this posting shows the vivid imagination of its creators. It shows a little boy who would rather do anything than his homework, his flights of fantasy and his artful diversions. It can be enjoyed by those who , like me know no Albanian.
One of the most interesting struggles under a totalitarian regime is the tightrope walk between truthfulness and survival. this is not really such a strange concept to those of us who live under a constitutional democracy. In the workplace, of course we barter our freedom for security. It's not right or wrong. It just is.
There was an artistic phenomenon in Nazi Germany called "inner migration", in which artists staked out a creative space in which the regime had little interest and found their freedom there, sometimes speaking the truth under cover of allegory. In Albania, Ismail Kadare was such a figure, who spoke of times past in Albanian history with the understanding that it was a commentary on the present. His poetry is widely respected in the west and translated into many western languages as are his novels. His achievement of keeping his integrity and his freedom under the insane regime of Enver Hoxha is an achievement at which one must marvel
It is interesting that those regimes most protected by webs of fear and barbed wire are the countries that collapsed most dramatically. Albania has traveled a rocky road to capitalism. It now has flat rate corporate and personal income taxes, which in this country is a suggestion that has come most often from the political right.
The cultural artifacts of fallen regimes should be studied and preserved. The common blood of humanity runs through us and their subjects. When we study them, whether master or captive, we are looking at ourselves.
Communism as a world wide menace is dead. But humanity is creative enough to find new ways to enslave itself. Mutant radical Islam seems to be the next aspirant to world domination.
Communism lies in the proverbial graveyard of world story. In front of its grave stands radical mutant Islam with its sense of smug superiority . And upon the tombstone of communism is the proverbial inscription that stands as as a stark warning to communism's aspiring successors.
"Where you stand, I once was. And where I lie, you shall too." Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Barack Leaving Michelle Home on World Tour

In Germany, a tug of war has developed between Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Social Democratic mayor of Berlin over Barack Hussein Obama's planned appearance at the Brandenburg Gate, where the late President Reagan gave his famous "Tear down this wall!" speech. Chancellor Merkel admonished the Obama campaign not to turn a German national landmark into a political prop. The mayor of Berlin seemed eager for Obama to do just that.
With the world long accustomed to instant news, it seems that a candidate is as close as your computer screen. Obama clearly hopes to shore up his image of being weak on foreign policy. Standing at the scene of the west's biggest triumph, it seems that Obama is hoping for some of Reagan's magic to rub off on him. Reagan defined our differences with our enemies with Churchillian forthrightness and heartfelt eloquence. Long before coming to 10 Downing St. Churchill had a definite world view. Reagan went from being a Democrat to being a Republican standard bearer in a slow process of political evolution. Obama does not seem to be seeking a message that resonates with his inner sense of truth but with the opinions of the electorate. He runs ahead of the crowd but looks back to see which way they are headed.
According to Drudge Report, Michelle Obama will be staying home when Barack goes abroad with his campaign. Either she is so proud to be an American that she can't bear to leave, or the Obama campaign is trying to prevent any new gaffes. Information was leaked that she would not have any policy role. One by one, those close to Obama take a back seat to political expedience. First to go was his "racist" white grandmother. Then it was Reverend Wright. Now it's Mrs. Right. (Mrs Obama).
With all of the talk about Obama's foreign travels, why is there so little scrutiny of his record in the state legislature? Should we be asking questions? There are a lot of unresolved issues about questionable political allies and just what they demanded in return for their support. He may be able to manage a stirring photo op in Berlin. But He still has to come home to Chicago.


video video Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pelosi Offers To Reimburse Americans For Democrat's Stupidity

According to Bloomberg News, Congressional Democrats now want to buy America's votes with another "stimulus package" that they say is needed to compensate for skyrocketing energy prices. (Click here for whole story)
In addition to checks being sent to households, expansion of unemployment benefits, help with heating oil and infrastructure enhancement are also contemplated . Concrete action on the proposals is likely to begin after the summer recess. Any action taken would probably be shortly prior to the November elections. The Democrats are most likely hoping that the measure will prove to be a "stimulus package" for voters to favour the Democrats.
A counterweight to the effectiveness of the proposal will be a scene repeated all across America in which a motorist leaves a gas station with news of Nancy Pelosi's opposition to offshore and Alaskan drilling being discussed in angry tones on talk radio. Of course, if the Democrats win in November and institute the "fairness doctrine", it will have the effect of muzzling, if not addressing such criticism. In an even more reckless move, congressional Democrats want to to dip into the strategic national oil reserves to cut down gas prices over the summer.
Most thinking people want a healthy economy functioning properly to meet their needs. Waiting for a check or instituting a temporary tax moratorium are stopgap measures. Even as we cash our government checks, we recognise the limit to their value.
Where domestic and foreign policy concerns meet is on the question of America's energy independence. A large percentage of the world's crude oil comes from regions beset with political instability. Before Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Iran was a staunch U.S. ally. The oil revenues that once were wisely used to modernise that country now bankroll terrorism throughout the Middle East and beyond. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is grooming himself to follow in Fidel Castro's footsteps. Mexico has its own internal problems that could also work to our detriment. Energy independence insulates us from the strategic fallout of instability abroad . It also strengthens us when dealing with those who would attempt to blackmail us by interrupting the flow of oil.If the Republicans want to fight for energy independence with a cornerstone of lifting restrictions on offshore drilling, then the Democrats are in for some stiff competition.
Most Americans want to develop alternate energy sources as well as to develop cars that are less wasteful. Creating the tax climate in which such solutions are likely is what is needed. Another giveaway before the November elections will likely be met with the derision it deserves.The dollars that are going to be given away are shrinking in value as the price of oil inches up daily. It is the Democrat's fault. And we won't forget. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Germany And Its Immigrants

Germany along with much of Northern Europe experienced an incredible postwar economic boom that lasted well into the 1970's. An actual labour shortage necessitated the admission of millions of "Gastarbeiter" or guest workers from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Jugoslavia. In Germany and Switzerland as well as other countries that employed foreign workers, it was very difficult to bring the whole family to stay with the main breadwinner. It was not unusual for men to live hundreds or even thousands of miles from home. Many only saw their families two or three times a year. In Germany, anyone who was not of German ancestry faced daunting obstacles if they wanted German citizenship. The laws in Germany and other countries in Northern Europe were intended to discourage workers from settling permanently in Germany.
The slowdown of the "Wirtschaftswunder" or economic miracle in the mid seventies sowed the seeds of mounting social tension. Workers who had served their employers faithfully for years were now seen as competing with Germans for jobs that were becoming scarce. Reunification, which was greeted with so much joy in both East and West Germany, proved to be vastly more expensive than had been anticipated. Sixty thousand Vietnamese workers in the former East Germany suddenly encountered widespread hostility as unemployment skyrocketed in the transition to privatisation. Bloated payrolls were slashed, huge factories closed as Eastern European technology met western technological advances. Even today, unemployment in the east is around 20%. Because of high wages in the EU, Eastern Europe with its educated work force and low wages next to Germany competes effectively for the money of German investors that might otherwise go towards investment in Eastern Germany.
The unexpected economic insecurity has been a political boom for the extreme left and the extreme right in Eastern Germany. The term "Ostalgie" or nostalgia for the east is a cultural phenomenon in which the value of music, film, food and other aspects of East German life are viewed with belated nostalgia. For many, a longing for the economic security of life in the former East Germany also underlies a sense of nostalgia for the old days.
Many people who have lived in Germany for decades think and live more like Germans than like citizens of their own countries. The shaky economy and different European attitudes towards national identity make assimilation of immigrants a different proposition than it would be in America.
The Turks in Germany come from a country that was aggressively westernised under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk. Certain religious freedoms taken for granted in America are unknown in Turkey. Wearing a fez was banned by law, and heavy restrictions were put on religious education. Divisions in Turkish society exist not only between the Turkish majority and the Kurds but also between the religious and the secular. The victory of Islamist parties in Turkey is proof that religious traditions are deeply rooted in many sectors of Turkish society.
It is to be expected that some of these political differences should be manifest among Turkish workers in Germany. Islam is an essential component of Turkish identity, but Turks are separate and distinct from Arab Muslims living elsewhere in Europe. There is most certainly a sliding scale in Turkish society between the completely secular on the one hand and the Islamic fundamentalists on the other. Militant Islam is a powerful force in the Arab world that wants to extend its reach to the Muslims of Europe in Turkey, the former Jugoslavia and Albania. It would be unfortunate if European prejudice against Turkish Muslims created a sympathy for extremism where none should exist. Vigilance should be accompanied by common sense and discernment. Allies can and should be cultivated in the war on terror.
An interesting musical artist in Germany goes by the stage name of Mohabbet. He sings in perfect German as well as Turkish. He is making inroads among German as well as Turkish youth in Germany. His style is a fusion of Turkish music and hip hop. He also sings in Turkish. His social message of promoting understanding and listening to alienated youth are positive themes. He clearly does not endorse the idea of cultural secession that has gripped Arab youth in European cities from Stockholm to Rome, from Rotterdam to Paris. The idea expressed in the video that I am presenting with this posting is that of lending a compassionate ear to alienated youth. The words express a spirit that resonates with my concerns about youth at risk in Jewish communities . I certainly wish Muhabbet success in his musical career. He gives expression to ideas that can only have a socially healing effect in Germany and elsewhere. I was fortunate enough to find a video of Muhabbet with English subtitles. I hope my readers enjoy it.


Muhabbet" Schau Hin" (Look Back ) with English Subtitles


video Sphere: Related Content

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reading News, Reading History: A Healthy Distrust

One of the most delightful discoveries of my youth was the fact that my parents and grandparents had seen some of the history that was being taught in school. I asked my mother about the depression and my grandparents about Hitler. Most valuable is the sense of how the decisions of the talking heads impact the lives of common people. Bertolt Brecht wrote a poem that best expresses my focus on the nameless individuals carried in the tides of history.

A WORKER READS HISTORY by Bertolt Brecht

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?

And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?

In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them ?

Over whom did the Caesars triumph ?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ?

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ?

Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him ?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep ?

Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it ?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?

Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill ?

So many reports.

So many questions.

Every taxi ride, every conversation with a stranger is an opportunity to step out of my world. There are times to challenge and debate. And there are times to be silent Like sifting through mud for gold nuggets, I have learned to look for irreplaceable bits of knowledge from people I meet in passing. In a real sense books are my friends and people are my libraries.

Following are some moments with live people that round out what I have read in books.

A doctor from Rwanda told me about his perspective on the genocide of 1994. He was a Tutsi, a member minority that lost close to a million souls at the hands of the Hutu majority. He lost a lot of his family that was not able to flee. He told me how he saw the collaboration of the Hutu Christian clergy in the genocide.

"Tutsis believed in one G-d before the missionaries came" he told me. "Egyptians came and gave us a two letter name of G-d." The Hutus believe in witchcraft. I can't believe in Christianity after what I saw. I'm trying to return to the beliefs that my ancestors had before the missionaries came."

A Georgian Jew shocked me by speaking fondly of Stalin. Apparently, Stalin made an exception in his virulent Jew hatred for Jews from his native Georgia. I later read that this was not unusual.

My uncle was born in Croatia. He went to a school where the principal was Serbian. If he heard a boy speaking in Croatian instead of the official Serbian favoured by the school, he would force the offending boy's mouth open and spit in it.

My grandfather was paid daily during the hyperinflation that racked Germany in the early 1920's. He and my grandmother would rush to spend his check before the stores closed. The German Mark was losing value by the hour, and the next day the money would be worth a fraction of what it was worth the previous day.

My uncle had a job in a mine when he was twelve that included retrieving body parts from the scene of underground mine explosions.

My grandfather worked in a mill. The factory assigned a poll watcher to make sure that the workers voted Republican. One of his nephews started a Democratic political club to fight the Republican monopoly in the town. Even though I generally vote Republican, I understand why my mother's family looks askance at that.

Martin Luther King was a registered Republican. Aside from gratitude to "The Party of Lincoln", Republican judges were instrumental in dismantling Jim Crow.

My grandfather bribed a friend in the Hungarian foreign ministry to get a passport with which to escape from Germany. He considered the bribery to be an ethical lapse.

I am getting old enough that some of my memories are actually entertaining to my children.

Remember when we needed five minutes to warm up the television before the show started? What about rotary dial phones?

Does anyone remember the scene in "All in the Family" that shocked the nation? The soundtrack actually included the sound of a flushing toilet.(!) I still wince when I hear young people say that a song "sucks". In my day we would have been sent home from school for using that word.

I remember like it was yesterday the sadness in our house when the Supreme Court banned prayer in the public schools. I was already in a Catholic school, but my sister's teacher in public school made a sad announcement to the class that there would be no prayer at the beginning of the day. I vaguely remember looking at a copy of LIFE magazine with an article featuring Madalyn Murray, whose image was defaced beyond recognition by the time we got through it. My favourite place to jump off into the blogosphere is J Blog Central .

It is an eclectic mix from the entire spectrum of Jewish religious and political opinion. Aside from original articles, the bloggers who do reprints and links from elsewhere really broaden my horizons. Doc's Talk, Monkey In The Middle , Eye On The World, Tundra Tabloids and Fresno Zionism are among the places I first heard from on J Blog Central. Looking through their articles is like sitting with my father and looking through his well chosen reading material.

I like to keep my eyes open even to those factual fragments that seem to contradict my world view. My brother used to keep a bucket full of model car parts, which he would assemble into some of the most insane looking custom cars imaginable. That is what I like to do with my politics.

On a much lighter note, I am presenting below one of my favourite videos from the Prelinger Archives. It is from the year 1927, and it instructs the public in the use of the rotary dial phone. It is a vivid reminder of the technical progress of modern civilisation. It also has some classic animation. I hope you all enjoy it.


video Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Birth and Remembrance

For me, births and marriages knock down the walls of time. Whether welcoming a new child or walking them to the chuppa (wedding canopy), to me the house seems so crowded with ancestors and the recently deceased that the guests become a blur in the background. When we arrive at a name for a new baby, the feeling is almost euphoric. Deeper meanings associations with a name newly given refract from it like coloured beams of spectral light dancing around cut crystal glass.
When my first child was born, he was named after no one in particular. My wife and I arrived at a name that seemed to reflect his personality. Soon after he was born, I went to 770, the main synagogue in Crown Heights to spread the glad tidings. I immediately sought out Rabbi P. and asked him to be sandek at the circumcision. The sandek is the person in whose lap the baby sits while being circumcised. It is a great honour to be chosen as sandek. For my first born, I wanted to make a statement of my hopes for any children I might have.
Rabbi P. was a Sergeant in the Soviet Army during World War Two. He came from the city of Lvov. He had liberated one of the concentration camps and was profoundly shaken by it. He entered the German capitol, Berlin full of deep sadness and anger. Unlike many of his comrades in arms, he would not cheapen his anger by taking part in the wave of rapes by Red Army soldiers. He was offered an opportunity to escape by American military officers, but he refused. He told them he had to go back to Lvov. Sadly, when he returned to his home, he found out that his wife and children had been murdered, that his loyalty was to a memory. Like so many Jews at the end of the war, he married again and started a second family. With this family, he came to New York in the mid 1970's. I noted when I met him that he moved with the agility of a younger man, although his appearance befitted a man of his advanced years. His voice bore an amazing resemblance to that of the Rebbe. He had an air of serenity and a sharp wit. I always look for people who are not broken by their suffering. Rabbi P. was such a man.
I asked him to be sandek, and he reacted with humility. "Why me?" he asked. "Don't you have anyone else?" I was as socially tone deaf then as I am today. Common courtesy might have dictated other choices, but when a child is born, I tend to be in another world, even more socially oblivious than usual. Despite this, those close to me are forgiving of my lack of social graces.
It took some persuading to get Rabbi P to accept the honour. My reasoning was so airtight that it seemed that there was no other way.
"A child is brought into the Jewish people through the blood of circumcision". I explained "You were a Sergeant in the Red Army. The hand that has shed the blood of Nazis, of Amalek merits the blood of bris milah. You were faithful to your family, not knowing that they were dead,you kept the faith under communism and in America. You were not broken by your suffering. I want a child with such steadfastness. I am choosing you in honour of your service in the Red Army and your faithfulness to G-d, your family and the Jewish people. My adding a soul to the Jewish people is an act of love and an act of revenge.'
My Yiddish failed me during much of our conversation. My friend Chaim A. translated when I lapsed into English. Words spoken from the heart enter the heart and Rabbi P. accepted the honour. My choice of sandek was a heartfelt prayer for the future of my son. Somehow, I feel that my words opened doors.In a poetic twist, we held the bris in a shul that was opened for recent Soviet immigrants. When I made a L'chaim to my son, I said, Rabbi P. is from Lvov. In the Shma prayer, we say that you should serve G-d B'kol Lvov-kha, with all your heart. Let the name of Rabbi P's home town be a reminder of that."
When my son in turn had a son, he was guided more than I was by social convention. For his son he chose his wife's grandfather to be sandek. Like my father, he was born in Berlin. Through a series of mishaps, he remained in Berlin until 1942. He left with the equivalent of four dollars in his pocket and crossed the entire Soviet Union on the Moscow -Vladivostok railroad. Somehow cheating starvation, he made it to China and from there to Seattle. Eventually, he was able to join the U.S. Army, where he became a translator. His fluent German made him useful in interrogating German P.O.W.s . He had the satisfaction of aiding the American war effort by assisting in the location of munition dumps. He is animated and happy when discussing the military chapter of his life. Of the years alone in Berlin he speaks little. Yet again at the bris were tears of joy as we celebrated the star of another generation.
When my grandparents were in Nazi Germany, an English tutor would bring them books to read. When they would read the assignment, they would find that a page had been cut out and replaced with a banned news article. Through these smuggled articles, they were able to keep informed about developments in the Third Reich. Through the names we choose for our children, and through honouring the quietly great individuals among us, we have attempted to paste pages from the books of others into that of our family. Rabbi P and Mr.P. are both names by which we silently bless our children, at the start of their lives and afterward. Sphere: Related Content