I’m speaking Sunday a.m. at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, NJ. The topic: “Biased or Clueless? Jewish Distrust of the Mainstream Press.” Details here.
Archive for April, 2010
The New Yorker this week has a long, long piece by legend Janet Malcolm about the murder trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, the Queens physician convicted of hiring a hit man to murder her estranged husband. It’s really a meta-story about the theater of the American courtroom, but there are interesting details about the Bukharan Jews of Forest Hills/Rego Park and some damning discussion of the awful custody battle that preceded the shooting.
You can find a summary here but need a sub to read the whole thing.
My report from the Third Independent Minyan Conference, and its “practical skills workshops” for synagogues and Jewish organizations:
Mechon Hadar hosted last weekend’s conference and the afternoon symposium, which was an opportunity for synagogues and the independents to learn from one another. Organizers say they drew people from 42 minyanim and 29 synagogues, as well as the big Jewish educational institutes and foundations.
I met rabbis from big “establishment” shuls in Long Island and Boston as well as lay leaders from Atlanta, Texas, and our own Highland Park. The usual generational dynamics seemed reversed: Young men and women with shockingly dark hair and flat bellies imparting wisdom to folks with AARP cards….
In Sunday’s closing session, Shai Held addressed a rap one hears against the independent minyanim — “that they are taking away the most talented and committed” young Jews “to create communities of elites.” But the conference suggested something else entirely — a smart group of committed young Jews who don’t want to subvert the establishment, but to empower all of us to create the kinds of communities we want and need.
Martin J. Gross, who lives in New Jersey and as president of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy introduced Gen. Jones before his ill-fated joke, sent us the following comment:
“I, who introduced the General, and who was sitting right next to him when he told the joke, was in no way offended. I had actually heard the joke before and thought the irony of needing a tie to get into a restaurant in the desert to get a bottle of water was a funny image. I also think that we would all be better off, as concerns prioritizing our, and the General’s, time, if we would be more concerned with him not being distracted from figuring out how to stop Iran from going nuclear than spending any more time on this tie in the desert joke.”
So it looks like National Security Advisor James Jones is apologizing for the Jewish joke he told at a Mideast think-tank meeting this week:
“I wish I had not made this off-the-cuff joke at the top of my remarks,” Jones said in a statement. “I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
Here’s the joke:
A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water.
The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water.
The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: “Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”
It’s worth noting that his audience, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, roared with laughter (at least according to the video). WINEP, originally a spin-off from AIPAC, is solidly pro-Israel, and presumably many in his audience were Jewish. You could even argue that the joke is offensive to Arabs: When I’ve heard the joke in the past, it’s usually been told by a Jew as a sort of revenge fantasy on an anti-Semite. At least, that’s how I interpret the joke.
But apparently, it’s Jews who are supposed to be offended by it, according to this and this, for instance. Indeed, I tried it on my wife, and her immediate reaction is that it is a joke about Jewish swindlers.
Why did he do this? Jones knows Israel; he made his comments among many Jewish people at the pro-Israel, Likud-leaning Washington Institute for Near East Policy. There can have been no intention to offend. Perhaps he thought that he was among friends who would tolerate him poking fun at their people. Perhaps he thought the joke was on the Taliban. Perhaps his critics are right and he just didn’t realise he was being anti-Semitic.
Whatever, it was very poor judgment on his part. For a top aide to be so clumsy at a time of high tension between Washington and Jerusalem is alarming.
The golden rule about ethnic jokes is they should only be told by a member of the minority concerned. Gen Jones should stick to jokes about the officer’s mess.
A guy in South Jersey flew the Nazi flag on Hitler’s birthday, but doesn’t see what the, er, flap is all about:
Mark Forsman hoisted the swastika-laden red flag above his Carney’s Point, N.J. property in commemoration of Adolf Hitler’s birthday on April 20. But the self-described flag collector says it was not in celebration, its there just because it’s part of the collection.
“It’s just, it’s his birthday and the flag’s up, that’s all,” he said. “It’s not a big deal to me.”
And just in case the reporter didn’t get his point:
”I don’t hear them calling you guys next month when I fly the Mexican flag for Cinco de Mayo,” Forsman said.
Cinco de Mayo… Wasn’t he the Mexican leader responsible for the genocide of millions? Or am I thinking of Feliz Navidad?
Tidbits from around the state:
Irwin Ravin, a Newark-born lawyer who moved to Alaska and challenged its marijuana laws, is dead at 70.
A prominent Deal rabbi is heard on tape saying, “I’m a money launderer. .. I’m going to be arrested.”
Songsmith Benny Bell, whose specialty was double entendre novelty songs like “Shaving Cream,” “She Got Her Tidbit” and “Everybody Wants My Fanny,” is remembered by his grandson.
The reliably, even hawkishly pro-Israel New Republic has an article by Michael Crowley which I suspect reflects a mainstream pro-Israel attitude on the possibilities for bombing Iran.
His main points:
1/ Any military action against Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the United States could have disastrous unintended consequences, including peril for American troops elsewhere and strengthening Ahmadinejad’s grip on power.
2/ It would be a lot worse, however, if the U.S. left it up to Israel. Israel may not have the cabalility of finishing the job, and the regional upheaval might drag the United States into a “substantial conventional war” against Iran.
3/ That being said, “America is in a far better position to cripple Iran’s nuclear program” than Israel.
4/ “None of this means that America should attack Iran.”
5/ But if anybody should, it’s us:
But if Barack Obama really believes that an Iranian bomb is unacceptable, and that only the use of force can prevent it, then he needs to face the grim truth that this is a burden for America to shoulder—and resist the temptation to let someone else handle the grim job for us.
I can’t say that I agree with Chuck Schumer’s criticism of Obama’s Mideast policy, in tone or substance, but this sort of criticism of Schumer is just grotesque: Philip Weiss giddily embraces the allegation that Schumer is guilty of “dual loyalty.”
I love that journalists are finally beginning to sound like journalists on obvious questions. And I like the dual-loyalty issue, because… it’s real; and voters deserve to be informed on the question. Oh and something else. A lot of liberals like to blame the Christian Zionists for our policy in the Middle East. Does Christian Zionism have anything to do with Schumer’s advocacy? Or that of his protege Anthony Weiner? Or the abandonment of Obama by a significant portion of his own political base on this question? Does it explain Dennis Ross running the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and then running Iran policy under Obama?
Where do you start with this? Of course, you’d have to prove that given an irrefutable choice between a policy that helps Israel and harms the United States, Schumer and the other “dual loyalists” will always side with Israel. But when is that ever irrefutable? And just because a president declares a policy good for America, does that make it so? That would sort of subvert democracy, no?
Weiss’ definition of loyalty is accepting a policy that HE and folks who think like him think is best for the United States (or, better yet, worse for Israel, I suspect). Disagree with Weiss on Israel, ergo, you must be a double agent.
At worst, Schumer is guilty of pandering to a Jewish constituency that happens to hold hawkish views on Israel, as is their right. That doesn’t make him disloyal, it makes him a politician.
As for Weiss’ other questions — not one holds up to scrutiny. Obama hasn’t lost a “significant portion” of the Jewish community based on the latest Israel dust-up (to the chagrin of the pro-Israel right). Anthony Weiner is chasing the same voters as Schumer. And that someone has worked for a wonky ethnic think-tank (one devoted less to Mideast affairs than Jewish affiliation and identity issues) is no proof of “disloyalty.” It’s only proof that Weiss is happy to traffic in McCarthyism under the guise of patriotism. Yucch.
The Forward has a piece this week on the re-emergence of the dual loyalty libel.