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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘community’

Egypt Coptic Christian Leadership Condemns Western Media Coverage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

In the face of an unprecedented wave of violence directed against Coptic Christians amid the turmoil in Egypt that has left hundred’s dead, the church’s leadership issued a statement condemning the Western media’s biased coverage of the events in Egypt.

“We strongly denounce the fallacies broadcasted by the Western media and invite them to review the facts objectively regarding these bloody radical organizations and their affiliates instead of legitimizing them with global support and political protection while they attempt to spread devastation and destruction in our dear land,” reads the statement, according to a Google translation.

“We request that the international and western media adhere to providing a comprehensive account of all events with truth, accuracy, and honesty,” the statement added.

The Coptic Church also reaffirmed its support for the military-backed government, calling on the army and security forces to continue their fight against the “armed violent groups and black terrorism.”

One of the oldest communities in Christianity, Coptic Christians have survived numerous persecutions in the past. But the recent violence is unprecedented. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organization, has documented 39 attacks against Coptic Christian churches, schools, monasteries and businesses since late last week, NPR reported.

Coptic Christians constituted a majority of Egypt’s population until the Middle Ages, when Islam, introduced by the Arab invasions in the 7th century, eclipsed their religion. Today, Coptic Christianity comprises nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, making it the largest single Christian community remaining in the Middle East.

Kosher Slaughter Ban Shows Poland Has a Jewish Problem

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, has a Jewish problem.

In a painful affront to the Jewish community, it recently defeated a government initiative to reinstate the legality of kosher slaughter of animals. This prompted Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, to threaten resignation and triggered sharp criticism of the Sejm from Jewish communities in Poland and around the world.

What happens in Poland regarding Jews has special significance because of the Holocaust. More than 90 percent of the country’s three and a half million Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation. Poland began legislating against kosher slaughter in 1936, and once the Germans occupied the country three years later, the practice was banned entirely.

Since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, however, Jewish life in Poland has undergone a remarkable, and previously unimaginable, renaissance. Full recognition of the rights of Jews to practice their faith – including kosher slaughter – was enshrined in an agreement the government signed with the Jewish community in 2004.

Indeed, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, addressing an overflow crowd at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington several weeks ago, declared it was his country’s responsibility to ensure “that today’s Jewish community in Poland is safe, welcome and respected.”

He honored Poland’s Jewish community “not just for how it died, but for how it lives, and how it is coming back to life.”

When legislation was adopted a few years ago mandating the use of electronic stunning equipment before an animal is killed – a practice prohibited under Jewish law –the Jewish community was granted an administrative exemption. In January, however, a court ruled the exemption unconstitutional. Alleged violations of animal rights trumped age-old Jewish religious practice.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government framed legislation to override the court decision. What should have been a fairly easy corrective measure was instead defeated on July 12 by a vote of 222 to 178, leaving in place the judicial ban.

Thirty-eight Sejm members representing Tusk’s ruling Civic Platform party joined with the opposition in voting to outlaw ritual slaughter. In Poland, this was viewed as a major victory for animal rights advocates, as their views prevailed against the nation’s farmers and meatpackers, who had developed a lively business exporting kosher and halal meat to Israel and Muslim countries.

Jews, however, see matters quite differently. From their perspective, the Sejm’s action stigmatizing kosher slaughter as inhumane blatantly contradicts Foreign Minister Sikorski’s pledge to make Jews “safe, welcome and respected.” They point out that kosher slaughter, whereby the animal is rendered immediately unconscious by severing the carotid artery, is humane, and that the continued legality of hunting in Poland, which results in far greater and more indiscriminate pain to animals, suggests there may in fact be another, unstated reason for outlawing kosher slaughter: anti-Semitism.

In the wake of the Sejm vote, pejorative comments about Jews in some of the Polish media and online give some credence to these fears.

Unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident. The situation for European Jews looks even grimmer in a broader context. Just a few months ago, a similar scenario unfolded in Germany when a court banned ritual circumcision, another fundamental element of the Jewish religion, on the grounds that it mutilated children without their consent. There, too, anti-Semitic motivation was not hard to discern in certain quarters amid the talk about physiological and psychological harm.

Fortunately, Chancellor Angela Merkel navigated a bill through the German parliament overruling the court and reestablishing the religious freedom of Jews to continue an age-old tradition of their faith. Whether Poland will successfully follow her example and push through a law guaranteeing the right to kosher slaughter remains to be seen.

Such attacks on Jewish religious practice, in fact, constitute just one front in a wider struggle over the future of Jewish life in Europe. Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise, increasing by 30 percent between 2011 and 2012. In France, there was an astounding 58 percent jump over that same period, including the targeted murder last year of four Jews, three of them small children, in Toulouse.

Vocally anti-Semitic political parties are represented in the Greek and Hungarian parliaments and are gaining power on the local and regional levels in other countries. Public opinion polls show alarmingly high levels of anti-Semitic attitudes. Demonization of Israel in the media and among some intelligentsia is often indistinguishable from Jew-baiting. No wonder that opinion surveys point to a striking number of European Jews contemplating emigration.

Double Standards on Facebook

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Some things, you have to see to believe.  I was alerted by a friend, a couple of days ago, to the existence of a truly revolting, anti-Semitic Facebook page called “The Untold History,” which, according to Facebook, does not violate Facebook’s standards.

We practice link hygiene here at TOC, so I offer this write-up from the Online Hate Prevention Project (OHPP) website, which contains a link to the offensive Facebook page.  If you can stomach another round of anti-Semitic imagery, cast a glance at the image copied in this post from the Facebook page – one of quite a few.  The page has 833 “Likes” as of this writing.

We don’t know how many users have reported this page for “hate speech,” against which Facebook has a policy.  But several of those who have reported the page have posted in the comments at OHPP’s Facebook page that the response they received was like this one (posted by OHPP):

fb-response

The text reads:

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards.  Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment.  We reviewed the page you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn’t violate our community standard on hate speech.

(This is the response I received as well.)

I tend toward the libertarian when it comes to freedom of expression; as long as Facebook is a private company, I believe it has the right to host or not host what seems proper to its leadership and shareholders.  Facebook can afford its users the latitude of expression it prefers, even when the expression in question is really offensive; the customer base can then decide to participate or not accordingly.

But since Facebook has a policy on hate speech, what is the company’s standard for latitude in freedom of expression?  What doesn’t get to remain on Facebook?  Where does the arbiter make the cut-off, and can users trust that it’s being done fairly?  This week, we have been given a unique opportunity to do a comparison with what did get banned at Facebook – if only for a few days.

On 9 August, author and columnist Ruthie Blum posted a column in which she recounted her recent adventures in being banned by Facebook:

For the past two months, I have intermittently been barred from Facebook.

The first time it happened was in June, when I tried to post my Israel Hayom column. Suddenly, a window popped up, telling me that inappropriate material had been found on, and removed from, my page. I was warned that if I continued violating Facebook’s “community standards,” I would be banned from the social network for good.

The notice included a link specifying these standards, and a demand that I click to acknowledge I had read and understood them. Failure to do so, it said, would result in my inability even to open Facebook to read my newsfeed. I complied.

Ms. Blum worked through the wickets Facebook set up for restoring her account to its good graces, but was unable to determine what, exactly, had violated its standards.  She was barred from Facebook for 24 hours at one point, and then for three days.

Her columns, she observes, are political in nature.  (Ms. Blum was formerly an editor at The Jerusalem Post.)  I append links to samples of them from the relevant timeframe here, here, here, here, and here.  She writes responsibly, in measured tones, and with reason and documentation; there is nothing intemperate or inflammatory about her content.  You might disagree with its political perspective, but you could not reasonably consider it “hate speech,” violence, threats, or bullying.  One thing it is completely free of:  graphics depicting anyone, or depicting anyone’s ethnic or religious symbols, surrounded by dead bodies and blood.

Here’s a screen cap from one of her recent columns at Israel Hayom:

blum-1

Contrast the tone and presentation of the type of content she was trying to link to with a random sampling of the content at The Untold History’s Facebook page:

New Republic Article on Feminism from Zion Is All About the Stakes

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The new issue of The New Republic cover story (The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism) is about us. It is about Haredim, modern Orthodox, and women. These are things we discuss regularly online and at our Shabbos tables, and in our coffee rooms. The story is remarkably accurate and balanced, displaying a very deep understanding of the issues in Israel today. I recommend reading the article immediately.

Imagine a spectrum of religious fundamentalism in the orthodox Jewish community. On one end you have extreme Haredi sects and on the other end you have completely secular Israelis. On most things and for most of time the people in the middle, let’s call them modern orthodox, skewed their allegiences toward the Haredi side. Orthodoxy is the great uniter. The assumption is that any two orthodox people will have more common interests than an orthodox and a secular Jew. This is how things were.

In essence, the article argues that while naturally aligned with their fellow orthodox Jews, women from the modern orthodox community in Israel are finding themselves aligned with secular feminist Jews in Israel. The collective pain that is felt due to the oppressiveness toward women in the extreme and not so extreme Haredi world is taking a toll. Women have been attacked physically, verbally, and psychologically for a long time and it is starting to create a negative reaction.

Several times the article mentions signs that tell women how to dress. We have become accustomed to these signs. But the women in the article argue that the signs give license to thugs who want to make a statement to women. To them, the signs mean much more than “Please be sensitive to our religious beliefs.” Part of that is because these standards are entering the public sphere and are no longer just limited to the private insular neighborhoods. But the other part of it is that the signs are somehow justifying the negativity and violence toward women.

What has happened is that women who feel hurt and abused are turning to secular and Reform Jews for salvation. Feminism is a dirty word in many orthodox communities, even in some places within the modern orthodox community. But it’s becoming a necessary evil for modern orthodox women who are not feminists at all to ask for help from feminists. It’s odd when orthodox people are funding they have more in common with secular and very liberal Jews than fellow orthodox Jews. But that is what is happening.

The article also talks about modern orthodox women who sympathize with the Women of the Wall. I wish they would be more vocal but i was heartened to hear it.

Last week I wrote about finding common ground and room for dialogue between modern orthodox and yeshivish Jews in America. (See:
Maybe Rabbi Birnbaum Has a Point: A Solution) I think what we are seeing in the article in TNR is what will happen if we can’t work together. If the people in the middle start to feel like the liberal and secular Jews are more sympathetic to their way of life, the great split that has been predicted for years, will finally happen. Modern orthodox Judaism will become an independent group.

Some might say, what’s so bad about that? Well there are plenty negative consequences to mention. But I will mention the two biggest issues. First, the Haredi institutions will fall without modern orthodox support. Some might say that’s not so bad either. I disagree. Their services are necessary, as is their trap door into engagement with society. On the other side, without a connection the Haredi community, the modern orthodox community will be hard pressed to support its own institutions for lack of qualified teachers and rabbis.

It’s not in our best interests to see a formal split. It might happen in Israel and it might happen in America. I think we should do everything we can to prevent it. The first thing we need to do, is get together and talk.

Visit Fink or Swim.

The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism

Faces of Israel: Yariv Vizner, Founder of ‘Little Heroes’

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Though a defense attorney by trade, Yariv Vizner always had a dream to give back to the community. When he was a child his mother volunteered and assisted with the mentally challenged  so he enlisted his son Adam to help him in starting an organization called Giborim Ktanim (Little Heroes) consisting entirely of volunteers who work to pair ordinary Israelis with mentally challenged children, with the goal of helping such children to better fit into Israeli society.Giborim Ktanim collaborates with over 20 schools in Israel to provide children with  the opportunity to go on trips throughout Israel. “There are children that don’t communicate with society and people don’t understand them, yet here on these trips people understand them and relate to them,” says Yariv. Since many of these children come from disadvantaged backgrounds; these trips may be their only chance to do something like this.

One of the things that Giborim Ktanim prides itself on is helping mentally challenged children to feel like they are part of Israeli society, even if they are unable to do what most other children their age can. Giborim Ktanim also seeks to help prepare mentally challenged children to learn a trade, so that they can support themselves when they grow up, yet also seeks to protect them from being exploited. One such job that mentally challenged adults in Israel often take on is being bus boys at Aroma, a popular Israeli chain of cafes.

In addition, Giborim Katanim seeks to support mentally challenged children by providing the skills necessary to have a Jewish life, despite the fact that mentally challenged children are not capable of being honored by being called up to the Torah or having a Bar Mitzvah. Giborim Ktanim arranges special Bar Mitzvahs at the Kotel for mentally challenged children, providing them with that crucial step in the life of every young Jewish boy.

Another way that Giborim Ktanim helps mentally challenged children to become part of Israeli society is to give them the support that they will need in order to be able to serve in the Israel Defense Forces where they serve despite their disability. “The army is the best school to teach them to be better citizens,” Vinzer said.

The families of these children are very appreciative of the work that Giborim Ktanim does. Vinzer stated that when he arrived at the Kotel to witness a group of mentally challenged children receiving their Bar Mitzvah, he saw one father of one of the children cry “because it was something so important to him that his child standing there can be a part of something like that. It is something very emotional.” He continued, “For me, it is something that I can’t forget, even though it is the twelfth time we did it at the Kotel.”

Visit United with Israel.

The Outreach Revolution

Friday, April 26th, 2013

I think I’ve said this before – or something like it. Jack Wertheimer is one of my favorite Conservative Jews. A recent article of his in Commentary Magazine could not be more positive about Orthodox outreach. In fact I think he is even more supportive of it than many Orthodox Jews.

Why would a prominent Conservative Jew be so supportive of Orthodox kiruv? I suppose that he believes in the values of Torah and mitzvot. Despite popular notions to the contrary, Conservative Judaism is not opposed to doing mitzvot. They actually support it. At least on paper. How they define mitzvah observance is where the problem lies. Another problem with Conservative mitzvah observance are the percentages of those who actually observe…

My guess is that the percentage of Conservative Jews who observe Shabbot in any meaningful Halachic sense – is very small. I believe that Professor Wertheimer is a part of that minority.

Theological differences exist too. But those problematic views are not mandated… and thus surmountable in an individual. That they are tolerated by the movement is beyond the scope of this essay.

Professor Wertheimer has done an excellent job of studying and analyzing Orthodox kiruv – in virtually all of its incarnations. He discusses its history, financing, appeal, and examines why it flourishes. He credits the Lubavitcher Rebbe for starting this revolution. And he correctly notes that many non-Habad kiruv workers have learned from Habad.

From Habad; to Aish HaTorah; to Torah U’Mesorah; to community kollelim; to Modern Orthodox kiruv… he lauds it all. He even concludes that Orthodoxy underestimates its own success. Success that he views with a very positive eye.

He also notes the friction created between Conservative rabbis who lead synagogues and kiruv workers. The claim is that Habad (for example) will set up shop and undermine the Conservative shul business structure by offering smaller friendlier shuls with little or no synagogue dues. They also offer to provide Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies without any minimum shul religious class attendance requirement (typically 3 years). Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations are a drawing card for membership. True to form, it seems that Professor Wertheimer has no problem with Habad doing that.

The realities of 21st century life in America have caused lofty kiruv goals of bringing Jews to full observance to be lowered. One of those realities is the massive attrition of Jews from the Conservative movement into secular lifestyles. The pool of Jewish kiruv targets from there has been diminished. Conservative Jews tended to give their children at least a minimal Jewish identity making them more receptive to kiruv. Those who have left it to become completely secular makes it much harder for them to be attracted to an observant lifestyle. I agree with him.

That the expectations have been lowered and that the Lubavitch model of linear success is increasingly becoming the model for non Lubavitch kiruv. Any increase at all in their level of commitment is now viewed a success. As such Professor Wertheimer contends that Orthodox Kiruv is having far more impact on American Jewry than anyone might imagine. Those who have come into contact with Orthodox outreach programs but do not become Orthdodox themselves take that knowledge and impart it to other non-Orthodox Jew is their shuls. These Jews might never come into contact with Orthodox outreach. Thus there is a sort of multiplier effect.

Professor Wertheimer has the highest praise for Habad. They seem to be the most successful and the most organized. For example he points out their JLI program:

Of particular note is the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), by far the largest internationally coordinated adult-education program on Jewish topics, offering the same set of courses at hundreds of Chabad locations around the world, all on the same schedule. This means that Jews who are traveling can follow the same course from session to session, even if they find themselves in a different city each week. In the fall of 2012, nearly 14,000 American Jews were enrolled in JLI courses, and overall close to 26,000 participated in Chabad’s teen- and adult-education programs.

The Chabad network is striving to create a seamless transition, so that young people who attended its camps or schools will gravitate to a Chabad campus center when they arrive at college and later, as adults, will join Chabad synagogue centers. No other Jewish movement offers this kind of cradle-to-grave set of services. The participants in these programs, needless to say, range in their Jewish commitments, but with the exception of a small minority, all are drawn from the ranks of the non-Orthodox.

But he also notes the explosion of non-Habad Kiruv organziations as well – including the far more insular world of Haredim. There are about 50 or so community kollelim that do outreach. My only real quibble with Professor Wertheimer is that these kollels are really more about in-reach than outreach (although they do outreach too). They tend to reach the already observant world and raise the level of observance and limud Torah. There are drawbacks to this too which I have discussed in the past but are also beyond the scope of this essay.

The Close-Knit Communities of Judea and Samaria

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Community is one of the concerns that many people consider when they scout out their potential new home in Israel. They are wondering if they will make friends and find neighbors who speak their language. Who will fill in for the lack of nearby family? Who will they spend their holidays with? Will they find help and support, while adapting to their new surroundings? Will their kids make friends?

Some people choose to start off in a place where they know that many Olim have settled before them. Some towns are known to have a high number of Olim from English speaking countries. Places like Efrat, Raanana and Neveh Aliza are some of them.

Although these are legitimate concerns, there are conflicting opinions on the value of starting off in an English speaking atmosphere. On one hand, it does offer a soft landing into the expected culture shock. Yes, you are coming from Western countries into a westernized Middle Eastern country. You will need some time to adjust to the weather, language, and societal issues – and it is nice to have people nearby who can relate to what you are going though, and who speak your mother tongue.

But do be aware that you might be paying a price for the comfort that you seek. Rents might be higher in some of the towns mentioned, but that’s not the only disadvantage. If you condition yourself to get by in English speaking surroundings, will you be stunting your integration into the Hebrew speaking society around you?

When I was a teen growing up in Maalot, the father of a good friend of mine was a man who had come to Israel from Morocco thirty years earlier, but who was know to all as “Oleh Chadash.” Due to his putting off learning to speak Hebrew for many years, when addressed by someone in Hebrew, he would say “Oleh Chadash” and excuse himself from the need to take part in any conversation. He had already achieved an important position in a local government agency, but still, his earlier procrastination in learning the language was not forgotten. Don’t be afraid to speak – even in broken Hebrew. Israelis will appreciate your effort, and will help you along.

Admittedly, though, community is important. It is one of the factors that has brought many people – Israelis and Olim – to come to live in the small towns of Judea and Samaria. In these places, the concept of community is very real. Everyone knows everyone, and although each family is responsible for our own homes and well being, we hold many common interests. People take an active part in local committees and events.

From the outside, many Yeshuvim in Judea and Samaria might look similar, but actually, each one has its own very special footprint, its unique micro-culture, and you, by making your home there, will be a part of forming that society.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/living-in-the-land/the-close-knit-communities-of-judea-and-samaria/2013/03/20/

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