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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘face’

Can This Jewish Republican Outsider Change the Face of Missouri?

Monday, August 1st, 2016

{Originally posted to the Tower Magazine website}

“Unbelievable. It’s just unbelievable.” The word “unbelievable” keeps coming up. This time I hear it from Brett Dinkins, an earnest young Missouri native. Brett is the field director for Eric Greitens, a Jewish veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who is running for governor of Missouri. We are sitting in Brett’s car talking about his boss.

Rain lashes the windshield and Brett keeps looking at his phone to check the GPS. I keep thinking of questions to ask. This is partly because I am writing a story about Greitens, but it is also because pretty much everything Brett tells me — about his background, about Missouri politics, about the 300-person town he grew up in — is new. Paradoxically, the banality of Middle America has made it exotic. I grew up in San Francisco. I am used to crazy and different and foreign. But I feel completely out of place in Missouri.

When I met with Greitens earlier in the day, I asked him about his connection to Missouri. He was born and raised in St. Louis—of course he has the same connection we all do to our home state. But I wanted to know more. What was it about Missouri that made him want to serve it as governor? What does Missouri mean to him?

He told me that he loves Missouri, and it hurts him to see the way the state is suffering. He presented some statistics: Missouri ranks 42nd in wage growth, 47th in economic growth, 50th—last—in getting people off welfare….

I clarified the question: “What is it about Missouri that you love?”

“I love the people of Missouri,” he told me. “And not just because this is my home state but because this is a great state…We have incredible people in Missouri.”

This didn’t particularly help me better understand Missouri. It also didn’t particularly help me better understand Greitens. The man’s life story is incredible, to be sure. He has done humanitarian work in Bosnia and Rwanda with survivors of genocide, in Bolivia with street children, and in Mother Teresa’s hospices in India. He was a Navy SEAL. He was a Rhodes and Truman scholar, and received a Ph.D. from Oxford. He was a White House Fellow. He founded The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization that empowers veterans by providing them opportunities to do volunteer work in their communities. He is a national boxing champion. And now he is running in the Republican primary for governor of Missouri.

I knew this all before meeting with Greitens. He seemed pretty perfect. But there had to be something wrong with him, some flaw, no matter how minor, right? I thought that in person he might reveal it. But when I did get a chance to speak with him, he was just as impressive as he was on paper. He was calm, confident without being arrogant, and meticulously prepared. His spokesman was present at our interview, but Greitens clearly did not need him. Midway through the interview, the spokesman was checking emails on his phone. Greitens had it covered. He knew that I’m double majoring in Classics and Slavic Languages and Literatures, and he knew that the title of that second major was “Slavic Languages and Literatures,” plural, not the singular “Slavic Languages and Literature” and certainly not “Slavic Studies” or “Slavic… something, right?” He was not close, he was exact.

We bonded over our shared love of Classics. He is a strong believer in the relevance of The Odyssey to modern-life. He views the story as, essentially, a metaphor for how a soldier copes with life after the war is over. He has recommended that veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who believe that they are now no longer doing anything meaningful or important, should read it. He even recommends a particular translation (the Fagles one).

His most recent book, Resilience, consists of a series of letters he wrote back-and-forth with a veteran who had PTSD. In his letters, Greitens tries to impart some of the greatest wisdom of the ancient world to his friend in order to teach him how to be resilient, to bounce back from the difficulties and pain he has faced. Resilience name-drops everyone from Aeschylus, Homer, and Epictetus to John Bunyan, Machiavelli, and John Stuart Mill. It quotes Zen proverbs and the Talmud. Clearly, Greitens is incredibly well-read. But although he is quite the intellectual, numerous friends described him to me as being incredibly down-to-earth. “He can talk to a plumber in a town of 300 people” as easily as he can discuss classical philosophy, one told me.

Greitens and his wife Sheena have a 19-month-old son named Joshua and another child on the way. Sheena wasn’t doing interviews at the time I wrote this article, but I ran into her at his campaign headquarters and she welcomed me warmly. They make an attractive couple. Sheena is petite, with auburn hair worn long and straight. Greitens is fit (his mornings start out with an intense 75-minute workout) and about half a head taller than his wife, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, striking blue eyes, and straight, white teeth. He smiles often.

At the end of the interview, Greitens wanted to make sure I received copies of his four books. He signed each of them: “For Miriam, who lives with Courage!” “For Miriam, who lives with Strength + Compassion!” “For Miriam, who embraces Resilience!”

I asked him what his greatest personal struggle had been. Greitens has helped fellow veterans through PTSD and has seen his friends killed in combat. But his greatest personal struggle, he says, was the sleep deficit he racked up caring for his newborn son. His son provides him with “tremendous joy,” but there were a lot of sleepless nights.

How much of this is an act? Can Eric Greitens really be as great as he seems?

I pose this question to Brett in the car. “It’s unbelievable,” he says. “People are inclined to think he’s an impostor. But it’s all real. That’s just how he lives his life. It’s not a front or anything.”

Brett has graciously agreed to drive me to a Lincoln Day banquet in Franklin County, about an hour west of St. Louis, where Greitens will be speaking. A Who’s Who of Franklin County Republicans—activists, fundraisers, and donors—will be in attendance. In addition to Greitens, several other people running for public office will be speaking: his three competitors for the Republican nomination for governor, the Franklin County Republican Central Committee chair, the sheriff, a Missouri GOP National Committee member, and a pastor. There is a silent auction and two raffles. The prizes in both raffles are guns.

In the California where I live, my outfit passes as pretty nice: jeans, blouse, boots. But everyone else at the Lincoln Day event is dressed in business wear. They are also probably old enough to receive Social Security benefits, and rich enough not to need them. I am 23. When I tell people I am a journalist working for a “DC-based magazine,” I do not receive a warm reception.

I am asked, “How did you find yourself stuck in Franklin County?”

“I have no idea,” I say.

There are animal heads mounted on the walls. The master of ceremonies keeps complaining about transgender people using the bathrooms of their preferred gender, which he calls a “subversion of our traditional values” that are “being eroded by the Democrats in Jefferson City,” the state capital. I glance around the room and count two non-white people. Catherine Hanaway, Greitens’ main competitor for the gubernatorial nomination, describes how she instituted a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for abortions, to raucous applause. Before we eat dinner, a Missouri GOP National Committee member leads us in prayer. Almost everyone bows their head and closes their eyes as she thanks “Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior” for the meal.

There is a palpable desperation here to preserve the status quo, or at least prevent the country from sliding further into what they see as decadence and decay. There is no hopeful vision for the future. The message is that you should vote for the Republican nominee for president not because you like the nominee or even the Republican platform, but because Obama was so awful and we cannot afford Hillary or, God forbid, a socialist. “Whoever we nominate is going to be a better president than Barack Obama,” we are told, and we understand this as a quiet exhortation to vote for Donald Trump even if we dislike him, lest we get another Obama. You will not be voting for someone, but rather against the Democrats.

Eric Greitens is not establishment. He has never held any kind of political office, and, seizing on the same anti-establishment current that has made Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders the darling of so many frustrated and fed-up voters, has branded himself a “conservative outsider.” I asked him about this anti-establishment zeitgeist that seems to be sweeping America. That feeling exists in Missouri as well, he said. Missourians “recognize that government is broken…at every level, not just in Washington, D.C., but here in Jefferson City.”

According to Greitens, people are frustrated:

They think that they’ve got a group of career politicians in Jefferson City who because of their cowardice and self-interest keep shrinking from facing the hard problems all around us. And what people are looking for, the reason I think there’s so much of a desire for outsiders, is that people want real leaders who can get real results….And I think that’s one of the reasons why people are so excited about this campaign, that that’s what we’re doing, we’re coming in as proven leaders to engage in service to really help to turn this state around and to build a Missouri that we can all be proud to pass on to our kids.”

Greitens has shown himself to be a leader through his work as a Navy SEAL officer and as CEO of The Mission Continues. In his book, The Heart and the Fist, he tells of one time his leadership skills were really tested. He was on tour in Thailand as commander of a Naval Special Warfare squadron, when he got information that some of the men under his command had been using illegal drugs. He ended up requiring all his men to undergo urinalysis tests; ultimately, some were kicked out of the Navy, and one went to jail. Greitens had worked with these men for over a year. He writes about how he knew their families, how he had traded jokes with them and helped them plan their careers and educations. But it had to be done. “Whether or not it was hard was not relevant,” he wrote. “It was necessary. No matter how many people we might upset, no matter how many supposed friends we might lose, our duty was to protect our men, the men who were doing the right thing.”

After the prayer concludes, the other Lincoln Day attendees and I line up for food.

A number of the candidates are standing at the front of the line like animals about to pounce on their prey. I shake hands with the Republican candidate for State Auditor, smiling politely and thinking about how we are both wasting each other’s time. I already seem out of place. If people knew I was not a Missouri voter, I am certain no one would speak with me. But they do not know, and so Catherine Hanaway, who is standing there at the front of the buffet line, introduces herself to me and asks me what I do.

I tell her I am a journalist, and I’m here covering the governor’s race.

“Do you have any particular angle?” she asks.

“Well, I’m actually writing a profile of Eric,” I reply.

Her mood immediately changes. She no longer fakes kindness, but turns aggressive, like a mother bear who feels threatened.

“Why would you just cover one candidate?” she says, icily.

I explain that my editors were particularly interested in Greitens’ story. Sensing she is not likely to change their minds, she tries a different tack.

“Are you going to put the thing about this donor in your piece?”

“The thing about this donor” refers to Michael Goguen, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who is currently the defendant in a civil suit alleging that he raped a woman multiple times over the course of their 13-year relationship, which she described as being a “sexual slave.” Goguen has filed a countersuit alleging that the claims are false and that the woman is extorting him. Goguen donated $1 million to Greitens’ campaign.

Hanaway wants Greitens to give the money back – a super PAC supporting John Kasich donated Goguen’s $250,000 of contributions to anti-human trafficking charities. Hanaway says that Greitens’ refusal to do so shows that he lacks ethics. Greitens’s campaign, on the other hand, maintains that the case is not settled and that Greitens does not want to presume guilt. I suspect that—on both sides—this is less about ethical values and more about the money. Quite simply, Hanaway doesn’t want Greitens to have it. Greitens wants to have it. His refusal to return money donated by someone who may or may not be guilty of a crime, he seems to believe, does not reflect on his ability to govern a state.

I discuss the scenario with Brett in the car on the way back to St. Louis. He thinks the Hanaway campaign is grasping at straws in an effort to take Greitens down. The Republican field for governor is crowded, but Greitens and Hanaway have emerged as the two frontrunners. There aren’t any poll results yet, but everyone talks about Hanaway as a solid pick, and Greitens is eminently qualified. Several people at the Lincoln Day event tell me they have narrowed their decision down to the two candidates. Hanaway and Greitens are the most articulate of the four who speak, and receive the most applause. Brett says Greitens lacks name recognition, but doesn’t seem particularly worried about it: Greitens will gain name recognition as campaigning ramps up in advance of the primary elections in August. And the Hanaway camp’s focus on attacking Greitens indicates that they see him as their main threat.

The last person the Hanaway camp saw as their main threat was Tom Schweich, and he is now dead. Schweich was the State Auditor until he committed suicide a little over a year ago. He was running in the same primary race as Hanaway, and some have pointed to the brutal tactics used by Hanaway’s campaign as, at least in part, responsible for Schweich’s death. About a week before the tragic incident, a mysterious PAC with ties to Hanaway called Citizens for Fairness ran a nasty radio ad poking fun at Schweich’s physical appearance, calling him a “little bug” whose political opponents would “squash” him. The ad was paid for by a Hanaway consultant named Jeff Roe. They both maintain that Hanaway didn’t know about the ad until after it aired. Roe is now Ted Cruz’s campaign manager.

But there was a long lead-up to the ad, during which Schweich was subjected to anti-Semitism. Minutes before his death, Schweich called the Associated Press to tell them that a political consultant named John Hancock, whose firm had done work for Hanaway’s campaign, was spreading rumors among donors and the political elite that Schweich was Jewish—even though he was actually Episcopalian. The accusation was later supported by a signed affidavit from a leading Missouri Republican donor. Hanaway has denied any involvement in the smear campaign. Hancock admitted that in a statement that “It is possible that I mentioned what I believed to be Tom Schweich’s religion, but if I did so, it certainly was not in a derogatory manner.” Hancock is now the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

If seeing friends killed in combat did not drive Eric Greitens over the edge, false rumors probably won’t. But what happened to Tom Schweich demonstrates that anti-Semitism is a powerful force in the state. This could hurt Greitens’ campaign.

“I’m sure there are people,” Brett tells me, “who are still trying to say that about Eric behind his back just like they did against Tom, ‘You know he’s Jewish, right, you know he’s this?’” Brett thinks Greitens’ Judaism could hurt him in his pursuit of the nomination.

Other candidates have played on this. In January, Hanaway ran a radio ad highlighting her Christian faith. John Brunner, also running against Greitens, followed suit. Then another competitor, Peter Kinder, did so. Greitens cannot run an ad expressing his Christian faith, and if he ran one expressing his Jewish faith, it might have a negative impact on his campaign.

It is not the “New Anti-Semitism” that hurt Tom Schweich and it is not the “New Anti-Semitism” that could hurt Eric Greitens. We are not talking about the kind of anti-Semitism currently in vogue on college campuses and certain strains of the political Left that disguises its hatred of Jews behind hatred of the Jewish state. After all, more than 85 percent of Missouri Republicans say they support Israel. But in pockets of Missouri, good old-fashioned anti-Semitism still exists, the kind that says Jews can’t fully be trusted.

“If you ask every Missouri Republican whether they were pro-Israel, they would all say yes,” Brett says. “But if you asked them if they were okay voting for a Jewish guy, like for governor, I don’t know. I don’t know what the results would be. But it probably wouldn’t be 100 percent saying yes like it would be 100 percent saying yes to Israel.”

Greitens is aware of this, though he seems reluctant to admit it. “I have not experienced anti-Semitism,” he told me in our interview. “When I talk with…my evangelical friends all over the state, I tell them about my love for Israel. [This makes them] very excited about my candidacy.” He went on to tell me how these evangelical friends have embraced him and his faith:

They appreciate that we are all defenders of Israel together. They also, I think, appreciate my commitment to taking my faith and turning it to action, whether that’s service in the SEAL team, service at The Mission Continues, or service in humanitarian work.

But what of people in Missouri who are not evangelical, or are not his friends? He did not bring up these people’s attitudes toward Jews. “While Tom Schweich believed he was the victim of an anti-Semitic whispering campaign, I would say from my perspective I have not experienced this, and Missouri has been not just welcoming to me, but effusively embraced me,” he said.

Nevertheless, Greitens seems rather reluctant to publicize his Judaism. “Judaism is very important to me,” he says. I believe him, but he is not exactly shouting it from the rooftops.

“It’s not like Eric hides his Judaism,” Brett says one too many times for me to quite believe him. But I don’t fault Greitens. He’s playing the game. In Brett’s words, “It’s really really unfortunate.”

Greitens’ speech at Lincoln Day does not mention his Judaism. But it is also very different from Hanaway’s speech. Rather than focus on social issues—shutting down Planned Parenthood, forcing transgender people to use certain bathrooms—he talks about his history and how it qualifies him to lead Missouri.

“Our law enforcement officers deserve to have a leader who knows what it means to put on body armor and wear a sidearm,” he says, referring to what he sees as Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s failure to adequately support law enforcement during the violent protests in Ferguson. “They deserve to have a leader who knows what it means to say goodbye to your family and step into the dark and do dangerous things.” He is that leader, he tells the crowd: “As your governor, I will always have the back of those men and women who are always on call for us.”

Greitens goes on to discuss Missouri’s struggle to provide adequate education for its children and adequate care for its veterans, as well as the dire state of its economy and how he intends to reform it. But mostly, he presents the neatly-packaged Greitens I have seen before. In an energizing, engaging way, he talks about how he is a former Navy SEAL who served our country in “four deployments in the global War on Terrorism to Afghanistan, southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, and to Iraq.” He is the founder of a non-profit that helps veterans, and he is dedicated to leading and serving and helping.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to find the flaw in the perfect veneer. When he repeats, nearly verbatim, a cute story about his son that he told me earlier in the day, I think I might have found it. But I soon realize I haven’t. Politicians have certain talking points and they repeat them. That’s to be expected. It doesn’t really say anything about who Greitens is as a person.

Others think they have found Greitens’ flaw, however, and it’s not about his character but his ideology. Some people consider him a RINO, a “Republican in Name Only.”

And they have some reason to think so. Until a few years ago, Greitens was a registered Democrat. In 2010, he met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which wanted him to run for Congress. He declined. As recently as 2013, he endorsed the Democratic mayor of St. Louis. But in July 2015—about two and a half months before he declared his intention to seek the Republican nomination for governor—he published an op-ed on Fox News’s website entitled “Former Navy SEAL: Why I am no longer a Democrat.” In it, he explained that he was raised as a Democrat, but had come to realize that he “no longer believed in [Democratic] ideas.” The Democrats’ desire to “stand up for the little guy” is a nice idea, Greitens wrote, but Democratic policies don’t actually help the little guy.

This has not convinced some hardline conservatives. Eric Farris, who hosts a talk-radio show in Missouri, devoted almost 45 minutes on one of his shows to discussing whether Greitens could actually be trusted. He mentioned that Greitens attended Obama’s inauguration and, even more suspiciously, managed a nonprofit. But he was particularly leery of the fact that Greitens has registered domain names indicating he has thought about someday running for the Senate or even president. According to Farris, this makes Greitens a “career politician” leeching off taxpayers’ money—even though Greitens has never held or run for any political office before.

During his segment, Farris mentioned a website set up by yet another mysterious PAC that takes issue with Greitens’ credibility as a conservative. “Eric Greitens is not a Conservative,” reads the website. “NOT a Conservative. Not Then. Not Now. Not Ever.” A former staffer for John Brunner—another Republican running against Greitens—was reportedly involved in the website.

Brunner denied involvement, but Greitens had some reason to doubt this. He called Brunner on the phone and, according to the Brunner campaign, the call was overly aggressive. When Greitens called a second time, Brunner secretly recorded the call and released it to the media. It is not pretty.

Tim Wise, a friend of Greitens’ who worked with The Mission Continues and now owns his own company, told me he had never seen Greitens get really irritated or agitated. “He can always turns a negative into a positive,” Wise said, and he “doesn’t get flustered.” But on the recorded call, Greitens is irritated, agitated, and flustered in the extreme. He shouts over Brunner almost the entire time, and at one point yells, “Oh my God, you are such a weasel!”

Everyone I spoke to about Greitens said they had never seen him get angry or even have a bad day. Perhaps he only very rarely gets angry, and was unlucky enough to be recorded by a political rival on the one day it happened.

I don’t think one instance of getting exceedingly irritated should disqualify Greitens from any kind of office. Politics is tough, and none of us is perfect. Perhaps this is one of Greitens’ flaws, the only one I was able to uncover: He gets angry sometimes.

But he is also brilliant and dedicated and confident. He has served his country bravely and proudly, and has changed hundreds of lives for the better through his charity work. And he has chosen a difficult path that allows him to help others instead of an easier path that would have helped him alone.

It easy to understand why Brett says, “Democrats, Republicans, everyone loves him,” and why an old lady at the Lincoln Day celebration said she “liked him the first time I met him” and another “fell in love with him from [his] books, [because] he’s a person that’s really served this country, that’s helped Americans and people all over the world.” Yes, Eric Greitens has paid for the domain GreitensforPresident. Yes, he is ambitious. And yes, he wants to help people. If Missouri lets him, who knows where he will go from here.

Eric Greitens appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, November 26, 2015. Photo: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert / YouTube

Eric Greitens appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, November 26, 2015. Photo: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert / YouTube

{Author Miriam Pollock is a Stanford University senior majoring in Classics. She is a staff writer for The Stanford Review, a biweekly political newspaper}

Tower Magazine

When Reality Hits You in the Face

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Emes Ve-Emunah}

I have always thought that Charedim should be subject to the draft in Israel in exactly the same way all other Jews in Israel are. I have written extensively on this subject. I feel very strongly about this. Perhaps even stronger than many to my left who would be satisfied with Charedim fulfilling their military obligations through national service.

For me it’s about whose blood is redder. The answer is everybody’s blood is red. If a secular or Dati Jew is subject to be put in harm’s way, so too should a Charedi Jew. What motivates me is the image of an Israeli mother mourning the death of a son killed in combat. A mission he was given because he was drafted  into the army and was deemed best suited for combat by his superiors.

Now it’s true that most soldiers in Israel are not given combat missions. But it is also true that anyone in theory is subject to it… thus subject to the possibility of being killed in action. Why should only Charedi mothers be exempt from this possibility? No one wants to die. And not every soldier put into combat wants to be there. But that is what defending one’s country is all about.

That said there can be exceptions made in any category. Secular, Dati, or Charedi. As far as Charedim are concerned we need Torah scholars whose life’s blood is Torah.  They should be exempt as a vital function of Israel’s existence no less than a secular Jew’s job or area of study is vital to Israel’s existence. Unless Israel’s army converts to an all volunteer one and the draft is abolished, no one group – Charedim included – should be exempt as a class. That said, everyone’s religious needs should be accommodated. In the case of Charedim, their units should be modeled on Nachal Charedi.

This is the reality of Israel. And this is the reality that Israeli hero and ZAKA founder, Yehuda Meshi Zahav saw when he came around to this type of thinking. As an article in the Jerusalem Post (republished in VIN) reports – this 11th generation Israeli Charedi Jew who was firmly in the Eida HaChardis camp has now joined ‘the enemy’. Which to the Eida HaCharedis is the Israeli government, its founders and leaders.  He used to participate in all of their protests against the government. From VIN:

Once upon a time, Zahav was the operations officer of the Eda Haredit extremist haredi group. He led demonstrations against Sabbath desecration, burnt Israeli flags, fasted and wore mourning clothes on Israel Independence Day, illegally removed dead bodies from the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to prevent autopsies from being performed and put mice into the pathologists’ rooms, and sneaked onto archeological sites in order to prevent archeological excavations.

Why did he ‘switch sides’? Well he didn’t – really. He just decided that there are no sides. He explains:

The change in Zahav began on July 6, 1989, when a terrorist blew up a bus on the 405 route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It happened on a road in front of the Telz-Stone yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) in Neva Ilan. Zahav and his friends wanted to see what was happening, “and then, when the dismembered bodies were laid out before my eyes, when the sirens were echoing among the smoky fragments of the bus, when the bloodstained clothes were scattered over the area, when entire families were broken and erased in an instant, I realized that the quarrels between us were meaningless. The type of skullcap you wear and the kind of clothes you wear pale in comparison with the real war we’re faced with. The Arab enemy doesn’t distinguish between the blood of a haredi, a secular person, and someone who’s modern Orthodox. We’re all connected. There’s no right or left. Everyone’s pain is the same. That was the moment when I crossed the lines…

He has paid a heavy price for his ‘rebellion’:

His grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Sheinberger, the mythological leader of the Eda Haredit and a fanatical opponent of the founding of Israel, refused to speak with Zahav for the last four years of his life.

Not only does he see all blood as being red, he agrees with the idea that Charedim should be educated in secular subjects. And he considers Yesh Atid founder, Yair Lapid, a friend. Which is yet another reason he seen as a traitor since Lapid has been deemed the devil incarnate by virtually the entire Charedi world.

Well, in my book, we need more ‘traitors’ like Meshi Zahav. He had a wake-up call that the leadership of the Eida and their sympathizers have not had.

With Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, on the horizon, the Eida types and their sympathizers will surely condemn it as they have in the past. Even those Charedim that will not actively protest it, will at best ignore it… and in some cases speak out against it. They will bolster their arguments with every possible wrong ever committed by anyone ever connected with Zionism… showing just how evil these people really were – and still are. They will point to all the past religious leaders that that condemned the state as a Godless entity whose purpose was – and still is – to destroy Judaism. I have even heard some of these people comparing the government of Israel to the Nazi regime in Germany!

But with few exceptions (and there are exceptions) those – both past and present – who condemn the State were no doubt not personally subject to the Holocaust – nor seen what Meshi Zahav has. They were not there.

They did not experience firsthand what it means to be freed from a concentration camp only to end up in a DP camp with no country wanting to let you in. When Israel became a state, the doors opened up to these survivors. The vast majority of them understand what was given to them and are grateful for Israel’s existence. They have been given a second chance at life and in most cases have done well.

I am reminded of one Chasidic Rebbe who lived through the Holocaust and suffered its indignities. When he was in a Nazi concentration camp, he was required to sweep the streets there. He promised that if he survived and was able to immigrate to Israel he would do the same thing.  He kept his promise and every Yom Ha’atzmaut he went outside to sweep the streets. He understood what Israel did for him. And expressed his gratitude publicly. It would be nice if it didn’t have to take experiencing horrors of one kind or another for this kind of transformation to take place.

 

Harry Maryles

San Diego State Jewish Students Face Disciplinary Action over Anti-BDS Flyer

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

A series of posters created and disseminated by the David Horowitz Freedom Center in April identified by name a number of prominent student and faculty Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists on the San Diego State University campus. DHFC, which says it “combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror,” described its targeted individuals as having “allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate BDS and Jew Hatred on this campus.”

anti-BDS poster 1

The posters contained the hashtag #StopTheJewHatredonCampus, which is the slogan of the DHFC campaign seeking to confront campus anti-Semitism agents and to refute the lies spread by pro-Palestinian individuals and groups, including claims that Israel is an apartheid state.

According to Jamie Ballard of the Daily Aztec, after a protest last week regarding President Elliot Hirshman’s failure to condemn the anti-BDS fliers on campus, students met with him Monday morning to discuss what will happen next.

Osama Alkhawaja and Rachel Beck, two of the students who met with Hirshman, said they were able to share their concerns with the administration, but were not “entirely satisfied, and feel the issue is far from over.”

“I feel absolutely betrayed by my university,” Beck told the Aztec. “I pay $30,000 to go here, and they haven’t defended me from these accusations that I am a terrorist.”

“The thing that I don’t understand is, why is it so hard for you to come out and make a statement saying that your students aren’t terrorists?” Alkhawaja said. “The university continues to defend free speech, but this is hate speech.”

According to Alkhawaja, the university said it is not willing to condemn the posters by saying that they are a form of hate speech or intimidation.

anti-BDS poster 2

Here is what the fliers say:

“There is an epidemic of Jew hatred on American campuses and at San Diego State University. This Jew hatred is incited by Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Students Association and assorted leftist groups, all of whom support the terrorist organizations Hamas and Fatah.”

The fliers then explain that both SJP and MSA are products of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that they “disseminate genocidal lies about Israel whose purpose is to weaken and destroy the world’s only Jewish state.”

The posters were delivered on five California campuses, including at UCLA and UC-Berkeley, where anti-Israel activists were able to push university administrators into calling them “hate speech.”

In an email sent to San Diego State’s entire student body on Tuesday, Hirshman criticized the posters but defended their creators’ right to free speech: “First, we recognize and fully support the rights of all parties to voice their positions on political issues, whether supportive or critical. We also understand that when parties adopt a specific political position they become responsible for their actions and these actions may produce criticism.”

Alkhawaja told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “I’m shocked, I just don’t get why it’s so difficult for him to condemn the posters, to call them what they were. What we got instead was a promise to continue our conversations.”

Horowitz has been invited by the SDSU College Republicans to speak on campus Thursday. It isn’t clear whether there are any protest planned against that appearance.

“One thing that’s sometimes leveled against us is that we stifle speech,” Alkhawaja said. “We’re just not going to go. Our issue wasn’t with someone holding an opinion. The issue here was that he singled out individuals in a very threatening manner.”

Come to think of it, it’s about time somebody did.

David Israel

Temptations, Tests, and the Search for Spiritual Courage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I was recently walking down the street when I smelled one of the most amazing unkosher cuisines I could ever remember smelling. As I stared at my food enemy, I had a thought which I imagine most religious Jews have at one point or another. I wondered: Was God testing me with this great smell? Was this amazing scent a way to bring my downfall?

Pondering this trivial “test” led to a greater philosophical and theological question: What is the religious nature of temptations and tests?

The Torah says, “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Deut. 8:2). We read that G-d has Bnei Yisrael wander in the desert for 40 years as a test.

What is this about? To place a nation (man, woman, and child) through such transient and confused misery for decades as a test? I also often wonder if the Jewish people are being tested today, with our own state in Israel and unprecedented wealth and influence in the US. What will we do with the great blessings we’ve been granted? What does this idea mean that G-d tests us as individuals and as a nation?

It must be more than schar v’onesh (that God is merely keeping our score card) or that G-d is merely flexing power in the world.

I also can’t relate to the cynical answer found in the book of Job, where God tests Job because of a disagreement with Satan. My belief in a benevolent and personal G-d precludes the possibility of random tests.

Still within distance of smelling my temptation of the day, I began to ponder answers:

For years, the most compelling answer to me has been that it is through the struggle of these challenges that we truly grow. These temptations are ways of teaching people about G-d and the incredible human capacity for compassion and spiritual depth. The Ramban argues that this was exactly the purpose of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) for Avraham.

Alternatively, perhaps there is a utilitarian approach that more people can learn from a test than the one having to undergo the discomfort of the test. The Rambam and Radak argue that the purpose of the test at the Akeidah was not for Avraham to learn but for the future adherents of the Abrahamic faith to learn. This sets a gold standard for others to try to follow.

Rav Kook goes even further, arguing that Avraham was being tested in order to “prove” to the pagan religions that monotheism can match the religious passion of pagan worship through the act of inward sacrifice, without the need for savage and barbaric sacrifices. One is being tested in order to teach others through its example.

Another utilitarian approach is that tests can provide opportunities for others to do mitzvot to help when we are struggling. It is for the moral good of the community at large.

These explanations may be true and all of them are worth thinking about but Rav Tzadok teaches that just as a person needs to believe in G-d so too one needs to believe in oneself. These days many of us (including myself) are struggling less with why we are tested by G-d and more with how we can overcome our obstacles and challenges to live a happier, more meaningful, more successful life. Do we believe in our own capacity to overcome in the face of adversity?

One tool that we can all consider experimenting with: The Gemara says that the Torah is the seasoning for the yetzer hara (personal evil inclination). The Maggid of Mezritch offers a beautiful interpretation that since the yetzer hara is the main dish and the Torah is the seasoning, we must serve God with the full ecstasy of the yetzer hara. The purpose is not to destroy or subdue the yetzer hara but rather to spice it up – to access its energy and channel it towards good.

This is to say that when we experience struggle we should use that temptation and channel that new energy towards good rather than attempt to dismiss or remove the temptation. This is why the Midrash explains that without the yetzer hara there would be no business or procreation. In a complex way, we need our desire for self-advancement to further societal goals.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

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.

JNS News Service

Calendar Of Events

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

What: Israel Bonds Aventura Turnberry Brunch (honoring Ursla Kersh and Myrna and Robert Kopf; guest speaker – foreign policy analyst Dr. Ralph Nurnberger)
Where: Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, 20400 NE 30th Ave, Aventura
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 10:30 a.m.
Cost: $36 per person Contact: 305-937-1880

* * * * *

What: Chabad of Kendall/Pinecrest’s fun-filled Chanukah celebration (face painting, bounce house, arts and crafts, bbq, hot latkes and doughnuts)
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 starting at 12:30 p.m.
Where: 8700 SW 112 Street, Miami
Contact: 305-234-5654 ext 10, or e-mail woolfson@chabadofkendall.org

* * * * *

What: Chanukah party at the MAR-JCC (musical performance, delicious latkes, arts and crafts projects)
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 from 3 to 6 p.m.
Where: 18900 NE 25th Ave, North Miami Beach
Cost: Free admission – open to MAR-JCC members and their guests
Contact: 305-932-4200 (ext 128) or e-mail marjccdavid@aol.com

Shelley Benveniste

A Big-Time Pollster In The Making?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

I come across Yair Michaeli standing amid the bustle of an Israeli shopping mall, a clipboard in his hand. He appears to be a serious-minded Israeli haredi. What is he doing in a place like this?

Yair, a 22-year-old graduate of prestigious Lithuanian and Sephardic yeshivot, is a licensed realtor but hopes one day to be the man all Israeli politicians turn to at election time – the premier pollster of Israeli politics.

“I was always interested in politics, even as a child,” says Yair. “First I made personal connections with all the haredi and religious parties and their leaders. Eventually I became interested in all the parties. Israeli politics is an amazing mix of personalities, ideologies and sheer energy. It is the most fascinating political process in the world, without a doubt.”

“So,” I ask him, “what is your method for polling?”

“As you know,” he replies, “there are many others working in the field, and there is no shortage of polls. First I gather all the recent polls done by other groups and factor the results together, arriving at an average score for each party running. Then I use my own special method.”

“Which is what?” I ask.

“Other pollsters try to get a random sampling of the population based on all kinds of statistical models. Then they call people on the phone. However, many people when polled by telephone don’t respond seriously. Sometimes the questions don’t resonate. So the results are inaccurate. What I do is more down to earth. I choose a sampling of locations and take my teams directly to places where people naturally come together. There we ask the relevant questions face to face. People get to consider the questions carefully and ask for explanations or clarifications.”

I look at him questioningly. “Is this really a superior method?”

“In a face-to-face encounter you can always see if someone is being serious with you or not,” he sys. “Sometimes people share their thoughts and feelings, and we take special note of this information. After tabulating the responses, we can see how far our results correlate with or diverge from the other polls. Sometimes there are big differences, which make us go back and retry our polling method. When we retry several times and our results remain consistent, we know we are on to something important which the other pollsters might have missed.”

As the Israeli election draws near, Yair works almost around the clock. He visits population centers and party activists. He is always eager to share his unique insights.

“In this upcoming election,” he says, “there are several new parties that have entered the race. This happens every election and ordinarily it is not statistically significant. New independent parties don’t usually register with Israeli voters. Most successful politicians have his or her power base in some pre-existing social context. This means that in Israeli politics the people end up getting more of the same old stuff term after term. But this time around it seems that something fundamental has shifted in voters’ attitudes. People are tired of running over the same ineffectual solutions time and time again. There is a breath of fresh air blowing this time, and I believe that at least one independent party has a fighting chance of getting into the next Knesset.”

“Which party is that?” I ask.

“The Calcala Party,” he responds. “But of course there are still lots of polls to be taken between now and Election Day, and Calcala has an uphill battle ahead of it.”

I ask him to sum up his own personal and professional goals.

“First, my goal is to provide accurate information to the politicians I consider worthy of my help. Second, I intend to become the main pollster for the Israeli political system.”

“You seem pretty confident,” I tell him.

“Yes, I’m confident I can do it. How? Well, if after the upcoming elections it turns out my polls were the most accurate at predicting the various parties’ performance, that will pretty much seal the matter.”

Maybe a little too skeptically, I press him: “So you really think you can pull this off?”

He replies with a smile: “Time will tell, time will tell.”

Sarah Pachter

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-big-time-pollster-in-the-making/2012/11/28/

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