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Archive for February 21, 2010

The Jews Down Under–Roundup of Australian Jewish News

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Compiled by Garry Fabian 
 
A Jewish light to indigenous nations

SYDNEY, 18 February – Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has hailed the achievements of the Jewish
community as an example for indigenous Australians.
 
The director of Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership highlighted aspects of the community that could benefit the first Australians, in a speech to the American Bar Association in Sydney last week, and then in an article in The Australian
 
“For the future, I have always drawn upon the example of the Jews,” Pearson said. 
 
“They are a community who have never forgotten history and they never allow anybody else to forget history; they fight staunchly in defence of the truth; they fight relentlessly against discrimination; but they have worked out as a
people that they never make their history a burden for the future, they defend racism, but they never make racism their problem.”
 
As well as remembering history and avoiding being defined through racism, Pearson added that the idea of maintaining culture in a diaspora could also be adopted by the indigenous peoples. 
 
“They have maintained an identity as a community and a sense of peoplehood, religion, tradition, culture and history, while at the same time engaging at the cutting edge of whatever the world has to offer,” he wrote in The Australian.
 
In his speech he said: “I want Cape York to be the point of gravitation, to be home, to be the heart for our people, but I want our young members in the future to orbit around that heart and to engage in the world.”
 
Mark Leibler, the co-chair of Reconciliation Australia and a former mentor of Pearson, said the comments “serve to remind us of things that we hold dear.” 
 
“It is interesting that someone from the indigenous community can make these vivid comparisons,” Leibler said.
 
When asked to reflect on whether, based on Pearson’s comments, the Jewish community can do more to help lift the life expectancy and quality of life of our Aboriginal compatriots, Leibler said: “The Jewish community has been fairly
actively involved in working with indigenous communities, but [we] have to be careful foisting our experience on others. The greatest help is to provide an example.”
 
Leibler, a senior partner at Arnold Bloch Leibler, has spent decades working with the indigenous communities and has visited Cape York with Pearson, who completed his articles with Leibler. 
 
“All he thinks about is what he can do to improve the lot of his people,” Leibler said.
 
*
Gutnick challenges Yeshiva leadership 
 
MELBOURNE,  18 February – One of Melbourne Chabad’s most influential figures, Joseph Gutnick, has signed a petition challenging the Yeshivah Centre’s leadership.
 
Rabbi Gutnick is among a group of Yeshivah members calling on the leadership to remove a controversial sign at the back of the synagogue.
 
These members want to see the centre, led by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner -­ the son-in-law of the late Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner -­ be run more along the lines of a democracy.
 
The sign has the words to a short prayer known asYechi. Yechi has been recited for centuries, but recently has been hijacked by the more messianic Chabadniks to signify the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson as the Messiah. 
 
“I feel very strongly that it should be removed,” Rabbi Gutnick said.
 
The Yechi sign has been up in the synagogue for a number of years with little controversy, but the matter came to a head last month when Rabbi Telsner ostracised the “Moshiach Men” from Melbourne’s Chabad community.
 
The group comprises a few families who are convinced the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Messiah and are vocal in spreading their message. The Moshiach Men raised the ire of the Chabad community when they circulated footage of
themselves feasting on a fast day, claiming that because the Messiah had come, the fast was no longer necessary. 
 
“[These men] started at the Yeshivah and this sign is part of it,” said Rabbi Gutnick, who has held a seat at the shul for 18 years. 
 
“The Rebbe’s greatness is not depicted in this sign, it comes from the amount of Chabad Houses and Jewish schools … that sign takes the Rebbe’s great work and puts it into a slogan.” 
 
The petition has been circulated by Yeshivah shul members Yudi New and Menachem Vorchheimer.
 
Vorchheimer told The AJN he believes the sign, and its associated fringe supporters, are “divisive and damaging” to the Yeshivah Centre.
 
When asked if he thought the petition would work, Vorchheimer replied: “In a democracy it would work, but the Yeshivah Centre has been hijacked.”

The current Yeshivah leadership was not elected, rather it includes men believed to have been appointed by Rabbi Groner before his death.
 
The group comprises Rabbi Binyomin Cohen, Rabbi Avrohom Glick, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, Shmuel Gurewicz, Rabbi Telsner and Rabbi Shimshon Yurkowicz.
 
*
Maccabi triumphs against Moriah Old Boys 
 
SYDNEY.  17 February -The Maccabi Kings and Moriah Old Boys (Mob) touch football teams will finish the regular season in the Eastern Suburbs Touch Association’s top division with the honours even after the Kings’ 5-2 win over the Mob on February 4.
 
It was a convincing performance by the Kings, who showed their class and patience by coming back after the Mob started the match with two lucky long-range tries.
 
Perfect Mob defence forced Maccabi to squeeze a pass, which Paul Meltz snapped up for a length-of-the-field intercept. He combined with Daniel Kochan soon after to catch Maccabi napping on a turnover of possession.
 
But that was where the highlights ended for the Old Boys. A stunted attack barely caused Maccabi to raise a sweat in defence, while the Kings attacked with verve and intent. Danny Glattstein slid over untouched to pull one back before the break.
 
Maccabi broke the game open in the second half, with David Krantz finishing off brilliantly in the far corner, while Yotam Hatzvi’s no-look flick pass allowed Yoni Sonnabend to slice the defence open for a scintillating try.
 
Glattstein sealed the result with an outrageous step past the Mob defence, while Ben Glattstein and Ben Nemeny kept the Old Boys on their toes with lively displays.
 
It assures the Kings of at least a finals spot in the Division Two playoffs, while keeping them in touching distance of qualifying for the Division One playoffs by finishing in the top four.
 
The Mob has endured a dismal month to start 2010, and must win this week if they want to maintain their record of never missing a finals series.
 
Monday’s mixed match between the Maccabi Lions and Mobags was washed out.
 
*
 
ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION ON PURIM RCV STATEMENT (Rabbinical Council of Victoria) 
 
MELBOURNE, 19 February – Purim is one of the most joyous festivals of the Jewish calendar. The mitzvot of charity to the poor, mishloach manot, festive meals together with family and friends, and the reading of the megillah all help to create a true Jewish spirit and an ambiance of happiness. Indeed, when these mitzvot are fulfilled in accordance with
the letter and spirit of the Torah, the entire month of Adar is imbued with inspiration and a true sense of joy. However, there is also a sombre side to Purim which is often left untold. There are unfortunately some in the community who believe that the only way to experience the joy of Purim is through the excessive consumption of alcohol. Not only is this belief unfounded, it can create a tremendous Chilul Hashem (Desecration of G-d’s name) and contravenes one of the most basic mandates of the Jewish faith by endangering one’s life and the lives of others. The Rabbinical Council of Victoria wishes to therefore make it abundantly clear to all members of the Jewish community, particularly Jewish teenagers and young adults, that excessive alcohol consumption which can lead to endangering one’s life or the life of others as well as the possibility of the Chilul Hashem often associatedwith intoxication, is unequivocally prohibited at all times according to Halacha, including on Purim. Although the Code of Jewish Law does encourage drinking wine during the festive meal in order to enhance the joy of Purim, by no means does this override the severe prohibitions of Chilul Hashem and/or placing oneself in danger, both of which are the most serious of transgressions. As Rabbis, we urge parents and educators to communicate this message to their children and students, and most importantly to lead by example through their own responsible behaviour. We strongly caution adults and youth leaders against the misguided practice of supplying alcohol to minors with the belief that this somehow constitutes the mitzvah of spreading joy during the festival of Purim.

Let us hope that the festival of Purim is celebrated this year in the manner in which our Sages had intended, according to both the letter and spirit of our holy Torah.
 
*
 
Hezbolah TV network investigation reopened 
 
CANBERRA,  22 February – A decision by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to reopen its investigation into the TV channel al-Manar has been welcomed by the Jewish community.
 
The Lebanese-based network, which is Hezbollah’s media outlet, is available in Australia via satellite, but has been banned in the United States and many parts of Europe.
 
ACMA chair Chris Chapman said the watchdog will revisit its probe of the channel, with public submissions and wider sampling of content.
 
The inquiry will once again check whether al-Manar is breaching Australian anti-terrorism laws. It will also look at revamping its regulatory arrangements for future investigations.
 
Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) president Robert Goot welcomed the new inquiry and said ECAJ would work with interested organisations to ensure their concerns are addressed. 
 
“It is gratifying that the scope of the investigation, as announced by ACMA, incorporates the breaches of licence conditions by al-Manar that were specified in ECAJ’s formal written submission to the government.”
 
After an initial investigation, ACMA’s decision last September to give the green light to al-Manar drew the ire of Jewish communal groups and the Coalition’s communications spokesperson, Senator Nick Minchin.
 
The regulatory authority has conceded it reopened its investigation amid public concern about the limited number of al-Manar shows reviewed, and the lack of specialist knowledge at ACMA, which caused it to overlook an advertisement recruiting funds for an arm of Hezbollah.
 
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Dr Colin Rubenstein also welcomed the review. “Al-Manar is a station owned and operated by a terrorist organisation, which airs programs espousing hatred of Jews and glorification of terrorism.” 
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Warning over threat of demonisation of Israel 
 
MELBOURNE,  22 February – Professor  Gerald Steinberg rates the “soft-power” threat against Israel as high as the military threat posed by Iran, or by Hamas and Hezbollah.
 
The danger, which he called “the threat of demonisation and delegitimisation”, has become more visible since the release of the Goldstone Commission Report in September last year. 
 
“It’s like a virus that is spreading and it is an enormous concern in Israel,” Prof Steinberg said, adding that the Goldstone report was the trigger that “made Israelis wake up”.
 
The president of NGO Monitor ” a group that holds non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to account
over their stance towards Israel ” said he had noticed an increase in soft-power tactics by Israel’s enemies for a number of years.
 
Soft power includes propaganda, information campaigns and measures such as optional boycotts by trade unions, which attempt to influence outcomes without resorting to a military, or hard-power, campaign.
 
The Bar-Ilan University politics professor said increasingly it is NGOs that are leading the way on these type of campaigns.
 
He highlighted organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Oxfam -” some of the world’s most reputable global lobbyists –- as the worst culprits of bias and slander against Israel. 
 
“These are very serious, professional operators and they have very clear agendas,” he said. “It is not just about Israel, but Israel is the dominant focus.”

“NGO Monitor,” he said,” is able to highlight the inaccuracies put forward by these groups very easily.  Google is a wonderful thing”.
 
One investigative campaign by NGO Monitor last year showed that HRW has employed anti-Israel activists in senior Middle East-focused roles.
 
Steinberg also spoke about links between NGOs that push liberty and freedom while at the same time maintaining relations with Arab dictatorships.
 
He decried the focus of these groups, claiming none had written about kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. “They don’t care about Israelis,”he said. “They care about politics, radical politics.””

 
Prof Steinberg was in Australia as a guest of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. In addition to delivering the Hans Bachrach Memorial Oration, during his visit he met with incoming Australian ambassador to Israel Andrea Faulkner and several federal politicians.
 
*

By giving a gift, we raise ourselves

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO- The Hebrew word for life,  chaim is a plural word. This teaches us that life is meant-to be lived together with others. Our interactions with others help us bring out the best in each other, as the following story submitted by Barry Iskowitz, illustrates:
 
 The man slowly looked up from the sidewalk. This was a woman clearly accustomed to the finer things in life. She looked like she had never missed a meal in her life.
 
 “Leave me alone,” he growled.. To his amazement, the woman continued standing. She was smiling — her even white teeth displayed in dazzling rows.
 
 “Are you hungry?” she asked.
 
 “No,” he answered sarcastically. “I’ve just come from dining with the president.. Now go away.”
 
 The woman’s smile became even broader. Suddenly the man felt a gentle hand under his arm. “What are you doing, lady?” the man asked angrily. “I said to leave me alone.
 
 Just then a policeman came up. “Is there any problem, ma’am?” he asked..
 
 “No problem here, officer,” the woman answered. “I’m just trying to get this man to his feet. Will you help me?”
 
 The officer scratched his head. “That’s old Jack. He’s been a fixture around here for a couple of years. What do you want with him?”
 
 “See that cafeteria over there?” she asked. “I’m going to get him something to eat and get him out of the cold for awhile.”
 
 “Are you crazy, lady?” the homeless man resisted “I don’t want to go in there!” Then he felt strong hands grab his other arm and lift him up.
 
 Finally, and with some difficulty, the woman and the police officer got Jack into the cafeteria and sat him at a table.
 
 The manager strode across the cafeteria and stood by his table. “What’s going on here, officer?”
 
 “This lady brought this man in here to be fed,” the policeman answered.
 
 “Not in here!” the manager replied angrily. “Having a person like that here is bad for business.”
 
 Old Jack smiled a toothless grin. “See, lady. I told you so. Now if you’ll let me go. I didn’t want to come here in the first place.”
 
 The woman turned to the cafeteria manager and smiled. “Sir, are you familiar with Eddy and Associates, the banking firm down the street?”
 
 “Of course I am,” the manager answered impatiently. “They hold their weekly meetings in one of my banquet rooms.”
 
 “And do you make a goodly amount of money providing food at these weekly meetings?”
 
 “What business is that of yours?”
 
 I, sir, am Penelope Eddy, president and CEO of the company.”
 
 “Oh..”
 
 The woman smiled again…. “I thought that might make a difference.”
 
 She glanced at the cop who was busy stifling a laugh, sat down at the table across from her amazed dinner guest. She stared at him intently.
 
 “Jack, do you remember me?”
 
 Old Jack searched her face with his old, rheumy eyes. “I think so — I mean you do look familiar.”
 
 “I’m a little older than when you worked here, and I came through that very door, cold and hungry.”
 
 “Ma’am?” the officer said questioningly. He couldn’t believe that such a magnificently turned out woman could ever have been hungry.
 
 “I was just out of college,” the woman began. “I had come to the city  looking for a job, but I couldn’t find anything. Finally I was down to my last few cents and had been kicked out of my apartment… I walked the streets for days. It was February and I was cold and nearly starving. I saw this place and walked in on the off chance that I could get something to eat.”
 
 Jack lit up with a smile. “Now I remember,” he said. “I was behind the  serving counter. You came up and asked me if you could work for something to eat. I said that it was against company policy.”
 
 “I know,” the woman continued. “Then you made me the biggest roast  beef sandwich that I had ever seen, gave me a cup of coffee, and told  me to go over to a corner table and enjoy it. I was afraid that you would get into trouble. Then, when I looked over and saw you put the price of my food in the cash register, I knew then that everything would be all right.”
 
 “So you started your own business?” Old Jack said.
 
 “I got a job that very afternoon. I worked my way up.” She opened her purse and pulled out a business card. “When you are finished here, I want you to pay a visit to a Mr. Levi.  He’s the personnel director of my company. I’ll go talk to him now and I’m certain he’ll find something for you to do around the office.”
 
 She smiled. “I think he might even find the funds to give you a little  advance so that you can buy some clothes and get a place to live until you get on your feet. If you ever need anything, my door is always open to you.”
 
There were tears in the old man’s eyes.
 
 Outside the cafeteria, the officer and the woman paused at the entrance before going their separate ways…. “Thank you for your help officer,” she said.
 
 “On the contrary, Ms. Eddy,” he answered. “Thank you. I saw a miracle today, something that I will never forget.”
 
…and 

After months of negotiation with the authorities, a Talmudist from Odessa was finally granted permission   to visit Moscow.  He boarded the train and found an empty seat. At the next stop, a young man got on and sat next to him.
 
 The scholar looked at the young man and he thought: This fellow doesn’t look like a peasant, so if he is no peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district. But on the other hand, since he is a Jew, where could he be going? I’m the only Jew in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow .
 
 Ahh, wait! Just outside Moscow there is a little village called  Samvet, and Jews don’t need special permission to go to Samvet. But why would he travel to Samvet?  He is surely going to visit one of the Jewish families there. But how many Jewish families are there in Samvet?  Aha, only two – the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. 

 But since the Bernstein’s are a terrible family, so such a nice  looking fellow like him, he must be visiting the Steinbergs. But why is he going to the Steinbergs in Samvet?  The Steinbergs have only daughters, two of them, so maybe he’s their son-in-law. But if he is, then which daughter did he marry?
 
 They say that Sarah Steinberg married a nice lawyer from Budapest , and Esther married a businessman from Zhitomer, so it must be Sarah’s husband.   Which means that his  name is Alexander Cohen, if I’m not mistaken.
 
 But if he came from Budapest , with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name. What’s the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen?  It is Kovacs. But since they allowed him to change his name, he must have special status to change it. What could it be?  Must be a doctorate from the University. Nothing less would do. At this point, therefore, the scholar of Talmud turns to the young man and says, “Excuse me. Do you mind if I open the window, Dr.  Kovacs?”
 
 “Not at all,” answered the startled co-passenger. “But how is it that you know my name?”
 
 “Ahhh,” replied the Talmudist, “It was obvious.”

*

Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego

A weekend with two nations

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Friday evening with a secular group, the conversation was exclusively about the assassination in Dubai. My companions were convinced it was Israel’s work, and almost all of them were sure it was a failure. Their standards are demanding. Anything less than perfect is embarrassing. No matter that the bad guy was dead and the good guys got away. Their crime was identified as such rather than death from natural causes that was preferred, and their pictures spread across international media.

My companions ignored efforts to turn the conversation to Rabbi Elon. I tried twice, then realized that I was learning something from their lack of concern.

My hypothesis gathered weight Saturday morning in a religious setting, where the conversation was exclusively about the Rabbi, and the profound shock and dismay felt in the Orthodox community. In this conversations, Dubai was a passing event of no lasting importance.

Benjamin Disraeli wrote a good novel and social commentary, Sybil, or The Two Nations (1845)

Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws:  the rich and the poor.

Israel’s two nations are not those of mid-19th centuryEngland, and one can exaggerate the difference between them. In fact, there are three that are prominent: religious and secular Jews, and Arabs. Moreover, there are significant variations within each of these.

Religious Jews differ principally along the Orthodox-Ultra-Orthodox axis, with Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews occasionally noisy but small minorities. Secular Jews vary by ethnic origin, income, education, and political perspectives. What to outsiders may look like a homogeneous Arab group are Druze, Christian, Beduin and the sizable communities of non-Beduin Muslims, who vary in their character by locality or extended family.

I make no claim that my weekend encounters comprised a scientific sample. Yet they are people I have known over the course of three or four decades to fall across the social cleavage between secular and religious Jews that is the most important for the country’s politics. On this occasion, the cleavage was apparent in what was important, or of little interest, to each community

As I have written in several of these notes, one should not exaggerate the extent of this cleavage. It marks, but does not threaten the social fabric of the country. Tensions and conflicts are routinized, and only occasionally heat up to a low level of violence. The people I spoke with over the weekend are moderate in their political views, but more or less representative of secular Israelis and Religious Zionists.

Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews together may be only 20 percent of the Jewish population (10 percent each), but they are prominent to the right of center on the political spectrum. Neither the Orthodox nor the ultra-Orthodox have ever dominated a government, but they have been close to several prime ministers, and have put their people at the heads of important ministries of finance, justice, and interior, as well as in the chair of the Knesset Finance Committee. They have been significant in defining what it possible with respect to the sensitive issue of settlements.

Some see the religious as important enough to cast a veto on the removal of major settlements or proposals for peace. However, they were not successful in stopping Ariel Sharon’s move to withdraw settlements of religious Jews from Gaza in 2005. That failure still pains Religious Zionists, and helps to account for  efforts to persuade religious boys to refuse recruitment to the IDF, and to persuade religious soldiers to refuse orders that would remove additional settlements. Those remain minority efforts within the settler community. Activists come up against the patriotism that prevails among Religious Zionists, as well as the condemnation of refusing military orders or recruitment by leading rabbis.

The anxiety felt by Orthodox Israelis in response to the condemnation of a leading rabbi for violating sexual norms by a distinguished group of his colleagues is different from the anxiety produced by the failure of Religious Zionists to stop the withdrawal from Gaza. This crisis is associated with anguish about a fundamental element of rabbinical Judaism: the authority of a rabbi who had widely been viewed as a leading religious and political authority, as well as a counselor of individuals seeking help for their personal problems. Not only has he been revealed as a homosexual, but as an individual who took advantage of young men who sought his help for their own feelings of sexuality.

A secular social scientist is tempted to note that homosexuality would appear among the rabbinate in about the same incidence as it appears among other populations. However, this is not relevant to this shock about the prestige that attaches to rabbis, especially those who have acquired status as leading commentators, teachers, and counselors. Such men share in the tradition that begins with Moses, passes through Ezra, and counts as its members rabbis who are prominent in the arguments of the Talmud and subsequent commentators on religious law. For one of the contemporaries who has acquired some of that prestige to have violated both religious law and the trust of his colleagues and students is a shock to a foundation of the Orthodox community.

Israel will survive whatever embarrassment of its security services will come out of the operation in Dubai. Religious Jews will also accommodate a recognition that some of their leaders resemble Catholic priests and television evangelists that have sullied the expectations of their communities.

The exposure of Rabbi Elon strikes more sensitive nerves than whatever errors were made in Dubai. Also it is more shocking to members of the religious community than the possibility that a former president and a former prime minister may go to prison for their violations of sexual or financial norms. Israelis are familiar with the clumsiness of security operations, and have low expectations of politicians. Disappointment rather than shock or even surprise marks discussions about the follies of Moshe Katsav or Ehud Olmert. Religious Jews should also be familiar with the traits that religious leaders share with other humans, and this experience–however painful–may move them toward that realization.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.