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January 2, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 2, 2009 1 Brother, can you spare a rhyme?: 2008 in verse By Andrew Si|ow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News This year's like the joke: Two guys, each a Jew. One says to the other. "How's things by you?" His friend replies, trying to holdback a tear. "'Certainly better than they will be next year." The stock market crashed, the economy's frozen, A crooked investor took a bite from the Chosen. Lenders got stingy, Detroit's in a crisis Even Blagojevich had to lower his prices. The race for the White House was laced with ill humor Aswe choked on the bile of Internet rumor. Obama's religion, his birthplace, his pastor Every new e-mail brought hints of disaster. . And who would decide the election's big winner? Maybe Florida's Jews over early-bird dinner? Would Jews climb aboard McCain's Straight Talk Flotilla. And sail on with him and the guv from Wasilla? At last came November. and we voted like mad And most Jews admitted Barack ain't so bad. By Noam Neusner WASHINGTON (JTAI President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush watched on the second r}ight of Chanukah as the grandsons of Harry Tru- man and David Ben-Gurion lit a menorah on the State Floor of the White House. It was the eighth year the president has devoted an eve- ning to celebrate Chanukah. and more than 600 Jewish friends and guests celebrated with him. The White House served kosher food and the Marine Band played Chanu- kah favorites. Cynics will say it's easy for presidents to do these kinds of events--that's what all presi- dents do. after all. They hold nice parties and make people feel good and important. Butwith this president, the Jews are different--they really do matter to him. I know be- cause I saw it firsthand on his staff and as his liaison to the Jewish community. I saw his eyes well up while watching the Holocaust-themed movie "Paper Clips" in the family theater. I know how moved he was by meeting with Soviet Jewish refuseniks, Holocaust survivors and the parents of slain journalist Daniel Pearl. There was one meeting in " particular--with Jews from around the world, Jews who had made their home in America after years of suffer- ing at the hands of tyrants in Cuba. Uganda. Zimbabwe, Venezuela. lran and some of the other recent or current bastions of anti-Semitism. One by one they recalled their struggles to simply live and pray as Jews. and howAmerica alone gave them that right. The president walked out of the meeting shaking his head. appalled by the special hatred tyrants have reserved for the Jews. Always the Jews. At one meeting, before the president could open And as if to thank us for ignoring the spam, He offered us Hillary, Kurtzer. and Rahm. In Israel folks marked its 60th year With more agita than unbridled cheer. As more than the peace plan seemed to unravel: Its prime minister feared the rap of a gavel, While Hamas and Fatah. the bitterest of frenemies, Could agree on just this: That Jews were their enemies. Iran was Iran. up to things deleterious. In need of a hug, Olmert said. "Let's get Syria's." In Europe, meanwhile, we note with alack, That "anti-Semitic" has become the new black. Polls done in Britain. in France. and in Spain, Suggested to many It Could Happen Again. In an Iowa plant that was meant to be kosher, Its managers' sty!e just got gaucher and gaucher. In a workforce of hundreds, it seems the majority Had a beef with Rubashkin's hire authority. The year brought B. Madoff. that number one shvantz. He Concocted a scheme that was worthy of Ponzi. He robbed from the rich, and made the rich poorer, The Bush I know his mouth, an elderly rabbi, the head of a major yeshiva. spoke up. "Mr. President. "he said. in a high and raspy voice. "I believe that had history placed you in your special position during World War II. there would not have been a Holocaust. "" The president was clearly moved. Presidents may grow accustomed to praise, but this was more than even he had heard. Yet Bush tried his best to be equal to it. The president famously hated hypothetical questions, but there was one he would entertain: If he had been president, would he have stopped Auschwitz? Some will say the question is historically unserlous. Perhaps the Allies had the capability to drop bombs on the death camps or the rails. but the Nazis surely would have found other ways to kill the Jews. Yet he did not view the issue that way certainly President Roosevelt could have slowed the Nazi death machinery. Bush pressed the question to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when he visited Yad Vashem. Refer- ences to Auschwitz. which he also visited, routinely dropped into his conversations with Jewish friends. "Now I understand. "" he would say. '!Auschwitz changed everything. "" His critics said he was mor- ally absolute--"you're either with us or against us" was not one of their favorite phrases. But that moral clarity could be an incredibly powerful force, and Jews above all should have known it. I recall sitting in a meeting where a high-level aide was trying to excuse the antics of Yasser Arafat. The president cut him off. saying clearly, "The guy's a bust. " End of discussion. Here was a president who Reducing the mighty to the tanks of the shnorrl And speaking of Yiddish: Poo" J.J. Putz. The Mets' new reliever is gonila need guts. When he blows a big game attsome crucial juncti The crowd's bound to blame projectile dysfunctio But in times that are awful beyond our belief, At least Mr. Putz brings somelcomic relief. So did Sarah Silverman, a humorous lady Who asked us to visit our Bubbe and Zayde, And say that they had to vote for Obama A gambit that prompted its own bit of drama From a miffed Jackie'Mason, the comic, who sent Rebuttal on YouTube that called her a yenta. No. two-thousand-and-eight wasn't all Sturm und We schepped loads of naches as the year shlepped Which we hope you'll remember as you gath thine And count all your blessings in two-thousand-am Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor-in-chief of t) Jersey Jewish News, from which this column is r with permission. By Ruth Ellen Gruber ROME (JTA) Not long ago, a Facebook friend of mine wrote that she had had a great time at a Shabbat dinner even if there had been "'a wee bit much talk" of religion. "Why all this American ob- session with Jewish identity?" she wrote on her profile page on the social networking site. "Just BE!" Her comment got me thinking. Defining Jewish identity, refining Jewish identity, reclaiming Jewish identity, reinforcing Jewish identi- ty=--these seem indeed to be constant concerns among many Jews, and not just in the United States. "Jewish identity" has been the subject of endless confer- ences, surveys, books, articles. analyses and movies--not to mention come@ routines. A Google search for "Jewish identity" gave me 573.000 matches! What impact, I wondered, does this all have on who we are--or at least on who we say we are? I decided to carry out an un- scientific study to find out--a very unscientific study. My methodology was sim- ple: I used Facebook to see how Jews, or at least Jews I know. define themselves in terms of religious identity. For those unfamiliar with Just being (Jewish) Facebook, a site that has 120 million users around the world, its software permits you to connect with lists of "friends" who are in turn linked with friends' lists of their own. Upon joining you create a profile, including information you want to make public about your age, sex, location, profes- sion. personal views and even your Sexual preference. You pick and choose what you want to post. Some people post only their name: others provide the whole megillah. One of the choices is to state your "religious views." You can choose whether or not to post anything at all about your religious beliefs and. if you opt to post, you choose how you want to define yourself: there is a blank space you can fill in with Whatever you want to say. For my study, I simply checked how my Facebook friends I know to be Jewish chose to respond. I have more than 200 Facebook friends, and as it turns out. the overwhelming majority are Jewish. They in- clude several rabbis, a cantor. klezmer musicians, Jewish scholars and leaders or staff members of Jewish organiza- tions, as well as friends and family who have nothing to do with the Jewish institutional world. About half of them chose not to fill in the "religious views" blank. Some clearly wanted to keep their religious beliefs personal; for others it was unimportant to define them. For others still, filling in the blank would have been redundant. "It would be stating the , very obvious," Herschel Gluck. an Orthodox rabbi who for more than 20 years has done Jewish outreach work in East- Central Europe, told me in an e-mail. All of his other postings on Facebook, he noted, including pictures that show him in a long beard and black hat. made his religious identity clear. "EVERYTHING is naturally and unashamedly proudly Jewish!" he said. Of my more than 80 Jew- ish Facebook friends who did choose to state their religious views, only a minority went the standard route. Barely a dozen wrote simply "Jewish," and only another dozen or so identified themselves as some traditional formulation of Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. The others produced a cornucopia of qualifiers, in- ventions, political statements and imaginative shadings that demonstrated a vast and col- orful spectrum encompassing the widest range of-belief, observance and nuanced sense of self. They include: Jewish athe- ist; Absolute atheist; I love being Jewish; The Golden Rule; Incoherent; That's be- tween me and my imaginary friend; It's all good; Eclectic: Panoramic; Anything I Can Cling To; Ignostic; Resolutely Secularly Jewish: Neo-tribal- ist, neo-pagan of Zion; "Still haven't found it" Jewish: Spiritual Jewgayism; Whirl- ing Dervish: Rationalist; Jewishjewishjewish: I can see a church from my window; Jewish but not obsessive: All: Post Pigeon-Holistic; Wait- ing for UFOs to Take Me to Hawaii. Some of these are frivo- lous or funny; others tweak stereotypes. Most. though, even if outlandish, are at heart thoughtful expressions of complex contemporary IDs that go far beyond the usual definitions of who (or what) is a Jew. One friend summed it all up by stating his religious views as follows: "A simple Jew (who am I kidding? Is there such a thing????). I asked a few of my friends why they chose to define their views as they did. The klezmer musician and filmmaker Yale Strom, for example, called himself a "Yiddish pagan." "Yiddish is the tongue I relate to most as in my second tongue," he said in an e-mail. Gruber on page 19A FAGES. would buttonhole leaders of other nations over anti-Semi- tism in their own countries. In one incident, the president complained to the leader of Estonia about a statue erected to a nationalist guilty of Ho- locaust war crimes. "Get rid of it. "Bush said. Imagine, amid the happy and polite talk of diplomatic meetings, a leader actu- ally confronting another over some meaningless Jew hat- er5. Israel has fought two wars during Bush's eight years as president an interior war against terror and a war against Hezbollah--and both times the Jewish state came under intense pressure to hold back. But Israel had no friend as loyal and certain as the United States. Bush capped his friendship with Israel in May at the Knesset, delivering one of the most pro-Zionist speeches ever. "Israel's population may be just over 7 million." he said. "butwhen you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong because the United States of America stands with you. "" Of course, the president didn't eradicate anti-Semi- tism or the threats faced by Irael. Far from it; moder- ate and conservative critics say he didn't do enough to confront Iran, while liberals say he was overly bellicose. Many argue that his 1 Falestinian elections, ered Hamas. Fair enough. Bu criticisms do not the president's unpo among American JI captured less than a of the Jewish vote in 20 his approval ratings Jews now is r :nuscul I @ill grant his criti right to dislike him. A: he isn't with them on support for embryoni cell research, the Ir " environmental regul abortion rights, gay m and civil liberties for suspects, to name a fe But most of all. he Southern evangelical 1 lican. Given that, I s there was nothing he have done to win ov Jews. To his critics, his lea on Israel and anti-Sel was quaint and one- sional. They took it for ed. But they should no casual with a friend. Pr Bush was more Zioni: many Israelis. more n of Jewish history than Jews. He was not wr )n. L Drang; along. r with -fline. !e New rinted ush for mpow- those xplain ularity vs. He [uarter )4, and mong L s their 'ter all. federal stem war, ,tions. rriage terror A. was a epub - uspect could r the ership aitism imen- grant- L be so sident t than indful many ,ng to think that way, and we Ameri- can Jews can be thankful at least for that. Noam Neusner, a com- munications consultant, was a speechwriter and Jewish liaison for President Bush from 2002-2005. Dry Bones