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January 6, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 6, 2012 By Gary Rosenb|att NewYork Jewish Week If you're an optimist and were asked to name three of the most significant Jewish events of the past 12 months, you might cite the release and emotional homecoming of Gi- lad Shalit after more than five years in captivity; the protest movement that spread across the Arab world, signaling an end or challenge to autocratic rule and a push for democracy; and a Jerusalem-Washington relationship bolstered by new military and strategic advances, an[ politically by America's decisive efforts to thwart Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood through the United Nations and to pre- vent a nuclear Iran through tightened sanctions. For good measure you might add that American Jewish life is undergoing an exciting renaissance, with a burst of independent minya- nim, and an array of social justice and startup groups among young people. Are the Jewish people better off today than they were a year ago? If you're a pessimist, though, you could point to the same topics as proof that Israel is under increasing threat of physical and political harm from its enemies, and increased diplomatic strain with Washington. And you could make the case that with fewer young people interested in synagogues or Jewish organizational affilia- tion, American Jewish life is in deep decline. Granted that we all view events through the prism of our own hopes and fears, is there an objective take on how Israel and the Jewish world fared in 20117 Maybe not, but in trying to view what has transpired in the last 12 months with as much impartiality as I can muster, I would have to conclude that we have much to worry about. Of course that's nothing new. Jews are known for their pessimism. It used to be said that the quintessential Jew- ish telegram reads: "Start worrying. Details to follow." (For those of us old enough to remember telegrams...) The way I see it, while Israel's economy continues to amaze, the Jewish state is more isolated in the world and facing a more chaotic and dangerous region than a year ago. Plus, Iran is that much closer to building a nuclear bomb, and no nation other than Israel is seriously considering military action to stop Tehran. Yes, Gilad Shalit's release was a moral high for a tiny nation that showed the world how much it values a single life. But in practical terms, releasing more than 1,000 terrorists underscored the inability of the Israeli mili- tary to rescue their man, the renewed clout of Hamas and the sober understanding that more Israeli lives may well be lost as a result of the swap. Earlier this year, Israeli ana- lysts who warned of the dire consequences of abandoning Mubarak in Egypt and were less than ecstatic about the Cairo street protesters were viewed as political Scrooges, "out of touch with the call for change charging through the region. But the ensuing months have 'shown that democracies aren't formed overnight, and that the case Mubarak made for years in seeking U.S. support -- that if he fell he would be replaced by Islamic fundamentalists-- seems to be correct. When given the freedom to vote, most Egyptians are not choosing young liberals and secularists but leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and even more radical followers of Islam who are anti-Western, anti- women's rights, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish. While bolstering its border with Egypt militarily, Israel also faces a murderous Syrian government in disarray, the growing sense that there will be no peace with the Palestin- ians anytime soon, an increas- ingly hostile Turkey and an Iran determined to complete its nuclear mission, the rest of the world be damned. But when Jerusalem turns to the U.S. for leadership, it finds an Obama administra- tion focused on the 2012 re-election campaign, and with no love lost between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Does their personal relation- ship really matter in the scheme of foreign policy moves? Yes, in that trust between world lead- ers can have a huge impact. (Witness George W. Bush and Tony Blair bonding militarily during the lead-up to the Iraq War.) No, in the sense that the Washington-Jerusalem relationship has endured crises since Israel was founded, and the strategic ties remain strong. That's why Obama spoke out firmly at the UN this fall against the Palestinian Authority's attempt at a dip- lomatic end-around toward statehood, and has stepped up diplomatic measures to pressure Iran. Closer to home, assimilation, disinterest and a low birthrate continue to present major threats toAmerican Jewish life and its communal structure. By Jason Edelstein PAGE 5A The list of events, and how we choose to interpret them, goes on. Was the huge series of protests this summer in Israel calling for social change an ideal example of a nonviolent movement bringing about progress, or a fluke outcry against the continuing eco- nomic imbalance threatening the fabric of society? Do we view the scene of Republican presidential can- didates outdoing each other in support of Israel a harbinger of a significant shift in Mideast policy in Washington, or a soon-to-be-forgotten memory a year from now? Amidst the uncertainty and our own conflicting views, what we do shareis a common hope and prayer that 2012 be a year of renewed faith in America and Israel,. and the noble ideals we strive to fulfill in our commitment to each. Happy New Year. " " Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. A letter of concern for American democracy JERUSALEM (JTA)--Ear- lier this month, U.S. Secre- tary of State Hillary Clinton expressed some concerns about Israeli democracy in a closed.door session at the Saban Forum, reportedly criticizing proposed: Knesset legislation aimed at curbing foreign,unding of Israeli NGOs and gender-segregated bos lines serving haredi Or- thodox areas. A couple-of weeks later, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman penned an Op-Ed saying that he is "deeply worried about where Israel is going today." Maybe Clinton and Fried- man first should take a hard look at the state of democracy at home. In the spirit of Friedman's letter-style columns, I offer By Elli Fischer Jewish Ideas Daily The Talmud tells about one Rabbi Kahana, who hid under the bed of his master, known as Rav; while Rav was having sex with his wife. Kahana, shocked at Rav's language, cried out that the master was behaving indecently. Rav shouted,"Kahana, get out! It's not proper!" Kahana replied, "It is Torah--and study it I must." This jarring little aggadah appears in several places in the Babylonian Talmud, and it's not easy to tell who gets the last word: There is clearly a tension between modesty and the religious requirement to understand sexuality. The balance between these two values has varied from com- munity to community and era to era. Recently there have been shifts toward greater openness within the modern Orthodox community. Amid the unprecedented sexual casualness of contemporary society, these changes have my own only half-facetious letter on American democ- racy: Dear Tom Friedman and Hillary Clinton, As I write from Jerusalem and look at what is happening inAmerica, I am very worried. Let me be clear: As someone who used to live in America, -I love the United States. I also love liberal values. It is with both of these loves in mind :that, as 2011 concludes, I must express my concern that the very core of America's democratic underpinnings is disappearing. Numerous events this year suggest a dargerous trend--not merely isolated incidents--that strikes at the heart of American democracy and ultimately could lead to the country's downfall. In November, I watched with horror as protestors at the Occupy demonstrations at the University of Cali- fornia-Davis were viciously mistreated by police. Simply for sitting and "showing op- position to America's unfair economic structure, these students were violently and repeatedly pepper-sprayed. This form of police brutality :, ,can cause blindness and even death in some occurrences, The police reaction stands in stark contrast to the principle of freedom of assembly on which America was founded. Frankly, the Occupy move- ments throughout the coun- try were met with the type of violence that we normally see in totalitarian regimes here !n the Middle East. My deep love for America also drew my attention to New York, where local papers re- ported on gender-segregated bus lines in Brooklyn. Gender Orthosexuality gone largely unnoticed One sign of such change is the recent publication of Jennie Rosenfeld and David S. Ribner's "The Newlywed's Guide to Physical Intimacy." The booklet, addressed to in- experienced couples who are entering a sexual relationship while constrained by complex rules and mores, walks them through their first, often awkward sexual encounters. Pasted into the book's back cover is a sealed envelope containing detailed sketches of male and female anatomy and some basic positions for intercourse. The inclusion of sexually graphic material in an Orthodox publication is unprecedented, recalibrating the balance between reticence and the need to "study the Torah" of sex. This guide did not appear out of nowhere. In 2005, with the assistance of the organization Tzelem, two Or- thodox educators developed a sex education curriculum for Orthodox elementary and high schools; it has been implemented in a number of institutions. Tzelem and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance have also offered training for"hatan and kallah teachers'--men and women who instruct engaged Ortho- dox couples about the Jewish laws governing marital rela- tions-geared toward helping couples develop a healthy sex life and recognize and seek professional treatment for sexual dysfunction. Such ini- tiatives have begun to educate a young generation about sex, frankly but in a thoroughly religious context. There have also been changes in other areas. Until recently, sexual abuse and predation were not gener- ally viewed as significant threats and, thus, were barely discussed within the Ortho- dox community. The Jewish Week's June 2000 feature "Stolen Innocence," an ex- posg of the sexual predations of charismatic rabbi Baruch Lanner, brought these issues into the spotlight and charged some of Modern Orthodoxy's segregation is deplorable and--particularly when it occurs on buses--a stark remihder of a time whefi American bus companies enforced racial segregation. A democratic country that fails to stop gender segregationwill soon cease to be democratic. I have been horrified as, well as I learn of the views of Michele Bachmann, a main- stream Republican presiden- tial candidate who has such a popular foliowing that she was atop the polls at one point. Yet, her views on homosexuality have no place in a democratic society that claims to treat all citizens equally. In a 2004 conference, Bachmann said that, "gays are part of Satan." And her husband's counsel- ing center espouses the view that Christianity can "cure" homosexuality. These views are destruc- flagship institutions, includ- ing the Orthodox Union, with failing to report and address Lanner's crimes properly. As a result of the article and subsequent investigations, institutional taboos against addressing these issues have become much weaker. In 2005, a prominent Or- thodox rabbi made news when he resigned his position, came out as gay, and provision- ally abandoned Orthodoxy. Although it had been five years since the release of "Trembling before God'--a documentary about Orthodox homosexuals that, for many, offered the first inkling that such individuals existed--be- ing openly gay was still seen as irreconcilable with being part of an Orthodox community. Yet there has been change here, too: In the last few years the Orthodox community has engaged with homosexuals and homosexuality to an un- precedented degree. In 2010, a group of Orthodox rabbis Ortho on page 19A tive and hateful and have no place among the leaders of a democratic society. The same goes for Arizona's viscously anti-immigrant law, which was signed by Arizona's governor in April 2010 but is now being challenged at the Supreme Court. This law makes the failure to carry im- migration documents a crime, effectively encouraging racial profiling by police officers and discriminating against His- panics. America was founded by immigrants. Why turn against them? Treating im- migrants as second-class citizens and assuming guilt is the antithesis of democracy. It is a sign of impending doom. Finally, as 2011 ends, the Racial Justice Act soon may be repealed in North Carolina, What greater sign is there of the erosion of democracy than eliminating something called the Racial JusticeAct--which has,'allowed death-row in- mates to argue that racial bias played a role in their cases? If the legislative pursuits of the Tea Party in North Carolina are a bellwether for American democracy--and I believe they are--then oth- er states certainly will fol- low with racist legislation. What's next--churches banning interracial mar- riage . Again, my concerns come from a place, of love., I,vorry, that America is on a self- destructive path and that the, death of American democracy is near. This should serve as a wake-up call for deep, person- al reflection about the choices Americans have made. America can still regain its democratic footing, but it requires more action at home, not more handwringing about the internal politics of coun- tries overseas. Yours, Jason Edelstein Concerned American Liv- ing Abroad Jason Edelstein is com- munications director of NGO Monitor, which is based in Jerusalem. .I Dry Bones