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June 19, 2009
 

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PAGE 4A By Andrew Silow-Carroll So how's this for guts: Invited to give the com- mencement address before a class of graduating rabbis; cantors, educators and other future Jew- ish leaders, you tell them, 'Srou have a choice: You can luxuriate in the parochial exercise of ministering to acomfortable, affluent ethnic group and addressing its so-called 'challenges,' or you can help feed, clothe and save the lives of people who are really suffering. Your call." OK, that's not exactly what Ruth Messinger said in her address to graduates of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative move- ment's flagship. But it's awfully close. (Read or listen to Messinger's address here: http:// ajws.org/wh0_we_are/news/multimedia/lead- ing_for_change.html). Letter from Israel By Ira Sharkansky Barack Obama's Cairo speech touched so many buttons that the breadth of responses should be no surprise. The next day's Ha'aretz devoted nine of 26 pages in its main section to commentaries about the speech. Israelis and overs.eas Jews welcomed the comments about the Holocaust, but some criticized what they perceived as its equivalence to Palestinian suffering. While appreciating his comments about the I-[olocaust at Buchenwald. some are bothered by his endorsement of German commemoration of the Holocaust. In this view, nothing the Germans do will make up for the murders of six million. One Jewish writer challenged what he saw as Obama's justification of Israel's existence by the suf- fering of Jews and not by the Almighty's grant of the Land to the Jews. Some Jews applaud Obama's linkage of progress to a halt of settle- ment activity, and hope the Israeli government~ will give peace a chance. Yet others, centrists as well as rightists in Israel, see littlehope in shrill American demands for a total freeze of settlement activity in the context of the right- wing Israeli government, widespread distrust of Palestinians among Israelis and of Israelis among Palestinians. A survey of responses to the speech in Arab media also finds divergent and contrasting comments: Itwas too pro-Israeli; it represented a promising new departure; its success will depend on strong follow-up by the American administration as well as the Support of Israeli and Arab governments. Israel is a democracy, and the population is divided on Obama's issues. Polls show sup- port. but not overwhelming, for a "freeze" on settlements if by that is meant no expansion of existing communities. There is opposi- tion to freezing construction within existing settlements. It is a political platitude that the only poll which counts is that at the ballot box. The most recent election returned a right-wing government, whose Knesset majority is dead set against freezing construction within settle- ments, and may oppose freezing the expansion of settlements. None of the Arab countries are democra- cies. but none can ignore the passions of their pop!nlations that reflect more than 60 years of anti-Israel rhetoric, reinforced by religious sentiments of much longer standing. Numerous commentators see the Obama strategy as one that views a freezing of settle- ments as the best way, and perhaps the only The trouble with 'tribal' Last month the president of the American Jewish World Service, the "Jewish Peace Corps" that does humanitarian work throughout the Third World, threw a log onto a burning debate about Jewish priorities. Lumped under the general category of "peoplehood." the stakes are these: Should Jewish philanthropy and service focus narrowly on the needs of the Jew- ish people, or be devoted to tikun ohm--the pursuit of universal social justice? The unmistakable thrust of Messinger's commencement address was that the identity struggles and financial challenges within the Jewish community pale next to the poverty and degradation felt in places like the Congo and Zimbabwe. Messinger was proposing nothing less than "what it means to be Jewish in the 21st cen- After the speech way, to unfreeze the Israel/Palestinian peace process and provide what the United States needs to deal with Iraq and Iran. On this point. one journalist writes that the "president sees himself in an alfnost messianic role." Reference to a messiah will not help the president in Jerusalem. The operative questions are, How hard can Obama press the Israeli government? and What will the Israeli government do in order to protect what it views as its vital interests? One should not assume that Obama has a blank check, either from himself or from Congress and others in the United States who provide him with essential support. His comments in Cairo and Buchenwald reveal an empathy toward the Jewish narrative. Numerous members of Congress and other Americans (Jews as well as Gentiles) support the beginning of work on the Middle East via Israeli settlements. What is not clear is how sure is the President himself, and others, that pressing hard against the Israelis will get what is necessary from Palestinians, other Arabs, and Iran. If the president has a streak of mes- sianicism, he also has one of pragmatism. Likewise, it is not clear how far Israelis in power will go to accommodate the president, againsttheirviews thatthe settlements are less important than Arab enmity, the fanaticism of Iran and its nuclear program. Prominent in the uncertainty is a comment in Russia by Foreign Minister Avigd0r Lieberman that Israel will not attack Iran. Was he departing from his view that.Iran's nuclear program is an intolerable threat against Israel? At about the same time. Defense Minister Ehud Barack was reiterating a conventional message that Israel was not taking any options off the table. One view of those comments is that the Israeli government is divided, and will continue to debate its options about Iran. One should also expect debates about settlements. Involved in those debates will be the support or hostility expected from the Obama administration, and the prospects of Arab and Iranian compliance with those portions of the Obama program meant for them. It is also possible that Lieberman was do- ing his part to disseminate disinformation. If preparations for an attack are going forward, it is too early to know. For those who cannot tolerate uncertainty, there may be options in Norway, New Zealand. and other distant places. Ira Sharkansky is professor emeritus of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University o f Jerusalem. HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 19, 2009 THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. ~ CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE ~ ~ 1SSN 0199-0721 Winner of 40 Press Awards Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Stare Lyn Payne Mike Etzkin HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- Society Editor Bookkeeping dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Gloria Yousha Paulette Harmon Kim Fischer Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage Account Executives paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices .... Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser POSTMASTER: Send address .changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Contributing Columnists Fern Park, FL 32730. Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Tim Boxer David Bomstein MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Production Department Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407l 831-0507 David Lehman * David Gaudio Teri Marks email: news@orlandoheritage.com Louis Ballantyne * Elaine Schooping Gil Dombrosk'y tury." As I understand her speech, that means an almost exclusive obligation to "work for greater equity, for social justice and for global citizenship.~" As opposed to what. you're wondering? Consider the mission statement of United Jew- ish Communities. the network of federations: "improving the quality of Jewish lifeworldwide. nurturing Jewish learning, caring for those in need. rescuing Jews in danger and ensuring the continuity of our people." In the UJC framing, four of its five core mission points are directed at Jewish needs, and only one, "caring for those in need," has a universal thrust; support for Israel is a given. In Messinger's talk. Jewish tradition now compels us to be almostwholly outer-directed, and Israel goes unmentioned. As for the classic communal concerns of the last century--anti-anti-Semitism, pro-Israel activity and Holocaust remembrance theywill not be the binding agents of Jewish peoptehood in this one. she said. "In the future we must also be held together by our commitment ~to our commonvalues by our recognition of our obligation not just to teach Torah but to live it. ..... id byourcommltmenttopursuejustlce, shesa . Messinger describes this as a Jewish religious imperative, although she builds that case less on a close reading of text than on some famil- iar Jewish ethical tropes: Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. All humankind is created in the image of God. We are children of the Exodus. Messinger is also blunt, maybe uncomfortably so. about the relative affluence of the North American Jewish community. Yes. Jews have suffered in the financial meltdown, she says. But there is suffering, and there is suffering: "The worst consequences of the economic crisis are not felt in the boardrooms or seen in our bank accounts." she said. "They are seen in tl~e eyes of the children dying of hunger in Democratic Republic of Congo, and the children neglected in our own communities, the children here or there unable to get health care because a parent has lost a job or no transport is available or a hospital is without staff or medicine." Even here, in acknowledging struggles in "our own communities." Messinger isn't talking about kids having to drop out of day school, or missing out on Birthright because funding was reduced. Sure, she believes in Iewish continuity, but feels the pursuit of global justice is a more compelling answer to the question "Why be Jewish?" than what she calls "tribal identity." I don't know how this message was received by her audience of Jewish professionals-to-be. ' and I am surprised it hasn't gotten more play in the Jewish press or blogosphere. But even I. someone who thinks the case for Jewish "'peoplehood" is often overstated and overly nostalgic, felt Messinger had taken the universal argument too far. She's right in this regard: Engagement with the wider ~world and a commitment to social justice is a Jewish (and human) moral impera- tive, as well as good PR for the Jewish people and a way to engage those for whom particularist Jewishcauses seem either narrow or irrelevant. And Messinger is right to be worried that in an era of economic triage, Jewish leaders will retreat from being a "light unto the nations." And yet our impulse to engage the wider world develops within the bosom of family. In that sense, "tribal identity" is not an obstacle to the pursuit of global justice, but a prerequisite. JTS and other institutions fail if they do not teach Judaism as a spur to action. But theyalso fail if they don't nurture the Jewish language, behaviors and mutual responsibility all ele- ments ofpeoplehood inwhichacommitment to social justice can take root. Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Hating Christians By Ed Ziegler When we hear the fanatic Muslims express- ing hatred it is usually toward Israel and the Jewish people. You may not have heard of them hating any other group. But, yes, such Muslims around the world do exhibit displeasure of all religions except their own (Islam). After Judaism they seem to show the most disapproval toward Christians. There appears to be a number of reasons why Muslims hate Christians. One reason is Christians have not converted to Islam. An- other reason is that Muslims keep referring to the bloody crusades foreed upon them by Christianity. They justify their hatred because of their prophet's directive, "Drive the Jews and Christians out of the Arabian Peninsula." Since we hear so little, if any, of the perse- ct]tion of Christians by the Muslim extrem- ists you might assume that there isn't any. However. the acts of persecution are diverse ranging from being treated as second class to outright murder. On Oct. 27. 2008 Compass Direct News reported that in Nairobi. Kenya. 24 aide work- ers were killed. One of these humanitarian aide workers, Mansuur Mohammed. 25. was beheaded on Sept. 23 for converting from Islam to Christianity. OnApri123.2009. the Asian News reported that in Taiser, Pakistan. radical Muslims at- tacked and shot six Christians. one of whom was an ll-year-old boy. The attackers set fire to six Christian homes and called on Christiarts to convert to Islam by writing on church walls. On April 26, 2009, 700 Egyptian State secu- rity forces attacked and demolished theCoptic Orthodox Diocese of Masrah services building. In addition to the building destruction they also beat congregants and the priest, Father Matta Zakaria. On May 5, 2009, Sheikhh Adel A1-Kalbani, imam of the AI-Haram Mosque in Mecca. ap- peared on BBC. AI-Kabani said, "Christians are allowed to pray in their homes. We have no problemwith them prayingwhere they live. But for the bells to be sounded in the land of the Prophet Muhammad--that runs counter to the Prophet's guidance. The Prophet's guidance, by which we act. dictates: 'Drive the Jews and the Christians out of the 'Arabian Peninsula.'" On May 25, 2009, it was reported that the Palestinian Authority Muslims went on a rampage and desecrated 70 Christian graves. Accoding to Greek Orthodox Church official, George Abdo, who said "in the town of Jif- fna gravestones were smashed, crosses were knocked down and the hands of the Madonna were severed." The town of Jiffna has 900 Chris- tians and 700 Muslims. It appears that this was not important enough for the Palestine News Network. to report on this display of hatred. On May 27, 2009, Compass Direct News reported that nine pastors from, Martinpur and Youngsnabad, two neighboring villages in Pakistan, could face prison time for using loudspeakers to broadcast prayers and sermons from their churches on Easter Sunday. The police claim amplified Easter Sunday services defame Islam. If this was not so serious itwould be pathetically funny in that throughout the world Muslims are called to pray, five times a day, by use of loud speaker systems where pos- sible. This includes within the United States. In Singapore, on May 28. 2009. the Associ- ated Press was told by a court official that a Christian couple, Ong Klan Cheong and his wife Dorothy Chan. were found guilty of sedi- tion for distributing evangelical publications that cast Islam in a negative light. On June 1, 2009, Compass Direct News reported that in Bangladesh. 15 to 20 radical Islamists, wanting to know the contents ofthe film "Jesus," viciously beat Edward Biswas of Christian Life Bangladesh, forcing him to show the film. After about 20 minutes of viewing the film, the Islamists deemed the content demeaning to Islam and resumed punching and kicking Biswas and his Muslim driver while a crowd of about 200 Muslims looked on. It is hoped that people of the world accept the fact that fanatic Muslims and their sympathiz- ers are at war with all infidels. This includes everyone who in not Muslim. Christians fall into that category as well as Jews. What can you do? Notify your local media to consistently report on these types of incidents. Ed Ziegler is board member of the New Jewish Congregation and president of its brotherhood. He can be reached at edziegler@ embarqmail.com.