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September 13, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH'NEWS, SEPTEMBER 13, 2013 Syria debate shows our moral decline By Ben Cohen "Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon/ The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave/They buried us without shroud or coffin/ And in August the barley grew up out of our grave." These lines are from the poem "Requiem for the Crop- pies," by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died last week. They were pointed out to me by a dear friend of mine, also an Irishman, who instructively observed how Heaney's verse--which commemorated the merci- less British crushing" of an Irish uprising in 1798--eerily conjures up the terrible reality of Syria in our own time. Let's recall a few basic facts. First, by the time the Western powers began to seriously consider intervention in Syria, more thn 120,000 people had already been killed. Second, the use ofchemicalweapons by . Bashar al-Assad's regime at the end of August was decidedly not the first time these had been deployed. Back in June, as I and others reported, the French government declared it had "no doubt" that "the regime and its accomplices"-- which include the Islamist terrorist organization Hezbol- lah--had engaged in chemical attacks against civilian cen- ters. Third--and this is what I want to focus on here--when presented with devastating and credible evidence of chemical weapons use, the response of many Western politicians has been to equivocate and demand further evidence, as though obtaining such proof in Syria's killing fields is a mere walk in the park. . The insistence upon further evidence has been accompa- nied by other rationalizations for not getting involved, all of them constructed from myth rather than fact. To begin with, there's the view pushed by both left-wing and right-wing isolationists that Syria's warring groups are all as bad as each other, and that the end of theAssad regime will usher in an Al-Qaeda one. That view was comprehen- sively debunked in recent days by the journalist Elizabeth O'Bagy, one of the few foreign correspondents to have spent lengthy periods of time in Syr- ia, who provided an eyewitness account of politically moder- ate Syrian rebels defending Christian and Alawi villages from both the regime and from Islamist extremists. As little as a month ago, O'Bagy said, she saw "daily protests by thousands of citizens" against Islamists in the north of the country• Her conclusion? "Moderate opposition forc- es--a collection of groups known as the Free Syrian Army--continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime." Then there's .the slippery slope argument--the idea that we are going to get dragged into a ground war in Syria, just as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Given that the operation being dis- cussed is an extremely limited one that will be prosecuted from the air--so limited in fact, that it may not have the desired effect of "degrading," as the ObamaAdministration puts it, Assad's military capac- ity-this objection is plainly misleading and a deliberate falsehood. Why are we so determined to remain indifferent in the face of men, women and children conyulsing to death from Sarin gas? I have no satisfactory answer, but dur- ing this period of the High Holy Days, we are obliged, in my view, to confront this question as we reflect on our moral health. After all, we Jews have spent the last seven decades asking whether more could have been done to avert the Holocaust. Could we not have bombed the railway lines to the concentration camps? Could we not have smuggled more weapons to resistance fighters, both Jewish and non- Jewish? Well, yes, we could .have done much more, butwe also could have done a lot less. Imagine if the current crop of politicians currently dominat- ing the Syrian debate, from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to the leader of the British Labor Party, Ed Miliband, had been in office instead of Roosevelt and Churchill. (On second thought, don't.) This week, all eyes have been on the U.S. Congress as it considers the White House's request to strike at specific military targets con- trolled by the Syrian regime. Already, this is shaping up to be a depressing story of weak leadership, and moral failure. President Barack Obama didn't have to refer the matter to Congress,justas British Prime Minister David Cameron wasn't obliged to take the matter to parliament, but both have been overwhelmed by the isolationist mood in their respective legislatures. Now, sadly, there are reasons to expect that the vote i Wash- ington will falter along similar lines as the vote in London. As the Washington Post pointed out, both House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are portraying the vote as one based upon "conscience." And when it comes to Syria, there is precious little conscience around these days. PAGE 5A I began this article by quot- ing an Irish writer, and I'd like to end by quoting a Jewish one. In his searing poem "Shema," Primo Levi, the literary titan who survived Auschwitz, ad- dressed "You who live secure/ In your warm houses": I commend these words to you. Engrave tem on your hearts When you are in your house, when you walk on your way, Whenyou go to bed, when you rlse. Repeat them to your chil- dren. Or may your house crum- ble, Disease render you power- less, Your offspring avert their faces from you. Shana Tovah. Ben Cohen is the Shill- man Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Com- mentary, the New York Post, Ha'aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications. I am buying homeless signs for Sukkot this year By Rob Eshman Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles LOS ANGELES--I started building my sukkah in De- cember. To those of you who are sukkah DIYers, you know how ridiculous this sounds. A sukkah is the ritual hut that Jews build each year on the holiday of Sukkot, which begins this year on the eve- ning of Sept. 18. You set it up after Yore Kippur, you take it down after the eight days of Sukkot are over. Most suk- kahs come as easy-to-make pre-fab kits--setting one up takes all of 30 minutes, even for a tool-challenged people. So why did I start making mine eight months ago? Because this year, I'm mak- ing a sukkah from homeless signs. I collected my first one on a whim. At the off-ramp of the 10 Freeway at Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, a man was standing with a crude cardboard sign that said, "50 But Not Dead." I couldn't have said it better myself, I thought. When he approached me and asked for some change, I heard myself blurting out, "Five dollars for the sign." From there, my lark be- came a mission. To the next person, a woman at the median strip at Venice and Overland, I gave $3--it was all I had on me. Her sign said, "Hungry•" I kept going. As a kid, I was obsessed by the famous LIFE magazine photo of a well- dressed man selling apples for a nickel on a Manhattan street corner. I harbored inchoate fears of living in such a world. And here we are. I stopped each time I saw someone with a sign and of- fered to buy every one I could without causing a traffic ac- cident. On Venice and Sepul- veda, Venice and Overland, various off-ramps, in Venice Beach--Los Angeles may be losing its movie productions and manufacturing base, but I bet our great city produces more panhandling signs than any other city in the world. And what, friends and faro- ily asked me, would I do with all of them? At some point it dawned on me: Build a sukkah. The booths we are com- manded to build on Sukkot are a reminder of the dwellings in which the Children of Israel lived following the Exodus. While the shelter's walls can be made of any material, the roof must be covered only with organic matter:--palm fronds, bamboo--spacedwide enough to let some raindrops through. Why not, I thought, build a sukkah whose walls are made entirely from homeless signs affixed to a bamboo frame? During Sukkot, we eat our meals and sometimes sleep in the shelterwe have created. Its fragility and impermanence is a reminder of our own. The shelter it provides is welcome, but unstable. A sukkah is not a home. Neither, my sukkah will remind us, are the streets of Los Angeles. The human suffering that can be found in the shadow of our comfortable homes is shameful. That such homelessness occurs in the midst of enormous wealth is beyond the pale. Presently, some 58,000 homeless men, women and children live in Los Angeles County, a 16 percent jump over the last two years. The economic downturn is chiefly to blame. Butthe end of federal stimulus funds for emergency housing, combined with Gov. Jerry Brown's diversion of some 15,000 low-level felons to L.A. jails and probation services, have added to the numbers. The bright news for many of us--a steady upturn in the housing market--also means more misery for people for whom rents are already a stretch. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged not to just manage homelessness, but to end it. He understands that the word "homeless" is a nearly useless catch-all phrase that hides a variety of causes and conditions, all of which -require varying approaches. He has embraced innovative solutions like permanent sup- portive housing, which com- High Holidays liturgy sends message of women's empowerment By Ruth Messinger NEW YORK (JTA)--Each year when I sit in synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I'm struck by the complex stories we read about biblical women and by thewisdom these stories offer about ensuring the dignity of women and girls today. The past year was one of paradoxes. At a time when Sheryl Sandberg, Malala Yousafzai, Wen@ Davis and countless others reinvigo- rated conversations about women's leadership, health and safety, rape and sexual violence continued to escalate all over the world. As I try to grasp these contradictions, I'm reflecting more deeply on what our High Holidays readings illuminate about the condition of women and girls over the millennia. To start, consider Sarah, Hagar and Hannah, female protagonists we meet in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. In the eyes of the biblical narrator, the significance and self- worth of these women are de- fined solely by their ability to have children--in particular, sons. Yet each of these women exercises agency in different, albeit complicated, ways. Initially, Sarah is unable to birth a child. Frustrated that God has not fulfilled the promise of giving her and her husband, Abraham, "as many offspring as there are stars," as it says in the Bible, Sarah takes matters into her own hands. She chooses her handmaid, Hagar, as a surrogate mother and instructs Abraham to impregnate Hagar, so that Sarah can have the son she desperately wants. Sarah eventually is able to have a biological child of her own, Isaac, and once he is born, Sarah convinces Abraham to send Hagar away. Now consider Hannah, who also struggles to bear children but handles her infertility in a different way: She prays. Hannah pours out her heart to God and, ultimately, God answers her prayers by giving her a child. Both stories are exceed- ingly complex and have been interpreted in myriad ways. But for me; one core ethic that simmers through these bibli- cal narratives is that women must have a voice in defining • their own futures. Unlike Hannah and Sarah, who actively desired children and gave birth when they were adults (Sarah was said to be 90), each year around the world, 10 million girl[ under the age of 18 enter into forced marriages and often bear chil- dren against their will. These girls are usually mar- ried off to much older men. As childbrides, they generally re- ceive little or no information about sexual and reproductive health--including contra- ception-or about how they should protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The consequences are Messinger on page 15A bines low-cost shelters with a full array, of social services like childcare, job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling. . Will Garcetti succeed? Other urgent needs may intervene. Political will often lags; money doesn't material- ize; the homeless don't vote. At a Jewish community event in his honor in Brent- wood recently, Garcetti--the city's first elected Jewish mayor--said he will use his close ties to the community not just to heed its needs, but to enlist the city's influential, active• Jewish community in helping him forward his own agenda. One way we can help is to remind the mayor of his prom- ise. A sukkah built entirely of homeless signs will stand as a constant reminder to the mayor, and to all of us, of the work that needs to be done. The entire structure will be not just a symbol of our fragil, ity, but of the fragile existence so many people in this county lead on the streets each day. The sukkah will stand until the mayor meets his prom- ise--simple. Now, here's where you come in: As of now, I have enough signs to form just one wall. A sukkah has at least three walls and a roof. This sukkah needs more signs. It needs more builders. It needs a vis- ible, public place to stand. It needs you. Go to our Web site, home-, to find out how you can help collect signs, and where you can come help build the Homeless Sukkah next month. If your synagogue or schoolwould like to take on the project, even better. There are, unfortunately, a lot more signs to buy. Rob Eshman is the pub- lisher and editor in chief of TRIBE Media Corp.Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@ You can follow him on Twitter @ foodaism. Dry Bones f >OKKOT! "rNE i A P,e.iIIR. "To SIT IN FIM'I