Life-or-Death Struggle

Josh_RunyanWhen Brittany Maynard, the woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon so that she could end her life under that state’s “death with dignity” provisions, took her story to the media in the form of YouTube videos, she reignited a debate about the propriety of governments allowing doctors to participate in what many say amounts to suicide.

To be sure, when Maynard took a physician-approved lethal dose of medication on Nov. 1., plenty of people rallied to her defense. She chose to die before her disease robbed her of crucial life functions, they pointed out, thus fulfilling the intent of the “right-to-die” movement: Quality of life needn’t only be measured on this side of the approach to the grave but should also take into account how and when the terminally ill choose to get there.

As you’ll read in this week’s cover story, Judaism traditionally has taken a negative view of anyone, terminally ill or not, taking her life into her own hands. The Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements are largely in agreement on this score, arguing with near uniformity that life has value even on the deathbed.

“The Jewish perspective is late life is valuable even if the person doesn’t believe it,” Reform Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana of Portland, Ore., told reporter Simone Ellin.

The corollary to that statement is that just as life came from the Almighty, it isn’t up to human beings to impose their own standards to justify taking it away.

States across the country are currently grappling with whether and how to implement their own “death-with-dignity” laws, with the attention of policymakers, advocates and observers rightly focused on how to mitigate the pain and suffering — both physical and psychological — of the dying. But at the same time, conversations at dinner tables and in communal halls should also focus on how to infuse dignity into life in all its forms and constraints.

The idea that anyone could reach the conclusion that life in its current or future form is not worth living negates the fundamental Jewish concept of teshuva, which although loosely translated as “repentance,” also refers to the idea of self-improvement and perfection. Medications can help mitigate pain, and mental health professionals are constantly struggling to help people reach peace with themselves; religious leaders, likewise, help people achieve peace in their lives.

Fundamentally, to argue whether or not Maynard did the right thing is a foolish argument. She was clearly in pain and chose what she thought was the best way to deal with that suffering. But moving forward, society as a whole should be doing a better job backing the principle that life, any life, has an innate worth that cannot be measured by time or accomplishments.

Just think of what the world would look like if everyone embraced the view that life was worth living in and of itself.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

Walking the Walk

Josh_RunyanHours after terrorists shot up the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem two weeks ago and massacred four of its tefillin-clad worshippers, pictures and video of the American media’s initial coverage of the attack went viral. Passed along by thousands of indignant users of social networks, one clip in particular offered a window into what could arguably be termed the sorry state of journalism today.

In that clip, now removed from the website of CBS News, “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Nora O’Donnell tells viewers in a lead-in to a report from Jerusalem that “two Palestinian attackers died in a shootout with police. It happened at a contested religious site in Jerusalem.”

That O’Donnell was wrong to call a synagogue in a majority-Jewish neighborhood in West Jerusalem, far from the internationally disputed “Green Line” demarcating Israel’s 1967 borders, a “contested religious site” is an understatement. But was it revealing a larger anti-Israel bias?

Certainly, there are some who think so. Like the O’Donnell broadcast that drew attention to the death of two Palestinians and not the slaughter of four Jewish men, a screenshot of a CNN report that circulated through Facebook shortly after the Har Nof attack mentioned only the death of Palestinians. The problem beneath such grotesque misrepresenting of facts on the ground, observes former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman, is an entire subculture of Israel-based Western journalists that hews to a storyline of Israel being the aggressor against a Palestinian population that just wants peace.

Writing in The Atlantic, Friedman — who revealed questionable editorial practices in the AP’s Jerusalem bureau in an article he wrote for Tablet magazine shortly after the conclusion of this summer’s Israeli offensive against Hamas in Gaza — argues that the revolving door between U.N. offices, NGOs and Jerusalem news bureaus has only magnified the lack of understanding that journalists have of the region’s history and its struggles. No one questions the efficacy of Oxfam or its accounting practices, he points out, let alone dives into the likely dangerous pool of uncovering Palestinian Authority corruption or the tactics of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.

Better to feed off of the ready supply of NGO reports critical of Israel, concludes Friedman, an enterprise that because of Israel’s democratic character won’t result in your execution.

The picture Friedman paints is one more of laziness and ineptitude on the part of journalists than of any deep-seated anti-Israel animus. It’s just that the ignorant are being taking advantage of by those with an ax to grind against the Jewish state.

Back on these shores, gaffes such as O’Donnell’s should be seen for what they are: ignorance. And the only cure for such a systemic failure to try to tease out the truth is education.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, groups of Baltimoreans are regularly putting their money where their mouths are and traveling to the Jewish state on volunteer missions to help ease the demands placed on Israel’s reservist military personnel.

But they’re not just going to help; many are traveling to learn something about what a war means to those who fight it.

What they learned is that, surrounded by a hostile environment, Israel needs all the help it can get.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

The Need to Inspire

Yuli Edelstein, the refusenik whose wife, Tatiana, once staged a hunger strike during his incarceration in a Siberian gulag, spent months during his initial interrogation in 1984 praying in his cell while donning tefillin without the halachically mandated black leather straps. That was the only way his wife could get the ritual items past the Soviet authorities.

And as he explained Sunday night to more than 3,000 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and more than 1,000 of their supporters gathered on a Hudson River pier in Brooklyn, N.Y., when the guards came to take his tefillin away, he became so filled with rage that he rushed them. He endured beatings, he endured Siberia for his Judaism. But, the now-Speaker of the Knesset told the crowd, he is not a hero.

Everyone knows “what a mitzvah means to a Jew,” he said. Anyone, when tested to the core of their identity, would have done the same.

In Edelstein’s understanding of world events, the Jewish community tonight finds itself in greater danger than it did behind the Iron Curtain or even in the Holocaust. But the danger does not come from the threat of violence and persecution, even though anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head throughout Europe. According to Edelstein, who made aliyah in 1987 and went on to found the Yisrael B’Aliyah Party with Natan Sharansky, the real test facing Jews today is the test of prosperity, the test of relative security.

The truth of his conclusion can be seen here in the United States, and it can even be found in Israel. Whole swaths of the Jewish population lack basic Jewish education, and synagogue affiliation is on the decline, even as young people — Jewish and non-Jewish — display spiritual longing and an affinity for causes larger than themselves. The challenge in such an environment is to engage these wandering souls, to inspire them and thereby solidify the Jewish character of the next generation.

To be sure, there are plenty of excellent projects to effect a Jewish rebirth. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, such work is behind a Jewish explosion in downtown Baltimore. Spurred by an influx of recent retirees and young professionals to Federal Hill and other neighborhoods around the Inner Harbor, Jewish life is on the upswing. Today, there’s a JCC and Rabbi Jessy Gross’ Charm City Tribe project, Rabbi Etan Mintz reports a surging number of congregants at his historic B’nai Israel Congregation, Rabbi Levi Druk has a thriving Chabad House, and Pikesville’s Congregation Beth El is opening an early childhood education center near Riverside Park. Jews are moving in, and organizations are responding to help keep them there.

The work is not easy, but the consequences of inaction — or half-action — are severe. Edelstein told of the day he and his wife arrived as new immigrants in Israel. Leaving the airport, he was given a free cab ride by a fellow immigrant from the Soviet Union who had the good fortune to have been in the Jewish state for a full seven years by that point. Their destination was a government ceremony at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but the driver was used to taking new immigrants to one of two absorption centers. He didn’t know how to get there.

We live in “a dangerous world, where no one is taking your tefillin away,” said Edelstein. “There should be no Jew who doesn’t know where the Kotel is.”

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

Shock, Fear … and Resolve

2013_Runyan_-JoshUntil Tuesday morning, Har Nof for my family was an amalgam of different experiences, all of them positive. It’s where my wife went to seminary, where we had one of our first Shabbat meals after moving to Israel and where our kids always loved going for pizza — it had, according to our research in the latter part of the last decade, the cheapest pizza in Jerusalem.

Its hillside-clinging apartment buildings are still many people’s first glimpses of the Israeli capital when approaching the city on the curvy ascent on Highway 1. And until Tuesday, it was known as a relatively quiet place to study — it has some of the highest concentrations of yeshivas and post-high school girls seminaries as any section of Jerusalem — and raise kids. Being on the western outskirts of the city and given its suburban character, it didn’t seem that it would be a particular target of a Palestinian attack.

And then came Tuesday and the news that two cleaver-wielding Palestinian men slaughtered four rabbis — one of them the grandson of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and founder of the Torat Moshe yeshiva — as they were immersed in their early-morning prayers at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue. All-too-familiar images of blood-soaked prayer shawls and prayer books, of emergency responders picking up body parts, of wailing crowds at hastily arranged funerals made their quick march across the world of social media.

The denunciations from world leaders and communal groups predictably poured in, as did the calls for restraint and a return to the peace process. But among Israelis, who have grown accustomed to terror attacks in general and a rapid succession of them in the past few weeks, a mood of national mourning set in.

This was not your typical case of Palestinian violence but instead was on the order of the Mercaz Harav massacre of 2008. Others compared the images to those taken in the aftermath of the slaughter at the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

What the Har Nof attack will mean in the grand scheme of things remains to be seen, but as you’ll read in this week’s JT, Baltimoreans with connections to the neighborhood are responding with shock, disgust and fear. And in the case of at least one yeshiva student, resolve.

Reached just after the funeral of victim Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Chaim Ziman, 20, who lives 10 minutes away from Har Nof, said that his entire Jerusalem yeshiva came out to mourn with their brethren. Ziman, who had witnessed earlier attacks, such as a Palestinian’s fatal ramming of a van into a crowd of people last week and the killing of a pedestrian by a Palestinian-driven tractor back in August, said he felt it was his duty to “show support, to escort” Twersky’s body on its final journey.

When asked if the violence made him wish to return to Baltimore, Ziman was adamant that he still felt safe in Jerusalem. But he acknowledged that recent events have made being in the capital a surreal experience.

“It’s crazy to be in a place where these things happen,” said Ziman. “In America, these things have happened [before], but not so close to where I live.”

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

A ‘General’ Concern

Josh_RunyanConsidering his audience at the Monday morning plenary session of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly at National Harbor, Vice President Joe Biden said all the right things. To standing ovations, he pledged the United States’ unwavering support of Israel and promised that Iran would never be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon. He even waxed poetic about his interactions with Golda Meir.

It was very Biden-esque, to borrow a phrase from the vice president himself. And it was also sincere. That’s a welcome relief to those growing tired of a perceived anti-Israel bent among the current occupants of the White House and, considering that Biden will likely run for president in 2016, positive words for those who fear a Democratic Party increasingly suspicious of Israeli dealings with the Palestinians.

But according to The Atlantic’s  Jeffrey Goldberg, whose articles of late have laid bare administration anxieties vis-a-vis the Jewish state and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the fact that Biden and Hilary Clinton — the heir apparent for the Democratic nomination — feel such connection with Israel, whereas President Obama presumably doesn’t, shouldn’t come as a surprise. In Goldberg’s view, which he shared later that night during a panel session with Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz and Steve Linde of The Jerusalem Post, Obama’s failure to embrace Netanyahu’s narrative of events has nothing to do with visceral distrust of Israel. It has everything to do with generational realities.

Biden, 71, met Meir; he was 24 when Israel emerged victorious from the Six Day War. Obama, by contrast was 6 in 1967. And instead of Golda Meir, Benn added, Obama and his generation had Sabra and Shatila.

Discounting the ideological bent of a paper such as Ha’aretz, the observation is a prescient one. And it was amplified at the end of the night when an energetic University of Maryland student named Anna Farooqi, Southeast representative to J Street U’s national student board, took to a stand-up mic to voice frustrations that her generation is sidelined by the rest of the organizational Jewish world.

“I love Israel,” she began. But her experiences there — admittedly only over the course of four months — and her view of the conflict in the Middle East lead her to be critical of the Jewish state.

Moderator and former CNN Jerusalem correspondent Linda Scherzer thanked Farooqi for her comments but said that too many young people have emotional reactions to the conflict without the benefit of knowing the facts. It was a backhanded compliment that to some observers betrayed a sense that Jewish youth should keep quiet and open a book. There’s wisdom in such a view, but as shown by the riots outside of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, institutions ignore the power of youth at their peril.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the General Assembly earlier this week had much on the docket for engaging Jewish college students and young Jewish professionals, from sessions on the federation system’s young leaders cabinet to cocktail receptions with campus delegates. But more needs to be done to make people such as Farooqi feel welcome. Generational divides not only have consequences for Israel, they also have the power to fundamentally alter the fabric of the Jewish community. To the extent that youth are being utilized and not sidelined, the future may yet still be bright.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

Can We Rise Above the Muck?

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Editor-in-Chief

So much has been written since last week’s revelation that an unnamed Obama administration official used a barnyard epithet to impugn the reputation and political ability of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that I will not add my own denunciation — however justified it might be — to the thousands of words already out there condemning the White House for what is at best a gross breach of diplomatic etiquette.

Instead, it’s worth noting that such salty and destructive language is apparently run of the mill in the current administration, and may well have been in those of presidents past.

Just six days after the appearance of Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic came another in Politico that examined the perilous position occupied by the president, who, by most accounts, has lost control of both his domestic and foreign policy agendas as well as a firm grip on the shaping of his political legacy. In it, a senior administration official describes Obama’s visceral disgust of the lead-up to Tuesday’s midterm elections by dropping an S-bomb: “There have been $2 billion in ads s—-ing on the president and no one to defend him,” the official says.

In the same article, a top presidential aide drops another, telling reporters Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown that the administration knows “we’re in for a s—- storm if we lose the Senate.”

A colleague of mine described the occupants of the West Wing as puerile, that their antics and statements have reached a new low in American political life. But their language is unfortunately nothing new. In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney famously dropped an F-bomb in telling off Sen. Patrick Leahy. And Obama’s aides wouldn’t be the first to be juvenile: Veterans of the Clinton White House were implicated in removing the Ws from West Wing computers before the administration of President George W. Bush took office in 2001.

No, the use of vulgarity by government officials is quite arguably so regular as to not be noticed, and no less than the president himself — President Nixon recorded himself doing just as much — has spewed profanities from the Oval Office. What is new, however, is that such comments are now regularly quoted, that the baser forms of language arguably are the new parlance of political speech.

I hope that I’m wrong.

By the time you read this week’s JT, voters throughout the nation will have decided who shall occupy their state’s legislature and governor’s mansion and who will represent them in both houses of Congress. In the days leading up to Election Day, many expressed to reporters their disgust with a phenomenon that President Clinton described as “the politics of personal destruction.”

What historically happens after all the ballots are counted is that politicians enter their offices determined to rise above the muck that characterized their campaigns. Should such a return to high-minded debate not occur, they and their aides will have demeaned not only the institution of their offices, they will have demeaned what it means to lead a people as great as those of the United States.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

A Delicate Balance

2013_Runyan_-Josh“The pursuit of truth,” concluded the recently departed Ben Bradlee, “changes your life.”

The iconic former executive editor of The Washington Post, who passed away last week at the age of 93, made those comments to good friend Jim Lehrer of PBS as part of a reflection on a career that catapulted him to fame and fortune with the publication of “The Pentagon Papers” and the ensuring Supreme Court victory and the breaking of the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought down a sitting U.S. president.

But the pursuit of truth did more than just make Bradlee a millionaire — if love is truth, it may have even ruined two of the journalist’s three marriages — because Bradlee’s guidance to such reporters as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein crafted the modern journalistic age we find ourselves in right now.

Indeed, many people entered the profession because of Bradlee. I myself became a journalist because of Jason Robards’ Academy Award-winning portrayal of him in “All the President’s Men” — cool and composed, with an indignant temper stewing just beneath the surface, holding on to a hot story like a bulldog when the collective forces of the government, other news outlets and even junior editors told him to let go.

What he bequeathed to every person who ferrets out a story is an ethics that puts a premium on the truth, emphasizing that no official or institution should be able to secret it away with the excuse of protecting the public. But he also stressed that reporters shouldn’t recklessly trample upon the rank and file in their pursuit — “Tell me again why we need to ruin this person’s life?” he would ask, according to The Post’s Martha Sherrill.

This balance between discovery at all costs and sensitivity to how much damage can ultimately be wielded by the pen is on full display in the coverage surrounding the arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel of Washington, D.C., on charges of voyeurism. An authority on matters of conversion is accused of surreptitiously recording women at the National Capital Mikvah next door to the Kesher Israel Congregation he led as senior rabbi while they prepared to immerse in the ritual bath.

He pleaded not guilty at a preliminary arraignment just before the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, but hardly a day has gone by without some new revelation in the case. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, a police search of his office at Towson University — where he was a professor of religion and ethics — turned up surveillance cameras disguised as ordinary household items, and Towson students have told reporters that on tours of Kesher Israel and its mikvah, Freundel invited them to shower and use the bath.

What tends to get lost in digging up the details is that there are actual human beings affected by this story. The knee-jerk reaction among many is to point out that Freundel’s wife and children are likely undergoing tremendous agony (his daughter was at the hearing when he was brought into the courtroom in shackles), but there are a host of alleged victims and potential victims — women, converts, students — some of whom are questioning their faith and their trust in a man they viewed as a scholar and religious giant.

The JT and its sister publication, the Washington Jewish Week, have kept this in mind in reporting the story. Where the truth leads, only Providence can know.

Building on the Positive

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

Jewish history is rich with stories of families making great sacrifices for the sake of their children’s education. In many communities, education was the last thing to go, even as the “Old Country” depredations of poverty and government- sponsored anti-Semitism robbed people of their livelihoods and homes. It was not unheard of for struggling parents in Eastern Europe to send children away to other towns to pursue their studies — this practice continues today in many parts of the world, including in the United States, lacking Jewish schools — because private, values-based education was not seen as a luxury; it was a necessity.

For many Jewish families, education, especially of the religious variety, was recognized as the guarantor of Jewish continuance, the method by which
sustainable Jewish futures would be secured. Judging from last year’s Pew Report on the American Jewish community, the supposition appears to be correct: Graduates of day school were more likely to identify as “Jews of religion” as opposed to “Jews of no religion” and were more likely not to be intermarried.

But the Jewish commitment to education applies to the secular varieties as well. High achievement has been a source of pride in modern Jewish communities in the United States and Europe, and Jewish adults are more likely than the general population to hold post-graduate degrees.

None of this is particularly newsworthy, because it tends to confirm long-held beliefs. But here in Baltimore, we can see the Jewish commitment to education in real time: As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the number of Jewish households in the greater Baltimore area has increased 16 percent over the past decade. Those families came here for a variety of reasons, to be sure, but many have settled around Charm City because of the wealth of its Jewish educational opportunities. That puts Baltimore among such cities as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as destinations for Jewish families looking for schools.

But to say that our schools are top-notch would be to look at the clearly positive news through rose-colored glasses. Our schools are great, but there is always room for improvement.

Our Jewish day schools — like the surrounding public schools and some nonsectarian private schools — face the same challenges of swelling student populations, budget pressures and antiquated facilities. Their nonunionized teachers, like their unionized public school peers, work long hours for relatively little pay — the average teacher salary in Maryland is $43,235, according to the National Education Association, while U.S. Census data pegs the median household income in the state at $72,999 — and their families struggle to pay tuition year after year.

The community has stepped up considerably, and the support offered schools by donors and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore puts other communities to shame, but there continue to be families who face the horrific choice between education and food. That families choose to move here is wonderful, but the good news must serve as motivation to do more. When no less than the state of the Jewish future is at stake, there’s no time to be satisfied.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

A Close Race: Be Counted

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

In case you haven’t noticed, Maryland’s got a gubernatorial race shaping up. If the latest polling numbers are any indication, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, GOP candidate Larry Hogan has narrowed a once-commanding lead enjoyed by Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to anywhere from 9 percentage points (The Washington Post) to 4. (Hogan’s own campaign released this last result).

A Baltimore Sun poll released last week gave the Democrat a 7-point lead, and all of the poll results are within their respective margins of error.

This is good for the Jews, and not because a victory by either candidate is inherently better or worse for Jewish voters. What the race for the governor’s mansion is instead demonstrating is that come Nov. 4, every vote counts.

In past elections Marylanders could have been forgiven for considering their own votes not worth that much — either they were Republicans who knew going into Election Day that theirs were “throw-away” votes or they were Democrats who

realized that their candidate was going to win anyway. But now, thanks largely to an early primary that afforded months of attention to the looming general election, news media, advocates and citizens are parsing the candidates’ words, weighing their positions and, as indicated by polling showing that a sizable number — as much as 18 percent of the electorate haven’t yet made up their minds, actively contemplating their votes.

For the Jewish community, now is the opportunity to assert its political voice. Are there so-called Jewish issues at play in the election? Of course not. Tax reform, health care, education, crime or any of the other issues touched on in this week’s cover story are no more “Jewish issues” than is gun control. Even the fight against anti-Semitism and the prominence of the Maryland/Israel Development Center are issues that affect everyone in the state, not just our unique constituency.

But if the Jewish community wants a say in how the next four years in Annapolis will unfold, now is when candidates have their ears open. And Nov. 4 is when we can seal the deal.

As it turns out, the millions of dollars spent to passively sway your vote through the endless hours of television and radio advertisements notwithstanding, politics is not a spectator sport. Like football or, some might say, rugby, it is a full-contact sport that requires the participation of everyone to truly be successful.

At a time when voter apathy is at an all-time high, the existence of close races here at home and in states such as Kansas and Louisiana means that no candidate should take his or her opponent or the constituents for granted. It means that voters should not give up on the power they possess in the ballot box and in the lead-up to the election. It means that participatory government, one of the greatest things that sets the United States apart from many other countries in the world, is a concept that should still be valued and nurtured.

 

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

Waiting for the Chips to Fall

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say, and you don’t need to look further than the city’s Cheswolde neighborhood for proof. There on Taney Road stands the new headquarters of Hatzalah, built with the help of a grant tied to state revenue gleaned from slot machines.

While some, mindful of the Talmudic directive that gamblers may not be counted as witnesses in court proceedings, might scoff at the notion of gambling dollars going to fund a Jewish organization, the truth is that Hatzalah of Baltimore has yet to see a slot-stained nickel.

Ronnie Rosenbluth, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, tells reporter Heather Norris in this week’s cover story that funds from the $315,000 grant have been held up by the city’s process for disbursing its share of gambling revenue.

“We were told two years ago to have shovel-ready programs, and we were told that as of July 2, 2013, ‘the check will be in the mail,’ and the check wasn’t in the mail,” said Rosenbluth. “After two years, you have a lot of frustration.”

The concept is simple: To offset the harms that can befall communities from the presence of casinos, legislators built into Maryland’s gambling regime a way for slot dollars to flow back into those communities for public works projects. The neighborhoods around Pimlico Race Course, such as Cheswolde, are just as much at risk as those areas around the new Horseshoe Casino, others argued, so they should also get a share of the funds.

But while legalized gaming has been touted by the state as a way to plug budget shortfalls and to help out local communities, not to mention a way for Maryland to compete with New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, gambling itself is far from a panacea. Just ask Atlantic City.

Could it be that those in the northwest section of the city are on the losing side of the bet?

Without commenting on whether or not the gambling industry is compatible with Jewish ideals–it should be noted that many synagogues host successful day trips to local casinos as a way for congregants to socialize–it is interesting to note that Jews everywhere over the coming week will be eating and in some cases sleeping in ramshackle huts known as sukkahs.

An explanation of this practice during the holiday of Sukkot is that by subjecting yourself to the vagaries of the elements and enduring the primitiveness of a temporary structure, you are demonstrating your complete faith in the Almighty to provide for all of your needs. It is neither chance nor your own prowess that guarantees success, the argument goes, but rather Divine Providence.

Seen through this lens, putting a quarter in a slot machine is far from a mundane act. Do people gamble merely for the entertainment value or is their financial well-being dependent on three sevens improbably appearing on the same line?

It might help to realize that some societal good is coming from placing a few chips on the table, but in Cheswolde at least, the locals are still waiting.