Shame on Hogan’s Dishonest Campaign

The election of Larry Hogan as governor is a good example of what is wrong with American politics (“Hogan Dominates, Nov. 7). His campaign repeatedly criticized the O’Malley-Brown administration for its tax increases. Let’s look at the facts. In 2008-2009, the nation went through a recession in which millions of people lost their jobs and tax revenues plummeted. The federal government racked up trillion-dollar deficits, and 48 states were forced to raise taxes and reduce services.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley, in consultation with Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature, raised taxes, reduced services and balanced the state budget. In his dishonest campaign, Hogan repeatedly claimed that the O’Malley administration recklessly raised taxes. Exactly the opposite happened. Hogan owes all Marylanders an apology for his dishonest and despicable campaign.

Parenting in the iPhone Age

Parenting has never been for the faint of heart. It takes tremendous mental and physical energy, and there are few, if any, breaks. It seems that in recent times, however, the ante has been upped. With the ever-expanding reach of the Internet, the kinds of trouble our kids can get into has mushroomed as we have seen in news story after news story. How does this change our approach to parenting in the age of the iPhone?

It doesn’t. The rules are the same as they always have been. Here are two principles that every parenting expert agrees on.

Kids need boundaries. This is as true as it has ever been. For instance, at what age should a child be allowed to have a cellphone? How much autonomy should the child have with it? This requires thought and discussion, but unquestionably, children should have boundaries in this area just as in any other. If your daughter’s bedtime is 10 p.m., she should not be texting on her phone until 2 a.m. Not only have the negative effects of such behavior been well documented, the very idea that cellphone use has limits is important.

Eventually, we will need to teach our children about the dangers of cyberspace — cyberbullying, identity theft, pornography. Start with simple iPhone boundaries. When they can use it (not at 2 a.m.), where they can use it (not in a synagogue sanctuary) and how they can use it (respectful communication) are vital early messages.

Kids will do what you do. Modeling behavior has always been the most effective parenting tool. No matter how great your family meetings are, if you talk a good talk but don’t walk the walk, you are doomed to failure. If you want your children not to be using their cellphones into the wee hours of the morning, then you should know when to call it quits too. If you want to make sure they don’t text while driving, then you should not, even “just this once because it’s important.”

The way you handle electronic devices will deeply influence how your kids handle them. Stephen Covey, of “7 Habits” fame, said that television is a good servant but a poor master. Are we the master of our devices or are they the masters of us? When the phone rings, do we drop everything to pick it up? Or do we ignore it and keep on playing with our preschoolers? When we take them to the park, do we sneak a peek at our emails while they’re on the monkey bars? Or do we pass on the opportunity in order to be fully present for our children?

Kids are extremely aware of what we do. If we are glued to our computers, tablets and smartphones, they will be too. If we can’t set boundaries for ourselves, they won’t be able to either.

No doubt emerging technologies will continue to challenge us. But the basics won’t change. Set limits for how your children engage with cyberspace, and show them how to do it right.

Raffi Bilek, a clinical social worker, is the director of the Baltimore Therapy Center.

A Bad Bill for the Jewish State

Israeli Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu
(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In what has largely been seen as a political move by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved a controversial bill that would declare Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. Such legislation, coming at this time, is not in Israel’s best interests.

Sunday’s vote was the result of heated negotiations within Netanyahu’s own government. Right-wing proponents of the so-called “nation-state bill” agreed to shift their support in a future vote to a “softer” version proposed by the prime minister. His version doesn’t declare Hebrew as Israel’s sole official language and also omits the call for continued settlement within undefined Israeli borders. But that does not mean it is good legislation.

Supporters of the bill say Israel’s inherent Jewishness must be codified into law. Opponents say the law gives Jewishness priority over Israel’s dedication to democracy and human rights. One critic said the law will make it easier for discriminatory laws to pass the Knesset and stand up in court.

Notwithstanding the debate, the Cabinet vote is little more than a gesture — a defiant poke in the eye against those, such as the Palestinian leadership, who have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, something that Netanyahu has demanded as a condition to further negotiations. Similar nation-state bills have been suggested by various parties for years. And if the bill presented a simple solution, it would have been resolved a long time ago.

So why bring up such a divisive issue now, when tension in the Middle East continues to mount and when violence and anger within Israel itself has reached distressing heights?

We sympathize with the contention that Netanyahu’s sharpest critics have proposed to put democratic principles above Jewish values as the defining core of the State of Israel. Indeed, one might wonder whether those critics even show appropriate sensitivity to Jewish values. But Israel doesn’t have the luxury of debating those issues at this time. Rather, today’s debate should focus on how to extricate Israel from the security and foreign policy difficulties in which it unquestionably finds itself. Those life-and-death concerns are more important than the debate over how to synthesize the country’s Jewish character with its democratic ideals.

For these reasons, while we support open debate regarding the substance of the proposed nation-state bill, we don’t think now is the time to do so and encourage the Israeli leadership to give itself more time to consider the best course of action.

Obama Goes It Alone

President Barack Obama’s declaration that he will enact immigration reform by executive order has generated much comment, including near universal approval from Jewish groups. According to the administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill, the president made his move because the House of Representatives has refused to take up immigration reform, specifically the version of a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in 2013.

Government inaction on a problem that has left in legal limbo millions of undocumented people who nevertheless work, pay taxes and raise children here has angered and frustrated many Americans, including many within the Jewish community. Last summer’s influx of children who crossed the border and turned themselves in to authorities was a reminder that immigration is a continental and human-rights problem, not just a matter of better patrolling ever-hardening borders.

Clearly, something has to be done. But while the White House’s go-it-alone, Congress-be-damned approach is energizing Democratic bases around the country, it is also generating tension, confrontation and uncertainty. Any executive action taken now can easily be reversed by Obama’s successor — who will take the oath of office in little more than two years; and taking potshots at a divided Congress for political gain has infuriated Republicans who will control both legislative chambers come January.

Much of the Jewish community’s past and current gains in American political life, as well as its future vis-a-vis such issues as civil rights and economic and military ties to Israel, depends on legislative achievements enshrined as law, not regulations promulgated by executive fiat. While securing momentary political gain on pet social justice issues is tempting, we should be supporting bipartisan work that involves both the executive and legislative branches. That’s a better solution in the long term, for immigrants and for the Jewish community.

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.”

Opening the Well of Interpretation

In Jewish tradition, wells give life by providing not only water, but also a meeting place for our ancestors to find their mates. In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob meets his beloved Rachel at a well. Emboldened perhaps by love at first sight, he rolls away the heavy stone covering the mouth of the well to water Rachel’s flock.

Creative interpretations of this encounter at the well abound. Perhaps it is self-evident that a well would serve as such a rich metaphor, so ripe for midrashic readings. Wells are characterized by depth; their contents give life. The well in our scene requires an act of strength to access its life-giving waters; it does not simply flow of its own accord.

The rabbis of the Midrash Rabbah go on at great length about Jacob rolling the stone off the well, with three flocks of sheep nearby. Rabbi Hama ben Hanina alone offers six ways to understand the scene.

First, he compares this well to the well in the wilderness during the time of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the three prophets who are symbolized by the three flocks of sheep. This miraculous well traveled with the Israelites. The leaders opened it to water their tribes and families, and they put the stone back during their journeys.

It is worth noting that Rabbi Hanina retrojects the desert wandering into the Jacob story. This anachronism characterizes the rabbinic concept of time, which is not linear but cyclical. Rashi illustrates this idea in explaining why the Torah uses verbs in the past tense while the ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah known as the Targum puts these verbs in the present: “Every present tense is changed to a word in future or past tense because every affair of the present always already happened and will happen again.” Rashi gives us a terse encapsulation of the rabbinic view of history: Everything that happens refigures the past and prefigures the future. This fractal concept of time sets the stage for the abundance of midrashic interpretations offered by Rabbi Hanina.

Rabbi Hanina’s second interpretation holds that the well is like Zion, and the three flocks of sheep are the three pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. From the well of Zion, Israel draws forth not water but the divine spirit, for which all the people gather and rejoice.

The third interpretation also involves Zion, but this time the three flocks of sheep symbolize the three central courts of law. From this well the judges draw forth the water of Torah to learn how to rule; they put the stone back after they debate the law and settle the matter. Following the trajectory of the rabbinic sense of history, it is quite natural to flow from the desert wandering to Zion. The first of the two Zions represents religious and national aspirations; the second recalls the legal system of the Israelite kingdom. Both hark back to Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

In the fourth Midrash, Rabbi Hanina evokes external historical forces. The well represents Zion again, but the flocks are the three imperial powers who ruled it — Babylon, Persia and Greece. These oppressors drew forth from the well the wealth of the Land of Israel and the Temple. When the stone is rolled back, in the future messianic age, the Roman yoke will also be broken. This interpretation acknowledges the trauma of defeat and exile, past and present. It ties the hope of future redemption from Roman oppression to the past defeat of the other imperial powers. We can hear in this Midrash the rabbi’s prayer that God will redeem the people Israel from their exile and restore them to sovereignty in their homeland.

The fifth and sixth interpretations flow from exile to the rabbinic way of keeping exilic Judaism alive. The well is like the Sanhedrin, and the flocks of sheep are the three rows of scholars. From the depths of the well they learn halachah, debating it until settled, and then they place the stone of halachic decision-making back in its place. Then the well is like the synagogue, with the three flocks of sheep as the three aliyot to the Torah. At this well Jews drink deeply from the water of Torah, hearing it read and learning its truth and wisdom.

In this progression of allegories, first the Sanhedrin and then the synagogue replace the priesthood and the Temple as the center of Jewish communal organizing and authority.

The order of Rabbi Hanina’s six interpretations seems profoundly intentional. It ends not on a messianic note, but with the symbol of Jewish survival in exile, namely, the synagogue. The beit Knesset offers real hope: There Torah is taught, and there Jewish continuity is ensured, even in the absence of sovereignty.

Of course, the list can’t end at six. Rabbi Yochanan offers a fitting conclusion that brings the total to seven, the Jewish number of completion. Here the well refers to Mount Sinai. The three flocks of sheep are the priests, Levites, and Israelites. From the well of Sinai they receive Torah and learn the Ten Commandments. The great stone is the Shechinah, God’s Presence in exile. They rolled the stone away to hear God’s word; they put the stone back at the close of God’s Revelation.

The Revelation of Torah at Sinai is what makes the previous six interpretations possible. Without Sinai, the Exodus would have been incomplete, and there would be no Zion, redemption, Sanhedrin, halachah, synagogue, or, of course, Torah. Rabbi Yochanan’s seventh allegory infuses the midrashic series with a God’s-eye view of Jewish historical experience. Exile and domination by a foreign power are temporary. What matters most is that God has chosen the people Israel as the bearers of Torah in the world, with the Rabbis as its teachers and interpreters.

That belief has helped us suffer the most inhospitable conditions and yet remain a people of hope and peace. Even in the midst of insecurity and dispersion, the well of Torah travels with us and provides its life-giving waters whenever we roll away the stone of interpretation to plumb its depths.

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.”

Make a Difference: Be a Republican

The recent election was historic for Maryland. The citizens of Maryland voted in a Republican for governor and three new Republican county executives; District 6 is completely Republican now; and there were many other Republican winners. There are now 14 Republican senators and 50 Republican delegates. The voters of Maryland made a statement to the Democratic Party that they have had enough of its tax-and-spend policies and are tired of watching businesses and manufacturing leave the state.

Governor-elect Larry Hogan’s message was the economy — to help businesses and to stop the tax increases. This was just what the citizens of Maryland wanted. We elected a businessman not a politician. Now Hogan is traveling around the state thanking Maryland voters for supporting him.

The Sixth District has not had a Republican representative in the past 70 years. Its residents finally woke up and saw that the promises of the Democratic Party have not improved their town.

The Baltimore City Council just had a vote on a new tax proposed by Councilman James B. Kraft. He backed off the idea of charging a fee for plastic bags after the election.

He noted the victory of Hogan, who frequently criticized Democrats for passing too many taxes and fees. The council will now vote to ban the bag instead of a new tax. Even in cash-strapped Baltimore City — where a Republican hasn’t been mayor since the 1960s — a new mayoral task force is studying possible tax cuts. They are now hesitant to create new taxes. This is why we need both Republicans and Democrats in the Maryland Legislature. A one-party rule gives too much control to the ruling party. Two parties slow down the process and encourage the politicians to listen to their constituents.

Now is the time for Democrats who want to make a difference to switch to the Republican Party. It’s a winning team that will make a difference for Baltimore and the state.
Ruth Goetz is a Member, Baltimore County Republican Central Committe

Yes, Dems Have Veto-proof Majority

I noticed a mistake in your Nov. 14 editorial “Working with Goverenor-elect Hogan.” You say “Maryland’s General Assembly remains firmly in Democratic hands, although no longer with a veto-proof majority.”

That isn’t true. The Democrats do in fact have a veto-proof majority. To override a veto in Maryland, you need 60 percent, and both houses of the General Assembly are composed with Democrats well over the 60 percent threshold. Perhaps the JT thought it required two-thirds vote to override such as the U.S. Congress.


‘White Power’ Letter Is Insulting

I expected to see a letter or two about the election, but I never thought I would see what you published (“A Show of White Power?”).

I found Roy Amadeus’ comments unbelievable in 2014, almost 2015, and I also found them to be quite insulting to the almost 900,000 Marylanders who voted for Larry Hogan and Boyd Rutherford.

His arguments are off base. It’s interesting when Democrats lose an election it always has to be about race and not about the quality of the candidate. The election was Brown’s to lose, and he did just that. He was a weak candidate whose only accomplishment was being lieutenant governor for eight years. His one task, the Health Exchange, was a dismal failure, and his whole campaign was a negative attack on Hogan. He was endorsed by the Baltimore Sun and still lost. He had the support of every Democrat in the state and still lost. He brought in the president of the United States and still lost. He even managed to lose Howard County, where his running mate was the county executive.

The Civil War ended 149 years ago. Amadeus is the one who dragged race into this in discussing Rutherford. It’s interesting that O’Malley did nothing wrong eight years ago by putting Brown on his ticket.

Mary Landrieu, who Amadeus quoted, is in Louisiana, has little to do with us in Maryland and likely will become the next Democratic senator to lose in that state’s runoff election next month. Maryland actually remained in the Union during the Civil War. To equate us today with the South of the 1800s is a further insult.

And, to demean the people of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland by calling them rednecks, as Amadeus did, is very racist.Amadeus and people who feel as he does will have to live with Hogan for at least the next four years, and the General Assembly will need to work with him during that time. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in Annapolis.