Melania Trump’s 93 Percent

Let’s say it up front: Plagiarism is wrong. It’s wrong when journalists do it. It’s wrong when high school students do it. And it was wrong when Melania Trump at the Republican National Convention last week plagiarized the words of First Lady Michelle Obama in her opening night speech before a television audience of 23 million people.

Melania Trump’s plagiarism is still an issue this week. That is so not because of how it happened, or because it is a “gotcha” moment for opponents of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — although there was plenty of that to go around, including from parts of the media that focused on the presidential hopeful’s wife’s speech to the relative exclusion of domestic and foreign policy concerns. The speech remains an issue because of how the Trump campaign responded to the charge. And it is that response, more than any aspect of the episode, that raises questions about how a Trump administration will function in the 24/7 pressure cooker of the White House.

Mrs. Trump, her speech writers and handlers, and the Trump team made an embarrassing, rookie mistake in a very public setting. While it would have been unpleasant, they could have simply admitted the mistake and moved on. But, that’s not how the Trump campaign decided to respond. Instead, they rolled out the heavy artillery, and tried to minimize the offense or explain it away: “Ninety-three percent of the speech is completely different,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, said Melania Trump plagiarized only 50 words, “and that includes ‘ands’ and ‘thes’ and things like that.” Trump himself tried a different spin, and tweeted: “Good news is Melania’s speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!”
There is nothing about plagiarism that is “good news.” And the notion that it is okay to copy another’s words without attribution is itself wrong and sends the wrong message — especially with the lame excuse that “ninety-three percent is completely different.”

The doubling down by Trump and Co. in defense of now admitted copying has a disconcerting ring of familiarity to it. We have been told repeatedly that Trump is a tough guy, who doesn’t back down. And now we see that his campaign doesn’t back down, either. “He will punch back 10 times harder,” Melania Trump has said, which begs the question of how a President Trump would respond to the rough and tumble of congressional politics, or the even less friendly challenges of foreign leaders or international trouble makers.

A plagiarized speech by a politician’s spouse may not be a big deal in and of itself, but since Donald Trump aspires to the highest post in the land, he’s going to have to find a better way of responding to the natural, justified and inevitable scrutiny that comes with the office.

‘Religionization’ of Israel Is Troubling

Religionization! Religionization! To read the newspaper headlines in Israel, to view its documentary films and attend its expert panels with academics, a stranger might think that upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, he or she will have  arrived at nothing less than a Hebrew-speaking version of Iran.

According to those who fear for Israel’s Jewish and democratic future, religionization (ha’datah) is everywhere. The reality, however, is clearly  different from this perception.

 

Just as Israel’s  Jewish image must be cultivated, so must its  democratic character.

Tel Aviv is not Tehran.  Neither is it Jerusalem. The IDF is fighting for the country and its people, not God.  Israel’s educational system is not rediscovering religion en masse. And while the Israeli public is most certainly changing, it’s actually doing so in the direction of secularization. The status quo in the country  between religion and state is long since dead. Commercial and leisure activities during the Sabbath are more widespread today thanin the past, and  homosexual couples are receiving official recognition. All this in spite of the fact that for 30 years there has existed an ultra-religious veto, overtly or covertly, within the government.

Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. I, as well as many citizens, religious and secular, believe that these two characteristics are critical to the country’s existence. Just as Israel’s Jewish image and identity must be cultivated, so must its democratic character and liberal and humanistic values. Only by listening to one another and being willing to understand the value of creating a synthesis between these two values, and acknowledging the need to sometimes compromise. Only then will it be possible  for the unique and valuable  combination — a Jewish and democratic state — to thrive.

Nevertheless, critics of religionization talk about it as if it is a demon uniquely threatening Israel’s culture and society. Yet, demonizing religion comes with a price. And the price is high. The price is the suppression of all public debate on this and related issues. The price is the stifling of every  serious attempt to address in an open and comprehensive manner the topic of religion and state, and the relationship  between Judaism and democracy.

The hysteria over this issue is dragging us straight to the bottom. Instead of dialogue, we are being subjected to a  cacophony of screaming from all sides. This demon must be put back in the closet, which should then be buried deep in the ground. In place of this demon, the public sphere will be filled with serious and meaningful dialogue on the Jewish and democratic values of Israel.

Shuki Friedman is director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation and State and a law professor at the Peres Academic Center.

The Link That Binds

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

The periodic table, that catalogue of the physical world’s building blocks, arranged to reveal the hidden connections between seemingly unrelated matter. It’s both the bane — or wonder — of high school chemistry and the instrument through which many observable phenomena can be explained. This bedrock of science is at the same time a work of art and a work of philosophy.

First developed by Dmitri Mendeleev in the 19th century, the table was so revolutionarily brilliant because of its simplicity. It arranged the chemical elements based on their periodic properties, illustrating that Lithium has more in common with Sodium — they’re both alkaline metals — than with Beryllium, whose atoms have just one more proton in their nuclei.

That’s fine for scientists, but a forthcoming exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is testing the idea of applying the periodic table’s design to a concept as central to American Jewish identity as atomic weight is to chemical properties — Holocaust survival.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Los Angeles native Lori Shocket was inspired to craft a “periodic table” of survivors after hearing the late-in-life recollections of her father’s experiences during the Holocaust. Her Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project invited Baltimoreans last month to create individual collages that will be brought together in a periodic table that will be displayed on Yom Ha’shoah next year.

Survivors and, in some cases, their living descendants are “all so happy” when they finish making their collages, said Shocket, “because I think they kind of get a kick out of seeing the stories put back together. The whole idea is that they’re reassembling a very fragmented story, which has been going on for however many years since the war ended in 1945.”

That’s true for individual participants, but the implication of the entire project is that one survivor’s story is inextricably linked with that of every other survivor, that our people’s horror during the Holocaust and a deliverance from it forms part of the web that connects us all. Some would argue with that assertion. The Holocaust, centered in Eastern Europe, was a defining terror for so much of world Jewry, they’d point out, but those living in the Arab world had their own experiences.

Others might contend that with the last survivors quickly departing, our community will not be able to rely on Holocaust awareness and remembrance as defining themes of Jewish engagement in the generations ahead. While those arguments have merit, they miss the point.

Ultimately, survival is an ongoing process. There was the destruction of the Temple, the Inquisition, the pogroms, all before the Holocaust, and today, despite the existence of the State of Israel, we find Jews targeted all over the world, including in the Jewish state. Shocket’s project focuses on the Holocaust, but the meaning of her art can be applied to Jewish history writ large.

As she said, “As a people, we survived — triumphantly.”

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Bringing Clarity to Senior Living

On behalf of the entire North Oaks community, I would like to thank the Jewish Times and members of the local community for joining us for the first lecture of the North Oaks Institute (“Speaker Series Kicks Off with Social Security Commissioner,” July 8). We were honored to have the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration share her knowledge as our first speaker, and we were happy to provide a robust networking opportunity for the area’s business leaders.

There are a multitude of questions and misconceptions connected to the world of senior care, from navigating the particulars of social security benefits to staving off the effects of dementia to choosing the right retirement plan for one’s lifestyle. The North Oaks Institute will feature speakers who are experts on such topics that concern not only the older population and their families, but the community at large. It is our hope that the speaker series will provide clarity to older adults and their supporting family members who are preparing to enter the world of senior living.

If you have any questions about the North Oaks Institute or would like to be notified about our next event, please email info@northoaks.net.

Same Old, Same Old

Did you ever go to Umami? Have you eaten at Red Goji?  Obviously not, because otherwise you never would have published the article that you did (“Red Goji Brings New Kosher Asian Cuisine,” July 8). It’s the exact same food, exact same menu, exact same restaurant. The only thing that changed (thank goodness) is the staff.  Although inexperienced, they are not depressing like the  former staff was.

Please do your research  before writing.

Why Infertility is a Jewish Issue

Growing up, I always dreamed of being a mom. Even as a kid I would brainstorm baby names, tell my dolls bedtime stories and swear that I would be a cool mom and let them eat cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It all seemed easy enough — until it wasn’t.

When my husband Matan and I experienced difficulty getting pregnant, we worried that our lifelong dream of  becoming parents might never happen.

We decided to try in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, which is a grueling process but boasts high rates of success. When we began the process, we were shocked by the costs associated with this medical procedure. On average, each cycle costs around $12,000, plus medication, which can run another $3,000 to $5,000. And there are no guarantees. After four rounds of emotionally and physically draining IVF treatments, I gave birth to our son, Samuel, in December 2013 — our modern miracle.

After weighing the many approaches to helping others overcome infertility, in 2014 we created the Making Miracle Babies Fertility Fund — an  interest-free loan program  designed to offer loans of up to $18,000 to individuals or couples in South Florida who need costly IVF to realize their dreams of parenthood. Matan and I determined that an  interest-free loan would enable people to proudly borrow the funds and repay them within a time frame of three years. In addition, the dollars would be used to create families in perpetuity; as each loan is repaid, the same dollars can then go to help build the next family.

After all, there can be no “Jewish continuity” — nor  assimilation or intermarriage to worry about — if we don’t have Jewish children in the first place.

In recent years, the Jewish community has taken notice of this: IVF and adoption funds are available throughout North America with other agencies affiliated with the  International Association of Jewish Free Loans. In New York, for example, the Hebrew Free Loan Society’s Fertility Treatment Loan Program provides interest-free loans of up to $25,000 for residents of the New York City’s metro area. In Los Angeles, there is the Feit 4 Kidz Fertility Loan Fund through the Jewish Free Loan Association.

And now, in South Florida, we have the Making Miracle Babies Fertility Fund.

Our aim is to help as many people as possible experience that same sensational  phenomenon  — that spectacular journey called parenthood.

Michelle Ben-Aviv lives in Miami Beach with her husband Matan and two children.

Love Yourself When Your Neighbors Won’t Parshat Balak, Numbers 22:2-25:9

“My mother thought it was undesirable to be Jewish,” the journalist and psychologist Andrew Solomon writes in his magisterial study of exceptional children and their parents, “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.” “She had learned this view from my grandfather, who kept his religion secret so he could hold a high-level job in a company that did not employ Jews.”

This week’s Torah reading helps us consider the effects of persecution on our psyches. In it, we encounter Balaam, a prophet for hire, whom the Moabite king Balak enlists to curse the Israelites. Balaam, however, is unable to fulfill his commission. Balaam recounts: “From Aram has Balak brought me, Moab’s king from the hills of the East: Come, curse me Jacob, Come, tell Israel’s doom! How can I damn whom God has not damned. How doom when the Eternal has not doomed? As I see them from the mountain tops, gaze on them from the heights, there is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations.”

Balaam, looking down at the Children of Israel’s camp, sums up the people’s history up to that point and well into the future: “There is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations,” he sings.

Our commentators ponder the meaning of these phrases. Is “dwelling apart” from the other nations of the world really a blessing and not a curse?

Indeed, Rashi notes this ambivalence of this blessing in his reading, following a midrashic tradition, “When [the Israelites] are joyful, there is no nation joyful with them,” he teaches. What is the virtue of joy if there’s no one for us to share it with? We dwell alone because no one else will deign to sit beside us.

Do we dwell apart because we are the victims of contempt, persecution and brutality or because we are superior to everyone else? Indeed, here we encounter a tension embedded in our parshah, in our people’s history, and in human psychology. So often, it’s only in the face of opposition and derision that we learn to celebrate our uniqueness.

One way to understand Balaam’s song and the interpretations of our commentators is to see them as an attempt to, in Solomon’s words, “fill and overflow” the “yawning void” left by centuries of persecution with “celebration.” We need pride to counteract contempt. We need love to counteract hate.

Rabbi Joseph A. Skloot is assistant rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation and a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University. A version of this article originally appeared at reformjudaism.org.

Democrats Must Be Held Accountable

The 2016 election cycle is of particular significance for the pro-Israel community. Aside from being a presidential year, it marks the first election since the signing of the Iran deal that has turned out to be a debacle of epic proportions and has only encouraged more terrorism.

Voters in key races across the U.S. will be deciding this fall whether the Democrats will be penalized for the egregious manner in which they essentially railroaded a dangerous agreement down the throats of the American people.

In Maryland’s Senate race, Democrat Chris Van Hollen’s support for the Iran deal is a central component of Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga’s quest to defeat the Montgomery County congressman. Szeliga, a staunch supporter of Israel and Maryland’s Jewish community, recently said that Van Hollen has taken Israel for granted and used poor judgment in supporting a deal in which “$100 billion has been released to a nation that is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and a gross violator of human rights.”

Unlike Van Hollen, Szeliga fully understands that this deal has caused an indeterminate amount of damage to  Israel’s security. Even Secretary of State John Kerry finally admitted that the Iranians have used some of the $100 billion it received from the deal to fund terrorism. According to terrorism expert Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project, Iran has also used some of the money to enhance Hezbollah’s weaponry. Now Hezbollah, Emerson says, may be able to launch its upgraded weapons on Israeli population centers and potentially not be subject to interception by the Iron Dome and the David’s Sling.

Szeliga is also correct in alluding to Van Hollen’s history of not being trusted to support Israel. In 2006, Van Hollen criticized Israel’s self-defense tactics during the second war in Lebanon in a letter to then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

However, unless there are serious political consequences for Van Hollen and the Democrats’ cavalier disregard of Israel’s security needs, the Democratic Party will unfortunately continue to abandon Israel with impunity if it is in its interest to do so. It is imperative for pro-Israel supporters to vote out of office any Democrat who supported the Iran deal. When pro-Israel voters make their voices heard on Nov. 8, these Democrats will finally come to the realization that it is not acceptable for them to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent Israelis.

Brad E. Kauffman is an attorney and a pro-Israel activist.

BDS: Faltering?

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

Days before the start of its convention in Cleveland next week, the Republican Party made headlines, especially in the Jewish world, when a subcommittee formally proposed platform language that identifies the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as inherently anti-Semitic. The proposed addendum does other things, including de-emphasizing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the National Jewish Democratic Council argued went further to the right of even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Politics aside, the language on BDS affirms what many in the Jewish community have been saying for years: Holding Israel up to a higher standard than that applied to other nations and therefore advocating for commercial boycotts of the Jewish state — essentially treating Jews different from everyone else — is inherently anti-Semitic. And although many of us may hold varying views when it comes to political and strategic questions — over Israeli settlement construction, the peace process, etc. — most of us can agree that Israel has the right to 1) exist within defensible borders and 2) respond with force when provoked with force.

But for all of the agreement on the horrors of BDS, just how successful has the movement been and how dangerous is its presence for the future? Recently, the movement was dealt a setback when the United Methodist Church bucked the trend of mainline Protestant churches and voted to withdraw from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. But BDS has been waning on other fronts as well.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, state governments across the country either have passed or are actively considering legislation that punishes companies that engage in boycotts of Israel. On Capitol Hill, as well, the Senate Appropriations Committee signed off on a bill that would authorize state and local governments to divest from companies that engage in BDS activity.

And for all of our handwringing over the propensity of college students to fall prey to the canard that Israel has gone from the David of 1967 to the Goliath of the 21st century, it may be that many young adults today are either immune to the pro-Palestinian bloviating or just don’t care.

I would hope that the latter is not the case, because long-term ambivalence can be more dangerous than short-term animosity. But on the whole, it just might be that BDS peaked a couple of years ago and will soon became a distant, if incredibly painful, memory.

Of course, it could also be true that BDS, like anti-Semitism in general, may simmer on the backburner to explode anew at some future date. Still, good news is so hard to come by these days; it’s a pleasant surprise that our community is finally winning some pro-Israel battles.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Letter Writer’s Ignorance

Dr. Alan Kelman, in his Your Say letter of July 1 (“JT Story Troubling”), is sadly misled and misinformed concerning the tragedy of the Orlando, Fla., shootings. Homosexuality is not, repeat not, a choice as Kelman so ignorantly suggests.

One does not wake up one day and decide to “consider” homosexuality. Coming out to one’s family is not, as Kelman states, shmutz. Thank G-d, Kelman is not a psychologist; otherwise I would be praying for his patients.