Color Me Upset

Your photograph of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama in “When Terror Strikes” (April 1) caught my attention because of the artificially darkened look of their skin color. It took me awhile to recognize who was in the picture. I have noticed that other periodicals that present the president in skin tones that look touched up express only negative opinions of his character and policies.

On the other hand, in this editorial, which highlights Republican objection to Obama’s visit to Cuba in view of terrorist attacks in Europe, the JT supports the president.  Although your position of approval is not apparent until the last paragraph, I was glad to see it.

However, it is my wish for print media in general and the Jewish Times in particular to stop presenting fake-looking photographs of the Obamas or anyone else because of the negativity that it may infer to readers.

Shame on the JT

In its editorial “Trump Stands by His Man” (April 8), the JT inappropriately praises the “backbone” of Donald Trump. This is misplaced adulation for a man who denied any wrongdoing and failed to dispense any discipline when his staffer, Corey Lewandowski, roughed up a woman reporter.

The JT writes, “for his loyalty to those loyal to him, we say  ‘Bravo!’” When a family member stands by a son or daughter who has broken the law and supports that person as he receives the deserved punishment, we say “Bravo.”  But when a man who hopes to become president of the United States denies wrongdoing of a staffer and instead accuses the victim of telling lies, we say “Shanda!”

Please tell me this editorial was meant for a Purim spoof edition.

Clarifying IBD, IBS

Congratulations to the JT’s Meital Abraham for bringing Edel Blumberg’s  fight and the Semi-Colon Club to the attention of Jewish Times’ readers (“Blumberg Turns Survival into Advocacy,” April 18). I would, however, like to correct/ clarify a few things.

  • Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), not irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • While people with IBD are at increased risk for colon cancer, the overall risk is low. IBD patients comprise a small minority of people with colorectal cancer. In contrast, IBS does not increase the risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Blumberg probably has/had Crohn’s colitis (Crohn’s disease of the colon), not Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

I wish Blumberg and the Semi-Colon Club all the best, as they continue to raise public awareness of colorectal cancer, a common and often preventable disease.

Conversions Ruling Is Israeli Religious Freedom Victory

The Israeli Supreme Court’s recent landmark ruling on conversion is a truly historic decision — for Israeli and American Jewry.

While the case only concerns a few individuals, the general rules and unequivocal language have wide significance for both Israeli and American Jewry. The ruling represents another blow to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on religious affairs; it strengthens a pluralistic approach to Judaism; and it upholds the principles of religious freedom and the rule of law.

In the narrowest sense, the ruling affirmed that Orthodox conversions taking place in Israel outside the official framework of the Chief Rabbinate are considered legitimate for the purposes of allowing an individual to become an Israeli citizen under the Law of Return. But everyone understands that it paves the road for further recognition of modern Orthodox and Reform/ Conservative conversions. It also reaffirms that converts to Judaism, whether converted in the Diaspora or in Israel, are equally eligible to enjoy aliyah rights under the Law of Return.

That would explain the all-out, immediate assault on the decision by the Chief Rabbinate and Orthodox politicians, who are now demanding legislation that would undo it.

Deputy Minister of Health Yaacov Litzman and Knesset member Moshe Gafni, leaders of the Ashkenazi Haredi Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, responded immediately to the decision.

“We will not allow for the Justices of the Supreme Court to decide who will be accepted as a Jew in Israel, against the Jewish tradition throughout the ages,” they said.

Those in Israel and the Diaspora who support pluralism shouldn’t celebrate just yet. As significant as the ruling is, it is limited only to civil aspects. It does not infringe upon the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over marriage and divorce.

Until freedom of marriage is legislated — allowing Jews in Israel to marry without the literal blessing of the Chief Rabbinate — these converts and many others, including all non-Orthodox converts from the United States and elsewhere, will continue to be treated as second-class Jews and second-class citizens, denied the basic civil right of marriage.

The time is now, in Israel and the Diaspora, to build on the court’s decision. In addition to safeguarding the court from attempted castration by its Haredi opponents, we need to call on Israel to move forward and ensure that converts to Judaism not only enjoy civil recognition, but also the right to legally marry and enjoy the full dignity of their Jewish identity.

Rabbi Uri Regev heads Hiddush- Freedom of Religion for Israel, a transdenominational, nonpartisan Israel-Diaspora partnership for religious freedom and equality.

Trump’s AIPAC Speech Brings Respect Within

ftv_weinblattstuartThere was a great deal of buzz and discussion at this year’s annual AIPAC conference about what to do when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump showed up. The controversy centered on whether it was right to invite him or not in light of all the insidious comments and disparaging remarks about minorities he has made. People questioned if AIPAC was making a statement by inviting him, and if so, was it appropriate to do so?

On the one hand, the mandate of AIPAC is bipartisan, and the organization does not take a position on issues unrelated to its primary mission, which is to strengthen the Israel-American relationship. On the other hand, the circumstances were a bit different, because there were those who felt a Jewish group has a responsibility not to be seen as condoning or giving a platform to someone who has espoused such hateful bigoted and divisive statements. As we all know by now, he was invited to speak.

Now the next dilemma for rabbis and individuals attending the conference was a personal one: to attend or boycott the speech. I heard from some congregants and friends on both sides of the issue. And I was amazed that regardless of who I spoke with, and regardless of what their personal position was, each expressed respect for the other side.

When I spoke privately to leaders of AIPAC, expecting to hear from them why I should not walk out, they responded with a courteous, “You need to do what you think is right.” And when I sought to understand the other side, and spoke with rabbis who were organizing the protest, and expected them to try to encourage and pull me to their side, they responded in a similar fashion, and said, “This is what I am doing, but I cannot tell you what to do.” Each of the people I spoke with went on to say that they understood the dilemma and appreciated the position of those who disagreed with them.

Granted I did not speak with everyone involved in the discussions, but I was genuinely surprised and pleased to see what could be a model for discourse in the Jewish community when disagreeing on issues of conscience. Although I chose to stay, I did not stand or applaud his comments. It was my small protest of showing how I feel about the way in which he has pursued the highest office in the country and to show respect for the two opposing views about how to treat a divisive figure — by not allowing him to divide us.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac.

Whither Diplomacy?

Former settler leader Dani Dayan got off to a bad start as Israel’s newly named consul general to New York. And in a series of tweets, he made things worse. The day before he got the official nod for the New York job, Dayan appeared on Israeli TV and made some undiplomatic remarks about J Street, the liberal pro-Israel American group: “I prefer the attitude of AIPAC to that of J Street that endorses all the anti-Israel candidates — the more anti-Israel you are, the more you are endorsed by J Street. That’s un-Jewish,” he said during the interview, which had been taped several days earlier.

We expect diplomats to be “diplomatic,” even when discussing sensitive issues. And regardless of his personal views regarding J Street and other “hot topics” related to the Middle East, it will be to Israel’s detriment if Dayan continues to offer shoot-from-the-hip opinions while serving as an Israeli envoy. Thus, for example, while Dayan’s personal political views may be representative of some quarters of the Israeli leadership, his diplomatic job is to represent the State of Israel, and will take a bit more finesse.

Dayan may actually agree. In one tweet following reactions to his interview, Dayan called his words “somewhat undiplomatic.” In another, he wrote, “I never called @jstreetdotorg ‘un-Jewish’ but only a specific action it took. Nevertheless, it was wrong.”

If that was an apology, it was a step in the right direction. And perhaps it will make Dayan rethink his view about what is and isn’t “Jewish,” particularly when he addresses that issue as a diplomat. This is bound to come up in discussion of his position on a possible two-state solution: Dayan favors annexing the West Bank and is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. The maintenance of that view will test Dayan’s diplomatic skills with a large segment of the American Jewish community with whom he is supposed to interact.

Dayan was lucky to get the New York post. Last August, he was tapped to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, but the Brazilian government was not willing to accept his credentials, signaling official rejection of his settler past. The appointment to the New York consul position ended the months-long standoff.

While we disagreed with Brazil’s heavy-handed approach — particularly since many communities now considered “settlements” are destined to be incorporated into Israel proper, so residence there should not be a disqualifying condition for a diplomat — the saga points to another problem: Israel has no foreign minister. As a result, some have observed that Israeli diplomacy is not quite as focused and as careful as it should be. That shortcoming can be seen in the blunt way Israel handles friendly critics, let alone the unfriendly ones. If Dayan’s tenure follows that course, the Israeli-American relationship could suffer. We don’t need that.

It Is Bigotry, Not Religious Freedom

They are called “religious freedom laws” by their backers. But the recent bills signed by the governors of Mississippi and North Carolina are anything but that. Critics rightfully call them anti-gay laws, but they are more than that. The new laws are licenses to discriminate at will — to deny service and jobs, to ostracize — while hiding behind the pretext of the free exercise of religion.

The legislation signed by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on April 5 gives businesses, state employees, individuals and organizations protection if they choose to deny services to someone based upon “religious objections.” We all know the test case by now: A wedding cake maker refuses to sell pastry to a gay couple because their lifestyle violates the baker’s religious convictions. That kind of discrimination is now protected in Mississippi.

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a hastily drafted bill to block the city of Charlotte’s new ordinance outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Charlotte ordinance also denies transgender people access to bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

It is noteworthy that much of the negative reaction to state efforts to legalize bigotry is coming from the business community — which threatens a state’s bottom line. One of the first things to happen after North Carolina passed its law was that PayPal canceled its planned move to the state. And it was pressure from Disney and the NFL that persuaded Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the “religious liberty bill” sent to his desk. Then in Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a similar bill, calling it “bad for business.”

The truth is that these laws are more than just bad for business. They are bad for every state in which they have been passed and seek to do nothing more than permit discrimination under a flimsy veil of “religious freedom.” We hoped there would be an end to efforts to treat people differently based upon their sexual orientation when the Supreme Court decided last year to make marriage equality the law of the land. But not everyone has embraced equality for LGBT Americans. And they are trying to use the inviolable First Amendment as a way to roll back the rights LGBT people now enjoy. It won’t work. And it shouldn’t.

Once you start permitting discrimination based upon claimed “religious beliefs,” what is to stop a restaurant or hotel from declaring that, for religious reasons, it won’t serve Jews? Or blacks. Or Muslims. The days of hateful signs that read “No dogs or Jews allowed” are thankfully behind us. Someone better tell the wedding cake maker.

The Flavor of Memories



Variety is the spice of life, or so the proverbial statement goes. But in so many things — religion, politics, work, art, etc. — the truth of William Cowper’s assertion can be seen, if not proven. A blank canvas is not all that different from an entirely red one; and a meeting hall full of people who agree on everything is just as boring.

The most successful plots revolve around some sort of conflict; in the same way, I say, give me someone or something in opposition! Only then can I appreciate what it means to be a living, breathing human, i.e. a thinking being, instead of a living, breathing animal.

It’s a nice message to keep in mind as we approach Pesach, the holiday of contrasts. Whether it’s the four different sons of the Haggadah or the fact that we eat matzoh instead of challah, Pesach never ceases — for me, at least — to evoke a new appreciation by virtue of its differentness. For those eight days, I revel in the non-leaven cleanse and savor the taste of matzoh, although unlike my fellow staff members at the JT, I will not be enjoying it in matzoh ball form. (As a member of community that does not eat gebrokts, I and my family do not wet our matzoh.)

But my weeklong abstention from matzoh ball soup does not prevent me from appreciating the love that others have, specifically around this type of year, for the concoction of matzoh meal and egg that has become a symbol of Jewish — well, Ashkenazi — cuisine. And as you’ll read in this week’s JT, the sheer variety of matzoh balls are truly a wonder to behold. There are large ones and small ones, fluffy ones and dense ones, those that float atop a sheen of protein-laden broth and those that rest at the bottom of the bowl. And each person has his or her preferences.

My grandfather used to regale the grandchildren with stories of the enterprising bubbie, who, during an attack by the Cossacks, had her firmest of matzoh balls double as cannon balls. And the story was funny, because to this day, I have yet to come across a matzoh ball denser than those made by my grandmother.

Ultimately, that’s what cuisine of any type does: It evokes memories of our past, even as it borrows from the present. The same could be said for conversation around the Seder table.

That’s really what life is about, borrowing from our own experiences and amalgamating them with those of others, creating something new to carry us into the future. It may be not be uniform, and it may even be messy, but it has flavor, and that makes all the difference.

Renegotiate? Foolish Idea

The Iran nuclear agreement once again took center stage at the recent AIPAC meeting (“Sights Set Squarely on Iran,” March 25). That agreement could and should have been tougher on Iran but was probably the best our allies would agree to. But the debate today is not on whether this is a good agreement, it is on how we proceed now that the U.S., our allies and Iran all have signed on.

Should we enforce the agreement and hold Iran to scrupulously honor its commitments, or should we rescind the agreement and attempt to negotiate a better deal? Here I strongly disagree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC who are calling for tearing up the treaty. Recall that U.S. sanctions on Iran never brought Iran to the bargaining table. It was only when our European allies and China agreed to stop importing Iranian oil that Iran agreed to negotiate. Now that these allies have signed on to the agreement, they are once again importing Iranian oil, so, in effect, our leverage on Iran is gone.

For us now to unilaterally abrogate the agreement would be the height of foolishness. It would allow Iran to resume nuclear bomb development, and it would be us, the U.S., that would be held by world powers as the one to blame. And it doesn’t take a Donald Trump to tell us that you don’t attempt to renegotiate an agreement after you have lost your leverage. What frightens me is how supposedly smart people — like those running AIPAC and Netanyahu — can advocate such an absolutely foolish idea.

Eternal? Not True

Add another untruth to the Donald Trump litany of lies, as documented by Politico and other fact-checkers: He promised AIPAC that, as president, he would move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the “eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Eternal? As in forever, all the time, from time immemorial?  Categorically not true.

Jerusalem is known as the City of David for good reason: It was not the city of Abraham (Hebron was), nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor Moses, nor Aaron, nor Miriam, nor the Judges (male and female), nor Samuel, nor even Saul, the anointed first king of Israel. It was not part of the Promised Land, i.e., was not contained in the original allotment meted out to the tribes in the conquest of Canaan.

Precisely because it was, therefore, neutral territory, David captured it and made it his capital, as an act of political — not religious — acumen, driven by strategic and tactical necessity.

Let’s get real and stop making an idol of geography. It is not Jerusalem that constitutes, as Elie Wiesel once put it, “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul,” but God and His gift of Torah, which took place in the Sinai desert: terrain without borders.