Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pizza For the Kids

If you're like me, you're always looking for an excuse to eat good pizza...

Well on Wednesday, the St. Louis Area Dance Marathon is giving you one. If you eat at Il Vicino in Clayton between 4 and 10, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Dance Marathon, a local organization that raises money for children's hospitals in the area. Having been a part of this great event, I will definitely vouch for it, but check it out for yourself here

Here is the schedule for the rest of the benefit nights this month:

-Monday, October 6: Cold Stone
-Wednesday, October 8: California Pizza Kitchen
-Wednesday, October 15: Noodles & Co.
-Wednesday, October 29: Cicero's

And if you are interested in participating in Dance Marathon itself, the date is October 25th-26th, and registration is still open for another week. Click here to sign up and join me to help this awesome cause.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Art imitating life...or vice versa?

After watching a mashup of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric, and the Saturday Night Live skit portraying the same, I couldn't help but react with disbelief

That video made me think that, perhaps, the McCain campaign's decision to keep Palin out of the limelight wasn't the worst it has made.

On one hand, she is dealing with a lot right now. As if having 5 kids (one of whom will have a kid, another who has special needs, and a third who is in Iraq) wasn't enough, dealing with her current responsibilities to Alaska, and trying to get caught up on an entirely different level of politics is leaving her totally in over her head.

This, however, doesn't excuse many of the reports coming out about the McCain campaign barring media access or trying to make arguements that the media shouldn't give her hard questions.

If I was a feminist (as much as a man can be), I would be quite upset with the way Palin is being treated. Not so much by the media, but by those on her side who are seeking special treatment.

Equal work for equal pay also means equal questioning, equal scrutiny, and equal qualifications.

It seams to me that her choice indicates a certain type of pandering. One that I can't imagine pro-women's rights women are pleased by.

Don't take my word for it, though, check the video and hear it from the horse's, or rather, the pitbull with lipstick's mouth.
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Hidden Gems

My first trip to the Thurman Grill, with Zuz, immediately became interesting when, on the menu, we found two words and a symbol...Bagels & Lox.

Now, its not every day that you see such a Heeby thing on the menu, especially in a neighborhood not exactly known these days for its biblical brother population.

But Zuz and I thought little of it, drank our porters, and were on our way.

Last night, with Elliot, however, the plot thickened.

View Larger Map

I made it to Thurman Grill a bit before 10 PM, after taking in a free sound check at Powell Symphony Hall. Side note, if you are planning on seeing the performance, which includes Rachmaninoff's 3rd, performed (or should I say masterfully brought to life) by MOT Yefim Bronfman, you are in for one hell of a show.

Back to Thurman, after we rolled up (arrived), I immediately became engaged in what seems like a preprogrammed ritual of bitching about the beer selection, and finally decided on a glass of Scotch (eight F@#$in' fifty!).

After catching up with Elliot for a minute, I decided to ask about the Bagels & Lox.

"What's the deal?," I asked Lenny, recently identified to us as the owner.
"Where did the bagels & Lox come from?"

And then..... he outed himself. First, a few words of Yiddish, that he picked up from his parents, who were from New York (Queens), who were .....Jewish!

He confirmed our suspicion that we were among the only Tribesters on the block, or in the neighborhood, for that matter.

"Still," he said, "its not as bad as St. Charles. When I lived out there I was definitely the only Jewish guy. I made friends with the only Black guy out there, and we held our own Freedom Rides."

He also filled us in on the Shaw Art Fair, happening October 4th and 5th (Click the Calendar link from our main page to see details).

Suddenly it hits me. We just moved down the street from one of the hidden treasures of St. Louis. A bar that could actually succeeds neighborhood bar that doesn't suck, isn't skeezy, and has a really interesting owner, who by some kind of crazy coincidence just happens to be a Yid.

Not only that, but Leffe Blondes are $2.50 all night. Because Lenny feels like it.

And I can stumble home?!

I'm sold.

And I can all but guarantee that the crew will be at Thurman Grill tonight after Shabbat dinner.

Feel free to join in.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Warning, extremely offensive, and hilarious

Sarah Silverman is her usual raunchy and hilarious self in this video designed to get young progressive Jews down to Florida to convince their conservative grandparents that Barack Obama is the man for the job.

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo. Read More......

Your High Holiday Options

After being taken to task in the comments of an earlier post on this issue, I've decided to post the best resource out there for finding synagogues geographically.

The Map is brilliantly color coded for easy visual comprehension goodness.

Find a part of town and a level of observance, and you are well on your way. And apparently, you can pull a Y and use your student ID card to get in free.

Because salvation should be free, right Scientologists?
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Campaigns in Suspended Animation

Like, 5 minutes ago, John McCain announced that he is suspending his campaign to return to Washington to work on the economic crisis. He asked that the Friday debates be called off and that Obama suspend his campaign as well. UPDATES BELOW

Update 3

UPDATE 2 "Harry Reid counters McCain's blatant stunt brilliantly"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a statement that would be unlikely to go out without the Obama campaign's approval, dismisses McCain's suspension:

This is a critical time for our country. While I appreciate that both candidates have signaled their willingness to help, Congress and the Administration have a process in place to reach a solution to this unprecedented financial crisis.

I understand that the candidates are putting together a joint statement at Senator Obama's suggestion. But it would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation's economy. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op.

If there were ever a time for both candidates to hold a debate before the American people about this serious challenge, it is now.

As of the moment, only CNN seems to be running the story, with Google News not picking it up at all.

UPDATE: McCain's statement read:
Tomorrow morning, I will suspend my campaign and return to Washington after speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative. I have spoken to Senator Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me. I am calling on the President to convene a meeting with the leadership from both houses of Congress, including Senator Obama and myself. It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem. We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved. I am directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the commission on presidential debates to delay Friday night’s debate until we have taken action to address this crisis. I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people. All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so. Following September 11th, our national leaders came together at a time of crisis. We must show that kind of patriotism now. Americans across our country lament the fact that partisan divisions in Washington have prevented us from addressing our national challenges. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.

There is no doubt that the the crisis facing Wall Street, and by extension the world financial system is fairly grave, but is this a politically motivated move?

As Obama seems to be regaining momentum, is McCain trying to stall it. Is McCain afraid of debating Obama live on TV?

What is going on here?
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

High Holidays Are High Stress


For many Jews, especially right out of college, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur represent the only days we may set foot in a synagogue.

But between deciding on going home to be with family, missing partial or whole days of work or classes, and figuring out just where to go for a service that you connect with, the Chagim can be pretty stressful.

An interesting article from the Boston Globe entitled, "Jewish High Holidays Come at a High Cost" examines the position of Young Yids in Boston who scramble to find an affordable seat for services. Shout out to GesherCity for coming off strong in the article. Does anyone know if they organize things similarly here?

While St. Louis may not put the same financial pressures on us young adults, the search for the right spiritual experience can be daunting.

Do I go reform, for something a little more laid back and egalitarian, but risk a campy or hippy atmosphere at best, some things I'm not convinced are part of the liturgy at worst?

Do I go Frum/Ortho, pass up the opportunity to admire our female co-coreligionists in their High-Holyday best, as well as deal with entirely too much Hebrew?

Should I shoot in the middle and try to hit up a conservative service, despite it being West of 270, the barrier beyond which urban Yids feel lost and confused?

There is always trusty Hillel, with its hordes of Wash U students, Rabbinical students, and on-campus parking issues.

Then there is the whole issue of how much time to take off of work. If I can make it to services and still put in a few hours in the office, I don't have to take a full vacation day, and I'll only feel half as guilty.

Unfortunately with the timing this year, I won't be able to make it back to the chavurah in the 513, so I'm left trying to figure out how to make the most of High Holidays in St. Louis

For everyone else in the same situation, click here for a listing of synagogues and services.
and let me know where you think all the other young Yids will be gettin' spiritual.
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Monday, September 22, 2008

St Lou Jews Abroad

On the occasion of our 5,000th page view, I wanted to showcase our newest talent, DH1, who will be writing a bit about her experiences as a Jew traveling abroad.

“Y, tu? Cual es tu religion?” my Mexican host mother asked me excitedly. I couldn’t believe that I actually felt nervous answering a question about my religion. Had I ever, in my entire life, felt anything but glowing pride in making the statement that I was Jewish? If I can recall correctly, the answer was no.

These uneasy feelings were unfamiliar to me. I was confident that my Jewish identity was strong, as I had grown up in a community that welcomed diversity and had never lived far from the security of a supportive Jewish world. As I prepared to embark on a year-long adventure throughout Europe and Central/South America, I recall feeling a strange apprehension with respect to my Judaism. My knowledge that anti-Semitism was thriving in many countries around the world filled me with many questions about how the next year would unfold.

For the first time, I considered the possibility of encountering situations in which I would not feel comfortable expressing my Judaism. I already knew that I would be living with three different host families in Mexico, Spain, and Chile. What if my families didn’t like me because I was Jewish? I had already experienced how unfounded hate continues to be a common thread within the historical memory of many cultures. As I had witnessed in Poland two years prior, I knew that old stereotypes and fabricated tales still hold great sway and power in the minds of many.

Fortunately, I am happy to report that my experience in Puebla, Mexico was nothing of the sort. When I carefully explained to my host mother that I was Jewish, her eyes lit up with a kind of intense happiness that was both shocking and difficult to describe.

As it turns out, my Mexican host family professes to a sect of Christianity that is deeply devoted to Israel and the belief that the Jews are God’s chosen people. A woman of modest means, my host mother had traveled to Israel a few years before, and related vivid accounts of her experience at the Jordan River.

Throughout the summer, she would wheel me into the kitchen (out of sight from my non-Jewish roommate), place her hands on my head, and begin to recite a stream of extravagant blessings and prayers. The shock and humor of the situation was astounding to me. I had been expecting an uneasy welcome. Instead, I was met by an overwhelming fascination with all things Jewish. My host family introduced me to the pastor of the church (“she’s JEWISH!!!”) and asked me to write all of their names in Hebrew. Occasionally, mealtimes would be characterized by interrogations about Israel and its geography, the Jewish holidays (they were especially curious about Passover), and my family’s traditions.

The warmth, love, and acceptance of strangers who welcomed me into their home and their lives were deeply inspiring. They showed me that tolerance does exist, even in the most unlikely places.
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why the McCain Campaign Would Love for You to Donate to Planned Parenthood

John McCain would love for you to donate to Planned Parenthood. Well, kind of; only if you’re doing it because you’re a Barak Obama supporter. The scheme going around now of donating and having your thank you card sent to the McCain campaign office is clever, but it’s exactly what the Obama campaign would ask you not to do, if they could do so without opening the Senator up to accusations that he no longer supports Planned Parenthood.

This is a serious campaign, and Senator Obama says he would love to focus on the issues. These kinds of acts of petulance distract from a campaign’s message. Public opinion is a difficult thing to manage; that’s why smart people get paid of lot of money to steer it. Depending on whether the Planned Parenthood scheme takes off, and how big it could become, any or all of the following could take place.

First, it highlights a group of Barak Obama supporters who are acting immaturely in the
Senator’s name and cause. That’s a distraction the Obama campaign would rather not have to address, and the campaign would really rather avoid having to scold another group of supporters – they’ve had to do a lot of that.

Second, the Obama campaign would prefer to be the recipient of the $10 that the scheme recommends people donate. Because the scheme is primarily designed to embarrass John McCain rather than highlight the value of Barak Obama or even Planned Parenthood, the Obama campaign would be a wiser spender of those dollars, and probably use them more effectively to beat the Arizona senator in November.

Third, you’re giving the McCain campaign another tire pressure issue: “Obama would have you believe that money fixes American families, and that a liberal group knows how to run your family better than you do. This is another liberal elitist falsehood. Strong families are those that built on love and values and faith, not abortion clinic propaganda and condoms.” This leads us to:

Forth, talk about energizing the conservative base. While Barak Obama and his folowers may support Planned Parenthood, the voters that Sarah Palin has brought out do not, and the more you bate them, the more fervent they will be, and more enthusiasm will be generated for the Republican ticket. This leads us to:

Fifth, electoral math. Planned Parenthood had to pay $50,000 for violating Minnesota’s parent notification law in 2005. Currently, Senator Obama leads Senator McCain by 4% in that state, this down from 18% in July. A dispute similar to this one is still in process in Indiana, where McCain’s lead has halved in the last month. Not that this sort of thing guarantees a slide for Senator Obama in either of these two states, but they’re both battleground states, and you don’t want to bate the local conservatives.

Again, this scheme would have to get pretty big to be a catalyst to trigger any of these responses. But if even one of them does occur, chances are it will create more trouble than advantage.
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Let It Raine

Our financial system sucks. Alright, maybe it doesn’t suck, but let’s be honest; it’s seen much, much better times. I remember when a can of soda was a quarter. It was right around the time I walked up hill both ways. When you reach my age, the knees start to go, you don’t remember your friend’s names, and you can’t eat a large pepperoni pizza without feeling like a beached whale afterwards. The times, they are changing.

Fannie, Freddie, WaMu, AIG, Bear Stearns, you name it; chances are if it’s a financial institution then it’s not doing so hot. Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan says this is the worst financial crisis he’s seen. And in response, politicians are playing the name game. Senator Biden says it’s the fault of the Bush tax cuts, which makes almost as much sense as blaming world hunger on said tax cuts. Senator McCain and Governor Palin say its Wall Street’s “unbridled corruption and greed.” Senator Obama repeats what Treasury head Henry Paulson says, but that’s only because he hasn’t had his roundtable on what’s going on yet – he’ll get back to us once Paulson makes his next statement.

I maintain that they’re all wrong. I have a different name, and while you can’t even pin the whole thing on him, if we made a list of names, his contend for everyone’s top spot. He’s not a Wall Street fat cat. Although people are blaming Wall Street in droves, no one has put forth a name because it appears that, at least this time, they haven’t broken any laws. My guy is Frank Raines, and he’s not even in the business these days.

Raines was given the job of running Fannie Mae from 1998 to 2004. He made it his top priority to open up the mortgage market to anyone who wanted one, even if they had poor credit, no assets, and no down payment - our defender of the American Dream. What a hero. He did it by loosening lending standards, because the way to fix something illegal is to make it legal (think illegal immigration).

Thanks to Jimmy C, it used to be that banks had to prove that they were not giving loans to minorities for the reason that they were minorities by approving loans to minorities and “community groups” (who coincidentally were staffed by the far-left) along the lines of those that Senator Obama used to get his start (that’s a whole other post). It was called vast extortion of US Banks at the time and set us on the path to where we are today.

Still, banks were happy to issue such loans and pass them on to Fannie, who gobbled up these terrible loans and bundled them with good ones and sold them to a Wall Street eager to buy because Fannie was considered a government-back monstrosity too big to fail. Oops.

The current crisis stems from loans issued to people who could never afford them. While the Democrats on the Hill love to blame predatory lenders, were it not for their own crowd including Presidents Carter and Clinton, and the man the latter appointed, Frank Raines, the lenders would not have been allowed to give money to people who couldn’t afford to pay it back. When the bad mortgages were added the stew, and because of the new accounting rules stemming from Enron (an effort led by the prophetic Democrats), the bad mortgages can not be removed, and the pot was soured. More liberal relativism - if they want a house, they can have it (only they really can't).

Of course the stew may not have been gone bad had Raines followed a good recipe. When you open the shop to anyone who wants to take at will, you don’t stay in business for very long. How does the American Dream look now?

There are other considerations, like the end of the housing boom. But the system takes care of these kinds of events. The reason the system can not cope this time is because of the big dose of toxins injected into it by Washington. In 2005, the first fiscal year after Raines left, Fannie revealed that its earning statement showed over $10 billion that it couldn’t find a source for. The Bush Administration pushed for reforms but was rebuffed by the Democrat-controlled Congress. You see, Fannie (and Freddie) has some pretty good lobbyists. They get along well with people like Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank and Barak Obama because they give them millions in campaign contributions – Dodd and Obama are the top 2 recipients of contributions from Mae.

We were forewarned in 2005 with this information. Senator McCain then sponsored legislation to counter what he said was “the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system, and the economy as a whole.” Was he right? Yes. But needless to say, the legislation: rebuffed.

Raines, he was investigated heavily and settled for $24 million. That’s a lot of money unless you earned $90 million, $52 of which part of a compensation package based on fraudulent earnings statements that oversold his effectiveness.

Let’s keep blaming Wall Street. It covers all manner of sins. But more importantly, let's learn from these mistakes: only borrow money if you can pay it back, and only loan money to people who can afford to pay it back.
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A Brilliant Strategy

Looking for a way to tweak the McCain campaign and help out a good cause all at the same time?

There is a deliciously devious movement quickly spreading across the internet to "honor" Sarah Palin's candidacy. Here's the deal.

When you donate to Planned Parenthood, they send you a postcard thanking you for your support. So, the idea is to make a $10 tax deductible donation to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin's name. Then, when they ask for an address for the donation, put in the McCain campaign headquarters:

McCain for President
1235 S. Clark Street
1st Floor
Arlington , VA 22202

This way, the McCain office will be flooded with hundreds and thousands of donation cards from Planned Parenthood, the very organization that McPalin is so against! And you are helping out a good cause at the same time. What could be better than that?

To donate, click here and then go to donate and honorary gifts
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurricaine Ike's St. Louis Devastation

Ike make its way powerfully through much of the Midwest, causing power outages in Cincinnati, flooding in Chicago, and a good deal of damage in our own back yard as well.

I don't know why this hasn't received much media play around town but...

Here is the pertinent info from the U City Manager

On Sunday, 4.42 inches of rain fell in a very short period of time, causing flash flooding responsible for two fatalities, damage to hundreds of homes, and damage to city infrastructure and public facilities.
Thus far, the City condemned 275 homes; thirty have yet to be inspected, of the remaining homes, all but 10 single-family homes and 27 apartments have been cleared for re-entry. Assessments are underway to determine the full extent of the damage to public infrastructure and City-owned facilities. Public school buildings were damaged and are being assessed. The City and Red Cross are providing shelter and other emergency aide to flood victims. FEMA will arrive Friday morning for inspection.
Mayor Adams declared a State of Emergency on September 14, 2008. The declaration will be confirmed by City Council on September 22, 2008.

This Friday, September 19, from 7 AM to 1 PM at Centennial Commons, 7210 Olive Blvd (the location of the still existing Red Cross Shelter), there will be an aide station set up to provide special assistance to flood victims. The County Department of Public Health will provide tetanus shots to individuals seven years and older on a first come first serve basis. The Community Action Agency will be there to provide vouchers for food, clothes and transportation. There is a plan to have some legal aide assistance there as well. Read More......

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Son, the Doctor!

I may not have gone down the Jewish Doctor route, but it doesn't mean I'm not interested.

I took my lunch hour today to catch Fred Rosner, the preeminent Doctor and ethicist at the Washington University (in St. Louis) School of Medicine aka Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

It almost felt like a Torah lesson, but from the guy who wrote the book on Jewish BioMedical Ethics (literally), it was worth a listen.

That guy at the end of the table is Dr. Rosner.

He raised the point that Ethics are getting more, not less complicated, as the issues of ownership of one's own body, right to care, right to refuse care, right to die, right to live, right to party, etc. are blurred by new technologies.

Is it Jewish to be cryogenic-ly frozen, only to be reanimated at a later date?

If a terrorist carries out an attack but survives and is brought to the same hospital as the victims of the attack, does the terrorist get treated? At what priority level?

What about in-vitro fertilization, abortion, organ donation and transplantation?

The issues swirled around us almost as quickly as the Dr. spoke (which was pretty frickin fast).

The ultimate take away for me is the concept of 'Pikuach Nefesh', that a Jew can and must do anything and everything to save a life (any human life).

Every this, though is complicated by how we define life, both in cases of beginning and end.

In typical Jewish fashion, there were many questions raised, with few answers provided. I may make a habit of this.

Click here
for more information about the Jewish Medical Ethics Lunch and Learn Discssions
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Steals and Deals

Looking to save some money? (Rhetorical question, I know)...

For those of us looking to save some money (i.e. everyone reading this blog) there is a great new website on the Post-Dispatch, called Steals and Deals. Basically, the blog hunts down all the best coupons and deals in the area and broadcasts them to the Frugal Nation. Is it just me, or is this just screaming our name?

This week, she highlights SavingsAngel.com, a website that indexes more than 1,800 manufacturers coupons and tracks sales at local supermarkets. She also points out a deal at the Y waiving the membership fee, and a 40% off sale at New York and Company. Certainly pertinent information to a young Jewish professional living in St. Louis I would say.

Here is the address for the site: http://www.stltoday.com/blogzone/steals-and-deals/

Shop on!
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Don't Drink and Drive... Drink and be Driven!

You wanna make the Metro-link sexy?

How about this:

The Urban League of St. Louis is hosting a MetroMargarita Happy Hour at Beso Wednesday the 24th on Washington Ave downtown.

They are actually incentive-izing taking public transportation. Not only do you get to feel great about saving the environment, you also get drink specials for showing your metro ticket (or U-pass).

Check the details http://here.

Because it's not illegal to be tipsy on the train! Read More......

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Moishe's in the House

Monday morning, I returned from a very interesting experience in the nation's capital... having missed my flight the night before (damn yellow line)

What was this magical mystery tour, which paid for my flight, and threw me into a room with 20 or 30 twenty-somethings? It was none other than a Moishe House retreat.

After seeing college, camp, Cincinnati, and youth group friends, and some family... it was time to get down to Yidness.

I showed up at the predetermined address, not quite sure what to expect.

Here I am, a relatively new member of the MH crew, showing up in a well established House. Would I like the kids? Would they be the kind of Jewish kids who are quite nice, but wouldn't really make it onto my interesting list? Would they out Jewish Geography me?

The answers ended up being yes, remains to be seen, and everyone's a winner at Jewish Geography.

Really though, I have to admit that I enjoyed the group. All stereotypical Jewish mixers and discussions of Jewish identity blah blah blah aside, it was fun, and interesting.

And I was able to bring up a core incongruity that underlies the tension in the Jewish humanist leanings and feel comfortable about saying it (ask me later).

Not only that, I got to sit in with a jazz band at Adams-Morgan day, free-style, and connect with some people all over the country.

The retreat reinforced my belief that all over the US, and really the world, 20-some-year-olds are redefining and breathing new life into ancient traditions and culture, adding a new twist to an old standard, and finding any excuse to party with fellow MOTs.

As we move into our new Moishe House, to create an better space for us, we invite you to hit us up and join us in building an exciting young Jewish community.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Now that the Conventions are over, let's discuss some substance

I want discuss neo conservatism because Senator Obama is desperately trying to tie Senator McCain to President Bush, who is often called a neo conservative, and his policies. Senator Obama’s arguments fail because of the fact that that Senator McCain is, and has been, a true neo conservative, while the President has made only partial efforts.

Douglas Murray, one of the world’s most promising minds, has said that a neo conservative looks at the world with a blend of idealism and realism; that they look at the world as it is but act in the world to make it as they would like it to be. This is different from a conservative who likely will cling to the status quo, which they see as irrevocable, and different from liberals who see the world as they want it to be, and then act on the basis that it is that way.

President Bush can harbor neo conservative ideals, though in practice he is not always neo conservative. His wishy-washy neo conservative record is illuminated in his dealings with Iran and Russia. You see neo conservative twitches that are fatally not allowed to manifest themselves in action. This practice sends all kinds of wrong signals, creating terrible results, and through that creation misrepresents and undermines the reputation and capabilities of neo conservative policy.

What this distinction sets us up for is a debate on the virtues of neo conservatism and liberalism, stemming from the public’s misunderstanding that America’s policies over the last 8 years have been neo conservative in nature and practice, which they most definitely have not been.

Neo conservatives have goals for our country and the world, and these goals are scantly different, in details only, from that of the liberals: security, equal opportunity, a strong economy, heath care for all, and religious and personal freedom, to name a few. Policies may differ, such as the debate over affirmative action, but make no mistake: both sides want a system that gives anyone who desires an education an unbiased path to achieve it. Demonize as you may wish, but per capita conservatives (to include neo conservatives) give more money and volunteer more time via private charity than liberal demographics to support such “racist” and “exclusionist” issues as food, clothing, and shelter for the poor and inner-city education programs. This takes much more true, pure concern and effort than stumping on increased government programming and shows actual willingness to actively participate whereas liberals tend to support increased spending on government programming, often times sourced from increased taxes collected mainly from other people, which is a solution that requires little effort from them.

Motivations, likewise, do not differ in any significant way. Two examples: 1. Security: a homeland where people feel safe going about their daily lives, and 2. Equal opportunity: from birth, everyone should have the opportunity to achieve the heights that they dream of, meaning the foundation of a k-12 education, the ability to apply for college, and subject to job hiring processes based on merit and aptitude, and all this free of racial, gender, ethnic, religious, etc, bias.

Take the issue of health care. Both sides would prefer a situation where everyone has health insurance. Liberals project this vision on the world and come away with the attitude that because it is desired, it is only a matter of enacting government policies to make it happen – a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy doomed to failure. The liberal plan outlines a high-risk “all” strategy that, should it fail, delivers a corpse of the current program. Neo conservatives take this goal, look at the country, see its budget deficits, its incredibly complicated health care systems and laws, its high costs of providing good care, the dearth of trained nurses and doctors, and realize that government-provided health care at this time simply cannot be, for better or worse, and they develop realistic alternatives that help immediately and lay the foundation for a more comprehensive program when circumstances permit. Neo conservatism delivers a partial solution with a potential for more, far better than the inevitable nothing delivered by an idealized and unrealistic universal proposal.

When Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Ranch asked Senator Obama about his position on abortion, the Senator responded:

“I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade, and I come to that conclusion not because I'm pro-abortion, but because, ultimately, I don't think women make these decisions casually. I think they -- they wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or their spouses or their doctors or their family members.”

This is no doubt a liberal position, and that is not a judgment in itself. This author is pro-choice, and is happy the Senator is as well. Nonetheless, his point here is not wholly reflective of reality. A good number of women get abortions precisely because they do not have the support systems in place – they do not have pastors, spouses, a doctor, or a family. To say women considering an abortion consult these sources that comprise sound personal support structures is to selectively choose a self-serving sample set comprised of the ideals that embody the Senator’s hope that “women [do not] make these decisions casually” rather than a representative set including the substantial group of those who do not inhabit his world.

Let’s compare responses on whether we should give teachers performance-based pay from Senators Obama and McCain:

Senator Obama:

“I've said this publicly, that we should set up a system of performance pay for teachers…teachers are underpaid, so we need to pay them all more, but -- and create a higher baseline, but then we should also reward excellence.”

Senator McCain:

“Yes, yes, and find bad teachers another line of work.”

Senator Obama’s answer focuses on pay raises for all, and bigger raises for those that perform at an “excellent” level. This presupposes that all teachers are good teachers, or without so much as a mention dismisses bad teachers as insignificant to the problem, or both. Conversely, while Senator McCain agrees that performance-based pay for teachers is a good thing, he also points out that an integral systemic problem is bad teachers, a perspective reflective of reality, thus producing a solution based on reality with a more systemic focus.

The opposite of neo conservatism is relativism. Relativism is the idea that one thing is relative to and dependant upon other things. This thought leads to statements like “one culture cannot be judged by the standards of another.” Relativism accepts ideas like hate crime designation; neo conservatism rejects them. Relativism is to Senator Obama what neo conservatism is to Senator McCain: embraced. Let us examine a situation that hits the Jewish home: the Arab-Israel conflict.

Relativists argue that Islamic extremists such as Hamas aim to hurt Israel because Palestinians are, as claimed, forced into poverty (among other reasons) by Israel. It is not difficult to illuminate upon the ignorance of this claim. One is more likely to become an Islamic extremist if one is educated or middle or upper class. Harvard and RAND, hardly bastions of Israel support, conducted a review of all terror attacks in Israel between 2000 and 2005 and concluded that educated and wealthy Muslims were responsible for the most devastating attacks, largely more successful in their attacks than uneducated and poor actors, and targeted for recruitment because of their higher likelihood for acting smart, leading to maximum terror while not getting caught. Omar Sheikh, the man responsible for the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, was a middle-to-upper class citizen of London and a graduate of one of the world’s most prestigious universities, LSE. Nearly everywhere, the planners and executers of terror are educated, not poor, and often times privileged members of both their world (like the law school graduate Hanadi Jaradat of Palestine) and ours’ (Mahmoud Abbas got his graduate degree in Moscow). To say that these actions are motivated by poverty and lack of opportunity is to project an ideological version of truth as actual truth, to see the world as it is wanted to be seen, to see the world as a relativist and liberal.

Why would some idealize the world, distorting reality? Certainly this is not the goal of the liberals. It is due to an overwhelming sense that it is not right to criticize one side when you yourself have committed wrongs, that rights and wrongs are relative. When relativism reaches the end game, this moral equation leads to exclusion of guilt and implicit support of evil. In the aftermath of the July 7 Tube bombings, the relativist mayor of London entertained Sheik Yusef al-Qaradawi, who is well known as one of the greatest inspirations to jihadists and suicide bombers. Relativism allows for groups that threaten to murder, torture, and destroy us if we do act, and threaten to murder, torture, and destroy us if we do not act, because in some way we have generated a source of their hatred, as if it is supposedly avoidable and excuses their actions and our tolerance of them (not only is our freedom, our fair treatment of women, our secular institutions and governments, our freedom of the press, and our freedom of speech unavoidable, but they are desirable and should never be compromised because people hate us).

When one receives threats over inaction, and from the same people receives threats over action, it would be illogical to entertain these people’s opinions. Yet that is the liberal policy, because no one’s voice should be discounted. We’ve heard Senator Obama reiterate this in as many words throughout his campaign. Neo conservatism has none of this. The realization that people who hold double standards are not reliable partners is extremely clear to neo conservatives, yet it eludes liberals. The realization that goals are often not achievable in their entirety is evident to neo conservatives, and that this has implications, is not seen by liberals. And what’s more, the idea that a goal is achievable simply because of its virtuosity is a far from a satisfactory reason for putting its solution in motion, though that never seems to stop liberals.

Goals and aspirations are fundamentally necessary for good leadership. I have no reason to doubt Senator Obama’s intentions are well placed, and I take him as a patriot. Yet to believe in his policies, to see them not only as plausible but as preferable, is to see the world through a relativist eye; that is, to allow oneself to fall into dementia. Neo conservatism is the tool box with which to properly address our world’s decrepit state, and Senator McCain gets this. It provides a clear vision of the world as it is, with no revisions or alterations, and in so doing establishes the accurate baseline on which to respond. It guides us to solutions that provide the best odds of working. The world is not as a liberal paints it, but as a neo conservative sees it. You cannot achieve your goals if you do not know where you are starting from.
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Living Jews Part III: Dave Simon

There are certain types of people that you expect to find in New York, or California, maybe Austin or Chicago. These are the people who are doing things that are often viewed as bizarre or naive.
Another way of seeing these people is as they are, people who are chasing and living out their dreams. David Simon is one such dream chaser, and happens to be right here in St. Louis

Leader of Zeda's Beat Box, a reggae/ska based rock band that pulls on traditional Jewish liturgy for its inspiration, and Founder of Dave's Simon's Rock School, Dave leads a musical life.

Dave started the Rock school as a way to be heavily involved in music in a way that could simultaneously keep him involved with creative and musical people, but also as a way to actually support himself.

Zeda's Beat Box grew out of a conversation with his Shul (temple) in which they asked him to prepare some upbeat music for Kabbalat Shabbat (literally, receiving the Shabbat, aka the service signifying the arrival of the Sabbath). He turned to all-star rockers from his school to fill out the band's ranks, and hasn't looked back since.

No stranger to playing in synagogues, or AEPi houses, the group recently played with Cincinnati based Ska-Reggae Super-heroes, The Pinstripes, at Off-Broadway, and last weekend, Zeta's Beat Box was the closing act at the St. Louis Art Festival in Clayton.

It is almost taken for granted by those who know about Heeb magazine, JDub Records, Jewlicious, Mattisyahu, etc that there is an entire culture of Cool Jews.

This positive and empowering idea is something that Dave wants to bring to the surface in St. Louis. Dave pointed out that even if a person doesn't really self-identify as being Jewish, often they feel comfortable around other Jews, and knowingly or unwittingly find themselves spending a lot of time with other Jews.

"The idea of Jewish Cool wasn't always there," says Dave, "growning up, we weren't as open about being Jewish, and we didn't have the same pop culture figures who make being Jewish part of their shtick."

To Dave the Beastie Boys were the first cool Jewish kids, even if there weren't any Jewish themes in their music. They were doing something unique, creative, and urban.

The power of music to connect people is really central to Dave's mission to empower Jews to pride in their heritage, and to educate people of other faiths and backgrounds about certain aspects of Jewish culture.

Be sure to catch Dave and Zeda's Beat Box at Cicero's on October 11th at 8PM.

Meet me there for the best selection of draft beer IN THE CITY! Read More......

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Beacon of Hope (for MidWestern Jews)

A lot of Mid-Western Jews (myself included) like to bitch and moan about the fact that all the young Jews graduate and move to the coasts, or Chicago. Communities like Detroit reported that there are more Detroit-born Jews living in LA than Detroit itself (who would wanna leave Detroit?).

It may seem bleak for those of us who remain more than a 5 hour drive from a beach, but all is not lost.

A recently released report from the Cincinnati Jewish Community Study had a few surprising results.

First, the community is relatively stable. That is to say that the Jewish population of Cincinnati is stable, sort of. More than 50% of those surveyed were born outside of Cincinnati and decided to move to the City of Cin. Another 16% were born in da Nati, left, and then returned.

This report is important in a few ways.
The first is that St. Louis and Cincinnati are similar. Very similar. I mean like post-industrial-rust-belt-river-cities-with-a-lot-of-large-corporations-who-are -trying-to-figure-out-how-to-attract-young-talent-to-a-place-with-an-image-problem-similar.

Cincinnati has some things going for it that STL doesn't, many more fortune 500 companies that attract a lot of talent, for sevaral.

St. Louis has some things that Cincinnati doesn't, like Washington University/BJC, a rudimentary light rail system (Vote YES on Proposition M if you want to see it become useful), and about 10 more years of investing in lofts and development downtown, made possible by a historic tax credit.

These differences aside, both live in the shadow of place like Chicago, New York, DC, LA, and Boston, to name a few. These are cities in which young adulthood is played out without regard to the future, responsibilities, or savings.

Young adulthood, particularly Jewish young adulthood is difficult in places like Cincinnati, St. Louis (Minneapolis, Detroit, etc.) particularly because you don't have the mass of young Jews that can feed fresh energy into the community.

You end up seeing the same people at every event, which can be great, but can also be stifling (see Rosh's post on dating in STL).

The real importance that I see in this study, however, is that we matter to the current generation. A lot. You can see it in the choice of Rabbi Davids and his speech on Gen Next in the community (which you can read about here). It is apparent when communities like Dotan, Alabama offer Jews $50,000 to move in.

The established federated community is foaming at the mouth to outreach to us, connect with us, and bring us into the fold.

This is the beacon of hope. That the these people are starting to come around and embrace our reality. But they can't do it without us.

Knowing that the interest, and money, is out there.... How do we take advantage of it?
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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The establishment asks: Is Israel Relevant to the Next Gen?

The federated, organized community is going bananas trying to figure out how to impress upon us, the 'next generation' their views and values on Israel.

This time, though, the gennext was brought in on the discussion and was able to weigh in on their own terms... mostly.

Before the Federation's annual meeting, last week, a discussion was held with students at local universities, young professionals, and community leaders.

Surprisingly, the discussion was honest and progressive. I say surprisingly because I have been witness to a great many discussions on Israel, and a great many more programs lead by the community in terms of camps, youth groups, Sunday schools, etc. and there most programs are a means of getting a discussion from point A to point B.

After reviewing the podcast, its clear that this was a true discussion, no agenda, just, present an interesting viewpoint and let the target demographic tell you exactly the type of information that should be capitalized on.

Honest questions include, "Is a Pro-Palestinian stance necessarily anti-Zionist?" and "Is anti-Zionism anti-semitism?"
These are area which are worth our time and discussion, and I hope that this type of discussion occurs more as the Federation invests more resources in engaging the next generation.

Pictures and a podcast can be found here

Direct link to the podcast here

A video of Rabbi Davids' speech can be found here
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Monday, September 8, 2008

Nasty Boys..or not

My mom forwarded me this article (Wesley Yang's review of Michael Kimmel's book on American 'Guyhood') as if to say, you and your friends aren't like this right? Was fraternity hazing really like this? And, in a way, What's up with your generation?

My first response is that I can only speak for my experiences in Alpha Epsilon Pi at Washington University in St. Louis. I know what I went through, and what my pledge brothers went through. And we never did anything remotely close to what Kimmel describes in his book.

Certainly nothing barbaric.

There may have been a few nights standing around in our boxers, but that's pretty normal for a group of Jewish guys, most of whom went to some form of sleepover camp or another.

The 'bros before hos' was a very specific message, but I would argue that, especially in a fraternity house known for being the kind of guys you want to date and party with, the message was really to support your brothers more than as a message to belittle women.

Yang's article is summed up in the opening sentence:
The great question haunting our lifestyle journalists — are our daughters having healthy, empowering sex? — has an implicit counterpart: If not, are the emotionally misshapen men of their generation to blame? Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the author previously of the cultural history of “Manhood in America” and one of the leading lights of the emerging academic subfield known as men’s studies, has finally asked, and even tried to answer, that question, at book length.

I would argue that American-Jewish men of our generation have a certain level of distinction when it comes to this 'emotional misshapen'ness Yang describes above.

In fact, as mentioned in earlier posts, it has been noted that often, non-Jewish women seek out Jewish men because of this stereotype of emotional availability and stability, and a desire to please their mate.

This isn't to say that young Jewish adults aren't influenced by the hook-up culture, or that it didn't take place in my fraternity.

I'm just not convinced that what takes place between consenting adults who understand the situation is something to be worried about.

In fact, I think this line of reasoning does a great disservice to women, by effectively denying their agency in the equation. Both the men and women have bought into and participate in the culture, willingly.

The fact that people are waiting to get married, moving in with college/fraternity buddies after school for a few years, or generally bumming around has more to do with societal and parental acquiescence and influence than it does with some new kind of masculinity.

Look, our parents made it to the tops of American society, saved up enough to put us through college, and to generally live the good live. So many of us are going to college now, that a college education doesn't really get you the same opportunities it once did, and with so much more competition amongst so many more equally qualified people, there are going to be affluent and well educated people who don't have the types of jobs expected for affluent, educated people.

Times are changing, America is losing some of its position in the world to the very globalization it championed. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Gender studies aside, American beliefs about gender and sexuality are changing.

Despite what you may think of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as candidates, women have made a strong showing in this year's election, and have forced the issue of sexism to be discussed at the highest levels.

This is forcing men to rethink their position as well, as one the male gender construct does not exist in a vacuum without the female gender.

While our specific connotations for male and female have changed, we are still playing effectively a zero sum game with gender. If females become more assertive, it is assumed that men must be losing some level of assertiveness. It is this level of reasoning that I believe stifles the discourse on gender.

To conclude this rather unorganized piece, I find it pretty ridiculous to assume that the men of this generation are somehow any worse than men of any other generation.

After watching Mad Men for a take on sexism, misogyny, etc., which is set over 40 years in the past, perhaps it would really be a better question to ask, What was up with your generation?

I would be interested to read the book, but you can believe I'd be looking incredulously at every assertion.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

He gets it: Rabbi Andrew Davids and the connection between young Jewish adults and Israel

Last night at the Jewish Federation annual meeting, Rabbi Andrew Davids delivered a speech entitled, "Engaging the Next Generation in the Israel Conversation".
While I was unable to hear the speech, due to a prior commitment involving Afghan food, I procured a copy of the text of the speech and have to admit, Rabbi Davids gets it.

He starts off innocently enough, with the obligatory 'thank you's, the positive reinforcement for all of the great work that has been done, and reiterating the grim outlook that lays the impetus for the speech. . . but then it gets interesting.

Rabbi Davids acknowledges several facts which are both often glossed over by the current institution (or wholly ignored) and which are also of tantamount importance in understanding the way that our generation feels towards Israel.

The first is the fact that Israel exists. Simple enough, but what Rabbit Davids puts forward is the idea that Israel isn't truly facing an existential threat. Sure, there are guys who want to murder Israeli citizens, kidnap soldiers, launch rockets, etc. And Ahmadinejad isn't exactly trying to hug Israel (except perhaps with nuclear arms). But really, nothing (with the possible ironic exception of the growing Palestinian and non-Jewish demographic)poses an existential threat for the state of Israel.

This is a big deal to admit, because we of the younger generation are often fed very right-wing nationalistic propaganda. The 'rally-round-the-flag and defend Israel, even when Israel should be help accountable for its actions. To help make Israel a light unto the nations, we must first be able to acknowledge when the military or government of Israel messes up. You can't improve something if can't identify the problems.

Second, anti-semitism is simply not something that most American Jews face in any real way. This is not to suggest that it doesn't still exist, or effect people, but it truly isn't something that most of us deal with in the way that African-Americans still with racism (although that has changed dramatically as well).

This is huge to admit because so much of past generations' Jewish identity was created in response to fear and hatred, persecution and prejudice.

We no longer feel that the Holocaust must define us, and we would rather have a religion of Life, than to be known as the 'ever-dying' people.

Finally, and this is really more of a 'Federated, organized Jewish life' talking point, but Rabbi Davids nails it when he points out that we are not as interested in memberships as we are relationships.

Engaging the Next Generation in the Israel Conversation
St. Louis Federation Presentation
September 4, 2008
I wish to begin by thanking Sheila Greenbaum [St. Louis Federation President] and Barry Rosenberg [St. Louis Federation Executive Director] and their team for bringing me to speak with you today; you are blessed to be served by such committed and competent lay and professional leaders who are known throughout the Jewish community as innovators. I’m particularly pleased to engage in this conversation with you because I know how serious the St. Louis community is in regard to building upon your traditional structures for connecting with Israel and to expand the conversation and the content of that relationship. Your Focus Israel initiative is bringing Israel into a number of new communal frameworks and shaping a blue print that is being followed by other communities around North America. I am also pleased to see the work that is being done through Knesset Israel and the Conservative and Reform congregations that are re-visioning what Israel can look like when embedded in a comprehensive way in the framework of synagogue life. These efforts, as well as your strong commitment to overseas allocations through JAFI and the UJC, your significant P2K relationship with the communities of Yokne’am and the Megiddo Council, the range of Israel-oriented agencies and institutions, and your recent community-wide Israel efforts that I had the opportunity to participate in last March all point to a deep and unwavering commitment to the Jewish people and the Jewish state. As a Zionist, as a Rabbi, as an Israeli and a Jew who loves Israel deeply, I salute you and your leadership for all you do for and with Israel.
However, despite this great effort and allocation of human, political and financial resources, all is not where we would wish it to be – and this is particularly true with the Next Generation – Jews in their 20’s, 30’ and early 40’s. Our symbolic exemplar of Jewish commitment and triumph, Elie Wiesel, teaches that “The opposite of love is not hate – it is indifference.” And what we are seeing is an overall trend from love to greater ambivalence in regard to Israel that is felt throughout the United States is also being experienced here in St. Louis. And in some cohorts within the community, this ambivalence is being replaced by indifference – and the increased expression of the refrains, “Why should I care about Israel?” “Why should I support Israel?” “I’m an American – what’s my obligation to a foreign state, especially one that oppresses its neighbors, a militant occupier of other’s land?”
Not every young person has fallen out of love with Israel and I have had the opportunity to meet many campus and community activists who identify strongly with Israel and look to engage with the Jewish State, whether as members of AIPAC or of the Progressive Student Union, graduates of Young Judaea, NFTY, NCSY, BBYO or USY programs, or these wonderful birthright Israel returnees who are on fire for Israel. They do not represent the majority of their peers, however, and there are many in their twenties, thirties and forties who did not benefit from these experiences and have come of age after the peak moments of 1967 and 1973 and who understand their Jewish selves in ways that are fundamentally different than many who sit in this room this evening. But I would also add that there are many who are present tonight who also ask these questions regarding “Why Israel?” – perhaps not as loudly, perhaps with less impertinence, but with many of the same deep uncertainties as to why Israel is a critical piece of the pie.
Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman recently published a much discuss monograph entitled “Beyond Distancing.” The sub-title of the piece tells it all – Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel. Their research points to a number of reasons for this distancing: the more morally complex wars of Lebanon in 1982 and 2006 and the two intifadas; the perception of a right-wing tonality in regard to both Israeli politics and the Israel-oriented organized Jewish community; and the re-formulation of Jewish identity in America which gives primacy to the private, internal, spiritual experience over the ethnic or collective dimensions of Jewish life that shaped earlier generations. While there are some that question aspects of their research and their analysis, most of the professionals I work with in this field agree with the findings and experience these in our interactions with young adults and with the organized community seeking to engage this cohort. In order to respond, however, we must first turn to ourselves and ask the fundamental question these young Jews are asking so that we are certain we have an answer ourselves.
So, why Israel? Why should we as a vibrant, self-sufficient, politically and financially strong Jewish community, a community that has recently celebrated 350 years on these shores, why should we care and connect to the Jewish State?
Before I give you the answer – a clear, thoughtful, compelling and easy to market answer that will solve all of our problems, including rounding out the budget - and we retire for brandies and cigars in the study, I suggest we take a step back and review how we have answered that question in the past.
For the past one hundred years, and certainly for the majority of Israel’s 60 years as a sovereign Jewish state, we have organized our communal relationship and responsibility towards Israel around three key principles:
• Since the first World Zionist Congress in 1897 to the Biltmore Conference in 1942, from the powerful speeches given at Flushing Meadow in 1947 to our various political conferences in Washington, D.C., the American Jewish community has played a critical role in the establishment and ongoing support of the Jewish State. We have every right to be proud of the contributions that we have made – political, human, financial – into bringing about the establishment of a Democratic, Jewish State in our ancestral homeland;
• Anti-Semitism in America and throughout the world was a major motivator for communal action and reaction. The pogroms of Eastern Europe, the quotas in American universities and certain professions, the barring of Jews from social clubs and neighborhoods, the Jews beyond the Iron Curtain – and of course, the profound and wrenching trauma of the Shoah in the middle of the last century continues its painful impact on the Jewish psyche.
• Finally, the late 1800’s and a majority of the 20th century involved Jews seeking to flee from persecution and economic and political limitations to find places of opportunity and freedom or to join the Zionist enterprise in the building of the Jewish State.
Our communal activities that focused on Israel – by and large – have been organized to respond to these three realities: the establishment and security of the State of Israel, responding to Anti-Semitism, and the moving of large Jewish populations from degradation to freedom, from the Diaspora to Israel.
My friends, these were critical and important activities…but we’re being told by leaders such as Yonatan Ariel, Director of Makom and your partner in your Israel engagement initiative, that a new reality exists that is going to require a completely different paradigm in regard to our Israel engagement agenda:
• The state of Israel just celebrated 60 years. While there will always be real security concerns – and no one would suggest that we ignore the Iranian threat, the continue foment of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish terrorist activities at Israel’s borders – there are very few voices in Israel or abroad that believe that Israel is going to disappear and that she is truly under an existential threat. We have helped create a formidable state with one of the world’s most powerful militaries just a few generations after the Jewish people experienced complete powerlessness. Israel’s economy makes her both a powerhouse in the region and in the world. Her cultural and intellectual exports are renown. And the following may surprise you – of the almost 185 nations in the world, over 160 have full diplomatic relationships with the Jewish State.
• Anti-Semitism has certainly not disappeared and there is no reason not to remain vigilant and to respond to incidents in an immediate and forceful manner; however, we must also acknowledge that at least in the West, it has been marginalized and that any straight forward outburst of this scourge by a significant political or cultural leader – intentional or unintentional - is immediately chastised and the individual is called to task. To continue to profess anything different – and most certainly within the context of the American Jewish reality – is inaccurate.
• Finally, after almost two thousand years, most Jews find themselves living today where they want to be living. The great Jewish population shifts of the 20th century appear to be behind us, and pending great upheaval, most Jews are at home and content where they are living. This shift is even reflected in how Israeli society reacts to its émigrés who now populate significant communities abroad; once treated as social outcasts who had abandoned the great Zionist experiment, these Jews are seen by Israeli institutions as individuals making legitimate choices to live where their dreams and aspirations take them.
I make these three key points because while they are new truths for us all to consider, they are very true for the Next Generation. This is the reality that they live and perceive, a reality that is not informed by how Jewish life was viewed even two decades ago when large populations of Soviet Jews could not consider life elsewhere or when Israel still itself completed isolated at the peace talks in Madrid with only cold relationships with Egypt and no diplomatic relationships with Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, Dubai or the Palestinians.
Any campaign or initiative designed to bring the next generation of Jews into the Israel conversation – and for that matter – much of the communal Jewish agenda – will require us to accept that these core ideas that have guided our work for the past half a century or more need a complete rethinking. We can no longer look around for “best practices” because much of what has come to reflect the best thinking and the most strategic implementation strategy involve preparing for the last campaign rather than a complete retooling for a new agenda.
And we must do this if we are going to engage the Next Generation if we are going to continue to see our American Jewish community thrive, continue to contribute to the dynamic and constant renewal of Jewish life, contribute to our tradition which ties us back to the land of our ancestors and be sufficiently strong to serve as an anchor for the generations to come. For this cohort will either be engaged in a manner that allows them to age into our leadership cohort and into positions of authority and influence within our communal structures or these alphabet soup of institutions that do the sacred work of the Jewish tradition will be emptied of new blood, fresh ideas and renewed commitment
So if we cannot depend on “best practices”, how do we develop “next practices,” the strategies, resources, training and structures that will help both the Next Generation and current leadership pro-actively engage the new paradigms of Israel-Diaspora relationships, shape Jewish communal strategies and ensure that our carefully structured meaning making machine speaks in ways that are heard as truthful and compelling, that speak to the hearts, souls, minds – and yes, pocketbooks – of this new generation?
So now the brandy and cigar moment…ok, for this generation, a green tea infused power drink and a high protein, non-fat, free range raised organic trade-free multi-grain energy bar…what do I propose?
Our “next practices” are being shaped as we speak. The work that you are doing here in St. Louis makes your leadership of Focus Israel a part of perhaps 500 people around the world who are engaged in this new type of thinking, analyzing and doing. Whether in Toronto, Palm Beach, Belarus, or Jerusalem, your community is on the leading edge and the results have not yet been determinative. However, I would suggest that we are beginning to coalesce around at least four key areas that may end up serving as the principle frames for a new Israel engagement paradigm that will speak the language of this Next Generation and fit well with their own sense of Jewishness:
• One of the most difficult shifts that we will need to make as communal organizations is accepting the fact that the ship this new generation wants to travel on is not membership but relationship. Social network sites such as Facebook and My Space, constant communication through multiple forms of media, fluid groupings and spontaneous gatherings all point towards individual relationships playing a central role in motivating involvement. Furthermore, it is the opportunities for relationships with all types of individuals outside of the family and peer group that provide important opportunities for this age cohort to be mentored, to network, to grow professionally and to grow personally. As long as we continue to require paid memberships, time commitments for committee meetings with unbounded agendas or timeframes for accomplishment, and hierarchical power structures that demand years of belonging and giving to reach the centers of power and influence, we will fail at bringing this generation in to where the conversations are truly meaningful and interesting.
Making relationships a centerpiece of our Israel conversation is critical and there are ways to envision this taking place in our communities. Len Saxe and Barry Chazan recently published a book on what has been learned in the first decade of birthright Israel trips and it is clear that the most powerful Israel engagement tool on these trips is relationship building that happens between the Diaspora youth and the young Israeli soldiers who travel on the bus with the group. How can we create opportunities for similar interactions here in St. Louis and in other communities around the world where the young Israelis who travel the world after their army service are brought into our communities to build personal relationships with young adults? In what way are we helping bring Israeli students to Wash U and other campuses filled with our young people and helping them – not us – create organic opportunities for interactions, interactions that can lead to a lifetime of relationship? How do we bring our concerns for Israel and our own personal relationships with one another into their world, sponsoring informal conversations and talks at clubs, bars, gyms, professional offices, and the like, rather than asking this cohort to step through our doors and meet us on our turf?
Relationships will be at the heart of meaningful connections for this cohort and will provide us with two additional benefits: Israel will stop being a place that is abstract and begin to be the place where my friend Yossi or Tamar lives, the place that my Israeli friends who I care deeply about, are concerned about, laugh about, and call their home. And relationships also help shift this cohort from thinking solely about self and begin to move them towards a greater sense of the collective, an essential component of what is has meant to be a Jew for so many millennium.
Finally, the community’s relationship with this cohort must be envisioned as a mutual, two-way partnership. This is not about another communal funded program or agency where the community provides a service for the Next Generation. This is an age group – whether college students or young professionals – who are looking to be equal partners. I want to congratulate the Federation for beginning my visit to this community today with a open conversation with over a dozen individuals who reflect the wide range of perspectives in this cohort and am pleased that many of them have stayed on for this evening’s program. I invite everyone from each age cohort to find a time to introduce yourselves to one another and to make plans to continue this important conversation.
• A second core element will be an unmitigated commitment to intellectually honest and open conversation about Israel, a discourse that we have often been hesitant to engage in within the framework of the organized Jewish community. Whether true or merely perception, studies such as Frank Lundz’ Israel in the Age of Eminem – the rap star not the candy – point to a perception among many young Jews that our communal structures are monolithic in our thinking about Israel, are nationalistic and rightwing in that thinking and that there is very little room for debate. As a member of the Conference of Presidents of the Major Jewish Organizations, I can tell you that the perception is not far off from the reality. The old paradigm may have demanded a rallying around the flag and a narrow consensus in the public arena but this is hurting rather than helping us raise a new generation of committed Jews who will support Israel when the chips are truly down.
If we cannot discuss our own moral concerns about how power is used by the Jewish State, if we cannot share our own feelings about issues related to the different status between the Jewish citizens and the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, if cannot expose this generation to the tremendous variety of opinions about peace and security, Jewish identity and pluralism, economic structures and the countless other issues that are on the tips of tongues of every Israeli, we are actually sending a message that other opinions, whether right or wrong, are not welcome. Our people have always been our most strong when there are a diversity of opinions that are offered at the table of building Jewish futures; in fact, it is this diversity that is a hallmark of our strength. While there will always be positions that are truly outside of the camp, a much broader range of approaches will bring more people into the conversation and a less narrow, safer milieu will ensure that these opinions can be shared without fear of reprisal or accusations of internalized anti-Semetism, anti-Israel bias or the like.
I also believe that by mirroring the range of approaches that are offered on a daily basis within Israel, we are highlighting one of Israel’s greatest strengths as a robust democracy in a monolithic region. By presenting Next Generation adults with opportunities to hear from settlers on the Golan and soldiers who refuse to serve across the Green Line, from haredi rabbinic leaders to non-Jewish citizens, such as the individuals in the Arab-Druze community you have supported through your Global Jewish Needs Committee, we help present a more robust, more complex, more authentic Israel that is compelling and worthy of this generation’s time.
• A third key component will require as significant a shift in Israel as I’m proposing for our community. The Israeli paradigmatic understanding of the Diaspora, and in particular the American Jewish community, will also need a profound rethinking. This past June, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a well-received address to the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. What made the speech so remarkable was his acknowledgement that our partners in Israel are ready to take the next critical step in regards to how we continue to strengthen Israel and the Jewish people by changing the way we related to one another. Along with some of your leadership and leadership from Federations around the country, I was in attendance and I must tell you that I was deeply moved by Prime Minister Olmert’s words. Rather than another round of “make Aliyah” and fulfill your historic role of securing Israel by sending donations while our young men and women guard the home front, Olmert talked about mutuality in our partnerships, the need to acknowledge that we had built something wonderful together but that we now need to engage in new projects that strengthen Jewish life no matter where Jews live. And he said the time had come for Israelis to begin to visit dynamic Jewish communities around the world – and in this setting, his focus certainly included the United States – so that Israelis could help recapture their own sense of Jewishness, so that they could experience the vitality, creativity and energy of what we are building here.
To tie these last three elements together – facilitating the building of relationships, open and honest dialogue, and the role that Israel must play in this dynamic, we must encourage our Israeli partners not to have one type of conversation in the cafes of Tel Aviv and a different conversation when speaking to our youngsters in our camps, from the pulpits of our congregations or from the shlichim offices around our community. These three principles must have some coherence and must both resonate and reinforce the more whole picture of Israel today. As someone who has worn the uniform of an Israeli soldier, I can tell you that the pride I felt of being trained to defend the Jewish State was always tempered by the reality that my training required me to shoot at cutouts of fellow human beings. The fact that our Israeli military might is truly awesome must always be tempered by the reality that sometimes that might gets used in ways that have unintended and troubling consequences. In a world where information is readily available – and misinformation about Israel is even more readily available – we must encourage and support truth telling if we are to break through to this Next Generation.
• Finally, as a Zionist, as a romantic and as an inheritor of a tradition which understands that pragmatism is important for the day to day but optimism is eventually what will inspire us to great ends, I believe we must begin to articulate the role of Israel within Jewish life as part of a narrative that speaks to this community. The metaphors of save haven for down trodden Jews, the lone democracy in a sea of hostile neighbors, even the Jewish homeland may resonate for some but do not tap into the gestalt of a younger generation that lives in a global village and that seeks purpose through acts of community building and justice. I believe that we need to remind this generation – and ourselves – that Zionism’s task did not come to an end on May 14, 1948 or when the final Israeli flag was unfurled in Eilat in January of 1949. The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel has two parts; the first discussed the historical need for a State of the Jews and the second part called for a Jewish State, a state that would fully enfranchise all of its citizens and would have peace with its neighbors. A state where there would be full freedom of religion, of speech, of press. A state with a constitution that would protect every citizen’s rights.
This first part has been brought to fruition. The second, however, is still left to be fully realized. Tremendous economic and social gaps between different sectors of Israeli society demand that we continue to do better to realize the founder’s dreams. The fact that the largest groups of religious Jews in the world – Conservative and Reform Jews – remain blocked from participation in the religious and political frameworks of Israeli society suggest that these religious freedoms have not yet been realized. And while the Declaration of Independence called for a constitutional convention no later than December of 1948, Israelis – and Jews around the world who link themselves with the future of the Jewish State – are still waiting for a constitution that will enshrine these values, outlining all Israelis rights and responsibilities and speaking to the core obligations of this State to Jews around the world and our obligations to Israel.
These are all aspects of a Zionist social action agenda that can be a part of the compelling reframing of the work that needs to be done and can be done by young Jews in Israel and abroad. However, this is only the particularistic dimension of this agenda. Most forms of historical Zionism built upon the historical mission of the Jewish people not only to look after our own needs but also to be a “or l’goyim,” “a light unto the nations.” Think about the global world we live in:
o Around the world, nation states are trying to figure out how to bring various ethic sub-groups together to build a sense of common purpose and destiny that will allow a country to flourish;
o Around the world, environmental challenges are demanding new ways of thinking, new technological innovations, approaches that green the planet rather than allow the felling of forests and the spread of arid desert land;
o Around the world, countries are trying to figure out how to integrate new immigrants from very different backgrounds and to identify where the correct balance lies between cultural diversity and a shared identity;
o Around the world, military leaders are looking both for ways to curb terrorism and to use the tools of war to respond to natural disasters and nation building;
o Around the world, political leaders are trying to figure out how to better manage weapons of mass destruction, how to bring to conclusions to age old hatreds and conflicts;
Israel is deeply engaged in each of these arenas and is already an exporter of ideas that can help other countries solve these fundamentally global issues. I believe that these are acts of a more global Zionism, a form of Tikkun Olam – of repairing the world – that can speak to the highest values of our role on earth as Jews and that can serve as a source of inspiration and engagement for the Next Generation. A new generation of Zionism and Zionist thought – and as important, a Zionist call to action – that may an incredibly powerful narrative for this Next Generation.
As the Executive Director of ARZA, the Reform Movement’s organization dedicated to connecting Reform Jews and Israel, I have the opportunity to visit communities around the United States and the world. While we have a robust travel and advocacy program, and a growing membership that has brought many more Reform Jews into the Israel conversation, it is in the area of Israel engagement that I have seen both the greatest need and the greatest opportunity within the American Jewish community. Too many of our young people are on the path from ambivalence to indifference to alienation. Too many of our young adults state that “Israel is an issue that prevents them from greater Jewish identity.” Too many of our communities are not taking the steps that St. Louis is taking to rethink the entire endeavor and to prepare a 21st century response to this issue that will have tremendous impact on the future of the Jewish people. We cannot allow the two largest Jewish communities in the world to continue to drift apart nor accept a not-too-distant reality where all a young Jew in St. Louis and a young Jew in Yokne’am will have in common to discuss is the price of a Big Mac.
Your ongoing commitment to the partnerships that exists between this community and the Jewish Agency’s Makom project are a key focal point for the types of approaches I’ve outlined. The ongoing support for young people to travel to Israel must continue and should increase. The role that your Federation plays in supporting overseas allocations and ensuring a strong partnership with your P2K community are essential frameworks upon which to build this new paradigm. This community, already on the cutting edge of next practices, can and is leading this effort in a brave and profound way. As Theodore Herzl boldly stated, im tirtzu, ain zo agada – if you will it, it need not be a dream. Therefore, dream big, turn your will to these efforts, and bring the Next Generation into this conversation. B’hatzlacha. Good luck

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin's Ties to Jews for Jesus

Among everything else, does Sarah Palin support Jews for Jesus?


Sarah Palin was in church two weeks ago when David Brickner, the Jews for Jesus founder, stopped by to spread a little anti-Semitism. Brickner has been quoted as describing terrorist attacks on Israeli's as God's judgment of unbelief of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity.

And here is what Palin's pastor had to say about Brickner: "He’s a leader of Jews for Jesus, a ministry that is out on the leading edge in a pressing, demanding area of witnessing and evangelism."

Does it bother you? Is Sarah Palin responsible for the actions of her church and her pastor? Is it yet more proof that Sarah Palin should not be our next VP? Let yourself be heard!
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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

FreeCreditReport.com is a Scam

Just a word to the wise, don't use freecreditreport.com

From a first hand source, the service is free for 9 days. On the 10th, they charge your credit card. They charge you a $15 monthly fee until you cancel, and they seem to have a 'no-refund' policy.

www.annualcreditreport.com is the actual free site.

Forewarned is forearmed.
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A Live Mic Can Be A Dangerous Thing

Check out what Republican strategists say when they think the mic is off... Turns out we're not the only ones skeptical of the Palin pick for VP...


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Living Jews Part 2: Randy and Jeff Vines

Part 2 in our ongoing coverage of young Yids doing something fresh in St. Louis

The Vines twins know a thing about or two about St. Louis, in fact, you could say they are obsessed with the city.

Most people see St. Louis as a generic Midwestern city. Jeff and Randy Vines feel just the opposite.

We like St. Louis because of its authenticity and its no-frills attitude. It is gritty, yet charming. It is old, yet still maintains a progressive edge. A high-quality urban lifestyle is very possible to achieve in St. Louis, and its under-the-radar image only adds to its mystique. We are the type of people who are usually rooting for the underdog.

Judging from the fact that they have been written up in the New York Times as well as a number of local St. Louis newspapers, these guys must be doing something right.

So...what exactly is it that Randy and Jeff do?

The duo are founders of STL-Style, a clothing company that puts St. Louis urban themes and inside jokes on display.

Below are a few personal favorites:

It was just after work when I caught the pair in their studio deep in Soulard (from which they are currently in the process of moving).

It is apparent the the two have a deep love and respect for the City of St. Louis by the maps and references to all of the little neighborhoods that adorn the walls of their studio.

I'm interested how they came to have a level of knowledge and passion for the city that borders on obsession.

Jeff explains that he and Randy have a long history of becoming fascinated with something. . . and subsequently learning as much as they can about it.

"In a city as old and storied as this, it would be impossible to know everything," says Randy.

"It started when we were little kids with VW Beetles," he explained, and then it moved to other cars, then helicopters and airplanes, to the extent that they could look up and identify pretty much anything flying overhead or passing you by in the street instantaneously.

The fascination with St. Louis came when our father took us to his old neighborhood on St. Louis's North Side, which at one time was a thriving, harmonious neighborhood with a sizeable Jewish community. He would point out where all the shops and restaurants were, and how he and his cousins played in the streets and took streetcars all over the city.

They fell in love with the heritage the second their eyes were opened to it, and learned all they could about the history of the city.

As we got older, we found that the entire city was built to have these amazing, self-sufficient neighborhoods, full of vibrancy and density and diversity. These are the qualities that make up an interesting urban place, and it was all here in St. Louis. The more we explored the city, the more we discovered that though it isn't the same place it was in the 1940s and '50s, there are still certain neighborhoods that embody these characteristics, and we are really lucky to have so many vestiges of this history left.

"The old Jewish neighborhood was called the Tel Aviv of the West, there were 30 synagogues in Mid-town."

"Every corner is like a museum," I'm told. And the boys really believe that this history is worth preserving and celebrating.

"Our rich history is our greatest competitive edge. Old cities can always build new to keep up with emerging trends, but younger cities can never replicate the authentic urban fabric that abounds all over STL."

Preservation and celebration of St. Louis are themes that come through loud and clear in their designs. Combining images of St. Louis architecture and themes with more contemporary urban style, Jeff and Randy have created some really interesting visuals that say loud and clear, "I'm from the 'Lou and I'm proud."

And pride is a big part of the equation, according to the Vines bros. When posing the question, how can St. Louis attract and keep creative and intelligent young people, a big part of the answer is creating a vibrant urban community that people want to be a part of and see as a destination.

We of course are not naive enough to think that there is any way that St. Louis-- or any city for that matter-- will ever return to its former glory. It's just a completely different world now. What we would like to see is St. Louis become the kind of city we know it can be. There is a lot of work to be done. What we seek to accomplish with our clothing line is rather simple-- we just want to bolster hometown pride. We want to take the elements that we think make the city cool and print them on wearables so other St. Louisans near and far can extoll the coolness of the city in a hip and affectionate way. We think the city is worth much more than just the cliche t-shirts you find at Union Station or the airport. We are doing our part to show St. Louis off in a different light.

The fuel for such a community already exists in the heritage, the infrastructure, and the people who want to see St. Louis return to its former vitality.

Randy and Jeff Vines are definitely two living Jews providing a spark.

So buy a shirt, or a thong, and wear your pride on your sleave, or your chest.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Israel: The Brand

Amen brings a lil AIPAC experience to the St. Lou Jew:

There’s little disagreement among experts that Israel could wage a much better PR campaign. Ask and ye shall find that, while most Americans support Israel, they know little about the country itself. The Foreign Ministry has long sought to win over other countries, but an initiative being launched in Toronto ushers in a new strategy.

The pilot program, funded mostly by Canadian philanthropists, will place advertisements around the city repping Israel’s position as a leading technology innovator that brings real benefits to people worldwide. One advertisement shows an Indian mother and daughter smiling under the words “Coronary Stent: Lifesaver” and above a new logo called “Innovation Israel” and the tag line “Touching Lives.” The Ministry hopes to connect with the growing Indian population of the city, among others.

Absent these adverts is any mention of Israel’s foreign policy. Says Amir Gissin, the counsel-general in Toronto, “Explaining why we are right is not enough. Our goal is to make Israel relevant and attractive to Canadians and to refocus attention away from the conflict." There is ample coverage of the Israel-Arab conflict, he says, that the real challenge is to connect the growing Diaspora population who is tuning Israel out, not to mention countering the Israel – apartheid falsehood that is showing up in the media.

I’ve had an idea for some time now about how to improve Israel’s image, but I don’t know why the Ministry has never taken me up on my oft-emailed proposal to write a kick ass “Rocky”-type movie. “Yesh lo Chutzpah,” staring a bad ass Mossad agent who, in the process of saving the world by stopping an Iranian nuclear bomb from being launched, kicks some serious tuchus in freeing Islamic reformers and wins the heart of Ahmadinejad’s girlfriend who he turns anti-fundamentalist. In the last scene she brings Ahmadinejad up to a Tehran roof top for a romantic view of the city. Waiting for him is our Mossad hero, who knocks him out and cuffs him. The credits roll over an Israeli helicopter carrying Ahmy back to Israel where he can be used as significant leverage against Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria, and Al Qaeda. That’s how you improve your mother effing image.

But in all seriousness (though seriously, I’ve sent that to the Foreign Ministry several times – come on, there are enough Jews in Hollywood to make the movie happen), it is about time that the Israeli government has gotten in the ball game. It takes informed people to know that Israel represents the right side of the conflict. But to legitimize Israel as a country and to present it as one worth fighting for, especially amongst people who are not well informed, we need to establish connections between Israel and the rest of the world that don’t simply echo foreign policy and war, but promote its contributions to the world in areas such as technology, industry, arts, music, and sport. It takes these kinds of efforts, along some serious grassroots action, to make it happen.

I applaud the government for taking this step, and we can all pitch in – here’s the grassroots action. Seriously, invite your cute neighbor to Shaare Emeth's Israeli art show. Spin some Israeli beats at your next house party. Point out that ICQ, developed by Israel’s Mirabilis, was the first Internet chat program, and that the IBM’s first Super Computer ran the Intel 8088, developed by Intel’s Israel division, as were the Pentium M Series, when you’re talking to your office’s technology support people. Bring some hummus to your next potluck, and explain how it is an integral part of the Israeli diet. Ask your doctor if they knew that the coronary stent was an Israeli invention, and point out that Israel is a world leader in the pharmaceutical development of drugs for diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s and revolutionary in bone repair. These small things can really add up over time, you’d be surprised.
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