Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Facebook Seder

Carl Elkin created a hilarious facebook perspective on the Pesach Haggadah.

Using the newsfeed, bringing in contemporary references (such as asking Zuckerberg to reinstate the old FB layout) as well as a few midrashim, its hard not to like this take on the oldest continuously celebrated holiday. See it here Read More......

Monday, March 30, 2009

Living Jews: Interview with Michael Oren

Michael Oren is the foremost historian, author, and scholar on the Middle East, and is currently a visiting professor at Georgetown University and a fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is also giving a free talk at Washington University this Thursday, April 2nd, at 7:30 PM at 560 Trinity.

The St. Lou Jew had the opportunity to interview Michael Oren, along with the St. Louis Jewish Light, and Wash U's Student Life. Read on for the interview.

Was the Gaza opp a success?

Generally, the only thing keeping Fatah alive is the IDF. This is why abbas doesn’t call for the withdrawal of troops.

It was important for the IDF to deal Hamas a decisive blow. Give Gazans an option to live like they have under Hamas, or like in the West Bank

Yes, the IDF dealt a decisive blow, Hamas fighters went underground and did not fight..a paper tiger. Israel shored up deterrent powerand eliminated hamas deterrence power.

To have gone into Gaza city and uprooted Hamas would have required the IDF to kill several thousand Gazan civilians. The leadership of Hamas was hiding under Shifa hospital and had the whole hospital wired to blow.

If Israel had successfully uprooted Hamas, who would Israel have given Gaza to?

As of the day of [the day of the interview] I decided to change the topic. I was going to give historical survey of Israel trying to reconcile being Jewish and Demographic, but will now going cover the 7 existential threats to Israel. No other country faces truly existential threats."

What do you hope students will get from your talk?

"I hope that students will appreciate this opinion not just by people who have studied this, but as someone who has lived this as well."

How would Freeman's appointment to the National Intelligence post have effected US policy and Middle East outcomes?

"I believe that certain forces in the middle east won’t react to American policy. I think it has its own dynamics, and agency, not just based on American Foreign policy, so I think that there is a limit to what extent Freeman would have been able to to twist the intelligence to meet his agenda.

I don’t think that Obama reaching out is ultimately going to change Iran’s behavior. I think it is important to reach out after 8 years of Bush, but I think it is more important that Americans be reminded of what Syria and Iran really are. This is not the first administration to reach out to Damascus

I think the most important thing people can do in terms of getting involved in the middle east is educating themselves. Many people with partial educations sometimes go and do things that are very dramatic. Be involved, read the newspapers every day, go there, get those experiences."

We recently had a chance to hear Saree Makdisi, who spoke about a one-state solution. Is this a legitimate solution, or is it an underhanded attempt to destroy Israel?

"Yes and Yes – they are not mutually exclusive. It has always been a possibility. It was one in 1948. The Palestinians could stop demanding a separate state and could demand equal rights in Israel, and you would already have parity between Jewish and non Jewish Israelis and then the Jewish state would cease to exist. The question is not so much the motivations, but whether it is practical, whether it could actually happen and the answer is ‘no’. Many Jewish Israelis wouldn’t be interested in living in a state like that. And if the state gravitates towards and Arab political culture as opposed to a Western political culture, many Israelis would not want to live there. So it is certainly a prescription for the end of the state of Israel as a Jewsih state and even for the presence of Jewish people in the area. But you have to look at other places in the area in which there is a single state solution in place, like Lebanon, like Iraq. None of these single-states solutions are really working. They have always been a formula for protracted, untractable civil strife. And so its not as if tomorrow, if there was a single state solution, everyone would be living peacefully with each other, instead it sets the state for another round of very bloody civil strife. Where states have succeeded in living more or less peacefully with one another have been situations of partitions, in which they are simply separated from one another, like in the Gulf Region. But I don’t think that is in the immediate future either, so it becomes an issue of interim solutions, so the question is, how do we better manage this conflict, and you do that by building up the Palestinian economy and institutions and uprooting illegal settlements and creating the greatest distance possible. This clears ground for a two-state solution."

The US media is often criticized as being anti-Israel…

"I don’t think that the US media is particularly anti-Israel. The European media is far far worse. If there is an unfairness towards Israel, it is in the gross disproportionality that Israel merits in the Western Media. For example, the New York Times just had a front page story about two Israeli Sargeants who claimed that they witnessed war crimes in Gaza, but you read the story and it turns out that they didn’t witness them; they just heard rumors about them. The US media is fair, while the European media is not fair."

You said that you were going to speak about Israel's dilemma as a Jewish and Democratic state, how are these issues going to manifest themselves.

"I think that we are on a major collision course with Iran, which will bring to the fore the fault lines in Israeli society between Israeli Jews and more Islamist-minded Israeli Arabs. I think there will have to be a line drawn, if Israel is to survive in the Jewish state. The question is really where the line will be drawn.

The Labor party wants to compensate Palestinians for any land taken in the West Bank, with land in the Negev, while Lieberman wants to compensate them with land in the Galilee, which is densely populated by Israeli Arabs. Lieberman sees this as a two-birds, one-stone situation in that it transfers Israeli Arabs to PA (Palestinian Authority) control. On the face of it, this appears cruel undemocratic, because the Israeli Arabs wouldn't have a choice, and most would rather live under Israel than PA, even though they don't like Israel.

Labor and Kadima are also discussing dividing up Jerusalem, but no one has asked the several hundred-thousand Palestinian Arabs who live there. Most of them would rather live under israel, even though they don't like Israel, rather than the PA as well."

Are you more or less optimistic about chances for peace than you were a year ago?

"I'm more optimistic, but not about chances for peace. Americans like to think about solutions and peace. I think in terms of survival, national strength, cohesion, deterrence... all those things are more important to me. Let me unpack that, peace is not going to happen, in the entire Middle East, because there are virtually no solutions to any Middle Eastern problems, only better managing of the conflict. Security is going to be a very elusive quality for a long time to come. But I'm very optimistic that Israel has improved its deterrence power vastly as a result of the Gaza operation, the economy is doing very well, tourism is off the charts, you can't get a hotel room, Israeli society is very robust and strong, vollunteerism is high, we had over 100% response to the reserve call up during the Gaza operation. All of the indicators show that Israel is in a vastly better position geo-strategically and economically than it has been at anytime in the last 61 years. That's reason for optimism! Israel hasn't been at peace for any second during those 61 years, so if you leave the peace out of it, we're doing very well and I'm very optimistic for the future."

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St. Louis Public Transportation; A Call To Action

St. Louis loves to fight over its public transportation. After losing an vote in the county, Metro is cutting back service dramatically, leaving around 12,000 people without the transportation they have relied on to get to work.

The St. Louis Activist Hub, State Senator Joan Bray issued a call to action. Read on for the juicy details and my letter to Governor Nixon.

At a Metro public forum Friday, State Senator Joan Bray called for a HUGE mobilization in the next WEEK or two to push for urgent state funding to reverse the drastic Metro cuts taking effect Monday, which will leave 12,000 people with no access to transportation whatsoever, and the rest of us with a 43% reduction in service. Metro gets less than 1% of its funding from the state of Missouri - just $1.3 million out of a $221 million budget - while other states (Illinois included) get 1/2 their public transit funding from the state.

We need to contact Governor Nixon & our statewide elected officials and urge him to devote state funding to rescue Missouri's public transportation. Public transit helps our economy, puts people to work, gets people to their jobs, and creates a vibrant, healthy community. Tell the governor what you think...
Governor Jay Nixon
(573) 751-3222
http://governor.mo.gov/contact/
http://transform.mo.gov/share/
and contact your state legislators here: http://www.senate.mo.gov/llookup/leg_lookup.aspx
and toll-free here: 1-800-826-8855

Governor Nixon,

Please consider the following: St. Louis Metro gets less than 1% of its funding from the state of Missouri and is making dramatic service cuts that will leave over 12,000 people without transportation (which they need for work) as well as a 43% reduction in service for the rest of us.

The most prosperous cities in this nation have functional public transportation. Other states (Illinois included) get 1/2 their public transit funding from the state.

Public transportation represents an investment beyond simple infrastructure and immediate jobs. It represents a shift towards a more efficient urban core and a move towards capacity building.

Given that St. Louis is the regional economic engine, that public transportation is an important facet of that economic growth, and that Missouri has traditionally dramatically underfunded this important piece of infrastructure, I respectfully urge you to provide additional funds to the St. Louis public transportation system.

More info on the St. Louis Activist Hub here.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

The St. Lou Jew helps free the innocent: Connie Keel Update

Connie Keel, whose unjust imprisonment we wrote about, has been freed!

Governor Schwartzenegger's decision was influenced, in large part, by
a media campaign started on twitter and spread across a large number
of newspapers and blogs, including The St. Lou Jew.

Two Living Jews who played a large part in the success of this effort were Adam Reich, whose advocacy on behalf of Connie we covered, and Elliot Darvick, both of whom called St. Louis home for their undergraduate education.

While The St. Lou Jew takes minimal credit for being one of the first to break this story, I think it is important to note the efficacy of this social media campaign. Over a relatively short period of time, the sustained effort of tweeting, posting to facebook and reaching out to media contacts generated a critical mass of interest and letters to the Governor, urging him to examine the facts of the case.

There have been several recent reports on Mashable as to the intersection of social media and charity, and Obama's web presence was a huge boon to the organizational strength of his campaign, but Freeconnie.com represents a small group of committed individuals spreading the word effectively to make a difference.

Congratulations to Connie Keel on being a free woman, and thank you to Adam Reich and Elliot Darvick for heading the call, "Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof" (Justice, Justice, shall you pursue), and exemplifying the meaning of being a Living Jew.

Shabbat Shalom!
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hebrew Overload- Every Young Israeli in town was at the Moishe House. And that's kinda sad

A few weeks back we started a Shulchan Ivrit, aka a Hebrew discussion section out of the Moishe House in St. Louis. It's small, but tonight was a bit of a turnabout.

This evening, I sat surrounded by what is by all accounts just about every Israeli in St. Louis between the age of 22 and 30. There were 4 of them.

In a rare cultural reversal, my American friends had flaked on me, and the Israelis actually showed.

The introductions revolved around each Israeli trying to figure out if the other was actually born in Israel and why the others were in St. Louis.

A large part of the discussion revolved around the difficulties they are facing being Israeli in St. Louis, and they noted how all of the Israelis who live here and are married with kids (and work for Amdocs) seem to have very few American friends.

This led to trying to figure out how long to stay in St. Louis, and as best as I could with my Hebrew failing me, I tried to put up some sort of defense.

Unfortunately, for a the few young Israelis in St. Louis, there aren't many reasons. Their families are usually in Israel, they find it just as hard as the rest of us to connect with peers, but with the added cultural barrier standing in their way.

Moishe House has already started trying to help build the network, but the whole community will need to reach out to provide reasons to keep these talented brothers and sisters in St. Louis


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Hasbara, Diverse, and interesting voices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Twitter has done it again. Not only did I meet @Susanisk at the Cheshire Lodge a few nights ago, I just found a fascinating site that provides "Human Rights Activists, Moderate Muslims and Expert Investigative Reporters" to provide insight on events around the world.

The Hudson has a wealth of interesting stories, backed by experienced and respected reporters such as Khaled Abu Toameh, and Israeli-Arab who has been reporting from Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank for 30 years.

Toameh's most recent article deals with the radicalization of the Pro-Palestinian movement on campuses across the US. Toameh finds that students are often far more radical and anti-free speech than the very Palestinians they purport to support.

He paints a bleak picture:
I was also told that top Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in prison for masterminding terror attacks against Israeli civilians, was thrown behind bars simply because he was trying to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

What struck me more than anything else was the fact that many of the people I met on the campuses supported Hamas and believed that it had the right to “resist the occupation” even if that meant blowing up children and women on a bus in downtown Jerusalem.


Toameh's full piece can be found here

Another piece deals with the influence that local translators and cameramen play in Gaza and the West Bank. The article's main idea is that, since most of the visiting journalists don't speak Arabic, they have to rely on local 'fixers' for interviews, and that the 'fixers' have a very easy time of influencing what gets heard and what doesn't.

That whole article can be found here

I support the work this organization is doing and think believe that the lenses are always exposed as lenses.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Technion Students in St. Louis: Points of Confluence

The world is serendipitous. Everyday, pieces of the young Jewish community are coming together in St. Louis

Last night, the St. Louis Israel Connection hosted Gidi and Keren, two fantastic Israelis from the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology. Not only did we learn about work being done in the field of cancer detection, we had an opportunity to meet a few new people as well.

What the event proved to me was that, once again, young Jews will show up to comfortable environments and connect on a personal level, if they are brought in through personal relationships, and don't feel any kind of pressure from an agenda.

This seems to be mirrored in a recent "Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandies study of the Jewish communal involvement of Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni."

As discussed on JewSchool, the study's findings are pretty interesting and point to the same feelings and responses that I see in myself and my group of Jewish friends in St. Louis.

The most interesting piece of the study seems to be the following:

The alumni surveyed in all four cities said they would like to be more involved than they were in Jewish life. Most preferred small gatherings to large, anonymous “meat market” Jewish events.

“They’re happy to eat free food and drink free beer at those big events, but they don’t feel it meets their needs to find Jewish community,” [study co-author Fern] Chertok reports.

Respondents also said they were interested in learning more about Judaism and Jewish culture and history, including Hebrew, but were wary of outreach groups with a perceived “religious” agenda. They also wanted a network of friends to share those experiences as a way of re-creating the camaraderie they felt on their Israel trips.


So how do we take these 'findings' which jive with what we already 'know' and turn it into action?

Moishe House seems like a pretty good starting point, but how does the culture change?

Read the full JewSchool piece here
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Israeli Politics, Still Without A Government

The Israeli elections have long since come and gone, but a government has yet to be formed. Papers and blogs around the world are speaking of a right-wing extremist government, but what is really happening?

My Filtrbox updates have been scaring me since the Gaza Operation. Its turned into a daily parade of war-crimes accusations, conspiracy theories, and characterizations of the new Israeli government as radical, right-wing extremists.

Far from a dramatic move towards the right-wing, Israeli politics has decided shifted towards the center, or so says Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Hartman argues that the right-wing's inability to form a government is a clear sign that there is no consensus on that side of the spectrum. Further, he notes that the more extreme right parties have not been asked to join the government.

Read the whole article here
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

St. Louis Public Transportation To Be Worse Than Beirut

This is pretty sad. Read More......

Past, Present, Future

Home, I love you, good bye

Someone once told me that you don’t really know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. There’s a certain amount of truth to that statement, I think. Everywhere you go, you take with you the parts of your past that you’ve held on to, the parts that have shaped you and that construct the filters through which you process the world. On this Saturday afternoon, as I stood in one of the fields that collectively constitute the 5 acres upon which I grew up on, I realized that as metropolitan, as urban savvy and concrete hungry, as I’ve become, I did grow up on 217,800 square feet of the most beautiful land in the world, 216,800 square feet of it without concrete, and I take the trees, mountains, dirt, creek, and fresh air of it all with me everyday wherever I go.

As I stood in the field, looking at the 3 year-old, 8 foot tall cedar tree growing (deliberately) from the grave of my childhood best friend (Nikko, a half husky, half black lab), it sunk in: this would likely be the last time I would stand there. When I left this house in early 2003 I did not believe I would ever move back to the area. It was too small, lacking in opportunity and intellectual curiosity. It still is, and I still do not believe I will ever move back, but this does not change neither my affection for the area nor the countless experiences that have shaped the person I am today.

When we moved to the house I was 9 years old and in the fifth grade. I went through middle and high school and 2 years of community college, liking little of it, in this house. I had a close group of friends, only two of whom I’m still (infrequently) in contact with. I covered nearly every mile of road and mountain trail in the city and county on my bicycle. I rode in rain and snow and wind and sun. And I did it hundreds and sometimes thousands of times over. I would drive within a few feet of the sea a mere hour before parking my car over 6,000 feet higher. While living in this house I had my first kiss, my first “time”, my first glass of wine. I woke up in this house on 9/11. I beat my father at one-on-one for the first time here. I learned to cook in this kitchen. I learned how to build and fix things in the work shed. From this house I traveled the country and the world, but upon returning home every time I was reminded of one thing: no matter where you go and what you do there, what the Northwest has to offer is uniquely as rewarding as what you’ll receive anywhere else.

When I left this house I was 19; I was off to finish my last two years of university 90 miles south of this house. I continued to return to this house, usually once a month, over the next two years to spend weekends with my parents. Promising to stop at the outlet stores along the way, I brought my college girlfriend with me once in awhile. I would visit friends, ride with old training partners, eat and shop at old haunts, hike with Nikko. This house was my refuge from the big city, from the endless parade of cars and buses and light and noise. At this house you hear nothing but the monotone and muted echo of the highway off the valley sides. You see the sky and every star in it because there is no light pollution; the best night skies are seen from the basketball court next to the barn. I hope I find another place where I am exposed to nature the way in which this house indoctrinated me with it: raw, unassuming, humbling, and at times utterly comforting.

I’m 25 now, and this is the last night I’ll spend in this house. When I was 16 I moved from the house into the adjoining one-room cabin. Tonight, I’m staying in my original room, the one in the house. It looks different now: the walls are a different color and the decorations are no longer mine. I sleep on a futon on the floor; the bed is long gone. The dresser, also different, houses my father’s cycling clothes. But it still feels like my room felt, 9 years ago, when I slept here. I hope I wake up tomorrow feeling, like I felt when I was younger, that the day ahead will have better things to offer than the previous day, even if that day was wonderful. But I think now, maybe a bit more strongly than I did yesterday, that because I have all that encompasses this house, that my best still lies ahead and that this house is an integral part of how I get there.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

SLIC brings Israeli Technion Students to St. Louis

I've often complained that I don't have enough people to practice Hebrew with, and the St. Louis Israel Connection is doing something about it.

Ever wonder what life is like in Israel for someone your age? Two students from Israel's work famous Technion will be in St. Louis on Monday and are staying out to get drinks and meet their peers.

We decided to keep the event intimate, by hosting it at the Cheshire Lodge's Fox and Hound pub. The pub is home to some really amazing coffee drinks and is worth a visit in and of itself.

Stop by, have a drink, a conversation, and meet some future technological innovators.

The Technion, one of Israel's premiere universities and an internationally acclaimed institue of technology, is in Haifa. Technion alumni include a pioneer of artificial intelligence, the developer of the electric car system in Hawaii and the VP of Google.

Host: SLIC (St. Louis - Israel Connection)
Location: The Fox & Hound Tavern
6300 Clayton Rd
St. Louis, MO 63113 US
View Map
When: Monday, March 23, 7:00PM
Phone: 314-442-3770

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Blog For The Arts

Be sure to check out http://www.saintlouisartmap.org/, a new blog that just launched to promote visual arts and the non-profits that support them in St. Louis. +1 for St. Louis culture! Read More......

UJC's Young Leadership and Service Project: A Report From The Front Line

After spending four days getting Heeby in the Big Easy, I returned bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, my whole body sore from lifting, drilling, pushing, and dancing...and I don't think I could have asked for anything better.

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. Almost all American music has roots in N'awlins. That is a big reason why, when the UJC announced that its national young leadership conference would be held in New Orleans this year, I decided to participate.

Now, I've done a few service projects before, and while they are done with the best intentions, they often end up being more about 'showing we care' by showing up, as opposed to making any measurable difference.

I was worried that this would end up being the same thing, because, I figured, most of the heavy lifting must have already been done.

Unfortunately for New Orleans, this just isn't the case.

The first day of the conference was really about creating the case for the service we would do on the second day. We started off on Sunday by listening to speakers talk about Katrina, the levies, and the Jewish community, followed by a bus tour of the lower 9th ward, in which immense amount of destruction is still evident, although sanitized by the removal of much of the debris. Instead of timber littered everywhere, in many cases, there is little left to inform one of the past presence of a house, beyond the empty lot, and occasionally the front steps, which remain as a sort of headstone.

The speakers were headlined by President Cowen of Tulane University, which has emerged from the devastation as an anchor and leader in the community. One often repeated refrain was the genuine thanks of everyone who spoke to us for our presence and service in New Orleans. Cowen stressed that what happenned was not a natural disaster, but rather a man-made one, namely the failure of the levees. The recovery, also, had not been government led, but rather pushed forward by people power, by the connection that people feel towards New Orleans

Monday was the cornerstone of the conference, the service component. When we arrived on the job site, a community center in St. Bernard's Parish, I eagerly anticipated getting my hands dirty. Of course, manual labor is one of the values that separates Israeli and diaspora culture, but that is a whole different post.

My anxiety to move from potential to kinetic action was probably the reason that I was so off-put when, for the half of the day, we weren't given the tools we needed to complete our project. They say a poor craftsman blames his tools, but when you don't even have tools, its harder to blame them. This combined with a lack of clarity on the proper way to construct said tables, and intermittent rain threatened our ability to have the impact we had hoped for.

Finally, drills appeared, and we were rolling, or drilling, or screwing.

The conference did a good job of trying to balance authentic New Orleans culture (keeping kosher is a bitch in that city) and placing connecting Jewish ideals and values with the reconstruction effort. It was evident that at the end of the day, a vast difference had been made at that community center.

As always, though, the real power of these conferences is the inspiration one gets from knowing that there are other people out there who care and are willing to put energy and money behind new young leadership.

I'm already starting to speak with Moishe House New Orleans about organizing a mini follow up trip. Anyone interested?
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Finally, Something Cool About STL.

St. Louis: home of toasted ravioli, the Cardinals, the new Highway 40, and.... CULTURE!

Thanks to a thread posted on criticalmass, a yahoo! group created for the St. Louis art community, I was clued into this article called, "The chic side of St. Louis." It cites the booming arts and fashion community in downtown STL, where I am proud to reside.

The article recommends several downtown shopping destinations, such as The Time, UMA, and Charm. Why waste time and money at the Galleria when you can support local businesses in our own Garment District?

I'll keep this post short and sweet: STL, nice job on the continuing revitalization. Hats off to your artists and designers!
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

UJC NOLA Conference Twitter Updates

A look at the conference in New Orleans through the lens of Twitter.

It turned out that the St. Lou Jew wasn't the only one twittering from the event, search for yourself at search.twitter.com for UJC.

Below are the tweets The St. Lou Jew made during the conference, in reverse chronological order.

for each one of us, there is a promised land we will not enter, but the choice, as a Jew, is how you will choose to live. #UJC
8:33 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Dr. Benjamin Sacks now speaking. #UJC
8:24 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Hashomer achi anochi, am I my brother's keeper? Indeed today, we are proudly so - Rabbi
8:23 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Today marks the 1000th day of Gilad Shalit's captivity
8:17 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
The Rabbi's joke, how many Jews does it take to put together a picnic table. Our response, depends on how many drill you give us.
8:16 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Obligatory slide show with ballad sound track. Typical Jewy finish. #UJC
8:09 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Just watched a news segment from last night on the work we did yesterday. One resident called our (600 Jews) presence "an act of god" #UJC
8:03 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Closing Plenary at #Ujc nola conference. About that time then?
7:56 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Panelist Jordan, "I hear good things about twitter"
7:25 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
504 connect sounds like something STL should co opt
7:24 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Gill, "Help people find things that make their lives more rich."
6:52 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Attending a social entreprenuership break out session. Gill of Moishe House New Orleans is a panelist.
6:51 AM Mar 17th from PockeTwit
Din Emeril's. Delicious but hard to eat kosher
6:59 PM Mar 16th from PockeTwit
Got an hour to enjoy before dinner. Any Yids tweeting from the #ujc conference should come grab a drink
3:52 PM Mar 16th from PockeTwit
Pick up the ball http://tinyurl.com/d259tg
1:31 PM Mar 16th from twitterfeed
@smtibor Our picnic tables kicked your benches ass
12:58 PM Mar 16th from PockeTwit in reply to smtibor
Finished up the work for today. Headed back to the hotel to wash off the mud
12:55 PM Mar 16th from PockeTwit
pushing mulch filled wheelbarrows through a swamp is an exercise in humility
12:21 PM Mar 16th from PockeTwit
skpefeeling and reflection segment... we're here to work
12:13 PM Mar 16th from PockeTwit
Taking a group picture after putting together benches, tpicnic tables, planting, and landscaping. There is now order here
Presenting Mr.Bougious of the parks and rec com with a 10,500 gift card to home depot for rebuilding. http://is.gd/nyM1
7:40 AM Mar 16th from PockeTwit
On a wetlands observation post. http://is.gd/nt2G #UJC #nolaconf
1:38 PM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
Getting ready to board the buses for our trip around the city. #UJC #nolaconf
11:58 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
After hearing Cowen speak, I'm thinking about making a move to Jew Orleans
11:52 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
Cowen just blasted FEMA's ineffectualness #UJC #nolaconf
11:40 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
Prez of Tulane, Scott Cowen. "come to new orleans, help us rebuild, and tell people what you saw and what you did." #UJC #nolaconf
11:29 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
Introducing Julie Oreck. She is apparently pretty gangster. #UJC #nolaconf
11:19 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
They seem really happy to have us here. "It is only when we see the brokeness that we are whole, only then can we fix it"
11:17 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
Just watched a great promo video about Katrina and the Jewish community
11:07 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
@smtibor did jon grant sing Oh Canada?
11:06 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit in reply to smtibor
started w Oh Canada, then Hatikvah, finished w Oh Say, can you see. #UJC, #nolaconf
10:46 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
A gospel choir is doing the opening. Is that ironic? #UJC #nolaconf
10:40 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
Sitting in the plenary, surrounded by 600 Jews, this is nuts
10:36 AM Mar 15th from PockeTwit
http://twitpic.com/242ri - Hot 8 brass band @ howling Wolf
7:05 PM Mar 14th from TwitPic
http://twitpic.com/242qt - Hot 8 brass band @ howling Wolf
7:04 PM Mar 14th from TwitPic
The hotel just got super Jewy..Headed to the Howling Wolf to party
5:36 PM Mar 14th from PockeTwit
Bourbon Street is what happenned tonight
11:59 PM Mar 13th from PockeTwit
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Pick up the ball

A American-Somali Connection

For the last three years, I’ve pointed to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Somali Arab taxi drivers as an example of the problem with anti-assimilation policies, meaning those that allow dual-allegiance with an immigrant’s home country and their new one, and do not instruct on the differences of American society and the expectation of assimilating to the American way of life. This approach, besides being government policy, has been advocated by most on the left and some on the right (Messrs Bush and McCain, for two) for several reasons: multiculturalism, diversity, human rights, convenience, politics, reality. To many, this loose immigration policy, that asks immigrants nothing more than to recite a pledge to the United States in their native language, poses an existential threat: the loss of Western culture, practice, and morality.

For those unaware, Minneapolis has a large Somali Arab taxi driver force, representing some 70% of taxi drivers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. In 2006, customers started reporting that Somali taxi drivers were refusing to pick people up if they were either carrying alcohol (this became a significant problem at the airport, which handles a large amount of international flights with passengers carrying duty-free purchases) or were drunk (counter anti-drunk driving campaigns and common sense) because of religious beliefs. Passengers at the airport were subject to questioning, and in some cases search, from the driver before they were allowed to get into the cab, causing queues to extend beyond what the airport was set up to handle. Incidents of drunk driving on weekends increased.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul government held talks with representatives from the Somali Arab taxi driver community in which they reached an agreement to allow the drivers to continue doing exactly what they were doing. The problem inherent in this example is that special allowances were made to a group of people on the basis of their religion, which is in direct conflict with how our government in supposed to work, how our laws operate, and the cultural practices of American society.

Freedom of religion can mean two things: the right to be free from religion (supposedly how our country was founded) and the right of religion to be free of government (how, in this example, the Minneapolis-St. Paul government interpreted it). The interpretation and implementation of which side of this dichotomy we use ought to be clear, but when it comes to explaining and enforcing it, especially with those from a religion that reacts violently to criticism, we have failed. In no way should taxi drivers, regardless of their religion, be allowed to reject passengers if they are intoxicated or carrying alcohol, both of which are lawful activities.

I bring this issue up because of a 27 year old American Somali named Shirwa Ahmed. Ahmed blew himself up on October 29th 2008 in one of five simultaneous bombings attributed to al-Shabaab, a Somali group with close links to al Qaeda. Ahmed is from Minneapolis. The FBI has been investigating and uncovering foreign extremist networks in the wake of a large number of unexpected departures of numerous Somali American teens and young men who family members believe are in Somalia. The investigation is active in Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Columbus, and Portland (ME).

While officials are saying that this does not constitute a serious threat of domestic terrorism, they warn that the potential for this is very serious considering these are Americans with American passports who can re-enter the country much easier than non-citizens. On Feb. 25, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told reporters that the relationship between Somalis in the United States and in Somalia "raises real concerns about the potential for terrorist activity" and "constitutes a potential threat to the security of this country."

Domestic radicalization has been a greater concern in Europe than in the United States. In the year before the 2005 London transit attack, Britain in particular struggled with reports that al-Qaeda was secretly recruiting Muslims at British universities and that up to 3,000 ticking time bomb Britons had returned to Briton from terrorist group's camps. Just imagine what would happen if the British government decided to enforce freedom of speech.

American was founded on the idea of a melting pot, but we’ve become a salad bowl. If we are not careful and deliberate in our assimilation policies, we threaten our own existence. The hijackers of 9/11 lived in this country, some for several years, among our friends and in our communities, before unleashing their hatred. The case of Minneapolis Somali Arabs is not a call for closed boarders or zero Arab immigration, but a warning of what may be to come if we allow our past failures to repeat. In this example we are seeing the growing potential of another 9/11. Presidents Clinton and Bush dropped the ball on this issue. Hopefully President Obama picks it up.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

NOLA Service Project

In New Orleans, this weekend, hundreds of Jewish young adults are showing up to connect, and engage in some tikkun olam, in the form of manual labor in St. Bernard's Parish.

This project represents a new movement or perhaps an experiment towards one in the mission to engage Jewish young adults, and to do community service work.

As we have written about before, the model has shifted from an emphasis on cerebral, religious Judaism, to more active, engaging, and cultural Judaism. . . mirroring in someways the movement of Zionism.

The hope is that Jewish young adults will pay for the privilege to hang out with each other and make a difference. And pay we are... 350$ for the conference, plus travel and lodging....yikes.

The event's power, I believe, comes from the connections that will be made and the energy and ideas that will be shared.

The St. Lou Jew will be in full effect in NOLA, representing among the young Yid leaders in attendance.

For live updates, check us out at www.twitter.com/thestloujew or follow @thestloujew.
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vilified, AJC's newest release on Israel

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Automatic Flush

Most Americans recognize that Frankenstein’s monster was an experiment gone wrong. After reading Shelley’s book and seeing countless film versions, they would never support bringing the dead back to life. Why then, do Americans support the automatic toilet?

Worse than reanimating the dead, the inventors of the automatic toilet attempted to animate the inanimate. Toilet bowls never knew how to flush themselves. And yet, no matter how absurdly robot-like automatic toilets seem, they have become the fashionable way to flush.

They are found in movie theaters, office buildings, athletic facilities, malls, restaurants, and most horrifying, highway rest stops. There is nothing worse than encountering an automatic toilet after hours of travel. It makes a bladder full of urine test itself to see how many more miles it can stay clamped beneath a seat belt until a normal, manual flush toilet could be found. So what makes automatic toilets so frightening to the bladder of the innocent movie-goer, worker, runner, shopper, diner, or traveler? I can best explain by describing the typical automatic toilet experience of an adult female. Just for fun, let’s say she’s 23 years-old…and a law student…and a talented writer. I’ll call her Dana.

Dana walks into a public restroom holding her breath, hoping that her surroundings will be clean. If the sinks are not too clogged with short green hairs and if the tiles have, on average, less than three mushroom caps growing in between them, Dana will begin to breathe in a normal pattern.

She approaches the nearest stall and undoubtedly finds that its automatic toilet has not been flushed. She shouldn’t even bother looking into the first stall anymore. Disgusted, she continues on her way down the aisle of stalls, peering into unflushed toilet after unflushed toilet.

Eventually, if Dana is lucky, she finds a stall whose toilet has been flushed and whose toilet seat is not drenched in unidentifiable liquid. She wipes the seat off anyway and puts down a protective paper cover. She urinates as fast as her bladder can squeeze— yes, Dana gave me all the details— and then one of two things happens.

The first scenario is that the toilet flushes before she is done with it. The little red laser sensor above the toilet seat detects that she is in the middle of some important wiping action, and so it flashes out of spite. Dana is still half-on the toilet seat, crumpled toilet paper in hand, when the flushing begins. The flush of an automatic toilet resembles a tidal wave emerging from the bowl. A “toilet wave,” I’ll call it, forces Dana on her feet and splashes dirty water on the back of her thighs. Now she stands with a wet backside. She has no choice but to wipe her legs with more toilet paper and re-dirty the already flushed bowl.

The second scenario is that Dana does her business, wipes, and then nothing happens. She violently waves her hand in front of the laser sensor, but it is out-of-order or perhaps on a cigarette break. A bowl full of yellow water stares her in the face.

In either scenario, poor Dana is stuck trying to figure out how to manually flush the automatic toilet. I’m sure you see the irony.

This is the most trying part of the automatic toilet experience. The manual flush device can be a knob, button, or lever. It can be behind the seat, on the side, resting on the floor, or hanging next to the toilet paper dispenser. It’s black, white, purple, blue, or invisible. After a fruitless 15-second search for this pit-stop mirage, most people leave their problem for the next person. Dana would never do such a thing.

Because she would never do such a thing, Dana reserves approximately twelve minutes for every encounter with an automatic flush bathroom: one minute to scope out the sink hairs/tile mushrooms, two minutes to find a stall, thirty seconds to wipe the seat off, one minute to put the paper cover on, thirty seconds to actually urinate, five minutes to (sometimes) wipe off her pee-stained thighs and (always) look for the manual flush button, and two minutes to wash and dry hands. Dana is in good shape, but such an exercise would tire anyone.

As evidenced by Dana’s usual experience, I argue this is not how public urination should occur in the U.S., especially in a space known as the RESTroom. I believe a more accurate term for the automatic bathroom is the “Flush Prison.” It directly punishes America’s obsession with soda, coffee, and other diuretics. Moreover, it’s the bacteria-encrusted seat of Constitutional and human rights violations: It is cruel and unusual punishment to be sprayed with one’s own urine due to an overactive flush sensor. One’s right to privacy is breached every time a manual flush button goes missing and a stall neighbor is called over to help find it. Dagnabbit, my freedom of religion is compromised if I am compelled to pray for an under-12-minute piss! I mean, Dana’s freedom of religion is compromised. Dana’s.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A day after Purim miracle

We're free of Freeman

A few weeks ago I blasted the president’s pick for Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman Jr. (as did many others). Yesterday, he withdrew his name from consideration. Bipartisan Congressional opposition, and strong private efforts, were no doubt influential in the administration’s decision to remove Freeman.

On his way, he blasted those who opposed him, saying “The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby [he means Israel here] determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East.” But his stance on Israel was not the main reason he was investigated (FYI, he was investigated). It was his financial ties to Saudi Arabia and China that provided the main impetus for concern.

My question is, where were his supporters? Other than Dennis Blair, the Director of the National Intelligence Council who recommended Freeman, who expressed regret at Freeman’s withdrawal (that Blair has regret about this scares me too), the only real losers are the Saudi and Chinese regimes (he has been subsidized by the Saudi royal family, and referring to recent violence in Tibet, he called it a “race riot” which couldn’t be further from reality, for example). For man who should never have entered the mainstream conscious, I’ll keep this short and say we should forget him just as inconsequentially.
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Live updates from the MODOT Stimulus Funds Meeting

Last night, we made the dreaded drive to Chesterfield to attend the Missouri Department of Transportation's presentation on how they are spending the $525 million in stimulus money they are receiving from the federal government.

Below is the transcription of a live twitter blog of the event (www.twitter.com/5132314), in reverse chronological order.

Tim is sticking it to him!
about 19 hours ago from txt
STL county representative, Tim pointed out that St. Charles is getting 2x as much per capita at STL county
about 19 hours ago from txt
The biggest stl city project is a bridge to connect tucker to a bridge. 15 million
about 19 hours ago from txt
Only 23,400,000 actually going to be spent in STL city
about 19 hours ago from txt
'of course the Miller county bridge was a publicity stunt'
about 19 hours ago from txt
In November, MODOT reviewed projects that could br ready in 90-120 days
about 19 hours ago from txt
29.56% of total money comes to Stl region which is 135 million.
about 19 hours ago from txt
STL gets 112 million of new projects money or 35%
about 19 hours ago from txt
STL get 24% of 'taking care of the system' money
about 19 hours ago from txt
@chesky biospan should be at this modot meeting
about 19 hours ago from txt
Still have to follow environmental regulations
about 19 hours ago from txt
3 yr completion priority. Projects should maximize job creation and economic impact and should be in economically distressed areas
about 19 hours ago from txt
'this isn't about transportation, this is about jobs'
about 19 hours ago from txt
By June 30th, 50% of the money must be 'obligated'
about 19 hours ago from txt
45million is going to Metro.
about 19 hours ago from txt
MO stimulus money should support 22K jobs
about 19 hours ago from txt
At the MODOT meeting
about 19 hours ago from txt

The meeting started out fairly boring, with Pete Rahn, the Director, breaking down the allocation of money into all of the stipulations attached. We quickly gained an appreciation of the many many strings attached to the funding, and how projects were chosen.

I can't say that I'm happy that STL is getting a smaller amount of the money than I believe it should, but at least now we know why.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Metrolink, MODOT, And You

Tonight, the Missouri Department of Transportation is hosting a meeting to inform citizens about a draft list of projects to be funded through the federal
American Recovery and Revitalization Act.
There are more than a few reasons why you should be upset enough to go to this meeting and state your opinion.

The meeting, which is slated to start at 6 PM at MoDOT’s Transportation Management Center, 14301 South Outer 40 Road, Chesterfield, MO 63017.

The announcement, which was made yesterday (which in and of itself tells you something), seems somewhat cynical. First of all, they seem to not want people there. Or at least, not want city people who may have legitimate concerns. I mean..its in Chesterfield, and they gave little more than 24 hours notice.

Why should you care? Because of the $525 million that MO is slated to receive in federal stimulus money, less than 10% of it is coming to St. Louis. That's right, despite the fact that St. Louis is the main economic engine of the entire state, the fact that it has the largest population concentration in the state, and some serious needs, it won't even get a proportional piece of the pie.

You absolutely can make a difference. Go to this meeting and tell them that it is ridiculous that your tax money should be spent on roads and bridges that are likely to fall into disrepair from under use, while streets in St. Louis are crumbling from over use, particularly as high way traffic is diverted due to 64-40 closures.

At least email MODOT and tell them what you think.

Anybody?

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Spring Break is neither Spring nor a Break. Discuss.

I totally ripped the title from Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, but that’s because it’s 100% appropriate for the current status of my spring break.

I just arrived in Cleveland last night, and it is already apparent that the weather will be anything but spring-like. The highs will be in the upper 40’s, the lows in the low 20’s. Right now I am curled up in bed with a space heater groaning next to me. It’s raining outside and there’s neither a blossoming flower nor a playful child in sight. This can’t be spring.

As for the “break” part, I have been more stressed since leaving St. Louis than I have been at any other point in the semester. The ten-hour car ride to Cleveland is unpleasant, especially for your bladder if you have a fear of public toilets. (I’m not ashamed. I know I’m not the only one out there).

I have only been home for eighteen hours, but I have already gotten into fights with both of the parental units. The first big blowout came when I greeted my mother. I hadn’t seen her in two months, and in that amount of time she managed to drastically change her hair. She told me a few weeks ago that she had gotten a haircut, but I wasn’t expecting what I encountered. She looked just like the mother I know and love, except with a furry lampshade framing her face. Purim isn’t for one more day…

Being the loving, honest daughter that I am, I straight-up told my mom that I didn’t like the hairstyle. Instead of taking the comment with grace, she told me that I am the only person who has not liked the cut. She has gotten nothing but compliments. Mere acquaintances were telling her that she looks ten years younger. Therefore, there must be something wrong with me.

I stood my ground firmly. After all, I want my mom to look good too. Perhaps I didn’t phrase my response very well, though— I suggested that everyone else was lying to her…or had gone temporarily blind…or had a penchant for Chia pets. You can see how the argument soon escalated to monstrous proportions.

While the argument cooled before either of us went to bed last night, the embers are still burning. Incendiary comments directed at me from the other side of the breakfast table included, “Watch out, that granola is loaded with calories” and “Why do you need WASH U written on your sweatpants? Don’t you think I know where you go to school?”

Deep breaths.

As for the big fight with Dad, that came this afternoon when he suggested that the whole family go shopping together. I have nothing against hanging out in public with the family; it’s just that clothing shopping in particular is hard to do with my father. In fifth grade he picked me out a pair of paisley-patterned spandex shorts. I wore them to school one time and was ridiculed about the size of my ten year-old thighs. Kids can be so cruel. And I have never taken my father’s fashion advice since.

Because I refuse to let Dad pick out clothes for me, he often finds himself sitting in a store, playing with his phone while Mom and I are in the dressing room. He can only play so many games of solitaire before he gets aggravated. Aggravated Dad (AggraDad) is the Hulk-like version of my gentle, mustached physician of a father. Display cases and dressing room doors alike are afraid of his wrath.

And so, I try to avoid encounters with AggraDad as much possible. When Dad asked me to go shopping today, I specifically told him that I’d prefer to go separately with Mom. I should’ve just stopped there, but I felt the need to explain my rebuff. While I never mentioned the term “AggraDad,” I did inform him that he tended to grow impatient in department stores.

I have learned a valuable lesson. AggraDad can tell when you are talking smack about him, and he can emerge just as quickly in your living room as he can in H&M. I won’t go into details, but the phrases “air of entitlement,” “professional fashionista,” and “retail daughter” were thrown about like javelins. All because I didn’t want his help in picking out a new pair of jeans?

Point is (javelins, get it?) spring break in Cleveland has been anything but a walk on sandy Hawaiian beaches. I am holding out hope for the rest of the week, though— eye doctor appointment on Tuesday, teeth cleaning on Thursday. At the very least I’ll get to catch up on my “Highlights” magazine. No spring break is complete without a little Goofus & Gallant.
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Friday, March 6, 2009

A response and reaction to Saree Makdisi: “After Gaza: Toward a Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”

Last night, a couple St. Lou Jews went to hear Saree Makdisi speak at Saint Louis University. When a friend of mine asked for my reaction this morning, my response was, "it either represents a genuine desire for peace, or the most insidious and disingenuous tactic I've ever seen from the Pro-Palestinian camp." Read on to find out why.

Saree Makdisi is an English professor at UCLA who has been one of the more vocal proponents of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The premise of this solution is a truly secular and democratic state without a state religion, without different enforcement of law for different religions or ethnicities, in the entire land of Israel (including Gaza and the West Bank). He sees this as the only solution for a just and lasting peace.

Listening to his remarks last night, it is easy to follow his logic. It is hard to imaging Israel as a truly democratic state if it is also a Jewish state. Those two pieces do not overlap fully in a country in which there are non-Jews.

This has led, according to Dr. Makdisi, to an understanding on the part of Jewish Israelis that they must maintain a strong Jewish majority at all costs to preserve both the Jewish and Democratic character of the state.

It sounds so simple...if only there was one state that both Jews and non-Jews shared together, that was democratic, with protected religious freedoms, Hamas would, "lose its oxygen supply." And the Middle East would be come a center for investment and opportunity.

Interestingly enough, there is already a democratically elected government that protects the rights of its citizens in the Middle East, enjoys a higher standard of living than its neighbors, and encourages large amount of foreign investment for its many technological and environmental breakthroughs.

It certainly isn't Saudi Arabia, nor is it Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, or Syria. I repeatedly raised my hand to ask if the one-state solution was to be implemented, how it might encourage the surrounding Arab countries to democratize and discontinue their gross human rights abuses.

The question of equality and human rights should always be asked of Israel, but this is ironically done precisely because it is the only country in the region that provides enough of each that more can be demanded.

Dr. Makdisi did not once mention the murder of Palestinians by Jordanians or Lebanese, nor the reluctance and refusal of the Egyptians and Jordanians to open their borders to Palestinian trade or refugees. The responsibility always seems to rest on the Israelis.

Despite my philosophical and political disagreements with Dr. Makdisi, who erred by omission, restriction of range, and frequent mislabeling of parties in the conflict (for the record, a large number of non-Jewish Israelis believe themselves to be Israeli, not Palestinian), I must commend him for several things.

First and foremost, he advocates non-violence. Dr. Makdisi would prefer to see political and economic pressure put on Israel as opposed to violence.

Second, he has succeeded in totally reframing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into an Apartheid model, which is much easier to garner support around and is better for side-swiping the cause-effect nature of many of the events in this conflict. For example, he is able to view the Separation Fence as a tool of Apartheid instead of the a response to continued suicide attacks (and a very successful one at that).

Third, by being very cognizant of the tenses and phrasings he uses, he is able to subtly reframe and revise much of the history of the Palestinian cause. One area in particular are the facts around 700,000 Palestinians (geographically, not nationally) who left the area during the 1948 war. He quotes Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, but only the lines that refer to 700,000, he carefully omits the findings that Palestinians left under several scenarios. To be sure, one of those scenarios was direct threat of violence at the hands of Jews. Other scenarios discussed by Morris include the oft-quoted Arab sources who urged residents to leave so that the Jews could be massacred and pushed into the sea, at which time the residents would be allowed to return. He also mentions that in a war, civilians tend to flee.

This recasts the story that Dr. Makdisi is trying to tell because, far from being a simple land-grab, the history of the conflict is a multi-party one, including politics, betrayal, and the usage of the Palestinians as political cannon fodder.

These issues are especially pertinent in the face of Israel Apartheid week, which has been around for 5 years or so now. One of the more controversial posters features an Israeli helicopter firing a rocket at a child holding a teddy bear, wearing a keffiyah. An Israeli version of this flier includes militants setting up a rocket, hiding behind the child.

I applaud SLU for allowing this voice to heard, even if I don't entirely agree with it. In the future, I would urge a panel with disparate views, to show just how contentious the issue is.

In one area, though, Dr. Makdisi and I totally agree; there needs to be a just and lasting peace.

For the US government's exhaustive assessment of human rights in Israel, click here
Shabbat Shalom.
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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Surrealism and Beyond: The Israel Museum's treasure trove in America

When a friend in Cincinnati found out that I was coming home for a weekend, and called to invite me to the opening of an exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I could not have predicted how serendipitous the invitation would turn out to be.

I'm not usually one for art museums. It's not that I don't appreciate art, but I tend to connect more to auditory over ocular stimulus. From the start, though, I knew Surrealism and Beyond, had the potential to be different.

I decided to give the exhibit's curator in Cincinnati, Dr. Benedict Leca, a call to find out exactly what I was in for.

First of all, the exhibit, which features Surrealist and Dadaist art from the first half of the Twentieth Century, is on loan from the Israel Museum and is making its first American debut in Cincinnati in large part to a connection between the head of the museum (who is also an MOT). The show was originally conceived by Adina Kamien Curator of Modern Art at the IMJ, and is one of the largest and most well respected collections of surrealist art in the world.

The majority of the collection comes from Arturo Schwarz, an Egyptian-born Jew who lived along side many of these pioneering artists as a friend and came to acquire much of their work. In 1988, Schwarz donated the collection to the Israel Museum.

Only fairly recently has much of the work been examined seriously and the exhibit represents a big win for the Cincinnati Art Museum.

In my conversation with Dr. Leca, the context of the artwork was brought to life. Most of this artwork is relatively unknown, said Leca, "but I think that once people see it, they will appreciate it."

Much of this work has been hugely influential and represents a shift from the importance being on the structure and process of creating art, to the idea of the art. In this way, it is also a reaction against the ocular, and in many ways, against geometry. Many of the pieces are impossible objects, a floating mountain, wisps of thought, things of dreams. The content is complex and often controversial, but Dr. Leca believes that this is essential to expand the museum's audience.

One thing that I found incredibly interesting was that many of the other pieces in the exhibit were donated by Jews from around the world to the Israel museum. This is important for several reasons. The art is very much a reaction against and rejection of Nazism and Fascism. But it also illustrates the important place that Jewish patrons of the arts have had, as well as the idealism that accompanied the utopian ideal of Israel as a 'light unto the nations'. These donated works were meant to be part of a cultural cache, and the symbolism rings loud and clear.

The exhibit itself is organized into five themes, and although without order, I'll start with 'Marvelous Juxtopositions'. This theme looks at chance and bringing together disparate objects, an example of which is Man Ray's 'Chance encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table' (owing its name to a line from Ducasse, whose 'poetry in prose' made him a hit with the Surrealist movement).

There is 'Automatism', which was very important for the surrealist painter. The idea was to strip away the preconceptions that hinder the artist to get closer to what was in your head. The process was supposed to be more responsive to the mind.

In 'Biomorphism and Metamorphosis' paintings are almost automatic, with circles and amoeba like forms which symbolize a return to natural state pre culture/civilization. Dr. Leca also described the theme as a return to childhood, and many of the paintings reflected that in their simple, child-like nature. The theme also encompassed body like forms, distillations of pure organic forms. These represent a vitalist world view in which bodies morph but are never realized, always shifting, said Leca.

Then you get to 'Desire' which deals with unrealized fantasies and final frontier of the human mind. The work in this area was meant to shock the ordinary citizen and upend social norms. Sex played a large part of this desire to shock. There was a deeply political impetus in body of work. What we accept as proprietary and shocking is codified in conventional norms. We aren't shocked by naked antiquities, but tie some rope around a recreation of Venus Di Milo, and suddenly it challenges people's sense of propriety. "What we accept as propriety is socialy constructed and somewhat arbitrary," said Leca.



The final theme is 'Dreamscapes', which is closely related to the other themes, "they flow into each other," points out Dr. Leca. The political dimension is a basic point and it is the upending of conventions (artistic and social) which is politicized. Entrenched aesthetics are enforced by those in power, so an artistic revolution against those aesthetics is a revolution against those in power.

Leca explained, "It is really meant to point to the illogic. This movement is against the ocular and the finely rendered real. You have to close your eye and look inside. 'Dreamscape' ultimately is trying at some level to recreate that landscape of the mind. When you imagine peering into your head, seeing the figures that morph then actualizing the unconscious and making it into a landscape."

All this before even reaching the exhibit!

When Sarah and I arrived, we were excited to see that the turnout was high. We each ran into several family friends and parents of friends (it is an exhibit from the Israel Museum, after all). We were introduced to Roni Rabner, the exhibition designer, who was responsible for laying out the exhibit so that it didn't have a specific start or finish, much like the themes.

The art work is really interesting. Especially after all of the background that Dr. Leca provided. It is perhaps the first time that I felt effected by visual art as it had so many levels of meaning and connection with history that I consider to be a part of my narrative.

The exhibit is executed quite nicely and left my mind whirring. Find out more about the exhibit here

To learn more about the Cincinnati Art Museum, click here

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Good Day...

RIP Paul Harvey, an American Legend. You will be missed, you will be missed.

From today's Wall Street Journal Opinion page:

Long before Rush Limbaugh and the rise of talk radio, the most important radio news figure in America was Paul Harvey. For millions of Americans who listened to their AM radio dials while driving to work, or during their lunch break, Harvey's five-minute "News and Comment" broadcasts were for decades a source of credible information and Americana.

Harvey had a resonant voice, as well as a signature style that specialized in the dramatic pause, a sense of amiable humor, and often the surprise ending. His broadcasts weren't ideological, partisan or wonkish, but they were conservative in the sense of representing traditional values. As the counterculture rose in the 1960s and 1970s, he would tell stories about personal responsibility rather than individual license. We can still recall his rising dismay at the inflation of the 1970s and how it eroded middle-class thrift.

Born in Tulsa, Harvey was only 14 when he began working in a local radio station. He went national in 1951, reaching an audience as large as 24 million at its peak. Harvey continued to work to his dying days, and as recently as 2006 an ABC executive told Forbes.com that Harvey brought in more than 10% of the radio network's $300 million in advertising billings.

"I don't think of myself as a profound journalist," he once said, but in fact he was, describing the world as he saw it, with sympathy for the human condition and impatience with politicians who failed in their duties. He died Saturday at age 90 of undisclosed causes, an American original.
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WTF?! (Ramblings on mainstream media coverage)

Have you watched the evening news on any of the big network channels recently? I normally get my news from a variety of internet sources, but occasionally I’ll turn on the TV to see what’s coming out of the mainstream news world, as I did last night. All I have to say is...dang.

In the five or so minutes while I flipped channels between CNN, MSNBC, and one other station (I’m blanking on which it was), I got a range of “news” snippets (in order of increasing absurdity and stupidity): debate about Obama’s spending plan, the Rush Limbaugh/Michael Steele controversy, Cindy McCain’s love life, and some melodrama from the Bachelor (the TV show).

The discussion of the Obama plan, the most newsworthy of the list, was nothing more than partisan bickering disguised as meaningful debate: the Republican on the panel criticizes the new spending for not having enough tax credits and increasing the size of government, while the Democrat on the panel counters that we’re in this mess because of Bush’s spending. It’s the usual song and dance: they argue back forth a bit within their political party talking points, but never delve into any substantive debate. How about discussing how this plan will actually affect the American economy?

The Rush Limbaugh brouhaha is even worse. Rush Limbaugh made a comment, the chairman of the RNC responded, then apologized (or something like that – if you care about the details, look it up online). So now they’re debating who owns the Republican party. Literally, there was a yes-no poll about who owns the GOP. Is this news??? It sounds more like gossip that belongs in US Weekly. Clearly there are legitimate questions about the current state of the Republican party after being sorely defeated in the 08 election, but it goes much deeper than this. And this was on Larry King Live, mind you, a supposedly reputable news show.

As for the Cindy McCain thing, I guess her blog posts are somehow qualified as legitimate news since father ran for president, and the Bachelor... I won’t even go there.

I’m not going to blame the networks for the bitter partisan divide in American politics, but they definitely exacerbate it by inviting party talking heads on their news shows who argue real, important issues with empty talking points. I’m sure this is nothing new to a lot of people, but it had been so long since I watched the news that actually doing so kind of flabbergasted me.

The depth of coverage on mainstream news networks is so shallow, it makes Gossip Girls look important. In all honesty, I'm really disappointed by the lack of substance in what gets broadcast daily to millions of Americans. On top of all that, there’s hardly any coverage of international news. Of course there's going to be a strong domestic focus, but Americans are already pretty isolated from what’s going on in the rest of the world. So if the nightly news crap is the main source of information for a majority of Americans, then I would say we’re in trouble.

Here’s my attempt to a positive spin on the whole thing – maybe since my generation of 18 – 30 year olds does pretty much everything online, we're getting our information from better, more diverse sources and bypassing some of the mainstream TV garbage (although I don’t think that can be avoided entirely, since there’s plenty of it online, too). Until the big networks stop producing news shows like they produce their sitcoms, I think the internet is the best savior we have.

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St. Louis-style Pizza, and why I no longer eat St. Louis-style pizza

Chicago has its deep dish, New York pies are so famous, the even the Ninja Turtles were obsessed. How does St. Louis compare?

That's right, on a day in which people are freaking out that an airplane has been detailed with a picture of Bar Rafaeli in a swimsuit, Iran makes comments about being able to hit Israeli nuclear sites and try Israelis for war crimes, The St. Lou Jew brings you the all important question of St. Louis pizza.

First off, let's discount kosher pizza. It sucks everywhere (excluding perhaps, NYC and IL, which don't count anyways). Its a fact. Where is the prohibition against things tasting good in the Talmud? I can't recall a commandment that says, "thou shalt not add flavor." Seriously, Rabbis, if you want people to keep kosher, find a way to get kosher food tasting better and cost less.--end kosher food rant.

Ok, now that we settled that, what about the St. Louis pizza staples? The first that comes to mind is Imo's. Imo's pizza might be described as tomato paste on a cracker covered with cheese, but that may be too generous. The cheese is a particular varietal known as provel. If you just clicked that link (to Wikipedia) you'll see that provel is a uniquely St. Louis cheese. People don't know about it elsewhere. And for good reason. Whereas other St. Louis staples, like toasted ravioli, have some redeeming value, provel-based pizza does not.

This does not mean that it is impossible to get good pizza in STL, it just means you have to know where to look.

Pi, a green gourmet pizza parlor on the Loop, provides really interesting and tasty pizza. Bonus points for being environmentally friendly, to the extent of only serving beer on draft (to reduce waste).

Then there is Blackthorn Pub, located near the South Grand area. This little place is the best pizza you can get with a legitimate St. Louis atmosphere. The pizzas take a while, so it often makes sense to call ahead.

Finally, as a Cincinnati boy, I have to show love for Dewey's. The small chain, based out of Natiland, and locally located on Delmar between 170 and the Loop makes gourmet pizzas right. With interesting toppings and a crust almost like a pastry, Dewey's is a place to get a pie.

I'll be the first to admit, though, that I haven't tried every slice in the city, so fill me in, what am I missing out on?
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Around the world in 30 seconds

Want to know what is going on in the young Jewish world? Look no further than the Moishe House blog, where Moishe House residents from around the world share their experiences, updates, and thoughts.

Recent posts run the gamut from serious thoughts on Judaism and Democracy, to thoughts on the future of Moishe House as an organization, to random poems and musings.

If you look hard enough, you might even find some content from your very own St. Louis Moishe House.

Read it here. Read More......

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Kornblum Food Pantry: The St. Lou Jew gets involved

Looking for an easy way to make a real difference for needy families in St. Louis? You don't have to travel to New Orleans to do a little Tikkun Olam.

The Harvery Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, a service of Jewish Family & Children's Service was established in 1991 to serve those in need and has expanded to aiding those in 89 zip codes through the STL area.

During a recent meeting I had at JF&CS (for my day job), the director of development invited me to get involved. Saying no being one of my weaknesses, I found myself, along with a few other young Yids, and Coordinator Sue Rundblad, wading through a freezer in the storage area of the pantry on Sunday. At the end of an hour and a half, or so, we had totally rearranged the freezer to create more room for the important food stuffs (the pantry gets more than enough bread, but often lacks produce and protein). We also restocked and prep'ed their bagging room for business. And business, they have. The pantry has seen an 60% increase in new families served from 2007-2008

The project felt small to me, but was clearly helpful for the food pantry. It was also proof it doesn't take an organization, a big event, or any bribery to get young adults to volunteer (this is NOT a criticism of any of the aforementioned options...just sayin'). It is yet one more illustration that friends will participate together when acquaintances might not, and not just in terms of happy hours, but also community service and religious activities.

The Jewish Food Pantry is providing an incredibly important service, and while they get a fair amount of food from the Food Bank and Operation Food Search (not to mention support from United Way and the Jewish Federation), they also rely largely on the community to provide donations of food, money, and volunteer hours.

No One is turned away at the Jewish Food Pantry, and their success in this endeavor is largely because of the generosity of the St. Louis Jewish community. But they can always use additional support.

Their next big event is called Feed The Pantry - Feed The Soul and is an open house on Sunday, April 26th. The cost of admission is a bag of groceries (canned pasta with meat, hearty soups, tuna and peanut butter are among the most needed foods). Come for the entertainment, stay to make a difference.
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