Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Next Dor: Coming To A Neighborhood Near You

When we first started putting together the Next Dor Proposal, we weren't really sure what kind of legs it would have. I mean, its a great idea, right...have a central space where Jewish young adults can get together, and build a community. In the model of For Us By Us.

Lately, though, things have picked up. A large Synagogue 3000 grant came through, a local developer is getting involved to cover a large portion of the costs, and we have figured out who might want to be the live-in caretaker/administrator for the house.

There are some big things we have left to do. The first, is obviously to raise the remainder of the money (a not insignificant task). What will determine our success in this crucial piece is helping the community to understand that this is a community-wide effort. In other words, this space will not be affiliate with a particular congregation, or movement for that matter.

One of the other large issues is understanding the relationship between access and security. How can we ensure that students who want a place to study can come and go as they please, while making the house safe?

This is a community project, so we want to open this up to the community. How should these issues be tackled?
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My (Babysitter’s) Big Fat Israeli Wedding

I went to Philadelphia this weekend to attend the wedding of my childhood babysitter, Orin. His bride, Shiri, was born in Haifa and moved to the States as an adolescent. Consequently, half of the wedding guests were either Israeli expatriates or relatives who made a special trip from Ben Gurion airport.


At the rehearsal dinner, I was like a kid in a Bamba store. I’ve been taking Hebrew lessons once-a-week for the past two years, and I grew giddy at the opportunity to practice. Quite literally I entered the restaurant, grabbed a cheesesteak from the buffet line, and picked my target – an older woman with light brown hair, white capri pants, and black rubber-soled sandals. Add to that layers of gold neck chains, and I knew I had myself an Israeli.

While there were younger native Hebrew speakers around, I chose Edna (as I later discovered her name to be) because I believed she’d be more patient with my nascent language skills and would desist from responding to me in English, which would curtail the entire aim in me talking to her.


I started with my usual introduction (all in Hebrew, mind you). “My name is Denise. I speak a little Hebrew. I study Hebrew once a week in St. Louis. Please speak slowly, slowly, slowly.” Edna smiled and seemed pleased that I was making an attempt. She asked for my name, even though that was in my opening line. Perhaps she was hard of hearing?


“My name is Denise…like the fish.”


You see, “denise” actually sounds like the word for “sea bream” in Hebrew. It’s a white fish, sometimes served with brown rice, oranges, or fennel. I’m not sure I have a lot in common with my namesake. I don’t have scales and am not a particularly strong swimmer.


Turns out that Edna was not deaf. In fact, she found my “like the fish” explanation a bit fishy. What kind of Jewish parents would name their child “sea bream”? (“Lox” is a different story). What Edna really wanted to know was my Hebrew name.


That’s a bit complicated as well. I don’t really have a Hebrew name so much as a Yiddish one— “Rayzel,” which means “Rose.” From my past endeavors into the Hebrew baby name websites, I know that the name “Rose” comes out as either “Shoshana” or “Vered.” I don’t much care about the translation, since Israelis just call me “sea bream” anyway.


Well, Edna did not. “Shoshana,” she said, “is old. Not modern. Vered is much better. I’ll call you Vered.” And so, for the rest of the wedding weekend, Edna introduced me as “Vered.” Sometimes she would scream “Vered” from afar and I wouldn’t realize she was asking for me until she was dragging me by the wrist, making me spill my limonada. I have to admit it was kind of cool having an alias among Edna’s Mah Jong buddies. If their absent grandsons ever in fact try to contact “Vered in St. Louis,” I think I’ll be sufficiently hard to locate.


Besides winning over the Israeli grandmothers, I also had some luck with the children. At dinner I was seated next to the bride’s half-sister, Neta, who is 12 years old and straight from Haifa. Even at such a tender age her Hebrew skills are far superior to my own. However, we got along well between my pigeon Hebrew and her pigeon English.


A humorous part of the night came when Neta pronounced, “לי קַר” or “car li.” Neta was cold. I understood that much! And so I offered her my shawl. She promptly refused it, pronouncing, “מְנֻמָּס לֹא” or “lo m’noomas.” I insisted she take the shawl, more with a gesture than with actual language. Yet again she refused with, “מְנֻמָּס לֹא”. I told her I didn’t understand “m’noomas,” and so she asked her cousin, Erez, who was sitting across the table (and who has been living the in the United States for twenty years), for a translation. Even though he is a financier on Wall Street, he was stumped.


A half an hour later, after I’d forgotten about “m’noomas,” Erez came back to the table with a translation. He’d obviously consorted with some of his relatives to produce it. “Polite,” he said. “M’noomas” means “polite.”


I couldn’t help but laugh. Of course “מְנֻמָּס” is a word so rarely used by Israelis that they don’t need a working knowledge of how to translate it. Erez has been living in the States long enough to get married and have two kids, and he still never needed to use it.


Don’t get me wrong, I love Israeli culture, no matter how gruff the cashiers are or how burdened the taxi drivers are by taking you to your destination. And if anything, Neta’s concern that accepting my shawl would seem impolite is a positive sign. Perhaps Israeli’s youths are becoming more sensitive to social cues. It’s more than I can say about America’s children— especially the camera phone-wielding one who blocked me from getting a clear view of the Liberty Bell this weekend. It’s a 2,000 pound bell in a large enclosed space. You’d think there’d be room for the both of us, but man that kid had long arms. Anyway, Neta had really short arms. She’s definitely a more polite kid.
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Weekend Update

News from around the Middle East

What it’s like to buy lingerie in The Kingdom
http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/minor/2009/05/25/buying-lingerie-in-saudi-arabia/

Two steps forward, one step back
http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/holy-post/archive/2009/05/25/morals-police-takes-aim-newspapers-in-saudi-arabia.aspx

al Qaeda caught in Egypt
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hsJONY18ifcFcNe2AThP5gdhhx6g

This is how an arms race happens
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601101&sid=aVoR7GOucg_k&refer=japan

Uzbek airbase attacked
http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=6066
If you’ve never heard of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, I suggest doing some research as they are one of the most important and powerful allies of the Taliban and al Qaeda and operate worldwide

Hizb ur-Tahrir on the fight in Pakistan
http://europenews.dk/en/node/23287
Another group to monitor – the most influential terrorist organization worldwide because they set up in Western countries and foster the rot from within by integrating themselves into Western societies and governments

Imam Zaid Shakir – a name to know
http://www.christianpost.com/article/20090525/islam-experts-wary-of-plan-for-u-s-muslim-college/index.html

Iran’s moderate presidential candidate vows to end US presence in the Middle East
http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=95918§ionid=351020101

Iran’s reformist presidential candidate sites the need to support Hamas
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j5fkW_8TuCQ5TXK4vE5SMGfuofzw

Slowly but surely, they’re moving into our neighborhood
http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/news/international/Israel_Venezuela_Bolivia_Supplying_Iran_With_Uranium_for_Nuclear_Program_79214139

Rand has its own Iranian conclusions
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/25/AR2009052502390.html?hpid=sec-politics

Ahmadinejad puts end to nuclear dialogue
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/25/AR2009052500770.html?sub=AR

Obama not playing favorites
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iLwfqzTqtnBLu_eNOuTk6vKU9a9g

Netanyahu gives in
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jqcyPEVpqP7COCrozIYHU3VzPCVQ

Hamas denies preventing rocket attacks
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-05/25/content_11433353.htm

The weakness of some to become the weakness of all
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/opinion/27iht-edlet.html?hpw

Tourism is down, too
http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssIndustryMaterialsUtilitiesNews/idUSLQ57925720090526

Nice, brief numbers on nuclear activities putting N.K.’s recent test in perspective – just ignore the bias
http://www.ww4report.com/node/7362

A renewed casus belli?
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1088178.html

Kudos to the NYT for running a piece that makes this much sense
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/opinion/26bolton.html

Lebanon’s Armenians
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/world/middleeast/26armenians.html?ref=middleeast
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Friday, May 22, 2009

The New Jewish Theatre: Keepin' It Cultural

I just picked up a copy of the new Alive magazine, which has a 'hot list' of top spots in St. Louis, and while the Gramophone made the list as the best place to catch live music, The New Jewish Theatre was nowhere to be found.

It's a common problem, says NJT Artistic Director Kathleen Sitzer, who has been with the Theatre since its creation 12 years ago.

"We've consistently been nominated for and won awards for our shows," she says, "and yet, there are a lot of people who have never even heard about us."

Not to toot our own horn, but didn't we do a story about "Sabina" at the NJT?

But, despite the fact that 2/3 of any given show's seats will be taken by season ticket holders, the New Jewish Theatre is reaching out in some interesting directions.

Take their upcoming show, "The Last 5 Years", for example. "It has developed an almost cult-like following in New York recently," Sitzer explained, "and rock driven score which we think will be quite appealing."

They are also getting a new Theatre, which will be state of the art, and provide a cozy setting for 150 people.

We'll be checking out "The Last 5 Years", if you are interested, or want to find out more about the New Jewish Theatre, visit them here
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why is it so hard to get any thing done correctly?

Yesterday, at the Clayton offices of Gallup Johnson and Neuman, I attended a Young Leadership Focus Group. I had little idea of what to expect, and the outcome was far different from what those, who did know what to expect, had anticipated.

When I was asked to be part of the focus group to help create an innovative community-wide leadership development initiative, I was flattered... and not entirely certain what I had signed up for.

At the GJN offices, around a huge board room table, two consultants from the East Coast explained that they wanted to know our thoughts on the development needs in the community.

The conversation quickly took a turn towards discussing engagement and marketing, as opposed to developing the already engaged members of the community.

This didn't sit well with one of the participants, who maintained that this was not to forum to discuss those issues, as it was about providing development opportunities for those already plugged in.

The fact is, so it seems, that these two issues, of engaging and developing new leaders, as well as providing deeper and more robust training for those on boards and moving through that nebulous world, are deeply tied together, even as they are wholly different discussions.

The number of people who are deeply involved with cabinets and boards is fairly small, and that crew seems to recycle people from one board to the next.

As important as it is to make sure that those people are equipped with the necessary skills to be effective board member and lay leaders, the other side to that coin is bringing in and engaging new talent.

There is a careful balance that must be struck between making it appear to be an honor to be on a board, and making the boards too elite.

By all accounts, it was an interesting meeting, sparked some great discussions, and make a few connections.

We'll be interested to see what develops and will keep you posted.

What do you think are the community leadership development needs?
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I. E. Millstone - St. Louis Loses a Legend

For those of you who haven't heard, I.E. Millstone went missing a few days ago, coinciding with reports that an elderly gentleman was seen jumping off of the Daniel Boone Bridge.

Millstone, after whom the local joint Federation and JCC campus are named, was the builder behind Busch Stadium, and highway 64-40 through downtown.

At 102, Millstone was a beloved philanthropist and was pretty with it, by all accounts.

So why does no one seem to have a clue what happened?

STL Today's story here seems to indicate a total lack of information.

The story has generated some traction within the web-o-sphere, this report from the River Front Times examines all of the comments that have been posted on stories about his disappearance.

We continue to hope for the best, even as we send our condolences to the family.
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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Color of Jewish

Most Americans, when asked to picture a Jewish person, imagine a Caucasian, probably with curly dark hair and dark eyes.

Most American-Jews, when asked to picture a Jewish person, probably do the same thing

Y-love, a self-described 'Modern-Orthodox Hip Hop Revolutionary' wrote an interesting piece today on his blog entitled, "How are you Jewish?". The post really got at how being a non-Ashkenazi, and beyond that, a non-White Jew in America still comes with baggage.

It's an interesting piece, and the issue is not one which is commonly discussed outside of those effected.

This issue breaks in two ways. The first has to do, ultimately, with the relative hegemony of Ashkenazi history, thought, and liturgy in American Judaism. The issue here is how Sephardic, non-White Jews' history and traditions are brought into the mainstream.

The second issue is one of conversion. Jew who are more recent entrants into the faith and culture may often feel as if they have to defend themselves, their beliefs, and intentions.

Neither of these issues are uniquely Jewish in nature. America has long since driven wedges between White and non-White peoples. Even within the Black community, there are large schisms between descendants of slaves and those who migrated to American of their own free will.

The uniquely (maybe) Jewish aspect of this is that Jews often see themselves as a single people, united by history and purpose beyond merely a religious faith. This tribe mentality often means that that heterogeneity is only accepted to a point. It also explains the distrust, or discomfort towards recent converts.

As the 'ingathering of the exiles' continues in Israel, hopefully more positive representations of Jews of color will come to the forefront. As these narratives are incorporated into mainstream Jewish education, hopefully these schisms will close up, and we'll all develop a new appreciate for the different histories and expressions of Jewish traditions all over the world.
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Place of Torah in Mainstream Judaism

Seen as a mere one step from being wholly assimilated, Mainstream, Reform, or 'Pick and Choose' Jews are often criticized for being unfamiliar with all but the most basic Jewish concepts. The question often comes down to how we see the Torah, the seminal Jewish holy book. Is it a divine book, is it a divinely inspired book, or is it just a book, a work of fiction designed to give a people a cohesive identity, history and collective consciousness?

For many Jews, unfortunately, the question is often, who cares?

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. From the earliest ages, we tend to ignore some of the really gripping and juicy bits of Judaism. In presenting Judaism as a list, and focusing on the literal words, and the post-modern liberal interpretation of those words, without an understanding of the paths and debates that led us to where we are (beyond Hillel vs. Shammai debates), we take the engagement, the substance, the very living element out of Judaism.

For this reason, when I came across David Levy's most recent post on Jewschool.com, Lies We Were Taught in Hebrew School, I had to read it.

David presents an interesting (and judging by the comments below, controversial) look at the idea of 613 Mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. The perspective he presents is an definitely worth a read and even if you don't agree, his tone and knowledge are the type that might be replicated to engage people and encourage them to get their learn on.

The article can be found here.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rebecca Kousky Returns to St. Louis to Host a Nest Event

Wednesday night, The St. Lou Jew's favorite Social Entrepreneur will return to St. Louis to host a special event at the Hoffman Lachance Contemporary. If you can be there, I wouldn't miss it.

The event will take place from 5:30-9:30 at 2713 Sutton in Maplewood. It will take the form of an open house with wares to be bought, all benefiting girls in Kolkata.

RSVP to stlouis@buildanest.com and don't forget to tell Rebecca you read about her here. Read More......

Monday, May 11, 2009

Raising a Jewish Family

Talk about life-cycle events... just after writing about the Jewish Wedding Network, I had the opportunity to spend a Shabbat with cousins in Denver. Their 2-year-old, Micah, is beyond adorable. He is also learning, from a very young age, what it means to be Jewish.

While walking to the park, my cousin and Micah’s mother, Kareen, was telling me about a book they read to him at night entitled, “Let’s Go to Israel.”

The book is short and sweet, and describes a few of the things you can do in each city. It is hard to describe, but when Kareen asked Micah where he could go sailing, and he said, “Eilat” (well it sounded more like, A-wot, but we knew what he meant), I was struck by what I was witnessing. Combine this with Micah getting excited for Challah time as we sat down for Shabbat, and him repeating the Sh’mah along with us as we tucked him in, and I realized that I was getting to witness the birth of a Jewish identity.

Its not just that it is unbelievably cute to hear him grapple with Hebrew, or jump in while a book is being read to him and say the word, “Matzah,” at the end of a sentence, it is that I was granted the opportunity to play voyeur into a piece of my cousin’s identity formation.

Jews seem to spend a lot of time discussing the woes of assimilation, unaffiliation, and inter-marriage, but rarely do we seem to focus on what is probably the strongest protection against all three; a strong and positive Jewish identity that is reinforced within the family environment from an early age.

For Micah, Judaism is filled with positive experiences, sweet grape-juice, tasty Challah, and most importantly, time spent with family.

It is often said that Jewish parents can measure their success by whether their grandchildren proudly consider themselves to be Jewish. This outcome seems very likely in Micah’s case.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Living Jews: Sara Marcus of The Jewish Wedding Network

Marriage isn’t really a word in my lexicon. It’s not that I don’t believe in marriage, and quite a few of my friends are marching steadily towards that path.. . it’s just that I think it is far enough in my future, that worrying about it now does me no good.

That’s partially why, when I received an email from Sara Marcus, the energy behind PopJudaica.com and JewishWeddingNetwork.com, referring to an introduction from (The St. Lou Jew’s favorite St. Louis Jewish artist) Maya Escobar, I was amused, and intrigued.

After a few days of scheduling snafus, I had the opportunity to connect on the phone with Sara, and might just have convinced her to take a road trip through St. Louis.

The interview with Sara started out rather unconventionally, in that she asked all the questions. She was really interested in learning about both Jewish life in St. Louis, as well as some of the organizations we have been involved with.

Once we finally steered the conversation to her, it became apparent very quickly that the Jewish Wedding Network is an idea that comes from an identified need, and has grown very quickly into a very useful resource.

Sara spoke about the experience of planning her own wedding, back in 2006. She said that despite the wealth of general wedding planning resources out there, very little, if anything, existed for planning a Jewish wedding.

She said that there were so many questions that arose in the course of the planning, things like, “what kind of Ketuba should you have” and “what should the Chupa look like”. She wanted her wedding to reflect her and her husband’s creativity, but also incorporate Jewish traditions. In one piece of creativity, Sara's bouquet was comprised of J-Date profiles that she thought would fit her friends.

After the wedding, she had 'wedding withdrawal', which is when the idea for the Jewish Wedding Network appeared. Having some experience in the online Jewish space, she looked decided to incorporate all of the things she wished she had known before the wedding.

The piece de resistance, as Sara puts it, is bride blog, in which Jewish brides blog about topics from serious to frivolous. Many cover wedding dresses, invitation designs, or family issues that come up along the way. Each bride provides a unique perspective and a new way of looking at how to have a Jewish wedding.

The site launched on April 15th, and has already brought quite a bit of positive feedback.

Sara, herself, has really enjoyed the experience.

"Its really great to be around people who are in love, and excited... its contagious"

Be sure to check out Sara's sites online at www.JewishWeddingNetwork.com and www.popjudaica.com
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Update on HUC

The Board of HUC has met and issued a statement. It seems pretty vague, and might just be a stall tactic, but it is clear that the online efforts, centered around www.savehuc.com made some degree of impact.

The statement, below, came after campaigns were launched on behalf of all three US campuses. Its probably a good sign that New York started to sweat a bit..

This battle is far from over, and it is important that people keep writing letters, and if they can, donating to HUC.

See the full transcript below.
The Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion met in New York on Monday, May 4th, 2009. There was a discussion of many constructive approaches to resolving HUC-JIR’s financial issues. The Board decided that the restructuring plan would proceed on three principles:

· Financial sustainability

· Academic integrity of programs and excellence of faculty and students

· Service to the Reform Movement, Klal Yisrael, Israel, and world Jewry

The Board has charged the administration to devise a plan that will attain financial sustainability and enhance our academic excellence while preserving our presence in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and New York. The model being developed includes innovative strategies for learning and teaching, increased use of technology, a firm commitment to the Klau Library and American Jewish Archives, and an evolving vision of education that will meet the needs of the 21st century. Significant financial restructuring will establish a sustainable, balanced budget, ensuring the future of the College-Institute.

The Board and administration have been heartened by the outpouring of thousands of expressions of support and concern by alumni, Reform congregants, and the larger community. The College-Institute is grateful for this groundswell of support.

On June 23rd, 2009, the administration will bring its recommendations to the Board of Governors.

The College-Institute affirms its commitment to strengthening and fulfilling its mission of training and sustaining Jewish professionals throughout their careers of service to Reform Judaism and Klal Yisrael – the Jewish people worldwide.

Rabbi David Ellenson, President Barbara Friedman, Chair,
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Monday, May 4, 2009

The Manifesto Against Sharia

11 Muslim groups in Germany issued this press release. I was able to find a English translation. It's pretty incredible.

Press release

MANIFEST AGAINST SHARIA

Common position of the Islamic organisations of Germany

Cologne: This Manifest was signed by Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (ZMD) (Central Council of Muslims in Germany) and ten other Islamic oganisations in Germany. In this way the ZMD wishes to ease the dialogue ”among Muslims, with other religious societies and with the society at large”.

The signatories:

Islamrat für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland e.V.
C entralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (ZMD)
Türkisch-Islamische Union der Anstalt für Religion e.V. (DITIB)
Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli Görüs (IGMG)
Union der Türkisch-Islamischen Kulturvereine in Europa e.V. (ATIB)
Verband der Islamischen Kulturzentren e.V. (VIKZ)
Islamisches Zentrum München
Islamisches Zentrum Aachen Bilal Moschee (IZA)
Islamisches Zentrum Hamburg Imam-Ali-Moschee
Ahmadiyya-Muslim-Jamaat e.V.
We, the undersigning organizations, hereby publicly declare:

OUR GOALS
to educate Muslims about dangers presented by Islamic religious texts and why Islam must be reformed
to educate non-Muslims about the differences between moderate Muslims and Islamists (a.k.a. Islamic Religious Fanatics, Radical Muslims, Muslim Fundamentalists, Islamic Extremists or Islamofascists)
to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims alike that Moderate Muslims are also targets of Islamic Terror.

OUR MANIFESTO
Acknowledging mistakes
The majority of the terrorist acts of the last three decades, including the 9/11 attacks, were perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists in the name of Islam. We, as Muslims, find it abhorrent that Islam is used to murder millions of innocent people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Inconsistencies in the Koran
Unfortunately, Islamic religious texts, including the Koran and the Hadith contain many passages, which call for Islamic domination and incite violence against non-Muslims. It is time to change that. Muslim fundamentalists believe that the Koran is the literal word of Allah. But could Allah, the most Merciful, the most Compassionate, command mass slaughter of people whose only fault is being non-Muslim?

The Koran & the Bible
Many Bible figures from Adam to Jesus (Isa) are considered to be prophets and are respected by Islam. Islamic scholars however believe that both the Old and the New Testament came from God, but that they were corrupted by the Jews and Christians over time. Could it be possible that the Koran itself was corrupted by Muslims over the last thirteen centuries?

The need for reform
Islam, in its present form, is not compatible with principles of freedom and democracy. Twenty-first century Muslims have two options: we can continue the barbaric policies of the seventh century perpetuated by Hassan al-Banna, Abdullah Azzam, Yassir Arafat, Ruhollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, etc., leading to a global war between Dar al-Islam (Islamic World) and Dar al-Harb (non-Islamic World), or we can reform Islam to keep our rich cultural heritage and to cleanse our religion from the reviled relics of the past. We, as Muslims who desire to live in harmony with people of other religions, agnostics, and atheists choose the latter option. We can no longer allow Islamic extremists to use our religion as a weapon. We must protect future generations of Muslims from being brainwashed by the Islamic radicals. If we do not stop the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, our children will become homicidal zombies.

Accepting responsibilities
To start the healing process, we must acknowledge evils done by Muslims in the name of Islam and accept responsibility for those evils. We must remove evil passages from Islamic religious texts, so that future generations of Muslims will not be confused by conflicting messages. Our religious message should be loud and clear: Islam is peace; Islam is love; Islam is light. War, murder, violence, divisiveness & discrimination are not Islamic values.

Religious privacy
Religion is the private matter of every individual. Any person should be able to freely practice any religion as long as the practice does not interfere with the local laws, and no person must be forced to practice any religion. Just as people are created equal, there is no one religion that is superior to another. Any set of beliefs that is spread by force is fundamentally immoral; it is no longer a religion, but a political ideology.

Equality
Islam is one of the many of the world’s religions. There will be no Peace and Harmony in the World if Muslims and non-Muslims do not have equal rights. Islamic supremacy doctrine is just as repulsive as Aryan supremacy doctrine. History clearly shows what happens to the society whose members consider themselves above other peoples. All moderate Muslims must repudiate the mere notion of Islamic supremacy.

Sharia
Sharia Law must be abolished, because it is incompatible with norms of modern society.

Outdated practices
Any practices that might have been acceptable in the Seventh Century; i.e., stoning, cutting off body parts, marrying and/or having sex with children or animals, must be condemned by every Muslim.

Outdated verses
Verses that promote divisiveness and religious hatred, bigotry and discrimination. They must be either removed from the Koran or declared outdated and invalid, and marked as such.

Outdated words & phrases
Use of the following words and phrases or their variations must be prohibited during religious services:
• Infidel / Unbeliever: these terms have negative connotation and promote divisiveness and animosity; Islam is not the only religion
• Jihad: this word is often interpreted as Holy War against non-Muslims
• Mujaheed / Holy Warrior: no more wars in the name of Islam
• American (Christian / Crusader / Israeli / Zionist) occupation: these terms promote bigotry; at this point in time, Muslims living in non-Muslim lands have more freedoms than Muslims living in Muslim lands

Islam vs. violence
Islam has no place for violence. Any person calling for an act of violence in the name of Islam must be promptly excommunicated. Any grievances must be addressed by lawful authorities. It is the religious and civic duty of every Muslim to unconditionally condemn any act of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam. Any Muslim group that has ties to terrorism in any way, shape, or form, must be universally condemned by both religious and secular Muslims.

Portrayal of Prophets
While portrayal of Prophets is not an acceptable practice in Islam could be personally offensive to some Muslims, other religions do not have such restrictions. Therefore, the portrayal of the Prophets must be treated as a manifestation of free expression.

The Crusades vs. The Inquisition
While the Inquisition was a repulsive practice by Christian Fundamentalists, the Crusades were not unprovoked acts of aggression, but rather attempts to recapture formerly Christian lands controlled by Muslims.

Brothers and Sisters!
Do not make the next generation of Muslims clean up your mess!
Fight Islamic Fascism now, so your children won’t have to!
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It's not that he doesn't support Israel, it's just that he doesn't know how

First Hilary Clinton and now Rahm Emanuel. Both have now said that thwarting Iran hinges on solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Clinton said it a few weeks ago, and Emanuel said it to a group of AIPAC donors yesterday. This is very much at odds with reality, which essentially says the opposite thing: the biggest obstacle to the conflict is Iran.

The Obama administration has been firing on all cylinders with the pitch that the two are interdependent. Their claim is that the best way Israel can confront Iran is with Arab support, which they will only get so long as they push hard for a two-state solution. There are significant problems with this position, however.

To begin with, the timeline does not support this approach. For a viable Palestinian state, among many issues (see the reoccurring Conflict 101 series of posts), a stable, functioning, and respected set of Palestinian institutions must be operational and a stable and respected international Palestinian economy must be present along with a education system that teaches coexistence. Because of this, the goal a Palestinian state is, realistically, much further off than a denuclearized Iran – to wait for a peace agreement would mean a nuclear Iran.

The Obama line of reasoning continues the preposterous notion that the conflict is political and geographical. To say that a land-for-peace deal would ensure long-term stability is a misrepresentation of the conflict. The land-for-peace notion assumes an Arab acceptance of Israeli legitimacy, which so far only two Arab countries have formally acquiesced to. For two parties to enter into negotiation, a tacit understanding must be that both sides accept the existence of the other. This cannot simply be skimmed over.

The Arab countries who oppose a nuclear Iran (all but three, including Iran) do not view that issue as one related to Israel in the same way the President does. Israel is considered a nuclear state, the only such state in the Levant, yet no Arab country safe Iran plus two is making the claim that a nuclear Arab state is needed to neutralize this Israeli advantage. Rather, they fear a nuclear Iran as a significant destabilizing force in the region. The Arabs understand that a nuclear Iran threatens their safety and they know Israel’s existence does not. The Obama administration has not realized this.

In fact, the Obama position is so wrong here that the chances of these Arab states ending their support for a two-state solution only increase with a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran completely redistributes the balance of power in the Middle East. Tenuous US allies such as Turkey and the UAE, both of whom support a two-state solution, are expected to reorient themselves with Iran should Iran become a nuclear power (we are already seeing the beginnings of this in the increasing economic ties with Iran from Arab states including Turkey and the UAE).

The big obstacle to peace is not the settlements, it is not the “occupation”, it is Iran. Since Iran sponsors Hezbollah in the east, Hamas in the south, and Syria in the north (all of whom reject Israel’s right to exist and seek its destruction), the key to peace is to declaw Iran. A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians does not affect the mission of Hezbollah or Hamas nor Iran's ability to support them, and does nothing to challenge either’s abilities to attack Israel. Therefore, a peace agreement with the Palestinians does nothing to address the source of violence against Israel. Israel’s role in the Palestinian territories can be ended much easier once Iran is neutered because there is much less risk of Iranian weapons and supplies being used against Israel.
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Dispatches from the Kentucky Derby

This past weekend, Moishe House St. Louis loaded up two cars and made the trek to Louisville (loo-ah-vill, or luh-vuhl) for the 135th Kentucky Derby. Despite seeing a mere 3 seconds of actual, live horse racing, the Derby lived up to its name.

A good friend from my NFTY-OV days was nice enough to put all eight of us up at her place for the weekend, which happened to be a short walk from Churchill downs.

Now, despite the weather warnings, which dampened our plans for seersucker suits, and the late start caused by the fact that, while we wanted to act like we were still in college, we aren't...and businesses in St. Louis don't see Derby as a holiday... we ended up getting to Louisville in time for a bite at a restaurant whose claim to fame was foods from all over the world. We were impressed that they managed to do most of it justice. More impressive, though, was the magician who came over to our table.

Within 10 seconds, I knew there was something familiar about him. Between the Catskills-like comedy routine, and the mannerisms... he reminded me of the quintessential New York Jewish grandfather. So I told him... sort of..

I think my exact words were, "You remind me a lot of Sid Caesar," to which he replied, "well, we're both Jewish."

At that point, I made a mental 'I knew it' note, and told him that he was, in fact, performing for the largest crowd of Jews on 4th street. I also forgave that his hands had slowed a bit, his cards had shown, and his coin tricks had suffered a bit of inflation, because he was hilarious, and reminded me of the very best of my own grandfather.

The next morning, we started out, with what is now MH STL tradition, mimosas and a touch of the pong.

Luckily, we brought our house grill....unluckily, I wasn't there when we set it up, and so it turned into a smoker, rather than a grill.... but it was all good, and even encouraged a certain other blogger of ours to try a hamburger cookie sandwich. Not sure I'd recommend it, but I guess it sounded like a good idea at the time.

A word about Derby, the cheapest entry is $40, and gets you into the infield, which you literally have to pass through a tunnel to get to.

Apparently, a large piece of Derby culture is to try to sneak in alcohol in the most creative ways possible. We heard stories of people who modified wheel chairs to sneak in kegs, baked bottles of bourbon into loaves of bread, and stuffed bras with plastic bags, all to prevent the security (which included MPs) from finding and confiscating the booze.

Personally, we were all totally disappointed when we walked right in. They didn't even ask to look in our backpacks.

Also, and maybe most importantly, people-watching far outranks horse-watching as the actual point of Derby. From the ridiculous hats that women wear, to the ridiculous tattoos that men and women sport, and the ridiculous antics of everyone in the infield, we hardly remembered we were there for a horse race.

Which, ultimately, was a pretty good thing considering that we could barely see the horses.
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