Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The War For Hearts And Minds

In the midst of Operation Cast Lead, Israel's aerial bombardment of Hamas targets in Gaza, I wanted to examine how the fighting is playing out on the internet. With Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and other site playing an increasingly important role in the PR war, who is creating these messages, and how are they being shaped

When Israel created an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) YouTube Channel to showcase its efforts to specifically target Hamas forces and infrastructure, it signaled an important shift in the thinking of the government towards the public relations war for sympathy and legitimacy.

Some of the videos were taken down by YouTube, purportedly because of pressure from those who oppose the content, but have been put up. As explained by the IDF Spokesperson's Unit:

We were saddened on Dec. 30, 2008 when YouTube took down some of our exclusive footage showing the IDF's operational success in operation Cast Lead against Hamas extremists in the Gaza Strip. Fortunately, due to blogger and viewer support, YouTube has returned the footage they removed.

Newest update: Instead of removing the footage youtube has restricted viewing ability. We are in the process of opening up a blog so that you will be able to view the videos without problem there.

Twitter also been...well, all atwitter about Israel and Gaza, with Israeli Consulates joining the fray to answer questions and provide information/propaganda.

On Facebook, people are sharing images and videos which range from images of Palestinian civilian casualties, to videos showing Hamas fighters loading rockets onto trucks, then being targeted Israel missile strikes, to Hamas gunmen grabbing children as human shields., which provides a way to promote stories around the web, takes the front to the next level, in that people who support or oppose a particular view point can blow a story up or bury it depending on if it falls in line with their agenda.

While the internet provides unprecedented access to information, it also bring the question of veracity of information back to the forefront. Even as we see in rapid increase in the number of primary sources, who can quickly Tweet the latest events, uploading pictures, videos, and GPS coordinates, so do we see an increase in the use of this information to deceive, and mislead.

My advice is to consume as much information from a diverse pool of sources as possible. A spokesperson for the IDF has a certain agenda when they present information. While this agenda doesn't mean that the information is necessarily false, it may be an incomplete truth. The same can be said for a Palestinian news network or non-profit.

As the new Roman Calendar year approaches, we at the St. Lou Jew hope that the New Year brings level-heads to the table, a cessation of violence, and a renewed effort towards dialogue and negotiation.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Smoke Free St. Louis

For New Years, I really wanted world peace, seeing as how that didn't really work out, I would settle for a Smoke Free St. Louis

Ever since St. Louis had the wisdom to shut down 64-40 for improvements (instead of investing in public transportation), I have been seeing a billboard on 44 for a smoke free St. Louis.
The ad basically says, "look at all of these other top tier cities that went smoke free, we can do it too," in a play towards St. Louis' inferiority complex.

I would love to see St. Louis go smoke free. It is always noticeable when I come am traveling in DC, NYC, Chicago, or (even) Cincinnati, when I can leave a bar and not smell like ash.

Businesses have always been skeptical of banning smoking because they see it as a threat to their business, people who drink smoke, people who smoke drink, if you take away the ability to smoke, they think, fewer people will drink, and we'll lose money.

The results, however, seem to be just the opposite. When Chicago (and all of Illinois) when smoke free, bar owners in Chicago shivered (in fear or declining revenues). But the data has come back and actually shows in increase in money spent at bars.

It seems like there are two main reasons that bars didn't lose out.

The first is that they attracted new people who wouldn't venture to bars before out of concerns about smoke. The second is that people can actually spend more than an hour or two in a smoke free bar, because they aren't being choked, their eyes aren't getting irritated, and they aren't worrying about having to dry clean their clothes to get the smell out.

Read more about the effort to make a Smoke Free St. Louis here.

Sign the petition here.

Read all about the results in Chicago here.
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Too much Bad News?

It is said that no news is good news.

The Good News Network is out to change that. Need a bit of a pick-me-up to make you feel that the world isn't falling apart?

Check them out, it'll put a little optimism back in your day, and hey, you might even learn something. Read More......

Israel's Disproportionate Response

After a long weekend of missiles, bombs, and rocket, moral equivalizing, standard rhetoric, and civilian casualties, nothing has fundamentally changed in the Israel-Palestinian conflict

A lot of the charges leveled against Israel are about the disproportionate military response. But no one has really tested that claim. From an Times Online article:

Let's have a pointless discussion about Gaza and begin it by talking about whether Israel's bombing is “disproportionate”.

To illustrate the meaninglessness of such a debate let us attempt to agree what “proportionate” would look like.

Would it be best if Israel were to manufacture a thousand or so wildly inaccurate missiles and then fire them off in the general direction of Gaza City? There is a chance, though, that since Gaza is more densely packed than Israel, casualties might be much the same as they are now, so although the ordnance would be proportionate, the deaths would not. Of course, if one of Gaza's rockets did manage to hit an Israeli nursery school at the wrong time (or the right time, depending upon how you look at it), then the proportionality issue would be solved in one explosion. Would you be happy then?

The article goes further into the issues of targeting militants versus targeting civilians, and moral superiority:

This is not about outrage. We could then, perhaps, from the other side, attempt to suggest Israel's moral superiority on the basis that, unlike the careless firers of Qassam rockets, any civilian casualties caused by Israel's bombs were the unintended victims of its actions, however many of them there are. Israel takes care with its targeting, they don't. But the eight students killed by a bus stop in Gaza are just as dead, their families just as bereft, and their feelings towards the originators of the bombs just as compounded of hate and regret.

So this is not about moral superiority. Perhaps we could now try to have a discussion with a point. Will the Israeli action advance or hinder any movement towards a long-term solution in the area, or have we all given up on that (in which case expressions of anything very much seem not just irrelevant, but irritating)? Will it, in the long term, relieve Israeli citizens from the threat of arbitrary extinction? I'm pretty sure it will help in the short term. I cannot easily see what it accomplishes in the longer run.

Maybe a really big fence would work?

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Conversos, Crypto-Jews, and Heritage Reclaimed

Many people know that Christopher Colon (Columbus) sailed with several Sephardic Jews, who were escaping the Spanish Inquisition.

What many people don't know is that many more Jews who hid their religion ended up in the Iberian Peninsula and all over Central and South America.

This interesting article talks about using DNA testing as a way to connect people with their long lost heritage. Check it out. Read More......

More Updates On The Escalation In Southern Israel and Gaza

This conflict is growing more personal as I have friends in Kiryat Gat and Ashdod, both of which where recently hit by rocket attacks.

At the risk of being biased, or using biased sources, here is Hamas' logic in its own words.

NPR had someone on today with an interesting take, "how do you minimize civilian casualties when you are bombing one of the most densely populated parts of the planet?" Read More......

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Analysis: Cast Lead

“Cast Lead” was the code name given to the Israeli air strike on Gaza that started on Saturday, December 27th. Major media outlets report death tolls of at least 250, the vast majority of which were Hamas security forces. So far it appears that 15 civilians were killed. The wounded could be upwards of 700. There were well over 100 targets that been identified months earlier that included all of the main Hamas military headquarters, security and police stations, training camps, and weapons facilities.

According to Yaakov Katz, writing in the Jerusalem Post:

“The decision to launch such a blow against Hamas on Saturday was made during last Wednesday's security cabinet meeting. A secret meeting was held again on Friday between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, where the timing was finalized.
After several of the decisions from Wednesday's cabinet meeting were leaked to the press, Barak decided on a strategy of deception - to deceive Hamas into believing that Israel was not planning to strike back.
Barak took two actions to achieve this - the decision to open the Gaza crossings on Friday (which was announced on Thursday) and leaking to the press that there would be another cabinet meeting on Sunday to decide whether to attack. This created the perception that Israel was holding off on an operation when in reality it was fueling and arming its aircraft.”

As I write this (now Sunday evening in Israel), the IAF is continuing to attack targets in Gaza, including the Al Aqsa television station used by Hamas and a mosque identified as a base used for terrorist activities. As Y? pointed out, we were all expecting this, but we did not know when or exactly in what form it would come.

I want to address this operation from a few different angles. First, let us talk about the operation’s goals. This is the first of several attacks in what is likely to be a sustained operation lasting several weeks. While the targets will be military, Israel understands that only an overwhelming ground operation lasting many months, maybe even a year or two, would lead to a military defeat of Hamas. Therefore, its main goals is likely to be to break Hamas’s will and continue the fighting so that it can eliminate enough of Hamas to establish a more comprehensive ceasefire that would apply to both Hamas’s overt and covert activities and truly provide peace for its citizens in the south. Some are suggesting that the goal is to overthrow Hamas and give control of Gaza to the PA. This is questionable. The PA is weak, and it is only able to maintain control of the West Bank because it is receiving support from America and Israel. Taking on Gaza would stretch the PA very thin, too thin, and would require significant US and Israel support. This poses a significant problem, however. Neither the US nor Israel can be seen helping in Gaza – the residents would reject it. What is good for Israel is not good for the Palestinians goes the logic in Gaza. If the PA were to retake Gaza, the required support from Israel and the US would have to be entirely silent for the Palestinians to accept PA rule.

Second, let us talk about timing. It should not come as a surprise that Israel launched the attack prior to President-elect Obama’s inauguration. Assuredly Mr. Obama would not have allowed for an operation of this scale to go forward. It must be made clear that for this kind of operation American approval was required. The US and Israeli governments would never state this publically, but it’s tantamount to Israel being considered a nuclear power: Israel would never confirm nor deny its capability, but that Israel does have the ability is one of the worst-kept secrets in foreign policy. Over the last two or so weeks, rocket fire on Southern Israel increased dramatically as the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel broke down. These rockets make life miserable for the population within their reach. Under this condition there has been significant pressure on the Israeli government to retaliate. On Saturday morning, one of these rockets killed an Israeli.

For more information on the rocket fire, visit:

Third, let us look at the target. A few months ago many foreign policy experts were suggesting that Israel may target Iran before Mr. Obama took office. However, as time has moved forward the likelihood of such an operation became significantly less as America continued to lose influence in world politics, sped exponentially by the economic crisis. Given the current political climate in the US and abroad, even the most pro-Israel American President that the world has seen, President Bush, would not have green-lighted an attack on Iran. This decision stems from Iran’s second-strike capabilities, America’s inability, being tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, to stand militarily by Israel’s side, and the popularity of the soft diplomacy track. While the increased rocket barrage on southern Israel did escalate dramatically over the past two weeks from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, it was the reality of America’s limited ability to support Israel that has stovepiped Israel into focusing on Gaza. However, Iran is a target by extension of this operation. More on that below.

Specifically, the direct target was the Hamas security apparatus. The term “security” is used very misleadingly in Islamic circles, just as terms like “freedom” are used very misleadingly in African circles. Terms like “police” and “security forces” used by Hamas, Hizbullah, et al., are tantamount to American terms like “Army” and “Department of Defense.” Make no mistake: these were Hamas groups that were also used for offensive operations against Israel by their participation in activities like clearing and protecting areas for rocket launchers and performing and providing surveillance intelligence on Israel border security (information such as movement timetables, etc) to Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants. Israel is also targeting businesses that that are sources for Hamas income. By targeting this group and its infrastructure, Israel has severely damaged Hamas’s ability to provide synthetically legitimized support to clandestine forces in the short term.

This last point is very important. Israel has a small window within which it can perform these operations. Not only is it hamstrung by the January 20 date, but it is also limited by the atmosphere in Israel. A slightly better kept secret than Israeli nuclear capabilities is that during each ceasefire Hamas receives large amounts of war supplies from its supporters, uses the downtime to dig tunnels under the border, conducts intelligence operations, plants operatives in Israel, and performs other actions along these lines. While this is known, it is not well understood internationally. Hamas benefits from cease fires not only because it re-stocks but also because it beefs up its war fighting ability during these periods. Israelis understand this very well, so when Hamas declared it would not renew the six month Egyptian-brokered cease fire, the Israeli government knew it must act quickly so as to prevent a Hamas offensive coming out of the cease fire.

Forth, let us address where this operation leads. Israeli leaders are promising more military action without giving a timetable on when it may occur; it will occur in the next couple of weeks unless President Bush expressly instructs a cessation to Israeli operations. The big question now is whether or not to launch a ground operation. The second Lebanon War started out with an operation similarly massive to Cast Lead where 90 targets were struck by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) based on the notion that the IAF alone could stop Hizbullah. When this proved inaccurate Israel was forced to go into Lebanon on the ground, ending less than successfully. The concern now is the same: can the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) succeed on the ground in Gaza? At the moment, Ehud Barak is not talking about a ground invasion. However, continued air strikes will most likely not be the only actions taken.

However the operation continues, expect attacks to pause intermittently so that Israel can feed the Strip with humanitarian aide supplies, as it is currently doing (ten trucks are being chaperoned into the territory as I write this while plans for thirty more on Sunday are being drawn up in coordination with humanitarian groups). This helps address international protests and also shows that Israel is not fighting the Palestinian people, a message delivered on Arab television on Prime Minister Olmert on Friday, the day before the operation. While Hamas security operations are down, expect Israel to target Hamas and Islamic Jihad clandestine operations, points of entry used by war suppliers, tunnels, and weapons stockpiles; essentially the Hamas jugular.

Also expect Israel to use its elite forces to target Hamas leadership whenever possible. In 2004 Israel killed three senior Hamas leaders in the span of a few months: Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, and Ismail Abu Shanab. With these loses Hamas was spun into disarray. After Yassin’s death Hamas never found a religious leader to take his place. His death made Hamas more vulnerable to the argument that Hamas was a group of Islamic terrorists without a clear Islamic mandate. The death of Rantisi and Shanab created what could be called a locality crisis. Hamas was forced into naming their replacements in private so that Israel could not learn of their identities. The new face of the group became Khaled Meshal who, because he was based in Syria, created the liability of increasing disintegration between internal and external Hamas leadership. Haaretz is reporting that three senior Hamas officials (the commander of the Hamas police, the commander of the defense and security directorate, and the Gaza central district governor) were killed in the operation on Saturday. This is significant. While the most senior of Hamas leaders are in hiding outside of Gaza, these are three of the heavyweights who resided in Gaza. Look for Israel to create a leadership vacuum in Gaza by targeting as many leaders as possible, from the senior team on down to middle management, so that Hamas is forced into a significantly weaker bargaining position.

Looking more long term, it is worth noting that Israel is planning its first ever country-wide security exercise in July of 2009 that will include full participation of its citizens. Such an exercise shows that Israel understands well the kinds of attacks it could face in the coming years and sends a message to then-President Obama that Israel needs a demonstrable display of American support. The exercise shows faith in Israel’s ability to defend itself; were the exercise to go anything less than stellar, it would signal weakness to its enemies and put doubt in the minds of Israelis. Israel would only go forward with the exercise it if felt confident in its ability to ace the test. It also demonstrates that Israel continues to be willing to launch significant operations against its enemies by signaling that is interested in assuring its citizens that they will be safe when they do. This exercise tells Israel’s enemies that it will not heed their ultimatums.

Fifth, what messages does this operation send? Considering the results it sends the message that Israel’s intelligence agencies are doing well enough to have correctly scouted so many targets, an important victory for the intelligence community and Kadima leadership in the aftermath of the grave intelligence failures of the second Lebanon War in 2006. As a side note, so long as the operation continues to be successful it may benefit Olmert and Barak who could build a case for postponing the election.

It sends a mixed message to the President-elect Obama administration that while Israel does take American direction and interests strongly into consideration, it is fearful that Mr. Obama’s support will be limited and is thus willing to act unilaterally. Depending on how Israel continues the operation, it would not come as a surprise if other Arab countries or terrorists groups attacked Israel or stepped up support of Hamas, Hizbullah, and the usual crowd. This could test the incoming administration’s commitment to the Jewish state by putting the US in a position where it must publically issue policy positions. One of Mr. Obama’s greatest challenges in the Presidential campaign was to convince people that he is a pro-Israel pragmatist, a challenge that, while he did make significant headway, he did not complete. This will put his commitment to Israel to a clearer test.

To the Arab world it sends a message that Israel does not intend to scale down its military operation while it pursues the diplomatic route – that it will not have its hands tied behind its back while it negotiates. The real test for Israel in sending this message is how it ends the operation and the steps it takes afterwards. Israel must continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, especially if it succeeds in significantly deconstructing Hamas. In so doing Israel would need to bolster Mahmoud Abbas and the PA in the West Bank so as to show its intent on supporting a moderate Palestinian government that it will work with in the future.

The most serious message of all may be directed at Iran. One could read daily in the Post and Haaretz and YNet about the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah (loosely the PA). However, there is very little coverage of the internal power struggle between the Gaza-based Hamas leadership (internal) and the Hamas leadership based abroad (external). The key to understanding this is that when the external leadership gains leverage, so too do external actors like Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and when this happens, Hamas gets nudged towards even harder-line policies. However, when the external Hamas leadership gains leverage it provides Israel with a stronger argument when it presents its case to the international community – the more international Hamas appears the more Israel can push for international actions against it. It should be made clear that these external actors (Syria, Lebanon, Hizbollah, etc) are directly under the influence of Iran. With the incoming presidency of Barak Obama Israel may well have to step up these sorts of international efforts. The message to Iran that Israel is delivering with the operation is that it is ready to take Iran on from multiple fronts – militarily and diplomatically.

To the world the message may be a surprising one – that Israel is so keen on peace that it is willing to launch this kind of operation. So long as the West Bank and Gaza are controlled by different parties there will not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. If Israel strikes a deal with the PA, Hamas will reject it outright. The Arab world would debate the legitimacy of the deal, and Hamas would do its best to undermine it just as they did the Oslo process. It would likely launch attacks from the West Bank on Israel to weaken the PA. However, this scenario is improbable. What the pro-negotiation side has not realized is that is that Fatah is highly unlikely to accept any comprehensive agreement with Israel as long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza. An agreement with only one of the two Palestinian factions would lead to two different international policies towards the Palestinian people, a reality the PA could not accept because it would undermine the essential Palestinian narrative of a unified people striving for independence as well as the PA’s own goal of representing the Palestinian people. As long the West Bank is controlled by the PA and Gaza by Hamas, Israel will have peace with neither. Significantly weakening Hamas now puts the territories one step closer to political unification and Israel one step closer to quiet.

Sixth, I want to turn our attention to how this plays out in the Arab community. Hamas officials have admitted that they were surprised by the operation. They believed that Israeli threats were rhetoric in the context of the upcoming election in Israel, and are blaming the Arab and Islamic world over their failure to exert pressure on Israel to stop the operation.

Hamas is accusing the Palestinian Authority and Egypt of colluding with Israel in this operation. A Hamas official told the Jerusalem Post that the reason security bases had not been evacuated prior to the operation was because Egypt had promised Hamas that Israel was not going to launch any attacks in the coming days. “We believe the Egyptians deliberately deceived us because they had given Israel a green light to attack,” he said. Mussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official based in Damascus, claimed that Arab parties had pushed Israel to attack: “We are astonished by reports according to which some parties have been urging Israel to wipe out Hamas.”

Another Hamas official told the Post that Abbas and his aides were telling Israel to take down the Hamas government so that the PA could return to Gaza. For its part, PA officials said on Saturday that they were ready to assume control of Gaza if Israel succeeded in overthrowing Hamas. One official said that its men in Gaza have been told to be prepared for the possibility of returning to power. However, the PA has flatly denied the Hamas accusations that it had urged Israel to attack Hamas. As stated above, it is improbable that the PA is strong enough in its current state to govern Gaza.

It is unlikely both that Israel sought Arab support or received Arab support prior to the operation. In seeking Arab support prior to the operation Israel would have been taking a huge risk in being exposed and in giving away potential targets. In giving support any Arab country would be taking the huge risk in being exposed as having supported Israel.

This acknowledged we have not seen a united Arab front against this operation. Quietly, no doubt, people within the Arab world are hoping that Israel will succeed in reducing Hamas’s influence. Egypt, Israel’s closest thing to a neighborhood friend, sees itself as a leader of the Arab world. There are few Sunni Arab issues that it does not involved itself in and seeks to show it holds more sway than its Sunni rival, Saudi Arabia – this is the primary reason you see them mediating the Hamas and PA negotiations. America expects Egypt to take an active role in issues that impact Middle East security as well, evidenced by the two plus billion dollars in foreign aid it receives annually from us. So far, though, Egypt has failed, and therefore stands something to gain in Hamas being routed by Israel. For years Egypt has allowed smuggling to occur along its shared border with Gaza that has permitted Hamas to survive despite strict international sanctions. Egypt holds the power over enforcing these sanctions and in essence can influence when Hamas and Israel go to war. If Egypt really does support the Israeli mission it will clamp down on the security of its border with Gaza.

I have thrown a fair amount of information at you at this point. Let me conclude by saying that we are witnessing a systematic attack on Hamas that Israel will not stop until Israel believes it can draw out concessions needed to provide safety for itself. This is the essential goal, the success of which will be used to judge the operation. All other goals, while important, will be icing and cherries should they succeed. Israel is looking to create a prolonged period of quiet that can be used to plan its next diplomatic and, perhaps, its next military, move.
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Anti-Israel Leftists' and Pro-war Rightists' Myths

In the wake of the most recent escalation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, I wanted to pass along this really interesting compilation of the myths used by both sides to foment the conflict, from Haaretz, Israel's New York Times.

That article can be found here Read More......

Friday, December 26, 2008

More Evidence that Hannukah is THE Jewish Holiday 2.0

I caught this hip hop Hannukah mix that apparently aired on Sirius Satellite radio.

Featuring a countdown of songs produced by Jews in hip hop as well as a guest appearance by DJ AM. Profanities abound, so if you are listening at work, keep it the volume down.

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The War On Christmas, The Jews, And Other Half-Baked Conspiracy Theories

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to respond to an article that crossed my path via filtrbox. Written by Edmund Connelly, the article, entitled, “Merry Christmas. . . NOT!,” is a pretty scathing diatribe squarely placing the blame on Jews for the ‘War On Christmas’.

In fact, the article, in two parts, blames Jews for everything from the removal of religious Christmas symbols from the public sphere, to a larger war on Western culture.

“Why does it matter that Jews control Hollywood? In essence, it matters because it represents the loss of power of one group-majority white Christians-to a group with a long history of hostility toward the people and culture of the West. Jewish control of Hollywood has been a crucial means for dispossessing majority whites from their place in the country they built
Quoting Kevin MacDonald “The Judaization of the West means that the peoples who created the culture and traditions of the West have been made to feel deeply ashamed of their own history - surely the prelude to their demise as a culture and as a people.” And, as I argued earlier, the treatment of Christmas shows how Jews “have been able to translate this hatred of Christ and his birthday into increasingly scandalous imagery, thanks to their domination of Hollywood and TV studios.”

Connelly uses the ‘fact’ that Jews control Hollywood as a starting point to attack all of the recent movies about or involving Christmas. He goes even further, looking at all of the movies related to the Holocaust which come out around Christmas as proof positive that Jews are out to subvert Christmas.

“Sadly, Jews have been able to translate this hatred of Christ and his birthday into increasingly scandalous imagery, thanks to their domination of Hollywood and TV studios.”

Connelly also uses the examples of all of the Christmas songs written by Jews (White Christmas, Let it Snow, etc.), to point out that the Jesus has been removed and replaced by secular symbols.

“Of course, this “compromise” to take Christ out of popular culture was a great victory for Jews, for it allowed the hostility many Jews felt toward a Christian majority to find vent without the Gentiles really noticing.”

Let my first point of rebuttal be an acknowledgment that, although there are indeed a great many Jews in Hollywood, that the Holocaust remains a focal point in the Jewish collective consciousness, and that Jews frequently removed Jesus from the songs they wrote, all of these facts add up to BUPKIS.

The fact that Connelly is willing, even eager to see something sinister in the aforementioned points is really far more indicative of his world view than any larger facts.

OHMYGOD! Jews left Jesus out of Christmas songs!

Yea, about that. . . is anyone actually surprised that Jesus wouldn’t make it into a song written by Jews? There is nothing remotely sinister about that. The Jewish song writers were coming to grips with assimilation and identity in a very mixed America, filled with distinct ethnic communities. These songs represented an effort to create a super-ordinate group culture that everyone could feel a part of. Perhaps instead of blaming Jews for willingly corrupting Christmas, it might be valuable to harangue all of the consumers that made those songs among the most popular of the Christmas season.

The same point holds true for movies. The vast majority of movies that are made by major studios are done so for their ability to make money, and they are released accordingly. Christmas represents, from a business standpoint, a great time to release a movie. It is a time when families are together, and lacking anything better to do than talk to each other, they are often looking for an easy way to pass a few hours without any awkwardness or arguing. Movies provide just such an escape.

And when you consider the ill effects of sitting around with family too long, perhaps Connelly should be thanking the Jews of Hollywood for keeping domestic disturbances down.

Not to mention that time off of work makes it easier to justify taking a few hours to go to a movie.

The truth is that the movie industry is an industry like any other, and though it has the ability to potentially shape views of culture, it exists to make money. Imagine if Christians, who still represent a majority demographic in this country, were to stop consuming things that they found to be subversive. With the purchasing power that they have, how quickly would that subversive content disappear from the shelves?

So, why should movies involving the Holocaust, one of the most dramatic events in the history of the industrialized Western world, continue to be made and to find box-office success?

Maybe they are well done, usually requiring the seriousness absent from many of the thrillers/slashers/comidies/action blockbusters that are so commonplace.

Maybe they appeal to universal human nature to see good in times of darkness.

Perhaps, because this event, more than any other in recent history, illustrates the dangers of the very lines of thought contained in Connelly’s piece.

Or maybe the 5 million Jews in this country are simply enough to ensure the success of any movie that comes out. If every Jew in the country sees it, that equals big bucks, right?

The idea that Jews are somehow aiming to take down Western culture and civilization is preposterous. Jews have more freedom in the United States than virtually anywhere else in the world. We know it and are grateful for it. We also have a stake in seeing that America continues to be a beacon of those freedoms.

Therefore, it is not only erroneous to accuse Jews of wanting to subvert American culture, it is completely counter to the truth. This truth is that Jews have a vested interest in the preeminence of American culture

Connelly contends that Jews hate Christ and therefore hate Christmas.

I don’t really think that there are many Jews who dislike Jesus. Really, I don’t think many Jews think about Jesus much at all. I don’t think Jews dislike Christmas either, in fact, there is quite a lot of evidence to the contrary, that Jews like Christmas so much, that many Jewish families have Christmas trees.

There are two points at which I get a bit uncomfortable around Christmas; Kitsch… the first being the non-stop consumerist drum beating, the never-ending Christmas music which starts earlier and earlier every year, etc. and the second, Jesus as the Christ.

I have no interest in preventing anyone else from observing their ritual, but I do believe in a neutral public space in which I don’t have to constantly be bombarded.

I think that what Connelly probably doesn't understand is that the secularization of Christmas is effectively an evolution due to capitalism, and since he blames Jews for Marxism and Socialism, it would be hard to blame Jews for capitalism too.

The thinking goes something like this, how do you take a holiday in which large amounts of money change hands in the form of gifts, bonuses, etc, and make even more money off of it? Get more people to participate in the exchange of goods and services. To do that, make it apply to an even larger number of people.
Namely: Secularize it.

On this 5th day of Hannukah, when we recollect an uprising against Hellenistic, materialistic values, I think that there are some important things to remember about the way that we consume both material goods, culture, and information. Just as the content available guides our consumption, so does our consumption guide the future content.

Consume wisely.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oy Galut! Hannukah 2.0 Madness!

Hannukah is definitely the most web 2.0 friendly Jewish holiday, read on to find out why.

Although not a biblical holiday, Hannukah probably goes pound for pound with any other Jewish holiday in terms of the actual content created around it.

What I mean by that is, Hannukah probably more songs, videos, and just plain internet presence than any other Jewish holiday.

Which makes sense, right? I mean, Hannukah has been described as a 'Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your rights' kind of holiday.

The metaphor of lighting candles, bringing light and warmth to the darkest and coldest time of year is powerful and inspiring.

And With many of its own unique symbols, games, food, and songs, Hannukah provides quite a bit of material for any artist.

Still it is interesting that of all of the Jewish holidays, none seem to foment Jewiness like Hannukah.

From the Singles bashes all over the country on Christmas Eve (which more likely than not corresponds to a night of Hannukah), including this one tonight in St. Louis... To the SiriusXM station dedicated entirely to Hannukah, to countless CDs, Youtube Videos, online greeting cards, and kitch... Hannukah is pretty much the undefeated champion of Jewish internet holidays.
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A True Friend

Charlie Winters “was old school that way.” He spent 18 months in prison after having plead guilty to violating the Neutrality Act in 1949, yet his children didn’t even know he spent time in jail until after his death. Winters wasn’t that kind of guy. In 1948, when Israel declared independence, many Americans were ambivalent on whether the US should help the tiny new country defend itself. But Winters, a Boston born Protestant, felt unconditionally sympathetic towards Israel.

Winters, along with two others (Al Schwimmer and Herman Greenspun), sold decommissioned B-17 bombers to the Haganah that are credited with having turned the war in Israel’s favor. Not only that, but Winters himself flew one of the planes from Miami to Czechoslovakia where it and others were retrofitted for Israel’s use. Winters help came as a favor to his Jewish friends, and he received no monetary compensation for his time. Greenspun, a former Army flight engineer, was pardoned in 1961 by President Kennedy, while Schwimmer, a radio personality and publisher, was pardoned 2001 by President Clinton. Winters received his pardon yesterday from President Bush.

Charlie Winters died in 1984 at the age of 71 as a hero of Israel and Jews. The Miami Herald reports that his ashes are scattered in Israel while The Washington Post reports that his body is buried in a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem. Either way his resting place is an appropriate one. Unable to serve in World War II because of polio in one leg, he worked from the government as a purchasing agent during the war. His pardon received support from Democrats and Republicans alike. Even Steven Spielberg made a personal plea to President Bush on Winters’ behalf. Jimmy Winters, his son, said that he saw his father as quiet man who worked in shipping until his funeral, which drew Israeli dignitaries.

At the pardon, the Winters family lawyer said, “He did a heroic thing and, at the time, the law didn’t reflect our values. The pardon is a way of the law catching up with the history.” Winters’ son commented, “This is a present for my father…This was a monumental challenge, but my dad’s favorite saying was ‘keep the faith,’ and we did.” Winters was one of many who helped Israel stand up, and it continues to stand, because many believe what Winters did, that Israel deserved a place in this world. As much today as ever must must keep this faith.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different, A Solid American Car

After hearing all about the auto bailout, I felt we needed to give a little (but only a little) sympathy to the American car manufacturers, read on for a brilliant (in the British humour sense)video dedicated to an American car, ironically not commercially available in America.

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What's next for the city schools?

A few days ago, the Missouri Supreme court ruled to uphold the state’s June 2007 takeover of the St. Louis city public schools. This ruling should put an end to all the legal fighting that’s gone on in the past year and a half. Now all that's left to do is get to work reforming SLPS to revive a school system that's been struggling by on life support.

According to the lawyer for the state-appointed school board, the court's ruling ends any "uncertainty" surrounding who has the authority to make decisions around SLPS, which "allows the special administrative board to really focus on improving the educational product in the St. Louis public schools and to get on with the reforms that the board feels are necessary" (read more on the ruling here).

...great, so now what? What on earth are they going to do to tackle the problems SLPS faces?

Since I was curious to find out, I read (most of) the “Comprehensive Long Range Plan” put together by the Special Administrative Board that was appointed to takeover the schools when they lost accreditation. If you’re interested, it’s available online for the public. It sounds like they have some good ideas to improve things, but the real trick will be implementing them.

For any of us Yids to see a long-term future in St. Louis city (I’m talking marriage, kids – the whole shebang), I think good schools are a pretty important factor. I’m enjoying the Lou for now, but being a 20-something living and working here is way different than raising a family here, obviously.

I guess now that the legal barriers have been cleared, we can watch to see what the state-appointed school board does. I’m slightly hopeful that things will get better (it doesn’t seem like they can get much worse), but I won’t hold my breath.
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Madoff, Trust Shattered, Faith Shaken

I remember very clearly the first thing one of my good friends said when the details of the Bernard Madoff scandal were first starting to emerge, "I hope he isn't Jewish."

This simple sentence, "I hope he isn't Jewish," reveals a great deal about the pride and vulnerability that we as Jews in America often feel at the same time.

A recent article in the New York Times, focused on Yeshiva University, which lost $100 Million in the Ponzi scheme.

Yeshiva not only invested with Madoff, he had sat on their board for over a decade and was even made their treasurer. This relationship is causing many of the professors and students to start reevaluating not only the attention given to ethics, but the place of money and power in our society.

Although the NYT article doesn't say it explicitly, I think that there is an element of betrayal the runs right down the middle of this scandal. It's bad enough that Madoff is Jewish and that his actions tarnish all of us. It's even worse that his actions directly took advantage of and caused hard to the Jewish community.

Many foundations will have to shut down due to the staggering losses of money, a great deal more people who would have been employed by or helped by those foundations are now forced to look for alternatives.

In a community as diverse, opinionated, and outspoken as the Jewish community, I think that the Madoff scandal hits us in a very vulnerable spot, namely, the belief in ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel, or practically, looking out for other Jews.

While Madoff's actions are contemptible regardless of the victim, due to the particular damage caused to the Jewish community, in reputation as well as in actual financial harm, I think that there is even more anger than would normally be the case.

If our trusted institutions are getting hoodwinked, and by a Jew, no less, it causes our faith in the system itself to be shaken. And in times like these, when the system seems to be falling apart, faith is pretty important.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Hannukah in Paris

If you are looking to satisfy your French food fix, check out this New York Times article about a Jewish restaurant in Paris, what they're serving up for Hannukah, and how the owner's Jewish mother keeps tabs on him from America 24 hours a day! Read More......

Hannukah One-upsmanship

Forget about Hannukah videos that are last year's schmear, here is the freshest of the fresh new Hannukah viral video, and you saw it here first.

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Channukah with the Stars!

Check out this website where you can send Hannukah celebrity greeting cards! Fun for the whole family!

Stuck on what to get those closest to you for Hannukah? Have 7 nights of presents and just can't settle on the eighth?

Well Chanukkah with the Stars has just the thing! Personalized Hannukah wishes from "big-time" celebrities right into the inboxes of your nearest and dearest. Give it a click and check it out...because they really weren't going to appreciate the regifted "Dreidels Around the World" calendar anyway!

Any other great Channukah websites or gift ideas out there? Feel free to leave them in the comments. Happy Hannukah everybody!
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Published on Hip Hop

Check out this article published on, which explains some of the similarities between hip hop culture and Jewish culture. Read More......

Zeda Rocks Out!

Recapping Friday's rockin' Zeda's Beat Box show, hosted by The St. Lou Jew!

Zeda's Beat Box rocked Cicero's Friday night with the release of their second CD, "Seven." A few of us bloggers were there to kick things off with the blessings over the candles and the wine. The crowd was pumped up and ready to go and Zeda didn't disappoint!

Some of the highlights on the set list were a Zedafied version of the classic David Melech Yisrael, an insanely catchy Am Yisrael Chai (am yisrael am yisrael am yisrael chai...), and a chilled out Havenu Shalom Aleichem.

Check back here soon for an updated post with pictures and video from the show, but if you haven't had a chance to hear Zeda's music yet, check out their MySpace page here.

And if you couldn't make it out on Friday, don't miss the next Zeda's Beat Box show, Friday, January 30th at Ursa's on Wash U's campus, along with the Jewish a capella group Staam! More info to come of course
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Friday, December 19, 2008

TONIGHT! The St. Lou Jew hosts Zeda's Beat Box CD Release Party!

TONIGHT! 6:30PM @ Cicero's on the Loop.
The St. Lou Jew hosts Zeda's Beat Box CD Release Party

Jew music that you might actually like? Whoa! Count us in. is hosting the cd release party for the band's second album, "Seven."

Listen to 6 songs from the new Zeda's Beat Box CD "Seven" at presents
Zeda's Beat Box
CD Release Party
Friday December 19
6691 Delmar
$10.00 *includes FREE copy of CD!*
6:30 PM

Zeda's Beat Box burst on to the local Jewish and rock scene earlier this year with the release of their 4-song EP "Kabbalat Shabbat." The CD received rave reviews by both Jewish and mainstream press and has been hailed as "Jewish music for the masses." Also known as STUFF YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING TO.

Zeda's Beat Box sets Jewish liturgy and original English lyrics to a unique blend of rock and reggae. The band's mix of Jewish tradition and modern music has landed them shows in both synagogues and night clubs. Their debut CD can be heard playing at the JCC, Jewish gift shops, and on local rock radio. And tonight, you can see them play LIVE.

Us bloggers will be saying the Shabbos blessings before the band takes the stage by storm. We will see you there! Read More......

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Living Jews: Dave Simon of Zeda's Beat Box

With the Zeda show only one day away, I am reposting Y?s October interview with Dave Simon, the creator and mind behind Zeda's Beat Box!

There are certain types of people that you expect to find in New York, or California, maybe Austin or Chicago. These are the people who are doing things that are often viewed as bizarre or naive.

Another way of seeing these people is as they are, people who are chasing and living out their dreams. David Simon is one such dream chaser, and happens to be right here in St. Louis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Play That Funky Music...

Check out this clip of Zeda's Beat Box-- we'll see you at Cicero's tomorrow!

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A Taste of Things to Come!

Get ready for the offical St. Lou Jew logo rollout at tomorrow night's Zeda's Beat Box show!

As the excitment builds for tomorrow night's Zeda's Beat Box show, LC has been feverishly at work to bring you the first step in the redesign of The St. Lou Jew site. Not just another Jewish logo, it shows that The St. Lou Jew is here on the scene and serious about shaking things up in St. Louis. And what better way to start than by rolling it out to the tunes of the funkiest Jewish rock reggae band you have ever heard!

Check out this clip of Zeda's Beat Box in action!

This is only one of a series of changes to the site you will see over the next few weeks. Soon, we will be searchable, we will have categories, and we'll look like a site that LC can be proud of (and she should, considering the time she is putting in on this)!

Thank you for helping The St. Lou Jew to get off the ground and in joining us as we work hard to make the site fun and easy for you to navigate. Most of all though, come on down to Cicero's Friday night at 6:30 so we can celebrate right! Read More......

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coming soon to The St. Lou Jew near you: REDESIGN!

The St. Lou Jew going pro!

At The St. Lou Jew we are always looking for ways to improve the experience of our readers. To that very end, we are going pro with a new look and easy to maneuver website. Here's how:

-We are in the process of moving to WordPress, legitimizing the URL and making the site much easier to use.

-To start the process now, we've developed a Brand Spankin' New Logo, which we're unveiling TOMORROW!

Be sure to set your watches and give us a click tomorrow!

The St. Lou Jew Team
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What Not to Name Your Child

A New Jersey couple is upset that their son's name, Adolf Hitler Campbell, wouldn't be spelled out on his third birthday cake. How about not naming your son after a murderous dictator?

I am intolerant of intolerance. Oxymoron, I know. But seriously, who names their child Adolf Hitler? I found this article on my morning perusal of (the story is courtesy of AP)... it must be a slow news day. The headline reads "3-year-old Hitler can't get name on cake." While portraying the Campbell family as accepting of all races, you can tell there is tension between Heath Campbell and his conflicting message. The author wants you read the whole piece because it finally rationalizes the parents' name choice at the end...

Heath Campbell said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because "no one else in the world would have that name." He sounded surprised by all the controversy the dispute had generated.

Hello! Someone already had that name, and it didn't end too well for him. By the way, they did end up getting little Adolf's name on a cake... thanks to Wal-Mart. Let's hope this tyke grows up with a little more perspective on life than his parents did. Why couldn't they name him something normal, like Robot Blanket Campbell? Or Apple Bronx Campbell?

More to come from me on my latest endeavors into Judaism... I realize it has been a while since I've posted. Hey, will you be at the Zeda's Beat Box CD release party on Friday? I'll see you there, St. Louis.

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A Jewish Saddam Hussein?

Who better to play the role of Saddam Hussein than... Yigal Naor?

When Newsweek reporter Dan Ephron started watching HBO's ongoing series "House of Saddam," he thought the actor playing the 21st century's most famous dictator sounded familiar, a little like his grocer in Israel in fact.

Turns out, Ephron has an ear for Israel. The actor who plays Saddam Hussein is Yigal Naor, an Israeli. One of his co-stars, who plays "Chemical Ali", is Uri Gavriel. With a name like "Uri Gavriel", is there any doubt that he, too, is an Israeli?

New York casting agent Avy Kaufmann reasons that Israel happens to have some phenomenal actors. In addition, Israeli actors are preferred to Arab actors, because their English tends to be better and their acting style is more "Western".

Check out the full Newsweek article here.

And a shout-out to my dad (Mr. Zuz) for passing this along! As he said in the email... We are EVERYWHERE!
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Hey people. I'm M-teen, here to provide a little environmental (or 'green' as the cool kids are calling it these days) context to the St. Lou Jew. This first post explores the wonderful world of meat. Yum.

Have you ever thought about where the meat you buy in the grocery store comes from, or how those animals were raised? If you’re like the majority of people, you probably haven’t. And why would you? In modern urban life, there isn't really much need to. You pick up a package of chicken breast or a piece of steak or and you’re on your way. We're removed from the production of most of our food, and in many ways this is a good thing. We’re not all forced to live agrarian lives and grow our own food, which would prevent us from spending our careers and our time doing some of the amazing things humans have figured out how to do.

But when it comes to meat, this distance – both physical and psychological – is actually sheltering us from a nasty reality that will shock, anger and sadden you. Yeah, it may be more comfortable to not examine the ways our meat is produced too closely, but I think we have an obligation to.

Picture this – a system of producing meat that confines thousands of chickens in cages so closely together that they can’t stretch their wings or turn around; that feeds cattle a diet unnatural to them mixed with hormones and antibiotics; that creates literally tons of fecal waste so toxic (because of all those antibiotics and hormones in it) that it pollutes streams and threatens our drinking water with E-coli when it spills into the water; that produces an odor so strong people living nearby can smell it from a distance...

It sounds nightmarish, doesn’t it? I wish it weren't true, but that’s the reality of the factory farming system that produces the majority of the meat that people eat. I’m not exaggerating in order to scare you; there is countless pieces of evidence and stories to show it.

I’m prone to be interested in environmental issues, which includes a variety of topics. But the reason the issue of CAFOs, as they’re called (short for confined animal feeding operations), is so frightening to me is that it’s actually a culmination of so many issues. The problems produced by CAFOs are truly devastating – to the animals that live in those wretched conditions, to the surrounding environment that gets polluted, to human health which is put at risk, and to the people in surrounding communities who are forced to live with them every day. It is a moral problem, a social justice problem, an environmental problem, and a systemic problem.

You probably haven’t heard the term CAFO, and neither had I until about a year ago. The more I read and learned, the more upset I found myself becoming. As Jews, I think we are raised with a strong set of values and morals, especially social justice. The Jewish faith teaches us to be compassionate to our neighbors and to follow the golden rule...I know I wouldn’t want to be treated the way a CAFO treats its’ neighbors.

Even if we city dwellers don’t have to live by one of these CAFOs, we eat their products, and therefore are contributing to the system that sustains them. I can only imagine how awful it must be to live one, but if you want to find out how bad it really is, just ask one of the many people in rural parts of Missouri that do. And this is not a unique problem; CAFOs are widespread throughout Missouri (and other states), where they operate largely unregulated.

It’s true that factory farming has transformed meat from a luxury item to something that many can afford to eat regularly. But at what cost? Cheaper isn’t always better. As a consumer, and as a Jew, I would urge you to really think about this issue, and about how that package of chicken you’re buying got to be in the supermarket. It’s easy to be disconnected from the food we eat and buy, but as they say, ignorance is bliss...

I’m clearly not an expert on all this, so if you’re curious to learn more, I recommend starting with this one page document on the public health concerns of CAFOs and this executive summary of a report gives a really good overview. That just scratches the surface of this widespread and complicated issue – for more, try the Issues section of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.

Then hopefully you’ll be motivated to look for alternatives to this madness; healthy, sustainable one’s. Local harvest is a great site for finding vendors and restaurants for organic produce and naturally-raised meat. It definitely takes thoughtfulness and some extra effort to find alternatives, but that shouldn’t stop us.

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Lucas School House Shutting Its Doors

In a sad piece of reality, one of St. Louis' best concert venues will hold its last show New Years Eve...

If you haven't yet been, you have two weeks to experience one of the hidden gems in the St. Louis music scene, Lucas School House. The spacious, creative and inviting schoolhouse turned concert venue is shutting down at the end of the year. Read the article here.

Y? and I were lucky enough to catch more than a few shows at Lucas School House, including this past summer when we were able to catch a drink in the urban courtyard just outside.

Lucas, you will be missed, but thank you for reminding us that a little creativity and vision can go a long way.
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Spreading the Love out in Chesterfield

Shabbat in the Valley? Count me in!

In the never-ending quest to document Jewish life throughout the entire St. Louis region (an area that encompasses more mileage than the state of Rhode Island) LC's family was nice enought to host Shabbat in Chesterfield on Friday. The night was complete with latkes, Sabra hummus, and this St. Louis transplant's first-ever foray into the outer reaches of the Lou. Some highlights:

-Let's settle this debate once and for all... Chesterworld is Far Away. It's not just a few minutes, it's not just down the road and it is stretching the definition of the word suburb to call it that. It's a 40 minute drive from downtown... Just sayin'.

-That being said, to see 20 people gathered together from across St. Louis so far away from home on a cold Friday night in December, says a lot about the power of community to exist anywhere you make an effort.

-Potato latkes, especially Mrs. LC's, are way undervalued in the stable of Jewish foods. As unfortunate as matzah may be, latkes are just that good.

-The Fox and Hound: Chesterfield's prime spot for drinking, dancing, jiving and getting hit on by 40 year old women celebrating their friend's most recent bachelorette party. To say this place was an instant classic doesn't scratch the surface. From half mullets to terrible jukebox music, it has everything you could ever want in a suburban entertainment experience. (And it has a prime spot in the heart of the world's largest strip mall).

-If anyone ever asks you to pay a $4 cover in Chesterfield, leave immediately. You are better than that.

At the end of the day (or night here) the experience was fun, can't deny that. That being said, TGILIC (Thank God I Live In the City)! Entertainment options, walking-distance destinations and a semblance of public transportation... there are some benefits to city living that Chesterworld just doesn't provide. But you can bet I'll be back to visit, 40 minute drive and all!

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The Demise of Dating

Can't get a date? No worries, because apparently neither can anyone else!

It used to be (or so I am told at least) that if you "liked" someone you would ask them out on a date to get to know them better and see where it went. After a few dates, if things were going well, maybe then you would start to "hook up" and a relationship was born.

No more, according to this New York Times article. Today's model calls for people to hook up with their friends, and if the experience is good enough, maybe a date will come down the road. The benefit to this buy now, shop later mentality are that anyone has a chance at love. All it takes is enough time spent in a group of friends and eventually you have to hook up with soooomeone.

The negatives of this hook-up culture, though, are not what you would think. Young people today are having less sex (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and are hooking up with friends rather than strangers (according to the Journal of Adolescent Research). Instead, the negatives are focused on gender iniquity as males and females bring different viewpoints and agendas to the "random hook-up."

So yes, when your parents say, "Back in my day we went on DATES to get to know people," they're not just blowing smoke. There is a stark contrast in today's times, as the stereotypical dinner and a movie slowly fades into Leave it to Beaver oblivion.

What do you think? Is this an accurate depiction of the dating world today? And if it is, what does it mean for a post-college Jew living in St. Louis? How is a guy supposed to get a date, or is he even supposed to? And as a girl, do you want to be wined and dined or is that too "old-fashioned?" Read the story here and let the debate begin!
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Friday, December 12, 2008

A Response to Blagojevich

For some perspective on a scandal that hits right across the river here in St. Louis, we look to Ira Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who Y? and I met last weekend in New York

Ira Forman is at the forefront of the policy-shaping process in the Jewish community, as the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. So who better to provide some context and analysis of the recent scandal embroiling Rod Blagojeivch, the embattled governor of Illinois?

For those who don't know, Governor Blagojevich was taken into federal custody earlier this week for allegedly attempting to sell Barack Obama's now vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Clearly one of the most brazen acts of corruption in recent political history to say the least.

As St. Louis Jews, this scandal matters because what happens in Illinois matters. The St. Louis region really does encompass two states, and the governor of one of those states is going down.

Check out Forman's reponse here, where he says that the scandal reminds Democrats how vigilant we have to be in order to keep the power we now have from turning corruptive.

What do you think? Is Forman just seeing the scandal through rose-colored glasses, or is this really an opportunity for Democrats? Do Blagojevich's actions taint the Democratic party as a whole, or does the blame stay with him and not spread farther? It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the days and weeks to come, both here at home and nation-wide.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bagels and Bongos; A Tale of Jewish Music

In our ongoing build up to Zeda's Beat Box's CD release party, I wanted to share a little something passed along by none other than my Yiddeshe Momma.

Check out this interesting story about Jewish Music 2.0 Read More......

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Zeda's Beat Box to Rock Cicero's

Come on out to Cicero's on Friday, December 19 for Jew music that you might actually like!

Zeda's Beat Box is in the business of making some really really good and creative music that is also Jewish to boot. Don't take my word for it though, come check them out on Friday, December 19th at 6:30pm at Cicero's in the Loop. Here is the press release on the show, hosted by yours truly at the St. Lou Jew:

Listen to 6 songs from the new Zeda's Beat Box CD "Seven" at

The presents
Zeda's Beat Box
CD Release Party
Friday December 19
6691 Delmar
$10.00 *includes FREE copy of CD!*
6:30 PM

"The St. Lou Jew" Hosts CD Release Party for Zeda's Beat Box

St. Louis, MO-November 18, 2008- St. Louis' Jewish rock reggae sensation, Zeda's Beat Box celebrates the release of their second CD "Seven" at Cicero's on Friday December 19 at 6:30PM. Bloggers from The St. Lou Jew ( will set the tone for the evening as they light the Sabbath candles. All in attendance will receive a free copy of the bands 8-song CD.

Zeda's Beat Box burst on to the local Jewish and rock scene earlier this year with the release of their 4-song EP "Kabbalat Shabbat." The CD received rave reviews by both Jewish and mainstream press and has been hailed as "Jewish music for the masses."

Zeda's Beat Box sets Jewish liturgy and original English lyrics to a unique blend of rock and reggae. The band's mix of Jewish tradition and modern music has landed them shows in both synagogues and night clubs. Their debut CD can be heard playing at the JCC, Jewish gift shops, and on local rock radio.

The band was formed in January 2007 by Dave Simon, the founder of Dave Simon's Rock School. To build the band, Simon recruited four teenagers who participate in Rock School's band program. Simon began writing songs for the band in December of 2006 under the guidance of Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, Rabbi Dr. Neal Rose, and Cantor Sharon Nathanson of congregation B'nai Amoona.

Click here to hear "Seven"

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Zeda's Beat Box, Back in Action

Zeda's Beat Box is bringing their unique blend of rock, reggae, and yiddishkeit to the stage at Cicero's next Friday, and we had a chance to sit down with the band's leader, Dave Simon at the same venue last night.

Over a round of beers (Maudite FTW), LC, Zuz and I took the opportunity to connect with Dave and discuss his upcoming CD release party for the album entitled, "Seven".

Dave Simon, a Yid previously written about in our "Living Jews" series, has been putting in a lot of work in preparation for this party.

Although the date is quickly approaching, the conversation centered on the role of Jewish music in creating an attractive Jewish culture.

Jewish music often plays the antithesis to contemporary radio rap (mainstream, gangster, unconscious, commercial, or whatever buzz word you prefer). What I mean by that is that Rap music is rhythmically infectious, it can be hard to get out of your head, and it is made for dancing. The message on the other hand if often pretty violent, profane, and masochistic. Oh, and don't for get the swagger.

Jewish music, on the other hand, has an uplifting message, that focuses on the spiritual as opposed to the material. The music, on the other hand, is often kind of hokey. Sure, I loved swaying back and forth with friends at camp, but most Jewish music, as it is traditionally understood, is not dance music.

This is where Zeda's Beat Box sees its place, by taking dance music, and combining them with traditional Jewish liturgy, ZBB wants a musical experience that people will groove with, even if they are not Jewish.

Stay tuned for the official press release tomorrow. In the meantime, check out's article about the event.
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Seriously, please don't

President-elect Obama did Meet The Press on Sunday. In talking to Tom Brokaw about the potential auto industry bailout, he said “We don’t want government to run companies. Generally, government historically hasn’t done that very well.” He’s right, but again he’s underselling the dangers. Government just hasn’t done it very well, they’ve done it miserably.

The President-elect went on to describe a long-term government bailout that would be conditioned on government oversight. It could be that the government would mandate the types of cars companies make, mileage and environmental standards, and the investments they make (or do not make), to ensure that the industry “actually functions.” All of this sounds eerily close to a word that the Obama Administration wants to avoid the usage of at all costs: nationalization.

In 1952 President Henry Truman took over America’s steel industry to avoid an industry strike that would undermine our efforts in the Korean War. It was the last time the government toyed with the idea of nationalizing an industry, functionally or otherwise. It appears that Obama may be thinking what Truman said: “the president has the power to keep the country from going to hell.” The Supreme Court did not agree, however, and forced Truman to relinquish control. That there is so little opposition this time reflects the desperation. But that there is so little opposition this time also reflects a void of intelligent leadership.

There are three significant risks to this tactic. The first is what Obama himself admitted – that the government does not do this sort of thing well. He’s understating the reality, though. The government is absolutely and unconditionally miserable at it. Government’s record as a corporate executive has led to three-decades of privatization, turning national railroads, airlines, and defense industries into private companies.

What this plan sounds an awful lot like is controlled bankruptcy, where the government steps in to restructure an industry, as it could do if the industry declared bankruptcy, except that the industry won’t declare bankruptcy. What’s the point? The coverage is that it saves jobs and keeps Americans buying American cars. Both of these claims are ridiculous. Any serious reconstruction is going to require, fiscally, a net loss in jobs. This is because, addressing the second claim, that bankrupt or otherwise, Americans don’t buy American cars. Even regulating the kinds of cars manufactured and mileage minimums will not address this in the short term, because it will take time to get these vehicles on the road and even longer to instill some confidence in the products, while the investor (taxpayer) requires more immediate returns.

The second risk is that if the government fails (as history teaches us is highly probable), and the American car industry collapses or gets bought out by foreign competitors, taxpayers would lose the billions the government poured in. Part of what made the Wall Street bailout packages more palatable was that private companies were willing to buy some of the failing groups. That private industries were eager to step in and buy their failing counterparts gave taxpayers confidence that there was merit in the government providing additional assistance using their money. As Bill Gates so astutely told Wolf Blitzer, “After all, you have to say, if no one else is willing to invest, why is that? What is it that investors are seeing about this business model or cost structure that makes them unwilling? And why, in that case, is the government alone in stepping forward in these ways?...when you don’t have any private investors, you really have to say, is taxpayers’ money going to have the desired effect?”

The third risk, which deserves far more attention than it is getting, is that by stepping in to save the auto industry the government is going against the spirit of what it has preached around the world for the last 20 plus years. America has demanded that nations treat our companies on their soil the same as they treat their own companies, a concept called “national treatment.”

So far, however there has been no talk of offering aid to Toyota, Honda, BMW, or any other foreign automaker that have factories on our soil and employ our citizens (all the while managing to make a profit, making a great case for government action to dissolve the UAW). “If Japan was doing this, we’d be threatening billions of dollars in retaliation,” said Jeffrey Garten a professor at Yale, who as under secretary of commerce in the 90s tried in vain to get the industry prepared for international competition. “In fact, when they did something a lot more subtle, we threatened exactly that,” referring to calls for import restrictions.

To be fair, it is hard to measure the risks Obama may be willing to take with his plan seeing as so much of it is still a work in progress. In the short term, Democrats are looking at linking $15 billion in immediate loans to a “car czar” who could require or veto transactions or investments, essentially a one-man board of directors. This is huge power, yet the current administration has signaled it would be likely to sign this sort of plan.

That $15 billion is just the tip of the iceberg. “After that, we’re in uncharted water,” said Malcolm Salter, a Harvard Business School professor and former adviser to GM and Ford. “Think about this: Who in the federal government would have the tremendous insight needed to fix this industry?” It certainly is not anyone in the US Congress, even less the case when you see the same photograph of Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi attached to every story on the bailout.

Depending on the role and tactics the government decides to take, the efforts could end up looking a lot like the role of the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry in the 1970s and 80s. To promote the Japanese car industry on the way up, the Ministry pushed companies towards consolidation and even tried to mandate which segments of the market each could participate in. Soichiro Honda, the namesake of the Honda Company, rebelled when told that he should limit himself to motorcycles – a smart decision. Congress denounced this as “industry policy” and argued that it put American makers at a competitive disadvantage and compromised free enterprise.

Now, Congress is doing exactly what the Japanese did, but not as the industry is on its way up, but rather down. The Japanese and others will no double complain, and they would be right, or worse, begin doing the same for their own auto industries. In the end, the most appropriate question to ask as the investor (as we the tax-paying population are in this case) is “would I, or do others, buy the product I’m investing in?” As someone who comes from a family who only buys American cars, the responsible answer is “no” across the board.
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An Alternative Religious Model

Not that I fully align with the message, but read about what Beth Adam are doing with technology as a form of outreach here Read More......

Monday, December 8, 2008

Zuz and Y?'s Excellent Adventure

Y? and I made the pilgrimage to New York City this weekend to participate in the Professional Leaders Project SkillSummit. Along the way, we found time to rekindle some old friendships as well.

Spending just 33 hours in New York is a challenge of epic proportions, but one that I took on this weekend. Where do you go, what do you see, when do you sleep? These were just some of the questions I pondered during the pre-dawn flight out. The weekend was separated into two parts: catch up with old friends on Saturday, and attend the SkillSummit on Sunday. What follows is the quick rundown, as well as some sites to check out to see what engaged Jews are doing around the country.

-Upon arrival, I successfully navigated the spidery NYC transit system, taking bus to subway to walking to make my way to the Upper West Side.

-For lunch, I met up with old Umrath friends (yeah U2!) and experienced Barney Greengrass, only the world's best bagel and lox establishment.

-The afternoon was spent wandering lazily through the city on foot, including Strawberry Fields, the world's coolest Apple store, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and an excursion into the Plaza to view high tea being served.

-Saturday night was a reunion with the only Yankee fan I call a friend and a tour of almost two dozen NYC bars. Unfortunately, the play by play of that night has been censored by my editors (aka me).

Sunday was then spent at the SkillSummit, a gathering of next generation Jewish leaders from across the eastern half of the country. The best thing I can do is provide you with links to same amazing organizations and let their work speak for itself. Please check them out:

Jews United for Justice
National Jewish Democratic Council
The New Orleans Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals
Jewish Museum Milwaukee
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New York City Skills Summit, Y?'s side

A whirlwind trip to New York provided Zuz and I the opportunity to meet some of the most influential Jewish minds in the areas of philanthropy and non-profit work, including Rhoda Weisman, who had some interesting things to say.

After nearly 36 hours in New York City, Zuz and I returned to St. Louis, drained from seeing so many friends, and trying to absorb as much of the energy and creativity as we could.

Waking up at 4 am on Saturday, we caught a 6 am flight to Chicago, then a direct to Laguardia. We were already exhausted from Shabbat dinner the night before, but running on adrenaline.

We got into the city and went our separate ways. After a whole day (and night) of seeing friends and family, Zuz and I found our way to Hebrew Union College, late, and nearly comatose with exhaustion.

And then it happened. I walked down stairs into a social hall filled with young Jews, and mentors. Was the immediate rush of energy I felt a result being surrounded by so much potential, or was it the sudden influx of attractive Jewish women now in the periphery of my bleary vision?

Either way, I knew that I had to muster what little attention span I had for those few hours I was able to spend at the Skills Summit.

As a bit of background, PLP, the Professional Leadership Project, hosts the SkillsSummit to develop young Jewish leadership along one of three tracks, fund raising, volunteering/membership, and community organizing.

Zuz and I joined the community organizing track along side Ira Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, as well as Scott Sherman, founder of the Transformative Action Institute.

Through novel exercises, case studies, and mentorship, we were able to connect with these amazing visionaries, as well with our peers, many of whom are just as incredible.

We had an incredibly quick and intense speed mentorship program, in which I had the opportunity to sit down with Rhoda Weisman and ask questions about the sustainability of much of what we are doing.

"Give away power as quickly as you can," she said. "It is the only way to continuously bring people into the fold and to ensure that you are able to step out of the spotlight."

Zuz and I were both deeply impressed by her intellect and deliberate, point-by-point articulateness.

We were able to connect with Rebecca from Moishe House Philly, which brought several really interesting ideas to the surface, and which we hope to act on soon.

Perhaps even better, as soon as people heard that we were reppin STL, Jewish Geography kicked into overdrive, with people giving us the names of friends who were lonely in the Louie. That means we have our work cut out for us!
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Friday, December 5, 2008

Sophistication in the City

Looking for a way to unwind in style? Sasha's new location in South City is just the thing...

Earlier this week, Y?, LC, Rosh and I (along with an ever-expanding group of others looking for urban excitement) headed literally down the street to the new Sasha's Wine Bar, at Thurman and Shaw, right near South Grand and Tower Grove Park. Now, let me say right off the bat, I am not your typical wine bar patron (I admittedly came close to ordering a beer, but that was more due to the good beer selection in addition to an unbelievable wine list). How do I describe it?

Like an oasis in the middle of an area otherwise starved for places to go out. Exposed brick and pipe, walls covered in their wine inventory, a beautiful outdoor garden with heat lamps that you can bet will be hopping come summer... Sasha's is perfect whether you are looking to impress on a date or just escape the grind for a bit. Check out their website here and be sure to give them a chance.

Also, the opening of Sasha's is another encouraging step in development of the Shaw neighborhood. First Thurman, now Sasha's, corner businesses in Shaw are really taking off. Now the question is... what's next?
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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Federation Board of Trustees Panel: SuperJew Status

Last night, LC and I had the opportunity to sit on a panel of 'young Jews' with JJ Flotkin, and flanked by Sandy Cardin, President of the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. We spoke our minds, and in the process, 'challenged cherished beliefs'.

When the VP of the STL Jewish Federation asked us to speak, we were honored, and a bit freaked out. Who are we to think that we have any answers, for that matter, aside from the traffic we get on this site, and the people we get to sit down with for Shabbat dinners, who are we to even try to represent a generation of Jews.

Never-the-less, the opportunity was presented, and we took it.

The meeting itself was a perfect illustration of some of the disconnect that takes place between the generations.

The proceedings began with Robert's Rules of Order material, then moved to a check presentation from Anheuser-Busch(InBev). Sandy Cardin then got up and proceeded to, very eloquently, describe (indirectly) how those very proceedings were things keeping young Jews away from 'organized Judaism'.

First, organization/institutionalization, keeps us away by having a specific leadership structure in which one must advance through the ranks in a very prescribed fashion. It may take 10 years to get to a leadership role. Sandy acknowledged that this structure holds little appeal.

Second, the idea of 'get 'em while their young' specifically as it pertains to fundraising, may be totally incorrect. Sandy stated, very much in line with how we feel, that the emphasis should be on building a community, so that people have personal ties to giving later on.

When it came time for us to speak, LC, JJ, and I represented fairly different approaches to young adult involvement in Judaism.

LC, who has written about the subject before represents the 'more ish than Jewish' approach, having recently become involved through Moishe House activities (which is incidentally now primarily Schusterman funded).

JJ, president of the Young Professionals Division of the Federation, represents a more settled young adult, being married with a child, and is very involved with the Federation and many of the programs therein.

I really hope that our perspectives were helpful for those assembled at the Fed last night and more than that, I hope that we can inspire some real movement around the topics we discussed.

One of the most interesting points brought up by Sandy, and expounded upon in the course of the panel discussion is the fact that, whether or not it is acknowledged, we are a part of the community. Whether or not our events and activities revolve around the JCC, Federation, or Hillel (and increasingly not) young Jews around the country are continuing to foster community, build connections, and have meaningful Jewish experiences.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Living Jews: Tahli Miller

Last night, after a last minute phone call from Adam Weinberg, a few of us StlouJews had the opportunity to sit down with Tahli Miller, most recognizable for her husband, Mattisyahu. After a few hours with Tahli, though, it is clear that she has talents that deserve recognition in their own right.

Tahli Miller was studying film at Tish when she met Mattisyahu, initially it was for a film on Shomer Negiyah (the practice of not touching members of the opposite sex unless they are family) and its impact on relationships.

The film became far more complex as Tahli and Mattis started dating and the film came to revolve around the lack of touch between the them.

While traveling with Mattis, Tahli started using her experiences and learning on the subject to tackle relationships, the idea of Shomer Negiyah, and how religion and spirituality play into the two.

When we had a chance to sit down with her last night, at the Rabbi Yari's house, we were treated to an excellent discussion that careened from relationships to discussions of life on tour, and back.

Tahli raised an interested point about the frustration she feels when she sees people who come to the concerts and behave in ways counter to what the music is about, either by being stoned, or by grinding on each other. Much like those who go on Birthright for the free party.

In both situations, however, there are those who end up being effected and opened up to something new .

We put in a few good words for St. Louis, and learned a little about the irony of living in a place as Jewish as New York, where there is less pressure to identify or join the community.

What was a last minute email turned into a really interesting night. We were very fortunate to have the chance to connect with Tahli and wish her and Mattis continued success
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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Professional Leaders Project SkillsSummit

Zuz and Y? Accepted to Cutting Edge Jewish Leadership Program in NYC

That's right, Zuz and I have been accepted to participate in the Professional Leaders Project (PLP) SkillsSummit Program, a cutting-edge, 3-part Sunday Summit series for Generation Y Jewish leaders, taking place in New York City and Los Angeles in 2008-2009.

SkillsSummit focuses on innovative initiatives that strengthen Jewish leadership effectiveness, tackling pressing issues in contemporary Jewish society, and building community.

We are both pretty excited to have the opportunity to connect with some cool people, and to spend a few hours in NYC catching up with friends and family.

The Summit series will strengthen participants' Jewish leadership effectiveness in three, daylong intensive skill-building Summits with renowned experts and practitioners. Participants will apply new skills to real-life Jewish volunteer and professional settings. Both Zuz and I will be attending the sessions focusing on community organizing, where we will have the opportunity to be mentored by some of the foremost thinkers, organizers, and philanthropists.

Did I mention that we also get a trip to NYC, Medina to Israel's Jewish Mecca?

The Professional Leaders Project is an entrepreneurial nonprofit founded three years ago that selects Jewish Talent in their 20s & 30s around the country, connecting them to forward-thinking seasoned leaders for networking, mentoring, coaching, skill-building, and positive organizational change. PLP is dedicated to increasing the recruitment and retention of outstanding leaders who will lead the Jewish community into the future. For more information, visit
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