Monday, December 31, 2012

Jewish Assimilation Statistics/Anecdotes

I mentioned in my previous post the articles on kiruv in The Klal Perspectives Journal.

One of the conclusions that I reached after reading these essays is that the state of Jews in the United States is steadily getting worse. They are melting in the melting post at an increasing rate. As we start reading the book of Exodus this week, I cannot help but remember those Israelites who preferred to stay in Egypt and died during the plague of darkness. Here are a few quotes from the above mentioned Klal Perspectives Journal that illustrate the situation.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky:

Currently, less than 70% of the students enrolled in our Yeshiva and seminary (Shapell’s/Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya) have two Jewish parents. This number has been steadily dropping over the past few years.
Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald:
Contemporaneously with, and clearly related to, the rapid decline of the Conservative movement over the last two decades, it is my view that there has been a precipitous drop in the number of people becoming baalei teshuva in America. This decline is because Jewish youngsters today simply have no real connection to Judaism upon which to build. The vast majority of non-Orthodox Jewish youth now receive no religious education. Many have never been Bar or Bat Mitzvahed, and consequently, have little or no connection with Jewish life. As a result, fewer and fewer young people today respond to conventional outreach efforts. An invitation to a Friday night meal, a Purim party, a Learners Service, etc., is almost hollow and meaningless because virtually nothing Jewish resonates within them.
Lori Palatnik:
The “middle class” of Judaism is rapidly disappearing. Gone is the generation in which Jews generally married Jews (and if they didn’t, it was still shocking). The distinction between Jew and non-Jew is hardly acknowledged at all.

Today, in some cities (think Seattle, San Francisco, etc…), it is unusual to meet a couple who are not intermarried. My non-observant but proudly Jewish mother-in-law in Chicago tells me, “My friends and I no longer struggle with ‘should we go to the intermarriage of our children?’. Everyone goes. We do not want to lose our kids. Today we struggle with, ‘do we go the christening of our grandchildren?’”

Increasingly we see, either you are “in” – an educated committed Jew – or you are “out,” ignorant, gone from the Jewish ranks, intermarried, assimilated, apathetic. In my family, though raised as secular Jews, three out of four of us became observant. The fourth one got married in a church on Shabbos and is raising his kids as Christians.

This more or less confirms what I wrote a while back:
Interesting and sad: when I grew up in the 1960s, the rate of intermarriage among American Jews was around 10%. Today, it is about 50%!

The Jews that came to America at the beginning of the previous century were not always careful in mitzvah observance, but they were culturally Jewish. Their mother tongue was Yiddish and they would not even imagine marrying out. The next generation was also culturally Jewish, but Yiddish was a second language for them to be used when speaking to Bubbie and Zaide.

The third generation, that is to say mine, did not speak Yiddish. We were American through and through! Why shouldn't I marry a gentile? She eats bacon and we eat bacon. What's the big deal?

I have on many occasions hosted kids from "Birthright" at my Shabbat table. Many of these kids are the products of my peers that intermarried. The mother is Jewish and the father is not, or the other way around. They are very confused about their identity. How many of them will return, and how many will leave the Jewish nation forever?

The point of the story is that we really are a nation only through our Torah.

Torah really is amazing. It's too bad that so many never get the chance to see what it is all about.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kiruv Today

Through Cross-Currents I came across some very interesting articles on kiruv in The Klal Perspectives Journal. For one who became a ba'al teshuva about thirty years ago, I find the subject fascinating. Perhaps in a later post I will deal with some of these essays and/or the issues raised therein.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Antisemitism & The Latest Performance of Roger Waters

I've posted about this guy before. I do not think that he is an anti-Semite. He's just an ignoramus. Contrary to his lyrics, he really does need an education!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Tenth of Tevet is Coming Up

Something unusual happened to me last night. I attended my regular Gemara class. We are at the beginning of the chapter "Kol HaTadir" in the tractate "Zevachim" (Animal Sacrifices). The chapter, so far, deals with the order in which sacrifices are brought in the Temple: which sacrifices precede others, which elements of sacrifices receive precedence, etc.

As can be expected in such a lesson, the participants submerged themselves into the text. Questions were raised, explanations were offered, sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected. The learning was "as happy as it was on Mount Sinai", way back when the Jewish People received the Torah from God. This was not unusual at all. It happens all the time, all over the world. A group of Jews, after a hard day of work, sit down to learn Torah.

The Gemara asks, "Does the blood of the burnt offering or the blood of the guilt offering receive precedence?" I feel like I am in a dream. Here we are, in the Holy Temple. Which blood should be dashed round about against the altar first? As I ponder the question, I "wake up" from the dream. Ribono Shel Olam, the Temple is in ruins! Even if I knew the answer, the Temple does not exist! It's all "theory"! These are laws that I cannot fulfill! A feeling of deep sadness conquers my mind and body, pushing out the previous feeling of exhilaration acquired from the learning.

I gave voice to my thoughts. The rabbi was curious as to what part of the text made me think of that. One of the other participants asked, "We are already on folio 89B, and just now you thought of that?

The Temple is our prayers every day. But only rarely do I really feel the sadness that one should feel for the fact that the Temple still lay in ruins.

May it be God's will that the Temple be speedily rebuilt!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Post Channuka Post

May we merit to have a deep faith in God and His Torah, and may we merit to express this faith in our daily actions all year round.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner Has Been Vindicated!

This is the video that made a lot of noise here in Israel:

As you can see, our armed soldiers are running away from a stone-throwing mob. Why are the soldiers running away?

Soldiers serving in Judea and Samaria claimed that the army is "tying their hands" by issuing constrictive rules of engagement, and that "we must be given tools with which to respond to those who act out violently."

According to other soldiers, "We fall back because we aren't authorized to use the crowd-dispersal tools at our disposal, to avoid igniting the entire area and because there are cameras around."

All this brings some tough talk from our politicians:
Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai sent a letter to Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser requesting that the Security Cabinet discuss the matter. Yishai wrote, "The conclusion of these events without casualties is a miracle, but we must not count on this in the future."

Yishai added, "In my opinion, IDF troops must make maximal use of their weapons if they feel their lives are in danger, and they must know they will receive the utmost support and understanding from all the relevant bodies if that is what they have to do."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to the attack on the IDF soldiers, telling Israel Radio, "There is no way that Palestinian policemen can punch and slap soldiers and live to tell about it." Lieberman said that the IDF's current conduct is not keeping the peace but just incites violence. "When a soldier is surrounded by a raging mob and swinging Palestinian policemen, it's a provocation. The government and military brass need to back the troops."

Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz also commented on the video footage, saying, "The sight of IDF soldiers running away from stone throwers is detrimental to the IDF, its combat troops and to deterrence. We cannot accept images of fleeing soldiers."

I have no doubt that IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's shameful treatment of Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner contributed quite a bit to the current situation where IDF commanders and soldiers are afraid of the cameras, and are unable to do their job. This is what I wrote back then:
Does Gantz realize how much encouragement he has given to the terror supporters? Does he realize how he has demoralized his troops?
Had the IDF and the Israeli government supported Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner back then, we would not be seeing soldiers fleeing from Arab mobs today.

Here is what Zvika Fogel, an IDF brigadier-general (res.) and former chief of staff, Southern Command, has to say:

Instead of trying to appease the cameras and the "foreign" journalists, it is preferable to inform any person with a rock in his hand or behaving violently that the IDF doesn't intend to employ the same means. The IDF will hurt whoever threatens its soldiers, citizens or borders, and will do so with the use of live fire, precise and several times more painful. The soldiers who protect us and allow us to live normal lives need to know they were sent to carry out an achievable, legal mission, and will receive backup for any act that doesn't deviate from the purity of arms, without regard to the purity of the camera.
Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner has been vindicated!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Nechemya Weberman and Moshe Katzav

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz posted on Cross Currents his thoughts about the Weberman case. Among other things he wrote:
Many centuries before the development of the current norms of behavioral transparency (which, for example, has made it common practice for a female nurse to accompany a male doctor who is examining a woman), our chazal (sages), in their infinite wisdom, created Hilchos Yichud, fulfilling their dictum in the opening words of Pirkei Avos (1:1), “Asu s’yog la’Torah (build a [protective] fence around the Torah).”

These laws were not developed for teens-at-risk. They were meant to protect everyone from the ferocious power that the Yetzer Ho’ra unleashes in these arenas. In fact, a governing principle of these halachos is “Ain apitropis l’arayos,” loosely translated to mean that there no exceptions whatsoever in their application regardless of the individual’s standing or piety.

Does the fact that Weberman violated Hilchos Yichud mean that he is guilty of the unspeakable crimes he is accused of? Not necessarily. But it does mean that he totally has lost his cheskas kashrus (presumption of innocence).

Since the trial began, countless people have asked, “What is to stop people from making such allegations against any of us?” The answer is responsible, Torah-true behavior, 24/7. If one lives his life in accordance with the letter and spirit of Hilchos Yichud, it is almost inconceivable that any allegation would gain traction, since the accuser will be unable to prove venue and opportunity.

This reminded me of what I wrote about the Katzav case a while back:
Let's assume for the sake of argument that Moshe Katzav is innocent. Katzav could have avoided this mess if he had kept the laws of yichud and negiah. With regards to negiah, apparently Moshe Katzav admits that he sometimes hugged female members of his staff. If he had acted in accordance to Jewish law with regards to these matters any attempt to slander him would have been immediately written off.

I know a God fearing doctor who will not perform bodily examinations on any of his patients unless a member of his staff is in the room with him. This is in order to avoid any claims of improper conduct on his part. Where I work, even the so-called secular Jews know that you don't hug or even shake hands with a religious member of the opposite sex.

I hope the case will lead to a strengthening of modesty in the workplace and in general.

Both cases teach us the importance of being strict with regard to rabbinical injunctions in general and yichud in particular. Chazal rock!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Rep. Michele Bachmann Goes to Bat for Beit El and the State of Israel

Great Speech!

Thomas Friedman Strikes Again

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Here's a quote from good (?) old Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:
I am stunned at what I see here politically. On the right, in the Likud Party, the old leadership that was at least connected with the world, spoke English and respected Israel’s Supreme Court, is being swept aside in the latest primary by a rising group of far-right settler-activists who are convinced — thanks, in part, to the wall and dome — that Palestinians are no threat anymore and that no one can roll back the 350,000 Jews living in the West Bank. The far-right group running Israel today is so arrogant, and so indifferent to U.S. concerns, that it announced plans to build a huge block of settlements in the heart of the West Bank — in retaliation for the U.N. vote giving Palestinians observer status — even though the U.S. did everything possible to block that vote and the settlements would sever any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.
Well, I am stunned when a journalist who has done absolutely nothing of note for the Jewish People, calls the elected leaders of Israel, many of whom have put their lives on the line during service in the IDF, "arrogant".

What's more, Tom thinks that "the U.S. did everything possible to block that vote". Well Tom, there are others that think differently, others that are actually knowledgable on the subject. Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton had this to say:

Bolton said the Obama administration should have followed the model set by former President George H.W. Bush, and then-Secretary of State James Baker, 20 years ago in blocking a similar initiative to upgrade the Palestine Liberation Organization’s status from an “entity” to a “non-member state,” the same status held by the Vatican.

“We’ve been through this before. We did this 20 years ago and defeated the Palestinians,” Bolton said, according to a transcript provided by Newsmax.

“And this is how we did it. Secretary of State Jim Baker issued a statement saying he would recommend to the president that the United States make no further contributions, voluntary or assessed, to any international organization which makes any change in the PLO’s status as an observer organization.”

“If the administration had simply done what Jim Baker did 20 years ago, this thing would have been deader than a doornail,” Bolton added.

I think that what John Bolton said is quite logical. The UN is funded largely by the United States. If Obama really wanted to prevent the vote, he could have done so. Thomas Friedman, as usual, is off the mark.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Difference Between Naftali Bennett and Tzippi Livni

This video tells it all:

Natalia Nariman: Another Sad Case of Intermarriage

Who remembers the story of Natalia Nariman?
A 58-year-old man set fire to his girlfriend as she sat in their car, murdering her, according to an indictment filed in the Nazareth District Court on Thursday.

Nashad Basul, originally from Reina, is also charged with false imprisonment for allegedly forcing the victim, Natalia Nariman, to remain locked inside their Upper Nazareth apartment for years.

According to the indictment, Nariman met Basul in 1993 after she made aliya from Uzbekistan. She converted to Islam, and the couple lived in Upper Nazareth with their baby daughter and Nariman’s son from a previous relationship.

Basul refused to let Nariman leave the house, according to the indictment. He also allegedly ordered Nariman not to speak with other men, and slapped her.

Tension began to grow between the couple, the indictment alleges, as Nariman expressed her desire to work outside the home and swapped her traditional Muslim dress for Western clothing.

Eventually, Basul plotted to murder Nariman, the indictment alleges. Basul allegedly took Nariman to a hotel in Afula where he gave her alcohol to drink.

In the early morning of September 10, as the couple was driving home, Basul is said to have left the car, leaving Nariman strapped into the passenger seat.

Basul allegedly set fire to Nariman as she sat in the car, then left the scene.

Firefighters later discovered Nariman’s partly charred remains in the passenger seat.

HaKol Yehudi reports that Nashad Basul was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his crime. He also has to pay 250,000 NIS in damages to Nariman's family. Why was he sentenced to only 16 years in prison? Because the prosecution made a plea bargain with the accused, convicting him of manslaughter and not murder. The Kol Yehudi article includes another interesting detail: Basul was already a married man with children when he met Nariman. He led a doulbe life, with one wife in Raina and one wife, Nariman, in Upper Nazareth.

This case received very little coverage in the press. I wonder why!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

How Aly Raisman Influenced a Jewish Student

It is amazing what an 18 year old Olympic gold medalist can do. In this essay a Jewish student from Texas tells us how Aly Raisman influenced him:
The familiar beat of the Jewish song ‘Hava Nagila’ and the claps of the audience fill the arena. She takes one big breath and starts her last tumbling run, finishing with a sky-high leap as the crowd erupts with excitement. Seconds later, her score is displayed and the commentators announce that Alexandra Raisman, one of the five American gymnasts that won the gold medal the 2012 Olympics in London, has individually won gold on the floor exercise.

After the Olympics ended I was struck with disappointment, however, even with the games over, Raisman motivated me for the rest of the summer. Instead of spending all day at the pool or hanging out with my friends I spent more time studying and improving my overall fitness.

What originally drew me to Aly was her dedication to gymnastics. There have been times where my dedication has faltered and I have debated not showing up to dance practice and sleeping in a little later or hanging out with my friends during lunch instead of attending a club meeting. However, when I think about how hard Raisman works and how many hours she puts into her routines, I rejoice at the fact that I only have to attend school and do homework.

I am Jewish just like Raisman, this was the initial reason that I took interest in her as a role model. I am inspired by how she manages to integrate her Jewish heritage in everything she does and how rock solid her dedication and pride is to her religion. When people ask me why there are eight days of Chanukah or why I am fasting on Yom Kippur, I take pride in answering these questions, informing people about my religion and myself. And being a part of a religion, a way of life that makes me stand out. Because of Aly and her dedication to her religion, I started to attend synagogue more and more this year in order to get in touch with my religion and heritage even more.

Aly was the team captain of the gymnastics team that won gold. Because of that I immediately knew that I wanted to try out for a leader role in my school’s dance team. The night before the audition, I practiced my routine over and over again envisioning Aly’s gold medal winning. I know for a fact that Aly was one of the reasons I made Lieutenant on the team. During practices I assist in running practices and choreographing parts of the routines, trying my best to lead my team to glory like Raisman did. Aly motivated me to become more than just someone who attends the practices but someone who leads the practices.

Although I have never met Aly, her actions and her qualities have influenced me in more ways than people who I actually have met. But her going to the Olympics is like me going to college, it takes quite a bit of work but the rewards that come out of it are endless. I intend to make my college experience and the rest of my life golden like Aly Raisman.

Maybe I should stop blogging and start working on my cartwheels?

Bad News From the United States of America

Such a shame:
Jonathan Pollard was hospitalized after he collapsed in his jail cell during the weekend. His wife, Esther, was informed of this Saturday. His condition is not known.

Pollard began his 28th year in jail two weeks ago.

He has been suffering from intense pain in the past few weeks but it is not known if his collapse is connected to the pains.

Pollard is serving a life sentence for illegally passing on the classified material to a friendly country. He is suffering from poor health and in early 2012 was rushed to hospital in critical condition.

Two days after United States President Barack Obama was reelected, former minister Rafi Eitan called for Obama to release Pollard.

Eitan, who recruited Pollard and served as his handler, apologized to the United States for his role in the affair. Pollard gave Israel classified American documents relating to Middle East security.

“I’m responsible in the matter,” Eitan told Reshet Bet. “I apologized, and I apologize again and say, ‘Please, send Pollard home.’”

Eitan has previously said that U.S. intelligence services are using Pollard to take revenge on Israel.

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