Sunday, October 22, 2006


* Two weeks after Google buys YouTube the party's over.

* "Original Beatle" Pete Best surfaces to campaign for Jewish candidate running for Kansas House of Representatives. Joe Lieberman probably could have landed him if he had just a bit more clout...

* Village Voice reviews two new books on the American underground - one on the New York literary scene from '74 to '92 and one on how the Whole Earth Catalog morphed into a computer movement.

* I get nervous when Robert Aumann, Nobel Prize winner for his work on game theory, starts to doubt Israel's long term survival.

* Moment magazine asks if Jewish children should trick or treat, and offers opinions from across the Jewish spectrum. Renewal Rabbi Pamela Frydman offers this nugget: "Halloween is a time to teach piku’ah nefesh—protecting or saving a life. A few examples: When trick-or-treating children should be accompanied by an adult. Teens are safer at a Halloween party than going out alone. Products that are unsealed shouldn’t be eaten. Large amounts of candy can be dangerous to our health. "

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Well, Goodbye to All That....

It may seem odd given Israel's frequent elections, but I had the opportunity to vote for Natan Sharansky - the only politician I ever actually voted FOR in my life - only once. It was in 2003, the same year Russian immigrants abandoned Sharansky's immigrant party, dropping it to a Knesset-minimum two seats and forcing it to merge with the Likud, never to be heard from again.

It feels particularly odd to me because Sharansky's political career roughly matches my time in Israel. I was at WUJS in Arad during his first election campaign in 1996, when he came out of nowhere (besides a Soviet prison) and won seven seats in Knesset. The same year, I read his autobiography, Fear No Evil, and decided he should be Prime Minister.

I wasn't alone. When I mentioned Sharansky to English speakers, many seemed to agree: Sharansky was the next great Jewish leader, the man to help us build a real Jewish state. When the security situation finally recedes to the background, we reasoned, Sharansky would help heal the internal rifts that were eating away our souls.

As a politician, Sharansky was an inspiriation. He talked about the Jewish people as an organic whole, inside or outside Israel. When a Jewish community in the diaspora was threatened, he argued, the Jewish state was obligated to show support. And the same was true in the inverse. Jews everywhere would support Israel because they were part of its development, even if they never set foot on its land. These were magical ideas for a recent immigrant like me, who wanted nothing more than to feel a sense of common destiny with Israel. This was exactly the kind of state I wanted to help Sharansky build.

When he dropped a seat in the next election, the loss was tempered by his success wresting the Interior Ministry from Shas, which held a mighty 17 seats to Sharansky's six. His party's infamous "Shas Kontrol? Net, nash Kontrol!" slogan - directed at Russian speakers - gave a powerful voice to the new generation of immigrants. And when his party dropped to four seats after Roman Bronfman split off and later joined Meretz, I figured he'd get his seats back in the next election.

By the time the next election came around, Israel had been branded an illegitimate apartheid state at the UN's Conference on Racism in Durban and Palestinian suicide bombers struck Israeli coffee shops, shopping malls, and buses in unprecedented numbers as world leaders condemned Israel for defending its citizens. Someone had to stand up for the human rights of the Israeli people. The times, it seemed, were ripe for Sharansky to fulfill his destiny as the leader of the Jews.

Unfortunatly, the Israeli public never took to Sharansky as the Anglo population did. And when the Russian sector also lost interest, the party was sunk. I volunteered on his campaign and watched the party drop into oblivion. But almost immediately, it looked like a blessing in disguise. As a minister in the new Likud government, Sharansky was responsible for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs. Who better to handle these roles than Sharansky? And as a member of the Likud party, he stood a real chance of winning the office of Prime Minister.

The natural outgrowth of the Yisrael Ba'aliyah party's implosion was the disappearance of Israel's only true and inclusive immigrant party. The Russians he had represented moved on, either to Avigdor Lieberman's ideological Yisrael Beiteinu/National Union party or to other "Israeli" parties. They had integrated better and faster than anyone anticipated.

I, however, still felt like an immigrant and longed to have my party back. But now that Sharansky announced his retirement from politics, it seems like a good time to say goodbye to all that. The time has come to lose the immigrant identity and start feeling like an Israeli. After nearly 10 years, the time has come.

Easier said than done. But all things must start somewhere. I'm grateful to Sharansky for all the inspiration he provided. And I'm grateful for his latest lesson - the need to know when its time to move on in life.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sticks, Twigs, and Lemons

The Arba Minnim shuk at Mahane Yehuda:

A wise man once told me how to find a good, kosher etrog: Find the choosiest costumers in the shop and watch them pick up and discard etrog after etrog. When they find one they need to examine closely, maybe even pull out a magnifying glass, and then put it back - grab that one.

I thought I found my etrog when I saw these guys. They spent at least 10 minutes going back and forth on this one before deciding to buy it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Jesus Resigned for Their Sins

What would Jesus do if he were a newspaper publisher and his reporters were taking cash from the Bush administration to produce propaganda?

He'd resign, let the reporters off scot-free, and declare the rules against such payments too ambiguous to hold the reporters responsible.

At least that's what he'd do if he were Jesus Diaz Jr, publisher of the Miami Herald and the Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald. According to this story in the New York Times, Diaz originally fired two reporters and ended his papers' relationship with a freelancer when he discovered that they accepted money to produce "commentary" on the anti-Castro Radio and TV Marti­.

But in a show of infinite compassion, he reinstated all of them and blamed himself for "losing control of his newsroom." He also announced that six other reporters who accepted payments would not be disciplined.

Apparently, El Nuevo Herald already tilts to the anti-Castro line. So when Dias fired the reporters for promoting the same position, Cuban-American readers in Miami called it a double standard and demanded that Dias resign. Naturally, Jesus complied, suffering alone for the sins of the many.

So, we now we know what Jesus would do. But what about his successor? New publisher David Landsberg indicated he would take a hard line against reporters taking payments. “We’re passionate down here,” he explained. “People want to do the right thing for their people and their company.”