Israel and Public Opinion

About a month ago I sat in utter disbelief watching Michael Scheuer being interviewed by Bill Maher on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Scheuer is the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit and the author of a new book, “Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq.” Bill Maher raised the question of whether Bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalists are always going to be willing to kill Americans and whether U.S. support of Israel has anything to do with that. Here’s the exchange that followed along with the extended video clip:

Bill Maher: Would you grant me this, that as long as there’s an Israel in the world (and I’m a big supporter of Israel)… and as long as America backs it, the kind of Muslims that take their religion that seriously, that they would strap on a suicide belt, are always going to be out for us and always willing to kill us.
Michael Scheuer: I think we can reduce it very seriously, sir. I disagree with you on Israel, but —
BM:
In what way? You’re not a supporter?
MS: I hope Israel flourishes. I just don’t think it’s worth an American life or an American dollar.
BM: You don’t — you don’t think the existence of Israel in the world is worth an American life or an American dollar?
MS: Not only Israel, sir, but Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Bolivia. I’m much more—
BM: You’re really — you’re really not telling me that Israel is on a par with Saudi Arabia.
MS: I’m telling you — what I’m telling you, sir, is I’m most interested in the survival of the United States.
BM: But Israel is a democracy in a part of the world that has none.
MS: What — so what, sir? It doesn’t matter to Americans if anyone ever votes again.

While I’m sure there are many CIA officials today who are critical of American support of Israel, I was shocked that this CIA unit director would state that Israel “isn’t worth an American life or an American dollar.” I was pleased to see Bill Maher (whose show I enjoy very much) stand up for Israel even while his audience and guests were clearly on the other side. Jewish newspapers, for the most part, did not cover Bill Maher’s strong defense of the Jewish State. However, Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal apparently felt the same way I did after seeing the Bill Maher-Michael Scheuer exchange (and the Janine Garofalo comments that followed). In his editorial, he wrote:

Maher’s reaction was no more composed than my own. The audience tended to side with Schneuer and fellow guest Janeane Garofalo (who knew CIA staffers adhered to the Garofilian understanding of world affairs). What the transcript [of the exchange] doesn’t show is Maher’s stammering, his awkward comebacks, his vanished confidence as he tried, to his great credit, to process how a man once in charge of keeping us safe could be so clueless as to what endangers us.


There is so much criticism of Israel these days. Much of it takes place on college campuses, but it is spreading and the grossly exaggerated book criticizing the Israel lobby in America by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt is not helping matters.

Jim HillerRecently in Ann Arbor, a very liberal college town that is overwhelmingly anti-Israel, the People’s Food Co-Op in Ann Arbor tried to boycott the sale of all Israeli-based products. Fortunately, the Detroit Free Press reported that 77% of the co-op members voted to reject the boycott. It should be no surprise that this boycott was proposed in Ann Arbor, where a small group spends each Saturday morning protesting against Israel outside of Beth Israel, a Conservative Jewish synagogue, while families observe Shabbat inside. Members of that same group once held vigil outside of the Hiller’s Supermarket in Ann Arbor. They were objecting to the owner, Jim Hiller (pictured), selling products from Israel. Well, in what was something of a “reverse boycott,” these protesters only encouraged pro-Israel supporters to flock to Hiller’s supermarket in droves each Sunday morning to purchase the Israeli products. Jim Hiller, a strong supporter of Israel, is the newly elected president of the Jewish National Fund‘s Michigan Region.

Another potential boycott of Israel that turns out to be in Israel’s favor is the failed academic boycott of Israel by Britain’s University and College Union. A delegation of university officials from the United Kingdom visited universities in Israel this week. In a JTA report, David Newman, a professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, said, “The boycott debate has, paradoxically, opened a window of opportunity for Israeli and British universities to develop new research links and collaborations.”

With so much criticism directed toward Israel, it is imperative that supporters of the Jewish State serve as ambassadors, letting others know how essential Israel is in the world as the only true democracy in the Middle East. It is so important now to visit Israel and to support organizations like AIPAC and the Jewish National Fund. Here is a wonderful video that highlights the many positive aspects of Israel:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Goo Goo for Ga-Ga

Ga-Ga at CampIt’s amazing what you find on the Web. Somehow I stumbled upon a number of YouTube videos of people playing Ga-Ga, the Israeli dodgeball game that is played in a pit and mostly at Jewish summer camps. So I decided to do a Wikipedia search for “Ga-Ga” and discovered the following:

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, despite his lanky frame, was noted for being a champion ga-ga player in his Habonim days. According to his official online biography, Cohen won the Habonim UK ga-ga championship on multiple occasions and in 1992 led his country to a silver medal in the world ga-ga ball championships eventually coming in second to the undefeated Australian Habonim team.

(Source: Wikipedia entry for “Ga-Ga”)

So Borat plays Ga-Ga. Who knew?

Here’s a video clip of a Ga-Ga game, titled “Jew Ball?”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Pray Ball!

Jesus Doesn’t Come to Bat for Rockies in First Two Games of World Series

After reading the article in Tuesday’s NY Times (“Rockies Place Their Faith in God, and One Another”) about the emphasis the Colorado Rockies baseball team places on Christianity, I couldn’t help but think about the devout Christian pitcher, Eddie Harris, from the movie “Major League.” Harris has a famous line (one of so many in the movie) where he questions Pedro Cerrano’s religious views: “You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?”

Jesus Baseball - Colorado RockiesThe strong Christian values espoused by the Rockies franchise, according to the Times article, seem to focus more on “character” and less on proselytizing. The role of Christianity in the Colorado Rockies clubhouse was first reported in a May 2006 USA Today article which described the team following a “Christian-based code of conduct” where certain magazines were banned from the locker room. Another article (“The Rockies Pitch Religion”) soon followed in The Nation.

Baseball, our American pastime, has long emphasized Christianity inside the players’ clubhouse. The new issue of Moment Magazine has a long, well-written article exposing the Christian prostelyzation in Major League Baseball.

In “Is the Nation’s Favorite Pastime Pitching Jesus: It’s a Close Call,” Karin Tanabe explains what Washington Post reporter Laura Blumenfeld (daughter of Conservative rabbi David Blumenfeld) witnessed when she was in the Washington Nationals‘ clubhouse and chapel in 2005. The team chaplain, Jon Moeller, answered in the affirmative when a player asked if Jewish people will be doomed because they don’t believe in Jesus. There was a public outcry and the chaplain was eventually fired.

The article quotes my friend and colleague, Rabbi Ari Sunshine, who wrote a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig following Chaplain Moeller’s comments. Rabbi Sunshine criticized Major League Baseball for only offering Christian worship to baseball personnel. The next day, Selig (who is Jewish) responded that he found Moeller’s comments “disappointing and offensive” and that he will “take steps to insure that much of what you have written is implemented into Major League Baseball.”

Baseball ChapelThe Moment Magazine article traces the history of Baseball Chapel, and Major League Baseball’s focus on Christian salvation, to a Detroit News sportswriter in 1958. Waddy Spoelstra, who covered the Detroit Tigers, was so grateful for his daughter’s miraculous recovery from a sudden brain aneurism that he created Baseball Chapel. Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell helped Spoelstra during Baseball Chapel’s early days by organizing chapel services. Harwell is quoted in the Moment Magazine article, saying, “Many made fun of the Christians. But our view is that God wants you to do your best and that you should do it for His glory. A lot of Christian ballplayers recognize that they have a great platform and can influence more people than a preacher can.” Baseball Chapel was also supported by then-Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a devout Catholic (however, based on his last name I suspect his grandpa or great-grandpa was Jewish… and a Kohen!)

Personally, I think it’s nice that the Colorado Rockies team is prioritizing good, ethical values. It is certainly welcome news with all of the disgraceful antics that occur in professional sports these days. However, Major League Baseball must strive to be more religiously pluralistic. If Baseball Chapel is to continue, there must be opportunities for spiritual leaders from other religions to serve as chaplains of baseball teams as well. [Note to Detroit Tigers organization: Invite me to give a pre-game D’var Torah and I’ll guarantee a win!]

Going into game three of the World Series, it wouldn’t hurt for the Rockies to do some praying… so long as they can choose to whom their prayers are directed.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I just finished reading a wonderful book to my three-year-old son. “Much, Much Better” (by Chaim Kosofsky) was sent to us from Leslie and Abigail Wexner as part of the PJ Library in Columbus, Ohio. The book is based on a fable where Elijah the Prophet is the guest at a couple’s Shabbat table (disguised as a poor beggar) and offers them a blessing.

Weekly, the couple invites a stranger without a meal to eat to be their Sabbath guest. One Friday evening, Shlomo and Miriam were distraught because they didn’t have any guests with whom to share their meal. In the middle of the story my son asked me why the couple didn’t just go from house to house looking for a guest to invite. I explained that they were hoping to invite someone who didn’t have a home because that person certainly would not be able to prepare their own meal. He innocently asked me, “Well, do people without a home have a shul (synagogue) to go to?”

It would be equally as beautiful a question if a Christian three-year-old child asked his father if homeless people have a church to go to… or if a Muslim child asked if homeless people have a mosque… or a Buddhist child asked if homeless people have a temple.

I immediately thought of the many houses of worship that double as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The couple in the story (Shlomo and Miriam) receive the wonderful blessing of a baby after opening their home to this “stranger.” Think of how many blessings synagogues, churches, mosques, and temples would receive if they all opened their doors to feed the homeless.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Is a Day School’s Closing a Wake Up Call for the Conservative Movement?

With the recent closing of the Metropolitan Schechter Academy, a Solomon Schechter High School in New Jersey, questions are arising about the state of Conservative Jewish day schools in our country.

The Metro Schechter Academy was the result of a merger between the Schechter High School of New York and the Schechter Regional High School in Teaneck, New Jersey in 2005. The Manhattan-based high school began in 1992 at the Jewish Theological Seminary with the support of then Chancellor Ismar Schorsch. I remember how nice it was seeing the Schechter high school students in the Seminary halls on a daily basis when I began rabbinical school at JTS during the 1998-99 school year (and enjoying their annual theater productions each year in Feinberg Auditorium). The school moved to a Central Park West location in 2000.

As part of a Solomon Schechter Day School fellowship through the William Davidson Graduate School at JTS, I had the opportunity to work at the Schechter High School in Manhattan during the 2001-02 school year. I spent my time working with the admissions office and re-creating the school’s website. I was very impressed with the school and surprised that the enrollment was not higher. Situated in New York City, however, this school had significant competition from other private Jewish day high schools (Ramaz, SAR, and the new Heschel High School).

It’s a shame that the merged Schechter high school wasn’t able to open for the currrent academic year. However, I must disagree with the New York Jewish Week article that this school closure might be a “wake up call” for Jewish education in the Conservative Movement. This case is clearly an anomaly due to financial issues that were beyond the school leaders’ control.

Jewish day school education is growing in our country. My wife taught at the Schechter high school in West Orange, New Jersey and came home each day impressed by the high level of academics. In Michigan, the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit has grown significantly each year since its founding in 2000 with 34 students. While it is a non-denominational Jewish high school, the majority of its more than 210 students are from Conservative Jewish households and many are graduates of Detroit’s Solomon Schechter-affiliated Hillel Day School, which is celebrating its 50th year. Other Conservative day schools around the country are also growing in enrollment.

With the support of the new Seminary Chancellor Arnie Eisen and the Davidson School’s dean Rabbi Steve Brown (both quoted in the NJ Jewish Week article), Jewish day schools in the country will continue to grow.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

More on Israel Baseball League

I was honored to be quoted in an unscientific study about the level of play in the Israel Baseball League during this inaugural season. Iblemetrician referenced my subjective impression of the IBL’s level of play from a blog entry I posted after watching my first professional baseball game in Israel at Sportek Field.

  • The level of play was somewhere between college ball and AA minor league.
  • Rabbi Jason Miller, after attending a game.

This Israeli software engineer has a very interesting (and thorough) website dedicated to IBL statistics. Maybe he’s trying to become the Michael Lewis (author of “Moneyball”) of Israel baseball?

Jay SokolA better judge of the level of IBL play would be Jay Sokol (right), who traveled to Israel with me and sat next to me during the Netanya Tigers-Raanana Express game. Jay is the General Manager for the Delaware Cows of the Great Lakes League, which is a summer league dedicated to helping college players get used to the wooden bats they’ll use in the minor leagues. Jay thought the level of play in the IBL was very similar to the wood bat summer league. He even recognized an IBL player whom he previously scouted for the Cows.

While I was honored to be quoted in this biBlemetrics posting, I was saddened to read in another posting that the Sportek baseball field, one of the three remodeled fields of the IBL, would be returning to its pre-upgrade state.

While my “Save Tiger Stadium” campaign didn’t seem to work out too well, let’s see what we can do about Sportek Field.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

If Ann Coulter’s Going to Be in Heaven, Then I Don’t Want to Be There!

Ann CoulterLike every sensible person I was outraged by Ann Coulter‘s anti-Semitic comments on CNBC’s “The Big Idea” with host Donny Deutsch. Coulter began answering Deutsch’s question about what her ideal United States would look like by stating it would be like it was during the Republican National Convention in New York City. She then went on to say that the Democratic Party would look like Joe Lieberman, presumably because he is the iconic Jewish politician to Coulter. When Deutsch (Jewish) asks if she thinks we (Americans) should all be Christian, she responds in the affirmative and invites Deutsch to church with her. The woman is the textbook definition of chutzpah if not outright Antisemitism.

This is where Coulter really stepped out of bounds:

DEUTSCH: […] We should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians, then, or –

COULTER: Yeah.

DEUTSCH: Why don’t I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can’t believe that. “Let’s wipe Israel off the earth.” I mean, what, no Jews?

COULTER: No, we think – we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: So you don’t think that was offensive?

COULTER: No.

Shumel Rosner - HaaretzOy Vey! What are we to make of this? Clearly, Ann Coulter will say anything to get headlines. Last Spring she referred to John Edwards using an anti-gay slur. I found Shmuel Rosner‘s column about Coulter’s anti-Jewish comments to be most helpful. Rosner (right) is the Chief U.S. Correspondent for Ha’aretz.

Rosner listed the potential reactions people will have to Coulter’s comments. I’ve posted them below:

The shock and amazement reaction

Did you hear what she said? She wants Jews to be perfected? This is anti-Semitism; pure and simple (should be conveyed in an angry tone).

The retaliatory reaction

This is a continuation of the shock and amazement reaction, but is mostly reserved for Jewish organizations calling for Coulter to be punished (purgatory? hell?). Actually, the National Jewish Democratic Council has already done that: “While Ann Coulter has freedom of speech, news outlets should exercise their freedom to use better judgment,” said NJDC Executive Director Ira N. Forman. “Just as media outlets don’t invite those who believe that Martians walk the earth to frequently comment on science stories. It’s time they stop inviting Ann Coulter to comment on politics.”

Another retaliatory reaction

So now I’m going to say that it’s better for all Americans to be perfected and become Jewish, Coulter included (a scary thought, eh?)

The self-hating reaction

I also think Jews should be perfected.

The dismissive reaction

I don’t read her books and don’t care what Ann Coulter thinks, neither about politics nor about Jews nor about anything else.

The forgiving reaction

(Should we call it The Christian reaction?) This is also a kind of dismissive reaction: She just wanted to say something nice for a change and it didn’t turn out so well. She really isn’t anti-Semitic. Her tongue runs so fast that she sometimes doesn’t even know what she’s talking about.

The knowledgeable reaction

Also known as the paranoid reaction: she only said what all Christians think in their heart of hearts but don’t have the guts to say publicly. It?s just like John McCain saying America is a Christian Nation.

The expert reaction

Ann Coulter needs therapy!

The explanatory reaction

She only said that for a Christian it is okay to hope for everybody else to be a Christian. What’s wrong with that? We all want other people to be just like us.

The amused reaction

She was kind of funny wasn’t it?

The feigned ignorance reaction

Also known as the cool reaction: Ann Coulter? Who’s Ann Coulter?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Sidewalk Art in NYC

This is my 500th post on the RabbiJason.com blog!

Rather than write anything substantial, I thought I would just post a photo I took last week in New York City. Walking down Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I saw this artist drawing in chalk on the sidewalk. I couldn’t resist watching him work for about ten minutes. Very impressive!

Sidewalk Art with Chalk - New York City

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Shlomo the Offensive Lineman

Today, there are several Jewish football players in the National Football League. Of course, my favorite is Josh Miller, the New England Patriots kicker. But that’s only because he shares his name with my son Josh. There’s also Jay Fielder (New York Jets), Lennie Friedman (Washington Redskins), Sage Rosenfels (Miami Dolphins), Mike Rosenthal (Minnesota Vikings), and Mike Seidman (Carolina Panthers). There is also Igor Olshansky of the San Diego Chargers, who attended San Francisco Chabad’s Hebrew Academy. Like other Jewish pro athletes these guys are all over the map in terms of their level of commitment and observance to Judaism.

Alan VeingradThere is one Jewish pro football player who’s Jewish identity is very strong. Former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Alan Veingrad was a religiously indifferent Jew when he was an active player, but today he is ultra-Orthodox and goes by the name “Shlomo.” Several articles have been written about Shlomo Veingrad’s transformation, but the most comprehensive is the recent Dallas Morning News article, “Ex-Cowboy finds faith after football.”

Veingrad, who won a Super Bowl championship with the Cowboys in 1993, has his own website that focuses on his life in football and today as a frum Jew. He explains, “As a Dallas Cowboy and member of the Super Bowl championship team of 1992, I got to play for coach Jimmy Johnson and protect the now legendary quarterback Troy Aikman. Being Jewish left me open to a fair amount of good-natured ribbing and kidding, more the by-product of insensitivity than of malice. In the rough and tumble environment of an NFL team, a Jew is an outsider. But now, as I continue to discover even more the rich traditions of Yiddishkeit, I’m happy to be on the inside of Hashem’s army.”

You can also listen to a radio interview of Alan “Shlomo” Veingrad on “JM in the AM” from 2006.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Yom Kippur was a Croc this Year

I definitely felt that my wife, kids, and I were the only ones not wearing Crocs this summer in Israel. Those weird-looking, plastic, comfy shoes have become the biggest foot fad since the Air Jordans. Ami Eden, in the JTA, reports that Crocs have taken over as the must-have shoes for Yom Kippur fashion… or at least a way to adhere to the “leather shoes are a no-no” rule. I’m going to stick with my black Chuck Taylor All-Stars for Yom Kippur. But maybe I’ll get a pair of Crocs for Tisha B’Av.

The Orthodox Union even ruled that Crocs are permissible on the Day of Atonement.

Eden writes in the JTA:

From secular beachgoers in Tel Aviv to right-wing Orthodox settlers in Hebron, Crocs — the bulbous-toed, open-back, rubber summer shoe — already were ubiquitous in Israel. Now, reports from several synagogues across America suggest, Crocs have surpassed Chuck Taylors, Keds, flip-flops and a host of other options to become the Yom Kippur shoe in the United States.

“It was so comfortable; I couldn’t believe how cushy it was,” said Steinerman, who opted for the subtle suit-matching black rather than one of the flashier Crocs colors. “Converse doesn’t have the right support. This was a big upgrade.”

From Facebook to My Space, Internet users have discussed the Crocs-on-Yom Kippur trend. And the reviews were not all positive. [more]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller