The Israeli Bandage and Gabby Giffords

The highlight of the AIPAC Policy Conference so far has been the exhibit on Israeli technological innovation in the AIPAC Village. The bottom floor of the Washington Convention Center, called AIPAC Village, is where D.C.’s annual auto show is held so it is the perfect location to display the America-Israel Racing’s NASCAR race car, an electric car from Shai Agassi’s Better Place, and an Israeli tank. However, the best thing that I saw in that exhibit was the first meeting between two men.

I happened to witness the first encounter between Bernard Bar-Natan and Daniel Hernandez. Both of these men contributed to the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh — saving a life. Bar-Natan is responsible for developing the “Israeli Bandage” that was used to save Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life after the assassination attempt that almost killed her. Daniel Hernandez had only been Rep. Giffords’ intern for five days on the day of the tragic incident. Hernandez had the good sense to wrap Giffords’ wounds with makeshift bandages until the paramedics arrived on the scene.

With Daniel Hernandez and Bernard Bar-Natan, CEO of FirstCare

When Bernard Bar-Natan was training to become a military medic in the mid-80’s he noticed that some of the bandages they were using in the Israeli Army to stop bleeding were manufactured during World War II or even before. He began working on new bandages that would have a pressure bar built into the bandage itself. In the early 90’s Bar-Natan was part of a technology incubator program in Jerusalem with a government grant allowing him to develop the bandage. Today, Bar-Natan’s startup company, First Care Products in Lod, Israel, produces over 2 million bandages a year.

The Israeli Bandage helps stem blood loss, prevents infection and allows non-medically trained soldiers to stabilize a wound. American emergency management and law enforcement teams also use the Israeli Bandage. After the Israeli Bandage was used to stop Gabby Giffords’ bleeding, Dr. Katherine Hiller, an emergency physician at the University of Arizona Medical Center remarked, “Without this care, it would have definitely been a different situation.”

This bandage is just one example of how Israeli innovation is saving lives. While I haven’t had the honor to ever meet Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in person, I felt truly privileged yesterday to meet two of the men responsible for her still being alive today. Watching them meet each other was a remarkable moment and one that I won’t soon forget.

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

Miketz: Kim Jong Un, Joseph and Ultimogeniture

In biblical times the concept of primogeniture was practiced widely in the Ancient Near East. That is to say, the eldest son would inherit the entire estate to the exclusion of younger siblings. In Jewish law, the eldest son was promised a double portion of the estate (Deuteronomy 20:17). However, in the Book of Genesis we see that this is not the case. Rather, it is the younger brother who, time and again, receives the birthright (albeit through deception) and the promise of succession.

Throughout the Genesis narrative (what my teacher Rabbi Burt Visotzky calls “an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family”) the eldest son appears unsuitable to succeed as leader of the family dynasty and thus the younger son becomes the heir to the clan. With the sons of Adam and Eve, God chooses the younger Abel’s offering instead of the firstborn Cain’s sacrifice. Abraham is the eldest son of Terach, but when he leaves his father’s home, he gives up the birthright to his younger brother Nahor. Abraham’s firstborn son Ishmael is kicked out of the house and the patrimony goes instead to the younger Isaac. Then Isaac’s younger son Jacob receives his father’s birthright and coveted blessing through trickery. The trend continues when Jacob favors his younger son Joseph, the son of his true beloved Rachel. This favoritism of one son leads to horrible events for the family.

The last act of patrilineal ultimogeniture in the Book of Genesis is at the end of the narrative when Jacob blesses his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph’s sons). The grandfather crosses his hands, laying his right hand upon the younger Ephraim and his left on the elder Manasseh, thus granting the birthright to the younger brother.

In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, we learn more about the interesting character of Joseph who flaunts his “most favored son” status in front of his brothers causing their enmity toward him. Joseph makes his dreams into a reality by lording over his brothers in Egypt when they come looking for food during the famine. While things seem to have worked out well for Joseph, we cannot ignore the series of unfortunate events (including his near death experience of being hurled into a pit by his brothers) that occurred because of ultimogeniture, the emergence of the youngest son as leader. (Technically Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob, but Joseph was Jacob’s favorite because his beloved Rachel died during the birth of Benjamin.)

Following the sudden death of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, we are beginning to learn more about his youngest son and the successor to his dynasty. The new leader of North Korea is Kim Jong Il’s third and favorite son Kim Jong Un.

It will be interesting to see how Kim Jong Un’s two older brothers respond to their younger brother’s leadership. I don’t suspect they will throw their brother into a pit or sell him into slavery, but I am certain there exists a fair amount of jealousy following their younger brother’s transition to power. Perhaps the day will come when Kim Jong Un’s brothers come to him in a time of need just as Joseph’s older brothers had to come to him in Egypt during the widespread famine.

The lesson we can learn from the family in Genesis is that leadership succession in a family dynasty will always be wrought with emotion. Primogeniture might have been the way of the world in biblical times, but the younger brothers always emerged as the chosen successor. And so it is in our day. We can only hope that North Korea’s new 28-year-old leader will rule with a level head. Joseph might have been in charge of the stockpile of food during a famine, but this young ruler is charged with North Korea’s nuclear program. Let’s hope his older brothers are able to put aside any animus and envy that exists so that sibling rivalry doesn’t cause a grave situation that could impact us all.

Shabbat Shalom!

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

Israel’s Raid on Entebbe – 35th Anniversary

I missed being born on America’s bicentennial by only twenty days. July 4, 1976 was a momentous day for our nation, but I missed it.

It wasn’t until about fifteen years later that I would learn that America’s 200th birthday wasn’t the only important event that occurred on July 4, 1976. As a high school student, I attended a United Synagogue Youth (USY) Jewish youth convention at a hotel outside of Detroit. I wasn’t a board member of my congregation’s USY chapter and as such wasn’t allowed to vote in the election of regional officers. The “alternative activity” for non-voting convention attendees was to watch a movie. The movie selection was a 1977 film titled “Operation Thunderbolt.”

The movie was about Operation Entebbe, the hostage-rescue mission carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. A week earlier, an Air France plane carrying 248 passengers was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and PLO supporters. The hijacked aircraft was diverted to Entebbe, outside the capital of Uganda. After landing, all non-Jewish passengers were released. Acting on intelligence from the Mossad, the IDF carried out a nighttime operation to rescue the hostages. The 90 minute rescue mission was a success, but the mission’s commander, Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed in action.

Watching the film, I recalled learning about Yoni Netanyahu at Jewish summer camp and at Jewish day school. However, I never knew the story behind his death and heroism. I was fascinated by the planning that went into the mission and the subsequent rescue of the hostages. From the movie, I learned about the ruthless dictatorship of Uganda and its villainous leader Idi Amin.

I’ve watched “Operation Thunderbolt” several more times since that first time in a hotel conference room. I’ve also seen the movie “Raid on Entebbe” with Charles Bronson, James Woods and Peter Finch and “Victory on Entebbe,” which was released in 1976 shortly after the rescue mission and stars an impressive cast of Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Dreyfuss.

Following the rescue mission, the government of Uganda convened a session of the United Nations Security Council to seek official condemnation of the Israeli raid as a violation of Ugandan sovereignty. The Security Council ultimately declined to pass any resolution on the matter, condemning neither Israel nor Uganda for the terrorist act.

In his address to the Security Council, Israeli ambassador Chaim Herzog said: “We come with a simple message to the Council: we are proud of what we have done because we have demonstrated to the world that a small country, in Israel’s circumstances, with which the members of this Council are by now all too familiar, the dignity of man, human life and human freedom constitute the highest values. We are proud not only because we have saved the lives of over a hundred innocent people—men, women and children—but because of the significance of our act for the cause of human freedom.”

I hope we continue to teach this important event to children so they, like me, will take pride in Israel’s rescue of innocent civilians. This operation was a courageous, well-planned mission to save the lives of the hostages.

At that USY convention I was at first disappointed not to be allowed to vote in the election of officers, but upon reflection I am grateful that I wasn’t able to vote. Instead I was offered a glimpse into history and I learned that July 4, 1976 was much more than America’s bicentennial. It was an unforgettable day for Israel and in the worldwide fight against terrorism.

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

Dancing at Auschwitz

The Holocaust Memorial Center in Detroit, Michigan is the nation’s first Holocaust memorial. It was originally located in a building connected to the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. It was this Holocaust museum that I toured with my grandfather when I was twelve-years-old and listened to him explain that many of his family members — my relatives — perished in the Shoah.

Several years ago that Holocaust museum moved to a new location a few miles away in Farmington Hills. The space that was originally occupied by the Holocaust Center is now a teen center where Jewish youth come to watch movies, play video games, eat pizza, and compete in pool and ping-pong tournaments. It is also where hundreds of Jewish teenagers come to dance to loud music.

The symbolism is not lost on me. This space was originally dedicated as a museum to pay tribute to the victims of the Shoah and to memorialize the six million souls who perished. It was a solemn space to educate about the Holocaust so that history wouldn’t be repeated. But today, it is a space where Jewish young people (many the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors) can celebrate that “Am Yisrael Chai” — the Jewish people have endured. Hitler and the Nazis were not successful because the Jewish people are alive today and our children sing and dance at the Jewish Community Center and in the location originally consecrated as a museum of memory.

It is in this spirit that I embraced the YouTube video of a Holocaust survivor dancing with his grandchildren to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will Survive” in front of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. The original video, which was viewed over 500,000 times in one day, has since been removed from YouTube for a copyright violation. However, it was likely removed due to the controversy it created. The reposted video is below.

Australian Jewish artist Jane Korman filmed her three children and her father, 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Adolk, in the video clip “I Will Survive: Dancing Auschwitz.” The clip depicted the Korman family dancing in front of Holocaust landmarks in Poland, including the infamous entrance sign to Auschwitz death camp reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” a Polish synagogue, Dachau, Theresienstadt, and a memorial in Lodz.

Her father at one point in the clip even wore a shirt on which the word “Survivor” was written. During a recent family visit to Israel Korman said that she thought of the idea after she encountered hatred toward Israel and Jews in Australia and added that she wanted to give her concerns presence during the heritage tour of Poland she recently took with her family, and take a different approach to the matter.

Haaretz newspaper reported that “Many Jewish survivors have reacted gravely to the video, accusing her of disrespect. Yet Korman told Australian daily The Jewish News that ‘it might be disrespectful, but he [her father] is saying ‘we’re dancing, we should be dancing, we’re celebrating our survival and the generations after me,’ – the generation he’s created. We are affirming our existence.'”

This is clearly a work of art, but it is also a powerful message that no matter how horrific and catastrophic were the acts committed by the Nazis in the last century, the Jewish people are still having children and grandchildren, and we are dancing together in joy all over the earth. Even on the land that buried millions of members of the Jewish faith, the Jewish people are still rejoicing with our future generations.

What do you think about Holocaust survivors dancing with their grandchildren at Auschwitz?

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

Even the Weather in Jerusalem Has Become Political

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

The LA Times Babylon & Beyond blog reported on Sunday that Apple has reunified Jerusalem.

Has Steve Jobs become a United Nations peacekeeper? Did Apple release a new app that unites the holy city of Jerusalem during these tense times? Maybe you thought Jerusalem had already been reunified several decades ago.

Well, it turns out that even the weather in Jerusalem has been politicized. Yahoo, who runs the Apple iPhone Weather app with information gathered by Weather.com changed created two choices for viewing the weather in Jerusalem – East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. This is different than the designations on Yahoo’s own site and on the Weather.com site.

Edmund Sanders reports from Jerusalem for the LA Times:

Right-leaning Israeli politicians like to refer to Jerusalem as their “undivided capital.” But iPhone users here and around the world found recently that the storied, disputed city had been split in two.

In the smart phone’s weather application, the listing for “Jerusalem” disappeared earlier this month and was replaced by “West Jerusalem” and “East Jerusalem.”

Both Israelis, who dominate the west part of the city, and Palestinians, the majority in the east, claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East War, though Palestinians (and most of the international community) never accepted it.

The debate over how, or whether, to divide Jerusalem is still one of the thorniest issues in Mideast peace talks.

Perhaps frustrated with the lack of progress in the peace process, iPhone engineers apparently decided to impose their own mini-version of a two-state solution by partitioning the city and, in essence, forcing users to pick sides.

A similar change took place on Yahoo’s weather site, which gave users the option of checking the temperature in “Jerusalem, West Bank, Palestine” or “Jerusalem, Israel.”

Reaction was mixed. A few Israelis and Palestinians got a kick out of the option, even though temperature information and other data were identical for East and West Jerusalem.

But many Israelis, here and in the U.S., took deep offense and accused Apple, the company that makes the iPhone, of “political propaganda.”

One Jewish advocacy group, American Israeli Action Coalition, called the changes “extremely hurtful to the American Israeli community” and said they “smack of anti-Semitism.” Israel’s U.S. ambassador reportedly sent a letter of protest to Apple chief Steve Jobs and Yahoo chief Carol Bartz.

Well, it turns out that both Apple and Yahoo reversed their political decision and reunified Jerusalem.

The following statement was released: “The issue for the iPhone Weather app has been fully resolved. The fix was pushed to all production servers and verified…. This resolves both the issue with the default weather location Jerusalem as well as searches for “Jerusalem”, “East Jerusalem” and “West Jerusalem”. One note: Users who have already added the locations “West Jerusalem” or “East Jerusalem” on the Weather app will continue to see these names on the client until they remove these locations and add Jerusalem again.”

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

Rahm Emanuel’s Son’s Bar Mitzvah & Religious Pluralism in Israel

As I was preparing to board a plane home at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport a few weeks ago, I followed the news reports that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s son’s bar mitzvah would be moved outside of Jerusalem for security concerns. Rahm Emanuel and his Hollywood agent brother, Ari Emanuel, brought their families to Israel on vacation and for their respective son’s Jewish rite of passage. Apparently, protesters were heckling the Emanuel family’s delegation as they toured Jerusalem’s Old City because of the Obama Administration’s purported views on Middle East affairs.

Ultimately, Zach Emanuel’s bar mitzvah went ahead as planned at Robinson’s Arch, the archaeological site along the remaining Southern Wall of the Temple at which Conservative and Reform rabbis are allowed to officiate at bar and bat mitzvahs. The two cousins had their b’nai mitzvah on a Sunday, perhaps to confuse paparazzi, and it was officiated by each family’s rabbi –Rabbi Jack Moline, of Rahm Emanuel’s synagogue (Congregation Agudas Achim in Alexandria, Virginia) and Rabbi Kenneth Chasen, of the Reform Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles where Ari Emanuel’s family belongs.

Having recently spent the early dawn hours of Shavuot at Robinson’s Arch, known as the “Masorti Kotel” since the Masorti/Conservative Jews can pray there freely, I was thrilled to read the op-ed in the Jerusalem Post by Masorti Movement CEO Yizhar Hess about the Emanuel boys’ b’nai mitzvah and the lack of religious pluralism in Israel, especially at the Western Wall (Kotel).

Hess took the opportunity of this newsworthy double bar mitzvah to focus on the Ultra-Orthodox control of the Western Wall, including the plaza. He writes:

The [Emanuel] family stood together, prayed together. There was no mehitza [separation between the sexes]. Some women donned a tallit [prayer shawl]. There was an abundance of Judaism, an abundance of Zionism and an abundance of love.

It is sad that one cannot pray in the same way at the main Western Wall Plaza. For a decade now, the Masorti Movement has been facilitating prayers at the Masorti Kotel. This is a forced arrangement. The majority of the world’s Jews pray without a mehitza, but when they come to Jerusalem, to the most symbolic site for Jewish prayer, they are forbidden from praying together. The Kotel, whose holiness has enthused Jews from all over the world, has been transformed into a haredi synagogue.

The Masorti Movement has never relinquished its right to pray at the Kotel, but has agreed, in compromise and with great pain, to hold its prayers at the [Davidson] archeological park.

With all of Israel’s international struggles right now, one would hope that it would strive to solve this matter of domestic disharmony. Here’s hoping that when Rahm Emanuel returns to Jerusalem for his daughter’s bat mitzvah, the family will be allowed to mark this rite of passage at any part of the Kotel they choose — and be free from protesters and paparazzi.

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

Synagogues Charging for Legroom & Desirable Seats

Stand-up comic and blogger Heshy Fried wrote on his Frum Satire blog yesterday that shuls (synagogues) “in the New York metropolitan area are going to be charging premium prices for premium seats, like those with more legroom” in order to raise more money in these challenging financial times.

This got me thinking that synagogues aren’t really all that different than the airlines in this regard.

  • Synagogues charge membership dues; Airlines have frequent flyer membership
  • Synagogues pass out candies during the service (throw candy at bar mitzvah boy after successful layning); Airlines pass out food during the flight (don’t throw peanuts at pilot after successful landing!)
  • Synagogues have Kiddush Clubs; Airlines offer Scotch too
  • People doze off mid-service; People doze off mid-flight
  • Synagogues charge more for good seats (by exit); Airlines charge more for good seats (by entrance)
  • People pray in synagogues; People pray on airplanes (use tefillin at your own risk)
I’m sure it won’t be long before synagogues follow the airlines and start charging for bags too (“Sir, that is an extra-large tallis bag and you’ll have pay $15 if you want to bring that into the shul”).

These comparisons really shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, both industries are hurting financially right now and are looking to reinvent themselves in a competitive market. Is it really any wonder that the airline named Spirit is currently on strike?

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

Rabbi Nesenoff’s 25,000 Pieces of Hate Mail

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Before this past weekend, Rabbi David Nesenoff was a virtually unknown rabbi who lives and works on Long Island. When his teenage son finished his high school exams and uploaded a 2-minute video of Helen Thomas expressing her anti-Israel views on the Whitehouse lawn, Nesenoff gained global fame. That 2-minute video on his RabbiLIVE.com website brought Helen Thomas’ long career in journalism to an abrupt and embarrassing end.

In addition to the media inquiries, Rabbi Nesenoff has also received some 25,000 messages of hate in the past few days since uploading the Helen Thomas video for worldwide consumption. Tonight, he updated the RabbiLIVE.com website to read:

RabbiLIVE.com reported a story from the White House lawn.

We received over twenty five thousand pieces of hate mail. Emails will be continuously posted TONIGHT.

“Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.” 
-Elie Wiesel

Nesenoff and his son, the site’s webmaster, will post some of the nastiest, hate-filled email messages they received without concealing the sender’s name or email address.

The first posting to the site includes the text “Helen Thomas was right” followed by profanity and an apparent threat to the rabbi and his family. The sender also attached a photograph of death row inmate and convicted mass murdering cult leader Charles Manson with a swastika tattoo between his eyes.

This is undoubtedly not what Rabbi Nesenoff expected when he posted the now famous Helen Thomas video.

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

BP Oil Spill Hits Day 50

If BP was trying to make a Jewish connection to the oil spill off the Louisiana coast, they got it all wrong.

Yesterday marked the 49th day of the BP oil spill. Perhaps BP was going for the Hanukkah story connection, which is “The Oil lasted for 8 days.” Instead, BP got confused with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which is 49 days of counting the harvest and the 50th day (Shavuot) is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

Hopefully this environmental mess will be remedied soon as the effects on wildlife are certainly a violation of the Jewish principle of “tzar ba’alei chayim” — the responsibility to treat animals ethically.

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

Google Doodle for Israel

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Google.com’s logo has quickly become one of the most recognizable corporate logos. It also has been changed more than any other logo, sometimes even daily.

According to the Wikipedia entry, “The current official Google pop logo was designed by Ruth Kedar, and is a wordmark based on the Catull typeface. The company also includes various modifications and/or humorous features, such as cartoon modifications, of their logo for use on holidays, birthdays of famous people, and major events, such as the Olympics.” When Google adapts its logo for special occasions it is called a “Google Doodle.” I was curious to know whether Google would honor Israel yesterday on its 62nd anniversary of statehood with a special Israel-themed Google Doodle.

Well, it did and didn’t. There was no Israeli Google Doodle on the U.S. Google search engine site, but the Israel version of Google featured a Google Doodle with an Israeli flag (pictured).

The first Google Doodle was in honor of the Burning Man Festival in 1998. The doodle was designed by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who were attending the Burning Man, as an “out of the office” notification.

Israelis are already familiar with Google Doodle because of the Doodle 4 Google competition in 2008. Google Israel invited first to 12th grade students to reinvent Google’s homepage logo around the theme “My Israel” for Israel’s 60th anniversary. Google Israel received thousands of wonderful doodles and chose 40 drawings which would go on to the next stage. The winning doodle, selected from over thousands of entries, was created by Ilona Flaxsman, an 11th grader from Givatayim.

Ilona’s doodle graced the Google Israel homepage on June 30th, 2008. Ilona described her Google Doodle on the website: “My picture has simple symbols that everyone is familiar with. A white dove, known for bringing peace, and the flag with the colors that make it distinctive. The fact that we have a country that is 60 years old is testimony to many things (strength, hope, unity…). And what remains to achieve is peace. We all hope that some day a white dove will fly bearing witness to this.”

Another Google Doodle for Israel appeared on Israel’s version of the search engine in 2008 for Israel’s 60th birthday and had an Israeli flag with the number 60 replacing “oo” in “Google” behind the flag. It’s reprinted on the Googlified blog in which the blogger adds the Wikipedia definition of Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) followed by the phrase “Now talk about being controversial.”

Hopefully in the future Google will pay tribute to Israel on her Independence Day with a Google Doodle on the U.S. version of the Google.com website too.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller