Monday, October 29, 2007

Evangelical political split gets big play in NYT

I've been talking for a while now about evangelicals who fall into the camp of reluctant Republicans, but, holy political soldiers, The New York Times Magazine dedicated some 7,500 words to the subject. I don't have much time today to offer my insights, but here is the nut:
The 2008 election is just the latest stress on a system of fault lines that go much deeper. The phenomenon of theologically conservative Christians plunging into political activism on the right is, historically speaking, something of an anomaly. Most evangelicals shrugged off abortion as a Catholic issue until after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But in the wake of the ban on public-school prayer, the sexual revolution and the exodus to the suburbs that filled the new megachurches, protecting the unborn became the rallying cry of a new movement to uphold the traditional family. Now another confluence of factors is threatening to tear the movement apart. The extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush has ended, for many, in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments. That disappointment, in turn, has sharpened latent divisions within the evangelical world — over the evangelical alliance with the Republican Party, among approaches to ministry and theology, and between the generations.

Go west, old man

Well, folks at The Forward might have wanted Joe Torre, but the latest scuttlebutt is that the former Yankees skipper will be coming to Los Angeles. No, not to join The Jewish Journal, but to manage the Dodgers.

'The Crisis of Modern Fundamentalism'

From Christianity Today:

Fundamentalism is still with us, though you won't hear many evangelicals talk about it. Not so with the fundamentalists, who worry about a growing number within their ranks who have wandered toward evangelicalism. A 2005 survey released on the popular fundamentalist blog SharperIron "revealed that many in the newest generation of fundamentalist leadership were still committed to fundamentalist theology but uncomfortable with some of the more extreme positions on secondary separation, association, worship music, extra-biblical standards, and other issues." A resolution approved during the 2004 annual meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI) revealed the concern of fundamentalist leaders. They urged "young men to reject any temptation to lower biblical standards in order to gain acceptance of those in the world or among theologically accommodating Christian movements." According to Tim Baylor, reared in fundamentalism but now attending an evangelical seminary, "Militancy is at an all-time-low in Fundamentalism, and Fundamentalists are looking for someone to blame."

Who worries today's fundamentalist leaders? According to the FBFI's 2005 resolutions, "Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven Life movement represents an incomplete gospel, a negligent carelessness in the use of Scripture paraphrases, extreme pragmatism, and a disdain for biblical separatism."
For an interesting piece on Rick Warren teaching Jews how to do outreach -- Christians call it evangelizing -- check out this piece. And, to be honest, I've always thought of Pat Robertson (pictured) as the "crisis of modern fundamentalism."

Young Israel rabbi reportedly mugged

Luke Ford reported this weekend that Young Israel of Century City's Rabbi Elazar Muskin was held-up on Shabbat. If so, add one more to the long list of observant Jews who have been mugged walking to and from shul. I wrote this spring about a spate of these attacks that had shaken LA's Orthodox community and reminded them of a more frightening time 15 years ago.
"It was like an epidemic," said Isaac Naor, Mordechai's son. "Every week, somebody else was getting mugged. Everybody was walking to shul with a gun."

Among those attacked was the then-president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen, who also was the leader of the Naor's synagogue.

On Shabbat, Cohen was walking near his home with his son when two strangers approached, one asking for directions.

"Before I knew what was going on," Cohen said, "he put me in a stranglehold and started banging my right arm across the sidewalk. Just kept smashing it and snapped it."

Friday, October 26, 2007

A devolving debate

Pharyngula is a fairly popular science blog by a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Today he has this take on the perils of evolutionists debating creationists:

Last night, Jeffrey Shallit debated a creationist. We must now shun him for violating the code of the evilutionist.

No, not really. But it's another case where the best tactics aren't clear and simple. On the one hand, we do want to engage the public in a discussion of the ideas, and sometimes a debate is a good way to do that; but on the other, it's giving the anti-science opponent a platform and a good deal more credibility than he deserves. I'm confident that Shallit mopped the floor with the twerp, but that's not the point — it's that a creationist was given equal standing with science, which is not a good result.

Another concern is that if Shallit had a bad day and did not clobber his opponent, the creationist will have much to crow about. This is a game where the science has nothing to gain and everything to lose.

This is not an uncommon belief. Frankly, it's true. The father of the intelligent-design movement, Phillip E. Johnson, laid it out in "Darwin on Trial." Johnson, a UC Berkeley law professor, realized that the way to win the debate against evolution was to convince people the debate existed. Read "Monkey Girl" and you'll see what success that theory has had.

It should be mentioned that believing in evolution does not mean dismissing the divine hand of God in creation. Francis Collins will vouch for that.

Science imitating art

I was flipping through the new Wired yesterday and I came across a Q&A with Jonah Lehrer. The son of former Los Angeles ADL chief David Lehrer, Jonah is an editor at large for Seed and in his new book, "Proust was a Neuroscientist," he argues that artists predict the scientific future.

Wired: Do you really think that we'll find answers to science's Big Questions in the arts?

Lehrer: Virginia Woolf isn't going to help you finish your lab experiment. What she will do is help you ask your questions better. Proust focused on problems that neuroscience itself didn't grapple with until relatively recently — questions of memory that couldn't be crammed into Pavlovian reinforcement: Why are memories so unreliable? Why do they change so often? Why do we remember only certain aspects of the past?

Wired: Has the separation of the disciplines held them back?

Lehrer: It has affected both cultures adversely. You read the diary of Woolf and the letters of Cézanne and realize they thought they were discovering something true -- in the same real way that science is true -- but we don't think of artists that way anymore. The separation has also led science to neglect this other side of the mind. It's important to acknowledge that when you discuss the brain only in terms of proteins and enzymes, you're missing something.

Art, obviously, also has a lot to say about God, religion, faith, et al. I'm not really talking about Da Vinci's "Last Supper" or Michaelangelo's "David" but the themes of art and literature that reveal how we see our place in creation and define our relationship with the divine. "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "The Divine Comedy" are easy examples. Anybody have others?

Overheard in the Rockies locker room after Game 2

"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

A different scarlet letter

The Friendly Atheist posted this winning symbol from fellow non-religionists. But Andrew Sullivan notes that it looks a bit like the scarlet letter. Only, in the case of atheists, they have achieved increased acceptance in recent years as an actual movement has taken off. At least that is the rhetoric. But if we look at the trials of Thomas Jefferson, maybe we see a different picture.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Muslim leader: Western Wall part of mosque

From the Bintel Blog:

Holocaust denial may be big in the Muslim world, but it’s not the only kind of Jew-targeting denial that’s popular. There’s 9/11 denial. And then, of course, there’s Temple denial. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The former mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, has made the claim that there never was a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall was really part of a mosque.

“There was never a Jewish temple on Al-Aksa [the mosque compound] and there is no proof that there was ever a temple,” he told The Jerusalem Post via a translator. “Because Allah is fair, he would not agree to make Al-Aksa if there were a temple there for others beforehand.”

Sabri rejected Judaism’s claim to the Western Wall as part of the outer wall of the Second Temple.

“The wall is not part of the Jewish temple. It is just the western wall of the mosque,” he said. “There is not a single stone with any relation at all to the history of the Hebrews.”

Not a single stone!

Militants use Google Earth to attack Israel

From the Guardian, via Seraphic Secret:
Palestinian militants are using Google Earth to help plan their attacks on the Israeli military and other targets, the Guardian has learned.

Members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group aligned with the Fatah political party, say they use the popular internet mapping tool to help determine their targets for rocket strikes.

"We obtain the details from Google Earth and check them against our maps of the city centre and sensitive areas," Khaled Jaabari, the group's commander in Gaza who is known as Abu Walid, told the Guardian.

Abu Walid showed the Guardian an aerial image of the Israeli town of Sderot on his computer to demonstrate how his group searches for targets.

The Guardian filmed an al-Aqsa test rocket launch, fired into an uninhabited area of the Negev desert, last month. Despite the crudeness of the weapons, many have landed in Sderot, killing around a dozen people in the last three years and wounding scores more.

One of the saving graces for people living alongside the Gaza border has been the limited accuracy of Kassam rockets. But if Palestinian militants know what they're aiming at, I fear casualties might become more common.

What's wrong with Post religion reporting?

Daniel Pulliam at GetReligion doesn't care for "the snarky, uninformative feature/news stories in The Washington Post’s Style section," especially a recent report on the Values Voter Summit that told him more about the reporter's "day at the Hilton Washington than the latest plots from the religious right to take over America, or at least install a president to its liking in 2008." Here's part of the story:
On the subterranean concourse level of the Hilton, it was very easy to feel you were in a different world. Former Reagan administration official and 2000 Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer told those assembled, “You are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s and Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare.”

Across the way, the exhibition hall would probably require the Democratic Party’s leadership to order a mass prescription of Ambien as well. There, both Exodus International and PFOX (Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays) supplied literature offering ways out of homosexuality. Centurion Mutual Funds offered a “Biblically responsible” alternative to financial planning. For $499 (plus shipping), you could buy from the Family Research Council a stand called the “Cultural Impact Center.” It comes fully stocked with literature like “Partial-Birth Abortion on Trial” and “Dealing with Pornography: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Family and Your Community.”

Standing by the Abstinence Clearinghouse Booth, which offered a plethora of items including “Pet your dog, not your date” T-shirts, Kurt Gernaat and his wife, Mary Beth, explained their own sense of struggle.
And Pulliam's reponse:

Aren’t those evangelicals just a riot? I’m surprised (reporter Sridhar) Pappu didn’t bother to mention that this whole thing happened a few yards away from the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. What other juicy details can Pappu deliver from a conference in a hotel?

Coulter speaks at USC

Ann Coulter spoke at USC last night as part of "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week." Luke Ford was there:

Half the crowd rose to give Ann a standing ovation when she walked in and 95% of the crowd rose to applaud her at the end.

About 30 protesters held up placards and chanted against bigotry outside. "Down with Coulter, stop the war!"

"Hey hey, ho ho, racist bitch has got to go!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Muslim metalheads rock out in Egypt

A shorty from GOOD:
In Egypt, you’re much more likely to hear the call to prayer than a face-melting guitar solo, so Dutch photographer Aukje Dekker was surprised to find a thriving underground heavy- and death-metal scene. Fascinated, she documented it in a series of photos.

“In the West, heavy metal is generally associated with low lifes and trailer trash,” says Dekker, “but the situation in Egypt is completely reversed. These kids are the children of diplomats and other well-off Egyptians who get to travel abroad or who own a satellite television, which is how they got be exposed to heavy metal.”

A 1997 government crackdown on “Satanic music” led to dozens of arrests and the banning of concerts, but the scene is enjoying something of a comeback. “There is still a general consensus that heavy metal is a Satanic expression,” says Dekker, “so when these kids walk down the street with their long black hair and matching T-shirts, they are often called names, but that doesn’t stop them from pursuing their musical passion.”

Luke Ford looking for 'real job' *

Luke Ford is leaving the world of porn -- again. He's sold and is looking for his first "real job" in a decade:
It’s not because my conscience is so delicate I don’t want to take money from immoral advertisers. I’m just tired of fighting my religious friends on this.
He did this once before when he sold at his rabbi's instructions. Maybe this time it will stick.

I saw this item yesterday but just had a chance to post about it. LAObserved has a link this morning to a story in XBiz, where Luke says:
I feel like my life is stuck in a rut and I need to shake things up and go in a new direction. I'm 41. Never been married. I am unlikely to marry a nice Jewish girl while I'm stuck in this porn rut.
* Updated: Luke reports that he's back at
Now I understand how Belladonna felt when faced with her desire to retire from this tawdry life. However, I cannot leave my flock. A good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. I can see that my moral wisdom is still needed.

America is her God

"I sometimes hear Osama Bin Laden walking behind me in my bedroom and I wonder why he doesn't shoot me; but most of the time, I am at peace about my decision to speak out."
Those are the words of Wafa Sultan, the Syrian-American who has spent the past two years criticizing the radical roots of Islam and spoke Monday night at Sinai Temple in Westwood. The Calendar Girls have the story.
Listening to her polemic, one wonders what quality enabled Sultan to escape her religious prison and how she mustered the courage to denounce Islamic terror. Though she credits her husband, whose encounter with a Christian man expanded his theological purview, she is sustained by her belief in God and in American democracy: "America is my God; Americans take it for granted because they do not know the difference," but Sultan does. She concluded, "I was born in hell and now I'm in paradise."
I can appreciate the fact that moving from Syria to the United States was like leaving hell for heaven. But Sultan has some misplaced spirituality if she is worshiping Uncle Sam. Here is Sultan's famous rant on Al Jazeera in early 2006.

A neocon scion set to takeover Commentary

To some within the neoconservative movement, the announcement of John Podhoretz as the next editor of Commentary magazine -- the same job his father, Norman, held for 35 years -- is the best of all possible choices. It is a model of what Adam Bellow (son of the Nobel-winning novelist Saul) called the "new nepotism," combining the "privileges of birth with the iron rule of merit."

But to others the decision reeks of the "old nepotism," in which the only credential that matters is the identity of your father -- in Mr. Bellow’s cosmology, less like the Roosevelts than like Tori Spelling getting an acting job because her father was Aaron Spelling.

“I think some people are pretty shocked,” said Jacob Heilbrunn, whose book "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons” is coming out in January. John Podhoretz, movie critic for The Weekly Standard magazine and a political columnist for The New York Post, “isn’t seen as a heavyweight intellectual,” said Mr. Heilbrunn, who has discussed the appointment with several neoconservatives. Rather, “he is seen as being a beneficiary of his parents’ fame in the George W. Bush mold.”
That is the beginning of a piece in today's NY Times. Commentary was once one of the most influential journals in the country and remains an important voice for American Jews and Israel.

The Bintel Blog had links last week to a few revealing stories of JPod, as the younger Podhoretz is known. This one by -- guess who? -- Hanna Rosin is quite revealing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quote for the ages

"Abraham is our forefather. We're first cousins. How we got to hate each other is beyond me."
From a Muslim immigrant from the West Bank who waived a $250,000 fee to help build a synagogue in Arkanasas.

Social networking for social conservatives

This is pretty genius. Unfortunately for some of my readers, there is no way to sign-up on Right-Wing Facebook. On the site, you can click around to read the different "profiles" of our Republican '08 hopefuls and people like Jerry Falwell and Gary Bauer.


Courtesy of Matthew Yglesias

The deadliest books ever published

A Croatian Web site offers its list of books that have "changed the world and because of which the bloodiest wars were waged." The Bible comes in second, right behind Mein Kampf and just ahead of the Communist Manifesto. Here's the analysis:
The book that founded three great world religions and on which, whether they would like to admit so or not, all societies of the West were founded. The book took milleniums to write. It originates from ancient Jewish texts that, at least as far as Christians are concerned, make up the foundation of the Old Testament. The book speaks of the salvation of the Jewish people and their arrival to the Promised Land, while the New Testament speaks about Jesus and his sacrifice for the sins of the world. Despite its relatively benign content, the text became one of the chief incentives for some of the biggest massacres mankind has seen.

Controversial idea: Jesus is not a common prophet, but the son of God.

Death toll: If we stick only to the Crusades which lasted a good 200 years, the death toll according to some estimates, is a respectable five million.

Not quite accurate because the "Bible" is not the same book for Muslims and Christians and Jews. But it's hard to argue that belief in a monotheistic God that began with Abraham has caused a lot of bloodshed.

The Communist Manifesto also seems to be given a free pass in the political killings of Joseph Stalin, whose victims range from 3 million to 60 million. I also wonder if "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and Luther's "On the Jew and Their Lies" deserve a place for influencing Hitler.

(Hat tip: DMN religion blog)

'The fire is one percent contained'

Wow, that's comforting. For those wondering, my parents' house is still standing and, unless the winds shift, should survive.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's meant to burn

I wish it weren't true, but this region we live in is meant to burn every now and then. And when we fight fires, we only add fuel to future flames.

Two of my former colleagues did a brilliant job detailing these "Unnatural Disasters" in a series for The Sun the summer after the devastating 2003 wildfires. And, coincidentally, Dave Gardetta has a piece in this month's Los Angeles magazine, which came in the mail Friday, about how fires really are the biggest threat to the city.
The men and women whose job it is to fight Southern California wildfire perish by all possible means and in every circumstance imaginable. In the Angeles National Forest, a helicopter flying at night lands in darkness atop a second chopper already parked on the helibase. Two airmen die. In the same forest, a fire chief and his crew are surprised by advancing flames. The crew flee in one direction; the chief escapes in another, until—worried of his men's fate—he returns through fire in search of them and is killed. Above the northern San Fernando Valley, 12 firefighters are caught in a wind shift along a steep ravine that swirls superheated gases over them, raising the tiny canyon's temperature to 2,500 degrees. A fire engine driver racing to a call flies over a San Bernardino rail crossing and is smashed to death by an oncoming train. Beside Bryant Canyon, high in the Angeles Crest, a burning rat runs at two men in heavy brush, surrounding them in fire . On a San Diego blaze a firefighter pauses to talk with a passing bulldozer operator. His trousers become entangled in the machine's moving tracks, and he is pulled under and crushed. While fighting a blaze in Orange County, a fireman drops dead of pneumonia.

Wildfire in the Golden State, and especially in Southern California—the nation's maximum fire-prone landscape—is the most dynamic, violent natural event that people engage with. In sheer energy and unpredictability, a hurricane is as close as you can come to the riotous mien of a Los Angeles chaparral fire. We do not attack hurricanes, or earthquakes, or tornadoes. We do attack, however, what is essentially photosynthesis thrown into reverse, as foliage instantaneously releases stored solar energy in the form of hot gases—what we see as flames.

The 19 largest and most costly fires in 100 years have ignited within the last quarter century. Yet wildfire for Angelenos has typically remained an occurrence that happens "out there" —in the unseen San Jacinto wilderness, somewhere above lonely Morongo Valley, on a distant Los Padres plateau. Stories of firefighter deaths and injuries, or images of entire forest communities left in ashes, with lives ruined and fortunes lost, are annually beamed into the living rooms of Hancock Park, Alhambra, and Encino, like scenes out of Iraq. Usually, the smoke cannot even be spied from backyard porches. The misery on household TV screens might as well be happening in another country.
With the history of fires in Bel Air and Malibu, I'm not sure I agree with that. But fire certainly feels like an imminent threat for Angelenos now.

(Photo: Brett K. Snow)

Blaming Jews for killing Jesus

IN CIVILIZED circles it is considered boorish to speak of Jews as Christ-killers, or to use language evoking the venomous old teaching that Jews are forever cursed for the death of Jesus. Those circles apparently don't include the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an anti-Israel "peace" organization based in Jerusalem, or its founder, the Anglican cleric Naim Ateek.

Sabeel and Ateek are highly regarded on the hard-line Christian left, and regularly organize American conferences at which Israel is extravagantly denounced by numerous critics. So far this year, such conferences have been held in Cleveland, Berkeley, Calif., and Birmingham, Ala.; another begins Friday at Boston's Old South Church.

Just as critics of the United States are not necessarily anti-American bigots, critics of Israel are not necessarily biased against Jews. But Sabeel and Ateek's denunciations of Israel have included imagery explicitly linking the modern Jewish state to the terrible charge of deicide that for centuries fueled so much anti-Jewish hatred and bloodshed.

"It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him," Ateek has written, envisioning "hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily."

In a sermon titled "The Massacre of the Innocents" Ateek similarly condemned the "modern-day Herods" in Israel - a reference to the evil king who the New Testament says slaughtered the babies of Bethlehem in an attempt to murder the newborn Jesus. In another sermon, Ateek portrays Israelis as having "shut off the Palestinians in a tomb . . . similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus' tomb."

Read the rest of that piece from the Boston Globe here. As a Christian, I'm going to try to settle bad theology once and for all: Jews didn't kill Jesus -- humanity did.

Southland fires rage; my parents evacuated

I was woken up this morning by a call from my editor wondering if my family was being affected by the fires in San Diego County. They were fine when I spoke with my mom yesterday, but I just got off the phone with her, and my dad, sister and she were all on the road, in separate cars packed to the nines, heading for my grandfather's house on the coast.

I remember this happening four years ago, when all of Southern California was burning. But my childhood home was never really threatened then. It certainly is now, so I pray and wait for updates.

POWAY --- Many held out as long as they dared, but as the clock passed 8 p.m. Sunday, the numbers of fire refugees began to increase rapidly at an evacuation center set up in the gymnasium at Poway High School.

The families didn't stay long.

As the evening wore on, authorities said they were forced to move the evacuees to a hastily set-up center at Miramar High School because of poor air quality created by smoke and ash.

Before the move, however, a Red Cross representative said there were about 40 evacuated Ramona residents already registered, with more arriving steadily to wait out the wind-driven Witch Creek fire that was bearing down on their homes.

Charles Davis and his teenage daughter, Lorissa, arrived at about 7:45 p.m. after leaving their home in the hills north of Ramona at about 7 p.m.

"The velocity of the wind up there in the canyons and hills is just unbelievable. They came and told us we had to evacuate, so we put the dogs in the car and we left," Davis said.

He said he cleared brush as far away from his home as possible, but nervously added that, because half of his 4.7 acres is on land considered environmentally sensitive, he was not able to cut as big a buffer zone as he would have liked.

"In some places it's 40 or 50 feet from the house," he said. "We did everything we could to prepare. It's in God's hands now."

Who will love the dead?

East Los Angeles is at least two freeway interchanges and several generations removed from today's L.A. Jewry. But there the community's early history rests eternally, amid well-worn bungalows, rusted chain-link fences and canopy-free, sun-bleached streets.

Head north on Downey Street across Interstate 5, and you'll immediately be greeted by the tattered and peeling black-and-white sign of Beth Israel Cemetery, where hundreds of Jews have been buried during the past century and continue to be. Half a block north is Agudath Achim Cemetery, which similarly is operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary. Neither is regal or elaborate, mostly concrete crypts stacked side-by-side, only loose dirt for landscaping.

But between the two cemeteries is a more forgotten home. The wrought-iron gate, pinned shut with two Master locks, simply says "Mt Z." Inside is Mount Zion Cemetery, rows upon rows of headstones baring menorahs and the Star of David, Feldmans and Ungers and Goldbergs and Rosens and Nefts and Pearlmans and Schwartzes and Raskins and Segelmans. Some of the crypts are tagged with graffiti, others simply cracked. It's not maintained by a mortuary but by The Federation or, in essence, the whole Jewish community. It looks peaceful now, but throughout the years, the graveyard hasn't always fared well.

"Jewish law commands that people honor the deceased," a 1995 New York Times story began, "but the weeds thriving at Mount Zion Cemetery appear to have deeper roots than the local Jewish community, which long ago moved out of the neighborhood and stopped tending the graves."
This section is toward the end of an article I have in this week's Jewish Journal about the challenges fundraisers face in the new world of Jewish philanthropy. I thought this was a poignant example because there is nothing sexy about supporting the long-since dead -- it's not like providing aid in Darfur -- but somebody has to do it.

The 2,000-word article ran as a sidebar to my profile of new Jewish Federation chairman Stanley P. Gold. (Sheesh, when I was at dailies, rare was the occasion when a front-page story waxed for 2,000 words, let alone a sidebar.) Let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thank heavens for hot pastrami

Today I am writing a short piece for UCLA Magazine about Jonathan Gold, the LA Weekly food critic and author of the LA food guide "Counter Intelligence." Coincidentally, I found a story in The New York Times Magazine called "A Counter History," which deals with one of my favorite topics out there: Jewish delis.

It's a fascinating profile of the Lebewohl family and the Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan that Abe opened in 1954, his brother took over in '96 when Abe was murdered and that closed last year after a dispute with the landlord. The deli is reopening in November in Midtown, and now will be run by Abe's nephews.
The Jews who immigrated here during the first half of the last century ate at delis — most of them kosher — regularly. Eventually they moved to the suburbs and traded salami for salad. In the 1960s there were 300 kosher delis in the city and suburbs and a Greater New York Delicatessen Dealers’ Association. That group is long defunct, and you can count the number of marquee delis left in Manhattan on one hand: Carnegie, Katz’s and Stage, none of them kosher. Assimilation is one reason; also, the need to separate dairy from meat limits menu choices (kosher meat is more expensive besides), and New Yorkers do not like limits. The staples of deli food, like matzoh-ball soup and corned beef, migrated in nonkosher form to diners and coffee shops decades ago; you need to be Jewish to eat deli the same way you need to be Italian to eat pizza. But for aficionados of the real thing, the high-quality, old-school kosher renditions of brisket or flanken or center-cut tongue like silk, the Second Avenue Deli was it.
I don't care about kosher, but there is something spiritually inspiring about finely cut pastrami, like the kind Langers serves up a short drive from my office.

What does evil look like?

In a piece about the war criminal's best friend, Jacques Verges, the NY Times Magazine asks today what evil looks like, and passively dismisses belief in God as passé:
For much of history, when an ironclad trust in a divine maker still prevailed (however many plagues or earthquakes he might have arranged), the question of “evil” was contained by one of two rationales: that people deserved it because of wicked behavior or that it was part of a larger, unknowable celestial plan. That attitude, gullible as it now seems, had the benefit of keeping this particular epistemological dilemma outside the human purview. It held steady until the emergence of a philosophical tradition that, beginning with Immanuel Kant’s questioning of God’s pivotal position and reaching an apogee of unbelief with the arrival of Nietzsche, put the concept of evil right in our laps. As Susan Neiman says in “Evil in Modern Thought,” from the Enlightenment on there have been two views: “The one, from Rousseau to Arendt, insists that morality demands that we make evil intelligible. The other, from Voltaire to Jean Améry, insists that morality demands that we don’t.”

Hannah Arendt predicted that, post-Auschwitz, the problem of evil would be a primary focus of contemporary life. And it might have been, except for the fact that, in a destabilized and reflexively ironic age, we are always checking to make sure we haven’t overlooked a mitigating circumstance or an admirable principle gone wrong. Fearful as some of us are about exhibiting a too-primitive and “demonizing” attitude — the kind of macho Us-versus-Them, Axis-of-Evil line of thinking that has made Bush and Company figures of easy derision — we have become increasingly tentative about assigning this stark designation. (In “The Myth of Evil,” Phillip Cole says that his book “asks the question whether evil exists at all and one possible answer I take very seriously is that it does not.”) Few of us would be hesitant to use the word to describe the genocidal regimes, for example, of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Milosevic. But for the most part, we post-Manichaean postmodernists are more like Neville Chamberlain hoping to win over Hitler with a bit of coaxing than like Winston Churchill, who committed his country to fighting him. Given our a tradition of broad civil tolerance, it makes uneasy sense that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the half-buffoonish, half-demonic leader of Iran, was invited to speak at an ivy-towered bastion of learning, where he gave voice to his hate-mongering views.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why is Joel Stein going to Hell?

I often used to wonder what I'd go to hell for. Not giving my money to the starving and homeless? Eating animals? Dumping girlfriends? Being a journalist? Then I checked out the Bible and realized how capricious God is: He's down with slavery, slaughtering children during war and turning people to salt for pitying gays who are being burned alive. I gave up riddling out what ticks off the Almighty.
That's Joel Stein being a little snarky about the vengeful God of the Tanakh. Based on past columns, of which I am a fan, I'd say God has plenty of reasons to chose from. But we know God is also forgiving, even if Stein doesn't live biblically like A.J. Jacobs, whom he was dining with for this column.
The Bible, it turns out, is much like other long books, in that reading it apparently turns you into a huge dork.

I sinned by using a credit card (taking on debts, per Romans 13:8), not giving thanks after -- not before -- my meal (Deuteronomy 8:10), telling the waitress that "I'll have the burger" without adding "God willing" (James 4:13-15) and "cursing the ruler of thy people," George Bush (Exodus 22:28). The Republicans should focus more on that Scripture instead of putting so much emphasis on Leviticus and sodomy.

But Jacobs was only truly appalled when I told the waitress that yes, thank you, I enjoyed the burger. "That was terrible!" Jacobs yelled. "That was a flat-out, bald-faced, dishonest fib. Proverbs say that people appreciate frankness more than flattery." He wouldn't let it go, mimicking me with a very squeaky, high-pitched tone that I'm sure Leviticus has something to say about. "'The burger's good! Oh, it's dee-licious!'"

At the end of the meal, I asked Jacobs what I was going to go to hell for. "It's your evil tongue," he said. I had apparently "slandered" (Leviticus 19:16) the guy who created the 43 Folders organization system by calling him "crazy" even though I know nothing about him, and I made fun of Miss Teen South America. Plus, even though he didn't know it, I was scribbling notes about Jacobs' irritating moral superiority.

Quote of the day

"In Jerusalem, they want to disturb the bones of dead Muslims, and here, they want to disrupt the lives of living Jews."
Activist Daniel Fink told my colleague, Tom Tugend, that, referring to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's efforts to expand their facilities just west of Pico-Robertson.

Refugees in their own land

Another story from Najaf, Iraq, not about how the drop in killings is hurting gravediggers, but about the sad lives of those stuck in a Shi'ite refugee camp.
The men gather somberly at midday on soiled straw mats under a makeshift canvas canopy in a valiant effort to simulate the traditional Arab formal reception room, but here they have no fans to keep the flies from landing, no sweets or tea to offer strangers.

They hoped that this city, holy to their Shiite sect, would welcome them and begin to heal their grief. But instead they have found themselves in a refugee camp outside the city, far from jobs and shops, squeezed five to a tent, sleeping on squalid blankets smelling of sweat, and drinking cloudy brown water hauled from a nearby ditch.

Most galling for these Shiite refugees is that they feel abandoned by the government, which is run by fellow Shiites. “When Maliki came to Najaf he didn’t even come to see the camp; he didn’t even visit his own people,” said Issa Mohammed, 47, a dignified man wearing the black checked scarf favored by tribal sheiks, referring to Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The scope of sectarian killings in Iraq and the relocation they have caused have yet to be publicly acknowledged by the Iraqi government. But a visit to Najaf, whose refugee population is typical of the southern provinces, lays bare the vast needs of displaced Iraqis and the rough road ahead for the project of national reconciliation.

Last week, a reporter for The Washington Post was killed while speaking to Iraqis about sectarian violence. One can hope, dream and even pray -- especially pray -- but it's hard to imagine things getting better in Iraq. Sectarian violence is not the kind of conflict that fades over days or even a few years.

Six-figure Persian weddings

My pal Karmel had a story in last week's Jewish Journal that has irritated a lot of his fellow Iranian Jews. It's a good story about cultural expectations that highlights the tension between Tehrangeles' older Jews and those who are now coming of age. It's about the pressure the younger feel to splurge on six-figure weddings with 500-plus guests.
Somewhere between keeping Iranian hospitality traditions and one-upping displays of wealth, a growing number of Iranian Jewish families today are inviting upward of 500 guests to weddings, with budgets in the six-figure range -- typically from $150,000 to $300,000.

The strain of such expectations has led to infighting between families over who should cover the cost. Young professionals are also postponing marriage plans or opting instead for a destination wedding to avoid the financial pressures of holding the event in Los Angeles.

Most local Iranian Jews acknowledge the situation, but few in the community are willing to advocate for change. Rabbi Hillel Benchimol, associate rabbi of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, wants a greater dialogue on the issue.

"The problem is we are taking out the spiritual and emotional aspect of the marriage and instead it's become a business with all the unnecessary spending," Benchimol said. "People forget the spirit of the wedding -- all you need is love, and everything else falls into place."

Some young Iranian Jewish newlyweds say that while they did not necessarily want a large wedding, they feel pressure from their parents and extended family to put on a more lavish affair. Their parents, they say, feel an obligation to invite people whose parties they have attended.

"Persians have much more of a tight-knit community, and it's very respect oriented -- that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it leads to 300- to 400-person weddings," said Ario Fakheri, who was married last year. "People get upset if you don't invite their kids or grandmothers, they look at it as disrespecting them -- there are so many ways to disrespect them."

Fakheri said that while he and his fiancee invited almost 600 people to their wedding due to family pressure, many of his friends in the community are opting to have destination weddings.

"You can tell how bad they don't want people to come to their wedding by how far away they go," Fakheri said. "It's basically code for how bad you want to have a normal wedding."
Is your wedding really worth the cost of a pre-housing-bubble home? My wife and I thought our wedding, on the water, was perfect, and it barely cost five figures.

And I thought hosting a bar mitzvah was expensive.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Springfield: sister-city of Chelm

The Simpsons are a typical Middle-American Protestant family in a typical city, Springfield (named after another famous television city from the 1954-1960 series, Fathers Knows Best). They say grace at meals, read and refer to the Bible, pray out loud and, on Sundays, dutifully attend services at the First Church of Springfield, part of an invented denomination called the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism Church.

But running beneath the Father Knows Best veneer is a busy, ever-moving religious world in which there is much to explore. One noteworthy path, albeit circuitous, through this world is the Jewish one, which, like much of the show, holds surprises. One Sunday evening, when a door to the cluttered storage closet in the Simpsons’ house swings open, it reveals, for just a fleeting moment, a shiny object seemingly out of place amid the suburban detritus: a Hanukkah menorah. What is this ritual candelabrum doing in the home of a Gentile, lower-middle-class family in a small, overwhelmingly Christian city? A home we thought we knew so well …
Moment magazine gets its "Simpsons" fantasizing on, Chelm reference and all, courtesy of Mark I. Pinsky, the Jewish author of "The Gospel According to the Simpsons." (Hat tip: DMN religion blog.)

The town’s small Jewish community is misunderstood in ways that are still common in small Protestant communities. Homer, for instance—our bald and overweight, “D’oh”-spouting everyman—laughs when he first hears Hebrew, thinking it’s a made-up language. In another episode, when he needs $50,000 for a heart bypass, he goes to the rabbi, pretending to be Jewish in the only way he knows how. “Now, I know I haven’t been the best Jew, but I have rented Fiddler on the Roof and I will watch it.” (All he gets from the rabbi is a dreidel.) And at the elementary school, Principal Skinner fields an angry call from Superintendent Chalmers. “I know Weinstein’s parents were upset,” he stammers. “But, but, ah, I was sure it was a phony excuse. I mean, it sounds so made up: ‘Yom Kip-pur.’”

Then there is Bart, the ever-scheming son, who in one Simpsons comic book is drawn to Judaism, like a moth to a menorah, for the eight nights of Hannukah presents. He visits a rabbi and argues that if he became Jewish, he’d be a “trash-talkin’ spiky-haired Seinfeld with a Fox attitude.” But the rabbi predicts the boy won’t like the religion because “so much Judaism is like opera, the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Atkins Diet, all rolled into one.” Bart gives it a shot nonetheless, especially pleased that he no longer has to do chores during Shabbat. But eventually, Bart decides not to convert, reporting to his sister Lisa: “Love the religion but, oy … I can’t handle the guilt.”

I never saw that comic book. I didn't even know there was a "Simpsons" comic book. Anyway, the Moment article goes on to talk about Springfield's "model Jew" -- Krusty the-heavy-drinking-gambling-money-squandering-and-womanizing Clown. D'Oh!

Stanley Gold: 'I don't get ulcers - I give ulcers'

The Jewish Federation of LA is set to have a new swashbuckling sheriff, and he's wasting no words describing the umbrella organization for Jewish charities.

"It is largely irrelevant," Stanley P. Gold said last week. "I'm gonna make it relevant. Gonna make it relevant to the donor community. Gonna make it relevant to the Los Angeles community. And gonna make it relevant to most of the Jewish community. The alternative is a slow dissipation. I'm not going to let that happen."

I was amazed when Gold, the chairman of the board of trustees at USC and a former director of Disney who saved the company from corporate raiders and canned Michael Eisner, made this statement. Not because many LA Jews disagree with it, but because it came from inside The Federation walls.

I profiled Gold and The Federation in this week's Jewish Journal. Here's the end of the 4,000-word piece:

Cynical or realistic, a few veterans of The Federation's inner workings were skeptical about the likelihood of Gold -- or anyone -- reshaping the organization.

"Stanley Gold is not a pushover, but how much hands-on will he have at The Federation?" asked one board member. "John Fishel tends to put people in places where they are yes-men. Is John going to be telling Stanley what they're going to do, and he is just going to be a rubber stamp?"

Fishel said that is not his plan.

"Change is never easy, but sometimes change is absolutely necessary to change your future viability," The Federation's president said. "There, Stanley is going to play a vital role because he is going to force us to ask some hard questions."

Regardless of what obstructions or challenges arise, Gold seems unwilling to be stifled. A visit to 1984 helps demonstrate why.

The Magic Kingdom was under attack. Corporate raiders were attempting a hostile takeover of the Walt Disney Co., lusting for control of the company so they could strip mine its studio and real estate holdings and hang onto the profitable theme parks. Stock prices plummeting, it was the end of innocence for Disney -- some would say an allegory for the United States -- and somehow the man who had long been known around the office as "Walt's idiot nephew" got a chance to be the hero.

At Roy Disney's behest, Gold began buying hundreds of thousands of Disney shares to add to the 1.1 million his boss already owned. Then he and the brain trust, a roundtable of Roy Disney and his advisers, began working to ward off the raiders and quell Wall Street's anxiety.

It was obvious the current CEO had to go; Disney had just made it's first profitable live-action film, "Splash," since "The Love Bug" was released in 1968 -- 16 long years before. But Disney's board of directors, which included Gold and Roy Disney, couldn't agree on who should replace him.

Gold's selection to run the company -- a combination of Paramount No. 2 Michael Eisner and former Warner Bros. chief Frank Wells -- was opposed by 10 of the board's 13 members. As autumn approached, Gold had a week to convince four directors to support his candidates. He was told it couldn't be done; even members of the brain trust were beginning to worry.

"We're going to run it my way," Gold told Mark Siegel, a partner at Gang, Tyre and member of the brain trust, according to John Taylor's book, "Storming the Magic Kingdom," the definitive account of the affair. "We're going to run it right down the middle of the street, where they're uncomfortable and where I'm comfortable. We're going to put on a political campaign right out there where everybody can see us. I'm tired of being told to be quiet because somebody's feelings are going to be hurt."

By Saturday morning, Gold's men were voted the new heads of Walt Disney Productions. He celebrated by ordering vanity license plates that said "10-3." Two decades later, Gold and Roy Disney proved just as formidable when, fed up with Eisner's management, they resigned as directors of the company and single-handedly led a shareholder revolt that resulted in Eisner's resignation.

"The most important thing to know about me," Gold said when I asked if he was worried about spinning his wheels at The Federation, "is I don't get ulcers. I give ulcers."

Gravedigging down with deaths in Iraq

NAJAF, Iraq — At what's believed to be the world's largest cemetery, where Shiite Muslims aspire to be buried and millions already have been, business isn't good.

A drop in violence around Iraq has cut burials in the huge Wadi al Salam cemetery here by at least one-third in the past six months, and that's cut the pay of thousands of workers who make their living digging graves, washing corpses or selling burial shrouds.

Few people have a better sense of the death rate in Iraq .

"I always think of the increasing and decreasing of the dead," said Sameer Shaaban, 23, one of more than 100 workers who specialize in ceremonially washing the corpses. "People want more and more money, and I am one of them, but most of the workers in this field don't talk frankly, because they wish for more coffins, to earn more and more."

This story from McClatchy Newspapers, courtesy of Luke Ford, puts a macabre twist on all that bloodshed. It reminds me of one of the best stories I've ever read: "Angels of Mercy and Death," by LA Timeser Bruce Wallace in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Conversations with a Pharisee and a Christian

In 1964, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: "I am ready to go to Auschwitz any time, if faced with the alternative of conversion or death." The prominent Jewish theologian was protesting a reference to the future conversion of the Jews in a Vatican II working document on Catholic-Jewish relations. Both The New York Times and Time magazine picked up on Heschel's letter, which alienated many of his Christian friends.

That was 1964. This is 2007. Jews still find the subject of conversion extremely painful. For them it is, as Heschel said, tantamount to annihilation. Christian hopes for conversion can be a deal breaker in interfaith friendships.

Yet a few Christians and Jews have found a way to be friends despite this Christian hope (Romans 11:25ff). Among them are R. T. Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen. In their book, The Christian and the Pharisee (Warner Faith), they model a warm friendship as they "debate the road to heaven."
This is from Christianity Today. What follows is a sampling of the interview CT editor in chief David Neff did with the two.

In your first meeting, it was your different understandings of Pharisee that sparked conversation. What understanding do you each now want Christians to associate with the word?

Rosen: My hope would be that Christians would associate Pharisee with a good Jew, one who lives in the sense of the divine presence and seeks to fulfill the divine Word and will in his or her daily life. But I think we've got too many centuries of negative indoctrination.

Kendall: So one of the major reasons you had for writing the book was to make Pharisees look a lot better?

Rosen: It was to take away the unfair stigma. The argument between Jesus and some of the Pharisees is a legitimate family dispute. This is like when the ancient prophets condemn the children of Israel. They talk about the bad behavior, but they don't disassociate themselves from Israel. They see themselves as part of it.

So I believe that Jesus was a Pharisee who knew that there were wonderful Pharisees around, probably the majority, but there were some who were actually desecrating the name, the message, and the tradition they were meant to be the custodians of.

Kendall: When we started the book—don't laugh—I wondered if he was a secret believer. I mean, his spirit is so great. I thought, You certainly do make Pharisees look a lot better. But then, halfway through the book, when you stopped debating Scripture and started putting forward the rabbinic authorities instead, I said, "Ah, you're somewhat like the Pharisees after all."

Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You make the Word of God null and void through your traditions." And they only quote the authorities; they didn't want to quote Scripture.

Rosen: I think that Jesus would have understood—as all Jews would have understood—that it is not possible to understand all of the biblical text totally literally. Interpretation is necessary.

As you wrote this book, both of you remained firm in your own traditions. Why is it important in inter-religious dialogue for people to be rock solid in their beliefs?

Rosen: I believe that a real dialogue is most authentic when people are deeply committed to their faith. To say that my truth is my truth does not mean that my truth is the only truth, but it is truth.

Kendall: I don't see this as only dialogue. I had one sincere desire, and that was to present the gospel to David with the love I feel for him so that the Holy Spirit would arrest him like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.

Who knows whether God can use a man like this to precipitate the lifting of the blindness described in Romans 11. I know that's grandiose, but I thought what if, somehow, God got to this wonderful, learned, world-famous man. Of course, I annoyed him a bit along the way, though we stayed friends.

Rosen: Our motives were different. For me, dialogue doesn't mean, as some people suggest, any kind of relativism. And it certainly doesn't mean any weakness in one's own tradition. Communication is a value in and of itself. But I want R. T. to be a good Christian. I don't want him to change. I just want him to let me be a good Jew and to be satisfied that that's my way to God and that God is very happy with me living the way I live.


Many Jews have a deeply negative view of Jesus' followers. What would it take to rehabilitate that view for Jews?

Rosen: That rehabilitation has started to take place. Within the Catholic church, that happened with the Second Vatican Council and Nostra Aetate. After the visit of the Pope to Israel in the year 2000, for the first time Jews really began to understand that there is a change. What would it take? The answer is very simple for a Christian.

Kendall: And that is?

Rosen: And that is love. The more love Christians show Jews, the more they will be able to overcome the tragedies of the abuse of the past in their name.

But that's very difficult for someone like R. T. to be able to do effectively, because even though he is genuine about demonstrating love on our personal level—I genuinely feel it—from a collective point of view as a religion, if he's relating to me as someone who's going to burn in hell, then I can't really see that as genuine love toward my people and my faith.

I am suggesting to those evangelicals who could hear this, out of your sense of duty to the people from which your Savior came, and out of your sense of responsibility for the terrible abuse that's been done in your name historically, suspend your proselytizing and allow the Almighty to do whatever the Almighty thinks in his wisdom is the thing to do in his own time.

Kendall: If I have failed you, it is because I haven't loved you enough. As I re-read what I wrote, I think I was trying to make you see it intellectually. And that isn't the way a person comes to Christ.

'Reaper' is spawn of sitcom satan

I tried watching a new show on The CW last night called "Reaper," about a 21-year-old guy who lives at home with the parents who sold his soul to the devil (pictured, left). I thought about offering a review or criticism of the show. But I'm not going to. It's really not worth it. I give "Reaper" til mid-season, tops, until its sent back to hell.

Kicking butt in Jesus' name -- amen

Mark Pedersen's Tae Kwon Do students learn how to block, kick, punch and basically everything one would expect to be instructed in a martial arts dojo. But they also learn one other aspect at Might for Right Ministries that probably not too many martial arts experts place into training: The teachings of Jesus Christ.
That's from the Orange County News in Texas and, with the headline "Kickin' it Jesus style in God's dojo," the Bible Belt Blogger thought it earned that copy editor the headline of the day award. The article reminded me of a pretty lame piece I wrote for The Sun two years ago about the exact same thing. The OC News' lead quote was, in fact, almost identical to my closing quote. Here's my piece, which ran as a sidebar to a story about counterculture and off-beat ministries:
CHINO - About 15 students practiced dropping their attackers to the ground and breaking their elbows on a recent Thursday.

They closed their class with a Bible devotion and prayer.

Christianity and kung fu San Soo are taught together at Calvary Chapel of Chino Valley. Children, teens and adults attend San Soo classes twice a week at the church. They are guided by Master Sam Silva, a student of the late grand master Jimmy H. Woo.

The class is an outreach to non-Christians, but Silva doesn't questions his students' beliefs. It's an odd combination, mixing a deadly martial art with the word of God.

"People ask, 'How can you be in a church and do that?'' Silva said. "The Bible doesn't say anywhere that Christians need to be victims.'

Silva said that being jumped in an alley or attacked in your home is not the time to, as Jesus put it, "turn the other cheek.'
For that package of niche-ministry vignettes, I also wrote about a biker Bible study, street ministry and Hip-Hop Jazz Mass at a downtown mission:
SAN BERNARDINO - Alex Avila steps in front of the altar and starts rhyming and dancing.

This is the Hip-Hop Jazz Mass at the Central City Lutheran Mission.

Located in a poor, Latino and black neighborhood of San Bernardino, the mission's goal is two-fold: help people escape the tortures of poverty teen pregnancy, STDs, drugs, gangs and bring them to a faith in Jesus Christ.

The stuffy chapel that doubles as a homeless shelter during the winter is a rhythmic playground for those who attend the youth-focused Mass.

Alex is free-styling some lines about the pain of growing up in the ghetto.

"I don't know if I can make it to tomorrow. I'm scared to get up," Alex raps as he collapses. "I think I'll stay on the floor, stay on the floor."

Two teenage girls join for a backup harmony.

Toure Curry jumps in and helps his Christian brother up.

"Together we can make it. Together we will. Now stand up!" Toure belts.

This is one of many performances at the Mass. The spiritual message is guided by the poems, songs, dances and prayers of 30 people in attendance.

"It's a place I can go to reveal my feelings," said Lajoii Dominguez, 15, of San Bernardino. "There is no negativity. It's always positive. They encourage me to do better."

No topic is taboo. Profanity is permitted.

The mission's pastor, the Rev. David Kalke, opens and closes the Mass in prayer. He offers words from scripture and leads the taking of Holy Communion. Kalke even contributes his own poetry.

"Rise up, oh prophets of the desert. ... Rise and bring your words of life to those who chose death."
As I told some new interns at the Daily Bruin last weekend, it's always fun -- and embarrassing -- to read old copy that you thought was so good.

Major Jewish philanthropist creates investigative journalism nonprofit

Now there's a headline with a lot of words I like. ProPublica could be a godsend that fills the investigative-journalism gap left by massive budget cuts. Or it could be a way for creator and chairman Herbert Sandler to shape the news. Sandler, who last year he donated $500 million to various causes, mostly non-Jewish, gets a mention in a story I have in tomorrow's Jewish Journal about the new world of Jewish philanthropy. More on that later.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rudy talks the the talk with Jewish hawks

He's not the apple of evangelical Christians' eyes, but Rudy Giuliani is clearly the Republican Jewish Coalition's guy, what with his terrorist-fighting image and his employment of Norman Podhoretz and Daniel Pipes. Giuliani spoke to the RJC in Washington this morning. Here's some excerpts, via JoinRudy2008:
A lot of you are the first Republicans in your families, right? Am I right?

A lot of you get grief for being Republicans, right? As a three-time candidate and eight-year mayor of New York City, I know what you’re talking about. Wow.

I remember this happened so many times, I get all the incidents confused. But one that was particularly poignant was this man who was very, very old and frail came up to me and he grabbed my hand and he said, You’re the first Republican I ever voted for. I said, How old are you? He said, I’m 92 years old.

I said, In over like 80 years of voting or whatever, you couldn’t find another Republican to vote for? He said, I thought it was sinful.
Wow, has Giuliani been taking speaking lessons from President Bush? From here, he didn't take long to mention Sept. 11, and then he started hitting the right notes for many Jews, Republican and Democrat.
We’re the ones that really want peace in the Middle East, real peace, what it really means. Peace has to be based on realism, not romance. It’s shocking that 60 years after the Holocaust, the Jewish people are still required to negotiate for the right to exist.

This should be beyond negotiation. Someday I hope that Jews and Arabs can sit down together to negotiate borders, water, trade. It’s going to happen, but it’s going to happen more quickly if we remain strong and we remain really, really clear.

You cannot negotiate with someone who is threatening to destroy you and your family.


What are you going to negotiate with them about? How many of your kids they’re going to kill or when they’re going to do it?

You’ve got to negotiate with people that at least make a step toward giving a reasonable possibility of getting a sensible result.

In the case of the Palestinians, here’s what it is, two big ones. First of all, the Palestinians have to say and acknowledge and mean it that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state.

Number one, because Israel’s already negotiated its existence. That negotiation happened a long time ago and that’s over and they’ve just got to kind of move on.

Second, second, they have to be willing to say, We forsake terrorism and we’re going to help to reduce and eliminate terrorism and they need to show their good faith by that condition remaining that way for some period of time. It’s as simple as that — or as hard as that.

'Don't have the house of the Lord in sub-prime loans'

When my wife and I sold our condo two years ago and returned to LA, we looked at homes but decided to sit on the sidelines and wait for the market to settle. Good decision. What a mess that beautiful bubble has become. The median-priced home sold in Los Angeles in September was $25,000 lighter than in August and the number of sales was down 30 percent!

The downturn has been fueled by sub-prime loans, which, obvious to anyone in California, were used not just by the poor but also those who wanted to stretch for a bigger home. Even Christian lenders got involved in the sub-prime market, though not as commonly as other mortgage companies, and I've got a piece about how the tailspin is affecting these financial institutions in the current issue of Christianity Today.
HomeBanc Corp. brought a Christian ethos to the seemingly lucrative market of sub-prime home loans. Flush with a staff of believers, the Atlanta-based company opened meetings in prayer and counted a megachurch founder its head of human resources.

But in mid-August, the company, which Fortune magazine ranked the 67th-best to work for earlier this year, filed for bankruptcy, reportedly laying off most of its 1,100 employees and closing 22 branch offices.

HomeBanc's demise was brought on by the same factor that led to its rise—a housing market that expanded, then shrank, on the back of risky home loans. Other Christian lenders felt the pinch, too. But unlike HomeBanc, most weathered the storm well, buoyed by the security of limiting loans for homebuyers.

The Evangelical Christian Credit Union, the largest Christian lender (and, with more than $1 billion in core assets, a rival to the largest secular lenders to nonprofits), never entered the home market. Other Christian lenders protected their home loans by staying away from sub-prime lending.

"Because of what we stand for and because of who we serve, we can't afford to put people into those loans," said Linda Tashiro, chief operating officer of the San Dimas, California-based Christian Community Credit Union. "We have to sleep at night."

Do it ... Come on ... Do it

The All-Bran challenge: Do it, feel it.

Slate has a funny commentary on the boldness of a bran ad that shows "barrels actually plop out from behind that guy's butt."

'Right With God'

Hanna Rosin has written a lot about the mash-up of young evangelicals and politics, a topic I keep returning to as the 2008 presidential campaign heats up. Well, I just came across a 31-month-old article Rosin wrote about evangelicals finding a home on Capitol Hill, and, though it bears mainly stale news masked by good writing, it's worth blogging about because the lede focuses on a regular reader of The God Blog who happens to work at Pepperdine and attend my church with her husband.

Lyric Hassler talks about her Christian rock phase the way some of us talk about crushes on Sean Cassidy, or acid-wash jeans, or the hundreds of hours we wasted memorizing Pink Floyd lyrics. "Uchhhhhh, embarrassing," she says. The gaudy soundtrack of the "Christian ghetto" she lived in as a teenager. Lyric the high school "Jesus freak," chastising her church youth group for wasting time on frivolous pizza parties, ignoring any TV that wasn't "The 700 Club."

"It just makes me wince," she says now that her ghetto self is long gone, now that she's made it here, to Washington, to the languid Friday afternoon tea time in a congressional cafeteria, to her starched white blouse and a stint on the presidential campaign and a husband who works in the Senate, to a salon of what she calls "Christian intellectuals."

She is still the same Lyric Hassler, still young (26), still a Christian, still evangelical enough that some of her colleagues on the Bush campaign found her piety "a little weird," she says. But the kind of weird that blends in without too much trouble. "I've come a long way, in terms of Christian maturity," she says." I'm not afraid of what the secular world might do to me."

"Uccch." It's the sound of a movement shoving aside its past like so many pairs of braces. The conservative Christian political movement that burst on Washington in the '80s, the activists with their aborted-fetus placards and their heady plans to colonize school boards and their here-and-now visions of the Apocalypse, their early years are now a source of embarrassment to themselves.

Amen to them. No more thundering sermons on Wiccans and floods and child molesters, caught on tape and leaked by a political opponent. No more pronouncements about "signs" showing up in California. No more horrors from the Book of Revelation.

It's what Ralph Reed dreamed of, and now it's finally here. Christians in politics are ready to trade in their guerrilla fatigues for business suits and a day job. This year evangelicals in public office have finally become so numerous that they've blended in to the permanent Washington backdrop, a new establishment that has absorbed the local habits and mores.

Paper checks in on 'reluctant Republicans'

The Dallas Morning News had a story yesterday about the young evangelical Christians I call the "reluctant Republicans" crowd.

For many conservative evangelical Christians younger than 30, family values mean more than the issues of gay marriage, abortion and prayer in school. Poverty, health care and the environment are also matters of faith.

"There's an awareness to be more savvy and to say, 'I can't be completely captured and represented by someone like Jerry Falwell.' I don't think that flies anymore," said Ms. Gonzalez, a graduate student at Baylor University. "Family really shapes your definition of values more than attending a political rally or being involved politically."

Evangelical Protestants have been one of the most faithful Republican voting blocs in recent presidential elections, but there are abundant signs the movement is fracturing as the 2008 contest approaches. The younger generation in particular is less wedded to the GOP and to the moral-values agenda espoused by an influential corps of Christian conservative leaders.

The article refers to this study by the Pew Forum that found President Bush's favor had fallen with younger evangelicals.