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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Kiddush HaShem by a New Square Chasid

New Square Chasid, Heshy Gottdiener
I love featuring stories like this one from North Jersey:

Heshy Gottdiener had been on the Hudson River for about four hours Tuesday, just about a half-mile south of the George Washington Bridge, when he saw something drop from the span a little before 5 p.m.

It was an unseasonably warm and clear afternoon, but Gott­dien­er still couldn’t tell if the object that plunged into the frigid water was debris or something more horrific.
It was only when he saw the splashing, that Gottdiener realized a person had jumped — and survived. Screaming, he thrust a pair of binoculars into the hands of a companion while another person, Joseph Margaretten, dialed 911.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Gott­dien­er, a 36-year-old father of seven, was helping volunteers from the tightknit, ultra-Orthodox enclave of New Square, N.Y., search for the body of another jumper, David Ahronowitz, who leapt from the bridge on Jan. 22. Ahronowitz, 46, was the second person to jump from the span this year.

Gottdiener had just witnessed the third.

Gottdiener explained that the New Square community had hired two boats and a pair of divers to search for Ahronowitz’s body. “We know a person has to be buried in order that the soul should rest in peace,” he said.

Fortunately for the latest person to jump from the bridge, this group of Orthodox Jews and their helpers were about to perform a rare rescue.

Immediately, Scott Koen, the boat’s captain, shouted for the volunteers to haul the divers and their gear out of the water. Seconds later Koen waved off an NYPD helicopter, which had swooped down over the boat following the 911 call and had mistaken the divers for a rescue effort. Following Koen’s arm signals, the helicopter flew under the George Washington Bridge and hovered about 40 feet over the spot where Gott­dien­er had seen the splash, flashing its lights for the boat to hurry over.
Koen, 58, a volunteer firefighter from Rutherford, rushed to the bow of his boat and cut the anchor rope. As he sped toward the bridge he was sure this would be a recovery. Since 2009, only one person had survived the 200-foot plunge from the bridge; 95 people died. But as Koen got closer, “I could see there was an eighth of a face above water.” It was a woman lying on her back, kicking gently with her legs.

Miracle on the Hudson

Koen has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. During 30 years as a “river rat,” he said, he has been involved in 11 rescues. Koen just happened to be on the river in January 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson. That time, he helped passengers off the plane using the dive ladder on the back of his boat, a 46-foot buoy tender called the Michael P. Murphy.

This time, Koen circled around the woman so that she could climb up the ladder and divers threw her a rope. Gottdiener said her eyes were wide open and she was screaming for help. The woman said that she couldn’t climb the ladder because her legs were broken. “She started to sink,” Koen said. “I just jumped in the water and supported her while I got a line under her arms.”

The divers and Orthodox volunteers pulled the woman onto the boat. Her left leg was badly broken just above the foot. They covered her with coats and blankets while a medic from New Square’s volunteer emergency medical service, Hatzolah, administered first aid.

The 25-year-old woman from Somerset County gave her name and date of birth. She told the men that she had left some clothes and belongings on the bridge. A Port Authority spokesman said later that her car was found on Fort Washington Avenue in Manhattan.

Koen knew that the closest dock was more than a mile away in Edgewater. After speaking with fire department officials from New York, he turned his boat toward a large rock on the Manhattan shoreline under the George Washington Bridge. Koen nosed his boat up against the rock and a fireboat pulled alongside. Firefighters boarded, strapped the woman to a body board and carried her over the rock to shore where police cars and ambulances were waiting to ferry her to Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital. A Port Authority spokesman said that the woman was suffering from trauma, but that she was conscious when she reached the hospital.

Suicide-proof walks

Suicides have become an increasing problem for the Port Authority, which runs the George Washington Bridge. A Port Authority spokesman said the agency is working to deter jumpers. It has put up signs every 250 feet along the bridge’s walkway encouraging people to call a suicide prevention line, and the Port Authority Police Department has stepped up foot patrols.

Yet suicides from the bridge are rising. Between 2005 and 2009, an average of five people jumped from the bridge each year. Over the past five years, an average of 15 people have died annually jumping from the bridge. Attempted suicides are rising too, from single digits 10 years ago, to dozens of people in each of the past few years.  Port Authority police said they intervened in 86 suicide attempts last year.

The Port Authority has spoken for at least a couple of years about installing a fence along both sides of the bridge to stop people from jumping. But the project, which is expected to cost between $35 million and $50 million, has not yet begun. The first suicide-proof sidewalk is scheduled to open in 2020.

Gottdiener said he is convinced that the woman would not have survived if he and his fellow volunteers hadn’t been searching for Ahronowitz’s body. “There were no other boats in the water at that time,” he said. “I never knew I am going to be in such a situation, literally helping to save someone’s life.”

Gottdiener will be back out on the water today and, if necessary, for days to come, looking for Ahronowitz’s body. Gottdiener said that the community won’t stop searching “until we find him.”

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thank You, Mr. President

President Barack Obama at Yad Vashem
This is why I believe that the President is a friend of the Jewish people. Cynics might say that he is not sincere. That he has gone to the Israeli Embassy in Washington (the first American President to do so) to speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day as a PR stunt. to try to ingratiate himself to Jewish citizens after his controversial nuclear agreement with Iran. An agreement that I opposed. And that Israeli Prime Minister lobbied so hard to defeat. 

But I disagree. I believe he in sincere in his friendship. I am not going to get into all the indicators that lead me in that direction. But I will publish in full a Forward article about his remarks that evening at the embassy. I believe it more than demonstrates his friendship to us. It follows.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide, and the United States must lead the fight against it, President Barack Obama said in remarks at the Israeli embassy.

“Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise,” Obama said Wednesday at a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We cannot deny it,” he said. “When we see some Jews leaving major European cities — where their families have lived for generations — because they no longer feel safe; when Jewish centers are targeted from Mumbai to Overland Park, Kansas; when swastikas appear on college campuses — when we see all that and more, we must not be silent.”

Obama said that he has made fighting global anti-Semitism a priority, and cited Hungary as a case where the United States made it clear that the failure to address anti-Jewish bias would impede strong bilateral relations.

“It’s why, when a statue of an anti-Semitic leader from World War II was planned in Hungary, we led the charge to convince their government to reverse course,” he said. “This was not a side note to our relations with Hungary, this was central to maintaining a good relationship with the United States, and we let them know.”

Obama also addressed criticism of Israel that veers into anti-Semitism. “It’s why, when voices around the world veer from criticism of a particular Israeli policy to an unjust denial of Israel’s right to exist, when Israel faces terrorism, we stand up forcefully and proudly in defense of our ally, in defense of our friend, in defense of the Jewish State of Israel,” he said.

The president cast anti-Semitism as a manifestation of intolerance that afflict other minorities, and praised Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for combating anti-Arab bias in Israel – notably, because Rivlin has chided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not doing enough in that arena.

Learning from the past “means cultivating a habit of empathy, and recognizing ourselves in one another; to make common cause with the outsider, the minority, whether that minority is Christian or Jew, whether it is Hindu or Muslim, or a nonbeliever; whether that minority is native born or immigrant; whether they’re Israeli or Palestinian,” Obama said.

He appeared at one point to allude to the candidacy of real estate magnate Donald Trump, leading in the polls among Republicans, and who has called for sweeping actions against undocumented migrants and against Muslims.

“It means taking a stand against bigotry in all its forms, and rejecting our darkest impulses and guarding against tribalism as the only value in our communities and in our politics,” he said.

Obama’s appearance was unprecedented; no president has ever given a speech at the embassy, something Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer noted in his remarks. Both governments have endeavored in recent months to overcome bad blood created by last years’ Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed, and the failure of the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Netanyahu delivered brief remarks via a video recording, thanking Obama for speaking at the embassy, and for advancing talks on extending and expanding U.S. defense assistance to Israel.
The event, co-hosted by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, included the formal recognition of four people as righteous among the nations for the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.

They were Roddie Edmonds, a U.S. army sergeant who while being held captive in a German prisoner of war camp, refused orders from a German commander to identify Jewish POWs under his command; Lois Gunden, an American teacher in France who made the children’s home she ran a safe haven for Jewish children, and Walery and Maryla Zbijewski, a Polish couple who cared for a Jewish girl who had managed to flee with her mother from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Families of the rescuers and survivors they saved, and their descendants, attended. Obama in his speech picked up particularly on Edmonds declaration to the German commander, who was furious with Edmonds for not identifying the Jewish soldiers in his ranks: “We are all Jews,” Edmonds said.

Obama, alluding to Edmonds’ devout faith, said: “I cannot imagine a greater expression of Christianity than to say, I, too, am a Jew. Obama’s appearance was unprecedented; no president has ever given a speech at the embassy, something Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer noted in his remarks.

Both governments have endeavored in recent months to overcome bad blood created by last years’ Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed, and the failure of the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Netanyahu delivered brief remarks via a video recording, thanking Obama for speaking at the embassy, and for advancing talks on extending and expanding U.S. defense assistance to Israel.

The event, co-hosted by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, included the formal recognition of four people as righteous among the nations for the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.

They were Roddie Edmonds, a U.S. army sergeant who while being held captive in a German prisoner of war camp, refused orders from a German commander to identify Jewish POWs under his command; Lois Gunden, an American teacher in France who made the children’s home she ran a safe haven for Jewish children, and Walery and Maryla Zbijewski, a Polish couple who cared for a Jewish girl who had managed to flee with her mother from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Families of the rescuers and survivors they saved, and their descendants, attended. Obama in his speech picked up particularly on Edmonds declaration to the German commander, who was furious with Edmonds for not identifying the Jewish soldiers in his ranks: “We are all Jews,” Edmonds said. Obama, alluding to Edmonds’ devout faith, said: “I cannot imagine a greater expression of Christianity than to say, I, too, am a Jew.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

If I had $1,400,000,000...

.No I did not buy a lottery ticket. I spent the $2.00 on a delicious doughnut at Tel Aviv Bakery on Devon in West Rogers Park. And I have money left over. I think I'll put it in the Pushka. However if I find a ticket in the street... well, you never know. I will check the numbers to see if I won. Whats that? You don't think it's very likely to find a lottery ticket on the street? You're kidding - Right? Likely??? Well... it may not be likely. But it's possible. People lose things all the time.

Update
Did  not find a lottery ticket. So I didn't win anything. On the bright side, it didn't cost me anything either.

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Public Rebuke of Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn

The controversy over the release of a woman from her status as an Agunah has been the subject of the Daas Torah blog run by Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn for quite some time now. In virtually all of his posts on the subject he wasted no time besmirching the reputation of 2 respected Rabbis - elders in their 90s - for permitting that woman to re-marry. 

He and many other rabbis rejected outright the Heter (Halachic permission)  they used for her to remarry. Since she has remarried based on that Heter, Rabbi Eidensohn and the rabbis who rejected it characterize this couple as adulterers in the Halachic sense.

I am not here to dispute or support that Heter. But even assuming Rabbi Eidensohn is correct, the way he is handling this is beyond disgusting. His latest post has actually asserted that he will no longer publish any comments critical of him. Thus it will be Rabbi Eidensohn that has the last word. 

I responded nonetheless with the following:
You won't be publishing this, but I'm going to tell you anyway since you will in fact be reading it before you delete it.  
It is not your view about the halachic issues involved here that is in question. You may in fact be right. Indeed the consequences of those actions are serious. It is the way you handled it by besmirching the Chashuva Rabbonim whose views and actions you criticized. In doing this in such a public manner, you have lost your Chezkas Kashrus among so many of your former supporters - of which I counted myself as one. 
How sad it is for someone with your talent - and all the contributions you have made to Klal Yisroel in other areas - to have fallen so low. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am in you - someone I used to admire so much.  I'm actually thinking about publishing this comment on my blog so that my views will be known by more people than you. Because you deserve a public rebuke.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Open Letter to Open Orthodoxy

By Rabbi Francis Nataf 

Rabbis Eichenstein and Lopatin what once was  - could once again be
The following article by Rabbi Francis Nataf appeared in the Times of Israel. It makes eminent sense to me. Despite my strong criticism of the movement, I never wanted them to be ousted from Orthodoxy. To the contrary, I practically begged them to stay. Unfortunately they have done nothing to allay my concerns – concerns which many of us in the ‘center’ have expressed many times. If they make these corrections they will be welcomed back with very open arms.  At least as far as I am concerned. And I think many others who share my concerns. His words follow.

While I have decided to maintain the public nature of this letter, I am pleased to report that it has already elicited a positive response by at least one of the main leaders to whom it is addressed. My hope is that its publication will help and not hurt the maintenance of unity in the Orthodox camp.
While I have decided to maintain the public nature of this letter, I am pleased to report that it has already elicited a positive response by at least one of the main leaders to whom it is addressed. My hope is that its publication will help and not hurt the maintenance of unity in the Orthodox camp.

In a recent essay, I wrote about what I admire in Open Orthodoxy (I have since learned that is a label that some of its leaders would prefer to no longer use). No matter what happens in the future, I will continue to admire these points and many others.

It is precisely because of my admiration for — and sometimes even identification with — Open Orthodoxy that I write this letter. I think you should already know that when the critique is coming from people like Rabbi Shmuel Goldin and Prof. David Berger, it may be time to listen. Besides long being identified with the liberal wing of Modern Orthodoxy, both men have been known for their thoughtfulness, intellect and sensitivity. At the risk of redundancy, I will add my name to those who feel it is time for Open Orthodoxy to take stock of where it is, not just as a favor to us, but — more importantly — as a favor to itself.

Much of what passes for critique these days is just self-serving harangue and rabble-rousing. No doubt, Open Orthodoxy is tired of having to deal with so much of that since its inception. And it could be that after getting so much unfair criticism, it has become immune to all criticism, even when it is in place. Yet our tradition tells us quite clearly that the wise man loves critique. Difficult though it may be, I call upon you to realize that there are some very important questions now being raised by those who think of themselves as your friends.

Indeed, accepting the critique of others is what kept many of Judaism’s most important movements within the pale, to the benefit of those offering the critique, as well as those accepting it. It is what kept the followers of Rambam from reducing all of Judaism to a metaphor for Greek philosophy. It is also what kept the early Kabbalists from turning into polytheists, substituting the sefirot for God Himself. More recently, it is what kept Hassidut from antinomianism and its turning away from the centrality of Torah study and observance. I need not point out that movements that rebuffed legitimate critique fared less well.

Rabbi Goldin raised the issue of method, Prof Berger of substance. To address the first, there are many — even within Open Orthodoxy — who have misgivings about the confrontational style adopted by several of its most prominent exponents. Personally speaking, I believe that much more is accomplished by those that seek a broader consensus for moderate change than those working for radical change within more narrow confines. 

But more immediately relevant is that if Open Orthodoxy cannot control its firebrands from burning bridges to the mainstream, it should not be surprised to wake up to a situation where these bridges no longer exist. In such a situation, it will have defined itself out of Orthodoxy on sociological grounds, if not necessarily on substantive ones.

Unfortunately, however, there are true substantive issues that threaten to pull us apart as well. Prof. Berger focuses on the authorship of the Torah and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s inability — or lack of desire — to provide clear red lines on what is probably (along with the nature of Halacha) Orthodox Judaism’s most important issue. 

To be fair, YCT President Rabbi Asher Lopatin endorsed the traditional understanding of revelation at Sinai. But, by the same token, he has — so far — refrained from placing any alternative as outside of Orthodoxy’s boundaries. This is not the place to go into the intricacies of this issue, which I and others have discussed in other forums. Suffice it to say that while Judaism’s red lines are intentionally fuzzy, there is no question that they exist. And one of the major items defining Orthodoxy as a movement has been its willingness to unapologetically proclaim and defend those boundaries.

There are other issues, but my point is not to create a laundry list of complaints. It is to simply say that it is time to listen.

I appreciate the desire to hold on to people on the religious and intellectual left. There has always been a tacit understanding that an individual need not follow every belief or law to have a place within the Orthodox community. Hence, all sectors of Orthodoxy would do well to continue to make room for those Jews who disagree with us and to do everything we can to make them feel welcome.

But there are limits. One of them is that the leadership, both in the yeshivot and in the synagogues, has always supported a series of public red lines that define the community’s contours. It is really not about defining others, it is about defining ourselves.

The point is that for Open Orthodoxy to be Orthodox, it cannot be open to everything. And though it may hurt some people by saying so, it will ultimately hurt many more if it does not.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Supporting Israel: Clinton Versus Obama

Former President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu
The following Op-Ed by Gil Troy appeared today in JTA. Even though President Obama has been supportive of Israel in many ways, I think Gil's got it just about right. It follows in its entirety.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — By now it should be obvious how absurd it is to call President Barack Obama Israel’s “best friend” ever, as Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has claimed.
A Blame Israel Firster, Obama won’t use his moral authority to try stopping the instigators of this latest spate of violence, the Palestinians. Unfortunately he never learned from his Democratic predecessor how to tell the good guys from the bad guys in the Middle East.
While Bill Clinton also endorsed a Palestinian state, and also felt frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he blamed the Palestinians for terrorism and Yasser Arafat for derailing the peace talks in 2000. Clinton finger-pointed when necessary, not always retreating into “cycle of violence” moral equivalences.
He distinguished between Israeli willingness and Palestinian foot-dragging. He never confused Israeli innocents with Palestinian terrorists. This Democratic president clearly stated that “the PLO must do everything it can to end terrorism against Israel.” With his down-to-earth “Bubba” style, he denounced terrorists as “the forces of doom and gloom,” while advising the Palestinians that “struggle and pain and destruction and self-destruction are way overrated, and not the only option.”
Bill Clinton was an empath. He conveyed his love for Israel with words, gestures and flourishes. Heartbroken when an Israeli fanatic assassinated his friend Yitzhak Rabin, Clinton captured the world’s anguish with his famous “Shalom, chaver” sendoff. On Saturday, Clinton will speak at a rally in Tel Aviv to mark the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s murder.
Clinton charmed Israelis, reassuring many who felt he pressured Israel to relinquish too much territory to the Palestinians. Even when Netanyahu’s obstructionism exasperated him, Clinton palled around with Bibi. Obama has scowled.
Visiting Israel in March 1996 following two suicide bus bombings, Clinton defied the Secret Service by visiting Bet Chinuch, a Jerusalem high school mourning three students. The president called two recovering victims on the phone. Later that day, and visibly moved, he told young Israelis: “We know your pain is unimaginable and to some extent unshareable, but America grieves with you.” He called terrorists “destroyers” gripped by “that ancient fear that life can only be lived … if you’re hating someone else.” He backed up his words with $100 million in anti-terror funding.
Clinton differentiated between Israeli openness, even if wary, and Palestinian resistance, even if camouflaged. My new book, “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s,” retells how when Arafat made his unprecedented 24th White House visit in January 2001, shortly before Clinton left office, the president was fuming. At Camp David the previous summer, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had offered to withdraw from most of the 1967 territories and compensate the Palestinians with land swaps. Arafat never even counteroffered.
The oleaginous terrorist tried flattering the president, calling him a great man.
“I am not a great man,” Clinton replied, “I am a failure. And you have made me one.”
Clinton later explained: “Arafat never said no; he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes.” Mourning Arafat’s “error of historic proportions,” Clinton would speculate, “Perhaps he simply couldn’t make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman.”
Also in January 2001, Clinton, in his characteristically colloquial way, warned the Palestinians: “There will always be those who are sitting outside in the peanut gallery of the Middle East urging you to hold out for more, or to plant one more bomb.” He begged them to resist those luring them to “the path of no.”
Today, Palestinians have again erupted in violence, but Obama lacks Clinton’s moral clarity.
“We continue to stress to leaders on both sides the importance of condemning violence and combating incitement,” Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, has said. This mealymouthed amoralism reinforces Obama’s technocratic urging of both parties to try to “tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding.”
The Clinton-Obama contrast reflects two conflicting worldviews. Clinton entered office as such a national security novice that Ronald Reagan had to teach him how to salute. But Clinton’s passivity amid massacres in Bosnia and genocide in Rwanda transformed him. He realized that when America doesn’t lead, evil flourishes. He became a neoliberal interventionist, deploying the military to advance Western values in Kosovo and expressing zero tolerance for terrorism.
A postmodern power skeptic, Obama harbors more doubt about Western values and America’s ability to lead the world constructively. Emphasizing America’s limits, morally and strategically, Obama wants to woo the developing world.
Regarding the Middle East, Obama should learn from Clinton that Palestinian desires to exterminate Israel — expressed through incitement and terrorism — remain the biggest obstacle to peace. If Obama, like Clinton, held Palestinians responsible for turning toward terrorism, he would be treating them as mature decision makers, not infantilized victims.
Even with Obama’s military generosity to Israel, a true friend, let alone a “best friend,” would not always blame Israel first, or obscure Palestinian responsibility by blaming both sides, especially when Palestinians attack Israel. Muddled morality emboldens Palestinian terrorists, who interpret such dithering as greenlighting their bloodlust.
Obama should duplicate Clinton’s moral clarity. Obama must finally, belatedly, blame the Palestinians directly, pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and company to stop the violence. Obama should disagree with Secretary of State John Kerry, who blamed the settlements — not lies about the Temple Mount — for this latest eruption.
Clinton understood something Obama cannot comprehend: The world’s one-sided condemnations of Israel compound the trauma of Palestinian terror, reminding Israelis of the long history of anti-Semitic oppression — which Clinton frequently acknowledged. As a lonely, too-often-abandoned democracy, Israel responds to support, warmth, protectiveness. Even though many Israelis disagreed with Clinton’s policies, they trusted him, loved him and thus were willing to compromise.
(Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution. His newest book, “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s,” was just published by St. Martin’s Press.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015