Monday, January 28, 2013

A Modern Orthodox Kiddush HaShem

The following article is in the sports section of Sunday's New York Times. And as the title of the post says - it is a Modern Orthodox Kiddush HaShem:
Aaron Liberman (center) - photo credit New York Times
CHICAGO — On a dark and cold morning last month, 19-year-old Aaron Liberman woke at his apartment and walked a block and a half to a two-story, redbrick synagogue in West Rogers Park, a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in northwest Chicago. Inside, he was met by the hum of worship and a smattering of older men — some in black hats, some wrapped in prayer shawls — seated at long tables, surrounded by shelves packed with books, Hebrew letters on their spines.
Liberman removed his jacket and unpacked his worn prayer book. He unfurled his tefillin, small boxes holding prayers printed on parchment, and bound them to his left arm and his forehead with black leather straps. Then he prayed.
During the service, a man walked over, politely interrupting Liberman’s meditation, asked how he was, and then, rather proudly, said: “We’re going to get tickets for one of your games. My kids, they are very excited.”
So met two worlds — Orthodox Judaism and N.C.A.A. Division I basketball — that are making an unlikely connection through Liberman. Liberman, a freshman at Northwestern, is 6 feet 10 inches of lean muscle, topped on and off the court by a skullcap. He did not play basketball seriously until he was a sophomore in high school. Now, he is believed to be the third practicing Orthodox Jew to be part of a Division I team.
Tamir Goodman is widely recognized as the first Orthodox Jew to play Division I basketball. He received a scholarship to Maryland, but chose to play at Towson because the university tailored its schedule to his decision not to play on the Sabbath. Naama Shafir, a fifth-year senior at Toledo, is the first Orthodox Jewish woman to play Division I basketball. Shafir, who wears a short-sleeve shirt under her jersey to keep with customs of modesty, scored 40 points in the National Invitation Tournament championship game in 2011.
Liberman, though, says he recognizes his situation is a bit unusual.
“If I had to choose, I wouldn’t be known as the Jewish basketball player,” Liberman said. “But I see how that might be difficult.”
After the morning service, Liberman drove his black pickup truck 15 minutes to Northwestern’s campus in suburban Evanston, Ill., where he went straight to the training room. Liberman, who has had shin splints and has not appeared in a game, has decided to redshirt this season but continues to practice and travel with the team.
As noted by Paul Lukas of the Web site Uni Watch, Liberman will probably be the first Division I player to wear zizit, the knotted tassels at the four corners of a prayer shawl, under a uniform.
“It wasn’t very long ago that I couldn’t make a layup, probably freshman year in high school,” he said. “It’s pretty strange that I’m here.”
The life of an Orthodox basketball player is one of discipline. Liberman prays three times a day, keeps kosher and travels only by foot on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
However, Liberman has decided, after much reflection and consultation with rabbis, to play on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. On one Saturday afternoon, he walked eight miles to practice.
“Actually, playing basketball is not breaking any of the 39 laws of the Sabbath,” he said. “But I’ll only be taking cold showers afterward because you can’t use hot water.”
Liberman grew up in Valley Village, an area of northwestern Los Angeles, where he was discovered almost by happenstance by Josh Moore, a former N.B.A. player and a cousin of Shaquille O’Neal’s. During the summer after Liberman’s freshman year, Moore saw him play in a scrimmage and approached him, noting that his length and natural athleticism would be attractive to college coaches.
Lenard Liberman, Aaron’s 6-6 father, played high school basketball and tried unsuccessfully to walk on at Stanford. His son, thoughtful and soft-spoken, preferred games of a slower pace. He fished as a child and played some baseball as he grew older.
But after Moore raised the possibility of playing in college, Liberman began training with him.
“All of a sudden, he got excited about playing basketball,” said Lenard Liberman, an executive at Liberman Broadcasting, a media company founded and run by the family. “It’s been amazing for our whole community to watch him become this player.”
The summer after his junior season, Aaron Liberman joined an Amateur Athletic Union team coached by Robert Icart, who has worked with N.B.A. players like Gilbert Arenas. Under Icart’s tutelage, Liberman pushed harder.
“Aaron is industrious in every rep,” Icart said. “He immerses himself in every drill. The difference between Division I, II and III kids isn’t necessarily the skill, but size and athleticism. At first, I had to convince him of his talent, but then he started competing, and he saw.”
In his senior season, Liberman led Valley Torah, an 86-student Orthodox high school without a gymnasium, to its first conference championship and a respectable showing in the state playoffs. He was nicknamed the Jewish Dwight Howard.
Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, Valley Torah’s dean, recalled that after one victory, around Purim, students and teachers stormed the court, singing the holiday’s songs. “It was an underdog’s victory, just like the story of Esther and Mordechai,” he said, referencing the biblical protagonists.
After graduation, Liberman spent seven months in Israel studying the Torah at a cooperative settlement outside Jerusalem. Though he spent roughly 10 hours each day immersed in holy texts, he made trips to a Y.M.C.A. in Jerusalem to work out and shoot around to keep his game sharp.
Northwestern Coach Bill Carmody first saw Liberman at an A.A.U. tournament in Las Vegas. He was there to scout another player, but his eye kept returning to Liberman.
“He had a motor,” Carmody said. “He never quit; you could see it in his defense and rebounding.”
Liberman chose Northwestern over Georgetown and Southern California, and made the team as a preferred walk-on, meaning he was recruited but not given a scholarship. The fact that there was an Orthodox community near campus factored into his decision. Through his parents, he connected with a Jewish chaplain, and now Liberman lives in the family’s basement.
“I try to stay away from the party scene,” Liberman said. “It’s not a very Jewish lifestyle.”
He then motioned to his big-screen television and PlayStation 3 and added, “These are a little more college.”
Northwestern has made arrangements so that he never has to fly on the Sabbath. He takes separate flights if necessary. The university is also designing special skullcaps for him that Under Armour, Northwestern’s apparel sponsor, is having made by a company called Klipped Kippahs.
On the court, Liberman remains a work in progress.
“You look at the rotation of his shot and see he has a ways to go,” Carmody said. “He just hasn’t been doing it that long, but he’s learning and he’s working.”
Liberman, for his part, recognizes the novelty of his situation. He is happy to discuss his religion, his sport and their intersection, without any pretense.
“There’s been a lot of luck every step of the way in my life,” he said. “I definitely take pride in people in the Jewish community seeing me as a role model, but I try not to make too big of a scene. I’m not so vocal; I try to keep to myself.”
He mentioned that he might have interest in playing professionally in Israel after college, but his next hurdle is learning Carmody’s complex Princeton offense. As he tries to master that, one thought comforts him.
“It’s not as complicated as the Torah,” Liberman said.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Charedi MKs Are Guilty of Chilul HaShem!

The Satmar Rebbe addressing a crowd of followers last Sunday night
I didn't say that. The Satmar Rebbe just did (last Sunday) at a rally attended by over 10,000 people. It was held at his request at Kikkar Shabbat - located in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood. Here are some more excerpts courtesy of Ynet:
"The disease of Zionism has spread, and it must be fought in every way possible," said Rabbi Teitelbaum, quoting rabbis and rebbes of the recent generations who spoke out against Zionism. "Every place Zionists arrived at, they created horrible destruction," he added.
"there is no stricter prohibition in the Torah than participating in the elections. The ideas of Zionism include all the heresy and apostasy. Refuting the decree of the Diaspora, Providence and the coming of the Messiah… "The government is apostasy and heresy, and a revolt against God's divinity," he added, "and those who help enter the government are part of it, accessories. This must not be done under any circumstances."
"How can a Jew who stood on Mount Sinai violate the oath he committed to there? What the haredi representatives are doing at the Knesset is a great defamation of God. A great destruction. There is no greater defamation of God… It leads to the hatred of Jews in the entire world."
"The Zionists came from the seed of Amalek. There has never been such a sect that caused so much damage to the Jewish people… Seclusion saved Jerusalem from being the remote city, like all other cities swept away by the impure state…
"We did not see in the entire Torah a greater offense than voting in the elections, which cancels the entire Torah," he added. "I am certain that all the rabbis who permitted (voting for Knesset) in the past, would admit today that they made a fatal mistake.
"We see the activity of the haredi representatives, which is against the Torah. The Israeli parliament is like Pharaoh's parliament. Whoever votes in the elections sends representatives to this Amalek parliament… This is a riffraff government. The Zionists are real Amaleks, and therefore every Jew must engage in an all-out war against them."
"We are not afraid of those who are against the Torah, but of those who are allegedly trying to help the Torah – but not through holy means," he said.
This - my friends - is what I'm talking about. I don't see how any religious Jew, no matter how right wing can tolerate this kind of rhetoric. How can this man be so honored? How can this group ever be spoken of in the glowing terms one often hears about them?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What a wonderful Jewish world

By Joseph Aaron

Joe Aaron, editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News
The following is the latest from Joe Aaron editor and publisher of Chicago Jewish News. He writes a weekly column. 

I am not always in agreement with him. Sometimes I am even poles apart from his perspective. But this week, for the most part - he is right on the money. His words follow.

You know things are going great for the Jewish people when even our former enemies, countries that have done us very, very wrong, are doing very, very right and nice by us.

There are several points I make repeatedly in my columns. One is how vital Jewish unity is and how lacking it is these days. Another is how much it is in Israel’s interest to make a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that the longer we wait, the less good the deal will be for us. And perhaps my favorite point, which is that we are living in a very blessed era for Jews.

Indeed, things have never been better for Jews, things are amazingly good for Jews. We are thriving in the world’s most important country, its only superpower, the United States. Jews all over the world are free and able to live as Jews. We have a Jewish state. A Jewish state that is powerful militarily, strong economically, breathtakingly creative. A Jewish state that has diplomatic and economic ties with every important country on earth. Anti-Semitism as a real factor in our everyday lives is no more. Governments around the world protect and support their Jewish communities.

Things today are very good for Jews and getting better every day. And yet, for reasons too psychologically complex for me to explore, Jews today are scared, feel threatened, feel vulnerable, feel the world is out to get us, doesn’t like or care about us, feel Israel is thisclose to being destroyed, feel another Holocaust is this close to taking place.

You gotta be nuts to look at the reality of Jewish life today and feel that way, but many Jews do, obsessing about trivialities like Jonathan Pollard and blowing them up into a worldwide far-reaching media-driven effort to destroy us.

That is so very sad, so very wasteful, us squandering the good times in which we live in order to focus on the delusions of bad times that grip our kishkes. We should be kvelling, but instead we are kvetching.

But even me, who firmly believes things have never been better for Jews, sometimes can’t believe just how good things are for Jews.

So good that even nations that have persecuted us, expelled us, murdered us, pogromed us, are today embracing us.

Consider the following.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently renewed her pledge to stand up for Jewish life in Germany and for Israel's right to self-defense.
Speaking at the annual assembly of the Central Council of Jews in Germany -- the first time a German chancellor had visited the assembly -- Merkel reiterated her longtime commitment to Israel's security, which she had stated again during the recent Gaza conflict. She said it was not only Israel's right but its duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks.
Merkel told the group that she wanted the Jewish community to know that it is supported and cherished.
The chancellor of Germany said that. Germany. As in the Holocaust.

And speaking of Germany, when a rogue judge ruled circumcision illegal, Jews the world over, as usual, went crazy, pointed to that as evidence of how bad things are for Jews, how under siege Jews are. Well, as usual, we panicked for no reason. Please know that the German parliament recently and overwhelmingly passed a law protecting the right of Jewish parents to choose a ritual circumcision for their sons.
And then there is Russia, former home of refuseniks and Siberian labor camps and generally horrible treatment of Jews.
Well, guess what just opened in Moscow? A Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, a sprawling, state-of-the-art complex underwritten by oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin, no less.

Putin extended his personal support to the massive project, even donating a month’s salary for its construction, which cost around $50 million. Organizers say it is the largest Jewish history museum in the world.

The president of Russia did that. Russia. As in pogroms.
And then there is Spain, the country which kicked all its Jews out in 1492.

Well, in 2013, a Spanish political party has asked the regional government of Andalucia to authorize and encourage holding Jewish weddings in Cordoba’s historic synagogue.
The request came in the state parliament of Andalucia in southern Spain. It is intended to encourage a greater influx of Jewish tourists into the city.

The spokesman of the party which introduced the idea, said “arrangements are not in place” to facilitate Jewish weddings in the synagogue. He wants fund to make that happen.
Built in 1315, the synagogue stands in the historic Jewish quarter of the city, once home to a substantial Jewish population before the expulsion of Jews from Spain five centuries ago.

Oh, and by the way, the Portuguese town of Trancoso, which once was heavily populated by Jews, invited the Israeli NGO Shavei Israel to run its new Jewish cultural center.
The Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation, complete with synagogue, will be the first Jewish cultural and religious center of its kind in Portugal in more than 500 years. But it’s that Spain thing that is most amazing. Spain wanting to attract Jewish tourists. The same Spain that a little more than 500 years ago chose to either convert, kill or expel all its Jews. Spain, as in the Spanish Inquisition.

And then there is the Vatican, which for almost 2,000 years blamed Jews for the death of their lord, sanctioned persecution of Jews as a result, with the pope during World War II even aiding and abetting Hitler.

Well, just recently the Vatican rejected comments by the head of a breakaway traditionalist group calling Jews “enemies of the church” and reiterated that it was committed to dialogue with the Jewish world.

“It is impossible to speak of the Jews as enemies of the Church,” Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said. He said the Catholic Church “is deeply committed to dialogue with Jews” and stressed that the Vatican’s position on this was “clear and well-known.”

Lombardi called Bishop Bernard Fellay’s remarks “meaningless” and “unacceptable.” “It is impossible to speak of the Jews as enemies of the Church.” The spokesman for the Vatican said that. The Vatican. As in Jews killed Jesus.

And then there is Poland, where most of the construction camps were because the Nazis knew how sympathetic the Polish people were to their cause and how unsympathetic they were to the Jewish people.

Well, it was just announced that a synagogue with a Jewish museum will be part of a replicated Polish town being built in the city of Bilgoraj.

The complex in southeastern Poland will replicate a typical borderland town from the late 19th or early 20th century with old streets and houses. A synagogue, a Jewish market and the houses of the Jewish community, as well as a house with a museum about the life of Isaac Bashevis Singer, will be part of the replicated town. Singer spent several years in Bilgoraj. A city in Poland is doing that. Poland. As in the country that facilitated the murder of millions of Jews.

And then there is Sweden. No, unlike the other countries I’ve talked about, Sweden is not a country that murdered and persecuted Jews in the past. But what Sweden just did to remember someone from its past says much about the place of Jews in the world today and how much the world cares about Jews today.

A Swedish diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg was one of the few heroes during the Holocaust, was someone who did all he could to save Jews. Wallenberg, a neutral Swedish diplomat in Budapest during the German occupation in 1944, issued Swedish travel documents -- known as “Wallenberg passports” -- to at least 20,000 Jews and also set up more than 30 safe houses for Jews.

And because he saved Jews, just because he saved Jews, the country of Sweden just announced it will honor him with an annual memorial day.

An official holiday celebrated by an entire country for a man who saved Jewish lives.

And finally, there is Auschwitz.
More than a million Jews, several hundred thousand of them Jewish children, were gassed to death in Auschwitz. It was the most notorious, the most infamous, the most murderous of the death camps.

Well, the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp memorial and museum attracted a record number of visitors in 2012.
There were 1.43 million visitors to the grounds of the former Nazi camp last year -- the most in the museum’s 65-year history.
People coming to show their respect, to mourn the victims, to remember what happened in that place, to commit that nothing like it happens again. Never again.

“It reflects the actual meaning of the history of the Shoah and the drama of concentration camps in the history of contemporary Europe,” said Dr. Piotr Cywinski, the museum’s director.
More than a million people coming to Auschwitz to reflect, to memorialize, to weep for the Jewish lives lost there, the more than a million Jewish lives lost there.

Look at what is going on today in Germany and Russia and Spain and the Vatican and Poland and Auschwitz, and you see how our former worst enemies are today treating us, what they are saying about us, what they are doing for us.

Seeing why this era is the most amazing, most blessed, most hospitable, most supportive for Jews the world has ever known.