Monday, February 28, 2011

Almonds and Wine

Almonds and Wine: In this animated tale of an arranged marriage, a young couple flee the threat of war in Eastern Europe by establishing a new life together in Canada, handing down their traditions to the generations that follow.

Almonds and Wine from Reel 13 on Vimeo.

Jewish Talent Shines at Oscars: JTA

Dan jumped for joy when Natalie Portman won. Here's the minyan of Jewish winners.

Jewish talent shines at Academy Awards JTA - Jewish & Israel News

See the official website for the short documentary, "Strangers No More" - see this article about the Bialik Rogozin School in Tel Aviv (and see more here) - a real educational miracle.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"To Bigotry No Sanction"

“To Bigotry No Sanction,to Persecution No Assistance”
George Washington's
Letter to the Jews of Newport Rhode Island (1790)

The letter from Moses Seixas to President George WashingtonTo the President of the United States of America.


Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merits — and to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to NewPort.

With pleasure we reflect on those days — those days of difficulty, and danger, when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword, — shielded Your head in the day of battle: — and we rejoice to think, that the same Spirit, who rested in the Bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel enabling him to preside over the Provinces of the Babylonish Empire, rests and ever will rest, upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of Chief Magistrate in these States.

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: — deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine: — This so ample and extensive Federal Union whose basis is Philanthropy, Mutual confidence and Public Virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth in the Armies of Heaven, and among the Inhabitants of the Earth, doing whatever seemeth him good.

For all these Blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men — beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised Land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life: — And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.

Done and Signed by order of the Hebrew Congregation in NewPort, Rhode Island August 17th 1790.

Moses Seixas, Warden

The letter from George Washington in response to Moses SeixasTo the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island.


While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

Is Jeter a Cheater? Hammerman on Ethics

(In honor of Presidents Honest Abe and George "I-Cannot-Tell-A-Lie" Washington...)

Q - With baseball’s spring training underway, I’m reminded of an incident from last season. Derek Jeter, one of the few superstars from the past decade not implicated in baseball’s steroid sample, was caught on video pretending to be hit by a pitch. He was awarded first base although the ball clearly hit his bat. Is Jeter a cheater?

Yes he is – or at least was in that case. It was a big game too, which the Yankees eventually lost to Tampa Bay. He fessed up later on, but added, "It's part of the game. My job is to get on base." OK, that’s bad. But what’s worse is that the opposing manager, Joe Maddon, agreed that cheating is part of the game. "If our guys had did it,” he said, “I would have applauded that. It's a great performance on his part."

What’s wrong with this picture? Full disclosure: I’m a Boston fan, but I know that my teams have also prospered from the framed strike or phantom tag in baseball, the defender’s flop in basketball and the phony pass interference call in football. Speaking of football, my Patriots and the Jets seem to always be one-upping each other when it comes to spying and bending the rules.

So the question is not so much whether cheating is accepted – it is – but at what point does bending the rules turn into breaking the rules? At what point is the integrity of the game compromised? But the more important question is: How does this culture of cheating impact the kids who look to these athletes as role models – and what are the implications for society when these kids grow up?

The integrity of the baseball suffered greatly during the steroids era because those who played by the rules were punished for it. Stats were skewed and the playing field unleveled. But Jeter’s seemingly innocent acting job, while having little impact on the game, has a corrosive impact on society that is cumulative and dangerous. The more that cheating is accepted on the field, the more it will be seen as acceptable off it. As tractate Avot states, “Avera Goreret Avera,” “one transgression leads to another.”

Cheating in baseball is not new. Gaylord Perry rode his doctored pitches all the way to Cooperstown. The 1951 New York Giants’ stolen pitching signs fueled the “Shot heard round the world.” But maybe it all seemed more innocent back then, in those halcyon days before Madoff met the Mets. Now, cheating is dead serious and an enormous challenge for our culture (see my current column on the topic, “We Still Haven’t Put Bernie Away.” )

Fortunately, in the sheltered world of sports, there is a remedy: instant replay. If Tampa Bay had been allowed to challenge the call, Jeter would have looked even more the fool, and all faking would soon stop. The Yankee shortstop might have hit the next pitch for a homer – he is Derek Jeter, after all – but on some level we would have been able to say, “Jeters never prosper.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

J Street Vows To Calibrate Tone Amid Criticism

See Jim Besser's Jewish Week profile on J-Street on the even of it's conference: J Street Vows To Calibrate Tone Amid Criticism. I'm quoted toward the end, reaping yet another "benefit" of the Dershowitz-Ben Ami "conversation." Some day we'll look back at that evening as a watershed moment. I'm just not sure yet whether it was a watershed for J-Street, for the angry, alienated generation that is fueling it, or for the stodgy establishment that so irrationally fears it. See also John Ruskay's Combating Delegitimization Requires A Big Tent, written as response to the demonization of the Manhattan JCC, of all places, for a recent film showing. Kudos to Ruskay for writing it. The much respected Reut Institute, led by Gidi Grinstein, recently published a report on delegitimization, which states: “Often Israel fails to differentiate between critics and delegitimizers and thus pushes the former into the arms of the latter.”

Day Schools Need New Israel Ed Approach

When did Israel Advocacy cross that precarious line from "hasbara" (information) to propaganda? Unconditional love, yes, but not blind love. Our kids are too smart to love Israel blindly. So are our adults. See Gary Rosenblatt's column: Day Schools Need New Israel Ed Approach

Letter from Netanya: Jan's Israeli "Family"

Dear Friends,
While it has been a tumultuous week in this part of the world, I think I will tell you about the people here whom I love. Egypt, Iran, Libya- - - they can all wait until another time.

Let's start with my surrogate family, since my own is so far away in Spokane, WA. The father, Ilan, is Yemenite, 2nd generation. He comes from a huge traditional Yemenite family. I have the pleasure of being with all 100 plus of them both at the end of Pesach, and sometimes also at Purim. Ilan is a contractor, self-employed, fixes everything and works only with the Anglo community here. Plus a couple of embassies.

Karen is from the Zurich area of Switzerland. Raised Lutheran, one day in her teens she asked her father why there were almost no relatives on his side, whereupon her father informed her that he was born German Jewish. At that point Karen went through teen rebellion, ended up deciding to be Jewish, had an Orthodox conversion in Switzerland, then came here, met Ilan and made a new family- - -all Jewish!

They have 4 kids. Eden is almost 13 and is the big brother. He has trophies in Judo but also can change a diaper, cook for and feed his siblings, pick up his little sisters at kindergarten and fill the Daddy role very well. He fights all the time with Omri, almost 11, who plays the Recorder beautifully, snow boards in winter, surf boards in summer and also picks up his baby sitter at nursery school.

The two girls are AnaEl who is 6, and LiYam who is almost 4. Both girls are totally independent, often feed themselves if both parents are working , and are delightfully uninhibited as well as being crackerjacks on the computer.

That's my family. This week I watched the girls while Karen worked the late afternoon (4:00 - 7:00) shift at the travel agency. You haven;t lived until you've heard the Flintstones and Curious George in Hebrew. At least the "abba-dabba-doos" were the same language. But the girls are too creative to watch TV all afternoon. They paint, play computer games and play "Ima (that's LiYam) and Achot Gadol (that's big sister Jan) going to a birthday party. And I usually get in a good game of Monopoly with Omri, vying with him for Jerusalem and Netanya instead of Park Place and Boulevard. I think the train stops are the same.

They aren't especially solid financially, and they aren't the "beautiful people" of Tel Aviv. But I look to them as a snapshot of how a young Israeli family lives, how they think, how they vote, how they see the world.

Mostly they are too busy to think much about the outside world, but they do watch the Israeli news every night, they are center right politically although Ilan voted for Kadima in the last election. Ilan is a typical "secular" Israeli but one who observes Shabbat with singing and respect- - - - -yet won't go into a synagogue because it was forced down his throat at an early age.

Karen is the "keeper" of Judaism in the family. She would love to go to a Masoti synagogue if there were young families there but in the meantime she teaches her children the basics. And the males put on a kippa on Friday night. And there's no bread in the house on Pesach. And on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur Karen brings the boys to our Masorti shul which has no young people, just to make sure her boys have a taste. And I almost forgot. They always come for Purim, when we have a slew of young families from the neighborhood and with grandparents as members.

And what about Shabbat, Saturday? Look, both of them work a half day on Friday. Ilan is a sportsman and cyclist. Shabbat day is for outdoors; hiking, biking, and surfing at the beach in spring and summer. Every Shabbat they go with at least one other family on a picnic and hiking trip. While this is a small country, it has every type of climactic conditions that exist, as those of you who have been here know.

We usually go to the Galilee because it's closer and because there are nice hills and tracks for off road biking. It always seems as if the whole country is sharing the precious land with us because there are always traffic jams coming home.

How could I possibly urge my family to sit in synagogue from 9:30 -11:00? And miss this gorgeous country given to us 3000 years ago.

There are many ways to thank God. Can they be called "secular" ? I don't like those classifications of "religious or secular". There are too many variations.

But when I'm with my "family" in the midst of spring in the Galilee, I wouldn't trade it for the most gorgeous Shabbat morning service in the world. With one exception. To hear and sing with George, now that's another story.

Shabbat Shalom , Jan

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Creation Theology for a Post-Darwinian Age

Are you, like me, someone who has difficulty imagining God as the "Old Man in the Sky?" Do the prayers of the siddur not connect with your view of the universe? Do you have trouble reconciling the Creation story with what we know about fossils and Carbon 14 dating?

Click here for a lecture by Rabbi Arthur Green, also available for downloading on iTunes or here.

This talk summarizes the themes of Green's important new book, "Radical Judaism," explaining why religion remains relevant at a time when evolution and Biblical criticism havae been accepted as fact. Religion and modern science need not be seen as enemies. While there are still a few holdouts who believe that the world was actually created 5771 years ago (e.g. the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said "If you are still troubled by the theory of evolution, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that it has not a shred of evidence to support it"), Green posits a dynamic, new way of looking at Creation and God, enabling us to interpret the narrative of Genesis in a whole new light, taking 20th century theologians like Heschel and Kaplan into our 21st century world of multicultural fusion and universal connectivity. If you are looking for an authentically Jewish vision for the religious skeptic, this one is it.

In December about a dozen of us discussed the first chapter of Green's book, and I quoted from it several times over the High Holidays. At some point over the next several weeks, I hope to continue the conversation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We Still Haven't Put Bernie Away (Jewish Week)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Joshua Hammerman
Special To The Jewish Week

Bad Boy Bernie is the gift that keeps on taking.

Although tucked away in jail for the next 148 years, Bernard Madoff continues to be front-page news, as new revelations continue to appear about the people who bought into his massive Ponzi scheme. People like Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who traveled in the same social circles as Madoff and who claims to have been bamboozled like the rest of Bernie’s victims. Irving Picard, the trustee for Madoff victims, is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from the Mets, whom he believes were knowing co-conspirators to the fraud — or, if they didn’t know, they should have. One would think that astute businessmen would be able to sniff out a Ponzi a mile away, but evidently when that fraud is returning 10 percent every year, the nose becomes stuffy.

Bernie’s legacy is much more insidious than a few headlines about wayward baseball owners. Cheating has become rampant in our culture. We may have put Bernie away, but he did not take our greed with him.

Greed alone does not a cheater make. Two other factors must be required: pressure and opportunity. People must feel that there is no choice except to cheat in order to keep up with everyone else, because, after all, everyone else is cheating. Plus, it must be relatively easy to break the rules. Those two factors are now more prevalent than ever.

How widespread is cheating? Take the recent scandal at the University of Central Florida, where 600 business students were forced to retake an exam after the professor got wind that hundreds of them had gotten access to the answer key online. The professor’s speech to the students has become a YouTube classic. The incident has sparked soul searching on that campus and well beyond, as people have speculated about a generational divide as to what constitutes cheating.

A recent poll by Common Sense Media reports that 23 percent of teens said that accessing stored notes on a cell phone during a test is not cheating, and 19 percent gave the thumbs up to downloading essays from the Internet to turn in as their own. The current “Tiger Mom” craze and the popular documentary “Race to Nowhere” depict a world of unbelievable pressures on teens to achieve — and the rampant cheating that naturally occurs in a Lombardi-esque society when winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

According to one survey, 74 percent of undergraduate business students admit to trying to gain unfair advantage on tests and other assignments. These are the students who will be steering the economy 10 years from now — steering it, apparently, into another moral ditch. People are cheating everywhere, in their public and private lives, in the workplace and in the bedroom — but I’ll leave Kosher Sex for others to discuss, while I focus on Kosher Stocks. Business schools report an upsurge in cheating. Scandals still abound — most of them likely not yet discovered.

If current [cheating] trends continue, the Wall Street gang of 2020 will make the slithery coterie of 2008 look like a Cub Scout pack in comparison.
Financial scandals have become a fixed component of our civilization. In 2003, Forbes created a Corporate Scandal Sheet tracking major corporate accounting scandals of the prior year. They listed 22, including Halliburton, Enron, K-Mart and Merck. But those were the “good old days,” an innocent age when most people would have thought a Ponzi scheme was something hatched up by Henry Winkler on “Happy Days,” quaint in comparison to what was to come.

Then in 2008, we were walloped by an ethical Katrina — or more accurately, Sodom and Gomorrah — because the cascade of outrageous revelations seemed biblical in scale. Shearson begat Siemens, which begat Morgan Stanley, which begat the auto companies’ mismanagement and AIG’s post bailout spa retreat. And towering above all was Madoff’s magnum opus, called by British investor Nicola Horlick “the biggest financial scandal, probably in the history of the markets.”

Madoff perpetrated the mother of all Ponzi schemes, but in his wake more Ponzis were uncovered, and the rogue’s gallery grew to include such schemers as Allan Stanford, Barry Tannenbaum, Scott Rothstein and Brian Jared Smart. The list of the investigated, indicted and convicted since Madoff is long and tawdry, a Who’s Who of corruption and the collateral damage has been almost incalculable.

But these scandals have yet to produce the moral sea change one might have expected in their wake. Washington has punted on serious reform, which is to be expected, but religious organizations have also been strangely apathetic — and that is blasphemous. At a time when honorable voices have most been needed to be heard, few have risen above the din of talk show accusations and Capitol Hill grandstanding. In fact, I can’t think of one.

When Bernie Madoff was captured, we had a narrow window of opportunity, a moment when religious, political and business leaders could have come together to transform the culture. That moment has passed, and now we’re faced with the worst possible scenario, a landscape of public mistrust and cynicism for a business world that has yet to be reformed. This is bad for everyone, but for Madoff’s coreligionists it is even worse. Like it or not, Bernie Madoff has become the poster boy for Jewish business ethics, and now that he is back on the front pages, we’re back in the morass.

We may have put Bernie away, but we’ve yet to exorcise Madoff’s disease from our midst. As long as greed is allowed to run amok, we’ll be hard-pressed to return to the values of basic honesty and the hard-earned dollar. Religious, political and business leaders need to unite now to neutralize Wall Street’s moral meltdown — Jewish leaders especially, because the stench we smell comes from the smoke-filled rooms of our own country clubs and philanthropic boardrooms. If we don’t, that will be the greatest scandal of all.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El in Stamford, Conn.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Priestly Fashion Week - G-dcast for Tetzave

Parshat Tetzaveh from

More Torah cartoons at

The Latest from Egypt

Hosni Mubarak has apparently left the scene as Egyptian military authorities have assumed power. What happens next? Below are some articles looking at the current situation from various perspectives, with a focus on Israel, taken from Daily Alert and other sources:

New Poll Reveals Egyptian Views on Protests - David Pollock

A public opinion poll of Egyptians taken by telephone in the midst of the current political upheaval provides an eye-opening perspective on how the Egyptian public is seeing these events. This is not an Islamic uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood is approved by just 15% of Egyptians - and its leaders get barely 1% of the vote in a presidential straw poll. Asked to pick national priorities, only 12% of Egyptians choose sharia (Islamic law) over Egypt's regional leadership, democracy, or economic development. When asked two different ways about the peace treaty with Israel, 37% support it, while 27% oppose it - although a third say they "don't know" or refuse to answer. Only 18% of Egyptians approve either Hamas or Iran. A mere 5% say the uprising occurred because their government is "too pro-Israel." A straw poll asked: Who should be the next President of Egypt? The results - Arab League head Amr Moussa 26%, Omar Suleiman 17%, Hosni Mubarak 16%, Mohammed ElBaradei 3%. The writer is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute and former chief of Near East/South Asia research at the U.S. Information Agency and Department of State. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

Sharansky: Protests Offer Chance to Build New Pact with Arab World - David Horovitz

"If the free world helps the people on the streets, and turns into the allies of these people instead of being the allies of the dictators, then there is a unique chance to build a new pact between the free world and the Arab world," said Natan Sharansky, the dissident icon of the campaign to free Soviet Jewry who now chairs the Jewish Agency, in an interview Friday. "And we, Israel, will be among the beneficiaries, simply because these people will then be dealing with their real problems." "While we continue to be on guard, let's be glad that what's happening now on the Arab street is happening before the Muslim Brothers control the entire Middle East." (Jerusalem Post)

No Overnight Miracles - Shlomo Avineri

It is relatively easy to topple a tyrannical regime, but much harder to establish and maintain a stable democracy. The formation of a democratic regime is not a dramatic, instant event, but rather a long series of processes requiring gradual steps and long-term partnerships of groups opposed to one another, and these things do not happen overnight. Apart from the army, the only effective organization in Egyptian society is the Muslim Brotherhood, but their commitment to democratic processes is not to be taken for granted. It is important to remember that the establishment of a stable democracy is not the inevitable or the only possible outcome of the toppling of Mubarak's regime. The writer, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, served as director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry. (Ha'aretz)

The Need for Minds over Hearts in the Egyptian Crisis - Hillel Frisch

Supporting Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman in the current crisis will prevent a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt and avoid a bloody and protracted Egyptian civil war marked by foreign intervention. The West should support Suleiman and the military both for strategic reasons and out of concern for those demonstrators with democratic ideals who otherwise are likely to fall prey to a far worse fate than the regime they are attempting to overthrow. The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

What the Palestine Papers Reveal - David Horovitz

If the Palestinian public wills it, the Palestine Papers episode could mark the beginning of the honest internalization that the Jews have sovereign rights here - and that maximalist demands for the "right of return," for every inch of disputed territory, for unchallenged control of every holy place, are simply not going to fly. If there is to be a Palestinian state, there will need to be dramatic Palestinian compromise. The Palestine Papers reveal a Palestinian leadership that considers almost all compromise on their side to have been completed in their grudging ostensible tolerance for an Israel in its pre-1967 lines. Their positions show no notice of Jewish claims in Judea and Samaria, and scant awareness of the fact that Israeli security concerns have been heightened by decades of conflict and by the impact of the Palestinian strategic resort to terrorism in the Second Intifada. Furthermore, the transcripts negate the conventional wisdom that the details of a permanent deal are essentially clear; and that all that is needed is the mutual will to sign off on them and proceed to implementation. Actually, the two sides, as revealed in these papers, are far, far apart on the core issues of border demarcation, settlements and Jerusalem. Abbas should be telling his people that the Jews do actually have sovereign claims here; that there's going to have to be territorial compromise; that so long as his people insist on the "right of return," they will never gain the right to statehood; that those who shriekingly reject all talk of compromise are keeping the Palestinians from independence. (Jerusalem Post)

Israel's Never Looked So Good - David Suissa

Calling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the "Middle East peace process" assumes there are only two countries in the Middle East. While tens of millions of Arabs have been suffering for decades from brutal oppression, the world has obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As if Palestinians - on whom the world has spent billions and who have rejected one peace offer after another - were the only victims in the Middle East. As if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has anything to do with the 1,000-year-old bloody conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, or the desire of brutal Arab dictators to stay in power, or the desire of Islamist radicals to bring back the Caliphate. While Israel bashers have scrutinized every flaw in Israel's democracy, they kept silent about the oppression of millions of Arabs throughout the Middle East. Do you ever recall seeing a UN resolution or an international conference in support of Middle Eastern Arabs not named Palestinians? Now that the cesspool of human oppression in the Arab world has been opened for all to see, how bad is Israel's democracy looking? Don't you wish the Arab world had a modicum of Israel's civil society? (Huffington Post)

BCDS 8th Graders in Israel

One of my favorite annual moments as a rabbi is to see off our TBE 8th Graders headed for day school trips to Israel. This year, we have ten students in Bi Cultural's 8th grade and it was my pleasure to join in the tear-filled sendoff on Wednesday. Well, the kids have arrived in Jerusalem and we have the photos to prove it! I've posted a few here. For the link to the entire album, please contact me. I also sent them a Shabbat Shalom message that they will be hearing this evening (other rabbis will be sending messages as well). I'm extremely jealous but thrilled to see how much they are enjoying the trip. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Amazing Review of Cantor Mordecai in Concert: Seraphic Fire transcends the centuries with music of the Jewish Diaspora

We can all "kvell" over this stellar review of Cantor George Mordecai's concert this week in Florida. it is taken from the South Florida Classical Review:

Seraphic Fire transcends the centuries with music of the Jewish Diaspora

By Lawrence Budmen

The music of the Jewish Diaspora of ancient Iraq propelled Seraphic Fire’s presentation, titled “Out of Babylon” Wednesday night at St. Christopher’s by-the-Sea in Key Biscayne.

Cantor George Mordecai was once again a remarkable featured soloist and two dynamic musicians played indigenous ethnic instruments in a fascinating evening of Middle Eastern music that transcended its historical roots.

After the forced emigration of the Diaspora to ancient Babylon, a fusion of Judaic and Arabic musical traditions mirrored social and business relationships. Rather than more familiar Western modes, this music was based on the Eastern scale. Marked by octave leaps and quarter tones, these works were passed down through an aural tradition rather than published scores. Austere and otherworldly, these pieces fashion a unique sound world that is consistently compelling.

It was wonderful to see artistic director Patrick Dupre Quigley, who missed the group’s recent Midwestern tour due to illness, back in command. For this program, Quigley led a choir of eight male voices and played the Indian harmonium, an instrument with a small keyboard capable of unobtrusive quasi-percussive sound effects. Daphna Mor contributed instrumental support on six varieties of the ney—an Arabic flute—as well as the more traditional recorder. Rajesh Bhandari provided a one-man rhythm section with a brilliant display of Indian tabla drumming and the occasional cymbal.

At the center of this fusion of musicology and formidable contemporary performing forces stood the Australian-born Mordecai, former cantor at Miami Beach’s Temple Emanu-El. Whether spinning haunting incantation, displaying vocal acrobatics that prefigured Baroque roulades or delivering clipped, rhythmic anthems, Mordecai offered a stunning exhibition of indigenous vocal traditions. His vibratoless vocalism and natural delivery are much closer to folk singing than the modern classically oriented tenorial cantor tradition. Singing with vibrancy and soulful immediacy, Mordecai’s sterling musicianship and absorption in every bar were a model that many artists could well emulate.

Rather than attempting some variant of period performance, Mordecai and Quigley presented a thoroughly contemporary vision of an ancient culture, both reverent and creative. The male choir sang vigorously in an unforced, populist manner that was light years removed from their pristine, finely polished Baroque offerings.

Mor’s opening flute solo resounded softly with almost New Age modernity but soon morphed into swirling Middle Eastern rhythmic patterns. At times her duos with Bhandari’s throbbing tabla swayed to variations of a cool jazz beat but she excelled in spinning phrases of quiet stasis, evoking a land and sound far away and entrancingly exotic.

In the exciting El Nora, Quigley grafted a choral motet against Mordecai’s vigorous declamation – a truly modern reinvention of a rich tradition. In one of three songs of forgiveness, the male choir added to the percussive underpinning by breathing in rhythm. Other highlights included a rousing Purim anthem, the hypnotic Eastern melodic colors of Yum ha shebath and the invigorating, hand-clapping finale of El Eliyahu. With uniquely gifted guest artists, Seraphic Fire produced a deeply moving evening of music from another world that spoke in an original, remarkably contemporary voice.

Seraphic Fire repeats Out of Babylon 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, 8 p.m. Saturday at Temple Emanu-El in Miami Beach and 4 p.m. Sunday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale. 305-285-9060;

Thursday, February 10, 2011

World Wide Wrap 2011 Photos

Last Sunday was our annual World Wide Wrap program, where kids and adults learn about the mitzvot of tallit and tefillin. Here are photos of our 7th graders trying 'em on. Thanks to Jill Knopoff and Jill Teich for taking them. Click to enlarge.

Gazan Youth Are Taking Their Cues from Cairo - on Facebook

Gazans on Facebook: "We're Sick of Bearded Guys with Guns Abusing Their Power" - Jon Donnison

As Egypt's unrest continues, in neighboring Gaza an online manifesto for change has struck a chord with the young population. Posted online in December, the Gaza Youth Manifesto for Change now has over 19,000 followers on the group's Facebook page under the name Gaza Youth Breaks Out. The manifesto's opening salvo is a series of expletives directed at Hamas, Israel, Fatah, the UN, and the U.S. "Young people here are ready to explode. They go to college, they graduate with no opportunity of any job at the end, except working for Hamas," says Mukhaimer Abu Sada, professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza. The manifesto is also extremely critical of Hamas: "We're sick of bearded guys walking ar ound with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in." In the past two weeks, there have been calls issued on Facebook sites for pro-democracy demonstrations in Gaza against Hamas. But so far any protests have been very small and quickly broken up by Hamas police. (BBC News)

Temple Rock Photos

TBE's Temple Rock Cafe last week was a huge success in all respects. I've uploaded hundreds of photos (courtesy of Aviva Maller), and they can be found here. Thanks to our hard working committee for a fantastic evening!

Symbols of Coexistence

וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי-קֹדֶשׁ, לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ, לְכָבוֹד, וּלְתִפְאָרֶת

And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and for beauty.

The breastplate described in this week's portion was worn by the Cohen as a symbol of the unity of the twelve tribes. Each tribe was represented by a precious stone affixed to the plate. Read more about it here.

A major theme of this weekend is coexistence and unity. I've discussed elsewhere that this is Avi Schaefer Shabbat, marking the first yahrzeit of a college student who did more to promote coexistence among Jews and others in his short life, especially in regards to Israel, than many do in a lifetime.

This week also saw the passing of philanthropist Alan Slifka, who established the Slifka Program on Intercommunal Coexistence at Brandeis, the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale and the Abraham Fund Initiatives, bridging the gaps between Israeli Jews and Arabs. In memory of both Avi Schaefer and Alan Slifka, this is a good week for us to figure out how to place all the jewels of the priestly "hoshen" into neat rows, side by side, so that they all might glow independently even as they grow together, each with its own radiant color.

There is much work to do. The Abraham Fund has done much in Israel to combat ethnic segregation. Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg, an Orthodox authority in Israel, writing about the recent attempts in Israel to keep Arabs from buying in Jewish neighborhoods, said:

The State of Israel, which was established to repair historical injustice toward the Jewish people, which had first been expelled from its own land, and later found itself persecuted and without rights in the Diaspora, must in its relations with minority groups honor the claim that justifies its existence. This means fully protecting minorities' rights and integrating minority citizens fully into the state framework. Instead of complaining about extremist inciters of various shades and making absurd demands of our Arab citizens, the Jewish majority has a responsibility to allow the latter to act on the basis of rights derived from their citizenship.

Coexistence is on our minds these days, inspired by the "Three Faiths" exhibition at the New York Public Library and those ubiquitous "Coexist" bumper stickers.

Next Wednesday evening at the Avon Theater in Stamford, a film about Jewish - Arab coexistence will be shown, called Budrus, and there will be a post-film Q&A with producer Nadav Greenberg. I've not seen the film, which deals with issues surrounding protests over Israel's security fence. No doubt I'll disagree with many aspects of it, but the existence of any Palestinian protest movement based on the principles of non-violence has got to be good news for those supporters of Israel who also seek non violent resolution to the conflicts that have harmed too many for too long. The film has won many awards - see its website here.

I for one am very glad that the Palestinians have opted for the path of non-violence. Some may call this propaganda or even delegitimization. As dangerous as that may be, it pales in comparison to the dangers of violence and terror. Israel simply has to be prepared to make its case to the world, in the face of this sophisticated and compelling narrative. And in the new Middle East that is now being forged, an Israeli society based on principles of democracy, equality and human rights will truly become the model for its suddenly attentive neighbors, themselves eager to live in freedom and dignity.

Israel can, at last, become a light unto its neighbors!

Avi Schaefer Shabbat

One year ago, Avi Schafer was killed tragically in an auto accident near the campus of Brown University, where he was a freshman. This extraordinary young man's first yahrzeit will be recalled this weekend across the country at synagogues, Hillels and havurot, in what is being called "Avi Schaefer Shabbat." We'll be among those synagogues who will recall Avi during services and in particular, by reading this introduction to the mourner's kaddish written in his memory.

Read Avi's full bio here. Avi started college late because he served in the IDF for three years. He came back from the Israeli military to a very different kind of war, and immediately Avi became engaged in the battle for peace on a major college campus. He was not a "my-country-right-or-wrong" defender of Israel. Instead, he reached out to the other side. His outreach was not always reciprocated, however. Read this column he wrote in the Brown Daily Herald.

He said: "Let’s figure out how we can work together to do something productive to honor your name and find our common ground. I am here, ready and anxiously waiting for you to work with me, not against me. Do not give me another reason to lose hope, because my patience is sadly running out.”

Avi already had begun discussion with a Brown professor to create a course that would allow real dialogue to take place. Meanwhile, his final project for the Israel committee was a major fundraiser, not for Israel, but for Haiti, which raised $4,000 on campus. He quickly had become a leader of Hillel's Israel committee, even as a freshman. Everyone looked up to him. Here's Avi's final blog post, describing that Haiti event.

He was loved by students, professors and many in the Providence community, touching more lives than one would think possible in so brief a time. He was advising the Providence police SWAT team, sharing the lifesaving skills he had learned in Israel.

The Avi Schaefer Fund released a statement in anticipation of Avi Schaefer Shabbat. Here is an excerpt:

We can all use some of Avi's spirit with us now, as we face the realities of our complex world. The peace process, so full of promise and hope a few short months ago, seems hopelessly stalled as settlement construction and leaked diplomatic cables threaten the fragile stability of the region. On our campuses in America, the issue of peace in the middle east remains divisive and polarizing. But hope still remains, in the memory of Avi and his contribution to the cause of peace in this world. His words, excerpted from an op ed he wrote in the Brown Daily Herald, resonate heartbreakingly in his absence:

I am here, ready and anxiously waiting for you to work with me, not against me. Do not give me another reason to lose hope, because my patience is sadly running out. I wait for the day that the words of the Prophet Isaiah will ring true: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Avi's legacy is one of activism, love, peace, and hope. Let us honor his memory by striving to bring his spirit into our discussions of complex, divisive issues in our community. Let us follow his example of compassionate activism and pursue peace and justice with the same fervor that he showed in his brief, shining moment on this earth. Let us hold a place in our hearts for him this February, and work towards realizing his vision of peace in our world.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

United Synagogue Turns Inward

The USCJ's new strategic vision was just unveiled in draft form. Our board heard about it last night directly from a USCJ rep. See United Synagogue Turns Inward from the Jewish Week for more details and see the plan itself at One feature of the new plan is to replace the word "congregation" with the Hebrew "Kehilla" - "Community." As I mentioned to or board last night, there are lots of things we can do to strengthen Conservative Judaism. But what will help most is what we can do best - be a role model of transformation, a magnet of energy and sanctity for all to see.

Egypt, Israel and a Strategic Reconsideration

Egypt, Israel and a Strategic Reconsideration is republished with permission of STRATFOR. A rabbinic colleague recommended it and it is an interesting analysis. STRATFOR’s global team of intelligence professionals provides an audience of decision-makers and sophisticated news consumers in the U.S. and around the world with insights into current political, economic, and military developments. The company uses human intelligence and other sources combined with powerful analysis based on geopolitics to produce penetrating explanations of world events. This independent, non-ideological content enables users better to understand international events.

Egypt, Israel and a Strategic Reconsideration
Created Feb 8 2011

By George Friedman

The events in Egypt have sent shock waves through Israel. The 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel have been the bedrock of Israeli national security. In three of the four wars Israel fought before the accords, a catastrophic outcome for Israel was conceivable. In 1948, 1967 and 1973, credible scenarios existed in which the Israelis were defeated and the state of Israel ceased to exist. In 1973, it appeared for several days that one of those scenarios was unfolding.

The survival of Israel was no longer at stake after 1978. In the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the various Palestinian intifadas and the wars with Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, Israeli interests were involved, but not survival. There is a huge difference between the two. Israel had achieved a geopolitical ideal after 1978 in which it had divided and effectively made peace with two of the four Arab states that bordered it, and neutralized one of those states. The treaty with Egypt removed the threat to the Negev and the southern coastal approaches to Tel Aviv.

The agreement with Jordan in 1994, which formalized a long-standing relationship, secured the longest and most vulnerable border along the Jordan River. The situation in Lebanon was such that whatever threat emerged from there was limited. Only Syria remained hostile but, by itself, it could not threaten Israel. Damascus was far more focused on Lebanon anyway. As for the Palestinians, they posed a problem for Israel, but without the foreign military forces along the frontiers, the Palestinians could trouble but not destroy Israel. Israel’s existence was not at stake, nor was it an issue for 33 years.

The Historic Egyptian Threat to Israel
The center of gravity of Israel’s strategic challenge was always Egypt. The largest Arab country, with about 80 million people, Egypt could field the most substantial army. More to the point, Egypt could absorb casualties at a far higher rate than Israel. The danger that the Egyptian army posed was that it could close with the Israelis and engage in extended, high-intensity combat that would break the back of Israel Defense Forces by imposing a rate of attrition that Israel could not sustain. If Israel were to be simultaneously engaged with Syria, dividing its forces and its logistical capabilities, it could run out of troops long before Egypt, even if Egypt were absorbing far more casualties.

The solution for the Israelis was to initiate combat at a time and place of their own choosing, preferably with surprise, as they did in 1956 and 1967. Failing that, as they did in 1973, the Israelis would be forced into a holding action they could not sustain and forced onto an offensive in which the risks of failure — and the possibility — would be substantial.

It was to the great benefit of Israel that Egyptian forces were generally poorly commanded and trained and that Egyptian war-fighting doctrine, derived from Britain and the Soviet Union, was not suited to the battle problem Israel posed. In 1967, Israel won its most complete victory over Egypt, as well as Jordan and Syria. It appeared to the Israelis that the Arabs in general and Egyptians in particular were culturally incapable of mastering modern warfare.

Thus it was an extraordinary shock when, just six years after their 1967 defeat, the Egyptians mounted a two-army assault across the Suez, coordinated with a simultaneous Syrian attack on the Golan Heights. Even more stunning than the assault was the operational security the Egyptians maintained and the degree of surprise they achieved. One of Israel’s fundamental assumptions was that Israeli intelligence would provide ample warning of an attack. And one of the fundamental assumptions of Israeli intelligence was that Egypt could not mount an attack while Israel maintained air superiority. Both assumptions were wrong. But the most important error was the assumption that Egypt could not, by itself, coordinate a massive and complex military operation. In the end, the Israelis defeated the Egyptians, but at the cost of the confidence they achieved in 1967 and a recognition that comfortable assumptions were impermissible in warfare in general and regarding Egypt in particular.

The Egyptians had also learned lessons. The most important was that the existence of the state of Israel did not represent a challenge to Egypt’s national interest. Israel existed across a fairly wide and inhospitable buffer zone — the Sinai Peninsula. The logistical problems involved in deploying a massive force to the east had resulted in three major defeats, while the single partial victory took place on much shorter lines of supply. Holding or taking the Sinai was difficult and possible only with a massive infusion of weapons and supplies from the outside, from the Soviet Union. This meant that Egypt was a hostage to Soviet interests. Egypt had a greater interest in breaking its dependency on the Soviets than in defeating Israel. It could do the former more readily than the latter.

The Egyptian recognition that its interests in Israel were minimal and the Israeli recognition that eliminating the potential threat from Egypt guaranteed its national security have been the foundation of the regional balance since 1978. All other considerations — Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest — were trivial in comparison. Geography — the Sinai — made this strategic distancing possible. So did American aid to Egypt. The substitution of American weapons for Soviet ones in the years after the treaty achieved two things. First, they ended Egypt’s dependency on the Soviets. Second, they further guaranteed Israel’s security by creating an Egyptian army dependent on a steady flow of spare parts and contractors from the United States. Cut the flow and the Egyptian army would be crippled.

The governments of Anwar Sadat and then Hosni Mubarak were content with this arrangement. The generation that came to power with Gamal Nasser had fought four wars with Israel and had little stomach for any more. They had proved themselves in October 1973 on the Suez and had no appetite to fight again or to send their sons to war. It is not that they created an oasis of prosperity in Egypt. But they no longer had to go to war every few years, and they were able, as military officers, to live good lives. What is now regarded as corruption was then regarded as just rewards for bleeding in four wars against the Israelis.

Mubarak and the Military

But now is 33 years later, and the world has changed. The generation that fought is very old. Today’s Egyptian military trains with the Americans, and its officers pass through the American command and staff and war colleges. This generation has close ties to the United States, but not nearly as close ties to the British-trained generation that fought the Israelis or to Egypt’s former patrons, the Russians. Mubarak has locked the younger generation, in their fifties and sixties, out of senior command positions and away from the wealth his generation has accumulated. They want him out.

For this younger generation, the idea of Gamal Mubarak being allowed to take over the presidency was the last straw. They wanted the elder Mubarak to leave not only because he had ambitions for his son but also because he didn’t want to leave after more than a quarter century of pressure. Mubarak wanted guarantees that, if he left, his possessions, in addition to his honor, would remain intact. If Gamal could not be president, then no one’s promise had value. So Mubarak locked himself into position.

The cameras love demonstrations, but they are frequently not the real story. The demonstrators who wanted democracy are a real faction, but they don’t speak for the shopkeepers and peasants more interested in prosperity than wealth. Since Egypt is a Muslim country, the West freezes when anything happens, dreading the hand of Osama bin Laden. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was once a powerful force, and it might become one again someday, but right now it is a shadow of its former self. What is going on now is a struggle within the military, between generations, for the future of the Egyptian military and therefore the heart of the Egyptian regime. Mubarak will leave, the younger officers will emerge, the constitution will make some changes and life will continue.

The Israelis will return to their complacency. They should not. The usual first warning of a heart attack is death. Among the fortunate, it is a mild coronary followed by a dramatic change of life style. The events in Egypt should be taken as a mild coronary and treated with great relief by Israel that it wasn’t worse.

Reconsidering the Israeli Position

I have laid out the reasons why the 1978 treaty is in Egypt’s national interest. I have left out two pieces. The first is ideology. The ideological tenor of the Middle East prior to 1978 was secular and socialist. Today it is increasingly Islamist. Egypt is not immune to this trend, even if the Muslim Brotherhood should not be seen as the embodiment of that threat. Second, military technology, skills and terrain have made Egypt a defensive power for the past 33 years. But military technology and skills can change, on both sides. Egyptian defensiveness is built on assumptions of Israeli military capability and interest. As Israeli ideology becomes more militant and as its capabilities grow, Egypt may be forced to reconsider its strategic posture. As new generations of officers arise, who have heard of war only from their grandfathers, the fear of war declines and the desire for glory grows. Combine that with ideology in Egypt and Israel and things change. They won’t change quickly — a generation of military transformation will be needed once regimes have changed and the decisions to prepare for war have been made — but they can change.

Two things from this should strike the Israelis. The first is how badly they need peace with Egypt. It is easy to forget what things were like 40 years back, but it is important to remember that the prosperity of Israel today depends in part on the treaty with Egypt. Iran is a distant abstraction, with a notional bomb whose completion date keeps moving. Israel can fight many wars with Egypt and win. It need lose only one. The second lesson is that Israel should do everything possible to make certain that the transfer of power in Egypt is from Mubarak to the next generation of military officers and that these officers maintain their credibility in Egypt. Whether Israel likes it or not, there is an Islamist movement in Egypt. Whether the new generation controls that movement as the previous one did or whether they succumb to it is the existential question for Israel. If the treaty with Egypt is the foundation of Israel’s national security, it is logical that the Israelis should do everything possible to preserve it.

This was not the fatal heart attack. It might not even have been more than indigestion. But recent events in Egypt point to a long-term problem with Israeli strategy. Given the strategic and ideological crosscurrents in Egypt, it is in Israel’s national interest to minimize the intensity of the ideological and make certain that Israel is not perceived as a threat. In Gaza, for example, Israel and Egypt may have shared a common interest in containing Hamas, and the next generation of Egyptian officers may share it as well. But what didn’t materialize in the streets this time could in the future: an Islamist rising. In that case, the Egyptian military might find it in its interest to preserve its power by accommodating the Islamists. At this point, Egypt becomes the problem and not part of the solution.

Keeping Egypt from coming to this is the imperative of military dispassion. If the long-term center of gravity of Israel’s national security is at least the neutrality of Egypt, then doing everything to maintain that is a military requirement. That military requirement must be carried out by political means. That requires the recognition of priorities. The future of Gaza or the precise borders of a Palestinian state are trivial compared to preserving the treaty with Egypt. If it is found that a particular political strategy undermines the strategic requirement, then that political strategy must be sacrificed.

In other words, the worst-case scenario for Israel would be a return to the pre-1978 relationship with Egypt without a settlement with the Palestinians. That would open the door for a potential two-front war with an intifada in the middle. To avoid that, the ideological pressure on Egypt must be eased, and that means a settlement with the Palestinians on less-than-optimal terms. The alternative is to stay the current course and let Israel take its chances. The question is where the greater safety lies. Israel has assumed that it lies with confrontation with the Palestinians. That’s true only if Egypt stays neutral. If the pressure on the Palestinians destabilizes Egypt, it is not the most prudent course.

There are those in Israel who would argue that any release in pressure on the Palestinians will be met with rejection. If that is true, then, in my view, that is catastrophic news for Israel. In due course, ideological shifts and recalculations of Israeli intentions will cause a change in Egyptian policy. This will take several decades to turn into effective military force, and the first conflicts may well end in Israeli victory. But, as I have said before, it must always be remembered that no matter how many times Israel wins, it need only lose once to be annihilated.

To some it means that Israel should remain as strong as possible. To me it means that Israel should avoid rolling the dice too often, regardless of how strong it thinks it is. The Mubarak affair might open a strategic reconsideration of the Israeli position.


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Friday, February 4, 2011

Egypt - the Birthplace of Freedom

The situation in Egypt has become so tenuous and complicated that it is hard to distinguish the forest for the trees, especially regarding the impact on Israel. I've asked some people-in-the-know for some good resources for intelligent and informed analysis, and in particular a sense of the Egyptian mindset. The suggestions are at the bottom, but first my own less-then expert take:

I saw a cute joke yesterday, a statement from Israelis that the rioters should be careful not to damage the pyramids, since our original craftsmanship did not come with a lifetime warranty. When you get beyond the humor, though, there is some truth. The Jewish people were born of a dramatic liberation that took place in the very same place where people are dying right now for the right to self determination.

So I trend toward accepting the Passover narrative for what's going on, rather than the Purim narrative, where the Muslim Brotherhood are Haman, manipulating events and standing in the wings, plotting to annihilate the Jews.

Here are some of the most recent articles expressing Israel's justifiable angst.

On Israel and Egypt

Why Israel fears a free Egypt (Washington Post)
Betting on Egypt democracy is Israel's only choice (Ha'aretz)
Why Israel Hates the Egyptian Uprising‎ - Slate Magazine
Editor's Notes: The reversal of a generation's momentum‎ - Jerusalem Post
Unrest in Egypt could lead to Israel's worst nightmare JTA
and I especially liked this NYTimes Conversation Conversation between David Brooks and Gail Collins

It is dangerous to look for analogies in recent as well as ancient history. In many ways this feels like Berlin in 1989, in other ways like Iran in '79, but neither situation takes into account the massive globalization that has taken place and in particular the impact of technology. Egyptians might be struggling for food and dignity, but they all seem to have cell phones. The Muslim Brotherhood remains virulently anti Israel and anti-Semitic, but by all accounts they are far from a majority and are not steering events right now. The peace treaty, cold as it has been, has held since 1979, but it is universally held that peace treaties between real democracies are much more stable than those with dictators.

The week before I was about to spend my rabbinical school year in Israel in 1981, Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Here was the man who single handedly forged peace with Israel, and this was a time, only two years later, when not only was the ink on that treaty barely dry, but the emotional scars of the 1973 war were still fresh on both sides. If ever there was a time to panic about a transition, that was it. Who knew what would happen?

Mubarak is no Sadat, and he could have gone either way. The promise of American dollars and regional stability lured him toward the West. This current Facebook/Twitter-stoked revolution was not born in Mecca or Medina, but in Mark Zuckerberg's dorm room at Harvard. The arc of history may be taking some unusual detours, but the trends of the past decade, including the crushed revolt in Iran and gradual liberalization in China, point toward the Egyptian adventure leading, lurching, toward a positive outcome.

I am by nature an optimist - sometimes painfully so. I also agree with those that a mad rush to elections would be a mistake, as we saw in the West Bank and Gaza. But democratic institutions can be nurtured and proceed with due speed, and negotiations can as well. Israel needs to be in constant conversation with all elements of the Egyptian body politic, in particular the business sector. And negotiations with the Palestinians need to continue too.

We talk of wanting to be on the right side of history. Democratic governments need first and foremost to feed their people in order to stay in power. Trying to distract them by creating scapegoats does much less good, whether they be the press, the Americans, the Israelis or others.

The "Arab Street" is fast turning into the "Arab Electorate," and the flag burning is being replaced by a the vigorous exchange of ideas by an empowered electorate. It won't happen over night. But once it does, Israel will potentially be more secure than ever. It's neighbors will be speaking the same language - the language of representative, responsible government.

That's the side of history I would want to be on, were I Bibi Netanyahu. The people of Israel gained its freedom on the banks of the Nile. It's so fitting that its neighbors might now do the same.

Online resources:

The International Crisis Group (ICG) - This resource will be most helpful over the coming weeks as the situation begins to clarify. Always a reliable contribution to further analysis of the dynamics of politics and conflict; at this point their positions on Egypt are short, but this is a good site to monitor.

Human Rights Watch - good accounts of the abuses with perhaps a more comprehensive and deeper presentation than that of Amnesty International’s reports;

UNDP (UN Development Programme) Arab States - publishes the annual Human Development Reports specifically about the countries of the Arab (and the better-known annual global HDRs).

Peace and Collaborative Development Network -, article at bottom of page by Firouzeh Afsharnia, “From Tunis to Egypt and Iran: Democracy in Subtitles”;

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace –, a publication, “US Aid to Egypt: The Current Situation and Future Prospects”, June 2009.


1. The Jacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany, a journalist and writer in the Thoreauian spirit who makes a living as a dentist.

In addition to providing valuable commentary about Egyptian life, human behaviour in an authoritarian environment, this book also offers important insights into the social cleavage (and of course economic) between the rural and the urban - which one could posit - serves as one of the many causes of resentment, frustration, and humiliation manifested in the interactions between these two social strata (as demonstrated perhaps with the manipulative use of whip and machete-wielding horse and camel-riders).

2. The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World by Dominique Moisi, the French journalist, analyst who helped to found the French Institute of International Affairs.

While at times superficial and questionable in terms of ‘voice’, Dominique’s book is nevertheless an important contribution to understanding motivations (beyond the realpolitik) of societies, nation-states, et al.

3. Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future by Stephen Kinzer, author of the excellent book, All the Shah’s Men.

While not Egypt-specific, the book is certainly very relevant to understanding the dynamics concerning two other societies ‘in transition’ and their similarities and differences with Egypt.

4. Islamic Liberation Theology by Hamid Dabashi, a Columbia University professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature, writes a thought-provoking alternative treatise to Huntington’s so-called clash of civilisations with detail and fresh paradigms about Islam, the West, ideology, and more.

5. The Last Pharaoh by Aladdin Elaasar, Egyptian-born/raised lecturer and author/journalist, lives in US.

Elaasar’s work is a trenchant, multi-disciplinary presentation of Egypt’s history and present state that holds no punches.