Monthly Archives: October 2012

Debate spotlight: Israel

 

President Barack Obama is looking to regain momentum against Republican nominee Mitt Romney at tonight’s debate, but a leading expert says that on Israel, at least, very few differences between the two candidates will emerge as the two prepare to battle.

“They are almost identical,” Denis Brian, author of The Elected and the Chosen: Why American Presidents Have Supported Jews and Israel From George Washington to Barack Obama told Moment Magazine. “They are both completely supportive of Israel and so I don’t think one will have an advantage over the other.”

Brian, whose recently published book examines every American president’s record on Jewish and later, Israel issues, says that the only key difference between the two candidates is their rapport with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“Everything Obama has done has been pro-Israel. Romney doesn’t have that record, but he’s close personally with Netanyahu, which unfortunately isn’t the case with Obama.”

Brian says that Obama is intensely pro-Israel and rates him among the top in terms of his support for Jewish issues.

And who ranks at the bottom?

That honor, Brian says, goes to Andrew Johnson, who assumed the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. “He’s the only outspoken anti-Semitic US president.”

Remembering Arlen Specter

by Natalie Buchbinder

Former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine, died Sunday at age 82 after a battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Specter’s 30-year senate career, lasting from 1981 until 2011, earned him the title of longest-serving Pennsylvania senator. In 2009, the moderate Republican joined the Democratic party, a move that ultimately cost him his Senate seat. Earlier in his career, the Yale Law School graduate served as a Pennsylvania state prosecutor and a lawyer for the Warren Commission.

Specter was an outspoken supporter of Jewish values. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the largest Orthodox Jewish association in America, wrote that Specter was a “staunch supporter of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, fierce advocate for religious liberty, promoter of freedom for Soviet Jewry and more” in a statement on their website.

“Senator Specter has left behind a proud legacy of public service that will hopefully guide future generations of public servants, Jewish or not,” said National Jewish Democratic Council Chair Marc Stanley and CEO David Harris in a statement released on the NJDC website.

Today, President Obama issued a proclamation stating that all flags be flown at half-mast out of respect for Specter.

“Arlen Specter was always a fighter,” said President Obama in a statement released by The White House on Sunday. “From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.”

United by Yiddish

A new group of students is cropping up as the latest champions of the Yiddish language: Israeli Arabs at Middle Eastern universities. A quarter of Bar Ilan University’s 400 students studying Yiddish are Arab, Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth reports. Yusuf Alakili of Kfar Kasseem, who is studying for a Master’s degree in literature at Bar Ilan and studies Yiddish on his own, says, “I don’t know who is to blame, but I don’t understand why this magnificent language is neglected, when such an extensive body of literature exists in Yiddish.”

Without Sight, Hearing an Operatic Calling

by Natalie Buchbinder

Laurie Rubin and Popeye (photo credit Jennifer Taira)

If there were one word mezzo-soprano opera singer Laurie Rubin would use to describe her career, it would be “rollercoaster.”

“You get a lot of people telling you you’re great, and a lot of people telling you that’s not what we’re looking for,” Rubin said. “It’s definitely a lot of fun. It keeps you on your toes, this career.”

But Rubin, 33, who was born blind, has not let obstacles block her path to success. The Oberlin- and Yale-educated solo singer, who has appeared in solo recitals and performed alongside opera star Frederica von Stade, continues to travel to performances across the United States.

In addition to a booming singing career, Rubin is also balancing a jewelry line and the release of her new memoir, Do You Dream In Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight, which will hit bookshelves October 23.

“Music has helped me see in a different sort of way,” Rubin said. A lack of sight enriches Rubin’s sense of the music; she describes instruments as having colors, and different character.

“There is something about the music and the movement,” Rubin said, adding that the different keys and physical motion of the instruments give her a sense of landscape. “When someone says ‘Oh, that is the most beautiful sunset,’ I picture in my head what that sounds like musically.”

Drawn to music at an early age, Rubin always had the idea that classical was her calling.

“I told my teacher that I didn’t want to sing pop music, but I wanted to sing like Christine in Phantom,” Rubin said.

But with musical success came the struggle of finding venues to perform. Wary producers often shied away from the idea of having a blind performer onstage .

“Their vision of blindness is somebody who is fumbling in the dark without their glasses on,” Rubin said.

Rubin’s drive to redefine the perception of blindness is not new. As the first blind bat mitzvah at Valley Beth Shalom in California, Rubin started to accept the role of being a pioneer for people like herself. Rubin’s Jewish identity has played a large role in her musical career. When her friend, Israeli composer Noam Sivan, was tasked with writing a piece for her in 2008, Rubin recalls begging Sivan to write a Hebrew piece of music.

“I really enjoyed singing those Yiddish pieces, those heart-wrenching ones, because I realized that hitting it would also reach out to Jews around the world,” Rubin said of the melodies she sung as a young singer. “It didn’t matter what language, it would be an emotional sort of bonder to a bunch of Jews all over the world.”

According to Rubin, her Jewish identity and connection to Judaism are central to the first few chapters of her book. The book also explores the answers to questions Rubin believes others would ask but are afraid to. The book’s title–“Do You Dream in Color?”–is the question Rubin says she is asked most.

With her book in stores soon and several performances on the horizon, including two concerts in Washington, DC on October 22 at the Kennedy Center and October 23 at the National Endowment for the Arts, Rubin hopes to continue sharing her story with a wider audience.

“There is something about sharing your ideas through music that seems to reach people’s hearts,” Rubin said.

Voting? Don’t stress out!

Voting in a national election causes anxiety and a spike in stress hormones, a new Israeli study has found. Levels of cortisol - a hormone secreted in times of stress to help the body cope with perceived threats — were three times higher just before voting than the levels recorded among people in the control group who were not voting.

The study was conducted on Israel’s Election Day in 2009 as people made their way to vote. Participants gave a saliva sample and completed a questionnaire examining their emotional state at a booth that was placed 30 ft. from the ballot box. The control group consisted of other people from the same area who were asked to give a saliva test and complete the questionnaire on post-election day. The findings were published in the recent issue of the scientific journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.  

 

“Emotional changes are related and affect various physiological processes, but we were surprised that voting in national democratic elections causes emotional reactions accompanied by such physical and psychological stress that can easily influence our decision-making,” said Prof. Hagit Cohen from the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Faculty of Health Sciences, who conducted the study. “Since we do not like to feel ‘stressed out’,” adds Prof. Cohen, “It is unclear whether this pressure on Election Day can influence people and cause them not to vote at all. Impact on voter turnout is particularly important given that the stress levels rise if our preferred party or candidate for whom we want to vote is not popular in the polls.”

Sherman vs. Berman

by Natalie Buchbinder

For voters in California’s newly redrawn 30th district, the election for a congressional representative has turned into a showdown between Jewish Democrats–with a twist.

Under California’s new top-two finisher primary system, the top two vote-gathering candidates in a race advance regardless of political party affiliation, pitting long-time Representatives Brad Sherman and Howard Berman in a fight for November. Some top Republicans have started to endorse Berman, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona. According to Roll Call, ten more Republicans were slated to announce their support for Berman today.

The new district in Los Angeles County includes a large portion of Sherman’s former 27th district based in Sherman Oaks, a community with a large Jewish population. But the familiar territory advantage may prove insignificant when Sherman faces Berman, who has a far better history of legislative success.  Sherman has maintained  a low profile over his close to 15-year congressional career.

The similarities between the two Jewish candidates are uncanny; both are long-time politicians with law degrees, Berman from University of California, Los Angeles, and Sherman from Harvard Law School. The two share an alma mater, as Sherman attended UCLA as an undergrad.

Berman may have a slight edge in an election where the Jewish vote is being targeted by candidates from various levels of government. Both are pro-Israel, but Berman has been a prominent force in his term as the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee. Berman introduced several bills promoting Israeli security and Iranian sanctions, including a bill that would provide American support for Israel’s anti-missile defense system.

But Jewish support may not be the only deciding factor in the predicted tight election. According to data gathered by Survey USA in mid-September, a non-partisan research firm, Sherman leads Berman 45% to 32% in votes.

Moment Wins Religion Newswriter Association Awards

Moment editor Nadine Epstein at the RNA awards ceremony

Saturday night I got to shepp a little nachas when Moment swept the Religion Newswriters Association awards ceremony, winning first place for Overall Excellence as well as three other honors.

In addition to the award for overall excellence, the magazine won first place for graphics with its Ten Commandments 2.0 Symposium. The illustration was created by uber-talented designer Navid Marvi, who also won third place for design and layout with a detailed photo essay on Jews in Iran.

Editor and publisher Nadine Epstein won an award for her 2011 investigation, The Other Rosenbergs, which recounted the never-before-told story of two innocent Jewish engineers who lost their jobs at the U.S. Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, N.J. after the arrest of Julius Rosenberg because their last names were Rosenberg. The story was funded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

What a great start to the New Year!

Jewish Bahrainian ambassador to speak tonight

Houda Ezra Nonoo, Ambassador of Bahrain to the US, and the first Jewish ambassador posted abroad by an Arab country, is scheduled to headline the annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) outside Washington D.C.

Nonoo, who is also the first female ambassador to the US from Bahrain, has remained largely tight-lipped throughout her stint in Washington. And though she granted Moment Magazine an exclusive interview last year, she rarely speaks publicly about issues including her country’s suppression of the Shiite majority during the Arab Spring riots of 2011.

But that is starting to change and Nonoo now has her own blog, where she posts a few times a week on issues ranging from 9/11 to the UN General Assembly.

AMSEA was founded in 2007 by Middle East historian Bernard Lewis, as an attempt to counter the hegemony of Edward Said in American universities.

“In the democratic world, universities are free and you don’t have an imposed orthodoxy,” Lewis told Moment Magazine last year. “That’s not the case [in Middle Eastern Studies departments] where you have an imposed orthodoxy to a greater degree than any other time since the Middle Ages. It makes free discussion, if not impossible, very difficult.”

Moment readers on Ayn Rand

 

More than half of Moment readers say Ayn Rand’s ideas have no place in politics today, according to a reader survey.

Rand, the Jewish author and philosopher born Alisa Rosenbaum, is said to have influenced Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. And as Ryan prepares to take on vice president Joe Biden in the debates tonight, it remains to be seen how important her ideas will be.

According to the survey, just 43 percent of Moment readers say that her ideas belong in politics today.

Here are some of the top responses to our question, “Do Ayn Rand’s ideas belong in politics today?”

“Selfishness and rampant individualism will not help create a sustainable and livable society. Surely the years since the crash of 2008 have shown this to be true.”

“Since when are non-violent, non-hateful socio-economic worldviews beyond democratic discourse?”

“Capitalism has been successful because it is based on the very human qualities of greed, selfishness, and acquisitiveness–qualities extolled by Ayn Rand. Since no one in American politics today is suggesting that capitalism be eliminated, and since virtually all ideas (except those based on hatred toward identifiable groups of innocent people) should be subject to public discussion and debate, Ayn Rand’s ideas belong in politics today.”

“As Jews our imperative should be tikkun olam— i.e. to repair the world. This idea is incompatible with Rand’s philosophy of intense individualism and unbridled capitalism.”

“Rand’s ideas are appropriate for high school students who live in a world of absolute values. A mature polity must take care of its least powerful members.”

“All ideas are welcome, although some ideas are crazy. Still, crazy sometimes transforms. I think no ideas should be banned from politics but I do not think her ideas are good for America!”

“Her philosophy is timeless. It is based on the very best in human nature. Reading both novels should be required reading in every high school.”

“ALL ideas belong in American politics. We cannot be the Land of the Free without total freedom of thought and a willingness to consider, discuss, test, accept, or reject, all ideas of approaches and solutions. We must have extremes in our system (and Ayn Rand is not so extreme) in order to find a middle path that is the best solution for us.”

“It is selfish, an adolescent fantasy, overly, simplistic, and totally unworkable, for a society and the individuals within society. Anytime that any semblance of these ideas became a policy or law, the result was a disaster. It is also immoral and inhumane, catering to the selfish, grandiose impulses, while denying the human capacity for empathy, community, other measures of greatness, other than material. It shows both contempt and denial of human vulnerability that we all share.”

“All ideas should be able to be discussed in politics. Ayn Rand’s ideas can then be thoroughly aired and rejected.”

“Ayn Rand’s ideas represent an extreme of economic individualism divested of any sense of responsibility to others–either other individuals or to a broader community–to the point of being completely antisocial. It represents a sort of ethical solipsism.”

“Her ideas result in policies that are the opposite of tikkun olam. This is in conflict with the Jewish saying: if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world. Rand says your only duty is to save yourself. She is right to be suspicious of government; but wrong to assume that government is always and inevitably an enemy of the people.”

“When I was a young girl, I loved her books. Now that I am older and wiser, I see she had no compassion for the less fortunate or even the middle class as we know it today.”

“She stands for greed, cruelty, meanness, nastiness, and sheer psychopathy. Unfortunately, this crackpot philosopher and fourth-rate novelist is now becoming part of the US mainstream. If and when fascism comes to America, it will be in Randian garb! So no, Rand’s ideas don’t ‘belong’ in politics. But alas, they are well entrenched in American politics, both at the grass-roots level and among the corporate elites. And they are growing, like some sci-fi monster.”

Anti-Jihad ads come to Washington

A Christian social justice group is fighting the newest wave of anti-Muslim advertisements with a campaign to raise $25,000 to buy counter-advertisements aboard the D.C. Metro system that read, “Love Your Muslim Neighbor.”

The campaign, announced yesterday, comes after the controversial ads, which have already been placed in San Francisco and New York, reached the nation’s capital.  Paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the advertisement reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

Sojourners, the Washington-based social justice group, is now soliciting $25 contributions in the hopes of raising the necessary $5,000 to buy a counter ad. “If we want peace between Muslims and Christians, we can start by standing against religious intolerance in our own backyard,” the group said in a statement.  “Everyone – regardless of race, religion, or creed – deserves to feel welcome and safe when riding public transit in the United States.”

There has been considerable public opposition to AFDI’s anti-jihad campaign, which many detractors call Islamaphobic. On Friday, though, U.S. District Judge Mary Collyer ruled that the D.C. transit system had to allow the advertisements based on the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

Ron Meier of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement, “We support the court’s conclusion that the ad is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, yet we still strongly object to both the message and the messenger. We believe these ads are highly offensive and inflammatory. Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim. It is possible to support Israel without engaging in bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.”

“We don’t think it’s controversial,” Pamela Geller, executive director of the AFDI told reporters. “It’s truth. Telling the truth now is equated with ‘hate’ and ‘bigotry’ in an attempt to silence and demonize the truth-tellers. That makes my ads all the more important.”