Friday, August 29, 2014

An Open Letter to NPR's David Greene

The goal of this email is to add some passion to your Friday night dinner. Please print and share.

schabasTo: David Greene, NPR's Morning Edition
Re: William Schabas interview

Dear Mr. Greene,

I listened with great dismay to your August 25, 2014 interview with Prof. William Schabas.

You began strong, with the real potential to tell this story well, but ended painfully.

You had the opportunity to hold him accountable.

But you let him get off so easy it almost sounded like pandering.

Now, to your credit, you played a passionate critical quote from the Israeli UN Ambassador:

Choosing William Schabas to lead this council makes about as much sense as choosing Count Dracula to run the blood bank!
Then you allowed him to respond. Here was his response:
The ambassador of Israel, he doesn't want this commission. He won't be happy with anybody. I'm obviously a lightening rod and a few of my previous statements have contributed to that, but he wouldn't be happy with anybody…. Because he's opposed to the Commission, he's opposed to the Human Rights Council, he's opposed to all the human rights mechanisms within the United Nations. That's his target. Perhaps I underestimated the venom that would be associated with my own appointment. But this is all to be expected, there is nothing surprising there. If there are other important governments around the world and more credible that come and say I'm not the right person, I'm going to be a little more attentive than I am to the Israeli permanent representative.
In other words, True, I've said some anti-Israel things in the past but the Israeli government is unconcerned with human rights and with truth so we can dismiss their concerns.

Israel is unconcerned with human rights? That's so patently false it leaves one speechless. Yet I suppose if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes true?

Notice how he down-grades the Ambassador's title to "Permanent Representative", an extraordinary Freudian slip!!

Mr. Greene, if that's not bias, what is?

How come you didn't ask him why such bias doesn't disqualify him from this commission?

How come you didn't ask him to explain his widely publicized question,

Why are we going after the president of Sudan (at the ICC) for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza?
(Note: dovish Shimon Peres was Israel's President at the time!!)

How come you didn't ask him why he hasn't at the very least made comparable statements about the leaders of Hamas (a terrorist organization according to its neighbors Egypt and Israel, plus Australia, the European Union, Japan, the UK and the US, and banned in Jordan) who declare their pride that they target civilians with rockets, kidnap and murder, and bus bombs?

Or how about Iran, who are publicly proud of their role supplying Hamas with these rockets?

Because you are an excellent interviewer, it was particularly painful to hear you fall short of your usual high standard. This  and reinforced the long-term perception among many Americans that NPR has a subtle but persistent anti-Israel bias.


Alexander Seinfeld

PS - Schabas Shalom.

PPS - Want to sign the petition to dismiss Prof. Schabas from the Commission? Click here (but don't bother if you're not from an "important and credible country"... ;-).

PPPS – You might find this commentary useful. Also, see this. Also this.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What We Can Learn from Ice Buckets

The goal of this blog is to add something cool your Friday night dinner. Please print and share.

Bill Gates This week's question for your table is:

What's your opinion of the ice bucket challenge?

More specifically:

1. Would you do it?
2. Who should I do it?

Yesterday I was privy to a conversation where a group of rabbis were debating whether or not it was an undignified activity for a rabbi to participate in.

I frankly didn't know enough about the project to respond. I have not paid attention, not seen any videos, ignored every single tweet and post about it.

So I did some research....

LA Times sports writer Bill Dwyer has mixed feelings.

This public health blogger argues in favor of it.

Forbes, too, comes out in favor.

(And, interestingly, that Forbes article led me to this one that anyone out there trying to raise money may find useful.)

Regarding the dignity issue, my own perception is that a rabbi's participation is innocuous and would be regarded as "in good fun" and not undignified. I assume and hope that the rabbi would preface his video with a dvar Torah along the lines of:

"We should all be giving 10 percent of our income with or without this ice bucket challenge and if one person here today makes such a commitment, it will be worth every shiver. I personally long for the day when human beings are so focused on taking care of each other that we no longer need gimmicks to get people to give. But in the meantime, I'll do whatever it takes to help people and I hope you will too!"

It seems to me that the takeaways here are:

1. People will participate in something outside their comfort zone if you call it a "challenge" yet make it super easy to succeed and even fun and get them on video having fun, and that video has to be really really short.
2. People will give more money when the message is really simple and easy to get: "stop this terrible disease"
3. People like cold stuff when the weather is warm

That, as my grandfather z'l would have said, is my 2-bits.

For your table: What are your 2-bits?

Shabbat Shalom

ice-bucket-challengePS - Yes - it is still possible to subscribe to our new Amazing Nature for Teachers program - for your child's teacher or school - does your child's or grandchild's school even know about it?

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Tunnel Vision

The goal of this blog is to expand the vision of your Friday night dinner. Please print and share.
In honor of Shelly's birthday... Happy Birthday, Shelly!
In memory of Anita Ghitzes, who passed away this week.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email

hadar-goldin-1-400x240-20140802-233013-341 copyLast week's email, What's in a Doorpost, drew a large response.

Maybe that's because of a deep je-ne-sais-quoi that resonated. Or maybe it was just the contest.

In any event, this week is the sequel.

Let's go back two weeks, to Friday August 1st. What can you remember from that day?

That was the day of the first cease-fire, that Hamas broke by sending a suicide bomber through an attack tunnel.

(Cease Fire: We cease, you fire.)

Hamas first claimed that they had kidnapped an Israeli soldier - Hadar Goldin (pictured here). It later turned out that he had been killed by the explosion.

In fact, his body was ripped apart.

Reportedly, after the bombing, a second Hamas team emerged from the tunnel, grabbed parts of his body and dashed back into their attack tunnel which led  into a mosque. From the mosque, they escaped in a clearly marked UNRWA ambulance. The terrorists then made contact with high-ranking Hamas officials hiding in the Islamic University.

As a result Abu Marzook, a senior member of Hamas, announced in Cairo that Hamas had kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Israeli intelligence intercepted a conversation between the kidnappers and the Hamas officials at the Islamic University and thus got all the particulars regarding the hiding place of the kidnappers. Within minutes, the IAF attacked both the kidnappers' location and the Islamic University.

In the midst of this attack, a second force of IDF soldiers--which had gone into the mosque looking for weapons, explosives, and rockets-- encountered a young female wearing a suicide belt. She made a motion to detonate it and the soldiers realized that they were all about to die. One of them instinctively shouted the opening words of the holiest Jewish prayer “Shema Yisrael”!

She hesitated and began trembling, giving the soldiers a chance to grab her and disable the device.

The soldiers then took her to a counter-intelligence unit for interrogation. Their investigation uncovered that the would-be bomber’s mother was an Israeli Jew who had married a Palestinian in Israel and, after the wedding, was smuggled against her will into Gaza. There she lived a life filled with abuse and humiliation, and was basically a captive. In addition to the female suicide bomber, there were two smaller children as well. An armored force went in and rescued the two siblings.

Questions for your table....

Is this suicide bomber (and her two siblings) Jewish or Palestinian?
How does their rescue change the way you look at the death of Hadar Goldin?
How does Hadar Goldin's death change the way you look at life?

Shabbat Shalom

Hadar-Goldin-Reuters copy 2PS - There is still time to get a subscription to our new Amazing Nature for Teachers program - for your child's teacher or school - does your child's or grandchild's school even know about it?

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As always, this message can be read online at

Friday, August 08, 2014

What's in a Doorpost?

The goal of this blog is to turn Friday night into Shabbat. Please print and share.

Mezuzah scrollToday: two questions, followed by a story, followed a question, for your table.

First question: What's a mezuza?

I'm guessing that many people reading this don't know, so here's a cliffnotes answer:

A hand-written scroll of sacred parchment with verses from the Torah that talk about mindfulness of God, love, unity and karma - affixed (usually in a decorative box) on the right side of a doorway into a room.

Second question: How many mezuzas should go on a house?

Many Jewish homes have only one mezuza, on the front door. Some have one on the back door as well.

But the ancient custom, following the Torah, is on just about every doorway of the house, exterior and interior. The reason is simple: the message (mindfulness of God, love, unity, karma) is something one may want to keep in mind througout the house, not just when arriving and leaving.

Think about it: you arrive home and see the mezuza. You're reminded of those wonderful things.

Then you're inside and get busy with your chores, your family, your whatever... so easy to forget.

But if there are mezuzas throughout the home (and you get in the habit of touching them as you pass), there's a chance you may develop that mindfulness.

So here's the story:

Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in a mezuza-affixing (affixation?) on a new home.

The home, by any measure, is beautiful. A dream house by the pristine waters of the picturesque Puget Sound.

By my original count, made a year ago, the home required 23 mezuzot. But walking through the finished home, I discovered three additional spots that were arguably "doorways".

The home owner, realizing that we were going to be short several scrolls, tried to persuade me that those were not true doorways. I explained that according to Maimonides she would be right, but that the majority of rabbinic opinions require one.

She tried valiantly: "Well, in our family, I think we go like Maimonides."

"Umm.... besides the fact that you are not impartial in this discussion, the general rule is to go by the majority," I said with a smile.

Gosh, so many rules! Why should there be so many rules?

There obviously have to be some rules, in order to have a common tradition. When there are no rules, there is no tradition.

But an interesting thing about the mezuza is that it has a subjective element to it. The mezuza goes on the right side when entering a room. What if a room has two doorways? Which way is entering? That depends on you, on how you use that room.

In other words, while the mezuza is truly the completion of the home, unlike the rest of the home which is a purely physical shell, the mezuza is the interface between the physical house and the spiritual being (you) who occupies it.

Therefore, to end the story, you maybe can imagine that putting up 23 — or in the end, 26 — mezuzas was not merely a handyman's job. It required the input of the homeowner — not only for which decorative box to put on what doorway, but in some cases, which way is entering and which way is leaving?

All this took a long time, a lot of concentrated discussion.

Hours, actually.

And the guests for the chanuka (dedication) celebration were arriving and the hostess and I were .... unavailable.

But in a way, all that visible effort became part of the party — everyone saw that by affixing mezuzas throughout, we were completing the house into a Jewish home.

So here's your third question: There are 15 verses in a mezuza. Which one is the most famous?

Shabbat Shalom

Israeli soldiers prayingPS - Here's a hint to the answer: Roy Klein's story.

PPS - This amazing story is a table talk unto itself.

PPPS - Teachers around the country are joining the Amazing Nature for Teachers program - does your child's or grandchild's school know about it?

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Friday, August 01, 2014

The Deadliest Weapons

The goal of this blog is to encourage some healthy speech at your Shabbat table. Please print and share.


Try starting with these 2 questions at your table:

1. Do you know the difference between slander and libel?

2. How true does gossip it need to be to be OK?

A woman told her friend a rumor about someone. She later felt bad and went to the rabbi to ask for advice on what to do.

"Take a down pillow outside, cut it open and scatter the feathers in the wind."

She did so, then returned to the rabbi.

"Now go collect all the feathers."

“But that's impossible! The feathers have scattered who knows where!”

“Now you understand why lashon hara is so evil. The defamation scatters far and wide and the damage that can never be undone.”

One of the great Jewish urban legends is that speech is only "evil" if it's false.

In fact, lashon hara is "ra" (evil) even if it's true.

(There are exceptions, but the ethical rules are very narrow.)

When it's false, it's just that much worse.

“Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it." - Jonathan Swift, 1710

“Falsehood will fly from Maine to Georgia, while truth is pulling her boots on." - Portland Gazette, 1820

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” - Mark Twain, ca. 1880

"A lie gets halfway around the world before truth has a chance to get its pants on." - Winston Churchill, ca. 1930

Question for your table: What's worse - speaking lashon hara or listening to it?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Have you told your favorite teachers about the Amazing Nature for Teachers program?

PPS - For last week's blog on the Gaza war, click here

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