Miriam Shaviv

  • Funky but not so frum

    Apr 20, 2010


    Some Danish clothing designers have modelled their new collection on the Charedi Jews they spotted on the NY subway:

    While produced entirely in Denmark of Danish materials, it draws its inspiration from the traditional styles of various sects of Orthodox Judaism. They claim the collection seeks to "send the wearer on an anachronistic journey [with] essential aesthetic elements of various Judaistic societies" -- elements which lack in yarmulkes and wigs, but selectively interpret big black coats, lengthy black scarves and wraps, clunky black boots, and enormous black hats of both the the furry-cylinder and broad-brimmed variety.

    How come they left out the snood?

    (Hat tip: Paul Berger)

  • Signs you're at the White House Yom Ha'atzmaut party

    Apr 19, 2010

    From Bangitout.com - the best items:

    10. You were sure the invitation title,  "Israel dependence Party" was just a mistype
    9.  1600 Gift bags consist of eviction notices and a J-street t-shirt
    7.  Netanyahu enters with traditional falafel platter and proclaims “We’ve Got Balls!”
    6.  People boo when asked for their “Undivided” attention
    3. All party expenses deducted from Israel Foreign Aid

    Read the rest here

  • Why parents must vote Tory

    Apr 16, 2010

    My column this week:

    Over the past couple of weeks, countless families have experienced heartache and stress as the rejection letters from Jewish primaries dropped through their letterboxes. As usual, there are simply not enough places in our faith schools to accommodate all our children. And while some will doubtless find a school place over the coming weeks or months - often after much trauma - many others will be locked out of a Jewish education forever, to the detriment of our entire community.

    Each year, rejected parents cry out in anguish (not an exaggeration) at the situation, begging the community's leadership to help establish new primary schools in areas of need; local authorities to approve them; and philanthropists to fund them. Little happens, and the pressure on places is as acute as ever.

    This is why the Conservative Party's plans for education deserve our support. More than any other policy in any party manifesto, they could potentially revolutionise our community, changing our Jewish school system for the better almost immediately.

    Read the rest here but come back to comment....

  • South Africans back-pedal furiously on Goldstone

    Apr 16, 2010

    Oh dear. The South African Jewish leadership has apparently only just realised how pressuring Richard Goldstone into missing his grandson's barmitzvah was going to play out in the wider community, and has scrambled into damage-limitation mode. Unfortunately, the letter being circulated by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies just does not do the job:

    Dear Community Member

    It has been widely reported in the media that Judge Richard Goldstone has been barred from attending his grandson's barmitzvah as a result of pressure from certain sectors of the Jewish leadership. While it has not been involved in this matter, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies was concerned that it would turn into a divisive issue within the Jewish community, and has therefore carefully investigated it to establish the correct facts.

    What has emerged is that, contrary to what many media reports alleged, at no time was Judge Goldstone prohibited from, or even requested, not to attend the barmitzvah ceremony by any organisation or individual. Rather, this was a decision voluntarily taken by the Goldstone family and the other respective parties. Certain senior Jewish communal and religious leaders were certainly involved in the discussions around the topic, but in no way did they attempt to dictate to or otherwise pressurize the family into arriving at their decision.

    Unfortunately, the matter is being widely misrepresented and misunderstood. To assist us in forestalling any further unpleasantness, we would appreciate it if you could circulate this communiqué to others who you think will be interested.

    The SAJBD strongly believes that diversity of opinion in our community needs to be tolerated and respected, whether it emanates from the left, right or centre. At the same time, the right to freedom of expression needs at all times to be exercised with sensitivity, with due regard to the appropriateness of the forum and occasion. Taking into account, with due sensitivity and understanding, the feelings of others goes a long way towards preventing unnecessary conflict.

    Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom.   

    Zev Krengel

    National chairman

    Oh, come on. The family didn't just decide that he wouldn't be attending "voluntarily" - why were there "discussions around the topic" if there was no suggestion that he would be made to feel seriously unwelcome? This is completely disingenuous.

  • On the exclusion of Zeida Goldstone

    Apr 16, 2010

    Judge Goldstone, as everyone now knows, has effectively been barred from attending his grandson's barmitzvah following "negotiations" between the South African Zionist Federation and the Johannesburg shul at which the event was to take place. What pressure, exactly, was brought to bear on the family? Our front-page story raises the possibility that the SAZF was going to demonstrate in front of the shul. Yisrael Medad was told the following:

    I understand that all the members of Sandton shul in Johannesburg declared that they would walk out of the shul if Richard Goldstone was given an aliya at his grandson's barmitzvah. As a result of that, the arrangement was made that Richard Goldstone would not attend his grandson's barmitzvah in South Africa.

    Perhaps. Either way, everything that needs to be said about this has been said (see also the JC leader this week - not online). Except for this: If the members of my shul decided on masse to walk out when my father was given an aliyah; or if my shul was in any way party to an agreement to have my father excluded from the premesis, I would be saying goodbye to my shul - not my father.

  • Severely disabled, is she still a mother?

    Apr 15, 2010

    An unprecedented, horrific legal dispute is coming up in LA.

    Abbie Cohen Dorn, now 34, and her husband Dan, could not have children. After fertility treatments, she became pregnant with triplets. However, during the birth, she was left severely disabled, with brain damage, apparently unable to communicate except - her parents and therapists claim - by blinking.

    A year later her husband, who is bringing up the triplets, divorced her, and has not seen her for many months. She currently lives with her parents and has never seen her children.

    Now, a court is preparing to decide issues of custody, visitation, support and property. Abbie's parents claim that Abbie has indicated she wants to see her children; her ex-husband, Dan, refuses to allow them to see her - refuses, in fact, for their grandfather to even refer to her in the children's presence. A battle over visitation rights is brewing.

    At a recent pretrial hearing, Superior Court Judge Rudolph Diaz called the case "serious," "complicated" and "novel for me" -- sentiments echoed by family law and child development experts.

    The California Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that disabled parents cannot be denied custody simply because of their handicaps. Parenting, the justices wrote, is as much about emotion as it is about physical ability.

    "A handicapped parent is a whole person to the child who needs his affection, sympathy and wisdom to deal with the problems of growing up," the justices wrote.

    But that case was about custody, not visitation, and concerned a quadriplegic parent who had raised his children alone before his injury and who could talk and drive.

    Lisa Helfend Meyer, Abbie's attorney, said, "There is no case in point that addresses Abbie's particular circumstance, whether someone in her condition has a constitutional right to parent or visit her children."

    But as she argued in March during a pretrial hearing, "Abbie is alive and wants to see her children. . . . The children need to have a relationship with their mother. The kids need to know the truth."

    Meyer points to the California Family Code, which says that the "public policy of this state" is to make sure children have "frequent and continuing contact with both parents." The only exception is if that contact is not "in the best interest of the child"...

    Greene says Dan worries that the triplets would feel "terribly guilty" if they see Abbie in her current condition and "know that their childbirth put her in that position."

    "He is not opposed to them seeing her when they are older, if they want to," Greene says. "They are too young, and there is no evidence of any ability [by Abbie] to interact with them."

    Clearly, it is impossible not to sympathise with all parties in this dispute - all of whom have been to hell and back. But - based only on what I have read - I do hope that the court rules in favour of granting Abbie visitation rights to her children (or rather, the opposite - allowing the children to visit Abbie).

    It seems to me that the children's attitude to Abbie will depend entirely on the way she, and her condition, are presented to them. I know several families with severely disabled children, with brain damage at least as severe as Abbie's, who could not be treated more naturally and more normally by their siblings. Their parents made sure that they are part of the family - and so that is how their siblings always accepted them.

    There is no reason why Abbie's children could not regard her in the exact same way - provided they are encouraged to.

    The father seems to be afraid that she will come across to them as something threatening, frightening, even monstrous - something they need to feel guilty about. Here, the father's concern seems to me to reflect more his own attitude to Abbie than anything to do with his children. I don't blame him for divorcing her; he is a young man and does need to get on with his life. But I am taken back that he has not visited her in months. Do you really stop caring about the woman you married and were building a life with because she is in this tragic state? What happened to 'in sickness and in health'? What if she didn't have parents to look after her?

    Her kids need to understand that she is not frightening, not repulsive, not something to be ashamed of; she is a human being, and their mother. This will be far easier to accomplish if she is part of their life from early on, rather than if they suddenly discover she exists as teenagers.

  • The Nazis' Hebrew-speaking dogs

    Apr 13, 2010

    A bizarre (or should I say barking?) story in Ha'aretz on how the first dogs in the Austrian police and German army spoke.... Hebrew.

    [Dog trainer] Rudolphina Menzel's occupation with and love of dogs also had a Zionist bent: Some of the dogs she trained in Austria were sent to the Yishuv (Jewish community) in Palestine. "From the outset we thought about the Land of Israel settlement project," she said years later. "From the start of our work, we considered introducing the use of dogs for the defense of the isolated settlements in the country as our principal mission."

    Rabbi Zwi Perez Chajes, who was the chief rabbi of Vienna and a Zionist activist until his death in 1927, visited the Linz dog farm in the 1920s and was very impressed. Dogs who responded to names and words in Hebrew symbolized the revival of both the Jewish language and people, he said. The Menzels agreed....

    It was not long before the Austrian authorities heard about the Menzels' prestigious private institution. As a result, the first dogs to serve in the Austrian police were trained at the Menzels' farm - obeying orders in Hebrew and responding only to their Hebrew names. Clad in the Austrian police uniform, Rudolphina Menzel trained the force's dogs. In an old, crumbling photograph held at the Central Zionist Archives, she can be seen calling the attack dog Maggie Bat Hasatan (Maggie the Devil's Daughter) to rush to the aid of her owner - after a supposed attack by a stranger - during a police training session.

    Menzel also spent time in Berlin in the service of the German army, setting up courses to train dogs to attack, defend, track and guard. In Germany, too, the dogs were trained to obey orders in Hebrew - responding to "shev" (sit), "artza" (down) and "kum" (up). A few years later, when the Nazis rose to power, the dog trainers in the German army discovered that the dogs would not respond to commands given in any other language. By order from above they had to continue speaking to them in Hebrew, however difficult and burdensome it might be. "The pair of Zionist researchers is indirectly but deliberately forcing the Germans to speak Hebrew," wrote one German newspaper published during that time.

    Hearing that the dogs she had trained were later used to attack Jews weighed heavily on Menzel. "During World War II, I suffered a great deal from the reports that pupils of mine in Austria and Germany were exploiting the knowledge they had acquired from me in order to use dogs to help exterminate people from my nation and from other nations," she said in an interview about 10 years before her death in 1973.

    So I guess that Miky, the Hebrew-speaking dog belonging to a police force in Montana, is not so original after all....

  • Changing Anglo-Jewry: Readers' ideas

    Apr 13, 2010

    During the month of March, I published a daily suggestion of  how to transform the British-Jewish community by a community figure. Now it's the readers' turn. I am extremely grateful for all the excellent suggestions which were sent my way. The following is a selection: 

    Establish a Kosher Restaurant Week, by food blogger Anthony Silverbrow

    I know the point of maxims is that they are poignant because they ring true and for me. “They tried to kill us. We won. Let`s eat" is a nice encapsulation of the Jewish approach to eating. Along with images of bubbes or Jewish mothers force-feeding their offspring, food is both perceived as, and is actually, central to the Jewish identity.

    Yet as a community in the UK, food is rarely a topic for debate. Food is something we all do, it is something we sometimes do together as a community, but it is rarely a topic of discussion.

    In the United States there is a vocal movement discussing the ethics of kosher food. These are not debates about shechitah, rather it is a discussion about why is kosher meat so expensive? Why have animals destined for the shochet`s knife lived in conditions rarely much better than factory farms? Is it all about quantity, or does quality matter as well?

    The secular world has handled similar issues, focusing on provenance, animal husbandry and alternative farming methods. The kosher community in the UK blindly goes on eating puffy, watery chickens and heavily processed foods.

    In the UK, kosher shops or restaurants get credit for selling food approximating treyf equivalents, not the quality of their produce.

    I'm advocating that we shouldn`t just be celebrating with food, we should celebrate our food.

    We should have a kosher restaurant week where restaurants show off the quality of their cooking rather than crowing that they can cook kosher versions of sizzling beef or an ersatz version of the already ersatz chicken tikka massala. Butchers should do blind tastings comparing organic-style and `normal` chickens. Fishmongers should remind us that it was Jews who brought fish and chips to the UK.

    It’s time to embrace what we eat and how we eat it and stop being so reticent about something so self-defining.

    Promote Jewish, and particularly Sephardi, cultural literacy, by 'bananabrain' (whose six other proposals can be read here)

    We are not short, for good or ill, of Jewish education organisations, from the controversial chabad to the inestimable limmud and all points beyond. However, for the most part, systematic approaches aimed at enhancing jewish identity are without exception entirely religious-based. More worryingly, they seem to be ignoring the question of cultural literacy.

    Whilst there are instances of successful specific initiatives, like the Yiddish summer school run by the jewish music institute, or the various ulpanim run by israel-focused organisations, there is a distinct lack of provision for the sephardic and oriental communities to promote the learning of ladino and judeo-arabic.

    Essentially, globalisation is being driven by majority tastes, hence the largest groups attract the most funding. If one didn’t learn it at one’s mother’s knee, one might struggle to gain familiarity with anything from cookery to piyyutim, history to dress.

    There are organisations, including musical groups and individual tutors, who are promoting and disseminating the results of their knowledge and expertise in specific areas, normally as a result of academic research, but there is no-one who can teach you about the culture of, say, an “Indian Iraqi”, everything from how to make sambusak and sehug to singing shbahoth pronounced correctly – in other words, the customs, the language, the music, the food, the history.

    And the same goes for the different Ashkenazi traditions, with the possible exception of Chabad, who integrate their cultural traditions such as “farbrengen” as part of their outreach programmes.

    It is possible that this may be the result of a hundred years of zionist shelilat ha-galut (“negation of diaspora behaviours”) or an enlightenment/modernist hangover against the backward ways of “ghetto culture”, or simply the influence of organisations whose sole concern is increasing religious observance. But surely one can no longer argue that diaspora Jewish culture is simply something to be outgrown.

    Yet we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater on this one – and forgotten much of what made being Jewish interesting. This is something I believe where we can learn something from how other diasporas have preserved their cultures, the various south asian communities being a case in point.

    Run more inter-generational projects, by Daphne Berkovi

    As a mature student completing a course in Intergenerational Projects from Lampeter University,  my final assignment is to write up the organising of an Intergenerational Project.

    Reading through the 2007 JPR report, Jews in Britain: a snapshot from the 20th census, it was interesting to note that, the report showed that there were a high proportion of Jews living alone at both and younger old ages; also the Jewish population had a much older age structure than the general population. The Inner London population shows a significant number of households with dependent children. The London Borough of Barnet has the largest older age population and a high proportion of older Jewish people living alone in England and Wales. 

    There are many intergenerational projects that are established in the wider British community.  Personally, I would like to see more initiatives in this area, within the Jewish community; that is why I am completing my course as it gives me an opportunity to gain the necessary skills to work on intergenerational projects and ideas. 

    In my research I found  for a variety of reasons statistics indicate that social changes and trends within communities and family life have notably changed over the decades.  It has been argued that there has been a decline in community life and that there is a far greater disconnection between the generations that is, the young and the old.  As Jews, we have always revered family and community life, but we also like the general population have our issues. 

    It would be wonderful to encourage some social entrepreneurs amongst our community, from both ends of the generational spectrum, and as noted in my course: "By bringing together two generations which have become separated from each other....... Intergenerational Projects have the potential to reduce tensions and misunderstandings between the two groups and can offer solutions to many of the social issues that concern communities."

    Welcome all who have strong and worthy links with Judaism, by Reading Hebrew Congregations's Rabbi Zvi Solomons

    Some of us seem to have an aversion to those who feel an affinity to us. For a start, what of out-married mothers and their Jewish children? We should be encouraging them to come to our shuls and community centres.  Instead, I often find them abandoned by their Jewish family, friends and community, who even go so far as to  cut them – and their children – out of the Jewish world.

    Tell them they’re Jewish and that the intermarried Jew is always welcome in our community. The Jewish kids are also very welcome too.

    The same is true for intermarried fathers and their offspring. As Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo says:  Children of out-married Jewish fathers are mizera yisrael - of the seed of Israel.  He was one such child.  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer says: "We are obligated to open before him the Gate of Hope to circumcise him now according to his father's wish and when he grows up he can speedily do as his father wishes and immerse himself lawfully.” Rabbi Bentziyon Uzziel, the Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Palestine and then of Israel at its foundation, writes, “...Even though the children are drawn after their mother, and are considered as gentiles by all of their [the Sages’] statements, in any case they derive from the seed of Israel and it is a meritous act to return them to their origin... so that …(they) shall not be utterly lost.

    The third point is, I believe, not exceptionable, but needs careful handling. We need to reach out to non-Jews and educate them about Judaism and their duties as Children of Noah (Humanity). This is one way in which we can ensure that they relate to us as people, while the tide of Jewish settlement in this country flows steadily to London and Israel. It also provides occasion for scouting for unidentified Jews – the ones who slipped through the net because intermarried men, women and their children were not nurtured by those too firmly focussed on those already in the fold. 

    With a discriminating eye, a careful measuring mind and a heart devoted to our deepest interests, it should not be too hard for our communal leaders, rabbinic and lay, to find ways to become friendly and welcoming when we have hitherto appeared to be somewhat over-cautious and even grudging.

  • Distasteful

    Apr 12, 2010

    Tomorrow, Brooklyn will have a new restaurant, called Traif.

    The owner writes:

    I am Jewish, although obviously not great at it. So, Traif is a restaurant that celebrates the foods that I love most, which just so happens to be the foods that I am not supposed to eat.  At Traif, we will feature pork and shellfish. Do you like bacon in everything, wish that your bowl of moules-frites would never end? Then, you might be very excited for Traif.

    Now, I know this is supposed to be a joke - and I don't want to be the party-pooper. But I have to say, this kind of thing makes me groan.  You want to eat treif? Go ahead - it's a free world. But the idea that it is somehow 'cool' to eat treif, that it's a thrill, that it's something Jews should take particular delight in - that's just adolescent.

    This sad restaurant is going to be packed full of Jews thinking how clever they are to be eating a piece of pork. Guys, grow up.

  • Anat Kam: Heroine or opportunist?

    Apr 9, 2010

    Some initial thoughts on the Anat Kam episode: 

    1. Much of the commentary over the Anat Kam affair is based on the story as it was known earlier in the week - while the gag order was still in place. It is, therefore, based on inaccurate and partial information, in particular the notion that Kam was being held under house arrest because she had leaked information implicating the chief-of-staff in illegal assassinations. We now know much more (not everything): that she did not merely expose this one story, but that she allegedly took up to 2,000 classified army documents and passed them on to a reporter. This changes the way we should look at the story.

    2. Had Kam just been a whistleblower fighting to expose the army's assassination practises, it would have been possible to see her as a heroine and the authorities trying to cover up the story as the villains. But she is not. She stole thousands of sensitive documents, which included information on military operations, intelligence practises, weapons usage, and much more besides; information which has no public interest whatsoever. The whereabouts of these documents (all but around 50 of them, returned by the Haaretz reporter to the Shabak) is now unknown. She has put Israeli citizens and soldiers at risk with her theft, pure and simple. The authorities have every right - more than that, a duty - to go after her. This incidentally would be true whether she took one document or 2,000; either way, you steal classified documents, you have to be prepared to pay the price.

    3. The left is wrong: this is not, let's be utterly clear, an issue of freedom of the press, as initial reports and commentary tried to paint this. The news story on the assassinations policy was cleared by the censors for publication. The press was not prevented from reporting this massive and important scoop, no matter how it was obtained and no matter how much damage it did to the army, the government and Israel in general. The journalist, Uri Blau, was right to want and to publish this story; it was in the public's interest to know. But can he reasonably expect to hold on to thousands of other documents with classified information - information presumably showing nothing illegal, but rather very concrete information about the way the army operates - and be left alone by the authorities? If you believe the answer to this question is yes, then you must say that the army has no right to classify any document - that it must all be open to the public and that all army documents should be scanned by curious journalists. Clearly, this is ludicrous.

    4. The gag-order was clearly, from a public relations point of view, a mistake, counter-productive in the long-run. It created the perception that Ms Kam was being 'punished' for leaking damaging information about the army, while in reality she is being held to account for giving away 2,000 classified documents and essentially losing them. And here I agree entirely with Amir; the gag order makes perfect sense from a security point of view. Letting the world know that some random journalist has in his possession up to 2,000 secret documents about the IDF's methods of fighting, plans, personnel etc. is insane. 

    5. The right may be wrong; this is not necessarily about ideology. A recurring theme on the right has been that Anat Kam was acting out of left-wing motives in order to destroy the army and that she is essentially a traitor (the left, I suppose, employs the mirror-image argument: that she acted out of ideology and is therefore a heroine). However, we simply don't know enough at this point about what motivated her. She didn't - it appears - fight tooth-and-nail to expose one story which particularly enraged her; she stole 2,000 documents, some more important, some probably not very important at all - everything she happened across, in other words, including one explosive story. According to Haaretz's profile of her, she was interested in journalism from her teens onwards. It is entirely possible that she was not fighting for a cause, but simply an ambitious young lady trying to kick-start a career. An opportunist rather than a heroine. 

    6. Haaretz is right on one thing: all of this does not mean that the army should be let off the hook if it approved assassinations which were illegal.