Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Katrina fundraising update

I baked sesame crackers and Sally Lunn buns, which I sold to raise money for hurricane relief. I raised altogether 520 shekels (about $120). Then I went to Bank Hapoalim, hoping to deposit the money in the special bank account I gave a few days ago in this blog. According to Bank Hapoalim, the account number is incorrect. I got the account number from a newspaper, so I don't know what the problem is. Next, I went to Bank Leumi, but was again told that the account number given for a Bank Leumi branch was also incorrect (and the teller was rather rude as well; at least at Bank Hapoalim, the teller did make an effort to track down the account).

So, now what? I'll have to find a way of sending a dollar check to one of the charities, since I don't have an American credit card in order to donate online.

Frustrating, especially when you're trying to HELP.

Simon Wiesenthal has died

He was probably the best-known of those who made a lifelong commitment to track down the murderers of the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

I just want to point out (again) that the issue here was/is not "revenge." It is justice. Wiesenthal and others sought to have the accused brought before courts of law, to be tried for mass murder.

I know that many people think the Jews should get all lovey and forgiving of the German/ collaborator murderers of World War II. After all, the war is long over, we have moved on, right? Well, yes and no. It seems to me that for genocide, there should be no statute of limitations, and it is quite a different matter to bring someone to court (where they have an opportunity to answer the charges publicly) as opposed to tracking down a criminal and administering rough justice oneself. What Wiesenthal and others wanted to do was not only bring specific individuals before the courts, but in that very public context, make sure the world understood exactly what the crime was, and how easily, sadly, it is for mass murder to be committed by a nation whose moral values have been inverted.

Rest in peace, warrior for justice.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hurricane Relief Update

I last blogged as part of the international effort by bloggers to encourage donations for the victims of Katrina. But of course, I needed to do something myself. But what?

Last month I had some horrendous bills to pay and I don't have much spare cash. What kind of fundraising could I do?

I pulled the American Heritage Cookbook off my shelf and searched it for recipes from New Orleans. Hmmm. Well, Donald Sensing had mentioned his enoyment of beignets, but it turned out that is a deep-fried sort of cream puff that needs to be et hot. Ditto New Orleans rice cakes. There were a couple of interesting-sounding drinks (Blue Blazer, Cafe Brulot), but that didn't seem so practical (I really want to try them out at home, though.)

Finally, I decided to make some Benne Cakes, a kind of sesame seed cracker -- a little like shortbread, rolled very thin. Incredibly, most of the delicate crackers stayed whole on the bus ride to work in Jerusalem, and I'm happy to say, people have been buying them. I've only raised 60 shekels so far, but I still have a few people see at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, who will certainly donate.

My very modest goal is to raise about 450 shekels over the next week ($100), and I just learned there is a Bank Leumi account number for donations from Israel:

409135682, Bank Leumi, branch #120.

Since this is the Jewish month of Elul, which represents a kind of Jewish "Lent," in which we do a little soul-accounting in preparation for the High Holy Days at the end of the month, we are reminded that giving charity (whether it's money, time, or any other form of helping out) saves from death (I had a personal experience that left me utterly convinced that this is true). So, in a way, I'm glad to be able to spread the mitzvah around a bit by getting others to donate in exchange for Benne Seed crackers.

Opinion Journal (Bob Tarantino's website at the Wall Street Journal), mentions "The Book the Angry Left Loves to Hate" -- a reference to the donation by the Thomas Nelson Company of 100,000 Bibles to relief efforts. Okay, okay, I know people are desperate for food, water, shelter, clothing, diapers, and medical supplies; all those items are being supplied by the amazing number of relief organizations already working in the damaged area. But I also know that once the initial shock of the disaster wears off, people are going to need more and more moral support, and a sense of community. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. are the traditional homes of that kind of support. In the midst of your personal disaster, it's really important to remind yourself that you're part of something bigger than yourself. People putting up American flags on the shattered remains of their homes, I now realize, is an important symbol of solidarity. Sheesh, I'm ashamed of some of the things I used to do and think.

The religious groups that are already organizing regular services are just as important as any trauma counselor in this situation. When your whole world is turned topsy-turvy, and all the normal assumptions of what makes life tick are gone, the simple reliability of daily prayers, masses, rituals, that have been going on for centuries in the face of whatever life can throw at a community, is a spiritual pearl without price. One of the great gifts to humanity of the Bible is a magnificent poetry of disaster -- check out the Psalms, and for that matter, the description of a plague of locusts in the book of Joel.... There is a good reason why the Bible has proved to be so sustaining for people in all ages -- there's something in it to speak to every situation.

So, thanks, Thomas Nelson Company, for your gift. May everyone who reads from the books you're distributing find strength, consolation, and courage to go on.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Blogging for Katrina Day

Whenever disasters have hit anywhere throughout the world, Americans have proven themselves to be the most generous, energetic helpers in the world, bar none. Last December, the efforts of American military teams, USAID, and other bodies, were in the area doing the most urgent, practical things to help the living and account for the dead in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Now, a huge chunk of America -- the Gulf Coast -- is suffering an unimaginable disaster. I still can't comprehend it all. America is so well known as the "can-do" country that people outside of the States may not think their donations and efforts can really help -- but if for no other reason than just to say " thank you " to America for all it has done in disaster areas in the past, show a little appreciation and send something to that area. I promise you, the people of the Gulf Coast will be encouraged with every bit of assistance they get -- and it's high time the rest of the world gets off its "hate America" kick and realizes we are all brothers and sisters in the face of natural disasters.

Do you like jazz? Ever listen to gospel, rock 'n' roll, Zydeco? Do you like big community parties like Mardi Gras? Do you speak French? Do you eat fish? Did you ever sing "fait do-do" on a Saturday night, waiting for the kids to fall asleep so you could join the two-steppers on the dance floor? Drink your coffee with chicory?

The whole world owes a debt to New Orleans culture, so reach down deep and contibute to rescue and rebuild one of the world's great cities. And don't forget the other areas affected by the hurricane.

There are sizeable Jewish communities in the Gulf Coast area. Jewish organizations that are providing aid are the United Jewish Communities , B'Nai Brith Disaser Relief Fund, and Chabad-Lubavitch of New Orleans. The Union for Reform Judaism is also providing aid, with nothing taken out for overhead costs. There are some specifically Jewish needs involved -- kosher food, for example, and helping people arrange for the upcoming Sabbath. Organizing prayer services can be a powerful morale booster, too.

Rabbi Levi-Yitzhak of Berditchev was able to find good in everything. He was once asked, "Is there anything good about an atheist?' "Absolutely!" the rabbi replied. "When an atheist meets someone in need, he can't just say to them 'I'll pray for you.' He has to reach out and really help in a practical way."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Today I stood in line for a couple of hours at the Misrad Harishui in Talpiot, Jerusalem, in order to take the "teoria" -- the written test on rules of the road, which is required for prospective new drivers. Never mind that I learned to drive at age 16 in the United States; I let my driver's license lapse for years because I never believed I would be able to own a car in this country. Now both my daughters own cars, and it would be nice to be able to spell them on long drives.

The crowd of test-takers was a cross-section of Israeli society of all ages (from 17 and up, that is). More than half were men -- I saw ultra-Orthodox Jews in black suits and frock coats, a few Orthodox women with covered hair, young men and women in tee-shirts and jeans, many Arabic speakers, including at least 20 Muslim women wearing the type of scarf called hijab. Everybody in line was supremely bored and a bit anxious before the test. As everywhere in Israel, it was necessary to pass by security guards and have our bags checked. The guards have a boring job, to say the least, and one officious older policeman kept coming into the room to advise us to squeeze up so more people could join the line inside out of the sun. "Do you think we're sardines?" asked one man in the line. Finally, we got to enter the test room one by one, and then afterward sat for another half hour or more waiting for the tests to be graded. As the names were called out, the smiles broke out with a few mild whoops of joy by those who passed (me, too!).

Seeing the women in their scarves reminded me of a discussion among my older nun friends about the kind of full habits they used to wear. Some of the head-dresses were designed similar to what ordinary women wore at the time the different orders were founded, and included a wide strip of starched cloth or ruffle around the face. It was partly intended to promote "custody of the eyes" and an "interior" perspective by cutting off peripheral vision. By the early 20th century, when the non-cloistered nuns needed to learn to drive in order to serve their communities, it became necessary to modify this part of the habit for safety reasons.

There was a flap a couple of years ago in Florida when a strict Muslim woman wanted to have her driver's license photo taken with her in hijab and the face covering called (IIRC) niqab. The state of Florida refused to allow this. Having a driver's license is not a "right" and if a person can't comply with the usual photo requirement, they simply need not be licensed; the photo on the license is intended for identification, impossible with niqab; and driving with only one's eye's exposed is probably hazardous, unlike the tightly-wrapped hijab, which reveals the face.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Well. My good intentions (with which the road to hell is paved three feet deep), to write more on this blog during last week's university break have come to nought.

Now, please check out the serious analysis by Rev. Mark D. Roberts of Pope Benedict XVI's speech to Muslim leaders during the World Youth Day gathering. Rev. Roberts' series, "Pope Watch" is well worth your attention. It appears, not surprisingly, that the mainstream media, in its usual ineptitude and bias in reporting religious matters, has seriously distorted the Pope's message. In Rev. Roberts' analysis, take particular note of his questions -- can it be said that Muslims and Christians share the "same" God? (For Christians, this centers on the conception of the One God as Trinity, whereas Muslims state that God is unequivocally a unity). Do Christians and Muslims share a similar conception of the value of the individual person? (I'm not so sure.)

Monday, August 08, 2005

The miracle of tshuva

Kevin Cullen has an article in the Boston Globe about Shane Paul O'Doherty, an Irish seminarian who was once an IRA terrorist, guilty of attempted murder and of wounding many innocent people, and indirectly responsible for the death of Ethel Lynch in a bomb factory "work accident."

A few days ago, I cited an article about the Islamic "martyr" who lived after his attack on an Israeli bus, who is now married and honored in his Gaza community.

What is the difference between these two men? I'm not sure that I can explain it well, but I think that the key is the Christian background of O'Doherty. That background included not only the sense of Irish history that includes victimization and oppression by Britain and the rage it engendered, but also the holy loneliness of the Irish hermits, and the essential Catholic teaching of sin and redemption. O'Doherty spent a long time in solitary confinement in prison, and part of his spirituality was shaped by that experience. He eventually wrote letters of apology to the victims of his violence, without expecting forgiveness or praise, but because it was the right thing to do.

Somewhere we have to have access to a common acceptance and agreement of what is right and wrong; somewhere we have to have the time in which to mature and more fully realize what right and wrong is -- to reach a point in which we can see beyond ourselves and understand that our deeds have an ongoing impact on those we touch, whether it is through causing bloodshed and grief, or through acts of compassion.

This week, a Jewish terrorist murdered innocent people in Shfaram. Natan-Zada was a follower of Meir Kahane, and all I can say is, the teacher is known best through the deeds of his disciples. At the great day of reckoning, the teacher will have to account for the deeds of his disciples in some way: it's important to remember that the Bible makes it clear that our punishment is only for our own deeds. And only God is capable of judging the impact that a teacher's words have had on disciples, and on those who suffer or are aided as a result of their actions.

I bring this up because I wonder who the teachers were for O'Doherty and for the unnamed Muslim terrorist in Gaza. O'Doherty's Catholic teachers planted a seed in his early learning that could blossom into repentance and compassion for his victims; what seed did the Muslim terrorist's teachers implant?

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