Behind the Headlines Jewish Week Editors and Writers Speak Out Fri, 03 Oct 2008 14:33:53 +0000 en `New York Times Bias Hits Record High’ Fri, 03 Oct 2008 14:33:53 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "`New York Times Bias Hits Record High’", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

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It started, of course, with Mideast coverage, which was upsetting enough. But now The New York Times bias in its reporting has gone too far. For those who have not yet participated in protests and boycotts, this is the time to act, before it spreads even further.

The frightening fact is that subjective words and phrases have now reached the most widely read spot of the world’s most famous newspaper: yes, the Weather Report in the top right-hand corner of Page 1, every day of the year.

Have you not noticed the recent reports that predict “ample sunshine” for the coming day? Who is The Times to define “ample”? Is it not true that one man’s “ample” is another’s “insufficient”?

Why was “sunny” replaced after years?

And then there are descriptions of “bitter cold,” “patchy fog” or “heavy rain.” How subjective can you be? And where will it end?

But do not despair. A rally will be held in front of The Times new headquarters in midtown at noon next Sunday (weather permitting, so check the forecast), sponsored by the newly-formed Whether Or Not You Believe Us (WONYBU), a group that promises to monitor Times coverage far more closely, and widely.

A spokesman said “no section of the paper of record is now protected from our watchful eye,” noting objections in recent Sports reports to phrases like “pathetic Mets” and “disappointing Yankees,” which he called “highly charged,” as well as disparaging descriptions in the Bridge column like “South opens with a flat hand.”

Not to be outdone, a new Web site, CLOUDY (Citizens for Lawful, Overt, Unbiased, Distilled Yammering), has already pledged to sponsor boycotts of a number of leading dailies around the country, as well as public radio and television stations, and then to undertake a study of the accuracy of their weather reporting.

“How can you be wrong half the time and maintain credibility?” she asked.

As for the upcoming rally, since WONYBU is a non-profit group, Barack Obama, who had been scheduled to address the predicted throng, was asked not to appear. Same for John McCain.

“It’s a shame they won’t be there,” said a spokesman for the Stop The Weather rally, “but we think the cause is a righteous one and people are outraged enough to show up. And bring your umbrellas, just in case.”

Obama had planned to demand “change” in the weather, saying that is what the country needs at this time — and he predicted that it is coming. McCain reportedly is hoping for at least four more years of the current climate.


Who’s Fasting Today and Why? Thu, 02 Oct 2008 13:28:32 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Who’s Fasting Today and Why?", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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After feasting for two days on festive Rosh Hashanah meals, there no doubt are many of us who have sworn off food today. But there are others who are doing the same for religious rather than dietary reasons.

That’s because the day after Rosh Hashanah on the Jewish calendar is Tzom Gedaliah, the Fast of Gedaliah, a little-known minor fast (meaning it is “only” from dawn to dark, unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, which start the night before).

The Gedaliah we refer to was Gedaliah ben Achicham, a Jew who was appointed governor of Judea by the conquering Babylonians after the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.E. Some Jews criticized him as a puppet of the hated enemy, and he was assassinated by his fellow Jews, some say on Rosh Hashanah.

The prophet Jeremiah had hoped Gedaliah would permit the Temple to be rebuilt, and he considered his death a tragedy, particularly because it was at the hand of Jews.

When I was in high school, a friend told me he didn’t fast on Tzom Gedaliah because “if I died, would Gedaliah fast for me?”

But the truth is the day is a meaningful reminder of the dangers of Jewish violence against Jews as we prepare to mark the 13th yahrtzeit of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, killed by a modern-day Jewish zealot, and as we read of increasing incidents of hostility in Israel among a small group of militants opposed to territorial compromise.

As long as the land is seen by some as holier than the lives of fellow Jews, we need days like this for fasting and reflection.


Claiming Paul Newman Mon, 29 Sep 2008 15:51:34 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Claiming Paul Newman", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

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Now that Paul Newman is gone, Jews obsessed with knowing whether celebrities are Jewish or not (which seems to account for everyone I’ve ever met), are noting with pride that the legendary actor and gentleman considered himself one of the tribe.

To women (and many men) of a certain generation - actually several generations - Newman was the coolest guy around. He was a leading actor with talent, good looks (yes, those Blue Eyes) and a self-deprecating sense of humor that indicated he never took himself too seriously. And that was before he became a director, leading racecar driver, businessman and major philanthropist - all done with low-key grace, well aware that he was blessed but striving to be a regular Joe.

According to halacha, Newman would not be considered one of us. His father, Arthur, was Jewish; his mother was a Roman Catholic who converted to Christian Science. Newman explained that he considered himself Jewish “because being Jewish is more demanding.”

It always strikes me as curious how Jewishly flexible many of us are in embracing those we like, like Newman, as one of us, no matter how big a stretch it takes, while denying the Jewishness of someone born of two Jewish parents but who led a life we don’t approve of, as in, “You mean Louis “Lepke” Buchalter [a mobster who ran Murder Incorporated] was Jewish? What a surprise!”

Endearing or annoying, depending on your point of view. But one thing is clear: we’d go a long way to be associated with the style, success and exemplary good works of Paul Newman, may he rest in peace.


Taking Anti-Semitism For Granted Sun, 28 Sep 2008 18:21:42 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Taking Anti-Semitism For Granted", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come and gone, and while our community focused primarily on the Stop Iran rally outside the UN last week ­ and was caught up in a controversy over which, if any politicians to invite — it seems we have almost taken for granted how the Iranian president is treated with respect rather than disdain inside the halls of the UN, despite his anti-Semitic rantings.

He was greeted warmly by many at his General Assembly talk, and no one seemed to blink, much less object, when he railed against “the Zionist murderers” who he described as a ragtag collection of people from different parts of the world who detained, displaced and killed “the true owners of that land.”

And in interviews, he continued to assert that the Holocaust is a myth, a Zionist plot to gain sympathy for the post-war Jews.

I know I sound naïve if I express even mild surprise that such murderous, racist talk goes unchallenged at the United Nations, with its long history of and obsession with blaming Israel for much of the world’s problems.

But the UN did pass a resolution less than two years ago condemning Holocaust denial and asserting that such behavior was “tantamount to approval of genocide in all its forms.”

Each year Ahmadinejad succeeds in flaunting his hateful views in front of this world body, perhaps testing the waters for international reaction to the future fulfillment of his oft-repeated pledge to wipe Israel off the map.

Based on the lack of outrage this year, as in the past, we can only assume the Iranian leader has returned home convinced that there is insufficient international opposition to keep him and his country from completing its task of building a nuclear bomb.

If and when that happens ­ a dark day, indeed, not only for Israel but for America and the free world ­ we can’t say we weren’t warned.


Covering Obama Fri, 01 Aug 2008 12:28:47 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Covering Obama", url: "" });]]> Rob Goldblum, Managing Editor

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The Jewish Week has heard from some readers unhappy about what they see as an imbalance in  our coverage of this year’s presidential campaigns.  Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has been on the front page a lot in recent months; Sen. John McCain, his GOP rival, has not.

It’s a fair criticism because at least in terms of the number of stories, there has been an imbalance.

But that is the result not of a pro-Obama bias by editors or reporters, but the way the campaigns have spun out in recent months and in particular the campaigns for Jewish votes - the special interest of Jewish Week readers.

Sen. Obama’s campaign, surprisingly media savvy despite their champion’s relative inexperience, has kept their candidate in the spotlight throughout the summer months, when the usual election-year media frenzy slows down.

Obama has made some real news of interest to our community, including his surprise announcement that he will support a variation of the Bush administration’s faith based initiative, his clumsy remarks and subsequent “clarification” about an “undivided” Jerusalem and his recent trip to Israel.

The Obama campaign has a big and efficient Jewish outreach team; the McCain campaign’s effort, as the Jewish Week noted in a story this week, has yet to gel, which means the GOP contender is not generating the kind of focused news coverage of his rival.

John McCain is a known quantity to most Jewish voters, which is why he is doing better in the polls than recent Republican candidates. He isn’t working hard to introduce himself to a political segment that already knows who he is and what he stands for.  Obama is slick but elusive.  His followers believe his campaign is full of promise, but to reporters it’s also full of intriguing question marks.

The Jewish Week is not alone.  There has been an active discussion throughout the mainstream media of the difficulty of not seeming to take sides in the campaign when one candidate seems to be producing much more news than the other.

We can assure our readers of this: Jewish Week editors and reporters are aware of these concerns and will strive to avoid any hint of bias in our news coverage. But we will also continue to call the stories as we see them. If that produces more stories about one candidate than the other, well, that’s the news biz.


Mordechai Gafni Is Back Tue, 08 Jul 2008 17:15:59 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Mordechai Gafni Is Back", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher
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The last time Mordechai Gafni was in the news was two years ago, when the charismatic and controversial rabbi accused of sexual misconduct here and in Israel was dismissed as the rebbe of Bayit Chadash, a spiritual renewal community in Tel Aviv.

Faced with sexual abuse complaints filed with the police in Israel by several women who were former students or employees of Bayit Chadash, Gafni came to the U.S., issued a public statement apologizing to those he had hurt, said he was “sick” and needed treatment, and disappeared.

This was the conclusion of the column I wrote then (June 9, 2006): “In the past, when Gafni said he had made mistakes in his life but that he had done teshuva, some were ready to believe him; others were not. At some point in the future he is sure to reappear, eager to resume his role of spiritual guide and teacher, insisting he has gone through therapy and is cured.

“Will we believe him then?”

Well, Gafni has resurfaced in Salt Lake City, Utah and is insisting that he, not his female accusers, was the victim of the events of two years ago. He has an extensive web site (, which includes not only his teachings and writings on kabbalah and spirituality, but an aggressive defense of his previous actions, complete with a report on the results of a polygraph test he took and which he claims clears him of abuse.

The test indicates that Gafni was engaged in mutual and consensual relationships with the women, he says.

(Gafni, formerly known as Mordechai Winiarz, was ordained by Shlomo Riskin, an Orthodox rabbi, but later evolved into a spiritual guru who wrote and lectured on incorporating Eros into Judaism. At 47, he has been married and divorced three times, and surrounded by accusations of sexual misbehavior his entire adult life.)

Gafni appears to have been embraced by a New Age spiritual community (not Jewish) in Salt Lake City, as evidenced by a lengthy and sympathetic profile in Catalyst, a local magazine focused on “the world’s ecological, social and spiritual crises,” and to which he has contributed a column called “Spiritually Incorrect.”

The profile, written by editor and publisher Greta deJong, portrays him as having saintly qualities but hounded by accusers — as often happens with “charismatic spiritual leaders,” she notes.

Gafni now says that he wrote his public apology for his behavior two years ago under stress, and that the women accusers banded together to destroy his career. He also argues that his chief critics are bloggers who are irresponsible and untrue in their accusations.

On his web site, where he describes himself as “a cutting edge spiritual teacher, author, television personality, mediator, corporate consultant, iconoclast and gentle provocateur,” as well as a “Heart Servant,” he writes that his primary motto is “Do No Harm.”

He has done plenty, though, based on interviews I have had with those once close to him, including two of his former wives, and rabbis and Jewish educators who feel he misrepresented himself to them.

Gafni has always been best at re-inventing himself, and no doubt he will continue to charm, if not seduce, others with his ideas and personality. But with the attention he has received in The Jewish Week and elsewhere, people can no longer say they were unaware of his past.


A Play About Koby Mandell Tue, 24 Jun 2008 21:38:20 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "A Play About Koby Mandell", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Koby Mandell would have turned 21 last week, and probably would be finishing his service in the Israeli army.

Instead, slain at 13, with a friend, in a cave near their home in the community of Tekoa on Lag B’Omer, 2001, Koby is a memory to those who loved him and a symbol of the hundreds of innocent Jewish victims of the intifada, an eighth grader stoned to death on a day he skipped school.

Somehow, Koby’s parents managed to channel their anger and grief into positive work, creating a foundation in their son¹s name that offers summer camp and other healing programs to children in Israel who have lost close relatives to terror. And Sherri Mandell, a journalist and author, wrote an award-winning book about dealing with the loss of her son, “The Blessing Of A Broken Heart.”

Now her book has been adapted as a play (with the same title) by Todd Salovey, associate artistic director of the San Diego Repertory Theater, and has been performed in the New York area in recent days.

I saw it last night at the JCC On The Palisades in Tenafly, NJ, and was deeply impressed by the thoughtful adaptation, and by the powerful performance of Lisa Robins, who plays Sherri Mandell, at times with pain and tears and at times with humor.

To their credit, the creators and actors (there are several gifted teens who play the Mandell children), never drift into the mawkish but maintain a dignity that is real, and all the more touching.

Rabbi Seth Mandell, Koby’s dad, answered questions after the show and acknowledged that he had seen it for the first time the night before, and had not read the script. Some of the questions from the audience were quite personal, about his and his family’s feelings and coping mechanisms, but he handled them forthrightly, at one point noting that while there is much laughter in the Mandell home ­ there are three younger children ­ there is never a sense of complete joy.

For more information on the play and the Koby Mandell Foundation, click on


World’s Busiest News Cycle Wed, 11 Jun 2008 10:48:49 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "World’s Busiest News Cycle", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Jerusalem – Nothing too exciting happened in the world yesterday, except in Israel.

The front-page stories in today’s International Herald Tribune deal with economic concerns, mostly about rising oil prices. But even a quick glance at several Israeli newspapers reveals the heightened drama of daily life here, from the latest plan to rescue kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, to speculation on renewed war in Gaza and renewed peace talks with Syria, all against the backdrop of Prime Minister Olmert’s struggle to resist resigning from office.

Just another day in the Israeli news cycle, with more news happening in this small country than seems possible, and much of it of an existential nature.

It’s life-and-death stuff – reports on what, if anything, is being done to counter Iran’s plans to destroy Israel with a nuclear bomb; security concerns about more sophisticated rocket attacks on Israeli cities from Hamas; speculation on precisely when and to what degree Israel will next attack Hamas. (Isn’t that what the military censors are suppposed to censor?)

Israelis are big consumers of their newspapers, and the talk around the table is always about politics and “the matsav,” or, the condition, referring to the latest and ongoing crisis with the Arabs.

Clearly, the easiest job in this country is weatherman, at least during the spring and summer. Here’s the weather forecast for the next few days (and every day during this season) from today’s Jerusalem Post: a cartoon of a bright sun, and the following text: Today Sunny, Wednesday Sunny, Thursday Sunny.

Can’t wait to see Friday’s forecast.


A Walk Through The Darkness Wed, 11 Jun 2008 10:44:40 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "A Walk Through The Darkness", url: "" });]]> Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Jerusalem – In the Bible, Jews are commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple three times a year, on each of the festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – a tradition that was revived after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War reunited the city of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, at the site of the Temple.

Based on the belief that the Torah was given at dawn, tens of thousands of people come to pray at the Wall on Shavuot morning just as darkness gives way to light, many having been up all night studying Torah, another custom of the holiday that seems particularly fitting for insomniacs.

Not wanting to miss out on this experience, my wife and I set out at 4:20 a.m. on Monday from Emek Refaim, in the heart of the German Colony, to make the hilly, holy trek to the Old City.

From the outset, we were enthralled by the vision of a steady stream of people walking quietly but purposefully in the cool night air. Many were teenagers, part of Bnei Akiva [religious Zionist] youth groups, in their white shirts and dark pants, but there were people of all ages, and we joined them for the half-hour walk. Men carried their tallit bags and prayer books, some people carried portable chairs on their backs [anticipating the two-hour prayer service], and just about everyone had water with them, since the walk back would be in the heat of the day.

Along the way, we could not help thinking that we were retracing the footsteps of our ancestors thousands of years ago, and of the miracle of an Israel reborn in our time. And for all the divisions that plague Israeli society, the sight, on arrival in the plaza leading up to the Kotel, of many thousands of Jews here to share this experience was heartening, though it was clear that this was overwhelmingly an Orthodox crowd, from chasidim to haredim to the more modern.

We had rarely seen the plaza so densely packed, with prayer services sprouting up every few yards, and the space between people quite limited. But there was little noise, considering the multitude. There was an air of dignity; people knew where they were, and why they had come.

The words of the ancient prayers, calling for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and celebrating the festivals there, took on an added meaning during the service we joined, and we felt part of a tradition and people that seem to transcend history.

But the memory most vivid for me is that purposeful, almost silent walk in the still of night, joining with so many others on the way to the Old City. It was a feeling of connectedness to those around us and to our ancestors as well, symbolizing the faith of generations who made their way through the darkness, driven by the belief that the dawn of their deliverance awaited them on the path ahead.


Birthright Israel’s Biggest Night Fri, 30 May 2008 21:27:22 +0000 Jewish Week SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Birthright Israel’s Biggest Night", url: "" });]]> rosenblatt-g-blog-tag.jpgrosenblatt-g-blog-tag.jpgrosenblatt-g-blog-tag.jpg

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Jerusalem – I attended the biggest Mega-Event ever for Birthright Israel on Sunday night, with 7,500 screaming participants gathered at an outdoor ampitheater near here, and my ears are still ringing.

The Mega-Events are the highlight and culmination of the ten-day free trips for 18-26 year olds from throughout the diaspora, bringing all of the current participants together for one special evening featuring theatrical productions that rival Broadway and the Academy Awards with a mixture of music, strobe lights, videos, choreographed dancing, fireworks and lots of kitsch.

The crowd at the Latrun tank museum (the site of a major battle in the 1948 War of Independence) was pumped from the outset with uptempo Israeli music blaring, to get them in a celebratory mood.

The scene looked like a European soccer match, with the various national groups cheering themselves hoarse, waving Israeli flags and doing the wave even before the program started. There were contingents from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France and India, and of course, the U.S., the biggest by far.

Birthright officials expect 24,000 participants on trips this summer, and 42,000 in all this year, the biggest numbers ever, thanks in large part to a major infusion in funding from Las Vegas-based businessman and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the crowd and may have received the last enthusiastic reception of his tenure, given the view that his days in office are numbered. But you would have never known it from him or the crowd as he exhorted the young people to come back to Israel.

“There is only one place in the world that is ours,” Olmert said, “and this is our place. This is your home. There is no other home for you but this one.”

The audience cheered.

Olmert personally thanked the mega-donors who helped make Birthright a reality, and presented awards onstage to Michael and Judy Steinhardt, Charles Bronfman, Lynn Schusterman, incoming Birthright chair Dan Och of New York, and several others.

Then the entertainment began, hosted by popular Israeli TV host Michael HarPaz (Hebrew for Goldberg), who began his introduction in a thick Hebrew accent before looking up and proclaiming in perfect English, “who am I kidding, I’m from Detroit!”

The next hour and a half was non-stop entertainment, with pop stars, elaborate stage productions, sing-a-longs (like “Adon Olam” and other Hebrew songs transliterated into English on giant screens so the Americans could join in), and a seemingly endless supply of fireworks, an Israeli favorite.

The dramatic highlight: after a short film clip about a young Israeli soldier, Assaf Hershkowitz, from a canine unit who had to leave the Canadian group he was touring with (more than 30,000 Israeli soldiers have traveled with the 180,000 Birthright participants over the last eight years) to return to his unit the day before, a helicopter appeared in the night sky. It circled over the crowd, then appeared to land just behind the stage, and Assaf soon trotted onstage with his dog at his side as the crowd roared its approval.

Asked by HarPaz if the dog, Vosko, did any tricks, Assaf answered, “well, he can find bombs.”

Over the top? Sure. And was it ironic that towards evening’s end, HarPaz led the crowd in a heartfelt rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with everyone singing about an ideal world of no nations and no religion? Absolutely. But everyone was having too good a time to deconstruct the good feelings created by having so many thousands of young Jews together, celebrating Israel and their Jewishness.

There are, no doubt, valid criticisms of the hedonistic aspects of the Birthright trips, and surely there could be more serious Jewish content infused in the tours. But there is no arguing with the fact that Birthright has been a huge success in attracting so many young people who may never have visited, or thought about, Israel had it not been for this bold venture.

For one night, at least, there was a palpable sense of excitement and Jewish unity and pride in the cool night air of Latrun, and one can only hope that those good feelings will last a lifetime.