Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Refugees on the Egyptian/Israel Border

This is an incredible account from an Israeli reserve soldier stationed on the border with Egypt.  I do not believe that it has been put on line.  Fred

My name is Aron Adler.

I am 25 years old, was born in Brooklyn NY, and raised in Efrat Israel. Though very busy, I don’t view my life as unusual. Most of the time, I am just another Israeli citizen. During the day I work as a paramedic in Magen David Adom, Israel’s national EMS service. At night, I’m in my first year of law school. I got married this October and am starting a new chapter of life together with my wonderful wife Shulamit.

15-20 days out of every year, I'm called up to the Israeli army to do my reserve duty. I serve as a paramedic in an IDF paratrooper unit. My squad is made up of others like me; people living normal lives who step up to serve whenever responsibility calls. The oldest in my squad is 58, a father of four girls and grandfather of two; there are two bankers, one engineer, a holistic healer, and my 24 year old commander who is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. Most of the year we are just normal people living our lives, but for 15-20 days each year we are soldiers on the front lines preparing for a war that we hope we never have to fight.

This year, our reserve unit was stationed on the border between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip in an area called “Kerem Shalom.” Above and beyond the “typical” things for which we train – war, terrorism, border infiltration, etc., - this year we were confronted by a new challenge. Several years ago, a trend started of African refugees crossing the Egyptian border from Sinai into Israel to seek asylum from the atrocities in Darfur.

What started out as a small number of men, women and children fleeing from the machetes of the Janjaweed and violent fundamentalists to seek a better life elsewhere, turned into an organized industry of human trafficking. In return for huge sums of money, sometimes entire life savings paid to Bedouin “guides,” these refugees are promised to be transported from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African countries through Egypt and the Sinai desert, into the safe haven of Israel.

We increasingly hear horror stories of the atrocities these refugees suffer on their way to freedom. They are subject to, and victims of extortion, rape, murder, and even organ theft, their bodies left to rot in the desert. Then, if lucky, after surviving this gruesome experience whose prize is freedom, when only a barbed wire fence separates them from Israel and their goal, they must go through the final death run and try to evade the bullets of the Egyptian soldiers stationed along the border. Egypt’s soldiers are ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to cross the border OUT of Egypt and into Israel. It’s an almost nightly event.

For those who finally get across the border, the first people they encounter are Israeli soldiers, people like me and those in my unit, who are tasked with a primary mission of defending the lives of the Israeli people. On one side of the border soldiers shoot to kill. On the other side, they know they will be treated with more respect than in any of the countries they crossed to get to this point.

The region where it all happens is highly sensitive and risky from a security point of view, an area stricken with terror at every turn. It’s just a few miles south of the place where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. And yet the Israeli soldiers who are confronted with these refugees do it not with rifles aimed at them, but with a helping hand and an open heart. The refugees are taken to a nearby IDF base, given clean clothes, a hot drink, food and medical attention. They are finally safe.

Even though I live Israel and am aware through media reports of the events that take place on the Egyptian border, I never understood the intensity and complexity of the scenario until I experienced it myself.

In the course of the past few nights, I have witnessed much. At 9:00 PM last night, the first reports came in of gunfire heard from the Egyptian border. Minutes later, IDF scouts spotted small groups of people trying to get across the fence. In the period of about one hour, we picked up 13 men - cold, barefoot, dehydrated - some wearing nothing except underpants. Their bodies were covered with lacerations and other wounds. We gathered them in a room, gave them blankets, tea and treated their wounds. I don’t speak a word of their language, but the look on their faces said it all and reminded me once again why I am so proud to be a Jew and an Israeli. Sadly, it was later determined that the gunshots we heard were deadly, killing three others fleeing for their lives.

During the 350 days a year when I am not on active duty, when I am just another man trying to get by, the people tasked with doing this amazing job, this amazing deed, the people witnessing these events, are mostly young Israeli soldiers just out of high school, serving their compulsory time in the IDF, some only 18 years old.

The refugees flooding into Israel are a heavy burden on our small country. More than 100,000 refugees have fled this way, and hundreds more cross the border every month. The social, economic, and humanitarian issues created by this influx of refugees are immense. There are serious security consequences for Israel as well. This influx of African refugees poses a crisis for Israel. Israel has yet to come up with the solutions required to deal with this crisis effectively, balancing its’ sensitive social, economic, and security issues, at the same time striving to care for the refugees.

I don’t have the answers to these complex problems which desperately need to be resolved. I’m not writing these words with the intention of taking a political position or a tactical stand on the issue.

I am writing to tell you and the entire world what’s really happening down here on the Egyptian/Israeli border. And to tell you that despite all the serious problems created by this national crisis, these refugees have no reason to fear us. Because they know, as the entire world needs to know, that Israel has not shut its eyes to their suffering and pain. Israel has not looked the other way. The State of Israel has put politics aside to take the ethical and humane path as it has so often done before, in every instance of human suffering and natural disasters around the globe. We Jews know only too well about suffering and pain. The Jewish people have been there. We have been the refugees and the persecuted so many times, over thousands of years, all over the world.

Today, when African refugees flood our borders in search of freedom and better lives, and some for fear of their lives, it is particularly noteworthy how Israel deals with them, despite the enormous strain it puts on our country on so many levels. Our young and thriving Jewish people and country, built from the ashes of the Holocaust, do not turn their backs on humanity. Though I already knew that, this week I once again experienced it firsthand. I am overwhelmed with emotion and immensely proud to be a member of this nation.

With love of Israel,

Aron Adler writing from the Israel/Gaza/Egyptian border.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Reflections on the Presbyterian Church vote on Israel and Divestment

Thursday night for the second time in two years, I watched the live stream from the Biennial PCUSA General Assembly. The Middle East Committee presented a recommendation that the PCUSA divest its pension funds from Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard. The committee had supported divestment by a vote of 36-11. A proposal was then made which called for the replacing of the majority report with the minority report. This proposal passed by a vote of 333 to 331 with 2 abstentions!  After the substitute motion passed it was voted on and passed. The vote on the resolution to invest instead of divest was 369 to 290 with 8 abstentions.

The debate itself was fascinating and here are a few of my observations.

First of all, the anti-Israel tone of some who supported divestment was a little more than frightening. The tone of some of the presentations sought to make Israel into a very evil country. One person presented that he had gone to Yad Vashem in the morning and then went for the next few days to numerous places in the West Bank. He then proceeded to describe the Israeli atrocities. The implication was clear. The new victims of the Nazis are the Palestinians and the new Nazi government is the Israeli government. My feeling is that many Presbyterians when visiting Israel only see Yad Vashem and they are exposed to so much propaganda on the West Bank.

There were numerous comments made that even though the proponents were in favor of divestment, the PCUSA loved Jews and loved Israel. I found these to be very insincere. After all, among the Jewish community, even Americans for Peace Now and J Street opposed divestment. Clearly in the minds of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community, the PCUSA divestment overture was an attempt to ally the PCUSA with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is virulently anti-Israel and represents a rather genteel version of denying Israel’s right to exist. My suspicions were confirmed when Rick Ufford-Chase spoke after the minority report was adopted and said that his heart was broken and that now the PCUSA needs to start speaking about boycotts and apartheid. This is extremely significant because Ufford-Chase is a former moderator which is the equivalent to a lay president of the PCUSA.

Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, representing the National Council of Synagogues, spoke earlier during the day and asked the commissioners (delegates) to reject divestment. Sadly, during the debate there was one comment that stated that it was improper to hear from the rabbi and to have been lobbied by him.

During the debate, I did not hear any mention of the more than one hundred rockets which have fallen on southern Israel in the past month. Of course, the homicidal and suicide bombings from the first half of the last decade have long ago been forgotten. By the way, one Presbyterian leader said to me that while he did not condone the rocket fire from Gaza, he could understand it given the harsh Israeli blockade on Gaza. When I pointed out that the Philadelphia corridor is controlled by Egypt, he ignored this fact and still maintained that all of the ills of Gaza were Israel’s fault. No mention of Hamas! His “understanding” of why it might be legitimate to fire rockets at Israeli towns and cities or RPG’s at Israeli school buses reminded me of the fact that in the eyes of many, Jewish blood, more than sixty years after the Holocaust, is still cheap in the eyes of many in the world.

It was not helpful in my opinion that there were Jews there, some representing the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), who lobbied in favor of divestment. There had been a letter as such signed by a mere 18 rabbis which apparently was passed around the General Assembly. By contrast, there was another letter, this one against divestment which was signed by some 1,600 rabbis as well as a petition against divestment was signed by more than 22,000 Jews! During the debate, a point was made that even the Jewish community was divided on this issue. This was clearly misleading for with the exception of the JVP, there was almost a wall to wall coalition of organizations opposing divestment.

Two weeks ago, Rabbi Eli Havivi and I met with a North Carolina PCUSA minister who was one of the leaders of the divestment movement. The meeting, while cordial, was not productive. During the meeting, the minister offered to come to our congregations after the PCUSA passed divestment (He seemed to be confident that it would pass!) to explain to our congregation why the PCUSA divestment was a good move. Both Rabbi Havivi and I remember that my exact words to him at that time were, “That will not fly!” Last Sunday, the same minister presented at a forum at the PCUSA convention and implied that there was little to worry about in terms of relationships with the Jewish community because he had spoken with two rabbis and assured them that he would come to their congregations to explain the divestment decision. He neglected to mention that both rabbis had told him that he would not be welcome to do so.

Personally, I had written a letter to all of the North Carolina PCUSA delegates encouraging them to vote against divestment. In addition, my friend Reverend Said Batts of First Presbyterian of Greensboro wrote a note to all of the NC PCUSA congregations urging them to vote against divestment. Given the close vote, it is my humble opinion that the Jewish community owes Reverend Batts a sincere and heartfelt “thank you.” The historic relationship between Temple Emanuel and First Presbyterian came into play here. In addition, it is extremely significant that Reverend Batts went with Rabbi Havivi and me on the Interfaith Clergy trip in 2008. If you see Reverend Batts, please thank him. If you have friends who attend his church, please thank them for the leadership of their senior pastor on this critical issue to Israel and the Jewish people.

A special note of thanks goes to Ethan Felson, Vice President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Geri Palast, the Managing Director, The Israel Action Network (IAN)  for their work nationally in helping to mobilize the North American Jewish community to counter this assault on Israel’s legitimacy.  Kol Hakavod!

Finally, I do not believe that this issue is closed within the PCUSA. Those within the church who pushed divestment are not going away. In two years, there will be another equally hateful and odious resolution against Israel which once again will be made with expressions of love towards Israel and Jews. The minister with whom we met wrote to me: “As you know, the vote to not divest only failed by two votes. I would suggest that if our Jewish-Presbyterian partnership and our positive investment do not do something visible and significant in the next two years, divestment will pass in 2014.”

At the end of my letter to the North Carolina commissioners, I wrote, “The Presbyterian Church is a great and lofty church which does have a real role to play in the pursuit of Middle East peace that all of us desire so deeply. Adopting a biased position in favor of one side to this conflict will (would have) only lessen(ed) the ability of the church to be a real force for reconciliation. Together friends, let us pray for peace! Let us pray as if everything depended upon God, but act as if everything depended upon us. In the field of action, the divestment recommendation is a step in the wrong direction and should be dismissed. Truly by working together with both Israelis and Palestinians, working as Jews, Christians and Muslims, we can indeed bring closer the day envisioned by Isaiah when, ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore.’”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Same-sex marriage campaigns should heed local sentiments

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." Since the May 8 vote to approve North Carolina's Amendment One referendum, which constitutionally bars the state from recognizing as legal any marriage other than that of a man to a woman, his words still ring true. Our march toward justice for all citizens of North Carolina, for all God’s children, is incomplete.

In Judaism, a "heshbon hanefesh" is an "accounting of the soul." The concept helps us clarify how we go forward.

Our campaign against Amendment One made significant inroads in mobilizing the support and energy of the state’s African-American community, thanks in large part to the incredible leadership of the North Carolina NAACP's president, the Rev. William Barber. He framed the issue as one of basic civil rights, upholding the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, rather than just as an issue of marriage, and that resonated with many African-American community leaders.

In doing so, he strengthened opposition to Amendment One while acknowledging that many will, and are entitled to, have major problems with same-sex marriages. I found the shift from support of the amendment to opposition heartening.

The fight joined many committed people who worked to create a "coalition for goodness and justice." Our dynamic group, whose members barely knew each other when we started, will continue to fight for social justice issues for all North Carolinians.

Nonetheless, the defeat was far worse than expected. The amendment passed by a whopping 21 percentage points even though polls had predicted a 10-point victory.

So what exactly went wrong?

Professor Maxine Eichner of the University of North Carolina School of Law and other experts, including family-law professors from most of the state’s law schools, detailed the possible harmful and unintended consequences of the amendment. One poll indicated that people would vote against the amendment if it were shown to harm families and children. Reliance on this information became the campaign’s strategy.

But basing a campaign on such information was a major tactical error, and several in the anti-amendment coalition tried to point this out. For two weeks prior to the referendum, amendment supporters ran an effective campaign countering Eichner’s arguments. It included call-in phone briefings with lawyers dismissing the fears raised by the professor.

The "don’t harm families" approach also was reflected in the name of the major organization against the amendment -- "Protect NC Families." The name does not say what the organization stands for and is close in name to "Focus on the Family," a national organization that opposes recognition of gay marriage. This similarity led to confusion.

I'm also not sure that those who came from out of state to help defeat Amendment One understood the people of North Carolina. They were well meaning, but now move on to another battleground. Their record on defeating these amendments is 33 losses and one victory. Is not a strategy change warranted?

Amendment One passed overwhelmingly because of the opposition's inability to reframe the debate from marriage and on to civil rights. Months ago some of us warned that many North Carolinians who opposed same-sex marriages would vote against the amendment if they thought it was discriminatory and denied equal protection as guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

The response was that the argument might gain traction in Greensboro, with its unique civil-rights history (the original sit-ins occurred at the downtown Woolworth department store), but would not resonate elsewhere in the state. Opponents also worried that it would shift focus from the "don’t harm families" strategy in a way that would be harmful at the polls.

The unexpectedly high margin of defeat tells us that basing the campaign on potential harms to families was a tactical error.

A related step that Amendment One opponents should have taken was to emphasize and publicize the pronouncements of prominent conservatives and libertarians who opposed the measure. They generally based their opposition on the same civil rights argument regarding violating the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection.

Finally, the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 52 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Yet a significant number are afraid that legalizing same-sex marriage would force their clergy to officiate at such marriages. Consequently, they oppose same-sex marriage laws. Once people learned that no law could ever be passed that would require a faith community or clergy member to perform such a ceremony – that would be unconstitutional -- support for the legalization of same-sex marriages increased to 58 percent.

Would this amendment have passed if the campaign been managed differently? No one can be sure. Many against the amendment feel that had local people been listened to, the vote could have at least been closer.

Our next step, aside from various legal challenges, should be to convene focus groups of those who opposed Amendment One. We have to ask the serious questions and plan a new strategy.

As King wrote, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." Indeed, but the arc will bend only if those of us who care act wisely in our efforts to bend it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gunther Plaut (zt"l) Comes to Greensboro

Rabbi Gunther Plaut zt”l, one of the greatest and most scholarly rabbis of the twentieth century, died today. He was ninety nine years old. Among other things, Gunther will be remembered for his incredible commentary on the Torah, a commentary which is still used to this day by many liberal Jews.

I think that it was in 2003 that Gunther Plaut posted on Ravkav that he was aggravated that he had aged out of being asked his opinion about anything. I could really feel his pain. Here you had one of the most brilliant rabbis of his generation who had already outlived most of his peers and who felt he was being ignored!

So I wrote him an email. I told him that I was really short on money, but that our congregation would really like to learn from him. I made a proposal that he should come here. He would preach on Friday night, teach Torah study on Saturday morning and do a study session on Saturday afternoon. I mentioned to him that I would like for him to share his early biography with us and his service to our country in World War II. I offered him an absurd amount as an honorarium. I think it was only around $500 plus expenses. I was not trying to exploit him. We really did not have the money!

To my shock and delight, he accepted and asked me to call him. I called him. He sounded completely normal, but he asked me if it was acceptable that he be accompanied by a “lady companion.” Actually, I thought that it was cute. Gunther was forty years older than me. He was at that time over ninety years old.

I guess he told his son Jonathan about our deal. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from Jonathan. Jonathan asked me if I knew that his dad was suffering from the onset of dementia. I said that I did not and asked Jonathan if this was a good idea. Jonathan said that it was a good idea as long as I knew what we were getting into. I asked him for advice and he said that some of the time, his dad needs to be verbally nudged by a comment or a question. He felt that Gunther’s ability to do a straight lecture was not good.

Understanding these limitations, I accepted.

Gunther’s lady friend was none other than Janice (or Janine?) Rothschild who had been married to Jacob Mortimer Rothschild (1022-1973), the esteemed rabbi of The Temple in Atlanta. He had been a passionate advocate for Civil Rights and had been the rabbi at The Temple when it was bombed in 1958.

Janice took great care of Gunther and did so in a most loving way. It was clear to all that he absolutely adored her and loved being with her.

Gunther read something at services on Friday night and did fine.

On Saturday morning at Torah study, I immediately understood what Jonathan was trying to tell me. Gunther really could not teach this class. However, if I asked him a question or to interpret a particular verse, out from someplace in the depths of his mind came incredible pearls of wisdom! I became a “Barbara Walters” character, interviewing Gunther about the Torah portion.

The reaction of the lay students was wonderful. The Torah study session was a smashing success!

All of them came back in the afternoon for the Seudah Shelishit and Havdalah. I continued the interview style and we quickly began to learn all about his early life and his war experiences.

In April of 1945, he was part of the group which liberated Nordhausen. According to Gunther, he found numerous bodies which were in need of a Jewish burial. He went to his commanding officer and asked for permission to force the people of the town to bury the dead. The commanding officer said to Gunther that he had the full force of the US Army behind him in this task.

Later that afternoon according to Gunther, he went to the mayor of the town and told him what needed to be done. The mayor replied that such a task was “inhumane,” by which he meant “gross and disgusting” for the people who would be doing the burials. Many of these bodies were badly decayed and the stench was horrible.

Gunther then said to us something amazing. He told us that he pulled a pistol on the mayor, held it to his head and told him that if every able bodied man from the town was not at the town square at 8 am the next day, he (Gunther) would hunt him down like he dog that he (the mayor) was and he (Gunther) would put a bullet in his head.

People’s mouth dropped in shock! I remember feeling so much love and respect for him at that moment. I had never spent any time with him before that weekend and this could very well been the last time he was a visiting scholar. I am not sure.

Gunther went on to tell us of the incredible thirst that the survivors had for Jewish religious items. In his opinion, they seemed to want these items more than they wanted food!

Our congregation loved that weekend with Gunther. He brought to us even at his advanced age and slightly limited mental capacity a sense not of only of his brilliance, but also of his humanity. I realized that I could never be as brilliant as Gunther, but I hoped that in some way, I could strive to be as dedicated to the Jewish people as Gunther was. He was at that moment both an inspiration and a role model for me!

That seems like a long time ago. I once learned that when a soul leaves a body in which it has been severely limited, it recreates emotionally the joy that the Jewish people felt upon our liberation from Egypt. Gunther’s holy neshamah has now experienced its liberation!

This week at the end of Torah study, we will say Kaddish for Gunther. Many in that group still remember our time with him.

May his memory continue to be an inspiration and a blessing. Zecher Tzaddik levracha!


My friend Mickey Boyden wrote yesterday from Israel “Have you noticed the deafening silence of the human rights organizations and NGO's concerning what is happening in Syria today? Where is the BDS Movement? How is it that there hasn't been, at least to my knowledge, a single major demonstration in the West against the massacre of innocent civilians? Why is it that the Palestinians and Egyptians are not taking to the streets in massive demonstrations against what is being done to their "brothers and sisters?” And if we're asking questions, why is it that the UN Human Rights Council hasn't called for an equivalent of the Goldstone Commission to examine precisely what is happening in Syria today?

Now I know Israel isn't perfect - I live there. But human rights should be indivisible.” (I think he should has said “inviolable?” I think that in London there was a demonstration by Syrians living there. No matter – His points still stand FG)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is There a Jewish Angle to the Komen - Planned Parenthood Controversy?

Is there a Jewish angle to the Komen - Planned Parenthood Controversy? Unless you have been out of touch, you probably know that this past week, bowing to political pressure from anti-choice advocates, the Susan B Komen Foundation chose to defund Planned Parenthood. Last year the Komen Foundation, which is this nation’s largest breast cancer charity, gave $680,000 dollars to Planned Parenthood for breast exams. Planned Parenthood has estimated that, over the past five years, the Komen Foundation funds have paid for 170,000 breast examinations at Planned Parenthood.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation was founded by Nancy Brinker some thirty years ago in memory of her sister Susan Komen who died of breast cancer. To date, the Foundation has raised some $1.9 billion dollars.

The Komen Foundation said that the cut off came because its policy is not to grant money to organizations that are under investigation. Florida Congressman Cliff Stearns, the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Investigative Subcommittee, an anti-choice advocate, has instigated an investigation into whether or not Planned Parenthood has used federal money to fund abortions.

This is where the two sides differ. Komen says it was forced to make the move by a new policy that prevents it from giving grant money to groups that are under investigation, bit it seems as though this policy was applied only to Planned Parenthood. Other than Representative Stern’s investigation, there is no other investigation of Planned Parenthood within the government nor the legal system. Ironically, if Komen was to adhere to this policy completely, it would not have agreed to grant $7,500,000 to Penn State University which is under civil and criminal investigation because of sexual abuse in its football program.

Planned Parenthood is a wonderful organization. I used to be on its Board of Trustees locally during the time when our congregant Sally Cone, Alan’s wife, was the local chair. It was founded ninety years ago and has more than eight hundred centers, including the facility in Greensboro.
A look at how Planned Parenthood spends its money is quite revealing. 35% of its patient care goes to the treatment and testing of sexually transmitted diseases. 16% is for cancer screening and prevention, 10% is for other woman’s health services. 35% is for contraception and only 3% of is patient care goes for abortions. Almost all of its care goes to people who are poor and uninsured.

There are several Jewish angles to this.

First of all, Susan Komen was, and Nancy Brinker, her sister, is Jewish. I happen to know that several rabbis contacted Ms Brinker.

Second, on December 15, 2011 at the Biennial convention, the Union for Reform Judaism presented the most prestigious Maurice N. Eisendrath “Bearer of Light Award” for Service to the World Community to the Foundation which was accepted by Nancy Brinker. Had the URJ known then that the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation was even considering defunding Planned Parenthood, it is highly unlikely that Komen would have been given the award.

In a letter this week to Nancy Brinker, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of the Women of Reform Judaism, wrote: “Halting Komen grant money to PPFA is contrary to your organization's mission and interests, directly and unfairly threatening the health and safety of women.

“Upon accepting the Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award, you told the story of two women, one Palestinian and one Israeli, marching together to combat breast cancer in the first Race for the Cure in Israel. You explained with admiration that, in the course of the walk, they were able to forget the political climate that divided them and they bonded instead over the common cause of women's health. We now urge Komen to follow their example by rejecting efforts to sow division among women's health advocates and providers and refusing to sacrifice the lives of women on the altar of political ideology.”

The letter continues: “We understand that this funding decision comes from a new standard employed by Komen for the Cure that defunds organizations under government investigation. While we understand the desire to have an objective policy in place, this particular standard is misguided, threatening more than just grants to Planned Parenthood (PPFA). We believe there are less partisan ways to accomplish your goals. For example, a standard that is linked to investigations carried out by law enforcement is more likely to be free of partisanship. The standard that Komen has established allows Komen's funding decisions to be dictated by the political whims, partisanship and pet issues of individual members of Congress, who persuade their committees to launch an investigation. This new standard may appear to extricate Komen from politicization, yet in reality it leaves the group open to even greater politicization.”

A third Jewish angle is that there is a doctrine in Judaism called Pikuach Nefesh. Pikuach Nefesh is the belief that the saving of human life is the highest moral obligation in Judaism and is to be done in all cases [except that one cannot justify the saving of save one’s own life by the murder of another innocent person (Sanhedrin 74a asks “Whose blood is redder?")].

It was our hope and prayer that the leadership of the Susan B Komen Foundation would reverse this decision. We were overjoyed and grateful when they reversed the defunding and refunded Planned Parenthood.
In its statement the Foundation said: “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives. The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.

Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities. “

There is little doubt that the intense public outcry led to this decision by the Susan B. Komen Foundation to reverse itself.

The English playwright William Congreve in his play from 1697 entitled “The Mourning Bride” wrote: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

What a fitting quotation in this case. It was clear that the trust and respect of so many for the Susan B Komen Foundation overnight turned to distrust and scorn. Many American women felt devalued by another overt politicization of their health issues, especially when the lives of many, especially poor women, were at stake.

I salute the Komen Foundation for changing its mind, but I urge it to examine well how it got into this mess in the first place. Those within the organization who advocated for this misguided policy should be held accountable. In my opinion, the rage over this was so very real that had the Foundation not changed course, it jeopardized its future viability.

That being said, I want you to know that I have made an online donation to Planned Parenthood and urge you to do likewise.

In addition to Planned Parenthood, I would also recommend an organization called Friends for an Earlier Breast Cancer Test which is important because according to their website: “Most breast cancer is in the body five to eight years before it can be detected through current methods. Earlier detection may prevent invasive surgery, minimize treatment and dramatically increase survival chances.” This charity’s medical director is Dr. Ken Karb at Moses Cone Health System here is Greensboro. It was founded by Martha Kaley and several women in our congregation are active in it. Its expense ratio is very low and it grants money to various universities and research institutes working in this area.

Finally, I am going to present to the Ritual Committee next week that we consider holy a Sabbath service next year devoted to breast cancer awareness and women’s health.

Tonight, we conclude by praying for the health of the one in eight women who will be afflicted with breast cancer in their lifetime. May they be blessed with an early detection of their cancer. We ask God’s blessing upon all people are violated by breast cancer. We ask God’s mitigation of its anguish and pain. Bless and strengthen women and men who suffer from breast cancer with a refuah shelama, a complete recovery. May they be instilled with patience and fortitude, with sensitivity and understanding, and with courage and hope.

May others reach out to them with tenderness and lovingkindness and may they receive the blessings offered by our community and tradition.
Help them all to know how much we love them and how deeply we are devoted to their recovery.

Give them a long, full, peaceful, and happy life marked by a complete healing, a healing of spirit, and a healing of body.

Bless with continued health those who have overcome this disease.

Bless and strengthen the health care professionals and caregivers who seek to heal those who are suffering. Imbue them with courage, confidence, understanding, and compassion so they may join You in the work of healing.

May none of us, be we researchers, patients or caregivers, ever surrender to despair, uncertainty, or fatigue, but may we all engage in Your work with strength, wholeheartedness and devotion.

Help us all to sense Your presence in good times as well as difficult ones.

Grant us patience when the hours are heavy;
In hurt or disappointment give us courage.
Keep us trustful in Your love.

Give us strength for today, and hope for tomorrow.
To your loving hands we commit our spirits when asleep and when awake. You are with us and we shall not fear. Amen

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Arab Spring or Arab Winter?

This week marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia. Sorry but I do not share the optimism of others concerning the so called Arab Spring. It seems to me that at least as far as peace with Israel and the rest of the Western world is concerned; the Arab Spring is closer to an Arab Winter.

This is especially true in Egypt wherein estimates are that the Muslim Brotherhood will control 50% of the lower house of Egypt’s parliament and the Salafis will control 25%. That is 75 % for the Islamic parties.

While for a variety of reasons, I do not see Egypt revoking the peace treaty with Israel, I do believe that the treaty will have little of the content or meaning that it did when it was signed by Sadat in 1979. There will be little if any contact between Egypt and Israeli diplomats. Trade will be kept to a minimum. The natural gas pipeline will not function. Tourism will be minimal.

Worst of all, Egypt will arm Hamas in Gaza to the teeth and be quite content to encourage Hamas to undertake terrorist activities against Israel.

The protestors in Tahrir square might have had the best of intentions to create a liberal democracy, but after years of anti Israel and anti Jewish propaganda, the voice of the Egyptian people is being heard in favor of Islamic rule which has little desire to promote peace and cooperation with Israel.

Egypt is not America. Let us not stick our heads in the sand and join the bandwagon of those who think that the Arab Spring is a step forward for progress, understanding and peace. Rather, the Arab Spring has been a useful tool for the Islamists to take over and once they are in power, the values of liberal democracy, cooperation with the West and peace have little meaning.