Chabad Lubavitch

Los Angeles, San Diego newspaper staffs combine forces to cover Poway synagogue shooting

Los Angeles, San Diego newspaper staffs combine forces to cover Poway synagogue shooting

Another weekend, another religious worship shooting. Last week, it was suicide bombers killing 290 people celebrating Easter at church or eating breakfast at swank hotels in Sri Lanka; this weekend, it was one dead and three wounded at a San Diego-area synagogue that was observing the last day of Passover.

This latest attack in Poway, Calif., was obviously the major religion story this weekend. Houses of worship have become quite the fashion as killing fields these days and no group: Jews, Christians or Muslims, are immune.

The San Diego Union-Tribune had 13 stories about the shooting, including this haunting piece about the one fatality; a 60-year-old woman who stepped in front of the rabbi and literally took the bullet for him. What was she thinking when she did that? Unfortunately, a paywall would only let me read one piece.

The Los Angeles Times has covered mass shootings before and one of the reporters who covered the 2016 San Bernardino shootings covered this one, too. What both newspapers have in common is they lack a staff religion reporter, which would be of great help here, especially in noting important details like how this group of Jews does not believe in using electronics, such as smart phones, during the Sabbath.

That is why no one caught video of the shootings and why members of the synagogue would not have been spreading details by phone until Sabbath ended that evening.

But the Times made the wise decision to nab Jaweed Kaleem, formerly the senior religion reporter at the Huffington Post who now covers race issues for the Times, to lend his expertise. First, though, was the initial report out Saturday afternoon.

A gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle walked into a suburban San Diego County synagogue and opened fire on the congregation Saturday, killing one person and injuring three in an attack that authorities believe was motivated by hate.

The gunman entered Chabad of Poway in the 16000 block of Chabad Way about 11:20 a.m. and started firing, authorities said. The 19-year-old suspect, identified as John T. Earnest, of Rancho Penasquitos, was arrested a short time later.

Earnest appears to have written a letter posted on the internet filled with anti-Semitic vitriol. The letter talks about planning for the attack.

“Four weeks ago, I decided I was doing this. Four weeks later, I did it.”

A more complete version, with nine reporters contributing from both the Times and the Union-Tribune, ran Sunday.

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As more journalists report on Iceland's circumcision saga, the country gets a rabbi

As more journalists report on Iceland's circumcision saga, the country gets a rabbi

Iceland, pop. 348,580, is smaller than many U.S. counties but it often makes news totally out of proportion to its size. I recently reported on the country’s attempt to become the first nation in the world to ban circumcision.

The post was inundated with a wave of comments from anti-circumcision activists who ignored the journalism question raised in my post. Tmatt says he spiked at least two dozen of these messages. So, before you read any further, please restrict any comments to the quality of news coverage on this issue, not your own views on the legal and religious issue itself.

But do read my article and the lengthy response by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson on what the true issues are in Iceland about circumcision.

Then I learned a few days later that Chabad Lubavitch, possibly the most outreach oriented Orthodox Jewish group out there, plans to send a rabbi and his family (pictured above) to Reykjavik sometime next fall. Most of the coverage came from Jewish media, such as this piece by the Jewish Telegraph Agency: 

The Chabad movement is sending a rabbi and his wife to Iceland, an island nation with 250 Jews where ritual slaughter of animals is illegal and circumcision is likely to be outlawed as well.
Rabbi Avi Feldman, 27, of Brooklyn, New York, and his Sweden-born wife Mushky, are slated to settle with their two daughters in Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital city, later this year, the couple told JTA last week.
The country is not known to have had a resident rabbi servicing an active Jewish community there since 1918, the year it gained independence from what was then the Kingdom of Denmark.

The piece then updated readers on the circumcision debate in Iceland, then quoted Feldman’s response.

“We hope to bring awareness of the relevance and importance of brit milah,” the rabbi told JTA, using the Hebrew-language word for Jewish ritual circumcision, which is typically performed on boys when they are eight days old. “We hope to bring this awareness to local Icelandic people and especially to lawmakers in their decision on rules, which we hope will have a religious exemption clause.”

Chabad.org has by far the most details on the new rabbi and Iceland’s sparse Jewish history

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Politico's attempt to link Trump and Putin via Chabad movement falls as flat as matzah

Politico's attempt to link Trump and Putin via Chabad movement falls as flat as matzah

Is there a newspaper or television station out there that hasn't been contacted by a representative of the Hasidic Jewish organization Chabad pitching a story about local kids helping to bake matzah dough in the days leading up to Passover?

Ah, p.r. manna -- quickie content that beats having to actually ferret out yet another obligatory pre-Passover holiday feature. And what cute visuals; eager kids working alongside cheerful young men sporting classic rabbinic beards dusted with flour.

But Chabad, also known as Chabad-Lubavitcher, is about way more than quickie Passover stories. In case you're not aware of this, let it be said that Chabad is one of the planet's most powerful and far-reaching Jewish religious organizations.

Like all global religious players, it's deeply involved in political gamesmanship, which it plays with considerable skill. Chabad excels at swimming with political sharks of all sorts -- from Nepal to Nigeria, from Ukraine to Uruguay, from Hawaii to Capitol Hill and the White House.

Its supporters lavish donations and praise -- Chabad was key to the survival of traditional Jewish religious practice during the Soviet Union's darkest days. Its critics attack it for a willingness to work with some pretty vile authoritarian governments, its hyper-competitive and often dismissive stance toward other Jewish religious organizations and, yes, its promulgation of ultra-Orthodox religious practice in a liberal age.

An example of this criticism is a recent piece published by Politico that sought to link American President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Chabad cast as some shady go between.

I'll of course say more about this lengthy story, including whether it was blatantly anti-Semitic, as some have alleged

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When Jews leave the Orthodox fold: The New York Times magazine profiles the exiles

When Jews leave the Orthodox fold: The New York Times magazine profiles the exiles

I’ve seen my fair share of stories about children raised in strict religious environments in all sorts of settings, but one group I’ve not read much about is ultra-Orthodox Jews. I once caught a glimpse of that lifestyle when I was invited to services at a Chasidic synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway,  then dinner at a friend’s in Crown Heights, a Brooklyn neighborhood heavily populated by followers of the late Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Next door was the Jewish Children’s Museum, the largest of its kind in the country. My visit was a glimpse into a lifestyle I’d only heard about in books and to be mixing with people who came straight out of a Chaim Potok novel was beyond fascinating.

Potok, in fact, wrote several books about the struggle between faith and secularity and it’s this theme that got explored in a New York Times magazine piece this past weekend about Jews who leave the Orthodox life. It starts thus:

On Thursdays, the nonprofit organization Footsteps hosts a drop-in group for its membership of formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews, who mostly refer to themselves as “off the derech.” “Derech” means “path” in Hebrew, and “off the derech,” or O.T.D. for short, is how their ultra-Orthodox families and friends refer to them when they break away from these tight-knit, impermeable communities, as in: “Did you hear that Shaindel’s daughter Rivkie is off the derech? I heard she has a smartphone and has been going to museums.” So even though the term is burdened with the yoke of the very thing they are trying to flee, members remain huddled together under “O.T.D.” on their blogs and in their Facebook groups, where their favored hashtag is #itgetsbesser — besser meaning “better” in Yiddish. Sometimes someone will pop up on a message board or in an email group and say, “Shouldn’t we decide to call ourselves something else?” But it never takes. Reclamations are messy.
At the drop-in session I attended, 10 men and women in their 20s and 30s sat around a coffee table. Some of them were dressed like me, in jeans and American casualwear, and others wore the clothing of their upbringings: long skirts and high-collared shirts for women; black velvet skullcaps and long, virgin beards and payot (untrimmed side locks) for men. Half of them had extricated themselves from their communities and were navigating new, secular lives. But half still lived among their Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox sects in areas of New York City, New Jersey and the Hudson Valley and were secretly dipping their toes into the secular world — attending these meetings, but also doing things as simple as walking down the street without head coverings, or trying on pants in a clothing store, or eating a nonkosher doughnut, or using the internet. They had families at home who believed they were in evening Torah learning sessions, or out for a walk, or at synagogue for evening prayers. On the coffee table were two pizzas, one kosher, one nonkosher. The kosher pizza tasted better, but only a couple of people ate it.

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Concerning Trump and anti-Semitism: Scribes offer blitz of views on whether he is or is not

Concerning Trump and anti-Semitism: Scribes offer blitz of views on whether he is or is not

The daily maelstrom that is the Donald Trump administration has left journalists across the religious and political spectrum gasping for air. There is so much real news -- don't get me started on the "fake news" dystopia -- that even a 24-7 news cycle is unable to keep pace.

So being only human, I've had to prioritize which issues I pay close attention to in an effort to keep my head from exploding. Not surprisingly, my priority issues are the ones I think impact me most directly.

These would include the future of the environment and climate change policy, White House attacks on the integrity of the press, health care, religious liberty for all, the economy and class divisions and the increase of anti-Semitic acts -- including a continuing rash of bomb threats -- and the president's reaction to them.

Meanwhile, the headlines just keep on coming. 

Sure enough, just prior to this post going live, the president commented on the bomb threats and other anti-Semitism incidents that have manifested of late. Click here for the latest.

The debates will continue. To say the least, the elite media, the American Jewish press and Israeli media have been all over the anti-Semitism issue.

I've read and viewed numerous reports that I thought handled it quite adequately and fairly. As you might expect, it's an explosive topic for any Jew who publicly identifies as such, as I do, and has family history connected directly to anti-Semitism at its very worst -- the Holocaust and Muslim terrorism against Israeli and non-Israeli Jews.

As a former wire service reporter (United Press International in New York and San Francisco during the 1960s), I retain a fondness for a well-crafted round-up on a complicated subject -- such as the charges from some Jews (and others) that President Trump harbors anti-Semitic inclinations. Of course, others say he at least looks the other way when such inclinations appear to surface in his associates and supporters.

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Anatevka resurrected? Feature in Foreign Policy Review misses a few Jewish details

Anatevka resurrected? Feature in Foreign Policy Review misses a few Jewish details

How many of us remember the mournful song that appears near the end of "Fiddler on the Roof" when the tzar’s soldiers kick the Jews out of their tiny village?

Hint: It goes like this. You can click here and watch the scene in the classic movie. You may want to have tissues nearby.

Anatevka, Anatevka.
Underfed, overworked Anatevka.
Where else could Sabbath be so sweet?

Anatevka, Anatevka.
Intimate, obstinate Anatevka,
Where I know everyone I meet.

Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place,
Searching for an old familiar face
From Anatevka.

When Sholom Aleichem wrote the story that inspired the 1964 musical (and 1971 film), Anatevka was a fictional name for a real life village just west of Kiev.

So what should pop up this week in Foreign Policy Review but the story of a real place called Anatevka? It's a fine story, yet it has one major hole, which we'll get to. Yes, we are talking about important religious details.

KIEV -- When the rabbi of Chernobyl, Mordechai Twersky, felt he was dying in 1837, he set out on a long walk from Kiev. He made it about 30 kilometers to the west, where he came upon a rolling green field of wildflowers on the banks of the Irpin River, outside the village of Hnativka.
It was there, he decided, that he would be laid to rest, having chosen the pastoral location, according to local lore, “because there is no house of idol worship, and the sound of impure bells won’t disturb my rest in the grave.”

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