Friday, October 24, 2014

Police find micro cameras, lists of names in search of rabbi’s Towson University office

Police searching the Towson University office of a prominent Georgetown rabbi accused of secretly recording women in a ritual bath found a backpack with an assortment of tiny cameras hidden in everyday household objects, including a computer charger, a clock and a tissue box, according to a warrant filed in a Maryland court.
Authorities said they also seized an empty box for a “micro camera” hidden in a key chain along with flash drives and memory cards — some in freezer bags — capable of holding more than 200,000 images and 25,000 hours of video. In addition, police found a picture of nude women and “hand written lists of names.”
The items listed in the search warrant obtained by The Washington Post indicate that devices that could have been used to spy were kept not only in the home of Rabbi Barry Freundel and the bath adjacent to Kesher Israel, the Northwest Washington synagogue he led, but also on the Baltimore County campus where he taught. Police said that Freundel used a camera hidden in a clock radio to record at least six women in the bath, called a mikvah....


"The second thing to bubble up to the surface was that the system that allowed him to do this is broken. Namely, a system that allows men to assume that much unilateral control of anything will unearth the worms that lie beneath the soil...."

Power and Powerlessness in Religion

Let me preface with this: I am aware that this situation is an outlier. The majority of clergy are people who have sacrificed their family, their time, financial gains to serve their higher power. 
They are good folk. With mostly good intentions and are usually the kind of people you want on your life team. The ones I have been lucky to know (with one or two exceptions) have been people with incredible love of fairness. They are ethical to an eye-rolling degree. They recognize the responsibility they have assumed as a religious leader -- which is to see the value of every congregant (as excruciatingly hard as that may be) and to never for one second think that they can not be held accountable. And not only to God. To the congregant. To the board of directors. To the audience that listens to them every week.
When Barry Freundel violated the women of his congregation, a few things became clear. First- the man is a weak megalomaniac with a sexual fetish. Many articles and blog posts have commented on his vast intellect and his large congregation and his lengthy resume. But here's what he also is: a perverse man who loves power. And here's the kicker that's frustrating tho those who want to neatly file people into categories- you can be both - an intellectual cleric who has published and accomplished great rabbinical feats and someone who uses that exact power to prey on the powerless.
The second thing to bubble up to the surface was that the system that allowed him to do this is broken. Namely, a system that allows men to assume that much unilateral control of anything will unearth the worms that lie beneath the soil. Yes, you may also grow a verdant rose garden sometimes- but you must watch vigilantly for the worms. A system that has men making all the legal and religious decisions about women's bodies is a hopelessly flawed system. If laws pertaining to women don't at the very least have women's input and decision making and presence -- than those laws will be used against women.
 We have seen this happen on Capitol Hill. We have seen it happen in fundamentalist Islamic countries. We see it happening in Orthodox Judaism. Laws pertaining to women's sexuality and bodies must be legislated by women. To avoid the burka or any other obsessive covering of women's bodies and voices, we need to hand the laws (not just the keys to the mikva) over to the women.
The third thing that resonated with me after learning about Barry Freundel's crimes is that those who are converting into a religion are particularly vulnerable and powerless. Lack of knowledge makes you powerless. Being new to a system (or a school or a profession) makes you vulnerable. It's exactly those people that need to be protected most. And that are easiest to prey on if you are sick and broken and nefarious. Conversion processes need to be vigilantly monitored. Specifically for female converts, those involved in the converting need to not only be men- for so many reasons. Least of all is that converting to Judaism culminates with being naked in a mikva. 
That is no place for men. No matter what kind of sheet or raincoat or blanket you throw on the woman. Could there be any more vulnerable position than a naked woman immersing in a bath in order to be officially accepted into a religion? Yes there can- when there are also three men observing the ritual. Beyond the ick factor and the inherent patriarchy of it, there's also the worms underneath the soil. We need to be vigilant and protect the vulnerable.
And before people get up in arms about using this heinous crime to promote a feminist agenda -- I disagree (although each and every one of us promote agendas every day of our lives).
 I see it as an opportunity to unearth the worms and re-soil. The current soil is all wrong. At the very least, we can learn from this pitiful event and change the broken system.

A Nation That Stands Alone - "Am L'Vado Yishkon"

US rejected Ya'alon request to meet key officials

Obama administration refused to grant visits with top figures, in act of political payback for defense minister calling Kerry 'obsessive and messianic'

WASHINGTON – The US administration prevented Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon from meeting with key officials during his visit to Washington, DC, American sources told Ynet on Friday.


The defense ministry did not comment, though sources close to Ya'alon said "the aim was to meet with the security echelon, and that was what happened."

Ya'alon and Power (Photo: Defense Ministry)
Ya'alon and Power (Photo: Defense Ministry)

Ya'alon arrived on Tuesday to meet his counterpart, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and American intelligence officials. The Obama administration, however, refused the Israeli defense minister's request to meet with other top officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Ya'alon at Ground Zero in NYC (Photo: Defense Ministry)
Ya'alon at Ground Zero in NYC (Photo: Defense Ministry)

The rejection was diplomatic blowback from Ya'alon's remarks on Kerry, which were first revealed by Yedioth Ahronoth. The Israeli politician had called the top US diplomat "messianic and obsessive" behind closed doors, adding that "the only thing that could save us is Kerry winning a Nobel Peace Prize and leaving us alone."

Unlike his predecessor in the job, Ehud Barak – who used to make diplomatic overtures during his Washington visits – the US administration refused to set any such meetings for Ya'alon.

Ya'alon inside Ground Zero memorial (Photo: Defense Ministry)
Ya'alon inside Ground Zero memorial (Photo: Defense Ministry)

Previous defense ministers would often be honored by drop-in visit by the president, who would stop to chat with the Israeli guest even without an appointment – Ya'alon did not receive such a gesture.