Friday, May 29, 2015

They get to move across the country, start a new life, and are presented a plateful of new women. Women who have no idea. Congregations that have no idea. Even when you stare us down with gag orders and secret meeting or trials. These men still find our weakness....

..."At first, I said no to his advances, but his wanting me felt so good, and I was so hungry. We lived in different states, but he was going to a rabbinical conference close to me, so we decided to meet. It was the start of an affair that soon became twisted and dark. He’d call me from strip clubs, and text me as he walked onto the pulpit for Friday night services. We met again while he attended another conference. He took me to dinner and drinks all on his synagogue’s dime. Soon, he grew darker. 
He stopped calling me by name: I was now bitch, slut, mistress. 

And then one day, he sent me pictures of his wife without her knowledge. There are no words for that type of violation. I should have stopped then. I should have stopped for his own marriage, but most of all, I should have stopped for her. When I tried to speak up, he reminded me of his importance in the Jewish community. I was scared. I was scared to lose my own friends and ruin his life. And then, my husband found our texts, and threw me out. And then the rabbi turned his back. I lost everything bit by bit. It ate at me. His world stayed the same and mine was destroyed. His wife found out, and she didn’t leave.  Eventually, I went to the head of the ethics committee of the movement. He took my story and was kind, but nothing happened. I had to be the one to decide if they would start an investigation. The decision plagued me. I had to reach out to a therapist. 

And then I learned that I wasn’t the only one. And I learned from other people that he wasn’t the powerful man he pretended to be. He needed to be stopped, and I had to be brave. 

More than anything, I felt obligated to stop him from hurting other women. 

In the end, he refused to be investigated. In the end, he was kicked out of the movement. In the end, his wife moved him across the country. And in the end, he remained a rabbi. None of the other rabbis know the details. No one can help me. Worst of all, he is still a danger. He is still a predator. He still has access, and no one in his new world knows.

We forget that predators who take advantage live among us. Whether they live inside our own homes, or stand on high at their pulpit. They ruin our lives and many times get to move on with theirs. Even when they get a slap on the hand; even when they get kicked out of their movement. Even when they get 6 years; if they hurt 1 woman or 152. 

They get to move across the country, start a new life, and are presented a plateful of new women. Women who have no idea. Congregations that have no idea. Even when you stare us down with gag orders and secret meeting or trials. These men still find our weakness.

The sisters that spoke up about Josh Duggar are brave. The women who spoke out against Rabbi Freundel are brave. I wish the rest of us ruined by certain rabbis were strong enough to do the same.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Statement on Sexual Abuse From The Chief Rabbi of the U.K.

Office of the Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis - United Kingdom

Statement on Sexual Abuse

--- The conviction of a prominent member of the Manchester Jewish community for sexual abuse is of immense significance. Though certainly not the first such case, it sends an unequivocal message that nobody, in any part of our community, can expect to commit these horrific crimes and escape prosecution. The longstanding view of the Chief Rabbi and Beth Din has been restated a number of times in recent years, but this is an opportune moment to reinforce that position once again.

I would like to commend the victims and others who withstood tremendous pressure and gave evidence. I hope that their courage will inspire others to come forward in the future.

This kind of abuse is a stain on all of society and we are no less vulnerable to the scourge of sexual crimes than any other community. Perpetrators of these crimes destroy lives and every one of us shares in the responsibility to protect victims and potential victims. As such, we must not only ensure that all incidents are reported to the police without delay, but that we must do everything in our power to promote a culture whereby reporting such crimes to the relevant statutory authorities is supported and encouraged.

It is imperative that communities across the country have robust child protection policies in place and should act in consultation with the statutory services. Every community should review its policies and procedures regularly and consider what else can be done – we can always do more.

Further to previously held training seminars for Rabbis, I will be writing this week to Rabbis across the country, advising them of a mandatory, dedicated seminar that the United Synagogue is organising on behalf of its communities, in order to better prepare Rabbis to identify and respond to incidents of child abuse in their communities and to reinforce the importance of being vigilant at all times. In addition, I am meeting with victims of abuse and campaigners in this area to seek views from them as to what more can be done to better protect vulnerable people in our communities.

May we all have the courage to seek out and challenge cruelty and injustice from within our midst.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis



 On The Radio 2006:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Like any democracy, Israel isn’t perfect, but its government and people need no lessons from Barack Obama about values or which policies best serve its long-term interests. Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself, and anyone who thinks it should be has no respect for the Israeli people...."

Obama on Israel: A Judgmental Friend and Its Open Enemies

The Know-Nothing President Dons A Yarmulke & Lectures American Jews about His Audacity of Being a "Chickensh*t"

President Obama’s sales pitch for his still unfinished nuclear deal with Iran went to the next level today as he spoke at a Washington, D.C. synagogue to commemorate Jewish Heritage Month. As he always does when speaking before friendly liberal Jewish audiences, the president knows just what buttons to push to win the hearts of his listeners. Flattery about the place of Jews in American history? Check. Appeals to common liberal values and Jewish participation in the civil rights movement? Of course. Support for Israel? I’ve got your back. Opposition to an Iranian nuclear bomb? I’ll never let it happen

Outrage about anti-Semitism? You got it. The result is always the same. Liberal Jews reconfirm their love affair with the president and file away any doubts they have about his predilection for picking fights with the Jewish state and for his pursuit of détente with one of the most anti-Semitic governments in the world. But Barack Obama’s troubling ideas about friendship with Israel should give even his most ardent Jewish fans pause. The problem with Obama is not that he’s an avowed enemy of Israel but that he’s the sort of judgmental friend whose positions are often indistinguishable from those of its foes. 

Obama’s purpose was twofold

One is to rally liberal Jews behind the Iran nuclear deal despite its many shortcomings. The president doesn’t need to win the votes of the majority of the House or the Senate, just one third plus one, the amount to sustain a veto of what might be a strong “no” vote in both bodies. Getting 34 members of the Senate to back a terrible deal whose final form may wind up even weaker than we thought it would be won’t be easy. But so long as a critical mass of liberal Jews are willing to stick with him, it will be easier.

The other is to soften up domestic opposition to a policy shift on Israel in which the president will effectively abandon Israel at the United Nations. Obama’s antipathy for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has only increased in the last few months. Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran deal and his re-election that led to the creation on an even more right-wing government has deepened the president’s resolve to increase pressure on the Jewish state to make concessions to the Palestinians. That leaves open the possibility that the administration will stop vetoing Palestinian efforts to gain recognition for their independence at the UN without first having to make peace with Israel.

But the president’s message to the Jews today was that they shouldn’t regard any of this as a sign of his lack of regard for them or Israel.

The argument for accepting this point of view was rehearsed often enough during the 2012 presidential election. We were told then, as we were today, that Obama likes Israel and won’t let anything bad happen to it. But what was different about today’s speech is that the Iran deal and the open scorn that administration officials have directed at Israel in the last year (chickensh*t) while wrongly blaming Netanyahu for the latest collapse of the peace process gives the lie to many of his re-election promises. Nor is it easy to sell a liberal Jewry that was promised in 2012 that Obama would insist that any Iran deal made them give up their nuclear program on the idea that an agreement that treats allows them to keep that program is kosher.

So to justify this open hostility and policies that seem clearly aimed at downgrading the alliance as he embraces Iran, the president was forced to explain his ideas about the nature of friendship with Israel.

Obama sees himself as a critical friend who prefers the Israel of the early years of the country when it was widely lauded as an example of how ideas of social justice could blend with nationalism to the complex reality of the current day:
I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war.  The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world.  Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive.  And those values in many ways came to be my own values.  They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.
That is the sort of sentiment that many liberal Jews would echo. They liked the Israel that was run by the Labor Party of previous generations because it didn’t seem too right-wing or religious and acted as if peace were always just around the corner. A lot of Israelis may share that idea but the problem here is that the real life Israel of 2015 is different. More to the point, Israel changed for a reason. If support there for the peace process collapsed, it was because the Palestinians never accepted Israel’s peace offers and responded instead with terrorism.

Obama’s says he is as judgmental of Israel as he is of the United States, and perhaps that is true. But that judgmental attitude is rooted in the notion that he knows better than both Israel’s government and its people what is good for its security or its survival. And he thinks it’s good for the relationship for these differences to be fully aired.

But if there is anything we have learned in the last six-plus years, it is that the daylight between Washington and Jerusalem that Obama came into office seeking has not advanced the cause of peace one bit. To the contrary, his open arguments with Israel’s government have only made it even less likely that the Palestinians will ever accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. That has enhanced the chances of violence and conflict in a region where Islamist terror has grown on Obama’s watch. His embrace of an entente with an Iran is just as dangerous.

The point here is not just that his Iran deal is a sham or that his refusal to hold the Palestinians accountable for their refusal to make peace is wrongheaded. It is that Obama’s conception of the relationship with Israel is such that he thinks it empowers him to pressure it to adopt policies that are clearly detrimental to its security despite all the lip service for that concept. He not only thinks Netanyahu is wrong, he thinks his delusional nostalgia for the Israel of the past gives him the right to be a scourge to the Israel of the present; even if that means cutting off arms supplies during war (as he did last summer during the conflict with Hamas), isolating it at the UN or allowing Iran to become, at the very least, a threshold nuclear power.

That’s the sort of friendship that is insufferable to a country that is still beset by enemies that are fueled by the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world that Obama acknowledged. But in its willingness to excuse or reward the behavior of Israel’s open foes, it downgrades the alliance to a conditional relationship rather than a genuine alliance.

Like any democracy, Israel isn’t perfect, but its government and people need no lessons from Barack Obama about values or which policies best serve its long-term interests. Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself, and anyone who thinks it should be has no respect for the Israeli people. American Jews who warmly applauded Obama’s speech need to understand that friendship on those terms is not only not much of a friendship but also, if he follows through on his threats, tiptoes perilously toward open hostility.


Friday, May 22, 2015

"Pretty much every rabbi we know has used his pulpit or his classroom to tell us what he thinks of our flesh. Of course we’re all traumatized. Our bodies have been on communal display for a very long time. Freundel’s actions triggered some of our worst fears and unleashed a lot of trauma. But it’s not enough to say, well, it wasn’t rape, or it’s only one rabbi.... This is the right time for the entire Jewish community to try to understand what really happens when girls’ and women’s bodies are considered communal property".

Stop Minimizing Barry Freundel's Actions By Saying He is Nonviolent

One of the most infuriating responses to the Freundel scandal I‘ve heard is the argument, “But it wasn’t rape.” As if to say, what he did was not such a big deal — after all it’s not categorized as a “violent” crime. In one really frustrating exchange I had, a radio host kept insisting that the requested 17-year prison term was too long because “it wasn’t rape,” he said, “I would rather be watched than penetrated.”

This comment is absurd in that it assumes that victims have a choice about how to be violated and that one is “better” than the other, but more dangerously it belies the very real and powerful impact of this category of so-called “non-violent” sexual assault. This is a type of assault that we need to understand better, because in this digital age, it is likely to increase.

What is the damage that is caused to a victim of voyeurism? That is the question that prosecutors in this case were trying to quantify. The prosecutor’s brief, followed by victim testimony in court, painted a portrait of sexual and spiritual trauma. It included victims who are afraid to get undressed, who are having difficulty resuming their intimate relationships, who have trouble trusting rabbis, who cannot walk into synagogue, who cannot walk into a mikveh, who are questioning their entire Jewish identity and religious practice.

Therapists have known for some time that emotional abuse can be just as hard to heal from – if not harder in some cases – than physical abuse. As a friend of mine, who had been in an emotionally abusive relationship for 12 years before her husband hit her, told me: “When you see a black eye, there is no denying that you have a problem that you need to fix. But when it’s emotional abuse, it’s harder to know and identify. And it’s hard to trust yourself.” The victim of so-called non-violent abuse is trapped in a web of mind games: What did I to deserve this? Why am I feeling so bad? Everything is fine, isn’t it? It’s my fault that I’m feeling this way. Recovering from non-violent abuse does not involve surgeons or bandages or rehabilitation. It requires taking ownership again of your own mind and your own truth. It requires learning to trust yourself and trust the world around you, even when the world proved itself to be unsafe. This is the kind of challenge that, for some victims, can take a lifetime.

This particular crime of secretly taping naked women in the mikveh is particularly hard because it violates women’s very basic fears. In order for a woman to immerse in the mikveh – to stand naked in front of a mikveh attendant who asks personal questions, plucks hairs off her back and watches her get in and out of the water – you have to consciously let go of the voice inside your head telling you that this is a bad idea. The idea that I need to strip and be watched in order to be religious is so counter-intuitive, and in fact such a basic violation of basic dignity – but women who immerse systematically put all those feelings aside and are taught that this is trustworthy practice, that the mikveh is safe. No wonder so many women who were not directly victims of Freundel were demonstrably shaken by this story. It proves all the things that our deepest consciousness may have been telling us all along: that going to the mikveh is probably a really bad idea. Who to trust now? How do we make our way back to our religious lives and identities? What is the recovery like for that particular violation?

Voyeurism is often seen as a kind of victimless crime. But that attitude is a mistake. In the digital age, where we spend so much of our day watching images and connecting in non-physical ways, there is a tremendous need to understand how this kind of non-physical violation can harm people. I think there are clues to this in the issue of sexting, for example, where people share intimate photos of themselves thinking that they are for private use but may end of being viewed by others, sometimes virally. Research demonstrates a connection between depression – even suicide – and the sharing of intimate photos. In one study teenagers involved in sexting were more likely to attempt suicide, and were twice as likely to have depressive symptoms as students who weren't involved in sexting. One psychologist described a sense of disillusionment and a sense of betrayal” when the private image gets shared, which leads to depression and regret. “These girls may act real tough and say this doesn't matter but a lot of them do wind up doing some sort of self harm…cutting, bulimia, burning themselves, pulling out eyelashes or pubic hair, or some other sort of self-injurious behavior like alcohol and drug use.” This psychologist is not describing healing from rape; it is about healing from non-contact, non-physical sexual violation.

Society must acknowledge the kind of emotional and psychological scarring this kind of dynamic can cause. It’s not about physical violence, but rather about a form of sexual abuse in which your body and your sexuality is the object of gaze or conversation among people who did not ask for permission to watch or talk about your body. In fact, the most famous victim of this kind of “non-violent” sexual violation is Monica Lewinsky, who recently gave a riveting TED talk about the impact of having the entire universe discuss your sexual life. At times, Lewinsky couldn’t leave her house, and her mother was afraid that she would do something drastic to herself.

Orthodox women and girls have a particular vulnerability to non-contact sexual violation, and not just because of the mikveh practice. It starts much earlier than that. In the Orthodox community, commentary on girls’ bodies is so commonplace that most day schools have staff members whose job description includes watching girls’ knees and elbows for signs of exposure. The entire Orthodox community is taught that this is okay, that it’s normal religious practice for adults to comment on the sexual allure of girls’ bodies. The community never bothers to ask how this practice affects girls’ relationships with their own bodies, and certainly does not ask how it affects girls’ abilities to know when their sexual privacy is being violated. I think that girls who are forced to endure incessant commentary from adult teachers about their skin and body parts are all victims of sexual voyeurism.

And it’s no wonder that so many women – myself included – found ourselves shaking from the Freundel story. Trembling, actually. Our bodies have been watched and measured by an entire community for our whole lives. Pretty much every rabbi we know has used his pulpit or his classroom to tell us what he thinks of our flesh. Of course we’re all traumatized. Our bodies have been on communal display for a very long time.

Freundel’s actions triggered some of our worst fears and unleashed a lot of trauma. But it’s not enough to say, well, it wasn’t rape, or it’s only one rabbi. These events should be used to instigate a communal conversation about what so-called non-violent sexual assault looks like, and what it does to a person. This is the right time for the entire Jewish community to try to understand what really happens when girls’ and women’s bodies are considered communal property.




Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Vatican has been at best indifferent and at worst, like today, willfully harmful to the Jewish State....

Op-Ed: The Vatican has Always Tried to Inflict Damage on the Jewish State

A few days ago, before his deplorable meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas,  the Vatican choose to recognize the “State of Palestine” in a historic move severely criticized by Israel. The Zionist Organization of America rightly condemned it as “the Pope recognizing Jew/Christian-Hating Palestinian State”.
There is nothing new under the sun. Despite the fact that there are many Catholics around the world who share a pro-Israel attitude, the Catholic Church has always been at war with the Jewish State and did everything in its power to prevent its establishment and then to derail it.

After the pro-Jewish Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Vatican’s opposition to Jewish territorial sovereignty grew more entrenched. In the years after the Holocaust, Vatican anti-Zionist policies attempted to block the partition of Palestine at the United Nations, and to secure Jerusalem as an international, sovereign “corpus separatum”, which was meant to prevent the Jews from setting a foot in the Old City of Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount.
Two major cardinals were active in British Palestine in the first twenty years of the 20th century: the British Francis Bourne and the Italian Filippo Giustini. Cardinal Bourne in 1919 sent a letter to the then British government, writing that Zionism had not received the approval of the Vatican, and that if the Jews would “ever again dominate and rule the country, it would be an outrage to Christianity and its Divine founder”.
Cardinal Giustini in that year cabled the Pope from Jerusalem asking for his intervention “to prevent the re-establishment of Zionist Israel in Palestine”. In another letter from Jerusalem, Cardinal Bourne defined Zionism as “contrary to Christian sensitivity and tradition”.

“There was no real reason why the Jews should be back in Palestine. Why should not a nice place be found for them, for instance in South America?”.
Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, who was Secretary of State under two Popes (Benedict XV and his successor Pius XI) said that “the most dangerous threat is the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine”. Gasparri claimed that, “It is better [to have] the internationalization of the Holy Sites rather than see Jerusalem in the hands of the Jews”. Then Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Luigi Barlassina, condemned the creation of an “autocratic Zionist domination” in many articles and dispatches to Rome.
And during the ‘30s, while the Jews were under attack in Germany and Italy, Domenico Tardini, the Vatican Undersecretary of State, told a British diplomat in 1938: “There was no real reason why the Jews should be back in Palestine. Why should not a nice place be found for them, for instance in South America?”.
The Vatican not only opposed the Balfour declaration at the League of Nations, it also endorsed the British “White Paper”, which fought the Jews’ right to immigrate to their Holy Land.
Even Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, later to become Pope John XXIII and recognized by some Jews as a friend, wrote that he was “uneasy about the attempts of Jews to reach Palestine, as if they were trying to reconstruct a Jewish kingdom”.
At the peak of the Holocaust, the Vatican’s main thought was to oppose the creation of a Jewish State, which if it would had been established before could have saved many Jews fleeing Hitler. Pope Pius XII made his opposition toward a Jewish homeland known to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Dated June 22, 1943, the letter sent by Amleto Cicognani, the Pope’s special representative to the US, to Ambassador Myron Taylor, Roosevelt’s emissary to Pius XII, made Pius’s policy against Zionism crystal clear.
On 10 April 1945, while the war was still going on in Europe, Moshè Sharet of the Jewish Agency, was received by Pope Pius XII. He hoped for the “moral support” of the Catholic Church for “our renewed existence in Palestine”. But he did not receive any support; on the contrary the Vatican started a new campaign for “the internationalization of Jerusalem” supported by France, another name used to deprive the Jews of their homeland.
Giorgio Hakim, then Catholic bishop of San Giovanni d’Acri, in 1947 delivered a letter by the Muftì of Jerusalem to the Pope in the Vatican — who had been an ally to Hitler in the “final solution” — against Israel’s projected establishment. Pius XII reacted “very cordially”. In 1948, when Israel was fighting six Arab armies which wanted to annihilate the tiny and fragile Jewish State, the Catholic press and the Vatican officials attempted to tie the Arab Christian refugee crisis into its general critique of “Israeli incursions” and “Jewish imperialism”.
In 1949 the Italian embassy in the Vatican dispatched a message that the Holy See had the opinion that “the Israelis are using against the Arabs the same methods that the Nazis used against them”.
I could go on with this list of Vatican’s attempts to derail the creation and survival of the State of Israel. Emanuel Ringelblum, the great historian of Polish Jewry who was killed during the Holocaust, noted that during the war “when the blood of Jewish students was shed and anti-Semitic savages rioted, the clergy either kept silent or approved these deeds...”.
Those words, pronounced by a hero of the Warsaw ghetto, could be used also today for the Vatican’s indifference to Israel’s mortal siege. And just as it did in World War II, by choosing to recognize the “State of Palestine,” the Vatican made common cause with an evil Palestinian Arab Islamic power in a vain attempt to buy temporary security for their own communities.
But despite these attempts, the Jewish people will grow in its land and city. All the land is theirs. Period. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the founding dean of New York's Mesifta Torah VoDaath, became a vegetarian after the Holocaust/Shoah, simply yet powerfully declaring, "There has been enough killing in the world."

The Planet-Saving Mitzvah: Why Jews Should Consider Vegetarianism 

by Daniel Brook

Judaism has to be a daily spiritual and social practice, not simply a ritualized one, if it is to be meaningful to Jews and relevant to others. Beyond being spiritual, we are called upon to uplift ourselves and to make the world a better place for ourselves, our families, our communities, and others.

In Why Be Jewish? Rabbi David J. Wolpe writes that "Judaism emphasizes good deeds because nothing else can replace them. To love justice and decency, to hate cruelty and to thirst for righteousness-that is the essence of the human task." The human task, therefore, is to be a mensch: a good, kind, and compassionate person.

One of the ways to follow our rich tradition while putting Judaism's highest ideals into daily practice is to choose vegetarianism. In the words of Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, "I see vegetarianism as a mitzvah"-a sacred duty and good deed.

Maimonides postulated thirteen principles of the Jewish faith, while Rabbi Moses Cordovero wrote about The Thirteen Divine Attributes. Here are thirteen categorical imperatives suggesting why Jews should seriously consider vegetarianism and then move in that direction:

1. Righteousness and Charity.
Even though it is often difficult, we do all have the power to break bad habits and soul search for better ways of living. Becoming vegetarian sets a lifelong course of righteousness. Righteous people regard-and guard-the lives of animals (Proverbs 12:10). According to Albert Einstein, if people aspire toward a righteous life, their "first act of abstinence is from injury to animals." A tzadik, or righteous person, is held in the highest regard because of righteous actions.

The Torah and Talmud are filled with stories of people rewarded for their kindness to animals and punished for their thoughtlessness and cruelty to them. In the Torah, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds who cared for animals. Moses is specifically praised for how he showed compassion toward a lamb, as well as people. Rebecca was acceptable as a wife for Isaac because she showed concern for animals, offering water to thirsty camels in addition to the thirsty person who asked for it. Noah is considered righteous as he cared for the lives of the many animals on the Ark.

In contrast, two hunters mentioned in the Torah, Nimrod and Esau, are represented as villains. Further, according to legend, Rabbi Judah the Prince, compiler and editor of the Mishnah, was punished with years of pain for his insensitivity to the fear of a calf on its way to slaughter (Talmud, Bava Mezia 85a).

In the words of Torah commentary from Rabbi Moses Cassuto, "You are permitted to use the animals and employ them for work, have dominion over them in order to utilize their services for your subsistence, but must not hold their life cheap nor slaughter them for food. Your natural diet is vegetarian." Indeed, all of the promises of sustenance and food for the Israelites in the Torah are vegetarian: vineyards and gardens, wheat and barley, figs and pomegranates, grapes and dates, fruits and seeds, nuts and gum, olives and bread, milk and honey. Even the manna, "like coriander seed" (Numbers 11:7), was vegan. In contrast, when the Israelites in the Sinai desert call out for and consume meat and fish, many suffer and die in a plague and are buried in the Graves of Lust.

Judaism stresses the importance of tzedakah, that we be kind, assist the poor and weak, and share our food with the hungry. Yet about three-fourths of major U.S. crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, oats, and alfalfa are fed to the billions of animals destined to be slaughtered for meat, while millions of people worldwide die from hunger and its cruel effects each year. This is an avoidable shanda (shame) on the world.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Assi states, "Tzedakah is equivalent to all the other religious precepts combined" (Baba Batra 9a). The way of the tzadik is the way of chesed (loving-kindness), compassion, charity, and righteousness for all living beings. Vegetarianism is a major form of tzedakah, on a daily basis, which can do as much for the giver as for the receiver.

2. Tikkun Olam.
While Judaism teaches that we are to be shomrei adamah, partners in tikkun olam-re-creating, preserving, and healing the world (Talmud, Shabbat 10a)-mass production of meat contributes substantially to greenhouse gas emission and global warming (what Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls "global scorching," and what the United Nations says is "the most serious challenge facing the human race"). Meat production also contributes to air and water pollution; overuse of chemicals and fossil fuels; the deforestation and destruction of tropical rain forests, coral reefs, mangroves, and other habitats; soil erosion; desertification; species extinction; loss of biodiversity; and various other forms of global environmental degradation. Among other things, we need to re-establish and reinvigorate the earth's mayim chayim-its living waters.

"The human appetite for animal flesh is," according to the editors of the science-based environmental magazine World Watch (July/August 2004), "a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future-deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease."

In the words of Isaac Bashevis Singer, the great Yiddish writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature: "This is my protest against the conduct of the world. To be a vegetarian is to disagree-to disagree with the course of things today. Starvation, world hunger, cruelty, waste, wars-we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement and I think it's a strong one."

3. Conservation of Resources.
Judaism teaches bal tashchit (concern for the environment, based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20), that we should not waste or unnecessarily destroy anything of value (in other words, engage in conservation), and that we should not use more than what is necessary to accomplish a purpose (in other words, prioritize efficiency). Yet, in contrast to these Jewish values, meat production requires the very wasteful use of land, topsoil, water, fossil fuels and other forms of energy, labor, grain, and other vital resources, in addition to various toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones. For example, it can require approximately seventy-eight calories of non-renewable fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from factory-farmed beef, but only two calories of fossil fuel to produce a calorie of protein from soybeans. Thousands of gallons of fresh water are wasted merely to produce a single pound of beef.

"This is the way of pious and elevated people," wrote thirteenth-century Rabbi Aaron HaLevi of Barcelona. "They will not waste even a mustard seed, and they are distressed at every ruination and spoilage they see, and if they are able to save, they will save anything from destruction with all of their power." The meat industry is exceptionally wasteful, inefficient, costly, and destructive, even while better alternatives are plentiful, easily obtainable, and healthier for consumers, workers, animals, and our environment.

4. Health and Safety.
Health and the protection of life are repeatedly emphasized, and even prioritized, in Jewish teachings. While Judaism teaches that we should be very careful about sh'mirat haguf (preserving our bodies and health), and pekuach nefesh (protecting our lives at almost any cost), numerous scientific studies have linked animal-based diets directly to heart disease and heart attacks (the number-one cause of death in the United States), various forms of cancer (the number-two cause of death), stroke (the number-three cause of death), high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, asthma, atherosclerosis, aneurysms, rheumatoid arthritis, impotence, endometriosis, gallstones, gout, Alzheimer's, and other ailments. About two-thirds of diseases in the United States are diet-related-and vegetarians are much less afflicted. Note that even meat-eating doctors almost always recommend eating less meat, not more, while advocating the consumption of more fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, and whole grains for better health.

Further, since more than half of all antibiotics in the United States are given to livestock (plus immense amounts of chemicals, steroids, hormones, and other drugs), resistant bacteria are increasing at an alarming rate, creating untreatable superbugs, like MRSA, that kill tens of thousands of people per year in the United States alone. And don't forget mad cow disease, bird flu, foot and mouth disease, E. coli, salmonella, and food poisoning. "If there were no poultry industry," concludes Neal Barnard, M.D., "there would be no epidemics of bird flu." And if there were no cow industry, there would be no E. coli outbreaks.

Packaged meat has been discovered to be injected with carbon monoxide to keep it looking red, even when it's rancid. Fish often contain mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and toxic POPs, including PCBs, DDT, and dioxin, which can't be removed from the fish and which bioaccumulate in consumers' bodies.

The meat industry is unhealthy and unsafe. A vegetarian diet (one that does not include any animals) or a vegan diet (a vegetarian diet that does not include any animal products at all, including meat, dairy, and eggs) can help prevent, and sometimes reverse, many of these health- and life-threatening conditions.

Vegetarianism also reduces the need for medical attention, medicine, and drugs throughout one's life. As Albert Einstein said, "Nothing will benefit health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." It's time for us to evolve toward better personal and planetary health.

5. Compassion.
As fifteenth-century Rabbi Joseph Albo writes, "In the killing of animals, there is cruelty." Centuries earlier, Maimonides, both rabbi and physician, wrote that "There is no difference between the pain of humans and the pain of other animals." It is as simple as that. Compassion is not a new concept, yet it has to be continually renewed. The Sages of the Talmud (Beitza 32b) remark that "Jews are rachmanin b'nei rachmanin [compassionate children of compassionate ancestors], and one who is not compassionate cannot truly be a descendant of our father Abraham."

While Judaism forbids tsa'ar ba'alei chayim (inflicting unnecessary pain on animals), and encourages people to be compassionate, most farm animals-including most of those certified organic or "free range," as well as most animals raised for kosher and halal consumers-are raised on factory farms where they suffer in cramped, confined, and cruel places, and are often drugged, mutilated, burned, tortured, and denied fresh air, water, sunlight, exercise, and any enjoyment of life, whether on Shabbat or any other day, before they are slaughtered on dis-assembly lines.

"Being compassionate toward animal life is not just a matter of being responsible for animal life," writes Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, "which we have very clearly laid down in the Torah, expounded by our sages, but is a matter of imbuing ourselves with the right kind of values. If we are insensitive toward animal life, then we desensitize ourselves as human beings. And therefore a truly sensitive human being, compassionate toward other human beings, should be compassionate toward animals." And as Rabbi Rami Shapiro says, "Vegetarianism is not simply a dietary ideal. It is a practice designed to enhance your capacity for compassion." Indeed, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat in Israel, states that "the dietary laws are intended to teach us compassion and lead us gently [back] to vegetarianism."

Just as we were strangers in Egypt and freed from our slavery, animals need to be freed from their narrow confines of slavery, suffering, torture, and untimely death, in order to feed the whole world with the spirit of compassion, love, life, and liberation. Animals should not have to suffer and die for our selfish pleasure. Consonant with the ethics of Judaism, vegetarianism offers compassion, respects the stranger, reduces suffering, and saves lives every day.

Again, Albert Einstein offers his wisdom: "Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature." Vegetarianism is an easy and effective way of putting one's highest values into action, practicing compassion with every meal, thereby reducing pain, suffering, and death for those who can't speak for or defend themselves.

6. Atonement.
 Thirteen represents the number of compassionate traits attributed to YHVH (HaShem) as recounted in the covenant with Moses that is recited on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, among other things, it is traditional to fast and to refrain from wearing leather shoes, as we are to be as pure as possible while asking for forgiveness and mercy. While fasting on Yom Kippur, however, we read the Prophet Isaiah, who reminds us that the true purpose of our fast should be to sensitize us to the needs of the hungry and the oppressed, so that we will work to end oppression and "share thy bread with the hungry" (Isaiah 58:6-7). Yet, we deny bread to the hungry by feeding so much grain to livestock animals to be killed and consumed as meat. We cannot atone while continuing to engage in the behavior for which we want to atone.

Other animals should not have to suffer and die for our meals and clothes. "Living creatures possess a soul and a certain spiritual superiority," writes the great thirteenth-century commentator Nachmanides, "which in this respect make them similar to those who possess intellect, and they have the power of affecting their own welfare and their food, and they flee from pain and death." If we are sincere in seeking atonement or at-one-ment, we cannot want for ourselves what we do not grant to others. Atonement through teshuvah (turning or repentance) can be a way for us to get back to who we really are and who we really want to be. If we truly want to atone and have compassion for ourselves, and want to emulate the compassion of the Divine, it is imperative that we extend compassion to others. Vegetarianism, and especially veganism, is a much purer form of diet-one without violence, killing, or the spilling of blood.

7. Knowledge and Spirituality.
Judaism often emphasizes the interplay between thinking and doing, highlighting the vital role of kavanah (spiritual intention and concentration) as a precondition for action. That is a motivation behind the blessings, of which there is none specifically for meat-unlike for grains, fruits, and vegetables. According to Jewish tradition, meat-eating was permitted, with elaborate restrictions, after the Flood of Noah as a temporary concession to the human weakness of those with a "lust for meat." It is also part of our teaching, from Hillel's disagreement with Shamai over the lighting of the Chanukah menorah recounted in the Talmud, that ma'alin bakodesh v'ayn moridim: in sacred matters we must increase in holiness rather than decrease. We can increase our holiness by making our consumption more holy.

For those who erroneously think it might be a mitzvah to eat meat during holy days, it is a mitzvah haba'ah al y'dei aveirah, a mitzvah that derives from a sin; it is the fruit of a poisonous tree, and therefore no mitzvah at all. Citing Jewish law, Rabbi Adam Frank says, "The end user of a product knowingly derived by cruel means is a participant in the cruelty." Rabbi Frank adds: "Modern, secular thinking allows for sentient creatures to be treated like inanimate objects, but Jewish tradition does not.... My decision to abstain from the consumption of animal products is an expression of my adherence to Jewish law, and it expresses my disapproval and disdain for the cruel practices of the industry."

Our sage Rabbi Joseph Albo chimes in, "Aside from the cruelty, rage, and fury in killing animals, and the fact that it teaches human beings the bad trait of shedding blood for naught; eating the flesh even of select animals will yet give rise to a mean and insensitive soul." Neither scripture, nor science, nor our long and proud tradition commands or requires Jews or others to consume meat; quite the contrary.

In our creation story, the term nefesh chayah, living being or living soul, is applied to people and animals. Eating meat can be considered a Chilul HaShem, a desecration of YHVH's name, due to the destruction of life and spirit entailed, while eating plants could be considered a Kiddush HaShem, a blessing and sanctification of YHVH's name-however you conceive of YHVH-due to the protection of health and life of both humans and non-human animals. "When you slaughter a creature," Yiddish author and Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer said, "you slaughter God."

Our sages in the Talmud (Chulin 84a) determined that "The Torah teaches a lesson in moral conduct, that people shall not eat meat unless they have a special craving for it ... and [then] shall eat it only occasionally and sparingly." The first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, in A View of Vegetarianism and Peace, regarded the reluctant permission for some to eat a small amount of meat as a concealed reproach and an implied rebuke.

According to Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, who is an authority on Halachah (Jewish law), "meat has become halachically unacceptable" and vegetarianism is now a "halachic imperative." As Rabbi Bonnie Koppell states, "There is no question that the Torah's ideal is vegetarianism."

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai hid in a cave with his son Rabbi Eleazar for thirteen years after being condemned to death by the Roman conquerors for speaking out against them, following the destruction of the Second Temple and the murders of Rabbi Akiva (50-135 CE) and many of his students. They were sustained by their cave, a nearby carob tree, a local stream, and their studies of the Torah. Rabbi Shimon taught that our world and the unseen "higher" worlds are unified as manifestations of the Divine Soul, and that the meaning of life is to reunify Creation with the source of Creation.

Further, it is believed by Maimonides, Rav Kook, and other Chief Rabbis and Torah scholars that in the messianic age of the Third Temple, when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb ... and the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 11:6-7), Temple sacrifices as well as all other food will be vegetarian. Vegetarians live closer to the messianic age by creating it in the present, while also hastening it for the world. "Vegetarianism is a response to today's world," Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi declares. "Meat-eating, like polygamy, fit into an earlier stage of human history." While polygamy is acceptable in the Torah, it was deemed to be unacceptable 1,000 years ago. Likewise, meat will eventually be deemed as unfit and unacceptable, thereby relegated to a primitive past-yet we can live the ideal now, creating both inner and outer peace and justice.
As Rabbi Rami Shapiro reminds us, "Vegetarianism is central to holy living as Judaism has understood it for thousands of years."

8. Divinity.
The scholar and mystic Rabbi Moses Cordovero (1522-1570 CE) wrote a manual on ethics titled The Thirteen Divine Attributes. He included meditation exercises involving the visualization of one's body as the Tree of Life, while focusing on a particular aspect of the Tree, or body. The meat industry is responsible for a tremendous amount of deforestation, cutting down, burning, and clearing millions of trees each day, destroying about an acre of Amazon Rainforest every second, thereby also displacing or killing the people, animals, and plants living there.

The meat industry is making mincemeat out of the rainforests, which are often referred to as "the lungs of the planet," essentially converting this amazing life-sustaining resource into carbon dioxide and cholesterol, significantly contributing to both planetary and personal ill-health. In a miracle of continuing co-evolutionary development, as Rabbi Arthur Waskow discusses, we breathe in the oxygen that trees breathe out, while we breathe out the carbon dioxide that trees breathe in. We need each other and breathe each other into continued existence, yet the production and consumption of meat is killing the trees of life, ignoring both science and Torah.

A spiritual view of the world recognizes the awesome power and beauty of nature, while it abhors destruction and desecration, embracing what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described as "radical amazement" in the presence of the divine. The livestock industry is the antithesis of this view. As Rabbi Adam Frank says, "The environmental destruction caused by the animal-agriculture industry, by the amount of dung produced, by the amount of sewage that gets poured into our waterways and our systems [is] ... damaging our world." He adds that this environmental destruction violates "the Jewish mandate to protect and observe and care for the Earth.... We are ignoring things that are essential and that are critical to the character of Judaism, in order to meet our selfish desires and wants." It is impossible to fully elevate ourselves if we are debasing our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and our world by spilling the blood of other beings.

9. Peace and Justice.
Judaism repeatedly stresses that we must always seek and pursue shalom v'tzedek (peace and justice) and that moral degradation and violence result from unjust conditions. Animal-centered diets waste valuable resources and desensitize us to violence. Such diets help to perpetuate the widespread poverty, hunger, environmental destruction, and despair that lead to mass suffering, social insecurity, ethnic hostilities, violence, genocide, and war.

Our sages note that the Hebrew words for bread (lechem) and for war (milchamah) come from the same root and are therefore related, since shortages of food and instances of wars are correlated, with each contributing to the other.

To resolve these most important issues, we are told to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14). We are told, "justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20), and we are instructed that we "shall not kill [murder]" (Sixth Commandment). We are further told to "love peace, pursue peace, love all creatures" (Hillel), that "he who kills an ox is as if he slew a person" (Isaiah 66:3), and that "one who destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed an entire world, and one who saves a single life is considered to have saved an entire world" (Sanhedrin 4:5).

According to Rabbi Adam Frank: "Judaism does not make the claim of moral superiority, rather, it makes the demand for responsibility of actions. Judaism starts from a place of concern for justice and tries to protect all members of community, both local and global, from abuses of power and privilege." The mitzvah of vegetarianism promotes this responsibility.

10. Hunger.
Hunger is a huge and growing concern in the United States, Israel, and through much of the world. Article 25 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes food as a human right. While millions of people annually die from overconsumption, particularly consumption of fat and cholesterol, millions of excluded people annually die from underconsumption-from starvation and hunger-related diseases. Although the world produces more than enough food to feed all its people, the inequality of wealth and power, along with the inefficiency of land use and food distribution, creates conditions that lead to scarcity, chronic hunger, malnutrition, starvation, environmental degradation, and ethnic violence.

About one billion poor people chronically suffer from hunger, malnutrition, and their debilitating effects. Tens of thousands of them, disproportionately children, consequently die each day, about one every few seconds, while millions of affluent people get sick and die from the ill effects of overeating and overconsumption, primarily of animal products. In the words of rock star Chrissie Hynde, "Global hunger could be directly attributed to meat-eating."

World hunger is neither necessary, nor automatic, nor inevitable. John Cavanagh and Jerry Mander point out that "when those who have the money to enjoy meat-rich diets cause the market to redirect available supplies of grain away from the tables of people who cannot pay in order to feed livestock to provide meat to those who can, they contribute to the dynamics of hunger."

Vegetarianism creates conditions that are more fair and just, more efficient and sustainable, and more healthy, thereby potentially allowing more people to be fed, rather than using land, grain, water, labor, energy, and other resources to inefficiently and immorally produce food to be fed to animals that are later killed and fed to a smaller number of more affluent people.

11. Keeping Kosher.
The practice of kashrut, or keeping kosher, is the specific way of applying Jewish teachings and Jewish values to our consumption of food. Besides being life-sustaining, satisfying, and often joyous, eating is a holy act. And as Rabbi Pinchas Peli writes in Torah Today, "The laws of kashrut come to teach us that a Jew's first preference should be a vegetarian meal." Further, Rabbi Robert Gordis states, "Vegetarianism offers an ideal mode for preserving the religious and ethical values which kashrut was designed to concretize in human life." Indeed, as Rabbi Daniel Jezer says, "A higher form of being kosher is vegetarianism."

Vegetarianism, as a form of eco-kashrut, is an easy and effective way to keep kosher, to be more sustainable, to be more healthy, and to be more holy. In this sense, all meat is treyf, unkosher and unfit for human consumption. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, commented that "I'm a vegetarian and I stay milchik all the time." Similarly, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Israel, said, "If you don't eat meat, you are certainly kosher, and I believe that is what we should tell our fellow rabbis."

12. Fighting Fascism.
Historically, and unfortunately still presently, Jews have been common targets of authoritarian, fascist, and genocidal policies and actions, whatever their names and places. Jewish ethics, Jewish values, and even the method of the Talmud itself, respects and protects minority opinions and minority groups. "Just as the Nazis dehumanized the Jews in their propaganda and in the atrocities they committed," writes Jay Levine, M.D., "the apologists for meat consumption and the exploitation of animals have stereotyped and degraded the animal kingdom for their own purposes, declaring animals to be devoid of cognitive functioning and even of pain."

It is important to note that "the Nazis explicitly structured their industrial destruction of the Jews [and other peoples] on the model of animal slaughter," according to Rabbi Hillel Norry. "This is not to compare the suffering of animals and humans, but shows that the way we treat animals is similar to the way the Nazis treated us."

Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the founding dean of New York's Mesifta Torah VoDaath, became a vegetarian after the Holocaust/Shoah, simply yet powerfully declaring, "There has been enough killing in the world."

Isaac Bashevis Singer powerfully declares, "In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka." The livestock industry is a chronic and widespread form of enslavement and torture, while vegetarianism is a powerful way of actively yet nonviolently opposing the daily and brutal outrage of meat production and consumption.

13. Concern for the Community.
Concern for the Jewish community (Klal Yisrael), as well as the wider community (Klal Ha'Olam), is integral to Jewish ethics and requires personal and communal responsibility.

Israel, and the rest of the Middle East, is especially threatened by global warming, as indicated by a 2007 report from the Israel Union for Environmental Defense: there will be an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves; the number of rainy days will drop and annual rainfall may decrease by up to 30 percent; an expected rise in the Mediterranean Sea will cause major flooding of low-lying and coastal areas; Israel's flora and fauna, already widely affected by human activities, are especially vulnerable to the effects of major climate changes; and the potential economic cost to Israel due to global warming effects has been estimated to go as high as $33 billion annually.

According to Friends of the Earth Middle East's report, "Climate Change: A New Threat to Middle East Security," climate change is likely to act as a "threat multiplier" in the Middle East. The report adds that climate change will exacerbate "water scarcity and tensions over water within and between nations." Furthermore, "Water shortages and rising sea levels could lead to mass migration in the region. Economic unrest across the region, due to a decline in agricultural production from climate impacts on water resources, also could lead to greater political unrest ... thereby affecting internal and cross-border relations."

Vegetarianism helps us to preserve and protect our health, environment, culture, community, society, and spirit l'dor vador, from generation to generation. Ecclesiastes 3:19, which is attributed to King Solomon, says: "The fate of men and the fate of animals, they have one and the same fate. As one dies, so does the other, and they all have the same spirit." What we do to animals and the environment, therefore, we are ultimately doing to ourselves and our communities. We are fouling our own nest.

Like Leo Baeck, I am struck with "ethical optimism." We can do better.

Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, famously wrote "hayashan yitchadesh, v'hechadash yitkadesh, the old shall be made new, and the new shall be made holy." A shift toward vegetarianism can also be a major factor in the rededication, revitalization, and renewal of Judaism, as it would further demonstrate that Jewish values are not only relevant but essential to everyday personal life, communal development, and global survival.

If you want to make a powerful and positive difference and have more meaning in your life, living by Judaism's highest ideals, participating in a lifelong, life-affirming spiritual process, then vegetarianism is the best gift you could give yourself, your family, our community, and our world. To paraphrase Hillel: Do not do unto other beings what would be hateful if done to you. All the rest is dessert. Now go and eat!

Daniel Brook, a vegetarian since working on Kibbutz Sa'ar in Israel, is an author, speaker, and instructor of sociology at San Jose State University. He welcomes comments via vegnik@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Move on from the pedophile jokes Louis SNL."

Louis C.K. is making headlines after his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live over the weekend, using material that included jokes about child molestation and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The funnyman was the host for the season finale of the show and in his opening skit he compared paedophilia to his love of a popular candy bar.

He said, "Child molesters are very tenacious people. They love molesting children. It's crazy. It's like their favorite thing! It's so crazy, because when you consider the risk in being a child molester, speaking not only of the damage to the child you're doing, the risk, there is no worse life available to a human than being a caught child molester. And yet they still do it, which you can only really surmise that it must be really good. From their point of view! Not ours! From their point of view, it must be amazing for them to risk so much..."

He continued, "If somebody said to me if you eat another Mounds bar, you'll go to jail and everybody will hate you, I would stop eating them. Because they do taste delicious but they don't taste as good as a young boy does... To child molesters. Not to me. Not to us. Because we're all awesome."

He went on to compare the Israel-Palestine conflict to fights between his two children, and joked he was "mildly racist" because of his upbringing in the 1970s.

Following the monologue, many viewers took to social media sites to blast the comedian.

One wrote, "Louis Ck Pedophile Sketch is just disgusting SNL40Finale", while another added, "What the hell? Move on from the pedophile jokes Louis SNL."


Monday, May 18, 2015

One recent study found that nationally, teenage boys who were sexually assaulted were about 10 times more likely to attempt suicide, girls more than three times more likely...

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — OUTSIDE the Oglala Lakota tribe’s child protection service office, staff members updated a police officer on the latest emergency: An 11-year old girl had texted her cousin that she wanted to kill herself and then had gone missing.

A damp breeze swirled smoke from the caseworkers’ cigarettes, and the sun flitted between mottled clouds, the advance guard of an approaching spring blizzard. The officer jotted down some specifics on the girl and the remote area where she was last seen, then pulled away from the curb. They didn’t want to lose another child.

Since December, nine people between the ages of 12 and 24 have committed suicide on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — home to Crazy Horse’s Oglala band of the Lakota — in southwestern South Dakota.

They come to Pine Ridge every few years, these suicide epidemics, with varying degrees of national media attention and local soul-searching. What the news media often misses though, and what tribal members understand but rarely discuss above a whisper, is that youth suicides here are inextricably linked to a multigenerational scourge of sexual abuse, with investigations into possible abuse now open in at least two of the nine recent suicides.

I’m a wasicu (Lakota for “white person”) from Massachusetts, but I’ve spent about half of the past decade living on the rez, working mostly as a teacher and archery coach. Within two weeks of starting my first job teaching high school English here, a veteran teacher told me something he thought was critical to understanding life on Pine Ridge: By the time they reach high school, most of the girls (and many boys, too) have been molested or raped.

His anecdotal observation seems to track with the available statistics. According to the United States Department of Justice, Native Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other Americans, and the numbers on Pine Ridge, one of the largest, poorest reservations in the country, appear to be even greater. “We started two clinics for reproductive health in the largest high schools on the reservation,” said Terry Friend, a midwife who works at the year-and-a-half-old Four Directions Clinic, which specializes in sexual assault and domestic abuse. “When I take a sexual history of a patient, I ask, ‘Have you had sex against your will?’ At the high schools, girls answered yes more than no.”

Numbers are harder to come by for boys, but local medical professionals estimate that they are also high, and that such rates of abuse can translate to high rates of suicide. One recent study found that nationally, teenage boys who were sexually assaulted were about 10 times more likely to attempt suicide, girls more than three times more likely.

At some point, most local child sexual assault cases cross the tribal prosecutor’s desk. “Unfortunately, many of those same kids have suicidal ideations and attempts,” said the tribe’s attorney general, Tatewin Means. “I definitely think there’s a strong connection between sexual assault and suicide here on the reservation.”
THE BOY LOVED the sweat lodge. He was a troubled student but took solace in the traditional Lakota form of prayer, with steam hissing off big glowing rocks in the center of a small lodge made of bent saplings and canvas tarps. School and tribal officials said the boy showed up to school one day last spring when he was supposed to be on suspension, climbed a pine tree in the schoolyard and hanged himself from a thick branch. Teachers and students saw him, and he was quickly cut down. Struggling to breathe, he sprinted for the school’s sweat lodge, where he took refuge until the police and a relative calmed him down.

It wasn’t the first time he had attempted suicide in or around school grounds, administrators said. He’d been depressed, and behaving erratically, with signs that he was using drugs and “huffing” gasoline. There had also been signs of sexual abuse, involving not only him but also a younger brother and male cousins he lived with. Every time one of the boys showed new signs of abuse or talked about suicide, school officials said, they called the tribe’s child protection unit, and every time they were told the same thing: “It’s still under investigation.”

The child was not removed from the home. Then in December, two weeks after his 14th birthday, the boy hanged himself at home and became the first in the recent string of nine suicides.

His case was lost, it seems, in the web of tribal bureaucracies and federal oversight bodies that are long on backlogged cases and short on funding. The tribal child protection unit, for instance, currently has two investigators for the entire reservation, which the federal census puts at more than 18,000 total residents (though tribal officials say is closer to 40,000). The two investigators are responsible for handling upward of 40 new cases a month, and hundreds more in the long-term case management system.

About a month after the boy died, a 14-year old cheerleader killed herself. Soon after, rumors of an all-too-familiar detail started to spread: Before her death, the girl told friends that her stepfather, a longtime teacher and coach at her school, was sexually abusing her. What followed broke the usual mold, though: Her friends came forward to tell school officials. Charles Roessel, a member of the Navajo Nation and director of the federal Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees the school, said administrators acted quickly to suspend the accused teacher and refer the case to federal investigators. No charges have been brought.

Shortly after his suspension from the federal school, the cheerleader’s stepfather was brought on, according to school officials, as an unpaid intern by the reservation’s Shannon County school system, which is overseen by the state. His job was to shadow one of the system’s principals so that he could learn to be a school administrator. The stepfather did not respond to requests for comment.

TRIBAL LEADERS and experts are struggling to understand the recent suicide epidemic (specifics on many of the cases aren’t widely known), but there’s general agreement on one underlying cause: the legacy of federally funded boarding schools that forcibly removed generations of Native American children from their homes. Former students and scholars of the institutions say that the isolation and lack of oversight at the mostly church-run schools allowed physical and sexual abuse to run rampant.

“My grandmother used to tell me that she didn’t think she was pretty,” said an E.M.T. friend of mine who responds to a suicide attempt every week or so, “because when the priests used to sneak into her dorm and take a little girl for the night, they never picked her.”

Left untreated, such sexual abuse can lead to elevated rates of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide, said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, director of a center on youth trauma at the University of Pennsylvania.

One sad irony of the recent suicides is that they come in the middle of new initiatives to address sexual assault. The Four Directions Clinic is treating young abuse victims who were previously sent to distant hospitals off the reservation. Tribal and federal law enforcement officials now confer regularly to better coordinate investigations. High school students recently petitioned the Pine Ridge school board to create health classes for vulnerable middle school students, and the board unanimously voted to find necessary funding.

Still, the challenges are enormous. Six days after the 11-year-old girl went missing, protection services still hadn’t located her, though a caseworker says the hope is that the girl and her mother have gone to a domestic violence shelter somewhere — the reservation doesn’t have its own.

Shortly before the 14-year-old boy committed suicide, a school administrator tried to counsel him. Lakota tradition, she told him, teaches that a spirit set free by suicide is doomed to wander the earth in lonely darkness. “You don’t want that, do you?” she asked. He looked her in the eye, a minor taboo for Lakota children to do with their elders, and said, “Anything’s better than here.”


Friday, May 15, 2015

After Being Asked Not To Come To The Agudath Israel 93rd Dinner - Yisroel Belsky Shows Up - They Stick Him In The Cheap Seats!


Anyone Here Willing To Pay For A Good Beating?...A Hazmana?
Belsky Put Out of Sight In The Second Row On Your Left - Seat 8 - Next To The Shlemiels!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

When Did This Evil Human Garbage Find Time To Eat?

New details show mikvah-peeping rabbi had extramarital sexual encounters

Rabbi Barry Freundel exiting the courthouse after entering his guilty plea, Feb. 19, 2015.
Rabbi Barry Freundel exiting the courthouse

(JTA) — In addition to secretly recording women undressing for the mikvah ritual bath, Rabbi Barry Freundel engaged in sexual encounters with several women, according to prosecutors.

That’s one of several new details about the mikvah-peeping rabbi to emerge from two documents filed in D.C. Superior Court on May 8 — one each by the prosecution and defense — ahead of Freundel’s sentencing on Friday. The documents, which attempt to sway the judge’s sentencing, shed new light on Freundel’s behavior and offer some particulars about the rabbi’s life since his arrest on October 14, 2014 — including that he has resumed some rabbinic teaching.

Freundel pleaded guilty in February to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism for installing secret cameras in the shower room of the mikvah adjacent to Kesher Israel, the prominent Washington Orthodox synagogue he led for some 25 years.

He used one to three cameras, hiding the devices in a digital clock radio, a tissue box holder and a small tabletop fan, and aiming them at the toilet and shower in the mikvah dressing room, according to the prosecution’s memo. In addition to the 52 women he filmed while they were completely naked between March 4, 2012 and Sept. 19, 2014, Freundel recorded an additional 100 women since April 2009 who were not part of the criminal complaint due to the statute of limitations.

In addition to his crimes, Freundel videotaped himself engaged in “sexual situations” with “several women” who were not his wife, according to the memo. Many of the women may not have consented to being taped or were not aware that they were being recorded. A spokesman for the court contacted by JTA declined to elaborate on what the “sexual situations” constituted.

In its memo, the defense argues that Freundel’s public humiliation has been punishment enough for a first-time nonviolent offender.

The prosecution memo notes that in addition to the hidden cameras at the mikvah, Freundel surreptitiously videotaped a domestic violence abuse victim in the bathroom and bedroom of a safe house that he had established for her so she could escape her husband’s violence.

“I thought I saw a holy man of God, a man whom I could trust to protect me from outside evils, but I have come to see the blackness which hid beneath the garments,” the victim said in a court document. “The dreadful symptoms I once banished have returned. I cry when I am awake, and I scream out against the darkness in the nightmares of my sleep. I have constant flashbacks of the worst times of my life, as I am forced to repeatedly relive the horrors I once knew. I dare not look at myself unclothed in a mirror, for it is a glaring reminder of what was taken and stolen.”

Freundel edited the videos to delete footage when the woman was not in the room, and meticulously labeled and stored each video segment. It is believed that he removed the recording devices from the mikvah dressing room at the end of each day he used them, the prosecutor’s memo said.

When Freundel was arrested, investigators seized materials from his home including five desktop computers, seven laptops, six external hard drives, 20 memory cards, 11 flash drives, and an instruction manual for a recording device disguised as a fan. Additional equipment was seized from Freundel’s office at Towson University in Maryland, where he taught ethics and religion.

Each count of voyeurism carries a potential penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $2,500, or both. In their memo, prosecutors argue for a 17-year prison sentence for Freundel,  noting the harm he caused his victims and the destructive consequences to their faith in rabbinic leadership, the importance of mikvah and religious observance.

In addition to occupying a prominent pulpit at a synagogue frequented by such figures as former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and writer and cultural critic Leon Wieseltier, Freundel had been a prolific author and scholar of Jewish law and led Washington’s Orthodox conversion court. As a conversion supervisor and mentor, Freundel instructed many women to engage in “practice dunks” at the mikvah – an unheard-of practice in Orthodox Judaism but one that provided him with ample opportunities to record them undressing.

“As many victims note, it was difficult if not impossible to say no to the rabbi in charge of their conversions,” the prosecution’s memo says. “Many of the victims now feel isolated from their faith entirely, including other religious leaders, as a result of the defendants’ actions.”

In arguing for a more lenient sentence, the defense memo points out that six of Freundel’s victims have written unsolicited letters of support, and that Freundel has resumed some rabbinic teaching – leading classes by phone on Sundays and Tuesdays, and convening a small Torah study group on Shabbat.

Freundel also has sought medical counseling to ensure that he never again engages in such conduct, according to the memo.

The defense notes that Freundel never disseminated or sought to distribute the videos, and that women were not filmed immersing in the mikvah itself.

Its memo also devotes considerable attention to Freundel’s accomplishments as a scholar, including a citation of a positive review by author Herman Wouk of one of Freundel’s books on Jewish prayer.

“There is no need for the Court to incarcerate Rabbi Freundel in order to punish him,” the defense memo says. “He has been publicly humiliated, forced to leave his office as a rabbi, and is now a convicted man.”