Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
On Aug. 22, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about extravagant Jewish Iranian weddings in Southern California that exposes our community as a bunch of shallow, boastful materialists who think the purpose of a marriage ceremony is to tell your friends how much money you have. Some of the details mentioned in the article, confirmed to me by people who actually attended, included a bride placed in a glass coffin to be opened by her half-masked “Phantom of the Opera” bridegroom. The coffin did not open for an hour, and the wedding was nearly ruined by a shaken and tearful bride gasping for breath. But the coffin, on that occasion, was a telling symbol of the utter death of Jewish values that such ridiculous extravagances betray.
The article further cites the appearance at many of these weddings of film crews consisting of four or five cameramen with “a 25-foot crane over the dance floor.” In television this is called a jib, and to give you an idea of how expensive they are, I can tell you that through the first season of “Shalom in the Home,” despite a multimillion-dollar budget, we couldn’t afford one.
Strangely enough, the article then quotes a rabbi from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, which has thousands of Iranian Jewish members, who “makes a point of not judging — and even sees virtue in the enormous family gatherings.”
Give me a break. Is there really a point to rabbinic leadership if it does not come with value judgments? Do we in the Jewish community not — rightly, I might add — lecture our Muslim brothers and sisters that they must weed out violent extremists lest their religion be brought into utter disrepute? And while murder in the name of God is much more serious than shopping in the name of excessiveness, there can be no question that keeping up with the Schwartzes has become a cancer that threatens to kill off the flickering Jewish soul. How ironic that a people who have for centuries survived forced baptisms are now drowning in an ocean of profligacy.
American Jews often exhibit the worst tendencies of immigrant communities, endeavoring their best to show how they have not just landed but arrived. Security is defined not in terms of spiritual virtue and nobility of purpose but in stocks and bonds and money in the bank. And what’s the point of having it if your friends are ignorant of your success? The whole reason you made the money in the first place was to show off. So go ahead. Smoke ’em if you got ’em. And what better opportunity than at the public celebrations of a bar or bat mitzvah or wedding, where, at no extra cost, you can utterly vulgarize the spirituality of the occasion by transforming it into a showcase of material consumption and excess?
I remember growing up in Miami Beach and the over-the-top, utterly ridiculous bar mitzvahs that were de rigueur. One in the late ’70s featured Darth Vader and R2-D2 greeting guests as they arrived at the reception. To be sure, it was memorable seeing C-3PO in tails and Chewbacca’s beard complemented with a Chassidic hat, but one wondered what, apart from its celestial setting, “Star Wars’ had to do with the spirituality of the moment. On another occasion, I arrived to see a full ice sculpture of the bar mitzvah boy, which perfectly suited the freezing-cold religious aspect.
A wealthy Jewish businessman shared a story with me of how he instills values in his children. His 12-year-old son had come to him and said, “Dad, I want a famous sports star at my bar mitzvah. Let’s get Eli Manning.” So the father replied, “Son, you have to have manners. You don’t tell your father to get Eli Manning. You ask him politely.” Apparently it never dawned on the dad that his son had aped his own shallow materialism and had, already at 12, become an insecure braggart.
A remedy is needed. Rabbis should be thundering from the pulpit that extravagant weddings not only reveal a sense of personal inadequacy but are an abrogation of Jewish values. You’re so rich? Then impress your friends by giving the money to charity. Rather than focus on the 20-piece orchestra for your son’s bar mitzvah, take him to 20 classes where he can learn about Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, and the glory of Solomon’s Temple. Give him an inner identity, based on values and character, rather than a shallow external identity based on money and objects.
So why aren’t the rabbis giving sermons about gross materialism that wraps itself, in the memorable phrase of Matt Taibbi, like a “vampire squid” around the Jewish conscience? Because they are about as likely to criticize their own congregants as Romeo is to renounce Juliet. But what’s the point of being the head of a congregation if you’re not also the leader of a community?
The story goes that in Israel, a few decades ago, the Gerrer Rebbe, head of one of the largest Chasidic sects and seeking to stop a destructive game of material one-upmanship, enacted an edict that none of his followers could have a wedding with more than 200 guests, still large by some measures. One of his wealthiest followers and supporters approached him and said, “Rebbe, surely this does not apply to me. I’m a very rich man,” to which the great rabbi responded, “Very well, then. If you’re so rich, go buy yourself a new rabbi.”
Yes, some things in life can be put on a credit card. But rabbis who preach values and can’t be bought? Priceless.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts “The Shmuley Show” on 77 WABC in NYC. He is the foun-der of This World: The Values Network, and is the author, most recently, of “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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August 18, 2010 | 10:27 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I still remember, Russell, when you came to my debate with Rev. Al Sharpton, nine years ago, in New York City. You struck me then as a man of warmth and openness. In that spirit I offer you this response to your recent blog postings supporting the Ground Zero mosque and your categorization of those opposing it as being guilty of hatred and bigotry, which strikes me as a bit harsh.
For the record, I am a supporter of the mosque being built, but only under two conditions. First, that its builders consult the families of the Ground Zero dead, who are the people whose opinion matters most. Second, that the 13-story complex include a museum detailing the events of 9/11 with exhibits explaining the modern abuse of Islamic teachings by extremists and their repudiation by Islam itself.
I don’t expect you to agree with my conditions, or with those who oppose the mosque outright. But I do ask that you consider this.
We live in a secular age where religion has been largely repudiated. Sure, people still go to Church and they still celebrate Chanuka and Christmas. But religious values have ceased to be impactful on their lives. It’s secular values that dictate what’s important, from money and fame to material comfort and financial security. How did religion which was once all-powerful become so marginal? There are many considerations, but perhaps the most important has been religion’s hypocrisy and intolerance. Simply put, when people witness religions behaving badly they conclude that it’s all a farce. Whether it’s a priest being caught molesting a child, or a Rabbi being arrested for money laundering, or, most seriously, an Imam telling his faithful to blow up children, the average person looks at this and determines that religion is a farce.
Which is why it’s so important for the religious faithful, in general, and religious leaders in particular, to behave with morality, ethics, and sensitivity at all times.
But your blog post completely ignores the need for religion to behave with sensitivity at all times. It makes no mention whatsoever of how Islam might win public opinion back and instead accuses Americans of being bigots.
There are bigots in America but Americans are not bigots. There are a hundred mosques in New York alone and nobody objects. But the average American is souring on Islam not based on any intrinsic prejudice but based on the violence they constantly read in the newspapers. And yes, I agree with you. They should rise above that and understand that the extremists do not define the faith and that the vast majority of religions Muslims are G-d-fearing and peace-loving.
But this is where the builders of the Ground Zero mosque squandered a unique opportunity to portray Islam in a favorable light, even as you completely let them off the hook. Given the huge media profile of this particular mosque, the organizers could have showed Americans how wrong they were about Islam. The builders could have taken out a full-page ad in The New York Times (they have, it is reported, $100 million for the mosque, and this expense would be tiny in comparison) announcing their intentions of building an Islamic Cultural Center at Ground Zero and inviting all the families of the 9/11 victims to the Jacob Javits Center on a specified day to lay out their plans and obtain the families reactions. They could have said that they while they are firm about their intentions of creating an Islamic presence at this hallowed site, their intention in so doing is not offend the families sensibilities but to repudiate the fanatics who have tarnished the name of Islam and hence, the builders wish to proceed with the greatest sensitivity and understanding.
Sadly, Russell, none of this happened. Rather, it was announced that a mosque is being built adjacent to a giant American cemetery irrespective of the families wishes, that it’s a First Amendment right, and that all those who oppose it are bigots.
Fair enough. It’s a free country. Say what you want and build what you want.
But if you’re intention is to reverse people’s negative impressions of religion in general and Islam in particular, then you’re probably not going to achieve that by telling ten thousand people who watched their loved ones incinerated at Ground Zero, and whose remains are now part of the very air and dust of the place, that they are no longer victims of a terrible attack, but a bunch of cold-hearted bigots who hate Islam.
This, Russell, is just not the way to bring peace and reconciliation.
I wish G-d’s blessings for all the good work you do.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts ‘The Shmuley Show’ on 77 WABC in NYC. He is the founder of This World: The Values Network, and is the author, most recently, of ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
August 10, 2010 | 11:20 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
My father was born in Iran and remains firmly attached to his Iranian heritage. He loves the food, the music, the language and the culture. It is something that I have witnessed with most Iranian exiles. They have internalized their country so much that it travels with them wherever they go.
And why not? Iran was once one of the world’s greatest civilizations and the Middle East’s most highly educated nation.
Then came Khomeini, and the slow descent into barbarity began.
To see what Shia Islamic technocrats have done to Iran is tragic. I do not speak only of the violent clown Ahmadinejad who can look an Ivy League audience in the eye and say there are no homosexuals in Iran, which is still a lot better than mowing down his voters with machine guns. Rather, I speak of a country so suffused with hate that it can think nothing of producing cartoons, now available on a dedicated Web site promoted by the semi-official Fars news agency, denying the Holocaust and portraying Jews as hook-nosed vermin. Have the Iranians been taught to hate Jews so much that they can caricature the gassing of 1 million children? When I visited Poland, I walked into a clearing in the woods near Tarnow, where 800 Jewish orphans were murdered, mostly by having their brains dashed against trees. The Iranians would make fun of this as well? What level of one’s humanity must be compromised before one feels that wholesale human slaughter is a matter for comic relief?
I forced myself to watch all of “The Stoning of Soriah M” by Iranian director Cyrus Nowrasteh. Based on a true story, its final scene — depicting an innocent woman buried up to her neck and having her skull slowly crushed by average, everyday men throwing stones large enough to injure but not to immediately kill, including her own father, husband and son — is easily one of the most brutal and haunting events ever depicted on film. If only it were an exaggeration.
The world is currently focused on the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old woman awaiting death-by-stoning in the Iranian town of Tabriz after an unjust trial and sham conviction for adultery. International pressure has so far granted her a reprieve. But is that what it takes, outside objectors persuading Iranian villagers that it’s wrong to pick up a stone and take out a woman’s eye and turn her brain into mush? How can these men have lost the universal, inner voice of conscience that would prevent them from inflicting such unspeakable cruelty upon a helpless woman? Can any of us Western men even conceive of picking up a stone and throwing it as hard as we possibly can at a helpless woman dug into a pit? Only the truly barbaric, those who have become utterly detached from any semblance of humanity, could behave this way.
The 2001 case of Maryam Ayubi is particularly gruesome. Another alleged adulteress, she fainted during the ritual washing that preceded her execution. No matter. They stoned her to death while she was strapped to a stretcher. If I met any of the men who participated, I would have little to say and would simply stare deeply into their eyes pondering how the light of humanity could have been so thoroughly extinguished within.
I believe the West is largely to blame for this continued barbarity. Why is there an Iranian Embassy in the middle of London, and does its presence not silently condone this continued barbarity against women? Where are the women’s groups to protest Western governments’ interactions with a country that can mutilate women in the most monstrous way?
I have a friend whose husband is a renowned physician who was called upon to treat a member of the Saudi royal family. They offered him a king’s ransom to fly to Riyadh. His wife objected: “If a woman isn’t allowed to drive a car in that kingdom, then you’re not going to treat the leadership,” she told him. He forfeited a fortune, but she made her point. How can any of these abuses against women change if we are all indifferent?
The sad thing about all this is the absence of a vocal majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters condemning Iran’s descent into barbarism. It seems that many are too busy condemning Israel to notice how Iranian morality has descended into hell. I am a strong supporter of Israel and believe Israel’s military actions against Hamas and Hezbollah are necessary measures of self-defense. But if any Israeli cartoonist were to caricature Arabsas grotesque subhumans, the way Jewsare regularly portrayed in Iran, I would callit an abomination against Jewish morality andvalues. They would attain a pariah status throughout Israel and the global Jewishcommunity.
In his speech last week from Governor’s Island about why the Ground Zero mosque ought to be built, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the 9/11 attacks were committed by “fanatics.” He refused to say even once that the attackers were Muslims, thereby offending history and common sense. Are we doing our Islamic brothers and sisters a favor when we whitewash crimes committed by Islam, or should we be encouraging them to condemn and cut out the growing cancer in global Islam? It may be tough love, but is it not more helpful to be honest about the growing brutality in the name of Islam so that those who love and practice this great world religion and wish to restore it to its former glory can reclaim it from the killers and the fanatics?
Fareed Zakaria just returned a humanitarian prize he received from the Anti-Defamation League because the organization came out against the Ground Zero mosque. He added that the mosque organizers are Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare because they are moderates who repudiate violence. How patronizing. That’s the most we can expect from Muslims, that they not support terrorism? Islam was once the most educated and forward-looking civilization in the world, and it degrades itself and is betrayed by so-called friends who tell it to aspire to nothing more than not being Osama bin Laden.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts “The Shmuley Show” on 77 WABC in New York City. He is the founder of This World: The Values Network and has just published “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley or visit him at shmuley.com.
July 6, 2010 | 11:30 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
To Al Gore’s detractors he is many things. An annoying gasbag. A self-righteous know-it-all. A braggart who invented the internet. A fraud who promoted global warming as an international hoax.
Such exaggerated criticism would explain why many believe the as-yet unsubstantiated account of a masseuse who claims that he forced himself on her sexually in a Portland hotel room.
But this demonization of Gore by his ideological enemies is not only ethically unsound by serves to confuse Gore’s true moral failing.
First, the masseuse.
All a person really has in this life is his or her reputation. Once you destroy their name they will never again walk in the streets with their heads held as high. There are many questions revolving around the woman who is accusing Gore, including the fact that she missed three interviews with the Portland police about the alleged incident and the fact that she reportedly asked the National Enquirer for $1 million to tell her story. But amid these serious concerns about her credibility, right-wing news organizations are pouncing on the story because they relish how the High Priest of Environmentalism and proud family man (the alleged incident took place three years before the announcement of his separation from Tipper) is now exposed (no pun intended) as a pious fraud.
But accepting unsubstantiated gossip – a currency too easily traded in our culture – is a serious abrogation of moral values. Last week I heard some of my fellow radio hosts condemning CNN’s decision to give Elliot Spitzer a TV show, repeatedly referring to him as ‘Client Number 9.’ Really? Is that all he is? Does America no longer believe in repentance, so that a man who makes one mistake is finished forever, no matter how much he has suffered for that mistake and what repentance he may have undertaken? Is that the kind of society we want to live in? A country where a hero like Stanley McChrystal can speak too candidly in front of a journalist who publishes his private conversations and then thirty years of service to his country under the most dangerous conditions are immediately forgotten?
Al Gore retains the presumption of innocence and those of us who believe in values dare not be complicit in character assassination. What is certainly true, however, is that Gore is a fool for being closeted alone with a woman at 11pm in his hotel room and every husband in America should learn from his mistake. That a public figure did not understand this is deeply troubling. In the Jewish religion a man and woman who are not married are not supposed to be in a locked room together. You might think this extreme but just imagine how much heartache could have been avoided by many innocent people on whom aspersions were cast had they abided by this simple rule.
More importantly, I know of few wives who would feel comfortable with their husbands being secluded in their hotel rooms for something as intimate as a massage late at night. The first rule of marriage is that you don’t do things that hurt your spouse and Gore’s actions betray a deep insensitivity.
Too often our society, in an effort to appear progressive, dismisses as repressive and Victorian basic rules of sexual propriety that once prevailed between the genders. But have we benefited from the erasure of nearly all sexual boundaries with weekly scandals of the he-said-she-said variety?
But it is not the cavalier attitude toward his wife or the incredible stupidity of a public figure putting himself into a morally compromising position that constitutes Gore’s most important moral failing. Rather, it has to do with the environment.
Let me explain. I love nature and I believe with all my heart in protecting the environment. I am never more alive as when I get away from bricks and mortar out into open fields, forests, rivers, and mountains. Every year I take my kids way off the beaten track and as deep into nature as I can immerse them for our summer vacation. I want to teach them reverence for the beauty of creation and how it is a sin to pollute G-d’s green earth.
So why aren’t I grateful to Al Gore for highlighting the environment? Simply put, he overdid it. Saving a tree, however important, is never as significant as saving a human life. Stopping a rainforest from being decimated is still subordinate to stopping genocide. What Al Gore did was create a level of hysteria that elevated the environment to the foremost moral cause of our time, even as Africans continue to die in Darfur, Zimbabweans continue to be brutalized by Robert Mugabe, Iranians continue to be cut down by Mahmud Ahmedenijad, and Hugo Chavez’ reign of terror intensifies by the day in a once-free Venezuela. So many people of goodwill who might have worked to bring clean water to Africa, to stop the scourge of AIDS, or to battle the oppression of women in the Arab world contented themselves with climbing up trees and ensuring they weren’t cut down. I love the earth but I refuse to deify it. Human life is still the crown jewel of creation.
Some will say that my argument is specious. How can you have human life without a healthy earth to sustain it? My response is that respecting the earth and reducing pollution is an urgent priority not to mention a G-dly endeavor. Even those who reject global warming as a hoax would have to agree that all that black, belching smoke coming from exhaust pipes and factories can’t be good for our air quality or world. But when the hysteria over the environment pushes to the backburner the ending of famine, stopping the spread of AIDS, fighting terrorist regimes, and giving orphans loving homes, our world is thrown into moral confusion. Al Gore convinced the world that the environment was more urgent than even removing Saddam Hussein from power – an act he condemned and opposed – even as The New York Times reported that the tyrant killed 800,000 Arabs and 300,00 Kurds. A true leader is one who teaches his people moral priorities.
Yes, the earth has a certain sacredness. But it is still the means to the even higher end of the infinite value of human life.
Shmuley Boteach, America’s Rabbi, is host of ‘The Shmuley Show’ on WABC 770 AM in NYC, and is founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
July 1, 2010 | 12:32 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I don’t often read Tom Friedman in The New York Times. True, he is one of the most lucid writers in America, and his crystal-clear prose helps in understanding some of the world’s most intractable conflicts. He can also be repetitive, tiresome and a little too in love with his own ideas.
As a triple winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Friedman is a man of considerable influence. But he is always lecturing Israel. If only the Jewish state would listen to his recurring advice, manna again would rain from the heavens, the dead would be resurrected and the Arabs would welcome Israel with daises and lilies.
Friedman certainly is entitled to his view. But he is not entitled to slander Israel, and last Sunday he did so with relish.
In words that blur the line between commentary and defamation, Friedman wrote of the “brutality of Israel’s retaliations” against Hezbollah and Hamas, and how Israel “chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.” He then crossed a line of common decency when he irresponsibly accused Israel of using “Hama rules” in its war against the twin terror groups.
“Hama Rules,” he explained, “are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.”
This is a straightforward blood libel. To accuse Israel of indiscriminately murdering thousands of civilians the way the butcher Assad did in Hama is to equate a democratic state whose actions are open to international media and scrutiny and constant judicial review with a bloodthirsty dictator and tyrant who held on to power without any restraint of law.
In his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” Friedman himself writes that he had heard through friends that Assad’s brother, Rifaat al-Assad, had boasted that the Syrian government had killed 38,000 people in Hama. Is he seriously suggesting that Israel has ever been guilty of anything remotely approaching such wholesale slaughter?
In accusing Israel of the murderous immorality of Syria, Friedman has severely compromised his credibility and objectivity as an honest and fair-minded journalist. He is being dishonest and he knows it.
Israel is at the forefront of world militaries in trying always to diminish the civilian casualties of war. When it came to Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel endured years of provocation as both terrorist groups fired thousands of rockets at hospitals, schools and homes before Israel decided that no nation could long endure with its civilian population living amid such staggering death and fear. Only then did Israel invade.
Even then, while Hezbollah and Hamas launched their rockets from nurseries and infirmaries, Israel behaved with unparalleled restraint, doing everything in its power to warn civilians of coming offensives and then using state-of-the-art munitions with laser-like precision to reduce, as much as humanly possibly, collateral civilian casualties.
How does Friedman propose Israel fight Hezbollah and Hamas, two of the world’s most bloodthirsty terrorist groups, who pride themselves on dismembering innocent civilians?
The United States rains hellfire missiles on Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan on a regular basis, blowing them to smithereens along with their wives and children. On May 21, U.S. airstrikes killed Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the No. 3 leader of al-Qaida. His wife and three children were killed with him. Friedman never condemned the attack.
Perhaps it is because he sensibly understood that terrorists purposely travel with civilians and have contempt for the lives of even their own children. Yazid knew he was a marked man; he could have left his children in safety. But he banked on the belief that the United States would not touch him as long as his kids were around. President Obama rightly understood, however, that in this case it was a choice between his children and American children, that if this terrorist continued to live, Americans would continue to die.
I believe that you will never see Friedman pen a column suggesting that America is an immoral power because it attacks terrorists undeterred by considerations of civilian deaths because he knows that there would be hell to pay, even for the New York Times readership. But like so many Jewish apologists who are ashamed of what the tiny Jewish democracy must do in order to simply survive, he judges Israel by impossibly high, and usually double, standards.
Want to talk about brutal? In Operation Gomorrah of July 1943, the U.S. Air Force and Britain’s Royal Air Force carpet-bombed Hamburg, killing some 50,000 civilians and practically destroying the entire city. The bombing created a whirling updraft of super-heated air, bringing about a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire that incinerated thousands of civilian noncombatants.
In February 1945, when Hitler and Germany were headed to certain defeat, the U.S. Air Force and the RAF sent 1,300 heavy bombers over Dresden, dropping 3,900 tons of high explosives that destroyed nearly the entire city center and killed approximately 250,000 civilians. Six months later, on Aug. 6 and 9, President Truman ordered the atomic destruction of two Japanese cities, killing 90,000 to 166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki.
Where is Friedman’s column condemning Roosevelt, Truman and Churchill as monsters who ordered attacks on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan “without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties”? If Friedman ever writes the column I’ll eat my yarmulke. That triumvirate today are regarded as three of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century.
Why would highly moral men have ordered the indiscriminate destruction of so many innocent lives?
It was because they were fighting an evil that had no precedent, and they had to make a terrible choice between the lives of their own countrymen and those of the civilians of enemies sworn to the destruction of Western democracy. They put their own countries and the freedom of the West first.
Israel, possessed of nuclear weapons and one of the most powerful air forces in the world, has never even contemplated carpet bombing any Arab city, irrespective of the horrendous civilian losses it has endured from 60 years of nonstop Arab aggression. It continues to bury a steady steam of civilians and soldiers when, if it truly wished to employ Hama rules, the war in the Middle East would have ended long ago.
Friedman can do better than this, and he owes Israel an apology. He should be man enough to write it.
(Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts “The Shmuley Show” on WABC-770 AM in New York City. His most recent book is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.”)
June 28, 2010 | 12:27 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
It seems I’m one of the few Americans who was appalled at the firing of General Stanley McChrystal. In a rare moment of unity, pundits on both the left and right supported the President relieving the general of command. The arguments were uniform (no pun intended). If the President had not fired McChrystal it would have eroded civilian authority over the military. McChrystal’s comments showed a lack of professionalism and conduct unbecoming an officer. He insulted our allies, etc, etc.
But put aside the hysteria and think soberly for a moment. What was McChrystal guilty of? Insubordination? This wasn’t General Douglas MacArthur who publicly and willfully criticized President Truman’s preparedness to accept a partitioned Korea. MacArthur was also a public advocate for going to war with China. This was rank insubordination on the part of a commander who was an American hero but who had, perhaps because he had served as viceroy of Japan for half a decade, grown a little too big for his britches and needed to be taught who was boss. Not so McChrystal who was the architect of a policy wholly endorsed by President Obama and never once challenged the orders of his Commander-in-Chief either in public or even in the Rolling Stone article.
But wasn’t he guilty of stupidity and mouthing off in front of a journalist?
Perhaps. But how media savvy do you expect a general who for years has been running the blackest of black opps to be? We train these men to hunt down the most dangerous murderers in the world, not to be experts in PR. Of necessity they’re going to be the kind of people who buck authority just a little. And if they do so in the privacy of a military bull session, who cares? Guys like McChrystal deal with a level of pressure that we civilians, surrounded by our plasma TV screens in our air-conditioned homes, can scarcely understand.
McChrystal’s error was to blow off steam and allow his subordinates to grumble about their civilians overlords - which one assumes is pretty standard fare in military circles - in the presence of a journalist. But anyone who has ever been the subject of a lengthy magazine profile, where a reporter follows you around for weeks, knows how easy it is to simply forget they’re there, or that off-the-cuff remarks are on the record, especially when you have a million more important things to worry about.
Vice President Biden is known to be gaff-prone and recently dropped the F-Bomb into a live microphone at Obama’s signing of the health care bill. Politicians are human. So are Generals, as are their staff. But you don’t destroy the career and reputation of a hero officer who has served his country valiantly for three decades because a journalist decides to publish the private banter of decorated soldiers who have never challenged the civilian authority in any meaningful way.
And why should I care about McChrystal? It’s not the general that is mostly on my mind, but American values.
President Obama said that he had to fire the general to bolster civilian control over the military, which conjured up images of McChrystal poised to cross the Rubicon and storm Washington in true Julius Caesar style. But the president, who loves teachable moments, could have used the incident to teach the American people about the importance of gratitude, a value sorely lacking in our democracy. He could have told the country that McChrystal screwed up. A general has to be measured and in control. But given the fact that this was just a silly magazine article and the country owed McChrystal a tremendous debt of gratitude for three decades of service - especially as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, which captured Saddam Hussein and killed Al-Qaeda Iraq head Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he was going to overlook the incident and accept the general’s public apology.
Wall Street bankers who may never have sacrificed anything for their country were given multi-billion dollar bailouts by the government when they, propelled by greed rather than patriotism, messed up. But McChrystal, who will make a fraction in his entire career of what a Wall Street investment can make in a year, was thrown to the wolves for saying things like he didn’t want to read Richard Holbrooke’s emails.
Oh, but the war is bigger than any one individual, the President said. True. But so are American values.
Gratitude is a dying virtue in American society. We continue to live free only because of our brave military, yet most Americans offer empty words of support to our troops that are rarely backed by tangible action. This is a shame, given how much criticism the militaries of democracies receive because of tragic civilian casualties that are unavoidable when fighting terrorists who use kindergartens and hospitals as bases of operation. In this past Sunday’s New York Times Thomas Friedman came awfully close to a blood libel when he wrote of the “brutality of Israel’s retaliations” against Hezbollah and Hamas and how Israel “chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.” Irresponsible words like these betray contempt for the challenges commanders of Western armies face when fighting terrorists who both murder innocent civilians and also use them as human shields.
But it’s not just in military situations where gratitude is lacking in our culture. It is also dying in marriage, with more and more men and women refusing to stay in relationships where they don’t feel appreciated. Gratitude is an increasingly rare commodity in the parent-child bond with more youth feeling a sense of entitlement and more parents feeling like they are glorified ATM’s. Neither do employees in today’s economy feel appreciated as they are laid off in record number by companies who often put profits before people.
But gratitude is also lacking in today’s media, which is often prepared to exploit human error to bolster circulation and ratings. Michael Hastings could have showed some gratitude toward a general who trusted him, took him into his confidence, and gave him unique access to his challenges fighting the murderous Taliban in Afghanistan, including his occasional frustrations with his civilian superiors. Instead his revelations will ensure that public officials trust journalists even less then they do already, making our newspapers and magazines, which are already on life support, blander and more colorless.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network and host of ‘The Shmuley Show” on WABC 77AM in New York City. His new book is Renewal: Living the Values-Filled Life (Basic Books). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
June 21, 2010 | 1:46 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
This Friday marks one year since the passing of Michael Jackson.His legacy remains highly controversial. On one side there are ardent fans who consider him the central inspiration of their lives. On the other there are strident critics who believe he was hopelessly weird with an unhealthy interest in children. In the middle are those who simply love his music and miss his talent.
The truth about Michael as I knew and understood him was something else entirely. Michael Jackson forever remained the broken boy who yearned fora normal childhood but was thrust reluctantly into a spotlight that slowly became addictive. Immersed in a celebrity culture rife with human corruption,he yearned to be innocent. Starved of affection, he spent his life looking for love but ultimately settled for attention. Surrounded by sycophants who indulged his every unhealthy whim, he longed to find an authentic and spiritual environment. And trapped in a cocoon of incarcerating fame, he craved to consecrate his celebrity to a cause larger than himself.
The tragedy of his life was his failure to achieve these noble aims. Michael knew that G-d had given him a special gift and with it the power to ‘heal the world,make it a better place.’ He understood the responsibility of celebrity and was devastated as his was slowly transformed into notoriety. He hated to be hated and was crushed by the chasm between what he saw as his sincere intentions to do good verses the uncharitable public perception of him as a shallow materialist.
Once, in the midst of the thirty hours of recordings we did together for publication ina book that would allow Michael to speak directly to the public, he revealed how defamatory his celebrity had become. “You get tired and it just wears you down. You can’t go somewhere where they don’t manipulate what you do and say, that bothers me so much, and you are nothing like the person that they write about, nothing. To get called Whacko, that’s not nice.People think something is wrong with you because they make it up. I am nothing like that. I am the opposite of that.”
Polite to a fault, he was a soft and gentle soul who prided himself on being different to other celebrities. Whereas they partied in night clubs, Michael loved being around ordinary families. Where they put, as Michael said, needles in their arms, he was a vegetarian who wouldn’t be caugh tdead with a street drug. And where they, as Michael maintained, engaged in tawdry relationships, Michael preferred the company of innocent kids.
What he could not see was that overindulging in medication prescribed by a doctor was just as destructive as a street drug and was motivated by the same celebrity emptiness. He was also oblivious to his own excess when it came to kids. It was one thing to show kindness and friendship to children. It was another thing entirely to invite them into your bed.
I do not for a moment believe Michael was a pedophile. Those who judge him as such forget that the only time he was charged he was utterly acquitted, and it is time for the public to exonerate him as well. But he gave himself license to cross lines of basic propriety that brought him into disrepute and soiled his message as to the purity and innocence that adults could learn from children. For a man who spent his life trying to educate the public as to the wonders of childhood, this was a monumental failure, and he knew it. The suspicion cast on him by a public whose love he had spent a life time cultivating marked the principal sorrow of his life. It would have tragic consequences when he turned increasingly to painkillers to numb the ache.
A year after his death what most haunts me is the knowledge that Michael’s life could so easily have been saved. What Michael needed was not pain killers but counseling, not the numbing of an inner woundedness through drugs but the awakening of an inner conscience through spiritual guidance. He needed a wise voice in his ear guiding him to a mastery of his demons before they consumed him. Any number of people could have rescued Michael from impeding oblivion.Most of all, he craved the love and validation of his father. What emerges most strikingly in our recorded conversations – conversations that Michael knew would be read by a wide audience, perhaps including his parents – was the hurthe felt toward his father on the one hand, and the extreme affection he harbored for him on the other. Michael had many fans, but he played primarilyt o an audience of one.
But while his life is sadly irretrievable, the lessons to be culled from his life are not. Few were as eloquent in articulating the profound lessons parents could learn from being around their children. Fewer still were more attuned to the lifelong scarring of children who were victims of neglect.I can still hear Michael’s daily admonishments to me to look my children in the eye and tell them I loved them and to never allow a night to go by without reading them a bedtime story.
When first I learned of his death my immediate reaction, I am ashamed to say, was anger. You silly man, I thought. How could you? You knew your children, whom you adored, depended on you. You were the most devoted father. How could you orphan them? You Michael, to whom G-d bequeathed such unequaled talent, just threw it away?
Twelve months later the anger is gone, replaced by a deep sadness.He was an imperfect candle. But his striving to go beyond the caricature he had become and redeem his life by visiting orphanages and hospitals was illuminating.The lyrics of his songs spoke to the human yearning to mend the broken pieces of the human soul and become whole. Whether it was encouraging himself and his fans to be the man looking in the mirror, or healing the world, he wished forhis music to inspire people to choose goodness.
A year after his untimely passing it is time to finally mourn Michael as a man. To remember him not as an entertainer, or to miss him as an international icon – an object without feelings or pain – but as a struggling soul who tried to transform the pain of his broken childhood into an inspirational message of parents cherishing their children. It is time to evaluate Michael his life not in the context of an idol who had much money and fame but as a man who searched for a real home that was not a stage.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is thea uthor of ‘The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul Intimate Conversation,’ (Vanguard) and the just-published ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life’ (BasicBooks). His website is www.shmuley.com. Follow him on Twitter@Rabbishmuley.
June 17, 2010 | 10:35 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Leading British politicians have been running to defend BP from unwarranted American attack and “bashing Britain.” First we stole their tea. Now we disparage their oil. The nerve.
Leading the charge was London Mayor Boris Johnson who said there is “something worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America.” Next up was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who, in a thinly veiled attack against President Obama, said, “I don’t frankly think we will reach a solution to stopping release of oil into the ocean any quicker by allowing this to spiral into a tit for tat political diplomatic spat.” The biggest critic was Lord Tebbit, a former Thatcher Cabinet Minister, who called Obama’s attitude toward BP “despicable.”
Curiously, none of those seeking to paint BP as a victim made reference to its atrocious safety record prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion on 20 April, 2010. An internal BP report of 2004 found “a pattern of the company intimidating workers who raised safety or environmental concerns,” and “managers shaved maintenance costs by using aging equipment for as long as possible.”
In 2005 an explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery killed 15 people. A ProPublica report found “significant process safety issues exist at all five U.S. refineries, not just Texas City.” It added that “the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the firm $87 million for not improving safety at the same Texas plant.”
Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen summed it up. “BP is a London-based oil company with one of the worst safety records of any oil company operating in America. In just the last few years, BP has paid $485 million in fines and settlements to the US government for environmental crimes, willful neglect of worker safety rules, and penalties for manipulating energy markets.”
So why would the British defend this horrible safety record by insinuating that American rage at BP is “British bashing?” And let’s not forget that BP itself changed its name in 2001 from British Petroleum, almost as if it were ashamed of the word “British.”
Britain does itself no favors by complaining about a falling share price and lost dividends while eleven Americans lie dead, thousands of Gulf Coast residents have lost their livelihood, and innumerable wildlife wash up ashore drenched in BP guck.
Unfortunately Britain’s penchant of putting oil profits ahead of human life has a shameful and recent precedent.
In an act of unforgettable infamy the Scottish government, in August of last year, released convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who murdered 270 people, on “humanitarian grounds,” saying that he had only three months to live. The mass-murderer was immediately accorded a hero’s welcome by Kaddafi in Tripoli. FBI Director Robert Mueller published an angry letter to the Scottish government that said, “Your action makes a mockery of the rule of law. Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world.”
From the beginning there was speculation that al-Megrahi’s release was brokered by the British government in exchange for lucrative British oil contracts with Libya. Kaddafi himself publicly thanked Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Queen Elizabeth for facilitating the terrorist’s release. “This step,” he said, “is in the interest of relations between the two countries…and of the personal friendship between me and them and will be positively reflected for sure in all areas of cooperation between the two countries.”
Kaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam went further, saying that in all his meetings with British officials to discuss oil contracts the subject of the Lockerbie bomber’s release was an absolute condition of any deal. “In all British interests regarding Libya, I always put you on the table,” he told the killer.
And which British companies were pushing hardest to strike a deal with Kaddafi? Reuters named BP and Shell at the top of the list.
A few weeks after this murky deal was concluded I hosted a protest on my front lawn against Kaddafi who was planning to pitch a tent immediately next door to me in Englewood, New Jersey, in a mansion owned by the Libyan mission to the United Nations. Those attending included New Jersey governor Jon Corzine and Senator Frank Lautenberg. But the standout speakers were families of the victims of Pan Am 103 who described how their lives had been shattered by Kaddafi’s atrocity and their outrage at the British and Scots for releasing the bomber after only eight years in prison.
Now comes word via the London Times that Kaddafi plans to pay £2 billion to victims of IRA bombs for his role in supplying shiploads of explosives. “Semtex supplied by Kaddafi’s regime,” the Times said, “was used by the IRA in at least 10 atrocities, including the bombing of Harrods in 1983 and Enniskillen in 1987. The Real IRA used it at Omagh in 1998, killing 29 people and injuring 220. It was used in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 at Lockerbie, when 270 were killed.” The Times revealed that Gordon Brown had initially balked from pressuring Kaddafi to pay the victims “for fear of harming trade.”
But Kaddafi has now decided that a grand humanitarian gesture, without any admission of responsibility, “will end the legal actions and build diplomatic and business relations with the UK.”
It is now ten months since the Lockerbie bomber’s release. It appears that miracles still happen because the previously terminally ill patient is somehow alive and well and, according to Kaddafi’s son, ‘greatly improved’ now that he is home in Libya. As for the reward to Britain, the Daily Mail reported that just five months after the bomber’s release “Libya announced plans to invest £5 billion in the UK.”
In the aftermath of these shameful British actions, I continue to fight what has become a lonesome battle against Kaddafi’s Ambassador living next door to me in a state where 30 people died aboard Pan Am 103. My pleas to Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle and City Council President Scott Reddin to take action against the mission of a terror-sponsoring government living tax-free in a city strapped for cash, and in post 9/11 America, have been met with little response. Most shocking of all Congressman Steve Rothman of New Jersey’s Ninth district, now up for reelection, was quoted as saying that he expected us residents to act as “appropriately good neighbors” with the Libyan Ambassador.
Justice be damned.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life” (Basic Books). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. His website is www.shmuley.com.