Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Sen. Arlen Specter, who was, amazingly, one of two Republican Jews in the Senate, has switched sides. Once Al Franken is sworn in—his victory is being challenged—the Democrats will have the 60-person super majority that will enable them to bypass filibusters. But Specter says in a statement that he won’t be a party-line guy:
My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.
Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy’s statement that sometimes Party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America.
We’ll see. Social conservatives are already on the outside looking in. If Specter’s vote now regularly swings left, they could find it almost impossible to have a voice.
Since then, I have traveled the State, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.
I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary.
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April 27, 2009 | 8:49 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
“I wish I was a little bit taller. I wish I was a baller.” How many Jews have hummed that line, and not just because Skee-Lo dropped one mad rhyme?
Every time I come home from playing basketball, I lament my physical stature. Short, skinny shooters—that’s what we consider ourselves: shooters—can only get so far; even J.J. Redick is 6’4.”
“This is ridiculous. Jews can’t play basketball.” Oh, the wisdom of Eric Cartman. And that look on Kyle’s face? I know it. But what if there was an era when Jews dominated basketball, when the chosen game strategy was known as Jewball, when a guy who was only 5’4,” barely taller than Mugsy Bogues (pictured with Manute Bol) and half a foot shorter than me, could be such an overwhelming force that he would be considered one of the greatest players in the game?
There was, and I wrote about it at length in this week’s Jewish Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame includes a handful of Jews. Arnold Jacob “Red” Auerbach, the legendary Celtics coach who won nine NBA titles in 11 years and helped integrate the game; Nat Holman, a visionary playmaker who was widely considered the greatest player of the 1920s; and Barney Sedran, who at 5-foot-4 is the shortest member of the hall. Moses Malone, though a Hall of Famer, was not among the renowned Members of the Tribe.
“Consider this,” said Dolph Schayes, another Hall of Famer who starred at New York University in the mid-1940s, “our greatest rival was St. John’s, which was a Catholic institution, and two of their best players were Hy Gotkin and Harry Boykoff. Every college in New York wanted Jewish players. Jews dominated the sport.”
Back then basketball was, in many ways, a different sport. “Today if the fans saw motion pictures of our play, they would laugh probably because the game was played below the basket, not above it,” said Schayes, who went on to be a 12-time NBA All-Star for the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers and the NBA’s 1966 coach of the year.
Speed and intelligence and precision took precedence over strength and size and athleticism. Not surprisingly, some found cause to denigrate Jewish basketball success.
“The reason, I suspect, that basketball appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background,” the sports editor of the New York Daily News, Paul Gallico, wrote in the 1930s, “is that the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart-aleckness.”
In fact, Jewish excellence on the hardwood had more to do with sociology than biology. Like boxing, which Jews also excelled at, basketball was a favored sport of the inner city, and in the first half of the 20th century, few areas were more urban than New York’s Lower East Side, where Jews were so poor they often rolled up newspaper for their ball and used a fire escape ladder as their basket. The neighborhood was a factory for basketball talent.
Indeed, of the 110 inductees to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Commack, N.Y., about one-third were basketball players, coaches or commentators.
“This is heritage in a way you don’t think about it,” said Alan Freedman, who, as the hall’s director, travels the country and talks to children about the Jewish sports stars of the last 100 years. “If someone had done this for me, I probably would have gone to Hebrew school and not cut so much.”
But by 1999, the NBA’s only Jewish player was retiring, and for the next seven years the league would remain Jew free. Then in 2006, a talented point guard from the San Fernando Valley, from UCLA, from a mixed ethnic and racial background, was taken in the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Today Jordan Farmar, the focus of my story about basketball’s Jewish roots, remains the only dual Member of the Tribe and of the National Basketball Association. He doesn’t consider himself religious and doesn’t celebrate Jewish holidays, but Farmar also doesn’t shy from his Jewish heritage and upbringing:
“People see me as somebody they can relate to,” said Farmar, whose mother is Jewish and father, who is black, is Christian. “It’s not something I even think about. It’s more them relating to me; just me representing them and their people and what they believe and stand for. I don’t make a big deal about it. I don’t deny it or don’t stress it. I just live my life and be who I am.”
Jews had been looking for a while for their Jewish Jordan—remember Tamir Goodman?—and they have taken a lot of pride in Jordan Farmar’s success. Personally, I’ve pulled for Farmar not just because he’s a Bruin but because, like Brewers’ slugger Ryan Braun, he gives hope to short, scrawny, poor-sighted Jews everywhere. I even found myself rooting for the Lakers during the NBA Finals last year (truly shocking) and hoping that Farmar would deliver them from the Boston Celtics.
But the back-up point guard struggled through a tough season, complete with the first serious injury of his career and diminished playing time. Last season he averaged more than 20 minutes and nine points per game; in the opening playoff series against the Utah Jazz, Farmar has played a grand total of eight minutes in four games, including zero in the last two, and has scored just two points.
It’s unlikely he’ll get more time in Game Five tonight. But we can certainly hope.
April 27, 2009 | 5:43 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I’ve never heard students complain of anti-Israel sentiments at UC Santa Barbara. That’s the reputation of UC Irvine and, to a lesser extent, Berkeley. But I just received an e-mail, which included a link to the video seen after the jump, forwarding an e-mail from William I. Robinson, a USCB sociology professor. The contents of that e-mail, which Robinson reportedly sent to students on Martin Luther King Day and ran under the heading “Parallel images of Nazis and Israelis,” included 42 side-by-side photos (like the one at left) that have made Robinson the focus of an academic investigation.
Here’s a portion of what he allegedly wrote:
I am forwarding some horrific, parallel images of Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against thePalestinians. Perhaps the most frightening are not those providing a graphic depiction of the carnage but that which shows Israeli children writing “with love” on a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children.
Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw - a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide (Websters: “the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group”), a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.
Comparing Israelis to Nazis is nothing new. Criticism of Israel’s onslaught, particularly its intensity, on Gaza was arguably deserving. But the Zio-Nazi association is a strawman, typically reserved for rhetorical extremists, the Arab press and British MPs who lost family in the Holocaust.
According to KEYT, Robinson claims the complaint, initiated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the two students who contacted the L.A.-based human-rights and Jewish-defense organization, is an attack on his academic freedom.
Robinson may have a point there. Tenure and academic freedom provide professors with a lot of latitude—less so for Ward “Little Eichmanns” Churchill than Kevin “The Foremost Anti-Semitic Thinker” MacDonald. And far worse things were said by professors at a UCLA symposium in January. As a refresher, here is what Tom Tugend reported then:
April 27, 2009 | 4:54 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
“They face,” the AP reported yesterday in a lengthy portrait of the 250 to 400 remaining Jews of Yemen, “a Yemeni government that is ambivalent—publicly supportive but also lax in keeping its promises—in an Arab world where Islamic extremism and hostility to minorities are generally on the rise.”
Here’s an excerpt:
“We complain to the police about the more serious incidents, but they never investigate,” [Yahya Yaish] Al-Qedeimi said. “Our fears have grown after Moshe’s killing. The lenient sentence against his killer will encourage others to do the same.”
By “Moshe” he means Moshe Yaish Youssef Nahari, who was gunned down on a December day near his home in Raydah. Compounding the Jews’ shock and dread, the self-confessed killer was spared the death penalty, though it’s usually mandatory in such cases.
Nahari, a father of nine in his early 30s, taught Hebrew to the children, and was also in charge of slaughtering sheep and poultry according to kosher laws.
He had Jewish and Muslim friends and occasionally invited them to his home to chew qat, the mildly narcotic leaf that is a Yemeni staple and symbol of social togetherness. He also was an active campaigner for Yemen’s president.
The killer was Abdul-Aziz Yehia Hamoud al-Abdi, a former air force pilot. He was convicted of murder in the first degree, but the judge ruled him mentally unfit, sent him to a mental institution and ordered his clan to pay the victim’s family 5.5 million riyals ($27,500).
Nahari’s family has refused to accept the money and is appealing the March 2 sentence.
It was al-Abdi’s second murder. The 38-year-old Muslim had killed his wife five years earlier but the case never reached a court because tribal leaders protected him, saying he suffered from depression.
According to witnesses cited by Khaled al-Anasi, the Nahari family’s Muslim lawyer, al-Abdi confronted Nahari shouting, “You, Jew, convert to Islam so your life is safe.” Nahari said something to the effect of “mind your own business” and al-Abdi pumped 11 bullets from a Kalashnikov assault rifle into the victim, killing him, the witness statements said.
Read the rest here.
April 27, 2009 | 1:42 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I should have gone to seminary. Seriously.
In fact, I’ve met a handful of religion reporters who in a previous life—well, previous period of this life—had been ministers. They often joked that reporters and men of the cloth had a lot in common, primarily a pauper’s life.
But now I’m not so sure.
Ascending to the pulpit at New York’s Riverside Church is like making it to The Show. And New York is an expensive place to live. But a $600,000 salary for a minister?
I’m not buying it, and neither are some members of the Riverside congregation. From The New York Times:
In a motion filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the group said that the new pastor, the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton, and the church board that selected him last September after a yearlong search, had dismissed their calls for transparency in financial matters. They also complained that Dr. Braxton was moving Riverside away from its tradition of interracial progressivism and toward a conservative style of religious practice.
On Tuesday, a Supreme Court judge, Lewis Bart Stone, effectively denied the motion by adjourning the case to the end of May, a month after Dr. Braxton’s installation, which is scheduled for Sunday. The judge urged both sides to reach an accommodation in the case, which was reported on Wednesday by The Daily News.
The church, a Gothic cathedral built in 1930 by John D. Rockefeller at 120th Street and Riverside Drive in Manhattan, stood for many decades at the most heavily trafficked juncture of religious faith and social activism in the United States. Its pastors were early civil rights advocates who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and invited him to speak in the pulpit. Its best-known leader was the fervent civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activist, the Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin Jr.
By the dissidents’ account, Dr. Braxton’s compensation package includes an annual base salary of $250,000; a monthly housing allowance of $11,500; pension and life insurance benefits; entertainment, travel and “professional development” expenses; an equity allowance for the future purchase of a home; money for a full-time maid; and private school tuition for his 3-year-old daughter.
Rick Stone, a longtime parishioner who served as pro bono lawyer for the petitioners, said Dr. Braxton’s package was roughly twice what his predecessor received.
“This is a huge amount of money to be paying at a time of such economic crisis,” said Diana Solomon-Glover, a 30-year parishioner, a member of the choir, and one of the plaintiffs. “But equally of concern is Dr. Braxton’s style of governance, which is highly secretive, and the direction he has been taking the church, toward a more fundamentalist brand of religion.”
Through a spokesman, Dr. Braxton declined to be interviewed.
I remember when, seven years ago, President Reagan’s church, which was and is my church, hired the Rev. Mark Brewer away from a Denver church. I remember being told that he took a pay cut to relocate his entire family and experience the SoCal cost of living, and I learned then that the going rate for a much-sought-after pastor isn’t peanuts. (Brewer’s pay was slightly more than what young Big Law attorneys make.) And it was well worth it. He is not only a gifted speaker but an inspirational leader and a solid community builder.
But a massive chasm has to be cleared to get to $600k—by comparison, UCLA’s new chancellor earns about $450,000 in annual compensation—and I just don’t know how you focus on the work of the Lord when you’re taking home that kind of a paycheck. Just ask Bishop Eddie Long of the ministry bearing his name. From 1997 to 2000, Long received $3.07 million in salary and benefits, including a $1.4 million mansion and a $350,000 Bentley.
When asked about these expenditures in 2005 by Atlanta Journal-Constitution religion reporter John Blake, Long responded with a statement that four years later I can’t shake:
“We’re not just a church, we’re an international corporation,” Long said. “We’re not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk and all we’re doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around this world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation.
“You’ve got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that’s supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering.”
What’s that line again, Jesus?
“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
April 27, 2009 | 11:57 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Film crews are inconvenient enough in Los Angeles. With frustrating irregularity, they lead to the closure of one-way roads downtown, overwhelm nearby coffee shops and blast bright lights into neighboring apartments—or much more profane sights.
I can’t even imagine the hassle in a city as holy and densely crowded with tourists as Vatican City. So you wouldn’t expect the pope’s permits department to go out of their way to welcome Ron Howard and friends for the filming of “Angels & Demons,” which enters theaters May 15. This pitted the film crew with an unusual predicament.
Via The Telegraph:
The Catholic Church refused to let the movie be filmed in the Vatican or in any of its churches in Rome because of its anger over The Da Vinci Code, which revolves around the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and secretly fathered children. The ban included the filming of church exteriors.
The Vatican said the film, which also stars Ewan McGregor and was adapted from Brown’s best-selling book, was “an offence against God”.
But that left producers with a big problem.
“The ban on filming put us in serious difficulty because we were not able to carry out the photographic surveys necessary to reconstruct the setting,” special effects supervisor, Ryan Cook, told an Italian film magazine.
“So for weeks we sent a team of people who mixed with tourists and took thousands of photos and video footage.” The photos and film helped digital effects specialists recreate computer-generated images of the imposing statues, colonnades and monuments which encircle St Peter’s Square, right down to the shadows they cast on the ground.
“We filled the square with a huge crowd, created mostly with digital figures, some standing still, others moving, clapping their hands or scratching their noses,” Mr Cook told the magazine Ciak.
To be sure, I really enjoyed the Dan Brown book when I read it as a young religion reporter. (Um ... four years ago.) A prequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” it’s religious pulp and a quick read. But the storyline, on par with “South Park’s Fantastic Easter Special,” could hardly be more objectionable to Catholics.
NPR summarized the plot back in 2005:
An attempt to blow up the Vatican as Cardinals gather to elect a new pope, with wholesale murders and rumored test-tube babies as side-plots. Despite the fantastic elements, many visitors say the tour helps them see the plot as a kind of ghost story.
That element stems from the historical devices in the thriller. At the center sits the Illuminati, a Mason-like society founded in Germany in 1776 that, in Brown’s novel, confronted the Inquisition in Rome a century earlier. The story turns on a conflict between science and religion, embodied in symbols hidden in Rome by actual figures, such as sculptor Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.
Recently, Howard, the film’s director, and Catholic League President Bill Donahue—you remember him—have squared off against each other. Among the pleasantries:
“Howard must be delusional if he thinks Vatican officials are going to like his propaganda—they denied him the right to film on their grounds. Moreover, we know from a Canadian priest who hung out with Howard’s crew last summer in Rome (dressed in civilian clothes) just how much they hate Catholicism. It’s time to stop the lies and come clean.”
Like “The Da Vinci Code,” and despite what Brown claimed about that novel, “Angels & Demons” is not a rousing and factual expose of a centuries-old Catholic Church cover up. It’s just a gripping story. Here’s hoping that translates to the big screen. The first attempt wasn’t so successful.
April 27, 2009 | 10:30 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The arrest last week of Phillip Markoff reminded me a bit of Bernard Madoff’s arrest back in December. The circumstances are far different, of course. While Madoff had admitted to running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, Markoff is accused of being the “Craigslist killer.” The similarity, though, comes from a question often asked when someone with a Jewish-sounding surname gets unsavory attention.
In this case: Is Phillip Markoff Jewish?
“The answer is I don’t know,” a colleague told me. “Did some research online and can’t find anything other than that I’ve never met a non-Jewish Markoff. Then again I’d never met a non-Jewish Greenberg before, so one can’t leap to conclusion.”
Similarly, last week when David Kellerman, the Freddie Mac CFO, was found dead in a suspected suicide, the Jew-or-not question came up several times at a staff meeting. Then after the meeting I got a text from a colleague who missed the conversation. Same question.
I replied that I wasn’t sure. But what I was really wondering was why we care. So I e-mailed Tzvee Zahavy, a rabbi and Talmudic scholar who often asks Jew-or-not on his blog.
“I speculate that Jews do it to be proud of other Jews of accomplishment or, when it involves scoundrels, to be prepared to defend the tribe if confronted with the facts,” he wrote back. “Non-Jews do it to confirm their suspicions about Jewish conspiracies or just more innocently to clear up why someone has a funny name.”
Some do it, I suspect, because they don’t know how not too. They hear a Jewish sounding name or see someone with curly hair and poor eyesight and their Jewdar goes nuts. As Jon Carroll wrote last month for the San Francisco Chronicle:
I have known people who had an overexcited Jewdar sense, and they were always willing to share. “Meryl Streep? Jewish. Of course. Clint Eastwood? Jewish. Flipper? Jewish dolphin. Everyone knows that.” They want the world to be Jewish, or at least everyone in the world who can boast of any skills, awards or surgical competence.
Indeed, this overactive Jewdar has led to a bit of wishful thinking: Rex Grossman, Lance Berkman, Norman Jewison. (The High Rabbinical Court of Israel could be forgiven for mistaking the “Fiddler on the Roof” director for an MOT.) And in the case of suspected scoundrels and charlatans—and worse—Jews can only hope that the person is not one of their own.
The pathos is understandable.
Jews account for about 0.02 percent of the world’s population—two of every 10,000 humans on earth—and those 13 million people live under the hottest heat lamp in history. Jews have often been judged by the actions of their coreligionists. Diaspora Jews still see this today whenever Israel is at war.
Whether out of pride or necessity, Jews have learned to highlight the admired MOT and to distance themselves from those who bring ignominy on the community. Albert Einstein, Sandy Koufax, Seth Rogen good. Bernard Madoff, Jack Abramoff, Pauly Shore bad.
Meyer Lansky? That’s a tougher question to answer. Lansky was a Mafia innovator, a godfather of the kosher nostra and a founder of Murder Inc. But he also ran arms to Israel in its War of Independence and helped defy the stereotype of Jewish weakness, even if he wasn’t as tough as Kayo Konigsberg.
And what about Phillip Markoff?
There is no mention of a Jewish upbringing in this Sunday profile from the Boston Globe. What is painted, though, is a portrait of an intense young medical student, loved by friends, overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed and consumed by a gambling debt. Here’s an excerpt:
April 24, 2009 | 7:58 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
This story’s got legs. Rep. Jane Harman, who was allegedly and unknowingly taped while promising to advocate for two AIPAC officials accused of spying, may have gotten some assistance, after the fact, from then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The New York Times reports:
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency concluded in late 2005 that a conversation picked up on a government wiretap was serious enough to require notifying Congressional leaders that Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, could become enmeshed in an investigation into Israeli influence in Washington, former government officials said Thursday.
But Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told the director of the agency, Porter J. Goss, to hold off on briefing lawmakers about the conversation, between Ms. Harman and an Israeli intelligence operative, despite a longstanding government policy to inform Congressional leaders quickly whenever a member of Congress could be a target of a national security investigation.
One reason Mr. Gonzales intervened, the former officials said, was to protect Ms. Harman because they saw her as a valuable administration ally in urging The New York Times not to publish an article about the National Security Agency’s program of wiretapping without warrants.
Wow, it’s getting difficult to keep straight all the moving parts.