Saturday, February 27, 2010

Let’s hear it for Thomas Nast – that’s him, as he drew himself.

Thomas Nast (1840 – 1902) never graduated from any traditional high school, was never elected to anything and never made much money -- although he ended his short – 62 years – life in heroic fashion, dying in a yellow fever epidemic in Guayaquil, Ecuador where as an appointee of Teddy Roosevelt, he’d stayed, worked to the end, trying to help visiting missions avoid the contagion.

Yet Thomas Nast was without question one of the most influential people of his age. Born in Landau, Germany, son of a trombonist, he immigrated to New York with his family in 1849. Almost singlehandedly in the beginning, Thomas Nast took on the infamous “Boss Tweed” ring in New York, gained control of the city government, and installed instead a working majority in the state legislature. Fearlessly, he went after corrupt and self-serving politicians with the only tool he had – his drawings.

One after another, he took them down – with ridicule, humor and common sense as his weapons. In addition to Boss Tweed & Co, Nast brought down any number of other politicians -- Horace Greeley, Thomas Blaine – while helping others -- Rutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland -- get elected. He was a kingmaker, no question about it.

Nast created as well as destroyed – he was the one who initiated the symbol of the elephant to depict the Republican Party and the donkey to representing the Democrat Party. He created Santa Claus in the vision we now recognize – before Nast, Santa was tall and skinny. Nast drew “Columbia” as a female figure in flowing robes, He created Uncle Sam as the figure we now recognize, top hat and beard.

In New York City – a bastion of corruption at the time – Nast and his cartoons became so feared that Boss Tweed tried to bribe him, to get him to stop. Tweed offered Nast a “gift” of $100,000 (an incredible sum, at the time) which Nast then bargained up to $500,000 – before saying, “No, I don’t think I’ll do it”.

After that, he really went after Tweed, who was ultimately vanquished when he was convicted of fraud in 1873. In 1875, when Tweed tried to flee to Cuba and then on to Spain to escape justice, he was stopped because Spanish officials were able to identify him by using one of Nast’s cartoons.

Nast was utterly fearless – he portrayed Catholic bishops as crocodiles, waiting to prey on American’s schoolchildren. His hatred if Irish immigrants (who supported Tweed) was legendary – he drew them as violent drunks with ape-like features, which surely wouldn’t win any political correctness applause today.

On the other hand – pun intended – he engendered vast popular support for American Indians, Chinese immigrants and the abolition of slavery. His opposition to segregation and his battles against the Ku Klux Klan were instrumental in forming the way Americans thought -- and most importantly, voted.

For all of it, Thomas Nast never wrote anything at all – other than the words in his cartoons. He let his drawings express what he thought – proving that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Robert Bonham summed it up nicely:

Society, as we know, has a lot of problems, not helped by the fact that the majority of society is in denial about most of those problems. Cartoons have a way of getting through that denial, so the readers, and I like to think, 'sane' people can see all this and think: "Yeah! This cartoon/idea/observation is so right!"

Cartoons appeal to a much more common denominator than, say, political rally would. Take, for example, the trouble Viz comic (a British humor publication) got into, when it ran a comic strip featuring Harold Shipman and Fred West (two notorious serial killers in England) living as neighbors, AND made light of it all. This upset a lot of people, understandably so. But a lot of people it would have upset would have been those who liked to live in denial that such a thing existed in our society.

Art Spiegelman's "Maus", a re-telling of the Holocaust from HIS point of view, where Nazis are represented by cats, and Jews, by mice, is another example. The intent was not to make light of the holocaust, but rather to let us see it in a way that entertains (without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter) and will leave us with mental images that will stick with us. It's also a way of 'standing back' from the whole thing, and seeing it through the 'looking glass' point of view; how bizarre and absolutely unbelievable it is that such a thing could happen, in 'civilized' society.

A cartoonist is saying, “Sorry if you find this offensive, but as long as society lets things like this happen, they must be brought to society's attention, or we all just slip back into denial.”

To paraphrase the immortal words of Star Trek, as a cartoonist, Thomas Nast boldly went where no one else dared to go. He took on the political rulers of the day when everyone else stepped back. And he won the battle – not with words, but with pictures.

With all that said, many cartoonists today – thank Gd – are doing the same thing: mocking the Community Organizer and his Merry Men, saying things in drawings other in the ‘State Run Media’, as Rush calls them, dare not speak – or if they dare, wouldn’t get heard, anyway.

Take a look at Yaakov Kirschen, who draws the ‘Dry Bones’ cartoons I sometimes reprint. Kirschen frequently “says” things that drive both Israeli and US officials bonkers – not to mention the Arabs. But in doing so, he speaks for most Israelis – who’d like to say the same things, but don’t have the audience. See his blog --

So do any number of other brave artists. Here are my four favorites of the moment – with thanks to my friend Manis for sending them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Channeling Sandy Koufax.

Close, but not quite. This was basketball, not baseball. It wasn’t a star pitcher who refused to play on Yom Kippur, it was the “613’s” – the girl’s basketball team from Northwest Yeshiva High School. The “613’s” decided to forfeit a championship game rather than to risk their health by trying to play basketball on the Fast of Esther.

The Northwest Yeshiva High School is located on Mercer Island, WA. It shares a building with my first congregation in Seattle, Congregation Shevet Achim, so even though I have no connection to the Yeshiva as such, I do feel connected to the team and certainly to the community. Daughters of friends make up the team.

What happened? First of all, the girl’s basketball team made history for being the first Jewish school in Washington history to qualify to play in a state basketball tournament. They lost their first game – against Sunnyside Christian – on Wednesday, so they were next pitted to face St. John-Endicott for the consolation prize on Thursday.

But Thursday was the Fast of Esther, before the holiday of Purim. From sunrise to sunset, we don’t eat or drink anything, joining our fast with that of Queen Esther’s, as she prepared to save the entire Jewish people back there in Persia, 300 – 400 BCE.

So there was the problem: could the girls – should the girls – try to play a high-energy game of basketball while fasting? The answer from the Yeshiva’s head, Rabbi Bernie Fox, was no. Playing the game without being able to rehydrate would be "an unacceptable risk" for the players, he said. They chose to forfeit the game instead.

What’s interesting – although certainly not surprising, if you know Rabbi Fox, his Yeshiva and the Seattle Jewish community at all – is that it never occurred to them to break the fast so that they could play. That wasn’t even considered.

They did try to get the game day or time changed, but you know how bureaucracies are. The WIAA – the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association – who runs the games had a litany of reasons why that couldn’t be done. You know the drill: “it would be unfair to the other teams whose schedules would be affected.”

Yada yada yada. Same old, same old.

Okay. So this became, as educators say, a ‘teachable moment’. "What we hope to accomplish when we educate our children," Rabbi Fox said, "is that the ethical and moral essence we teach them -- whether they be of a secular, humanistic morality or a religious morality -- that they will extend those lessons beyond their home and school into their life and actions.

"If we're loyal to our values only in the confines of our school or our private home, then we've taken the whole meaning away from them."

The girls agreed. "It's really cool to be here, first of all,” sophomore Julia Owen said. “We worked really hard to get here, to qualify for state.

"But we're also very happy to be able to show that our religion is very important to us. Although it's hard because it would be great to get the chance to continue, we're not wishing we could ignore the fast and play, because observing the fast is important."

So what did the girls do? The dressed in their uniforms, went out onto the court, shook hands with the opposing players, congratulated them and wished them the best. Then they forfeited the game.

Today these girls stand tall – as does the Northwest Yeshiva High School, as does the entire Jewish community of Seattle. Kol hakavod. You made one ex-pat very proud of you.

Shabbat shalom, everyone, and Purim someach!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Community Organizer’s attempt to press the reset button on his disastrous Obamacare plan reminds me of an old story….

Three explorers were hopelessly lost in the jungle. (That’s ‘rain forest’, for you lefties.) Running out of food and water, they were relieved to come across some tribesmen – until they saw the tribesmen were all decked out in curious-looking loin cloths, body paint and with bones through their noses. Their worst fears were confirmed when they were taken captive and marched back to the camp.

Once they were securely tied to a tree, the tribal chief approached them. Looking the three men over carefully, he pinched their arms, checking for fat, then went to the smallest and thinnest of the men and said, “Death? Or Bongi?”

The three men looked at each other, each wondering if the others knew what “Bongi” was. No one did, but on the theory that whatever it was, would be preferable to death. The, first man tentatively said, “Bongi, I guess.”

The chief signaled to his tribesmen, who gleefully took the man, ripped off his clothing, and then, one by one, brutally raped him.

Once the poor fellow was lying senseless on the ground, the chief turned to the second man: “Death? Or Bongi?”

Well, the second man reasoned, there could have been some mistake. Maybe they misunderstood his companion. As the tribal chief poked him, demanding that he make his choice, he said very clearly, “Bongi!”

At which point he, too, was dragged out, repeatedly raped and left lying on the ground, bleeding and unconscious.

Now the chief turned to the last man, who by now had already made his decision. He knew what ‘Bongi’ was, and he didn’t want any part of it. Death was preferable to that.

“Death!” he announced. “I’d rather die than go through Bongi.”

Whereupon the chief broke into a wide nearly toothless grin. “Fine!” he cackled. “Death – by Bongi!”

The Community Organizers “new” plan for health care reminds me of that tribal chief and his offer of “Death – or Bongi”.

Whereas the old Senate bill was brutal, the “new” version presented by the Community Organizer is even worse. Not only does it contain all the same harmful taxes, dubious mandates and vast increase in federal power, but it also contains several new items, which add an additional $80 billion to the cost.

Worse of all, though, is that it creates a new federal oversight board, the “Federal Health Insurance Rate Authority” which would give nameless bureaucrats the power to set and control insurance prices – which means they would hold the ultimate power to control everyone’s health care. With the sweep of a pen, they’d have the power to put any and all private insurance companies out of business – thereby effectively creating a government-run system.

"If government can control both health benefits and health care pricing, that's the proverbial ball game," health policy expert Bob Moffit of the Heritage Foundation wrote. "Private health care is private in name only."

We saw what Bongi was – Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and all the Community Organizer’s Merry Men told us all we needed to know. We knew for sure we didn’t want Bongi.

Now the Community Organizer is grinning with delight. He’s offering us death, by Bongi.

Read Heritage's whole study here:

Meet “Daria". Isn’t she a sweetie?

Daria is just eleven weeks old, but already she’s beginning her life’s work, training to become an official Guide Dog, a loving shadow for an Israeli who happens to be blind.

What’s even more interesting is that Daria is being trained in the US by some good friends of mine, Jeff and Ellen Lambert, from Long Island.

You got it: the Lamberts are training a puppy – training her to Hebrew commands, right there in New York. Several months from now, when Daria is fully socialized, she’ll make aliyah, come to Israel where she will then receive further training to become a fully-fledged Guide Dog. After that, she’ll be placed with an Israeli who needs her to help him live a much-enriched life, with much more freedom of movement, than he or she would otherwise have.

I know I’ve told this story before, but it’s so fascinating I just can’t help mentioning it again. Before Noach Braun, a former parachutist with the IDF, established the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in 1991, any blind Israeli who wanted a guide dog had to first pass an English test before they could receive one.
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? A blind Israeli having to speak English in order to get a guide dog!

But as it was before Noach Braun, all Guide Dogs were trained in the US. So the blind person had to travel to the US to be trained in how to work with and care for his dog. And of course in the US, all the training was offered in English only, so it was available only to Israelis who could communicate in English.

I won’t repeat the whole story about how Noach – that's Noach, one of Israel’s greatest heroes, pictured with "Billie" -- managed to get the Guide Dog Center (IGDCB) started, but it’s an amazing tale. (If you’re interested, email me, and I’ll send you the link to articles I’ve already published about that.)

Today the IGDCB is a thriving institution, located on a lovely campus near Tel Aviv, where not only are puppies specifically bred, born and trained, but where now, blind Israelis come to live for several weeks, and receive their guide dog training right here.

That story became even more amazing several years ago when Jeff and Ellen were the first to bridge the gap, so to speak. The Lamberts had long been involved in raising special puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a similar non-profit for the blind in Yorktown, NY. The idea of raising a puppy for the Israeli center came about when one of the puppies the Lamberts had raised -- “Ramsey” – was eventually placed with a blind pianist in Israel. When the Lamberts visited Israel, they met the pianist and renewed acquaintance with Ramsey, who remembered his foster parents very well.

"When we next visited Israel, Ramsey and his owner took me on a long tour of Jerusalem,” Jeff recalls. “With Ramsey in the lead, we walked to all the places the pianist went, doing what he did. Along the way, I pointed out things he and Ramsey passed by every day, but the pianist had never seen – like the big statute of a horse on King George Street. He hadn't known that was there. We walked over to it, and he put his hands on the horse, and saw it for the first time. That day was unforgettable."

So inspired were the Lamberts, that they were determined to help the Israeli Guide Dogs Center, too. So a suitable puppy was found at the Yorktown Center – “Gibor”. Here they are with Gibor.

The Lamberts took Gibor in and raised him. Gibor went everywhere with Jeff. “Sometimes when Gibor and I were out and about, some wise guy would ask, 'So does this dog speak Hebrew?'” Jeff recalls. “I'd say, 'No, but he understands Hebrew.' So I'd show them. 'Sit!' I'd say, and Gibor ignored me. Then I said 'Shev', and he sat. 'Come' I'd say, and Gibor paid no attention, but when I said 'Bo!' he came. That blows people away."

"We were regular riders on the Long Island Railroad. On Shabbat, I'd take him to synagogue – every time, when we came to the 'Alleinu', at the end of the service where we all stand up, Gibor would stand up too, all by himself. People couldn't believe it – there's this davening dog!"

Gibor made aliyah about a year ago – that’s the family, seeing him off. Then the Lamberts raised “Dvash” – “Honey” – also for the Israel Center. Dvash made aliyah, too, and now the newest baby in the Lambert household is Daria, who in turn will also make the trip to Israel, where she will be paired with one of Israel’s estimated 23,000 blind people.

The unfortunate truth is, Israel has more blind people, per capita, than most other countries. Because of the prevalence of terror attacks and of damaged eyes among our soldiers, we have more than our share of people who suffer from blindness and who desperately need a guide dog to accompany them through life.

The Lamberts aren’t the only “foreign” families to be raising guide dogs for the Israel Center. Michael and Gillian Stoller, in London, did the same thing. They raised “Minty” for the Israel Center. Here's Minty as a baby herself.

What does it mean, that the Lamberts and Stoller's “raised” a puppy for the Center? For both Centers, Israel and Yorktown, the specially bred puppies -- Labradors, Golden Retrievers, or half-Lab, half-Golden mixes – are born right there, at the centers. They remain there for their first eight weeks of life, and are then placed with foster human families, who raise the dogs through their first year, socializing them, taking them everywhere, accustoming them to every kind of environment, event and activity. Only then do the puppies go on for their real training as Guide Dogs, after which they’re placed with their blind companions.
It costs several thousand dollars to fully train a "team" of a Guide Dog and a person who is blind. If anyone out there would like to help, here’s how:

Tax deductable contributions may be sent to:
Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind (USA Office)
Supporting "Daria"
732 S. Settlers Circle
Warrington, PA 18976

For more information in Israel:
Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind
Tel: 08-9408213

Thursday, February 18, 2010

You just can’t take these guys anywhere. They embarrass you every time.

I don’t mean the terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed, pictured above, the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorists. I mean Joe Biden and the Community Organizer’s “spokesman” Robert Gibbs. You know, the talking head who doesn’t use a teleprompter.

Yesterday we were talking about criminals, crimes and executions. One the things I didn’t mention was that before, during and up until he was convicted, Michael Grossman was presumed innocent. I didn't mention it because I took that for granted. It’s the way the legal system works in the US – or the way it used to, anyway.

It’s the very essence of American jurisprudence: every person accused of a crime is considered to be innocent until proved otherwise.

That might sound like a technicality, but it’s not – it’s critical to the “blind justice” theory. The State must prove -- “beyond a reasonable doubt” – that the person they accused is guilty. The burden is not, the burden is never, on the accused to prove his innocence.

That’s been enshrined in American law since the signing of the Constitution, where the 5th Amendment reads."No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law ..."

Not only there -- the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights (Article 6 Section 3) makes the same point, as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 14, section 2).

So why am I telling you this? Because in recent days, both Vice President Joe Biden and the Community Organizer’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, appear to be ignorant of the concept.

Both were reacting to the furor -- the very appropriate furor – that resulted when the Community Organizer and his Merry Men decided to give the terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed (“KSM”) a civil trial in a civilian court instead of treating him like the terrorist enemy combatant that he is.

Why is that an insane idea? Because when a terrorist is given a civilian trial, he’s entitled to all kinds of legal niceties, including a jury of his “peers” – a fascinating concept all by itself – as well as the presumption of innocence. Worse than that, quite frankly, is that the accused terrorist’s taxpayer-paid cadre of lawyers will also be given access to all government evidence against him, which will may well prove to be a fatal error to the ability of the US to protect its citizens from future attacks. Imagine providing all kinds of top secret security data directly to the terrorists of the world. It’s utterly insane.

Needless to say, granting civilian trials to accused terrorists is a hot topic. People who pay attention to such things – not to mention pay for them -- are outraged. In response, the White House, in its many guises, is working overtime attempting to calm the situation.

First they sent out Joe Biden – who probably would have been better off if he’d plagiarized his remarks from Neal Kinnock again.

Here’s the exchange from “Meet the Press” of February 14:

Host David Gregory asked Vice President Joe Biden: “The reason for a civilian trial as given by the president and others was a question of perception: That it was very important that the rest of the world see that we treated Khalid Sheikh Mohammed fairly. But hasn’t the administration already made the decision that even if he were to be acquitted that he would never be released?”

Biden: “Look, there is no doubt that he would not be acquitted. The facts we have are overwhelming. We are absolutely confident he will be convicted and for whatever he is tried. The attorney general made the decision that he should be tried in the court of the greatest jurisdiction, which was in New York City.”

WHAT??? “The facts are overwhelming”?? Since when does that matter? Jury verdicts don't work that way. Try this: “If it fits, you must acquit”. Remember that one?

And what do you mean, Mr. Vice President, that you are “absolutely confident” he will be convicted? As Vice President, you are the second-highest official in the US government. It is your Constitutional duty to grant the accused every right he’s entitled to under the law – that’s the way the US works, it’s a system of laws. And under US law, that nice fellow pictured above is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

So what on earth do you mean, you are “absolutely confident” he will be convicted? Legally, now that you’re treating him like a civilian, he’s a completely innocent man – and will remain such, up until the judge accepts the jury’s verdict.

Okay, okay, so it’s Joe Biden who's talking. Everyone knows that for decades, Joe Biden’s loose lips have gotten him in trouble. The American people knew that, and chose to elect this dufus anyway, so apparently they weren’t concerned about it. We could give Joe Biden a pass – again.

But now comes the Community Organizer to explain what Joe Biden said. Surely Gibbs, the White House spokesman, will step in to reaffirm this administration’s commitment to this basic principle of American law, won’t he? That in criminal trials, the accused is innocent until proven guilty?

Ah, well, actually not. Gibbs responded with a nice bit of Jesuitical reasoning – he answered both yes and no. (Hey – I’m Jesuit educated. I knows it when I sees it.)

On Wednesday, CNS News asked Robert Gibbs: “The vice president (Joe Biden) said on Meet the Press that he guarantees that KSM (Khalid Sheik Mohammed) would not be acquitted. Isn't part of a civilian trial presumed innocent?”

Gibbs: “Yes”.

CNSNews: “And does the administration believe that he (KSM) is presumed innocent?”

Gibbs: “The administration is in charge of presenting the case against an individual that killed 3,000 people on American soil. I not only think he'll be convicted, I think he'll be executed for his crimes.”

CNSNews: “Can you make that guarantee though?”

Gibbs: “I think he’s going to be executed for his crime.”

Again, WHAT??? Where’s KSM’s presumption of innocence? Where’s his right to due process, as guaranteed by the Constitution? Where’s his right to a jury of his “peers” who will make the decision about his guilt or innocence? Where’s his right to a fair trial?

In a nutshell? If you thought that the 25 years the US government spent trying to prove Martin Grossman worthy of execution was outrageous, you haven’t seen anything yet. Just wait until you see the wheels of justice come to a screeching halt over the fate of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

What’s happened is that both the Vice President of the United States, as well as the President’s spokesman, have just fatally compromised Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s right to a fair trial.

The two have now absolutely guaranteed that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will never be executed for his crimes. In fact, from the looks of it, he may never even be convicted.

Woe unto all of you, who elected these yahoos to office.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Baruch dayan emet.

Convicted murderer Martin Grossman was executed today in Florida for the killing of 26 year old Margaret “Peggy” Park.

Peggy Park, just three years out of college, was a wildlife officer who, back in 1984, came across Grossman and a companion in the woods with a stolen handgun. Grossman, who was already on probation, pleaded with Park to let him go because if she arrested him, he’d go back to prison.

She refused, he attacked and they struggled. Grossman was 100 pounds heavier and a foot taller than Park. He wrested her flashlight away from her and beat her with it. She managed to draw her handgun and fired a wild shot, but he finally got the gun away from her too. He then shot her to death.

Grossman was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to die, but since then, has had his sentence under appeal, in one court or another, for 25 years.

The case has been a hot topic in the news for weeks, especially in Jewish circles because Grossman was Jewish. I saw the first “please sign our petition to save Martin Grossman” email several weeks ago, read it, and let it be. I don’t bother with internet petitions anyway – a waste of time, no matter what the issue is – but this was one I wouldn’t support in any event.

I should declare upfront that I am now and always have been a strong supporter of the death penalty. It is because I respect life that I believe the wonton taking of it should subject the killer to the ultimate penalty. If an intentional murderer isn’t required to forfeit his own life for the taking of another’s, then what value do we place on life? Without the considered application of the ultimate penalty, they’ve we as good as said it: life itself has no value.

Besides that, the death penalty is remarkably effective. It’s not possible to argue that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent – of course it is! If nothing else, it deters THAT one. Today we know one thing for sure: Martin Grossman will never kill again. Will the example of his execution deter other would-be killers? Statistics and anecdotal evidence says it does.

All that said, I paid attention to the arguments put forth on behalf of Grossman, specifically, that he suffered from some degree of mental retardation. That issue came up at trial, and Grossman was found to have the required mental capacity to be responsible for his acts. Under the applicable age-old, time tested, M’Naughton Rule, which considers whether the accused was able “to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; and if he did know it, that he knew what he was doing was wrong” Grossman was found to be competent.

At the trial, Grossman was proven to have met the test: he knew what he was doing; he knew it was wrong. He knew killing was wrong. If you want more proof, consider this: he also knew having the stolen gun was wrong – that’s why he killed Peggy Park.

I was similarly not persuaded by arguments that Grossman had fully repented of his act. Hey -- fine that he was sorry, I just don’t see it as a mitigating circumstance. I suspect that given the chance to escape the death penalty, something in excess of 100% of prisoners on death row would fervently avow the same thing. Living a few steps away from the death chamber tends to focus the mind. It would most likely make serious repentees out of most of us.

But the real problem with Grossman’s repentance is that he didn’t make it to the right person. The only one who can forgive Grossman for killing Peggy Park is …. Peggy Park. It was her life he took. His apologies to anyone else – including her family -- are completely irrelevant. Only Peggy Park can forgive him.

Oh, you say, but that’s impossible! How could he apologize to Peggy Park? She’s dead!

Well, there you have the problem. Grossman took away Peggy Park’s life. Because he killed her -- the only one who could forgive him – there isn’t anyone else who can. Which means there’s not much the rest of us can do about it, is there? It’s a conundrum, no question about that. It’s beyond the range of any of us humans to solve.

There was one element of injustice in this case, and that’s the fact that it dragged on for 25 years.

To be most effective as a deterrent, all punishments -- the death penalty included -- must be applied swiftly and surely. A 25 year delay is ridiculous – it didn’t work to Grossman’s benefit. It put Peggy Park’s family through a horrendous kind of torture the rest of us can hardly imagine. It weakened the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to other would-be killers. The delay was inexcusable.

But remember, the endless delays and appeals were brought on by Grossman himself. He and his supporters were the ones who dragged this out. That being the case, he can’t now come before the bar of justice and claim that because of the long delays in implementing the penalty, he should escape it.

But, you say, mistakes can be made at trial. The evidence needs to be carefully examined.

I agree. Mistakes can be made, and obviously the trial court verdict needs to be examined and then reevaluated again. But not for 25 years. A limit of two years for all appropriate appeals should be adequate.

I’m completely, 100%, in support of a revision of the rules of appeal for death penalty cases to something along those lines. These cases should not be allowed to go on this long, litigating and relitigating the same issues, over and over. It’s unjust. It serves no purpose. Changes in the law should be made to limit the number of appeals, to limit their scope and duration.

Today, 25 years after he took the life of Peggy Park, Martin Grossman met the same fate – albeit in a far kinder and humane fashion than he permitted his victim.

Am I sorry he’s dead? I lament the loss of any life, but in the scheme of things, I’m much more sorry that Peggy Park -- just out of college, just starting her life, just doing her job -- was cut down without mercy by a man intent on escaping the consequences of his previous crimes. It’s Peggy Park and her family – and the children and grandchildren she will never have – for whom I feel sorry.

Was justice done?

The law was applied. About justice, I have no idea. I’ll leave that to the True Judge. Let Him figure this one out.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Last Thursday night “My Fair Lady” was transformed. It became Our Fair Lady – which is to say, Beersheba’s Fair Lady. The whole production was nothing short of amazing.

Beersheba’s local theater group – LOGON, Light Opera Group of the Negev – now in its 29th year, opened their 2010 musical, My Fair Lady, last week, and will now play ten performances around the country before returning to Beersheba for two final performances in mid-March. This performance was a smash hit, no question about that.

I liked it so much I may go back to see it again – and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to want a second bite. My Fair Lady usually ranks as everyone’s favorite musical, and it’s easy to see why. The delightful music, the glorious costumes -- coupled with the eternal promise that transformation from ugly duckling to glorious swan can happen to any of us -- is pretty heady stuff. This is just the fifth LOGON performance I’ve seen, but it was clear that this show was the biggest audience-pleaser I’ve seen. All through the show, the full-to-capacity crowd didn't just applaud their approval, but -- at least where I was sitting – several sang along, too. It was fine – it’s that kind of show – something so familiar and so much loved, everyone wants to be a part of it.

One of the potential problems in presenting such a well-known show is that before you even start, you’re faced with an almost impossible standard of performance. I was guilty of that myself – when the show first began, I was expecting LOGON’s ‘Eliza’, Ruth Reyes Cohen, to be playing Audrey Hepburn, and Eric Issacson to be playing Rex Harrison. That seemed perfectly normal. I’d never seen the Broadway play, but the video of the 1964 film was a family favorite – I’ve probably watched it a dozen times. So, of course. In my mind, “Eliza” was the exquisite Audrey Hepburn. How could she be anything else?

It took only a few minutes to see the error of my ways – the moment Ruth as Eliza began to sing, “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” I realized that this Eliza was a very different creature indeed. This wasn’t the ethereal Audrey Hepburn up there, this was a live, flesh and blood “Eliza”, a lady with not just a crystal-clear voice but also with a robust earthiness that transformed the character entirely. Ruth didn’t play Audrey – Ruth was Eliza. She took the role and made it her own.

As I listened to her incredible singing voice and saw her dancing at the same time, I remembered that Miss Audrey, in the film I loved so much, didn’t actually sing a single note. Hepburn moved her lips while the actual singing was being done by someone named Marni Nixon. That’s very different from this performance – here, our own ‘Eliza’ was both singing and dancing, which is a great deal harder to do. In that moment, she became our “fair lady”, a new immigrant to Israel just like the rest of us, except that she was doing it all, and with incredible ease.

I was lucky enough to be able to interview both Ruth and Bernie Goodman, who plays Eliza’s father, the Cockney dustman Alfie Doolittle. (Read it here:

Without repeating Ruth’s whole fascinating story, one thing she said stuck with me. Ruth always had aspirations of becoming a professional singer and actor, and was trained in both classical music and jazz. But when she was considering moving to Israel, her (Jewish!) voice teacher told her, “Don’t do it! It will be the end of your career – move to New York or California instead. In Israel, there won’t be anything for you, there won’t be anywhere to grow.”

Good for us, Ruth ignored that advice, and came – but clearly, she could have succeeded anywhere at all, California, New York, wherever she had chosen.

Which is one of the things that’s so impressive about the LOGON crew – almost all of them are immigrants. That’s changed slightly, in recent years, as the Israeli-born sons and daughter of the original group have joined. But still, most of the incredibly talented senior players are all people who were born elsewhere, and made the conscious decision to move to Israel, to cast their lot with the rest of us here, with all that entails. I have no doubt at all that any of them could have succeeded brilliantly anywhere in the rest of the world, but they chose to come here. That means something to me.

The after-the-performance-chat outside the theater was that everyone fell in love with Bernie Goodman, the real-life Cockney who stepped into the role of Alfie Doolittle, playing the ‘cock-a-hootie’ scoundrel to perfection.

One of the things Bernie said in the interview was that he refused to put himself in the same category as Stanley Holloway, the British actor who played the role both on Broadway and in the film. “I’m working with a retired hazan, cantor, who came from London,” Bernie said. “He’s coaching me in voice exercises and offered some advice, too. ‘Don’t even think of Stanley Holloway. Portray the character yourself’”, he said, which was good advice. After all, Bernie Goodman’s credentials for playing “Alfie” are just as good as Holloway’s. Holloway started life as a fish monger in Billingsgate, then began his stage career as a comic before becoming a star of the London stage. He gained a US reputation when George Cukor, the director of the film, cast him as Alfred Doolittle – after James Cagney turned the role down.

Bernie, for his part, quit school and started life as a teenage market trader, trading everything he could, fabrics to food. He ultimately sold his company, did an unhappy stint as someone’s employee, then moved on to being a London taxi driver, where he spent 33 years before moving to Israel just a couple of years ago.

Through it all, he also pursued an acting career. “I saw an advert in the Evening Standard,” he said. “It read, ‘study to be an actor’. My father, while he was in the RAF, was an entertainer as well, so the idea of studying acting sounded appealing. It was a part time drama school, so I went, and did very well. I stayed two years and won several awards, ‘Most promising actor’ and ‘Most promising voice’ among them. I played in a lot of theaters, did some interesting work, but finding professional roles wasn’t easy because of the equity system. There are a lot of talented people out there, and maybe only 10% have work at any one time. I thought of doing amateur work there in London, but they all had Saturday afternoon matinees, and working on Shabbat was something I wouldn’t do.”

London’s loss was Israel’s gain – and if you want to read where Ruth Reyes Cohen came from, you’ll have to read the Jerusalem Post article. (Now that’s a story! Ruth's personal story could be a play all by itself.)

It wasn’t just Ruth and Bernie who made this incredible show happen, of course – the entire cast was excellent, especially Erik Isaacson playing Henry Higgins. One of the things I hadn’t realized, in seeing the film version, was how funny this play really is. It’s hilarious – and much of the credit for that goes to Erik, because of his perfect comedic timing. He was just a delight – perfect in every way. As was young Iggy Abilia, who played the young swain Freddy Eynsford-Hill to perfection – what a voice! He was just marvelous. In the original play, Eliza married Freddie – all you have to do is look at (and listen to) Iggy Abilia in the role and you’d understand that with no problem at all.

And if Amiel Shotz didn’t exist, LOGON would have to invent him. As a Scotland-born actor, Amiel arrived in Israel in 1965 and has been onstage virtually ever since. In this production, he played Colonel Pickering, and -- as in every role Amiel plays – it appears to have been written for him. He’s amazing.

Apologies for singling out just a few of the actors, because every one of them was great. And it wasn’t just the actors who made that performance, either, it was the whole package – the orchestra, the choreography, the sets and costumes, too.

I wish you all could have seen it – but since some of you are too far away, I’ll just go again, to make up for it. (For any of you here in Israel, there’s more information at

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Earlier this week I had lunch with a good friend, a lady with whom I’d pointedly decided – several years ago – to avoid any talk of politics. Everything about her seemed to indicate that she’d be on the left side of things, and because I enjoyed her company and friendship for so many other reasons, it seemed wise to just avoid political talk, Israeli or American.

But this week, it happened. I’m not sure how it started, but we finally got into politics. Just as I expected, she’d started life as a liberal. “I always leaned toward the left,” she said. “But in the last several years, I’ve changed. Gradually I started seeing how wrong I was. I’d still like to be a liberal, you understand, but I can’t. That’s not where my heart is now.”

As I walked home, I had to laugh. She’d also been a vegetarian at one point in her life, but our last two lunches have included serious hunks of red meat. If she doesn’t watch out, pretty soon she’ll be grunting and dragging her knuckles on the ground just like the rest of us conservative Neanderthals.

In her movement away from the left, she’s hardly alone. The shift in demographics in the US is particularly astonishing – and certainly for good reasons. With the frightening Socialistic policy shifts the Community Organizer seems intent on imposing, there’s good reason for people to become much more adamant about their preference for the conservative platform of ‘less government, more individual responsibility and a better world.’

What’s interesting is that in Israel, the same paradigm shift is taking place – with far less outside impetus. Yes, our hostile neighbors still have us under constant attack, but that hasn’t changed in recent years. If anything, the terrorist threat is down. Not because they aren’t trying, but because the IDF has become so skilled at ferreting out the terrorists before they launch themselves into the carnal delight of 72 virgins. Because of the skill of the IDF, things have actually become calmer.

But still, there’s a strong shift to the right – and nothing proves it so much as a new poll by Haaretz.

For you outside of Israel, the Hebrew daily newspaper Haaretz is now and always has been the official organ of the Israeli left. Sometimes known as “the only Hebrew-language Arab newspaper in the Middle East”, Haaretz has long dominated the local newspaper scene, spreading leftist ideas on virtually every topic they address.

But today, Haaretz is shaking in its cumulative boots over a poll they themselves commissioned on Groundhog Day, February 2.

True to form, Haaretz tried to load the dice and make it come out differently. But even though they skewed the questions put to 491 Israelis, they still didn’t get the results they expected. The poll showed a strong shift to the right among Israelis – and yes, Israeli Arabs were included in the poll sample.

One of the questions touched on the timely topic of “the settlements”, otherwise known as that part of Israel called Judea and Samaria. The clumsy question Haaretz posed was, "May our continued presence in the territories lead to a bi-national state?"

(A bi-national state – i.e., “a state of all of its citizens”, including the roughly 50% Arabs who would be present, is code language for a state devoid of all Jewish identity.)

What was the result? Yes - 28%, No - 53%.

Wow. That wasn’t the answer they expected. Or wanted.

In fact, it was so bad Haaretz didn’t report the poll results at all in the English version of the newspaper. In the Hebrew version, they tried to downplay it, showing the poll results only in tables, with no reference whatever in the text.

Bottom line: Israelis don’t buy into the idea of “demographic threat” in the slightest. As the Manhigut Yehudit analysis noted, in spite of the heavy indoctrination Haaretz and the long line of other leftist proponents have tried to instill – that Jewish Israel is losing ground, population-wise, to a growing Arab presence – Israelis simply don’t believe it.

For years, the left has advocated pulling out, getting rid of, Judea and Samaria because, they say, if Israel were to officially annex that area, the number of Arabs living there would overwhelm the Jewish population of Israel. That’s not true – those demographic numbers have been disproven again and again -- but still the left tries to scare Israelis: ‘Get out of Judea and Samaria! If you don’t, Arabs will become the majority population!”

Now we know: Israelis aren’t buying it.

Is there really no demographic threat? Really and truly, there isn’t. The Jewish population in Israel is NOT losing ground to the Arab population, much as the left would like us to believe it. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. The Jewish population is growing as compared to Arabs. Not diminishing.

For a full analysis of the fake “demographic threat” -- and how the numbers were manipulated by double counting and other tricks of the trade -- see several accounts, including that of Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, at

Why does the left want Israelis to believe in the “demographic threat”? Because that’s the only way they can get the voting public to submit to the “two state solution” – better known as the ONE state solution, where an Arab state would replace Israel.

And now, Haaretz – the voice of the left – has found, to their dismay, their Big Lie isn’t working. Israelis – including Israeli Arabs – don’t believe.

Interesting, isn’t it, how the general public – in much of the world – is catching on to the numbers men. The fake “global warming” has been exposed for what it is, people have taken to laughing at the Community Organizers “jobs saved” statistics, and Israelis are refusing to accept the notion that we have to jettison Judea and Samaria to remain a Jewish state.

It’s about time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Oh-oh, there he goes again. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Thank-Gd-for-Loose-Canons Avigdor Lieberman, saying things he’s not supposed to be saying.

Not that what he said isn’t true, mind you. Just that he’s not supposed to say it. Just like when Education Minister Limor Livnat noted that the Obama administration was “awful” and “not a friend of Israel”, Lieberman voiced an inconvenient truth, words not included in the lexicon of diplomacy.

So what did the delightfully plain speaking Lieberman say this time? He warned Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad that if he dared to attack Israel, he’d see his own regime collapse.

What’s wrong with that? Seems like a truism. Barring some monumental catastrophe, if Assad did attack Israel, it’s highly likely he’d lose the war. (If he thought he could win, he’d have attacked already.) And if Assad pushed his country into a losing war, it’s highly likely he’d lose his throne where, many commentators say, he’s not sitting all that securely anyway. What’s the big deal?

Ah, but it was another gratuitous tidbit of commentary that Lieberman threw in that really set Israel’s liberals all a-twitter. Simply stated, Lieberman told Syria they better forget about ever getting the Golan Heights away from Israel.

Now there’s an inflammatory statement – to the leftists of the world. To suggest that any part of the “West Bank” – Judea and Samaria – will forever remain part of Israel is incendiary at best and war-mongering at worst.

Let’s put the whole thing in context:

Assad kicked off the back-and-forth between Lieberman and himself – not directly, of course – both were speaking to others, not each other. Assad fired the first volley when he told the Spanish Foreign Minister that “Israel was pushing the Middle East into a new war.”

(Which, we have to note, by Assad’s lights, is also true. By refusing to lay down and die, Israel is indeed “forcing” its enemies in the neighborhood to attack it again, if they want to get rid of the pesky Jewish entity.)

Lieberman, never one to back away from a challenge, responded in a speech at Bar-Ilan University: "Our message should be that if Assad's father lost a war but remained in power, the son should know that an attack would cost him his regime," Lieberman continued. "This is the message that must be conveyed to the Syrian leader by Israel."

"Whoever thinks territorial concessions will disconnect Syria from the axis of evil is mistaken," Lieberman went on. "Syria must be made to understand that it has to relinquish its demand for the Golan Heights."

Whoa! There we have it – the words that set the leftists into a tailspin. What? Israel intends to keep the Golan Heights forever? That can’t be – the only path to peace is via territorial concessions! Only by giving up land – all of it, eventually, but most certainly the Golan Heights for a starter – can Israel ever expect peace.

Which is also true: if Israel gives up the Golan Heights, it will have peace. The peace of the grave.

(Why? Military defensibility, certainly, but in a single word, water. Almost all of Israel’s fresh drinking water originates in the Golan Heights. No country can survive for very long if it turns its source of drinking water over to its enemies.)

But Lieberman wasn’t permitted to say such a thing. The Forces of Diplomacy went into overdrive to insist that 1. Lieberman didn’t mean to say what he said, followed by 2. If Lieberman did mean what he said, he should be fired. Bibi started by telling his cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser to phone all the ministers and tell them that they should not comment to the media, in any way, on the subject of Syria.

The brouhaha continues. The people who want Lieberman gone continue to call for his firing, resignation or ritual seppuku, whichever can be accomplished first.

The rest of us applaud the Foreign Minister for saying what he did. It’s heartening to know that in Bibi’s cabinet, there’s at least one minister who openly voices support for the Land of Israel.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When it comes to snow, I’m pretty hard to impress.

To me – growing up on the North Dakota prairie – a “snowstorm” means blinding snow, driving winds and below-freezing temperatures. It means 10’ high snow banks banked against the side of the house, high enough to block the windows. It means not being able to leave the house because snow drifts block the car inside the garage. It means shoveling many feet of the stuff off the porch until you can open the front door.

A proper snowstorm should result in something like this:

But all that said, a snowstorm -- Israeli version – is predicted for today, or more properly last night and today. I will say this – the rain has been impressive. It rained pretty constantly all night last night, which was a total delight. It was so lovely, peaceful and restful I slept almost six hours, two hours longer than my norm. Such a deal!

We all loved the rain -- even my roommates slept soundly all night. Rachel, the mostly-Poodle, usually feels compelled to bark at the feral cats who normally run and play (not to mention mate) on the roof during the night, but with the steady rain, there were no cats to distract her. Molly Goldberg, the mostly-Border Collie, didn’t even stir when I finally got up. If Molly had thumbs, she’d still be in bed, reading a book.

The real fun is supposed to start today. Sometime this morning, some weather reports say, the rain will turn to snow – even here in the “northern Negev.” But as I say, when snow is concerned, I’m hard to impress.

The Jerusalem Post this morning features a video – you can watch it here, on the “JPost Video” . It's almost funny.

They show this enormous bulldozer scraping up about an inch of snow from the roadway, paired with an interview with some official who’s talking about all the precautions the city is taking. Schools will close, as will many businesses. It makes me giggle – a few swipes with a broom would have handled that snow as well as a bulldozer, but then, they didn’t ask me…...

Still, as I recall from my California days, snow in places like California or Israel is much more dangerous than it is in places like North Dakota. Not because of the snow itself, but because hardly anyone who decides to go out and drive in it knows how. Then too, Jerusalem is seriously hilly – driving on those hills when they’re wet or slippery, let alone snowy, is indeed something to be concerned about. The thing to worry about is other people – not so much the snow itself.

Here in Beersheba, the weather forecast for today says our incipient snowstorm “will be preceded by a sandstorm.” That sounds like fun. I have to admit, though, even as I write this, the wind is picking up – could be we’re in for a blast.

I have a little trouble imagining sandstorms after all this rain, but maybe someone who’s lived here longer than I have can chime in. Can you really have a sandstorm mixed with torrential rain?

The storms are predicted to continue through Shabbat, Saturday. Fine with me – “He who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall” should be blessed.