I will be on the radio tomorrow morning, January 30th around 7:30AM on a Montreal radio station . CKVL 100,1 FM MontrealThe interview will be about the book Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi occupied Holland and will be conducted by my friend Sandra Sirois who I would like to thank in advance for this opportunity. The interview will be in English and will be translated into French for the local audience. If you would like to listen you can do so by clicking the following link:
Monthly Archives: January 2014
Taking the Fizz out of Hypocrisy
As someone who is always keeping his eyes open for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment, something that most honest people know to be one of the same, I tried to find evidence that the banning of the SodaStream ad from the Super Bowl by FOX was one more example of hatred of the Jewish people. Despite any solid evidence to back this up, the ripple effects of this story have been enormous in a variety of ways.
Although diminished over the years, I have a personal connection to SodaStream. This personal connection has caused me to pay a little extra attention to the company and the success it has generated. When I heard that Scarlett Johansson had agreed to be a spokesperson and would be in a commercial airing during the Super Bowl, as was the case with many other Jews and Zionists, I felt a tremendous degree of excitement and pride. Not only was this a blow to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement inasmuch as it had a major Israeli company on the public stage, it also represented a high profile, popular and beautiful actress showing the character and strength to support an Israeli company with no apparent concern for the backlash she might receive from others within her industry and from other industries.
But it gets better. As many already know, SodaStream is an example of everything that is right in modern Israeli capitalism. Here is a company, providing a good product, environmentally sound and beneficial to its users, seemingly providing great success to its owners and management team while providing fair and equitable employment to residents of the areas of Israel where the product is manufactured. Let me repeat that for Roger Waters and other proud supporter of the BDS Movement. Providing fair and equitable employment to residents of the areas of Israel where the product is manufactured. That encompasses what they like to refer to as the “occupied territories”.
The best news of all however, is that not only despite the fact that SodaStream’s ad was pulled from the Super Bowl but maybe even because it was, the company has become more well known in the past few days than it may ever have dreamed of becoming. In some ways I’ll go as far as saying that a situation that was supposed to be nothing more than a business venture has turned into a political gain for the State of Israel. The United States of America, a country I am proud to call my home, is now the setting for one of the most blatant examples of corporate censorship you will ever encounter. The control that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have over the Super Bowl is so tremendous they have basically forced the network covering the event to not allow an advertisement that attacks their product. The fact that the company that manufactures this product, SodaStream, is being unjustly attacked for making a product at the expense of the human rights of others, will totally expose those whose activism against Israel is based on anti-Semitism rather than a genuine, albeit misguided pursuit of justice. The irony practically makes me giddy and although I myself am not a soda drinker, the impact this has had will cause me to purchase SodaStream as a gift for someone at my first opportunity.
Of course the one sobering fact is that logic and truth have never stood in the path of those who have wished to cause pain to and destruction of the Jewish people. With that said the fight needs to continue on many fronts, and today as a Jew and Zionist I thank Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream for what in the minds of many is a victory in one of the many battles we will unfortunately continue to have to fight. Then again the personal connection I mentioned earlier makes it very easy to believe that SodaStream would be in the middle of something so significantly helpful to Israel’s image at a time it needed it the most.
How a Snowstorm can show a shift in philosophy
At the risk of being lambasted by my Republican friends and acquaintances, let me begin by asking the following question. How long will western society survive with growing poverty if the wealthy receive benefits and priority not given to those less wealthy?
It can be argued that Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign revolved around this very issue. Personally I am not his biggest fan, but I wonder if the very criticism he received on the night of the snowstorm of January 21, 2014 was indeed validation of his position.
I do not live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan so I am unable to make any accurate claims in this article regarding the specific events that took place. However, what I do know is that there is a lot of money within that community and I am fairly certain that many of the residents are used to a certain treatment based on their financial status. So when there is a complaint that the snow did not get removed fast enough, I can’t help but wonder if this is more a product of there now being a level playing field than about there being a poor response to the storm.
The administration was criticized for taking too long to remove snow from certain areas of the Upper East Side, while areas of Brooklyn were completely cleared. DeBlasio campaigned on the idea of one New York and equal treatment for all 5 boroughs. The question that needs to be asked is whether or not the slower pace at which the snow was removed from the Upper East Side was more a reflection of him keeping that promise than it was of him not being properly prepared. It is fairly easy to predict that many Manhattan residents will say it is the latter, especially based on what they have been used to over the years, but we all know that people often give opinions based on personal bias rather than fact. I can’t help but wonder if Bill de Blasio’s remarks about being able to do more for the Upper East Side may be more a reflection of political pressure than of culpability. If indeed this was a product of local government giving equal treatment to all its citizens, it represents a shift in policy rarely seen so clearly on such a large stage in a major U.S. city. I for one would like to see the results of an investigation purely to know the answer to this question since it carries great significance. Personally I make no claims to knowing what the answer actually is, but can’t help but hope it represents an equality not usually provided to the less fortunate.
Does it Pay to be Nice and why so many won’t bother to read this
Let me start by putting everyone’s concerns to rest. This post is not a means of exposing personal anger or displeasure. The extent to which this applies to my own life may or may not be obvious to those who know me best, but either way it is of little consequence. The initial question, does it pay to be nice, is in itself somewhat of a loaded question.
Looking at it from a completely literal standpoint, to imply that it pays to be nice may send a message that there can be monetary value attached to nice behavior. The best way to put that to rest is by reminding everyone that given a choice, people will not part with their money. This means that the aspect that makes someone nice is the fact that they are giving with no demand for compensation of any sort and subsequently people will not generally provide payment if they can avoid doing so.
But let’s be honest. When people say, “it doesn’t pay to be nice”, they more often than not are referring to rewards other than financial ones. Will they get the desired result from being nice? Will they reap emotional or practical benefit? Will they strengthen a relationship? The core of this question may go the honest intention of the person being nice and what being nice actually and truly means.
Why do we do things for others? Is it to make ourselves feel good or to make others feel good or gain benefit? If we are to say that the one reward we are looking for is that good feeling generated by our niceness and the reaction it generates, is the act no longer selfless? Is it indeed a very basic example of selfishness at its core, albeit in its most honest form, a concept often stated in the writings of Ayn Rand. This leads to the next question. If one is being nice for their own sake rather than for the sake of others, are they indeed being nice or are they being self-serving?
I think that too often people try to redefine or even worse, recreate human nature. People need motivation, and even the kindest of people generally do things for the pleasure they receive in providing a kindness. There may be those on the highest religious level who do things solely because they think it is God’s will, but even these people, assuming they are being totally sincere, are doing so to get in the good graces of a higher power. In other words, they do so to benefit on some level.
What it ultimately comes down to is expectation. If ones expectation is their own personal feeling and the reward that provides, being nice will more than likely payoff for them. If however their reward is contingent on a person’s response, their reward is anything but a certainty.
The next issue needed to be addressed is the distinction between nice and good. Leo Durocher was famous for saying, “nice guys finish last”. Does that mean Durocher was preaching bad behavior? Absolutely not. There is a difference between good and bad, even if everyone does not agree what actions belong in each category. However a person can be good without being nice. Good deeds and correct actions are not contingent on nice overtures. Some of the best people you can ever meet, and by best I mean rich in goodness, may very well be people whose words and mannerisms are not what we would consider nice. I can make a very strong argument that given a choice between someone who is good and someone who is nice, we have more to gain by surrounding ourselves with someone who is good. Even though nice and good are not mutually exclusive.
So why do I believe people won’t read this? I don’t know that I do. But if putting that in the title got you to this point in the article, I’m glad I misspoke and want to thank you for being nice enough to read what I wrote. Hopefully you gained some benefit from my words and my appreciation is all the payment you required.
The Stark murder and my discomfort as a Jew
The story of Menachem Stark, recently murdered slumlord, found dead and burning in a dumpster in Great Neck, NY has been all over the news. The story is well known and the reporting on the story, specifically by the New York Post has become quite controversial. Did I mention that Menachem Stark is a Hassidic Jew? Of course I didn’t. Why? Because it makes me uncomfortable on many levels. And here is why.
To begin with there is the issue of what is known in Judaism as the Chilul Hashem. The term, loosely translated into “The desecration of God’s name”, represents behaviors by someone who is clearly Jewish as being a poor representation of Jewish behavior. Every time I see the face of this man, a man I did not know, I become uncomfortable with the knowledge that much of what he is accused of has a strong chance of being true. I know that there could have been circumstances when I stood next to him in prayer. I don’t know that I have, but I have been in enough locations over my life not to know that I haven’t. So on one level I am somewhere between heartbroken and angry that a man who represented himself as being a guardian of the Jewish faith may have been guilty of being a slumlord concerned only about his personal fortune. I don’t know any of this to be true. But remember, this is about my discomfort not my personal judgment.
Part of what makes me feel this uncomfortable is the same thing that makes me shudder every time I think of his fate. Hassidic Jews to anyone who has been exposed to Orthodox Judaism on any significant level are not people seen as being larger than life. Even those seen as great by all, the pious, learned, and charitable types are still accessible to the people around them. The basis of Hassidic Judaism is piety as it was formed to allow Jewish people who were not skilled in learning to still achieve a high level within the community based on their decency and kindness. So yes, Menachem Stark may have been guilty of every charge made against him, but the thought of him being kidnapped in the snow, beaten, suffocated, burned and put in a dumpster gives me the highest level of discomfort. Let me be clear about one thing. I would have seen it as being just as wrong if he was not Jewish, but again, this is about my personal discomfort not my personal judgment.
And lastly and most likely most significantly, my discomfort comes with the knowledge that there are those out there who hate the Jewish people even when we do things right. This is just the story they look for to strengthen their resolve. They will accentuate his Jewish image as being part of the motivating factor in his lack of business ethics, they will highlight those who worked with him and defend him as being more evidence of what a “dirty Jew” is capable of, and they subtly, if not obviously, bring attention to all the things that makes his appearance and lifestyle different. All this will at the very least be justification in their eyes for finding ways to marginalize if not completely remove the Jews from any status in society and at the very worst, justify violent acts against any Jew for no particular reason.
I can’t control the images that a tabloid like the NY Post chooses to display. I understand the anger at the Post because it does magnify who he was and what he very possibly did wrong, but at the end of the day I believe in free speech and their right to do so. Just as I believe in anyone’s right to protest against their journalism be it by speech, protest, or by not buying the paper at all.
Regardless of how we respond to the reporting of the story I will still be very uncomfortable with the whole situation. And I hope that if there are people out there who are representing themselves as Jews, particularly pious Jews that they take a good look at their actions and understand the responsibility that comes along with it. Not just to the outside world but to other Jews like myself who are most likely just as uncomfortable as I am.