Monday, September 24, 2007


Just Because Nobody I Know Got Arrested,
That Doesn't Make It A Bad Protest

No Press Pass, No Peace!

It was a beautiful day for a protest today on the Upper Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, as hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people gathered to protest the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as he spoke at Columbia University.

The protesters were varied — Jews of different backgrounds, Non-Jews, Iranians against the current regime, Columbia students, high school students, and even rabbinical students from down the block were in attendance.


However, this wasn't just a chaotic protest of individuals; across the street from the main entrance to the Columbia campus, there was an organized rally. Rabbi Avi Weiss of AMCHA got into a bit of a conflict with the police over the placement of the rally, as well as Columbia University's refusal to admit non-students onto their campus.


When the protest rally began, it was run by a woman whose name I unfortunately was unable to catch. She spoke about the purpose of the protest — against hate and intolerance, in defense of peace, freedom and truth — and clearly disassociated the Iranian President from the people of his country, telling them that "we are here to support" them in their own struggle for freedom.
She directed her comments at Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, saying that by inviting Pres. Ahmadinejad to speak, he isn't "representing a minority opinion" but instead an "extremist, dangerous opinion" and giving him 45 minutes of uninterrupted access to the hearts and minds of the American people.
She was followed by Ken Timmerman of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, who reiterated the idea that "this regime doesn't represent the Iranian people." In addition, he predicted that Iran will have nuclear weapons in two years! Timmerman also said that "we need to take this man [=Ahmadinejad] very seriously," and even suggested that "we need to change this regime" in some seemingly active manner.
We then heard from David Fichman, a junior at Columbia who helped organize the protest "on the Inside" — on the university campus itself, where non-students were forbidden to go. He said that giving Ahmadinejad a forum in which to speak "suggests that his views are legitimate and worth debating," and pointed out that the problem with the President of Iran and Iran's present government isn't just about Israel or the USA. It's about a lack of freedoms within Iran itself, and the persecution of groups such as the Bahá'í. The first victim is the Iranian people. Using an appropriately academic metaphor, he ended his speech by saying that "Columbia has today failed in Ethics."

The next speaker was Rabbi Avi Weiss, who introduced his remarks by saying "Whatever we do, we do with the help of God" and by getting the crowd to sing along with him Lema‘an Ahhai veRei‘ai — 'On behalf of my brethren and friends / I will speak peace of you ... God will give strength to His nation / God will bless His nation with peace.'

Rabbi Weiss's recurring call against Pres. Ahmadinejad was "FOR SHAME!"
  • for being a mass murderer of children during the Iran-Iraq war, using them to clear minefields
  • for denying the Shoah
  • for declaring that he is prepared to annihilate Israel
  • for being a key abettor of terrorism
While he admitted that Columbia's president has the First Amendment right to invite Ahamdinejad to speak, he insisted that there is no First Amendment obligation to do so.
He also pointed out that the invitation was actually initiated by the Iranian Mission, and said that Iranian missions around the world have been involved in actual terrorist acts, such as the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. He accused Columbia of helping Ahmadinejad win favor with the Iranian citizenry back home due to this speaking engagement, and distinguished between the university, which should know better, and the UN, about which he quoted former NYC Mayor Ed Koch as having declared a long time ago that "the UN is a cesspool."


Rabbi Weiss also declared that this is the "first time I can remember" that "AMCHA has been denied entrance to a campus" — a move that he called "First Amendment hypocracy."

The next speaker was Charles Jacobs, president of the David Project, who launched an attack against what he called a culture of "Western self-destruction," saying that "you cannot pass off a madman as just a person with a different narrative" and "surely you don't need to invite a tyrant to teach students about tyranny." He also characterized Columbia University's hosting of Pres. Ahmadinejad as "American academics at its worst... its most stupid."

After him, the next speaker was a Columbia professor, Awi Federgruen (pronounced Avi Federgroin). Prof. Federgruen talked about how he had attended a few minutes of the parallel "Inside" rally, and how the speakers there began and ended their speeches with how proud they were to be Columbian, even though they were protesting the university's actions. Prof. Federgruen, on the other hand, said that he was proud to be standing outside the campus instead, and read excerpts from a letter he and colleagues had sent to Pres. Bollinger against the decision to invite Ahmadinejad to speak.

We then heard a short outburst from a member of the Jewish fraternity AEП, who described Mahmoud Ahmadinejad succinctly as someone who is "threatening the entire fucking— frickin' world."

Columbia graduate Noah Lieb was "at a loss to understand just what kind of exchange of ideas" Ahmadinejad's speaking engagement is supposed to promote, and asked "For what purpose do we give platforms to despots?" He gave multiple examples of Anti-Israel hostility from instructors at Columbia, claiming that during his time there as a student, there was a lack of academic freedom in that area, rejecting Bollinger's claim of 'academic freedom' as a reason to invite Ahmadinejad to speak.

A Queens College student whose father came from Teheran, Iran, spoke about how her grandfather was persecuted in Iran for Jewish activities, and a Torontonian named Josh pointed out the bright side of the President of Iran's visit — that "opportunities like these bring us together."


Joel Levy, the New York Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, talked about how as a graduate of Columbia University, he is ashamed of the inappropriate forum they provided for this particular speaker. He also told the story of how he narrowly escaped becoming a victim of the Iran Hostage Crisis, by not taking an assignment that would have put him in Teheran.

The next speaker, who literally shouted in righteous anger, was now-former Columbia student Davidi Jonas, who, after seeing what happened on campus, said, "This morning I was proud to be a student at Columbia — this evening I will be proud to no longer be a student at Columbia!"

He was followed by a Yeshiva University student, Dovid Asher, who contrasted the lack of academic freedom in Iran with how thankful he is for the opportunity "to study here in peace" and safety in New York City due to the sacrifices and effort of the members of the American military around the world.


The next speaker was Columbia University alum Aliza Davidovit, who said that she can no longer keep her diploma hanging on her wall in good conscience. Watch her rip it apart:

US Congressman Eliot Engel then spoke, saying that Ahmadinejad "shouldn't be welcomed," but instead "he should be arrested for terrorism." He said that when he was young, he used to wonder "where were people in the 1930's" but now he's seen people close their eyes to the signals again. He also said about the United Nations that "the UN that was formed to bring the world into a new era after the Holocaust should be ashamed of itself" for supporting the antisemitic agendas of regimes like Iran's. Echoing some of the earlier speakers, he also said that "the Iranian people don't want Adolf Hitler reincarnated leading their country" and that "this type of a rally would not be allowed in Teheran, or anywhere in Iran." He also addressed Pres. Ahmadinejad directly, responding to his threats or wishes for Israel's demise, by saying, "You will be gone far far sooner than Israel ever will be!"

Congressman Engel was followed by another politician, New York State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who said that it's "good to see so many good Americans" standing up to Ahmadinejad's rhetoric and Columbia's folly of supplying a forum for him to disseminate it. "Tens of thousands of people came out today, here and at the UN... to say 'Never Again'."

And in case you were wondering who the guy holding the megaphone is, that's Elliot Matthias of the Hasbara Fellowships.

Some more pictures:

Dueling Lamppost Signs


Self-Reflective Media Shots
(anyone know how you get a press pass?)


Different Views on Iran


Posters and Protesters

(the lowerleft shows YU students blocking a pro-Iran poster)

A Two-Sided Artistic "Never Again" Poster


A Last View (4 U) of the Crowds


And One Last Message to Ahmadinejad
From the People of the City of New York

(and there are many more photos where those came from)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Attn: Columbia University

Attn: Columbia University

Forget Ahmadinejad —


Embedded Video Above

Letterboxed Clearer Subtitles

Without Subtitles

What do they think they're doing? Who cares about Ahmadinejad? Isn't Columbia a leading university, full of ground-breaking research and science? No one wants to hear the President of Iran's anti-Israel, anti-America, Holocaust-denying rhetoric! But a 16-year-old Iranian girl who discovers nuclear energy at home?! That's someone I would want to hear speak!

Btw, while we're on this topic...

Attn: Anti-Ahmadinejad Protestors

His name is Ahh-Ma-Di-Ne-Jad. Let's not have any of the same embarrassment from previous protests, where almost no one could pronounce his name right, okay? Don't skip letters, drop syllables, or otherwise mangle it. It detracts from your message.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Thought About Judgment response to someone who has a hard time believing that din is happening on Rosh Hashana due to the assumption that anyone who dies during the year must have died as punishment for sins.

Human beings are mortal.
We all die at some point.
And we all sin, we all make mistakes.
Even the most righteous people do not live forever.
That's part of being human.
Some people die because their souls are weighed down with muck.
Some people die so that the scars on their souls will be scoured and healed.
Some people die and their soul is as clear as the day they were born.
They pumped my father's soul through machines to clean it before he died.

The Creator of Worlds is an artist.
The universe is beautiful and it is tragic.
The tragedy is part of what makes it beautiful.
When the Books of Life and Death are open,
they are not open to us.
They are open before God.
No one knows what calculations are written there in spreadsheet charts.
No one knows what plot hooks and character developments are scribed there in longhand.

The Story -- the Film -- the Tapestry -- the Song --
it is bigger than us.
It's bigger than any individual.
Bigger than any family, any nation, any species.
When i miss the bus,
is it because i insulted a friend?
is it because i begrudged a family member?
is it because i didn't give enough charity?
made an error in the laws of Shabbos? didn't check my tefillin? ate too little maror last Pesahh, or outside the sukka three years ago?
Or is it something my parents did? My brother did? Did my German lumberjack ancestor's axe break when he was trying to cut down a tree, and the axehead flew off and killed someone, who he buried in secret? Do my apartmentmates do anything in the bathroom that they shouldn't?
Maybe it's because Israel is in Hhevron, or because Israel is no longer in Gaza. Maybe it's because the USA is in `Iraq, or because we're not in Iran.

Maybe it's not even me.
Maybe it's the guy standing next to me in the bus shelter.
What kinds of horrible things could he have done in his life?
What kinds of beautiful things could he have done in his life?

We are all connected.
Synchronically. Diachronically.
Across time and space.
What I do affects me.
What I do affects you.
What I do affects my hypothetical potential children, and yours.

Every strand is woven together. No one knows what the overall picture looks like.
Every word is chosen with will. When a pistol appears in the first chapter, by the final chapter it will have been fired.
Every note has a mind of its own. We all sing, sometimes in harmony, sometimes apart; sometimes in consonance, sometimes in dissonance. Sometimes the Conductor removes an instrument from the orchestra because it's broken. Sometimes it's just for the greater glory of the sound.

The Book is open before the Author.
The Tapestry is strung before the Weaver.
The Score is laid out on the Conductor's stand.
The Film lies on the Director's cutting room floor. Pieces are threaded through projectors. Scenes are clipped, cut, taped, mixed, and matched. Sometimes an actor flubs their lines, and is cut from the final project. Sometimes an improvisation is so good that it gets back-written into the script. Sometimes a scene is perfect... but not for this film... and so it doesn't make the final cut.

Sheep pass before their Shepherd in single file.
Soldiers pass before their General in regiments.

It's about you, but it's not just about you.
It's about me, but it's not just about me.
There are plans.
There are wheels turning.
The wheels tighten the weave.
The wheels reel in the film.
There are plans within plans.

So yes, you are being judged.
You are being judged on your own behavior, and on that of those you come into contact with, those with whom you share breath and life.
And you are being judged on your place in the Universe as a whole.
It is your fault if your criminal record is sordid and turgid.
It's not your fault if your strand needs to be cut and tied off, or if your instrument needs to be removed from the orchestra.
It's for the greater beauty of the art, you see.
It works on many levels.

Everything works on many levels.
All at the same time.

But the levels are only clearly visible from Above.

I may die tomorrow.
I may die next week.
It says nothing about what happens on Rosh Hashana.
Will i be judged lacking in moral worth? Lacking in artistic merit? Or is my tragedy key to the story? Am i a nameless red-shirt far from home, or am i Juliet?

So yes, there is judgment. And that is something to be feared, respected, challenged, fought, embraced. But we can never know what type of judgment it is. And we can never know if it's about us as individuals, about us as groups, or about the entire plot/symphony/weave, from exposition to denouement.

We each control ourselves. We play our characters. We make our decisions. We try. We roll our dice. We affect the world, the Board, and each other, to the best of our ability. But the Gamemaster is the one with the stat sheets and the plot points hidden behind a screen, making the final calculations and the final decisions.

ליל יום שני, כ"ז אלול, ה'תשס"ז

Friday, September 07, 2007

With Them All, Forever

וְשָׁבֿ -ֲ-ֹֿ-ָ- אֱ-ֹ-ֶיךָֿ אֶתֿ שְׁבֿוּתְֿךָֿ...
דברים ל:ג

And G-d your God will come back (with) your captivity*...
Deuteronomy 30:3

(*i.e. those of you who were taken captive and taken away to exile)

Rashi comments:
It would have made more sense to write וְהֵשִׁיב (and [God] will bring back) — and so our Sages learned from here that God's presence, as it were, is together with the Jewish People in the distress of their Exile, and when they will be redeemed, God decreed redemption for Godself, that God will come back together with them.

And there is more to say — the day of the Ingathering of the Exiles is great and difficult, as if God Godself had to grab each individual by the hand, [dragging them] from their place, as that which is said:

And you will be gathered one by one, Children of Israel.

And even by the exiles of Other Nations we have found thus:

And I will come/bring back (with) the captivity of Mo’av.

And I will come/bring back (with) the captivity of Egypt.

הַעִדֹֿתִֿי בָֿכֶֿם הַיּוֹם אֶתֿ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶתֿ הָאָרֶץ...
דברים ל:יט

I have set against you as witnesses today the Heavens and the Earth...
Deuteronomy 30:19

Rashi comments:
The Holy Blessèd One said to Israel,
"Look at the heavens that I created to serve you — have they ever changed their qualities? Has the wheel of the sun ever not risen from the east to enlighten the entire world?"
As is said:
The sun rises, and the sun sets.
Look at the earth that I created to serve you — has it ever changed its qualities? Have you ever planted seeds in it that did not sprout? Or maybe you planted wheat and it came up barley?
uniformitarianism min haTora minayin?
(where do we see a source for it in the Torah?)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Glowing Vision of ‘Aliyá

Yesterday we read the sixth of the Seven Haftarot of Consolation.

It begins with a call to Tziyon to rise and shine, and ends with a promise that God will hasten the redemption in its time.

Much of the middle of Yesha‘yahu pereq 60, though, is a movie-cut-scene-like vision of Beney Yisra’eil returning to The Land and to God's City from exile all over the world. There are caravans of camels, and ships bringing back the returnees... but what's this?

Right in the middle, Yesha‘yahu pauses in his description, and asks,

מִי אֵלֶּה כָּעָבֿ תְּעוּפֶֿינָה, וְכַֿיּוֹנִים אֶל אֲרֻבֹּתֵֿיהֶם?

Who are these who fly like clouds,
like doves to their masonry nests?

R' Amnon Haramati points out that this is a sudden shift in the prophetic image — Yesha‘yahu is seeing the future, watching Israelites return home by land and sea, by camel and by boat... and right there, in the middle, he pauses, recognizing an additional method, another way that ‘Am Yisra’eil is returning to their Land — but he doesn't know what to make of it. He recognizes flight, but has no experience to conceive of it. Who can these people be, soaring through the air, and landing, and exiting the flying cloud-colored vehicle, to kiss the ground?