Monday, August 30, 2004

According to Ha'aretz, the suspected arsonist of Paris Jewish center is Jewish.

PARIS - A man suspected of setting a fire that destroyed a Jewish community center in Paris last week is a Jewish former employee who was taken into police custody early Monday, a police spokesman said. The suspect, who was described as being in his 50s, was about to be fired, a police source said, and apparently wanted to avenge himself.

No official identification of the suspect in custody or explanation of his motive has so far been provided, but Army Radio said he may have been mentally unbalanced.

The arson attack on the community center, committed on August 22, was thought to have been carried out by neo-Nazis because anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas had been scrawled on the wall of the building. The fire provoked widespread outrage in France and prompted last week's three-day visit to Paris by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to discuss the French campaign against anti-Semitism. Shalom had demanded that French authorities react more harshly to anti-Semitic acts.

However, because of a number of clues, investigators had come to suspect that the fire may have been an "internal affair," rather than a racist act.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Zachary


IMG_0084
Originally uploaded by reb-lesses.
I've just discovered how to upload pictures to my blog -- and here's a recent photo of my cat Zachary, in front of coneflowers on my lawn.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Neo-Nazis in Paris Burn a Jewish Community Center

This article on anti-semitism is France is very disturbing.

Fire swept through a Jewish community center in eastern Paris in the early morning hours on Sunday after arsonists broke into the building and scrawled swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans inside. It was the latest in a wave of neo-Nazi acts across the country....

Much of the neo-Nazi activity in France this year has been concentrated in the eastern region of Alsace, traditionally a German-speaking area along the German border. Officials there say Alsace's neo-Nazi movement is an extension of a broader movement in Germany. On Saturday, about 3,000 people took part in a neo-Nazi march in the German town of Wunsiedel, about 250 miles from Alsace, to commemorate the death, in 1987, of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess....

But the rise in neo-Nazi acts is particularly disturbing to Jews in France, who are already concerned about increasing anti-Semitism among the country's Arab youth. They fear that both anti-Semitic strains are growing....

According to statistics from the Interior Ministry, there have been 135 acts of physical violence against Jews so far this year and 95 against Arabs and other ethnic groups, though there are nearly 10 times as many Arabs as Jews in France.
As Velveteen Rabbi reminds us, we are now in the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah in the calendar. (Rosh Hashanah falls on the first and second days of Tishrei, the month after Elul). As I look out my window tonight, I can see the moon, a little less than half of it lit up. Rosh Hodesh Elul (the New Moon and beginning of Elul) was last Tuesday. This month is traditionally a time of preparation for what in English are inelegantly called the High Holidays, but in Hebrew are called the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. The Days of Awe mark the turning of the year, when Jews are supposed to investigate their deeds and engage in teshuvah, or repentance. During Elul, traditionally, penitential prayers called selichot begin to be recited, the shofar is blown every morning, and a psalm is added to the liturgy: Psalm 27. It contains many beautiful lines, including,


One thing I ask of God,
Only that do I seek:
To live in the house of God
All the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of God,
To frequent his sanctuary.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I like the new "Navbar" feature on Blogger -- pretty neat, in my opinion. While I've been gone, my brother seems to have started his own blog: My Popular Music Tastes. Not much there thus far, but I have high hopes.

Other news: the fall semester is fast approaching, so I have to get down to work on my course planning and syllabi. This fall I'm teaching two of my usual courses: Hebrew Scriptures and Jews in the Modern World, and a new course, Jewish Magic and Ritual Power. For the last course, it's definitely been hard to find a textbook! I'm having the students buy Joshua Trachtenberg's Jewish Magic and Superstition, published in 1939, and a much newer book by J. H. Chajes, Between Worlds, about spirit possession among Jews in the early modern period. The rest of the reading is translations of primary texts, ranging from biblical prohibitions of "magic" (kishuf, the story of the raising of the shade of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 28), to the various rabbinic discussions of what kishuf is, demons, various kinds of healing, etc., and then onto to various texts and material objects: amulets, spell formularies (like Sefer ha-Razim), Babylonian incantation bowls, and the like. We'll be starting off by considering the question of what "magic" is -- is there something definite that that term defines? Or is it always used ideologically? Are there other more useful concepts to deal with this corpus of material? Etc. It should be fun, although we'll have to see how much the students are capable of taking in and comprehending.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Good article in the Economist aboutThe conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
According to Passion of the Present, the Janjaweed are burning children alive. I simply do not understand this. How can someone deliberately burn a child? Passion of the Present then goes on to talk about how various nations (including the U.S.) are poised to begin doing something -- if only there is the political will. We need to contact our Representatives and Senators, thank them for voting for the genocide resolutions, and urge them to keep the pressure on the administration to act, not merely try to get UN resolutions passed.
Another really excellent Washington Post editorial on Darfur -- 'Realism' and Darfur. It ends with this powerful statement: "Perhaps there are other arguments for 'caution' in the face of Darfur's genocide, and we invite President Bush and other leaders to come forward and explain them. According to officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development, up to 30,000 people in Darfur have died violently, 50,000 have died of disease and malnutrition, and the death toll is likely to reach at least 300,000. The reasons for non-intervention had better be as powerful as those astonishing numbers."

Having just visited the Holocaust museum in Washington makes me remember the pathetic lack of response to the plight of European Jews before and during WWII -- the voyage of the St. Louis, for example, with over 900 Jewish refugees, which sailed to Cuba, only to be turned back there, and which was refused entry into the U.S. as well, or the Evian conference, in which virtually no countries offered to take in German Jewish refugees. We have all these bad examples of inaction before us -- why do we have to replicate them today?