Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chag somayach: now you're safe

Community alert for Passover:

"We are pleased to inform you that we have met with the Chicago Police Department, and there will be enhanced coverage around our neighborhoods, including all shuls, over Yom Tov. The additional police presence will be during the times that people will be walking to and from shul, and during the times that people are walking to meals. Also the Chicago Police Department, in conjunction with the Office of the Mayor, announced Jewish homes will be permitted to have loaded firearms on hand to deal with the increased occurrence of home invasions in the neighborhood."

As you may have guessed, the last sentence was my little joke. Of course Jewish homeowners in Chicago are not permitted to defend themselves, their families or their homes with handguns. The city took that right away decades ago, and the mayor is the law's staunchest supporter. Why should he need guns? He has taxpayer-financed 24-hour armed protection. The police presence in Jewish neighborhoods may succeed only in pushing crime to the east, away from the Jews. Nice for the Jews but not nice for ward residents across Western Avenue, who must feel like second-class citizens under their long-serving alderman.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Save Passover!

Those annual "Keep the Christ in Christmas" campaigns are intriguing. The Christians have a point that their holiday has become much more than that--one celebrated by Christians, non-Christians and (misguided) Jews. Now we see attempts to celebrate Passover with unheard-of levels of non-kosher food. These attempts attest to the holiday's popularity.

I just received an emailed "Spring Event" Jewish singles party invitation at a River North nightspot. It's scheduled for next Thursday night, an intermediate day on the Passover week. If the bar were kosher-for-Passover and the appetizers were limited to kosher-for-Passover catering, this party would be a nice complement to the holiday. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The invitation acknowledges as much by noting "Passover style" appetizers (or "treif," as I would put it) and lists the cocktails available, including rum. I pointed out to the host the only kosher-for-Passover alcohol I can think of is potato vodka--not very exciting.

Before I noticed the warning attached to the end of the invitation (reprinted below), I fired off a response to the host expressing my extreme disappointment with his decision to arrange a party over Passover. I suggested that next year he host a Shavuous-themed party (but not on Shavuous), with kosher wine, cheese and cheesecake.

What disappoints me so much is that this is the one Abrahamic faith in which we see so many examples of Jewish groups and institutions playing fast and loose with the rules. Think of other faiths and try to imagine:

1. A Christian singles group or website hosting a singles event during Holy Week.
2. A Christian singles group or website hosting a singles event on Christmas Eve, after sunset.
3. A Muslim singles group or website hosting a daytime event with food during Ramadan.
4. A mosque or Muslim group hosting an event at which alcohol is served.
5. A Latter-Day Saints singles group or website hosting a dance event at which alcohol and Coca-Cola are served.

These suggestions are absurd and ridiculous because they would never happen. Christians consider their holy dates holy. So do Muslims, and they take their fast month (and alcohol abstention) seriously. I think the Mormon bans on mixed dancing, alcohol and caffeine are silly, but that's their business, not mine. Yet over Passover, we are invited to attend:

1. A Jewish singles event that advertises it will be serving food and drink that is not kosher-for-Passover.
2. Synagogues all over town hosting seders that are not kosher-for-Passover and indicated as such.
3. Non-kosher restaurants hosting seders that, surprise, are not kosher-for-Passover.

Am I missing something? Why are people (most of whom, I suspect, are well-meaning) trying to take Passover away from us? Do your part: take back Passover! There's a reason for the season! Keep kosher for Passover! Avoid non-kosher seders! Stay away from kosher restaurants--just for this week! Avoid events that serve non-kosher food and drink!

Most people don't keep strict kosher. But everyone can do his or her part to maintain the integrity of the holiday. More than any other, this holiday defines the Jewish people. Let's keep it that way.

The text of the singles event invitation disclaimer:

"If you have any questions or concerns please email us at If you have concerns regarding a strict adherence to the laws of Pesach and Kashrut, please contact us for more information."

The disclaimer shouldn't say, "[P]lease contact us for more information" if you have concerns. It should say, "We recommend you join us another time." But that would run counter to the hosts' goal, which is to pack the nightclub with as many Jews as they can fit.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Does free speech cut both ways?

Much has been written about the anti-Israel fervor at the University of California-Irvine, fueled by its Muslim Student Association. MSA-UCI proudly participates in "Israel Apartheid Week" every year (just ended earlier this month). Last month, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren gave a speech on the UCI campus. MSU-UCI organized a protest. MSU members attended the speech and attempted to disrupt the speech by shouting down Ambassador Oren. They were ejected and arrested by campus police. That video is here:

With the help of a member of MSU who is also on the student council, Associated Students of UCI, MSU managed to pass an ASUCI resolution condemning the police action and praising the actions of the MSU students who disrupted Oren's speech. The Jewish students' reaction is detailed here: The YouTube video of their appearance before ASUCI is here:

In a post on MSA's own blog, MSA strongly objects to being investigated by the FBI (really?) for possible fundraising efforts on behalf of Hamas, which is illegal in the U.S. MSA alleges the FBI investigation was at the behest of the Zionist Organization of America. Perhaps this is just an opportunity for MSA to play the victim. In any case, the group's blog, at, had this to say about free speech: "This is only the most recent attempt to silence the MSU and restrict its constitutional right to freedom of speech, religion and association." And, "If anyone is acting illegally, it is the ZOA, by seeking to discard the very principles of the First Amendment in trying to shut us up and shut us down."

Apparently only one group on campus is entitled to free speech at UCI, and that would be the Muslim Student Association. It enforces its First Amendment smackdown with the aid and abetting of the student council, ASUCI.

What if MSU acted this way toward another group it philosophically opposes? Say, a group that advocates for gay rights? How would that play at a liberal campus in California?

I checked for Clubs and Associations at There is not just a club for gay students, but a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, funded by student fees (and most likely taxpayer dollars). Its website is:

For the destroy-Israel movement, Amir Abdel Malik Ali is a great speaker. You can see him here: The MSU website has a link for his speeches at UCI, but it didn't work when I tried it: He is a great speaker and a great representative for his movement despite being a racist, a bigot and a demagogue. This is because he is African-American and does not have a Middle Eastern accent or appearance that characterizes so many men in the movement. This makes him much more appealing. I wonder how appealing he would be if he turned his attention to gay rights, which, as a devout Muslim, I'm sure he vehemently opposes. What if he spoke out against gay rights on campus? Would he be roundly booed? Shouted down? What if MSU organized a group attendance effort for a gay-rights speaker and shouted him down? Would the group receive widespread condemnation? Would it risk being kicked off campus by the dean of students?

It's worth a thought: to turn political correctness upside down. When it comes to Israel, the Muslim Student Association is the darling of the campus liberal extreme Left. When it comes to gay rights, though, MSA members better keep their damn mouths shut. Because they know what would happen if they picked that fight. Students just might exercise their First Amendment right to send MSA packing.

Is the seder the right time for song parodies?

In his Chicago Tribune blog, Eric Zorn annually lists various song parodies he and his fellow seder guests sing at the seders Zorn and his wife attend. (Mrs. Zorn is Jewish.) According to his March 18, 2010 post, he wrote "Super-Kosher Manischewitz, Exodus and Moses" to the tune of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," the famous Mary Poppins song. The post is here:


On one hand, that's fine. This isn't Yom Kippur, after all. If Eric, his wife and other seder guests want to have a little fun at a truly joyous occasion, they should knock themselves out and have a good time. Publicizing this rite of spring might persuade others the seder isn't a drag. Perhaps that Jewish minority that doesn't attend seders might be show up for one.

On the other hand: I can hear family members screaming at me because I make seder requirements so restrictive. Just one restriction: the seder must be kosher for Passover. Zorn doesn't indicate whether his seder is kosher or not. He may not know. Regardless of whether his seder is kosher, I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter to him. He's not Jewish, but just as important, he doesn't grasp the gravity of the importance of the holiday. We escaped from Egypt--not just physically, when it actually happened, but spiritually, every Passover. Zorn misses out on that spiritual component of Passover, and that plays a very important role in a seder. For that reason alone, the seder must be kosher for Passover.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

CAMERA highlights mainstream media's smackdown

As the crisis between Israel and the US administration unfolded, an upsurge in Palestinian violence and public invective against the Jewish state was frequently distorted and minimized by the media.

On March 16, 2010, the Palestinian leadership –– Fatah as well as Hamas – called for a "day of rage," inciting their followers to riot after the dedication of the newly rebuilt Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. The synagogue had been destroyed in 1948 when Jordan seized the Jewish Quarter and expelled its residents. Following the historical pattern of their predecessors, the Palestinian leaders called for jihad in defense of Muslim holy sites, falsely claiming that the opening of the synagogue was the first step in Israel's plan to take over or destroy a Muslim shrine, the Al Aqsa mosque.

The New York Times article reporting on the rioting did not even bother to mention the Palestinian call to violence, nor was an anti-Semitic screed delivered in protest against the Hurva synagogue by Hamas reported. CNN's Newsroom, meanwhile blamed Palestinian violence on Israeli actions.

A few days earlier, the Palestinian Authority renamed a public square in Ramallah after Dalal al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist responsible for the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, in which 38 civilians (including 13 children and an American photographer) were murdered and 71 wounded.

Much of the media, however, downplayed or ignored entirely this Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism. Instead, the focus was almost entirely on Israel's alleged "provocations" – the announcement that it would build new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in annexed Jerusalem. It was this stated intention by Israel, the public was informed, that threatened the possibility of peace negotiations. "One of the biggest obstacles to peace," the Financial Times declared, is the expansion of "settlements." Palestinian calls to kill Jews were not similarly labeled an "obstacle to peace.".

CNN’s Newsroom

CNN’s "Newsroom" essentially absolved the Palestinian leadership from blame and even justified Palestinian rioting, arguing that it was Israel’s rededication of the Hurva synagogue, and not the falsehood-fueled calls to riot, that sent Palestinians "over the edge."

The March 16, 9 AM newscast featured Kyra Phillips explaining the source of tension in Israel’s capital, and in the process, revealing her ignorance of the history of Jerusalem:

Here's the crux of the battle. The U.S. wants Israel to nix construction plans for east Jerusalem that would integrate the predominantly Arab part of the holy city. And as you know for centuries, Palestinians have always wanted this land as their state...

...Palestinians already angry about those construction plans have been sent over the edge by the reopening of a synagogue in east Jerusalem...

...Hamas called the protests after -- or called for the protests, rather, after yesterday's reopening of a synagogue that was destroyed during the 1948 Arab/Israeli war. [emphasis added]

The idea that Palestinian nationalism is a "centuries-old" phenomenon is dubious at best. Historian James L. Gelvin points out that "Palestinian nationalism emerged during the interwar period in response to Zionist immigration and settlement," and that "Palestinian nationalism developed later than Zionism."

Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis notes that the very concept of a Palestinian nation "was unknown" through the Ottoman period that ended in 1919. Even "the concept of Arab nationalism" did not reach "significant proportions before the outbreak of World War I."

This viewpoint is shared by many Middle East experts.

CNN’s 10 AM newscast similarly had Paula Hancocks justifying the Palestinian incitement by explaining that it was "because of that announcement last week of these 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem." She expanded her blame-Israel theme:

This will always wind the Palestinians up as they're worried that Israel will try to push Palestinians out of east Jerusalem and also because there was a synagogue that was re-opened just 300 meters or so from the Al Aqsa mosque on Monday night. And that has caused tensions to rise and Hamas, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, in Damascus called for a day of rage today.

Again, CNN falsely cast the rioting as a grassroots response to an Israeli provocation, without noting the Palestinian leadership lied about their mosque being in danger.

New York Times

Perhaps best typifying the focus on Israel while whitewashing the major Palestinian role in deepening the conflict was an article by Ethan Bronner in the March 17th edition of the New York Times, published the morning after the Palestinian "day of rage."

The article virtually ignored the Palestinian violence (which Ha’aretz analysts Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel described as "more serious than anything similar over the past two years ") as well as its most immediate cause.

Instead, its focus was on Israeli building. Nineteen of the article’s 26 paragraphs dealt with Israeli construction in disputed territory. Only two referenced the violence, which resulted in numerous injuries and included rock throwing and even live fire by Palestinians.)

The reporter didn’t bother to inform readers that the violence was largely a response to the incitement. For example, there was no mention in this article of this Hamas statement:

We call on the Palestinian people to regard Tuesday as a day of rage against the occupation's [Israel's] procedures in Jerusalem against al-Aqsa mosque.

As Reuters acknowledged in its reports about the violence, "Hamas and Palestinian officials affiliated with its rival Fatah movement have said the restoration work at the ancient Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's walled Old City endangered al-Aqsa, situated some 400 meters away."

But although an earlier story by Isabel Kershner (about the rededication of the Hurva Synagogue, but not about the violence) did reference Hamas’s claim about the alleged "destruction of the Al Aksa Mosque" and relayed the American characterization of such claims as "incitement," Bronner’s article mentioned nothing about the incitement to violence, and misleadingly focused on Israel by stating only that the Palestinian rioters were "protesting Israeli control and construction in East Jerusalem."

Neither New York Times story informed readers that it was not only Hamas, but also Mahmoud Abbas’s supposedly-moderate Fatah movement, that spread lies about the mosque. As Ha’aretz’s Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff put it,

the Palestinian Authority is playing a very dangerous game – perhaps the most dangerous of it all – over Jerusalem and specifically the Temple Mount. Mohammed Dahlan, who is not known for his religious fervor, Khatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in Fatah, and others called Sunday on Israeli Arabs and residents of East Jerusalem to go to the Temple Mount today to "protect it from the Jews."

Also ignored in both Times articles was the virulent anti-Jewish hate speech accompanying Hamas’s lies about the destruction of the mosque. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar stated that the Jewish people were destined to be destroyed.

"You who are opening Hurva are heading towards ruin," Zahar is quoted saying on the Web sites of the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot and Hezbollah’s Al Manar.

"Wherever you have been you've been sent to your destruction. You've killed and murdered your prophets and you have always dealt in loan-sharking and destruction. You're destined to be destroyed. You've made a deal with the devil and with destruction itself – just like your synagogue."

Washington Post

By contrast, a March 16 column by Washington Post commentator Richard Cohen, who has not hesitated to criticize Israel in the past, criticizes the media’s one-sided blaming of Israel. After noting that editorialists have been slamming Israel for its construction plans, he asserts:

it would have been nice for those same editorialists to have paused in their anti-Israel jihad to wonder a bit about the virtually simultaneous Palestinian veneration of terrorists. In fact, the determination in the West, particularly Europe, not to hold Palestinians morally accountable for terrorism -- as well as their commonplace anti-Semitism -- is a repugnant form of neocolonial mentality in which, once again, the Palestinians are being patronized.

Congresswoman, are you on Israel's side?

Pollak For Congress

March 17, 2010

Rep. Jan Schakowsky: Take a stand against the administration's attacks on Israel

This morning on the Don Wade & Roma show on WLS AM, Rep. Jan Schakowsky claimed that the Obama administration's attacks would not hurt the U.S.-Israel relationship. She the attacks were "not going to harm the long-term or even the short-term relationship between the United States and Israel," and she compared the argument to a marital dispute.

It is a completely inappropriate analogy, and one belied by the statement by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren that "Israel's ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975" and that this was "a crisis of historic proportions." Rep. Schakowsky is failing in her duty to speak truth to power on behalf of the residents of her district, who overwhelmingly support a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

It is time for Israel's friends in the United States to stand up and be counted. I call on Rep. Jan Schakowsky to join me in condemning the Obama administration's ongoing attack on Israel, America's most steadfast ally. I urge her to denounce the dangerous posture of J Street, the far-left organization that she helped found in Chicago last month and which is backing the administration's hostile approach against the Jewish State.

Last week, the Obama administration attacked Israel for announcing that it would be building new apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem-an area that the White House had agreed would not be part of the "settlement freeze," and which will be part of Israel in any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Despite apologies from the Israeli government, the administration has continued to attack Israel in the U.S. media.

Members of both parties have criticized the Obama administration for its overreaction, which amounts to incitement against Israel and has created the worst crisis in U.S.-Israel relations in 35 years, according to Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. There was no similar criticism from the administration when Palestinian leaders dedicated a public square in honor of a terrorist the day after Vice-President Joe Biden's visit.

In the wake of criticism from Biden, David Axelrod, Hillary Clinton and others, Hamas has sent violent protestors into the street to denounce Israeli construction in Jerusalem, including the reconstruction of a centuries-old synagogue that was destroyed by Jordan after 1948. The Obama administration has given Palestinian leaders a new precondition for negotiations, without demanding that they live up to their commitments to stop terror.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky has been totally silent. But J Street, the far-left organization she helped found and build, has gleefully celebrated the crisis, calling on supporters to sign a petition supporting the administration's stance against Israel. As Rep. Schakowsky told J Street at its Chicago opening last month: "I've been a supporter of J Street since its inception." She is also the #3 money recipient from J Street PAC this cycle.

The administration and J Street are wrong in their attacks on the Israeli government. Banning Jews from Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem smacks of bigotry and gives Palestinian leaders an excuse to avoid peace talks. The attacks also embolden Israel's enemies at a time when the U.S. and Israel must stand together against Iran. It is time for Rep. Schakowsky to decide: where does she stand-with J Street or with Israel?

I call on Rep. Schakowsky to join me in taking a stand. Speak up for America's 62-year relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East. Stop the rhetoric that is more vitriolic than anything the Obama administration uses against America's enemies. Stop public demands for unilateral Israeli concessions. Start focusing on Iran's nuclear program, instead of joining Iran in attacking the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

Rep. Schakowsky is the voice for J Street in Chicago and across the nation. She hosted their first gala dinner and was a featured speaker at their first national conference. It is up to her to speak out against J Street's petition drive and against the anti-Israel attacks of the Obama administration. Her silence, as long as it continues, will stand as evidence of her true beliefs about Israel. She must take a stand, before more damage is done.

Does the White House consider Israel a threat?

FROM: RJC Legislative Affairs Committee
SUBJECT: Congress Must Reject Obama's Threats to Unravel U.S.-Israel Alliance

The latest news reports make it clear that the Obama administration's campaign of criticism against Israel threatens to do irreparable damage to relations with our valued ally.

* The Washington Post reports that

In an effort to get peace talks back on track, the Obama administration is pressing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reverse last week's approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the "core issues" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks, U.S. officials said.

*The New York Times tells us that the administration is looking to "turn the tables" on Israel's leaders, language more suited to dealings with an enemy than with an ally. The Times' reporting suggests that after a failed, months-long effort to entice the Palestinians into direct negotiations with Israel, the administration now wants Israel to accept the Palestinians' preferred framework - one in which our diplomats would negotiate for them.

*And at the, Jeffrey Goldberg reports that Obama's ultimate aim is to destroy Israel's current government in hopes that the current governing coalition would be replaced by a more pliant one.

What happened to the promise made back in the 2008 campaign that during an Obama presidency, "the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel"?

Fortunately, more and more members of Congress are protesting what House Republican Whip Eric Cantor aptly describes as an "opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view... onto our ally."

At first, most of those speaking up were Republicans. But now more Democrats have begun to break with the administration.

At this point, Obama and his lieutenants are isolated. Yet they show no signs of admitting their error.

We need to encourage more members of Congress to speak up, so that the administration will stand down.

Please take a moment to call or email your Congressman and two U.S. Senators. Urge them to speak out against the Obama administration's pressure campaign against Israel.

*Information about how to contact your Congressman can be found at (you will be directed to a site where you can identify who your Representative is and send him or her an email) -- or by calling 202-224-3121.

* Information about how to contact your U.S. Senators can be found at -- or by calling 202-224-3121.

Key points to emphasize:

* It is outrageous that the Obama administration is attacking an ally even as it coddles hostile nations like Iran and Syria.

* The cause of peace is set back when Israel's foes are led to believe that significant diplomatic gains can be achieved through American pressure - and without reciprocal concessions.

* The Obama administration's obsession with the peace process - even when the Palestinians demonstrate by their actions that they are not ready to make peace - has become a distraction from the effort to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Thank you for weighing in on this urgent and timely matter. This is the moment when we need to raise our voices!

KFP seder at Chabad/Bucktown

One would think "kosher-for-Passover" seder would be redundant. HA! Enjoy the delicious home cooking at Chabad of Bucktown's new space. Seders both nights and very reasonably priced.

pesach2_690146 from JabMedia on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"But I go to my parents' seder every year."

There is no excuse for a treif (non-kosher) seder. None.

Shalom bayis? (Peace in the home?)

There is no excuse for a treif seder.

Someone who regularly attends one or both non-kosher seders with his or her parents has several options to stay kosher for the seder meals.

1. Offer to go shopping with the chef (Mom or Dad). Armed with the Passover shopping list, hit the Passover aisle and use kosher-for-Passover ingredients and food. Reserve or pick up the kosher chicken or brisket from the live deli or kosher butcher.

2. If that doesn't work, declare your intention to have a completely separate kosher meal, which you will prepare yourself. I admit transporting all the food to the parents' house may prove difficult, and the kosher consumer may be fighting for counter and oven space in the kitchen, which isn't kaschered anyway.

3. Send regrets and attend the seders at friends whose seders are strictly kosher for Passover. Explain your commitment to keeping kosher for Passover. Suggest Sunday, April 4--the fourth day of Chol Ha'Moed*--as an alternative family visit day, when you can visit at home or do an activity around town. (Remember to pack a kosher-for-Passover lunch or snack for yourself.)

So many people spend hours cleaning their kitchens and preparing the seder meals. They want to show off their hard work by hosting many guests, including guests whose own kitchens are not kosher, and guests experiencing a kosher seder for the first time. Don't disappoint them! Take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy a kosher seder the way it was meant to be.

*Chol Ha'Moed refers to the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkos.

Our seder is WHERE?

"Thank you for calling Sam's House of Treif. May I take your seder reservation?"

I was very disappointed, but not surprised, to see restaurants advertising their Passover seders in Chicago Jewish News. These restaurants are not kosher during the year and are not kosher for Passover. I am aware that Chicago Jewish News accepts advertising from non-kosher restaurants. The difference is that during the rest of the year, the restaurants do not pretend to be kosher operations. If a reader sees an ad for a Passover seder, however, one might think that such a meal would actually be kosher. One would be wrong. After all, that's the whole point of a Passover seder: Jews having a festive meal to celebrate the exodus of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. The meal is heavy with symbolism, most obviously the complete absence of any leavened bread from the meal, including ingredients in the food. There is no way a non-kosher restaurant can provide a kosher-for-Passover meal. It is not possible under any circumstances. Yet these restaurants conduct a thriving business catering to Jews on one of the most popular Jewish observance events of the year.*

Here is a sample of the ads. The ads have premium placement in the newspaper, next to the editorial copy featuring kosher-for-Passover recipes.

On Waukegan Road in Deerfield: "We make our own gefilte fish!" "Happy Passover/We are serving Passover Dinners on March 29 and March 30/White Linen Dining/Make your reservations now!/Order all your holiday carry-out with us."

On Devon Avenue near Pulaski in Lincolnwood: "Make your Passover Reservations Now/March 29 and 30/Complete Holiday Meals/Adults - $26.95; Children - $14.95/Place your Passover Carry Out Orders Now!"

On Dempster Street at Harlem in Morton Grove: "Passover Dinner/$18.95; $9.95 Children under 12"

On First Street in Highland Park: "Reserve your table for March 29th/5pm-10pm/First Night Seder with our one-hour service with Rabbi ----------------"

At first I thought, Maybe the newspaper will not allow non-kosher restaurants to use the word "seder" since they all use the word "dinner" instead. But the Highland Park restaurant uses the word "seder." It can because it has a service with a rabbi?

These ads need a kashrus alert--kind of an anti-hechsher. "This meal is not kosher for Passover. Carry-out from this restaurant is not kosher for Passover." Perhaps if the newspaper required the restaurants to include such a warning, they wouldn't advertise their Passover meals.

Now we're getting somewhere.

*Another Jewish observance that approaches or surpasses the Passover seder in participation is fasting on Yom Kippur. The number of Jews who participate in the annual Yom Kippur fast exceeds the number of Jews who believe in G-d. Go figure.

Is decency the first casualty of the health-care debate?

I don't think I have anything new to add to the health-care debate. Wait: "self-centered, amoral, and unrealistic."

That wasn't me. That was someone I have never met who disagrees with me on this issue presuming to describe me based on my opinion. She went on to call someone else a "bad Jew" based on his membership in or support of a political group with which she disagrees.

I guess that's how she settles arguments: instead of making a coherent argument, she calls people names and lampoons their positions by (1) naming other government programs we presumably favor (public parks, which have nothing to do with health care; and (2) mentioning the Iraq war, which, in the health-care debate, makes very little sense.

Remember how Steve Carrell's character in The Office, Michael Scott, responds when he gets upset? He loudly repeats what the other person is saying, as if he were six years old. I guess for people like the name-caller mentioned above, it's not enough to state one's case. In fact, why bother with intelligent debate? Skip right to the name-calling and judgment about the character of one's debate opponents.

I enjoy engaging in political debate. It's a shame that not all participants can disagree and remain friends. Two examples:

"Please write to your Illinois legislators and demand a massive income tax increase that will further cripple the economy!"

"But an income tax increase will just hurt those the governor claims to be helping."

"You better hope you'll never need the services my government-funded organization provides!"

(She removed me as a Facebook Friend.) She took my opposition to an Illinois income tax increase as an attack on her livelihood and her clients. Of course it was never intended as such, but her job may be a casualty of the state's attempt to rein in costs, if it ever comes to that.

"We need a massive, government-controlled socialized Marxist health care system with skyrocketing costs, death panels and long lines to see doctors! It's a crisis that needs to be fixed immediately! We're going to pay for it with massive tax increases! It will work just as well as Medicare!"

"Our health care system works remarkably well. There are serious problems with a government takeover. The uninsured could be covered for a fraction of the cost of the president's plan."

"You better hope you never get sick! I bet you have health care!"

If I could ran tax increase bills through the Illinois legislature like former Gov. Big Jim "Taxaholic" Thompson or House Speaker "It's My Money!" Mike Madigan, or block them with my bare hands, I could understand tax increase advocates being very, very upset with me. If I could do the same in Washington, I could understand Big Government health care advocates being very upset with me. But I have no such power. Since we're just private citizens having a debate, is it possible to keep such debates to a civil tone?


Monday, March 15, 2010

"Too much matzah! I can't take it anymore!"

When does eight days feel like an eternity?

When it's Passover, and the matzah is making you ill.

Can't stand another bite of matzah? Then stop eating it.

It's okay to stop eating matzah without breaking the Passover leavened bread ban. The only requirement to eat matzah is at the seder and Sabbath meals. (Maybe the other yontif meals too. Check with your local rabbi.) But that's just part of Passover. Home alone, without the festive meal, it's possible to fill up on a plethora of food options that don't involve matzah at all. In fact, as a friend and fellow blogger pointed out, Passover is a wonderful time to begin a healthy diet. Off the top of my head, here are meal/snack options to satisfy one's appetite straight through to the end-of-Passover pizza party:

1. Salad! Dozens of salad dressings are kosher-for-Passover. Garnish with any number of items (check for the Pesach hechsher). Fresh or iceberg lettuce is fine; salad bags are not kosher-for-Passover. This is an easy do-it-yourself project.

2. Baked potato! And mashed potato! And hash browns! The humble potato has long been a Passover staple. It's possible to be creative and prepare it any number of different ways. Remember to use kosher-for-Passover butter or margarine if you plan on adding that to your potatoes--and please, keep the dairy products separate from the meat dishes.

3. Meat! If you're fortunate enough to live near a supermarket that sells whole kosher chickens, one chicken can keep you fed all through chol ha'moed. (Okay--maybe two.) Packaged kosher meat does not require Passover certification (unless it's flavored). There are hundreds of kosher-for-Passover chicken recipes. Remember when adding ingredients to check with a reliable Passover guide to confirm which ingredients need special Passover certification. There are online guides at and It would be a shame to find out later your chicken masterpiece has secret banned-on-Passover ingredients. If you want to make it easy on yourself and have a deli sandwich (on matzah? uh-oh), remember all condiments--ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise--must have Passover certification. These items are readily available in supermarket Passover aisles.

4. Eggs! There really is a book called 365 Ways to Cook Eggs by Elaine Corn. I assume the authoress' surname is not a pun. I would bet that more than half those recipes, from a non-Jewish cookbook, could be made kosher-for-Passover. Cooking is permitted on yontif, and yontif does not fall on the Sabbath at all this year, so there are opportunities aplenty to test your cooking mettle. As with meat recipes, remember to check with a Passover guide to determine if additional ingredients require Passover certification. If you make an omelette with kosher-for-Passover cheese, I'm coming over.

5. Fresh fruit and vegetables! Much to my chagrin, one of my snack staples, applesauce, does require Passover certification. But fresh fruits and vegetables do not. This is another opportunity for a healthy snack or side dish for a larger meal. Remember that Passover is not the time to revisit the celery, peanut butter and raisin snack from Rosh Hashanah ("raise in salary," ha ha ha), as peanut butter is never kosher-for-Passover.

If kosher-for-Passover consumers, even first-timers, plan carefully and make sure they have enough food--and enough variety--for the full eight days, the matzah indigestion will be a fading memory from previous years. Happy eating!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Friends don’t let friends go to restaurants on Passover

There are a number of people who think they can maintain a strict kosher-for-Passover diet if they patronize restaurants during Passover. They believe ordering from the restaurant’s special “Passover menu” or asking the kitchen to keep bread off the plate is the same as a kosher-for-Passover meal.

It is not. It is 100 percent treif.

Think this through: if a restaurant is not at all kosher 51 weeks a year, what makes it acceptable for Passover?

There is no substitute for a meal cooked in a home Passover kitchen; or if that’s not an option, a frozen certified-Passover meal heated in a cleaned toaster-oven. If a friend signals his intent to go to a restaurant and get cute with the rules, implore him to stay home. Offer to cook a strictly kosher-for-Passover meal for him. Offer to make deli sandwiches on matzah (with kosher meat and kosher-for-Passover condiments) with fresh fruit or applesauce for dessert. Offer to make eggs in a new or kaschered saucepan with kosher-for-Passover margarine. Offer wine or grape juice or kosher-for-Passover diet Coke.

A treif meal on Passover violates the letter and spirit of the Torah-based Passover law on so many levels. Convincing a friend to delay such a meal for one week is a huge mitzvah and very much worth the effort.

Make the exodus from non-kosher seders

It’s a shame that people gather for Passover seders that end up being not the slightest bit kosher and therefore not at all in the spirit of the joyous holiday that is so meaningful and central to the identity of the Jewish people.

I’m hardly the expert of tact. Nevertheless, seder guests unsure of their hosts’ kashrus (kosher) standards should ask the hosts: is your seder strictly kosher for Passover? The host should be able to answer emphatically “Yes” and explain:
1. The matzah to be used at the seder is kosher for Passover. That would seem to go without saying, but matzah sold year-round is not intended for Passover use. It says so on the box.
2. The meat (beef, chicken or both) is kosher-certified. (Passover certification is not necessary for kosher meat.)
3. The side dishes are raw materials, legume-free, or certified kosher-for-Passover.
4. The wine and soft drinks are certified kosher.
5. There are no dairy products on the table. If the seder is vegetarian, all dairy products are also certified kosher for Passover.
6. The kitchen, including the oven, was cleaned and kaschered prior to the seder.

If the host explains the meal will be like any other but without challah, then it’s not kosher, and guests should make other arrangements. Also carryout seder meals from “kosher-style” restaurants are not kosher. Here are two people who would be more than happy to host you:

Rabbi Yosef Moscowitz 773-772-3770
Rabbi Yochanan Posner 847-677-1770

Also Rabbi Zev Kahn can send you to a family who would be happy to host you: 773-817-4406.

1. I don’t know what to wear.
Men: shirt, tie and kipah. Ladies: skirt and blouse.
2. I won’t know anyone.
A great opportunity to network and meet others who may be experiencing a kosher seder for the first time.
3. I don’t know what to bring.
Supermarkets have packaged desserts in their Passover aisles; check for the circled “U” with the “P” next to it on the label.
3. I lost my Haggadah.
The hosts will be happy to lend you one. Also you can buy one from any bookstore.
4. I’m afraid it will run so late I won’t be able to go to work the next day.
Ask your boss if you can come in late due to the holiday.
5. I need to drive home.
Ask for grape juice instead of wine. And many hosts don’t insist on guests staying within walking distance.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It doesn't work that way, Saeb Erekat

The New York Times reports that the Vice President of the United States begins a five-day Middle East tour with the aim of restarting Israel-Palestinian peace talks.


In this article, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warns that the hour for reaching a peace agreement is drawing nigh, and if an agreement isn't reached, then the only solution is Israrelis and Palestinians sharing one state.

Or, as we would call it, the death of Israel.

No, Mr. Erekat, it doesn't work that way. Typical Palestinian negotiating, or saber-rattling: warning, and then threats.

Israel no longer needs peace with the Palestinians. From this vantage point, Israel is at peace. The security fence reduced suicide attacks to almost zero. The PA-controlled West Bank is booming economically, and Palestinian security forces are cooperating with Israeli security forces there. All that is missing is for Israel to give up more land to the Palestinians. Because that has worked out so well in the past.

No, Israel is doing just fine, Mr. Erekat, and if you can't sell peace and coexistence to your people, that's not Israel's problem. Binational state? Like "right of return," just another insidious idea with the ultimate goal of destroying Israel's unique Jewish character and majority.

* * *

This is Blog Post #501.

Keillor and Bush: Taxpayer-funded stadiums rock!

When it comes to former President George W. Bush, Garrison Keillor and Michael Moore agree: they don't like him. Not one tiny bit.

So I was quite surprised to read Keillor's recent ode to brand-new, taxpayer-funded Target Field. The Minnesota Twins' new outdoor baseball palace in downtown Minneapolis is set to open April 10. According to a recent Keillor column, which I am not linking here because I cannot find it online, Keillor rode his bike around downtown and paused to admire Target Field's beauty.

One learns in great detail in the book Field of Schemes that taxpayer-funded stadiums are a ploy for the super-rich (owners and players) to enjoy a massive subsidy from working stiffs. In the last two decades, billions of tax dollars went to build dozens of stadia for football, baseball, basketball and hockey across the country. The government waste is often astounding: Maryland built two outdoor football-only stadia 35 miles apart. Before becoming governor of Texas, George W. Bush failed at almost every business opportunity he tried, even when his father's wealthy friends gave him considerable seed money. His one business triumph was the Texas Rangers baseball team. The taxpayers of the Metroplex (Dallas, Ft. Worth and Arlington) built a new ballpark for the Rangers, expecting the Rangers to pay rent for the use of the facility. The Rangers simply tacked a rent surcharge on tickets so the fans end up paying the rent. Even better for the Rangers, the team will own the ballpark outright when the leasing agreement expires in a few years. Bush cashed out with a tidy profit when he sold his share of the team.

Keillor, supposedly a champion of the working man and dyed-in-the-wool liberal, thinks taxpayers building stadia for wealthy owners and players is a great idea. Or is it just in this one instance, for his beloved Minnesota Twins? Did he put his team in front of principle?

I'm still dumbfounded by the Twins playing in a ballpark exposed to the Minneapolis weather in April, May and September. The owners should certainly have paid an extra $100 million for a retractable dome. I certainly understand the team's desire to leave the aging Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (now Mall of America Field). Derided as a "Baggie," the "Rollerdome" (Mike Ditka) or, in Keillor's column, "a basement," it was no place for baseball. But why should fans pay good money to sit in 30-degree temperatures for three hours? After the novelty of the new ballpark wears off, the Twins might want to reserve the Metrodome for cold-weather games.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Family trees make for great tv

It must be a trend: there are two family tree shows that just debuted on television: PBS’ Faces of America with Louis Gates, Jr. (your tax dollars at work); and Who Do You Think You Are on NBC. Faces of America showed Eva Longoria’s reaction when told she was related to world-famous Chinese-American violinist Yo-Yo Ma: “Is he Mexican?” And NBC’s show introduced Spike Lee to a distant white relative. A family member pointed out an interesting fact to me that shows how a little work can end up connecting disparate families: The world’s family tree looks like a pyramid with the wide side at the bottom. Going back century by century, the world’s population is much smaller than it is today, and the likelihood increases of people who were alive back then being related to each other. This makes a Ma-Longoria connection a bit less surprising. (Nevertheless, I didn’t see a Chinese-Mexican link either.)

"Raise their taxes to save my job!"

I would be amused by government employees clamoring for yet another Illinois tax increase if their influence weren’t so strong. It wasn’t so long ago that I engaged in heated debates on Facebook with government employees and employees of organizations dependent on government funding. They desperately implored their friends to contact their representatives in Springfield to support the income tax increase. (As far as I can tell, our representatives in Springfield love tax increases.) Michael Medved put it best this week in commenting on pro-tax demonstrators:

Their presence highlighted the danger of constantly swelling government payrolls: the more people get hired by government, the more people will demand raising taxes on others to protect their own jobs, salaries and benefits. The idea that pro-tax demonstrators are more idealistic or selfless than the anti-tax crowd is, simply, laughable.

Attend a non-kosher seder? Why?

From the ultra-orthodox to the non-observant, Jews across the spectrum complain about keeping Passover. Some say they can make it five days out of a total of eight. Some "keep" it all week but eat out at non-kosher restaurants and ask the kitchen to hold the bread. (Seriously. Please do not do this.) Some keep it seven days and say, "If seven days is good enough for Israel, it's good enough for me."

Stop the kvetch and think for a moment.

The Passover story in Exodus is that the Jews were slaves in Egypt. G-d told Moses to lead His people out of Egypt. Moses told the Pharaoh, "Let my people go," and with the assistance of numerous open miracles, the Jewish slaves escaped from Egypt after nearly three centuries of enslavement. Eventually they made it to what is now modern-day Israel and have been living there ever since.

Whether one believes the story in the Torah or not, one historical fact is unmistakable: at one point in history, there were no Jews. Later, there were Jews, and that hasn't changed.

The Haggadah (seder book companion) points out that in every generation, people attempt to destroy the Jewish people. The Pharaoh who knew not Joseph tried it. In the Purim story, Haman, the Persian leader's viceroy, tried it. Most famously, the leader of the previous German government tried it. Today, President Ahmadinejad of Iran wants to wipe out the Jews. Yet the Jews persevere, and the ancestors of the Jews make it despite the temptation to pretend they are not Jews and to assimilate into the non-Jewish majority.

In honor of the Jews who came before the current generation, I believe it is incumbent upon the Jewish people to give up challah and normal food for eight days.

That means not attending a non-kosher seder. I don't know why people hold non-kosher seders. I've never asked someone, so maybe the reply is, "We don't keep kosher during the rest of the year. What's the point?" Or, "It's just for the family to get together for a festive meal." But the non-kosher festive meal ruins the whole point of the holiday, in my opinion. The Jews came from Egypt, and now American Jews live in a country that allows us to celebrate and worship in the open, in peace. And we thank G-d by placing the chometzdik* butter next to the non-kosher meat, which is covered in chometzdik sauce? And that is appropriate just because of the family at the table?

I don't think it is. To make matters worse, many area synagogues further endorse this practice by hosting their own non-kosher seders. I was very surprised to find this schedule.

Just curious: as I recall, taking communion in a Catholic Church requires eating a wafer and drinking wine. How many Catholic churches substitute candy and diet Coke? Probably none of them. But dozens of synagogues can't be bothered with serving a kosher for Passover seder. They also have a ready excuse--that they are not kosher during the year.

The solution is to avoid seders are not absolutely, positively strictly kosher for Passover. Ask the organizer point-blank if the seder is kosher. If so, participants are entitled to ask who the caterer is or what the source kitchen is, and when it was kaschered (cleaned for Passover), or who the mashgiach is (kosher supervisor). If those questions cannot be answered directly, then it's time to move on to the next seder.

*"Chometz" is Hebrew for bread or any food product containing bread that is not kosher for Passover. "Chometzdik" is a Yiddishized adjective form.

You're going down, U.S. Postal Service!

I sent this letter to RedEye after its March 3, 2010 article about the Postmaster General's report to Congress:

The U.S. Postal Service needs to stop living in the last century and redesign its entire business plan for today's postal consumer ("Deliver them," March 3). Email can send text, images, audio and video instantly for free; and long-distance phone service, once a luxury, is almost free. Yet USPS wants to charge even more than its current overpriced rate to send an envelope across town (usually overnight) or cross-country (usually three days). What is wrong with this picture?

The projected [$283 million] 10-year loss figure is somewhat amusing as USPS may not be around in 10 years. It should be cutting its rates, not raising them, to encourage consumer usage as a novelty: post cards and greeting cards. Meanwhile, the Postal Service should slash service to thrice weekly (Tues./Thurs./Sat.) and drastically reduce its office hours. USPS should face the reality that its service isn't so critical that we need its offices open 10 or 11 hours every day. In a decade, the Postal Service will likely be little more than a quaint reminder of how much fun receiving a letter from Grandma once was.

* * *

The Postal Service's feeble attempt to drop Saturday delivery ignored the political power of the Direct Mail Association, a powerful Washington lobby. DMA's members love Saturday mail because that day's delivery catches people when they are home and more likely to read advertising. It's my opinion that if we lose one day's mail delivery, it should be Tuesday. Delivery on Tuesday is typically light because mail sent Friday and Saturday arrives on Monday. Mail arriving Tuesday either took way too long or was mailed locally on Monday.

Congress refused USPS's request to drop Saturday delivery. For Congress to force us to continue to pay for delivery we really don't need is, once again, the height of arrogance.

The joy of Purim

Purim is a day of joy for Jews. A rabbi I am close to told me halacha (Jewish law) actually requires Jews to be happy on Purim. Beyond that, and hearing the megilla (gorilla) and the normal kosher requirements, there are no halachic restrictions normally associated with major Jewish holidays. Play music? Fine. Cameras and cellphones? No problem. Cooking? By all means! Watch the U.S.A. vs. Canada Olympic gold-medal game? Knock yourself out. In this regard, Purim is much more relaxed than shabbos or yontif. With the ability to drive, one is not tied down to a walking-distance radius and can share the holiday with friends and family all over.

So I really appreciate that.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rabbi Yaakov Parisi at Skokie Chabad

Rabbi Yaakov Ephraim Parisi told his very inspiring story at a packed house at Skokie Chabad Friday night, March 5. He grew up in an Italian-Catholic home in Brooklyn and was religious from the start, serving as an altar boy and then leaving the Catholic Church and starting his own small church in Oklahoma. It was there he began studying Judaism, spending a fortune on Artscroll publications to enhance his learning and knowledge. Rabbi Parisi and his wife completed their conversion process on the same day about 12 years ago. Listening to him speak makes one realize what a treasure the history of the Jewish people really is.

Dinner was outstanding: challah rolls, gefilte fish, (pareve) eggplant parmesan, baby baked potatoes, and breaded chicken. Dessert was fresh fruit and Danish.

The only part of Rabbi Parisi’s speech in which I would disagree with him is what he said about Christianity. He singled out the Southern Baptist Church in particular for pouring millions of dollars into Jews for Jesus. If that’s true (and I suspect it is), that of course is abhorrent. However, many, if not most, conservative and evangelical Christian groups are friends to the Jewish people. This includes the Roman Catholic Church, which I think has 60 million or so American members. These churches support Israel and do not try to convert Jews because they do not believe Jews need to be saved. The major Jewish organizations in the U.S. could accomplish much by joining forces with Christians to:
Fight Islamic terrorism in the U.S. and worldwide;
Support Israel and oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; and
(orthodox) Support tuition vouchers

The Jewish people constitute such a small segment of American society that it only makes sense to team up with other groups who share Jewish values.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Intifada on campus

A Pastor's Journey to Judaism

I have my shabbat dinner for March 5 all picked out! Skokie Chabad is hosting Rabbi and Mrs. Yaakov Parisi for what promises to be a great shabbaton. Rabbi Parisi will speak Friday night about being a Christian pastor and how he and his wife became observant Jews. Friday night dinner promises to be the usual four-star extravaganza at Skokie Chabad. The Parisis are also speaking at a kiddush luncheon at Skokie Chabad the following morning, after davening around 11:30.

Here is the link for more information and to reserve a very reasonable dinner seat:

See you there!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

No one misses the Red Line's Washington stop

Until the mid-1990's,the Red Line* made just one stop between Grand Avenue and Monroe Street. This stop was called Washington. Northbound and southbound trains did not stop across from one another; the northbound train stop was considerably north of the southbound train stop--closer to Lake Street. This worked just fine. In the mid-1990's, the cta put the subway station under construction, and trains stopped twice in each direction: once at the "Lake" stop and once at the "Washington" stop. When construction ended, cta tried to return to one-stop operation, but because it stupidly installed a staircase/escalator in the middle of the platform instead of on either side (with a pedestrian walkway in between), passengers were squeezed while walking between the staircase structure and moving trains. So the cta decided trains should resume stopping twice in each direction. Of course this adds time to everyone's commute. Now there is construction again at Washington, and trains aren't stopping there; they stop at Monroe and Lake Streets.

This is working out great! Who needs a second stop at Lake-Washington anyway? Oh, it's such a long walk between the Lake stop and the underground tunnel to the Blue Line! No, it isn't. Passengers could probably use the exercise. And passengers going in the other direction--changing from the Blue Line to the Red Line? Northbound riders can do that at Jackson Boulevard. Southbound riders can walk, and it's really just 100 feet or so. (I'll time it next time I'm in the subway.) Please, cta. Keep the Washington station closed.

*Called the Howard-Englewood-Jackson Park until the cta's color-scheme revolution of the late-1990's.

Hanging up on me doesn't change the Bears' season

I called into the Score AM 670 at about 8:05 last night on my way home from a JVS event in Lakeview. The host had asked for callers to ask him questions about the Bears. I wanted to say, "Do you think the Bears have the ability to increase their win total to 10 or 11 games to make the playoffs in the 2010 season? It seemed to me they dropped a number of winnable games last year, and good teams win close games." Unfortunately I was never able to ask my question as I let it slip that I gave up on the Bears after their miserable loss in Atlanta (Week 6, which left them 3-2 after their bye week). At that point the host hung up on me.

Look, Bub, you can hang up on me for dissing the Bears and giving up on them so quickly. (And I turned out to be right; they missed the playoffs for the third straight season after their Super Bowl season of 2006.) But you can't change the fact that they were pretty mediocre last season. 7-9? 6-10? I don't remember, and it doesn't matter. The point is whether they can make the playoffs this season with a new offensive coordinator. Lovie Smith's job depends on it.