Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rapper Takes Shyne to Torah and Israel

I have no idea what this all means, but it sure makes for interesting reading. Belize-born rapper Shyne, born Jamal Michael Barrow, is the son of the Prime Minister of Belize and an Ethiopian Jewish mother. His smash hip hop debut album was followed closely by a conviction and 10-year prison sentence, on charges resulting from a notorious 1999 Bronx night club shootout that occurred while Shyne was in the company of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and Jennifer Lopez. Shyne underwent a prison conversion to Orthodox Judaism, adopted the Hebrew name Moshe Levy Ben-David, and now wears Belzer Chasidic garb and studies Talmud in a Jerusalem yeshiva. Oh, and he still records for Def Jam Records. Read all about it in the Jerusalem Post.

UPDATE, Friday, Nov. 12: In light of the welcome reader comment from reader Chaya Gabriela Bat-Avraham, I should clarify that by the phrase "prison conversion," I did not mean that Moshe Levi Ben-David converted to Judaism from another religion or even from no religion. I was using the term in its colloquial sense, to describe someone who becomes religiously observant while in prison, a phenomenon seen among Christian and Muslim prisoners (l'havidil, to differentiate) as well as among Jewish ones.

Mr. Ben-David is not a convert. As the grandson of an Ethiopian Jewish woman, his mother is Jewish and he is Jewish, because Judaism descents through the maternal line. Mr. Ben-David was born a Jew and has always been a Jew, even when he was not religiously observant. That is the unique, dualistic nature of Judaism: we are both a people and a religion. One may either be born into the Jewish nation or enter it by choice, through conversion, but in either case one is a member of the Jewish people. Moshe Levi is my Jewish brother, Amare' Stoudemire is my Jewish brother, and Chaya Gabriela is equally my Jewish sister, the first two by birth and the last by adoption, so to speak.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef, the former Sefardic Chief Rabbi/Rishon L'Tzion of Israel, ruled that Ethiopian Jews are Jews, but owing to their long separation from Am Yisroel, the Jewish people, which appears to predate the Mishna and the Talmud, the sources of halacha, Jewish law, he ruled that they should undergo a symbolic conversion when they arrived in Israel. Mr. Ben-David went through that ceremony, but halachically he was born a Jew.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Well, Ralph, thanks for considering my Utes worthy of spoiler status in your post below. Sadly, and as you've already noted, the Utah football team I have been following all season didn't show up for last Saturday's game. Let's just say it was a painful thing to watch. Still and all, life will go on and my team will probably (I am hoping here, folks, work with me) end the season 12-1, ranked close to the top 10, with a 10th straight bowl victory to its credit, and beginning its membership in the PAC12. As one of my British friends might say, that's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!

Last Saturday was not without its moments of pure fun. My Utah fan son talked me into attending ESPN's College Game Day festivities with him. That entailed showing up at the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. (No, I don't love college football that much, but I love my son that much.) Folks, as I might have said during my own college days, that Game Day experience was . . . a blast. In the upper left is a photo of my son and me in the pre-dawn darkness.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What a Sad State We're In--California

UTES May Usurp Stanford's Rightful Place in the Rose Bowl

We have not heard a great deal from the Founding Hedgehog Lowell Brown of late, but I have a feeling that this post may coax him out of hiding.

For months now, ever since the onset of the college football season, I have looked forward with keen anticipation to the possibility that Stanford, my alma mater, might represent the PAC 12 in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1972. Those of hoary old age may recall that the Jim Plunkett-led Stanford team beat Ohio State in the 1971 Rose Bowl (which I attended in person), while Don Bunce led Stanford to victory over Michigan the following year. Stanford has not been back to the Rose Bowl since.

However, this year, the resurgent Stanford football fortunes under Coach Jim Harbaugh gave one hope. That hope was not extinguished by the Cardinal loss to the University of Oregon Ducks, since, barring an unforseen mishap, No. 1 ranked Oregon is bound for the BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona. In any normal year, with Oregon lost to the BCS Championship Game, the number two team in the PAC 12, i.e., Stanford, would take its place.

Alas, this is no ordinary year. According to today's Los Angeles Times, under a rotational arrangement that is part of the BCS system, if the PAC 12 winner plays in the BCS Championship Bowl, the Rose Bowl must pass over the number 2 team in the confererence, and instead offer the slot vacated by Oregon to a non-conference team. The prime candidates to supplant Stanford at this writing are TCU, Boise State and, ahem, Utah, the alma mater of Lowell Brown.

My disappointment is even more poignant because it appears that the Big 10 representative in the Rose Bowl will be none other than the Ohio State Buckeyes. Not only would that be a replay of the great 1971 game (which I attended in person), but in 1976 I happened to have wed a lady with a masters degree from Ohio State, who attended that school at the height of the Woody Hayes era. She remembers Hayes leading manic anti-Michigan cheers at a pep rally before the annual Ohio State-Michigan game. Think of the spice that another Ohio State-Stanford matchup would have added to our marriage.

Lowell, as appalling as is the thought of either TCU or Boise State usurping Stanford's place in the 2011 Rose Bowl, when I think that instead the usurper may be Utah, I can only mutter, "Et tu brUTE?" Done in by my Hedgehog brother! Say it ain't so.

Cmon, Utah, you are going to be a PAC 12 (13? 14?) team next year anyway. Why not wait to play in the Rose Bowl until you deserve it by winning the conference championship, instead of raining on my Rose Bowl parade?

SUNDAY, 11/7/2010 UPDATE: TCU 47 - UTAH 7. Ouch! Sorry, Lowell. Well, that takes care of Utah usurping Stanford's place in the Rose Bowl. Now, please, Georgia and Alabama, please defeat Auburn. That should put TCU in the national championship game. Unfortunately, Stanford still would not be in the Rose Bowl - absent two losses, Boise State would slip in. And with upcoming WAC opponents of the caliber of Idaho (4-4), Fresno State (6-2), Nevada (8-1) and Utah State (3-6), it is probably too much to hope for two upsets of Boise State. In all probability, even if Stanford goes 11 and 1, it will be passed over by the BCS featured bowl games and will have to settle for, sniff, sigh, the Alamo Bowl.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Janice Schakowsky (D-Illinois 9th Congr. Dist.) Commits Ethical Violations in her Win Over Joel Pollak

In 11 electoral contests yesterday, a candidate supported by the Republican Jewish Coalition PAC went mano-al-mano with a candidate backed by J-Street. One of only three electoral contests in which the Republican Jewish Coalition candidate did not prevail was the Illinois 9th Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Janice Schakowsky won handily against Republican challenger Joel Pollak. Mind you, this was considered a safe Democratic district to begin with--Ms. Schakowsky had won 78% of the vote in 2008. Yesterday Joel Pollak managed to garner around one third of the votes, but that still left two-thirds for Ms. Schakowsky.

With those odds, you would think that Ms. Schakowsky would at least play by the rules. But when Hugh Hewitt wrote, "If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat," he meant that the Democrats can't steal an election by cheating if the GOP has a huge lead. He never said that the Democrats won't cheat when they're way ahead.

So it went in the Illinois 9th Congressional District. Here is Joel Pollak's post-election statement:

This morning, the hosts on WIND 560 AM asked me how my conversation with Jan Schakowsky went last night. The truth, I told them, was that I hadn’t spoken with her at all. Our campaign called hers twice, then I left a message conceding the election. There was no return call, no acknowledgment of the choice made by over 50,000 people in the 9th congressional district. It was, unfortunately, a fitting end to Schakowsky’s campaign.

I respect the choice made by two-thirds of the voters, and I respect the effort made by my opponent to earn their trust. Yet I do not respect--nor should we tolerate--the means by which she sought it. I am less concerned about the false and negative mailings, the last-minute funding for long-neglected local needs, and the behind-the-scenes political maneuvers than I am about the clear ethical violations she committed in this election.

In September, Schakowsky claimed credit for saving Devon Avenue from “going dark” by stopping foreclosures by United Central Bank. The reality is that she intervened at the behest of influential political contributors who were responsible for multiple loans, few of which involved property on Devon. In my view, Schakowsky violated the ethics rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. I will continue to pursue that complaint.

Yesterday, Schakowsky electioneered inside several polling places inside the district, handing out candy to election judges and greeting voters inside the “campaign free zone.” She even discussed helping an election judge obtain a congressional internship. That is simply unethical, and possibly illegal. Her behavior did not swing the result, but showed a clear disregard for the integrity, privacy, and fairness of the electoral process.

Then there is the ShoreBank scandal, which reinforced the idea that Chicago politicians exist to reward their political cronies and contributors. Our campaign succeeded in stopping a federal or state bailout of ShoreBank, but not an insider buyout by Wall Street firms under pressure from Schakowsky. The Inspector General of the FDIC is already investigating, and I intend to provide whatever assistance I can to the inquiry.

These ethical concerns remain, even after all the votes have been counted. In the days ahead, as we wind up our operation and prepare for the next challenge, I will continue to fight corruption, to stand up for the people of the 9th congressional district, and to be a voice in support of the new leadership our country has elected. We have not brought about a fresh start--not yet--yet we have given our country a fighting chance at renewal.

By way of full disclosure, I donated funds to the Pollak campaign. I met Joel Pollak and his lovely wife Julia in Chicago back in June, and was greatly impressed. As a Harvard law student, Joel had so impressed Professor Alan Dershowitz that Dershowitz endorsed his bid for Congress, the first time that Dershowitz has ever endorsed a Republican.

Just to show you what a classy guy Joel Pollak is, this morning he and Julia were up and out early to meet and greet commuters at the Park Ridge Metra train station, only this time not to solicit votes, but to thank the voters for their support, even in defeat. Joel and Julia have a great future ahead of them, despite the result of yesterday's election. I congratulate Joel for a spirited and ethical campaign.

Republican Jewish Coalition PAC Triumphs Over J Street

J Street is the left-wing, peacenik Jewish advocacy organization beloved of the Obama Administration. The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) is, well, the Republican Jewish Coalition. Each organization has a PAC that supports candidates with similar political leanings. Guess which PAC was more successful yesterday? Go see the results here at the RJC website.

Mark Helprin Explains Why Israel Needs the Bomb

In the Oct. 19, 2010 Wall Street Journal, Mark Helprin explains why Israel needs nucear weapons. [HT: Rick Richman at Jewish Current Issues.]

Mark Helprin is a larger-than-life figure, part best-selling author whose short stories have graced The New Yorker for almost a quarter century, part respected conservative pundit whose columns regularly appear on the Wall Street Journal's opinion pages, and part soldier of fortune, with service in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force.

His biography befits his diverse accomplishments. Born in 1947, Mark Helprin was raised on the Hudson River and in the British West Indies. After receiving degrees from Harvard College and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, he did postgraduate work at the University of Oxford, Princeton, and Columbia. He is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former Guggenheim Fellow and Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute. For his writings, he has been awarded National Jewish Book Award, the Prix de Rome, and the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, 2006, among other literary prizes.

I know his fiction primarily through The Pacific and Other Stories, one of his three published collections of short stories. It includes a particular gem, in my biased opinion, appropriately entitled Perfection, which I never tire of saying is the best story ever written in the Hasidic Holocaust Baseball genre. Since that is a narrow genre at best, I hasten to add that it also is one of the finest short stories ever written, period. However it is most appreciated by those readers with at least some familiarity with both Hasidism and the 1950's New York Yankees.