Friday, March 30, 2007

A Brief Guide to Orthodox Jewry

Menachem Butler sends regularly to his large company of admirers material from obscure sources that he locates while prowling the Internet. Hopefully, the practice will continue, but without impeding the academic progress of a young man from a family that has been a blessing to our people who himself is blessed with admirable personal and intellectual qualities.

A recent offering is another exercise in pseudo-sociology, this from a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who to borrow from one of her footnotes is guilty of “egregious narcissism” as she describes in a lengthy article her visits to a Chabad girls’ school and a Christian school. At least with respect to the former, she manages to get much wrong. Why is it that academics and journalists stumble badly when they write about Orthodox Jews? The answer cannot be that they are ignorant, although there is an excess of this quality. More likely, they know or think they know much about the subject before the research and writing begin, bringing to the task a bunch of preconceptions. They find what they set out to find and too much of what they set out to find is unfavorable, contrary to the methodology of cultural anthropology and sociology. They do not bring to their assignments either empathy or awe, two qualities that should be present when outsiders are examining the behavior of a group that they insufficiently understand.

We read often about real and alleged wrongdoing by this or that Orthodox Jew or about some inconsequential intra-Orthodox conflict. Do we read or know about, to take one example, Hamodia which is a well-edited and attractive English-language daily newspaper that is published by a chassidic group? There is an emphasis on social pathologies among religious Jews, although the incidence is far less than it is elsewhere and although it is hard to find another group that has established such an extraordinary network of self-help projects as the Orthodox have.

There are guides detailing how to live a religious Jewish life. What follows is a brief, albeit incomplete, guide to the sociology of American Orthodoxy.

As with all of American Jewry, Orthodox population figures are estimates and there is disagreement regarding the total. Likely, the figure is between 500,000-600,000, reflecting steady but not rapid population growth despite a remarkably high fertility rate, notably in the fervently Orthodox sectors. Growth is held down by defections away from Orthodoxy which probably exceed the gains achieved through outreach, although it is not possible to be sure, as well as by aliyah and the expanding singles phenomenon which while not as widespread as in the general society, has a considerable impact on the Orthodox community.

Despite their small number, the Orthodox comprise an array of subgroups. While internal divisions are not as fractious as they once were, there are significant differences in practices and beliefs. I reckon four major subgroups – Modern Orthodox, Centrist Orthodox, Yeshiva World and Chassidic. There are, in turn, nuances and distinctions within each of these groupings. There are moderns who veer toward a greater acceptance of modernity and others who tend toward greater Orthodoxy. In the yeshiva world, there are those who keep the door a bit open to what the outside world offers and there are those who want to keep it shut. Among chassidim, there is the well-known division within Lubavitch between the messianists and anti-messianists and we know of intra-Satmar conflict.

Ideological and theological conflict over Israel has become less intense. Orthodox Jews once identified themselves as Democrats and fairly liberal on social issues. That has changed enormously, reflecting a powerful conservative trend, especially among the fervently Orthodox. The impact of the general society is bi-directional. There is some adaptation, including in attitudes, dress and lifestyle elements – an example is recreational travel – while there are expanding forbidden zones as efforts are made to guard against outside influences that are hostile to religious values and requirements.

Yeshiva or day school is imperative for nearly all children of school age, with each subgroup having schools it identifies with. With few exceptions, chassidic groups have their own mini-school systems. The strong tendency is to continue religious study past high school, here or in Israel, and among young men often for a significant number of years. This reflects both communal norms and higher educational patterns in the larger society. Secular higher education is often delayed, but contrary to what many think, it takes place, with the most Orthodox taking advantage of arrangements that are tailor-made for them.

Work patterns vary. Those of a modern orientation tend toward the professions, chassidim toward entrepreneurship and yeshiva world graduates toward communal employment, including teaching in yeshivas. Again contrary to popular supposition, Orthodox participation in the labor market is no less – and it may be above – what it is in the general society. Reflecting both societal trends and financial necessity, Orthodox women have increased significantly their participation in the labor force.

Large family size, tuition, religious requirements and communal imperatives such as the need to live in areas where Orthodox cluster and real estate is expensive result in considerable financial stress. Breadwinners who earn what may be regarded as a decent income, cannot get by. There is a tendency for parents to provide support. There are also considerable pockets of Orthodox affluence.

The Orthodox are not immune from what occurs in the outside world and so there is a growing incidence of divorce, drug abuse and other pathologies. A listing of the major Orthodox voluntary projects dealing with these and other needs would occupy more space than is available in this column.

The Orthodox seem always to be in a hurry. This isn’t surprising in view of family size and commitments, simchas and communal events, work obligations, synagogue attendance, Torah study and the determination to assist those in need. Being Orthodox is not easy. Thank G-d, there is Shabbos.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Is There Anything About AIPAC to Celebrate?

Lemmings do as lemmings are destined to do and so a fortnight ago six-thousand mini-macher Jewish lemmings flew to Washington for AIPAC's annual extravaganza, an event that with the exception of the President's State of the Union Address may attract more members of Congress than are found at any one time on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives. The media reminded us who care about Israel and also those who are hostile to the Jewish State that the organization is the most important lobby on the face of the earth. Score one more for the Jews. We have long controlled the media and much of the world's wealth and now we have the U.S. government in our hip pocket.

In fact, the event is no more than an exercise in role-playing and therefore in self-delusion. Congresspeople and VIPs show up because it is the path of least resistance, the easiest way to show solidarity with Israel without saying or doing anything of consequence. Heavy hitters, such as Senators Clinton and Obama, mouth familiar platitudes. The delegates - or whatever they are called - do their part by attending, scurrying around to congressional offices and indulging in the charade that their exertions affect American policy.

If AIPAC was guilty of nothing more than excessive bragging we could perhaps forgive it for the meaningless hoopla that serves its avaricious fundraising and public relations goals. We would not overly worry about the verbal pollution. Unfortunately, AIPAC's wrongs have consequences, some of them serious, as when it purposefully promotes the mirage of being super-influential, even as its activity has no bearing on the Middle East which is where Israel was located when I last looked. Unfortunately some people point to the mirage and the rhetoric that accompanies it as evidence that the Jewish lobby is all powerful. When academics, journalists and others with a pen make that point, we charge that they are inaccurate and unreliable, hostile to Israel and probably anti-Semitic.

Why are we surprised or upset when those who think ill of Israel trumpet what AIPAC wants us to accept? Why do we give ammunition to Israel's enemies?

AIPAC inverts the lobbying process which ordinarily consists of those outside of government striving to get government to accede to its demands. It coddles up to whomever is in power, never more so than during the past six years. In exchange for the appearance of influence and superficial access, it does the Administration's bidding. When it received marching orders to sack Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman and leave them to hang and dry while the Justice Department went about railroading these two former staff members, AIPAC was obedient. It apparently is a trifling to stab your own in the back when the reward for the perfidy is the Administration sending top officials to the convention. And this is why AIPAC is powerful?

This year's heavyweight was Vice President Dick Cheney who was anything but subtle when he insisted on American Jewish subservience on Iraq in exchange for Washington' toughness toward Iran. There was a double dose of mischief in this, firstly because the war in Iraq has resulted in a clear and present danger to Israel arising from the breakdown of the Sunni-Shia equilibrium and the resulting civil war. Worse yet, the Vice President was saying in effect that U.S. policy toward Iran is designed to accommodate American Jews and Israel.

I believe that AIPAC was set up by the White House which determined that Mr. Cheney would speak and that he would deliver his threatening message. Do we American Jews want to be identified with Mr. Bush's policy toward Iraq? If it helps any, AIPAC can claim that since it is supposed to echo the views of the Israeli government, its subservience mirrors that of Prime Minister Olmert who sent a message strongly supporting U.S. military action in Iraq. We do know, of course, that foreign policy and security matters are not Mr. Olmert's strong points.

His strange interpretation of what is happening in his neighborhood, as well as AIPAC's toadying, will not help Israel's cause on college campuses where Israel is being clobbered unjustly, with Jewish students overwhelmingly on the sidelines and more than a few participating in anti-Israel activity. The triangulation of Israel, Iran and Iraq - a new and unwelcome version on the three I's theme in American politics - will not abet Israel advocacy.

This newspaper headlined last week, "Apocalypse Now: Iran Threat Dominates AIPAC Confab." Instead of Iran being presented in the United States as a major concern for the American government, it is being marketed by us as an Israeli/Jewish concern that should be embraced by the American government because we Jews insist that it be embraced. Once upon a time, Jews were said to be smart. I wonder. Is there anyone inside AIPAC who understands the efficacy of quiet contacts, who understands that public screaming is invariably the antithesis of influence?

There is no prospect that AIPAC will pull back, that it will turn away from the hoopla that aims to call attention to itself, even if this hoopla both exaggerates Jewish influence and gives aid and comfort to our enemies. AIPAC's formula works well for AIPAC and that is what counts. Fundraising is going like gangbusters, the media lap it all up, more lemmings come each year, more members of Congress come each year. In short, AIPAC is enveloped in hubris and hubris is never an inducement for restraint. It apparently matters not at all that two former top staffers will soon be put on trial by an administration that it cozies up to.

AIPAC is smugly satisfied with what it has wrought and its legions of members are obedient and do what they are told to do. It is the destiny of lemmings to self-destruct, but that is no consolation.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Is Judaism Liberal or Conservative?

I know no one who is willing to work at the current minimum wage of five dollars and change per hour, nor anyone who would be willing to work at the minimum wage when it will be increased to seven dollars and change per hour or about $15,000 a year for a forty-hour work week. I know some folks who believe that it's right to keep the minimum wage low, that it's not wrong on moral and practical grounds to pay employees less than they need to provide for the basics of food, shelter and clothing. The people I know who accept this noxious notion are not Calvinists who believe in predestination, that those who are severely underprivileged are simply fulfilling their destiny on earth. They are, in the main, Orthodox Jews who have bought the conservative ideological agenda.

This is true of other issues, including environmentalism, personal liberty and gun control. Especially among the fervently Orthodox, there is a correlation between religious conservatism and ideological conservatism. In much the same way, there is a high correlation among a large majority of American Jews between their religious liberalism - actually it is not religious at all, but secularism - and their political liberalism. It was not always this way because for a long time Orthodox Jews were aligned with the prevailing Jewish opinion. They have changed big time. There are, to be sure, political liberals among the Orthodox and political conservatives among the non-Orthodox. Overall, the two sectors are moving further apart, both on theology and public policy.

There is among the most intensely religious, whether Jewish or of another religion, a natural affinity between theology and ideology. There are major social issues, such as abortion and homosexuality, where religious teachings and law are the guide. It is not that Orthodox Jews choose to be conservative on these matters. Their theology chooses for them. This is true, perhaps to a lesser extent, of contemporary attitudes and practices where the values and lifestyle in the general society are antithetical to a religious lifestyle.

Should this divide also engender an Orthodox rejection of the significant parts of the liberal agenda that concern social justice or protecting the environment? What about civil rights? Certainly, there is no reason for any religious Jew to buy into the mantra of the loathsome gun lobby, "Guns do not kill people. People kill people." The case can be made that if religious Jewish law is not necessarily clear about these public matters, they at least tend in the direction of liberalism. Furthermore, the fervently Orthodox have benefited from a great number of liberal policies and programs, including liberal immigration policies, allocation of public resources and anti-discrimination laws. How can the embrace of conservatism be justified?

What is at work is a syndrome in which the aspects of conservatism impelled by a religious commitment induce the acceptance of an entire spectrum of conservative positions. Instead of examining each issue on its own merits, the entire conservative package is accepted, a process that is obviously less complex and less stressful than deciding each issue separately. There is the additional benefit of appearing to avoid strange bedfellows, for if the Orthodox ally themselves with liberals on questions they regard as marginal to Judaism, they would be aligning themselves with those who preach and practice much that is directly and strongly hostile to their religious beliefs. Of course, being together with conservatives creates a different set of strange bedfellows.

The Times made this point in a March 10 editorial on "Evangelical Environmentalism". It could have made the case on global warming and the ethical "responsibility to protect the earth and all its inhabitants" without referring, as it did, to the conservative Christian position on homosexuality and abortion. By bringing in these issues, the newspaper gratuitously sent the message to Evangelicals who are environmentalists that they ought not be allied with those who abhor their core religious beliefs.

Although political correctness, whether of the liberal or conservative variety, creates a comfort zone, examining issues is what intelligent and responsible people do. It is folly to embrace conservatism whole hog and it is no less folly to adopt the whole nine yards of liberalism, including the strange notion that has been disproved at a cost of trillions of dollars and yet is clung to with perfect faith that spending tons of money on a social problem is the solution to social pathologies.

Nor has liberalism become more attractive as a consequence of its hostility to much of what religious life mandates, as well as its hostility to the creative, caring and necessary role of religion in the public square.

What is needed is the recognition that Judaism is not a political ideology. Our religion is not Democratic or Republican, nor is it politically liberal or conservative. There are issues that resonate in our religious laws and religious Jews must abide by halacha. On most matters, what we favor or how we vote are individual decisions, not religious imperatives. This truth is not altered by the spreading practice of certain rabbis who attach their names to declarations saying that it is a sacred obligation to support this or that candidate.

A Judaism that eschews political ideology can still marshal its spiritual resources to support fairness toward working people, insist on respect for privacy and civil rights and civil liberties, show strong concern for the environment and identify with other positions that have been labeled as liberal. We can continue to challenge the excesses of liberalism, whether they are manifested through the debasement of values or the mistaken view that freedom does not entail limitations and responsibility.

In short by being good Jews and not liberal or conservative, there are times when we ought to be aligned with conservatives and times when we ought to be in the liberal camp.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

RJJ Newsletter - March 2007

This isn't the worst of times for yeshivas and day schools and it also isn't the best of times. In earlier periods, yeshivas such as ours often were not able to make payroll, even though faculty were paid a pittance, and our schools were not able to meet other basic obligations. The lifespan of a typical American yeshiva during the first half of the twentieth century was relatively short. RJJ survived because of the heroic efforts of a small number of individuals, although at least twice our mesivta and high school program was terminated because the money wasn't there to keep it going.

There are yeshivas that close these days, although almost always because of declining enrollment resulting from demographic changes or competition from newer schools. Few yeshivas now live a hand to mouth existence. But the schools that serve an immigrant population or a kiruv mission or have a large number of children from poor families do struggle. It is tragic that enrollment in kiruv and immigrant schools has declined in recent years. As I write, the largest immigrant school in the U.S. and the largest outreach school are in crisis.

The best of times for the American yeshiva world was about a generation ago. Enrollment was growing in all sectors of Orthodox life. Torah Umesorah was a vital force in establishing day schools in places where there previously weren't any. Religious faculty salaries took a significant leap and there was much communal enthusiasm and support. Yeshivas weren't on easy street, yet the prevailing climate of opinion in Orthodox life was that these institutions were the primary instrumentality for ensuring religious commitment and continuity.

Of course, religious Jews today believe no less in Torah chinuch than they did then. In a sense, commitment has grown, as is evident in personal Torah study and in the mushrooming of kollels and other institutions of learning. What, then, is missing?

Part of the answer involves finances. Orthodox wealth has literally exploded, a development that is not even remotely reflected in the support being provided to basic Torah education. Rebbis' salaries at most yeshivas have been stagnant for years, this despite constant increases in the cost of living, especially for religious families, and constant increases in tuition. There is the poisonous attitude that I have decried for years, albeit with scant success, that relegates yeshiva education to the status of a consumer product that must be paid for by parents who are the consumers. It matters not that this attitude is a sharp rejection of our heritage, a rejection of the two-thousand year consensus in religious Jewish life that the community must share responsibility for the maintenance of schools that provide basic Torah education. This rupture is the primary reason for the tuition crisis that is convenient fodder for articles in our publications and speeches at our conventions. Alas, there isn' a yeshiva that can pay its staff or bills by presenting an article in Jewish Action, published by the Orthodox Union, or Jewish Observer, published by Agudath Israel, or the tape of a speech by a notable rabbi.

So the tuition crisis worsens, taking a heavy toll in shalom bayis and in how yeshivas operate. Still, the talk goes on. So does Torah Umesorah, although it is badly crippled, a condition that has hurt the day school movement. This truth will be masked after Pesach when day school and yeshiva principals have their annual convention, with hard-pressed Torah institutions footing the bill. The attendees will hear from eminent Roshei Yeshiva who doubtlessly will say all of the right things, except the desperately needed words that Torah schools at the elementary and high school levels must be supported by the community. As I have written, it has been a long while since there was a call by Roshei Yeshiva to support basic Torah education.

I have wondered for years why the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood devoted himself so greatly to the incipient day school movement. Why was he involved in chinuch issues at the elementary school level? He had other enormous burdens, including his own yeshiva, Chinuch Atzmai in Israel, and the responsibility to lead the entire Torah community. Yet, he felt it was his responsibility to give leadership, as well, to the day school world.

The attitudinal change that leaves our schools shortchanged is, at its core, an expression of not caring. This was apparent three years ago when the New York Federation stabbed our schools in the back by terminating basic grants. We were quiet then and we have been quiet since, delivering the message to the secular world that it is not important to assist these vital institutions. At best, we take our schools for granted. Excitement comes from other sources, including worthy enterprises in Israel, kollels and special chinuch situations. As for ordinary yeshivas and day schools, we reason that enrollment will continue to grow irrespective of the support they receive. Besides, there are too many schools to choose from and the path of least resistance is to give little or nothing to all of them. Like secular Jews, many of us have come to accept that chesed activities should have tzedakah priority.

The absence of leadership and insufficient caring account for the remarkable circumstance that there are students from good religious homes who themselves are good religious Jews who are not admitted to our schools. Without leadership, there is no planning. In contrast, in chassidic sectors where the fertility rate is higher and enrollment is growing more rapidly that in the yeshiva world, steps are routinely taken to create additional facilities and seats. In the chassidic world, students are not turned away because in the chassidic world there is leadership.

We may think that our wrongful attitude has no downside. We are wrong. What we are experiencing is not a victimless wrong. There are victims and they are in thousands of religious homes where the tuition crisis is not idle talk but a daily reality. Our schools are also victims, as are their faculty and staff. And there are victims in marginally observant and non-observant Jewish homes where there are families not being reached out to and children who are being deprived of the opportunity to embrace our glorious heritage.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Jewish Journalism and Intermarriage

Of the one-trillion or so words written about intermarriage since the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, nearly all have been devoted to demographic issues, including how marrying out affects our numbers and whether Jewish life is diminished or enhanced by the practice. We know that for many, intermarriage is now a different experience than it once was, that a significant number who wed non-Jews are determined to identify as Jews and to be involved in some fashion in Jewish life. This transformation has induced attitudinal and behavioral changes in families that have experienced intermarriage and in other associations.

As a consequence, most American Jews, among them fierce opponents of intermarriage, have what may be regarded as a more tolerant attitude toward the intermarried and their families. The welcome mat is not quite out, nor has it been taken in. The critical mass of intermarried, as well as sanguinity and proximity, have bred a measure of accommodation. We are light years away from the intermarried walking entirely out of Jewish life and light years away from the stereotypical picture of parents sitting shiva and saying Kaddish when a child married out.

While we may know how intermarriage impacts on American Jewish life, we know little about how it is navigated within families and other close relationships or about its impact on our organizational and communal life. Are the intermarried, including spouses and offspring, shunned? How are they treated in our shuls and schools? Are they invited to family events? When they show up, are they regarded as an embarrassment or pariahs? What, in short, is their and our comfort level, including interactions with those who strongly oppose intermarriage?

This isn't a taboo subject, nor has it been sufficiently addressed in our sociological literature. What seems to have happened is a pattern of accommodation, perhaps in much the same way that other deviations from our religious norms are handled. The offspring of intermarriage are generally accepted by most Orthodox day schools, but not yeshivas, even when the mother is not Jewish. Of course, overwhelmingly intermarried parents choose a different educational path. Synagogue life is also witness to increased accommodation, although with the exception of Reform, most intermarried families do not participate. In our organizational life, the doors are almost always wide open.

Accommodation, if not acceptance, is evident in many Orthodox communal and social transactions, probably because it could not be otherwise. Religious Jews can insist that kosher food be served at events they participate in. They cannot insist on the genealogical purity of other participants. When I dabble in demography and estimate the number of American Jews, I do not emulate what Major League Baseball did when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record and put an asterisk next to the figure to indicate that it must be qualified because a number of those who are counted are not Jews according to religious Jewish law.

The accommodatory stance toward those who marry out is evident in family relations where those who cast away the prohibition against intermarriage are by and large not regarded as outcasts. At simchas and other gatherings, there is a certain warmth toward the sinners, perhaps less so if they come with their non-Jewish spouses. This may be an inconvenient truth. The prevalence of intermarriage, the American ethos of tolerance and the socio-psychological imperative to avoid stress in face to face encounters combine to produce a high degree of civility when mishpachas and friends get together.

This reality lends support to Gary Rosenblatt's response, published two weeks ago, to those who object to Julie Wiener's monthly column in this newspaper. Typically, she describes her experiences arising from her interfaith marriage. As he put it, the "important voice" of "interfaith families themselves" has been largely missing from our discussion of intermarriage, pointing out that "intermarriage is here to stay - affecting the majority of Jewish families indirectly if not directly - and that our [journalistic] job is to report on the community as it is, not just as we would like it to be."

There is, however, a large difference between assigning a reporter to write about life among the intermarried and providing space on a regular basis to an intermarried columnist to describe her life as an intermarried Jew. The former is a journalistic exercise, while the latter inevitably becomes advocacy, the message being that stuff happens and Jewish life goes on. What is being transmitted is the view that one can be fully intermarried and fully Jewish. This isn't what Jewish journalism should be about. Nor is the message accurate, as Steven M. Cohen and other researchers have documented, even if it may be accurate in Julie Wiener's situation.

It is good and necessary to describe how our families live their Jewish lives. A good place to start - there are others - is to examine families that live a fully religious life. Although there has been improvement over the years in this newspaper so that every wart among the Orthodox is no longer a catalyst for a front-page story, it remains that much of what has been written about this segment is bigoted and/or inaccurate. What we do not get is a profile of typical Orthodox families. We do not see their sacrifice, how hard they work, how they are raising their children, how time is devoted to Torah study and how time is devoted to helping others.

It would be good journalism if those who determine what is published would be as open to families that cling to our heritage and practices as they are to those who abandon our heritage and practices. This column arose from the determination to present a more accurate picture of Jewish life.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Writing and Righting Wrongs in Israel

Not long ago, a woman whom I had known in the U.S. was returning with her husband to their Jerusalem apartment when they realized that it was being burglarized. With the help of neighbors, they subdued the burglar and held him until the police arrived and took the fellow into custody, along with his stash of cash and jewelry. The victims quickly realized that they should retrieve what had been taken and hurried to the neighborhood police station. When their possessions were returned, the money was gone. Soon enough, the culprit was gone because he was never prosecuted.

Welcome to the world of Israeli police, a world where at times it is hard to distinguish between the criminals and the lawmen. According to the just-released report of the Zeiler Commission which examined aspects of Israeli police conduct, this is a rotten and corrupt world infiltrated by the Israeli mafia where cops commit murder and their foul deeds are covered up by higher-ups.

In this regard, Israel's police may not be worse than police elsewhere. Corruption is an inevitable companion of police work. Last year, there was a trial in Brooklyn of two much-decorated former New York's finest who for years served as mob hitmen. What makes Israel's police story most depressing is that this huge governmental force does little to combat or investigate ordinary crime. Some of this has to do with its vital role in maintaining security, scarcely an excuse for the high tolerance exhibited toward criminal activity.

When thousands of cars were being stolen off the street and shipped a short distance to Arab chop shops, the police saw nothing. Israeli cities are plagued by burglaries but unless the culprit falls directly into the arms of the cops, there is no investigation and no arrest. Israelis protect their homes by putting bars on their windows and locked gates on their porches.

Although there has been improvement because of public pressure, the forced sexual slavery of thousands of women, mainly from the Former Soviet Union, remains a deep stain on Israel's record. The slave trade exists not because it is hard to track down - Israel is a small country and the police have stores of information on everyone - but because the police have been bought off.

It's not that the police are entirely inactive. While they do little about ordinary crime, they are adept at clubbing demonstrators, whether they be Arabs or fervently Orthodox Jews or settlers. They also specialize in investigating real and alleged misdeeds of those who are in power, usually making mountains out of molehills and indulging along the way in leaks and other behavior designed to promote the notion that those who are targeted are guilty before they are accused. Each Prime Minister over the past twenty years has been harassed; none has been indicted. It is sufficient reward for the police that their prey has been found guilty by the media. Occasionally they have a scalp, as in the incredible trial of former Justice Minister Haim Ramon who was convicted of kissing a female subordinate without getting her advanced permission.

Israel's police are in desperate need of reform, meaning bottom to top changes starting with how they are trained and the definition of their role. They should follow the example of the U.S. where over the past generation there has been enormous improvement, thanks in part to the Ford Foundation's funding of the Police Institute in Washington. Hopefully, instead of endowing one more unneeded building on an Israeli campus, some philanthropist will fund such an enterprise in Israel.

Much else in Israel is sorely in need of reform. Successive commissions have examined basic education and called, even pleaded for changes. Few of their recommendations have been implemented and the failure level in many Israeli schools has passed crisis proportions. A friend who is at a major foundation told me how its reform efforts at the elementary school level have been thwarted by the mafia-type leader of the teacher's union.

Israel banking system is another scandal area. Consumers are ripped off and the sum is staggering. The Knesset is considering reform legislation; the smart money is on those who have the money to purchase maintenance of the harmful status quo.

The need for reform reaches the Supreme Court. People of stature in legal and political circles have long challenged the court's anti-democratic reach, its usurptation of authority, its endless interference in the operations of government officials and agencies and its self-perpetuating composition. In a remarkable recent article in Haaretz, Ari Shavit who is one of Israel's most respected journalists wrote of "inside information" testifying "to the outlook" that "the law enforcement system in Israel does not operate in good faith but as the long arm of the Supreme Court."

Shavit told of "a senior minister whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice" who decided that he could not take the position because he was convinced that if he did, "he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation." The police would find "some criminal pretext or another."

What is written about these matters in the Diaspora? Next to nothing. We may debate relations with Palestinians, withdrawal from this or that piece of territory and so on, but on domestic Israeli matters we are conditioned to be cheerleaders. Our silence inadvertently reinforces what is wrong. It gives me little satisfaction that I was the first American Jewish writer to describe Israel's sordid complicity in human trafficking or that for years I have written about Israel's dysfunctional police.

We need more writers to challenge what is wrong. Else, what is wrong won't be righted.