Tag Archives: Jewish

When the greater good isn’t good enough

When we hear comments such as, “Mussolini made the trains run on time,” or “Madoff was a prominent philanthropist,” does anyone today take those as actual excuses for bad behavior? As a world, should we slap them on the wrist and say the greater good was served, making the evils inconsequential?

In this day and age it is hard to imagine anyone real throwing these two a lifeline. So why in some circles, and often Orthodox Jewish ones, do we allow “He may be guilty at times of what I would consider ‘tough love’ … perhaps going overboard and embarrassing people, but … he cares deeply about the students and wants to keep them on the straight path,” to be an excuse when it comes to our children and Torah education?

When I was a child in yeshiva on the Lower East Side, we had rabbis who hit us. Second grade was known for the yardstick knuckle smack down, and parents never complained when their kids came home with bruises on their hands. For me, it wasn’t until fifth grade when our rebbe, known for smacking his students, whacked me so hard that someone in my family took notice.

My mother probably thought the rabbi was doing her a favor, and never said a word. My uncle, at the time, a charming looking Burt Reynolds type, with a thick mustache, chest hairs coming out of his 1970s collared shirt, mirrored aviators – you get the picture, walked in to class one day and called the rabbi outside for a minute.

(Read More in the Jewish Star)

Juda Engelmayer is President and Partner with the NY PR agency, HeraldPR

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Iron clad isn’t necessarily rock solid: How Israel fares to America

January 26, 2012
By Juda Engelmayer

Our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.” — President Barack Obama

This 19 word sentence contained within the 6992 word State of the Union address, President Barack Obama practically singled out Israel as if to highlight to his Jewish supporters and detractors alike, that he is the best friend the Jews have had. Other nations, or nation’s capitals were mentioned as allies, but only Israel was assured such an “Iron-clad commitment”.

For all the accolades and loud cheers in the House Chamber, however, the words that the President chose were quite careful and maybe even telling. Unlike Europe and Asia, which he called America’s “oldest alliances,” and the “Americas”, with which he said our ties “are deeper,” America, he said, is committed to Israel’s security. We accept that and know it, and have seen the “closest military cooperation between” Israel and the United States in history take shape in the iron-clad Iron Dome mobile missile defense system that the U.S. has helped build in Israel.

The President’s security and military assurances might imply a harsh acceptance of the present and future. Is it easier to arm a nation and prepare it for a battle than it is to resolve the root cause of the threat in the first place? Not to make a perfect comparison, , but when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani saw some of New York City’s more dangerous neighborhoods, he did not put guns in the hands of the decent people living there, but eliminated the dangers, locked up the criminals and took the streets back. The same strategies are being deployed in cities like Newark, Compton and others across the country, where law enforcement and public leaders seek to eradicate crime and eliminate the root causes of the danger.

Of course crime is not the same as ideology, and the issues that affect dangerous cities and those that drive the forces in the Middle East are not the same, but the essence of the argument is no different. Sure Israel needs better weaponry for the time being, as she needs to have a strong deterrent for her enemies, but wouldn’t the prudent course be to help clean up the neighborhood rather than, or in the case, along with, arming the decent people who are stuck in the middle. Israel is indeed in the middle of a world of nations seeking to destroy it.

The right thing to do is for the President to call the issues as they are and boldly condemn those who would seek to harm Israel. He should pound the point of the unyielding cries within the “governments” of Hamas and Hezbollah to destroy Israel. He should decry the hypocritical comments by people like Maen Areikat, the PLO “Ambassador” to the United States who said Jews would not be allowed in the Palestinian State, while Palestinians demand access to all of Israel. He should acknowledge that the divide separating Jews and Moslems in the Middle East is not about land, but about a true and deep seeded belief among many in positions of influence that the G-d of Islam wants his adherents to stamp out the Jews and erase all traces of Israel. Only then can we begin to discuss the terms of any “peace,” and try to find land agreements that would keep the distance sufficiently

Instead, this President and his administration have chosen to ignore the true cause of the problems in the region; the ideological hatred that will not be negotiated away. In his third State of the Union the President declared that “a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a to Tripoli,” but left out the inconvenient truth that the fundamental Islamists are winning the hearts and minds of the people and miring those lands deeper into trends of intolerance, violence and hatred. Liberty is not coming; tyranny is rising, and that will not bode well for Israel or the United States.

On May 19th, 2011, President Obama said that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines.” This sentiment is nothing new; those words have been spoken by many before – Jews and Israelis alike.. However, it seemed to have belied what many thought the President had learned to appreciate – the need for defensible borders. Four month later, when he stood before the U.N. General Assembly on September 21, he said,

Let us be honest with ourselves:  Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses.  Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.  Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map.  The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are.  Those are facts.  They cannot be denied.

Then in November, the administration was so harsh with Israel over building in Jerusalem and the West Bank, it was as if the President’s words to the U.N. – only two months prior- were delivered to placate Jews after the May 19th debacle.

As soon as the pressure was off, he went back to the old routine of chastising the Jews and making moral equivalences to the plights of the two peoples living alongside each other. One people are the startup nation who built a burgeoning society that has contributed so much knowledge and value to the world, and the other is a people hell-bent seeing the former destroyed.

The President, in his speech, devoted most of his attention to the economy, jobs, taxes and government reform and he spent very little time on foreign affairs. That’s actually a good thing. Yet, in that small allotment of time, he gave Israel a shout-out and emphasized how the U.S. cares for her security. For his supporters, they will say that proves what a friend he is, but a real friend cares enough to help make sure that the use of the war machines are the very last resort.

Juda Engelmayer is President and Partner with the NY PR agency, HeraldPR

This article was written for the Jewish Star


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Filed under Creative Writing, Islam, Israel, Judasim, Media, New York City, Obama, War against Israel

New Short Film/Video, Rainbow in the Night, Expresses Triumph and Hope

January 27, will mark the 7th annual UN Holocaust Remembrance Day. The purpose is to honor the victims of the Holocaust and establish recollections of the tragedies for future generations from preventing genocide from ever occurring again.

In coordination with UN Remembrance Day, director Daniel Finkelman recently filmed one of the first scripted and reenacted music videos, set during the Holocaust entitled, “Rainbow in the Night”.  The video offers viewers an emotional and visual outlook into life in Poland, 1939.

“Rainbow in the Night” was filmed in multiple locations including Crakow, Poland, New York and the crew was even given special permission to tape in the Majdanek concentration camp.  By filming the scenes in Poland, Mr. Finkelman envisioned that viewers would better understand the conditions and treatment the prisoners experienced. Mr. Finkelman designated the slogan, “The Last Survivor,” as the main concept for the music video. Once the final Holocaust survivor passes away, younger generations will have to refer to books and documentaries to learn about the tragic events.

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Can Jack Lew do for Obama what AmeriCorps did for Clinton?

When the son of an Israeli Irgun member, left the White House to run for mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel left a void not quite filled by his replacement Bill Daley. In many respects Daley was not able to fill the shoes for the President. He could not get the respect of those he needed on the Hill and even within the Administration to be an effective advocate for Mr. Obama. So when Daley seemingly abruptly resigned this week, there was no hesitation before New Yorker and perennial Washington insider Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, was called on to step in.

Lew makes for an interesting choice for Mr. Obama, as he is one who has the respect of both sides. He comes with impressive credentials stemming from his days working for Democratic Congressman Joe Moakley and the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill. More recently, he was an executive at Citicorp where he ran a group that made alternative investments, such as hedge funds, credit swaps and other creative financial mechanisms that people such as the President say has hurt the economy.

Read More at Yahoo Contributor Network or the Jewish Star

Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5W Public Relations and a contributor to the Cutting Edge News. This article was adapted from the Jewish Star

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Filed under Israel, Judasim, Obama, Religion

Goldstone is Foolish, Bolton is Right and Obama’s an Enigma

When Ambassador John Bolton wrote in the WSJ the other day about the sad state of affairs at the U.N. and the Obama Administration’s choices now, several thoughts hit me.  A leftist Jewish judge was duped by his own naiveté and President Obama’s Middle East strategy and relationship to Israel makes very little sense to even an expert onlooker.

While I agree with Bolton on what the President’s strategy should be, Obama won’t back away from the United Nation’s farce of a Human Rights Council because he doesn’t truly view its positions on Israel as a negative. His politics and policies indicate that there is sympathy for the general U.N. bias against Israel; if sympathy is the wrong word, try political expedience for the support base to which Obama campaigned and is indebted to. I believe a combination of the two is a better explanation.

The enigma here is that he surrounded himself with key staffers whom are undoubtedly in Israel’s corner.  His Chief of Staff stands out on the top of that list; Rahm Emanuel is a son of Sabras, and a father who served the Irgun While more left leaning that I consider myself on Israel, he is a supporter.  There are others, and they have Obama’s confidence, which makes one wonder what we are all missing, or if the President’s mass appeal that turns people to mush and sends thrill up reporters’ extremities, blinds the best of us.

As to Justice Richard Goldstone, the former judge of the Constitutional Court
of South Africa, he may be a well meaning judge, and I expect he is no fool.  Yet, he fooled himself. In preparing and endorsing the report which bears his name, he should have known from consistent historical occurrences that even when a leftist Jew trying hard to see it from the “other side,” feeling a need to placate and play devil’s advocate in the public eye – as he attempted to do with his report – the attempt often fails and gets used as further “proof” that Israel is wrong.

One need not look further that the 1967 war that was thrust on Israel.  Three Arab forces tried to eliminate Israel, but Israel beat them back; yet it has since been made to look like an aggressor that baselessly stole property and destroyed the lives of the Palestinians.  In 1973, a surprise war on Yom Kippur further forced Israel’s hand and further made Israel into the bad guys.  Two falsehoods that have prevailed through today.

I am more shocked that Justice Goldstone seemed shocked at the rhetoric of the U.N. H.R.C than I am at the the H.R.C itself.  In fact, I am not shocked at the United Nations members at all.  I knew it would happen, and I’m just a U.N. outside observer, like most of us out there.  if not this report, it would have been something else.

Now we have our President Obama weighing in.  He is very possibly in way over his head if he thinks the world is going to change just because he – the rockstar – is president now. All he is doing is offering the anti-democracy, despotic and terrorist regimes time to plan more while he contemplates just how he will actually earn his Nobel .

The Goldstone Report is a foolish endeavor, as it criticized “both sides” but does not really help anyone find the path to peace; for it ignores the basic underlying truth in the Middle East: This is not about land, not about economy, trade, agriculture or human rights at all, it is about ideology, pride and an unrelenting belief by too many under the Muslim faith, that Jews (Christians too), Israel, human rights and Democracy all fly in the face of a God they revere, worship and insist wants to see the world turned upside down in his honor.

There is no negotiating with God, no deals to be made and certainly few to no accommodations made that would preclude the ultimate goal of Shariah law and total buy-in to their beliefs and way of life. To anyone claiming that this is just s small radicalized minority within Islam, why not then ask the silent majority take some more responsibility for their errant brethren, and let them begin to vocally- and physically if needed – set this awful condition right and pave the road to peace once and for all without blood and lopsided compromises.

Juda Engelmayer is President and Partner with the NY PR agency, HeraldPR

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All I Know I Learned in High School

It was back in Washington Heights, Manhattan in 1986, I was sixteen years old and in 11th grade at the Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy/Yeshiva University High School for Boy – lovingly referred to MTA to this day, and we were quite a group of misfits. That school taught me everything I would need to survive; not much in the area of academics, though. Imagine Lord of the Flies set in Anatevka. Not to reinvent the wheel here, as I believe that my comrade Shalom Auslander who trailed me by a year, accurately captured my experiences in his brilliantly illustrated autobiography, A Foreskin’s Lament.

It was there in MTA, where often timid little naive Jewish kids, many from suburban neighborhoods, descended daily on the Dominican Republic’s satellite city in the very upper corner of Manhattan, that I learned valuable lessons on life. Some of us found drugs, some found religion, others found new friends and even new found inner strength. All of us, however, learned the value of money – that if you had it, you were treated one way, and if not, you were just cast out.

Two juniors took a freshman for a magic carpet ride on his first marijuana high. The kid broke down and told his parents who then told the principal. The junior whose father was a school benefactor was given probation and the junior from a family with somewhat less money and who was likely on scholarship, was expelled. That didn’t come as a shock, but it was one of the most blatant hypocritical contrasts to what we were taught about God and religion and the reality of everyday life. Yet, I cannot complain because I benefited too, no doubt.

My advantage wasn’t money, for I didn’t grow up with much. It was the next valuable lesson, influence. My father – who by the way, just successfully survived major surgery – was the executive editor at the New York Jewish Week back then; the Jewish publication with the largest circulation at the time and was also an important propaganda engine for the Yeshiva University network of schools. I had a bad habit of getting myself thrown out of school for doing little more than expressing my concerns for the quality of my education.

There was the time I was sitting in Talmud (Gemara) class, referred to as a Shiur, and the head of school came in to test us young men on what we knew – or didn’t. It was a random thing. Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen, a tall, thin, beady eyed man with a long white beard, soft spoken, with a deliberately and distinctively enunciated diction that sounded like a throaty Bostonian accent with an Eastern European twinge will always be remembered by me and hundreds of my fellow inmates for his performance in the Wilf Auditorium of the high school decrying the message of the one-hit-wonder pop song by Samantha Fox, “Touch Me!”

That day, he stood up in front of an entire school of young impressionable lads and started flailing his arms wildly, touching himself and yelling “touch me’, “touch me” as he went into a rant over inappropriate messages of modern music. Any one of us that day who did not know the song before hand, went out and bought it, or borrowed the cassette to copy. Good thinking rabbi.

That same approach was successfully employed by Mel Gibson’s folks earlier this decade when they had the Anti-Defamation League publicly oppose his movie The Passion of The Christ. ADL successfully raised funds for its organization, and Mel got better advertising than he could have otherwise afforded to fund for this project. Yet, I digress…

So, we were in Bobo’s class (not his real name, but we kind of referred to our rabbi by it; it was passed down for years before we ever got to his class), well known for being a den of miscreants. One of our esteemed class clowns was comedian Elon Gold, who had a sitcom on network television, many cable comedy programs and does stand-up. I like to believe that he tested many of his early jokes in this class. Now, Rabbi Cohen walked into our class one day and picked up the book of the Talmud that we were presumably learning from and he randomly called on students to answer questions.

We were learning from Tractate Bava Kama, but that didn’t really matter to most of us. He would pick out a word or a phrase and then call on a student to explain it. After a few students had their turn to varying degrees of success, he points his finger into the Talmud and quietly read the words “Esnan Zonah,” simply defined as money paid to prostitute for her services. Now the issue here was about whether an item given in exchange for this money may be offered as a sacrifice, but more to the point.

Rabbi Cohen stated the term and looked up from the book and called out, “Yehuuuudddaa En-Gel-May-errr.” I looked up at him and asked him, “Yes Rabbi?” He continued, “What does ‘Esnan Zonah’ mean?”

Being in an uncomfortable situation here, having to talk to a rabbi about such issues, I simply stated, “money given to a prostitute for her services.” He came back at me with, “What does it mean… what are you paying for, why does it matter?” I stared at him, and just restated “it is money paid to a prostitute for her services.” The rabbi looked at me, clearly bemused by what he saw as my vacant answer and said, “Services? Did she go down to Heshy’s (local coffee shop) and buy you a danish?” I gulped. All that I could mutter from my mouth, caught somewhere between fighting my instinct to be a wise ass and not wanting to have a conversation with this rabbi about what turning tricks is all about, was “Rabbi, if you’re not clear, I don’t think that I should be the one to tell you.” Bobo spit his soda out of his mouth laughing.  Sure it was funny, but I got kicked out of class and “expelled” for it.

So, I did what became habit for me, and I called my father and told him my version of the truth. He moaned, yet still did his part and called his friends at the Yeshiva University Board of Directors who wanted to maintain a positive relationship with the newspaper.  I was told to report back to school the next day. When I approached the school steps the next morning, the principal was standing there and said to me, “I don’t appreciate getting calls from the Board of Directors about you,” and I just said smugly, “Then don’t kick me out anymore.”

Lesson learned here: it’s not what you know, but who you know.

I graduated, life goes on. I learned so much about life at MTA; valuable lessons in street smarts, politics and diplomacy, and surviving. It was the kind of school where the smart kids did just fine and those who struggled continued to do so, just keeping their heads low so to stay off the administrator’s radar.

Fortunately, my children will never be in a place like that. Our hope is that the schools they are in will help them grow academically and spiritually, and will also gain some of the moxie we found in the dark corridors of that old musty building in Washington Heights.

Juda Engelmayer is President and Partner with the NY PR agency, HeraldPR


Filed under Career and choices, Children, Christian Zionism, Education, Judasim

Getting the kids back to Israel


Although I grew up in a very Jewish household, I was only connected to Israel through the work my father did as a Jewish newspaper journalist, associated with the AJPA, the Jewish Press and, in the Eighties, as the executive editor of the New York Jewish Week.

I knew the names, the events and the struggle, but it wasn’t something I internalized. Israel was 6,000 miles away, and I was a poor kid in a dysfunctional family on New York’s Lower East Side, something of a common combination. The issue of Israel’s fate wasn’t very high on my list of priorities, and certainly far below my own immediate need for satisfying personal aspirations and indulgences.

Opportunity knocked, though. It was 1988; I was 19 and headed to Israel for the first time. This wasn’t a high-minded trip to seek out Zion and the Holy Land, but a decidedly personal trek, to be with the woman I would marry a year-and-a-half later. My girlfriend’s father had developed into an uncompromisingly hawkish American Religious Zionist. Upon her graduation from high school, his daughter was promptly dispatched to an Israeli yeshiva, essentially for ideological guidance, but actually to keep her away from me.

While he happily failed in the pursuit of the latter, it isn’t as if he achieved wild success in the former. My wife cares for Israel, true, but she never developed that deeper sense of longing for the country that I would.

IT HAD been four months since we had seen each other last. Unbeknownst to her, I got a ticket on an El Al flight and landed the day after Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The ecstatic expression on her face made my efforts worthwhile. Yet it was soon chilled when we walked that night through Jerusalem and saw the remnants of a group of students from Syracuse University scheduled for that ill-fated flight. These students had been fortunate enough to choose to divert to Israel for a few days after their school trip to London. They were crying in the middle at Zion Square over what we learned was the death of their friends and classmates and the eerie sense that it just as easily could have been them.

The initial hints of connections to Abu Nidal, Islamic Jihad, Abdel Basset Ali and Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi made it clear that Israel was going to be blamed as the catalyst for this mass murder. Suddenly, being a Jew and being a Zionist hit me hard – it wasn’t just a moniker, it was a cause some view as worth killing for, while my own yearnings told me it was a cause worth fighting for; and one we would fight for a long time to come.

I took my girlfriend out of the yeshiva; she stayed with me at my stepmother’s flat in Jerusalem’s Nach’laot neighborhood, right across from the Pargod Jazz Club. We traveled the country and hung out at clubs and bars – not the Americanized ones, but real sabra hangouts. The true miracle here was that I fell in love with Israel; its breathtaking sunsets, its deep warmth, its glorious history and innumerable contributions to humankind, its troublesome narrative and its bizarre internal religious identity crisis; and, mostly, its people. My people!

I LONG for Israel, shed tears while I sing or hear Hatikva, and walked down my wedding aisle to Naomi Shemer’s evocative Al Kol Eleh (For All these Things). I have been there as many times as I can, and through my career and my personal activities have always been close to Israel, have fought for it and will defend it forever. A few years ago, on my children’s first trip to Israel, my son’s great joy was sitting alone with me at a small outdoor grill off Rehov Azza in Jerusalem, eating schnitzel in pita stuffed with pickles and humus. He didn’t need to do anything more but take in the city sun, absorb the tones of Jerusalem stone adorning every building and watch the cars and the people pass by. I felt proud and content, for the moment.

For the moment only – because I know there is so much to do. If it were so easy to create new Zionists and defenders of Israel through outdoor grills and Mediterranean air, I suspect Israel’s future would seem immutable, rendering the politics of whoever American Zionists choose as the 44th president immaterial. Yet my son’s attachment comes from what he sees in my heart and eyes as much as from the school he attends. His being there only brought it to the surface. For so many, attachment is lacking, and that is where the work needs to begin.

WHAT ISRAEL needs is a new approach. One that will keep it important – central – to the lives and hearts of people around the world, living in an ever more secularized and assimilated society. Many young Israelis themselves, tired of living in a perpetual state of war and with internal religious struggles, no longer feel the Zionism of their elders.

Daunting questions stemming from as far back as Sabra and Shatila haunt Israelis. They continue with failed terrorist assassination attempts, bad press in Jenin, as well as in Gaza and Amona, the Second Lebanon War fiasco, and then the countless, pointless and absolutely heartbreaking collection of corruption stories on every level of Israel’s government and of every variety, from money to sex. Israel was supposed to be the savior of the Jewish people and the return to Zion that God promised in the Bible. Yet Jews are debating whether Israel today is that redemption from Diaspora. How to improve Israel’s image? The simple solution for now is better public relations.

We’re all about cell phones and fancy cars, trendy clothes and American Idol, Facebook and JDate. What Israel can use is less talk about politics, less news about internal and external troubles and more about what Israel offers the world today. Just about all that we are today, from Asia to the Americas, developed, underdeveloped and undeveloped, stems from some iconic trend, personality or technology; and Israel, as small as it may seem, has enough of all to offer.

Israel can and should be known for harnessing the sun to replace oil as an energy resource; for innovative Internet applications; for medicine, bio medicine and stem cell advances far beyond that of most other countries; for music and art and some of today’s mainstream celebrities like the Apple songstress Yael Na’im, American Idol Elliot Yamin, Natalie Portman, and the infamous Gene Simmons.

That is the Israel our children will look to, and that is the Israel that will survive the daily news and routine thrashing from her mendacious opponents. If Israel can learn to deal with its own internal strife and make an organized effort to promote what’s good and relevant to today’s generation, then my fond memories of debating in Israel’s pubs and watching the sunrise over Masada as I escaped New York to chase a dream can be succeeded by my own child’s memory of eating schnitzel and humus at a sidewalk cafe, and maybe one day infusing his longing for Israel into his own children.

Juda Engelmayer is President and Partner with the NY PR agency, HeraldPR .

A version of this article also appeared on Yahoo Voices

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Filed under Career and choices, Christian Zionism, Israel, Juda Engelmayer, Judasim