Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ba'Olam will be back on Wednesday

on Wednesday, April 18

It’s the Economy: The Amazing Matzo Stimulus

Graphic by Peter Oumanski
When Aron Streit started making matzo in 1916, unleavened bread was a serious growth business, at least on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. By the late 1920s, Streit could afford to build a special machine that mixed, kneaded and cooked dough. A decade later, his family added the cotton gin of kosher food — an automated conveyor belt with a Rube Goldberg-esque basket system that moved the matzo to a packaging area on a higher floor. They even opened a retail store next door that allowed customers to watch it in action.

Visiting the Streit’s Matzos factory became such a tradition for Jews in the neighborhood that many refused to buy any other brand — and so did their children and so on. And partly because of this loyalty, the company hasn’t had to significantly upgrade its technology since World War II. “Nothing changes,” Aron Yagoda, Streit’s great-grandson, says. “As long as they don’t change Passover, we have built-in sales.”

During the eight-day Passover holiday, which ends this week, religious law mandates that all Jews give up any bread product or grain-based food other than matzo. As a result, each spring ushers in a matzo stimulus. And I wondered, as both an economics reporter and a Jew, whether it was good to sell something that about 2 percent of the U.S. population has to buy for one week a year but isn’t all that popular at any other time or with any other group? Can a matzo manufacturer remain profitable this way forever, or like Apple, does it need to eventually reach beyond a group of religious followers and appeal to the mainstream?

According to the marketing firm Lubicom, around $130 million worth of matzo is sold each year. During Passover, about 20 percent of it is sold by Streit’s. Most manufacturers would love to take in around $17 million for a single holiday without needing to invest in new equipment. But Yagoda says it’s not so easy. Sales are stable, but flour and labor costs continue to rise, and operating a manufacturing business in Lower Manhattan is logistically complicated. When I asked Yagoda, who now runs the company with his cousins, why he hasn’t moved to a new industrial site in a lower-cost state, he insisted that Streit’s would be acting disloyal if it didn’t offer the exact same matzo, made in the exact same oven (with the exact same New York City tap water), that his customers’ grandparents bought. -- Adam Davidson, NY Times

To read more, click here.

The Rabbi Is a Cop

Rabbi Alvin Kass, the NYPD chaplain,
joined the police force as an officer when he was 30.
Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal
I was forced to turn down Rabbi Alvin Kass's invitation to attend Tuesday morning's annual meeting at police headquarters between the New York Police Department and members of the Jewish community to discuss security at synagogues in advance of Passover; I write this column first thing in the morning. But I did manage to visit him in his office the previous afternoon—less to discuss security than matters of the spirit.

Rabbis come in all shapes and sizes. But it's probably safe to say that Rabbi Kass is the only one in the metropolitan area, or greater planet Earth for that matter, who attends to his flock in the uniform of a high-ranking police official. It boasts gold stars on its shoulders and lapel pins depicting the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

"I'm an assistant chief and the chief chaplain," explained the rabbi, who marked his 46th year on the job a few weeks ago. He's the longest-serving chaplain in the history of the NYPD and the first to achieve the rank of assistant chief. -- Ralph Gardner, Jr., Wall Street Journal

To read more, click here.

Mike Wallace on being a Jew

Wallace, who died on April 7 at 93, was senior correspondent for “60 Minutes” and a reporter for CBS News for 40 years. The following excerpt written by Wallace is from “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.”
Mike Wallace, Co-Editor 60 MINUTES, and CBS NEWS Correspondent
is pictured in this 2001 CBS photograph. Photo by REUTERS/Peter Freed/CBS
Occasionally down the years I’ve winced at being labeled a “self-hating Jew” because my reporting from the Middle East was perceived as tainted by hostility toward Israel. It wasn’t true, of course, but I figured it came with the territory, meaning that I was deemed biased because I reported accurately what was happening on the other side, with the Palestinians.

And it turned out that every once in a while it was helpful to me as a reporter, for the fact that I am Jewish and not in the pocket of the Israelis seemed to appeal to movers and shakers in Cairo and Damascus and Riyadh, who were willing to talk to me on the record with some candor. -- Jewish Journal quoted from essay © Dr. Judea and Ruth Pearl, Jewish Lights Publishing,

To read more, click here.

White House rejects plea for Pollard release

Jonathan Pollard. Photo by Wikipedia/U.S. Navy
The White House on Monday evening rejected fervent Israeli and American appeals to commute the life sentence of Jonathan Pollard and release him after 26 years in prison.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told reporters that the Obama administration “has no intention to release Pollard.”

Pollard was convicted in 1985 of violating the Espionage Act and passing classified information to Israel, while working as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst.

The White House statement came in response to a letter received the same day from Israeli President Shimon Peres, seeking clemency for the 57-year old Pollard and particularly citing his deteriorating health. -- Tom Tugend, Jewish Journal

To read more, click here.

Mexican town celebrates Easter with ‘burning of the Jews’

A small Chiapas town ends its Holy Week observance by parading Jewish effigies through the streets, then setting them on fire
The 2006 film 'Borat' depicted an absurd 'Running of the Jew' ceremony.
In Mexico, a newspaper is reporting on a genuine 'Burning of the Jews' event.
(Illustrative photo credit: Ruben Fleischer/20th Century Fox)
The world is full of charming Easter traditions, but this isn’t one of them.

A newspaper in Mexico is detailing Sunday’s “burning of the Jews,” an annual tradition in Coita, a small town in the state of Chiapas. As part of the custom, locals spend the middle of their Holy Week making Jewish effigies — a reference to Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus before his crucifixion.

The fake Jews are then displayed for three days in different parts of the town, serving as an example of poor conduct.

They’re ultimately paraded through the streets on Easter Sunday, with local children assigned to stand in front of them and collect money for flammable materials.

The article notes that the tradition differs in Coita, where locals set fire to the effigies on Easter itself, rather than the day before, as in other towns. The burning is followed by a dance, where locals eat a corn treat made with cocoa. The article says the custom “strengthens” the culture of the Zoque, an indigenous people in southern Mexico who were converted to Catholicism.

The ceremony seems to echo, to some extent, the “Running of the Jew” event depicted in Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 movie “Borat” — a work of fiction.

The Chiapas Herald takes an uncritical view of the ritual, reporting that it “fosters unity and respect” and “purifies the soul.” Nathan Burstein, Times of Israel

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

At Passover, an annual ritual of giving

Through Maot Chitim, volunteers help others set a proper Seder table
Volunteers load boxes of food into Susan Karlinsky 's van on Sunday, April 1.
Through Maot Chitim of Greater Chicago, Karlinsky and others
can participate in a centuries-old Jewish tradition
of providing poor families with matzo and other Passover foods.
(Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / April 1, 2012)
Before sunrise last Sunday, members of Chicago's Jewish community descended on a Niles warehouse and assembled around a conveyor belt. As thousands of cardboard crates rolled by, an assembly line of volunteers packed eggs, matzo, celery, candles and wine — sacred staples for Passover.

But the volunteers weren't preparing to set their own Seder tables. They were helping thousands of Jewish households who can't afford to set their own. It's a centuries-old labor of love called Maot Chitim, Hebrew for the custom of gathering wheat to provide for the poor.

For more than a century, Chicago's diverse Jewish community has worked together to maintain Maot Chitim locally, delivering holiday necessities to make sure poverty doesn't prevent Jewish families from celebrating their freedom. --  Manya A. Brachear, Chicago Tribune

To read more, click here.

Kosher for Passover Coke barred from California

Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola has been barred from California.

California's new state laws on toxic chemicals are keeping kosher for Passover Coke out of the state, a company spokesman told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Coke was required to change the way it manufactures caramel due to the high levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, which California has listed as a carcinogen under its new guidelines. The manufacturing changes in California affected the kosher for Passover status of the cola, according to reports.

The company expects to offer the kosher for Passover variety of Coke in California by 2013, the newspaper reported, citing the company spokesman.

The Passover version of Coke uses sugar in place of corn syrup, which is not kosher for Passover for Ashkenazi Jews.

Some kosher stores in California carried limited amounts of kosher for Passover Coke, which bears a yellow cap, that was imported from other states. -- JTA

Montreal city bans parades over tension with Chasidic community

City officials in a Montreal borough have banned all street parades and processions in response to escalating tensions with the Chasidic community.

The episode is the latest dispute between the expanding Chasidic community and its mostly secular neighbors in Outremont, a central district in Montreal.

Outremont's mayor and a majority of councilmen voted on April 2 to ban parades and processions in the wake of a noisy confrontation last month between a municipal lawmaker known for her dogged surveillance of the Chasidic community and members of that community.

The clash, which was taped and posted on YouTube, degenerated into shouting, name calling and police intervention.

In response, Outremont decided that it would not allow a Chasidic sect to hold a street procession later this month to mark the visit of a rabbi from New York. The procession would have taken place after 10 p.m. and involved up to 1,000 followers.

"I don't think this is the time to do night processions," Outremont Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars told the Globe and Mail newspaper. "We have to be prudent for now. Tensions can't keep rising. I have to face my responsibilities."

Mayer Feig, a spokesman for the Chasidic community, says members are considering a legal challenge.

"You can't stop people from celebrating their holidays and holding processions," Feig said. "We have rights, and our rights are being violated."

Caught up in the controversy are members of a local Russian Orthodox church whose annual Easter parade, begun in 1964, also was canceled.

The freeze will remain in place until June 1, when the borough will review its policies. -- JTA

Goldman Rebel Is Latest Outspoken S. African Jew

Greg Smith
Myriad hypotheses have been floated already about what compelled Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith to write the New York Times op-ed that shot around the globe [at the end of March].

Smith’s broadside against Goldman’s “toxic and destructive” culture has been depicted as the ranting of a disgruntled employee, the “objection of the underclass of younger bankers and traders stymied by a lack of career mobility” and a sure sign of an impending midlife crisis.

But what if Smith, a South African Jew, was simply continuing a South African Jewish tradition of speaking truth to power?

Tony Karon, of Time magazine, has spent years as an outspoken critic of Israeli policy. Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s controversial book on Israel’s military cooperation with apartheid-era South Africa caused a few red faces in Jerusalem in 2010. Next week, as he gins up publicity for the release of his book, Peter Beinart will launch another attack on the American-Jewish establishment for fueling disillusionment with Israel among young, Jewish liberals. -- Paul Berger, Forward

To read more, click here.

Finally - picture-perfect group photos

Yair Bar-On, left, and Gil Megidish founded the picture-perfect iPhone app called GroupShot.
A handy new Israeli app lets you meld the best images from a variety of group shots where somebody's blinking, yawning or clowning.  -- Karin Kloosterman, Israel21c

To read more and to see the accompanying video, click here.