Thursday, June 29, 2006

Berl Lazar & Vladimir Zhirinovsky

The Jewish side of the family

By Yossi Melman

It looks like an everyday scene in a cemetery. A man who is no longer young stands, mute and weeping, at his father's grave. This particular scene, however, was fraught with historic irony. The son is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy speaker of the Russian State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament) and the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, the third largest in the country. Zhirinovsky, an anti-Semitic nationalist, who has expressed esteem for Hitler, proposed that Russia offer asylum to Yasser Arafat and supported Saddam Hussein, found his father's grave in the Holon cemetery, outside Tel Aviv. Zhirinovskys quest for his roots- in the past he had denied that he had Jewish origins- ended, of all places in the world, in Israel. "For 60 years I have been looking for my father," he said on Sunday of this week, as we stood in Row 18, Bloc 27, Area 6 of the cemetery. It was midday and the sun was brutal. Zhirinovsky pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes away the beads of perspiration on his forehead. He is wearing a cap, though this one is cream colored and not the black that has become his trademark. "Sixty years I looked for him all over the world- and now I have found him." His eyes are wet with tears, and not for the last time. Is he genuinely moved? It's hard to know. He is a superb actor. "The best entertainer among the politicians," the daily Pravda called him a few years ago. But as far as one can tell from his expression and his body language, this time he is truly moved. He has just placed a floral wreath and a memorial candle on the grave. From his pocket he takes out a blue matchbox, on which is inscribed the name of the hotel he is staying at. He lights one match and then another, fighting the breeze, until the candle is lit. He then takes a colored felt pen. Kneeling, almost prostrating himself on the grave, on which the inscription has faded somewhat, he writes in Russian his father's full name: Eidelshtein Wolf Isakovich. His bodyguard places a folding chair by the grave. Zhirinovsky sits down on it with his full weight. He mumbles something, as though reciting a prayer, perhaps talking to himself, perhaps to the headstone. "I looked for you all over the world. In Russia, in Poland, in Ukraine, in America. And now I have found you in Israel. I was assisted by diplomats, by journalists and by friends."He lays his hands on the stone and caresses it. Then he uses one hand to pick up a large handful of the sand that cradles the grave and pours it into the sweat-soaked handkerchief and ties its ends slowly. He orders the bodyguard to safeguard the handkerchief. "I will keep it in my apartment in Moscow until the day I die," he explains and then breaks into tears again. After calming himself he mumbles again, though his words are clearly audible: "If I have a grandson, I will name him Wolf." Intimate momentsZhirinovsky arrived in Israel secretly at the end of last week on a private visit. He was accompanied by his son, Igor, who is also a member of the Duma. Zhirinovsky relates that he has twin grandsons- Igor's children- and proudly shows their photograph. Also in the entourage is a beefy bodyguard and another Duma member. Since his arrival in Israel last Thursday, Zhirinovsky has been accompanied like a shadow by his cousin, Yitzhak Eidelshtein. Until then neither of the cousins knew of the other's existence. Uncharacteristically for a politician whose career has been composed of scandals that are well-orchestrated for the media, Zhirinovsky this time sought to keep the visit a secret. He was taken by surprise when his presence in Israel, and all the more so in these circumstances, was discovered by Haaretz. "These are private and very intimate moments," says the high-profile politico in whom the boundaries between the public and the private are generally blurred. "I wanted to be here by myself, to be alone with my father, whom I last saw when I was two months old." Later he will be joined by a crew from Russian television. "Ten days ago someone from Chabad in Moscow phoned me and asked whether I had any connection to Wolf Eidelshtein, who was my uncle," relates Yitzhak Eidelshtein. "They asked me to send them a picture of him and details about the circumstances of his death and about his grave. All they told me was that the searcher is perhaps a relative of mine, a person called Vladimir." Eidelshtein, 56, who owns a gift and housewares shop in Ramat Hasharon, replied to the request immediately. The next day they informed him that this Vladimir was on his way to Israel and they asked him to wait at the airport. In the meantime, the person called Vladimir phoned him, but did not give his surname. "He suggested that I identify myself with a sign with the name Vladimir Isakov written on it, my name in Russian." Last Thursday, Zhirinovsky's retinue arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport. "They asked me to go out with them immediately to my uncle's grave and I agreed. Only then did someone from the Russian Embassy ask me if I knew who Vladimir was. I said that I didn't. And then he told me that he was Vladimir Zhirinovsky. I was in shock. Of course I knew who he was because I had heard of him."Does the fact that the cousin you found is considered an anti-Semite and a nationalist bother you? "In the conversations that I and my family had with him we did not talk about politics. I?m just all emotional and excited about the family secret that has been revealed to me, and I'm glad that I now have a new relative whose existence I hadn't known about. I know that in the past, he denied that his father was Jewish and he said harsh things. But I also know that now he is truly interested in discovering his Judaism, turning over a new leaf and helping Israel's relations with Russia. I believe him and I intend to help him."Zhirinovsky was born on April 25, 1946 in the city of Alma-Ata, in Kazakhstan. According to the Russian tradition, the son's middle name is that of the father. Thus his name, Vladimir Wolfovich. His mother, Alexandra Pavlovna Makarova, a Russian, was 34 at the time and the mother of five children, two boys and three girls, from a previous marriage. Her first husband died in 1944 and a year later she remarried and a year after that gave birth to Vladimir (Valodya) Wolfovich. When he was two months old, the relations between his mother and father were severed and never renewed. In the first years of his political career he denied his Jewish origins, flying into a fury and vehemently rejecting occasional insinuations to this effect in the Russian media. In April 1996, I asked him in an interview that was held at his dacha outside Moscow whether he was not actually a half-Jew. After angrily attacking the hostile Jewish press, he replied nonchalantly, "Me? No way. That is just a slander. My mother was Russian and so was my father. You people cannot deal with my worldview, so you pry and search my past and my private life. I pose a challenge to everyone: Find documents in your archives and show me." Nikolai Svanidze, who hosts a popular political program on Russian television, did just that more than a decade ago. In the Alma-Ata archives, he discovered documents showing that Zhirinovsky's real name was Eidelshtein. It was only at the age of 16 that he made the change and adopted the name of his mother's first husband. However, that did not stop Zhirinovsky from continuing to cling to the lie. His official biography, which appears in an English-language pamphlet of 1999, published by his party, states that his father, a lawyer named Wolf Andreivich, was his mother's second husband and that he died in a road accident in the year that Vladimir was born. There is hardly a word of truth in that sentence. His father was not a lawyer, his name was not Zhirinovsky and he did not die in the year of his son's birth. Only in recent years has a change become apparent in Zhirinovsky's attitude toward his true background. Three years ago he admitted that his father was indeed a Jew. In the past few years, he has also moderated his pronouncements about Jews and has praised their intelligence in several Duma speeches. About seven months ago, he met with Rabbi Berl Lazar, who describes himself as the chief rabbi of Russian Jewry. Lazar's organization, the POR, played a minor role in helping Zhirinovsky find out what became of his father. Now he is actually admitting for the first time that he has known for his whole life that his father was a Jew, while at the same time continuing to insist that he never tried to hide this. Zigzags and contradictions are characteristic of the behavior of the most colorful politician in Russia and one of the most controversial in the world. One who is capable of saying one thing and a few minutes later saying the opposite. "For my whole life I searched for my father," he says. "I didn't know what happened to him. I sent requests to the Red Cross, asking them to locate my father. I tried to look for him in Western Europe and I even contacted people in the United States. But in vain. The only place I didn't try, for some reason, was Israel." All he knew about his father was what he heard from his mother and that was very little. She told him, mistakenly, that he was born in a small town called Konotopol, which before World War II belonged to Poland and is now in Ukraine. "I went to Ukraine in search of my father. I got to the town of Konotopol, but there was not a scrap of memory about Father." His mother also told him that shortly after his birth, his father had to leave the Soviet Union. Stalin decreed that all the Polish migrants and refugees who had found shelter in the country during the war had to return to their homeland. "Now I have another reason to hate the Bolsheviks and the Communists," he notes with a bitter smile. "They tore my family apart." When he was two months old, his mother, with Valodya in her arms, traveled to Warsaw to visit her husband. She left the five children from her first marriage in Kazakhstan. After a brief encounter lasting a week, she returned to the Soviet Union. The couple exchanged letters, and in the last of them, toward the end of 1946, Wolf Eidelshtein wrote to Alexandra Pavlovna that he was afraid that her life would be at risk if she received letters from a foreign resident. That was the last contact between them. Zhirinovsky maintains that his parents wanted to live together and that only the circumstances and Stalin's regime of terror forced them to separate. However, this explanation, in which a father cuts himself off from his family and is no longer interested in his only son, seems doubtful. Along with his mother and his half-brothers and half-sisters, Vladimir Zhirinovsky moved to Moscow. After completing his regular studies, Zhirinovsky enrolled in the Institute of Oriental Languages, specializing in Turkish. According to reports in the Russian press which were based on secret intelligence documents, the KGB recruited him during his studies at the institute. Zhirinovsky denies this vehemently. "I was never in the KGB-that is all inventions and slanders of you journalists," he asserts. In 1970, he says, he was drafted into the army- "the same way you have in Israel" - with the rank of lieutenant in the Caucasus Command of the Red Army, in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. After his military service, he worked as an interpreter in a metallurgical factory that Soviet companies built in Iskenderun, Turkey. Biographies of Zhirinovsky say he was on an intelligence mission; he denies this, of course. Be that as it may, the Turkish security service caught him photographing security installations, accused him of spying and deported him. Citing his knowledge of Turkish and his service in the Caucasus, he styles himself an "orientalist" and purports to be an expert on Asia and Islam. His past might also explain his fixation with Turkey, which he has called "Russia's most dangerous enemy." During the next 20 years, he held a variety of positions and pursued his studies. He obtained a law degree from Moscow State University and was admitted to the bar, and took courses at the University of Marxism-Leninism and at the Higher School of the Trade Union Movement. For seven years he was a legal adviser to Mir Publishers, which put out political literature. In 1988, at the height of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika policy, Zhirinovsky became one of the founders of the Society of Jewish Culture, was elected to its executive and was responsible for dealing with issues of justice and religion. Russian press investigations of Zhirinovsky claimed that he was acting at the behest of the KGB, with which he continued to maintain ties. Zhirinovsky denies this and again attributes the reports to "propaganda and the campaign of incitement against me."Similar motives, he says, also underlie a report according to which he submitted a request to immigrate to Israel in the same year, 1988. The records of Nativ, the clandestine organization that was responsible for Israel's ties with the Jews of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, contain a document attesting that such a request was submitted in November 1988. Zhirinovsky retorts, "It is easy to do provocations, and anyone could have sent an application in my name." Indeed, Nativ occasionally received requests supposedly sent by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and KGB chief Yuri Andropov.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Where are we headed?

Banned ===============>

Piety blurs the female face in haredi catalogues

Matthew Wagner,
Jun. 21, 2006
You can never be too pious when you are among the believers. Feldheim Publishers, a publishing house that caters to Orthodox Jews, discovered this when the English edition of the haredi newspaper Hamodia censored its book catalogue this weekend.
Hamodia insisted that Feldheim blur female faces appearing on pictures of its book covers, including cartoon caricatures, before agreeing to distribute Feldheim's catalogue as a supplement in its weekend edition.
Books published by Targum Press that appeared in the same catalogue were also blurred.
Hamodia also removed two books from the catalogue, one dealing with female adolescence called The Wonder of Becoming You and another on dating called The Magic Touch.
Feldheim and Targum censor themselves according to their own religious sensibilities. This apparently was not enough to meet Hamodia's more stringent standards.
Aryeh Frankel, head of public relations at haredi advertising agency Gal BSD - the BSD stands for bsiata dshamaya, Aramaic for "with God's help" - said the difference in approach among Feldheim, Targum and Hamodia reflected the difference between American and Israeli haredim.
"American haredim are usually more liberal than Israelis," he said.
Ya'acov Feldheim, owner of Feldheim Publishers, told The Jerusalem Post that Hamodia's censorship was "legitimate."
"Maybe people at Hamodia somehow balance the horrible immodesty that we see on our streets," said Feldheim. "For me, women walking around half naked is a million times worse than being a little over stringent."
One of the books, The Bamboo Cradle, a story about a Chinese girl abandoned on a train and adopted by a Jewish university professor who converts her to Judaism, has two pictures of the girl, one as a young woman, which was blurred, and one as a baby, which was not.
But Gal BSD's Frankel said that pictures of baby girls are prohibited in both Hamodia, which is owned by Gerrer hassidim and connected to the Agudat Yisrael party, and Yated Ne'eman, controlled by the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah party. Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah together form United Torah Judaism.
"About three years ago both papers disqualified an ad for Kimberly diapers that featured a four-month-old female infant," said Frankel.
Frankel said that even the most liberal Israeli haredi newspapers such as Kav Itonut, a chain of local weeklies owned by Aharon Kurnik and edited by Avi Rosen, did not publish pictures of women.
"But the haredi press is split on pictures of baby girls," he said.
Dudi Zilbershlag, publisher of the haredi weekly Bekehila and a Sert-Viznitz hassid, said Hamodia was even stricter than Yated Ne'eman regarding pictures of baby girls.
"It's something that was instituted by the current rebbe [Yankel Aryeh Alter]," said Zilbershlag.
Pictures of infant girls appear in Bekehila.
"The Zohar says that a female pure of sin does not arouse forbidden thoughts," said Zilbershlag

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The New Republic


Groups and Genes

by Steven Pinker

Post date: 06.17.06
Issue date: 06.26.06

My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who owned a small necktie factory on the outskirts of Montreal. While visiting them one weekend, I found my grandfather on the factory floor, cutting shapes out of irregular stacks of cloth with a fabric saw. He explained that by carving up the remnants that were left over when the neckties had been cut out and stitching them together in places that didn't show, he could get a few extra ties out of each sheet of cloth. I asked him why he was doing this himself rather than leaving it to his employees. He shrugged, tapped his forehead, and said, "Goyishe kop," a term of condescension that literally means "gentile head."
He wasn't exactly serious, but he wasn't exactly not serious either. Jews have long had an ambivalent attitude toward their own intelligence, and toward their reputation for intelligence. There is an ethnic pride at the prevalence of Jews in occupations that reward brainpower. A droll e-mail called "New Words to Add to Your Jewish Vocabulary" includes "jewbiliation, N: pride in finding out that one's favorite celebrity is Jewish" and "meinstein, N: My son, the genius." Many Jews subscribe to a folk theory that attributes Jewish intelligence to what would have to be the weirdest example of sexual selection in the living world: that for generations in the shtetl, the brightest yeshiva boy was betrothed to the daughter of the richest man, thereby favoring the genes, if such genes there are, for Talmudic pilpul.
But pride has always been haunted by fear that public acknowledge of Jewish achievement could fuel the perception of "Jewish domination" of institutions. And any characterization of Jews in biological terms smacks of Nazi pseudoscience about "the Jewish race." A team of scientists from the University of Utah recently strode into this minefield with their article "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence," which was published online in the Journal of Biosocial Science a year ago, and was soon publicized in The New York Times, The Economist, and on the cover of New York magazine.
The Utah researchers Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending (henceforth CH&H) proposed that Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic advantage in intelligence, and that the advantage arose from natural selection for success in middleman occupations (moneylending, selling, and estate management) during the first millennium of their existence in northern Europe, from about 800 C.E. to 1600 C.E. Since rapid selection of a single trait often brings along deleterious by-products, this evolutionary history also bequeathed the genetic diseases known to be common among Ashkenazim, such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher's.
The CH&H study quickly became a target of harsh denunciation and morbid fascination. It raises two questions. How good is the evidence for this audacious hypothesis? And what, if any, are the political and moral implications?

The appearance of an advantage in average intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews is easier to establish than its causes. Jews are remarkably over-represented in benchmarks of brainpower. Though never exceeding 3 percent of the American population, Jews account for 37 percent of the winners of the U.S. National Medal of Science, 25 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in literature, 40 percent of the American Nobel Prize winners in science and economics, and so on. On the world stage, we find that 54 percent of the world chess champions have had one or two Jewish parents.

Does this mean that Jews are a nation of meinsteins? It does not. Their average IQ has been measured at 108 to 115, one-half to one standard deviation above the mean. But statisticians have long known that a moderate difference in the means of two distributions translates into a large difference at the tails. In the simplest case, if we have two groups of the same size, and the average of Group A exceeds the average of Group B by fifteen IQ points (one standard deviation), then among people with an IQ of 115 or higher the As will outnumber the Bs by a ratio of three to one, but among people with an IQ of 160 or higher the As will outnumber the Bs by a ratio of forty-two to one. Even if Group A was a fraction of the size of Group B to begin with, it would contribute a substantial proportion of the people who had the highest scores.

The CH&H theory can be divided into seven hypotheses. The first is that the Ashkenazi advantage in intelligence is genetic in the first place. Many intellectuals dismiss this possibility out of hand, having been convinced by Stephen Jay Gould's book The Mismeasure of Man that general intelligence does not exist and that there is no evidence for its heritability. But a decade ago, the American Psychological Association commissioned an ideologically and racially diverse panel of scientists to review the evidence. They reported that IQ tests measure a stable property of the person; that general intelligence reflects a real phenomenon (namely, that measures of different aspects of intelligence intercorrelate); that it predicts a variety of positive life outcomes; and that it is highly heritable among individuals within a group. This does not imply that differences between groups are also genetic, since one group may experience a difference across the board, such as in wealth, discrimination, or social and cultural capital.

The most obvious test of a genetic cause of the Ashkenazi advantage would be a cross-adoption study that measured the adult IQ of children with Ashkenazi biological parents and gentile adoptive parents, and vice versa. No such study exists, so CH&H's evidence is circumstantial. The Ashkenazi advantage has been found in many decades, countries, and levels of wealth, and the IQ literature shows no well-understood environmental factors capable of producing an advantage of that magnitude.

It remains possible that the advantage is caused by some poorly understood environmental cause. Environmental hypotheses tend to get a free pass in intellectual life, but they must be scrutinized as well. The possibility that Jewish mothers produce smarter children is unlikely in light of abundant evidence that families have no lasting effect on intelligence. Siblings reared together are no more correlated in IQ than siblings who were separated at birth, and adopted siblings are not correlated at all. Growing up in a given home within a culture seems to leave no lasting stamp on intelligence.

But parents are just one aspect of the environment, and the cultural milieu is surely more important. Yet it cannot be taken for granted that Jewish culture favors achievement in physics, philosophy, or chess. In his autobiography, the eminent social psychologist Stanley Schachter wrote that "I went to Yale much against my father's wishes. He couldn't have cared less about higher education and wanted me to go to a one-year laundry college (no kidding) out in the Midwest and join him then in the family business. I never have understood what this intellectually driven Jewish immigrant business is all about. It wasn't true of my family, and I know very few families for which it was true. ... To me, Jewish love of learning has always seemed a myth perpetrated by a few rabbis' sons who weren't good at anything much but going to school and then spending the rest of their lives writing novels about it."

Also worth remembering is the saying that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Mere expectations cannot produce a brilliant mind. So an environmental explanation of the Ashkenazi advantage in intelligence is also unproven, though it certainly cannot be ruled out.

The second hypothesis is that Ashkenazim tended to marry their own during most of their formative history. This is necessary, because natural selection cannot change the genetic composition of a population if new genes are constantly flowing in from the neighbors and diluting its effects. CH&H cite the Jewish traditions of avoiding intermarriage, proselytization, or conquest. They mention historical accounts attesting that intermarriage was indeed rare, and genetic evidence pointing to an admixture of about 0.5 to 1 percent of neighboring genes per generation. Note that over many centuries this is enough to make Ashkenazim genetically similar to their European neighbors, so the notion of a distinct "Jewish race" is indeed nonsense. But the two populations are not identical: the genetic overlap due to interbreeding is around one-third to one-half, depending on which genes you look at.

The third hypothesis is that Ashkenazim were concentrated in mercantile, managerial, and financial occupations at a time when their neighbors were likely to be peasant farmers, craftsmen, or soldiers. Jews presumably had an accidental head start in these occupations because of their religious obligation of literacy, their ability to network with one another across far-flung communities, and their role as a go-between amid Christian and Islamic civilizations. In the Middle Ages they were funneled into middlemen professions by their exclusion from guilds, their inability to own land, and the niche opened up by the Christian prohibition of usury. CH&H cite historians who have documented that a majority of Jews were middlemen during the Middle Ages, many of them moneylenders.

The fourth hypothesis is that in traditional Ashkenazi occupations higher intelligence led to greater economic success. CH&H cite contemporary data that IQ predicts income and occupational success in every profession, and that the minimum IQ requirements for financial and managerial occupations are higher than those for farming, crafts, and the military. Presumably, numeracy, verbal skill, problem solving, and social intelligence are invaluable in calculating slim profits and interest rates, in assessing creditworthiness, in anticipating trends, and in meeting other cognitive demands of the middleman niche. Cultural historians have noticed that these skills seem to be cultivated among contemporary middleman minorities.

The fifth hypothesis is that richer people had more surviving children during the centuries in which Ashkenazim were middlemen. Today the wealthy tend to have fewer children, but before the demographic transition (which began with the industrial revolution) wealth brought better nutrition and healthier surroundings, and hence more children who survived to adulthood. CH&H cite historians who made this point about the Ashkenazim in particular.

The sixth hypothesis is that the common Ashkenazi diseases are a product of natural selection rather than genetic drift, the other mechanism of evolutionary change. In any finite population, some genes can go extinct and others can take over the population by sheer chance. Imagine an island on which a lightning bolt happened to kill everyone but the redheads; the descendants would found a redheaded race, despite the lack of any advantage to redheadedness. As the example suggests, drift is most potent in small populations. It can leave a genetic stamp on an inbred community that was founded by a small number of pioneers, or that suffered a bottleneck in population size and subsequently rebounded, multiplying copies of whatever genes were possessed by the few lucky survivors.

Most medical geneticists believe that drift is to blame for Ashkenazic genetic diseases. CH&H respond with two lines of evidence, based on the logic that drift affects all genes equally, be they advantageous, neutral, or deleterious. Bottlenecks tend to reduce heterozygosity, or the state of having different versions of a gene from one's mother and father. That is because if only a few ancestors were around at some point in the past, they would have had fewer gene variants to leave to their descendants, increasing the chance that a gene would meet a copy of itself when a couple conceives a child. CH&H adduce evidence that Ashkenazim, unlike other small populations, have degrees of heterozygosity similar to their more numerous European neighbors. They also suggest that Ashkenazim have a distribution of neutral genes similar to that of Europeans in general. A problem in evaluating this hypothesis is that arguments for and against genetic bottlenecks are often sensitive to assumptions built into the models, and we can expect CH&H to be debating their critics for some time.

Perhaps the most interesting biological fact addressed by CH&H is that Ashkenazi genetic diseases tend to cluster in a small number of metabolic pathways. Genes involved in different stages of a single biochemical assembly line are often scattered throughout the genome. The presence of mutations in a set of these genes is a fingerprint of natural selection, because the only common denominator is their effect on the organism, which is what selection, and selection alone, can "see." Random drift is unlikely to collect genes scattered hither and yon that just happen to take part in the same biochemical process.

It has long been known that Ashkenazi diseases cluster in groups with a common metabolic pathway. They include disorders of storing sphingolipids ("sphinx-like fats"), such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher's, and disorders of DNA repair, including the BRCA1 gene, which increases the odds of breast cancer. Using a functional genomic database, CH&H try to calculate the a priori probability that these clusterings could have arisen at random, and dismiss it as infinitesimal.

The seventh and really pivotal hypothesis is that the common Ashkenazi diseases are by-products of genes that were selected because they enhance intelligence. The alternative is that they were selected for something else, such as resistance to infectious disease. CH&H discount disease resistance for most of the genes in question because the genes are not shared by other Europeans, who must have been victims of the same germs.

Harmful genetic by-products can arise in two major ways. In heterozygote advantage, a gene confers an advantage on possessors of one copy (heterozygotes or carriers), which outweighs the disadvantage it encumbers on possessors of two copies (homozygotes). The best-known example is the sickle cell gene, prevalent in malaria-ridden parts of Africa, which leads to malaria resistance in homozygotes but to anemia in heterozygotes. CH&H suggest that a similar trade-off could have produced the Ashkenazi diseases, though the evidence is paltry. They note that increased levels of sphingolipids foster neural growth in developing rodent brains, and that the normal version of the BRCA1 gene inhibits neural growth; but that is a long way from human intelligence.

The other kind of by-product comes from antagonistic pleiotropy: a single copy of a gene has multiple effects, the good ones outweighing the bad ones on average. The evidence here is a bit better. People with the genes for torsion dystonia, non-classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and Gaucher's disease tend to have higher average IQs, or tend to be concentrated in professions such as physics and engineering. But the numbers are small.
So the evidence that Ashkenazi disease genes boost intelligence is extremely iffy. Still, the hypothesis is testable: compare the IQs in a large sample of sibling pairs, one of whom is a carrier of a disease gene, the other a non-carrier. If the carriers are not smarter, the hypothesis is wrong. The study could easily be done in Israel, with its centralized records of health care, education, and military service.

H&H, then, have provided prima facie evidence for each of the hypotheses making up their theory. But all the hypotheses would have to be true for the theory as a whole to be true--and much of the evidence is circumstantial, and the pivotal hypothesis is the one for which they have the least evidence. Yet that hypothesis is also the most easily falsifiable. By that criterion, the CH&H story meets the standards of a good scientific theory, though it is tentative and could turn out to be mistaken.

But is it good for the Jews? More to the point, is it good for ideals of tolerance and ethnic amity? On one interpretation, perhaps it is. Jewish achievement is obvious; only the explanation is unclear. The idea of innate Jewish intelligence is certainly an improvement over the infamous alternative generalization, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. And attention to the talents needed in the middleman niche (whether they are biological or cultural) could benefit other middleman minorities, such as Armenians, Lebanese, Ibos, and overseas Chinese and Indians, who have also been targets of vicious persecution because of their economic success.

And yet the dangers are real. Like intelligence, personality traits are measurable, heritable within a group, and slightly different, on average, between groups. Someday someone could test whether there was selection for personality traits that are conducive to success in money-lending and mercantilism, traits that I will leave to the reader's imagination. One can also imagine how a finding of this kind would be interpreted in, say, Cairo, Tehran, and Kuala Lumpur. And the CH&H study could lower people's resistance to more invidious comparisons, such as groups who historically score lower, rather than higher, on IQ tests.
What can be done? In recent decades, the standard response to claims of genetic differences has been to deny the existence of intelligence, to deny the existence of races and other genetic groupings, and to subject proponents to vilification, censorship, and at times physical intimidation. Aside from its effects on liberal discourse, the response is problematic. Reality is what refuses to go away when you do not believe in it, and progress in neuroscience and genomics has made these politically comforting shibboleths (such as the non-existence of intelligence and the non-existence of race) untenable.

Rather than legislating facts, could we adopt a policy of agnosticism, and recommend that we "don't go there"? Scientists routinely avoid research that may have harmful consequences, such as injuring human subjects or releasing dangerous microorganisms. The problem with this line of thought is that it would restrict research based on its intellectual content rather than on its physical conduct. Ideas are connected to other ideas, often in unanticipated ways, and restrictions on content could cripple freedom of inquiry and distort the intellectual landscape.
Also, there are positive reasons to study the genetics of groups. Until the day that every person is issued a CD containing his or her genome, medicine will need the statistical boost of data on group differences when targeting tests and treatments to those most likely to benefit from them. Remember that the CH&H study grew out of research aimed at reducing the enormous suffering caused by genetic diseases. Many have effects on the nervous and endocrine systems, and connections with the psychological traits of sufferers and carriers may be unavoidable. And of course the tests could refute claims of group differences as easily as they could confirm them.

The genetics of groups is also an exciting frontier in the study of history. Many Jews have been thrilled by the discoveries of a common Y-chromosome among many of today's kohanim (believed to be descendants of the priestly caste in ancient Judea, who were themselves the descendants of Aaron), of genetic commonalities between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews traceable to a common ancestry in the Middle East, and of the presence of these genes in isolated communities in Africa and Asia that retain some Jewish rituals. Studies of the genes of African, American, and Australian populations could shed light on their prehistory, filling in pages that are sadly missing from the history of our species, as well as enlightening curious individuals about their genealogy.

In theory, we have the intellectual and moral tools to defuse the dangers. "Is" does not imply "ought." Group differences, when they exist, pertain to averages, not to individual men and women. There are geniuses and dullards, saints and sinners, in every race, ethnicity, and gender. Political equality is a commitment to universal human rights, and to policies that treat people as individuals rather than as representatives of groups; it is not an empirical claim that people are indistinguishable. Many commentators seem unwilling to grasp these points.

The revolution in human genomics has spawned profuse commentary about the perils of cloning and human genetic enhancement. But these fears may be misplaced. When people realize that cloning is just forgoing a genetically unique child for an identical twin of one of the parents, rather than resurrecting a soul or investing in an organ farm, I suspect no one will want to do it. And when they realize that most genes have costs as well as benefits (a gene might raise a child's IQ but also predispose him to a genetic disease), "designer babies" will lose whatever appeal they have. In contrast, the power to uncover genetic and evolutionary roots of group differences in psychological traits is both more likely to materialize and more incendiary in its consequences. And it is a prospect that we are, intellectually and emotionally, very poorly equipped to confront.

Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of The Blank Slate and editor of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Las Vegas Weekly -: Sandy Weill one of the Scariest White Men in America


From Cheney-Bush to Roger Clemens, these guys freeze the blood of honest men
By Don Hazen

The 13 Scariest White Guys in America

The bully is back in American politics. Intimidation, dismissal of majority opinion, denial of scientific facts and aggressive scapegoating--these tactics have once again taken center stage. Blatant propaganda feeds fear and distrust, and the powerful and the privileged wallow in the spoils. Though it never quite disappeared, the mean guy persona took a back seat in the Clinton era. Clinton's oft-repeated "I feel your pain" obscured some hard-hearted policies, like welfare reform and the relentless drug war. But the Clinton style was one of subtle triangulation, not public muscle. Clinton took enough principled stands to make him hugely popular in the African-American community and to reassure many that the barbarians had not yet reached the gate.
That feeling of reassurance has rapidly and dramatically evaporated. Yes, President Bush's policies are far more conservative than he articulated while running for office. But it's the in-your-face way his administration promotes a ferociously partisan agenda that has left many Americans gasping.
Think back to the bullying of junior high school, when intimidation ruled over reason; when kids were cruel for their selfish reasons; when power had a complete lack of empathy. In many ways, this is how conservatives and corporations behave in America and across the globe. Personal power, fortune and the bottom line run roughshod over democratic principles of justice and fairness.
Today's high-profile bullies in politics and business offer a rare opportunity. By taking inventory of their shared traits and tactics, we can put our finger on what makes these bullies tick ... and how they exercise "Scary Power."
Scary Power is bullying and brute strength exercised in the public sphere. It's the freedom to threaten millions of people's safety and well-being, say by manipulating California's power supply. It's the ability to cheat hundreds of thousands out of large sums of money, as CitiGroup did with predatory lending practices. It's the clout to risk environmental disaster by blandly denying reams of scientific data, like ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, who holds that global warming doesn't exist. It's an immense iron fist in a velvet glove, like the chemical industry simultaneously blocking safety tests for newly developed chemicals and convincing the public that such testing is routine.
In recent history, we saw flashes of Scary Power during the Gingrich revolution, when the Republicans controlled both wings of Congress and shut down the government. A meaner version surfaced when the conservatives went after Clinton's personal behavior, much against the will of the people. Now, with control of the White House, political bullies seem ready to use their Scary Power without fear of redress.


OK, you're wondering about that title. Can't Black guys in power be scary? Can't women be scary? Yes, sure they can--but not real scary, not jaw-dropping scary.
To be truly scary, a person first needs a strong and unadulterated will to exercise power over others. Then add assets that not many can muster: ready access to a whole lot of money; equally ready access to the media; and a surrounding network of allies and talent--lawyers, lobbyists, PR agents, political operatives, pollsters, etc--who can execute orders and get the dirty work done.
How many African Americans have this combination at their disposal? Maybe Colin Powell, but he seems to be one of the least scary members of the Bush cabinet. What women can halt funding for family planning clinics around the world? Reality check: it's only the white guys (actually a certain breed of older, rich white guys) who have Scary Power.
Also, white guys with Scary Power are almost always supported by other white guys. A breakdown of voting by race in the last presidential election tells the story loud and clear. Fully 90 percent of Bush voters were white, as opposed to just 69 percent of Gore's. Gore carried the Latino vote 62 to 34 percent, the Asian vote 55 to 41 percent, and the Black vote a whopping 90 to 8 percent. The gender gap was also significant: Gore won 54 percent of all women voters, 57 percent of women with college degrees and 64 percent of women with advanced degrees.
In other words, the only group that voted for Bush was white males. However, white guys supported him so overwhelmingly that, in the election fiasco, they managed to bring him--and a whole crop of other scary white guys--into power.


What are the characteristics of this rare breed, the scary white guy? At a minimum, the SWG has some or all of these characteristics:
He is a bully who uses intimidation as a regular tactic. He is destructive, in that he kills possibilities and destroys human aspirations. He is self-centered, egocentric and selfish. He is an exploiter, employing his power to the greatest possible advantage. He is greedy in that he seeks more than he could possibly need. He is a denier who refuses to acknowledge disagreeable realities. He is corrupt, dishonest, bending the rules for personal or political gain. He is a scapegoater, adept at pitting people against each other and blaming victims for their suffering.
Ultimately, Scary Power is the ability to control the public narrative to frame messages: globalization benefits all; environmentalists created the energy shortage; fair trade is a wishful dream. The scary guys' control of the narrative also discourages action, isolates people from one another and turns them off to engagement in public life. It breeds cynicism, hopelessness and apathy.
The characteristics above blend into various roles as SWGs form teams and alliances. Guys like Ronald Reagan carry the water for SWGs operating behind the scenes. George W. Bush, with his ah-shucks style, plays the enabler for friends like Kenneth Lay, chairman of the Houston-based Enron Corporation, as they make their financial killings. Some are the hit men, a role that Vice President Cheney plays to take the heat off of his partner. Others, like New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli, are just smart, aggressive bullies who steamroll the opposition through sheer ambition.
Below are the 13 Scariest White Guys wielding their bully power today, starting with the most obvious of them all ...

It's impossible to separate these two SWGs. As the new joke goes, "Have you heard the one about the need to protect Bush? He's just a heartbeat away from the Presidency." On the campaign trail a year ago, George W. Bush said, "As we use nature's gifts, we must do so wisely. Prosperity will mean little if we leave future generations a world of polluted air, toxic lakes and rivers, and vanished forests." Texas, meanwhile, had the most toxic air emissions and cancer-causing pollution in the country. Can anyone say doubletalk?
Bush's environmental pledges exemplify a tool used very often by SWGs, the Big Lie. A clever rhetorical device, the Big Lie operates on the principle that if you make knowingly false assertions with enough conviction, and repeated them constantly, those with their hands on the truth are put on the defensive. Regulations about carbon dioxide emissions, worker's protection laws, drilling for oil in Alaska, building roads in the national forest--these attacks on health and the environment all depend on Big Lies.
As Bush spouts doubletalk to the hoodwinked press, Cheney pulls the strings behind the scene. Cheney, who was paid $36 million by Halliburton oil company the last year he worked there, recently advocated for building a new power plant every week for 20 years in order to meet our energy needs. "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue," he said, "but not a sufficient basis for sound comprehensive energy policy." Yeah, tell that to the scientists from five national science labs whose three-year study concluded that a "government-led conservation program could cut growth in energy consumption in half, using proven technology already in place."
As columnist Robert Scheer writes, "Why beat around the Bush? Surrogate president Dick Cheney is behaving like an oil-guzzling, intellectually irresponsible, anti-environmental oaf. To ignore scientific achievement on energy conservation is to lie to the American people about the dimensions of the problem. This is not leadership, it is fear-mongering that withholds ... sound scientific information in order to justify eviscerating conservation policy."
As for Dubya, well, we underestimate him as a moron at our peril. As Mark Crispin Miller writes in his new book The Bush Dyslexicon "our president is not an imbecile, but an operator just as canny as he is hard-hearted. At the nasty kind of politics, he is extraordinarily shrewd."


Choosing the scariest media mogul was not easy. But transplanted Aussie Rupert Murdoch, head of the global News Corp., gets the nod. Murdoch's voracious empire building, his right-wing agenda, and his use of his media properties to achieve political gain set him apart. His tabloids in London, New York and Australia have repeatedly supported or undermined candidates, and his conservative Fox News channel helped get Bush declared the winner on election night. Last year, News Corp. gave $800,000 to U.S. candidates, with 70 percent going to Republicans.
Already owner of the Fox Network, Murdoch now intends to gain control of U.S. satellite TV to implement his vision of interactive television as the ultimate buying environment. The goal: to replace the Internet with high-speed satellite access to Murdoch's "walled garden," where subscribers would be limited to what his content machine has to offer.


As head honcho of a leading Texas energy company, Kenneth Lay has aggressively championed the types of energy policies that have burdened California with rolling electrical blackouts. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Lay created a new kind of company as a result of deregulation victories, one that "essentially produces nothing, but makes money as a middle-man buying electricity from generators and selling it to consumers. During the first quarter of this year Enron revenues increased 281 percent to $50.1 billion."Lay also represents the most extreme form of the pay-to-play corruption that dominates American politics. The largest of Bush's campaign contributors, his influence has reached unprecedented heights. According to The New York Times, he has even supplied Bush with candidates to regulate the power industry, and has threatened to have the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission removed if he opposes deregulation.


As the bellicose head of the Defense Department, Donald Rumsfeld is in the position to do massive harm, as he aggressively pushes for a National Missile Defense (NMD) system--a redux of the Star Wars boondoggle discredited way back in the Reagan days.
Let's be clear here--such a missile defense system won't work, isn't needed and is hugely expensive. However, Rumsfeld needs to push it because it makes his friends and funders at Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, TRW and the other defense companies very happy. (Those four have contributed $7 million to both political parties, spent $32.3 million lobbying, and--surprise!--have received NMD contracts to the tune of $2 billion per year. Nice return on the dollar.)
But Bush and Co. want a huge new system, which would include a space-based, laser-firing satellite system. The cost: $240 billion. That's pretty expensive for something that won't make us safer but will make defense contractors rich, at the expense of seniors, education, health care, the whole nine yards.


Greed is maybe more understandable in the world of finance. But when legendary dealmaker Sanford I. Weill, Chairman of Citigroup, bought Associates First Capital for $31 billion, he was basically saying there is no money too dirty for him. Associate First Capital is notorious in the field of predatory lending, which takes advantage of unsophisticated homeowners. It's been named in at least 700 lawsuits. As Martin Eakes, founder of Self-Help Credit Union, says, "It's unacceptable to have the largest bank in America take over the icon of predatory lending."
Citgroup engages in high-interest lending in low-income communities across the United States, and has long been a target of protest because of its redlining practices. Citigroup is also financing some of today's greatest environmental horrors, like the destruction of Indonesian rain forests, the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline and China's Three Gorges dam, which will displace two million people. "Sandy Weill is responsible for immense ecological and human disasters because Citigroup, as a huge global lender, finances so much destruction," says Shannon Wright, communications director at the Rain Forest Action Network.


Arpaio runs a jail for petty criminals with sentences of less than a year, many of whom have not yet gone to trial. Nevertheless, he boasts about heading one of most severe penal institutions in the United States. He started the country's first female chain gang, giving women the choice of burying bodies in Phoenix's pauper cemetery or having 23 hours of lockdown.The Feds sued Arpaio for using excessive force in 1997. In 1998, a U.S. Department of Justice consultant condemned the use of restraint chairs, pepper spray, alleged hog-tying and the use of "unprovoked" and "unjustified" force. But Sheriff Joe keeps on escalating. Last June, the Arizona Republic reported that he was putting dogs in the jail's few air-conditioned cells. As he told the paper, "It's too hot for the dogs over in the tents with the inmates." Arpaio spends 66 cents a day on food for each inmate, twice that for a dog. He is a constant propagandist, averaging a speech a day, and many consider him the most popular person in Arizona.


Tom DeLay approaches regulations like the cockroaches he faced as an exterminator (his former career). It took Congress 10 years to pass legislation protecting the 600,000 workers who develop repetitive stress injuries each year. It took Delay three months, and millions of big business dollars, to repeal it.DeLay has worked tirelessly to gut the Clean Air Act. He's called the EPA "the Gestapo of government," and he thinks volcanoes cause global warming. Described in Rolling Stone as Bush's legislative muscleman, DeLay leads by "killing or neutering anything that deviates from right wing orthodoxy. DeLay's vision of America looks like Houston on a bad day: ruled by corporate fat cats, polluted, gridlocked, a place where progress is measured by the size of your SUV and freedom is defined by a choice of tee-off times."


Rudy Giuliani is the master scapegoater. His list of targets includes homeless people, graffiti artists, panhandlers and even guys who wash your windows at stoplights. But when Giuliani caught a whiff of pot after a political event, his wrath went into overdrive. "Bust those pot smokers!" he screamed, and arrests in New York went through the roof. By the end of 2000, 59,945 people had been arrested for pot, up 39 percent from 1999. In 1992, as has reported, only 720 pot smokers were arrested in New York City. New York State decriminalized pot in the mid-1970s, a fact that Giuliani has ignored.Giuliani's stop-and-frisk racial profiling approach has stirred up heat, with the Justice Department and the state attorney general documenting abuse. His Operation Condor, which swept through neighborhoods and locked up thousands of people, mostly of color, deepened the wedge between citizens and the police.Giuliani's attacks on arts institutions for exhibits he finds offensive are infamous, including his attempts to deny museums government funds. Though the courts threw out these efforts, he recently formed an advisory committee to develop decency standards--a move that talk show host Jay Leno immediately labeled as fascist.


Raymond heads the world's third-largest corporation, which earned more than $17 billion in profits in 2000, exceeding many nations' revenues. So when Raymond questions whether global warming exists or if fossil fuels play any role in it, people shudder. Because ExxonMobil's attitudes and policies impact virtually everyone.ExxonMobil carries the big club for the Neanderthal wing of the fossil fuel lobby. According to author Ross Gelspan, it is the only major oil company to deny climate change, using outdated, manipulated and unqualified information. British Petroleum, by contrast, has become the largest producer of solar energy systems in the world. Even Shell and Texaco have made progress. ExxonMobil hasn't.


With John Walters as our new Drug Czar (backed by arch-
conservative John Ashcroft as Attorney General), expect a marked escalation of the hugely unpopular drug war. While Canada is moving towards legalizing marijuana and six states have passed medical marijuana bills, Walters will likely head federal drug policy back into the stone age.Walters thinks the racism of sentencing discrepancy is an urban myth; is against drug treatment; advocates stiffer penalties against drug users; and despite untold billions of dollars spent achieving nothing, wholeheartedly supports the military wing of the drug war.


Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli demonstrates that moral bankruptcy and political corruption ignore party lines. Dubbed "The Torch" by his Washington colleagues, Torricelli has a reputation as a political hustler. He raised a record $103.5 million as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. His bully rep among his colleagues was underscored when, in 1999, he exploded at his New Jersey Senate colleague Frank Lautenberg, "You're a f--ing piece of shit. And I'm going to cut your balls off."Hammered by a series of New York Times stories, and with Justice Department investigators breathing down his neck, the pugnacious Senator maintains his innocence against mounting corruption charges. He allegedly received ten custom-made Italian suits and an $8,100 Rolex watch, among other items, from a Chinese businessman who pled guilty to giving him $53,700 in illegal campaign contributions.


Everything about Roger Clemens suggests excess. He drives a Chevy Suburban known as the Texas Cadillac. He lives in a 16,000-square-foot mini-castle. He has two or three big-screen TVs in every room.
"Clemens assumes everyone's pleasure revolves around him," writes Pat Jordan in The New York Times Magazine. "He gave his four sons first names beginning with K--Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody--because K is the baseball symbol for strikeouts." Says his wife, Debbie, "I would have liked to have had a little girl. But the boys keep me busy. Roger is my biggest child." Jordan continues, "Fans, the media and his opponents judge Clemens by adult standards and, not surprisingly, find him wanting. They tend to view his behavior on the mound as that of an overgrown, schoolyard bully."
Clemens has been baseball's premier pitcher for a decade. Long dubbed a headhunter--a pitcher who throws at batters' heads to intimidate them--Clemens beaned Mets star Mike Piazza last year, giving him a concussion. The next time they faced each other, Piazza's bat shattered and a chunk flew in front of Clemens, who hurled it back at Piazza. Clemens recently paid a fine of $50,000 for this incident.
Close to George Bush senior, whom he visited several times at the White House, Clemens is also pals with Neil Bush, best known for his involvement with the failed Silverado Savings and Loan.


It's hip to cut Eminem a lot of First Amendment slack--to suggest his lyrics of raping his mother and hating faggots are symbolic. If you don't get it, many say, you must not be down with the music.Eminem may be a talented wordsmith, but the scary part of his success is that he needs the controversy around his misogyny and his homophobia to sell his music. For Eminem, faggot is the "lowest degrading thing you can say to a man ... to me it doesn't necessarily mean gay people ... to me just means taking away your manhood." Since the word faggot pops up in 13 of the 18 tracks of his award-wining Marshall Mathers CD, the word and its meaning are at the centerpiece of his artistic expression.That millions are flocking to this message is scary enough. But the guy can be scary in real life, too. Recently he was sentenced to two years probation for carrying a concealed weapon, stemming from a case where he allegedly piston-whipped a man he saw kissing his estranged wife.

Tachrichim don't have pockets

The Times of London
June 20, 2006

Weill to give $1.4bn in 'deal with God'

By Jenny Davey

SANDY WEILL, the former high-flying Citigroup chairman who was renowned for his love of private jets, has pledged to give away his estimated $1.4 billion ($760 million) personal fortune as part of a “deal with God”.
The 73-year-old, who rose from humble origins in Brooklyn to become one of the most successful executives of his era, says that he will spend his retirement disposing of his fortune to charity.
In an interview with Citigroup Pursuits, a magazine for the American bank’s private clients, he said: “Hopefully we’ll be as smart in how we give our money away as we turned out to be smart in making it.”
On the decision to give his fortune away, he said: “That’s the deal I’ve made with God. I hope that he gives us the time.”
He added that his autobiography would emphasise philanthropy as much as business and quoted his wife, Joanie, as saying: “Shrouds don’t have pockets.”
Mr Weill is not the only billionaire turning his thoughts to philanthropy. Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, said last week that he planned to step back from day-to-day running of the software giant to concentrate on his $28.8 billion charitable foundation, which funds medical research and education.
Mr Weill admitted in the interview that he did hold talks last summer about launching a new private equity fund. He decided against the move after talking to Chuck Prince, chief executive of Citigroup, and other board members, some of whom cautioned that it could be seen as a competitive move.
“Turns out they did me a big favour,” he said. “ I’d be chasing my tail again. I would want to raise more money than anybody else raises and why do I have to do that again? There are a lot of good people in that business and there’s so much more need in the not-for-profit world.”
Mr Weill is involved with four not-for-profit organisations: Carnegie Hall, Weill Medical College, the National Academy Foundation and the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy. The National Academy Foundation works in schools, helping to train students to work in financial services, IT and travel and tourism. Mr Weill has had a long involvement with the charity, but decided to give it $5 million after he found out that Mr Gates and his wife, Melinda, had offered to make their own $5 million donation.
When Mr Weill bade farewell to Citigroup in April, he was praised for his philanthropic work by Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, who said that he was “gifted by a vision of inclusion”. He retired with a $1 million-plus annual pension.
Bill and Melinda Gates: endowed a foundation with more than $28 billion to support global health and learning initiatives. The Microsoft founder is to concentrate on the foundation
George Soros: the billionaire financier is estimated to have given away more than $4 billion, largely in Eastern Europe
Andrew Carnegie: the Scottish-born American businessman gave away $350 million before he died in 1919

Sunday, June 11, 2006


A clash of cultures in the Five Towns

As Orthodox Jews flock to South Shore enclave, other Jewish denominations in the community
are uneasy about their impact


Newsday Staff Writer

June 11, 2006

In the Five Towns these days, how you feel about life in this predominantly Jewish area of the South Shore often depends on which religious group you belong to.

Lisa Gray, a member of a Reform Jewish congregation, describes being awakened by honking horns as late as midnight as Orthodox Jewish worshipers leave the recently built yeshiva across the street - and again at 8 a.m. Sunday when school resumes.

On Fridays, she steers clear of Central Avenue, the main shopping strip, because drivers double-park for last-minute purchases before the start of the Jewish Sabbath.

On Saturdays, she dreads driving through streets clogged with walkers, sometimes 10 abreast, en route to the shteeble, or small synagogue, that opened two blocks away in what had been a private home.

But nothing has galvanized her anger like the election of an Orthodox majority to the Lawrence school board last month. Gray, a PTA president, said she fears for the future of her two public school children and thinks about moving.

"I am now a minority in the neighborhood I grew up in," she lamented. "The Orthodox chose to move here and that's fine. But they're not looking to coexist. Their attitude is, 'This is how we live our lives, and if you don't like it, move.

'"What is happening in this affluent community is nothing less than a seismic demographic shift, spurring typical tensions over traffic, land use and yes, schools.

Cultural divisions

But something else is fueling bad feeling: A discomforting religious subtext runs just beneath the surface of many conflicts, pitting people like Gray in the assimilationist Jewish world that once dominated the area against an unabashedly observant, confident and increasingly politically savvy Orthodox community.

Many Orthodox Jews say the divisions are overblown, a result of acrimonious school elections.

"Are there people in the Orthodox community who should exercise better judgement in how they talk and act? Absolutely," said Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Israel of Woodmere, the largest Orthodox congregation.

"Are there people in the non-Orthodox community who are disdainful of the Orthodox? Absolutely. But I don't think most people in either community are that way.

"No one, however, disputes the scope of change. Over the last 15 years, the Five Towns have become one of the premier suburban centers of Orthodox Judaism in America, bursting with synagogues, yeshivas and Kosher restaurants.

Community leaders estimate that Orthodox residents account for 60 to 70 percent of the village of Lawrence, with communities in neighboring Cedarhurst, Woodmere and Hewlett.

"We're seeing exponential growth," said Steven Laufer, Long Island regional vice president of the Orthodox Union and a Lawrence resident.

"Young families are moving in and having lots of children, which is fueling growth in the schools. And as the schools improve and more open up, it attracts new people."

Lawrence Mayor Jack Levenbrown recalled that it was "a big to-do" when he became the first Orthodox Jew elected to the village board in 1988. Today, all five board members are Orthodox, and "almost everyone moving into Lawrence is somewhere in the Orthodox spectrum," he said.

As the majority became a minority, the landscape of this suburban community has shifted. With an overwhelming number of residents now sending their children to parochial schools, disagreements have revolved around the size of the public school budget and how that money should be distributed.

Growing influence

Burgeoning Orthodox institutions - for instance, a Little League that fields about 80 teams on Sunday - have eclipsed their secular counterparts.

"We're down from about 300 kids six years ago to the low 200s today," said Joe Montilli of the Cedarhurst Little League. As a result, he said, Cedarhurst plans to merge next year with Woodmere-Hewlett.

Some old-timers rue the transformation of Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, once the South Shore's Rodeo Drive and a place to see and be seen on Saturdays. The street is still tony, with chain stores like The Gap and Williams-Sonoma alternating with glatt kosher restaurants and Judaica shops. Most are shuttered on Saturdays out of respect for the Jewish day of prayer and rest.

On both sides, residents express bitterness about the way they believe they are judged.Many Orthodox express heartbreak at the perception they are insular or snobbish, when they say they are simply trying to follow religious dictates.

Adhering to Jewish law means they cannot eat at the homes of people who do not keep kosher. They do not attend social events Friday night or during the day Saturday because they are observing the Sabbath.

"I absolutely understand the suspicion that comes from our desire to send our children to Jewish schools," said Mimi Fragin, 30, of Lawrence, an Orthodox mother of four. "But that decision doesn't stem from bigotry. It stems from our desire to impart to our children the Jewish education that our parents provided to us, and that we feel is necessary to maintain our heritage."

And she noted that rudeness runs both ways.

"I was on Central Avenue last week and a woman was double-parked," Fragin said. "Someone shouted out of their car window, 'Typical Orthodox woman! No respect for anyone!' But on the next street, another car was double-parked and the driver was not Orthodox. No one shouted at her."

Most disturbing for the non-Orthodox is their perception that the Orthodox deem them - and their children - unwholesome influences.

Penny Schuster recounts how an ultra-Orthodox neighbor stopped her children from playing with Schuster's daughter because she wore pants.

"The idea of Jews against Jews makes me want to cry," said Schuster, a leader of Temple Israel of Lawrence, a Reform congregation.

"I grew up in the post-World War II period after Germany tried to annihilate the Jews. And here, 50 years later, this is what we've learned?"

Surprising success story

In many ways, the Orthodox is one of Judaism's most surprising success stories, said Samuel Heilman, a sociologist at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Most had predicted the group would wither away after the passing of a generation of Eastern European rabbis who had come to America as war refugees. They occupied the lowest rung on the economic ladder and were often viewed with contempt by more assimilated Jews, Heilman said.

But the group did not die out. In large part because of its high birth rates and support of yeshivas as a way to pass on its traditions, the Orthodox community is thriving, while more liberal Jewish denominations battle soaring intermarriage and declining affiliation rates.

They are still a minority of American Jews, about 13 percent, but their dense settlement patterns mean Orthodox Jews dominate communities such as Borough Park, upstate Monsey and, to an increasing degree, the Five Towns.

When the growth began on the South Shore, it was hardly noticeable. A handful of Orthodox families established their first synagogue in a Cedarhurst storefront in 1928, said Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Beth Sholom Congregation, which evolved from that storefront.

They struggled to live as observant Jews in the beginning.
"When I first came here in 1950, we didn't even have a supermarket that sold kosher provisions," recalled Gilbert Klaperman, rabbi emeritus of Beth Sholom, now 85.

Frustrated by the lack of amenities - Klaperman sent his daughter by bus to a Flatbush yeshiva - the rabbi did two things that changed local history.

He opened the Hillel School, one of the first local yeshivas. And in the early 1960s, he and another local rabbi sought to create an eruv, a boundary around a Jewish neighborhood inside which activities can take place that would normally be banned on the Sabbath. An eruv makes a community more attractive to observant Jews.

"An eruv is an essential part of a Jewish community," Klaperman said. "It gives us the opportunity to do something on the Sabbath which normally we couldn't do. You couldn't push your baby carriage, for example [Jewish law forbids 'carrying' outside the home on the Sabbath] ... And with the growing community, baby carriages became a big issue."

Just as advocates had hoped and opponents had feared, the eruv acted like a magnet and drew waves of new residents."

Once a community takes off, others begin to gravitate towards it," Heilman said. "The nature of Orthodox life is that people have to walk to synagogue, and so they need to cluster."

And as the community grew, it began to diversify.The first arrivals had been Modern Orthodox, whose adherents believe they can fully participate in the world while they uphold Jewish law. Well-known members include Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and recent "Apprentice" finalist Lee Bienstock of Lawrence. Many send their children not just to their own institutions, such as Yeshiva University, but to secular colleges and universities. The ultra-Orthodox tend to patronize secular schools only for professional degrees.

Orthodox growth

Over time, more and more ultra-Orthodox settlers began to migrate, especially to Lawrence.

"Why did the ultra-Orthodox come out? Two words: Far Rockaway," said William Helmreich, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College. "They spilled over the border from a contiguous right-wing neighborhood."

After the school elections, Orthodox leaders acknowledge their growing power and do not apologize for it. But they say they are determined to respect all points of view.

"Change is always uncomfortable," acknowledged Hain of Beth Sholom. "You can fold your arms in a certain way and when you try to refold them differently, it feels awful."

But he is optimistic about the prospects for compromise.

"The rabbinic leaders have worked very hard to impress on people - particularly now that we have more power - that we need to exercise it responsibly and fairly and justly.

"The region's noted and notable

It's been named in the movies - Henry Hill married a girl from the Five Towns area in "GoodFellas," and "Amongst Friends" portrays life in the cluster of mostly affluent communities not far from Kennedy Airport.

Most Long Islanders associate the real-life Five Towns with the upscale shopping of Cedarhurst and Hewlett, and the mansions of Hewlett Harbor and parts of Lawrence.

Among the notables who've grown up there are actor and producer Ed Burns; legendary Knicks head coach Red Holzman; fashion designer Donna Karan; sportswriter Tony Kornheiser; actress Peggy Lipton; and shoe designer Steve Madden.

Lawrence became the Five Towns' first incorporated village in 1897, at the height of its heyday as an opulent resort. The snooty Osborne House opened in 1884 in the Isle of Wight section of south Lawrence.

The South Side Rail Road from Valley Stream to the Rockaway peninsula, completed in 1869, spurred creation of the Five Towns of Hewlett, Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Inwood and Lawrence, though the appellation covers three hamlets and six incorporated villages.

Changing community

The landscape of the tony Five Towns community of Lawrence has changed with private-school enrollment soaring, particularly in Orthodox Jewish yeshivas.

1960 2000
Population 6,566 6,522
White 93.6% 95.2%
Minorities/mixed race 6.4% 4.8%
Median family income, 1999 dollars $124,502 $129,779
High school diploma NA 95.4%
College degree NA 64.3%
Multilingual NA 23.9%

1994-95 3,812 1,833
1996-97 3,863
1997-98 2,431
1998-99 3,746 2,946
1999-00 3,827
2001-02 3,678
2005-06 3,521 3,991
NOTE: Public school enrollment figures are for Lawrence school district, which includes parts of neighboring communities.
3,775 Private school students in Lawrence school district attending yeshivas, 2006.
3,521 Public school students in Lawrence school district, 2006
NOTE: Excludes kindergarten: 2005-06 student populations are as of May 20.

The Lawrence Far Rockaway eruv

The Lawrence Far Rockaway eruv is one of six in the Five Towns and one of about two dozen in Queens and on Long Island: it was established in the early 1960s and has expanded several times. Within the Lawrence Far Rockaway borders are more than a dozen Orthodox institutions, including several yeshivas.

1. Congregation Beth Sholom
2. Congregation Shaaray Tefila
3. Congregation Ohel Moshe
4. Agudath Israel of Long Island
5. Congregation Kneseth Israel
6. Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv
7. Mikvah Hebrew community Service
8. Bais Medrash Ateres Yisroel
9. Young Israel of Far Rockaway
10. Yeshiva B'nei Torah
11. Congregation Kehilos Jakob
12. Congregation Shomrai Shabbos
13. Yeshiva of Far Rockaway
14. Torah Academy for Girls
15. Gustave Hartman YMHA
16. Yeshiva Darchei Torah

What is an eruv? An eruv is a boundary, usually delineated by telephone or utility wires, that surrounds a Jewish neighborhood, permitting activities that would otherwise be forbidden on the Sabbath.

Within its boundaries, an observant Jew…·

May push a baby stroller.·

Carry a prayer book or shawl.

He or she may not....

Participate in activities otherwise prohibited, including ball playing or bicycle riding.


Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

Atlantic Monthly.

Leaps of Faith

When pop stars get religion

by Ross Douthat
In the year since Michael Jackson’s acquittal on charges of child molestation, the reclusive singer has abandoned Neverland Ranch for Bahrain, where he’s been a guest of the royal family. Jackson recently promised to build a mosque in the tiny kingdom, and he was spotted in a Bahraini mall wearing a flowing abaya robe, traditionally the garb of Muslim women. In March, CBS News reported that the King of Pop, raised a Jehovah’s Witness, might soon convert to Islam. Below is a selection of famous entertainers who changed faiths in midcareer, along with a few details on how well each conversion took.

1. Sammy Davis Jr. (Judaism)

This Rat Packer was born to Christian parents, but didn’t practice a faith until he lost his eye in a 1954 car crash. While recovering, Davis found himself poring over a history of Judaism. His eventual conversion prompted giggles and suspicion among Jews and Gentiles alike. But though his beliefs drifted over the years—toward reincarnation and even Satanism, briefly—he never gave up his adopted faith, and died with a rabbi by his side. And the jokes were great: “I’m colored, Jewish, and Puerto Rican,” he would say. “When I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out!”

2. Cat Stevens (Islam)

Raised Greek Orthodox, the British-born Stevens converted to Islam in 1977, following years of spiritual searching prompted by a bout of tuberculosis. Taking the name Yusuf Islam, he gave up music entirely, entered an arranged marriage, and founded a Muslim school in London. He’s been dogged by controversy: in the late 1980s, he seemed to endorse the fatwa against Salman Rushdie; he was deported from Israel in 2000 amid allegations that he supported Hamas; and he appeared on a U.S.-government “no-fly” list after September 11. Of late, his anti-music stance has softened: in 1998 he released an album in support of the Bosnian Muslims, and he is reportedly working on a new pop album.

3. Bob Dylan (Christianity)

The Jewish singer-songwriter became a born-again Christian in 1979, after experiencing what he later described as “this vision and feeling” of Christ’s presence. His songs became explicitly religious, laced with fire-and-brimstone themes, and many fans and critics abandoned him (though some of the music from this era is now considered to rank among Dylan’s best). Then his zeal seemed to wane: he reportedly flirted with an orthodox Hasidic sect, the Lubavitchers, and became coy about his exact beliefs. In a 1997 interview, he associated his religion with the music of his youth. “Those old songs are my lexicon and my prayer book,” Dylan said. “I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs.”

4. Adam Yauch (Buddhism)

The trash-talking, Jewish-born Beastie Boys frontman became a Buddhist after encountering Tibetan refugees during a snowboarding trip in Nepal. He organized a series of Tibetan Freedom Concerts and donated royalties from Buddhism-inspired songs like “Bodhisattva Vow” to the Tibetan cause. He even briefly considered becoming a Buddhist monk; instead, he married Dechen Wangdu, a Tibetan-American woman he met at a speech by the Dalai Lama.

5. Madonna (Kabbalah)

After trading on her girlhood Catholicism for years, in the late 1990s the pop star embraced Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism repackaged into a Hollywood-friendly faith (or cult, to its critics) by the Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre. Madonna reportedly took the biblical name Esther after being told she was a reincarnation of the biblical queen, and she has donated almost $20 million to her new religion. She has also drawn other celebrities—including Britney Spears, David Beckham, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher—into its orbit.The URL for this page is

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Sons of the The Father

After the Satmar Grand Rebbe's Death, a Tzimmes Grows in Brooklyn

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 4, 2006; D01

NEW YORK "There he goes! There he goes! Follow him!"
We bounce, five ultra-Orthodox Jewish Satmars and me, through Williamsburg in a white SUV late one Sunday night in hot pursuit of Moses Friedman, the white-bearded gabbai (royal adviser) to Rebbe Zalmen. The gabbai drives his Cadillac down a tenement canyon. We tailgate him, fishtailing around corners, braking, accelerating.
The gabbai stops and squints at us in his rearview mirror.
The five Satmars, who are followers of Rebbe Aaron, who happens to be Zalmen's brother and rival, go motionless. A minute passes and the gabbai's Cadillac slips off into the night. Giggles fill the SUV. There was no point to this pursuit, other than messing with the gabbai's mind.
Now they've got a new idea. "Here! Listen to this!"
A young Satmar, his payes (curled sidelocks) shaking with excitement, cues up on his laptop a recording of Zalmen's followers, Zalis, talking to the grand rebbe. The tape allegedly reveals the Zalmenista nogoodniks tricking the senile rebbe into denouncing Aaron.
All you can really make out from the stream of Yiddish is a faint voice -- allegedly that of the grand rebbe -- asking: " Ver zeinen de menschen?" ("Who are these men?")
Where did this tape come from? Conspiratorial smiles. Husky Abe Rubin leans in and confides: "A worker in the grand rebbe's house is a real schlemiel. He recorded the conversation and sold it to us."
Richard Nixon's "plumbers," that shady crew of burglars, would have found many soul brothers among the Satmar partisans. Everyone "knows" of secret tapes, forged signatures, election chicanery and bribes. (An Aaron supporter passes along a photo of a Zalmen party in which the same face appears twice -- proof the Zalis are inflating the head count! The Aaronis dub the photo "The Two Saddams").
These are strange times for the Satmars, the world's largest and most powerful Hasidic sect.
Their leader, Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, died April 24 at 91, laid low by dementia and cancer. But the king's death brought no peace to his sons, the middle-aged Aaron and Zalmen. Their biblical battle for his crown has no clear end.
Their followers trade punches and kicks in shul, snatch kosher wine and substitute grape juice, swap slanderous rumors. Did you know David shakes hands with women? And Chaim, he talks on the phone on Shabbat? It's relayed in husky whispers, with clucks and smiles, like Merry Pranksters gone meshugeneh (crazy).
"Every party, every get-together, this is all we talk about," says one Aaroni. "It's our Mets and Yankees."
Hasidic dynasties often sunder violently. In neighboring Crown Heights the Lubavitcher Hasids wrestle with a far more irreconcilable succession problem: The biggest faction refuses to anoint a successor to Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who died a decade ago, as they believe he was the Messiah and so is about to rise from the grave.
Moses Teitelbaum hoped to forestall such a war and ordered his sons to pick their turfs. Aaron, 57, the eldest and most scholarly of his four sons, reluctantly chose Kiryas Joel, a fast-growing Satmar shtetl of 23,000 some 90 minutes north of Brooklyn along the main caravan route to the Catskill Mountains. Then Moses appointed his milder-mannered younger son, Zalmen, 55, as rabbi of Williamsburg, the 50,000-strong shtetl in Brooklyn that remains the beating heart of Satmar. (An additional 40,000 or so Satmars live in Montreal, Antwerp, Argentina and Jerusalem). Before Moses could clearly pick his successor, Alzheimer's descended. The Satmars have no equivalent to a College of Cardinals to choose between the sons. Rabbi Isaac Wertheimer is a Zali and his explanation of succession has the simplicity of a Zen koan: "You become grand rebbe by acting grand."
So the Royal Teitelbaums wrestle for control of a kingdom vast by Hasidic standards, with more than $1 billion worth of shuls and yeshivas, social service groups and subsidized housing and mikvahs (ritual baths). Many foresee a schism.
"The Satmar are like stock market," says Avi Zupnick, a well-heeled businessman who supports Aaron, on a walking tour of the Williamsburg shtetl, 70 square blocks thick with Hasids. "We get too big" -- he snaps his fingers -- "we split!"
As with bruises and broken bones, burned cars and slashed tires, the siren song of modernity poses a danger for the Satmars. How could it not? Hasidic Williamsburg sits cheek to jowl with the hipster Williamsburg of art galleries and pierced orifices. Every Satmar man carries a cellphone and a BlackBerry. There are secret Satmar poet bloggers and a rapper or two -- Hasidic shtetls are most complicated cloisters.
Still the Satmars survive. They are enthusiastic procreators (the average mother has eight children; it is God's will) and their sect has doubled, to 120,000, in the past two decades. They grow as modern variations of Judaism shrink.
Sarala Fischer, 21, sits with Menachem, her husband, at their kitchen table in a new townhouse on a cul-de-sac up in Kiryas Joel, where Yiddish is the first language. She wears a long robe, pearl earrings, a turquoise turban and a faint, ironic smile.
"We are no angels, that's a fact -- this place is A-plus at monitoring you," she says, pushing a rocker for her 6-month-old son. "Sometimes Satmar is very, very beautiful, like family. Sometimes it's 'get out of my face,' like family. But we don't see it as restrictive -- it is loving . . . and choices are not helpful."
Menachem, only recently fluent in English, nods. "That's our barrier against leaving -- to lead a fulfilled Jewish life you need to be in the community."

Rebbe Love

Kiryas Joel is celebrating the engagement of one of Aaron's dozens of granddaughters.
The hubbub begins outside Yetev Lev D'Satmar synagogue, big as an airport terminal, with dozens of teenage boys in flat black felt hats and prayer shawls running up to peer quizzically into your face. Inside, the place is packed -- thousands of men in black coats and hats press together so tightly that you cross the floor with something close to a swimming motion, arms akimbo. Wood bleachers rise up each wall, and young men pack the rows, arms locked and bouncing up and down and side to side, smiling and singing prayers.
A prayer singer hops atop a 70-yard-long center table and strides toward the dais. Wearing a shtreimel , the round fur hat favored on formal occasions, the singer bows deeply before Aaron, who has been clapping rhythmically, his eyes downcast. With a thespian's timing, he looks up at the singer and smiles, then wags his hand at the young men in the bleachers. They cannot contain themselves. Their decibel level keens higher.
This is Aaron's sanctum, and these yungerleit , the young men, are his truest believers. Hasidism is a youth culture; the median age in Kiryas Joel is 15. (Married women stay home with the children; younger women are consigned to the second floor of the synagogue, behind wood-mesh screens.)
The village has the structures of municipal government -- a mayor, trustees, a constable and zoning board, all of whom are Satmars. But the rebbe is the boss of this theocracy; his is the only voice on matters spiritual. An invitation to his tisch , the Sabbath dinner on Friday, is much sought after; young men vie to clap and sing and seek advice.
Not all Satmars rely on the rebbe. But Aaron's most fervent followers call at any hour. They seek blessings for births and bris, the ritual circumcision, for engagements and weddings, surgeries and funerals. A few carry X-rays -- the rebbe might have a thought about a relative's condition or know a surgeon to call late at night. Others ask advice on a wayward child, a loan to tide through bad times, a blessing for a business venture. (It is the same in Williamsburg, where the Zalis head to Zalmen's home.)
Menachem Fischer is making his way as a home builder. Some nights he drives up the hill to Aaron's house on Sanz Court and stands in line. He is never turned away.
"I ask him if we should build, if we should buy land," says Fischer, who possesses an open face and dark, expressive eyes. "Sometimes he tells you, 'Build.' Sometimes not. Sometimes he just gives you a blessing."
The Satmars don't believe their rebbes have a pipeline to God, not precisely. But miracles surely happen. As Fischer says: "The faith we have in him, our love, gives him the power."

Out of Eastern Europe

Ba'al Shem Tov was the first and greatest Hasidic rebbe, a charismatic steeped in the mysticism of Kabbalah who emerged from the pogroms and false messiahs of 17th-century Eastern Europe.
He preached that God permeates existence; by prayer and dance and love -- rather than scholasticism -- anyone can know Him. His disciples filtered across Eastern Europe, their sects taking the name of the towns they settled, the Belz from Belza in Eastern Poland, the Lubavitchers from Lubavitch in Belarus, the Bobover from the Galician town of Bobowa. The Satmars took their name from Satu Mare, the Romanian city where Joel Teitelbaum, the sect's founder, was appointed rabbi in 1934.
Within the decade, the Satmars were all but extinguished. In 1944, the Nazis marched into Hungary and deported or killed 70 percent of the Jews. Teitelbaum was shipped to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, only to be released in a deal the young Zionist Reszo Kastner made with Adolf Eichmann to purchase the freedom of 1,684 Jews, not least Rebbe Joel.
It was an unexpected deliverance. The Satmars are ardent anti-Zionists.
"Everyone ignores the fact that it has been these Zionist groups that . . . have violated the oath against establishing a Jewish entity before the arrival of the messiah," Teitelbaum wrote after the war. "It is because of the Zionists that six million Jews were killed."
(Arriving in Williamsburg in 1946, Teitelbaum found a hardworking Italian and Jewish neighborhood of markets and factories, dance halls and pool joints. This was not so good; it was a trayfe medina (unclean city).
Slowly, Teitelbaum built his shtetl. He encouraged his followers to make their way in the secular work world, the better to accumulate riches in real estate and the diamond trade (and B&H camera stores), and tithe money to build shuls and yeshivas. They set about pushing aside secular neighbors -- more than a few Puerto Rican and Italian homeowners tell of men in black hats and beards knocking daily at their door and offering them suitcases of cash to leave.
"It was infuriating," recalls Luis Acosta, a longtime Williamsburg activist who harbors a grudging respect for the Satmar. "They just wanted to force everyone out."
Teitelbaum established a cradle-to-grave kingdom. There are tuition subsidies and interest-free loans, and Satmar butchers give discounts to the poor. New families receive free car seats; impoverished brides get wedding dresses. Satmar bureaucrats play New York's social service agencies like a Wurlitzer organ, pulling down many state and federal grants.
But Teitelbaum brooked no compromise with modernity. He banned television and frowned on radio and novels. His fiercest sermons inveighed against the very notion of accommodation. When he died in 1979, his nephew Moses took over, running a caretaker regime until his death six weeks ago.
Boys study the Torah and, until the age of 6, speak Yiddish only. Girls are tutored in math and English and enough computer skills to make a living. (Science is an unexplored hallway; the Satmars teach nothing of physics and biology and believe the world was created 6,000 years ago.) Only 3 percent have college degrees.
On her wedding day, a Satmar woman shaves her head and dons a wig or turban for modesty. "Everything Joel said, we move not one inch," says Abe Rubin, the rotund Aaroni, holding a forefinger and thumb a centimeter apart. "We're the most ultra-, ultra-, ultra-orthodox in the world."
Zalmen is cut from his father's cloth, a careful leader who relies on the counsel of his gabbai, the white-bearded Moses Friedman.
Aaron walks a different, more charismatic path. He has a distaste for dissent. His followers have barred dissidents from a communal graveyard and shooed their children from the yeshiva.
And there are whispers of worse at the hands of his yungerleit .
"He's trying to morph his community into a more consciously Hasidic community," says Zalman Alpert, a research librarian at Yeshiva University and scholar of Hasidism. "But charismatic leaders have a way of alienating themselves, and violence has reared its ugly head."

Not So Merry Mischief

Last fall, the Aaronis marched African American nightclub bouncers into the Williamsburg synagogue and punched out a few Zalis. A Teitelbaum brother, Leipa, aligned with Zalmen, kicked an Aaroni in the face at shul. Cars have been torched, one in front of Aaron's house. A convalescent home burned to the ground in a suspicious fire.
As for this pugilism, Freud could nail that one. A fistfight, a yelling match, a slashed tire holds a certain adrenal attraction; the older partisans are well aware of this fact. Satmar adolescents cannot exercise or play sports. Dating is out of the question, as is masturbation, officially. Sleeping on your stomach is frowned on.
"It's a disgrace," Sarala Fischer says. "Their fistfights are not possessive of us all."
The brawling has spilled into the courts.
Not long ago, Moshe Yaakov Brach testified in state Supreme Court as an expert for the Aaronis on Satmar religious traditions. On cross-examination Brach acknowledged another expertise: swindling.
It seems he once convinced a small Wisconsin town to lend him $250,000 to build a pay-toilet factory. But he never built it.
"You didn't pay back the money until you were arrested, correct?" asked lawyer Scott Mollen.
"Right," Brach replied.
"At the time you were arrested," Mollen continued, "were you also charged with committing criminal conduct relating to the Union Carbide Company?"
Brach nodded. "Yes."
Later, Mollen asked if by chance Brach ever had escaped from a federal halfway house.
"Did not return to the halfway house," Brach replied, according to the court transcript. "Whatever."
This game-playing has infuriated the court.
"There have been many incredible and outrageous attempts by certain [Satmars] . . . to discredit, intimidate and improperly influence this Court," State Supreme Court Justice Melvin Barasch wrote in 2004. Brach has "inundated Court Administration with false, incredible stories claiming 'deals,' 'bribery' etc. involving this Court and its staff."
In private, some Satmar women sound as fed up as the judge.
"We agree not to speak of any politics at home, though the hubby's free to get all hotheaded in the synagogue," explains a Satmar woman in Brooklyn. "For all the battling, or rather precisely because of it, none of the two sons are getting very much rebbe-like respect or holy awe."

The Life

So the fists fly and the lawsuits over succession grind on. But in many ways the more intriguing questions go to the mystery of this life. A secular observer wonders what keeps a Satmar tethered to this restricted world. The Satmar wonders why you wonder.
The Satmars acknowledge they cannot quite seal themselves within a 19th-century Hungarian world. A burly and amiable Satmar fishmonger aligned with his sect's most ultra-orthodox wing comes to your house to chat and at evening's end turns to your son and says: "So you like Notorious B.I.G.? Eminem and Public Enemy, they are straight-up great."
Cruise the orthodox Web sites, and you can find, where a Hasid writes of reconciling doubt -- and his love of Bob Marley, Sting and Philip Roth -- with the "divine mystery" of black hat life.
"Chasids are raised with a set of powerful beliefs that leaves no room for doubt or ambiguity," he writes. "We might just be living an illusion . . . but it is a sweet illusion."
Sarala and Menachem Fischer know nothing of hip-hop or Philip Roth. Their parents arranged their marriage with the help of a matchmaker. Sarala remembers the beshow , the first date. Her intended, a young man with thick glasses and black felt hat, walks in. He can't bring himself to look at her, asking only:
"What job do you do?"
The hour crawls by. In six months they will be married.
The rabbis gave Menachem a 10-lesson course in how to live with a wife. The last lesson was sex. "I grew up in a family of boys; until four weeks before marriage I don't know the difference between boys and girls," he recalls. "I was scared!"
Sarala rolls her eyes.
"Y'know what they teach?" She imitates the Yiddish accent. " 'Vimen zar moody.' The first weeks after marriage you just sit there and want to talk and he falls asleep."
Sarala and Menachem laugh, they steal looks, they blush. "We don't believe in falling in love," Sarala says. "We believe in building love."
Outside marriage, men and women build careful walls. A woman may work for a male, but no jokes, no family talk, everything curt. On the birth of a child, perhaps a boss says mazel tov .
Shtetl life offers the love of an enveloping family. Are there headaches, too? Oy. Of course! Sarala and Menachem were not married three months when yentas (gossips) began to peer at her belly for signs of the telltale bulge.
Everyone looks superficially alike, but there are those who keep every rule, who take the ritual bath and pray for hours each day. And those who test the limits, who sneak away to a movie, surf the Net, raise a hemline, steal a touch, drink coffee on the way to shul.
Maybe a young Satmar turns on the FM in the car. Still he shares laughs and puts on his tallis and davens (bows ritually) at Friday night prayers.
"We put gate within gate within gate," Sarala says. "If we fall, we don't fall the whole way."
At her kitchen table, late into the evening, she talks of the "glass wall" that separates the Satmar women from secular women. She finds security behind that glass, a safety that saves this very bright woman in this community much confusion.
"My husband was a very simple teenager, but for me, I wondered about music, about college," she says. "If I had the opportunity to make choices, I'd probably be in Botswana somewhere wondering what to become. And it would take me 70 years to find my way home."
"Without this world," she says, "I would wander, I would fall, I would be lost."