tablet on drumpf at aipac: something’s rotten?
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  • March 21, 2016

Tablet’s edi­to­rial board says AIPAC fails to rep­re­sent both the left and the right when it comes to advo­cating for Israel on American Jews’ behalf.

The invi­ta­tion to Trump is a symbol of what AIPAC has become — an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­ical savvy and moral sense. Let’s be frank: Some of us would be com­fort­able with a bunch of back-alley polit­ical knife-fighters whose only cause is the active defense of the Jewish people, while others want leaders devoted to making sure that our com­munal goals embody uni­versal morals and social-justice values—regardless of how this might play on the geopo­lit­ical chess­board. Whichever camp you find your­self in, one thing is clear: What we have now in AIPAC is an orga­ni­za­tion with the fail­ings of both, and the virtues of nei­ther.
Headless Community in Bottomless Spiral

This is a fas­ci­nating piece of polit­ical rhetoric. The Tablet edi­tors are saying that both sides can agree AIPAC is a poor rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the American Jewish com­mu­nity, and then make their case from each side.

If they are able to step away from the par­ti­san­ship and actu­ally offer cogent ana­lyt­ical insight into AIPAC’s fail­ings on both the left and the right, then that’s admirable and useful. But the problem is that vir­tu­ally no one (at least no one who is actively engaged in/with the Jewish com­mu­nity) is able to actu­ally back away from the fracas and say any­thing that isn’t seen by one side or both as an unfair attack. In other words, I’m won­dering if Tablet’s edi­to­rial team falls into the very trap into which they accuse AIPAC of falling: trying to be a voice for all sides and ending up being a voice for none.

Nonetheless, as an attempt to be ana­lyt­ical of AIPAC without staking ground (or, being trans­parent about your ide­ology but attempt to tran­scend it for the pur­pose of analysis), I think it’s a good try, and a thoughtful, intel­lec­tu­ally deft, and inter­esting one at that.


At the same time, despite some strong lan­guage attacking AIPAC lead­er­ship (which we’ll get to in a second), the authors seem to be dancing around the point they really want to make: this is entirely about the organization’s lead­er­ship, or lack thereof. I think that’s a fair point to make, espe­cially if you can sup­port it with a well-reasoned argu­ment. But a problem with the Tablet edi­to­rial is that its authors hint at having a well-reasoned argu­ment to back up their claims, but it’s hard to believe them when (a) they don’t present much evi­dence of orga­ni­za­tional chaos to sup­port their claims1, and when (b) they take numerous cheap shots and engage in petty ad hominem attacks2 on AIPAC leaders.

It should be fair game to claim that specific people lack polit­ical savvy or that they have exhib­ited behavior that calls their moral sense into ques­tion, espe­cially if you sup­port those claims in a manner that’s con­vincing or at least intel­lec­tu­ally honest. But calling unnamed AIPAC employees “mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace” the com­mu­nity that they’ve ded­i­cated them­selves (with pre­sum­ably best inten­tions) to serving? That state­ment Trump-esque diss, a petty and rhetor­i­cally lazy turn of phrase that must have felt cathartic and won­der­fully naughty to type into the essay’s first draft, says more about its author than its sub­ject. It under­mines the edi­to­rial board’s entire point (as do the other cheap shots sprin­kled throughout), and it should have been excised before an editor clicked “Publish.”

And also, it’s mean. I believe in the impor­tant prac­tice of a publication’s edi­to­rial board writing with one voice, espe­cially on impor­tant issues like this. But it comes off looking like cow­ardly bul­lying when an unnamed writer (writing on behalf of a seem­ingly face­less edi­to­rial team) attacks a group of indi­vid­uals without naming names but with a nod and a wink that says, “We’re way too classy to name names but you know who we’re talking about, right?”

With all due def­er­ence to the folks behind the pub­li­ca­tion (for whom I hold an immense amount of respect and awe-filled admi­ra­tion), Tablet’s typ­i­cally eru­dite edi­tors should be above that kind of shoddy writing, and as a pub­li­ca­tion that endeavors to ele­vate public dis­course (instead of con­tributing to the absence of dis­course down in the gutter on social media), it should be Tablet’s policy to steer clear of lashon hara.

Moreover, if the point is that the root of the problem AIPAC’s staff, then the nat­ural solu­tion is that the mem­ber­ship (who the edi­to­rial claims to stand with/for/behind) should act to replace said “incom­pe­tent” staff, since it’s incum­bent on a non-profit’s employees to advance the mis­sion artic­u­lated by the organization’s mem­ber­ship. Of course, the editorial’s stance seems to be that the problem is with AIPAC on the whole, so the sug­ges­tion that the orga­ni­za­tion is fun­da­men­tally broken makes sense. But in that case the shots at staff are both irrel­e­vant and mis­placed, since it’s the mem­ber­ship who made/let it happen (and if AIPAC is broken on a fun­da­mental level, the prob­lems surely run deeper than some “mid-level incom­pe­tents”).

If, how­ever, the organization’s mem­bers and mis­sion are still worthy of sup­port, then the solu­tion is an easy one: Get rid of the staff who don’t get it and hire people who do. Otherwise, Tablet ought to be blaming the thou­sands of people who donate to AIPAC, show up at AIPAC events, and partner with AIPAC in their own com­mu­ni­ties.

main photo credit: Photo Cindy (Flickr)

  1. By “evi­dence,” I mean thoughtfully-presented fac­tual infor­ma­tion that sup­ports their claims, not, “AIPAC failed to stop the Iran deal… Can’t those screwups do any­thing right?” (back to foot­note in text)

  2. Exhibit A: “…an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­ical savvy and moral sense.” (back to foot­note in text)

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  • March 16, 2016

Louis Brandeis

Brandeis, c. 1916

Merrick Garland

Garland, c. 2016

One hun­dred years ago (Jan. 28, 1916), President Wilson nom­i­nated Louis Brandeis to the US Supreme Court. What fol­lowed was one of the most con­tentious con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings in his­tory, due to Brandeis’ reli­gious her­itage and his unabashed lib­er­alism (espe­cially his record of fighting big Wall Street bankers).

One hun­dred years later, Merrick Garland is unlikely to face anti-Semitism on the Senate floor, and he’s a far less polar­izing pick than Brandeis was. Nonetheless, his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings — if they even happen — are likely to be even more con­tentious.

Funny how much has changed. And how little.

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  • March 2, 2016

The Women Take Over” by Dahlia Lithwick (Slate​.com):

… it’s hard to imagine President Obama con­juring up, from even the darkest, most devious under­ground lab, a new jus­tice who would be half as fierce as the four-car train of whoop ass we saw today.

It’s hard to imagine anyone con­juring up a better com­men­tator on the Supreme Court than Dahlia Lithwick.

Her writing on yesterday’s oral argu­ments in Whole Woman’s HealthHellerstedt is a beau­tiful illus­tra­tion of why I’d rather read her than pretty much any other jour­nalist working today.

benedictine chili.
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  • February 26, 2016

Toasted English muffin topped with chili con carné, sour cream, shredded cheese, fried egg (one for each side) with the yolk still runny, and a little more cheese.

(I dare you to come up with a better use for left­over chili.)

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  • February 24, 2016

Douglas Rushkoff is cred­ited as the ide­o­logue behind the “dig­ital Sabbath.” He’s a smart guy: Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY; media com­men­tator; author; first coined the terms “dig­ital natives,” “social cur­rency,” and “viral media”… yada yada… his whole bio is on Wikipedia if you want it.

Several years ago, he argued that people needed to take time away from dig­ital media. And because he was into the Jewish thing at the time, that idea mor­phed into the notion of a “dig­ital Sabbath.” And then some­thing called The National Day of Unplugging was estab­lished by ReBoot. (ReBoot is an orga­ni­za­tion built on an annual gath­ering which Rushkoff helped to con­vene, ini­tially. But he now calls it elitist.) The National Day of Unplugging exists to encourage people to take their own dig­ital Sabbaths, all on the same day.

Now, Rushkoff says he doesn’t like the idea any­more. From the Guardian, Douglas Rushkoff: ‘I’m thinking it may be good to be off social media alto­gether’:

I came up with this thing which I now don’t like: the dig­ital sab­bath. It feels a little forced and arbi­trary, and it frames dig­ital detox as a depri­va­tion. I would much rather help people learn to value looking into other people’s eyes. To sit in a room talking to people – I want people to value that, not because they aren’t being inter­rupted by dig­ital media but because it’s valu­able in its own right.

That’s novel, I sup­pose. (Though I’m pretty sure Ari Kelman wouldn’t think so.)

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  • February 21, 2016


Today was the GOP pri­mary in South Carolina. Jeb Bush just dropped out of the race because he failed to receive the sup­port of pri­mary voters in three states whose del­e­gates — com­bined! — make up 3.5% (19/538) of the elec­toral col­lege.

(In other words, these states are basi­cally irrel­e­vant in the national elec­tion, yet somehow someone gave their most extreme voters — the ones who show up for the pri­maries — the power to sink a viable candidate’s chances of get­ting the nom­i­na­tion in favor of a guy who is demon­strably loony toons.)

I’m by no means a fan of Jeb Bush, and a part of me won­ders if it helps Dems’ chances in November if the Republicans end up let­ting extremist voters in small states nom­i­nate an openly racist can­di­date to the party’s ticket. But seri­ously… if this isn’t enough to give some legs to efforts to change the pri­mary system, I don’t know what will.

Also, won­dering: After the way Trump took every oppor­tu­nity to pub­licly bad­mouth, embar­rass, shame, and vilify him and his family, if Trump ends up being the can­di­date will Jeb even cast a ballot in November?

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  • February 27, 2015
for our daughter.

On the occasion of your naming. February 27, 2015.
Peninsula Temple Beth El, San Mateo, California

Sara's baby naming.
October 1981.

Sela Penina Mason-Barkin, or Penina Selah in Hebrew.

A big name for a very, very little girl. But we know that no matter how small you are now, you will grow into this name — this name that was so care­fully chosen for you.

Sela Penina, you are named for two very strong, intel­li­gent, loving, and beau­tiful women.

Your first name, Sela, is for your GG – your Great- Grandma Selma. Sela, you are your GG’s six­teenth great-grandchild, so we know exactly how much she would have loved to meet you. Just like she loved meeting your cousins and your big brother, watching you play would have made her blue eyes twinkle and when we placed you on her lap, I know she would have chuckled deeply.

In her absence, we have given you a name that not only sounds like hers but that we also hope will inspire you live up to some of her most spe­cial qual­i­ties.

Your GG pos­sessed a quiet strength and a grace that allowed her live an incred­ible and full life, even after the death of your great grandpa, Carl. At her funeral, many spoke about the ways that she con­tributed to her husband’s busi­ness suc­cess – and how in another day and age she would have been run­ning the store her­self. Well my little Sela, here you are – in another day and age. I know that it wouldn’t matter to your GG what your pas­sion comes to be – whether you find your­self loving writing or music or math: but it would matter to her that you put your whole self into it. This is our wish for your, too.

Another enduring lesson from your GG that we hope you will always take to heart is the impor­tance of family. Your GG made it a pri­ority to make sure that family always got together, and really got to know one another. You have already begun to live this without even knowing it, when you wel­comed two of your big cousins to come visit you when you were still in the hos­pital. Your brother Charlie and all your big cousins Zachy, Eliza, Aviva and Caleb already love you so much – and you have so much to learn from them. Your GG would have loved to know how impor­tant they already are to you, and our hope for you is that family will always come first – and that you will always make this a pri­ority.

Your middle name, Penina, is for your Great Grandmother, Ina. We find the let­ters of her name at the end of yours. Your Great Grandmother was also a source of strength for her family and force in her com­mu­nity. She was a Dean at Clark University and valued edu­ca­tion and learning for her­self and for her family. If your Great Grandmother was still here, she would want to play scrabble with you, teach you three syl­lable words, and talk with you about cur­rent events. As you strive to reach your big dreams, we hope you do so with a thirst for knowl­edge and love of learning that would make your great-grandmother so proud.

Your great-grandmother was very cere­bral, but also appre­ci­ated beauty and detail. One of her most won­derful qual­i­ties that I, unfor­tu­nately, did not inherit, was to set a beau­tiful table and host a gor­geous hol­iday meal. She always hosted with plea­sure and beauty. Whether or not you love to cook, we hope that you will always strive for bal­ance between the intel­lec­tual and the aes­thetic. We want you to find beauty every­where you look, just as we see beauty when we look at you.

Sela Penina, or Penina Selah in Hebrew:

Penina in Hebrew means Pearl. Your great-grandmother Ina had ter­rific taste in jew­elry, and a few years ago she gave me a beau­tiful pearl neck­lace of hers, which will someday be yours. When I wear it, I think about not only the beauty of the pearls, but about the pearls of wisdom that your great grand­mother would share as she tried her best to help me in the kitchen, as she set a beau­tiful table, or as she quizzed me on the meaning of a new word.

Selah in Hebrew means Rock. Just a few months ago, at your GG’s funeral, we remem­bered her lov­ingly as ‘the rock’ of our family. She kept us all, and con­tinues to keep us all together as she heads the family with her loving strength. In the book of Deuteronomy, God is described as nursing Israel with dvash mis­elah, honey from a rock. Like your GG, a rock is strong. It is stead­fast and with­stands much. But like you, and like your GG, this imagery shows us a rock filled with honey: a rock that is sweet, a rock per­forming an act of love. This describes your GG to a tee, and so too may you be as strong as you are sweet.

Our little Sela Penina, Penina Selah, we realize these names are a lot to live up to for a little tiny baby. But there are no two women more deserving of a name­sake as pre­cious as you. Welcome to the world, we are so proud to be your par­ents.


Mom and Dad

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  • January 14, 2015

From “Synagogue-based Religious Schools: A Community Responsibility,” by Lisa Harris Glass and Stephanie Hausner

We have spent a gen­er­a­tion dis­pro­por­tion­ately focused on day schools, thereby rel­e­gating sup­ple­mental reli­gious schools to second-class status. Our efforts have done nothing to increase day school choice in the majority of the Jewish com­mu­nity; but have served to suc­cess­fully demor­alize sup­ple­mental school edu­ca­tion direc­tors and dec­i­mate the bench of quality, qual­i­fied, inspiring reli­gious school teachers. We have con­signed our number one oppor­tu­nity to inspire/ignite a life­long love of Judaism and pos­i­tive Jewish iden­tity to “less than,” “wannabe” status.

Whoa. Because truth.

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  • January 6, 2015

Twenty years ago, I was always reading at least one book. And I’d read dozens — maybe hun­dreds — each year.

Now? I can’t remember the last time I read a book. But…


I’m def­i­nitely reading more than ever.

unlocked iPhone 6 works great in the uk.
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  • December 29, 2014

The short ver­sion: This article from MacWorld UK is wrong. A US-purchased unlocked iPhone 6 works just fine in the UK. (If that’s all you wanted to know, I fig­ured I’d spare you the details. If you want to know more, read on…) Read More

limmud handouts available for download.
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  • December 28, 2014

Here’s where you’ll find my hand­outs from Limmud 2014 in Coventry, England. (I’m posting them live on the day of the ses­sion. All hand­outs should be up as of January 1, 2015.)

If you have any ques­tions, or if you’re looking for some­thing that should be here but isn’t, drop me an email.

the handouts.

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  • November 16, 2014

Hacking Hanukkah to Design the Jewish Future:

This return to the blog has turned into a sharing of other people’s wisdom rather than my own. That is prob­ably the best assur­ance that it is actu­ally wisdom! Today is no excep­tion.

Read the rest

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  • October 25, 2014

Just text me, ok?

Please Do Not Leave A Message: Why Millennials Hate Voice Mail:

We’ve all heard that auto­mated voice mail lady, telling us what to do after the beep. But fewer people than ever are leaving mes­sages. And the mil­len­nials, they won’t even listen to them — they’d much rather receive a text or Facebook mes­sage.

So true. I really really hate voice­mail.

Read the rest

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  • August 28, 2014

I backed a Kickstarter cam­paign. And it paid off, which is to say that I even­tu­ally received an actual pro­duct in the mail. Here it is, ladies and gen­tlemen: the Almond+ wifi router. (Pics inside.)

Read More

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  • August 26, 2014

Instagram’s new Hyperlapse app is amazing.

Basically, it sta­bi­lizes video as it shoots it (or soon there­after) and allows you to play back at var­ious speeds. It’s time­lapse pho­tog­raphy in super-smooth mode, or a replace­ment for a very expen­sive video sta­bi­liza­tion rig.

Instagram HyperlapseThe secret, according to a Wired pro­file, is that the app doesn’t try to sta­bi­lize with any­thing like the fancy (and very processor-intensive) soft­ware found in high-end video pro­duc­tion soft­ware. Rather, it uses data from the iPhone’s built-in gyro­scopes to simply adjust for move­ment.

My ini­tial reac­tion to the app was (a) won­der­ment, and (b) hope­ful­ness that the app would let me import media (like, um, from my GoPro?).

After reading the Wired article, it’s clear that the Hyperlapse app won’t work with imported mate­rial, since the whole point is that it records the gyro­scopic data as it’s recording (and adjusts the video accord­ingly).

But what if…

  1. We use a rig that mounts an iPhone directly to a GoPro, cam­corder, or DSLR. (There’s this cool mount for GoPro, or you could just use any dual-camera tripod mount, like this one.)
  2. We have an app on the phone (like Hyperlapse) that records the gyro­scopic data.
  3. We then take the video footage from the GoPro/camcorder/DSLR and plug it into a desktop app along with the iPhone app’s gyro­scopic data. It could then sta­bi­lize the video using that data — just like the Hyperlapse app, but as a post-processing tech­nique rather than “in-camera.”

For this to work, you need to be able to pre­cisely (!) sync the gyroscope’s data with the video. For that reason, I’m won­dering if the app might record audio, which the post-processing desktop app could use to sync the recorded data’s time with the footage. As you begin recording, it could even emit a beep or clapper sound or some­thing sim­ilar that would be picked up by the video camera’s mic. (The desktop app could know to look for that pre­cise sound.)

Or… we could sync even easier. Both my GoPro and my Canon 6D can be con­trolled by cor­re­sponding iPhone apps. What if the gyro­scope data col­lec­tion was simply built into those apps. Then, you could trigger recording on the camera direct from the phone and simul­ta­ne­ously begin recording the data needed for sta­bi­liza­tion.

I have no idea what kind of patent that Instagram (err… Facebook) has on this tech. My point is that this one amazing inno­va­tion has the poten­tial to be a big-time game changer, since all the other pieces already exist (or, in the case of the desktop app, should be doable by applying existing tech). With some­thing like I described above, you could replace an expen­sive sta­bi­liza­tion rig with an iPhone, a mounting bracket, and some simple (ish) soft­ware.