Displaying posts published in

July 2016

God and the Fourth of July Asked to propose a national seal in 1776, Franklin and Jefferson chose religious themes. By Rabbi Meir Soloveichik

Mr. Soloveichik is the rabbi and minister of Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought of Yeshiva University.

On July 4, 1776, after voting to approve the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress advanced the following resolution: “That Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America.”

Of these three founders, two suggested seals that incorporated profoundly biblical images. Franklin, according to his own notes, proposed the following as the national seal: a picture of “Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.” Underneath the image, Franklin added, would appear the following motto: “Rebellion to Tyrants is obedience to God.”

Jefferson, as described by John Adams in his correspondence, suggested a seal that bore a different image, but also from the Hebrew Bible: “the Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night.”

While the Declaration’s approval on the Fourth of July is still celebrated throughout the land, the tale of the seal that began on the same day in 1776 has been all but forgotten. Bruce Feiler, author of “America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story” (2009), reflected that when he first encountered the story, it “stunned me. Why hadn’t I heard about this before?” The legal historian Michael I. Meyerson, in his 2012 book “Endowed by Our Creator,” reported that he had used Google Books to search more than 200 Thomas Jefferson biographies published since 1950 and had found only 12 describing Jefferson’s national-seal proposal.
The messages behind the two Founders’ proposed images are quite different. In the biblical tale of the splitting of the sea, Franklin chose a scriptural story in which God himself miraculously intervenes into the natural order and redeems his people. The book of Exodus emphasizes that, in this event, only the Almighty was actively engaged: “And the Lord saved Israel from the hands of Egypt, and Israel saw Egypt dead on the shores of the sea.”

Jefferson’s symbol, by contrast, focused on the courage of the people of Israel in journeying into the desert; it celebrated not so much the miracle performed by God as much as the human spirit. This, too, is lauded by the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah: “I remember thee, the loyalty of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” CONTINUE AT SITE

Where’s the Drug, FDA? The agency keeps delaying a therapy for muscular dystrophy.

The Food and Drug Administration is sitting on a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and the agency may have days to waste but the boys don’t. Bureaucratic malpractice on a safe and effective treatment is corroding the agency’s scientific credibility and the public’s trust.

FDA in May delayed a decision on eteplirsen by Boston-based Sarepta Therapeutics. There is no treatment for Duchenne, a fatal disease that claims a boy’s ability to walk before organ failure in his 20s. Eteplirsen jumps over genetic code to produce a missing protein known as dystrophin.

Eight of 10 boys who seemed headed for wheelchairs still walk after four years of treatment; only one of 11 in a control group could walk. FDA reviewers say the drug doesn’t produce “enough” dystrophin or maybe the kids had motivated moms. Yes, the public pays for that analysis.

The agency last month asked Sarepta for dystrophin data from an ongoing trial. The results are likely to show that the treatment is delivering on its promise to pump out the protein, as dozens of experts, clinicians and scientists tried to tell the agency at an April meeting. A readout consistent with earlier findings would give Janet Woodcock, the drug evaluation center chief who can overrule her technical staff, ample reason to say yes.

An approval would have the added advantage of obeying the law. Legislation from 2012 allows FDA to sign off on a first-in-class drug that is “reasonably likely” to predict a clinical benefit based on small or innovative trials. FDA can pull the treatment if later studies fail. This process is called “accelerated approval,” though that is a dark joke to boys who lost walking or gripping abilities in the year since Sarepta filed an application.

Sarepta will soon start a required confirmation trial that deploys the same technology to treat boys with a different strain of Duchenne. Last week the company said that the investigation would last two years instead of one. The trial will be placebo-controlled, in which some patients receive saline. CONTINUE AT SITE

Loretta Lynch’s Clinton Mess The Attorney General should formally recuse herself from the case, or take responsibility.

Loretta Lynch did herself, the Department of Justice and Hillary Clinton no favors on Friday when she tried to repair the damage she had done by meeting privately with Bill Clinton this week.

In a televised interview from Aspen, Colorado, with the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, the Attorney General struggled to defend her department’s ability to make an honest decision about whether to indict Mrs. Clinton over her handling of classified information on her personal email server. “I fully expect” to accept the recommendations of FBI investigators and career Justice officials, she said, in damage-control mode.

Ms. Lynch created this mess when she welcomed the former President onto her plane in Phoenix for a 30-minute private meeting—while her department is investigating his spouse. The public might not even have known about the meeting if someone hadn’t tipped off a reporter. When first asked about the propriety of the meeting earlier this week, Ms. Lynch explained it was “primarily” social.

That didn’t satisfy anyone, and the pressure built. Prosecutors don’t meet privately with the spouses of people who are under investigation, and even White House spokesman Josh Earnest admitted that questions about Ms. Lynch’s meeting are “entirely legitimate.” Ms. Lynch said Friday at Aspen that she understands why her behavior has “cast a shadow” over the integrity of the Justice Department.

Yet her Clintonian answers show as much bad judgment as the original meeting. She is now passing the buck to career officials while still retaining the ability to overrule them. This is trying to have it both ways. She knows there will be a political price to pay no matter what the decision. Her ethical straddle allows her to say she had nothing to do with a decision not to indict while retaining the authority to overrule an FBI recommendation to indict. CONTINUE AT SITE

Dr. Rafael Medoff : How Peter Bergson Brought Activism into the Mainstream

A major new novel features a Jewish activist organizing protests against the Roosevelt administration’s abandonment of European Jewry. A recent off-Broadway play (being made into a movie by an Academy Award-winning actor and director) depicted Jewish activists and leaders clashing over Holocaust rescue.

With his appearance in literature, theater, and film, the once-controversial Peter Bergson is finally entering the popular culture. And the U.S. Jewish community at long last seems to be coming to grips with one of the most painful chapters in its history.

Seventy-five years ago this summer, Bergson (real name: Hillel Kook) and a handful of colleagues launched what would become perhaps the most dramatic political action campaign in American Jewish history.

To advance their demands to rescue Europe’s Jews and create a Jewish state in Palestine, these activists placed hundreds of full-page ads in newspapers, lobbied in Congress, and organized a march by 400 rabbis to the White House. Such tactics were radical steps for Jews in the 1940s. Many immigrants and children of immigrants, still nervous about their place in American society, were uneasy about broadcasting Jewish concerns in the pages of the major newspapers.

Bergson liked to call himself a “nuisance diplomat,” and his group’s activities did prove to be quite a nuisance to the Roosevelt administration, which insisted the rescue of European Jews was impossible. The Bergsonites mobilized enough congressional and public pressure on President Roosevelt to help force him to create a U.S. government agency, the War Refugee Board, in early 1944. During the final fifteen months of World War II, the board played a central role in rescuing some 200,000 Jews from the Nazis.

Warren Kozak :Fleeing the Czars, Defying Gravity: A Fourth of July Immigrant Tale-From a Lower Manhattan arrival in 1900 to the space shuttle Endeavor in three generations.

On July 4, 1900, Samuel Hoffman and his father, Moshe, walked across the gangplank of a ferryboat that unceremoniously dumped them, along with a large group of fellow immigrants, at a dock on 14th Street in Manhattan. Independence Day for these newcomers meant liberation from czarist Russia.

New Yorkers were used to seeing confused, freshly arrived immigrants walking through lower Manhattan, but these two stood out. It was a searing-hot summer day and both father and son wore winter overcoats and boots.
“Our clothing and awkward bundles on our backs, as we walked along 14th Street, drew everyone’s attention to us,” Samuel Hoffman wrote at age 83 in an account for his family. “I was 15 years old, bewildered and almost overcome by the alien and unfamiliar scenes that stretched and throbbed all around father and me.”

Like most immigrants, they couldn’t speak the language. Coming from a small village in Russia, they had never seen anything even remotely like New York City. They could have arrived from another planet. All they had to guide them was a piece of paper with the address of a distant relative who lived on the Lower East Side.

After generations of extreme poverty and religious persecution, Moshe and his more savvy wife, Yetta, had decided to sell their house and borrow enough money to pay for two tickets to America. The plan was that father and son would then earn enough money in the New World to bring over the rest of the family. Constant hunger was a hallmark of Samuel’s childhood in Russia. His daily diet had consisted of one piece of black bread and a potato dipped in herring sauce for flavor. Occasionally there were onions and radishes and a glass of milk for the children. It had been that way for generations and there was little chance it would ever change.

Breaking with tradition, Yetta chose to send Samuel instead of her eldest son. Although Samuel looked even younger than 15, Yetta believed that he would fare better than his older brother. She knew her son.

There was no government assistance for the giant wave of immigrants to America at the turn of the 20th century. Instead, like all the immigrants that had come before, they would fend for themselves. They also helped each other. The distant relative on the Lower East Side took in Samuel and Moshe, even though, with three children and two boarders in only three rooms, that was a challenge. Another distant cousin, with a larger home in Brooklyn, soon took them in until they could afford a room of their own.

After a series of jobs that brought in more money, and going to school at night to learn English, Samuel started his own business. He bought nine sewing machines on credit and hired employees. Many trades were closed to Jews, but the garment industry seemed to belong to them.

A California University’s Troubling Terrorism Ties by Cinnamon Stillwell

Originally published under the title “Why Is A San Francisco University Secretly Partnering With An Arab College That Promotes Jihad?”

SFSU President Leslie Wong has come under criticism for failing to take sufficient action against anti-Israel hate groups on campus.

San Francisco State University (SFSU), which has a well-deserved reputation as a breeding ground for anti-Israel radicalism, became national news in April. That’s when campus police stood by as a hate-Israel group, the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), shouted down and disrupted a lecture by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, prompting much criticism of SFSU’s president, Leslie Wong.

But there’s worse. As revealed by an investigation into SFSU by Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, SFSU has partnered with a Palestinian university that’s a hotbed of radicalization.

What our investigation turned up:

SFSU signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with An-Najah University of Hebron in 2014 at the behest of Rabab Abdulhadi, director of SFSU’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) and founding member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Najah states on its website that the MOU was signed on September 10, 2014 and Abdulhadi sang its praises at an April 2015 reception:

The memorandum of understanding that President Wong signed with An-Najah National University in Palestine … is the first time that we have any agreement with any university in the Arab or Muslim world and we are very excited about that.

Wong also trumpeted the MOU at the 2015 reception, boasting of his role in helping bring it to fruition:

When I returned from Palestine two years ago, I said I want to be one of the first major universities to sign an agreement with An-Najah or any of the other Palestinian universities, or any of the universities in the Arab world.