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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Netanyahu, Not Obama, Speaks for Us


While under fierce attack from President Obama, the Israeli prime minister defends Western values and speaks the truth about Iran. The leader of the free world will be addressing Congress on Tuesday. The American president is doing everything possible to undermine him. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a nation surrounded by enemies, a nation so small that it narrows at one point to just 9.3 miles.

 Yet, in a world where the Oval Office is manned by someone openly apologetic for most American exercises of power; and where Western Europe’s economy is enervated, its people largely faithless, and its leadership feckless; and where Freedom House has found “an overall drop in [global] freedom for the ninth consecutive year,” the safeguarding of our civilization might rely more on leaders who possess uncommon moral courage than on those who possess the most nukes or biggest armies. 

Right now, nobody on the world stage speaks for civilization the way Netanyahu does. While Barack Obama babbles about the supposedly “legitimate grievances” of those who turn to jihad, Netanyahu talks like this (from his speech to the United Nations on September 27, 2012): The clash between modernity and medievalism need not be a clash between progress and tradition. The traditions of the Jewish people go back thousands of years. They are the source of our collective values and the foundation of our national strength. At the same time, the Jewish people have always looked towards the future. Throughout history, we have been at the forefront of efforts to expand liberty, promote equality, and advance human rights. We champion these principles not despite of our traditions but because of them. 

We heed the words of the Jewish prophets Isaiah, Amos, and Jeremiah to treat all with dignity and compassion, to pursue justice and cherish life and to pray and strive for peace. These are the timeless values of my people and these are the Jewish people’s greatest gift to mankind. Let us commit ourselves today to defend these values so that we can defend our freedom and protect our common civilization. When Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel last year, Netanyahu, in his necessary military response, did something almost unprecedented in the history of warfare. As he accurately described in his U.N. speech last year, on September 29: Israel was doing everything to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas was doing everything to maximize Israeli civilian casualties and Palestinian civilian casualties. Israel dropped flyers, made phone calls, sent text messages, broadcast warnings in Arabic on Palestinian television, always to enable Palestinian civilians to evacuate targeted areas.

 No other country and no other army in history have gone to greater lengths to avoid casualties among the civilian population of their enemies As Barack Obama complains (with scant grasp of the historical context) about how Christians were such gosh-darn meanies a thousand years ago in the Crusades, Netanyahu protects the ability of Muslims today to have free access to the Old City of Jerusalem, even as Jews and Christians are prohibited from visiting the Temple Mount. At the beginning of his first term, in his first trip overseas as president, Obama delivered a speech to Turkey’s parliament, under the thumb of the repressive Tayyip Erdogan. “The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history,” he confessed, sounding like America’s therapist-in-chief. “Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans.” Netanyahu, in contrast, in a 2011 Meet the Press interview, offered unabashed words of praise for the United States: “Israel is the one country in which everyone is pro-American, opposition and coalition alike. And I represent the entire people of Israel who say, ‘Thank you, America.’ And we’re friends of America, and we’re the only reliable allies of America in the Middle East.” (Netanyahu was accurate in his description of how much Israelis appreciate Americans, as I saw last summer during a visit to the country.) 

In thanking America, Netanyahu was not posturing for political advantage. Netanyahu — who spent far more of his formative years on the American mainland than Obama did, and who took enemy fire at the age when Obama was openly pushing Marxist theory, and who learned and practiced free enterprise at the same age when Obama was practicing and teaching Alinskyism — has spoken eloquently for decades in praise of the Western heritage of freedom and human rights. He also speaks and acts, quite obviously, to preserve security — for Israel, of course, but more broadly for the civilized world. On Tuesday, as he has done for more than 30 years, Netanyahu will talk about the threat to humanity posed by Iran. It’s mind-boggling to imagine that any national leader in the free world would fail to understand the danger. The ayatollahs have never backed down from their stated aim of destroying Christendom. 

They have never wavered from their depiction of the United States as the “Great Satan.” Just last week, Iran bragged about its recent test-firing of “new strategic weapons” that it says will “play a key role” in any future battle against the “Great Satan U.S.” Iran also continues developing, while trying to keep them secret, new missiles and launch sites with devastatingly long-range capability. It continues to enrich uranium, including an allegedly secret program, to a level that’s a short jump-step from bomb strength. It has a lengthy record of lying and cheating about its military activities, its compliance with U.N. mandates (not that the U.N. is worth much anyway), and its protections of even the limited human rights it actually recognizes as such.

 About the only thing Iran never lies about is its absolute, unyielding determination to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. It was only a few months ago, for example, that the “revolutionary” regime’s “Supreme Leader,” the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, released a nine-point plan for how to “annihilate” the Jewish state. Yet Obama not only begrudges the Israeli prime minister the opportunity to make his case against this existential threat to his nation, but he conducts a diplomatic and political assault against Netanyahu of a ferocity rarely seen in the annals of American foreign policy. Obama’s actions aren’t just wrongheaded; they are malignant. They pervert American tradition and American interests, and they attempt to deprive the entire free world of its single most clarion voice for enlightenment values. Benjamin Netanyahu of course speaks first for Israel, but he speaks also for you and for me, for decency and humaneness, and for vigilance and strength against truly evil adversaries. Congress, by inviting him, is wise. Obama, by opposing him, is horribly wrong. And the civilized world, if it ignores him, will be well-nigh suicidal.

 — Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter: @QuinHillyer.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/414636/netanyahu-not-obama-speaks-us-quin-hillyer

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

It seems that for some infants the exact meaning of the word metzitzah is the difference between life and death...

How Ancient Circumcision Rite Sparked Modern Schism

By Elon Gilad (Haaretz)

Galen and Hippocrates depicted in a 12th century mural/ Wikimedia Commons.
 
The tradition of metzitzah b’peh goes back to biblical times but has created a modern-day dilemma for religiously observant Jews.

New York City officials linked the practice to 17 cases of infant herpes since 2000, of whom two died. In the latest development, the city will stop requiring mohels who use oral suction to have parents sign consent forms, which many hadn’t complied with anyway. Instead the city will focus its efforts on educating members of the ultra-Orthodox community about the risks and dangers of the practice.
But why do some Jews practice oral suction circumcision, or metzitzah b’peh, and where does the rite come from?

Though to a small number of observant communities, the practice is routine and normal, to cosmopolitan sophisticates it may seem pretty gruesome. After the mohel cuts off the foreskin, he uses his mouth – oral suction, rather than say a sponge - to effectively clear the wound on the baby’s penis of blood, lest it clot and decay.

As for where it arose, metzitzah b’peh is a time-honored tradition codified in the most important Jewish scripts, much like circumcision itself.

Ancient Greek medical theory

We first encounter the practice in the Mishnah, the first compendium of laws of rabbinic Judaism (c. 200 CE): “We perform all the requirements of circumcision on the Sabbath: We circumcise, uncover, suck, and place a compress with cumin on it” (Sabbath 19b).

The critical word here is the Hebrew word for suck: metzitzah.

In the Talmudic commentary on this passage in the Mishnah (Shabbat 133b), the 4th century rabbi Papa of Babylon writes that failure to perform this suction is dangerous for the baby, and any mohel who neglects to perform the ritual should be fired.

In other words, the rabbis viewed metzitzah as a health measure. Their thesis of medicine and disease was informed by the prevailing theory of the time - Hippocrates’ theory of the four humors, authoritatively expanded upon by the prominent Greek physician Galen in the 2nd century.

A 12-century mural showing Galen and Hippocrates, though they lived hundreds of years apart, from Anagni, Italy. Photo by: Nina Aldin Thune, Wikimedia Commons One of the main treatments Galen prescribed for an assortment of ailments was bleeding, which he believed was a way to restore the “equilibrium” between blood and the other three humors - phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. He also believed that stagnating blood decays.

Specifically when it came to treating wounds, his theory led Galen to prescribe that blood be prevented from building up in and around the wound, lest it clot and rot, causing the wound in turn to rot.

Oral suction then, seems to have developed as a way to ensure that the circumcised baby is properly bled, that no clots form and cause decay, and that all his humors are in equilibrium.

The science of medicine and outbreaks

Jews obeyed this health directive for generations. But by the 19th century, science had acknowledged the microscopic agents of disease, the theory of the four humors was contested and the science of medicine began to change.

A turning point came in 1836, when an outbreak of sickness was observed among newborn Jewish babies in Vienna.

Rabbi Elazar Horowitz observed that all the infants, some of whom died from the illness, had all been circumcised by the same mohel. Moreover, all exhibited the same symptoms - an outbreak on their skin that progressed from their penis to the rest of the body.

Horowitz consulted with doctors, who postulated that the oral suction could be the origin of the trouble. His friend Dr. S. Wertheim, chief physician at the city’s Jewish hospital, suggested that the same cleansing, suction effect could be achieved by use of a wine-soaked sponge applied to the incision while the mohel pressed down on the penis.

Horowitz then wrote to his rabbi, Moses Sofer, the head of the Bratislava Yeshiva - one of the most important rabbis of the day - asking for guidance on whether to instruct his flock to stop using oral suction and use Dr. Wertheim’s method instead. Rabbi Sofer replied early in 1837 that the new method was acceptable, based on careful study of the etymology of the Hebrew and Aramaic verbs for suck – matzatz.
The word implied suction, Sofer wrote - but not necessarily with the mouth. If anything, the method of circumcision itself had already changed, the rabbi pointed out: the Mishnah calls for the use of cumin in the bandage protecting the circumcised penis, but over the generations, the spice had been replaced by other substances.

Following Sofer’s authoritative decision, during the 19th century, many rabbis began to instruct their community mohels to forgo oral suction and use other methods, though some leading figures in the ultra-Orthodox community argued that metzitzah b’peh was part of the commandment to circumcise and thus could not be omitted or altered.

In the late 19th century, as the West recognized the role of microscopic agents in disease, studies began to appear in medical journals tying oral suction to infant illness and mortality.

These days the practice is very rare, having been replaced, when at all, by alternative methods of suction.

Yet a minority of mohels in the ultra-Orthodox community continue to practice metzitzah b’peh, insisting that otherwise they would not be following the full letter of the law, and citing the Rabbi Papa saying that a mohel who doesn’t do so should be dismissed. Also, suction with the mouth is more efficient than trying to achieve it with, say, a dry cloth, they explain. And at least 11 infant boys contracted herpes in New York City since 2000, and two died. It seems that for some infants the exact meaning of the word metzitzah is the difference between life and death.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Rebbe called a meeting on Sunday of the Rabbinical Association, which will announce a huge protest rally in front of the of Israeli Consulate in Manhattan on Tuesday...


Thousands of Satmar Hasidim are expected to protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while he is planned to deliver a controversial address to a joint session of Congress.

Photo: Shmuel Lenchevsky

During a dinner on Saturday night in Borough Park, the Satmar Rebbe, Reb. Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, stated that the imminent arrival of the “prime minister of the infidels” (Netanyahu) to Washington to provoke the exalted president, is a reason to protest.
The Rebbe called a meeting on Sunday of the Rabbinical Association, which will announce a huge protest rally in front of the of Israeli  Consulate in Manhattan on Tuesday.
“Most of the Torah observant in the land of Israel are part of the government, and enjoy a meal with that wicked one, and it is blinding their eyes and they say they could adhere to a compromise with such a wicked decree regarding recruitment,” the Rebbe said. “There is now an Arab in the elections and all the religious parties declare that it is a sacred act to vote to fight the draft law. But anyone who has sense can see that all the parties could not cancel even one step of the decree, maybe this time it’s time to admit that the Sabra who fights from within is no longer beneficial, and thank God there are thousands of others who already have seen the truth and have declared now that they will not vote in the upcoming elections.”
“It is your job to help and strengthen the functionaries engaged in propaganda against the electoral process and strengthen those who declare now they will not vote in the elections,” Rabbi Teitelbaum declared.
Photo: Shmuel Lenchevsky
Photo: Shmuel Lenchevsky
With considerable anguish the Rebbe added, “It has been several months that they are talking about the arrival of the unbeliever, Mr. Netanyahu to Washington to speak. It is an unparalleled desecration of God, a serious provocation against the nations. And even the Zionists admit that the US is their best friend … and now he wants to come to provoke the US President. And precisely at this time that the hatred of Israel exists all over the world, and Jews are in a state of danger all the time, it brings down great wrath; and we as Jews who are loyal to God and the teachings should make it known that we have no connection with the Prime Minister.”
“I will speak with rabbis and the rabbinical association members in order to organize a mass protest rally on Tuesday in Manhattan in front of the Israeli [Consulate], and publish journalistic articles that announce that we have no part in the actions of the prime minister of the infidels,” he announced.
Reb. Zalman’s brother, Reb. Aharon Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe of KJ, recently called Netanyahu ‘vile’ and ‘despicable’ for challenging President Barack Obama on the looming Iran deal. “All this behavior (of Netanyahu) contradicts the internationally accepted diplomatic rules and all the other Zionist heads of government were sure to keep the same rules,” he said. “Israel receives from the United States more than any other country receives, and what gives him the chutzpah so that he dares to come and challenge US President. He is not a mensch, he is not a diplomat, he is vile and despicable.”

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A Bad Call on Risky Circumcisions - a circumciser, or mohel, sucks blood from a newly cut penis with his mouth - The board should say no and take a stand for basic hygiene and common sense....


By THE EDITORIAL BOARD - NYT

The herpes simplex virus, common and relatively harmless in adults, can be deadly to babies. Such infections in newborns are blessedly rare, but one thing is known to increase the risk significantly: the circumcision ritual called metzitzah b’peh, practiced by many ultra-Orthodox and some Orthodox Jews, in which a circumciser, or mohel, sucks blood from a newly cut penis with his mouth.

The New York City Health Department, American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other authorities have long warned about the dangersof the practice. The Health Department has linked it to more than 12 herpes cases, and two deaths, since 2000, and has tried to get mohels to stop doing it.That is why it is distressing to see Mayor Bill de Blasio and Orthodox leaders celebrating a deal they made this week to abandon the city’s modest effort to regulate the practice, and instead leave it to the ultra-Orthodox community to help limit the damage metzitzah b’peh does — but voluntarily, and only after babies get sick, not before.

Mr. de Blasio wants to stop requiring parents to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks of metzitzah b’peh. Rabbis called that policy, begun under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an unconscionable infringement on religious freedom. 

They refused to use the forms and sued the city.And so Mr. de Blasio, who has pleased the potent Orthodox voting bloc by ridiculing the policy as unenforceable while making no visible effort to enforce it, has decided simply to let the mohels do their thing, until a baby gets sick.

The plan then is to do a series of DNA tests; if the baby’s mohel has the same herpes strain as the infected baby, he will be forbidden to do circumcisions.The plan needs Board of Health approval. 

The board should say no and take a stand for basic hygiene and common sense. 

Otherwise, this will be a city that requires tattoo artists to take infection-control courses and use sterile tools but tolerates an amateur surgery in which infection is fought with no more than perhaps a swig of Listerine.The administration says it will ask hospitals and doctors to distribute information about the risks of metzitzah b’peh, which should include accurate descriptions, including photographs, of the lesions and brain injuries suffered by babies whose safety their rabbis — and mayor — have allowed to be jeopardized.

Friday, February 27, 2015

For years it’s been well known that many Hasidic (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivas in New York fall far short of the state’s education department requirement that private school curricula be “substantially equivalent” to those in public schools....

When Yeshivas Dump 3 R's for Torah and Talmud





By Jay Michaelson

Published February 26, 2015, issue of February 27, 2015.

An innovative lawsuit in Quebec offers an intriguing model for reforming the substandard secular education provided in many Hasidic communities.

For years it’s been well known that many Hasidic yeshivas in New York fall far short of the state’s education department requirement that private school curricula be “substantially equivalent” to those in public schools. As reported in The New York Times last year, many Hasidic elementary school students receive only 90 minutes of math and English education each day, in contrast with seven and a half hours of religious education.

Such practices, the Times observed, have been going on for decades.

Lately the abuses have become even more egregious. In the East Ramapo school district, Hasidim form a supermajority of the school board, a position they have shamelessly used to their advantage. Public school budgets have been slashed, public school land has been sold at fire sale prices to Hasidic yeshivas, and funds have been diverted to religious schools, at the expense of everyone else.

Why has nothing been done?

 Simple: politics.

Hasidim vote, and they vote as blocs — both out of sincere obedience to their rebbes and with the understanding that divergence from the party line will be punished severely. As a result, Hasidic hierarchies can deliver thousands of votes to politicians. They can make or break political careers. And so no one takes them on.

That’s where the Quebec lawsuit comes in.

Yohanan Lowen was educated in the reclusive Tash enclave in Boisbriand, north of Montreal. Like similar communities in New Square and Monsey, New York, Boisbriand is a world unto itself. The Hasidic power structure controls everything and enforces its own rules. One can live in Boisbriand and never encounter a non-Hasid, let alone a non-Jew.

Lowen, represented by the not-for-profit Clinique Juridique Juripop, alleges that he was deprived of his right to a secular education. And he’s suing not just the yeshivas that left him functionally illiterate, but also the Quebec government and other public agencies that knowingly allowed this illegal activity to continue.

Now 37 and the father of four, Lowen says he’s unable to hold down meaningful employment; he currently teaches Talmud part time at a liberal synagogue and is on the dole.

Although Lowen’s claims may seem trumped-up for his lawsuit — he is seeking $1.25 million in damages — I have met many people with similar stories. They struggle to emerge out of fundamentalist ghettos, receive almost no support from the mainstream Jewish community, and often have to start from scratch as adults, learning English (or, in Israel, modern Hebrew) and basic life skills. Many find their way, but many others are lost souls, abandoned by their families and by the wider Jewish community.

There are points of light in this darkness of coercion and ignorance: small organizations like Footsteps (in the United States) and Hillel (in Israel); stirring narratives published in these pages by Frimet Goldberger and others; and stories of those who have thrived outside the ghetto walls.

But the collusion among Hasidic leadership, Jewish powerbrokers, politicians and the mainstream Jewish community has failed thousands of individuals trapped inside lives they do not wish to lead, but cannot leave, for fear of poverty and isolation.

Lowen says that many Hasidic parents have sent him secret letters (and checks) of support from around the world. They want the change he is seeking, but would risk excommunication if they tried to bring it about.
We need an American Yohanan Lowen. There have been courageous ex-Hasidim who have pushed for reform. Naftuli Moster, profiled in the Times, is one of them. He has written to the Board of Regents, met with school superintendents, talked to officials in Albany and even sponsored a billboard along the Prospect Expressway to persuade Hasidim to educate their children.

So far, he’s been stonewalled. Amazingly, rather than launch its own investigation, the city’s education department has demanded that Moster investigate his own allegations. The city and the state are passing the buck back and forth.

And don’t expect New York’s progressive mayor to do anything about it. In the last election, Bill de Blasio had the support of half the Satmar community and many leaders of Agudath Israel of America. He’s not going to challenge a critical part of his own base. On the contrary, he’s tried to pour even more money into the yeshiva system via the city’s universal pre-K program — although these efforts have so far foundered on constitutional grounds.

The efforts of reformers like Moster are noble, but unlikely to succeed. The only way politicians will challenge the Hasidic power elite is if they are forced to do so.

A lawsuit such as Lowen’s should not be understood as anti-religious or anti-Hasidic. As long as it is voluntarily chosen, the Hasidic way may be beautiful and profound. On the contrary, it is the UJA-Federation of New York, the city government and the state education department that are short-changing thousands of Hasidic children, abandoning them to an insular power elite. How exactly is the federation serving the needs of this growing segment of the New York Jewish population by allowing its leaders to starve it of knowledge, education and power?

As many have said before me, such negligence is a chillul Hashem, a profanation of the divine name. But the secular system, too, has failed. Not only have we failed to fight this coercion, we also have aided and abetted it.

Who will take up the charge, then, to fight this injustice in the courts? Who will step forward to be the American Yohanan Lowen?

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/215137/cheating-hasids-out-of-a-future/#ixzz3SslGM7jo

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Before vaccines existed, many infectious diseases killed millions of people per year. During the 1918 flu pandemic 50 million people died. That's greater than Argentina's current population. Perhaps, the older ones among you remember the polio epidemic that occurred in Argentina in 1956. At that time, there was no vaccine available against polio."






One of the first patients I had to see as a pediatrician was Sol, a beautiful month-old baby who was admitted with signs of a severe respiratory infection. Until then, I had never seen a patient worsen so fast. In just two days she was connected to a respirator and on the third day she died. Sol had whooping cough. After discussing the case in the room and after a quite distressing catharsis, I remember my chief resident said to me, "Okay, take a deep breath. Wash your face. 

 And now comes the hardest part: We have to go talk to her parents." At that time, a thousand questions came to mind, from, "How could a one-month-old baby be so unfortunate?" to, "Could we have done something about it?" Before vaccines existed, many infectious diseases killed millions of people per year. During the 1918 flu pandemic 50 million people died. That's greater than Argentina's current population. Perhaps, the older ones among you remember the polio epidemic that occurred in Argentina in 1956. At that time, there was no vaccine available against polio. People didn't know what to do. They were going crazy. They would go painting trees with caustic lime. They'd put little bags of camphor in their children's underwear, as if that could do something. During the polio epidemic, thousands of people died. And thousands of people were left with very significant neurological damage. 

 I know this because I read about it, because thanks to vaccines, my generation was lucky to not live through an epidemic as terrible as this. Vaccines are one of the great successes of the 20th century's public health. After potable water, they are the interventions that have most reduced mortality, even more than antibiotics. Vaccines eradicated terrible diseases such as smallpox from the planet and succeeded in significantly reducing mortality due to other diseases such as measles, whooping cough, polio and many more. All these diseases are considered vaccine-preventable diseases. What does this mean? That they are potentially preventable, but in order to be so, something must be done. You need to get vaccinated. I imagine that most, if not all of us here today, received a vaccine at some point in our life. 

 Now, I'm not so sure that many of us know which vaccines or boosters we should receive after adolescence. Have you ever wondered who we are protecting when we vaccinate? What do I mean by that? Is there any other effect beyond protecting ourselves? Let me show you something. Imagine for a moment that we are in a city that has never had a case of a particular disease, such as the measles. This would mean that no one in the city has ever had contact with the disease. No one has natural defenses against, nor been vaccinated against measles. If one day, a person sick with the measles appears in this city the disease won't find much resistance and will begin spreading from person to person, and in no time it will disseminate throughout the community. After a certain time a big part of the population will be ill.  

This happened when there were no vaccines. Now, imagine the complete opposite case. We are in a city where more than 90 percent of the population has defenses against the measles, which means that they either had the disease, survived, and developed natural defenses; or that they had been immunized against measles. If one day, a person sick with the measles appears in this city, the disease will find much more resistance and won't be transmitted that much from person to person. The spread will probably remain contained and a measles outbreak won't happen. I would like you to pay attention to something. People who are vaccinated are not only protecting themselves, but by blocking the dissemination of the disease within the community, they are indirectly protecting the people in this community who are not vaccinated. They create a kind of protective shield which prevents them from coming in contact with the disease, so that these people are protected. 

This indirect protection that the unvaccinated people within a community receive simply by being surrounded by vaccinated people, is called herd immunity. Many people in the community depend almost exclusively on this herd immunity to be protected against disease. The unvaccinated people you see in infographics are not just hypothetical. Those people are our nieces and nephews, our children, who may be too young to receive their first shots. They are our parents, our siblings, our acquaintances, who may have a disease, or take medication that lowers their defenses. There are also people who are allergic to a particular vaccine. They could even be among us, any of us who got vaccinated, but the vaccine didn't produce the expected effect, because not all vaccines are always 100 percent effective. 

 All these people depend almost exclusively on herd immunity to be protected against diseases. To achieve this effect of herd immunity, it is necessary that a large percentage of the population be vaccinated. This percentage is called the threshold. The threshold depends on many variables: It depends on the germ's characteristics, and those of the immune response that the vaccine generates. But they all have something in common. If the percentage of the population in a vaccinated community is below this threshold number, the disease will begin to spread more freely and may generate an outbreak of this disease within the community. Even diseases which were at some point controlled may reappear. 

 This is not just a theory. This has happened, and is still happening. In 1998, a British researcher published an article in one of the most important medical journals, saying that the MMR vaccine, which is given for measles, mumps and rubella, was associated with autism. This generated an immediate impact. People began to stop getting vaccinated, and stopped vaccinating their children. And what happened? The number of people vaccinated, in many communities around the world, fell below this threshold. And there were outbreaks of measles in many cities in the world -- in the U.S., in Europe. 

 Many people got sick. People died of measles. What happened? This article also generated a huge stir within the medical community. Dozens of researchers began to assess if this was actually true. Not only could no one find a causal association between MMR and autism at the population level, but it was also found that this article had incorrect claims. Even more, it was fraudulent. It was fraudulent. In fact, the journal publicly retracted the article in 2010. One of the main concerns and excuses for not getting vaccinated are the adverse effects. Vaccines, like other drugs, can have potential adverse effects. Most are mild and temporary. But the benefits are always greater than possible complications. When we are ill, we want to heal fast. Many of us who are here take antibiotics when we have an infection, we take anti-hypertensives when we have high blood pressure, we take cardiac medications. Why? Because we are sick and we want to heal fast. And we don't question it much.  

Why is it so difficult to think of preventing diseases, by taking care of ourselves when we are healthy? We take care of ourselves a lot when affected by an illness, or in situations of imminent danger. I imagine most of us here, remember the influenza-A pandemic which broke out in 2009 in Argentina and worldwide. When the first cases began to come to light, we, here in Argentina, were entering the winter season. We knew absolutely nothing. Everything was a mess. People wore masks on the street, ran into pharmacies to buy alcohol gel. People would line up in pharmacies to get a vaccine, without even knowing if it was the right vaccine that would protect them against this new virus. We knew absolutely nothing. At that time, in addition to doing my fellowship at the Infant Foundation, I worked as a home pediatrician for a prepaid medicine company. 

 I remember that I started my shift at 8 a.m., and by 8, I already had a list of 50 scheduled visits. It was chaos; people didn't know what to do. I remember the types of patients that I was examining. The patients were a little older than what we were used to seeing in winter, with longer fevers. And I mentioned that to my fellowship mentor, and he, for his part, had heard the same from a colleague, about the large number of pregnant women and young adults being hospitalized in intensive care, with hard-to-manage clinical profiles. At that time, we set out to understand what was happening. First thing Monday morning, we took the car and went to a hospital in Buenos Aires Province, that served as a referral hospital for cases of the new influenza virus. We arrived at the hospital; it was crowded. 

 All health staff were dressed in NASA-like bio-safety suits. We all had face masks in our pockets. I, being a hypochondriac, didn't breathe for two hours. But we could see what was happening. Immediately, we started reaching out to pediatricians from six hospitals in the city and in Buenos Aires Province. Our main goal was to find out how this new virus behaved in contact with our children, in the shortest time possible. A marathon work. In less than three months, we could see what effect this new H1N1 virus had on the 251 children hospitalized by this virus. We could see which children got more seriously ill: children under four, especially those less than one year old; patients with neurological diseases; and young children with chronic pulmonary diseases. Identifying these at-risk groups was important to include them as priority groups in the recommendations for getting the influenza vaccine, not only here in Argentina, but also in other countries which the pandemic not yet reached. 

A year later, when a vaccine against the pandemic H1N1 virus became available, we wanted to see what happened. After a huge vaccination campaign aimed at protecting at-risk groups, these hospitals, with 93 percent of the at-risk groups vaccinated, had not hospitalized a single patient for the pandemic H1N1 virus. (Applause) In 2009: 251. In 2010: zero. Vaccination is an act of individual responsibility, but it has a huge collective impact. If I get vaccinated, not only am I protecting myself, but I am also protecting others. Sol had whooping cough. Sol was very young, and she hadn't yet received her first vaccine against whooping cough. I still wonder what would have happened if everyone around Sol had been vaccinated. 


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The statistics for both abuse cases and drug overdoses in the Jewish community are staggering, with dozens of known cases reported since Rosh Hashana and over three dozen deaths of people under age 35 in the Jewish community in that same time period, underscoring the need for serious and immediate intervention. "....

The milestone event was hosted by Amudim and included 25 private practice clinicians as well as rabbis, educators, therapists, clinical directors, heads of major organizations, social workers, philanthropists and many others who spent two days analyzing these rarely discussed problems and formulating a five point strategy for tackling these complex issues head on.
“This was the first ever conference of this type within the Orthodox Jewish community,” said Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim. “This was a collaborative effort by many people and many organizations and is just the beginning of what will be an all out effort to effect crucial changes to benefit our precious children.”
The statistics for both abuse cases and drug overdoses in the Jewish community are staggering, with dozens of known cases reported since Rosh Hashana and over three dozen deaths of people under age 35 in the Jewish community in that same time period, underscoring the need for serious and immediate intervention. The workshop-based event divided participants into four separate groups, each of which identified both short term goals to help those who have been victimized, as well as possible impediments to those solutions, and devised a set of protocols that would allow them to effectively and practically achieve those objectives. While each of the four groups worked individually, in different rooms, all came up with a set of similar goals which were then boiled down into five distinct strategies: centralizing information and access to resources, creating grass roots efforts to change the status quo, developing evidenced based support services, engaging rabbanim, educators and parents to promote child safety and creating funding strategies. Numerous participants volunteered to begin taking leadership roles in implementing the strategies identified during the two day conference.
“It is incredible to realize that 220 people from different backgrounds in this industry all came up with the same common denominators, making it obvious that we are past the point where there are just one or two people saying there is a problem,” said Gluck. “Change is in the air and the momentum is clearly visible, with people already discussing which areas of this new initiative they plan to be involved in.”
A key component of dramatic change was also put into play at the Amudim conference with the announcement of a $1 million fund to treat abuse victims, created by philanthropists Mendy Klein, Nancy Friedberg and others. The new fund is an initiative of ASAP www.ASAP.care and provides therapy to Orthodox Jewish abuse victims who live in the tri-state area through qualifying non-profit organizations and is hopefully the first of many more programs dedicated to treating abuse in the Jewish community.
“I’m hoping that the people who are here and participated have left here with an increased positive feeling that together everyone can make a difference, that there is support out there for their efforts,” said Mrs. Friedberg. “They are doing the difficult groundwork, but if we work together we can change paradigms.”
Participants were inspired by divrei Torah from Rabbi YY Jacobson, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein and Rabbi Elya Brudny, rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, who spoke about the impact of saving even one individual. Rabbi Brudny observed that a single Auschwitz survivor could today have well over 200 descendants, highlighting the importance of helping each and every child in need.
“Each one is a bais hamikdash, a world,” said Rabbi Brudny.
 It was noted that the simple act of gathering a large number of people who deal with the issues of trauma, risk and abuse for a conference of this nature was an empowering experience that has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change.
“You get the sense of togetherness, the sense of standing at each other’s side and that feeling of support gave us the ability to take what is really a seemingly insurmountable problem and break it down into small, doable pieces, which to me creates a workable reality. “It crystallized our thinking in terms of very specific goals.”
Including a variety people of different backgrounds was one of the keys to the conference’s success, according to Magen Yeladim Child Safety Institute and founder and creator of the Safety Kid program.
“I think the real strength is that this is multi-disciplinary so there seems to be lots of different types of organizations that are all working with the same theme of helping kids,” said Mrs. Fox. “It means that you all learn to work together and you learn what the gaps are, which is very important.”
“It means that additional victims will come out and seek support” . “It means that they feel that they will be empathized with. It means that it will give them strength about not feeling that they were ruined or tainted and they can’t get a shidduch and it will strengthen other people to do this work.”
“I see an amazing movement in moving forward and empowering parents, rabbonim and the community to protect our children,” added Ruchama Clapman, founder and executive director of MASK. “We waited so many years and we’ve seen so many cases over the years, not hundreds, but thousands and we can say are going to be able to, as a result of this conference, get so much help in so many different ways just by us getting together, networking and coming up with special policies which will give support to parents and empower victims to be able to get help, get the therapy they need and be able to then move on to lead healthy lives.”
To find out more about Amudim visit them online at www.amudim.org or contact them at 646-517-0222

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Book of Leviticus: 'You shall not stand idly by wrong-doing...you shall speak out against those who commit evil, otherwise you share in their guilt' (19. 16-17)

No Faith Is Free From Child Abuse Scandals or Cover-Ups




What has been happening in Sydney and Melbourne is doubly shocking. First, there have been revelations over a rabbi who abused children at a yeshivah, Jewish learning seminary over many years, which was then followed by a cover-up when allegations surfaced.
Second, it is a wake-up call to Jewish communities in the UK to be vigilant about a problem from which, until now, we thought we were immune. It was all too easy to think that paedophile ministers were rife in the Church of England and the Catholics, but not really an issue for us.
Almost as disturbing as the crimes are the cover-up by others in the hierarchy, across all faiths, who certainly regard the offender with disapproval but are motivated by fear that if one person is exposed, then that will tarnish the rest of the group - be it the church, synagogue or mosque. In fact, the opposite is true: colluding with a perpetrator is what really tarnishes the group at large, while it also denies justice to the victim, which should have been the prime concern.
What causes such warped responses? Is it the naivety of hoping they could handle the problem and so there was no need to bring in outside authorities; or is it the nervousness of thinking that if one crack was exposed in the faith-group, then the entire edifice would collapse; or is it the hubris of reckoning that on balance the faith-group do more good than evil and so should be excused any failings; or is it that they felt under attack already, battling so many secular enemies, that they could not afford to show any weak spots, especially clerical failings?
There is another big question: but how to keep going despite the child abuses scandals - because actually there are plenty of vicars, priests and rabbis that do not abuse children, but are being stymied because of the suspicion that surrounds every inter-personal action.
It is good practice for classrooms or offices in religious buildings to have windows put into the doors, so that anyone passing by can check that nothing untoward is going on inside. Personally, I always leave my study door open whenever doing one to one interviews, so that there can be no suggestion of any impropriety. But I dislike the implication that being alone with someone is now potentially dangerous for them.
It is certainly been a long time, since I patted a child on the back at the Religion School, lest a gesture of encouragement or warmth be seen as 'touching up'. But I resent having to stop, as it is giving in to a culture of fear, and letting the evil committed by child abusers poison the minds of the overwhelming majority that abhor it.
Yes, we have to be aware of abuse and guard against it, but we also have to protect values such as trust and friendship - be vigilant but also maintain a generosity of spirit - and getting that balance right is difficult for civil society, but is especially problematic for faith groups as a religious approach tries to assume the best in people.
But there is no doubt that religious whistleblowers are to be admired rather than ostracised, as so often happens. The Book of Leviticus does not use that word, but certainly backs the cause: 'You shall not stand idly by wrong-doing...you shall speak out against those who commit evil, otherwise you share in their guilt' (19. 16-17)
The problem is not that we lack religious guidance, but that individuals do not always follow it, and religious institutions sometimes put self-interest above their own principles. What has happened to the Jewish community in Australia is an important warning that none of us can ignore.