On the Ice Bucket Challenge

The ice bucket challenge has gone viral on the internet and may raise $100 million for the ALS Foundation. Curing a disease is a worthy endeavor but there is a lot more to consider when giving to charity. ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain and the body, an awful, unstoppable death. There are approximately 5,600 new cases a year in the United States compared to an estimated 96,830 expected new cases of colon cancer this year. The ALS Foundation has funded research for thirty years and there is no cure in sight. Medical research is not $100 million away from a cure if there is even a cure. Contrasted to colon cancer, there are curatives and early screenings that promote positive, long-term outcomes from a colon cancer diagnosis.

This newly-raised money for ALS will not be spent immediately. Some of the funds may be spent on “awareness” but there really is no need for awareness because of the success of the challenge. Further, ALS does not spend money on patient care because their focus is research. There are charities, small and usually local, that help with patient care of chronic diseases but the ALS Foundation is not that type of charity.

Most if not all of these funds will be back-loaded. Because medical research is better understood as a decade’s long project, paying for a year’s worth of research is useless. To commit funds for a decade’s worth of study is a process fraught with a lot of negative possibilities including no positive outcomes. Imagine giving a significant amount of money for disease research and being told after ten years “we know x, y and z aren’t possible cures and the elimination of x, y, and z furthers our understanding of the science.” Many givers do not wish to pay for the elimination of non-cures when they thought they were paying for possible cures. The science is correct but the expectations of the givers is contradictory. Nonetheless, ALS Foundation is funding research and legitimate research is going forward.

The most prominent concern is the set amount of charity households donate each year. If money is given to ALS Foundation that normally would have gone to a food bank or a social action advocacy group, then the food bank and the advocacy group are out of luck this year. The truth is that the pot of donated funds is not an ever expanding amount. Based on the economy and the wherewithal of the middle class, the amounts given every year will wax or wane. Even though the tax credit on the IRS Form 1040 rewards giving, if the discretionary income is not available, then the household will not be able to give or give as much. The end result will be that the smaller charities will lose income.

Giving to charity is one of the highest of obligations and every dollar can make a difference. The responsibility of the donor is to make sure that every dollar he or she gives counts.

Peace would be Nice

Peace is not sexy, or at least it hasn’t been since the 60’s. Back then peace was intertwined with free love, drugs, and lots of music. Free love turned out to be a poor theory, drugs are still a scourge, but the music still sounds pretty good. Peace as it was depicted in the many decades ago has been demoted to a silly hand gesture and balloon letters surrounded by garish colors.
In our day, peace is great hypothetical. Sometime in the future, we will have peace. Somewhere on the planet, there is peace. We pray for peace, but praying is one of those suspect activities. Everyone talks of peace, political leaders, military leaders, corporate leaders and yet each and every one of them is trained, prepared, and paid to kill, destroy, maim, or overrun the enemy. Indeed, everyone talks about peace; few live it.
Maybe I am wrong that few have peace. Peace flies under the radar and is not easily reportable.
The murder rate in Israel and the territories is less than the murder rate in Philadelphia, even with the qassam rockets flying into Sderot and helicopter gunships are hitting targets in Gaza. Yet, our papers and our news programs tell us how dangerous Israel and the territories are. Places that have peace appear neither in the newspaper nor on the cable news or internet posting. Peace doesn’t sell.
Peace is slow. Watching peace is like watching paint dry on the wall. Nothing happens and what does happen is barely worth noting. When there is peace, there is no drama.

A Sideways Look at Kashrut

Kashrut is in the news again. First is the news item from the State of Florida and its prison system. The state wants to cut its kosher food program in the state prisons because too many inmates are requesting the kosher meals. The meals cost up to three times as much as the regular meals in the prisons and apparently taste much better.
The second item is a false rumor circulating around the Department of Defense. The DoD issues kosher MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat) for any observant Jews (or Muslims) in the Armed Forces. These MREs do not taste better than the regular MREs according to those in the know. The DoD is not cancelling kosher MREs.
This month we are making our way through the Book of Leviticus where one finds the original sources for kashut. In fact, one of our Bar Mitzvah students will preach on the subject in the coming weeks. The Levitical theme of kashrut was that food could transform the human body into a temple vessel, a tool for worshiping God.
In our day, ideas about food have gone through a series of revolutions. Food can be entertainment. Food is the science of nutrition. Food is fundamental to health throughout one’s life. Food is curative, in mind, body, and spirit. Food causes disease. Food can be transformed into “frankenfood”. We have new terms like “locavore” and “foodie” while recipes for Pesach or Hanukkah have been eclipsed by a billion wings served on Superbowl Sunday and chocolate everything on Valentines.
The core teaching of Kashrut is that food can be a meaningful human experience. In our day we have many imitators of this lesson. These imitators leave us fat and bloated, insatiate and unhappy with the choices we have made. If you feel any or all of these symptoms, then it is time to follow the age-old customs of our distant ancestors: open the pantry and make some significant decisions about the foodstuffs you are going to choose to eat.

Jews in Western Europe

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt published an op-ed in the NYTimes yesterday putting together the attacks on Jews over the past year or so in Europe and the rising tide of French Jews immigrating to Israel. “It is not the Holocaust again” she states with good argument but it is still appropriate to worry. The attacks were perpetrated by young men born or raised in Europe, not in Muslim countries. The number of neo-Nazis in Germany is small but the shift from disgust in Israeli government policies to hatred of Jews is large and substantial among the rest of the populaiton.

Ever since Jewish history was subjected to modern critical theory, one pattern has been the departure of Jews from a country signaling a radical downward shift in the abandoned country. No one can predict whether such a pattern holds in the 21st century as it did in previous centuries for many reasons. Even so, when Jews begin in leave in numbers, thought the numbers are still relatively small, it is time to worry.

Reading the Whole Story

As events in the aftermath of the shooting in Ferguson, MO continue to barrel along, the coverage continues likewise, to barrel along, crushing anything in its path. In today’s media, readers are presented with two options while viewers are presented with only one when trying to follow the news and make sense of the police shooting.

For viewers, their only choice is a a quasi-array of politically motivated viewpoints fueled by corporations who have monetized the news cycle with advertizing revenue. One will hear what one prefers to hear by tuning into the proper cable channel. All reports will be short on facts and long on commentary that may or may not rise to the level of critical analysis. Consider that one new tidbit of fact or analysis per hour can be keep a viewer watching fourteen minutes of commercials.

For readers, they can turn to their delivered newspapers or read the various news journals online such as Huffington Post, Slate, Salon, and Politico. All of the websites, including the New York Times online, have discovered that most readers do not read beyond the first page. Most readers of the New York Times in the print edition do not read the articles to the final paragraph either. Readers are not necessarily more driven or virtuous than viewers.

The answers to the pressing questions in Ferguson, MO will not be simple, straightforward or elegant. The answers will be as messy as the event was. Everyone wants to know the answers but the data shows that few will take the time necessary to learn them.

In Memorium Robin Williams

The death of Robin Williams after decades of his iconic talent as a comedian and an actor is a tragic loss for our nation and indeed for the world. He had a lot to say and loads more to give. His mad humor was acutely true and mischievously direct. Manic talent is often accompanied with tragic flaws and Robin William’s flaw was chronic depression. He treated it in a variety of ways for most of his life, all of which ultimately failed. Let us respectfully conclude his life as truly and directly as he would have treated us – Robin did not die of suicide; he died of depression.
Zichrono Livracha! May his memory be for a blessing! Or as Robin would have probably quipped, “Nanu Nanu.”