Friday, June 08, 2007

Orthodox Jews packing heat, getting mugged leaving shul

From: The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

Fifteen years ago, Mordechai Naor walked to Congregation Shaarei Tefila in the Fairfax district with a handgun as his companion. Six years after moving to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and leaving those fears of mugging behind, Naor is considering re-kindling an old relationship.

"Since we moved over here, I always felt safe," said Naor, 60. "It's not extreme to go armed again, but I never even thought to worry about who was walking behind me."

His new sense of vulnerability stems from a recent spate of attacks against Jews in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

As dusk turned to dark on the first night of Shavuot, one rabbi, who asked not to be named, was mugged at knifepoint on Rodeo Drive near Olympic Boulevard as he was walking home after services. Eight hours later, five Orthodox men were walking down Pico Boulevard near Sherbourne Drive when a van pulled up and two men jumped out waving handguns. Less than a week later, another Jewish man was mugged in Beverlywood.

"All we want to do is be left alone and be able to go to shul and spend time with our families," said Cliff Alsberg, who handles security at Aish Los Angeles. "But these people are coming in and disrupting our lives."

Los Angeles police have attributed 11 robberies of about 30 people -- including many non-Jews -- to three teams of suspects. Five people, comprising two of the teams, have been arrested and charged; three men believed to be members of the third team have been arrested but not yet charged.

"The Jewish community was not the intended target," said Lt. Ray Lombardo of the West L.A. station. "They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when these suspects drove by."

But the apparently connected robberies have heightened fears throughout the Orthodox community. Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss organized two meetings in the past three weeks with Jewish leaders and police. Synagogues responded with blast e-mails telling members to be more cautious when traveling to shul; to pay attention to their surroundings, whether during the day or at night, and to walk in groups.

"But I'm not stopping any of my activities," said the mother of a 17-year-old boy who was jumped at gunpoint while walking home from a Friday night celebration of a newborn boy -- known as a shalom zachor -- in March. "And when my son went to another shalom zachor, he still walked home, but he went with a neighbor."

The robberies have evoked memories of what Naor and his family witnessed when they lived in the Fairfax District in the early 1990s. Observant Jews were targeted as easy marks, because they walked at night, sometimes alone, and even though they didn't carry cash, they often wore expensive jewelry.

"It was like an epidemic," said Isaac Naor, Mordechai's son. "Every week, somebody else was getting mugged. Everybody was walking to shul with a gun."

Among those attacked was the then-president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen, who also was the leader of the Naor's synagogue.

On Shabbat, Cohen was walking near his home with his son when two strangers approached, one asking for directions.

"Before I knew what was going on," Cohen said, "he put me in a stranglehold and started banging my right arm across the sidewalk. Just kept smashing it and snapped it."

The attack, which Cohen thinks was aggravated by the fact he had nothing to give the men, sent a shockwave through the community. People were afraid to go to synagogue without protection Cohen said. Shalom zachors were rescheduled from Friday nights to afternoons.

"I really didn't want to go out at night anymore," said Cohen, now the spiritual leader of Aitz Chaim in West Palm Beach, Fla. "People who really wanted me to be at their home for a celebration at night, they would send a guard to escort me."
Carrying a gun on Shabbat is problematic for a few reasons.

"I've always had the feeling that the people with guns don't know how to use them," Cohen said. "I always felt that they would probably shoot themselves."

There also are nonreligious legal qualms about Jews carrying weapons to shul.

Except for the few people who qualify for a concealed weapon permit, carrying a gun is illegal.

"If people are carrying them, they are doing so at their own peril, because it is against the law," Alsberg said. "But one of these days, they are going to rob the wrong person, and it will cost them their lives, and that will be the end of the crime spree."

Another suggestion, posited before, would be for Jews to stuff a small amount of cash in their sock or hatband, with which they could appease a mugger. The late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein said this would not violate the Sabbath.

"He had ruled that one would be permitted to carry on the Sabbath things which normally would be forbidden to carry," said Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America. "This being a case of life or death, that would be permissible."

But Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the chair in Jewish law and ethics at Loyola Law School, said it would be better for Jews to travel to shul in large groups or simply stay home than to carry money or a gun.

"There are other ways for making sure people aren't as easy marks, rather than looking as first recourse for ways of bending the laws of Shabbat," he said.
Already, the frequency of street robberies has fallen.

"We don't live in a dangerous neighborhood, thank God, and we have to be very careful before we project that it is a panic situation," said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City.

"You don't want to create public hysteria."

Read more about yids with guns at The God Blog

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Make love, not war, on porn

From: LA Daily News

LAS VEGAS -- If Craig Gross considers Jesus Christ his best friend, why is his arm around porn's leading man?

"We are the world. We are the children," Ron Jeremy sings as he and Gross draw a circus crowd at the Adult Entertainment Expo here.

During the past few years, the two -- a conservative Christian who considers masturbation a sin and a secular Jew who has performed in 1,900 porn flicks -- have grown close and, despite diametric career choices, have come to respect and appreciate each other.

"I have nothing against Ron Jeremy," says Gross, an ordained minister who leads the anti-porn crusade "I love this guy. I love hanging out with him."

Oh, how the war on porn has changed. The days of Christian groups prominently lobbying against obscenity are over. Enter the era of extending love and consolation to the adult industry and those touched by it.

Members of a Chatsworth church pray for the end of pornography and the healing of those it has harmed. Christian men gather to confess their Internet-fueled addiction. Rehab centers in Colorado and Kentucky provide short-term and months-long escapes more commonly used to treat drug abuse.

In the adult industry, it seems every dark corner has a ministry. The former strippers of JC's Girls. Hookers For Jesus. And XXXChurch, the Web's "#1 Christian porn site."

XXXChurch, which runs a Web site where people confess their struggles and offers free anti-porn software, has made the biggest splash, using gimmicks at adult conventions -- like Wally the Wiener, a 25-foot inflatable penis -- to lure eyes, and hopefully minds, away from depictions of depravity.

The message is simple: porn separates husbands and wives, defiles teenagers' minds and breeds lies. A tool of the devil, it can only be cured by God.

"People are blind to the consequences of this. They don't realize the problems this will cause down the line," Gross says, handing out Bibles. "This is a lie. This is not reality. Girls aren't like this."

`Not harmless fun'

In three decades, pornography has moved from a red-light industry reliant on seedy theaters and throw-away magazines to a multibillion-dollar enterprise piped into millions of American homes.

"I don't think America is 100 percent ready for porn. We're still a really puritanical society," actress Tera Patrick said. "But the business itself has definitely gotten a lot more popular in the five years I've been in it."

The daughter of an English-Jewish father and a Thai mother, the 5-foot-9 star with the DD chest and long black hair looks like a beauty queen. With her actor-director husband Evan Seinfeld, she owns the production company Teravision and is one of several stars credited with making the business mainstream. Last year, Patrick became the first porn star to grace the cover of FHM and also wrote a porn how-to column for the men's magazine.

But before there was Teravision, there was a cultural crisis, culminating in the mid-1980s with the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, which had been ordered by President Ronald Reagan.

``Under other circumstances,'' said commission member James C. Dobson, the conservative Christian who founded Focus on the Family, ``one would not willingly devote a year of his life to depictions of rape, incest, masturbation, mutilation, defecation, urination, child molestation and sadomasochistic activity.''

The 1,960-page report was rife with warnings about the negative social effects of pornography and allegations of adult-film stars being raped, kidnapped and tortured by employers.

But government pressure on the industry plunged when President Bill Clinton entered office in 1993, with then-Attorney General Janet Reno only concerned with child exploitation. Since then, the Department of Justice has struggled to confront Internet pornography, which has made it impossible for individual communities to keep out products they deem obscene.

``No one is seriously advocating the legalization of cocaine or heroin, but somehow the pornography industry has convinced a large segment of the population that viewing porn is not just harmless fun, but is also a fundamental right,'' Daniel Weiss, senior analyst for media and sexuality at Focus on the Family, said at a 2005 summit.

``By not calling pornography what it is -- highly addictive and destructive material -- we are heading for troubled times.''

Porn's pull

In six years of marriage, Kyle Paulson had kept his promise to abstain from watching pictures of naked women.

But work had been stressful and, over the course of 10 days, he surreptitiously visited pornographic Web sites.

``It ripped her heart out,'' Paulson, 41, of Westlake Village said of his wife's discovery five years ago.

He responded by installing filters on his computer and asking a friend to hold him accountable. Finally, Paulson confessed his struggles to the men at his church and started a Bible study for others like him.

``I didn't feel like I was addicted,'' he said. ``But I was afraid because it had such a powerful pull on me.''

Last summer, a poll by the online Christian marketplace ChristiaNet found that 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women are ``addicted'' to pornography. Christian ministers speak vaguely of surveys indicating 70 percent of men look at porn monthly.

But Nielsen/NetRatings detected only 42 million unique American visits to adult sites in November -- at most 14 percent of Americans.

XXXChurch claims worldwide porn sales top $70 billion, more than the gross domestic product of all but 54 nations. But Forbes magazine reported in 2001 that adult-entertainment industry annual revenues exceed no more than $4 billion, while other analysts have pegged it as an $11 billion or $12 billion business.

``Whether it is Christians talking about pornography or the media talking about pornography, the statistics talking about pornography consumption are the least reliable I have ever seen,'' Weiss said.

Anecdotally, though, anti-porn crusaders tell countless stories of men leading secret lives, of husbands learning to lie to their wives, of adults sacrificing their families to self-gratify.

``Pornography is intense pleasure, and when a man becomes addicted to intense pleasure, nothing else will satisfy him,'' said Steve Gallagher, president of Pure Life Ministries, a so-called sexual rehabilitation center in Kentucky.

``So what happens over time is he just becomes hollowed out as a person and he loses interest in interaction with other people -- wife, kids.

``He just becomes a zombie.''

Critics warn that porn glorifies extramarital sex, can be violent and can appeal to fetishes, to things God didn't design us to enjoy.

And it can be deadly, they say.

``Pornography, especially on the Internet, has become the crack cocaine of sexual addiction,'' said Ted Roberts, an Oregon pastor and author of ``Pure Desire: Helping People Break Free From Sexual Struggles.''

``Internet pornography takes someone from zero to full-blown addiction in two months.

``The implications are the disintegration of family, the loss of financial resources and, for a Christian man, it is the absolute craziness of him believing one thing and doing something else. It sets up a wrenching situation in the man's spiritual life.''

At Pure Life in Kentucky, self-enacted stays last six to nine months for men who feel enslaved by homosexual experiences, prostitute liaisons and pornography.

`A bondage to sin'

``It is a bondage to sin,'' Gallagher said. ``If it is a bondage to sin, only God has the power to break that bondage and replace that empty spot in their hearts. That really is what happens here. In simple terms: Their love for pornography and sex diminishes and their love for God increases.''

On a frigid Sunday morning in Chatsworth, two hours before the first service at The Church at Rocky Peak, a small group of prayer warriors treks to the property's apex.

This is a common occurrence, repeated the second Sunday of each month since January 2003. It began after Neil Johnson, the church's director of men's ministries, returned from a mission trip to Peru, where, he said, 700 people accepted Jesus as their savior.

Johnson was told that before his mission team's arrival, a group of women hiked to the mountains to pray for a spiritual awakening. That explanation made sense. In the Bible, the children of Israel often communicated with God from the mountaintops.

Why not, Johnson thought, do the same in a pocket of Los Angeles synonymous with sex?

With a panoramic view of the San Fernando Valley, the group members face the sun as it rises and sing praises to God, praying for their church, for spiritual revival below and for the end of pornography.

``Lord, we pray right now that we will be able to reach out to people in the adult(-entertainment) industry, that we will be able to love them, that we will tell them we love them but not what they do,'' Johnson's wife, Lynn, says.

``Lord, we pray right now for the marriages that have been pulled apart by pornography. Lord, we pray for restoration, we pray for healing.''

`Are you a sinner?'

At the four-day Adult Expo in Las Vegas, Gross and his XXXChurch carried the porn-ministry baton.

XXXChurch's booth was on the main floor, next to Gourmet Videos' 10-foot-wide poster board featuring 120 movie covers, from ``Tons of Fun'' to ``Over 50.''

Twenty feet away, fans posed with a 6-foot-1 transvestite in fishnet stockings, a pink bikini and 6-inch stilettos.

Nearby, actress Penny Flame, wearing a cut shirt that said ``Naughty American'' and tiny red boy shorts, collected money for breast cancer awareness by selling foam breasts signed by her, Patrick and other adult entertainers.

``Are you a sinner? Do you need redemption?'' Flame bellowed through a sheaf of papers rolled into a bullhorn. ``For $5, you can be redeemed.''

Fans surveyed the countless booths hawking niche films, erotic toys and photos with their favorite porn stars. Confusion was common when they passed XXXChurch and were handed the word of God.

The pocket-size Bible, written in contemporary language, is yellow and fuchsia with three stars, bubble lettering that states ``Jesus Loves Porn Stars'' and a sketched face that, with its aviator sunglasses, pencil-thin mustache and shaggy hair, most mistake for porn legend John Holmes.

``That might go against what you've heard, but it's true,'' the back of the Bible states. ``Jesus loves porn stars as much as he loves pastors, soccer moms, liars, thieves and prostitutes. We're all the same to Jesus. We're all just people who need God to save us from the mess we're in and lead us to a better way.''

Gross is an odd breed -- too much of a fundamentalist for liberal Christians and too provocative for theological conservatives. He sees himself as a minister cut from the same cloth as Jesus, someone unafraid to reach down into the gutter.

At a convention celebrating sin, porn patrons and performers not only accept the Bibles handed to them but ask for extra copies.

``What have we here?'' asked Adam Gilad, a fan from L.A.

``This is the real New Testament,'' J.R. Mahon, a XXXChurch pastor, responded.

``This is how you reach out?'' Gilad asked.

``We're not about shutting down the industry. We're about helping people,'' said Mahon.

``So you're real Christians? They're real Christians,'' Gilad said in a gee-whiz way.

He stuffed the Bible in his bag of adult toys and walked away.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Long Beach MSA leader supports suicide bombings

From: The Jewish Journal

Ahmed Billoo is the product of an upper-middle-class Alhambra home. He grew up going to the local mosque on Fridays and holidays, playing sports with friends and enjoying the blessings of a comfortable American childhood.

Twelve months from completing a business degree at Cal State Long Beach, Billoo, 22, is fully Muslim and American, the two locked hand in hand.

And yet, he believes the righteousness of suicide bombers needs to be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis."

"Muslim or not Muslim, we all fear death. Blowing yourself up is not something everyone can do or something that everyone has the courage to do," said Billoo, the outgoing president of Long Beach's Muslim Student Association. "But don't get me wrong: I'm not saying we should all go around America doing that; Palestine is a different situation. There is a huge difference between saying we should do it and saying I'm going to be a suicide bomber. I just think it is something that Islam justifies."

He is far from alone, according to a report last week by the Pew Research Center. In its first nationwide survey of Muslim Americans, about 26 percent of American Muslims ages 18 to 29 share Billoo's sentiment to varying degrees.

"I would have to say it's actually like 60 or 65 percent of the youth," Billoo added. "It's very rare that I meet someone who says suicide bombings in Palestine are not justified."

When Pew asked respondents whether "suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies," 78 percent of all U.S. Muslims flatly condemned such attacks; 9 percent declined to answer or said they didn't know. But 8 percent of all Muslims -- and 15 percent of younger Muslims -- said attacks on civilians were justified "often" or "sometimes."

While a chasm separates such sympathies from actual martyrdom -- a leap Billoo said he wouldn't be willing to make -- news of the report has affirmed a deeply held fear: That the radical strain of Islam that has swept through Europe may be infecting this country.

"What you have is a low-wage jihad taking place, but people are not paying attention to it," said Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum. "These sentiments are seething, and at any time might erupt."

Overall, however, the survey of 1,050 Muslims was encouraging.

The Pew survey, conducted through telephone interviews from January through April, estimated 2.35 million U.S. Muslims -- far fewer than the 6 million to 7 million numbers many Muslim organizations use. Two-thirds of respondents are foreign born and are strong believers in the American way of life.

The majority think of themselves as American Muslims, not Muslim Americans; believe women are treated better here than in Muslim nations, and are worried about Islamic extremism. And 61 percent said Israel and Palestinian rights could coexist -- compared to 67 percent of the general American public.

"What the survey overwhelmingly shows is that the Muslim community is the one that we at PJA have experienced. It is not the one that some people have heatedly claimed constitutes a fifth column in this country," said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which recently created with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) the interfaith dialogue, NewGround.

Muslim American leaders have highlighted these positive findings -- "mainstream and middle class and not monolithic," as MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati put it.

They said reported sympathies for suicide bombings sounded an alarm, but, as Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) noted, they weren't any more extreme than the 24 percent of Americans who, according to a recent poll by the University of Maryland's Program on International Public Attitudes, believe attacks against civilians are "often or sometimes justified."

"The word suicide bombing is very loaded and creates images of terrorism," said Ayloush, executive director of CAIR's Los Angeles area chapter. "A lot of the young people, what I hear from them, it is not something that relates to our American scene, but it is a view about a people under occupation responding to an occupation, and it is not the civilians but the occupier."

Despite Middle Eastern fatwahs to the contrary, the Quran explicitly prohibits any transgressions against civilians, said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law professor at the UCLA School of Law. These limitations range from torching a noncombatant's tree to killing a rival warrior's wife.

But some Muslims miss this point, Abou El Fadl said, "because they confuse politics and ethics."

"Human beings have the remarkable ability to reach results that they want to reach," he said. "In the case of Islam, the argument goes something like this: Yes it is true that our prophet has all these prohibitions; yes it is true that our prophet acted in a fashion that respected the sanctity of civilians at war; yes it is true that the Quran prohibits transgressing, but -- and this is a big but -- we have a rule that says that in the case of dire necessity, what is prohibited becomes permissible."

Since before Sept. 11, 2001, prominent Muslim American leaders have repeatedly condemned terrorist attacks. Last summer, in response to accusations that one of MPAC's founders was a closet extremist who had referred to the "butchers" of Israel, the organization bought an ad in the Los Angeles Times that affirmed "we condemn terrorism in all forms, regardless of the identity of the victim or of the perpetrator."

But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bends black and white into shades of gray, because many Muslims don't consider Israelis, particularly aggressive settlers, to be civilians.

"Islam believes life is precious, but we also believe in justice. We are not just going to let someone come into our house and kick us out. We are allowed to fight back," said Billoo, who is of Pakistani descent. "Obviously, the more conventional combat is preferred. But suicide bombings is a last resort."