Archive for July 3rd, 2009

Your Picks! HuffPost Readers Share Their Favorite Unknown NYC Haunts

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

Last week, we told you about our favorite little-known spots in the city to get drink or a meal, and asked you to send us yours (fair’s fair!). Below are some of the most tantalizing descriptions, as written by HuffPost readers.

Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar
254 West 72nd St

From Jim Bessman:

Owned and operated by legendary husband and wife Motown singer/songwriter/performers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the Sugar Bar is a fine restaurant and bar on the Upper West Side that on Thursday nights becomes the hottest spot in town by far. “Open Mic Thursday,” which begins at 9:30 and can run to 1:30 am and beyond, showcases
top local amateur talent as well as top-shelf pros like Freddy Jackson and Alyson Williams, and when they’re in town, everyone from Stevie Wonder to Patti La Belle to Michael McDonald. Valerie sings backup for everyone, sometimes joining the ace house band on piano. Nick holds court at the upstairs Cat Lounge, where revelers sing and dance along to a widescreen
monitor. All in all it’s a life-changing experience.

Shopsin’s General Store
120 Essex St., New York

From Larry Shields:

Now at its third location, it’s probably the most eccentric restaurant in New York.
Started by Ken and Eve Shopsin in the early 1970s as a Deli, it morphed into a small restaurant in the 1980s which lasted in one location on Bedford Street until 2003. It is now located in Essex Street Market with an “abbreviated” menu that has about 900 items.

It is family run, with the kids now running the operation with Dad (Eve passed away in 2003). Best place to eat and relax in NYC.

Taro Sushi
446 Dean St, Brooklyn

From Jonathan Twombly:

My Japanese wife used to wait until we went back to Japan to eat sushi, because no place here was good enough for her. Then we discovered Taro Sushi. They have a great chef’s makase for $40 — a fraction of what you’d pay in Manhattan for the same quality fish. The place is a hole in the wall without much ambiance. Obviously, they are focused on the food.

Simon Sips
72 East 1st St, New York

From Elisabeth Bullard:

Coffee perfection by day, dark, sexy wine bar by night. Excellent made in house baked goods, sandwiches, and small plates.

123 Lexington Ave, New York

From Josh Baran:

Kalustyan’s is one of the great food/spice shops in the galaxy. They grind all their own spices and spice mixtures, including dozens of amazing curry blends, oils and peppers you have never heard of, the best cinnamon and cardamom in the known world, dozens of different kinds of rices and lentils and couscous. And upstairs, there’s a great falafel café. If you are cook, this is a must visit place in new York.

Le Grand Dakar
285 Grand Ave, Brooklyn

From Jason Legler:

The homemade drinks (ginger, sorrel or tamarind) are superb. The service is very friendly and the food delicious. My favorite dish is “Thiebou Jenn,” the Red Rice and Blue Fish, as well as the vegetable mafe, an unctuous peanut sauce served over millet couscous. I also love the Coconut rice pudding with roasted mango. And it’s also affordable. Only in NY

Their chef Pierre Thiam has a beautiful cookbook “Yolele Recipes from the heart of Senegal” available at bookstores.

Marisco Centro
1490 St. Nicholas Ave, New York

From Karen Schuld:

Very unique! A taste of the Caribbean in Washington heights.

Have your own favorite not so known spot in the city? Email it to us at

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Cynthia Torres: Celebrating Food Independence with Food Democracy

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

Organizations and activists across the country are calling for America to celebrate their Food Independence this July 4th by making the choice to buy local foods for their holiday feast. Our choices as consumers have the potential to revitalize rural America and restock the produce isle in every neighborhood grocery store with foods that meet our culinary and cultural desires. The freedom to have a variety of choices available to us must also be celebrated and protected. The democratic process is helping many of our country’s residents define and protect their freedom of choice at the dinner table. But democracy has been a relatively forgotten opportunity and as one county in Colorado is discovering, the path that will redefine our role as eaters in our food and farm industry is clouded by a global agricultural industry that is marketing our choices right out of the marketplace.

Residents in Boulder County, Colorado celebrate their Food Independence daily, supporting one of our nations largest natural foods industry hubs consolidated at the base of the Rocky Mountains. It has only been a short year and a quarter that we have been actively participating in shaping of our food democracy infrastructure that will help us define the values that will grow our local food and farm industry. The Boulder County Food & Agriculture Policy Council, of which I am a member, a group of regular folks excited to participate in food democracy, has been tasked with building our food values into public policy. The council, one of our county’s newest advisory boards to our county commissioners, was given a blank slate and a task to make policy recommendations that would help our county increase food production for local consumption on our 24,000 acres of public land owned by the county and dedicated to agricultural production. A task I thought would build our local food independence by diversifying our food choices and opportunities and create a local buffer between our community and the market ebbs and flows of global industrialized agriculture. Only a short time would pass before my idealistic vision was nearly lost in the enormous shadow of a shrinking industry.

Unbeknownst to us, while we were busy drafting our bylaws, a mission, vision, and general outline of our work ahead, the conventional seed supply industry was under siege by the biotech industry and taking it’s toll on our local farmers. Our council, individuals from diverse backgrounds (including traditional farming) with independent values and varying degrees of agricultural policy awareness began to mold into a unified force of common values. We began drafting our first set of policies we hoped would increase food production and add diversity to our traditional monoculture crops already in production on public land. But the siege on the seed industry had caught up to us and would begin to strain our unified voice.

Nearing the anniversary of our first year as a council, we received word from our county commissioners that we would be hosting our first public hearing. The biotech seed industry had forced six of our Boulder County sugar beet farmers into battle with a natural foods community. The sugar-beet-six were requesting the right to grow GMO-Sugar Beets on public land, 6 years after Boulder County approved the production of GMO Corn in a battle that spanned two years. Our council would hold the hearing to give the farmers, the public, and various scientific experts an opportunity to feature their respective needs, values, and data on the issue. In the weeks leading up to the public hearing we were told often by our county staff liaison to keep an open mind, be objective, and only consider credible peer reviewed science which was compiled for our consideration. A daunting task, I thought, by a volunteer who joined the council to have my values represented in food policy.

A few days before our first public hearing, I was home reading through the research and the proposal submitted by the sugar beet six. Several of them still farmed sugar beets on the land that their grandfathers grew both the crop and an industry that grew our county, a heritage that still lines the halls of our local agricultural museums. The growers submitted their request when they were unable to acquire conventional seed from the marketplace. Two years ago 60% of the Sugar Beet seed on the market was genetically modified. This year, approximately 95% of the seed available is GMO, making it virtually impossible for the farmers to grow their sugar beets without using the GMO seed. Diversity, a casualty of biotech science, would be added to the agriculture-endangered list along with the freedom that once grew from the open land, a tractor, and a seed. The idealism that led me to believe that voting for local farms meant voting for diversity in opportunity was clouded.

The public hearings were simply an opportunity for the six farmers to hear just how disconnected the public was from agricultural production, a price the food industry has cost the farmer. There were no viable public recommendations and the farmers, desperately holding on to their livelihoods, could hardly contain their grunts of disgust with every public comment. As the hearings concluded, whispers of concerns haunted the hearing room. How far would we have to go to protect our local farm production in a national environment that is limiting our choices in agriculture? Would the monopolization of the seed industry force us to make choices that did not support our values?

Our council has more research to consider and public testimony to hear before we make a recommendation to our county commissioners to either approve the production of GMO Sugar Beets on public land, or not. A decision that one of our council members suggested could only have two outcomes: “aweful and horrible” and seemingly limited opportunities to grow our local food independence. Preemptive measures to assure the viability of choice and Food Independence will limit situations shaking the local food and farm industry in Boulder County. So while we are grilling our all-American favorites this weekend, lets also remember that Food Democracy protects the necessary choices needed for Food Independence.

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Russ Wellen: New Phone ‘Apps’ Make it Easier for Pols to Stray

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

The Sanford case shines a spotlight on the central paradox of marriage.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford not only played fast and loose with the institution of marriage, but with email. However, help keeping affairs secret has arrived not only for politicians, but all of us. just released apps for mobile phones and the Blackberry. Jeremy Caplan reports for Time that because they’re “loaded up from phones’ browsers, they leave no electronic trail.”

For those unfamiliar with it, AshleyMadison is a matchmaking service for married individuals. That’s right: It facilitates affairs. To summarize the statement of a woman Caplan quotes who consults in the online dating field, AshleyMadison is infidelity “rebranded” and made “monetizable.” Though Ashley Madison has signed up over one million users since going online in 2001, she seems concerned that it harms the online dating business for singles.

As has been noted, the Sanford case is unlike other Republican sex scandals. It’s devoid of sex with prostitutes (to which prominent Democrats, like Eliot Spitzer, are also prone), drooling over congressional pages, soliciting sex in a public rest room, or pursuing an aide’s wife. Sanford was simply a man who fell in love with another woman who wasn’t much younger than he.

As the spiritual counselor to the Sanfords and their circle, Warren Culbertson, said in a Huffington Post article:

‘The only thing holding his friends’ marriage together right now is “their vow to God… Because it’s not feelings — it’s not emotions… For most Christians, at some point in your marriage, if you’re married long enough, you do it because that’s what we’re called to do — out of obedience instead of out of passion.”‘

You can almost hear the strains of a psaltery in the background. Apparently Sanford, despite his faith (not fundamentalist, actually, but Episcopal), was unable to adhere to a view of marriage as starkly medieval as Culbertson’s.

It’s not just religious principles, but romantic ideals about marriage — however strange bedfellows — that are stern taskmasters. Entering marriage, neither the man nor the woman typically understands each other’s sexuality. (Thus strengthening the case for gay marriage.)

Male needs are cyclic, like hunger or urination. Women, on the other hand, tend to be episodic. Not only doesn’t religion and romance acknowledge the problem this might pose, they make no provisions for when a partner (the aged aside) spurns sex entirely.

Causes most commonly cited include stress and fatigue. Compounding those, the partner suffering from one or both of those symptoms — at the risk of gender-typing, usually the wife — may resent the other for helping to cause them by not holding up his or her end of the chores or child-rearing.

Other reasons include — today especially — loss of self-respect if one loses job and, of course, weight gain. The husband blows up and turns off the wife or she packs on the pounds and no longer feels attractive.

Divorce may not be an alternative because resuming the solo life, especially with kids, isn’t feasible for most in today’s economy. Also, the person denied sex may still care deeply for his or her spouse.

Nevertheless, a life without physical intimacy is unthinkable for many. Is an affair the answer? Even if not sniffed out by the spouse, it may end the marriage. The unfaithful spouse may, a la Sanford, link up with the fabled “soul mate,” which seems to make abandoning one’s family understandable in the eyes of God. (Funny how those soul-mate sensations have a way of fading once the cheating spouse divorces and then marries his or her paramour.)

On the other hand, as hollow as married life becomes without intimacy, in lying and deception lay the path to true misery. Of course, like Sanford, the cheater can admit to the affair on the theory that confession is good for the soul. It’s just that any benefit that might accrue to the sinner comes at the expense of the one sinned against.

We invite our readers to respond to the following questions in the comments section:

  • Is cheating a viable alternative to a sexless marriage?
  • Do “emotional affairs” (which stop short of sex) help or make the situation worse?
  • What’s the best way for the partner denied sex to deal with lack of physical intimacy in a marriage?

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Port-A-Potty Torched With Fireworks At Diversey Harbor

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

A police Bomb and Arson unit is investigating a Thursday night incident in which fireworks were used to blow up a portable toilet at Diversey Harbor.

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Sarah Lovinger: Health Care Rationing? The US Has Been Rationing Care for Years

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

Conservative pundits and politicians so quickly jump all over the Democrats’ attempts to provide health care for all, bemoaning that any expansion of government programs will lead to health care rationing. Images of middle-aged men standing in line at the local hospital, clutching their chests and popping nitroglycerine pills while waiting endlessly for the artery-cleaning heart operations they need lest they drop dead may come to mind — in the style of a make-believe Canadian or British ’socialist’ health care system — where basic medical needs are delayed for months or years, as opposed to our shining, efficient, and above all, fair system where, true to our democracy, Americans get the care they need when they need it. I am not sure in which alternate reality these Conservative nay-sayers live, but as a primary care doctor working with uninsured patients, I can assure you that health care has been rationed in the US for years.

Since I completed my internal medicine residency in 1996 and started to work in community health centers in Chicago and Boston, I have seen the plight of my uninsured patients go from bad to worse as fewer people become eligible for Medicaid, county hospitals start to charge for services, and waits for an appointment with me become longer. But as a doctor married to a doctor, I have always had great health insurance coverage, getting all the care I need. How fair is that?

Yesterday, an uninsured woman in her mid-20s came to my clinic for her first visit with me and her annual Pap test. In discussing her concerns — she is currently healthy — it turns out she has a strong family history of early breast cancer. Both her mother and her maternal aunt were diagnosed with pre-menopausal breast cancer, and this young woman was naturally concerned about her own risks. As a doctor, I talked about her concerns and her risks and her rather limited options, given her lack of health insurance. But as a patient and another human, I could naturally relate. I too have a strong family history cancer history.

My mother died of ovarian cancer about 23 years ago, and age 57, and my brother, now 50, was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer at age 41. He had a rocky course at first, but his tumor responded to chemotherapy, and he is now in complete remission. When he was first diagnosed, I knew that I needed to get a colonoscopy, the best test to detect colon cancer and pre-cancerous polyps. The wait for a routine colonoscopy can take months, but I found a doctor willing to add me to her schedule within a few weeks. Certainly my private insurance did not hurt my chances for getting the test I needed quickly.

I have also undergone intensive genetic counseling and screening for 2 family cancer syndromes: hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and HNPCC, or Lynch syndrome. As a Jewish American of Eastern European ancestry, my mother’s ovarian cancer imparts on me a higher risk of having either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. My brother’s early colon cancer together with my mother’s cancer also increases my risk of having Lynch syndrome, or a set of genes that increase my risk for colon, ovarian and uterine cancer. How do I know all of this? Being a doctor does not hurt, but mostly having private insurance has given me access to experts in the field of medical genetics, lot’s of helpful counseling, and ultimately, expensive genetic tests. I have been tested for both the BRCA1 and 2 genes and my brother’s tumor was tested for the Lynch syndrome genes. All the tests came back negative, and my doctor and her assistant were able to conclude that I do not appear to have a genetic predisposition to the kind of cancers that have struck my family members. I still need routine screening and more frequent colonoscopies than the general population, but my private health insurance pays for it (well 80% — that’s another story), and so I can get the care I need.

But what about my patient? I was able to refer her for a mammogram, and unless the looming Illinois budget catastrophe cuts the free mammogram programs offered here, she will be able to get a mammogram now and hopefully, periodically, but that is only a small amount of the care she truly needs. I did refer her for genetic counseling which would most likely lead to genetic testing because I need to practice income-blind care, but will she really get genetic testing? I doubt it. As a single mom, currently unemployed and struggling a bit, I doubt she could pay the $3000 or so out-of-pocket for the test to determine if she does have the BRCA1 and 2 genes that put her at a higher risk for early, potentially deadly breast cancer. Without insurance, she probably will forgo not only the genetic testing, but also the frequent breast MRIs or even preventive mastectomy that a medical geneticist would possibly recommend, if her genetic testing revealed a risky set of genes. I told her to try to get a job that would give her health insurance and hope the federal government can provide health insurance for all soon. Until then, she might as well keep her fingers crossed. I know I will.

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Obama Names Fay Hartog-Levin Ambassador To Holland, Third Chicagoan Picked For Ambassadorship

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

President Barack Obama has picked his third Chicagoan for an ambassadorship, naming a consultant from a politically connected public affairs and media relations firm to be his representative to the Netherlands.

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Sarah Newman: Declare Your Food Independence

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

What is more emblematic of this country’s deep rooted commitment to rebelling against the status quo than the impending July 4th holiday? It’s a holiday which celebrates the collective commitment to individual liberties, freedom and democracy. As part of our individualistic spirit, how often do you seem to hear lately about people removing themselves from “grids.” I’m referring to energy grids, food grids, education grids and any other behemoth industrial structure that stagnates our growth, individual freedom and ability to operate outside of the confines of our sometimes restrictive corporate or government structures. While this should be a day that we each take the time to read the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights and celebrate heroes like Paul Revere, instead we ususally opt to take to our backyards to grill, baby, grill.

I’m not asking you to give up your cherished grilling time, but each of us has the opportunity this holiday to make a radical political statement by declaring our food independence. What does this mean? Well, it means a lot to each one of us as unique individuals. But, collectively, it’s about saying ‘no’ to our industrial food system which is feeding us an unhealthy corn-based diet that is contributing to skyrocketing obesity rates, helping to fuel global warming, scaring us with constant food recalls and offering us foods that barely resemble food (a friend recently received a piece of sausage resembling a Pabst beer bottle. American kitsch? Yes. Healthy? No.).

It’s time that we return to our roots. Literally. We need to support a food system that offers us healthy, safe, sustainable, fresh foods. And what better time to begin than on Independence Day? Below are some tips for how to launch your food independence to have a healthier, fun holiday.

1. Skip the so-called “meat” hot dogs and choose veggie ones instead. I know this might be blasphemous for me to write, but unless you are getting meat from humanely-raised, grass-fed beef, you’re more likely to be consuming a hot dog filled with antibiotics, hormones, chemicals and corn. Not so yummy, eh? Instead, join with millions of others who will be enjoying veggie hotdogs during July-National Veggie Hotdog month; they’re tastier, healthier, have less environmental impact and are humanely raised.

2. Ok, so option 1 might have been a bit extreme for some of you. If you choose to eat meat this holiday weekend, check out Eat Wild for local, grass-fed beef and dairy sources.

3. Grill some fresh farmers market veggies. Skip the vegetables shipped thousands of miles and instead choose produce grown by a farmer near you. The Eat Well Guide is a handy online-tool that will allow you to find local farms and farmers markets.

4. Go on a corn-free diet. Corn is everywhere; it’s an ingredient in the food and perhaps even the packaging of a zillion products in our kitchens.

5. Don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce (excluding hard to pronounce international dishes like souffle or babaganouj). Don’t eat anything with more than 5 ingredients (this is care of the food guru Michael Pollan).

6. See Food, Inc. This eye-opening movie connects the dots to explain who and how our food system really operates. It will make you want to change how you eat.

7. Plant a garden in your home or join a community garden.

8. Choose sustainably raised seafood. Not to rain on your parade, but many fish-stocks are dwindling at alarming rates and many fish are filled with chemicals like mercury. Make sure you eat fish that are safe for you and the planet.

9.Start a compost bin. You’ll have lots of kitchen scraps from your farmers market produce which can be turned into nourishing, rich soil that can then be used on your new garden.

10. Choose hormone-free dairy. Do you really want to your sparkler-topped July 4th ice cream sundae to be made with hormone-laden dairy? Me neither. Choose organic dairy or soy ice cream.

Sarah’s Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on

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Former Bears Kicker Paul Edinger Hawking ‘Kickin’ It In Costa Rica’ Camp

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

Paul Edinger had one of the strangest kicking routines of all time — now he has the strangest kicking camp I’ve ever seen in my life.

For the low, low price of $900 (plus airfare), you can spend a week with Edinger in Costa Rica and learn the finer points of kicking. I wish I were making this up.

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Janice Taylor: July 4: Holiday Pig Out Special

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

What??? Huh? Is Janice Taylor, Weight Loss Guru, the voice of Our Lady of Weight Loss, 50-pound big-time-loser, Huffington Post blogger extraordinaire telling us that it’s okay to pig out?

ART PigCrossing.jpg

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.” ~ Erma Bombeck

4th of July Food: PIG-OUT

Own it. You’ve been wrestling with, thinking about, and tasting the idea of not pigging out this 4th of July weekend. It’s been your focus all week long, hasn’t it?

Think about it. You manifest what you focus on. In other words, by thinking about not pigging out, you are destined to pig-out.

What to do. Give yourself permission to PIG OUT. One BBQ, one meal, one day… Not even one pig-out weekend doth a fat-person make. I can pretty much guarantee that if you are not fighting the forces of evil, pushing the devil food away, you will at the end of the day find that you have eaten less than you would have if your mind held on to and kept repeating, “I am not going to pig out.”

What not to do. Do not use this one weekend of indulgence as an excuse to fall off the wagon and take a 10-year detour! Do not beat up on thyself!

Hog Wild vs. Pigging Out. There’s a difference between pigging out and going hog wild. Pigging out has a playful, light, and fun quality to it. If you like, you can even wear something pink! Hog Wild, on the other hand, is not pretty. Hog Wild means you have gone way too far, into the dark side.

ALL IS FORGIVEN, MOVE ON! If you went past Pig Out straight into Full Tilt Hog Wild, forgive yourself and move on … move on … move on … NOW! Into your ‘lite.’

More Pig Out Specials!
Eat More: Weigh Less
10 Healthy Summer Recipes
Summer Salads to Die For

Spread the word, not the icing!

Visit Our Lady of Weight Loss.
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Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater: Michael Jackson and 4th of July Priorities of Concern

July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

This has been an emotional week for many here in America and some around the world. Thousands, if not millions, of people have been mourning the death of legendary artist Michael Jackson, literally pouring into the streets in an expression of grief, while our media outlets and bloggers have been running nonstop to cover every angle, every crumb, every breath of this story. It is hard when someone who has touched millions of people with art suddenly dies. I understand that and I respect the feelings.

However, during a conversation this past weekend with some friends, a few of whom are also rabbis, the conversation turned for a moment to Michael Jackson and the whole tragedy. One of my friends was genuinely upset and felt pained at his death, and she was a bit incensed that I and another friend, were not so much. And, that we were more upset at the outpouring of grief and expression of pain at this death, rather than at any of the myriad other events this past week that could be commanding our attention, was just a total buzz kill for her! I have been thinking about this all week and as we celebrate the 4th of July this Shabbat, the day when we honor our country and all that is good and right, just and joyous about this land in which we live, I want to comment on what I feel is the tragedy within this tragedy as it relates to us as a nation.

John F. Kennedy once wrote in a letter to the publisher of Musical America, “There is a connection, hard to explain logically, but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was also the age of Shakespeare. And the New Frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a New Frontier for American art.” (Musical America, Oct. 1960) Certainly one can say today, without a doubt, that the age of cable television and the internet is also the age of a pop musical culture explosion, in which Michael Jackson is surely unmatched.

Artists have a way of entering our souls, filling our lives with meaning, offering us hope in times of despair, in a way that very few other people can. And often, as is the case with Jackson, the art becomes larger and more profound than the actual person. With the advent of music videos, and the mass market culture which grew out of the 1980s, Michael Jackson led the way toward a new crossover medium of music, dance, fashion and cultural style. His was not only the voice of a generation, but his dance moves and unique contributions to fashion, embedded him as a cultural icon like none other.

Art has always had the power to transform and elevate us as human beings; like the great artists of old, Jackson found a link to our collective consciousness that tapped into something primal in our need for connection, community and inspiration. For that, we should be grateful for his gift and mourn his death. However, what concerns me is this: why is it that the death of a musician, one man, and one with a very troubled life, brings out the passion of Americans onto the street with such force? It is not the expression of grief that troubles me, but rather the lack of expression and energy for things that are truly of greater consequence and importance in the affairs of our world.

What bothers me most is what I see as a disconnect between our emotional outpouring and the priorities of our society. So, I would not be as troubled by the reaction to Jackson’s death, with people sleeping on the streets overnight just to walk by his Walk of Fame star, or setting up spontaneous vigils which draw thousands of people, in tears, if I saw the same kind of reaction and devotion to causes and issues that truly will affect the lives of people. In the same week that hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest a travesty of democratic values, Americans took to the streets for the death of a superstar entertainer.

I have to ask: where were the throngs of people when we called for support to end genocide in Darfur? Supporting gay rights as our state voted to support Prop. 8? Protesting the horrendous budget cuts that our state is facing? Speaking out for affordable healthcare? I have been reading the letters in papers, following some of the blogs and talk-radio, which along with Jackson, have been covering the mindless story of South Carolina Governor Sanford’s affair, and noticed, at least in some of the letters, a tone of gratitude for the paper covering something really meaningful and important, rather than, and I kid you not, only covering news issues, like the energy bill, the effort to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope that we are aware that the draw down of troops in Iraq began this week. One would think that this would be front page news, no? No, buried somewhere inside. What is this saying about our society?

July 4 celebrates the noble actions of our ancestors who fought for freedom, stood up to tyranny and helped to create the foundation for the birth of our blessed nation. I fear that what we are spreading now is not the values of our nation but only our pop culture, a culture that elevates superstars to gods, encourages consumer capitalism based on false values and promotes a quasi idolatry. People all over the world look to America and are copying what we do; yet, are we truly aware of what aspects of our culture others are mimicking?

Do we only want the music, clothes, videos and violent components of our society transmitted to others around the globe? Do we not want people to look to America and see us rallying for justice, promoting, with strength of numbers, the values we hold dear, and actually exercising our democratic rights by voting? Will we rally on the streets to promote alternative energy? Will we rally on the streets to protest unfair and immoral healthcare coverage? Will we rally on the streets to end wars and stop violence? A generation ago, people risked their lives for causes that changed the course of our nation. Today, most of us don’t risk our lives for anything, but have no problem spending a day, a week, a month, mourning a superstar, waiting in line for the newest video game machine, or trampling one another to get to the sale rack first. On this 4th of July, let us think about our priorities and assess where we stand.

I close with a rabbinic parable. A king had some empty goblets. He said to himself: “If I pour hot water into the goblets, they will burst, and if I pour cold water into them, they will crack.” So what did the king do? He mixed hot and cold water together and poured that into the goblets and the goblets did not break. Similarly, when God created the world, the Holy One said, “If I create the world on the basis of mercy and compassion alone, it will be overwhelmed by sin; on the basis of justice alone, the world cannot exist. So I will create the world with both justice and mercy; that way it will endure!” (Genesis Rabbah 12:15).

Our emotional outpouring over Michael Jackson is the legacy of mercy and compassion, the hot water, and it is necessary and encouraged. Yet, if it is not balanced with an equal amount of cold water, our concern for justice and righteousness, then we are going to shatter our glasses, our world will not endure. Let us keep this message in mind the next time we are called to dedicate our time, our lives, to a cause. May the energy we give to the mercy and compassion be matched by the energy we give to justice. In that way, we imitate God and make our world an even holier and more profound place to dwell. Shabbat shalom.

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