October 29th, 2008 5:33 pm | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, CLEAN UP

The Oregon Connection: That Obsession DVD and Its Strange Bedfellows


We're often accused of straining for a quirky local angle on a national story. But sometimes it's hard to resist, especially when all it takes is 10 minutes on Google.

For example...

Remember that DVD, Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, that was inserted into Sunday copies of The Oregonian, sparking protests, subscription cancellations and a wan defense from publisher Fred Stickel? (Of course you do: There were Nazis, dude.) The Atlantic Monthly's Jeffrey Goldberg has traced its financing and creation back to a group of radical fundamentalist zealots.

No, not those guys:


These guys:


Obsession, Goldberg reports (quoting St. Petersburg Times investigations), was mailed out "by associates and partisans of the Jewish movement known as Aish HaTorah, or 'Fire of the Torah.'" Who dey? Goldberg talks to their spokesman, Ronn Torossian, and explains:
Torossian's attitude toward Arabs and toward the peace process are echoed in the approach of Aish HaTorah, which is just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today. Its operatives flourish in the radical belt of Jewish settlements just south of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, and their outposts across the world propagandize on behalf of a particularly sterile, sexist and revanchist brand of Judaism. Which is amusing, of course, because "Obsession" is meant to expose a particularly sterile, sexist and racist brand of Islam.

Time to Google! A search of Aish HaTorah releases a torrent of complicated rabbinical debates, with one blogger dedicated to exposing the abuses of "Big Aish," and the sect's own Web site offering live video of the Western Wall.

Here's where it gets weird (and local): Kalman Packouz, the Orthodox rabbi who served as executive director of Aish HaTorah for 10 years, created the Western Wall cam and remains in charge of worldwide Aish programs in the Miami office, is a native of...Portland, Oregon.

And Packouz says he was drawn toward serving God by a photo some 50 years ago on the front page of the O.
When I was 11 I remember seeing a photo on the front page of the Portland Oregonian of a starving baby with a bloated stomach. I asked myself, "How could this happen if there is a God?" And I came up with two possibilities: 1) There is no God and life happens. 2) There is a God and there are two more possibilities: 1) Life is one big sit-com and God is creating channels to entertain Himself or 2) God is good and there is purpose and meaning in everything.

This revelation led, naturally, to Packouz writing How to Prevent an Intermarriage. If there's a local angle on that book, I don't know it, though readers are welcome to supply one.
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