Local political bloggers David Goldstein and Stefan Sharkansky have a lot in common despite their divergent views.
Both grew up in Reform households, Goldstein in Philadelphia, Pa. and Sharkansky in Madison, Wis. Both have lived in Israel and both now live in Seattle. Each credits his Jewish upbringing with his interest in politics, specifically the tradition of discussion and questioning that was promoted around their respective dining room tables.
'Debate was encouraged,' says Sharkansky, whose father, Ira, teaches political science at Hebrew University.
'I think it's part of being Jewish,' agrees Goldstein. 'You sit around the table and you argue.'
'I've always been engaged in politics,' Goldstein continues, 'but not active.' However, in 2003 he filed a satiric voters initiative to proclaim [anti-tax activist] Tim Eyman 'a horse's ass,' and created an accompanying Internet Weblog (blog). When that election ended, Goldstein kept the blog so he would write every day.
Horsesass.org has a fairly high readership, placing Goldstein in the top few hundred blogs (out of about 15 million). He is quick to point out that there is a huge difference in readership between the top 10 or 20 blogs and even the next 10 or 20.
His biggest claim to fame so far has been the 'unseating' of former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown following the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. A reader alerted Goldstein to Brown's dismal and irrelevant work history in Arabian horse shows.
'This was public knowledge,' said Goldstein, 'Any journalist could have investigated it.'
Goldstein did the research and posted it on his site as well as submitting it to the nation's most-read liberal blog, Daily Kos. 'I went to bed at midnight and when I woke up it was on the front page' of this widely-read site.
Traditional media outlets are paying attention to bloggers, and that day, Goldstein received calls from the Denver Post, the New York Times and the National Enquirer, which, he says, brought it into the 'realm of popular culture.'
Sharkansky first started blogging in San Francisco in 2002.
'The coverage of the intifada in Israel got me started,' he explained. 'I thought the news coverage, and the San Francisco papers specifically, was very biased and anti-Israel.'
A software entrepreneur, Sharkansky and his family were drawn to Seattle for more space and a simpler lifestyle. He knew little about local politics, so discovering Seattle was further left than even the openly liberal San Francisco was a little difficult. But, he says, 'politics in Seattle is more accessible to the average person.'
Creating a new site, SoundPolitics.com, Sharkansky set out to challenge some problems he saw. The biggest issue he's tackled is probably the hotly contested Washington gubernatorial race between now-governor Christine Gregoire and Republican candidate Dino Rossi.
While Sound Politics garners a respectable 100 to 300 visits per day, Sharkansky said that during the initial election, and the subsequent re-count and court battle, there were days when the site received 10,000 or more visitors, 'greatly exceeding my expectations.'
Once the election settled, Sharkansky continued to address issues of election reform and fiscal responsibility, spending a couple of hours a day on the site.
Both bloggers think that blogging is popular with Jews because of the Jewish tradition of questioning (and complaining).
'There is a lot of similarity between blogging and Talmudic study,' observes Goldstein.
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Repotting plants is usually a minor chore, but Bellevue resident Karen Mannering got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to repot a most unusual little plant while in Israel this past November. As part of a group of Jewish National Fund Sapphire members (the women's major-gifts division) she visited Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev, home of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, devoted to agriculture and sustainable farming in Israel.
'Just as we were coming out of the Institute, [national Sapphire chair] Karen Cohen asked me if I would mind taking an honor,' explains Mannering in her distinctive British accent. 'I asked what I would be doing and she was a bit vague. 'Something to do with a plant,' she said.'
The 'plant' turned out to be the so-called 'Methuselah' date, a one-year-old tree sprouted from a 2,000-year-old Judean date pit recovered by archeologists at Massadah in the 1970's. The institute obtained three pits and attempted to sprout them. One, miraculously, cooperated and was planted last Tu B'Shevat.
'I was so taken aback I was choking,' reports Mannering on discovering the significance of her tribute. 'I can't get over that I was given the honor to replant the Judean date. I have trouble putting it into words!'
A woman from the institute helped her take the plant from a small pot and transfer it to a larger pot. Eventually the tree will be planted on the grounds of the kibbutz.
The Judean date, a species native to the Middle East, was thought to be extinct. Dates grown in Israel today were introduced in the 1800s from North Africa and other parts of the Middle East. Whether or not this native date can be restored is still unknown as both male and female plants are required for propagation.
Tu B'Shvat is coming up, so it's a great time to be thinking about trees and supporting the work of the JNF. You can do that by attending their dinner on Saturday, Feb. 11, where Karen will tell her story. For reservations contact Bob Kaufman at 206-760-1732.