Voices in Focus: Circumcision, Security and Maggi Sauce

Today we have updates on three stories that we have linked to previously: a condemnation of the controversial circumcision practice known as “oral-genital suction”; a response from the Department of Homeland Security on a security program that has been criticized as a “Jewish earmark”; and the delicious international ubiquity of Maggi sauce.

* Several Jewish publications covered the latest in the ongoing saga of the controversial circumcision practice known as “oral-genital suction” or metzitzah b’peh — a condemnation of the practice from the New York City Health Commissioner. The Jewish Daily Forward reports:

Dr. Thomas Farley said that direct oral-genital suction, known as metzitzah b’peh, should not be performed during Jewish ritual circumcision, and announced that several hospitals, including those serving the haredi Orthodox Jewish community, have agreed to distribute a brochure that describes the risk of contracting the herpes virus from the practice.

(Photo by Serge Attal/Flash90 via The Jewish Press)

The Jewish Press offered some background on the practice, which has been blamed for several transmissions of herpes to babies, including two deaths.

NYC Health Department investigations of newborns with herpes virus between 2000 –2011 have shown that 11 infants contracted the herpes virus when mohalim placed their mouths directly on the child’s circumcision wound to draw blood away from the circumcision cut, according to a statement from the Health Department. Ten of these infants were hospitalized, at least two developed brain damage, and two babies died.

According to the NYC DOH, while mohalim may rinse their mouths with alcohol-containing mouthwash or even take antiviral medications, there is no proof that these strategies reduce the risk of HSV-1 infection associated with direct oral suctioning.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano speaks to staff at the Forward’s offices. (Photo by Nate Lavey / The Forward)

* The Forward also published an update on the Department of Homeland Security program that helps non-profits prepare for terror attacks, which, as we have noted, the newspaper exposed as a “Jewish earmark” with an impressive piece of investigative reporting last year.

The Forward’s reporters grilled Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, when she visited the newspaper’s offices recently, on the DHS program, which faced funding cuts and procedural changes earlier this year.

“The fact that it ends up going to many Jewish organizations doesn’t in itself bother me,” Napolitano said. She added that she had seen no evidence that the money was misspent, and that she believes the grant program has been successful.

Tension levels within the Jewish community, Napolitano said, hit a peak this past winter, following intensified rhetoric between Israel and Iran, and the indictment of an Iranian American in Texas for his role in an alleged plot by an Iranian official to bomb the Washington embassies of Israel and Saudi Arabia. These concerns prompted Napolitano to hold a conference call with 200 Jewish communal leaders last February, in which she discussed the threats and the actions taken to ensure the community’s safety.

During her tenure at DHS, Napolitano added, threats to the Jewish community came from foreign entities, from homegrown extremists and from “hate crime type of activity.”

The Forward also asked Napolitano about a program allowing fast-track entry to the U.S. for Israelis, racial profiling in airport security practices, and the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim groups. A podcast of the interview is available on The Forward’s site.

The omnipresent Maggi bottle. (Photo by Aurora Almendral / Feet in 2 Worlds)

* Another story that we have linked to previously, reporter Aurora Almendral’s exploration of the international seasoning Maggi, went national last week when Public Radio International ran a version of her story, which she originally produced for Feet in 2 Worlds.

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