Israel’s clean tech advances attract foreign investors’ green


TEL AVIV (JTA) — From cutting-edge geothermal power deep underground to wind turbines and solar panels capturing energy from the sky above, foreign investors are pouring money into Israel’s growing clean tech sector.

And it’s not just Jews.

“Every day I get calls from people asking for opportunities to invest in clean technologies in Israel,” said Michael Granoff, president of the New York-based Maniv Energy Capital and an investor in Project Better Place, the company working to make Israel a testing ground for an electric car.

“That to me is extremely encouraging,” he said. “I believe nothing will determine Israel’s prosperity more than the degree to which it is a leader in innovation around sustainability.”

Clean tech, a catch-all term for emerging technologies focused on renewable and more efficient energy consumption, is soaring in Israel. A wave of new start-ups, academic research projects and new venture capital funds are focusing on the industry, and multinational corporations such as the Coca-Cola Co. and General Electric are scouting out new technologies here.

Fueling the interest in environmentally friendly clean-tech solutions are skyrocketing oil prices, growing concerns about global warming and a push for sustainable solutions to the world’s energy problems.

Investing in Israel’s expertise may not only make good business sense but benefit the worldwide quest for cleaner, greener energy alternatives.

It also may constitute an opportunity to bolster Israel’s international reputation by linking the Jewish state with green innovation.

Jonathan Shapira, a recent American law school graduate who writes a blog on clean-tech investment in Israel, says Diaspora Jews can play an essential role by becoming either consumers of or investors in Israeli technologies.

“Every Jewish family and institution should consider installing solar panels, rooftop wind turbines or energy efficient lighting developed in Israel,” he said. “This will lower their electricity bill, protect the environment, benefit the Israeli economy and help position Israel as a world leader in clean technology.”

The imperative for developing alternative energy sources is particularly acute for Israel because its enemies’ strength derives in large part from the world’s dependence on their oil resources.

“It really makes sense for reasons of economics, but there is also the issue that so much is at stake here,” said David Rosenblatt, the vice chairman of the board of a new solar power company near Eilat, Arava Power, which is headed by Yosef Abramowitz. “This is doing something for Israel’s national security, protecting its energy independence through green power.”

Rosenblatt, who also runs an investment fund in New York, where he lives, said his investment in Arava Power is a Jewish venture as well.

“This is about clean energy, but it’s also about Jewish roots and what I can do to express it and where I personally have value to add,” he told JTA.

In Herzliya, three American immigrants in their 30s have created the first venture capital firm to target the Israeli clean-tech market, Israel Cleantech Ventures. They recently raised $75 million for their debut fund, exceeding the $60 million they originally set out to raise.

Glen Schwaber, one of the firm’s partners, said enthusiasm among investors for Israeli clean tech reflects Israel’s growing reputation as a potential incubator for new technologies that is buoyed by the country’s high-tech success stories.

“Israel has a reputation for innovation and technology, and a mature venture capital environment along with a successful history in entrepreneurship,” Schwaber said. “The next logical place for the clean-tech investor after Silicon Valley and the Boston area is Israel.”

The Jewish state is beginning to capitalize on its experience in such fields as solar thermal technology, wastewater recycling and desalination. Until recently, Israel had the world’s only large-scale desalination plant, off the coast of Ashkelon. Now countries such as China are building them.

“Israel is a great country to beta test some of these new technologies because it is a microcosm of the world’s needs: shortages of water, a large transportation fleet on per-capita basis, and an abundance of solar energy potential,” said Schwaber, 38, who made aliyah from Boston.

Among Cleantech Ventures’ investors are some big names in Jewish philanthropy, including the families of Edgar Bronfman and Stacy Schusterman.

Schusterman, CEO of the Samson Investment Co., a private oil and gas company based in Tulsa, Okla., said she sees her investments in Israeli clean-tech ventures, including Israel’s electric car enterprise, as business, not philanthropy.

“This is a business venture,” she told JTA in a phone interview from Tulsa. “We saw this as an opportunity to leverage Israel’s deep intellectual capital in an area we see as a burgeoning worldwide industry, and by investing it we would have the opportunity to create a hedge against our base business.”

She added, “This is an area where Israel should excel, so as a Jew I have every reason to help make that happen.”

Last month, the city of Los Angeles signed an agreement with Kinrot Incubator, a company located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that helps entrepreneurs and researchers with water-based technological innovations.

The deal will enable Israeli start-up companies to use water and power facilities in Los Angeles for pilot projects and to conduct joint research with the University of California, Los Angeles on water projects.

Los Angeles is interested in using the Kinrot model to establish its own incubator for water-related technologies.

Assaf Barnea, Kinrot’s CEO, said that although the water market is not new, the hype over going green has given it a new shine in the eye of investors.

“They have now heard about it and want to be players,” he said. “There is huge hype but it’s not just hype. This is a market that is here to stay.”

Israel Invests in Clean Tech as energy Crunch Looms


At a lab in Rehovot, the man who developed the Arrow missile is consumed with his next mission: making Israel energy independent by using cheap solar power.

“The issue of energy is the greatest danger to Israel, because in 30 years there will be no energy means, no oil and no gas, and the use of coal will be prohibited,” said Dov Raviv, now the CEO of MST, an Israeli renewable energy company. “Without energy Israel cannot survive, and we must find a substitute and find it fast. That is what I am trying to do.”

Raviv’s company is working to reduce the high price of solar power, which is not yet competitive with the price of conventional energy sources like oil, by more efficiently harnessing solar energy through a method of concentrating sunlight on a matrix of single solar cells.

MST is one of dozens of alternative energy start-ups across Israel seeking solutions to the global energy crisis.

Among the innovations under development are a gear system that dramatically boosts the efficiency of wind turbines, a device that would reduce gas emissions from trucks, the generation of bio-fuels from desert plants and various techniques to generate energy from unlikely sources, including seaweed and sewage water.

Entrepreneurs say Israeli solutions can help not only Israel but also the world.

“Israel has the minds, the R&D, the technology and the entrepreneurship, but we are lagging behind in terms of actual deployment,” said David Schwartz, the chairman of MyPlanet, an Israeli consortium of companies involved in energy and security issues. “This is impeding reaching our full potential as a source of alternative energy for the world.”

Israel’s leadership in the development of alternative energy also can have security benefits. If the world is weaned from its overwhelming dependence on oil, the oil-rich autocratic regimes that surround the Jewish state, including Iran, will have less oil revenue to pay for their anti-Israel activities — whether the development of nuclear weapons or the funding of fundamentalist terrorist groups.

During a recent visit to Israel to accept the $1 million Dan David Award for promoting environmental awareness, Al Gore asked a question many Israelis have been pondering themselves: “How is it here, in the land of the sun, there is no widespread use of solar energy?”

Alternative energy is “good for the Jews,” Gore told a conference on the subject at Tel Aviv University.

Industry observers say more aggressive government policies, such as underwriting renewable energy initiatives and granting more land for power plants, are needed to bolster the development of alternative energy.

“Europe and the U.S. have made incredible strides,” Schwartz said. “Israel has not.”

Meanwhile, Israel has an energy shortage looming. Israel’s supply capacity is 10,600 megawatts per day, and the country has come dangerously close to exceeding that demand on especially hot and cold days.

With limited energy reserves to accommodate for surges, and as the country’s population and energy use grows, the problem is becoming more acute.

The head of the Israel Energy Forum, Yael Cohen-Paran, says some relatively simple measures could significantly reduce the load on the energy grid: cash rebates for those who purchase energy-efficient air conditioning and heating units, and government encouragement of energy-saving building practices.

The long-term solution, however, may require more of a shift.

At the Tel Aviv energy conference, Israel’s infrastructure minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, responded to criticism of government policy on the issue by announcing a commitment to increase the share of such energies to 15 percent to 20 percent of Israel’s total energy use by 2020, double that of previous targets.

He also pledged to adopt a plan to build one new solar station per year for the next 20 years and introduce a bill to make the Negev Desert and southern Israel a “national preference region” for renewable energies. Tax breaks and other incentives would be part of the package.

Yossi Abramowitz, the president of Arava Power, wants to install 62,500 solar panels by year’s end on the sun-drenched sands of Israel’s deserts. He says his company has found investors to pay for solar power stations that would be capable of supplying up to 500 megawatts of electricity for the country — nearly 5 percent of Israel’s daily energy needs during daylight hours.

The project relies on the use of photovoltaics, or PV, a relatively expensive technology that uses a fraction of the silicon used in conventional solar panels to convert sunlight-generated photons into energy.

But for this energy to be competitive on the open market, the government needs to double its current rate of subsidy, Abramowitz says, bringing Israel more in line with the levels of subsidy in countries such as Germany and Spain.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev recently announced a new deal with Israeli start-up Zenith Solar to license solar energy technology developed by its researchers that could revolutionize the way solar power is collected and drastically reduce its price.

The new method, a form of “concentrated PV,” would use fewer of the expensive silicon solar cells to create energy. Instead it would use low-cost glass mirrors to collect sunlight and then focus it onto a relatively small amount of those solar cells to generate power.

The Israeli founder of an algae fuel company called GreenFuel, Isaac Berzin, who was named by Time magazine as one of its Top 100 people in the world for 2008, says Israel is too small of a country to keep such technology to itself.

“Israel should be a catalyst for change,” Berzin said. “Israel is a very small market, a very small place in the middle of nowhere, but it has here what it takes in terms of technology, the know-how to change the world.”

The source of häMAKOR — it’s all in the family


When Israeli band häMAKOR headlined the Israel Day Concert in Central Park, front man Nachman Solomon walked onstage with an Israeli flag draped around his shoulders and blue-and-white souvenir sunglasses tucked into his jeans pocket. As the band launched into their melodic rock tribute to Jerusalem, “Im Eshkachech,” the 21-year-old singer and rhythm guitarist urged the sun-baked crowd to “get moving,” and concertgoers obliged.

This infectious energy — which will be on display when the band plays The Mint in Los Angeles on June 28 — also comes through on the group’s self-produced debut CD, “The Source” — that’s häMAKOR, translated — which features a progressive mix of electronica and trance fusion. The pulsing synthesizer, steady drumbeat and distorted guitar sound like frenzied club music, and the vocals evoke Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

According to Ben Jacobson, a Jerusalem Post freelance music critic and founder of jerusalemite.net, a Web site covering Jerusalem’s music and nightlife, häMAKOR occupies an unusual position in Israel’s music scene.

“There’s a real void here in Israel for alternative Jewish rock that’s creatively edgy — they’re one of the few doing it,” he said. “häMAKOR has a very outside-the-box approach to their Jewish identity. A lot of bands posture themselves to court a religious crowd and others avoid the issue. There’s a lot of spirituality in their music, a lot of liturgy and Jewish philosophy in their lyrics, but they’re not ramming it down your throat. It’s accessible to everyone, even non-Jews.”

Jacobson, who has been writing about häMAKOR from its inception in 2006, is struck by the group’s unusual sound.

“They mix all of these different things — if you describe it on paper it sounds like it should be a terrible, disgusting salad with ’90s grunge rock, trance, folk and classic rock, but when it all comes together, they pull it off, and it’s really great.”

Growing up on Moshav Me’or Modi’im, the community in central Israel founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Solomon was surrounded by musicians. His father, Ben Zion, co-founded the Diaspora Yeshiva Band; his oldest brother, Noah, launched Soulfarm; and three other brothers — Yehuda, Yosef and Meir — formed the Moshav Band.

“I guess it was a career path,” Solomon said. “My dad being involved, we naturally took it over.”

Solomon started playing piano at age 4. “When I was 6, I had a band with a couple of my friends, and I’ve been shredding music ever since.”

He also performed with his family in a band called Ben Zion Solomon and Sons and played Carnegie Hall when he was 13.

Solomon formed häMAKOR when he was 19. “In high school I played just with my dad. I’m kind of a shy boy, so it took me awhile to push myself and do it.” Like many rock front men, he releases his timidity in performance. “When I’m onstage, I’m in my own world, doing my thing,” he said.

Aptly, the singer was named for Chasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who incorporated joyful song and dance into ritual observance. For Solomon, the principal songwriter, connecting to divinity is a recurrent theme. As he sings on the title track, “The lion will roar to remind us of the one above.”

This dedication to music and spirituality impressed häMAKOR drummer Jono Landon, a 29-year-old Toronto transplant who made aliyah (immigration to Israel) two years ago.

“Aside from great musicianship, I need the right intent behind the music. I believe in Nachman. He’s trying to make music for the right reasons,” Landon said.

In the bluegrass-inflected song, “Just Smile,” Solomon expresses his faith and confidence in divine providence: “I’ve got my sunburned face/And I’m looking just a little bit bluesy/Because when it ain’t my day, my week, my month or even my year/I think I’ll just sit back, cut back, relax and let God do his thing.”

Explaining how häMAKOR creates unusual sonic effects, Solomon said, “Ben Frimmer, who’s also the keyboardist, plays what’s called a Virus. It’s like a keyboard, but it gets psychedelic sounds for a trance element.”

Bassist Jonathan Fialko, who was raised in Texas and made aliyah six years ago, grew up playing in bands spanning genres from blues to country. New lead guitarist Bruce Burger, a recent oleh (immigrant) to Israel, blends seamlessly with the band’s eclectic musical personality. Also known as RebbeSoul, Burger played a mix of world beat, rock and jazz with his namesake band in the Bay Area.

Like their material, the band’s venues are wide-ranging. Last year häMAKOR played Fat Baby, a Lower East Side bar, and the Upper West Side’s Carlebach Shul. For the mixed secular and religious bar audience, they played hard-rocking tunes off their album and covered classics from The Who and Grateful Dead. At the shul, they performed a kumsitz (sing-along) style, Carlebach-heavy show.

Last Chanukah, häMAKOR headed to Poland. Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who recruited the band for a 10-city tour, said, in an e-mail message, that “häMAKOR is filled with neshama (soul) and hitlahavut (enthusiasm). They excited old and young, Jew and non-Jew.”


häMAKOR: ‘Im Eshkachech’ live @ Shemeshfest 2007

Remarkably for an Israeli band, five out of the CD’s eight songs are in English. Hebrew songs include liturgical standards “Eliyahu Hanavi” and “Im Eshkachech” and an original composition, “Malachim.”

“When we started, our core audience was American kids who came to study in Israel for a year, so that’s what we aimed at,” Solomon said. “For me, it’s more natural to write in English. In the moshav I grew up in, they’re Americans that made aliyah. I only spoke Hebrew in school.”

Currently, häMAKOR plans to conquer dual markets, creating English-language songs for mainstream rock fans and Judaic music for the religious crowd. Their latest single, “Illusion,” will soon be released on Bigwheel, a new Israeli media company founded by Geva Kra Oz. “Illusion” is a classic rock tune infused with electronica that explores timeless themes of overcoming challenges and finding love.

While häMAKOR courts mainstream success, Landon says, “That’s not the most important thing. The music is a means to teach people around the world about spirituality and how to connect to their creator. If it happens, it’s all from Hashem.”

MUSIC VIDEO: Hadar Manor — ‘Queen of the Underground’


Israeli singer Hadar Manor—who lives in London—was just named ‘Queen of the Underground’—and here’s why!

MUSIC VIDEO: Avigal Cohen –‘ Erev Rosh HaShanah’ (New Year’s Eve)


Israeli singer songwriter Avigail Cohen expresses universal hopes and doubts in ‘Erev Rosh Hashana’:

There’s a last ray of sunlight,
the fading year is disappearing in the dim light.
What will the New Year bring with it?
The darkness spreads a scent of hope.

Socalled music, mythic characters, legal pugilism, Kirk again, open casting call


Saturday the 9th

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The Greek myth of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice is a tale about love, life and death. When Eurydice dies, her bereaved husband follows her down to the underworld, the realm of Hades, and with his angelic singing, convinces the god of death to return Eurydice to the world of the living. The only condition is that Orpheus not look back at his wife as they make their way home. At the last minute, he violates the rule and his wife fades away. “Sliding Into Hades” is playwright Aaron Henne’s modern exploration of the myth, dealing with our own attitudes toward mortality.

Thurs.-Sun., through June 17. $12 (under 25), $22.50 (weeknight), $25 (weekend). Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Robert Shapiro”>

Radio personality and serial bad boy Danny Bonaduce will go head-to-head with high-profile attorney Robert Shapiro (see photo) in a charity boxing match this evening. The “Sports Sweepstakes” fundraiser benefiting Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services promises to be quite punchy — with Monty Hall of “Let’s Make a Deal,” Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, fabulous prizes and three sanctioned bouts. I’ve got my money on Bonaduce — the former “Partridge Family” member destroyed fellow child stars Donny Osmond and Barry Williams (a Brady) in previous charity boxing events.

5:30 p.m. $1,250. Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 996-1188.

Tuesday the 12th

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Wednesday the 13th

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Thursday the 14th

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Friday the 15th

After eating a large Shabbat meal you often want to do nothing more than sit back and be entertained. And entertained you shall be by Barry J. Hershey’s “Casting About,” a documentary chronicling the agony, frustration and hilarity of casting calls, told from the perspective of a filmmaker. In the vein of “American Idol,” footage includes interviews, monologues and audition sessions with more than 350 actresses trying out for a dramatic role.

Various show times. $7-$10. Laemmle Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869.

MUSIC VIDEO: HaDag Nachash — ‘The Sticker Song’


MUSIC VIDEO: HaDag Nachash (Snake Fish)—‘The Sticker Song’ (‘Shirat Ha-sticker’)sums up the political climate of Israel in bumper stickers.  Brilliant.

In the ‘hood, the treat is no trick


If you’re one of those people that took the kids out on Halloween, there’s a good chance you avoided Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods like Pico-Robertson.

Because believe me, they don’t trick or treat in the hood.

This is not a polite refusal to partake in something foreign, like, say, some ultra-Orthodox might respectfully abstain from celebrating Thanksgiving. No, this is an assertive, purposeful rejection. Halloween is seen as the crowning achievement of secular emptiness. You celebrate, glorify, trivialize and idolize something as deep and holy as death, and in return, your kids get to gorge on KitKats and day-glow jawbreakers.

In the same way that the hustle and bustle on the day before Shabbat gives you a good sense of what the hood is about, the eerie silence on the night of Halloween tells you just as much. There might be a wild Mardis Gras-type carnival happening a mile up on Santa Monica Boulevard, but in the hood, the only costumes you’ll see are on the Chasids coming out of Chabad.

In fact, several of my neighbors use Halloween to get a good deal on Purim costumes. Apparently, Halloween has become, in retail terms, bigger than Christmas. So on the day after Halloween, you can get some real bargains on costumes, even some that you can use a few months later on Purim.

The analogy with Purim is instructive. On the surface, they share a certain symmetry: Lots of silly fun around crazy costumes. But you don’t need to dig too deep to see that in many ways, they are polar opposites. While Halloween itself has a religious ancestry — a day certain Christian groups would celebrate “all the saints” — today it is devoid of any spirituality, and has evolved (devolved?) into an occasion to celebrate ghosts, goblins, witches, skeletons and other symbols of evil and death.

Because American commerce can mainstream just about anything, by the time it filters down to our children, Halloween becomes a commercial extravaganza where parents can “bond” with their kids while picking out a $49 costume at Kmart, and then go trick or treating for simple carbs on local streets. In America, even the ghoulish can be made to appear wholesome.

Purim is harder to trivialize, because the rituals themselves are so connected to the religious component. The bad guy is not a spooky mystery — he’s got a name (Haman). The religious text that we read on Purim (the Megillah), tells us to turn the tables on our enemies after our victory, so we put on costumes to look like them. We put on great parties because the text also instructs us to partake in “feasting and gladness.” And to top it off, even the candy and the munchies (mishloach manot) that we exchange with each other and donate to the poor have a direct connection to the holy texts.

In other words, while Halloween revels in the fear and symbols of death, Purim celebrates the holiness and glory of survival. Is it any wonder, then, that observant Jews would rather wait for Purim to have a costume party with their kids?

My problem is that until I moved to the hood a few months ago, my family and I were living in what could be called the Halloween capital of the world (West Hollywood). So naturally, a few weeks ago the kids started asking about our trick or treating plans for this year. It wasn’t easy to give them an answer.

I must admit, though, that I’m conflicted on this subject. As a grown up, I find the Halloween rituals empty and idiotic, not to mention unhealthy. But there’s the problem of this little voice that reminds me of how much I loved it when I was a kid — how my brother and I would spend weeks preparing our Batman and Robin costumes, and how we got such a kick walking with my father (an Orthodox Jew) in the neighborhood instead of doing our homework, and then getting free candy!

So what do I tell the kids? Real Jews don’t trick or treat? Wait until Purim? I know you did it last year but now we’re in a new neighborhood?

I talked with some perfectly coiffed frum supermoms of the hood, and just as I suspected, they all said pretty much the same thing: Halloween is a non-issue. Nobody tricks or treats around here; it’s a vile, dumb holiday. (Hey, who am I to argue?)

A few days before Halloween, though, I got an inkling that my new neighborhood might still, somehow, come to my rescue.

Lately my kids have been spending a lot of time with new friends they have made on our block. On the Shabbat before Halloween, I overheard one of my kids bring up the subject of trick or treating with these new observant friends, and I saw how they got virtually no reaction. I think this might have had an effect, since the subject didn’t come up for the next 24 hours — but I was certainly not out of the woods.

So I conspired with a supermom who is helping me plan a Halloween Seduction Prevention program for the big night. First, a weeknight play date (that’s a big deal), not too much fuss on the homework (also a big deal), roasting kosher marshmellows from Pico Glatt in the backyard (memories of summer, a really big deal), and, for the piece de resistance, TV watching on a weeknight! And if things get desperate, maybe we’ll do an art project and make some scary masks.

By the time you read this, the big night of ghosts and goblins will have come and gone, and I will know if the kids bought my Halloween hood alternative.

Either way, I can’t wait for Purim.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israel, U.S. Act on Request for Renewable Energy


Israel and the United States will pool their scientific brainpower to find and develop alternative energy sources under a bill passed by the House and now wending its way through the Senate.

Under the proposed U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, scientists and engineers from both countries would focus on research, development and commercial use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuel sources.

The act would appropriate $20 million annually through 2012 for grants to researchers at universities and business enterprises, awarded by a newly established International Energy Advisory Board in the U.S. Department of Energy.

All the funds are to come from the United States.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the energy act was introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Rep. John Shadegg (R-Phoenix), and approved by an overwhelming voice vote in the House last month.

Essentially the same bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and 14 of his colleagues. Although the bill faces the usual committee and appropriations hurdles, Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, expressed confidence that the measure would pass the full Senate by the end of the current session.

The act received a boost from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his May 24 address to a joint session of Congress, when he stressed America and Israel’s common “desire for energy security” and praised the pending legislation.

Ron Dermer, minister of economic affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, said that the act would build on previous collaboration through the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.

Dermer also pointed to the large pool of Israeli scientific talent, such as at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and its ability to tackle new research fields.

Similarly, Sherman noted past technological collaboration between the two countries, as in the development of the Arrow missile, and Israeli pioneer work in developing more efficient batteries, solar energy and fuel cells.

In the language of the bill, he and Shadegg stressed that energy independence was “in the highest national security interest of the United States,” and warned that the U.S. now imports from foreign countries 58 percent of its oil.

Such dependence will increase by 33 percent over the next 20 years, the legislators projected, with some of the exporting countries using their profits to fund terrorism and hostile propaganda.

In a phone interview, Sherman said that when he introduced a similar measure last year, it died in committee hearing, contrasted to the overwhelming support this year.

He paid special tribute to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), which has been lobbying for effective energy legislation for many years and has mobilized public support for the House measure.

Gary P. Ratner, AJCongress western regional executive director, said that his national organization had sent e-mails to some 25,000 members in support of the House bill. He urged that voters now contact their senators to advocate passage of Senate Bill 1862.

AJCongress National Executive Director Neil B. Goldstein said he was optimistic that the legislation would be passed by the Senate and signed by President Bush, noting that Senate majority leaders Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had expressed interest in presenting the bill to the full Senate for an early vote.In a related development, American and Israeli business, academic and financial leaders will meet in Tel Aviv on Nov. 8 for a high-level Alternative and Renewable Energy Conference, according to Shai Aizin, Israel West Coast consul for economic affairs.

For information on the conference, call (323) 658-7924, or e-mail losangeles@moital.gov.il. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Anchors Let Slip Plaintiff’s Name

Two Israeli radio disc jockeys were suspended for broadcasting the first name of a woman who alleges that President Moshe Katsav sexually assaulted her. Shai Goldstein and Dror Raphael, irreverent anchors on Tel Aviv Radio, were suspended for a week following a recent surprise phone call they made on air to the former Katsav aide, who previously had been identified in the media only by her first initial “A” due to the sensitivity of the case. Before she hung up on the duo, they used her full first name. The radio station apologized for the indiscretion but noted that the name is so common in Israel that the chance that the woman had been unmasked was slim. Shai and Dror, as they are popularly known, are famous for their broadcast pranks, which have included making crank calls to Israeli leaders and even enemy countries like Iran and Iraq.

Olmert Limits Inquiry Into War

Ehud Olmert announced that his government would conduct a limited inquiry into Israel’s handling of the Lebanon war. The prime minister said Monday that a former Mossad chief, Nahum Admoni, would lead the government-appointed commission to investigate whether the military and political echelons mishandled the 34-day offensive against Hezbollah. Olmert’s decision fell short of the independent judicial commission that his opponents had called for, and which might have had the power to recommend the prime minister’s resignation. Olmert said such a probe would take too long and would neglect the need to rehabilitate Israel’s defense apparatus ahead of possible future conflicts with Hezbollah or its patron, Iran.

Poll: Israelis Want Olmert Resignation

Sixty-three percent of Israelis want Ehud Olmert to resign, according to a new poll. Results of the Yediot Achronot poll, released Friday, showed for the first time that a majority of Israelis favor the resignation of the prime minister, elected in March, because of his handling of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The poll showed 45 percent backing Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister who heads the Likud Party.

New Orleans Shul Dedicates New Torah

A New Orleans synagogue that lost its Torah scrolls to flooding dedicated a new scroll for the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On Sunday, Congregation Beth Israel dedicated a scroll donated by the Los Angeles Jewish community through a fundraising drive by 16-year-old Hayley Fields of Hancock Park, who raised $18,000 to buy the Torah. Seven ruined Torah scrolls were recovered and buried after last year’s flood. National Council of Young Israel, the Orthodox umbrella body, facilitated the dedication.

Argentine Jews Complain Over Blocked Protest

Argentine Jewish leaders met with the country’s interior minister after left-wing activists prevented Jews from holding a demonstration against Iran.Luis Grynwald, president of the community’s central AMIA institution, and Jorge Kirszenbaum, president of the DAIA political umbrella group, talked with Anibal Fernandez for more than an hour Friday morning about an incident Thursday in which the Quebracho group blocked a street where Jews were to demonstrate. Many saw the move as anti-Semitic.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Special Delivery – Jewish Lamaze Class Reunion


We were so much fatter then — and younger and more naïve.

We were nine pregnant women, accompanied by our husbands, sitting together on the floor of a Temple Sinai classroom for 10 Thursday nights in the fall of 1983. Strangers to each other and strangers to the concept of becoming parents, we were preparing to welcome our firstborn into the world according to the traditions of Judaism and the techniques of Lamaze.

It was Jewish Lamaze, a two-pronged childbirth preparation program that had recently been introduced in Los Angeles.

On the physical side, we learned about the anatomy and physiology of pregnancy. And we practiced the focused breathing exercises (the “he-hes” and “he-whos”) developed by Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze in France in the early 1950s and optimistically called “childbirth without pain.”

On the spiritual side, we learned about the customs and rituals, blessings and bubbe meises surrounding the birth of a Jewish child. Some of these included brit milah, the almost 4,000-year-old custom of circumcision; brit bat, an innovative alternative ceremony for girls, and pidyon ha’ben, the redemption of the first-born.

But most important, Jewish Lamaze gave us an opportunity, amid the excitement, anxiety and physical transformation, to take a deep breath (not a “he-he” or “he-who”) and contemplate the emotional ramifications of going from a couple to a family and the spiritual ramifications of raising a Jewish child.

Of course, we wanted to do this perfectly. Thus, in addition to Jewish Lamaze, we took baby care and breast-feeding classes, we read “Secret Life of the Unborn Child” and “The Rights of the Pregnant Parent.” We interviewed pediatricians, researched the best strollers and called day schools to add our babies’ names to the waiting list.

And we planned a reunion for February 1984, to show off our 2- and 3-month-old infants.

Tonight, 18 years later, we’re gathered together for a second reunion, joined by our instructors, Fredi Rembaum, then a consultant for Jewish Family Education at the Bureau of Jewish Education, and Sandra Jaffe, then — and now — a certified Lamaze teacher.

We’re five of the original couples, accompanied by our now-18-year-old children and their siblings. (Of the families not present, two are traveling, one has moved to Minnesota and one, when contacted, said, “I don’t even remember taking Lamaze. It didn’t do me any good.”)

We have come to reconnect and to reminisce at another watershed moment in parenting — as our firstborn have begun or are about to begin their first year in college.

We introduce ourselves and catch up. Some of our lives have intersected through the years — in preschool, day school and day camp, at Jewish lifecycle events, fundraising dinners and at Ralphs. Some of us are remeeting for the first time.

We gather around an enlarged photo of the babies taken at the first reunion.

“Yes, that’s Josh. Crying.”

“There’s Nathan, sound asleep.”

“Sharona, what do you think of your tie-dyed outfit?”

We chat informally. And easily. The talk centers on high schools, colleges and other children. The subtext is middle age and empty-nest syndrome.

After dinner, we gather in a circle. The teens formally introduce themselves.

Some are already in their first year of college — at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA. The others are leaving in the fall — also for UC Berkeley and Williams. They talk about Jewish life on campus, about Hillel and about finding kosher food.

“Why did you decide on Jewish Lamaze?” Rembaum asks us adults.

Harriet Sharf answers: “We were having a Jewish baby. Why would we want to go to goyishe Lamaze?”

“I grew up in a nonreligious Jewish family,” Andy Hyman says. “I wanted to learn about the traditions and to instill in my kids a deep love and appreciation of Judaism.”

“I needed help with the Lamaze part,” says Neal Weinberg, an ordained rabbi.

“But that Lamaze bag was worthless,” Debbie Spindel adds. “I remember everything in it — the shoelaces, the tennis balls, the small paper bag.”

“It wouldn’t have been useless if you had needed any of those items,” Lamaze instructor Jaffe says.

“The change for the pay phone was helpful,” Bart Sokolow says.

Jewish Lamaze was first sponsored by the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education in the early 1980s and taught in various synagogues until the funding ran out toward the end of the decade.

And while it’s no longer being offered in Los Angeles, as far as anyone knows, similar programs exist elsewhere.

“I absolutely loved our program,” Rembaum says…. The class was not just about birthing but about connecting to the Jewish community.”

Eighteen years ago, together, we welcomed these children into the world.

Tonight we realize we’re releasing them.

“Let’s do this again in another 18 years,” Sokolow suggests at the end of the evening. “With our grandchildren.”

 

Abbas’ Move Challenges Olmert


As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presses ahead with plans for another unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined not to be sidelined by Olmert’s go-it-alone approach.

In late May, as Olmert tried to convince President Bush of the need for unilateral action, Abbas urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to accept a package that would enable the Palestinians to break out of diplomatic isolation and emerge as full-fledged negotiating partners with a say on Olmert’s pullback plans.

The vehicle Abbas hopes to use to regain international legitimacy is an agreement hammered out between Palestinian prisoners from Hamas, being held by Israel, and his own Fatah organization, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The so-called “prisoners’ covenant” is based on the Saudi-initiated peace plan of 2002, which received widespread international support at the time.

As of May 26, Abbas gave Hamas 10 days to accept the package.

If not, he says he will go to the Palestinian people and ask them to approve the prisoners’ covenant in a referendum within six weeks. Should the Palestinians accept the covenant, analysts believe there could be strong international pressure on Israel to engage in peace talks on the basis of the Saudi plan. In this way, they say, Abbas hopes to re-establish the Palestinians as players and undercut Olmert’s unilateralism.

But it won’t be easy.

Hamas leaders have already rejected the plan and question Abbas’ constitutional right to call a referendum. Moreover, without Hamas’ compliance, Abbas may not have the power to stage and secure a nationwide ballot, even though most Palestinians seem to want one. Latest polls show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of Palestinians favor a referendum.

The Saudi plan is based on a “land for peace” formula. It stipulates that if Israel withdraws from all territory gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, all the Arab states will normalize their relations with Israel. Hamas, however, continues to reject anything that implies recognition of the Jewish state.

The radical movement’s leaders also reject other key elements of the “prisoners’ covenant.”

For example, they refuse to be bound by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and insist on the right of Palestinians to use force against Israel, not only in the disputed territories, but in Israel proper as well.

Abbas has evolved several strategies to overcome Hamas intransigence. One is the planned referendum. Another is the establishment of a national-unity Hamas-Fatah government in which he, as the senior Fatah representative, would be empowered to conduct negotiations with Israel, not only as the president, but in the name of the government as a whole.

Then there is the ultimate weapon: Abbas could dissolve the Hamas-dominated Parliament and call new elections.

If he manages to get the Palestinian people and polity to commit to the Saudi plan, Abbas will create a major dilemma for the international community.

On the one hand, senior American and European officials are highly skeptical about the Palestinian president’s ability to deliver. They note that in the three years since the formulation of the internationally approved “road map” peace plan, Abbas has done virtually nothing to implement it, and doubt whether things would be different with the Saudi plan.

On the other hand, both the Americans and Europeans would much prefer a negotiated settlement to unilateral moves by Israel, which they fear might spark more fighting rather than less.

Olmert is not only skeptical about Abbas. He also has deep reservations about the Saudi plan, which calls for withdrawal to the 1967 lines, without Israel retaining any of the large settlement blocs he wants to keep.

Moreover, the Saudi formula insists on eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the projected Palestinian state and it suggests that Israel would have to accept the Palestinian refugees’ right of return — positions Olmert rejects out of hand.

The prime minister, therefore, hopes to keep the Saudi plan off the international agenda. He plans visits to Egypt and Europe in the coming weeks to persuade key players that Abbas cannot be relied on to deliver, and that Israel’s unilateralism is the only game in town.

Olmert, however, may not have things all his own way. If Abbas is able to get the Palestinians to accept the Saudi initiative, Olmert could find himself under strong domestic and international pressure to make a serious negotiating effort, despite the skepticism about its efficacy.

After a recent meeting with Abbas, Ami Ayalon, a leading Labor Party legislator, declared that even though he rejected many of its stipulations, the Saudi plan “could be a basis for negotiation,” because it “supports the idea of a two-state solution.”

The key to whether the Saudi plan becomes a serious option — even if adopted by the Palestinians — lies in Washington. The American goal remains a negotiated two-state solution based on Bush’s “vision” that he outlined in June 2002.

U.S. leaders hope to further this aim by strengthening Abbas and using economic and political leverage to bring Hamas down or force it to moderate its positions. Backing the Saudi plan as a basis for negotiations could promote these ends.

But there is another possibility: that the Saudi plan be put on the table only after Israel completes its planned pullback or what Olmert is now calling “realignment.”

In his Washington meeting with Olmert last week, Bush made it clear that the United States was in no hurry to see unilateral Israeli moves, and wanted to give negotiations another chance. But Bush also assured Olmert that as soon as it became apparent that negotiations are going nowhere, Washington would back Olmert’s unilateral alternative, as long as it does not contradict Bush’s vision of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Most importantly, Bush emphasized that the United States will not recognize the borders Israel pulls back to unilaterally as permanent. And he reiterated the American view that final borders must be agreed upon in negotiations between the parties.

It is here where some analysts believe the Saudi plan could come in: not as a means of pre-empting Israel’s “realignment,” but as a way of taking things further once it is achieved.

 

Pupils Vote Yes on Democratic School


Under a classroom’s fluorescent lights, students and teachers scramble to find seats. An important “Parliament session” is under way as together, they hammer out a plan for allocating the school’s activities budget.

The scene is the Hadera Democratic School in Israel, where students take an equal role in deciding not only how and what to study but how the school is run.

As they debate how to spend the $27,000 activities budget, one student writes in neat letters at the top of the blackboard, “order of speakers.” A debate soon breaks out over how much money to spend on the school’s music department, and whether it’s worth purchasing additional acoustic equipment.

Next, the drama teacher asks for additional funds to allow students to see professional theater productions.

One by one, everyone in the room is heard. After much wrangling, a budget is produced for the school year.

The Hadera Democratic School, which receives funding from both public and private sources, was the first of its kind in Israel. Since its founding in 1987 in this city about 60 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, 23 other schools have opened around the country based on its model of democratic education, in which student participation and choice is emphasized.

With its relatively large number of democratic schools, Israel is considered a groundbreaker and leader in the field internationally.

There is growing interest in alternative schools in Israel, where the public school system is mired in a crisis born of poor teaching and disciplinary problems. The Hadera Democratic School has 350 students, with hundreds more on a waiting list.

Most of the students are secular and come from a variety of economic backgrounds. Scholarships help students from poorer families pay the annual tuition of approximately $1,200.

Among the school’s most famous alumni is Gal Fridman, the windsurfer who won Israel’s first Olympic gold medal in 2004.

Based on the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn, the democratic schools focus on respecting the individual. There is close teacher-student interaction, and teachers — called “educators” by the students — mentor 15 students, in addition to their classroom duties.

With their elders’ help, students guide their own education. The goal is to instill in children the notion that they’re responsible for their choices.

There are no required classes, no grades or required tests. Staff and students are treated as equals and share in school decisions, sitting on a variety of committees that range from the school parliament to a teacher selection committee and a field trip committee.

Teachers say the committees are a key part of the education, teaching students how to analyze situations and make choices: “All these things they normally never have a chance to do,” said Aviva Golan, one of the teachers.

On the field trip committee, for example, it’s the students who hire the bus, organize the food and choose where to go.

Golan, who taught in a traditional school before coming to the Hadera Democratic School, no longer believes in conventional education.

“It’s bankrupt, and I believe children only learn from choice, not when they’re forced,” she said.

At traditional schools, she said, “I saw how I fought with kids instead of teaching them — the whole time telling them to be quiet. I believe kids need to move and play. It’s where the real things happen for them.”

The school itself hums with activity. Everywhere, students — from preschoolers to high school seniors — seem to be on the move. One girl reads a novel on a wooden bench. There are children juggling in the courtyard, while others bounce on pogo sticks.

On break, a group of boys plays soccer in the long sandy field in the center of the campus’ brightly painted buildings. Other students work in the computer lab, housed underground in a concrete bomb shelter.

Mike Moss, 17, came to the school as a disgruntled 11-year-old who was bored and restless in his regular school. He soon felt stimulated in the Hadera school and became active in the music and drama departments.

“I feel I would not be doing half the things I am doing here — preparing for matriculation, the music, the friendships — if I had stayed at regular school,” he said.

However, the Hadera school isn’t for everyone, Moss explained. He said students at the school need self-discipline and open minds.

Chen Shoham, 17, said the school has taught her to take responsibility for her education and her life.

“It’s about freedom as an individual and freedom of choice,” she said. “I do what I want and what I need to do. I’m responsible for my life.”

Shoham sits on the budget committee and helps oversee the budget requests each class submits.

“I’ve learned about priorities,” she said.

Traditional subjects such as math, English and history are taught, but it’s up to the students to decide if they’ll take them. Those who want to can study for the high school matriculation exam, which they need to pass with the highest possible marks to get into college.

The school’s principal, Rami Abramovich, said the students do well on the matriculation exam, but the school doesn’t keep data on how many students pass, because it doesn’t consider the matriculation exam a proper measure of whether a student has been educated well.

Students at the school speak of the value of learning outside of class — from philosophical conversations about the meaning of life to playing in a jazz band.

In contrast to the mainstream Israeli school system, there’s hardly any violence at the Hadera Democratic School.

“It’s because kids don’t feel the need to rebel against anything,” Shoham said.

Parents say they’re relieved to have found a setting where their children can thrive academically and socially.

“We think that regular public schools limit children,” said Hadass Gertman, a performance artist whose 8-year-old daughter attends the Hadera Democratic School. “We heard of children going through very bad experiences in public school, and we wanted her to enjoy learning, to enjoy school.”

Sitting outside the small, detached concrete building where he teaches 4- to 6-year-olds, Ron Vangrick spoke of being drawn to the job after growing disappointed with the mainstream educational framework.

“Education is going through a deep crisis because of a lack of relevance of what were once traditional goals,” such as treating others with respect, he said.

He believes that the unique atmosphere at the Hadera Democratic School contributes to the learning process.

“There’s a feeling of home here,” he explained. “It’s a relatively small place. There’s an atmosphere of living within a tribe. Kids of different ages are together and interact with respect and warmth. There is a feeling of childhood that is very powerful here.”

Abramovich, the principal, said the school works because it allows children to discover their own strengths. There’s learning in everything, he said — from the geometry of passing the ball on the soccer field to the negotiations behind staging a school play.

“Every child has his path and rhythm,” he stressed. “It’s a matter of finding it.”

 

Groundwork Laid to Evacuate Gaza


Despite political hurdles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is forging ahead with his Gaza disengagement plan, giving various government agencies the green light to prepare for the evacuation of settlers — using both carrots and sticks.

Even as Israeli police begin laying the groundwork for evacuating Gaza, an interministerial team of some 70 officials is working out details of a bill to compensate evacuees in hopes that the prospect of money and alternate housing will help avert a violent confrontation between settlers and police.

Despite police objections — "no budget, no manpower" — the Cabinet decided that Israeli police would perform the actual evacuation.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently resigned as minister of internal security, wanted the army to do the job, as it did in the evacuation of Yamit in northern Sinai 22 years ago. But most ministers preferred to spare young soldiers the experience of a potentially violent confrontation with Jewish citizens.

So police have begun making necessary preparations. Step one: allocating the funds.

Not only will the government need to pay generous compensation to evacuated settlers — about $400 million — the actual process of evacuation will require substantial funds. Police Inspector General Moshe Karadi met Sept. 5 with senior officers to assess the costs involved.

The cost of the evacuation will depend on the scope of resistance, both in Gaza and in Israel proper. No one knows for sure how many people will actively resist the evacuation, or over what period of time. Therefore it’s not only a matter of budget but of recruiting the necessary manpower.

It’s assumed that large police forces will be kept busy not only in the Gaza Strip but also within Israel, dealing with demonstrations against the disengagement.

Police were planning to set up an "evacuation administration" comprising two arms, one responsible for planning the evacuation and the other for carrying it out. The Border Police, which usually is deployed in the territories to deal with the Palestinian population, has been selected to evacuate the settlers.

The Border Police plans to reinforce its 12 companies with an additional 20 reserve companies, which will free up regular forces to cope with the evacuation.

Sharon hopes to create sufficient motivation among settlers to evacuate their homes willingly in exchange for generous compensation packages, avoiding violent confrontations like those in Yamit.

An interministerial team is working out details of the compensation bill. The general idea is to offer settlers a house in exchange for a house; they also will be given the option of relocating en masse to communities in Israel.

Government assessors were instructed to appraise the houses according to equivalents in regions that are better off than development towns, but not as upscale as Tel Aviv.

The evacuation administration already has proposed advance payments that would be deducted from final compensations, but advances can’t be handed out until the complicated legal procedure behind them is finalized.

The government will commit itself to paying out the full value of compensation packages even if the disengagement plan eventually collapses. Settlers also will receive special compensation worth six months’ salary to find alternative employment.

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for the Gush Katif settlement bloc, insisted in an interview with JTA that only a handful of families have expressed interest in entering negotiations on compensation.

"We regard this entire talk on compensations as psychological warfare," Sternberg said. "Sharon in his desperation shoots in all directions."

The overarching imperative in preparing for the evacuation is to avoid civil war. Policemen in the evacuation task force will undergo special psychological seminars, preparing them for confrontation with their "brothers."

When will all this take place? Sharon recently told his Likud Party’s Knesset faction that he did not intend to "drag out the disengagement plan over a long period of time."

He has presented the following timetable for the disengagement:

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• By Sept. 14, the prime minister will present the Cabinet a blueprint for evacuation and compensation of the settlers.

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• By Sept. 26, a draft disengagement bill will be presented to the Cabinet.

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• By Oct. 24, the financial compensation bill will be brought to the Cabinet.

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• On Nov. 3, the compensation bill — "The Law for Implementing the Disengagement Plan" — will be brought to the Knesset.

It’s assumed that the actual evacuation would take place no later than February 2005.

After Likud voters rejected Sharon’s disengagement plan in a May 2 party referendum, and following the impressive human chain protest of some 130,000 people in late July, settlers now are planning additional anti-disengagement campaigns, including an upcoming massive protest in downtown Jerusalem.

"Over 3,000 children and youths began the school year this week at our schools," Sternberg said. "I’m sure we will all be there to open the next school year."

Monk Could Be Way to Mideast Peace


Next week, I am sponsoring a group of Israelis and Palestinians to spend a few weeks in a small village in southern France with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. These two disparate groups of people do not know each other, but often feel hatred toward each other. Some of them have been hurt in the war.

But by the end of the two weeks, under the guidance of the monks, the Israelis and the Palestinians will learn to listen to, understand, forgive and maybe even like each other. They will be at peace.

Could this work on a larger scale for their respective countries? I think so.

There are only two ways to ever make peace in the Middle East, and both are extreme. One is for one side to obliterate the other in a military conquest. The other, far more favorable approach, is for an unrelated third party to broker peace. For this to succeed, this person must come with absolutely no agenda — not one of country, religion, politics or money. Just peace.

That’s the one we are going for, because we have found such a person.

Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar, poet and peace activist who lives in Plum Village, France. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. He has written almost 100 books. All over the world, he teaches what he calls mindfulness — peaceful, joyful living.

He is in a unique position to help the world now. We are trying to help him.

I met him because I read one of his books and it really helped my life as a movie producer. I learned to listen more, scream less, appreciate everything around me and focus. I even learned to "de-multitask." And now I get more done, and am happier and calmer about it.

I figured if it worked for me, it could work for my friends in the entertainment business, who could sure use his help. So I offhandedly suggested he do a seminar in Hollywood.

Three months later, he called and said, "How’s next Tuesday?" I had Nhat Hanh and 15 monks over to my house to meet about 50 agents, producers, directors, studio executives and actors. I love these people, but they would stab themselves in the back if they could.

In one night, he changed some of their lives. Nhat Hanh does not try to convert people to Buddhism or get them to shave their heads. He teaches them how to listen to others and appreciate life more.

I thought it amazing what he did in Hollywood, but there are people with a lot more to be angry about than their TV series getting cancelled. He has done this for senators, cops, prisoners, people battling AIDS, victims of prejudice and hate crimes. And for Palestinians and Israelis.

Every summer people come from all over the world to Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in France to learn from him and his spiritual sidekick, Sister Chan Khong. A few years ago, they invited some Israelis and Palestinians — a few severely wounded in their war with each other. They forgave.

That gave me the idea to try this on a larger scale, and to tell the world about it. If everyone sees what can happen next week in Plum Village, it could then be done on a much larger scale. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, so I asked friends, advisers and mentors — some of whom run charities. What really convinced me was their answer.

They all said, "No, don’t do it."

They said don’t bother. It will never happen. They hate each other too much. It’s too late. One person even argued that if it cost a Palestinian more to fly to France than an Israeli, it wasn’t fair. Everyone was so far into their anger they didn’t even want to try.

That convinced me that we have to.

Nhat Hanh has no agenda other than peace. He has a great expression: There is no way to peace; peace is the way.

Something extreme must be done and will be. I vote we try extreme peace before the other alternative.

I hope the world watches what happens at Nhat Hanh’s village next week. Who better to do this, who could be more agenda-less than a peaceful Buddhist monk with unique gift for teaching people to listen and be mindful, who has no country, no desire for wealth, no stake in politics?

This is not about who is right or wrong or who started it or who is hurt the most. It is about peace.

It can happen.

Watch.

Film producer Larry Kasanoff is chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment.

More Turn to Israel for Cheaper Drugs


Even though she doesn’t save "that much" money, Los Angeles resident Judith Aaronson, 89, purchases her medications from Pharmacy International, a Nevada-based company that procures drugs from wholesale distributors and drugstore chains in Israel, Spain, Sri Lanka, England and Canada.

"The drugs are mainly identical to what I would buy here," she said. "They look the same. My reasoning is to support Israel. I trust they know what they’re doing."

Aaronson is one of the many people who obtain federally approved drugs from online business brokers, but instead of cost as the motivating factor, it’s idealism that moves her and other Jews around the country to turn to Israel for their drugs.

Over the last several months, companies that procure discounted prescription medications from Israel and other foreign countries have placed advertisements in Jewish newspapers and sent promotional material to Jewish membership organizations, proposing to offer the public a way to support Israel’s economy, while also saving money. In turn, consumers who rely on a heavy volume of medication to treat chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, are flocking to the Web sites to purchase their drugs and support small businesses.

"It’s depressing enough having to be on something for five years," said Janice Epstein, 51, a breast cancer survivor who lives in Columbus, Ohio and buys her medicine at Pharmacy International (pharmintl.com). "I feel better knowing it’s from Israel,"

She purchases Tamoxifen, used to treat advanced breast cancer,

The former New Yorker learned of the Israeli option through an advertisement in the New York Jewish Week, to which she continues to subscribe.

"I asked my doctor about it, and he said sure," Epstein said.

She also asked her husband, a rabbi, if it was ethical to buy the drug from a country other than Israel if it could be had for less.

"He said to do what was best financially," Epstein said. Fortunately, she added, at the moment, she does not have to make a choice, because "Tamoxifen is cheaper in Israel than anywhere else."

Others say supporting Israel is secondary to their need to save as much money as possible. According to reports, in the United States, the working poor and people living on fixed incomes spend a substantial portion of their income on medication.

"Seniors are going for saving money," said one 70-year-old New Jersey woman who spoke on condition of anonymity. "All things being equal, they may go for the one from Israel."

She purchased Tamoxifen and Fosamax, which treats osteoporosis, from Pharmacy International after seeing a company ad in her local Jewish newspaper.

"What would cost me $300 here for a three-month supply costs me $60," she said. "That’s a lot of saving if you’re taking something month after month."

Drugs sold overseas are often cheaper than those sold in the United States, because governments in other countries either regulate the price of drugs or negotiate those prices with pharmaceutical companies. For instance, while the unit cost of allergy medicine Claritin is 96 cents when purchased from Israel through Pharmacy International (on March 2), the unit price at Eckerd’s drugstore chain in the United States is $2.80.

"It’s a real sad environment," said Nathan Jacobson, president and CEO of MagenDavidMeds.com, an online Israeli pharmacy that sells FDA-approved drugs to U.S. consumers. "People are forced to make choices between eating, paying the rent and taking their medication."

MagenDavidMeds.com, based in Ramat Gan, launched a direct-mail campaign this month to members of Congress, synagogues and membership organizations.

For the most part, the companies — Pharmacy International, MagenDavidMeds.com, Isrameds.com and a plethora of others — operate in a similar manner. Customers mail or fax their prescription and medical information to the provider who, in turn, sends the prescription to a participating licensed pharmacist abroad.

In Israel, by law a doctor must first approve the prescription based on the customer’s underlying medical condition before a pharmacist fills the prescription. The drug is then shipped to the customer. The average shipping price is $15.

According to Mike Oliver, founder of Pharmacy International, his company makes money by charging "more than we are charged. Since we do a lot of business, we get a price break anyway," he said.

Orders for medications from Israel totaling $160,000 a month represent an average of 10 percent of the company’s monthly business. The company employs about a dozen people, mostly in customer service.

If there is a discrepancy between the U.S. and Israeli orders, the customer is contacted. Usually, these discrepancies relate to dosages.

For example, in the United States, Glucophage, which treats Type 2 diabetes, is dispensed in 500-milligram capsules to be taken three times a day; in Israel, doctors prescribe 850-milligram capsules twice a day.

Returns are accepted without question, but since it is illegal to resell drugs, unused, sealed medications are donated to clinics and physicians serving indigent populations.

While Pharmacy International orders drugs from chains, and in many instances has made deposits up front so that the pharmacies will fill their orders, MagenDavidMeds.com is working directly with Israel’s independent drugstores.

"In this way, we’re supporting small businesses, keeping them alive, generating tax revenue for Israel," said Jacobson, a Toronto-based entrepreneur who holds dual Israeli and Canadian citizenship.

So far, 20 pharmacists have agreed to fill prescriptions for MagenDavidMeds.com. Jacobson is hopeful hundreds more will sign on. Additionally, Jacobson plans to employ couriers to bring packages to the post office and in this manner, create jobs.

"I want to help the Israeli economy," he said. "I’m not hiding that we’re for-profit, but we’re spreading the wealth. It’s really exciting."

Despite these altruistic intentions, the practice has also been met with skepticism.

Tom Glaser, the Southeast region president of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, said he received information on Isrameds.com six months ago but believed it was "not something we could get behind," because of questions the chamber had about "quality and legitimacy."

Likewise, he is not yet throwing his support behind MagenDavidMeds.com, from which he received a letter this month. As part of its marketing effort, for every order that comes from members of an organization that signs up as an "affinity partner," the company said it will give back 5 percent to the organization.

"I’d have to look into it," Glaser said. "I wouldn’t do it without scrutiny. You’d have to prove to me that this is really benefiting the Israeli economy, and it’s not just a pass through."

Glaser suggested that consumers visit www.buyisraelgoods.com for a list of U.S. retailers that sell Israeli products.

Pharmacists, who are losing business to alternative pharmacies (last year an estimated 2 million prescriptions were filled outside the United States), are mostly strongly opposed to offshore prescriptions.

"My reaction is it’s illegal," said Mitchel Rothholz, a Washington, D.C., pharmacist who is the vice president for professional practice at the American Pharmacists Association, representing more than 50,000 pharmacy industry professionals in the United States.

The law that allows an individual to import a 90-day supply of medication is intended for products that are not available in the United States, he said. The Bush administration, however, is not currently enforcing the law.

"You’d have to stop it at the borders," Rothholz said. "They’re not doing it."

In the last two years, the online pharmacy trade out of Canada amounted to $2 billion annually, according to Jacobson.

In addition, purchasing drugs from an unknown entity "is risky," Rothholz said. "You aren’t actually seeing the pharmacies these drugs are coming out of. There is no inspection."

Furthermore, he added, customers lose an "essential" relationship with their local pharmacist when they purchase medication via telephone or the Internet.

"With medications becoming more powerful, patients need someone they can talk to," Rothholz explained. "Chronic and acute medications need to be kept in a central database to avoid risky drug interactions."

There are other ways to support Israeli entities, he said.

"Teva is one of the largest generic manufacturers in the world," Rothholz said. "When you go to your pharmacy, ask if there is a generic drug made by Teva that is available for you."

Ron Weddell, a majority owner of Pharmacy International, is unmoved by Rothholz’ arguments. Regarding legitimacy, he said: "Customers take my word."

Alternative Invitation to a Simcha


After canceling a bat mitzvah trip to Israel for their daughter, Danielle, Tricia and Mark Rauch decided that if they couldn’t bring their family to Israel, they would bring Israel to Houston. But when Tricia and Danielle began shopping for Israel-themed bat mitzvah invitations, they got very upset.

“We couldn’t believe how expensive invitations had become since my last daughter’s bat mitzvah two years ago,” Tricia said. “I said to Danielle, ‘If we’re going to be spending this kind of money, at least let’s try and find a way to also make it benefit Israel.'”

Tricia called Jewish National Fund (JNF) to find out if she could plant a tree in Israel for each guest invited to Danielle’s bat mitzvah. “It turns out JNF has exactly such a program set up already,” Tricia said. “The tree certificate is the actual invitation. We had the choice between a number of different bar and bat mitzvah-themed tree certificates and even one for water to help JNF alleviate Israel’s water crisis. We wrote the text to appear on the certificates, and now Danielle has a garden in Israel made up of trees planted in honor of each of her 550 bat mitzvah guests.”

Trends show that religious celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs are more lavish than ever, with the standard expense costing the equivalent of one year’s college tuition (Forward “‘Today I Am a Master Card’: Bar Mitzvahs Break the Bank,” Feb. 22, 2002). For most people, though, it is not just a question of how much money they are spending but how they are spending it. Whether planning a big blowout or a more modest affair, invitations that give to charity infuse any simcha with greater significance.

Roni and Arthur Tillem of Atlanta used JNF’s Simcha Invitation Program for both their daughters’ bat mitzvahs. As members of an Orthodox synagogue where women are not called to the Torah, the Tillems wanted to celebrate their daughters’ rites of passage in a way that still had religious and spiritual significance. For Nicole, who just had her bat mitzvah in October, the Tillems planned a family weekend for Parshat Noach at which Nicole gave a dvar Torah based on her studies of the parsha. The theme of the weekend was about choices and Nicole spoke about how it is the ability to make rational choices that distinguishes humans from God’s other creatures.

“The tree certificates with doves on them that we used as invitations fit in perfectly with the theme of the weekend,” Roni said. “First of all because of the role of the dove in the story of Noach, and second of all, and more important, because they illustrated the choice of giving tzedakah. Given the circumstances in Israel, for the same money you would spend on invitations anyway, why not support Israel in a way that’s tangible for your kids, yourself, your friends and your kids’ friends.”

Both the Tillems and the Rauchs reported on the overwhelmingly positive feedback they received from their unique choice of invitations.

“So many people called and even sent me thank-you notes about what a meaningful and beautiful way to start off the celebration of Danielle’s Jewish coming-of-age,” said Tricia Rauch. “People were so moved that they in turn bought trees in honor of Danielle.”

Roni Tillem mentioned a similar phenomenon: “A number of people took Nicole’s initiative and gave trees back to her as gifts. She loved the idea that she had inspired people to give tzedakah and I think she really took away from it a sense of the power of making good choices as well as the feeling that she had been able to do a personal mitzvah for Israel.”

“When Danielle goes to Israel she will see what a special thing she did and understand how proud she should be,” said Tricia. “Her bat mitzvah didn’t just end with a party that had Israeli dancing and a backdrop of the Western Wall, but will always be something living in Israel –there is perpetual significance to her moment of passage from childhood to accepting the responsibilities of adulthood.”

To find out more about JNF’s Simcha Invitation Program,
call (800) 700-1312 ext. 136 or e-mail simchas@jnf.org .

Right Wing Girds to Block Gaza Plan


The earthquake in Israel that measured 5 on the Richter Scale last week is not the only ground shifting these days in the Jewish state.

In the wake of the recent announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel soon could withdraw unilaterally from Jewish settlements from Gaza, the political landscape is shifting as well. Since Sharon made his remarks two weeks ago, right-wing ministers have been busy mobilizing Cabinet colleagues in an effort to stop the prime minister, while the left-leaning Labor Party has been preparing to embrace Sharon.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the hawkish National Union, has written to 10 right-wing ministers, urging them to come up with an alternative plan to Sharon’s. The Likud’s Uzi Landau is openly trying to drum up a majority against the prime minister in the Cabinet. In addition, the National Union and the National Religious Party are threatening to bolt the coalition, if Sharon goes ahead with his plan.

Some politicians are predicting that Sharon’s move will tear apart the government and bring early elections. What’s more, some military officials are saying a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip might encourage more terrorism, as Palestinians interpret the withdrawal as a retreat under fire.

But Sharon is not backing down. To take the wind out of the right wing’s sails, the prime minister said he will take the matter directly to the people by calling a nationwide referendum on the Gaza withdrawal plan. Sharon is hoping that a popular mandate for withdrawal will make it difficult for the right-wingers in his own party to continue opposing him, thereby paving the way for a coalition with Labor.

Last week, Matan Vilnai, a Labor leader, said in Washington that the Labor Party would consider joining Sharon’s government if the prime minister has a plan to return to peace talks. Vilnai said the ruling Likud Party could count on Labor’s support if Sharon goes ahead with his plan to uproot Jewish communities in Gaza.

The most active Likud opponent to Sharon’s plan is Landau, a minister without portfolio, who said he is close to assembling a majority of 12 votes in the 23-member Cabinet against the Gaza withdrawal. So far, Landau counts seven ministers against: Effi Eitam and Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party; Lieberman and Benny Elon, National Union; and Likud’s Yisrael Katz and Natan Sharansky, in addition to Landau.

Landau said four other Likud ministers — Benjamin Netanyahu, Meir Sheetrit, Tzachi Hanegbi and Limor Livnat — are leaning toward vote against Sharon’s plan. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom or Shinui’s Eliezer Zandberg could provide a decisive 12th vote against the prime minister.

In his letter to the 10 hawkish ministers, Lieberman attempted to build on Landau’s work. He urged them to set up a joint forum to draft what he calls a "plan for the national camp."

Lieberman wrote that the "national camp" is divided, merely reacting to left-wing plans, like the unofficial Geneva peace proposal. Instead, Lieberman said, the government should come up with a plan of its own — and quickly. Lieberman proposed "fencing in the Palestinians" in several cantons, with Israel controlling passage between each one.

Clearly, Lieberman’s target is not the Geneva plan but the prime minister’s. Lieberman wants both to block Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan and set a political agenda for a post-Sharon era. Elon, Lieberman’s colleague in the National Union, has been speaking out against the Sharon plan in the United States.

Such actions on the part of ruling coalition members are tantamount to mutiny in Sharon’s government.

The questions are: Will Likud Cabinet ministers agree to join the rebel forum, will Sharon vanquish the rebels or will Sharon dump the rebels for new, left-wing coalition partners?

Netanyahu’s position is the key. Having staked his political future on the success of his stewardship of Israel’s ailing economy, the finance minister and former prime minister is believed by some pundits to favor the plan that would help propel the economy out of its current slump. That would put Netanyahu in Sharon’s camp of withdrawal from Gaza.

However, if Netanyahu believes the timing is right, he could well vote against Sharon’s plan and take the lead of forces in the government opposing Sharon, thereby challenging the prime minister’s leadership. Netanyahu’s decision could decide the fate of Sharon’s government and the unilateral withdrawal plan.

Several Knesset members and expert observers believe the countdown to early elections has already begun. One of them is Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a former Sharon ally who now opposes the prime minister’s disengagement plan.

Rivlin said he does not believe Sharon will be able to keep his present coalition together for long or form a stable government to replace it. He also predicted Netanyahu would not make a leadership bid until new elections are called.

Rivlin’s reasoning is simple: If Sharon gets his plan through the government, the right-wing parties will leave. Then, if Sharon replaces them with Labor, he won’t be able to count on the support of the right-wingers in the Likud or on Labor’s hard left.

That would make Sharon’s government quite vulnerable. Theoretically, Netanyahu then could make his move. By triggering a vote of "constructive no-confidence" in Sharon, Netanyahu could have an opportunity to take over as prime minister.

But it would be tough for Netanyahu to assemble and hold together a ruling coalition, according to Rivlin, because Netanyahu’s coalition partners would have to be constituted exclusively of hawks and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

The hawks would press for special allocations for settlements, and the ultra-Orthodox would press for special funding for yeshivas. These financial demands would torpedo the tight fiscal policy upon which Netanyahu has staked his political reputation.

On the other hand, if Sharon fails to get his disengagement plan through, that in itself could be enough to spark elections.

Therefore, Rivlin believes, there is no escaping early elections, probably in 2005. Then the battle for the Likud leadership will begin in earnest.

Sharon sees things differently. His aides are already making plans for a referendum on the issue of the Gaza settlements, which they are sure he will win. Recent public opinion polls show that an overwhelming 77 percent of Israelis favor withdrawal from Gaza.

Winning a referendum with such an overwhelming majority would give Sharon the moral and political authority to proceed with his plan, perhaps enabling him to set up a stable government with Labor. But any referendum on the fledgling plan still is a long way off.

In the meantime, Lieberman and the other right-wing members of Sharon’s coalition are looking to the future — working, watching and waiting.

Communities Find Light in Darkness


It was Thursday afternoon, three days before 1,800 Jewish kids were to arrive for the final week of the JCC Maccabi games, and 40 delegation leaders were ironing out the logistics at a New Jersey hotel.

That’s when the lights and the air conditioning went dead, and the room quickly became hot and sticky.

But the organizers kept planning, hardly skipping a beat.

"I gotta tell you," said Lenny Silberman, North American continental director of the JCC Maccabi Games, "doing this for the games for 20 years and working with those communities, the potential for a big balagan [brouhaha] was definitely there."

But "it was amazing," he said Monday from his cell phone at the site of the games, the Jewish Community Center on the Palisades.

Thanks to the organizers’ calm, the blackout didn’t create even "an ounce" of anxiety — and all the athletes, hosted by local families, arrived in time for Sunday’s opening ceremonies.

"We knew there was no power, but we also knew that we had 1,800 kids that are depending on us on Sunday, so we had to do what we had to do," Silberman said.

A mix of determination and calm was found in Jewish communities across the Northeast that were impacted Aug. 14 by the massive blackout, the largest in the nation’s history.

Jewish communities also mirrored the mood of the population at large, which was relieved to learn that the outage was the result of a system overload, not terrorism.

Yet the incident highlighted Jewish organizations’ lack of preparedness for an emergency situation.

David Gad-Harf, executive director of Detroit’s Jewish Community Council, praised the spirit of communal cooperation — people took to the streets for block parties, cooking steaks that had defrosted in their freezers — but called the power failure a "wake-up call not only for the Jewish community, but for America as a whole."

Without an "old-fashioned" non-electric phone on hand, Gad-Harf said, the agency was unable to contact local federation leaders or other Jewish agencies.

"We realized that we were really not prepared for a crisis of this kind," he said.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella organization for local federation community-relations councils, agreed.

"We learned how completely dependent on electricity we are," she said, noting that even the organization’s national contingency plan is dispatched through computers.

The alternative plan is to use telephones — which, if they were typical office phones, depend on electricity and didn’t work in the blackout — followed by cell phones, whose networks quickly were overloaded.

"None of those three plans worked for us," she said.

A new backup system has been in the works, Rosenthal said, explaining that a computer motherboard located in the Midwest could release information remotely.

But even that wouldn’t have helped last week, as parts of the Midwest went as black as Manhattan. As a result, every Jewish agency had to fend for itself in the blackout — without the national mobilizations or alerts that are customary in emergencies.

"[There was] not the time or the communications capacity to mobilize," said John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York. "Our first responsibility was to deal with the safety and security of our people.

"Every agency with whom I’ve spoken was better prepared and had a better system in place than we did on Sept. 11, and yet there are times when you still need to call audibles," he said, using a term for football plays that are improvised in response to unexpected circumstances.

While commending the efforts of his federation’s social service agencies, Ruskay noted that Jewish agencies realized they must establish more effective backup modes of communication.

Despite the enormity of the power failure, Jewish communities across the country took it in stride and were only minimally hindered.

The Jewish contingent of an interfaith mission from Akron, Ohio, to Washington was about to fly home when they heard about the blackout.

"I checked the Internet from my cell phone, and as soon as I found out what the situation was, I just knew that we were not going to be able to fly into Cleveland," said Michael Wise, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Board of Akron, which sponsored the trip.

His instincts proved right: As one of six major airports that bore the brunt of the power outage, Cleveland’s airport was without power for the next 15 hours.

The group — which included state representatives, judges, media professionals, clergy and school and business leaders — arrived in Akron at 1 a.m., only five hours later than planned.

"Everyone from our group was incredibly cooperative and understanding," Wise said. "They all said this was a trip they will definitely never forget."

Others found a type of reprieve in the electric jolt.

"In a way it was magic," said Naomi Rose, executive director of the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto, which closed early on Thursday.

"We got to see the stars," which usually are obliterated by the city lights, she said.

"People sort of felt reasonably positive about it," viewing it as a "pause in their hurried lives," she said.

The wedding of Eli and Debbie Savage, a young Orthodox couple in Toronto, was due to begin Thursday evening soon after the lights went out. It went ahead as scheduled. Some 350 wedding guests ate a festive meal warmed on gas stoves, and danced to music played on a grand piano that had been wheeled into the banquet hall. A hotel generator supplied a bit of backup lighting and air conditioning, as well as temporary power for a video camera. Some guests arrived as much as two hours late because of gridlocked traffic in the streets. But most stayed late, realizing it made more sense to enjoy the celebration rather than struggle to get home.

"When they were there, they really couldn’t go anywhere," Savage said. "So people were thinking that they might as well just stay and enjoy. I’ve never seen so much spirit and electricity in the room."

After a night of dancing, the newlyweds were obliged to climb 10 flights of stairs to their honeymoon suite with candles in hand.

A candlelit photo of the Savages appeared on the front page of The Globe and Mail’s Saturday edition under the headlines "With Glowing Hearts" and "How the wedding sparks flew against a backdrop of darkness."

Guests commented that it had been one of the best weddings they had ever attended.

JTA correspondent Bill Gladstone in Toronto contributed to this story. Material also came from the Akron Jewish News and the Detroit Jewish News.

Reduce Oil Demand


The following are remarks and an amendment introduced by
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on March 19 to the House Energy Subcommittee that
propose an alternative energy strategy for the United States.

Mr. Chairman, I’d like to offer the “Keeping Faith With Our
American Soldiers” Amendment, which is at the desk.

In the next few days, more than 200,000 young American men
and women are stepping forward to defend freedom. They stand ready, if they
have to, to put their lives on the line and make the ultimate sacrifice for our
country.

None of us in this room or in Washington are standing in
their shoes. We don’t face a fraction of the risks they do. So it is our
responsibility — in fact, our obligation — to make sure we are standing behind
them in every way possible.

Of course, our most basic duty is making sure we do all we
can to keep them out of harm’s way. They are ready to sacrifice everything; our
job is to do everything we can to make that sacrifice unnecessary.

That’s why I’m offering this amendment today. A few weeks
ago [Louisiana Republican] Rep. Tauzin noted that it was “insane” that we were
sending $20 million a day to Iraq even as the United States prepares to attack.

Well, it is obscene that we’ve been sending over $5 billion
per year to Iraq, and it’s dangerous that so many people in our country believe
this war is about oil.

My amendment helps make sure that war in the Middle East
will not be about oil. It says to our young men and women that they will not
have to risk their lives for oil. And it makes sure that American dollars
aren’t financing repressive, anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East.

Our nation produces 3 percent of the world’s oil, but we
consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. That dependence on foreign oil is bad
for us and also stifling to political and economic progress in the
oil-exporting nations. The oil nations in the Mideast are the richest countries
in the world, with the poorest, most disenfranchised people.

Today, more than 70 percent of all exports and investment in
the Arab world are tied to the oil industry. Those governments have had no
incentive to invest in other industrial sectors, in education, or to diversify
their workforce with women. Their unwillingness to modernize is a driving force
behind the unemployment, unrest and resentment feeding Islamic extremism.

My amendment is a small but important step in changing that
reality. It requires the federal government to propose, finalize and implement
a plan to reduce U.S. demand for oil by 600,000 barrels a day. This is the
average amount of oil we have imported every day from Iraq over the past five
years.

The amendment focuses on oil consumption by all sectors of
the economy. This allows the administration to seek the oil reductions in the
smartest ways possible. Improving CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy]
standards is one option, but vehicles subject to CAFE only represent 40 percent
of our oil consumption. This amendment will allow the agencies to focus on all
sources and come up with the best plan possible to increase efficiencies and
reduce demand.

And if the agencies’ existing authorities are inadequate, it
expressly allows the agencies to request new authorities from Congress.

A couple of years ago, Vice President Cheney told California
that we couldn’t conserve our way out of the energy crisis. But here’s what
happened in California: Energy companies manipulated supply and prices went
through the roof. Gov. Davis challenged Californians to reduce demand by 10
percent. And with no lead time to make and execute plans, Californians reduced
demand by more than 10 percent. Despite widespread criminal conduct by energy
executives, we were able to conserve our way out of that crisis.

It was a remarkable effort that for reasons I don’t
understand, almost no one in Washington wants to acknowledge.

My amendment requires far less of all Americans. It
translates to a 2.5 percent reduction in oil demand, and we allow for a year to
finalize a plan and six years to implement it.

In absolute terms, this is a modest amendment. It asks
almost nothing from those of us who remain safe at home while our troops risk
their lives. But in symbolic terms for the young men and women preparing to
fight in Iraq, the significance of this amendment is incalculable.

If this subcommittee isn’t ready for this small step, I
don’t know how we can look our brave men and women in the eye when they come
home.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

Democrat Henry Waxman represents the 30th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Funds Combat ‘Who Is a Jew’ Wars


In 1997, stimulated by the controversy over whether non-Orthodox converts would be registered as Jews by the Israeli government — the latest battle in the "who is a Jew?" wars — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles began making funds available to what it calls "pluralism" projects. The projects are programs and activities aimed at stimulating religious pluralism and supporting "alternative" forms of Judaism in Israel, as well as increasing Jewish knowledge among Israel’s secular population.

In all, 15 pluralism projects are currently under way, funded directly from Los Angeles (not through the Jewish Agency) at a cost of about $425,000. While the projects are separate from the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, some are in Tel Aviv schools, providing an overlap of services — and possibly effects — with the partnership.

Pluralism projects also differ from partnership activities in that The Federation provides money but does not help to run the programs. While The Federation is careful to assert that pluralism money goes to programs, not movements, the distinction may be academic, because some of the programs funded are run by denominational institutions.

A representative sampling of last year’s pluralism grant recipients are:

  • Beit Daniel, a Reform synagogue and school that provides workshops and teacher training, especially before the holidays, in 15 secular Tel Aviv-area schools.
  • A Conservative movement bar/bat mitzvah training program for special-needs children.
  • The Kelman Center for Jewish Education at Tel Aviv University that helps teachers write their own curricula to bring Jewish texts and identity issues into the classroom.
  • The Reut Institute, an outgrowth of the coed Orthodox Reut School in Jerusalem, that develops curriculum and trains principals in pluralistic Jewish education.
  • Midreshet Iyun, a Conservative Learning Center, that runs a joint project with Tel Aviv University’s Jewish studies department, in which teachers study for master’s degrees in Jewish studies.
  • Bat Kol Bamidbar, which trains informal educators to teach Jewish values and heritage in Negev and Arava schools.
  • Orh Torah Stone Colleges, which prepares religious women to serve as advocates for women clients in Israel’s rabbinical courts.
  • The Tali Educational Fund, which provides Jewish studies in secular public schools.
  • Yesodot of Beit Morasha, which teaches the compatibility of traditional Judaism and democracy in Orthodox public schools.

Suddenly Seymour


In the days when National Public Radio flagship KCRW-FM was an obscure Santa Monica College station, general manager Ruth Seymour decided to create a live Chanukah show as an alternative to Christmas programming.

It was actually a Yiddish show — feting a culture Seymour imbibed during her 1940s Bronx childhood — but during its 1978 debut, the phones went dead and stayed there.

"Honestly, I thought we’d gone off the air," she told The Journal. "Then the show ended, and the switchboard exploded for three hours. People absolutely went berserk."

Since then, Seymour’s annual Chanukah time show, "Fiddlers, Philosophers and Fools," has become a holiday institution. Jews and non-Jews tune in to hear her play folk music, 1940s pop tunes and Yiddish prose translated into English, among other fare.

There’s also a Holocaust memorial segment, which is one reason Seymour refuses to record the show. "People are angry about that," said KCRW’s visionary leader, whose parents were intellectual, immigrant leftists. "But I always wanted the program to be ephemeral. This is really a show about a culture and a way of life that was lost."

"Fiddler" helped keep the mamaloshen (mother tongue) alive in Los Angeles, according to Yiddishkayt L.A. founder Aaron Paley. Years before, the klezmer revival helped fuel a Yiddish renaissance in the late 1980s, "the only visible evidence of Yiddish for the general public here was Ruth’s show," he said.

Seymour — who attended the rigorous Sholom Aleichem "folk schools" — takes the responsibility seriously. Every year, she trudges to Hatikvah music on Fairfax Avenue to pick up and peruse scores of albums. She said keeping "Fiddlers" fresh is easier because the Yiddish revival spurred diverse CDs by young artists.

Just don’t ask her to make any other changes to the show. "It’s the most personal thing I do on the air, because it’s so redolent of my childhood and my beliefs," she said. "So either take it as it is or turn the dial." n

Latkes That Last


Finally! You can now say goodbye to those weird frozen triangles of premasticated potatoes that pass for latkes after Chanukah has ended and the frying pan and grater have been packed up. Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have come up with an alternative way to preserve food, which promises to keep latkes frying-pan fresh — even months later — without extreme heat, chemicals or freezing. Instead, they zap the food with pulsed shockwaves — a process that takes a second, but kills microbes, harmful enzymes and bacteria. Since no chemicals are used, the flavor of the food remains the same, but its shelf life is increased exponentially.

"There is really a great need for alternative preservation methods in order to get safety and shelf life," said Dr. Hadassa Zuckerman, a lecturer in food engineering and biotechnology at the Technion, who helped develop this system. "There are many materials that cannot be preserved by heat or other methods because then they lose their functional properties."

Latke eaters are not the only ones who are going to be able to welcome this procedure. Shockwaves are also being used to preserve biological materials such as blood and plasma. "Without this system, it takes approximately one week to preserve plasma," Zuckerman told The Journal. "Our method takes a few seconds."

Zuckerman called this preservation method "revolutionary" and said that they are still testing its uses.

"We were convinced that latkes were only worth eating fresh out of the oven," she said. "Now we may all have to reconsider that notion."