September 25, 2018

Confidence in Obama falls dramatically in Israel

While President Barack Obama remains popular in most countries, the sharpest decline in his image occurred in Israel, according to a new survey.

In Israel, confidence in Obama on world affairs fell from 71 percent to 49 percent in the last year, according to the 2015 Spring Pew Global Attitudes Survey released Wednesday.

Some 15 percent of residents of the Palestinian Authority said they had confidence in Obama on world affairs, compared to 82 percent with no confidence. Jordan had similar figures with 14 percent confidence and 83 percent no confidence.

Residents of the Philippines had the most confidence in Obama with 94 percent; next was South Korea with 88 percent. France was third with 83 percent confidence.

American’s overall image around the world remains largely positive, according to the survey, with a median of 69 percent holding a favorable view and 24 percent an unfavorable opinion.

Some 81 percent of Israelis view the United States favorably and 18 percent unfavorably, similar to the past two years. However, 87 percent of Jewish-Israelis view the United States favorably, compared with 48 percent of Arab-Israelis, according to the survey.

Lebanon, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan have largely unfavorable opinions.

Results for the survey are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International during April and May. In Israel, 1,000 surveys were conducted in face-to-face interviews in Hebrew and Arabic, with a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

Death in Charleston: Trapped by the tragic, unheeded lessons of the nation’s racial past

America's latest incident of racial violence, the massacre of nine people at historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., echoes some of the horrific scenes out of the civil-rights era. A young white shooter allegedly committed mass murder at a sacred space of black activism, spiritual renewal and educational commitment. The slaughter provides a stark reminder of the way in which racial violence has been used to limit the hopes and aspirations of the black freedom struggle.

Following a white North Charleston police officer's killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American, which was captured on a cellphone camera, the Charleston killings look to be the second act this year of lethal anti-black violence to emerge out of South Carolina, a state that proudly flies the Confederate flag over the State Capitol building.

The nation's contemporary racial climate evokes images that, shorn of social media's ubiquitous presence, would not seem out of place 50 years ago, during Selma's roiling voting-rights protests or, indeed, a century before that in the aftermath of the Civil War and the end of antebellum slavery.

In 1964, music legend Sam Cooke released “A Change Is Gonna Come,” one of the most important songs recorded during the civil-rights era. The song's genius lay in its ability to capture in miniature racial oppression's personal intimacy, political impact and policy reverberations.

Cooke's passionate narrative of Jim Crow's unforgiving assault on black bodies contained the dual recognition that racial segregation also harmed the American body politic. “It's been a long time, a long time coming,” he lamented, “But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”

For many, President Barack Obama's watershed election in 2008, and re-election in 2012, ushered in audacious change on a scale that Cooke and the generation of civil- rights activists who battled Jim Crow could have scarcely dreamed of. The euphoria accompanying Obama's inauguration included open, often self-congratulatory discussion that the United States had finally achieved a new “post-racial” age in which race mattered less than it ever had.

The age of Obama made the sight of a black first lady and attorney general and the presence of powerful African-American civic, business, and cultural leaders seem ordinary. In 2012, for the first time in history, the percentage of the black-voter turnout exceeded that of whites. Racial progress, as manifested through Obama's political and personal biography, became the dominant narrative of American race relations.

But hidden beneath the pageantry of the first family's extraordinary achievements was another country, one in which millions of African-Americans resided far away from the spotlight of mainstream narratives of success or myths of post-racialism.

The rise of mass incarceration, proliferating rates of poverty, public school segregation and high unemployment remained defiantly persistent in too many black communities. Residential segregation, scant job opportunities and failing public schools were, in our post-civil-rights era, passed down ways of life that were exacerbated, not relieved, by public-policy choices that reinforced urban and suburban ghettoes.

The roiling #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations, urban uprisings in Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, anti-black police violence in McKinney, Texas, and now a mass shooting in South Carolina echo the racial turmoil, political protests and community organizing of the civil-rights era. Then, as now, African-Americans lived under a regime of racial oppression that constrained their life chances.

On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy characterized civil rights as a “moral issue” and told the nation, “Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.”

Perhaps none acted as boldly as Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer. Malcolm, the Harlem-based black nationalist and Muslim preacher spoke truth to power in bone-rattling sermons that exposed American democracy's contradictions even as he empowered African-Americans by re-imagining the expansiveness of black identity. Baker, a feminist and radical labor activist, organized the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a group that breathed new life into American society by bleeding for democracy alongside poor black folk in the South.

King found his clearest voice in championing the poor, speaking out against the Vietnam War and calling out the United States as an imperialist power, the world's foremost purveyor of violence and an unapologetically racist nation.

Hamer, who remains less well known than she should, represented the organic intellectual. She was a sharecropper from Ruleville, Mississippi, who defied the politics of white supremacy at the 1964 Democratic National Convention by exposing racial violence, threats and harassment directed at people, like herself, who wanted dignity and equal citizenship. “Is this America?” she asked the nation.

More than half a century later, the answer to Hamer's question is a resounding yes. This is America, a nation where 28 percent of black people live below the poverty line, 40 percent of black children live in poverty and 46 percent of black children attend high-poverty schools. African-Americans, while only 12 percent of the U.S. population, make up 28 percent of all arrests and now make up 38 percent of prisoners in local jails and 39 percent in federal prisons.

As sociologist Monique W. Morris's important book “Black Stats” (from which I have drawn these figures) illuminates in panoramic scope, African-Americans reside on the margins of society regarding health, justice, employment, education, wealth and income. And yes, a nation in which the African-American church, the resounding symbol of freedom and progress during and after slavery, remains a primary target of racial terror in a supposedly post-racial age.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, America continues to embrace denial as a cure to the persistence – and at times growth – of national racial inequality. America's tortured legacy of slavery, racial segregation and violence against people of color continues to shape society's institutions, political philosophies and public policies.

The nation is, it seems, caught in a perpetual feedback loop – destined to repeat the tragic, unheeded lessons of a racial past that we refuse to acknowledge exists in our present.


Peniel E. Joseph is professor of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. His most recent book is “Stokely: A Life.” He can be followed on Twitter at @penieljoseph. The opinions expressed here are his own.

How to build an American shtetl — See: Bloomingburg, N.Y.

This is how you launch a Hasidic shtetl in 21st-century America.

Step 1. Find a place within reasonable distance of Brooklyn where the land is cheap and underdeveloped.

Step 2. Buy as much property as you can in your target area – if possible, without tipping off locals that you plan to turn it into a Hasidic enclave.

Step 3. Ensure the zoning is suited to Hasidic living: densely clustered homes big enough for large families and within walking distance of the community’s vital infrastructure.

Step 4. Build the infrastructure: Houses, a synagogue and beit midrash study hall, kosher establishments, a mikvah ritual bath. Lay the groundwork for a school. Launch a shuttle service so Hasidim who don’t drive or don’t own cars can get from the new shtetl to shopping outlets and other Hasidic communities in the region.

Step 5. Market to the Hasidic community and turn on the lights.

That, essentially, is the playbook developer Shalom Lamm is following for what is shaping up to be America’s newest Hasidic shtetl — the town of Bloomingburg in upstate New York.

Located in Sullivan County about 80 miles north of Brooklyn, Bloomingburg is a tiny village of 400 people dotted with small farms, run-down homes and a couple of old churches. There’s just one stoplight, and there’s not much to the small businesses clustered around it: a hardware store, bank, tattoo parlor, barbershop and thrift shop.

This is the way things were for decades until Lamm — son of Rabbi Norman Lamm, Yeshiva University’s president from 1976 to 2003 — came to town a few years ago and started snapping up properties like they were sample-sale sweaters.

He bought the white house with blue shutters and a front porch just across from the barbershop. He bought the Hickory apartments just off Main Street, adjacent to a trailer park. He bought the hardware store and a pizza shop. He bought a large warehouse built to house antique cars with the idea of turning it into a girls school.

Lamm didn’t stop there. He bought a group of farms on 200 acres of unincorporated land about half a mile from the stoplight and in 2006 got the village to annex it and rezone it for residential development in exchange for building a new $5 million sewage treatment plant for the area. He bought the airport in the nearby village of Wurtsboro. He bought 635 acres five miles away. He also bought a house for himself in Bloomingburg and moved in (Lamm also lives in West Hempstead, on Long Island).

Soon, changes started happening in the village.

Homes were fixed up and repainted. The Hickory apartments, originally built as a senior housing development, were renovated and turned into 12 units, with a synagogue and study hall built in a basement. Most notably, in 2012 rows of attached five-bedroom townhomes began going up on the 200 acres he had gotten rezoned from agricultural — the first of at least 396 units planned for construction in a development Lamm dubbed Chestnut Ridge.

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, a two-hour drive away, Yiddish-language newspapers began to run advertisements touting a new Hasidic housing development going up in Bloomingburg. The ads noted its location near the Catskill Mountains and just 30 minutes north of the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel, home to more than 20,000 Hasidim.

Once the locals upstate caught onto what was happening — when Chestnut Ridge broke ground in 2012 — opposition materialized almost immediately. Village meetings were organized, accusations flew, angry protesters took to the streets and lawsuits were filed. The Town of Mamakating (pop. 12,000), in which the village of Bloomingburg is located, tried to annex the village so that it could gain zoning power over Bloomingburg and thwart the Hasidic-friendly construction, but the bid failed.

Lamm and his defenders, including the public relations consultant he eventually hired, cast their opponents as anti-Semites or anti-Hasidic, and for some that characterization seemed apt. The window of the kosher grocery was repeatedly shattered, and some early protests outside Shabbat prayer services included anti-Jewish epithets.

But for many locals, it was a case of not-in-my-backyard syndrome: They lived in a quiet, albeit poor, country village, and the dense housing and Hasidic influx would indelibly alter Bloomingburg’s character. They believed Lamm and his investment partner, Kenneth Nakdimen, had hoodwinked the village into annexing and rezoning the agricultural land he was turning into a dense residential development.

Last month, Mamakating and Bloomingburg filed a federal lawsuit against Lamm, accusing him of fraud, bribery, racketeering, voter fraud and corruption of public officials — saying he bribed a former mayor, used a frontman to help mislead the village about his intentions for Chestnut Ridge and engaged in racketeering by promoting an enterprise that was corrupt on multiple levels. Lamm denies the accusations and has filed lawsuits of his own against the town.

Shalom Lamm has completed 51 of 396 planned units in Chestnut Ridge, where the homes are suited to Hasidic needs.

If Bloomingburg was going to look like any of the other Hasidic communities north of New York City – New Square, Kiryas Joel, or the hamlet of Monsey in Ramapo – there were plenty of cautionary tales to give local residents pause. Overcrowding in those places was taxing local infrastructure to the breaking point, and in Ramapo the school board had been taken over by a Hasidic majority that was stripping local public school budgets and selling off public school buildings to yeshivas at cut-rate prices.

For the Hasidim, the appeal of Bloomingburg over Brooklyn was clear. It offered much cheaper living, less congestion and fewer of the sorts of urban temptations that could ensnare a devout Jew. With so few residents, the village also offered the prospect of something else: political power that could give local Hasidim nearly unfettered control over their own destiny.

It wasn’t long before the first Hasidic families began to arrive.

Some were older couples from points south looking for a quiet place near the mountains in which to spend summers or weekends. But soon full-timers started coming, too — mostly young families from Satmar and other Hungarian Hasidic sects looking for more affordable alternatives to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood and a quieter lifestyle than that available in Kiryas Joel or in Monsey, the sprawling Orthodox stronghold in Rockland County an hour to the south.

Bloomingburg’s first Hasidic pioneers arrived with almost no Orthodox infrastructure in place. There wasn’t much suitable food available locally — one early newcomer quipped that the only produce available at the local grocery store was two-week-old tomatoes — and kosher food had to be delivered by special order from Kiryas Joel or nearby Middletown. There was no weekday minyan. There was no women’s mikvah (and still isn’t — the zoning appeals board has rejected Lamm’s site for one).

Then, last summer, the city got its first kollel – a Jewish study collective where men learn Torah full time and receive stipends in return from community supporters (in this case, apparently, Lamm). Lamm also bought a 22-seat minibus and a passenger van and began running shuttles to large shopping areas and to Kiryas Joel, where some of Bloomingburg’s adults work and kids go to school.

By fall, there were enough Orthodox families in Bloomingburg to support a daily minyan — the quorum of 10 men needed for public prayer. Weekday services start at 9 a.m.

Mendel Kritzler, 25, moved to Bloomingburg in mid-April with his wife and three boys from a fourth-floor walkup in Williamsburg. Now he lives in a ground-floor apartment within walking distance of everything he needs: the shul and study hall where he spends his days, the kosher grocery Lamm opened up right before Passover, and the new Hasidic day care that now has 10 kids enrolled between the ages of 3 and 4. He doesn’t own a car.

“I was a little nervous before coming here, but since I moved I’ve really been enjoying it; it’s the Garden of Eden,” Kritzler said. “It’s quiet. There’s peace of mind. It’s much, much cheaper – half the price of Williamsburg.”

Lamm’s rentals begin at $350 per month for small one-bedrooms to $1,200 for large three-bedrooms. One of his tenants noted that, unlike her landlord in Monsey, Lamm isn’t so strict about the rent.

At the now-fully occupied Hickory apartments, young Hasidic women gather in the late afternoons and sit on plastic lawn chairs, rocking infants in their laps and watching their toddlers run around while they chitchat in the springtime sun. Once a month, the Hasidic women in town get together in someone’s house or the local kosher pizza-and-sandwich shop for an evening devoted to bonding, noshing and spiritual inspiration. A recent gathering featured slides on the Jewish value of modesty.

The men studying at the kollel come home in the early afternoon for a break. Some walk up the hill to the small kosher grocery, where the shelves are well stocked but the aisles mostly empty of customers. Those who commute to work in Kiryas Joel are generally home by early evening.

Despite the sleepy feel in town, there’s a sense of excitement among the Hasidim – a feeling that they’re the trailblazers in a noble experiment of establishing a new outpost for Hasidic life in New York State.

“I’m the pioneer, really,” said a young Belgian-born Hasid named Yossele who said his was the second full-time family to move in.

So far, only 27 Hasidic families live full time in the village, according to Yechiel Falkowitz, a 22-year-old Hasid who moved in last summer and compiled a head count of the families in early May. Another 20 or so families live part time in Bloomingburg, he said. Lamm, who is the landlord of all but a handful of the Hasidic families’ homes, says there are 176 Orthodox Jewish residents in Bloomingburg, comprising 40-50 families.

(The true Hasidic population of Bloomingburg is the subject of a legal dispute. Over the winter, the county board of elections challenged the eligibility of more than 150 individuals, almost all of them Hasidim, to vote in local elections, and said it would remove them from voter rolls. Hasidim responded with a civil rights lawsuit against the board.)

The main obstacle to growth at present is the town of Mamakating and the village’s government, which has declined to grant certificates of occupancy for the 51 townhouses at Chestnut Ridge that have been move-in ready for months, according to Lamm. Without those certificates, Lamm can’t close the sales of the homes.

“Almost nothing gets permitted,” Lamm told JTA. “I get the sense that they’d like us to give up, but that’s not in the cards.”

Lawyers for Mamakating and Bloomingburg say modifications are needed to bring the homes up to code first and that the process for evaluating the homes and granting certificates of occupancy is underway.

If Lamm’s vision comes to fruition, there soon will be hundreds more Hasidic families in Bloomingburg – maybe thousands.

At Chestnut Ridge, the newly built 2,800-square-foot attached townhomes look like they’re straight out of a brochure for the American dream, with identical facades, fresh white garages and bright green lawns. Inside, the décor is bright, modern and spacious, with 9-foot ceilings, an upstairs laundry room, and kitchens with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances.

The houses also have all the accoutrements Hasidim, with their large families and Orthodox practices, might desire. The kitchens feature two stoves, sinks, ovens and microwaves – one each for dairy and meat. There’s an outdoor sukkah deck just off the dining room. Special sinks are located outside the bathrooms for ritual hand-washing, and a small room near the front is designed for a miniature library or study.

The five bedrooms upstairs have sleeping space for up to a dozen. The master bathroom easily fits two full-sized beds – Hasidic couples do not share beds during women’s menstrual periods and for a week afterward – and the walk-in closet in the master bedroom is big enough for a crib, which Lamm doesn’t doubt Hasidic parents will notice when their babies are born.

The homes are priced between $299,000 and $334,000. Once the remaining 350 or so houses are built, there will also be four playgrounds for the kids.

Many longtime Bloomingburg residents say they’re taking a wait-and-see approach even as they’re still stinging from the way Lamm got his housing development approved. They blame Bloomingburg’s former mayor for agreeing to the deal and say the village population was told the site was going to be a golf course surrounded by luxury homes, not dense development suited to Hasidim.

“It was a shady deal. The politicians we had here threw us under the bus,” said Patti, the owner of a thrift shop in the village who, like all the locals interviewed for this story and many of the Hasidim, asked that her last name not be used. After so much conflict and bad press, people here are wary of reporters.

Patti lives across from the Chestnut Ridge development, which she said has dramatically altered the local landscape. “I used to look at farm fields every day, with silos and animals grazing,” she said. Now she looks out at Lamm’s townhouses.

Despite her misgivings, Patti says she’s reserving judgment about what’s to come.

“Things are definitely going to change. Whether it’ll be for the better or worse it’s too soon to tell,” she said. “It’s in limbo right now.”

Should Jews feel safe in America?

On March 30, the ADL released its annual report on anti-Semitic incidents in America, which announced a rise of 21 percent over the previous year — 912, up from 751. This follows quickly on the heels of several important pieces (by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and David Brooks in The New York Times) on the hailstorm of anti-Semitic attacks pelting Europe. American Jews ask ourselves a new question this year: Are we next?

The first time I visited the Great Synagogue of Rome, I was 22, and I remember it mostly for my smugly American reaction: “How sad,” I said to my best friend, a Catholic American, who was traveling with me at the time. “Jews here need armed security guards just to attend a service.”

This was December 2000, almost a year before 9/11, and although I’d spent my life attending various synagogues in Maryland where I’d grown up, in Philadelphia when we visited my grandparents, I was used only to the dowager-humped, hip-high, octogenarian greeters. Liver-spotted ladies with thick glasses and cotton-ball hair who didn’t clear 5 feet but somehow still managed to jumble the bones of your hand in the vice grips of theirs. Nowhere in sight was anyone you could conceivably call “security.”

This was America! “The greatest country in the history of the world to its Jews,” my father would often proclaim. Here, our synagogues were as safe as the churches and mosques.

My, how things change.

This year, my Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills took the reasonable step of increasing its number of armed security guards to five. For those communities that can afford it, entering a synagogue has become a little like entering an airport. We submit to metal-detecting wands, routine inspection of bags, while men with holstered guns nod us on.

The immediate provocation for the synagogue’s security upgrade was specific and, as these things often are, a little vague: A non-Jewish Middle-Eastern-looking couple wandered in one day and poked around the rooms. When confronted by a congregant, the woman bolted, the man became belligerent and had to be physically removed.

But this incident was perhaps just the most recent excuse for the security uptick. In August, a gang of anti-Semitic thugs assaulted an Orthodox Jewish couple in New York, punching the man in the head and throwing a water bottle at his wife. Then the gang hopped in its car and waved Palestinian flags before driving off.

“Everyone knows it,” a French Jew who now sends her sons to my children’s school in Los Angeles, warned me back in December. “America is no better than Europe. It’s just 50 years behind.”

I listened to this in stunned disbelief. We may have our problems in America, but we are nothing like Europe, I wanted to say. But something stopped me: Was she right?

Unlike many American Jews of my generation, I’ve seen European Jew-hatred up close. I was a graduate student at the University of Oxford from 2000 to 2002, the height of the Second Intifada. In the spring of 2002, a rally of 500 pro-Palestinian marchers was scheduled to descend on Oxford. I and fewer than a dozen Jewish students from around the university organized a pro-Israel rally to take place alongside it. We requested — and were refused — protection from the Oxford police, who accused us of inciting violence. The Oxford Jewish Congregation politely asked us to refrain from rallying.

Of all the things that shocked my American conscience, it was the explosive hatred of the marchers themselves that left the deepest impression. They waved signs bearing Israeli flags covered in swastikas. They hollered and screamed at our minuscule group, fists raised, while the Oxford police — there ostensibly to protect them from us — stood awkward sentry. I recognized a friend of mine, an Austrian grad student — affable, shy, knowledgeable in the finer points of Wittgenstein’s early philosophy — among the marchers.

Enter: America. In March, Congress passed a bill to grant an additional $13 million to Homeland Security for security at religious institutions. In Los Angeles, where I live, the police department reached out in January to the Jewish Federation and offered its protection to any Jewish institution that needed it in the wake of the Paris attacks on the kosher supermarket. There can be no doubt: America remains a safe place for Jews. My sons wear yarmulkes and tzitzit wherever we go, and we have never been treated with anything but courtesy by other Americans. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, while up sharply, is still low. While there have been numerous incidents of open hostility and discrimination against Jewish students on American campuses, those have not yet reached the level of violence.

But it’s also true that this country is changing. We all feel it. My father never boasts about the “greatest country in the history of the world for the Jews” anymore.

Every week, when my family attends Shabbat services, I am grateful for the armed guards and feel a shiver of disappointment that we need them. My children don’t know any other America. To them, armed guards are just one more necessary synagogue fixture, like an Eternal Light and an ark full of Torahs.


Abigail Shrier (@abigailshrier) is a writer and graduate of Yale Law School living in Los Angeles.

American Jews and the Israeli election

If there is one lesson American Jews will learn from Israel’s election, it’s this:  they’re not us.

Israel is not New York. Or LA. Or Chicago or Boston or Miami or Philadelphia. It is a Jewish “community” unlike any in America.

Israelis went to the polls this Tuesday and returned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to office.  Had Bibi run versus Isaac Herzog among American Jewish voters, he would have lost.  He would have lost almost as badly as Barack Obama would lose against Bibi in Israel.   The fact that Netanyahu garnered 29 mandates against his opponent’s 24 was as shocking to the majority of American Jews as the fact that  Jewish Americans voted overwhelmingly – twice – for Barack Obama is to most Israelis.

Jewish life is composed of tribes – Orthodox, secular, my shul, your country club, Ashkenzai, Ethiopian, etc.  But the two biggest tribes are American and Israeli.  Different cultures, different languages, different reality.   Israel and America are the twin study of Jewish life:  same birth, same heritage, but vastly different nurturing – and so very different natures.

For years the greatest myth American Jews have been telling themselves is that Israeli Jews are just like us.  That works because we tend to prove this to ourselves by cherry-picking the Israel we most identify with.  We fell in love with Abba Eban like the French love Jerry Lewis.  Israelis, meanwhile, mocked him.  A friend of mine didn’t understand why former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who ran on the Kulanu ticket, wasn’t first on the ticket. He is American-born, Princeton-educated, brilliant, articulate and centrist.  I told him the leader of Kulanu is Moshe Kahlon, a tough (also smart) Israeli of Libyan background .  

“But Oren speaks such good English,” he said, absolutely perplexed.  

The Israelis we focus on, and whom we support, or invite to speak, are not representative of all those Israelis we never come in contact with, or prefer to ignore.   We love the Israeli artists and entrepreneurs and models and writers and actors – many if not most of whom are in the minority who voted for the losing teams.

Israel is not New York. Or LA. Or Chicago or Boston or Miami or Philadelphia. It is a Jewish “community” unlike any in America.

Language, income, ethnicity, ideology, religious practice separate us from the great mass of Israeli voters: the ones who don’t come to speak in our synagogues, or lead our children’s Birthright seminars, or appear in the papers with the latest hi-tech invention. There are thousands of Amoses in Israel – we just know Amos Oz.

We are drifting apart.  If the English and Americans are two people separated by a common language, Israeli and American Jews are one people separated by a common country.

We don’t know these people, and we don’t really understand their lives.   Economically they struggle more than most American Jews, especially the ones active and influential in Jewish and civic life.   More importantly, they live in a country that faces very real threats from its very real enemies. They and their sons and daughters are called upon to wear a uniform, take up weapons and prepare to die for their country – something some American Jews experience, but hardly the vast majority.

Culture matters. Circumstances matter.  The standard pap at countless Jewish fundraising banquets is how we and the Israelis are One People, and yes, on paper it’s true.  But if you’re talking about reality, and that paper is, say,  a ballot, then  it’s more true to say we are living very different lives, and have developed into two distinct branches of a very small family.  

That explains the reaction of most American Jews to the election.  They seemed to assume that Israelis couldn’t possibly reelect a person who had become so anathema to us.  The most common question I’ve been hearing is, “How did that happen?” My answer: because they wanted it to happen, and they vote, and you don’t.

So now what?

Israel relies on the power of America, which is significant, and that power derives in large part from the influence of American Jews in domestic politics, which is not insignificant.  The strength of this relationship, which has served Israel, America and American Jewry well, depends on the strength of the bond between American and Israeli Jewry.  To secure that, there is much work that needs to be done.  

American Jews have to get to know, for lack of a better word, the real Israel – the world where if Bibi is not exactly king, then he is the safe, secure and dependable choice.  (By the way, many of the left in Israel have to do a better job getting to know this part of their country as well).  If they want to understand, or even influence, these voters, they have to see them not as darker Mini-Me's, but as they really are.

And what about the Israelis?  The divide doesn’t do them any favors either.  Israel can’t rely solely on the support of the religious and the right. Just because they have Sheldon Adelson and an active, conservative base locked up, doesn’t mean they have American Jewry. In fact, the more Israel aligns itself with the values of the religious right and oligarchs like Adelson, the more it alienates the mass of American Jewry.

”“The [American Jewish] right is growing much more rapidly,” Michael Oren said in a pre-election interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, “even as a percentage within the Jewish community. There’s a greater percentage that is more religious, more conservative. That disparity is going to grow in favor of the right in coming years.”

That may be true, but it neglects a growing number of younger American Jews that polls show lean left on Israeli policies.  These will be the future Americans Israel needs to win friends and influence people in DC and elsewhere, and it can’t afford to lose them. 

The right and religious alone may never be big enough to make a crucial difference on the big issues.  And, when the pendulum swings in Israel and a liberal government takes power, these strong supporters may actually work against a sitting Israeli government.   

Bibi tacked hard right to win the Israeli election.  If he keeps sailing in that direction, he’ll leave American Jewry on a distant shore, waving goodbye.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Cartoon: A shining city on a hill

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Three American contractors killed in ‘insider attack’ in Afghan capital

Three American contractors were killed and a fourth was wounded by an Afghan solider at the military airport in the capital Kabul, an Afghan air force official told Reuters on Thursday.

“It is unclear yet why he shot these advisers and no one else was there to tell us the reason,” the official said, asking not to be named because he was not authorised to give statements to the media. “An investigation has been opened.”

The international force in Afghanistan confirmed the shooting took place on Thursday evening.

Why Chanukah matters

There’s a certain narrative about Chanukah that has become near conventional wisdom among American Jews, and it goes like this:

Chanukah is a fun holiday that is big in America, thanks to its proximity to Christmas. But really, it’s a “minor” holiday that is more impactful culturally and sociologically than religiously, and it can’t really compare to the “big” ones of Yom Kippur and Passover.

And that’s all true. But it’s also too simple.

Chanukah matters for many reasons. It matters because, as one historian put it, it allows American Jews to feel included in the American holiday season while also remaining distinct, because they have their own holiday. It matters because, as one rabbi put it, Chanukah provides light in a season of darkness, giving families good reason to come together and celebrate. It also matters because, as another rabbi said, Chanukah carries an anti-assimilationist message that is as relevant today as it was 1,800 years ago.

Chanukah is a rarity within Judaism. It’s a holiday that, because of its scant halachic background, doesn’t provide much fodder for legal or practical disagreement between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox. But it’s also a holiday that rabbis and Jewish academics and educators seem to agree is significant — uniquely so for American Jews — but for a variety of reasons. 

Chabad emphasizes the spiritual message of always increasing light. Modern Orthodox Jews focus on the sages’ narrative of the oil miracle pointing to God’s omnipresent role in the Maccabees’ military victory. Conservative and Reform Jews find meaning in why the sages altered Chanukah’s story by reducing the role of the Maccabees and increasing that of God, and also in how Chanukah allows Jews to feel just as American as Christians do in December. And many communal leaders see Chanukah as an ideal time to reach out to less-connected Jews.

Chanukah is a holiday that takes on different meanings for each different group of Jews. But it also offers something that no other Jewish holiday offers, and it does so without the conflict that often characterizes how other parts of Jewish religious life ought to be observed: Chanukah is a home- and family-based holiday, with eight nights of candle-lighting and lots of good food and celebration — there is no argument about that among any mainstream group of Jews. And it also happens to be an easy and fun way to practice Judaism during a season dominated by the image of the fun and warmth of Christmas. 

Chanukah’s message, meanwhile, is unique and cannot be found in any other Jewish holiday: To maintain Jewish religious practice in an open and liberal society that values assimilation is a challenge. But even with the holiday’s warning siren against assimilation, Chanukah and, to a certain extent, its message, have spread in America mainly because it has paired itself with Christmas. The irony is impossible to ignore.

Misremembering Chanukah

“Most Jews don’t know the stories of Chanukah, and if they do know the stories, they don’t know the real stories,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

The sanitized version of Chanukah casts the underdog Maccabees as winners of an unlikely victory against the mighty Greeks, and after the war, when the Jews went to light the menorah in the Temple, there was only enough oil left for one day, but the oil miraculously lasted for eight days. Voila! That’s Chanukah — Judaism surviving against all odds with God’s hand clearly present. 

Typically left unexplained is the story of religious division among Jewish traditionalists and assimilationists, the religious zealotry of the Maccabee and Hasmonean victors and why Jewish tradition emphasizes the miracle of the oil over the military victory.

The Chanukah story most Jews don’t know is that the Maccabean rebellion in 167 B.C.E. (the Second Temple era) was as much an outward revolt against the Greek attempt to destroy religious and spiritual Judaism (there was no genocidal intent) as it was a civil war to violently defeat Hellenist Jews who wanted to abandon or compromise religious Judaism to fit into Greek culture, which primarily valued science, philosophy and the arts. Hellenized Jews were so fanatic in their anti-Judaism that some males tried to reverse their circumcisions, according to the First Book of Maccabees, or I Maccabees, which, along with II Maccabees tells the official story of the Jewish war against Hellenism, from the point of view of the Maccabees. 

The era’s urban Jews, as a generalization, wanted a Hellenized Judea. Rural, more traditional Jews wanted to maintain their distinct Jewish identity and resist the force of Greek assimilation. Pro-Hellenist Jews, fed up with the refusal of the traditionalists to assimilate, requested that Antiochus — the Greek king at the time — send military forces to suppress the traditionalists.

But the occupying Greek forces were not the traditionalists’ first target. The trigger for their revolt was an apostate Hellenist Jew who offered a sacrifice to a Greek god in Modi’in, according to the Book of Maccabees. Mattathias, a traditionalist and the father of Judah Maccabee, saw the Jew about to perform a sacrifice, killed him, and then killed a Greek officer and tore down the altar where the sacrifice would have occurred.

And thus began the Maccabean revolt, which ended in a Jewish victory that propelled the Maccabees and the Hasmonean dynasty (essentially the political party of that era’s traditionalists) into power after the miracle of the war and the oil. The Hasmoneans’ story has been largely forgotten by modern Jews, in large part thanks to rabbinic Judaism’s decision during one of the early centuries of the Common Era to keep I Maccabees and II Maccabees out of the Torah canon, banished to the less authoritative realm of biblical Apocrypha — stories of Jewish history important enough to remain in our collective memory but kept out of the official canon for one reason or another. 

Purim, like Chanukah, also commemorates the Jews’ survival (although Chanukah celebrates religious, not physical, survival) against a mighty enemy — Haman and his cronies in Persia. The rabbis, though, elevated Purim above Chanukah, at least as far as halachah is concerned, by canonizing it. Open a Tanakh and the Book of Esther will be there; the Books of Maccabees won’t be. The rabbis of the third century felt uneasy canonizing and issuing their stamp of approval upon the Hasmoneans, an ultimately oppressive group of Jewish rulers who forced Jews into observance and killed religious deviants. 

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of the Modern Orthodox Pacific Jewish Center in Venice Beach said the Hasmoneans’ extremism and their intolerance put them out of favor with the more moderate views of rabbinic tradition. “They were not the people of compromise,” Fink said.

Ironically, even though the Hasmoneans were the most extreme group of Jews ever to rule the land of Israel, the populace absorbed Hellenistic culture anyway, touting Jewish kings with names like John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Jews, meanwhile, have adopted  Greek-derived words like Sanhedrin and synagogue to label core elements of religious Judaism.

And while Jews under Hasmonean rule experienced the spread of the very same Greek culture that the Hasmoneans so violently opposed, they also came under Roman occupation after two Hasmonean brothers fighting for the crown — John Hyrcanus the Pharisee and Aristobulus the Sadducee — asked the Romans to settle the dispute. The Romans then took advantage of the Jewish infighting to invade, which led to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and the Roman exile, which lasts to this day and, according to Jewish tradition, will last until the coming of the Messiah and the construction of the Third Temple.

The rabbis of the Talmud who decided to omit the Maccabean version of history from official canon were not willing to elevate the tyrannical Jewish regime that lost Israel to the Romans, even if it was traditional in its religious practice. They felt, too, that the Chanukah story needed a miracle, and it needed God’s role to outweigh that of the Hasmoneans, so the rabbis told the story of the miracle of the oil, a spiritual miracle featuring God’s suspension of the law of nature. And this story came to outweigh the significance of the unlikely Maccabean victory that would lead to a dark period of Jewish power and a disgraceful fall.

The rabbis’ edited version of the story says much about how they believed Judaism needed to be understood during the era of Roman exile, especially by Diaspora Jews. 

“Although we were happy that [the Maccabees] won, that’s not the Judaism that we want to perpetuate,” Fink said. “The Judaism that we want to perpetuate is the one that speaks of light. To me, [the rabbis’] message was, ‘Don’t become an extremist.’ ”

A holiday of few (practical) disagreements

Disagreement is a pillar of Judaism, and most Jewish holidays are staging grounds for practical disagreements. Orthodox Jews disagree with Conservative and Reform Jews about how electricity should be used on Shabbat and other holidays. What’s considered chametz on Passover? What’s kosher? What’s not kosher? How many days of Shavuot should be observed? Should Shavuot be observed? 

Chanukah has no such disputes, which makes it one of the only agreeable festivals in the Jewish calendar.

“It’s one of the holidays with the least amount of halachic material,” said Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “There isn’t that much opportunity for much difference. From that perspective, it’s wonderful, because the entire Jewish community is observing it in the same way.”

And Chanukah is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays in the United States, up there with Passover and Yom Kippur, allowing American Jews to shelve their differences for eight days. Orthodox Jews wary of Americanizing Chanukah accept, sometimes begrudgingly, that capitalizing on the Christmas spirit and ritualizing gift-giving has helped lead many Jews to observe the mitzvah of lighting the menorah and displaying it publicly, which Maimonides held is a particularly important mitzvah because of its commemoration of the survival and spread of religious Judaism. 

And non-Orthodox Jews skeptical of many tenets of rabbinic Judaism, and who may feel that Orthodox practices unnecessarily separate Jews from American culture, have proudly embraced Chanukah’s central halachic feature (lighting the menorah) as Jews’ way to take part in America’s holiday season while maintaining a unique Jewish identity.

“The truth of the matter is the rituals are pretty much the same,” said Feinstein. “You have a holiday that has no politics; no one’s saying that my version of the holiday is better than someone else’s.” 

The differences in practices, Feinstein said, are not between American Jews of different denominations, but between American Jews and Jews in other countries. From the gifts to the decorations to the food to the music, Feinstein said, “American Jews celebrate Chanukah very differently than, say, South African or European or Israeli Jews.”

Chanukah, Americanized

Nowhere else is Chanukah celebrated with the grandiosity that accompanies it in the United States. 

“It is not such a huge event in Israel, where Christmas is not a mainstream cultural phenomenon,” said David Myers, a UCLA history professor and Journal contributor.

How did Chanukah become a cultural phenomenon in America?

“Timing is everything,” said Jonathan Sarna, a historian and professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “It was historically a minor holiday and only became more major because of Christmas.”

This year, Chanukah ends on Christmas Eve, right in the middle of the American holiday season, giving American Jews the sense of full participation in a time when the vast majority of Americans associate the word “holiday” with Christmas.

Myers says that American Jews’ ability to adapt their holiday into “mainstream cultural norms” is similar to what other Diaspora Jewish groups did in learning the language of their host countries in Spain, Persia, numerous Arabic societies and, especially, Germany, where Hebrew and German combined to form Yiddish. “This kind of dynamic has occurred throughout Jewish history,” Myers said. “Jews have continuously adapted names, languages and cultural values from their host societies.”

In the late 1800s, Myers said, observant Jews in America “sought to revive memory of the holiday as a traditionalist reaction” against Reform Judaism’s wish to assimilate into American culture and de-emphasize Jews as a distinct people. Then, in the mid-20th century, many more American Jews, primarily non-Orthodox ones, revitalized Chanukah with the aim of turning it into the other major winter festival alongside Christmas, which is when gift-giving became the norm.

Why did Chanukah become a holiday celebrated by most American Jews, while holidays of greater stature according to Jewish law, such as Shavuot and Simchat Torah, are primarily celebrated by Orthodox Jews? It’s not just because of Christmas, Feinstein said. Chanukah, as a holiday of lights, has a particular appeal in its spiritual and physical light during the short winter days. “Its correspondence with Christmas and its correspondence with the winter solstice are what give it its power,” Feinstein said. 

Fink pointed out that while Christmas has helped elevate Chanukah’s status in America, Orthodox Jews would celebrate the holiday no matter what time of year it fell.

“They are not the ones who are benefiting from this kind of American holiday atmosphere,” Fink said, adding, though, that Chanukah’s gaining from the presence of Christmas should not be viewed as a negative thing. “I’m not saying that we celebrate Chanukah because [Christians celebrate Christmas], but it’s a time that people are going to have an interest in experiencing their own traditions, so it’s wise to capitalize on it.”

Chanukah’s proximity to Christmas, in that sense, not only helps American Jews by acting as a “counterweight” to Christmas, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple said, but benefits from the Christmas spirit, drawing upon one of America’s three biggest holidays (Thanksgiving and New Year’s being the others) to make Judaism fun for those whose only Jewish observance throughout the year might be fasting on Yom Kippur and sitting down at a Passover seder. Chanukah, Wolpe said, is “minor in terms of its status halachically [but] major in terms of its status sociologically.”

“Among Jews who don’t have the strongest identification or the greatest education, there’s a lot pulling them into the general population,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “I think, arguably, that Chanukah has played an important role in giving non-Orthodox families a little bit of a hedge against the Christmas spirit.”

In America, Chanukah has drawn less-religious Jews into joyfully fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting the menorah and has brought American Jewry as a whole closer to the (American) ideal of having both a distinct American identity and a religious identity, as Sarna believes.

“Chanukah allows Jews simultaneously to be part of and apart from, and that’s really a microcosm of what a minority religious community wants to be,” Sarna said. “It wants to stress its distinctiveness even as it wants to be part of a certain zeitgeist.”

Wolpe, contrasting what Chanukah and Yom Kippur offer American Jews in terms of feeling more, well, American, said, “Look, the White House does a Chanukah lighting, they don’t do a Yom Kippur fast, because Chanukah allows them to understand, yes we have a holiday, they have a holiday — and that matters in a society that’s always striving for balance and has lots of different factions.”

Martin Weiss, a Holocaust survivor from the former Czechoslovakia, lights the Chanukah menorah on Dec. 5, 2013, as U.S. President Barack Obama looks on during the day’s second Chanukah reception in the Grand Foyer of the White House.  At left is Margit Meissner, a Holocaust survivor from the former Czechoslovakia. At right is U.S. Navy Lt. Ron Sachs. Photo by Consolidated News Photos

Myers, going a step further, believes the development of Chanukah in America is today’s example of how Diaspora Jews have managed to keep Judaism alive while blending into foreign nations. “It offers proximity to the American cultural mainstream while permitting some degree of preservation of Jewish distinctiveness,” Myers said. “Precisely the work of cultural adaptation and modification that allowed for Jewish renewal and, ultimately, survival.”

‘We don’t need to compete’

Perhaps no group has done more in America than Chabad to thrust Chanukah into the public square. American Friends of Lubavitch organizes the annual lighting of the National Chanukah Menorah in front of the White House; Chabad emissaries across American campuses place a menorah next to visible pedestrian walkways; Chabad families strap giant menorahs to the roofs of their cars and drive around like that for eight days. Whereas the commandment to publicize the miracle of Chanukah is fulfilled by most Jews by placing the menorah in a window, Chabad ratchets the practice up several notches, placing menorahs everywhere.

On the Chanukah agenda for Rabbi Moshe Greenwald, co-director of Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles, is the public menorah lighting at City Hall, this year with Mayor Eric Garcetti — Greenwald’s seventh such lighting; separate menorah lightings at a Los Angeles Clippers game and outside Staples Center; and organizing yet another lighting at Pershing Square, an urban park in the center of downtown. 

“In America, it’s particularly meaningful, because here we can practice all the observances in full view in public,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald added, though, that Chanukah, as one of Judaism’s “most important holidays,” doesn’t need Christmas to make it important. The holiday can stand on its own spiritual and religious merit, he said. “We don’t need to compete in the marketplace of holidays,” Greenwald said. “I don’t want to look at it as the Jewish Christmas.”

There’s irony to Chanukah’s piggybacking on Christmas in the United States, and Greenwald’s objection to making Chanukah the “Jewish Christmas” alludes to it — one of Chanukah’s main lessons is that Jews must resist the temptation to discard tradition in favor of a newer culture. At the same time, though, Chanukah’s attachment to Christmas is perhaps the main reason that the holiday is observed by so many non-Orthodox Jews; the same can’t be said for a holiday such as Simchat Torah, which is given a higher halachic status.

“I think that outside of Orthodox Judaism, there’s almost this wink-wink, nudge-nudge, this is our version of Christmas,” Fink said. “Orthodox Judaism really would be very uncomfortable with that.”

And as a holiday that warns against succumbing to “pressure from any outsider alien society,” Adlerstein said, Chanukah matters as much today as it did for the Maccabees: “The conflict between Jews who wished to bring their own practice more in conformance with the cultural milieu and secular surroundings, and traditionalists who wanted to hold on to core Jewish beliefs and practices hasn’t gone away one iota in 2,000 years.”

Rabbi Arye Sufrin, assistant principal at YULA Boys High School and assistant rabbi at Beth Jacob Congregation, said one message he tries to teach his students is not only Chanukah’s plea to “maintain the tradition” but also why it’s so important to publicize it with pride, a luxury afforded Jews in this country. “We can do that today, but there was a lot that had to happen” to reach this point of openness and safety, Sufrin said. “Chanukah is not a minor holiday.”

U.S. – Israel not in crisis, but…

The strain in US-Israel ties is one of the key issues in the Israel election campaign – and rightfully so. But if you glance at US media during the last couple of months, you’d think the relations have never been worse. Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic, which announced a “full-blown crisis,” described relations as “the worst it's ever been” and quoted an anonymous administration official calling Prime Minister Netanyahu “chicken___”  unleashed a torrent of commentary to this worst-ever-crisis notion. Even venerable Bob Schieffer chose to question the Israeli leader about it on “Face the Nation.”

But history paints a very different picture. Until the late fifties, relations between the two countries were frosty and remote, and France was Israel's primary ally. In the sixties, Israel mistakenly sunk the U.S.S. Liberty, tragically killing 34 American sailors. In the seventies, President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger froze all aid and deliveries to Israel, declaring a “reassessment” of U.S.-Israeli relations, after a harsh argument between Kissinger and Israel's Prime Minister Rabin. In the eighties, the Reagan administration tried to thwart Israel's plans to invade Lebanon by leaking its battle order to John Chancellor on NBC's Nightly News. In the nineties, there was the Pollard espionage affair; the freezing by President H.W. Bush of the loan guarantees to Israel, then the Israeli sale of Falcon fighter planes to China scandal. The list goes on.

One could argue that this nadir in US-Israel relations is personal, between their leaders and not governments. But that would also be incorrect. The leaders themselves, both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have mostly praised one another. The bad blood does not publicly emanate from them, but rather from anonymous “senior officials” and leaks from closed-door sessions — later denied.

To be sure, such leaks reflect a problem, but they pale in comparison to prior eras, when calumny was cast openly. “This American chutzpah makes my blood boil,' said Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin of President Carter in 1979. Twelve years later Israel's cabinet member Rehav'am Ze'evi declared President George H.W. Bush an “anti-Semite.” In 1997 Martin Indyk, then U.S. Ambassador to Israel, was derided as a “Jew-boy.” This same vitriol was also directed at Henry Kissinger in 1974 and U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer on the Knesset floor. Same goes for the Americans. Secretary of State James Baker, for example, was cited in 1992 as saying, “F— the Jews – they didn't vote for us,' raising hell in Israel.

What’s occurring now is no crisis. A crisis is when President Eisenhower tells Prime Minister Ben-Gurion in 1956 that if Israel doesn't immediately withdraw from the Sinai it will face severe economic sanctions. Or when America credibly threatens to devalue the British Pound and withdraw IMF aid when Britain similarly refuses to withdraw its forces.

Those were crises — not when a nameless official calls the Israeli Prime Minister names, especially when followed by a wave of qualifications and condemnations from the White House and State Department.

And a refusal to host senior Israeli officials is also not a new phenomenon. It happened to Ariel Sharon, then Israel's Minister of Defense, who was declaredPersona Non Grata for his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon.

In fact, America and Israel have never been so closely aligned. Recent polls (and http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4600107,00.html) show high levels of American public support. Congress is as supportive of Israel as it has ever been. Tourism and trade volumes between the countries are peaking. Military aid is at a record high. Defense technology export policies are generous. Security cooperation has never been so close.

There are strains in the relationship, of course, as there are in any, but those should be viewed through the prism of history. I, for one, believe that Israel should be grateful to the American people for their strong, unwavering support.

However, even though the current strains are not the worst ever, they do have a destructive potential. If the Obama administration provides insufficient support to Israel in the United Nations Security Council regarding a unilateral move the Palestinians say they will make later this month, or if the US signs a deal with Iran on its nuclear program that fails to address Israel’s s genuine concerns, Israel and America will find themselves in a “full-blown crisis.” Such an outcome could be disastrous for Israel. That is why its leaders must make every effort to avoid a crisis in their relations with American officials.

Rather than fanning the flames of crisis and creating self-fulfilling prophecies, officials on both side need to reduce the inflammatory rhetoric and focus on finding practical ways to fix what needs to be fixed.

Uri Sadot is a Research Fellow at Israel's Institute of National Security Studies. He holds an MPA from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.

Welcoming the stranger

On almost every emerging issue of public policy, our community asks the same question, either in audible or hushed voices: “Is it good for the Jews?” In the matter of President Barack Obama’s recent decision to defer and sideline prosecutions that might have resulted in the deportation of some 5 million undocumented persons in the United States, the answer to the question should be said and repeated in a loud, clear voice: “Yes!” Sometimes, what is good for the nation as a whole is good for the Jews, and vice versa.

In a televised address to the nation on Nov. 20, the president responded to longtime congressional inaction over proposals for comprehensive immigration reform by executive action. Specifically, he exercised his authority as chief of the executive branch of the federal government to defer the initiation of removal/deportation proceedings (and administratively close already-filed cases) against foreign-born individuals who have lived in the United States for five or more years, have no criminal records and have U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident children.  Persons eligible for the president’s initiative will be required to register with the Department of Homeland Security, undergo background checks, work only when they secure employment authorization (for which they will now have the right to apply) and pay taxes on their income.  Those persons will not be eligible for welfare benefits or Obamacare. 

The president’s executive action is limited in time and scope: It will only last for three years, and will not constitute a permanent immunity from deportation proceedings or a pathway to permanent residency or naturalization.  Moreover, it confers no immunity from deportation for millions of longtime undocumented residents of the United States who have no U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident children, or the hundreds of thousands of child and teenage migrants who have entered the United States without inspection over the past year. It is, rather, a temporary measure designed to maintain family unity for millions of hardworking, law-abiding adults who help support and sustain their children, many of who depend on them for financial support and all of whom depend on them for the emotional support that we all have needed from our mothers and fathers.   

As Obama said in his speech, “Tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic.” The president has used his constitutional power as chief enforcer of the immigration laws to allocate the resources of his government’s immigration officers and attorneys to prioritize the commencement and continuation of deportation cases against criminals, the recently arrived, and those with few or no family ties in the U.S. If every possible deportation case that could be brought to the federal government were, the already overloaded, undermanned, and underfinanced immigration court and enforcement systems would collapse of their own weight. Every prosecutor in every jurisdiction makes decisions every day on which cases should be filed and which should be deferred. The president has done no more than that.

The president’s initiative now places the ball firmly in Congress’ court to pass or not pass comprehensive or even piecemeal immigration reform.  Since the administration of George W. Bush — who, to his credit, pressed for comprehensive immigration reform of the same kind now favored by Obama — the Republican right has stymied all efforts to bring a bill to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. Several times, the Senate has passed an immigration reform bill.  Several times, House Speaker John Boehner has indicated his desire to pass an immigration reform bill. Nevertheless, several times, the speaker has led from behind and refused to bring a reform bill to the House floor because of the intransigence of a minority of his GOP caucus. The speaker and other Republican leaders in Congress have decried Obama’s initiative as unconstitutional (which it is not), as amnesty (which it is not) and as a refusal to work with Congress on more comprehensive legislation (which is belied by the evidence of the recent past). Obama’s response to all of this hyperbole has been succinct and on point: “Pass a bill.”  

Returning to the question of whether the president’s initiative is good for the Jews, we should all dust off our Torah and reread Exodus 23:9. “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Obama initiative is a limited, practical act of rachmones — empathy designed to lift some of the terrible burdens from those people who live in the shadows of our society, while they help raise our children, tend to our homes and gardens, and pick our fruit. As they help sustain us, we should find the compassion to help sustain them. That is the Jewish — and the American — way.

Bruce J. Einhorn served as a United States Immigration Judge in Los Angeles from 1990 through 2007.  He is currently a professor of immigration, asylum and refugee law at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, and executive director of The Asylum project, a nonprofit aid group for the victims of foreign persecution and torture.

Young Americans and Israel – a disconnect

The new concern in the American-Jewish community is the number 25. According to a Gallup poll conducted in the midst of the Gaza war, 42 percent of all Americans supported Israel’s action. Among people aged 18 to 29, that number was 25 percent.

This set off all the usual alarm bells here and in Israel. Israel has one great and powerful ally in the world — the United States of America. But that support ultimately depends on the will of the people. And the young people — they’re not so willing.

“Israelis need to look both outward and within,” Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea wrote this week in Yediot Aharanot. “Israel is at a nadir in its foreign relations. The problem begins with public opinion in the West, including Jewish public opinion in the United States. … Israel is losing the young people.”

What’s happening is a generational shift in the quality and quantity of younger Americans’ support for Israel. Pew Research Center surveys indicate that young people still show more overall sympathy to Israelis than to Palestinians, but that number is also in decline. It’s a problem that may be easier to explain than to solve.

When it comes to Israel, there are two generations of Americans:

Generation ’67 sees Israel as a historical redemption story that began with the Holocaust, came to fruition with the War of Independence and climaxed with the Six-Day War.  

Millennials see an Israel apart from Jewish history, a country among countries; 20-somethings came of age during two intifadas, the Second Lebanon War and three Gaza wars. The Israel they saw in headlines blasted homes, put up a wall, built settlements. Where Generation ’67 sees the lamb beneath the lion, millennials just see a lion.

For this generation, the arguments of Israel’s defenders clearly don’t resonate.

Devorah Brous, who works with many young people through her food-justice organization, Netiya, explained it to me this way:  “The younger generation saw Gaza as an offensive war against the Palestinians, not a defensive war against Hamas.”

This despite all the fact books Generation ’67 distributes on campuses, all the exposés we send one another against the biased media, all the cool new social media initiatives. These open donors’ wallets but not young people’s hearts. It is all, to borrow Brous’ phrase, “Jewish conversation with other Jews about Jewish things.” 

So, who has been successful in mobilizing a younger generation? 

You’re not going to like the answer. 

Jewish Voice for Peace’s (JVP) growth in popularity among Millennials is inversely proportionate to Israel’s decline. According to federal tax filings, JVP revenues went from $310,000 in 2011 to $1.1 million in 2012, and almost doubled again this year. Since Operation Protective Edge began, the organization, with 40 chapters nationwide, reports it has had 50,000 new people — Jews and non-Jews — register on its website.

JVP is a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Its email alerts bring Jewish and non-Jewish activists out to disrupt speeches by Israeli officials. It calls for “democratic participation and equality” for all people of the Middle East, an end to Israeli military force against Palestinians, and for Palestinians to stop attacks on Israeli civilians.

JVP uses the language of civil rights and nonviolence to garner support among Millennials. It relies heavily on social media to inform or sway its members. And it’s a Jewish group that speaks to more than just Jews.

Students are drawn to JVP because it draws a crowd that reflects the world they know. During the debate on Israel divestment at UCLA this spring, some 600 people showed up to speak for and against, and sat on opposite sides of the room. 

“On one side of the aisle were mostly Jewish students and Jewish faculty members,” Estee Chandler, JVP’s regional director, told me, “and on the other side, you saw America: gay, straight, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, black.”

“Israel is no different than other social issues for the younger generation,” Chandler said. “It is about equality and justice and civil rights across the board.” Younger people, she said, are turned off by identity politics — they don’t get the ‘Jewish’ part of the Jewish state.

She bristles when JVP is called “anti-Israel,” especially because her father is Israeli, and many of her family members still live there. (“They don’t know what I do,” she said, “I don’t talk about it.”)

The right-wing Jewish groups that blame the Palestinians, President Barack Obama, The New York Times and Islam for all of Israel’s ills? JVP is their mirror image, putting all the blame on Israel. Yes, this sounds like nonsense, considering that the people in charge of Gaza aren’t exactly Quakers, but that’s the rhetoric, and it seems to be working.  

More openness, greater appeal to universal values, more engagement with the kind of diverse, uncomfortable opinions and images students see on their Facebook pages, even more dialogue with groups such as JVP that make the mainstream cringe — perhaps that’s where Israel’s supporters should start, said Brous.

And with numbers like 25 percent, they have a long way to go. 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Hillary Clinton, Israel and the Jews

Last month, I read an opinion piece in a Jewish publication wrongfully accusing Hillary Clinton of being anti-Israel and not fighting for the issues that matter most to Jewish Americans. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Throughout her career, Hillary Clinton has fought for and been a strong ally and representative of the Jewish community. To suggest otherwise is just absurd.

I have been lucky enough to know Hillary Clinton for more than 35 years, ever since I was a teenager in Arkansas in the 1970s.  I don’t know anyone who is more able and ready to work on the issues that matter and to make sure that the ideas and concerns of the Jewish people are addressed.

I first met Hillary when my father, who was a Rabbi in Little Rock, went to Fayetteville to perform the town’s first ever Bar Mitzvah. At the reception, we met a nice young couple, Bill and Hillary Clinton. My parents and the Clintons became friends, and thus began a long history working together in public service. 

The author of the piece I read cites obscure references to Hillary Clinton’s life and work back in Arkansas. Having witnessed that time in her life, I can say how misleading and unrepresentative these are to her history fighting for and understanding important issues to the Jewish community.

Hillary was always close to the Jewish community, and she and I worked together on many projects. Behind the scenes, Hillary became one of the leaders of a group of civic-minded professionals who worked together to help people of all faiths strive for communication and cooperation. While Hillary was a Methodist and Bill a Baptist, they always supported interfaith activities. 

Hillary was always good at thinking outside the box and finding unique solutions to problems. While traveling, Hillary discovered an Israeli educational program that was designed to help immigrants and their children adjust to life in new countries. Hillary studied the groundbreaking program and figured out that it could be adapted to help economically disadvantaged families in Arkansas. Hillary brought the HIPPY program to Arkansas, where it was soon offered statewide and now operates in 21 states, serving 15,000 families.

I also noticed that the author conveniently chose to exempt from his argument Hillary Clinton’s eight years in the Senate where, as a Senator from New York, she came to know the largest Jewish constituency outside of Israel and was an outspoken defender of Israel. Hillary Clinton’s support within the Jewish communities of both New York and Arkansas is a testament to her friendships and relationships that have been developed over a lifetime. 

Conflicts in Israel and the Middle East weigh heavy in the hearts and minds of the Jewish community. Strong leadership from leaders who understand our history and share the interests of the Jewish people is needed to bring about peaceful resolutions. The article chooses to neglect this in passing judgment on Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton continued her strong support for Israel. One of her greatest achievements as Secretary of State was negotiating a cease-fire to avert an all-out war in Gaza. She also helped lead efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. On the U.S’s relationship with Israel, Hillary said, “Israel and the United States are united by a deep and unbreakable bond based on mutual interests and respect.”

The domestic issues that the Jewish community cares about – freedom of religion and separation of church and state, personal freedoms and rights, education, and health care – are issues Hillary Clinton has worked on her entire life. Her passionate support of the Jewish community culminated with her being awarded a lifetime achievement award from the American Jewish Congress.

From her foreign policy abroad to her work back home, Hillary Clinton has consistently shown her support and dedication to the issues that matter most to Jewish Americans.

I share in the thoughts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in saying to Hillary Clinton, “you are a great friend and a great champion of peace,” and I hope the rest of the Jewish community can share in this long-lasting bond with Hillary Clinton


Lazar Palnick is an attorney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Islamic State vows to ‘break the American cross’

Islamic State, the Sunni militant group which seeks to establish a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, released a video on Tuesday that gave the strongest indication yet it might attempt to strike American targets.

The video with the theme “breaking of the American cross” boasts Islamic State will emerge victorious over “crusader” America. It follows a video posted on Monday warning of attacks on American targets if Washington struck against its fighters in Iraq and Syria.

The latest footage speaks of a holy war between the al-Qaeda offshoot and the United States, which occupied Iraq for nearly a dacade and faced stiff resistance from al Qaeda.

Islamic State's sweep through northern Iraq, bringing it close to Baghdad and in control of the second city, Mosul, drew U.S. airstrikes on the country for the first time since the end of the American occupation in 2011.

The video showed footage of President Barack Obama as well as strategic U.S. ally King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and attacks on American soldiers.

Reporting by Michael Georgy; editing by Ralph Boulton

On packed flight to Israel, hundreds of American Jews, emboldened by Gaza crisis, start lives anew

Daniel Knafo was wide awake aboard the Boeing 747 as sunlight began peaking over the northern horizon of the Mediterranean Sea early on the morning of Aug. 12.

Less than 10 hours earlier, he was at the departure terminal of John F. Kennedy International Airport with more than 300 American Jews, all of them embarking on a journey to start new lives in Israel.

And shortly before that, the teenager was at Los Angeles International Airport, bidding farewell to the city he called home for the first 17 years of his life.

At about 5 a.m., Knafo was standing in the aisle of El Al chartered flight 3004, which was cruising above the Mediterranean and less than two hours west of Ben Gurion International Airport, where the Woodland Hills native  would step on to the tarmac with the other 338 other Jews onboard—young, old, married and single.

Guy Zohar and Daniel Knafo, both from the San Fernando Valley, at Ben Gurion Airport.

Of those, Knafo was also one of 108 young Jews planning to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces within the first few months of making Israel home. This flight was chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that promotes aliyah to Israel from North America and the United Kingdom. The group assists families and individuals in making the move, with financial support, assistance with the job hunt and other myriad obstacles that immigrants have to navigate.

It was the organization’s 52nd chartered aliyah flight since its founding in 2002, during which time, according to its website, Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped more than 30,000 diaspora Jews move to Israel.

The timing of this particular flight full of immigrants, or olim, may strike some as particularly poignant, given the on-and-off war that has enveloped Israel for the past several weeks—Hamas has fired 3,500 rockets into Israel since July 8, according to the IDF. And in response to the rockets and the discovery of more than 30 underground cross-border attack tunnels, Israel’s military launched a ground and air assault on Hamas’s strongholds in Gaza, most of which are densely populated within civilian neighborhoods. The war has left a reported 64 Israeli soldiers, three Israeli civilians, and 1,881 Palestinians dead.

But for Knafo and numerous other American olim interviewed by the Journal at JFK airport and aboard the flight, the Gaza war is not a deterrent to making aliyah—it is, at least in part, a catalyst to move to the Jewish state.

“I want to be there more than ever,” Knafo said, as dozens of fellow soon-to-be soldiers socialized around him. “Nothing will stop me from joining.”

Knafo, who attended El Camino Real High School and graduated from New Community Jewish High School, hopes to serve either in the IDF’s paratrooper unit (Tzanchanim) or in the elite Golani Brigade. He is honest with himself about the risks he will face. “If they tell you they are not scared, they’re lying,” he said of all the  young immigrants preparing for military service.

Not long before leaving, on July 20, Knafo attended an evening candlelight vigil in Los Angeles for Max Steinberg, another former student at El Camino Real High School who left Los Angeles to volunteer in the IDF. Steinberg and six other soldiers were killed in Gaza when their Golani unit’s vehicle was struck by Hamas anti-tank missiles in the first days of the IDF’s ground incursion.

Knafo said that he felt guilty leading a normal life while Israel was embroiled in war.
“It kills me that while they are fighting I’m in L.A. living the life, driving my car, going to the beach,” he said. “I don’t think its right. That’s why I want to be there more than ever.”

Knafo is one of 49 Jews from California who landed at Ben Gurion Airport early on the morning of Aug. 12 on the chartered flight—25 of whom will be joining the IDF. And while a large swath of the plane’s other passengers were also from New York and New Jersey (117 and 45, respectively), the group of olim hailed from places as far north as Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia, and as far south as Georgia and Florida.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, also from Los Angeles, decided that this would be their last chance to make the move with their three children. Their oldest, Yishai, 8, was approaching the age when, Matt said, he and Ariella wouldn’t feel as comfortable starting a new life for the entire family.

Matt and Ariella Rosenblatt, moving to Israel from Los Angeles, with their three children at JFK after a ceremony led by Nefesh B'Nefesh

The Rosenblatts plan to stay with relatives this week until they receive the key to their apartment in Efrat; Matt, who had a job as an actuary in Los Angeles, will follow up on some work leads in Israel. Shortly before a joyful and celebratory departure ceremony at JFK—where the olim were greeted by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor and American-born Knesset member Dov Lipman — Matt said he and Ariella discussed the distinctive timing of their move, but decided against delaying or cancelling .

“Had we been there already two months and then this started up while we were already there, we wouldn’t have come back, so, really, what’s the difference?” Matt said.

The Rosenblatts a few moments after landing in Israel. They will soon move into an apartment in Efrat.

Onboard, as the flight neared Israel, Ariella was keeping an eye on 1-year-old Yair, her youngest, and recalling the couples’ conversations about the fact that their children would eventually have to serve in the Israeli military.

“We’ve talked about it. We were like, ‘Wow, that’s two sons in the army,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Feeling “excited” and “a little nervous,” Ariella added, seeing your children serve in the military is a price of living in Israel, and that, “We need to be home when our country is in this situation.”

Throughout the group, not one person interviewed expressed regret or fear, either at the decision to start anew in Israel, or at the choice to go now and not wait until the advent of cease-fires that would endure in longer than 72-hour intervals.

In fact, the spirited mood on board the airplane echoed, on the one hand, the feel of a Jewish summer camp field trip (with teenagers and young adults mingling, sitting on laps and barely sleeping), and on another hand, the patriotic Zionist mission that it was. Many passengers wore shirts that read, “Aliyah is my protective edge,” a reference to Operation Protective Edge, the IDF’s official moniker for its Gaza campaign.

Whenever a Nefesh B’Nefesh staff member referenced over loudspeaker those on the flight who would be enlisting with the IDF, much of the plane erupted in applause.

And, upon arrival at Ben Gurion, the new arrivals were greeted by Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s recently appointed president, and Natan Sharansky, the renowned Soviet refusenik and chairman of the Jewish Agency—as well as hundreds of cheering Israelis and dozens of reporters and cameramen covering the arrival of the newcomers from North America.President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky greet the olim as they descend to the tarmac.

Lena Elkins, who flew Friday from her hometown of San Francisco to New York, was one of a small number of young olim aboard the flight who will jump straight into her professional life without first joining the military. A recent graduate of the University of Oregon, Elkins’ younger sister moved to Israel last year and is in the IDF.

Living in Israel, Elkins said a few hours into the flight, has been on her mind since a visit six years ago with the Jewish Federation’s Diller Teen Fellows Program. And while she wishes she had served in the military, she said finding work is her priority now. Doing so in Israel, she said, particularly now, is also a major part of the Zionist project.

“I think it [Gaza] honestly has strengthened it [aliyah],” Elkins said. “It’s what Israel needs right now. This is what Zionism is. It’s people being there for Israel.”

Shortly after stepping foot on the tarmac and getting a feel for the love Israelis heap on diaspora Jews who move here, Channah Barkhordarie, a recent doctoral graduate of UCLA, said aliyah entered her mind last September, when her PhD advisor moved to Israel.

Barkhordarie, like Elkins, has no plans to enlist in the military and views her decision to live here as a way to “support this state.”

“Coming here and studying here and living my life here—that’s my show of support,” she said.

Everyone, it seemed, had made their aliyah decision long before this summer’s turmoil but that decision was only rendered more meaningful by the recent war, as well as the deaths of three Israeli teens by terrorists that provoked the fighting.

Toby and Chaby Karan, from Riverdale, at JFK airport.

“We just couldn’t cope with just being here,” Toby Karan, who moved from Riverdale, N.Y. with his wife, Chava, and four children, said at JFK airport before departure. “There were days through the past two months, the hardest days, that we said we’d never more wanted to live in Israel.”

On the flight, Liat Aharon, 18, sat calmly in her seat as many of her friends around her bounced around the cabin. “It seems like a dream,” said the Encino native of the approach to Israel, but she added, “It keeps getting scarier and scarier; I can’t believe it’s already happening.”

When asked, though, whether she felt as if she was leaving home or going home, she responded immediately:

“I’m going home.”

How the Syrian-Muslim and American-Jew became best friends

I’m sitting at a pub my first night in Cyprus with a group of strangers. Peering around at potential friends I begin to talk to this hilarious guy. Syria, he tells me, that’s where I am from. He giggles as he sees the shock in my eyes. “I am not going to bomb you, I promise.” He then stuck out his hand for me to shake and smiled. We shook hands and jokingly made a “world peace” promise to each other. The rest was history. The Syrian-Muslim and the American-Jew were best friends.

This was my first encounter with anyone from anywhere I was taught to hate.

The rest of my trip to Cyprus was impacted most by these situations. Coming home I found myself so torn between my pre trip and post trip views on the conflict in the Middle East. Growing up as a Jew in America I was taught that Israel was my homeland, that all the Palestinians were wrong and that the Middle East was a scary and dangerous place that hated Americans and wanted all Jews dead. It has been a month since I have been home now and my views have become so different.

I am not writing this because I think it will change the world.  I don’t have statistics to share or a photo of a bomb going off in a helpless city. I am writing this because I do not feel as though I can sit back and do nothing as my best friend fears rockets while taking the bus in Beersheba and my Palestinian friends are threatened in the west bank daily. I am writing this because after being to Israel three times I believe I have the right to state my own unbiased opinions.

I am writing this because with my arrival date in Tel Aviv less than two months away; I am afraid.

Facebook is the worst. I sign on and scroll down my feed looking for a distraction. Suddenly I could use a distraction.  My news feed feels like a battlefield. People throwing out opinions, facts, and pictures of burnt children. Middle aged adults yelling back and forth through comments in a computer screen. Warped videos, misleading news articles and subjective opinions plague the once peaceful feed. But something is different. The colors of the flags in the articles are different; they are the “enemies”. For the first time since I installed my Facebook I have Muslim and Palestinian friends. There becomes no escape from the war. I am not just talking about the actual war. I am talking about the verbal war against brothers.

One of my most memorable moments during my semester abroad was a project I did for my Middle Eastern politics class. I was told to research the Sharia law and report back to the class with what I learned.  I neglected to find the answers on Wikipedia and instead decided to discover the answers from first hand sources. I gathered a group of Muslim students together and went around interviewing them on their views of the law and on being Muslim in general. We sat for a good half hour talking deeply about their interpretations and how it affected their personal lives. Before I knew it more Muslim students were gathering around.  In a matter of moments we were no longer strangers from conflicting countries; now we were friends laughing together and educating each other. Getting of topic, we instead discussed our similarities; the similarities between our two seemingly opposite religions.

Really made me wonder how two groups of people who don’t eat pork can’t seem to get along…

We had just spent an afternoon hiking in the rain through uncharted territory. Exhausted, we spend most the car ride home silent. He then broke the quietness with a question I was not expecting. “What religion are you?” He asked sweetly. This Muslim, body builder and I had been creating a solid friendship for the last few weeks after meeting at a soccer game. I had always assumed he knew I was Jewish so I was a little put off when he asked. Hesitantly, I responded. He then looked me in the eye, smiled, and told me, “We are cousins”.

These three short words had me reevaluating all my past beliefs. The people in these supposedly Jew hating countries didn’t hate me at all, in fact; they wanted to be friends.

It is my second week and I am Couch surfing in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. My pay-as- you go phone does not work on this side of the tiny island and I have never Couch surfed before, so you can believe my anxiety when two girlfriends and I planned a trip to stay at a Palestinians house for a couple days in the middle of nowhere.

Flash forward a few hours and, relaxed, my host and I walk around an ancient castle ahead of the rest of the group. Before I know it the conversation takes a turn and we begin talking about the conflict in Israel. He had left his Palestinian home months ago because he could not stand being in a country with so much hate. He told me that he did miss his family but did not know if he would go back because there was so much pain there. Sadly, he began to tell me that one of the main reasons he left was because his fiancé was killed by an Israeli soldier during a rally. He kisses me and thanks me for listening.

This conversation began to put things in perspective.

Before I knew it all my Palestinian friends were telling me horror stories from their own personal experiences in the country. Suddenly the country I was taught to love my whole life didn’t seem so innocent. And yet I couldn’t help but still feel the need to defend it.

 

We are not perfect people. There are evil people out there. There are people out there whose sole mission in life is to kill my people. But that does not make it my mission to do the same to them. Vengeance is not the answer. Nor is the answer to stand by and let innocent people die. There is no answer.

I am writing this because soon I will be living on a religious kibbutz in Israel. I am writing this because all my Palestinian friends want me to visit them while I am there and now I don’t know if I will be able to. I am writing this because having such dear friends on both sides makes me feel like I need to stand up for everyone. However, I am primarily writing this because I am sick of seeing so much hate comes out of the people I love.

There will never be peace without acceptance.

We can post our predisposed opinions all over the internet. We can shoot our guns and kidnap our children. We can shield our eyes to the harm. We can turn our heads and flip our T.V channels. We can hate each other and scream it. But what will it all do? There is no one completely in the right. And there will never be peace until we can speak to one another respectfully. There is terrorism on both sides. But there is also so much more. There is also love.

We can turn against our fellow man as long as we live. But then where will we be if not extinct? There are no easy answers, no automatic solutions. There are no mediated agreements or fair resolutions. We might not be able to fix the problems, stop the rockets or bring back the murdered but we can put down our weapons and instead discuss our similarities. There are so many to be learned.

All it takes is that first handshake.   

U.S. captures suspected ringleader of 2012 attack in Benghazi

The United States said on Tuesday it had captured a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a raid that killed four Americans including the U.S. ambassador and ignited a political firestorm in Washington.

President Barack Obama said in a statement he had authorized the operation in Libya on Sunday in which U.S. troops, working with law enforcement personnel, captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah. He told an audience later in Pittsburgh that Khatallah was being transported to the United States.

“Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans,” he said in a statement. He said Khatallah would “face the full weight of the American justice system.”

After the 2012 attack, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Republicans accused the Obama administration of playing down the role of al Qaeda in the attack for political reasons.

They also said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had failed to take adequate steps to ensure the safety of American diplomatic personnel, an issue that is still resonating as Clinton considers running for U.S. president in 2016.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Khatallah was being held aboard an American ship after he was grabbed on the outskirts of Benghazi in an operation carried out by U.S. special operations forces.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. troops had acted with “extraordinary skill, courage and precision,” and the complex operation resulted in no casualties. Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said all U.S. personnel involved had left Libya.

A U.S. official said Khatallah would be charged and prosecuted through the U.S. court system and would not be sent to the prison for suspected al Qaeda militants in Guantanamo, Cuba.

That is in line with Obama's policy of prosecuting suspected militants caught abroad through the U.S. justice system rather than trying them in the military tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay prison, which he is trying to close.

A criminal complaint released by the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., accused Khatallah of killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility, providing material support to terrorists and using a firearm in commission of a crime of violence.

SPECIAL INTERROGATION TEAM

The Libyan government had no immediate comment on the U.S. announcement. The Pentagon said the United States had notified Libya of the operation, but a spokesman did not say whether it was before or after the capture.

It was the second time the administration has said U.S. special operations forces have gone into Libya to detain a militant. A U.S. Army Delta Force team grabbed al Qaeda suspect Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas al-Liby, in Tripoli in October 2013 and sent him to a U.S. Navy ship for interrogation.

Al-Liby was later charged in a U.S. federal court in New York in connection with the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, which killed more than 200 people.

Khatallah was expected to be questioned by an elite inter-agency interrogation team created in 2009 to seek information from suspects in an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks, a U.S. official said.

The official could not say whether members of the U.S. High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which is housed at the FBI's National Security Branch, were already in place to question Khatallah aboard the ship where was held.

Lawmakers welcomed Khatallah's capture, but Republicans said they were concerned about whether the administration would take full advantage of the opportunity to interrogate him for his intelligence value.

“I want him to be held a sufficient period of time under the law of war to gather intelligence,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “We're shutting down intelligence-gathering. We're turning the war into a crime, and it will bite us in the butt.”

“I think they should take him to Guantanamo,” said Senator John McCain of Arizona. “That's why we have the detention facilities and it's totally inappropriate to keep him any place else.”

Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said Khatallah stood a better chance of actually facing trial if his case went through the criminal justice system. Only a handful of people had been tried before military commissions while several hundred had been convicted in federal court, he said.

“It's a tired response from their side,” he said of the Republican calls for a transfer to Guantanamo.

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Julia Edwards, Missy Ryan and Susan Heavey; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by David Storey, James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman

Palestinians support extending negotiations if more prisoners released

A new poll found that 65 percent of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza would support extending the current American-backed peace talks if Israel releases extra Palestinian prisoners.

The negotiations are set to end on April 29. Israel is scheduled to release a fourth group of 28 Palestinian prisoners on March 28, but the Security Cabinet has said it will not release them unless the Palestinians agree to extend negotiations.

Some, 1,200 Palestinian adults were interviewed last week by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, the French news agency AFP reported.

Some 51 percent said they would support continuing the talks if Israel froze West Bank settlement construction.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Maan news agency cited an unnamed Palestinian official  as saying that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to extend the peace talks if Israel agrees to freeze settlement construction and release additional prisoners, above the 104 agreed to in order to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table nearly nine months ago

Abbas indicated his agreement in exchange for the conditions during his recent meeting with President Obama in Washington, the unnamed official told Maan.

The official also told Maan that if the last group of prisoners, who have remained in Israeli jails since before the Oslo Accords, are not released on March 29 that the PA will turn to international organizations for recognition.

Jonathan Pollard case is about America

America is far from being an anti-Semitic country. In fact, it might be the first country in Jewish history where it’s actually “cool” to be Jewish. That’s one reason I’ve been so reluctant over the years to weigh in on the Jonathan Pollard affair — I’m so in love with this country and all it’s done for the Jews that the last thing I want is to appear ungrateful or, worse, disloyal.

Having said that, however, after a while it gets harder and harder to ignore what looks like blatant discrimination against a Jewish man who in 1987 pleaded guilty to spying for Israel. How else to explain the U.S. government’s harsh treatment of Pollard?

Of the millions of things that have been said about this case, one fact, for me, stands out the most: The government reneged on the deal it made with Pollard.

This point was flagrantly absent in a recent New York Times op-ed written by M.E. Bowman, a U.S. official directly involved in the Pollard case who continues to defend Pollard’s life sentence.

As Alan Dershowitz responded on the Times’ Web site, “M.E. Bowman fails to tell his readers that when Mr. Pollard entered into his plea bargain, the United States government solemnly represented to the court that a sentence of less than life imprisonment would satisfy the needs of justice.”

Nothing Bowman writes in his editorial explains or even refers to this injustice.

“That solemn representation,” Dershowitz writes, “was the quid pro quo for Pollard’s plea of guilty. It violates both the letter and the spirit of that plea bargain for Mr. Bowman, who was a justice department official at the time, now to urge that Pollard must serve the life sentence imposed on him by the court despite the government having sought a sentence that Pollard has already completed.”

Of course, based on historical and legal precedent, it made plenty of sense for prosecutors not to seek a life sentence for Pollard.

As historian Gil Troy documented a few years ago, “Spies for other allies, like Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Egypt and the Philippines, served anywhere from two to four years, with maximum sentences of 10 years.”

Even two American traitors who spied for the Soviet enemy during the Cold War, Sgt. Clayton Lonetree and FBI agent Richard Miller, served sentences of nine years and 13 years, respectively.

The well-known story that former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had it in for Pollard and pushed for a life sentence with the sentencing judge may explain the government’s betrayal, but it hardly justifies it.

So, given that Pollard is now serving his 29th year behind bars, it’s not paranoid for Troy to wonder: “Pollard’s extreme sentence — along with the continuing refusal to free him — has raised questions about official American anti-Semitism and whether Pollard is enduring harsher punishment for the crime of being an American Jew spying for Israel.”

Despite all this evidence of discrimination and unfairness, the mainstream Jewish community has generally been reluctant to dirty its hands with this case. If anything, it has gone out of its way not to defend Pollard, lest it be accused of dual loyalty. 

But what so many in our community have missed is that even more than anti-Semitism, the Pollard case is one of anti-Americanism.

Pollard should have been released years ago because discrimination and unfairness are anti-American ideas.

As Judge Stephen Williams wrote in one of Pollard’s failed appeals, the government’s treatment of Pollard is “a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”

It’s no coincidence that prominent non-Jews, including former Secretary of State George Shulz and former CIA Director James Woolsey, as well as political leaders from both parties, have been lobbying for his release.

They’re not lobbying because Pollard is a hero. He’s not. He’s a criminal. But in America, even criminals have rights, and those rights can get violated.

The Pollard affair is no longer about the darkness of his crime — it’s about the violation of his rights.

Jews must have enough faith in the American system to advocate for Pollard’s rights without feeling the paranoia of dual loyalty.

Those who are finally lobbying for his release on the basis of compassion — focusing on his worsening health — are not doing him any favors. This case doesn’t revolve around compassion; it revolves around justice run amok. As Troy writes, “Justice when applied too zealously becomes unjust.”

You can hate Pollard because of what he did. You can hate him for making you cringe in embarrassment. You can hate him for making American Jews look disloyal to this amazing country.

But if you really want to show your loyalty to America, in my book there’s no better way than to show loyalty to America’s values. And what American value is greater and more honorable than “justice for all”?

The very greatness of this country is that it puts values ahead of men. The values of fairness and justice for Jonathan Pollard are a lot more important than who he is — even if you think he’s a shameful Jew.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Rich still getting richer

The rich get richer. Andrew Jackson may have been the first to register the complaint in those terms. “When the laws undertake … to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society… have a right to complain of the injustice to their Government.” 

The phrase was popularized in a sarcastically titled hit song from 1920, “Ain’t We Got Fun?”: “The rich get rich and the poor get poor / In the meantime, in between time / Ain’t we got fun?”

But sadly, it was never more true than today. 

Perhaps the leading American scholar of economic inequality — a fine academic phrase but a lousy message — is professor Emmanuel Saez, a Berkeley economist who has charted waxing and waning wealth concentration beginning in 1913.

Today, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans take home a larger share of the nation’s income than at any point since data became available. The earlier high preceded the Great Depression. But from the mid-1940s until 1980, the richest 10 percent garnered about 33 percent of America’s total income. Their share then began a dramatic climb, culminating in 2012 (the most recent data available), when the wealthiest 10 percent received more than half — 50.4 percent — the nation’s income.

Most of those riches are further concentrated in the top 1 percent, who take home more than 20 percent of the country’s income — a percentage double what it was from 1948 to 1978.

These data answer one question clearly — it does not have to be this way. 

Some inequality is inevitable. But America and Americans did quite well in the post-World War II era with vastly less inequality than we have now. 

Putting the point more sharply, in terms often used by Republicans, the wealthy do not need to be rewarded at this level to be “job creators.” They are willing to make more money for themselves even if they have to share a bit more with everyone else. In fact, U.S. growth rates were higher in the decades before 1980, when equality was greater, than they have been since inequality took off. 

Another often-proffered rationalization for inequality is that “a rising tide lifts all boats” (which, combined with “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” illustrates “Mellman’s First Law of Aphorisms” — for every aphorism, there is an equal and opposite aphorism). Economic tides haven’t worked that way. 

During the economic expansion of the Bush years, incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent swelled by 61.8 percent, while incomes for everyone else increased by just 6.8 percent. And in the current recovery, incomes for the 1 percent increased 31.4 percent, but that was no help to others for whom the tide only rose by 0.4 percent.

Former President Bill Clinton demonstrated that the economy can be made to work for everyone. During his term, the 1 percent did nicely, seeing their incomes jump by a healthy 98.7 percent, but the rest of the country got a real benefit, too, with incomes growing 20.3 percent. The rich got much richer, but the rest of the country captured some of the benefit. 

If inequality is not inevitable, why has it increased? In part, it’s because taxes for the wealthiest Americans have gone down. From 1953 to 1973, when the top marginal tax rates were 70 percent or higher, income growth for both the top 1 percent and the “bottom” 99 percent was strong. When top tax rates began to slide, income for the 1 percent surged, while the rest of the country began to stagnate. 

The rich are richer than ever, but that is neither necessary to produce growth, nor does it trickle down. Equally important, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the richest 1 percent is not a natural or inevitable consequence of the free market; it is aided and abetted by government policy. 

It’s time, as Jackson advised, for Americans “to complain of the injustice to their Government.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Hill. 


Democratic pollster Mark S. Mellman is president of The Mellman Group.

The minimum wage battle: What makes a wage just?

Raising the minimum wage is a mitzvah.

The Rambam says that ensuring others have work that can sustain them is the highest rung on the hierarchy of tzedakah (Mattanot Aniyim, 10:7). In Judaism, tzedakah does not mean charity but justice. We rectify social wrongs and fulfill our obligations through tzedakah. By raising the minimum wage, we are enabling others who work to escape poverty. Tzedakah is all the more important when applied to a system of legislation, as the mission of the Jewish people is to perpetuate our most precious  values of the good and the just into broader society. Our messianic dream is the creation of a society where Torah values are brought into the world to create a more just and holy civilization.

The disparate gap between rich and poor is one of the most troubling moral issues in America today. Much of the problem has to do with unfair wages that block social mobility. The federal wage floor for most workers today is $7.25 an hour, paying at most around $15,000 annually for 40 hours/week (not including the millions of “invisible people” being exploited at under minimum wage). The issue of increasing the minimum wage has become muddied with partisanship, as politics, today, trumps justice. There was no increase from September 1997 until July 2007, at which point the minimum wage had fallen 22 percent in constant dollars while corporate profits had increased by 50 percent (Time magazine, July 24, 2009). Even then, the wage only rose from $5.85 in July 2007 to its current level of $7.25 in July 2009. Some have noted that the decline in value of the minimum wage has coincided with the decline of the American middle class, as previously the minimum wage offered families a chance to climb into the middle class, but now the gap is too wide. We must acknowledge just how far below subsistence the minimum wage has fallen. There has been a major decline of the real value of the minimum wage and the earned-income tax credit has been crucial in helping to fill the gap (aiming to benefit low-income families with children and not just all low-wage workers).

Some argue that raising the cost of labor will hurt workers, because employers will then hire fewer workers. In a few instances this may be true, but overall many economists and researchers have shown this to be false. Speaking to this issue, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow stated that “… the evidence of job loss is weak. And the fact that the evidence is weak suggests that the impact on jobs is small.”

Current state unemployment statistics (October 2013) tend to support Solow on this. For example, of the four states with a minimum wage below the federal standard, two (Minnesota and Wyoming) have unemployment rates below the average, while two (Arkansas and Georgia) have unemployment rates above the average. Of the five states with no minimum wage, South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi have unemployment rates higher than the national average, while Alabama and Louisiana have lower unemployment rates. Thus, there is no substantive evidence to support the idea that a minimum wage adversely affects employment, or that a lower wage helps employment. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman recently helped to debunk the myth that raising the minimum wage leads to job losses. Studies have shown that when states raised their minimum wage they experienced no significant impact on employment compared to states that did not raise wages. Further, today, 76 percent of voters support raising the minimum wage. It’s a win-win because workers are empowered to sustain themselves, the government gives less “hand-outs,” and businesses flourish as that new income leads to increased spending.

Furthermore, minimum wage workers tend to work in industries that cannot be outsourced or eliminated (e.g., the fast-food and hotel industries), so it is unlikely that a rise in minimum wage would reduce these jobs. One significant study looking at the food industry found that raising the minimum wage did not result in employers trimming their workforce, and dozens of studies have confirmed these conclusions. For example, a study looking at airport employees found that not only did higher wages not lead to lower employment, but, in fact, led to reduced employee turnover.

We must consider not only the microeconomics but also the macroeconomics. There is evidence to suggest that when low-wage workers have more spending power, this creates demand for labor and employment opportunities. For example, in 2006 the Economic Policy Institute estimated that raising the minimum wage from $6.55 to $7.25 would increase consumer spending by $5.5 billion, potentially offering a much-needed boon to the economy.

A final objection to raising the minimum wage is that those who work in these largely menial jobs are teenagers who are simply trying to earn extra cash, and therefore there is no need for a wage increase. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out, this is untrue. Among the 15 million people working in minimum wage jobs today:

90 percent are age 20 or older.

• 50 percent are full-time employees.

• 25 percent are parents.

But at the end of the day, minimum wage reform is not enough. A minimum wage increase will not bring low-wage-earning families out of poverty. We must embrace a living wage to truly improve the lives of the millions of our fellow Americans who are living in abject poverty. The 2010 U.S. Census revealed the extent of U.S. poverty in graphic detail:

• Nearly 47 million people live in poverty (15 percent of the population), the highest number ever recorded. Of these, more than 20 million lived in extreme poverty (i.e., an income less than half the poverty level).

• Among children, 22 percent live in poverty.

• More than 17 million households are food insecure, the highest number ever recorded.

• Some 50 million people lack medical insurance, which will increase if enrollment under the Affordable Care Act is unsuccessful.

The sheer injustice of economic inequality is overwhelming. From 2007 to 2010, the average American family lost 39 percent of its wealth, while at the same time, 95 percent of all new wealth generated was accumulated by the wealthiest 1 percent of the population. It has been estimated that six members of the Walton family (heirs to the Walmart fortune) own more wealth than 41.5 percent of Americans (nearly 49 million families). Is it too much of an encroachment on the wealth of the Walton family to encourage them to pay their workers more? Is it morally tolerable that the employee of a multibillion-dollar company is paid poverty-level wages?

It is our Jewish obligation to lead this fight for justice. The Rema, the great 16th century Polish authority, teaches that when one is involved in an issue of public monies, one must engage (act and vote) l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven (i.e., for reasons not based on self-interest) (Choshen Mishpat 163:1). It is crucial, and our religious duty, that Jews vociferously advocate for systemic change for the poor.

In Judaic doctrine, rabbis have limited the earning power of owners selling essential food so as to help the poor through the laws of “onaah” (fair pricing). The owner is forbidden from keeping more than one-sixth profit in order that others could be sustained as well (Bava Batra 90a, Choshen Mishpat 231:20). For the rabbis, the value of maintaining a just society where the needs of all can be met trumps the full autonomy of owners to maximize their profits to no end.

The primary wage responsibilities fall upon employers. Rebbeinu Yonah, the 13th century Spanish rabbi, taught:

“Be careful not to afflict a living creature, whether animal or fowl, and even more so not to afflict a human being, who is created in G-d’s image. If you want to hire workers and you find that they are poor, they should become like poor members of your household. You should not disgrace them, for you shall command them respectfully, and should pay their salaries (Sefer HaYirah).”

Rebbeinu Yonah teaches that when we hire a worker and find that he/she is still poor after we pay them, then we must treat them as b’nei beitecha (members of our households). If we choose to become an employer, then we must take responsibility to ensure our workers do not live in poverty.

The minimum wage, in its current state, is a collective violation of the biblical prohibition of oshek (worker oppression), as workers remain poor while they work to their full capacity (Leviticus 19:15). The previous verse tells us that we must not be enablers of lifnei iver (social wrongs), linking the two responsibilities of fair wages and Jewish activism. Now is the time for a collective Jewish intervention to ensure that those who work can live.

I have experienced the challenges of Jewish activism on this issue. Tav HaYosher (Uri L’Tzedek’s ethical seal for kosher restaurants) has encountered unique and anomalous apathy in the Los Angeles kosher community. Personal wealth and low food costs have been prioritized over proper worker compensation and dignity. What is perhaps most troubling about my experience is that Tav HaYosher is only asking for the basic law to be followed, paying workers minimum wage and nothing more, and this, tragically, is asking too much for many kosher consumers and owners. The indifference from some in the Jewish community is deeply troubling.

Today, one working on the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour will have a gross annual income $12,000-$14,500, based on a 35- to 40-hour work week, after which federal and state income tax, Social Security and other taxes are then deducted. It is simply morally repugnant to argue that one working all day every day should live in poverty. As Barbara Ehrenreich, who once described her vain attempt to survive on a wage (above the minimum) in “Nickel and Dimed,” wrote in 2007: “There is no moral justification for a minimum wage lower than a living wage. And given the experience of the … states that have raised their minimum wages, there isn’t even an amoral economic justification.”

Today, change is needed and the Jewish community has a crucial role to play. We should heed the word of President Barack Obama: “… let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.”

I believe we will get there, but I am not a total optimist. I am a possibilist. I believe we will only get there if we engage in courageous leadership. The Jewish community has a crucial role to play.


Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is executive director of the Valley Beit Midrash, founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, founder and CEO of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.

55 U.S. universities condemn ASA boycott of Israel

At least 55 American universities and colleges have rejected the American Studies Association membership vote in favor of an academic boycott of Israel.

The number was tracked by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“This remarkable response is a clear declaration that American academia will not be party to the efforts to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement,” Robert Sugarman, its chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive vice chairman, said in a statement.

The Conference of Presidents said it wrote to each of the institutional members of the ASA outlining why the boycott call is an unjustifiable and blatantly discriminatory act.

“The response is very encouraging and we are grateful that so many took the time during a holiday week to respond,” the group’s leaders said. “We continue to urge the rest of the members to speak out against the action and to disassociate from supporting the ASA.”

Two-thirds of the 1,252 ASA members who voted approved the boycott, according to an ASA announcement on Dec. 16, a day after the deadline for online voting. At the time of the vote, there were 3,853 eligible voters, meaning one-third of the ASA membership participated.

Four universities withdrew their membership in the wake of the vote: Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Penn State Harrisburg.

Earlier this year, the Association for Asian American Studies announced it would mount an academic boycott of Israel. On Dec. 15, the Native American Studies Association urged its members to boycott Israeli educational institutions. The Modern Language Association next month will debate an academic boycott of Israel.

Why Obama won’t pardon Pollard

Israel is abuzz with allegations of American bad faith in continuing to imprison convicted spy Jonathan Pollard even though recent disclosures have revealed that the U.S. itself has snooped on many friendly countries for years.

A Nov. 10 Jerusalem Post editorial described the situation as “an egregious double standard and a stunning example of American hypocrisy.”

In Commentary Magazine, Jonathan S. Tobin charged that the use of the Pollard case “to demonize Israel or to claim that the Jewish state behaved in a manner unbecoming an ally is undermined by the revelations about the United States’ own considerable efforts to snoop on its friends.”

And Pollard’s wife Esther complained to the Post that U.S. President Barack Obama wouldn’t free Pollard even as he participated in the traditional presidential ritual of pardoning turkeys on Thanksgiving. She objected that Obama would show “compassion and mercy to two lowly barnyard birds again this year, granting them a full pardon and sparing their lives” without showing her husband the same benevolence.

For more than 28 years, Jonathan Pollard has been serving a life sentence in American prisons for passing classified information to Israel. He is currently in poor health. Obama received a petition for executive clemency in October 2010, and has not acted upon it.

Many suspect the U.S. refusal to grant clemency to Pollard is evidence that Obama holds anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, or even anti-Semitic sentiments. They’re wrong.

The problem is something else entirely:

Obama hardly pardons anybody.

So far, Obama has granted only 40 pardons and commutations, mostly for minor offenses (and none relating to convictions of more than five years). In fact, he offered exactly zero commutations for the first three years after his election. In toto, no more than two percent of pardon applications are treated favorably by his administration. (Ronald Reagan’s number was 20 percent.) And Obama’s only pardon in all of last year? Another Thanksgiving turkey.

By contrast, George W. Bush extended clemency to 200 people, and Bill Clinton did so for 459 people. No president in a century has been as stingy with mercy as Obama.

The president’s unlimited pardon power, which is ensconced in the American Constitution, exists to correct excessive sentences and show compassion to repentant convicts. Pollard is hardly the only one deserving the president’s compassionate treatment. Perhaps most egregiously, thousands of men and women currently serve inhumanly long sentences for non-violent drug crimes.

With an African-American president, and an African-American attorney general, the Obama administration should actually be extra sensitive to the injustices of the American penal system. Nearly 40 percent of incarcerated Americans are black.

Or perhaps that’s the problem. Maybe Obama doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a black liberal softie when it comes to crime. Do we really have to wait for a Republican president who’s willing to have a “Nixon-goes-to-China” moment in order to fix the insane reluctance to pardon deserving convicts?

My recommendation to those concerned with Pollard’s plight is as follows: Make allies. Work together with African-American, prison-reform, drug-policy, and other groups that would like to see the pardon spigot loosened.

No amount of pleading from Bibi, linkage with Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, hunger strikes, demonstrations, or petitions from American congressmen is going to make a whit of difference with a president who has never commuted a life sentence for anyone and doesn’t appear open to changing his policy.

We’ve agitated, correctly, for a “pardon for Pollard.” But we’ve been focusing on issues related to Pollard when we should have been looking at the pardon power itself. It’s not too late to change strategies.


David Benkof made aliyah in 2010. He teaches Hebrew at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, and constructs the weekly Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle which appears in the Jewish Journal. He can be reached at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Educated women and children

On the Jewish Web site The Tablet, Michelle Goldberg, a senior contributing editor to The Nation, recently wrote: “In the United States, women tend to have fewer children the more education they have — those with advanced degrees have only 1.67 children each. Jewish women are better educated than the population at large, which is why their birthrates are even lower …”

This statistic provides yet another illustration of the low moral state of our universities. Just think: The more formal education a woman has, the fewer children she will desire. 

For those who care about Jewish or American survival, this should be, to put it mildly, disconcerting. If Jewish and other American women don’t reproduce, the populations of Jews and Americans will decline. And in the case of Jews, this is particularly problematic.

The question that needs to be addressed is, why? Why do the best-educated women have the fewest children?

Here are three explanations:

The first — and, I believe, most important — reason that women who attend graduate school have fewer children than other women is that the longer women (and men) stay in academic life, the longer they are exposed to values that denigrate the family in favor of career.

One can argue until the proverbial cows come home that feminism never pushed career over marriage and family, that it only wanted women to have a choice. But that argument is dishonest. Feminism greatly valued career above marriage and family. The result is that in our post-feminist (post-1970s) world, for a girl or woman of any age to say that she would like to be, or that she is, or that she was a full-time wife and mother takes courage. Among well-educated women, a woman accrues more prestige being in sales at Nordstrom than she does as a “homemaker.” The very word conjures up nightmarish images to most women with graduate degrees.

The more time a young woman spends at university, especially at a prestigious one, the more she is indoctrinated into believing that what really matters is career. Test it: Ask a young woman who attends a prestigious university — especially a Jewish woman who is not Orthodox — what she most wants in life, and it is quite likely that she will respond “a good career.”

Let’s be honest. If you asked a female in her junior year at Yale, “What do you most want in life?” and she responded, “To find a good man to marry and then make a family with him,” you would be shocked.

In fact, you would probably have to look for an explanation. And that explanation would likely be that she is a religious Christian or an Orthodox Jew.

Which brings us to a second reason for the extremely low birthrate among well-educated women — secularism.

The widely offered explanation for why fertility rates drop is affluence. As countries get wealthier, the thinking goes, the birth rate drops.

There is some truth to this, but there is a better explanation: secularism. As societies become more secular, the fertility rate drops. 

This is easy to demonstrate. Wealthy Orthodox Jews, wealthy devout Roman Catholics, wealthy Mormons and wealthy Evangelicals have a lot of kids. Meanwhile, wealthy secular people have the fewest children.

While secularism is good for government, it is a dead end for the individual and society. It is a moral dead end. Without God, good and evil are purely matters of opinion. And it is an existential dead end. If there is no God, life is objectively pointless. We live, we die, there is no reason we are here, and there is nothing when we leave.

So what do people do with that view of life? Some devote their lives to secular religions such as feminism, socialism, environmentalism or egalitarianism. And many simply decide — quite rationally — that in the incredibly brief time they are alive, they will enjoy themselves as much as possible. Hedonism is the most rational response to secularism. 

In such a world, children are often regarded as disruptive to whatever pleasures life affords. With a bunch of kids at home, it is hard to take many trips, and hard to see a movie or dine out whenever you want. 

In the age of birth control and of almost unlimited lifestyle options, one needs good reasons to have more than one — or even one — child. Religion has always provided such reasons: God wants you to be fruitful; it is vitally important to hand down one’s faith; the family is the locus of a religious life, etc.

A third and final reason is age. By the time a woman is finished with graduate school, she is likely to be close to 30 years old. And after all that work, she understandably wants to begin putting her education to good use — you can’t waste a doctorate or a master’s degree. So she further defers marriage. And even if she does marry, she defers having children. By the time she is ready to make a family, she may feel that she is too old to have more than 1.67 children.

American Jewry reveres graduate degrees. But this reverence comes at a steep price. The longer young women (and men) stay at the university (especially in the social sciences), the more secular they are likely to become, the more alienated from Israel they are likely to become (there is no mainstream institution as anti-Israel as the university), and the less likely they are to have more than one child.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012)

Valuing the Reform perspective in the Pew report

The historian Simon Rawidowicz wrote a famous essay in which he described Jews, with our constant fear of extinction, as the “ever-dying” people. He wrote the essay approximately 60 years ago. Does that make him wrong or prophetic?

It seems that every few years, a major Jewish leader or study proclaims the “disappearance of the Jews,” arguing that assimilation and intermarriage place the future of the Jewish community — Jewish continuity — in serious danger.

Such was the case with the publication of the Pew Survey on Jewish Americans, a study that quickly rang the alarm bells of the “ever-dying Judaism in crisis contingent.” Amid this 200-page report, the most complete survey of the American Jewish community in more than a decade, provocative statistics blared with shocking — though not really surprising — numbers. 

The intermarriage rate among Jews who married in the last 10 years is 58 percent. 

Two-thirds of all Jews don’t belong to a synagogue.

The fastest-growing cohort in the Jewish community is the 22 percent of all Jews who define themselves as Jewish but not religious. 

This last statistic led to the other major headline of the study: While 93 percent of Jews 60 and older define themselves as Jewish by religion, only 68 percent of Jews born after 1980 identify as Jews by religion. Moreover, 32 percent describe themselves as having no religion, identifying instead as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture. Alan Cooperman, deputy director of the Pew religion project, put it this way: “Older Jews are Jews by religion. Younger Jews are Jews of no religion.”

This last category, young people who define themselves as Jews of no religion, what we would call cultural Jews, are by an overwhelming two-thirds majority also not raising their children in any religion.

The survey, moreover, found that approximately one-quarter of people raised Orthodox have since become Conservative or Reform Jews, while 30 percent of those raised Conservative have become Reform Jews, and 28 percent of those raised Reform have left the ranks of Jews by religion entirely. Significantly less movement is reported in the opposite direction.

The upshot of these two last data points — “cultural Jews raising their kids without religion” and “the steady decline in Jewish practice from one generation to the next” — led to a disturbing conclusion. Once Jews no longer define themselves as Jewish through religion, it is highly unlikely that they or their children ever will again. In short, when Jews walk away from shul, they don’t come back.

So what are we to do with this information? If the sky is falling, how do we hold it up? 

One response is to go back to Rawidowicz’s thesis, “Jews — an ever-dying people,” and see there in the looming demise of the Jewish people a silver lining. His premise was that crisis is “good for the Jews.” That seems ironic, I know, but a close look at Jewish history ancient and modern shows that we are good in a crisis, as bad as they are for us in the short term. In fact, we are in large part defined by our crises.

In the same way that the Yom Kippur War united Jews across denominational lines; that the cause of Soviet refuseniks empowered the Jewish federation movement; that a halt of Jewish teens traveling to Israel during the first and second intifadas gave birth to Birthright; and the overwhelming statistic also found in the Pew study — that 70 percent of the Jewish population of the United States has traveled to Israel — we should embrace this survey as the canary in the coalmine that it is and redouble our efforts to right the sinking ship. 

The Pew study also found that most non-Orthodox Jews enter and exit religious Judaism through the Reform movement. Reform Judaism is unique among the major Jewish movements in that it gets them coming and going. Thus, Reform Judaism has the opportunity to save Jews before they leave by providing meaningful religious experiences in a modern relevant context. Likewise, with its low threshold for acceptance, Reform Judaism is an ideal entry point for a cultural Jew to explore a religious identity.

The metric for an active, committed and engaged Reform Jew is not religious practice as it is commonly defined and understood in the other movements. How often you come to shul to pray is not a measure of how important Judaism is to you in your daily life. Rather, in Reform Judaism, we proudly teach that you can be Jewish in myriad meaningful ways that are not “religious” in the way that organized religion is off-putting to Millennials. Through study, social action, social justice, connection to Israel, Jewish music, art and culture — experiences that are open to any kind of family — Reform Judaism takes Judaism beyond the walls of the synagogue and into the 21st century of modern life.

When asked about activities or beliefs that are “essential” to respondents’ Judaism, the most common answer in the Pew survey was “remembering the Holocaust” (73 percent), “leading a moral and ethical life” (69 percent), “working for justice and equality” (56 percent) and “caring about Israel” (43 percent). Just 19 percent of the Jewish adults surveyed said observing Jewish law (halachah) was essential to what being Jewish means to them. But Pew didn’t just survey Reform Jews! The results just look that way. This survey of Jews across the board clearly shows that Reform Jewish priorities are in alignment with how the majority of Jews view modern Jewish values.

There are challenges, for sure:

• Synagogue membership is declining overall. Roughly four in 10 U.S. Jewish adults (39 percent) say they live in a household where at least one person is a synagogue member. Fifty percent of Conservative Jews belong to a synagogue, and only 34 percent of Reform Jews do.

• Intermarriage is increasing and leading to generations of religiously disconnected Jews, especially among the Reform population. Half of Reform Jews who are married have a non-Jewish spouse, and intermarriage is much more common among Jews who are themselves the children of intermarriage. Our principled and strategic response must be to embrace these families, not shun or ignore them.

• Reform Jews are generally less involved in Jewish life than are Conservative or Orthodox Jews. We must deepen engagement in the richness of Jewish life, not just for schoolchildren but for every Jew. And we can’t wait for them to walk in our doors. We have to go out and meet them where they are.

It is said, though not entirely accurately, that when asked why he robbed banks, the notorious Prohibition-era bank robber Willie Sutton replied, “That’s where the money is.” 

Well, Reform Judaism is where the Jewish identity is. We are the front line in the fight for the Jewish future. What Reform Judaism does at this time in history will tell the tale of what becomes of the Jews, our ever-dying, yet also ever-resilient people.


Rabbi Dan Moskovitz blogs at

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Media tycoon Saban Says dreams of Hillary Clinton as U.S. president

Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban, a major donor to the U.S. Democratic party, said on Friday he would back former secretary of state Hillary Clinton with his “full might” should she run for president in 2016.

Clinton, 66, whose four-year tenure as U.S. secretary of state ended in February, has said she is considering running for the presidency but that she will most probably decide next year.

As a candidate, she would be widely viewed as the favorite for the Democratic nomination – which she contested in 2008 but lost to Barack Obama, who is in his second term.

Billionaire financier George Soros, another party bankroller, also pledged support for the wife of former President Bill Clinton last month.

“I hope she will run. She would be a wonderful president,” Saban told Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. “If it happens, we will of course pitch in with full might. Seeing her in the White House is a big dream of mine.”

Saban, producer of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, gave $1 million to three Democratic political action committees in 2012, when Obama won reelection.

Another potential Democratic candidate in the 2016 race is Vice President Joe Biden. A Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll in September found him nearly 40 percentage points behind Clinton.

Some Biden supporters have questioned whether Obama was showing sufficient support for him after a new book about the 2012 campaign, “Double Down”, said the president had weighed replacing him on the ticket with Clinton.

Obama did not deny that his political aides had pre-tested the idea, but said he would have rejected it.

“I think that if Vice President Biden decides to run, Obama will stay neutral, but if Biden does not run and she does, he will support her,” Saban said. “The general feeling is that Hillary is Obama's natural successor.”

Reuters/Ipsos polling has shown Clinton to be Americans' top choice for president, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as her closest potential challenger among rival Republicans.

Americans preferred Clinton over Christie by 19 points, the September poll said.

Writing by Dan Williams, editing by Elizabeth Piper

Thanksgivukkah, Emma Lazarus & the Maccabees: Embracing our dual identity

There is something much deeper to “Thanksgivukkah” than sweet potato latkes. It is an opportunity to celebrate the blessing of our dual identity as Americans and Jews.

In 1883, the Jewish-Sephardic-American poet Emma Lazarus was invited to write a poem for a literary auction whose proceeds would go towards building a pedestal for what came to be known as “The Statue of Liberty.” Lazarus’ entry, titled The New Colossus, was eventually (in 1903) inscribed on a bronze tablet inside the Statue of Liberty for all to read. Its message about America, written by a Jew, captures the essence of what it means to be an American Jew:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Recasting the classical Greek Colossus (a representation of the pagan sun god) as “The Mother of Exiles,” Emma Lazarus turned the Statue of Liberty into an American version of a Jewish-Biblical matriarch standing at the door of her home, welcoming all those who yearn for freedom and shelter. No longer interested in the “storied pomp” of ancient empires, this matriarch seeks to house and assist the world’s “tired and poor” who “yearn to breathe free.” Replacing the Greek sun god – the conqueror of the world – Lazarus’ “Mother of Exiles” is now the nurturing and comforting symbol that welcomes newcomers to a new and unique world: the world of American democracy.

It is not by chance that an American Jew of Sephardic background would author a poem invoking the motifs of “exile and homecoming.” Well versed in her people’s long history of exile and persecution, Emma Lazarus fully understood what a privilege it is for Jews to live in the United States, the safe haven where they enjoy the blessings of American democracy. Lazarus expressed this in another powerful poem she wrote titled “1492”:

Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”

For Emma Lazarus – an American Jew of Sephardic descent — the “two-faced year” of 1492 held a double-edged irony. In 1492, after a long, bloody and brutal inquisition, the Spanish Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain, “when Spain cast forth with flaming sword the children of the prophets of the Lord.” In that same year – 1492 — Christopher Columbus discovered America (and later, in 1654, the first Jews to come to America were Spanish & Portugese Sephardic Jews, Emma Lazarus’s own direct ancestors).  In this poem, Lazarus also evokes the motif of America as a safe place of refuge – “Ho, all who weary, enter here.” This theme resonated deeply with Emma Lazarus, a descendant of a weary and persecuted Jewish people who found a safe haven of freedom and protection in America. So, too, it should resonate with all American Jews, on Thanksgiving, and every day of our blessed lives in this great country.

Over 2500 years ago, facing persecution and oppression, a small band of freedom fighters overcame all the odds against them and defeated an army much more powerful than them. They stood up to injustice and were willing to fight for the freedom and independence of their people. In his moving description of the story of Judah and the Maccabees, Rabbi J.H. Hertz wrote: “There is nothing finer in the whole history of heroism, or more soul-stirring in the annals of religion, than the account of this handful of Jewish warriors who were prepared to live or die nobly, in order that the light of revealed truth and righteousness be not extinguished in a heathen world.”

The torch of the Maccabees continues to shine brightly today. In Israel – a country founded on the same principles of freedom and democracy as those of America – the modern-day Maccabees of the Israel Defense Forces are taught a powerful ethic during their basic training: Only those who know how to defend their freedom are worthy of it.

The modern State of Israel also serves as a safe haven of freedom and democracy. Much, much smaller than the United States, and lacking an impressive “Lady of Liberty” welcoming new immigrants, the State of Israel has certainly done its lion’s share of absorbing “the tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” From Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab lands, to the Prisoners of Zion from the former Soviet Union and the Ethiopian Falash Mura, Israel – the tiny Jewish haven of freedom and democracy in the Middle East – has continued to cry out: “Ho, all who weary, enter here!”

American Jews have often felt conflicted by their so-called “dual identity.” On this Thanksgivukkah – a convergence of an American holiday giving thanks for America, and a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom – I have never felt so proud of being an American Jew.


Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the Director at the Sephardic Educational Center.

Poll: Plurality of Americans support Iran deal, half say U.S. should defend Israel

A plurality of Americans support the newly brokered deal with Iran, and half believe that the United States should defend Israel militarily, a new poll found.

Some 44 percent of Americans support the interim agreement on Iran‘s nuclear program reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva last weekend, and 22 percent oppose it, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday showed.

The survey also showed that 49 percent of Americans want the United States to increase sanctions if the Iran deal fails and 31 percent think it should pursue further diplomacy, according to Reuters. Twenty percent believe U.S. military force should be used against Iran.

The poll found that 63 percent of Americans believe that Iran’s nuclear program is developing a nuclear bomb. Iran says the project is for civilian purposes only.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of those polled said that that the United States “should not become involved in any military action in the Middle East unless America is directly threatened;” 21 percent disagreed with the statement.

Fifty percent of the Americans polled believe that the United States “should use its military power to defend Israel against threats to its security, no matter where they come from,” and 31 percent disagreed with the statement.

The poll of 591 Americans was conducted from Sunday through Tuesday with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the six-month interim agreement with Iran has not yet started, saying that the next step is “a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement.”

She said the U.S. is “respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place” and expects that the same is coming from Iran’s end.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s Parliament on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant, in contravention of the announced agreement. The previous day, Iran said that the United States had not distributed an accurate account of the agreement.

‘Thanksgivukkah’? Not quite

It’s taken American Jews a good century to fully absorb the miraculous idea that this country is unlike any other that Jews have experienced. After 2,000 years of feeling insecure no matter where we pitched our tents, the people of Moses finally found safe harbor in the land of Lincoln — the land of freedom, human rights and justice for all.

So maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised to see the Jewish community go head over heels for anything that makes us look and feel American. It’s our Jewish way of saying thank you.

Naturally, when we learned this year that Thanksgiving and Chanukah would fall on the same day — something that’s never happened before — our gratitude went into overdrive and … drumroll … Thanksgivukkah was born!

It’s eerie that this rare Jewish-American holiday meld would coincide with the just-released Pew study of American Jewry, which revealed, among other things, that Jewish identity is melting right into America’s loving embrace. 

Maybe it’s a sign of how intimate that embrace has become that hardly anyone in the Jewish community has uttered a breadcrumb of complaint about the “intermarriage” of these two holidays.

How dare we complain? How dare we show ingratitude on the very day of gratitude?

After all, it would be impolite to do what comedian Stephen Colbert did from his side, when he complained that “Chanukah is screwing up my Thanksgiving.”

For most American Jews, it’s the opposite: Thanksgiving is upgrading our Chanukah. It’s a shidduch made in heaven.

That certainly feels like the polite American response, but is it the proper Jewish one? I don’t think so.

For one thing, the meshing of the holidays makes it harder to appreciate differences. The holiday of Thanksgiving is one of my favorites, not least because it brings families together and puts even grouchy people in a good mood. Who can beat that? 

But Thanksgiving — however beautiful, warm and happy it is — is missing something.

As Rabbi Benjamin Blech notes on Aish.com, there are two instances in the Bible where Jews are commanded to make a blessing of gratitude: after a material experience (eating a meal), and before a spiritual one (learning Torah).

“In biblical terms,” Blech writes, “Thanksgiving is a sequel to the biblically mandated Birkat Ha-mazon, the Grace after Meals in which we express gratitude to the One Above ‘who feeds the world in his goodness with grace, with kindness and with mercy.’ ”

Thanksgiving, however, does not address another kind of gratitude we owe God: “It is the blessing for the spiritual part of our lives … a blessing that alerts us to the hunger of our souls and our yearning to be nourished by the sacred.”

That’s where Chanukah comes in.

As Blech explains, the real meaning of Chanukah is spiritual: “Antiochus was not bothered by the survival of Jews,” he writes. “What he wanted at all costs to prevent was the survival of Judaism. His decrees were against the observance of Torah.”

In other words, the threat “was not to our bodies, but our souls. The danger was not death but disappearance by way of assimilation.”

How appropriate, then, that Chanukah’s main ritual should be based around oil, the one liquid that never “assimilates.” This oil speaks to the singularity of Jewish identity and the unique importance Judaism places on ritual.

It is ritual that leads us, somewhat ironically, to the spiritual.

The Friday night Shabbat meal, for example, would feel empty and generic without our time-honored rituals such as lighting the candles, welcoming the angels, blessing the woman of valor, blessing the children, blessing the wine, washing our hands and then blessing the bread, singing Shabbat songs and reciting the long prayer of thanks after the meal.

This ideal Shabbat meal, in fact, probably comes closest to being “Thanksgivukkah”— a meal that marries the spirituality of Chanukah with the abundance and gratitude of Thanksgiving; a meal that feeds body and soul.

In the Jewish tradition, rituals elevate and add reverence to physical acts and deepen the very expression of gratitude.

As my friend Rabbi David Wolpe told me, maybe the real issue here is that “Thanksgiving is not Jewish enough.” Well, it’s an intriguing thought that Jewish notions such as rituals might enhance the Thanksgiving experience — and why not? It wouldn’t be the first time Jews gave something back to America as an expression of our gratitude.

In any event, as the Chanukah lights glow this year on the great American day of gratitude, Jews will have plenty to be thankful for. Just as our ancestors were grateful for the miracle of the Chanukah oil that lasted eight days, we can be grateful for the miracle of the Jewish oil that has lasted 5,774 years. 

That oil is a metaphor for the duality that challenges American Jewry: How do we engage with an embracing world while staying true to who we are? How do we shine the unique light of Judaism without making it mushy and generic?    

Let’s be grateful that we live in a country that allows us to do all that. 

Happy Thanksgiving … and Happy Chanukah.

Polls: Most Americans support interim Iran deal

Two new polls released this week show most Americans surveyed support easing sanctions on Iran in exchange for a partial rollback of its nuclear program.

A CNN poll released Thursday and conducted by ORC international showed 56 percent of respondents favored “an interim deal that would ease some of those economic sanctions and in exchange require Iran to accept major restrictions on its nuclear program but not end it completely and submit to greater international inspection of its nuclear facilities.” Thirty-nine percent opposed. The poll, based on phone interviews between Nov. 18-20 of 843 respondents, has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

A Washington Post-ABC poll published Tuesday showed 64 percent of respondents support a deal “in which the United States and other countries would lift some of their economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.” Thirty percent opposed. The poll was conducted Nov. 14-17 over the phone and reached 1,006 respondents. It had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Unlike the CNN poll, the Post-ABC poll did not specifically address the crux of the difference between the Obama administration and Israel: Whether Iran should suspend all or some of its nuclear activities in an interim deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by some U.S. lawmakers, has insisted that Iran totally dismantle its nuclear program and end all enrichment in exchange for any easing of sanctions.

A third round of talks between Iran and major powers is underway in Geneva this week.

The Post-ABC poll also showed that only 36 percent of respondents were confident that such a deal would stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while 61 percent were not confident.

Eight chefs’ new Chanukah delights, one for each night

This year, Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincide: Chanukah is celebrated for eight days by candle-lighting, gift exchanges and eating foods fried in oil, an ancient custom, commemorating a miraculous event at the Temple in Jerusalem, while the Thanksgiving meal reminds us of our American heritage. Both offer a special time to reflect on our traditions and enjoy a family meal. 

Of course, the favorite Chanukah food is latkes, most often made from grated potatoes and served with sour cream, preserves or applesauce.

This year I decided to interview some well-known chefs and restaurateurs for some new and different ideas. The result was more than I bargained for. I never dreamed there could be so many sensational new recipes, and an added bonus was the delicious new sauces these food experts provided to serve with the latkes.  

I am featuring eight chefs and their recipes, one for each night of the holiday. Our family is also celebrating Thanksgiving a day early, on the first night of Chanukah, since our family is traveling from Northern California as well as Washington and Oregon to be together for this special celebration.     

Michel Richard, who was the chef/owner of Citrus while in Los Angeles, has just opened his new bakery, Pomme Palais, and restaurant, Villard Michel Richard, at the Palace Hotel in New York. Always looking for ways to reduce the use of butter and cream, he developed wafer-thin, super-crisp Oven-Fried Potato Latkes, which have absolutely no resemblance to the old-fashioned, heavier and more caloric ones. They are also a perfect dish to serve with your Thanksgiving turkey meal.

Bruce Marder, the innovative chef of Capo and the Brentwood Restaurant in West L.A., came up with Two-Tone Potato Latkes, made without eggs, which he serves with salmon caviar to celebrate Chanukah and Thanksgiving . 

Chef Jonathan Waxman’s restaurant, Barbuto, in New York City’s West Village section, serves Italian-inspired cuisine. Several years ago he shared this Red Pepper and Corn Latkes recipe, served with a creamy corn sauce, which has become a staple for our Chanukah menu.   

Michel Ohayon, chef/owner of  Koutoubia in West L.A., offers another substantial main course for Chanukah: Moroccan Ground Beef and Potato Latkes, which he suggests should be served with harissa, a spicy-hot chili pepper sauce that can be found in most Middle Eastern markets.

When your guests arrive, offer them a large bowl filled with thin home-fried potato chips that our foodie friend, home cook Luigi (Lou) Liuzzi created. It is one of his many innovative food experiments that we continue to enjoy.

Chef Brett Swartzman is a chef with passion. Originally a native of Chicago, he is creating his second Chanukah celebration at the Brentwood Country Club.  They love his Potato Latkes With Granny Smith Applesauce, and this year he is going to surprise them with Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).  

Chef Robert Bell, owner-chef of Chez Melange and Mama Terano, both in the South Bay, prepared an unusual potato latke recipe on my TV show “Judy’s Kitchen” many years ago. Thinly sliced russet potatoes are arranged in layers in a skillet to resemble the pedals of a flower, then baked in olive oil until crisp. It’s always a tasty dish to serve during the holiday. 

Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in Santa Monica, serves his family’s traditional potato latkes, using a special French cheese. This is a recipe that his French grandmother, Simone, prepared for Chanukah, and she always served it with fig compote.

With these eight exciting latke recipes, it is a perfect time to plan a festive latke party for your family and friends. Keep the menu simple — after all, the latkes are the real stars, and a hearty soup or salad may be the only addition needed. If your latkes are served for dessert, invite guests to drop in after dinner for latkes, tea and coffee.

Preparation can be made easy by using your food processor or blender, and remember, many batters may be made in advance, then fried at the last moment. In planning your Chanukah party, don’t forget to include the traditional songs, the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins) to the children and exchanging small gifts.


MICHEL RICHARD’S OVEN-FRIED POTATO LATKES 

1 pound (about 4 medium) potatoes, peeled
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream and diced cucumbers

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cut the potatoes into long, thin strips, about 1/8-inch wide, by hand or using your food processor’s julienne or shredder blade. Place potato strips in a bowl of water to cover. Before cooking, drain potatoes, then dry well in a lettuce spinner or with a clean kitchen towel. 

Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and heat. Add the potatoes and stir-fry until tender, about five minutes. Turn the potatoes out onto a baking sheet and push the strips together to form a rectangle or triangle, about 1/4-inch thick. Roll using a rolling pin to flatten further.  

Oil a large baking sheet. Cut into the flattened potatoes by pressing down on a fluted cookie cutter, creating 2 1/2- to 3-inch rounds.  Using a spatula, transfer the latkes to the prepared baking sheet. (This can be done in advance.) 

Before baking, season potatoes with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven until crisp and brown on both sides, about 30 minutes, turning the latkes halfway through. Transfer them to a serving platter, using a metal spatula. Serve with sour cream and diced cucumbers. 

Makes about 8 servings


BRUCE MARDER’S TWO-TONE POTATO LATKES

1 large russet potato, peeled
1 large sweet potato, peeled
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying
Salmon caviar

Julienne potatoes lengthwise into long matchsticks, either with a knife, food processor with julienne attachment or mandoline.  Place in large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.

In a cast iron skillet or on a griddle, heat olive oil. Shape potato mixture to form pancakes about 2 inches in diameter. Fry on one side until brown, then, using a metal spatula, carefully turn and flatten with the back of the spatula and brown on the other side.

Place latkes on heated plates and serve immediately with salmon caviar.

Makes about 12 latkes.


JONATHAN WAXMAN’S RED PEPPER AND CORN LATKES

Creamy Corn Sauce (recipe follows)
1 red bell pepper
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup flour
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Salmon caviar (optional)

Prepare Creamy Corn Sauce; set aside.

Roast red pepper in a 375 F oven for 40 minutes, turning once.  Skin will puff and brown. Peel off the skin, remove the stem, and discard seeds. Puree in blender or food processor. 

In a large bowl, combine the red pepper puree, egg yolks, milk and corn kernels; mix well. Blend in the flour. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into red pepper mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

In nonstick or heavy skillet, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil.  For each latke, spoon 2 tablespoons batter into the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all batter has been used, adding more oil to skillet as needed to keep latkes from sticking 

Serve with Creamy Corn Sauce and top with salmon caviar, if desired.  

Makes about 24 latkes.    


CREAMY CORN SAUCE

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup corn kernels
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons minced chives

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet and saute corn kernels until tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute diced red bell pepper until tender, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat vegetable broth and simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Add sauteed corn and bell pepper.  Blend in cream and simmer until thickened.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in chives. Serve warm.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


MICHEL OHAYON’S MOROCCAN GROUND BEEF AND POTATO LATKES

2 pounds potatoes
Oil for frying
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 teaspoon each minced fresh parsley and fresh cilantro
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch mace (optional)
Pinch saffron (optional)
1 egg
Harissa

In a pot, boil potatoes for 45 minutes; peel and mash. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet and saute diced onion until soft.  Add to potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Cool.

In a skillet, brown ground beef, minced onion, parsley, cilantro, nutmeg, mace and saffron, until no juice remains. Cool mixture and transfer to a food processor. 

Using the knife blade of a food processor, blend meat mixture with egg. 

Using a heaping tablespoon of mashed potato mixture, place in palm of hand and place a teaspoon of ground beef mixture in center. Roll potato mixture around meat mixture.  Flatten between the palms of your hands.       

Fry in oil in nonstick skillet, or deep-fry until brown and crisp. (These can be prepared in advance and warmed in the oven, or served cold. ) Serve with harissa.  

Makes about 10 latkes.    


LUIGI’S POTATO CHIPS

4 russet potatoes
3 to 4 cups olive, peanut or canola oil for frying
1 tablespoon salt

Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Places the sliced potatoes in a bowl of cold water. Pour oil into fryer or large pot and heat to 375 F.

Dry the potato slices between two clean kitchen towels and place some into the not oil. Do not overload.

Fry for five minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the chips to a large cookie sheet lined with paper towels and sprinkle salt onto the chips. Continue in batches until all the chips are cooked. Place the chips carefully into serving bowl — do not dump them from cookie sheet, as you do not want pour the excess salt from the sheet into the bowl. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


BRETT SWARTZMAN’S SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS)

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, plus more for rolling
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups vegetable oil, plus more for bowl
1 cup seedless raspberry jam

In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Place 2 1/2 cups flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, margarine, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 cups oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 F. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 40 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in sugar while warm. Fry all dough, and roll in sugar.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a No. 4 tip with jam. Using a wooden skewer or toothpick, make a hole in the side of each doughnut. Fit the pastry tip into a hole, pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts. 

Makes about 24 doughnuts.


ROBERT BELL’S OVEN-FRIED POTATO LATKES

4 russet potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
8 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. 

Brush a nonstick skillet with a small amount of olive oil and arrange the potato slices in a ring, overlapping until the entire surface is covered. Pour a thin stream of olive oil over the potato slices until completed coated (use most of the 8 tablespoons). Repeat with another layer, brush with remaining olive oil, and fry on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until potatoes are cooked through. Using a metal spatula, transfer potatoes to a cutting board and cut into triangles. Repeat with the remaining potato slices.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


JOSIAH CITRIN’S POTATO AND TOMME REBALAISE CHEESE LATKES

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and grated
1/2 pound Tomme Rabelais, grated (Salers or a firm Tomme de Savoie can be substituted)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
Olive oil for frying

Place small batches of grated potatoes in the center of dishtowels, and wring excess liquid from the potatoes. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and repeat the process with the remaining potatoes. Add the onion, cheese, egg, salt and pepper to the potatoes and mix well to combine.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet (cast iron works best). Add the potato mixture by 1/4-cupfuls to the hot oil. Lightly flatten with a spoon, and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the latkes over and cook until golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Repeat process until all of the potato mixture is used. Serve warm.  

Makes about 24 latkes.


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.