Iran deal may transform American Jewry
One of the significant elements to this story involves American Jews opposing the president of the United States that they had helped to elect. One can define this moment as transformational, as it may lead to the redefining of how Jews understand and employ their political power. This contest has in many ways demonstrated the maturation of the Jewish political mindset and the changing social environment, namely that Jewish voters are making choices independent of their historic political and party loyalties.
With each political/military crisis facing the State of Israel, the political divisions among American Jewry seem more pronounced. The Iranian nuclear question has demonstrated the depth and intensity of the Jewish political controversy. Two American-Jewish identities are in conflict with one another over this question. For many, this conversation is defined in terms of seeing themselves as “American Jews,” where their liberal political values and Jewish prophetic ideals inform their civic engagement. They enter this particular debate holding a number of competing concerns but are prepared in the end to place their trust in the president. For others, whom we might identify as “Jewish Americans,” their political framework and identity are constructed around their Zionist passions. For these individuals, Israel and its security concerns inform their perspective on this agreement and shape their general political antennae around the centrality of the Jewish story as it intersects with their American citizenship.
What is profoundly evident is that no Jew is expected to remain “neutral” as the political battlegrounds have been drawn. National organizations, community institutions and rabbinical leaders are all being called upon to declare themselves in this test of Jewish political activism. It is estimated that this mobilization may be one of the most expansive and expensive political organizing initiatives in modern Jewish history. This issue has triggered new avenues of political expression, including the formation of Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran and other forms of political activism involving high-level meetings, public debates, ads and petitions reflecting both perspectives within this debate.
This is a contest that has implications for the entire Middle East and, more directly, the place of Iran in the nuclear club. For Israel and the Jewish people, the political outcome in this matter may well reshape the nature of the Israel-United States relationship and the future role of the U.S. in this region.
Israel’s leadership has directly entered the American domestic arena as political actors, seeking to mobilize the Congress, the general populace and, more directly, American Jewry to act on a matter that has a specific impact on the future of the Jewish political enterprise. What are the longer-term implications of such intervention into the internal affairs of one nation by another?
In their efforts to identify with this cause, politicians and journalists have adopted various historical comparisons. One such scenario aligns this moment with Munich in 1938 and the act of appeasement, but is this a brilliant diplomatic maneuver designed to ultimately move Iran away from its current policies and lead to the unseating of its radical political base? Yet in the 1930s, Jewish organizations and their national leaders were at loggerheads over the best strategy to combat the rise of Hitler and to manage the case to defend and protect European Jewry. A divided community in that setting would fail to make its case with the Roosevelt administration. What are the contemporary as well as historical implications surrounding this policy debate?
In studying the tenor of this debate, we are likely to experience various forms of anti-Semitic/anti-Israel fallout, as well as an internal Jewish backlash, as the rhetoric accelerates and intensifies in connection with the forthcoming congressional vote. In the aftermath of this vote, will Jews be identified as “undermining” the administration’s foreign policy objectives? Will there likely be internal Jewish recrimination that follows this intense political contest?
What will be the impact of this issue on the 2016 elections and beyond, and what might be the spillover effect? Who will be seen as the political “winners” and “losers” in the aftermath of this battle?
Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. This article is reprinted from
My Judaism: Millennials speak out following Pew poll
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project issued its “Portrait of Jewish Americans” on Oct. 1, setting off alarms throughout the Jewish community about the future of Jewish life. Among the greatest concerns is this statement: “Among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults — the Millennials — 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.”
To hear the voices behind the statistics, the Journal invited Millennials to speak for themselves about what it means to them to be American Jews. Each tells a different story:
The recently released Pew survey distinguishes between “Jews by religion” and “Jews of no religion” — otherwise called secular or cultural Jews. I tried to determine which of these two kinds of Jews I am, but neither term felt quite right, and I grew increasingly confused and frustrated as I delved deeper into the survey results and found, for example, that 16 percent of Jews by religion don’t believe in God, and 18 percent of Jews of no religion do believe in God.
Ultimately, I realized that the source of my frustration was that I was searching for clarity instead of accepting complexity. My relationship with Judaism is continually changing and full of unresolved questions. Like many of the Jews surveyed, I defy straightforward classification. So perhaps I’m better off describing my Jewish identity piecemeal, as opposed to trying to categorize myself within a binary.
Like 40 percent of Jews by religion and 20 percent of Jews of no religion, I identify with the Reform movement. I attended Hebrew school for eight years, although there was many a Sunday morning when I wanted to stay in bed, and many a Wednesday afternoon when I longed to be at play rehearsal instead of trudging through the Ve-ahavta. During my bat mitzvah, I gave a speech about trying to come to terms with the hypocrisy of the Jews becoming slave owners shortly after escaping slavery in Egypt. I (usually) fast on Yom Kippur, infrequently attend religious services and have a (Hebrew) tattoo. And I don’t believe in God.
This is the first time I’ve written that, and acknowledging it feels liberating, necessary and a little bit terrifying. Liberating and necessary because it’s central to my religious identity and terrifying because inside of me there lives the shadow of my younger self: a girl who always wrote G-d, panicked at the thought of accidentally dropping a siddur on the ground and desperately wanted to believe but was hounded by uncertainty.
Although I don’t believe in God, there are few things in life that I find more soothing — and spiritual, even—than reciting the Shema. I’m well aware of the contradiction. But when I recite the Shema, though I don’t feel a connection to God, I do feel a profound connection to the generations of Jews who came before me, who recited these very same words. I feel comforted by a sense of community and humbled by the history of the Jewish people and their strength of spirit. The Book of Genesis says God created man in his image, but I think it’s the other way around. Perhaps what I’m praying to, what I believe in, is a God that comes from and exists within the human spirit.
I arguably fit within the trend of decreasing religiousness among young Jewish Americans, but I will not be among the growing number of Jews raising children without religion. I know with certainty very few things about my future, but I know that when I have children — if I have children, which I hope I will — they will be raised as Jews, in a Reform community.
For this decision, I credit my parents and my upbringing in a Reform congregation that presented me with a religion open to interpretation and adaptation, where thoughtful inquiry was encouraged, and doubt was acknowledged and accepted.
I want my (hypothetical future) children to learn about Jewish history and values, and to feel connected to and a part of the Jewish community. And when it comes to God and religious belief, I want to empower them with the tools to ask their own questions and the freedom to decide for themselves what being a Jew means to them — just as my parents did for me. And I can only hope that they, in turn, will someday do the same for their children.
Isabel Kaplan is working on her second novel, a screenplay and a nonfiction book about arson and murders in the 1930s.
My home life was not typical of an Orthodox household. We kept kosher, went to shul and observed major holidays. But if you sat in hashkama minyan between my father and grandfather, you were treated to very unorthodox commentary. “Pesach and Chag He’Aviv were two different holidays,” my grandfather would mutter during Torah reading. Or my father, during the haftorah: “See how the rabbis ruined Judaism?” I was raised to be suspicious of Orthodoxy, even though it was what my parents had chosen for me.
In yeshiva, my suspicions were ignored. The big issues — biblical criticism, Darwinism, theodicy — were decided before discussion began. Biblical criticism was an anti-Semitic canard; Darwinism and creationism were seamlessly compatible; and the Holocaust was inexplicable, hence, irrelevant. We had no time for these nuisances anyway, not with nine periods of Gemara a week. Thus, we spent more time agonizing over talmudic minutiae than over the justifications for its existence.
Judaism was about prescribed ritual, end of story. We attended Shacharit every morning, while the principal stood facing us on a stage at the front of the room, scanning, screaming and shuckling. If you talked, he screamed. If you dozed, he screamed. If you sat when it was time to stand, he screamed. After awhile, I began to associate halachah with two things: fear and coercion.
But college was where my loyalties were really tested. There, you chose your lifestyle, and if you chose Orthodoxy, you were forced to make sacrifices. I began asking myself why I was sacrificing this or that and started thinking seriously about what the answers I’d been given amounted to — obscurantism, sophistry, superstition. It wasn’t about temptation; it was about what I was being tempted away from.
And then there was the temptress. Forget for a moment things like sex and cheeseburgers. In college, there’s this shattering encounter with Western wisdom for which yeshiva students are utterly unprepared. I remember my first Kant class, in particular, taught by the best professor I ever had, a steely-haired German fellow with a thundering voice.
The arguments were incredibly complex, but they had a vivid, irresistible logic to them. I had this sense of bumping up against a transcendent intellect, the Transcendent Intellect. All this other junk in the Jewish tradition, all the pitifully tenuous logic, all the willful distortions — none of that could be divine. Judaism couldn’t offer anything this complex or compelling. So what was it all worth?
After college, I spent a year at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem trying to find out. There were nuances to Judaism that my yeshivas had obscured or overlooked. The Bible could be complex when it wasn’t read through Rashi. And if you viewed halachah as an evolving ethical system, more of the minutiae started to make sense. But even Pardes didn’t have enough of the answers. And there was a lot of time spent apologizing for indefensible norms and notions. What was more, it was too little, too late.
I met with a teacher after the program ended and told her I was done with Judaism. Why, she wondered, couldn’t I discard the bad in Judaism while retaining the good?
Say you were wronged by someone you loved, a girlfriend who treated you badly, not once or twice, but for the whole of your relationship. You made a clean break. Then your friend comes along and reminds you of all the good times. Why can’t you look the girl up every once in awhile? Why can’t you hold on to what still works? But of course you can’t. The wounds are too raw, and the good and bad are all mixed up inside you. You can’t be friends, at least not for a few years. And maybe longer. Maybe you can never be friends.
Daniel Schwartz is a freelance writer studying screenwriting at UCLA. He blogs at WhotheEffisJeff.
When I sat down to write this piece, I found myself at a bit of a loss. How do I define my “Jewish journey” when I feel I’m still at the start of it? Feeling overwhelmed, I did what many a writer has done before me — turned on my television. A little “SNL” would surely inspire, no? Ironically, during the “Weekend Update” segment, Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy came on. Lo and behold, this was the inspiration I was searching for! As I laughed and rewound and laughed some more, I found myself a bit unsettled by what unfolded. The sketch was fairly simple; it was Jacob explaining to Seth Meyers, Cecily Strong and the rest of the audience what he had done the previous evening. Jacob told Seth:
“We celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shabbat! And since my bubbe was over, we acted like we celebrated every week!”
Jacob went on to explain Shabbos and why we as Jews celebrate it, but I couldn’t get that line out of my head. It brought me right back to my own youth. A little background: My family is Jewish on both sides; my parents came from highly observant homes. They immigrated from South Africa in the late 1970s, eventually settling in Los Angeles by way of places including Texas, Nebraska and Northern California. The physical practice of our familial Judaism, however, was varied in my youth. We had one mezuzah, Friday night dinners somewhere between once and three times a month (much like Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy), and attended temple on High Holy Days only when I became a teenager. This was after a botched attempt at a bat mitzvah, as my training was interrupted by a relocation to San Diego. In San Diego, my friends looked to me as highly Jewish, since I attended the Orthodox synagogue on the holidays — but I didn’t understand any part of the prayers being spoken. However, that immigrant mentality that so pervades my family strongly informed my understanding of what it is to be Jewish and allowed me to feel confident in calling myself a Jew.
Currently, I’m more observant than I was growing up, but I’m definitely not someone you would call strict or even highly knowledgeable about the traditions of the religion with which I strongly identify. I’m spiritual and believe in God, yet sometimes I find myself struggling through basic Bible stories. I know Bruegel the Elder did a painting of the Tower of Babel — but I’m not totally sure what the details of that story are. I feel the tenet of community within Judaism, and Judaism in Southern California, in particular, has always seemed an important one, at least to me. More than anything, that sense of belonging, of being strangers in a strange land, has lent itself to the formation of my Jewish identity.
When I relocated back to Los Angeles, a city of immigrants in its own right, to pursue a career in entertainment, I became even more confused with where my Judaism fit into my life. I’m almost certain the people I surround myself with, both personally and professionally, strongly identify me as Jewish. But again — where was this coming from? I don’t have that answer. And yet the sense of community, above all else, remains. I feel comfortable knowing many in this industry and I share a religion and the associated values that are instilled (whether culturally or through study). Maybe it will become clearer as my education grows and my journey continues. Until then, I’ll try to follow some sage wisdom that Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy relayed to Seth and Cecily:
“Moving forward as an adult in the Jewish community, I promise to fulfill the following commandments: Perform mitzvot, or good deeds; study Torah; and some day, visit Israel, even though I have nightmares about it!”
Courtney Batzofin currently works for a small production company and freelances for several publications.
It took being the anonymous target of someone’s shabbily aimed rocket for me to truly internalize my Jewish identity —one I’ve historically had a complicated relationship with, despite being heir to many generations of Diaspora Jews.
Let’s be clear: I have an affinity for kishka and kugel that no gentile would quite understand, as well as an unwavering opinion about hamentashen — apricot is the best.
But I do not practice Judaism in the religious sense. Of course, I’ve been to many a Kol Nidre service, and there isn’t a Passover in memory that hasn’t included Manischewitz, gefilte fish and some bread of affliction.
Despite that, I’ve always been highly self-conscious of my brand of “pick-your-own” Judaism.
Then I went to Israel for the first time in 2010, on a two-week Birthright trip, and everything changed. Instead of a distinct discomfort with my religion, I felt proud of my cultural heritage. I found I could engage with my inherited traditions without having to buy into a belief system that I could not completely reconcile with my own worldview.
I returned to Israel in the summer of 2011 to film my thesis documentary about the social protests sweeping through the region. I witnessed tens of thousands of Israelis rallying together for social change — more Jews than I’d ever seen in one place, all participating in something that wasn’t about Judaism. Religion was simply a side note to the politics at hand.
For the duration of that trip, I stayed in Sderot, a city 2 kilometers east of Gaza City that has been a flashpoint for the ongoing regional conflict. Sure enough, while I was there, qassam rockets were launched targeting Sderot; bombs were dropped on Gaza, and a terrorist attack on an Israeli bus occurred in the Sinai.
After the third or fourth time that I felt the reverberations of bombs one weekend, I had a moment of extreme clarity. I realized the rocket-launchers on the other side of the border wanted me dead because I’m here, and probably Jewish. They didn’t know me, but they’d sure be happy if they hit me.
And then I thought about the kid over there in Gaza who was thinking, “You, bomb-dropping Israelis, don’t care if you destroy my home and my family in your quest for retaliation.”
The insanity of the situation — the fact that most people on both sides of this volley of weaponry were probably thinking the same thing, “What the hell did I personally do to you?” — demolished any shred of inclination toward true religious observance that I’ve ever had: God and the scenario at hand were mutually exclusive. But it also reinforced my cultural identity as a Jew. Not just in my own eyes, but in the eyes of strangers as well.
My heritage is undeniable. My unruly, curly hair gives me away as a Jew if my judicious sprinkling of Yiddish words hasn’t already — and so does the tattoo of a hamsa that I got inked onto my shoulder in Tel Aviv in 2010. The irony is not lost on me.
It’s important to me to make clear to the world (and to the pearl-clutching religious folks who are lamenting the loss of “the secular youth”):
Have no doubt — I am 25 years old, and I am Jewish.
Julie Bien is the blog manager and a contributing writer at the Jewish Journal.
About seven years ago, in the middle of a discussion with my father about Judaism, I said, “I’m not sure I believe in God.”
“You don’t believe, or you aren’t sure if you believe?” he responded.
“Agnostic,” I replied.
I was well on my way to becoming part of the 10 percent of Jews raised in the Conservative movement who now identify with no denomination, as outlined in the just-released Pew Research Center study of American Jews. Although I was becoming less religious, even at that time I was hardly on the path to becoming a Jew of no religion (7 percent of Jews raised Conservative) or not identifying as Jewish (also 10 percent). There was too much that I enjoyed about Judaism.
As a child, my warmest Jewish moments came spending Saturday afternoons with some of my closest friends, who were Orthodox, and when I occasionally spent holidays with Orthodox relatives in Connecticut.
Yet by the time I enrolled as a freshman at Tulane University, in 2008, had I given my Jewish standing any thought at all at that point, I probably would have assumed that since I was on my own for the first time in a city with plenty of distractions (New Orleans), the odds of increasing my observance while in college were low.
Then, one Friday night early in fall semester, after attending a play in the French Quarter with one of my classes, I decided to stop by the Chabad at Tulane for dessert. It was warm and comfortable. So much so that I felt at ease challenging the rabbi with plenty of questions (or problems) I had with Judaism.
Soon after that, my Friday night routine included going to Chabad for Shabbat and then going out with friends. As I made new friends at Chabad and became close with the rabbi’s family, I regularly studied with him, and witnessing the warmth of an observant Jewish home again made Shabbat a fun day — even if I hadn’t entertained the possibility of fully observing it.
Shabbat became a weekly source of pleasure, so as a rising sophomore, I decided to observe the weekly holy day the way Orthodox Jews do. Not because I felt it was my obligation, but because I enjoyed those 25 hours more when I was acting Orthodox.
Among the non-observant, Shabbat is often viewed as a day on which you can’t do stuff. You can’t use your phone; you can’t use your computer; you can’t drive; you can’t watch movies. For me, however, dedicating an entire day to spending time with God, friends and community is warmer, more pleasurable and provides more meaning than making Saturday just like Sunday.
If Pew had called me when I was a freshman, I would have labeled myself an unaffiliated Jew, among about 30 percent of American Jewry, according to Pew. Perhaps that is not a healthy trend for the future of Judaism. But what those numbers don’t reveal are the stories like mine: What portion of that 30 percent is actually growing religiously and doing things (learning, lighting Shabbat candles, cooking holiday meals with other students) that they have never regularly done? Maybe non-affiliation isn’t a problem, when there’s also an opportunity for being welcomed into increased religious involvement in Jewish groups like Chabad and Hillel.
Now, as a self-identifying observant Jew (can I call myself Modern Orthodox if I still eat tuna subs at Subway?), I know that those days that I “unintentionally” spent observing Jewish law on many Shabbats and holidays were, at least in part, my way of bringing more enjoyment into my life. That’s a compelling case for observance.
Jared Sichel is a staff writer at the Jewish Journal.
I graduated from college in 2009, a year when even the administration couldn’t pretend to be optimistic about our chances of success in the job market. The university president gloomily addressed us, and our parents, about the economic climate and the declining worth of our pricey degrees. We were, essentially, patted gently on the shoulder and told there was nothing more they could do for us now, so we should go with God.
Every generation feels it alone has been marked out for uncertainty and turmoil, but for us, the adults of the world seemed to agree with that assessment: Nothing will ever be the same, they said, and we can’t tell you what will happen next.
Of course, eventually, we all got jobs, though it took longer than we wanted it to, and the future is still and always will be uncertain. It happened that my jobs have been Jewish ones, in large part because I left Connecticut, where I’d gone to school, to come back to Los Angeles, where it doesn’t snow, and where my Jewish parents have Jewish friends.
I promise this is not a mercenary story.
Since graduation, I have been a substitute teacher at a Jewish elementary school and a freelance writer for a Jewish newspaper, and next week I will start a position as the program coordinator at a Jewish community center. My goyish friends think this is hilarious. The Jews, as a rule, seem to get it.
I think it helps that I went to a Jewish elementary school: I learned the Hebrew alphabet alongside the English one, and I know the rituals and the prayers like the seasons, like myself. It wouldn’t be fall without Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or spring without the complicated misery of Passover and trying to explain to non-Jews why I can’t eat that, or that, or … anything, actually, sorry.
But really I think what has happened is that I’ve always believed, always felt myself to be faithful, and what I’ve gotten through these jobs is a structured way to remain involved in the community. It’s easy to drift away and tell yourself you’re still a Jew at heart; I’ve been lucky to have so many opportunities to keep in practice at something that goes beyond the parts that involve faith.
It doesn’t hurt that I like ritual and that I love being part of a community; I left Connecticut for a lot of reasons, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that loneliness was among them. I had friends, of course, close ones whom I loved dearly, but I did not have any kind of family out there.
In June, my grandmother died, and my family’s chavurah, a group we’ve been a part of since I was 12 — a collection of families whose daughters are like my sisters — came over to our house for a shivah minyan. Jews do not suffer grief alone; we gather our loved ones to us, we say familiar prayers and move slowly through the stages of mourning.
In December, we’ll host a wedding shower for one of those girls. It will be in the same living room where we held the minyan, and where we celebrated before our bat mitzvahs, well over a decade ago.
Whether you think you live in trying times, the future is always uncertain. The promise of ritual is that there will always be something familiar there for you, an action to perform and a ceremony to repeat. The promise of community is that you will have someone to go through those motions with you. I practice my Judaism because it provides me with continuity and with comfort, through the hard times and on to the good ones.
Zan Romanoff is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal and is about to begin a position as program director at the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center.
Three types of students walk past the Union of Jewish Students table during student organization fairs at UC San Diego, where I am a junior. The first, non-Jews, approach our table, ask what we do and then walk away. The second group, the USY and Hebrew school alumni, excitedly ask us when our next event will be. Then, finally, there are the folks who glance at the Star of David on our banner, the lulav and etrog on the table or the yarmulke on my head and then walk away hurriedly in a manner such that we can only understand them to be non-identifying Jews.
Findings from the new Pew Research Center survey on Jews in America indicate that this third group of students may be the fastest-growing demographic. At UCSD, a campus of more than 20,000 undergraduates — 8 percent of whom are estimated to be “Jewish” — this trend is visibly affecting the number of Jewish students who are involved in Jewish life. Meanwhile, the identifying and practicing Jewish students here and across the country are working to ensure the stability and growth of the Jewish community.
Granted, it’s no easy task to be a shomer Shabbat Jew keeping strict kosher, on a campus with little in the way of kosher amenities, while living with four non-Jewish housemates. I might be described as an observant or Modern Orthodox Jew, but, in my experience, it is far too simplistic to boil down religious Judaism to just who eats what and on what days. For many of us, community is the core value of Judaism. Our campus’ Jewish leadership is constantly working to strengthen both the number of people in our community and the quality of the services and amenities available to us.
For me, the notion of the Jewish People is hybridization of the Jewish and the People. Our community needs our common faith, values and practice, while Judaism can only exist via a community in which it is followed. The founder of cultural Zionism, Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg — better known as Ahad Ha’am — is attributed as having said, “More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people.” This is the focal reason I stick with the religious practices of my upbringing. Not only to further my own spirituality, but to assure the continuity of our community.
At UCSD and college campuses nationwide, the Jewish people are at a turning point. Dozens of campuses host annual Israel Apartheid Weeks, and the Anti-Defamation League reported in July that anti-Semitic incidents on campuses had tripled in 2012, even as overall anti-Semitism is on the decline. Jews and pro-Israel advocates have been on the defensive, needing to respond to attacks and criticisms from anti-Zionist groups and, in some cases, anti-Jewish activities. In a way, these outside groups are dictating the Jewish life and activity on campus.
However, we college students now have the opportunity to define what our community is about. Now is the time to celebrate our culture, heritage and faith — and not only act in response to others. Those who choose not to participate will do what they want, but the future leadership of the Jewish People, is ready to engage, grow and thrive — regardless of what any survey may tell us.
Zev Hurwitz, a graduate of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, is a junior at UC San Diego, managing editor of the UCSD Guardian newspaper and president of United Jewish Observance on campus.
Reform leader Rick Jacobs slams Israeli gov’t discrimination against non-Orthodox
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said American Jews should no longer acquiesce to Israeli state-sanctioned discrimination against women and non-Orthodox Jews.
“I would fight passionately for the right of Orthodox Jews to pray freely at the Kotel or anywhere else, so I can’t understand why we acquiesce when the rights of non-Orthodox Jews are denied by the Jewish state,” Jacobs said to wide applause in a speech Tuesday at the closing plenary of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, where Jacobs served as the scholar in residence. “This is a moment that calls for Israel and the world Jewish community to address equality for all streams of Judaism by the government of Israel.”
Jacobs cited the case of activist Anat Hoffman, head of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, who was arrested last month at the Western Wall for leading a women's prayer service while wearing a tallit prayer shawl — an act that contravenes an Israeli law that has survived Supreme Court challenges.
“Yes, the Israeli Supreme Court has the authority to restrict the prayer of women and non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. But why is this holy Jewish site run like an Orthodox synagogue? Why can’t there be space and time for both egalitarian prayer and for more traditional forms of prayer at this holy place?” Jacobs asked. “So long as Israel remains the only democracy that legally discriminates against the majority of Jews who are in the non-Orthodox streams, the Zionist dream of the ingathering of the exiles in a Jewish state for all Jews cannot be fully realized.
“It is time to end this discrimination once and for all,” he said, adding, “When women are subjected to discrimination at the Kotel, it feeds other forms of discrimination by the ultra-Orthodox against women — on buses and in other public facilities.”
Jacobs also called on American Jews to ensure that Israel not become a partisan issue, saying the Jewish community's traditional bipartisan consensus on Israel must be restored following a divisive U.S. election campaign.
“The pro-Israel community must be large enough to include the IDF veteran campaigning for peace on the college campus, the AIPAC activist lobbying members of Congress, the human rights activist protesting unlawful seizure of Arab homes in Jerusalem, the West Bank settler and the Jew who protests the lack of religious freedom in the Jewish state,” he said.
Approximately 3,000 people attended this year's GA held in Baltimore Sunday through Tuesday.
Protestant churches’ letter on Israel straining ties with Jews
When 15 prominent American Protestant leaders sent a letter to Congress last week calling for an investigation and possible suspension of U.S. aid to Israel, at least one outcome was certain: The Jews wouldn’t like it.
Already, one major American Jewish group has canceled its participation in an Oct. 22 annual Christian-Jewish roundtable involving representatives from 12 Jewish and 12 Christian groups in New York. And other Jewish groups are expressing consternation.
“We’re not going to sit around the table and say ‘kumbaya,’ ” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which pulled out of the program and urged other Jewish groups to follow suit. “This is the clearest message I know to say, ‘You don’t get it. Maybe think about what you don’t get, and at a later date we’ll sit down and talk.’ ”
The letter, sent to every member of Congress, was signed by leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.
Saying they have “witnessed the pain and suffering” of Israelis and Palestinians, the signers said that “unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The letter called for the launching of “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel” of agreements with Washington for alleged illegal use of U.S.-sold weapons against Palestinians. The signers also asked for “regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.”
In the past, many of these same church leaders have sent notes to Congress criticizing specific Israeli efforts, particularly settlement building. However, this is the first salvo against the $3 billion annual U.S. aid package to Israel.
A number of mainline Protestant churches have had fights at recent conventions over boycotting products made in the West Bank, divesting in companies doing business with Israel or harshly criticizing Israel’s rule of the West Bank.
This summer, the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected divestment from companies doing business with Israeli security forces in the West Bank by a 333-331 vote. A similar call was defeated more decisively at a Methodist assembly in May. And in September, the Quaker group Friends Fiduciary Corporation voted to remove a French and an American company from its financial portfolio over what it said was the companies’ involvement with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian areas.
The timing of last week’s letter is further straining ties between American Jewish and Protestant groups. For one thing, it came just weeks before the annual national meeting meant to ensure smoother ties between the two sides. The Christian-Jewish roundtable, as it is known informally, was developed in 2004, when the divestment issue rose in prominence in Protestant circles.
For another, Jewish groups were upset that they had no advance warning of the letter and that it was released on the first day of a two-day Jewish holiday, when most Jewish organizations were closed in observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
“Things are not in a good place,” said Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) umbrella group.
Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, and a co-chair of the roundtable, said boycotting the meeting is not the right response.
“As disheartening as this initiative is, it is critical to continue in our wider commitment to Christian-Jewish dialogue, because it has contributed in a positive way over time to the betterment of the Jewish experience,” Marans said. “After all, until two generations ago, Christian anti-Jewish sentiment was not uncommon, and today it is marginalized within the churches. That’s a very important historic development. We cannot lose perspective.”
Felson said JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts. He said he has not yet decided if he will attend the roundtable.
“We feel strongly that if you want the parties to reconcile, we should model reconciliation,” Felson said. “But that’s difficult to do when we’re up against this brand of antipathy.”
Suggesting that American Jewish groups could retaliate by advocating against U.S. aid to the Palestinians, Felson said the signers of the letter are “opening up a Pandora’s box.”
Marans said Jewish groups should continue pursuing local Christian-Jewish ties in addition to national ones.
“Liberal Protestants live side by side with Jews, and rabbis have relationships with local ministers,” Marans said. “Once the antipathy toward Israel of some national leaders is communicated in the context of these relationships, the local religious leadership is heard from and communicates to their national leadership their concerns.
“The Jewish community understands that the overwhelming majority of Americans and American Christians understand that Israel must defend itself and that Israel is not an aggressor, that Israel is on the front lines of terrorism and has modeled how to create a balance between security and concern for the individual rights of all of the inhabitants.”
Indeed, some Presbyterians are openly angry with their leader, the Rev. Gradye Parsons, who signed the letter.
“We know there’s a very small, very vocal group in the Presbyterian Church that wants to see Israel punished,” said the Rev. John Wimberly, co-moderator of an unofficial group called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. “We think we represent the 70 percent of Presbyterians polled in 2009 who said that maintaining a strong diplomatic and military relationship with Israel should be a U.S. priority.”
He said Parsons’ signing of the letter “makes a lot of people mad and a larger number of people embarrassed.”
Parsons did not return calls for comment.
David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, a largely evangelical group often billed as the Christian AIPAC, called the move by the mainline Protestant churches to reach out to Congress an “accelerating trend” with a message for the Jewish community.
“This should be a wake-up call,” said Brog, who is Jewish. “Christians will be involved in Israel and the Middle East, whether Jews accept that or not. We cannot take Christian support for Israel for granted. We have to actively engage our Christian neighbors and take the case to them, so that when they are active on this issue, they support Israel.”
Opinion: In survey of American Jews, questions for right and left
Mark Twain famously distrusted statistics. This was due to their malleability. Ask the question the right way, and you can claim a mandate for anything.
In contemporary society, statistics are often used to provide “unbiased evidence” for our pre-existing viewpoints. This is not to say that statistics tell us nothing useful. I believe they tell us much that is useful. But statistics are most illuminating if you look more intently at the numbers that challenge rather than simply confirm your assumptions.
On Tuesday, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey of Jewish values and opinions commissioned by the Nathan Cummings Foundation. We underwrote the survey because, as a funder of the Jewish social justice sector, and of Jewish life and values more broadly, the foundation believes it is important to better understand how Jews today understand our experience, engage our values and consider the issues facing our country.
The survey is fascinating. Some of the information confirms conventional wisdom, but not all. Liberals and conservatives who care about the Jewish future would benefit from mulling over the data beyond the headlines.
For example, conservatives might want to grapple with this finding. We asked participants: As a Jew, which of the following qualities do you consider most important to your Jewish identity?
The most popular quality was “a commitment to social equality,” chosen by 46% of American Jews. Support for Israel and religious observance came in second and third with 20% and 17%, respectively.
More and more we do an excellent job meeting the needs of those for whom Israel or religious observance are most important to how they see themselves as Jews. Yet too often we outsource our commitment to social equality to non-Jewish institutions, or make a passing wave at tikkun olam while dramatically underfunding the very Jewish organizations that embody this broadly held commitment. This is in part because conservatives assert that Judaism is—and should be—largely about religious observance and Israel.
Those on the right must rethink their campaign to belittle, delegitimize and excise Jewish social justice from the Jewish community. At a time when we need more avenues into meaningful Jewish life, they are imperiously dismissing almost half of the community. They declare certain conversations or advocacy issues verboten (taxes, human rights in Israel), attack funders who make grants to the social change sector (Open Society Foundations; Ford Foundation) and ridicule those who make connections between Jewish text and contemporary efforts to create a more equitable society.
On the other hand, liberal Jews take for granted popular support within the Jewish community. Often the support is there. But not always.
The survey asked whether or not poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs. A clear majority (54%) said they had.
So while Jews may support legal abortion and gay marriage in overwhelming numbers (93% and 81% respectively), they also agree with an argument long advanced by conservatives: Social programs create dangerous dependency.
What are the implications of this belief? Consider the fact that much of the money spent by Jewish institutions goes to administer government assistance programs. The entire federation system supports agencies that provide poor people with government-funded health care, food assistance, housing and more. Support for the poor has been at the core of Jewish communal norms for centuries.
Jews who believe that the government has an important role to play in providing a safety net for the poor are losing this argument in their own community, even among those who support most other elements of the liberal agenda. This new majority perception must be engaged.
There is a great deal more to say about the PRRI Jewish values survey. Soon the headlines will assert that some of us are right and others wrong. Instead of falling into self-congratulations, let’s instead take it to our Seder tables and ask a new set of questions about our experience, our values and our distinctive role here in America.
Simon Greer is the president and CEO of the Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Poll: American Jews and Muslims share common values
Muslim and Jewish Americans share common values on key questions, according to a Gallup poll.
The poll, released Tuesday, found that the Muslim Americans exceeded Jewish belief in religious pluralism and in the fairness of elections, and also in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—81 percent for Muslims, 78 percent for Jews.
Jews and Muslims also were the only religious groups surveyed in which a majority backed President Obama.
Jews were the least likely group, besides Muslims, to question the loyalty of Muslims, with 70 percent of Jewish Americans denying that Muslim Americans sympathize with the al-Qaeda terrorist group and 80 percent agreeing that Muslims are loyal to the United States. They disagreed, however, on whether Muslims spoke out enough against terrorism, with 28 percent of Muslims and 65 percent of Jews saying that Muslims were not vocal enough. The 65 percent put Jews in the middle of the religious groups surveyed.
Interestingly, Jewish respondents were slightly more likely than Muslims to believe that Muslims face prejudice in American society.
The poll included results from the Gallup Heathways Well-being index conducted from Jan. 1, 2010 to April 9, 2011, as well as two independent studies of the Muslim-American population conducted from Feb. 10 to March 11, 2010 and Oct. 1-21, 2010, by a Gallup-affiliated research group based in the United Arab Emirates. According to researchers, the poll had a margin of error of 6.6 percent for Muslims and 7.3 percent for Jews.
The study also found that Muslims were the least likely religious group to agree that there is ever justification for individuals or small groups to attack civilians, that the generation that came of age post-9/11 are more likely to report feelings of anger than their peers, but that anger is reported less among those that regularly attend religious services.
“As children of Abraham, Jews and Muslims recognize that we don’t just share a common faith but also a single fate,” Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization devoted to outreach between the Jewish community and other ethnic groups, said in an interview with JTA.
“People will be overwhelmed by these findings. The perception is that the Muslim Jewish relationship in the U.S. is one of conflict, not of cooperation. This is just the opposite of what we’ve found in the field.”
In the eye of a racial storm
On April 4, 2008, we, the Rev. Eric Lee and Daphna Ziman, came face to face in the eye of a national racial storm that has surfaced during the primary election campaign.
Two communities, both of which have suffered discrimination and both of which have fought for justice, found themselves in the middle of storm that has created unwarranted tension. On the one side is the plight of African Americans, who have been enslaved and victimized throughout the history of the United States. On the other side are the Jews, who have been persecuted across the world for generations and escaped to America to find freedom.
Generations of Jews have repeated to their children, “Never again,” referring to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Generations of African Americans are still facing barriers to equal opportunity.
We African Americans and Jews were on a journey together but did not yet realize it. We have the same destinations: justice, peace, dignity, respect. However, we began from two different locations.
On the one hand, the journey began with a people whose historical backdrop consists of centuries of slavery, oppression, persecution and ultimately stereotypes. It is the story ofIsrael and the tragedy of the Jewish Holocaust and the continuing struggle against anti-Semitism.
On the other hand, the journey began with a people whose historical backdrop consists of colonial rule, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery, legal segregation and discrimination and ultimately stereotypes. It is the story of African Americans and the tragedy of the African holocaust and the continuing struggle against racism. Although there have been many advancements in the journey to justice, there still remains a long way to go.
And although the historical relationship between the African American and Jewish communities has resulted in significant civil rights gains, there still remain injustices that must be combated together.
Through the deep pain of adversity, we have turned to the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in making his case for universal rights vs. identity rights (gay rights, women’s rights, children rights, etc). Dr. King stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
We were on a journey together but did not yet realize it. What we do realize, however, is that the destination is the same and the beginning of our respective journeys is not that different.
Why then has there been such a challenge in taking this journey together? When our communities suffer with racism, anti-Semitism, negative stereotypes and persecution, why haven’t we continued to join together to fight against the social evils that continuously plague our respective communities? Why have we been tossed into this storm of racial animosity and apparent tension between us?
The answer lies within society’s apparent inability to deal with and eliminate racism and anti-Semitism. It is not enough to have laws against acts of hatred. Hate crime laws are only applied after the act of hatred has been committed. Society needs to deal with the spirit of hatred that precedes the act.
The spirit of hatred is revealed in the language of racism and anti-Semitism. The spirit of hatred is revealed in the Web sites and e-mails espousing racism and anti-Semitism. The spirit of hatred is revealed in speeches and sermons that condemn entire cultures, religions and ideologies.
We recognized that we had to touch futility before we touched humility. We had to recognize that it wasn’t about us individually, but that justice is about us collectively.
Is it possible that we were chosen to remind our country that America is the land of diverse cultures and that within our diversity lies our strength? Divine intervention?
We believe that it is. We had to rise above our own limitations to allow the wisdom of God to be heard.
“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”
Now, any fool knows that a wolf and a lamb cannot graze together. But what the Bible is asking us to do is to find a common ground.
We must leave our children a legacy of respect and acceptance — live and let live. We must demand all religious leaders to stop spouting racism in any place of worship or public gathering.
We realize that our journey together must be walked together — shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand — so that we arrive together at our destinations of justice, peace, dignity, respect. We understand that we are all God’s children, and that as Dr. King stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
In the seder ceremony, the collective statement of all participants is that “until everyone is free; we are not yet free.”
I rode on the wild side — when road rage met anti-Semitism
I am safe on the plane now.
On the way to Los Angeles International Airport this afternoon, I thought I was about to be murdered.
In the run-up to a weeklong
business trip, I called the car service I’ve been using for years to pick me up at my home. The driver arrived promptly at 1:30 p.m., the arranged time.
The ride to the airport started out just fine. The driver began making small talk. I noticed he had a Jamaican flag on his dashboard, so I asked if he was Jamaican. He said he was, and he asked if I was American.
“Were you born in California?” he asked.
I told him I was born in Chicago, and he commented how different the two cities are. I asked him if he came directly to Los Angeles from Jamaica. He told me he was first in New York.
He was playing reggae music, so I told him I liked the music and asked if he was Rastafarian. He said he was and explained that Rastafarian is a form of Christianity. He asked what my religion was. I told him I was Jewish.
One of the things I like about the drivers of this company is that they are always from other countries. When I ride in their cars, I get to learn a lot about where the drivers come from and their views of life in America.
We were both quiet for a while, and then he began tapping to the rhythm of the music. I noticed he had a plethora of CDs stuffed into his visor. I asked him what other reggae or Rasta singers he had.
“My music is political,” he said.
That was a pretty interesting comment, so I asked, “About what kind of politics?”
“I hope as Jew,” he now raised his voice and sneered, “you can take what I am about to say. My politics are about the Jews.”
And then the rant began. Continuing to raise his voice, he told me that Mel Gibson knew what he was saying. He told me he used to favor the Jews until they, themselves, became the Hitler under whom they suffered. He told me that the Jews are indeed the root of all the world’s problems today.
“The Jews, who were the victim of the white man, now think that they are white. They have forgotten and have become the oppressor,” he said.
He continued to rant for another 10 minutes. Between his shrieking voice and the Jamaican accent, I could barely understand the things he was saying — about Oprah becoming rich and just like the white man because of the Jews, and that Saddam Hussein’s hanging was posted on the Internet because of the Jews. He then turned to look at me in the backseat, while driving on the freeway.
“You Jews are the cause of the black man’s suffering today,” he screamed at me as he took his hands off the wheel. “I suffer, because of you.”
Until this point, I had been quiet.
“Please sir,” I said calmly understanding my predicament, “please keep your hands on the wheel.”
That was it.
“Just like a Jew — always telling the world what to do,” he responded. “Don’t you worry about me. Worry about what you do in the world. You make my life miserable. I don’t care if I die. Maybe I’m a terrorist, like my Palestinian and Arab brothers whose lives you have destroyed. Maybe I am just going to now crash this car and kill both of us.”
He was completely hysterical. The car was swerving out of control.
I wanted to get off the freeway and onto a city street, so I could have an escape route to jump out of his car if need be.
“It would be best,” I said quietly, “if you get off at Howard Hughes Drive, so that we can come directly into the airport the back way, because it is quicker, and I am late.”
“There you go again, always knowing better than anyone else. I drive all the time. And now you Jews know better how I should drive.”
He continued to rant. But he did get off on Howard Hughes.
“The tables are turning, mon,” he said. “The tables are turning. You will no longer have the power. The world is sick of you and knows who you are.”
We were now inside the airport, and I felt safer. I leaned forward, “You have no idea who I am or who my people are. All you did was spew hate.”
“I don’t want to listen to anything you have to say,” he said. “You think about what I said. We’ve heard enough from you.”
As he handed me my bags, he said, “Are you going to report me like the Jew did about Mel Gibson? Are you going to get all your Jewish organizations after me now?”
I walked into the airport, relieved to be alive and away from the guy. I thought about Gibson; about recently fired publisher Judith Regan, who was going to publish the O.J. Simpson book; about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; about the brutal torture and killing of Ilan Halimi in France; about all the recent pronouncements of anti-Semitism throughout the world.
I looked around me and thought, “Who else hates us? Hates me? Do I need to live in fear right here in Los Angeles?”
Aside from studying the Holocaust and being marginally active in the Soviet Jewry movement, I never gave much thought to anti-Semitism around me. I believed it hardly existed and had little to do with living in the United States.
I was uncomfortable when other Jews talked and acted with what I considered to be a victim mentality. I drew my Jewish political lines around who saw the world as victims and those who saw the world as accepting. Victims were right wing. Those who saw acceptance were more liberal.
I remember my Wexner Heritage class of just nine short years ago and the many discussions we had about the golden age, in which we were living as Jews with growing world acceptance.
‘The Good Shepherd’: I was a young man for the CIA
Eric Roth’s impressive resume as a Hollywood screenwriter includes an Oscar (for adapting “Forrest Gump”) and a string of reality-based screenplays about the difficulties important people face choosing between realpolitik and personal morality.
These include shared credits on 1999’s “The Insider,” about a tobacco-company whistleblower and the problems CBS “60 Minutes” had broadcasting his story; 2001’s “Ali,” a biopic about Muhammad Ali; and 2005’s “Munich,” Steven Spielberg’s film about an Israeli hit squad charged with punishing the Arab terrorists who killed 11 athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (Both “The Insider” and “Ali” were Michael Mann films.)
And the theme is continued in the new drama “The Good Shepherd,” for which Roth has sole writing credit and on which he has worked for more than a decade. The Robert DeNiro-directed film follows Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) as he moves from college into the shadowy, treacherous world of American espionage during World War II and afterward, at the expense of good relations with his wife (Angelina Jolie).
It also tells the story of the Central Intelligence Agency’s formative years and is loosely based on the career of James Angleton, the late CIA counter-intelligence chief. Roth recalls one early influence was reading Norman Mailer’s “Harlot’s Ghost,” a 1,000-plus-page novel about the CIA published in 1992.
“I was interested in the notion of an organization devoted to secrecy and how that affects people’s lives, particularly their personal lives,” said Roth, via telephone. “And what the burden of carrying around those things is.”
The film includes references to actual Cold War confrontations, such as the overthrow of Guatemala’s leftist president, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954, intrigue in the Belgian Congo, an effort to enlist the Mafia in overthrowing Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the thwarted 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
One intriguing reference in the movie is to a proposed trade between American intelligence agents and the Soviets in occupied post-World War II Berlin. The Russians propose trading Jewish scientists found in Nazi concentration camps for Nazi rocket scientists captured by U.S. troops. Roth said such trading was confirmed to him by the CIA sources he consulted in preparing his screenplay.
Roth, 61, credits his Jewishness with his screenwriting interests. “I think it comes down to my heritage and sense of values as to what is the sense of purpose on this earth,” he said. “I think it’s nice to have some kind of legacy and to do things that are worthwhile. There’s a value to doing something good and to have people thinking about things. I think it comes from the Jewish tradition within me and what my parents handed down to me.”
Born in Brooklyn, his father was a film publicist for United Artists and then, after moving to Los Angeles in Roth’s senior year of high school, taught film at University of Southern California. His mother wrote for radio quiz shows in New York and, in California, was a reader and head of the story department at UA. (Roth also grew up with a brother and sister; he and his wife today have six children and four grandchildren.)
After high school, Roth headed back east to Columbia University to study English. But he returned to study film and folklore at UCLA, where he won the Samuel Goldwyn Screenwriting Award. That led to his first feature film — in Israel.
“The movie was being financed by a group that took Christians to Holy Land tours, and they knew the director, a nice man named Jim Collier, who went on to make a film [“The Hiding Place”] about a Dutch family who hid Jews during World War II, Corrie ten Boom,” Roth said.
“It had two or three titles — one was ‘Catch a Pebble,’ I think. It was released here for like two seconds. The man who made it was a very religious Christian who made documentaries for Billy Graham, and this was a lay project, just a love story.
“It was his story,” Roth explained. “A stewardess was escaping a bad relationship and working for an airline that goes to Israel. She was barely pregnant at the time and decides not to come back to the States. She decides to hide out and get her life together in Israel. She meets an Israeli who takes her to his kibbutz, and they fall in love.”
Roth vividly remembers when the playwright Lanford Wilson, who already had the successful “Balm in Giliad” and was soon to write “The Hot L Baltimore,” was visiting an actor friend during that film’s shoot. “He came over and I remember him helping me write a scene I was having trouble with,” Roth said. “That was a lovely moment.”
From there on, Roth’s career has only gotten better — he wrote screenplays for such movies as “Suspect,” “Memories of Me,” “The Horse Whisperer” and “The Nickel Ride,” besides those previously mentioned. He also shares a screenplay credit (with Brian Helgeland) for one of Hollywood’s great recent stinkers, Kevin Costner’s three-hour-long “The Postman,” from 1997.
“I had written that as a satire for Tom Hanks many years before the movie got made — well before ‘Forrest Gump,'” Roth recalled. “That’s how I met Tom, through ‘The Postman.’ It was not meant to be taken seriously.
“Later, Kevin Costner developed it, and he made a more earnest version,” he continued. “And the guy who rewrote me went on to win an Oscar, Brian Helgeland [‘L.A. Confidential’]. So it goes to show that sometimes things just don’t work.”
“The Good Shepherd” opens Dec. 22.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum takes national leadership position; Survival of Jews in Iran is a paradox, pan
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum takes national leadership position
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, a key figure in Los Angeles civic and ecumenical relations for the last 16 years, has been appointed national director for interreligious affairs by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
As director of AJC’s Los Angeles chapter and Western region since 1990, Greenebaum has worked closely with leaders of the city’s varied ethnic and religious communities to further mutual respect and understanding.
He plans to project the same skills and goals on the national scene in his new post, succeeding David Elcott, who has joined the Israel Policy Forum as executive director.
“I realize now more than ever how strongly religion affects American society,” Greenebaum said.
Greenebaum played another crucial role when Mayor Richard Riordan appointed him president of the Los Angeles Police Commission in 1993, in the wake of the previous year’s riots, sparked by the acquittal of police officers involved in the Rodney King beating.
“I think that my appointment to the Police Commission and my work there helped alleviate a sense among African Americans that Jews didn’t care any longer about their community,” he said. “I also believe that we have established a tremendous relationship with the Latino community over the years.”
In a different arena, Greenebaum and his chapter have spearheaded Jewish communal relations with some 45 countries represented by consulates in Los Angeles. In recognition of this work, he was recently awarded the National Order of Merit by the French government.
Greenebaum, 57, will retain his family residence in Los Angeles and expects to spend one week each month in New York.
Among highlights of his California tenure, Greenebaum recalled taking several delegations of Protestant and Catholic leaders to Israel and the 2003 AJC mission to Salt Lake City to meet with top Mormon leaders.
“Gary is a wonderful judge of people,” said Sherry A. Weinman, president of the Los Angeles AJC chapter. “He knows exactly when to lead with his rabbinical side and when with his statesman side.”
Debbie Smith Saidoff, who serves on the national AJC board of governors, praised Greenebaum’s sensitivity in dealing with representatives of other faiths.
“Gary is a multidimensional leader of great insight, but he is never afraid to speak truth to power,” she said.
In his new position, Greenebaum will work closely with Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Survival of Jews in Iran is a paradox, panel shows
On Oct. 20, the Women of Vision chapter of the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization, presented a panel discussion on “The Jews of Iran: Will This 2,700-Year-Old Community Survive?” to a standing-room-only crowd at the Museum of Tolerance.
At present, 25,000 Jews live in Iran, 15,000 of them in Tehran, making Iran’s Jewish population the second largest in the Middle East, outside of Israel. In the years following the 1979 revolution, approximately 75 percent of the Iranian Jewish population fled the country, some to New York but many more to Los Angeles, which now boasts the largest Iranian Jewish population in the world.
Speakers at the conference included Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, as well as Hamid Sabi, former chairman of the Iranian Jewish Centre in London. They were joined by Tel Aviv University professors Meir Litvak, an expert in Shi’ii and radical Islamic movements, and David Menashri, director of the Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies; television producer and poet Roya Hakakian, author of “Journey From the Land of No” (Crown), about growing up as a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran; Shirin Taleh, a relatively recent immigrant to Los Angeles from Tehran, where she was a Jewish preschool and kindergarten schoolteacher; and Israel Radio personality Menashe Amir, who hosts a regular program listened to by Iranians the world over. The panel was moderated by Sharon Baradaran, a professor in UCLA’s Israel studies department.
The conference presented a complex look at the recent history of Jews in Iran. Amir made clear that over the last century, the condition of Jews in Iran had gone from bad to better (under the shah) to worse, prompting Baradaran to ask whether the better times under the shah were more of an aberration than had been thought.
Hakakian and Sabi both spoke of the role of Jews in the revolution and post-revolutionary period, time of great intellectual ferment and hope. Hakakian, in particular, still hopes a democracy will emerge in Iran, and she is encouraged by reports that average Iranians are losing interest in Iranian government-produced Palestinian propaganda and are showing interest in Israel.
By contrast, Litvak was vocal in pointing out that Iran only tolerates Jews living under Muslim rule — not as people living in an independent state. Iran has become the world leader in Holocaust denial, Litvak explained, as part of a political strategy to undermine support for Israel’s existence.
The panelists agreed that today’s Iran presents a paradox. In many ways, as Hakakian, Sabi and Taleh made clear, life for Jews in some ways has never been better. They are a “protected minority,” allowed to drink wine for their rituals, while Muslims are not allowed alcohol; Jews may allow men and women to mix, while Muslims cannot.Nonetheless, Jews are barred from government jobs, and under Muslim laws, their rights in criminal and civil courts are not equal to other Iranian citizens.
Iranian Muslims consider Jews “filthy” and impure. Yet Jews in Iran have the right to passports and to travel abroad and could leave if they choose.
Litvak suggested that Iran’s Jews have little future living as a minority in Iran and will not likely be able to improve their place in society. Kermanian recommended that the remaining Jews of Iran leave as soon as possible, in case conditions should change.
Menashri suggested that all Iranian Jews should move to Israel, while Hakakian argued that Iran’s Jews should remain and will flourish under a future regime. Taleh believes that there always will be a Jewish Iran, as long as parents teach their children about Judaism.
— Tom Teicholz, Contributing Writer
American Jews are learned in everything — except Jewish texts
The American Jewish community is one of the most learned and sophisticated communities in Jewish history – in everything except Jewish texts. As Jews, we are illiterate.
This phenomenon has its roots in our history over the last 150 years. During that time, the Jewish people underwent five events, each one of which can be counted as a major upheaval. These are the emergence of the Jews from the ghetto into the modern world, the mass movement of Jews from Europe to the United States, the systematic suppression of religion in the Soviet Union, the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.
These events went far in determining the nature of the Jewish world today and led to the fact that in the United States, we remain comfortable and sophisticated in the Western world and immature in our Jewish knowledge.
The Jewish educational establishment has tried to remedy this problem and, to some extent, has succeeded. The number of day schools certainly has grown. Still, as a community, we remain undertaught and illiterate.
Consequently, when youngsters go off to a university armed with the Jewish education they received in religious schools, or even many of our day schools, they are unable, by and large, to integrate their Jewish knowledge into their much more sophisticated secular knowledge. Even more so, they are unable to have them in equal dialogue with one another.
The basis of good education does not rest on supplying you with facts but on teaching you how to read. In a university, you do not learn science as much as how to function within science or how to read literature or how to write poetry or solve a mathematical problem.
In Jewish texts, by those criteria, we are illiterate. We do not learn how to read Bible but only learn the stories in the Bible. Rabbinic texts that are central in classical Jewish literature remain foreign to most of us. We celebrate holidays, but know nothing of the theology behind them. We pray, sometimes, but know nothing about the theology of the prayer book. Jewish survival relies on loyalty and nostalgia and not on meaning and value.
How can we proceed? I think the first step is an acknowledged awareness of the problem. The American Jewish community does not have literacy as a central focal point. It is spoken about, but the hard truth is not really expressed. I will give a number of examples.
Many years ago, I spoke at an Orthodox congregation on the West Coast. Most of the 200 people there were elderly, and many of them were European-born. I asked them how many of them read Hebrew fluently, and almost all of them raised their hands. I then asked how many understand what they are reading, and almost none raised their hands.
No other group of people would say that they read a language fluently without understanding a word of what they read. Yet this phenomenon continues. We train people to “read the Torah” but not always to understand what they are reading. We train people to “lead” the services but not really to understand the services.
We have Jewish leaders who speak about the importance of Jewish education, but who themselves are not educated or on the path to being educated. We have teachers who are underqualified.
Our expectations are low. If children enjoy going to religious school, that is enough, even though they are learning nothing. We would never tolerate those same criteria for our secular education. Imagine a high school student who loves going to school but cannot read basic texts.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) is one of the educational organizations that is trying to change this. Their recent conference at Duke University was dedicated to the theme of “Jewish Literacy.” This is the necessary beginning.
CAJE must define the question and press the individual schools and teachers to address the problem. At the same time, it must provide them with programs that will bring literacy to their teaching staff.
How can this be done? First, we have to set our goals higher. Teachers must know how to read the text. For example, the Bible has its own style, as do rabbinic and medieval texts. These styles must be taught and mastered. We should be cautious about separating between biblical story and midrash or rabbinical explanation.
We must also understand that the rabbis wrote in a very particular nonlinear style. Information was not given from beginning to end; their style was coded. The prayer book, which they composed, is a master composition, but in order to understand it, you have to know how biblical sections are chosen and put in different contexts and how the rabbis established specific forms of prayer.
The Jewish calendar is a complex theological statement and should be taught as such. Unlike the secular American calendar, all of the holidays are connected one to another.
All of this must be taught in connection to the other, secular education that these students are receiving. They should know the tremendous impact of the Bible on Western civilization and how the concept of history comes from it. They should understand Jewish theology in its many facets.
The impact of science and technology should be taught, along with their limitations. Jewish concepts of death, soul, responsibility and government should be studied.
Most important, by the time they finish high school, they should be able to examine concepts of knowledge and truth, beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden and working through modern theories of logical positivism, existentialism, chaos and theories of complexity. Why not?
I was once speaking to a principal of a community Jewish high school. He said that attracting students was very competitive. He had to assure the parents that their child would get a secular education that would enable them to get into Harvard, Yale or Princeton and, at the same time, would get a Jewish education. I said to him, “Why not tell them that here your child will master two alternative systems of truth, Jewish and Greek, upon which Western civilization was built. They will master both Aristotelian linear knowledge and rabbinic nonlinear knowledge and be all the wiser for it.”
It is not only possible to do both, but for Jews living in the modern world, it is necessary to do both. They will become literate Jews.
Yosef Leibowitz, director and founder of the Yad Yaakov Fund, received ordination from Yeshiva University and a doctorate from UC Berkeley. He served as a rabbi in Berkeley before moving to Israel. Leibowitz was the keynote speaker on the subject of Jewish texts at the recent CAJE conference focusing on Jewish literacy.
GOP pro-Israel campaign is the real deal — why the hysteria?
Sure, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has an agenda.
The RJC wants Jews to become Republicans. So, the RJC buys ads in Jewish newspapers.
Why the unbridled hysteria?
Were the ads pornographic?
For some liberals, free
speech is selective. For them, (Jewish) community standards define the Republican Party as obscene. They don’t want to read what the other side has to say, and they do not want you to read it, either.
To be fair, some Republicans also blindly follow their political party. And I am not one of them. I don’t think the Republican Party is perfect. But on most issues, Republicans are a better fit for me.
For many in either party, party allegiance is based on gut feeling, for others, a multiplicity of issues that can be discussed another time. For now, let’s talk about the most controversial issue RJC confronted — Israel.
The message in the RJC ads sent some Democrats up the wall. Why take it out on the messenger? These angry Democrats had two intellectually defensible alternatives. They could have said that Israel is important to them and, also added: (a) “Other issues are more important to us than Israel,” or (b) “We have an Israel problem in our party, and we’ll work it out within the party.”
But party hacks are loyal to their party, not principle. And major Jewish Democrats, who could rise to the occasion, are in denial.
Let’s not pretend, as Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) does, that the RJC rhetoric somehow challenges a bipartisan coalition for Israel. Congressman Berman is a bright, honest, decent man who knows better. I respect Howard, but his political identity, vested in the Democratic Party, trumps his formidable IQ. It is not that he cannot, but he chooses not to see reality.
Bipartisan coalition? Anti-Semite Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) merely spoke more boldly than many of her African American colleagues in Congress, who are, I am sad to say, anti-Israel populists. The more patrician Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) publicly buys into the Jewish conspiracy line.
Then there is the “Southern gentleman” — then-Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), who on the Senate floor blamed the Iraq War on Jews. I could go on and on (Lois Capps [D-Santa Barbara], Barbara Lee [D-Oakland], Fortney Pete Stark [D-Fremont] and Maxine Waters [D-Los Angeles] to name just a few more members of Congress).
Berman’s Jewish brethren in Congress are disingenuous. For years, if not decades, they have supported cuts in the size and scope of our intelligence community. Soft on defense, they also have consistently opposed U.S. strategic and tactical weapons systems.
Do Jewish Democrats like Sen. Barbara Boxer (California) and Rep. Henry Waxman (Los Angeles) really believe that an intelligence out-to-lunch and militarily weak United States can support an ostracized, isolated Israel? These politicians embarrass me.
Indeed, my friend (and Republican) Michael Medved’s political re-awakening came after he, as a young Democratic aide on Capitol Hill, organized opposition to the Lockheed C-5A as a boondoggle. A few years later (1973), those aircraft transported armaments that literally kept Israel alive during the Yom Kippur War.
Consider the “Democrats for Israel” ad in this newspaper (Sept. 29). It argued that 96 percent of congressional Democrats supported “Israel’s right to defend itself against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.” So did Saudi Arabia. Big deal. Besides, what about the most senior Democrat from Michigan, Israel-bashing Rep. John Dingell, who declared himself neutral between Israel and Hezbollah?
In most states in this country, you’ll have no problem getting a pro-Israel resolution at a Republican state convention. You won’t fare so well at a state convention of Democrats.
Why? For two reasons. Their party’s activists are allied with politically correct groups that are increasingly receptive to the anti-Israel theology. Increasingly, Palestinians are seen as a suffering group that must be supported by victims groups — African Americans, gays, feminists, immigrants.
And the second reason: That Democrat politicians reflect their base. Let’s talk reality. Polling data, as highlighted in the RJC ads, are conclusive (for example, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg). A majority of Republican voters support Israel; a majority of Democrat voters do not.
Since most Jews are Democrats, this would seem counterintuitive, because you would expect them to show up statistically. Until you realize that evangelical Christians who support Israel are disproportionately Republicans. And, conservative Republicans, as a group, generally see Israel as a worthy ally.
In contrast, many rank-and-file Democrats, including what James Carville might call “trailer trash,” buy into the Jewish-Zionist conspiracy. If you still don’t get it, look at Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Mass.) defeat. It wasn’t just Iraq. Look at the anti-Semitic ravings against him on liberal Web sites.
What of the distinguished Democrats? Former President Jimmy Carter has used his stature as a former president to travel the world attacking Israel. Former President Bill Clinton is hardly anti-Israel. But after the first Persian Gulf War, we had arguably the best opportunity for a negotiated peace. Yasser Arafat, discredited and isolated, was at his lowest point. What did Clinton do? He resurrected and legitimized him with an invitation to the White House, and the true moderates for a Mideast peace lost more than a decade.
What happens next month if the Democrats gain control of Congress? Anti-Israel John Conyers (D-Mich.) will chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Anti-Israel Dingell will chair the critical Energy and Commerce Committee. Anti-Israel David Obey (D-Wis.) will chair the key Appropriations Committee. This rogue’s gallery is far from complete.
Politicians pander to Jews on Israel. Does it matter whether Republicans remain in power?
If you still don’t get it, ask someone in Israel.
Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst. He has written graduate texts on politics and media.
Book Review: Tools to fight terror: big dreams, good friends
“Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” by Jeff Goldberg (Knopf, $25).
The full title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s new book, “Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide,” immediately conjures up notions of a Pinteresque power struggle between two people. Yet “Prisoners” is far from the tale of sadomasochism and role reversal of Pinter plays like “The Night Porter” or screenplays like “The Servant.” Goldberg was a military policeman at Ketziot, an Israeli prison, where he and Rafiq, one of the inmates, developed a friendship that never truly revolved around power dynamics. Their relationship began because Goldberg recognized a “stillness” and a shared sense of irony in Rafiq.
Despite the tragedy of the Middle East and the moral dilemmas facing Goldberg as an Israeli soldier at a prison, Goldberg lightens the memoir with that irony and, at times, belly-chortling humor. For instance, in the wake of the massacre of two Israeli reservists, Goldberg describes being held captive by a terrorist cell in Gaza, where he defends his usage of the word “lynching” by saying to his captors, “Well, that was Ramallah…. What do you expect?”
He then writes, “Jokes at the expense of the West Bank usually go over well in Gaza. Not this one, however.”
Goldberg, who will appear in a public conversation with author and essayist Jack Miles on Oct. 18 at the Skirball Cultural Center, finds that, unlike American Jews, Israelis seem to lack a sense of humor.
That is not his only criticism of both Israelis and Palestinians.
After a bus explosion that killed three Jewish children, he says to a follower of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’ founder, that the Sheik’s “preternaturally calm” statement that Israel “was created in defiance of God’s will” is “pathetic.” He also admits to being disillusioned by the kibbutzniks at Mishmar Ha Emek (where I must disclose I met the author many years ago), when they tell him not to clean three feet of coagulated hatchling droppings and blood in the chicken coop. They are saving that job for Arabs.
Goldberg has spent the past 15 years writing primarily about terrorists, yet in an interview from his home in Washington, D.C., where he is a correspondent for The New Yorker, Goldberg dismissed the notion that his work is so dangerous:
“The murder of Danny Pearl is the tragic, horrible exception, not the rule. All terrorists believe they’re doing something good and useful. Most of these groups are happy to explain themselves to people.”
In spite of his obvious courage, Goldberg writes in the book, “I am not brave, in the fuller meaning of the word.”
He says that, as a military policeman, “I should have done more to try to change things I didn’t like,” instead of being a “get-along, go-along kind of guy.”
Yet, more than once, he defied his fellow soldiers, as well as his commanding officer, whom he remembers as one of the dumbest Jews he ever met, by allowing the prisoners to shower in the kitchen and by restraining a guard from beating a helpless inmate.
Goldberg recently won the Anti-Defamation League’s Daniel Pearl Award and goes so far as to suggest that being Jewish has benefited him in his dealings with terrorists.
“I’ve always found it to my advantage. I use my Jewishness as a tool.”
He adds, “There’s an attraction-repulsion quality to these encounters.
Anti-Semites spend most of their time thinking about Jews; they spend more time thinking about Jews than Jews do.”
Goldberg’s interest in Zionism may have been sparked as a boy in the Long Island town of Malverne, where he was subjected to games of “Jew Penny.” Catholic boys, primarily Irish ones, would throw pennies at him and force him to pick them up.
If he didn’t stoop to retrieve the coins, they would throw nickels and dimes at him. Either way, he would be beaten. Goldberg felt that fighting wasn’t in his wiring, and he never actually defended himself until an African American friend told him to hit one Irish boy back. Even though his tormentor left him alone afterward, the wounds remained.
In “Prisoners,” he characterizes his upbringing this way: “I didn’t like the dog’s life of the Diaspora. We were a whipped and boneless people.”
By the end of the book, though, Goldberg, who immigrated to Israel in the late 1980s, has returned to America, a country he praises.
“If America had not taken in my ancestors three generations ago, we wouldn’t exist,” he says, pointing out, “Nothing makes you more patriotic as an American than spending three weeks in Pakistan. America with all its flaws is still a wonderful idea.”
Likewise, he found that though Israel may not be a utopia, its prisons, which he says “were not nice places, especially in the first uprising,” are far more humane than those in the rest of the world. At a time when prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been tortured and denied habeas corpus, Goldberg argues that the prisons in the West Bank and Gaza “became worse for Palestinians when Palestinians were running them than when the Israelis were running them.”
He states without hesitation that the “baroque cruelty” and “sexually charged sadism” of Abu Ghraib did not and could not happen in Israeli prisons.
While Goldberg works on a book on Judah Maccabee for Schocken and Nextbook’s “Jewish Encounters” series, he remains hopeful about the Middle East. He bookends “Prisoners” with references to the story of Isaac and Ishmael, both sons of Abraham, who join hands in burying their father. As Goldberg writes, “This might be the single-most hopeful image in all the Bible, a palliative against the despair that has seeped into all of us.”
Jeffrey Goldberg will appear in a conversation with Jack Miles at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, on Wed., Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call (866) 468-3399.
Holy Moses — The Getty’s latest collection puts a Christian perspective on the leader, lawgiver and
A few years ago I was leading a group of American Jews on a tour of sites in Eastern Europe. Convinced that the narrative and psychological history of Poland cannot be understood without a visit to Jasna Gora, the great pilgrimage church in Czestochowa, and a view of its devotional painting, the so-called Black Madonna (believed to have been painted by St. Luke), I brought the tour group there en route to Auschwitz. To my disappointment, many in the group were puzzled, some even amused, at the crowds of people intensely venerating the small painting.
“Jews don’t do that sort of thing,” they said. When I asked how many of them had placed a small slip of paper in the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, they assured me “That’s different!” and rejected my argument that we have our own kinds of object veneration, best exemplified in the ceremonial kissing of the Torah as it is carried around the synagogue.
The Getty Center’s upcoming exhibition “Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai” (Nov. 14-March 4) provides a great opportunity to ponder these religious confluences, while also coming almost face-to-face with some of the earliest, and most beautiful, images in Christian art. Mount Sinai resonates for Jews as the place where Moses received the Law from God. The wilderness of Sinai is the place where the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. The images come to the Getty from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of the rugged mountain, which is said to where Moses communicated with the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-5). But viewers might be surprised to see that the Moses images in some of these extraordinary works aren’t the ones we’re accustomed to seeing.
The exhibition includes images from both the “New” and “Old Testament,” but it is the link between the former and the site from which they emanate that may be most interesting to the Jewish community. It’s a major accomplishment for the J. Paul Getty Museum to have persuaded the religious powers in charge to lend treasures from this venerable, yet almost inaccessible, site; but it’s also a coup for Angelenos, since the exhibition will not be seen elsewhere, and few of us are likely to have the opportunity to visit the monastery itself.
But this is more than an opportunity to ogle rare treasures. Indeed, they come to us with a visual tradition of their own, and need to be understood within that tradition. Byzantine art, with its vast time span, from the fifth century almost to the modern era, is generally characterized by stylized frontal figures and a rich use of color, especially gold. It doesn’t look like the more naturalistic art we have come to know since the Renaissance, although visitors will recognize in these icons the underpinnings of much early Italian panel painting. Initially, the somber narrative images may look static, but they merit careful attention to uncover the magic of delicately doleful faces, almost every one with a unique personality, sharing in a piety to which we can only aspire.
As devotional objects, the icons are eloquent, and it’s probably worthwhile imagining the pious monk communicating with these images on a daily basis. They must surely have become personal devotional friends, assistants on the route toward salvation. Seen as mantras for meditation exercises, these icons have a universal quality that goes far beyond the specificity of a given saint or religious narrative.
While the Getty exhibition centers on approximately 43 rare icons, from the sixth to the 17th centuries, the exhibition will also attempt to explicate their context in the isolated monastery whose construction was ordered by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century (he’s the one who built the famous, and beautifully ornate, Byzantine church, Hagia Sofia in what is now Istanbul).
Yale professor Robert S. Nelson led a team of curators who obviously became as transfixed by the place as by the works they were borrowing, attempting to present in the exhibition design a sense of the environment in which Saint Catherine’s sits. For those who want to contemplate the difficulties of land and climate endured by the wandering Israelites, that aspect of this exhibition should be an added incentive to visit the Getty.
Yet the concept of a 1,400-year-old monastery as a Christian pilgrimage site that is so intimately tied to Jewish history would likely be a seductive subject, even without the inspirational art. The show will explicate the role of icons in Christian liturgy, which ought to intrigue both Christians and non-Christians. As professor Thomas Matthews writes in the splendid catalog, the icons “bring us face to face with the deep debt of Christian religion to its pagan antecedents … [and] challenge our understanding of the underlying religious phenomena.”
That will surely be evident to Jewish viewers, as well, for the affinity of so many of our own rituals.
Given the Sinai origins of this exhibition, you won’t be surprised to find a number of images of Moses: Removing his sandals in front of the Burning Bush, receiving the Law and even standing beside the Virgin and Child. You won’t encounter the Moses we’ve seen in later Western art, who’s also the venerable law-giver we know from Jewish ceremonial objects — all of which have their origins in Christian art. Here Moses is a young man, generally beardless, almost diffident, in awe of his God, rather than awesome to his People. This might be a reflection of the monks’ considering Moses as a role model in their lives of meditation and prayer — a Moses striving for, rather than automatically imbued with, sanctity; he is the law-receiver, rather than the law-giver. Among the small number of non-icon artifacts in the exhibition is a sixth century cross incised with scenes from the life of Moses.
Remarkably, these icons were first published only in the 1950s, so this rare public display promises to expand our understanding of an important chapter of art history, especially in regard to European panel painting for which these paintings are important antecedents. The earliest ones have also provided new insights into the cult of icons and the religious sensibilities underlying this major aspect of Christian worship, as well as its debt to earlier pagan sources.
Finding Deeper Truths in Fiction — the Best About Israel
In recent weeks, many of us “Diaspora Jews” kept ourselves neck-deep in news from the Middle East: jumping out of bed to check the front page, keeping the television on all night, refreshing Web sites for the latest headlines. Of course, our routine paled in comparison to many Israelis, who were dashing into bomb shelters, being forced from their homes, arranging funerals. Still, it was a change, part of our anxiety-propelled, bottomless need for information.
But information does not necessarily breed understanding. This is especially true for us who are here and not there, and the distance is a complicating factor. Even those who have planted themselves firmly on one side or another of the political spectrum have been struck by new, different, often uncomfortable thoughts. (“How can I accept the killing of innocent Lebanese civilians, even by Israel?” one asks, while another wonders whether he should up the ante of his support by joining the Israeli army.) Behind these questions is the desire to get a better hold on the exact contours of one’s individual relationship to the State of Israel — not necessarily by figuring out one’s politics as much as by plumbing one’s emotional connection.
The answers to these questions cannot be found on CNN (thankfully). For this, we might be more successfully aided by fiction. One should read Israeli writers, of course — Agnon, Amichai, A.B. Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld, Orly Castel-Bloom, Etgar Keret. But the more appropriate template may come from fellow Americans, writers who, by exploring the Diaspora Jew’s relationship to Israel, have gone down this road before.
One of the best of these books is “The Counterlife,” Philip Roth’s 1986 masterpiece. Less a linear tale than five riffs revolving around the same set of characters, the book acts as a kind of narrative kaleidoscope on Jewish identity; with each slight shift of perspective, a whole new picture emerges (think “Sliding Doors,” but smarter). The structure is designed to put the author’s famed alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, face to face with characters who challenge his identity as a Jew — vis-?-vis signature Roth topics (sex, family, psychoanalysis, sex, assimilation, sex) as well as broader ones: the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and, most evocatively here, Israel. Nathan’s good, moderate, American values are challenged — from his resistance to religious ritual and distaste for the political right (“We do not wish to crush the Arab,” a settler leader explains, “we simply will not allow him to crush us”), to his subtle romanticization of Israeli life.
“Whenever I meet you American-Jewish intellectuals,” says his friend Shuki, a wearied Israeli journalist, “with your non-Jewish wives and your good Jewish brains, well-bred, smooth, soft-spoken men, educated men who know how to order in a good restaurant, and to appreciate a good wine, and to listen courteously to another point of view, I think exactly that: We are the excitable, ghettoized, jittery little Jews of the Diaspora, and you are the Jews with all the confidence and cultivation that comes of feeling at home where you are.”
The book is not exclusively about Israel, but those were the sections that moved me. And they are what I’ve found myself rereading over the past weeks.
“The Counterlife” is only one of many, many books about Israel by Americans — from “Yehuda” (1931) by Meyer Levin to “Exodus” (1958) by Leon Uris to “Light Years” (2005) by Tamar Stein (see sidebar). Perhaps it is this kind of reading that can begin to provoke understanding of the conflict a continent away. l
To push fiction as a complement to the newspaper, the television and the Internet in our quest for information and understanding about Israel, we asked readers to help us create a list of the best novels and short stories about Israel written by Diaspora authors:
- “Yehuda” by Meyer Levin: Based on the author’s own experiences, this book is the first known novel depicting life set on a kibbutz in then-Palestine of 1931 (1931).
- “Exodus” by Leon Uris: A detailed account of the transition from the ill-treatment of Jews in Europe to the founding of Israel sets up a fictional background for political arguments on issues of the 19th and 20th centuries (1958).
- “A Weave of Women” by E.M. Broner: A group of very different women band together to save a shelter for wayward Jewish girls (and learn a lesson or two in politics, when they change its official name to “Home for Jewish Future Homemakers”). “Life’s contradictions live throughout this novel,” wrote one reviewer (1978).
- “Preparing for Sabbath” by Nessa Rapoport: A young woman’s spiritual quest, set in Jerusalem (1981).
- “The Hope” by Herman Wouk: An epic novel about Israel’s fight for statehood. The author delves into the personal lives of the dramatis personae, including Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Anwar Sadat (1993).
- “Operation Shylock: A Confession” by Philip Roth: An impostor, calling himself “Philip Roth,” causes a furor in Israel by advocating “Diasporism,” the polar opposite of Zionism, encouraging Israelis to return to Eastern Europe (1993).
- “The Jewish War” by Tova Reich: A radically religious, polygamous man, Jerry Goldberg transforms from a mere social worker in the Bronx to a terrorist leader of a group of American Jews in Israel who secede a portion of the West Bank to form their own nation in this satire (1995).
- “From a Sealed Room” by Rachel Kadish: The lives of a young woman from New York, a Holocaust survivor and an Israeli housewife intersect (1998).
- “Damascus Gate” by Robert Stone: A journalist in Jerusalem, reared both Jewish and Christian, feels devoid of a true sense of identity, despite the fact that he is surrounded by some of the most devoutly religious peoples in the world. “The characters in ‘Damascus Gate’ may be ‘God-struck,'” wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, “they may dream insistently of a better world, but like so many Stone characters, they end up captives of history and their own very human illusions” (1998).
- “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” by Nathan Englander: “A debut collection of nine stories that explore the condition of being Jewish with an often hallucinatory, epigrammatic eloquence that is, as advertised, reminiscent of the fiction of Isaac Singer, Saul Bellow, and especially Bernard Malamud,” noted Kirkus (1999).
- “The Family Orchard” by Eve Nomi: Spanning six generations, this epic follows the lives of one family grounded in Jerusalem (2000).
- “House of Guilt” by Robert Rosenberg: Police detective Avram Cohen goes on a hunt to find a tycoon’s wayward son, with his search leading him right into the heart of the West Bank (2000).
- “Strange Fire” by Melvin Bukiet: A dark comedy about a speechwriter for the Israeli prime minister (2001).
- “Crimes of the City” by Robert Rosenberg: Police detective Avram Cohen must track down the killer of two nuns in Jerusalem while contending with a host of religious and political tensions (2001).
- “The Ascent of Eli Israel” by Jon Papernick: In seven modern-day stories, the scene is established in Israel, and the plots are mostly driven to underscore hypocrisy, touching on cultural tensions and war (2002).
- “Quiet Street” by Zelda Popkin and Jeremy A. Popkin: A woman living in the suburbs of Jerusalem must come to terms with reality as she watches her 18-year-old daughter take on the role of soldier instead of farmer (2002).
- “Seven Blessings” by Ruchama King: Set in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem. King has been described by writer Wendy Shalit as “a writer who writes about a devout lifestyle that she actually lives” (2003).
- “The Dialogues of Time and Entropy” by Aryeh Lev Stollman: “An expert weaver, Stollman brings together themes of religion, science, and love into an emotional whole,” noted Kirkus (2003).
- “Welcome to Heavenly Heights” by Risa Miller: A cohort of Jews from the United States ventures to the West Bank to build a new community, but their settlement becomes a primary target of violence (2003).
- “The Butcher’s Theater” by Jonathan Kellerman: A chief inspector of police who is also a Yemenite Jew begins work on a case involving the death of an Arab woman. After a second killing occurs, the inspector bears witness as Jewish-Arab conflicts ensue (2003).
- “Ten Thousand Lovers” by Edeet Ravel: A novel, set in the 1970s, about the relationship between a Canadian émigré and an army interrogator. “The tragedy here is both anticipated and inevitable,” said Booklist, “but the textured personal story rises above its political context like a melody soaring beyond the steady rhythm pulsing below it” (2003).
- “An Hour in Paradise” by Joan Leegant: This collection of 10 short stories covers a breadth of characters — from the secular to Orthodox, young to old — through whom Leegant poses questions about faith, love and change (2003).
- “The Place Will Comfort You” by Naama Goldstein: In this collection of short stories, American Jews make aliyah and Israelis immigrate to America (2004).
- “Faith for Beginners” by Aaron Hamburger: An American Jewish family teeters on the edge of collapse. In a last resort, they travel to Israel on a package tour with a mission to reinvigorate their spirituality (2005).
- “The Task of This Translator” by Todd Hasak-Lowy: According to Publisher’s Weekly, “Hasak-Lowy artfully reveals layers of personal and national identity,” including one story about an Israeli ex-journalist working in the cafe at Yad Vashem who clashes with an American businessman over a stale pastry (2005).
- “The Covenant” by Naomi Ragen: Set in 2002, a pregnant Israeli woman, her husband and their child are abducted by Hamas (2004).
- “Light Years” by Tammar Stein: A 20-year-old woman leaves Israel for college in the United States after her boyfriend is killed by a suicide bomber in a Tel Aviv restaurant (2005).
— Compiled by Elisha Sauers
Article reprinted courtesy The Forward
The Lichtenstein Formula for a Jewish Paper
“The role of a Jewish newspaper is to connect the Jewish community, not to unify it,” said Gene Lichtenstein, founding editor of The Journal.
During his nearly 15-year tenure, which ended in 2000, Lichtenstein’s formula was to hire good, independent writers and columnists who could produce articles that raised the interest, and frequently the hackles, of both professional and peripheral Jews.
“I wanted stories that people would discuss and argue about the following day,” Lichtenstein said during a lengthy interview at his home near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
This concept doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, but it went counter to the tradition of most American Jewish weeklies in decades past.
The purpose of those publications was precisely to unify their communities in material and moral support of their federations, which usually financed the papers, and other Jewish and Israeli causes. A basic rule was to avoid criticism and controversy.
In that sense, Lichtenstein was an odd, even risky, choice as editor, and his selection split the then Jewish Federation Council, he recalls.
When Lichtenstein visited Los Angeles in 1985 to court his future wife, Jocelyn, the city’s Jews had the unusual choice of three competing weeklies.
They were the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger, the maverick Heritage, both independently owned, and the Jewish Community Bulletin, the official Federation organ.
Much of The Federation’s leadership was dissatisfied with the coverage of all three papers and decided to explore a new format with a new editor to replace its own Bulletin.
At this point, Lichtenstein remembers, he was contacted by Ethel Narvid, a key player in Democratic and city politics, on behalf of a Federation committee appointed to find a new editor to shape a new paper.
Lichtenstein, the grandson of Russian immigrants, had a resume combining experience as psychologist, journalist and academic.
He had worked for The New York Times, Fortune, London Economist and as literary editor at Esquire, where his contributors included the likes of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.
On the academic side, he had served as chairman of the journalism department at the University of Rhode Island and taught courses in mass communications at USC and UC Berkeley.
Perhaps equally important for the position at hand, he had started a newspaper in the Boston area, the Jewish Journal of the Northshore.
As he recalls it, in his first interview with The Federation committee, chaired by attorney Richard Volpert, Lichtenstein outlined his concept for the new paper.
“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”
In addition, he would insist on good writing, and the contributions of columnists would be central to the paper.
After that presentation, Lichtenstein thought that his chances of getting the job were pretty slim, and he and Jocelyn went on a vacation trip to London.
To his surprise, “I got a midnight call from Volpert and he offered me the editorship,” Lichtenstein said.
Shortly afterward, Narvid gave a lunch at her home for some old friends, including Los Angeles Times labor editor Harry Bernstein and this reporter, to introduce Lichtenstein.
“Harry told me that I was kidding myself if I thought The Federation would let me put out an independent paper, and you backed him up,” Lichtenstein reminded me.
Despite the prediction, The Federation committee and larger Federation board of directors agreed, in the face of considerable internal opposition, to establish an independent Journal, to advance a $660,000 loan for its operation, and to pay a subsidy to mail the paper to each of its 52,000 donors.
There had been two other finalists for the editor’s job, Yehuda Lev, an outspoken, liberal journalist, and Marlene Adler Marks, a talented writer active in politics and feminist issues.
Lev and Marks were the first editor/reporters hired, soon joined by such early staffers as Tom Waldman, Sheldon Teitelbaum, Joe Domanick and Naomi Pfefferman.
The first slim issue of The Jewish Journal appeared on Feb. 28, 1986, with Volpert, whom the often-critical Lichtenstein praised for “a real standout job,” as the first publisher.
Early issues won kudos for lively writing, outraged criticism by some Federation leaders and Jewish organizations, and a weak response from advertisers.
Within one year, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded that in the future they approve all major stories and editorials. Lichtenstein refused and, in a committee vote, carried the day by a narrow margin.
However, there was enough dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of The Journal that The Federation invited Charles Buerger, publisher of six successful East Coast Jewish papers, to buy out The Journal.
Buerger made a “low- ball” offer, then raised the stakes, but “to my astonishment,” The Federation decided not to sell, Lichtenstein said.
Nevertheless, by June 1987, the paper had run through the $660,000 lent by The Federation and faced an early demise.
At his point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osiah Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, putting up their own money to repay the loan. The Journal lived to fight another day.
Brennglass took over as publisher for the next 11 years, the paper established a solid reputation and actually started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, became publisher in 1997.
However, by the year 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor-in-chief led to a parting point. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman.
Looking back on his 15-year tenure, Lichtenstein said he had “a wonderful time,” which included reporting trips to Israel, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.
“I think we put out a pretty good paper, though not as good as it could have been,” he reminisced. Part of the problem was a running conflict between himself and Federation leaders, which, he acknowledged, were partly his fault.
“I was really always an outsider, with one foot in the community, and one foot outside,” he said. In addition, “I believe that a Jewish weekly belongs to the editor and staff, and it is the editor’s job to make the staff realize that the paper belongs to them.
“That is hard for some organizational leaders to accept,” Lichtenstein added in an understatement.
His major contributions, Lichtenstein said, were to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists and insist, at all times, on good writing.
True to his initial inspiration, “I tried to put out a paper that was part of America and the world,” he said.
“I’ve met some Jews, very wealthy and powerful Jews, who embrace Jewish victimhood, who told me that you can never trust a gentile,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t champion that. I believe that the walls we build around ourselves are only in our minds.”
The “victim” mindset is encouraged by many Jewish organizations, Lichtenstein said, “which wave the flag of anti-Semitism to keep their members loyal and to raise funds.”
For Lichtenstein, there is a busy life after journalism. While he still writes, he has returned to his first profession as psychologist and is the director of mental health and social services for 26 clinics of the Aegis Institute, which specializes in the treatment of opiate addicts.
In addition, he has established a private practice, which includes family and marriage counseling.
He draws a distinction between core committed Jews, who go to synagogue and contribute to Jewish causes, and the “integrated” Jew on the periphery of the organized community.
“It is not the job of the American Jewish press to ‘convert’ the integrated Jew,” he said. “Our job is to open a dialogue with him.”
Wanted: A General in the Obesity War
Obesity is the fastest growing health threat in this country, currently on track to overtake tobacco as No. 1.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 percent of American adults older than 20 (more than 60 million people) are obese. The percentage of youths ages 6-19 who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980 to more than 9 million.
The lifetime risk of Type II diabetes is headed toward 30 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls, putting these kids at greatly elevated risks for debilitating health problems, like kidney and heart disease, amputation and blindness.
Locally, more than half the adults in Los Angeles are either overweight or obese, while 21 percent of the children are overweight, with an additional 19 percent at risk of becoming overweight.
And while Jews are far from immune, obesity is not an equal opportunity affliction — African American and Latino communities have obesity rates triple that of whites, and poorer Americans are almost 50 percent more likely to be obese than wealthier Americans.
The seriousness of the problem has begun to attract considerable attention both inside the public health community and beyond. Our state and local governments have been active in responding to this epidemic — from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Obesity Task Force and his tireless cheerleading for more physical activity to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) healthy beverage initiative, which notably brings healthier food and drinks to schools without diminishing snack revenues.
The nonprofit sector has also mobilized through a variety of projects that empower kids to lose weight by making smart diet and lifestyle choices, and through innovative organizations like Students Run L.A., where young Angelenos train for the L.A. marathon. Forward-thinking foundations have pitched in some of their considerable resources to fight obesity.
Meanwhile research/advocacy organizations like the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College have expanded their missions to address obesity, noting that many of the same families at risk for hunger are also at the greatest risk for obesity.
So why the need for another alarmist editorial when we already find some of our best and brightest organizations fighting obesity? The answer lies in the dual nature of the epidemic.
At one level, obesity is an extraordinarily uncomplicated problem. According to Dr. Francine Kaufmann, head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, obesity is on the rise because we simply take in more calories in food then we expend in energy. Yet finding a correspondingly simple solution has proved maddeningly difficult.
Reversing the tide requires taking on, in a coordinated manner, the variety of factors responsible for the epidemic, from unhealthy diets, insufficient exercise, reliance on automobiles, inadequate nutrition education, excessive junk food, scarcity of fresh produce to many other complicated, interrelated causes related to the way we now live. And while many of these causes are being addressed individually, success in fighting this disease requires a strategy that coordinates the present multiplicity of approaches.
To introduce this higher level of strategizing, we are proposing the creation of a joint county, city (and, if possible, LAUSD) obesity coordinator. The office would be modeled on the city’s AIDS coordinator’s office created by Mayor Tom Bradley, but would include the county to take advantage of its public health and health care resources and the LAUSD as one of the country’s largest educational institutions, while also leveraging the bully pulpit available to the mayor.
Following the successful AIDS coordinator model, the obesity coordinator would have various responsibilities:
• Education/Public Health. The coordinator would create an education campaign, leveraging the city and county media infrastructure, as well as the school system and a prevention program targeted at encouraging healthier food and lifestyle choices.
• Policy/Coordination. The obesity coordinator would spearhead the development of county-citywide obesity policies to ensure that governmental and nongovernmental responses to obesity are adequately coordinated.
• Analysis. The coordinator would analyze the efficacy of existing programs and facilitate long-term studies of the current approaches to identify and consolidate around the most successful ones.
• Programs. Following on the pioneering work of the food policy organization, California Food Policy Advocates, we would encourage the obesity coordinator to explore creative solutions, including programs to introduce green grocers into neighborhoods that currently lack access to quality fresh produce. These programs would require minimal capital (possibly leveraging new markets tax credits and other innovative financing sources) to help create and capitalize local businesses that sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
We believe that the Jewish community has a role to play in the campaign to appoint an obesity coordinator and to win the battle against obesity. Generating the political will to create an empowered obesity coordinator will require pressure from many communities, including our own.
In addition, many existing institutions can participate in this fight, from Koreh L.A., The Jewish Federation’s reading in public schools program that could incorporate obesity education curriculum, or Mazon, the anti-hunger effort, which could expand its mission to confront the obesity epidemic through its network of food banks.
Ultimately, this is a complicated and long-term problem that will require the kind of effort deployed against AIDS and smoking.
The appointment of an obesity coordinator would enable more effective cooperation and strategic management of our resources and hasten the day when we turn around this burgeoning affliction.
Brian Albert and Tanya Bowers are members of the New Leaders Project, which was founded in Los Angeles in 1990 and links Jewish values with a commitment to civic activism.
This op-ed piece is the first of three by members of
the New Leaders Project (NLP), a Jewish civic leadership training program of the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee. Participants researched three pressing issues — education,
housing and health — and presented their proposed solutions to a panel of community experts.
For Whom Poll Tolls
The Gallup Poll recently released its newest data on Jewish political attitudes, and it holds bad news for George W. Bush and for Republicans searching for Jewish votes. Based on polling from 1992 through May 2004 (of admittedly small, rolling samples of Jewish voters), the Gallup organization found great stability in Jewish identification with the Democratic Party and a significant decline in Jewish approval for Bush. Jews continue to differ dramatically from Protestants and Catholics on these measures.
From 1992 through the present, a remarkably consistent 50 percent of Jewish voters have called themselves Democrats, roughly one-third independents and 16-18 percent Republicans. When "leanings" are analyzed, however, the picture gets even more strongly Democratic. In the most recent surveys, conducted between 2002 and 2004, 68 percent of Jewish voters lean Democratic, and only 28 percent Republican. By contrast, 51 percent of Protestants lean Republican and only 43 percent Democratic. (Presumably, the difference between Jews and non-Jews would be even greater if African Americans, the majority of whom are Protestants, are taken out of the equation and the comparison is made with white Protestants.)
The Gallup Poll found low approval ratings for the Bush presidency among Jews in the latest surveys; only 39 percent of Jews approved, compared to 63 percent of Protestants. And Bush’s approval rating has dropped farther among Jews over the last several years than among other religious groups, a 17 point free-fall from an earlier 56 percent rating.
Based on this data, Gallup staff writer Joseph Carroll concluded that "Bush will be hard-pressed to win the votes of Jewish Americans." What happened to the high hopes of Republicans that this was finally their year to win over the Jews? Early polls had shown a significant bloc of Jewish voters considering voting Republican in 2004.
Bush has pursued an unprecedented and risky plan for winning Jewish votes. He has thumbed his nose at every issue that has ever counted for the majority of Jewish voters: choice on abortion; fairness in economics; standing up to the religious right; respecting the viewpoints of Democrats and moderates in the formation of public policy; respect for international alliances.
He has given Jewish voters one thing, and one thing only: absolute support of Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. That is no small thing, and it has certainly won some goodwill and trust among many Jewish voters; unconditional love is hard to turn down. But Bush’s plan presumes that Jews will trade everything that has characterized the American Jewish political ethic going back to the eras of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt for a single-minded Middle East approach devoid of nuance or long-term thinking.
It also assumes that the Democrats will nominate a national ticket that abandons Israel. With John Kerry as the presidential candidate, and any of the short list of vice presidential candidates currently being considered, the Democrats are likely to select strongly pro-Israel candidates with significant foreign policy experience who are in close accord with Jewish voters on other issues.
Had the Iraq war gone as advertised, many Jewish voters might have felt that Bush’s unilateralist vision of the Middle East would make Israel safer: perhaps, as the Bush folks promised, "the road to Jerusalem passes through Baghdad." But instead, Bush has bequeathed a quagmire, strengthened the regional hand of Iran, another foe of Israel (possibly even allowing Iran to obtain critical American military secrets), and endangered the political position of Israel by linking it to an increasingly unpopular war and by weakening and diluting the American political, fiscal, diplomatic and military strengths that have been pillars of Israel’s security.
Bush will probably lose badly among Jews, therefore, for the same reasons that he is in trouble across the board, and his narrowcast pro-Israel position will not solve the problem.
So will Republicans, ever vigilant for Jewish votes, learn the obvious lesson? The key to winning Jewish support lies not in changing Jews, but in changing the national Republican Party. The right wing’s semi-biblical attachment to Israel and to little else about Jews is a dead end. We would never want America to buy world popularity at Israel’s expense. But an isolated, even hated, America is less able to exert its influence on Israel’s behalf.
The case of Ronald Reagan, however, gives one pause. Here was a Republican right -winger, who by this analysis should have completely alienated Jewish voters. While Reagan never won a majority of Jewish votes, his pro-Israel stance did make it respectable to be a Jewish Republican. Democrats, wandering in the foreign policy wilderness during the Reagan years, seemed insufficiently strong and determined in world affairs.
But as we can see in the increasingly intense battle between Reaganites and the Bush administration about who owns the Reagan legacy, Reagan’s assertiveness in foreign policy lacked the unilateral and interventionist zeal of the Bush group. Reagan, who was tough in rhetoric but inclined to avoid risky military conflicts, would have been unlikely to undertake and pursue the misguided and incompetent Iraq adventure. Even though many foreign leaders were initially alienated from Reagan, by the time he ran for re-election in 1984, he was seen as less dangerous overseas than he had been at first. One senses an impending world celebration, by contrast, if Bush is defeated.
Other than unusual characters like Reagan, who could mix conservative ideology with an appealing persona, the people who hold the key to Jewish support are precisely the Republican moderates so reviled by conservatives. History shows that numerous moderate Republicans have won substantial Jewish support. Republican politicians who have won Jewish votes have never sought to turn Jews into conservative Republicans. While Reagan was an aggressive Republican partisan, he was largely content to turn lifelong Democrats into temporary "Reagan Democrats," a strategy that avoided the traumas of seeking partisan conversion.
To see an example, one needn’t go any farther than Sacramento, where Republican Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger is following a path likely to win many Jewish voters over. Schwartzenegger is socially liberal, listens to the views of Democrats and moderate Republicans, and shows at least some interest in the human impact of cutbacks in state budgets. And he visits and supports Israel. As a result, the prospects for California’s Republicans to win significant Jewish support (even without a partisan conversion) have suddenly gone from hopeless to hopeful. At the national level, by contrast, it will take an extreme makeover by Republicans and a suicidal wrong turn by Democrats to turn the tide of Jewish voters in 2004.
Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University Fullerton, is the author of “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (Princeton U. Press, 1993).
Do We Have Anything Left to Give?
Do the Jews have anything left to give to America?
This question was on my mind recently, after I was on a panel at Brandeis-Bardin Institute to discuss the Jewish influence on American culture. The popular view on this subject is invariably, "Just look at all the Jews who run Hollywood and the media; look at the humor, the attitude, the Yiddish terms, etc. Jews are everywhere."
This is true, but when you start to look beneath the surface, you see a more complicated picture, one that suggests the waning influence of Judaism and the need to re-examine the Jews’ role in America as we begin the 21st century.
Culture is easy to steal. What was clearly "Jewish" at the turn of the century is now just as likely to be called American. Of course, America didn’t just steal it, we gave it away, with the gusto of a grateful people desperate to fit in.
And who can blame us? After 2,000 years of getting beat up everywhere we went, we discover this all-you-can-eat freedom buffet called America, and what do we do? We eat, and we cook and we have lots of people over.
Culture was the perfect Jewish thank-you gift to America. Movies, music, humor and literature are entertaining, relatively harmless and easily appreciated. They’re also easy to co-opt. That’s why the Gershwins, Bellows, Berles, Spielbergs and Streisands are at least as American as they are Jewish.
That’s not to say culture was all we gave; we’re not that homogeneous or disciplined. For every Woody Allen directing a film, there was an Abbie Hoffman directing a civil rights march.
But in the explosive areas of morality and politics, there was always a collective care in the Jewish community not to offend our gracious hosts. We may have planted the seeds of Jewish morality, but in the field of culture, we grew a forest.
This 100-year cultural love fest between the Jews and America has been a source of rightful pride, but it has left us with a nagging question that many Jews have difficulty answering: Do we have anything "Jewish" left to give?
We have trouble answering this question, because we’ve developed an instinct to equate everything Jewish with everything American. In other words, if our cultures are now so intertwined, then everything else — including our values — must be as well.
The American values of freedom, tolerance and diversity? They’re Jewish. The Jewish values of freedom, tolerance and diversity? They’re American.
It’s a simple, convenient formula that lets us feel Jewish and American without offending either side (even in our activism to defend Israel against terrorism, we never miss the chance to equate it with America’s war).
But there is a catch. In our zeal to equate America and Judaism, we have lost sight of some important differences. If we can learn how to internalize and share these differences without feeling like disloyal or ungrateful Americans, we will deepen both our Jewish identities and our contribution to our adopted country.
There are three areas where Judaism differs with America. As the historian Stephen Whitfield explains in his book, "In Search of American Jewish Culture" (University Press, 1999), America focuses on the individual, the here and now and the pursuit of pleasure, while Judaism focuses on the community, the past and the pursuit of meaning. In a nutshell, America is about freedom, while Judaism is more about what to do with that freedom.
Judaism respects the individual, but it places a higher value on connecting the individual to the community. Judaism is active in the present, but it elevates the lessons of history, the beauty of tradition and the power of considered thought (read one paragraph of Talmud and you’ll see that Judaism does not promote a short attention span). And while Judaism certainly doesn’t shy away from pleasure, it puts a higher priority on the value of leading a meaningful life.
In a litigious society that reveres the legal loophole, Judaism goes beyond the letter of the law to its spirit. It’s not enough to be right, we must also be good. Our Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) picks up where the U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights leave off. Judaism is not obsessed with rights; it’s obsessed with obligations.
All this to say that yes, Judaism still has plenty to share with America. The good news is that America is ready to hear the Jewish message — we live in an open, multicultural, emotional country that doesn’t mind being moved and challenged. And after being such wonderful guests for so long, we’ve certainly earned the right to make a bolder contribution.
The not-so-good news is that Jews have become so American that all we’re giving back to America, it seems, is more of itself. This is a shame.
If more Jews had the chutzpah to assert and live up to our differences, we might add an exciting new dynamic to our relationship with America (and isn’t asserting one’s difference part of the American way?). Ironically, the Jews and America are now in the same boat: We both could use a little more Judaism.
For our Jewish leaders worried about "Jewish continuity" and "Jewish pride," they ought to educate and encourage Jews to become the unapologetic messengers of Judaism and its distinctive values. Instead of spending $6 million to count the Jews, they could spend that money to make Jews count.
And they ought to realize that a Jewish identity shaped by a negative, crisis mindset — against assimilation, against intermarriage, against anti-Semitism — is not as nourishing and lasting as one driven by the empowering questions: What values am I for and what values can I share?
In the 20th century, we were geniuses at sharing the value of our culture. In the 21st century, we can be geniuses at sharing the culture of our values. That would be good for America, and it certainly would be good for the Jews.
David Suissa is founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising and founder/editor of OLAM magazine. He can be reached at editor@OLAM.org.
Where Have All the Jews Gone?
It was one of those moments that capture a nation’s interest. The Powerball Lottery reached $314.9 million and one person, Andrew J. Whittaker from Hurricane, W.Va., was the lucky winner. As the media descended upon him and his wife, Jewell, asking them about everything under the sun, one question caught my attention. Jewell was asked what she wanted do with her newfound wealth. Without hesitation she responded, "I want to visit the Holy Land and walk the streets where Jesus walked."
Fascinating. She didn’t mention any concern about traveling to Israel during these trying times; rather, she simply expressed her strong desire to fulfill this lifelong dream.
Recently, a friend told me that his brother and sister-in-law flew from Newark, N.J., to Israel. The plane was filled with Christian church groups traveling on a Holy Land pilgrimage. When his sister-in-law got up to walk in the aisles, a fellow passenger stopped and inquired, "And what church are you from?"
When she said that she was Jewish, the lady remarked, "I think you are the only Jew on this flight."
Where have all the Jews gone? Not to Israel.
Take a look at the ads for luxury Passover destinations in any of the Anglo Jewish papers. You will find ads for Palm Springs, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Miami, Orlando, Hawaii, San Juan, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Aruba, Barcelona, Budapest, Cannes, Italy and the Swiss Alps. Where have all the Jews gone? Not to Israel. That has to change; we have to demonstrate that American Jews belong in Israel this Passover.
On Monday, Dec. 23, 2002, the West Coast Union of Orthodox Congregations and the Israel Ministry of Tourism honored my synagogue, Young Israel of Century City, for organizing three solidarity missions to Israel during 2002. We went in January, July and November. I was informed of this honor while leading the November mission. I was thrilled with the announcement but asked why we were chosen. I was told that no other synagogue in the city organized so many missions in one year. On the one hand, I was proud; on the other, I felt despair that others weren’t going.
Why haven’t many other congregations organized even one mission to Israel during this period? Why doesn’t our own Jewish Federation organize more solidarity missions throughout the year? Our synagogue participated in a communitywide mission that The Federation ran almost two years ago, but isn’t it time now for many more missions to occur? Is there anything more crucial than helping the State of Israel overcome her feeling of abandonment during these difficult days?
On each mission we found the country empty of tourists. On one trip a member of our group needed to change his room in the hotel. When he inquired about the availability of another room, the clerk laughed and said, "How many rooms would you like? You are the only ones in the hotel."
Jerusalem at night, once a haven of tourists, is too silent to bear. Businesses, once dependent upon the Jewish tourist trade, are closing. On each of our trips, Israelis stopped us in the streets and thanked us for visiting. They told us, "When you return to the United States, tell others to come. This is their home. Why aren’t they here with us?"
On a recent speaking tour of Los Angeles, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, recounted the following: During the 1948 War of Independence, the great rabbinic figure of Bnei Brak, the Hazon Ish, instructed that no Jews should leave the country, even if they are fearful, since this would harm the nation’s stability. A Jew, the Hazon Ish declared, is morally and halachically obligated to strengthen Israel and may never do anything that may harm her. Relying on this observation, Riskin told his audience that now it is our turn to strengthen Israel. There is no more important act, the rabbi said, than to come to Israel and be with her people.
After delivering one of my many impassioned sermons on this topic, a member of my congregation asked me why I am so driven by this issue. I told him that two factors have influenced my thinking. The first occurred while I was still a boy. It was the Six-Day War. Right before the war began, and as the drums of battle were beginning to be heard, a cartoon appeared in the Israeli press. American Jews in Israel at that time quickly packed and left for safer havens, and the cartoon sarcastically depicted this state of affairs with the caption, "Will the last American Jew to leave Lod Airport please turn off the lights." After seeing that cartoon, I became convinced that no American Jew should ever allow such a situation to occur again.
The second reason is history itself. All students of the Holocaust know that American Jewry did not do enough on behalf of their suffering brethren in Europe. We remained too complacent during those terrible times. When the history of this period will be written I don’t want the same indictment to be lodged against our community. We must literally stand shoulder to shoulder with our Israeli brethren in their time of need.
So, where have all the Jews gone? The answer must be — on a solidarity mission to Israel.
Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.
An Affair to Remember: Hollywood and the Jews
Oscar night is almost upon us, and there is considerable talk (and pride) about three of the chief contenders — Halle Berry, Will Smith and Denzel Washington — all of whom are black. But don’t be fooled: Hollywood and the film industry is still primarily a Jewish story, no matter who deserves and carts off the evening’s prizes.
No one ever said the story itself — about American Jews and Hollywood — was not complex. Founded by East Coast Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, the movie industry had looked at first like a nickel-and-dime nickelodeon enterprise that catered to working-class American newcomers. By the time the movie entrepreneurs pulled up stakes and relocated to Los Angeles (roughly between 1907 and 1918) it was too late for the gentile business establishment to elbow its way to an insider’s place at the table.
By the 1930s, the industry was generating great profits, despite the Depression. It had also become highly personal for the Jewish moguls running Hollywood. There’s a story Neal Gabler recounts (in his book "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood") about Louis B. Mayer, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, holding movie star Mickey Rooney by the lapel and shaking him. Mayer was furious: "You’re Andy Hardy," he shouted. "You’re the United States. You’re the stars and stripes. Behave yourself. You’re a symbol."
Part of Mayer’s anger, of course, had to do with business. Rooney, still in his late teens, was the star of the "Andy Hardy" series of films, the No. 1 box office draw at MGM. Rooney’s escapades with women were liable to tarnish his image and send ratings down. But much of the anger also had to do with Mayer’s vision of America as an innocent, pure nation.
It mattered little that he was a ruthless studio head and businessman. The America he was projecting in films, and that he idealized, was a glorified land of promise and happy endings, of small-town family life brimming with virtue and filled with a mythic Western past. And it contained no Jews.
In the late 1930s, Mayer’s salary was the highest in the nation. However, he was still considered an outsider by the wealthy non-Jews of Los Angeles. He joined the Hillcrest Country Club, all of whose members were Jewish, because no other club would admit him.
Mayer and his fellow studio heads took this to heart. They bought into the rejection, viewing themselves as somehow socially inferior to the upper-class gentiles they longed to join. But in business, they prided themselves on being a step ahead, very much attuned to the popular culture. Except for the first talkie film, "The Jazz Singer," which was seen as a bold experimental gamble, Jews were considered bad for the box office and were excluded as characters in films and in the portraits of America that were projected, while Jewish actors were forced to Americanize their names.
When "Gentleman’s Agreement," a film dealing with anti-Semitism, was finally made after World War II, neither its producer, Darryl F. Zanuck, nor its director, Elia Kazan, was Jewish.
All that changed in the middle of the 20th century, both with the demise of the studio system and with the advent of television. Today, actors and actresses keep their own names, even when they sound Jewish (e.g. Alicia Silverstone, Adam Sandler, Richard Dreyfuss). Some, Gwyneth Paltrow for example, even make a point of extolling their Jewish heritage; in her case, on her father’s side of the family.
Many films today contain Jewish characters, often military officers, doctors, lawyers, judges and academics, as well as upper-middle class couples; some films have Jewish themes or central characters (e.g. "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Schindler’s List") and three documentaries about Jews, produced by Rabbi Marvin Hier’s Museum of Tolerance, have won Academy Awards in the past six years.
It is no secret today that many agents, writers, entertainment lawyers and film producers are Jewish. British screenwriter William Cash lashed out at what he identified as "Jewish Hollywood" in the 1990s. He claimed that writers he knew attempted to pass as Jews hoping this would give them an inside edge. No one disputed the story, though most critics indicated that Jews and non-Jews competed on an equal playing field. It was craft and talent, not ethnicity, that secured a writing assignment.
Nevertheless, it has been this sense of a Jewish presence, a Jewish sensibility, within the popular culture that has helped reshape attitudes toward Jews in America. The themes of television’s sitcoms and dramas, while not Jewish, are often reflections of a modern, urban liberal point of view (think "The West Wing," "ER" and "Friends" today; "All in the Family," "Seinfeld" and "Brooklyn Bridge" in the past). It is no accident that Dan Quayle and Pat Buchanan attacked television and films for debasing our culture. Violence and sex made the headlines, but they believed the point of view they were assailing was one held by liberal and secular Democrats. Some Jews in Hollywood saw the attacks as thinly disguised anti-Semitism.
Buchanan and Quayle aside, it is interesting to chart the path that led to the turnabout in attitudes toward Jews in America, to analyze what caused the 180-degree turn that propelled Jews from being outsiders to insiders in America. There is certainly the Holocaust and the horror and guilt that accompanied it; the end of university quotas, both for students and professors; the emergence of Jews as lawyers in major firms and as law school deans in prominent universities. All of these played a role in admitting Jews to the American establishment.
But the imprint of culture — both popular and high culture — on a society that turns often to entertainment and art for both leisure and class status cannot be overestimated. During the second half of this century, we have seen the rise of Jewish writers in America — Saul Bellow, Arthur Miller, J.D. Salinger, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick and Rebecca Goldstein — all of whom have functioned as our nation’s Mark Twains and F. Scott Fitzgeralds, our successors to Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. We are, after all, a nation that proudly exports culture — along with Coca-Cola and jeans — to the rest of the world.
Domestically, the impact has led to a different outcome. Films and television have affected all Americans and, in the process, have helped integrate Jews into America. They have also introduced Jewish words, style and feelings into our national identity. Ironically, it is the last thing in the world that Mayer and the other Hollywood moguls desired. They wanted their America simple and small-town innocent — and without any tribal relatives.
Come Oscar night, we might recognize the unintended consequences of the world they helped create. We Jews are perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of the dream industry. And whether or not Washington, Judi Dench or Ron Howard are Oscar winners, it does not alter the profound role that Hollywood has played — and continues to play — in the lives of America’s Jews.
End the Silence
Only three weeks ago it was possible to speak in optimistic terms about a united front against terrorism. History seemed to be blowing at our back, pushing the forces of civilization onward and upward to victory against the scourge of modern times. Writing in this space in early October, I quoted with admiration the prediction made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; that the nations of the world would now join together against terrorism much as the nations of the post-Napoleonic period had defeated piracy. For a brief heady moment, it looked like we American Jews could sit back in the warm protection of our nation acting out of grief and righteous revenge.
But the center is not holding. The coalition is falling apart, especially United States reliance on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
And Israel, which on Sept. 11 epitomized a western nation fighting valiantly against terrorism, is now isolated. Israel has gone from victim to scapegoat. The pirates seem to be winning.
The anxiety on the part of the American Jewish community is growing. It’s time to regain our voice.
Last week, I spoke at a luncheon for Hadassah and Israel Bonds at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. With me on the podium was activist and law professor Susan Estrich.
We could not miss feeling the change in the wind, and the sense that our silence was hurting us.
Many in the room had recently returned from a deeply demoralized Israel, which in the aftermath of the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavan Ze’evi, was rapidly turning to a fear-driven political right. They wanted to know how to respond to the Bush administration’s hypocritical warning to Ariel Sharon to stop reacting to terrorism, while the United States was trying to "take out" Osama bin Laden.
Others were alarmed by the turn in the war itself, a new Vietnam in the making. But this time American Jews could not reveal the Emperor’s empty closet for fear that such truths, too, would erode support for Israel.
Still others were focused on domestic concerns, especially the America media’s new fascination with our Muslim community.
How could we, as American Jews, speak up without causing ourselves and Israel backlash and pain?
I find these questions right on the money, but since Sept. 11, our community leadership has played from the sidelines. They have preferred to play out their influence behind the scenes, content to cite the Chicago Sun Times public opinion poll that 72.8 percent of the American public supports Israel, while Palestinian support is down to 7 percent, lowest since the intifada.
Polls are not enough. It’s time to answer back, not only in defense of Israel, but on our own behalf.
Take for example the endlessly debated question: "Why do they hate us?" which played and replayed on American media throughout the last six weeks. That’s one question American Jews should be shooting at with a sling. At best, it’s a cheap rhetorical trick, at worst, it’s an insult to the 5,000 dead.
"Why do they hate us?" is an old media ploy, an intellectually vacuous equivalent of "Do you still beat your wife?" designed to give the enemy the upper hand. When applied to Jews, the question is always an invitation to anti-Semitism, as more than one Los Angeles radio station learned when it opened its programming to the question. "Why do they hate us?" is open season on hate.
As it turns out, even when applied to America, "Why do they hate us?" is still an invitation to anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Israel, views. Every story about why some Muslims despise us falls into the tar pit of Middle East politics. If the question is why they hate us, the answer must be America and its Jewish ally.
"The press fall into a trap, blaming Israel," Alex Safian, of CAMERA, told me. "For if Islam means ‘peace,’–" a point Safian disputes — "Israel must be what made it violent."
With groups like MEMRI and CAMERA monitoring the press these days, such tactics don’t go unanswered. CAMERA will hold its annual conference on Nov. 11 at Stephen S. Wise Temple. It will be one way to get back your voice.
Jews in U. S. Politics
A woman who was the trusted adviser to the governor of New York in the 1920s.
The ambassador to Turkey in 1889.
The attorney general in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
Belle Moskowitz, Solomon Hirsch and Edward Levi were all Jews involved in U.S. political life in different periods. Previously confined to the footnotes of political science textbooks or familiar only to political junkies, these figures and others are part of a new book charting Jews’ impact on American political life.
The book, "Jews in American Politics," (Rowman & Littlefield, $39.95) is not simply a "locate the landsman" exercise but an attempt to address a number of issues — such as Jewish political behavior, Jewish advocacy and the relationship between politics and Jewish identity — along with important demographic information and more than 400 biographical profiles.
Today, as politics is seen as just another profession toward which Jews gravitate, the changes in the level of Jewish political involvement through the decades are interesting to follow. From hiding one’s Judaism in order to enter politics to last year’s watershed event — when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) became the first Jewish vice presidential candidate for a major party — the leaps make for good reading.
Some of the old challenges Jews faced in politics have not entirely disappeared. While it is possible today to balance one’s Judaism with a political life — and it is much more legitimate for a candidate today to have a strong religious identity — having it all remains a conundrum.
Observant Jews such as Lieberman, Jack Lew — the former director of the Office of Management and Budget — and Stuart Eizenstat, the former deputy treasury secretary, are the models for today’s young Jews, says Ira Forman, co-editor of the book with L. Sandy Maisel.
The Jews’ future in American politics depends on "where as a community we are going to go," Forman says, either toward continued distinctiveness or greater assimilation.
In these patriotic times, everyone — from the fashion industry to the jewelry industry — is capitalizing on the American flag motif.
So it should come as no surprise that someone believes that Jews will want to display the flag too, in the most unlikely of places: religious articles.
Judaism.com is offering the USA Mezuzah case, a pewter- or gold-finish scroll-holder, featuring the Stars and Stripes of the American flag. “For those who love America as much as they love Jewish tradition,” the Web site advertises.
“The USA Mezuzah expresses our sentiments as American Jews,” writes Shlomo Perelman, president of Judaism.com “The American flag symbolizes the freedom to live without fear — One nation under God. By attaching a mezuzah to the doorposts of our homes, a Jew protects the lives and property of those who dwell within. The USA Mezuzah demonstrates our commitment to Jewish tradition while affirming our allegiance to this country that we love,” he adds.
Designed by American artist Robin Kimball as a response to the events of Sept. 11, the 4-inch by 1.5-inch-wide mezuzah is made from a cast of polymer clay, will hold a 2.75 inch scroll and sells for $49.95. (10 percent of all sales will be donated to the United Jewish Communities Relief Fund for relief of Sept. 11 victims.)
Perelman says he expects that other products that blend American patriotism and Judaism will soon hit the market.
Up next: Flag phylacteries?
Surreal in the City
Even for North American Jews used to thinking about security issues at home — and confronting terrorist acts in Israel — the series of horrific acts that struck Tuesday came as a devastating, unimaginable blow.
“This is surreal. This whole situation seems surreal,” said Martin Raffel, the associate executive vice chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, whose offices are located in midtown New York, a safe distance from the destroyed World Trade Center.
Before the initial shock wore off from the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington, Israel was offering help, U.S. Jewish groups were reacting with anger and Jewish communities across North America were holding prayer vigils.
Fire raged and smoke billowed around the towers after the two attacks, which occurred around 9 a.m. Tuesday.
The two towers collapsed by mid-morning, wreaking more havoc, claiming even more victims and hampering rescue efforts.
Reports said that more than 250 passengers were on board the four hijacked planes at the center of the day’s horrific events — two hit the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and one crashed in western Pennsylvania — but at press time, there were no reliable reports of the number killed or injured.
However, New York officials estimated that there could be thousands of casualties from the World Trade Center explosions alone.
The attack was described as the worst on American soil since the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. By comparison, 2,400 people were killed on that day — Dec. 7, 1941 — which President Roosevelt described as a “date which will live in infamy.”
Speaking Tuesday morning, President Bush described the crashes as an “apparent act of terrorism” and vowed to use the “full resources” of the U.S. government to “hunt down and find those folks who committed this act.”
Two Jewish groups are housed near the site of the New York attacks, but efforts Tuesday to reach Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union were unsuccessful.
The Educational Alliance, a Jewish-run community center in downtown New York, treated people suffering from light injuries and shock.
“People were wandering in the streets coming from the World Trade Center, disoriented,” said Ben Rodriguez, director of administration services for the Educational Alliance.
“People were streaming in for a few hours,” he said, but by late afternoon, things had quieted down.
Some Jewish groups in New York, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the United Jewish Communities, evacuated their offices as part of building-wide evacuations.
Jewish and non-Jewish businesses and facilities were closed in various cities across the United States, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, in fear of further attacks.
The UJC promised to resume business as soon as possible.
“This has been a tragic day for our country,” the UJC said in a statement. “We express our condolences to the families of the individuals who lost their lives.”
Israel, which closed Ben-Gurion Airport to foreign planes, evacuated all its diplomatic missions around the world. In an ironic turnabout, some Israelis were scheduled to hold a solidarity rally with the American terror victims on Tuesday night.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a state of mourning in Israel on Wednesday, and said the terror attacks would prove “a turning point in the war against terrorism.”
President Moshe Katsav conveyed to Bush Israel’s “deep sorrow,” and the Health Ministry launched a blood drive.
“All of us in Israel embrace you, would like to express our condolences, and add our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who have been injured,” Katsav said. “Everything must be done to defeat this phenomenon in which insane people will stop at nothing to disrupt daily life.”
Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer approved the dispatch of rescue units to the United States. He also canceled a visit to Washington that was planned for later in the week.
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat sent the “condolences of the Palestinian people to American President Bush,” but many of his people did not seem to share Arafat’s remorse.
Thousands of Palestinians celebrated the attack throughout the West Bank, chanting “God is great” and distributing candy. In Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, gunmen fired into the air in celebration.
In Argentina — where two Jewish institutions were hit by bombs in the 1990s — authorities pledged to increase security at Jewish sites. In Berlin, the Parliament was evacuated and the Jewish Museum was closed, just two days after it officially opened.
American Jewish groups strongly condemned the attack and “pledged to double check already tight security,” in the words of one Jewish spokesman who asked not to be identified.
“We are outraged and unequivocally condemn today’s terrorist acts against the United States,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement that was echoed by other groups.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Tuesday’s events would force the United States to step into Israel’s shoes.
“My feeling is that the American government has always understood Israel’s dilemma” in fighting terrorism, but “now America, too, will have to struggle with, ‘How do you respond, how do you prevent’ ” this kind of thing, Foxman said.
Though no direct links have been established between the attacks and U.S. support for Israel, some worried about that prospect.
“Will the blame be placed on Israel? Will the blame be placed on the fact of American support?” wondered Foxman, who along with thousands of others across the country was stranded at an airport when the attacks occurred.
“The United States has been brutally attacked today, and we must consider that our nation is at war,” David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement.
But exactly who would be the target of that war remained unclear.
Spokesman for several radical Palestinian groups denied reports that they were behind the attacks. Speculation focused on Osama bin Laden, but there was no initial evidence linking the Saudi terrorist mastermind to the attacks.
Manhattan Jews were horrified by what had happened — and impassioned about how America ought to react.
It’s outrageous that America “has been brought to its knees by terrorists,” said Larry Kowlowitz, vice president of PK Furriers in midtown Manhattan. “It’s time for the dog to wag the tail, not for the tail to wag the dog. We should use our muscle and make these smaller nations understand that we have the power. Like the Bible says, ‘An eye for an eye.’ Even if innocent people are killed.”
Anger was only part of the Jewish response, however; others began attempts at prayer and healing.
In New York — and elsewhere in North America, from L.A. to Montreal — prayer vigils were scheduled to be held as early as Tuesday evening.
“Our community felt the need to get together for spiritual reasons,” said Mark Finkelstein, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Des Moines, Iowa.
The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism said it would send out a special packet of prayers for its congregations.
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan urged its members to donate blood and provide shelter for victims of the attacks.
Meanwhile, the attacks caused the cancellation of a major pro-Israel solidarity rally planned for Sept. 23 in New York.
Television Jews: How Jewish Is Too Jewish?
The new television season is upon us. African American and Latino groups are making the expected protests about the lack of people who look like them before and aft of the camera, and the Jews are — as usual — adding up their TV IQ on the fingers of one hand.
If there aren’t many “brothers” out there, there are even fewer “Members of the Tribe,” and those that are there are not particularly Jewish Jews, if you know what I mean.
Take 40-something, newly divorced father “Danny,” played by Daniel Stern. In CBS’ new series, Danny looks like he’s Jewish, sounds like he’s Jewish, but his live-in father is played by Polish American Robert Prosky, and his kids Sally and Henry come across as just, well, kids.
Ah, but wait, Danny is described in the program notes as “adapting to his single life one neurotic step at a time.” Neurotic is television-speak for Jew — just like “New York” as an adjective means “Jew” in the Midwest.
The whole subject makes the producers of the show, which, by the way, is set in that hotbed of neuroses, Portland, Ore., a trifle nervous. “It’s implied,” one of the show’s producers told The Journal. “It’s not an overt kind of thing. You don’t get it rammed down your throat. It’s not about his Jewish life — it’s about his life.”
Actor Daniel Stern himself, however, seems more relaxed about the idea of playing a Jewish man with a thing about basketball. “I was happy to be Jewish on the show,” he said. “And I like sort of putting it out there. And I want to put it out there in a sort of funny way. I thought that might be something that I hadn’t seen.”
That’s because he hadn’t seen the pilot for “Inside Schwartz” (see below). Adam Schwartz is also Jewish and a basketball nut. It’s not implied — he tells you that right off the bat, even though he’s played by non-Jew Brekin Meyer.
“I want to be the first Jew to win the slam-dunk contest,” Schwartz declares in the pilot episode. His more realistic dream is to become a sports announcer. Even if he hadn’t told us, we’d know he was Jewish, because his sidekick is a perfectly marvelous young Jewish woman played by Miriam Shore, who is ready and waiting for him to make his move on her. (We know she’s Jewish because she’s smart-mouthed and quirky.)
Executive Producer Stephen Engel says he wasn’t sure how the network would react to a show built around a Jewish character. And he wasn’t the only one.
“My father called while I was doing the show,” Engel said. “He said, ‘You know I don’t interfere in your work, but this show you’re doing, are you sure about the title? You know Schwartz is a Jewish name. I don’t know how the rest of America [is] going to respond to this.'”
Of course the central joke only works if the character is Jewish. Jews and sports — an oxymoron, right? And that was the point, as far as Engel was concerned.
“I like to consider myself a fairly good athlete,” he said. “I’m not a professional yet, but I haven’t given up hope. But there are Jews across America in sports. One right here in right field in Los Angeles.” (For those not into sports, that would be Dodger Shawn Green.)
Jason Alexander, one of the Seinfeld crew — the most successful Jews-who-dare-not-speak-their-name in TV history — is playing a Tony Robbins-style guru in ABC’s “Bob Patterson.” Patterson may or may not be Jewish — but he is kind of a lovable jerk. If in a future episode we find out the name used to be Futterman, be prepared to cringe.
Mike Binder, however, former stand-up comic star and creator of HBO’s “Mind of the Married Man,” is undoubtedly Jewish, although it’s never stated, and he’s married in the show to a gorgeous blonde Englishwoman, played by Oxford-educated Sonya Walger.
Binder grew up in a Jewish community in Detroit, and made a 1993 movie about his summer experiences at the Jewish Camp Tamakwa in Ontario (“Indian Summer”). He even wears a Tamakwa sweatshirt in one scene in the new show. But the character is just another narcissistic, sports- and sex- obsessed American male. And you don’t have to be Jewish to be that.
On the other hand, Max Bickford, professor of history in CBS’ “The Education of Max Bickford,” doesn’t know from sports. His is the ivory-tower world of old European white males to whom scholarship and love of the past is life.
And while he’s staggering under the pressure of apathetic students and political correctness, he’s doing it (from the evidence of the pilot, at least) as a slightly over the hill, all-purpose ethnic. So — is he Jewish?
“I think so, yes,” says Bickford’s alter ego, Richard Dreyfuss. “He’s got an edge; he’s a curmudgeon. The way I keep describing him is Walter Matthau, but shorter.”
He’s also the most potentially interesting of the ‘Jewish’ characters on this season’s new shows, if only because Dreyfuss is noted as that rare Jewish actor who enjoys being Jewish on screen: think Moses Wine, ace detective in “The Big Fix,” Duddy Kravitz, and even Meyer Lansky.
But since this is essentially a serious show, well written and dealing with intelligent issues, just hold your breath that it will enjoy a long run. Even if it is, don’t expect Bickford to deal with his Jewishness. Having an overtly Jewish character as the lead on a drama is still seen in Hollywood as a surefire way to cut yourself off from the American mainstream viewer.
Serious shows with Jewish content have a history of wiping out before you can say, “Nielsen, Shmielsen.” Remember “Brooklyn Bridge,” Gary David Goldberg’s loving tribute to his Brooklyn bubbie? Or how about “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” in which Rosie (Sharon Gless) answered to a kippah-wearing, public-defender boss played by Ron Rifkin? Neither lasted long.
Comedies have a longer shelf life. Jewish humor on television is the one thing that has been accepted with open arms by the rest of America — witness “Seinfeld.” Because, whether they know it or not, just as Jewish music became Tin Pan Alley, Jewish humor, as filtered through the Catskills, Hollywood and Las Vegas, is now American humor.
Bob Hope once quipped, “Hollywood is the only town where they give up matzah balls for Lent” — a line written by one of his many Jewish writers. The point being that everyone in Hollywood is Jewish, whether they were born into it or not. Hollywood has been shaped by Jewish culture — by now that’s a sociological truism — but the only place you’d know it on television is in comedy.
From “Seinfeld” to “Mad About You” to “Dharma and Greg” to “The Larry Sanders Show,” Jewish humor has infiltrated popular culture. On television, Jewish humor is the Trojan horse sneaked into the living rooms of non-Jewish America to acquaint them with the fact that Jews are pretty much like them, only more so.
“Northern Exposure,” for example, worked because America identified with its hero — a nice Jewish doctor (Rob Morrow) plunked down in small-town Alaska, where he was the least weird of the bunch. “Picket Fences,” created by Irish American David E. Kelley, introduced the conniving Jewish defense attorney played by Fyvush Finkel. (Kelley’s in-joke was that Finkel’s character bore the WASP-ish name of Douglas Wambaugh.) In one episode, he was called before a beit din to answer charges that his sleazy behavior was damaging his people’s good name.
Ironically, Kelley wrote the episode after receiving letters complaining that Finkel’s character perpetuated the stereotype of the shyster lawyer.
HBO’s “Larry Sanders Show,” which told the truth about so many aspects of American television, also warned about the perils of being too Jewish. In one episode, Larry’s sidekick Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) became a born-again Jew, and insisted on wearing a kippah on the show. Larry’s creator, Garry Shandling, noted his favorite line in that episode was when a Jewish network executive said it was OK for him to be Jewish because, unlike Hank, “he was behind the camera where the audience couldn’t see him.”
Larry Gelbart, one of the funniest comedy writers today, says of Jewish humor, “I think it’s our cultural heritage to find some relief from intolerable situations with laughter. To use it as both a sword and a shield, as an offensive and defensive weapon against those who are being hostile to you.” It seems that in a more dangerous and difficult America, the rest of the country increasingly wants to borrow the weapon.
The good news this season — yes, there is some — is that with “The Nanny” and “Suddenly Susan” (the JAP stereotypical Vicki may have been married to a decent sort of rabbi, but she was definitely cringe material), having passed into the lucrative afterlife of syndication, parodies of spoiled shopaholic Jewish women on primetime television have given way to spoiled shop-a-holic Italian women on “The Sopranos.”
And despite rumors to the contrary, the girls on “Sex and the City” can’t possibly be Jewish: Carrie only shops retail, Samantha is a nymphomaniac, Miranda is too thin, Charlotte is married to the only Scottish doctor on Park Avenue, and they’re always picking at a salad and getting tanked on cosmopolitans at lunchtime.
In short, Jewish viewers are likely to find this season as unsatisfying as countless others. As in real life, Jews on television this year are still married to, or dating, non-Jews. It cuts down on interesting sources of conflict, according to the writers, if two characters both celebrate Chanukah and know the difference between a matzah ball and kreplach — as if the writers never noticed the surfeit of conflicts within the Jewish community.
And there are still many Jews who, while they have Jewish names and look Jewish, never identify themselves as such. But, of course, we’ve never heard of that in real life, have we?
Is Demography Destiny?
The new U.S. census figures have generated banner headlines this month, though no one seems to have a clue what those numbers portend. The big news, of course, is that America’s Latino population has ballooned almost 60 percent in the past decade, surpassing 35 million. More than 43 percent of Californians younger than 18 are now Hispanic, compared with about 35 percent a decade ago. In both the city and county of Los Angeles, Latinos have replaced whites as the largest ethnic group.
"The Anglo hegemony was only an intermittent phase in California’s arc of identity, extending from the arrival of the Spanish," Kevin Starr, the state librarian, told The New York Times. "The Hispanic nature of California has been there all along, and it was temporarily swamped between the 1880s and the 1960s, but that was an aberration."
Since most Jews are white, we find ourselves being a kind of minority squared, a minority within this new white minority. But Jewish groups have long seen this trend coming. They began their outreach to the Latino community years ago and have stepped up efforts in the recent past. What they have discovered is a community much more complex than the demographers’ numbers would lead us to believe. The word Latino hardly describes the tremendous linguistic, cultural, economic, political and national diversity of the region’s "non-white Hispanics." In Los Angeles, demography is not destiny but a test, perhaps a triumph, of democracy.
Now consider Israel. There are 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and 300,000 Jews. For Israel to incorporate largely Palestinian areas would mean the certain dissipation of the Jewish character of the state, either through the democratic process or by enforcing an apartheid-like hegemony over a non-Jewish majority. Thus Israeli leaders from Yitzchak Rabin to Benjamin Netanyahu have sought out a compromise with Palestinians that would essentially trade land for security. The United States’ former lead Mideast negotiator, Dennis Ross, has said that demographics makes an eventual rapprochement and agreement inevitable, although Yasser Arafat seems determined to prove him wrong.
On Saturday night we’ll read the Passover story. "Behold," said Pharaoh, "the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us; come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply." If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know "dealing wisely" was Pharaoh’s way of saying, "Kill them." So Moses led us away, to multiply elsewhere. Does Arafat see himself as Pharoah, hoping to drive the Children of Israel into the sea? Or does he imagine himself Moses, leading a tribe that will eventually outnumber its enemy? In Israel, demography is destiny.
These refelctions on head-counting come at a time when human genome decoders have determined that at the genetic level, the concept of race is scientifically meaningless. "Race is a social concept, not a scientific one," Dr. J. Craig Venter, head of the Celera Genomics Corporation in Rockville, Md. told The Times. "We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world." It turns out that .01 percent of our genes is reflected in our external appearance: in other words, in our obvious Black-ness, Caucasian-ness or Latino-ness.
Jews, of course, are not a race, despite Hitler’s best efforts to categorize and exterminate us as one. We belong to a religion and a culture that embraces all races. There are black Jews and Latino Jews, and though the mind boggles, there is nothing other than a century of animosity to prevent there being Palestinian Arab Jews as well. To be a Jew is not, at the end of the day, a question of race, nationality, skin color, genetics or birth. It is a matter of what you believe and how you behave.
In this light, the admonition of the ancient rabbis against counting Jews seems sublime. When all the head-tallying and label-fixing is over, we must remember that quantity is less important than quality. In the end, it is not bodies that matter most, but souls.
Good or Bad?
There’ll be no Yiddish spoken in the Bush Cabinet — unless Colin Powell starts talking to himself.
Dubya spells diversity with his picks. Three Blacks, a Cuban émigré and most recently, an Asian American Democrat and an Arab American Republican named Abraham.
But no Jews. And no questions from the allegedly Jewish-dominated media, no word from the Jews in Congress and no comment from the Jewish lobby.
Is this the silence of the lambs, or are American Jews so secure as to not give a damn about a Jew-free Cabinet?
When we recall how the Jews jumped for joy when Joe Lieberman got the call for vice president, it’s hard to believe they believe they’re too strong to care about slights.
On the other hand, listen to Bones Rachles, my old Jewish connection in Jersey: “We voted for Clinton, so what could we expect? James Baker said it right to Bush’s father: ‘F— the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.’ Now the son takes the cue from the old man, so what’s new?”
I ask Rachles what the Blacks did for Bush to get them three seats on the right hand of the president.
“Yeah, well, uh, I don’t know the answer to that one,” he responds.
Jews were overwhelmingly for Al Gore, but still Dubya got 20 percent of their vote. Blacks delivered maybe 2 percent to Bush.
And the selection of the Yiddish-speaking Powell won’t do anything for W. in the next election, nor will Condoleezza Rice or Education Secretary-to-be Rod Paige.
They are all fine choices, but none of them have ever been Black activists, to say the least.
And don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t trouble me in the least that Bush hasn’t put a Jew in his Cabinet. The history of Jews in our government has been the history of chiropractic — they bend over backward to prove that they will do nothing for Israel.
The foreign-policy Jews around Bill Clinton are proof positive of this. They were appointed by George Bush Sr. to make peace in the Middle East, and all they have done is to help create terror in Israel.
Yitzhak Rabin asked Clinton to retain them, and he did. The only good news for Israel is that Dubya probably will not keep them.
The question is, who will he replace them with? And that depends on how he views the Israeli-Palestinian war.
What we know so far is not good for the Jews. Bush supported Clinton’s Arab-appeasement policy throughout the campaign and he supports it today.
His daddy’s old crew is in power, and while some of them appear to be pro-Israel, a second look doesn’t make Jews sanguine.
Thus, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney was secretary of defense during the Gulf War. Colin Powell was the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Together with Bush I, they refused to let Israel respond to 39 missile attacks on the Jewish state. Together with Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, they lied to the Israelis when they said they had destroyed Saddam Hussein’s missiles.
And altogether, with Secretary of State James Baker, they demonized Israel by accusing the Jewish lobby of attempting to run American policy by blackmail. Remember President Bush’s “lonely little guy” speech after the Gulf War?
When Israel asked him to make good on a promise of a $10 billion loan to absorb Russian immigrants, Bush portrayed the Jewish lobby as an all-powerful force in Congress, dedicated to undoing true American values.
So, with W., it’s down to the old question: Is it good or bad for the Jews?
New York columnist Sidney Zion is syndicated to The Jewish Journal through Featurewell.com.
After the Election
For a few strained hours last week, I was afraid we’d be witnessing the Jewish version of Elian Gonzalez, Part II. Could Jewish blood pressure withstand the tension of the Palm Beach vote taken hostage?
As hours of electoral anxiety passed into weeks, I worried that the world would soon know how the Chosen People behave when the food comes late, let alone when an election result is held up. I feared that Fox News would send Joan Rivers to cover the re-vote protest, that Saturday Night Live would point out the ironic casting of Jesse Jackson as Moses. Frankly, I was ready to die of embarrassment.
Yes, my own mother was temporarily unhinged by the thought that her absentee ballot might have been thrown away like a receipt from Bloomingdales. But soon, like the rest of us, she simmered down.
“I don’t trust any of them anyway,” my father said. That’s when I knew the nation was going to be all right. My father makes his political pronouncement every four years, as the Republic is transferred to the next generation of scoundrels. It’s a tradition, like the losing candidate’s concession speech. It assures me that, in our family, healthy cynicism has been restored and everyone is once again well behaved.
And decorum was very much the issue last week: how to behave when the eyes of the planet are upon you. The Election 2000 Cliffhanger has been a national civics lesson, but for Jews it is something else, like taking off control-top pantyhose and letting yourself breathe naturally. Regardless of who ultimately “wins,” (would you want such a blessing?) it has taught American Jews, as well, that all the world really is just one big condo project, and that we feel right at home.
Joe Lieberman is one part of the comfort factor, but only one. The affable, Torah-quoting son of a bakery truck driver himself has been a tonic. The first Jewish vice-presidential candidate brought Orthodox Jews back into the Democratic column. He gave young activist Jews a place for their political hopes. Prof. Kenneth Wald, head of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida, tells me that the AIPAC offices were raided of eager staffers, gone to Gore-Lieberman.
But Lieberman is a career politician, concerned with far more than proving that there is no secret obsessive anti-Semitism lurking in the hearts of mainstream America.
Through his relentless day-after-day campaigning along the Condo Coast, he put the Sunshine State, whose governor, after all, is the GOP candidate’s brother, into play. In doing so, he set up the Jewish vote for what it has traditionally hated the most: attention to itself as a political force.
Over many years, I’ve seen this parochial fear of public disclosure in action. In every election cycle, a candidate or a race emerges in which Jewish votes are regarded as “swing.” In Los Angeles almost eight years ago, for example, 50 percent of Jewish voters punched out the chad for Republican Mayor Richard Riordan (as had an equal number of Jews in New York supported Mayor Rudolph Guiliani).
Like the “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry gives his father a Cadillac, we like being close to power, but we don’t want anyone to see us pulling into the driveway.
Underlying this reluctance to get too comfortable is the lingering conviction that we will somehow handle power wrong. For all our pride at Jewish involvement in American civic and economic life, many feared that if Gore-Lieberman won, the Jews would be blamed for any Wall Street reversals.
That’s why the events of last week provided real threshold tests of our civic engagement tolerance.First came the newspaper stories asserting the undeniable: Jewish votes for Pat Buchanan provided conclusive evidence that the butterfly ballot did not fly. Then came the political analysis showing that Broward and Palm Beach Counties were heavily weighted with Jewish Democrats; the fate of the nation rested on residents who moved South but vote North.
Finally, there were the votes of Aliyah Americans, the Jews of Haifa and Tel Aviv, giddily hoping to repay Bill Clinton’s pro-Israel foreign policy with a vote for Al Gore. Florida Jews kicked off their shoes and settled in for the long American vote count.
It feels good.
American Jewish commitment to the political system is intense, loyal and strong. Our love of democracy verges on religious devotion, extending even to the archaic punch card ballot and the Electoral College. From Florida this week, my friends sent e-mail assertions that they personally would volunteer to oversee the presidential recount. Whatever it took, they were there. Just two weeks ago it was clear to me that Jews were no longer a swing vote, that our place had been taken by Latinos, Asians and, yes, Arab Americans.
Shows how much I know.
The fact is, the whole nation is swinging. But we can still carry the tune.
Rosh Hashanah in Frankfurt, Germany
On Friday, Sept. 7, 1945, 1800 hours, at the corner of Freiherr von Stein Strasse and Eppsteiner Strasse in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, a ceremony took place.
It was Rosh Hashanah evening, the ushering in of the Jewish New Year. World War II had ended in Europe four months before, and Frankfurt’s main synagogue was being rededicated. While utterly ravaged inside, the structure itself remained practically untouched in spite of Nazi burnings and Allied bombs. It stood there like a Rock of Gibraltar while devastation and destruction surrounded it on all sides. Despite a new coat of blue paint, the inside was hollow, a shadow of its former self. Still, this was a rebirth.
Out of the city’s once-thriving Jewish community of 35,000, people who had sought learning and a peaceful life, no more than 150 civilians were left to attend the service – a mere handful of German Jewish men and a number of Polish displaced persons. Those who filled the synagogue to overflow were Americans: Army and Navy officers, male and female enlisted personnel, infantry men, armored men, Air Corps men, U.S. Forces European Theater personnel, battle stars – Jews.
Dr. Leopold Neuhaus, about 70 years old and rabbi of Frankfurt, was magnificent and overpowering. Though he spoke in German, it was easy enough to understand him. For seven long years, the horror of which cannot be imagined or put into words, he had waited for this day. Thanks to the Americans it had come at last. I will not forget the burned temples and schools of learning, the countless dead, the 2,400 young children who were gassed in Auschwitz on Yom Kippur – youth who committed no crime, knew no evil. How he had lived for this day, having experienced the horrors of the concentration camp, I do not know.
Perhaps he was spared because of his age. But there he was, eloquent and magnificent. There was moistness around my eyes and a heavy lump in my throat; something I couldn’t hold back. Yet in the poignant power of his voice, which became stronger as he went along, there was no mention of Hitler or Nazis. There was greatness in the man, a consuming ardor and strength that bespoke the everlastingness of our people. The tyranny that they experienced would not be forgotten.
There was no cry for vengeance, just a cry for peace and understanding. The civilian women, dressed as best as they could, sat in the balcony with WACs and WAC officers, remembering and openly weeping. But some could not even weep.
Eloquent and sincere addresses were made in English by a major and a chaplain named Vida. But they could not match the fire of the rabbi. How could they? Those moments on the battlefield, the chaplain said, that many of us had experienced and which seemed endless, like a thousand years, could not be compared to the lot of these people who were here and experienced these endless, thousand-year moments every day. Vida said that for each temple and school of learning that was destroyed, it was up to us to see that others are built to take their place. He prayed that next year we might all be with our loved ones and gave thanks for this day. The major, in a sure and soft voice, spoke of our long and checkered history of lights and shadows, and at last the darkness was over. He hoped that Frankfurt would again be restored to its former place of culture and learning. We stood up and said “Kaddish,” and I said it for Arky and President Roosevelt, who died too soon, and for the many who would never return.
Outside, the Germans in nearby houses peered through windows and curtains and stared at the Jews who flocked here for this great occasion, and at the predominance of American khaki. What thoughts must have been running through their minds. I could think nothing but evil of them, for I felt each was responsible. At last, the oppressed people were worshiping in freedom and without threat.
Milty Silverstein from Wyona Street was there, and fellows from upstate, from Detroit, from Los Angeles. We knew that in synagogues all over the U.S.A. and the world, services were being conducted and people were giving thanks that the day when they would be reunited with their loved ones was closer. And we could feel the pain of those who could not be happy.
Two military government policemen were there, but they weren’t necessary. It was still light and the service couldn’t begin until the sun went down, so we smoked cigarettes outside. German kids, who were no longer studying the ways of the Hitler Jugend, busied themselves picking up cigarette butts. To them it was a good haul. They could not comprehend, as we did, the greatness of this occasion.
Murray Klein was a master sergeant posted to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. He worked at Continental Can Company for 33 years before retiring and moving to Sherman Oaks in 1985. He turns 84 on Oct. 5.