Islamist terrorists call to attack Israeli delegation and others at Rio Olympics, report says


Islamist terrorists have issued directives to “lone wolves” to carry out attacks against the Israeli delegation and others at the Rio Olympics this summer, according to a news website.

The Foreign Desk reported that a list of directives published on social media advises jihadis to target American, British, French and Israeli athletes, saying “One small knife attack against Americans/Israelis in these places will have bigger media effect than any other attacks anywhere else insha Allah,” meaning “If Allah wills.”

“Your chance to take part in the global Jihad is here! Your chance to be a martyr is here!” the jihadis said, citing the easy process of obtaining visas for travel to Brazil as well as the wide availability of guns in “crime-ridden slums,” according to the report by Lisa Daftari, an investigative journalist specializing in foreign affairs as well as a Fox News analyst.

Israeli athletes are further singled out.

“From among the worst enemies, the most famous enemies for general Muslims is to attack Israelis. As general Muslims all agree to it and it causes more popularity for the Mujahideen among the Muslims,” the jihadis said on social media.

In parallel, Brazilian police on Thursday ordered the detention of 12 people who allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group via social media and discussed possible attacks during the games.

Operation “Hashtag” was announced by the justice minister, Alexandre Moraes, on Thursday morning at a news conference in Brasilia. The arrests took place based on Brazil’s new anti-terror law for which Jewish officials had advocated.

“There is only one way to face terrorism with efficiency: prevention,” Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told JTA in March.

“The concern with the recruitment network of the Islamic State scattered across Brazilian cities and on the internet has been growing and flagged by specialists. We have met congressmen and federal authorities many times to express the need for such legislation,” he said.

Allegedly members of a group called Defenders of Sharia, those arrested are believed to have been in online contact via social media with members of Islamic State. They are also reported to have discussed the acquisition of AK-47 assault rifles and celebrated the recent terror attacks on Orlando and Nice.

The Rio Olympics begin on Aug. 5. Between 500,000 and 1 million tourists are expected in Brazil’s second largest city, including some 10,000 Israelis coming to see their country’s largest-ever Olympics delegation compete for medals.

What Syria’s refugees think about Israel might surprise you


Israel’s government is in cahoots with Syrian President Bashar Assad. America wants to keep the Syrian civil war going for as long as possible. Russia is outmaneuvering the United States on the global stage.

Those are some of the viewpoints you’re likely to hear if you talk politics with Syrians pouring out of their war-torn country and into Europe.

When I went to Berlin recently to write about the wave of migrants arriving in Germany, one of the questions I was most curious about was something that had nagged at me since the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad began bombing its own people back in 2011: Now that you see the true face of your government, do you look at its longtime adversary, Israel, any differently? Could the enemy of your enemy be your friend?

But when it came to their views on Israel, there seemed to be more conspiracy theory than political theory. And I was surprised (though I probably shouldn’t have been) that for many Syrians, the defining element of their identity is sectarian rather than national, and therefore they’re more concerned with the divides among Alawites, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds than the divide between Arab and Jew.

“Israel and Bashar [Assad] – same-same,” said Khalid el-Hassan, a 17-year-old from the Syrian coastal city of Tartus who recently made his way to Berlin.

El-Hassan cited the quietude that for years prevailed along the Syria-Israel border and Assad’s repeated failure to respond to Israeli airstrikes in Syria both during the civil war and before it.

Emad Khalil, a 22-year-old law student from Aleppo, repeated a myth that is widely accepted as fact across the Arab Middle East: that the two stripes on the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates rivers, and the Star of David is a sign that the Jews seek to control all the land in between, from Egypt to Iraq.

“You come to visit Syria, OK. You come to take our land, not OK,” he said.

Some of the Syrian refugees interviewed in Berlin insisted on taking selfies with JTA's Uriel Heilman, in Yankees cap. (Uriel Heilman)

Some of the Syrian refugees interviewed in Berlin insisted on taking selfies with JTA’s Uriel Heilman, in Yankees cap. 

When I told Khalil the myth about the flag had no truth to it, he shrugged.

“I saw it on a documentary,” he said.

To be sure, I heard a range of viewpoints expressed, from the Syrian Kurd who was curious about teachers’ salaries in Tel Aviv to the bereaved Syrian mother who asked me why, if we’re all children of Adam and Eve, can’t we just get along?

To my Western ear, many of the Syrians’ convictions sounded outlandish, incoherent or ignorant. I mostly suppressed the urge to argue, however. My aim wasn’t to convince them why they were wrong, but to get a sense of how they see the world.

Given their experiences over the past four-plus years of civil war, the Syrians I met were less interested in talking about Israel than what they said was the West’s failure to help them.

Hadiya Suleiman, 45, a native of Deir ez-Zur in eastern Syria whose 18-year-old son was killed by a roadside bomb she said was rigged by ISIS, said she and other Syrians were happy when President Barack Obama was elected. But his inaction following the Syrian revolution changed her mind.

“I think what’s happening now is Obama’s responsibility; if Obama wanted he could stop the war,” said Suleiman, who has five surviving children.

Suleiman accused the “Jewish lobby” in America of thwarting any action on Syria, saying that U.S. policy favors seeing the civil war drag on so that the Syrians continue killing each other. She also blamed the rise of ISIS on America’s mismanagement of its invasion of Iraq.

Idris Abdulah, 30, an unemployed Syrian Kurd who came to Germany a year ago, said it wasn’t fair to blame America for ISIS; he fingered Assad for creating the ISIS problem by releasing Islamic militants from Syrian prisons shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. But Abdulah said America’s failure to act decisively in Syria shows American weakness, especially in contrast to Russia.

Noting Russia’s success at wresting Crimea from Western-backed Ukraine, Abdulah declared, “America is losing. Russia is winning.”

He added, “We all hate the American government because it’s not doing anything for the Syrian people even though it can. We don’t hate American people.”

Then he offered me the hot cup of tea a friend had just thrust into his hand.

El-Hassan said he was disappointed by the shoddy welcome Syrian refugees have received in Europe — especially given Syria’s “magnanimous” welcome of refugees in decades past from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Until he reached Germany, el-Hassan said, he encountered mostly hostility, from the Hungarian guards who beat and detained him to the Serbians who refused to provide lodging and other assistance.

“In Serbia, in Macedonia, we sleep in the street, but nobody cared,” el-Hassan said. “Here in Germany, we sleep in the street, but people come to bring us food, sleeping bags. Here they are very good men.”

When I asked why Persian Gulf states weren’t taking in Syrian refugees, the answer was straightforward: “The Arabs don’t love us,” el-Hassan said.

Idris Abdulah, a Syrian Kurd who arrived in Germany in 2014 and still hasn't found a job, says he hopes one day to work helping refugees like himself. (Uriel Heilman)

Idris Abdulah, a Syrian Kurd who arrived in Germany in 2014 and still hasn’t found a job, says he hopes one day to work helping refugees like himself. 

Abdulah said he believes Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia are afraid that incoming Syrian refugees could destabilize their tightly controlled societies by pushing for more freedoms.

So far, Syria’s Muslim neighbors have borne the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis. Approximately half of Syria’s 17 million citizens have been displaced by the civil war. Aside from the millions who have been internally displaced, some 2 million have gone to Turkey, more than 1 million have fled to Lebanon, over 600,000 have found shelter in Jordan and about 250,000 have gone to Iraq.

Many of those countries have balked at taking in more Syrians due to dwindling international funding for Syrian refugees and concerns about the destabilizing effect of an even greater influx.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announced six weeks ago that her nation would take in 800,000 asylum seekers, it prompted a fresh wave of Syrians to risk the perilous journey to Europe. (By contrast, the United States has accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees over the past four years. The Obama administration announced in September that by 2017 it would increase the number of asylum seekers it accepts annually to 100,000 from 70,000. That figure includes not just Syrians but refugees from all over the world.)

Syrians aren’t the only ones heading to Germany. The refugee camps I visited in Berlin are full of Iraqis, Pakistanis, Eritreans and citizens of too many other countries to count – including Russian speakers from Central Asia. Some are fleeing war, violence or repression, but many are economic migrants seeking better opportunities. It’s a point of consternation for many of the Syrians, who accuse others of misrepresenting the dangers they face back home – and even acquiring fake Syrian identity papers – in an effort to be granted asylum in Germany.

Despite her hopes for a new life in Germany free of war and peril, Suleiman said she’d go back to Syria in a heartbeat if the war ended. But there may not be much to go back to.

“For 10 years I worked to build a house, and now it’s all crushed by Assad’s bombs,” she said. “I tried living under ISIS control, but anybody who said anything that disagreed with ISIS was beheaded.”

Suleiman said she tried to gain admission to Kuwait, where her husband has worked for the past 13 years, but she was denied entry. The same thing happened when she tried Saudi Arabia. Now she has one child in Austria and four with her in Germany, where she arrived in late September.

“But Syria,” she said, “is still my home.”

Fast food: Why do Americans rush meals?


American eaters, they’re like a pack of animals, hustling dinner in 10 minutes or less. It sounds like a recent complaint, but in fact it comes from 1864, when the Englishman John Francis Campbell was startled at the rapidity with which fellow steamboat passengers consumed their meals as they floated down the Ohio River. They were quick as foxhounds over their food, he marveled. Because service was family style, you risked leaving the table hungry if you failed to keep up. And Campbell wasn’t sure this speed such a good thing.

As this anecdote suggests, Americans’ affinity for hurried consumption—along with plenty of criticism for this tendency—go back a long way, at least as far back as when Campbell and his fellow passengers were journeying. The steady pursuit of efficiency, which informed new methods of travel, agriculture, and manufacturing, also informed American eating and has indelibly molded the modern American meal. 

The trend was pervasive in 19th century, when European travelers often wrote amusingly of the swiftness with which Americans “dispatched” their food. They referred to meals at hotels as being “swallowed” or “gone through.” An Englishman at a hotel in Washington noted that boarders breakfasted in five minutes, while another Englishman, having learned the American way, recorded that he proudly rushed to the table to contribute his “strenuous efforts to the work of destruction”—that is, the destruction of several dishes, if not also of his digestion. 

Why did 19th-century Americans have a penchant for hustling their meals? Most of the Europeans who commented on our gustatory speed failed to tender an explanation, though one observer accounted for it simply as “part of the go-ahead character of the people.” It was true: Americans were on the go, especially come the Industrial Revolution, which drove the growth of cities and changed the nature of work for a broad swath of the population. When factory clocks began to replace agricultural rhythms, meals underwent a thorough re-organization and deep transformation.

Workers in cities could no longer return home for a midday meal because of the increasing distance between work and home and the decreasing amount of time allotted for a midday recess. So dinner shifted to the evening, and a new meal emerged to fill the void: lunch. The idea here was a glorified snack, a stop-gap between breakfast and dinner. Cold food was quick food, so it fit the bill, as did handheld items such as sandwiches, which didn’t require cooking, cleanup, or the use of utensils. If you wanted soup or hash or a slice of pie, you could visit one of the new cafeteria-style restaurants called quick lunches—pioneers of food service efficiency. From the one-arm joint (where you sat at a one-person table and didn’t have to waste time in conversation) to the automat (where you acquired food from a kind of giant vending machine and didn’t have to deal with wait staff or a cashier), fast food options of the late 19th and early 20th centuries abounded. They saved you time, and time was money.

Alternatively, some office workers chose to avoid the hassle of the quick lunch by eating a light meal from home at their desks. In 1904, Good Housekeeping profiled one such luncher who, complaining that his mind did not work as clearly for the first hour or two after a hot midday dinner, had shifted from restaurant meals to a sandwich prepared by his wife. “After eating in my office,” he explained, “I have a quiet hour to work without being bothered by the clamorous clients that infest a down-town law office at all other hours of the day.” For him, lunching light and alone meant both productivity and peace.

Companies knew that time was money, and executives began to worry that quick lunch restaurants might cause workers to become sluggish from indigestion, reducing their productivity and compromising their profitability. Cold lunches brought from home also came under criticism because the science of the day found warm food to be more easily digested. “Neither dinner pail nor quick lunch…sends employees back to work in the afternoon with anything like the spirit with which they came in the morning,” noted Elmer Henry Fish in his 1920 managerial text, How To Manage Men. The solution was company lunchrooms that did more than serve free coffee (though that was a start); they also offered a selection of hot items at or near cost. These would fuel workers appropriately while keeping them on the premises, sparing them the stresses of undue hurry. 

Breakfast underwent a similar transformation, turning lighter and quicker in the mid- to late 19th century—and efficiency became its hallmark. When reformers such as Sylvester Graham and William Andrus Alcott started promoting bread made from unbolted flour along with vegetarianism as a panacea for all manner of bodily ills, their primary aim was to improve Americans’ failing health—especially of the digestive sort. But the new, lighter, grain-based breakfast they promoted also happened to feed Americans’ desire for convenience, and convenience oiled the engines of profit.

John Harvey Kellogg of Corn Flakes fame invented a product he baptized Granola, his first cereal, not just to find a novel way of serving whole wheat at his sanitarium, but also to save time. “It was very difficult to prepare cereals,” he noted, looking back on his busy medical school life in New York City, where he had rented a small third-story room. “It should be possible to purchase cereals at groceries already cooked and ready to eat.” Instant cereal was the answer—you just added milk. Toast became a convenience food when sliced bread and pop-up toasters appeared on the scene, and it fit perfectly into the new breakfast model, upholding the twin pillars of convenience and health. While a traditional farmer’s breakfast demanded precious time and was likely to overtax the desk-worker’s digestive powers, ultimately reducing his output, cereal and toast saved time and kept your body fit for sedentary tasks.

The American pursuit of efficiency continues to shape our meals today, especially breakfast and lunch. Take, for example, the decline of Kellogg’s. Breakfast cereal was once a godsend for busy mothers, but now, as Devin Leonard reports in Bloomberg Businessweek, “Many people grab something on the way to work and devour it in their cars or at their desks while checking e-mail.” Fast food breakfast sandwiches, single-serving yogurts, smoothies-to-go, and individually wrapped breakfast bars are taking the place of cereal and toast, and as they do, the drive for convenience carves the morning meal into an even more mobile, snack-like, and efficient eating occasion. Given our increasing interest in grazing, lunch is also looking less like a meal and more like a snack. 

While many people who are disillusioned with the modern food system and our fragmented relationship with food are calling for a return to the art of the traditional meal, convenience continues to shape the way we eat. Perhaps this is because work has always shaped the way we eat, and what better way to make good on one’s time than to skip the hassle of meals altogether and simply fortify oneself with snacks? Or so the logic goes. In the 1830s, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville noted the “feverish ardor” with which Americans seek to improve their well-being, and in this pursuit, he remarked, “they show themselves constantly tormented by a vague fear of not having chosen the shortest route.” Arguably, when it comes to eating, snacks and snack-like meals are “the shortest route.” In the era of industrialization, ideas about efficiency not only transformed the way we travel, work, farm, and manufacture, but also the way we eat. We Americans are still making our gustatory decisions with efficiency in mind.

Abigail Carroll is the author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal (2013). She has taught at Boston University, and she lives and writes in Vermont. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

Fifteen percent of West Bank settlers are American citizens.


Fifteen percent of West Bank settlers are American citizens.

According to an Oxford University professor, approximately 60,000 American Jews live in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Haaretz reported Thursday.

“This provides hard evidence that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel,” Sara Yael Hirschhorn, the author of the forthcoming book “City on a Hilltop: Jewish-American Settlers in the Occupied Territories Since 1967,” said during a presentation at Jerusalem’s Limmud conference, Haaretz reported.

The book will be published by Harvard University Press next year.

An estimated 170,000 American immigrants and their children live in Israel, according to Haaretz.

Hirschhorn said her findings contradict much of the conventional wisdom about American Israelis who immigrated in the 1960s and ‘70s, particularly that they came to Israel for lack of any other options, that they were very Orthodox and that they had supported right-wing causes in America.

Hirschhorn said her research reveals that most American Jewish settlers came when they “were young, single, highly-educated – something like 10 percent of American settlers in the occupied territories hold PhDs, they’re upwardly mobile, they’re traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in their religious practice, and most importantly, they were politically active in the leftist socialist movements in the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s and voted for the Democratic Party prior to their immigration to Israel.”

She said her 10 years of research reveal a portrait that “is one of young, idealistic, intelligent and seasoned liberal Americans who were Zionist activists, and who were eager to apply their values and experiences to the Israeli settler movement.”

According to Haaretz, Hirschhorn said at Limmud that she reached the following conclusion about this group of immigrants: “They’re not only compelled by some biblical imperative to live in the Holy Land of Israel and hasten the coming of the messiah, but also deeply inspired by an American vision of pioneering and building new suburbanized utopian communities in the occupied territories. They draw on their American background and mobilize the language they were comfortable with, discourses about human rights and civil liberties that justify the kind of work that they’re doing.”

Many American settlers “use the values and language of the left to justify projects on the right,” she added.

Note to Netanyahu: Stop destroying the US-Israel relationship


By now it is clear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disastrously-timed speech to Congress has seriously damaged the US-Israel relationship – but the danger is that he has embarked on a course that will make that damage much worse and perhaps permanent.

Countless analysts, Israelis and Americans, from the left and the right, are writing that they cannot recall a time when this crucial relationship has been so compromised. The relationship “has never been so terrible as it is today,” Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser associated with the Israeli right told the New York Times.

Eytan Gilboa, an expert on Israeli-American relations at Bar-Ilan University, told Israel Radio that it was clear the longstanding bipartisanship that underpinned the alliance “has now been badly broken.”

Writing in the Washington Post, Tufts University professor Daniel Drezner said that if the United States and five other world powers reached a nuclear deal with Iran and if Netanyahu were reelected in Israel’s March 17 election, “the effects on the bilateral relationship over the next two years will be devastating.”

One of the most important tasks of any Israeli Prime Minister has been to nurture and tend his country’s partnership with the one strategic ally it can count on – the United States. Israelis understand very well that this relationship is the only thing that stands between them and almost total international isolation.

As Dov Zakheim writes in Foreign Policy, whatever his personal feelings about President Obama, Netanyahu needs American support on a host of issues. Israel needs US diplomatic support in international organizations; it needs American military equipment and US dollars to buy that equipment. “The list goes on. And on. Mr. Netanyahu is putting all of this in jeopardy.”

Why are people across the political spectrum, Republicans as well as Democrats, so upset? First of course, it’s the timing of the speech, two weeks before the Israeli election. Former Israeli Deputy National Security Adviser Chuck Freilich wrote that Netanyahu has “subordinated Israel’s most crucial strategic interests to election considerations.”

Second, it’s the strong feeling that Netanyahu has lined up with the Republicans and no longer cares to have a relationship with President Obama in particular and Democrats in general. His personally-chosen Washington ambassador, Ron Dermer, is a former Republican political operative. Netanyahu’s blunt rejection of an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats during his visit, no doubt on Dermer’s advice, has solidified the feeling that for the first time in history, Israel’s Prime Minister has thrown in his lot with one US political party.

“Since when does an Israeli prime minister say no to a meeting with Democrats?” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. He added: “By the way, their Israeli voting record is impeccable. Not good, not very good, impeccable. The Democrats extend a hand of sorts and he says no? This defies explanation.”

Thirdly, there is the strong sense that this speech is just the opening shot of what will be a long and withering fight between Obama and Netanyahu plus his Republican allies over the Iran deal if there is one. Netanyahu is determined to kill an agreement which the President is convinced will make the whole world, including Israel, safer. The Republicans are his willing tool. They will bring resolution after resolution, bill after bill, congressional letter after congressional letter, trying to hem in Obama, block implementation of the deal, refuse to relax sanctions, refuse budgetary authority, attach riders – whatever works.

The Republicans in the House have voted 56 times to repeal Obama Care – and they’re willing to use the same tactics against the Iran deal. Netanyahu will back them every step of the way. Supporters of Israel will have to choose between their President and Netanyahu. Many will back Obama. The impression, already now forming, will harden that support for Israel is increasingly a partisan issue.

Nothing could be more damaging for Israel’s future. We have to hope that Netanyahu, deep in a hole of his own making, decides after this ill-conceived speech, to stop digging.

Alan Elsner is Vice President of Communications for J Street

Poll: Most Israelis see a crisis in U.S.-Israel ties


The majority of Israelis believe there is a crisis in U.S.-Israel ties and that the Netanyahu government has harmed the relationship, according to a new poll.

A poll commissioned by J Street, the liberal U.S. Jewish Middle East policy group, and released on Dec. 15, found that 61.7 percent of respondents said “yes” when asked if there was a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations, while 22.8 percent said the relations were “stable and good.”

Asked whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has harmed or strengthened the relationship, 60.4 percent opted for “harmed,” 9.8 percent said “strengthened,” and 16.4 percent said it had no influence on relations.

Netanyahu and President Barack Obama were statistically tied when respondents were asked who was mainly responsible for the crisis. Nearly 25 percent each chose Netanyahu and Obama, while 26.4 percent blamed “everyone equally.”

A majority of respondents, 61 percent, favored a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while 32.1 percent were opposed.

Additionally, a slight majority, 52 percent, favored settlement expansion while 39.5 percent were opposed. The poll, carried out Nov. 9-13, 2014, over the phone and the Internet, reached 600 voting-age Israelis.

The questions were authored by pollster Dahlia Scheindlin with data collection by New Wave Media.

Gallup shows split in backing for Israel in Gaza war, with younger Americans unsupportive


A Gallup poll shows that support among Americans for Israel during the Gaza Strip conflict is divided, and is low among younger Americans.

The poll posted on the pollster’s website Thursday showed a statistical dead heat between those who believe Israel’s actions against Hamas are justified, 42 percent, and those who believe they are unjustified, 39 percent. The difference was within the poll’s margin of error of four percentage points.

Reactions to Hamas were lopsided, with 70 percent calling the group’s actions unjustified and just 11 percent describing them as justified.

Older Americans were much likelier to say Israel’s actions were justified: 55 percent of those over 65; 53 percent of those between 50 and 64; 36 percent of those 30-49 and just 25 percent of those 18-29.

There were other dramatic differences in how subgroups measured support for Israel, with 65 percent of Republicans calling Israel’s actions justified and just 31 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Independents saying they were justified; 50 percent of whites said Israel was justified, while just 25 percent of non-whites agreed with that characterization; 51 percent of men agreed and 33 percent of women.

The poll was based on 1,018 phone interviews conducted from July 22-23.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 after an intensification of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. More than 820 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since then, as have 36 Israelis, including 33 troops.

Calendar November 30-December 6


SUN | DEC 1

CLIPPERS JEWISH HERITAGE DAY 

A Chanukah miracle couldn’t hurt as the Clippers face off against the top-ranked Indiana Pacers. Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Cantor Nathan Lam opens the game with the singing of the national anthem. There will also be a menorah lighting, a Q-and-A session with rabbis and a special halftime performance by the Body Poets. Add in kosher food and a free T-shirt, and this Chanukah celebration is bound to be a slam-dunk. Sun. 10:30 a.m. (pre-game warm-ups), 12:30 p.m. (game time).  $20-$62. Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., downtown. (213) 742-7503. ” target=”_blank”>chabadofthevalley.com


MON | DEC 2

“LISTENING TO THE OTHER”

Monday marks the beginning of a weeklong look at Middle East musical dialogues. There will be public performances, master classes, panel discussions and, of course, music. Some of the significant names sprinkled throughout the week are: Thaer Bader, Mohammed Fairouz, David Krakauer, David Lefkowitz and Betty Olivero. All have made a contribution to the unique conversation of Arab-Israeli fusion. Mon. Various times. Through Dec. 8. $30-$60 (general), $15 (UCLA Students). Various locations in UCLA area. (818) 716-6211. TUE | DEC 3

“A PATCHWORK OF CULTURES: THE SEPHARDIC-LATINO CONNECTION”

Shalom and ¡Hola! The L.A. Jewish Symphony Educational Outreach Program is hosting a concert that explores the music and historical cultures of our Spanish ancestors. Led by Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, there will be song, dance and a celebration of Sephardic and Latino music pieces. Student-created artwork will also be exhibited to contribute to an already creative atmosphere. Reservations required. Tue. 11 a.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 436-5260. ” target=”_blank”>tioh.org.

“BROTHERS AND STRANGERS II: ISRAELIS ARE FROM MARS, AMERICAN JEWS ARE FROM VENUS”

Like any pair of siblings, American Jews and Israelis don’t always have a seamless relationship. But unlike you and your brother or sister, it is crucial to the future of Judaism that we understand the tensions, connections and in-betweens of the two largest Jewish populations in the world. American Jewish University hosts a panel discussion that illuminates how we can strengthen a sometimes-weakening bond. Panelists include Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) Jewish social policy professor Steven M. Cohen, Middlebury College international studies professor Theodore Sasson, HUC-JIR contemporary Jewish studies professor Sarah Bunin Benor and Gil Ribak, director of the Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $10. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777. THU | DEC 5

“LIGHT UP THE NIGHT”

East Side Jews is going global. Join your favorite irreverent collection of Jews as they shoo away the darkness with a dreidel tournament, drinks and nosh, and stories you wont want to miss from Justine Barron, Matthew Irving Epstein, Josh Feldman, Jessie Kahnweiler and Raimy Rosenduft. For those of you interested in human rights, the evening will also feature Guatemalan human rights activist Claudia Samayoa. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $18. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>themintla.com.


FRI | DEC 6

THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC IN THE SANCTUARY

The world-renowned orchestra is making a house call (sort of). Leaving its home base downtown, the L.A. Phil is migrating West. Playing in the beautiful and newly remodeled sanctuary, the evening features a special performance of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. So whether you are interested in Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 or you are simply sick of Disney Hall, it will be an intimate and unforgettable evening of music. Fri. 8 p.m. $50-$150. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Erika J. Glazer Family Campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 835-2198.

Americans would do well to drop the Euro-snobbery


Sitting here in Paris, where I am spending a month as a visiting professor at the Université Paris 8, Institut Français de Géopolitique, I’m struck by how, once again, American presidential candidates are denigrating their opponents simply by calling them “French” or “European.”

Americans have long been suspicious of Old World Europe. It is, perhaps, a sentiment that dates back to the Revolution, despite the fact that the French saved our bacon in the climactic battle at Yorktown in that war. In the early days, it was Britain that was the target of animosity from the precursors of today’s Democrats — the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, who accused the Federalists (precursors of today’s Republicans) of being too cozy with the Empire. In the contemporary era, it’s the Republicans who have taken the offensive by tying the Democrats to France and the rest of Europe.

The heat got turned up when the Bush administration resented strong French opposition to the Iraq War, as compared to the full support it got from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In 2004, Republican strategists found that they could portray Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as effete and French-like. To add to the portrait, his wife spoke in several languages at the Democratic National Convention, revealing a suspect air of cosmopolitanism. (Actually, even I thought that was a bit on the pretentious side.) Now, Newt Gingrich has taken on his fellow Republican Mitt Romney by pointing out that, like Kerry, Romney actually speaks French. Mon dieu! Meanwhile, for his part, Romney has been busy castigating President Barack Obama for trying to turn America into a European-style “entitlement state.”  

Such parochialism prevents us from learning what we really need to know about Europe, especially in the global economic arena, where we are inextricably interconnected. The fact is, what happens in Europe’s economy won’t stay in Europe. Many believe that the nascent economic recovery in America can only be sustained if Europe gets its act together and saves its economic alliance. Right now, presidential candidates need to talk knowledgeably about Europe’s economic crisis rather than encouraging us to be ignorant on the subject.

How linked we are was brought home just last week, when the rating firm Standard & Poor’s (S&P) did to France what it had done to the United States last August — lowered its credit rating from AAA to AA+.

In August, the S&P evaluation was shown by the White House to be off by an accounting error of a couple of trillion dollars, but instead of changing its rating, S&P stuck it to the United States anyway. In the aftermath of the downgrade, worldwide investors sought safety in U.S. Treasury bonds, thereby giving the lie to the rationale for the downgrade in the first place.

Now it’s Europe’s turn. Last week, S&P downgraded several European nations, including France, even as these nations are struggling to raise the capital to solve the euro zone’s problems. While some economists think these downgrades are more justified than what the S&P did to the United States, their timing is particularly unfortunate for nations trying to go into the bond market to support their weaker members.

On both sides of the ocean, we might wonder why private rating agencies are in a position to direct the fate of democratically elected governments — on both the left and the right. The downgrades hurt the Democratic president Obama but also the center-right French president Nicolas Sarkozy. 

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Romney has been dismissing Europe as an entitlement society. Indeed, compared to the United States, especially since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, the European safety net has been much deeper and stronger than ours. Just the other day, I was explaining to my somewhat incredulous graduate student class that in the United States, a lot more than 40 million people have no health insurance coverage at all, and that only the recent health care law will prevent insurance companies from refusing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. I noted that because of the new law, young people can stay on their parents’ policies until the age of 26.

In France, private doctors operate and negotiate as a group with the government for the rates of care. It is not the government-run program of the U.K. and Canada, and it has features we might emulate.

Virtually everyone is covered for health care, students benefit from a specific coverage plan, and insurance companies only sell supplemental policies for those who want “gold-plated” coverage. Pharmaceutical drugs are available at low cost, and the vital ones are fully reimbursed.

Are Americans supposed to stay ignorant about this public-private partnership, which seems to be working here, simply because we might not want to seem “European”?

European nations, too, have for the last several decades debated, often in raging terms, the cost of their safety nets. It is not only American voters who worry about taxes. As Nicholas Kristof noted in The New York Times last week, Europe is a lot more conservative than American stereotypes suggest. Throughout Europe, left and right governments have come in and out of power; austerity measures have been adopted and then relaxed and then readopted. In France, for example, the highly rated health care system is getting more and more expensive to maintain, and French voters and leaders have to confront whether to cut services, raise taxes, or increase citizen co-pays.

In other words, Europe’s politics have more in common with ours than we might imagine. While the center of political gravity throughout Europe tends to be more to the left than in the United States, the big questions of austerity versus growth and how to pay for social services are fundamental on both sides of the ocean. So, with a presidential election coming up in the United States this year, I hope our candidates will do better than simply accuse one another of actually knowing something about that big continent “over there.” We need to know everything we possibly can as we try to work our way out of the economic and social challenges we all face.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at California State University, Fullerton, will become the executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, in February.

Poll: Americans’ views on Mideast largely unchanged


Americans’ views on Middle East issues have not changed in recent months, despite major headlines from the region, according to a new poll.

The Pew Research Center poll, conducted during the end of May, found that Americans still sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians in their ongoing conflict by 48 percent to 11 percent. Those numbers are on par with an April survey that found Americans supporting Israel over the Palestinians 49 percent to 16 percent.

The unchanged support for Israel also comes after escalating tension in the U.S.-Israel relationship, including President Obama’s declaration that a two-state solution should be based on the 1967 border lines with mutually agreed land swaps.

As a group, self-identified conservative Republicans had the most sympathy for Israel at 75 percent, compared to 32 percent who identified as liberal Democrats.

According to the May poll, 50 percent of Americans said they believe Obama is striking the right balance in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, 21 percent said he is favoring the Palestinians too much and 6 percent said he is favoring Israel, with the rest unsure. Those numbers are nearly identical to the Pew poll in April.

Regarding the Arab Springs events, 23 percent said they thought the changes will be good for the United States and 26 percent said they will be bad. Thirty-six percent said the Arab Spring will have no effect on the U.S., and the rest were undecided.

Views about whether the events would lead to lasting improvements in the region dipped slightly: 37 percent said they believed they would, down from 42 percent who thought so two months earlier.

The poll had a sample size of 1,509 adults and a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

A separate poll commissioned by the Israel Project found that a majority of U.S. voters would oppose a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated he will seek from the United Nations in September.

Fifty-seven percent polled June 5-7 said they would oppose such a move, up from 51 percent in April. One-quarter of voters said they would support the declaration, down from 31 percent in April.

The Israel Project survey polled 800 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

Americans oppose unilateral statehood, poll finds


A majority of Americans oppose a declaration of Palestinian statehood absent a peace agreement with Israel, a new poll finds.

The poll released this week by the Israel Project showed 51 percent of registered U.S. voters oppose a proposal that the Palestinian Authority “unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state WITHOUT a signed peace treaty with Israel,” while 31 percent support it.

Republicans were likelier to oppose such a proposal, at 66 opposed to 21 percent in favor,  in constrast to Democrats, with 44 percent opposed and 33 percent in favor, and independents, with 48 percent opposed and 37 percent in favor.

The question is looming because Palestinians are pushing for UNited Nations recognition of statehood in September as a means of pressing Israel to freeze settlements.

Palestinians walked away from direct talks last September when Israel would not extend a 10-month settlement freeze.

The poll also found that voters perceive Israel as working harder for peace.

Respondents who said Israel was making an effort outnumbered those who said it was not, 61 percent to 29 percent. Those who said Palestinians were not making an effort to achieve peace outnumbered those who did 53 percent to 46 percent.

The poll, carried out by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 800 voters between April 5 and 7 and has a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

Americans must unite in tough times


In the days President Obama was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address, everyone knew the economy would play a major role. What remains unknown is what will result for millions of vulnerable Americans once the applause dies down and the political maneuvering picks back up.

What will tomorrow be like for the one in five American children who live below the poverty line? How will the 26 million unemployed and underemployed Americans feed their families? And when will our seniors receive the care they deserve but can’t afford on their own?

The answers to these questions depend on the answer to the real mystery in Washington on Tuesday.

Will our officials come together as they’ve done around the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords? Will leaders from all parties work side by side to support our struggling Americans in the same way they said they’d sit side by side at this year’s State of the Union? Or is this new wave of bipartisan civility only temporary—and tomorrow Congress once more will refuse to compromise, forcing hard-working Americans with urgent needs to stay on wait lists until it’s their turn for help?

I hope that’s not the case, because tragedy is not all that can unite our union. Lending a hand to our neighbors in need is a responsibility that every American values and must agree to uphold.

The last few years have proven that there are no quick fixes for our nation’s economic woes. But in the meantime, there are actions we can take to help our fellow Americans cope.

Although the Jewish Federations of North America doesn’t pretend to have all the solutions, we certainly do have a few.

First, the United States must invest in the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, which is designed to help Americans who find themselves in sudden economic distress and need a lifesaver to prevent their immediate economic troubles from spiraling into long-term despair.

The number of these Americans in need is growing; requests for emergency food assistance climbed 24 percent last year. By providing extra support to more than 13,000 nonprofit and public food banks, shelters and homelessness prevention organizations nationwide, this program is helping Americans stay afloat.

While the banks were bailed out and put back on track, millions of Americans have been silently losing their homes as the foreclosure crisis has swept across the country. Our neighbors deserve support getting back on track, too. Congress should preserve funding for low-income housing assistance and housing for the elderly who may have lost the financial support of their families in this down economy.

Numerous other programs that help our seniors are endangered as lawmakers engage in the important battle to reduce the deficit. But instead of cutting these life-upholding services to seniors, we must choose new, more efficient ways to provide them.

Because a quarter of the Jewish population will be eligible for Medicare in the next decade, Jewish Federations has taken a keen interest in planning innovative home- and community-based programs that serve seniors and save the government money. Persevering with this type of innovation will be crucial as we seek to balance the budget without abandoning our parents and grandparents as they age.

The Jewish Federations will keep working with our allies in Congress and the White House to make these ideas a reality and find even more solutions that will improve the everyday lives of our neighbors.

As an organization, the Jewish Federations represents Jewish Americans of all viewpoints, but despite our differences we all unite around our belief in tikkun olam and tzedakah, repairing the world and charity. As our union struggles, it’s time for the rest of America to come together in the same spirit.

(William Daroff is the vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America.)

If Borat has offended … then he’s done his job


Virtually everyone who has already seen the comedy “Borat” at film festivals and invitational screenings has found the film uproariously funny.

But with its nationwide opening set for Friday, the question now is whether a mass, mainstream audience will also get the film’s satiric sensibilities, or, rather, be offended by its political incorrectness and by its lead character, who is a raging anti-Semite.

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is a “mockumentary” starring British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev, a cheerfully impudent, male-chauvinistic Kazakh journalist. He road-trips across America, speaking comically mangled English and constantly doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. His interactions mostly are with unwitting, everyday Americans who have been led to believe by filmmakers that Cohen’s alter ego, Borat, is the real thing.

The humor in the film, which is directed by Larry Charles, is sometimes raunchy, especially a nude wrestling match between Borat and his heavyset producer, Azamat Bagatov (Kenny Davitian). And it is sometimes bitingly politically satirical — “We support your war of terror,” Borat tells a rodeo crowd before massacring “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Borat fears Jews so much he has nightmarish hallucinations when forced to board with an elderly Jewish couple. He and his producer also choose to drive across America because they’re scared Jews would hijack their plane, “like they did on 9/11.”

Cohen, 35, is a modern-day Ernie Kovacs in his ability to subsume his personality in his comic creations. He is best known in the U.S. for playing the gay French NASCAR driver Jean Girard in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” But in Britain he became a star as the obnoxiously slow-witted rapper/talk-show host Ali G, which acquired a cult U.S. following when HBO’s “Da Ali G Show” was broadcast in 2003. Borat was a character on that show.

Because “Borat’s” anti-Semitism is so flagrant, the film raises some ethical questions. Is Cohen, who is Jewish and studied history at Christ’s College at Cambridge, crossing a line with his character’s anti-Semitism? And is his rendering of the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan as a stewpot of anti-Semites, child abusers, prostitutes and generally crude people too cruel?

According to answers.com, Cohen was born in the London-adjacent suburb Staines to a middle-class Jewish family — his father, originally from Wales, was the owner of a London menswear shop. Cohen has what the site calls an “active Zionist background,” including involvement in the Jewish youth movement Habonim Dror. His mother is an Israeli-born Iranian, and, according to answers.com, he told NPR in a 2004 interview that he wrote his college thesis on Jewish involvement in the American civil rights movement.

Borat’s anti-Semitism has folkloric, fantastical roots in his nation’s culture, as depicted in the film. It envisions, for instance, a “traditional” Kazakh “Running of the Jew” event, similar to Pamplona’s “running of the bulls.” And the Kazakhs are portrayed as simple, backward peasants — Borat mistakes a hotel elevator for his room in New York and carries a chicken onto the subway.

“I saw the movie yesterday,” said Roman Y. Vassilenko, an ambassadorial assistant and press secretary for Kazakhstan’s U.S. embassy, when interviewed last week. “Like Jonathan Swift wrote ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and invented a country, Lilliput, to make a satire of England, this is the same thing. He invents a Kazakhstan in order to make a satire of a very different country.”

Just to make sure the public realizes that “Borat’s” Kazakhstan is not the real one, the embassy has released an official statement on the movie. It reads in part: “Kazakhstan, a Muslim majority country, is home to 130 ethnic groups and 40 religious faiths. Pope John Paul II, who visited Kazakhstan in 2001, called our country ‘an example of harmony between men and women of different origins and beliefs.'” (The nation has a sizeable Russian Orthodox minority.)

Cohen himself isn’t talking. Or, rather, he’s talking only in character. Two weeks ago, he came to Santa Monica’s Shutters on the Beach resort hotel for a “Borat” press conference, standing at a podium with an official-looking Kazakhstan emblem on it. Tall and dressed in a neat if staid suit, bearing a bright smile to contrast with his dark bushy brows and hair, he did what amounted to a comedy act. Questions had to be submitted in advance.

“Good evening, gentleman and prostitutes,” he began, in halting, bumbling, heavily accented English. He said he admired “mighty warlord George Walter Bush” as a “very strong man but perhaps not as strong as his father, Barbara.”

Asked whom he’d most like to meet, he mentioned “fearless anti-Jew warrior Melvin Gibsons. We in Kazakhstan agree with his statement Jews started all the wars. We also have evidence they killed off the dinosaurs. Hurricane Katrina, too. They did it.”

Cohen’s satiric target may well be America and its anti-Semitism, believes Joel Schalit, managing editor of the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun. And in “Borat,” he may be drawing from world history to get at it.

“I see a film like ‘Borat’ as a very roundabout, tongue-in-cheek way of exploring that,” Schalit said.

A parallel can be drawn between Cohen’s imaginary Kazakhstan and the early 20th-century Russian peasants who accepted the fraudulent, anti-Semitic “Protocols of Zion” (which told of a Jewish plot to run the world) as truth and staged pogroms. (Kazakhstan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union, gained its independence in 1991.)

“By evoking that example, Cohen’s timing couldn’t be better,” Schalit said. “There remains a populist strand of anti-Semitism in the U.S. that is the parallel of pre-Bolshevik Russian anti-Semitism. And it’s emanating from the quarters of the religious right.”

Josh Neuman, editor of edgy, youthful Jewish humor magazine Heeb, thinks American Jews will get Cohen’s “Borat” and not be offended.

“I think Jews understand the power of satirical narratives, because we understand the power of narratives in general,” he said via e-mail. “[There’s] a desire to poeticize the absurdity of stereotypes rather than arguing against them. I think the former is much more effective than the latter.”

And, Neuman said, Cohen also has another target.

I think [he] is satirizing how mainstream anti-Semitism is around the world, but also and perhaps more importantly I think he’s satirizing a Western bourgeois notion of people from distant lands, their customs and beliefs. I think that he pulls it off with immense subtlety and creativity.”

“Borat” plays in theaters starting Nov. 3.

7 Days in the Arts


Saturday the 7th

Take a stroll for a good cause at today’s 14th annual Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. More than 100 teams are scheduled for the 5K recreational walk around Hollywood Park racetrack, and those wishing to register today are also welcome. Also ambling are celebrities Peter Gallagher, David Hyde Pierce, Leeza Gibbons and Lea Thompson.

7 a.m. (registration), 8:30 a.m. (opening ceremonies), 8:45 a.m. (warm up). 9 a.m. (walk). 10:15 a.m.-noon (health expo, live entertainment, celebrity autographs and prizes). 1050 S. Prairie Ave., Inglewood. (323) 930-6228.

” TARGET=”_blank”>www.actoberfest.com.

Monday the 9th

Sneak behind the curtain into the life of Pulitzer and Tony award-winning playwright Tony Kushner in the new documentary, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner.” Following the writer from just after Sept. 11, 2001 to the 2004 presidential election, cameras captured Kushner’s work on the Broadway musical, “Caroline, or Change.” and the children’s Holocaust opera, “Brundibar,” as well as his “humor, ambition, vision and dazzling braininess,” according to Newsweek.

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Jewish Renewal leader Rabbi Shefa Gold debuts her first book, “Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land,” this month. Described as an approach for using the Torah as a path for spiritual growth, the text has been praised by Renewal leaders like Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Gold visits Los Angeles this week, offering workshops in conjunction with the release. Tonight, she is at B’nai Horin/Children of Freedom.

Oct. 10: (310) 441-4434 or e-mail PeggiS@mac.com.

For other workshop dates, visit ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.uclalive.org.

Thursday the 12th

Storytelling for grownups comes courtesy of UCLA Live this week. “The Moth,” a New York storytelling organization, comes west for a night at Royce Hall titled, “Out on a Limb: Stories From the Edge.” The show of real-life narratives will include host Andy Borowitz (creator of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), Jonathan Ames (author, “Wake Up Sir!”), comedian Margaret Cho, Cindy Chupak (writer and executive producer, “Sex and the City”), RUN DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Steve Osborne (retired NYPD lieutenant).

8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ” target = “_blank”>Loudon Wainwright III (photo below), read theirs tonight.

7:30 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Health – Take the Bite Out of Dental Health Pains


Since most Americans lose their dental insurance benefits when they retire, the majority of people over 65 pay out of pocket every time they visit a dentist. Medicare does not cover routine dental care (nor does Medicaid in most states) and more than 80 percent of older Americans have no private dental insurance, according to a recent report by nonprofit advocacy group Oral Health America.

Yet, older adults may need dental care more than any other age group.

“Patients age 65 and over will have potentially an increase in cavities or decay on the root surfaces of the teeth,” said Dr. Matthew Messina, an American Dental Association consumer adviser and practicing dentist in Cleveland. “And that comes secondary to the medical condition of dry mouth — a decrease in the amount of production of saliva because of age and certain medications…. We also see periodontal disease in patients of that population.”

Messina advises his older patients to see a dentist at least once every six months for an oral cancer screening and recommends an annual visit for denture wearers.

So what’s a person with no dental insurance to do? If you can pay out of pocket, ask your dentist if he or she will offer a discount or work out a payment plan.

“A lot of times for patients paying in full at the time of service, some offices will offer some degree of bookkeeping courtesy,” Messina said. “There are a number of ways that offices are creatively handling finances for patients of all ages to make dentistry affordable.”

Local dental schools are another option for reduced-cost care — if you’re not in a hurry.

“Our fees can be about half the cost of private practitioners,” said Dr. Janet Yellowitz, director of geriatric dentistry at the University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore. “The downside is that because it’s a training program, it takes time — you’re working with students who are being supervised.”

She suggests contacting schools with graduate training programs for slightly more costly but quicker treatment, or looking into clinical trials at your local dental school.

Neighborhood health clinics sometimes offer dental services, according to Yellowitz and Oral Health America’s Elizabeth Rogers. However, they are not always widely publicized. Of course, people in extreme pain can go to the closest hospital emergency room, where they most likely will be given painkillers and get their tooth pulled, Rogers said.

“But that is by no means a solution,” she added.

If this doesn’t sound like a lot of options for those without dental coverage, it’s not. But a few organizations around the country are trying to change that. One is Minneapolis-area Apple Tree Dental, a nonprofit clinic that aims to improve access to dental care for underserved populations, including seniors. The full-service clinic — which treats more than 30,000 patients each year in the Twin Cities area, including on-site visits with patients in long-term care facilities — has been cited as a national model for dental care and has received requests from all over the country and Canada to present on their model.

“What I’m interested in is ensuring that we have programs in place that at least get primary care needs met for seniors,” said Dr. Carl Ebert of Apple Tree Dental. “Because when you look at the demographics and the fact that more people are keeping more of their teeth as they get older, you’re going to be facing a huge dilemma…. Then add to that the nationwide problem of the significant decrease in the sheer numbers of dentists … and the sort of seller’s marketplace we have right now in dentistry where dentists can pick and choose who they see — some exclude all insurance patients, some just cater to high-end patients seeking cosmetic services. When you start to multiply all these factors, you’re looking at a tremendous problem.”

Abigail Green is a freelance writer and editor based in Baltimore.

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Goldberg’s List


Jewish Americans are only 2 percent of the nation’s population, but they are 25 percent of its problem.

That’s according to Bernard Goldberg, whose new, bestselling nonfiction book is called, “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken is No. 37).”

The book offers one- and two-page mini-attacks on people who, Goldberg writes, “are not only screwing things up in this country, but who often are wildly succeeding by screwing things up.”

The way I see it, if Goldberg could take the time and trouble to list these people, the least that I, the Jewish journalist, could do is count the Jews among them.

I came up with 25.

So there are 25 American Jews who, in Goldberg’s words, produce “a slow poison running through the veins of this great country.”

The screed of this scribe has a history. Every couple of years, Goldberg releases a new book attacking liberals in America. His first was called, “Bias,” and it was a fun read, because the author had been a CBS News correspondent, and had scores to settle and grudges to nurse.

His second, “Arrogance,” I didn’t read — it was beneath me — and this new one continues the same general line: political, media and entertainment elites, spurred on by the liberal-educational complex, have debased and coarsened American culture.

The book is a bestseller — No. 2 on Amazon.com and climbing the New York Times list — and Goldberg is out flogging it everywhere. Droning on through droopy jowls, working himself up into a kind of lackadaisical outrage about Barbra Streisand and Howard Stern, Goldberg is the thinking man’s Deputy Dawg.

He wags a finger at radio pioneer Stern, though he is quick to say he opposes media censorship. His cover promises a full frontal attack on Franken, who took apart “Bias” for factual inaccuracy, but Goldberg doesn’t marshal anything more than a fictional conversation between himself and the Air America host.

His indictment of Michael Moore, who ranks No. 1 on the list, consists of a full-page photo of Moore and a single quote.

Most of the nonliberals who make the list — there are five — either broke the law or killed someone.

“The Unknown American Terrorist” is No. 23. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is No. 8.

Serious, thoughtful work this book is not.

So which Jews make the list?

Other than Franken, Streisand and Stern, there is billionaire Democrat George Soros; activist Laurie David; schlock hosts Jerry Springer and Maury Povich; professors Eric Foner, Jonathan Kozol, Peter Singer and Noam Chomsky; right-wing talk show host Michael Savage; director Oliver Stone; “Vagina Monologue” author Eve Ensler; Norman Mailer; feminists Gloria Steinem and Linda Hirshman; Nation writer Katha Pollitt; Interscope’s Ted Field; “Fear Factor” producer Matt Kunitz; New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, and columnist Krugman; Barbara Walters; NBC News president Neal Shapiro; and ABC News president David Westin.

Of course, Goldberg makes nothing of the fact that these people happen to be Jewish. It’s possible that no one but me will notice. It’s not like anyone can accuse a middle-aged author named Goldberg who lives in Miami of being an anti-Semite. You might even say it’s a good thing that someone can publish a best-selling diatribe listing more than two dozen Jews who are poisoning the American bloodstream and not one crackpot picks up on it.

Well, not quite.

Goldberg’s callings-out turn up quite frequently on the Web sites of white supremacists and anti-Semitic hate groups. Even nutjobs need validation, and who more authoritative than a man named Goldberg to assure the hatemongers that, yes, if the whole, anti-American entertainment and media elite seems Jewish, it’s because it is.

Take this from www.thepriceofliberty.org: “The Zionist domination of the media has been repeatedly proven, and this domination is evident in both the electronic and print media. The commonality of “news” reporting in all the news media, to include major leading newspapers and both network and cable TV journalism, was definitively exposed in Bernard Goldberg’s two best-selling books: ‘Bias’ and ‘Arrogance.'”

Just wait until they read the new book: It’s the same ideas with twice as many Jewish names.

Another web hate site, www.rense.com, either rips Goldberg off or just happened to arrive at a similar revelation: It lists the same Jewish media execs he does, like Shapiro and Westin.

Goldberg isn’t responsible for the delusions of others. But his list, which he calls, at the end of his book, “the fun part,” is not without its risks. A just-released study in Britain found anti-Semitic actions among the general population on the rise — some42 precent in 2004. In times of social upheaval and terror, people look to scapegoats, and simple-minded lists — especially ones weighted so heavily to one minority group — are ready-made red flags.

Some fun.

 

Love and Loyalty


More out of ethnic loyalty than any expectation of a great match, The Journal stayed late at the 78th annual Mercedes Benz Cup men’s tennis tournament on July 17 at UCLA to watch a doubles semifinal between two Israelis and two Americans. The Americans, Bob and Mike Bryan, were the tournament’s top-seeded doubles team, handsome identical twins from Camarillo who have been unstoppable lately. The Israelis’ record was spottier. Yonatan Ehrlich, 28, is a native of Buenos Aries, Argentina, and a resident of Haifa. His partner, Andy Ram, 24, is from Jerusalem by way of Montevideo, Uruguay. They also are strikingly handsome — they prepped for the match by running shirtless around a practice court, kicking a tennis ball as if it were a soccer ball.

Both are sports heroes in Israel, according to Hagai Ben Zvi, who covers tennis for the Israeli press. Their international careers were set back by three years (each) of army service, but both made the semifinals at Wimbledon last year and both have been invited to the Olympics in Athens.

And both played what turned out to be one of the most hard-fought and exciting matches of the tournament. Highlights for Israel-watchers included the way each called a ball for the other — Shelcha! — Hebrew for “Yours!” and the fact that Ram, after a double fault, smacked a ball with typical Israeli impatience over the grandstands, for which he received a warning violation from the head referee. The Israelis lost in close games and close sets — but, said Ben Zvi, they will no doubt return to the Mercedes Benz Cup next year.

For more information go to www.mercedes-benzcup.com .

Friends Find Real Flavor of Europe


We sat at a table by the water in Venice, Italy, enjoying gourmet pasta and the serenade of two accordion players nearby. A waiter brought dessert menus, and we struggled to speak to him in very Americanized and pathetic Italian. Like thousands of others college-age Americans, my three friends and I were backpacking through Europe. We came straight from our year of study at yeshivas in Israel, and our travels had one important difference: We were eating kosher.

Eating kosher on a budget in Europe is a little like being unemployed — you never know when or where you’ll eat again. &’9;

Our trip began in Madrid, where we then rode trains through Spain, southern France and Italy, ending in Rome before flying home for the summer. Traveling through predominantly Catholic countries, we hopped from ancient Jewish ghettos to fledgling Jewish communities, sampling the kosher restaurants that saved us along the way.

While restaurant hopping almost always dominates a European trip, when attempting to eat kosher, itineraries center on food. Web sites like shamash.org and chabad.org list kosher restaurants around the world — a very helpful resource for planning ahead.

Still, after a long day of visiting museums and skipping meals, the Web sites did not prepare us for the disappointment of finally arriving at the listed location of the kosher restaurant in Madrid, only to find the restaurant had been closed for years.

Such are the disadvantages of eating kosher through Europe, especially when not traveling through Jewish centers like London and Paris. Cheap meals are few and far between, and trying to pack kosher snacks in an already overstuffed backpack can grate on even the most patient of nerves.

Despite the aggravation, kosher eating developed into one of the highlights of our trip. We found some surprisingly tolerable and occasionally elegant kosher restaurants: La Escudilla, an Israeli-style meat restaurant in Madrid; Gam Gam, an Italian restaurant in Venice; Yotvata, a milk restaurant named after the dairy kibbutz in Israel, and La Taverna del Ghetto, a pricey Italian meat restaurant, both located in Rome; and the curiously named Pizza Dick in Cannes. More importantly, in almost every restaurant and bakery where we found food we could eat, we also found some of the most interesting Jews in the world.

In Nice, while dodging drunken Bulgarian soccer fans, we met a beaming British couple celebrating their 50th anniversary.

At a Chabad Shabbat dinner in Florence, we were awed by the operatic skills of Franscesco, a convert-in-training with a booming voice and an oversized Star of David around his neck.

And in Barcelona, we met Chaim Chalfon. Chalfon, a self-proclaimed "conquerer of the world," had settled briefly in Barcelona after a lifetime of success in business, spending time serving gourmet vegetarian food to wandering Jews in his home on Shabbat. We sampled his Pacific Island salad and salmon quiche on a balcony with a magnificent view of the city’s quirky architecture. Chalfon showed us his cookbook, which was in the final stages of publication, and contained a fusion of recipes and self-help begging readers to always focus on "the human element." Chalfon told us to "forget about responsibilities and get lost in the world for a year or three."

We never really understood what Chalfon was saying, but he made great salads, so we indulged him with smiles and nods, making sure to take second servings of everything. Chalfon aimed at hosting 1,000 people during his three-year stint in Barcelona, and as we signed his guest book, his wife informed us he was more than halfway there.

At Chalfon’s, Americans, Israelis, Moroccans, Italians and Spaniards all dined together — and Hebrew united us all. Our Hebrew helped more than English in Europe, as Israelis run most kosher restaurants and many of the Chabad centers and synagogues.

Despite the gourmet cuisine, my favorite part of the meal was the warm environment (granted, there was no cholent or meat, which might have changed things a bit). Sitting around the table and listening to each other, I realized that while we lived thousands of miles apart, spoke different languages, had various levels of religious observance and had our birth dates that spanned five decades, as Jews we shared a deep, common bond.

In the three countries we crossed, we saw everything from Michaelangelo’s David to astounding Italian synagogues, from Gaudi’s dream houses to old Jewish ghettos, but the real highlight of the trip was the people we met along the way. From the black-hat Chabad shaliach (emissary) in Madrid to the stunning brunette boasting about her three previous (and unsuccessful) engagements to Jewish men, the stories of the people we met gave most of the flavor to our trip, more than the kosher food we ate.

Maybe our European experience was not "authentic": We ate schnitzel in Spain and pizza in France; we never tasted real Tuscan delicacies or the mouth-watering gelato in Florence. However, our trip was authentic because we learned how kosher European Jews live, of the sacrifices they make, how they struggle to keep restaurants and synagogues open so that four spoiled Americans fresh out of yeshiva can eat more than instant soup and find a minyan for prayers.

We are home now — and we will never again take Los Angeles’ kosher restaurants for granted.

Sept. 11 Still Roils Our Nation’s Heritage


Anniversaries take on lives of their own. The further from the original event, the more laden they become with symbolism, meaning and portent.

Since the tempo of our time is fast, even abrupt, it’s not surprising that since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve backed away from the stomach-churning horror of that day.

We had to. You go insane if you keep tumbling over the same precipice forever. How we’ve shrouded and protected ourselves is of question, not the need to shroud.

Last year, I was in New York on the first anniversary of Sept. 11. The city was quiet, subdued, still reeling from the events that had changed it forever or so everyone thought. Yet people were being buffeted by gusts, inside and out — winds blowing down the streets at 60 mph matched the whirlwinds inside every New Yorker, whirlwinds of fear, of loss and, yes, of hate.

Somehow, this must be stilled. If not, we wither and die.

E.B. White, in his prescient essay, "Here Is New York," first published in 1949, looked into a post-Hiroshima future and saw a city that, "for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now…."

White was smart. He’d once lived in New York; at the time he wrote "Here Is New York," he was living in Maine, as safe from Gehenna as you could be. But there are many forms of hell, and maybe the worst is the one that we absorb and that lives inside of us — a hell that you can’t escape, not even by moving to Maine.

Sept. 11 is that kind of hell. That may be why we have yet to decipher and sort it out. And why we may never be able to.

Thanatologists like to talk about the various stages of death, starting with denial and anger, moving through bargaining and depression and ending, for some of us, with acceptance. We couldn’t deny Sept. 11. It was replayed over and over again on television. But we can’t accept it, either, and we shouldn’t.

That leaves us on ground that is unstable, malleable and ripe for opportunists, of whom there are many. Civil liberties are being trumped by "security," foreign relations by unilateralism and sense and sensibility by runaway jingoism — the fruits of fright and confusion. Reason, reflection, moderation have retreated to the vestibule of public life.

That blow to discourse may be the most corrosive and the most lingering casualty of Sept. 11. This is not to minimize the many lives lost two years ago, but we do not need a rerun of Palmer Raids or McCarthyism. That cowboyism, jingoism, damn the Bill of Rights-ism surfaced so swiftly and so tenaciously after Sept. 11 makes me wonder whether turning us into our own worst enemies was the true goal of Muhammad Atta and his 18 pals.

The buildings crumbled and the bodies fell, and the emotional blow coast to coast was immediate and devastating. But more invisible, and maybe more effective, was the blow to our civic integrity, our national heritage, our communal raison d’être.

If we forget why we exist as a country, if we spurn the founders’ principles and vision, then our tongues, as the psalmist wrote in another context, will cleave to the roofs of our mouths. Or worse, and more subtly, as Job moaned, "Oh, that my grief were thoroughly weighed and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now, it would be heavier than the sand of the sea; my words are swallowed up!"

Our words and our beliefs are not yet swallowed. We still hear them — if we strain. But amid the current clang and clutter, our words — words of justice, words of truth, words that truly mark us as Americans — are harder to notice and harder to heed.


Arthur J. Magida is writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore. His latest book is “The Rabbi and the Hit Man” (HarperCollins).

A Libel That Holds No Truth


Some Americans apparently believe that we have gone to war with Iraq "because of the Jews." Having written a book explaining anti-Semitism ("Why the Jews?

The Reason for Anti-Semitism," Simon & Schuster, 1983), all I can do is marvel at the durability of anti-Semitism and the eternality of the charge that the Jews are responsible for everything anti-Semites fear.

No group in the world has been the target of nearly as many twisted and ludicrous accusations.

Tens of millions of European Christians once believed — and tens of millions of Muslims believe today — that Jews kidnap and slaughter non-Jewish children before Passover to use their blood for baking matzah.

Vast numbers of Europeans believed that Jews caused the plague.

Much of France believed that the near-bankruptcy brought on by its failure to build the Panama Canal was caused by the Jews.

The great majority of Arabs believe that Jews knew about the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and that 4,000 Jews who worked there stayed home that day.

The great majority of Arabs and tens of millions of Muslims believe that the Jews (i.e., Israel) are responsible for the poverty, tyranny, absence of freedom and brutality that pervade the Arab world.

And now, Pat Buchanan and other Americans believe (or at least say) that America has gone to war against Iraq "because of the Jews."

Many groups have been hated in history, but their haters never made up as many lies — let alone such grandiose lies — as have Jews’ enemies.

It is worth analyzing this latest libel — if only to understand anti-Semitism and the enormous role it plays in the world.

First, the charge is demonstrably a lie. There is not a single Jew in this administration’s Cabinet, and the president owes nothing to Jews, the great majority of whom voted for his Democratic opponent.

George W. Bush is an evangelical Christian from Texas; Dick Cheney is a conservative from Wyoming (not a state with an influential Jewish community); Condoleezza Rice is of Jamaican stock with no discernible ties to Jews, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defense under the first President Bush, in the same Cabinet as James Baker, noted for saying "F — the Jews."

Jewish support for the war against Iraq is significant only if you consider the following to be Jewish: George Will, Ann Coulter, Gary Bauer, Bill Bennett, evangelical pastors and churches throughout America, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Thomas Sowell and The Wall Street Journal editorial page — not to mention British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spain’s President Jose Aznar.

Second, Jews are some of the leading opponents of the war, especially in academia and the media.

Aside from being a lie, the libel that Jews have somehow pushed the Bush administration into war against Iraq is based on two other odious beliefs.

One is that support for the war is un-American or even anti-American, and therefore, if a particular group of Americans can be identified with promoting the war, that group must be un-American. The other belief, or at least inevitable implication, is that the vast number of non-Jewish Americans who support the war have no values or ideas of their own but are playthings in the hands of Rasputin-like Jews.

Given that neither facts nor logic support what is simply an attack on American Jews’ patriotism, what needs to be explained is not why some Jews (like members of every other faith and ethnicity in America) support a war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. What needs to be explained is why some people see Jews behind a war initiated by non-Jews.

Alas, the explanation necessitates writing a book, since the reason people blame their troubles on the Jews is complex. So let us focus on the best known American who has made this argument, Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan has seen himself and his brand of conservatism — which, in its isolationism and amoral view of America’s role in the world, more often coincides with leftist positions — rejected by mainstream conservatism. He has been rejected by William F. Buckley, the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, the Republican Party and just about every other conservative publication and institution. And he has decided, as millions have for millennia, to blame the Jews for his problems.

Let it be shouted from sea to shining sea: America is uniquely great and uniquely blessed, because more than any other country it asks, "What is right?" when making foreign policy and because it has always blessed its Jews.

Should Americans become like Europeans and remove morality from their foreign policies and start to blame Jews for their problems, it will cease to be America and cease to be great. That is why, as always, anti-Semitism threatens good non-Jews as much as it threatens Jews. If not confronted, Americans who blame the Jews will bring ruin to America, just as the Germans who blamed Jews brought ruin to Germany.


Dennis Prager hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show based in Los Angeles. He is the author of four books, most recently, “Happiness Is a Serious Problem” (HarperCollins). His Web site is www.dennisprager.com. To find out more about Dennis Prager, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Send Troops


As the weather warmed this week, the yard signs protesting NO WAR pushed up like crocuses through lawns from Santa Monica to Hollywood.

Not many, mind you — but enough to signal that quite a few Americans are having second and third thoughts about a war against Saddam.

Nobody likes Saddam, but the Bush administration has failed to present incontrovertible evidence, or even very convincing arguments, as to why we must fight now.

The most enticing reason seems to be that by deposing Saddam, America will send a clear message that tyranny will not stand in the Middle East, and that regime change in Iraq will blow the winds of democracy through Iran, Syria, Libya — maybe even Saudi Arabia.

Critics wonder whether such a war is one of choice or of necessity, and, beyond that, what happens if the best-laid war plans go awry. "Both logic and historical evidence suggest a policy of vigilant containment would work" against Saddam, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write in the current issue of Foreign Policy.

The authors accuse the Bush administration of deliberately exaggerating the Iraqi threat in order to sell a preventive war. The CIA’s own risk assessment revealed that Saddam would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.

Meanwhile, North Korea, which has nuclear weapons and threatened war this week, seems much more frightening than Saddam. The same goes for Al Qaeda, which the Bush administration, despite numerous attempts, has yet to tie to Saddam.

The whiff of colonialism accompanying the administration’s attempt to bring democracy through conquest carries with it all the dangers of colonialism’s unintended consequences. What if Islamists in nuclear-armed Pakistan decide to toss a missile toward Israel in Iraq’s defense? What if Iraqi and American casualties mount precipitously? Where is that post-victory plan that even the war’s supporters have been clamoring for?

The president sent tens of thousands of troops to the Gulf this week to signal his readiness for war. Taking the president at his word — that his intent in confronting Saddam is to help create a new, more peaceful Middle East — I have a suggestion for the president: Send those troops to Israel instead.

The twin suicide bombings that ripped through Tel Aviv last Sunday, leaving 23 people dead and more than 100 seriously wounded, underscores the failure of Palestinian terror and Israeli force to achieve either party’s aim.

The attack proves once again that Yasser Arafat will not bring peace to his people. Whether he can control the acts of his Fatah-associated militias anymore or not, he certainly unleashed them. And their continued operation, in this case, thwarted his hopes of appearing at a planned London conference, at which he was to show off his government’s economic and political reforms, and thus secure more European aid. Instead, Israel barred him from attending.

Furthermore, each additional terror attack ensures that Israeli voters will reject the more dovish parties in the upcoming elections, pushing hopes of compromise with Palestinians further out to sea.

But the attack also proves that Israel’s anti-terrorism policies aren’t working. Despite a massive, sometimes brilliant and sometimes cruel retaliation against devastating terror, the attacks continue.

There may be lulls (during which attacks are attempted but thwarted), but there will be no end. "What once took months takes a few hours," former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon told David Margolick of Vanity Fair magazine, "instead of a few [bombers], we shall see tens and hundreds."

The long-term diplomatic solution may well be something along the lines of the proposal outlined in the "road map" developed by the United States in conjunction with the European Union, United Nations and Russia — the Madrid Quartet. But that plan won’t move an inch until after the Israeli elections this month. A lot of blood, a devastating and needless amount, may be shed by then.

That’s why Bush should consider using U.S. and allied troops to serve as a buffer between the warring parties, to act, in the words of UCLA Middle East expert Steven Spiegel, as a monitoring presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "American control of the force, coupled with Israel’s rock-solid relationship with the Bush administration, should go a long way toward alleviating" Israel’s concern over international interference, Spiegel has written.

The idea isn’t new, but it has gained urgency. Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to be out of ideas when it comes to confronting terror, but there’s no indication the Israeli public will trust anyone else at the helm.

"In retrospect, what was missing from Oslo all along was a stronger international [in effect, NATO-led] presence to contain outbreaks of violence and manage their aftermath in the context of continuing negotiations," wrote Bernard Avishai in his prescient epilogue to "The Tragedy of Zionism" (Allworth Press, 2002). "Without the hope of an American-sponsored peace process, or the fear of American opposition to Israel’s status quo, Israeli democratic forces cannot get traction."

And without traction, the slide quickens. Send troops.

A Sept. 11 Parable for Rosh Hashana


Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was asked: "What is the right spiritual path, that of sorrow or that of joy?"

He replied: "There are two kinds of sorrow and two kinds of joy. When a man broods over the misfortunes that have come upon him, that is a bad kind of sorrow. But the grief that comes when a man knows what he has lost is honest and good. The same is true of joy. One who chases empty pleasures is a fool. But one who is truly joyful is like a man who is rebuilding his house after a fire. He feels his need deep in his soul, and with each stone that is laid, his heart rejoices."

On Sept. 11, we will mark the yahrzeit of thousands of Americans who perished in senseless acts of terror. Each month of this coming year, yahrzeit candles will be lit in the homes of hundreds of Israeli families who lost loved ones to the bombs and bullets of terrorists.

But while this past year was a time of sorrow, it was not a time of despair. As Americans, we came together in public ways to affirm our commitment to freedom and our resolute strength in the face of those who threaten our security. National unity and civic pride moved to the forefront, with a display of patriotism not seen in many years.

During the last two years, Jewish unity was its strongest since the Yom Kippur War. Rabbis and other Jewish leaders put aside long-standing divisions to respond to the crisis at hand. Thousands of us came together to support Israel and provide for the basic needs of our extended family.

We’ll need to retain this sense of unity, both as Jews and as Americans, to meet some of the tough challenges that lie ahead. In Israel, there are serious concerns about military strategy, fences, settlements, leadership, human rights, democracy, religious diversity, economics and the environment. In America, we face many questions about trust in government, civil liberties, security and shifting political alliances. With such a diversity of opinion on all of these issues, there is both potential for undermining the profound unity that we have forged and the potential to form creative ways of imagining the future.

If, according to the parable, true joy is like rebuilding after a fire, then it is in the process of rebuilding that we will find this New Year’s blessing. In America, we are envisioning physically what rebuilding the site of the attack in downtown Manhattan will look like. In Israel, many are working to provide medical care for the sick and injured, and security to enable children to go safely to and from their schools. While much has been broken, and the work is far from complete, in fixing the world our faith in the future is restored.

With acts of rebuilding in mind, my colleagues and I at CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership developed a simple ritual for your festival meal. This Rosh Hashana, before you dip your apples in honey, take a moment to ask a friend or family member: "How have you dealt with the sorrows of the past year?" "What steps have you taken to enjoy life a little more?" As you enjoy your apples and honey, ask: "What are your hopes for both America and Israel in the coming year?" "What is one act to which you can commit yourself that will help achieve those hopes?"

As the parable wisely teaches us, "With each stone laid, our heart rejoices." The questions we ask, and the discussions we have around the holiday table, can begin to create a strong foundation for the year to come. May the New Year bring you and your family blessings, peace and good fortune.

9/11/02


Now a year has passed. We have bombed. We have infiltrated. We have analyzed and rallied and written.

And through it all we have avoided one sad truth: the terrorists have already won. They haven’t won the war, but they have won a crucial battle.

My first memory of terror goes back to the Palestinian terrorist takeover of a school in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot in 1974. It was incomprehensible to me that a man, a fellow human being, could kill children. But that’s what happened in Ma’alot, where the terrorist takeover left more than 20 schoolchildren dead.

The world was horrified. Reaction followed a script that by now is well-rehearsed: Shock, outrage, condemnation and a knee-jerk search for explanations.

What would drive people to do such things, Americans reflexively asked. That question is one of terrorism’s goals: an attack’s success can be measured partly, of course, by how much it spreads terror, but more importantly, by how much it spreads curiosity. Why are these people so angry? Why do they hate us? Who are these guys?

Ma’alot and the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich — 30 years ago this week — planted the Palestinian cause in the mind of the Western world. Violence perpetrated upon innocents jolted the West into awareness. Evil succeeded.

And if awareness is a goal of terrorism, then Osama bin Laden, too, has already won.

"I’m mad at bin Laden," a Santa Monica physician told me recently. "I didn’t want to know about the rest of the world’s problems, but he forced me to. I liked my ignorance."

The attacks shattered our bliss and shoved the reality of the world’s 1 billion Muslims in our face. Thanks to a newly awakened media, America now has a bachelor’s in Islam and a master’s in Muslim grievance.

All this would be fair and maybe even good were the education equal. The fact is, thanks to bin Laden, we now know more about them than they know about us. The Saudis might have blown enough oil money to buy every Palestinian refugee a Harvard education; Muslims might control nine sovereign states and armies, but somehow too many of them cherish their self-perception as victims of the West. And victims, they figure, need redress, not re-education. Just ask the Arab League.

Bin Laden and his minions don’t care how aware we are, how much we learn about Islam. They only care that we convert to their brand of it. Barring that, we are all targets for annihilation, whether we are Donald Rumsfeld or Noam Chomsky, Arab or Christian or Jew, soldier or infant.

Whenever I look back on Sept. 11, this logic strands me on the same depressing shore. Certainly, as William Safire wrote so forcefully on Sept. 12, 2001, we need to "carry the war to the enemy." We’ve done that. But beyond shooting back, how can we avoid handing victory to the terrorists? I had no answer to that, until I heard Judea Pearl speak.

He was receiving an award in honor of his son, Daniel, who was murdered in Pakistan in the wake of Sept. 11 (see story p. 20). Here was a man whose own pain was immeasurable, whose reasons for bitterness and despair dwarfed my own. "On the surface," he said, "[the terrorists] seem to have won on all fronts — and this thought caused me great pain." But many agonizing weeks later, as people touched by the son’s death reached out to the father, Judea Pearl put into place specific ways to spread the good his son brought into the world. "If Danny’s death can give humanity, or whatever is left of her, the banner that she needs to defend herself, then something good may come out of it," he concluded.

Not long after I heard Judea Pearl speak, I visited an exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center, "Faces of Ground Zero." The larger-than-life-size Polaroid images of men and women who survived the attack — firefighters who rushed to help, stockbrokers who searched for loved ones, steelworkers who tried to rescue the dying — were themselves an attack on the inhumanity of the perpetrators of the crimes. They were, almost literally, the banners humanity needs to defend herself. Visitors to the exhibit waited in line to write their impressions in a guest book — their hands shook and tears rolled down their cheeks. "I feel I am on holy ground," one person wrote.

The High Holidays are traditionally a time for prayer and introspection, a chance to reattach ourselves to what is true and holy and good. Of course, the violent fanatics who continue to plan our demise also pray, they also believe what they are doing is true and holy and good. I know — and you know — they are wrong, but evidently knowing is no longer enough. We must, like Judea Pearl and the heroes of Sept. 11, actively wave the banner of humanity. Wherever we stand and do that, we stand on holy ground.

Shana Tova.

The Value of a Day


The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don’t seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans stopped trying to get white people to celebrate with us and recognized that we have been essential in making this nation?

As a black teenager attending junior high school in Hollywood, I was awed by the Jewish High Holidays. This was in the late ’60s before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a national holiday and before Kwanzaa had become a year-end holiday phenomenon for African Americans. When I saw the near-empty classrooms taught by substitute teachers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I saw a people, a fellow minority, with a celebration of their own — a celebration of their history and their deeply cherished values. In the recesses of my psyche, I was envious.

As I continued my schooling, black pride blossomed. The contributions of African Americans were integrated into textbooks, and black people were depicted with increasing frequency on television and in movies. During that period, the observation of Kwanzaa gathered steam. By the time I graduated college, Kwanzaa celebrations were hosted by major mainstream institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History. And after a long struggle, King’s birthday was made a national holiday. My heart let out a tiny "whoopee," and my holiday envy subsided.

Recently, there’s been a campaign to make Juneteenth a national celebration. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved black men and women in Galveston, Texas, finally learned they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two years earlier. Celebrations followed the reading of the proclamation, and that began a black tradition in Texas, where it is now a paid state holiday. It is officially recognized in some form by Florida, Oklahoma, Delaware, Idaho and Alaska. At least a dozen other states are considering legislation to officially recognize it in some way.

Yet, Juneteenth is still not treated with respect. The biggest insult came last year when President Bush celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a festival on the South Lawn, complete with mariachi music and folk dancers. But in June of last year, he issued a one-page letter honoring Juneteenth.

So Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), wrote Bush saying, "Juneteenth is America’s second Independence Day." She added, "The 19th of June is an important day for all Americans to observe."

"Bravo to that salvo," I thought at first. But on second thought, I questioned whether African Americans should push for official recognition.

I began to think about the Jewish High Holidays. Granted, it is a religious observance and an imperfect analogy. That said, what impressed me was that it is a time when Jews simply vanished. The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don’t seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans choose a period of time, a day perhaps — June 19 being as good as any — when we simply vanish? Not a paid or unpaid federal or state holiday, not a holiday that receives any official recognition whatsoever. African Americans would have to take a personal day or vacation time. It seems the least we can do for the then-newly freed black men and women of Galveston.

Some would argue that mainstream America should be forced to recognize black contributions. Yet, I wonder if the country as a whole has been edified by the way Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been celebrated. Does the holiday really function as a time to commemorate King, or is it simply some time off, an opportunity to run errands or to catch up on the latest Stephen King novel?

White people have never been shy about appropriating as they see fit from black Americans. Perhaps, one day mainstream America will spontaneously give us our due. Until then, African American feelings might continue to get bruised when the White House issues a single-page letter in recognition of what is arguably one of the greatest events in American history. But perhaps it is better to endure that hurt than to have our contributions reduced to a Juneteenth summer sale.


Eric V. Copage, is the author of eight books, including, “Soul Food: Inspirational Stories for African Americans” (Hyperion, $11.95).

Pardon His French


There’s still no love lost between iconoclastic French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and Hollywood, as his new film, "In Praise of Love," suggests. The picture began stirring controversy at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival when the flick — and its director — dissed Tinseltown, Steven Spielberg and "Schindler’s List."

In one storyline of this film about a struggling young artist, the artist complains that Hollywood reduces everything to "a story with Julia Roberts," according to reviews. In a subplot, ugly Americans representing a studio, "Steven Spielberg Associates," seek to option the story of two elderly French resistance veterans. "The Americans have no real past," one character asserts. "They have no memory of their own… So they buy the pasts of others … or they sell talking images."

Godard, of the masterpieces "Weekend" and "Breathless,"had implied as much at Cannes when reporters asked what he thought of Spielberg and "Schindler’s List." Puffing on his trademark cigar, the guy who helped invent the French New Wave said, "[Spielberg] had no idea about the Holocaust, so he went and looked elsewhere for inspiration."

While Godard’s devotion to older Hollywood is evident in his 1960s films such "Alphaville," "Love’s" not-so-pro-American sentiments have raised ire among some critics. The New Yorker called "Love’s" Sept. 6 theatrical release, which comes as Americans are mourning the anniversary of Sept. 11, "bold" and "reckless." Others dubbed the film’s anti-American sentiments a "sniveling diatribe" or "philosophically trite."

But Godard is unlikely change his mind. As he told The Guardian about Hollywood, "It’s a rather tyrannical power."

Going Through Hell For The Dead


Natan Koenig was blotting up blood from the floor of the cafeteria named for Frank Sinatra at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Koenig worked for two hours on that 95-degree afternoon on July 31, arriving soon after a Hamas-made bomb exploded under a table, killing nine people, including two Americans, wounding some 90 others and shattering the lunchroom.

Koenig handed sheets of blood-drenched absorbent paper to a co-worker, who placed them in a plastic bag. The bag would be buried in the grave of one of the victims. According to Jewish tradition, a person’s soul resides in his blood.

An ambitious caterer, Koenig, 25, is also a volunteer with ZAKA, the Hebrew acronym for Israel’s Disaster Victims Identification team. Members are best-known for showing up in their black skullcaps and yellow reflector vests at the scene of terror bombings to gather up body parts and blood for burial. Of the 604 volunteers — all Jewish men — 570 are Orthodox religious. "Only those with faith can cope with this work," said Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ZAKA’s peripatetic guiding spirit.

Most ZAKA members are also volunteer ambulance medics; upon arriving at terror scenes, the first thing they do is treat survivors. They also go on search parties for missing persons. Much, if not most, of their time is spent helping the living. But ZAKA’s signature Jewish mitzvah is in showing "respect for the dead" — going to hellish lengths so people can be buried in a condition recalling, as much as possible, that they were "created in God’s image."

Yitzhak Shalita, a computer programmer, saved lives as an ambulance volunteer, but he felt this was a matter-of-fact sort of mitzvah, "nothing heroic." He wanted a more challenging test of faith and dedication, so he joined ZAKA. Now he climbs ladders to scrape bits of human flesh off walls. "With every scrape of the plasterer’s knife, you feel a sense of satisfaction," he said.

Shalita was sitting with Koenig and Shlomo Bloch, an Orthodox religious student, one recent night in ZAKA’s low-ceilinged, underground bomb shelter in Jerusalem that is its combination equipment room and clubhouse. It’s where local volunteers go after a terror attack to evaluate their performance, swap stories, argue, laugh — there’s a lot of black humor in ZAKA — and vent about the stresses of their day or night.

Shalita is the soft-eyed rookie of the trio (each is age 25), having joined ZAKA only this year. The first terror bombing he worked was the night of March 9, when a terrorist blew himself up at Jerusalem’s Moment cafe, killing 11 people. He got there a few minutes after the explosion, before survivors could even begin to wail. "I went inside, and everything was quiet except for all the cellular phones ringing," he said. "The walls were covered with blood. There were broken tables, plates, salads all over the floor — total chaos. People were lying in a pile, one on top of the other, in a pool of blood."

He saw a woman seated on a chair at the bar, elbow on the counter, head resting in her palm. A man sat next to her with his hand on the bar as if holding a glass. Their eyes were open. "They were both dead, but they looked as if nothing was wrong with them. It was the force of the blast that killed them — internal injuries," Shalita said.

He worked five hours at Moment, well into the middle of the night. He doesn’t remember thinking or feeling anything, just mechanically doing one task after another.

"First, we took the corpses that were more or less whole, put them on stretchers, covered them with black plastic bags, and took them out to the tent that the police ID unit had set up," he said. "Then we did the same thing with the large body parts. Then we went back to get the smaller body parts and put them in bags. Then we scraped off the little pieces of flesh that had stuck to the walls and surfaces. The street outside was just covered with them. Then we blotted up the blood with absorbent paper and put that in a bag."

In the identification tent, police and ZAKA volunteers try their best to "piece together the puzzles" of the corpses, as Shalita put it. They take into account where the body parts were found, their appearance and any clothing that might be on them. The final, decisive "piecing together" is done with DNA tests by forensic pathologists at a Tel Aviv laboratory. Bags of blood, flesh and tiny body parts that cannot be identified are buried with the dead.

Needing to talk to a psychologist is not something that strictly Orthodox Israeli men are going to admit, and it was especially hard for the men of ZAKA. "We’re the machos of the community," noted Bloch. (As a rule, the strictly Orthodox, or haredim, do not serve in the Israeli Army, seeing it as a corrupter of morals. The "modern Orthodox" do serve, and both volunteer in ZAKA.) But after the wives of several volunteers began complaining that their husbands had grown emotionally flat, detached from their families and normal pursuits, including marital sex, Meshi-Zahav compelled volunteers to go to group therapy at least once a year. In their ZAKA kit is the business card of a psychologist available for counseling 24 hours a day.

"When I went to group therapy I didn’t open my mouth to talk, but I listened, and it helped," Bloch said. "I found that I wasn’t the only one who had these reactions." Asked what sort, he replied, "If I smell cooked meat a day or two after a terror bombing, I run out of the house."

There have been no suicides or nervous breakdowns among volunteers, Meshi-Zahav said, but recently, an elementary school teacher in ZAKA — members come from various professions — took his class on a field trip to a cemetery. "He’s off duty with ZAKA now," Meshi-Zahav noted.

Bloch compares ZAKA to an "elite army unit," and it does have many of the trappings. Volunteers know they are the chosen few; not many people have the fortitude to perform this deed, and consequently they are greatly admired in the haredi community. ZAKA is also respected by mainstream secular Israelis, who tend to resent haredim for the draft deferments and welfare checks many receive for studying full-time in religious schools.

"Most haredim don’t go to the army, and they see soldiers and civilians being killed, and they want to do something to help," said Bloch, noting another motivation for joining ZAKA. Haredim are virtually all hardliners about fighting the Palestinian intifada, and when they are literally picking up the pieces of terror victims, they can be in a dilemma over what attitude to take towards a suicide bomber’s remains. "You see his body in a thousand pieces, and you want to tear it into a million pieces, but you don’t. You’re not God, and even the terrorist was created in God’s image, so you treat him just like anybody else," Bloch said.

The remains of suicide terrorists are given to the Palestinian Authority for burial, Meshi-Zahav said.

In the cafeteria at Hebrew University, there had been no suicide bomber, just a bomb in a bag; this was why the incident was so "clean," pointed out a ZAKA volunteer. "When there’s a suicide bomber, the body parts fly in every direction," he noted. The scores of wounded people had been evacuated, the seven people killed had been taken in plastic bags to the forensic lab, the blood had been soaked up. Koenig’s work was finished.

Getting into his car, he noticed traces of drops of blood on his forearms. "I thought I’d washed it all off," he said. "What I want now more than anything else is to go home and take a good, long shower."

15 and Counting


Washington’s official response to the killings of five Americans at Hebrew University can be summed up largely in a word: words.

True, the attacks came as Congress is in recess and President George W. Bush is between vacations. After a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a day after the bombing, Bush said he was "just as angry as Israel is right now" and said the United States would work to track down the Americans’ killers. He also sent a handwritten condolence message that was read aloud Wednesday at a memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for the bomb victims.

In his public statements following the bombing, Bush pointedly did not warn Israel to refrain from escalating tensions. To some, Bush’s words meant Israel was free to launch a reprisal unchecked by American criticism. "That was a strong signal," Warren Bass, a terrorism expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me.

Bush also directed the FBI to send officials to Jerusalem to help Israelis investigate the bombing, the second time America has done so since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000. The FBI team arrived in Israel on Monday.

But that, folks, is all.

Many experts, Bass included, see these steps as significant. Military action would be all but preposterous, he said. What could the United States do on the ground that Israel isn’t doing already (often with United States-made hardware)? We have troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we’re gearing up for something with Iraq. We can’t be everywhere Americans are killed. Sending American troops to root out Hamas terrorists? "I just don’t see it," said Bass.

But short of stronger action, the American response has left many Americans who happen to be Jewish wondering if the president’s war on terror extends to them. Last week’s Hebrew University bombing brings to 15 the number of U.S. citizens killed by Palestinian attacks over the last two years, according to the U.S. Embassy. Some 26 have been wounded or maimed. In response, Bush has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization and closed down United States-based charities funneling monies to the group. Is it enough?

"Our feeling is that there have been numerous American deaths, and holding Palestinian killers of Americans to different standards than other killers of Americans doesn’t help bring peace to the region and help the United States fight terror," Rebecca Needler, a spokeswoman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

More than a few Jews are wondering if the American response would have been different if the the five Americans killed had been non-Jews studying in Europe or, say, Grenada. In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan ordered a U.S. invasion of that tiny Caribbean country, claiming that a coup there threatened the lives of American students studying at St. George University medical school. The fighting that ensued left 64 dead, including 19 U.S. soldiers.

Many historians claim the threat to the American students in Grenada was just a pretext for invasion.

Now, administration officials are debating whether Hamas is targeting Americans, a claim Hamas has denied. But waiting for a declaration of policy from a terror organization seems superfluous when not five Americans are threatened, but 15 are killed and 26 wounded. That’s not pretext, that’s proof.

The fear in Washington, of course, is that taking a more active role in combating Palestinian terror will threaten America’s role in any peace process. But it is unclear how any peace process would involve Hamas. Its spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was quoted in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on why students at Hebrew University are ripe targets. "They are considered by us to be enemy soldiers," he said. When a reporter asked Yassin whether Hamas would accept an Israel in its pre-June 1967 borders, Yassin said, "Israel was born in violence and it will die in violence. The Jews have no right to the land of Palestine."

Hamas is a group that, unlike the Palestinian Authority, has never recognized Israel’s right to exist. This is a group bent on the destruction of Israel and its allies. Perhaps Hamas’ destruction was Israel’s problem — now, according to the Bush Doctrine, it should be America’s problem, too. "The military must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world," Bush told cadets at West Point last year. "All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price."

When Washington returns from vacation, Jewish groups will rightly keep an eye on what further concrete steps the administration and Congress take in response to the slaughter of Americans abroad. Will they push for the extradition of Palestinians accused of terrorist acts against Americans to the United States? Will they crack down on Saudi Arabia, which according to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has provided "very ample funding" to Hamas? Will they make a strong statement by sending a handful of American forces in to engage Hamas terrorists?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. The truth is, I haven’t thought through all the ramifications of this whole Bush Doctrine.

But I wonder, has Bush?

Use Law to Respond to Hebrew University Attack


We’ve seen it before — more than 20 dead and hundreds injured as a result of Palestinian Arab terror attacks in Israel within a week of each other. The death of five Americans at Hebrew University on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus brought the pain home to America once again. President Bush remarked, "We are responding to a murder of Americans. We’re responding all across the globe to murders of Americans….The war on terror is fought on many fronts. And I just — I cannot speak strongly enough about how we must collectively get after those who kill…."

And following a wreath-laying on the Hebrew University campus, Daniel C. Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, said, "We are very committed in the war against terrorism and, in addition to the support that we give to the State of Israel as a partner in this war against terrorism, we will do all that we can to fight against terrorists wherever they are."

As the parent of an American killed in a 1995 bombing, I knew there would be an Israeli response to the Hebrew University attack, but I wondered about the response that would come from America. Words are one thing, actions are another. Would anything be done differently by this president from what I witnessed seven years ago when my 20-year-old daughter, Alisa, was murdered by a suicide bomber?

When an American is murdered overseas, U.S. law gives the government the authority to investigate the crime, and to extradite to the United States and prosecute those responsible for it. Indeed, we have seen this law at work in the case of the conspiracy to bomb American airliners, the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

When Palestinian Islamic Jihad killed Alisa in 1995, then-President Clinton immediately announced the dispatch of an FBI team to Israel and Gaza for the purpose of investigating the attack and bringing her killers to justice. When you are mourning your child, you don’t pay attention to such details until they are called to your attention through news reports and a telephone call from the FBI. But when you get the word that the United States is standing up for one of its citizens, you think things are going in the right direction.

Back in 1995, when relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Clinton administration were at their best, one would have expected the Palestinians to show their willingness to work with their American partners at the FBI. That was not to be the case, however, as the Palestinian security service refused to cooperate with the FBI and provide any information on those who killed Alisa. And I do mean "those" because suicide bombers and those who plant bombs and walk away never work alone. In Alisa’s case, the Israelis were able to identify at least 10 men who were responsible for planning and coordinating the attack and a foreign country, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the financial and moral sponsor of Islamic Jihad.

That lack of cooperation by the Palestinian Authority continues today. And two of Alisa’s killers are still roaming the streets of Gaza despite Israel’s requests for their transfer from the Palestinian Authority to Israel in accordance with provisions of the Oslo accords. Two had a military trial in Israel and are sitting in prison. Regarding the others, let us just say that they will not be able to kill again. As for U.S. action, the United States has never made a request for extradition or transfer.

The U.S. response to the growing number of victims of terrorism in 1995 and 1996 — three more American victims in Palestinian attacks in Israel, the attack in Oklahoma City and the shooting down of four unarmed airplanes being flown by the Brothers to Rescue as they searched the Florida straits for people attempting escape from Cuba — led Congress to pass and President Clinton to sign a far-reaching bill known as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This bold law created penalties for those who conduct terror against Americans. In addition, it gave us ordinary citizens the ability to bring civil actions against foreign countries designated by the U.S. State Department as state sponsors of terrorism. The purpose of the law is to put state sponsors out of the terrorism business by attaching a financial penalty to their actions. Using that law, I successfully sued the Islamic Republic of Iran as the sponsor of the attack that killed Alisa. Other Americans have followed in my footsteps.

But I am sorry to say that all did not work out as planned, as recent attacks by Islamic Jihad and Hamas demonstrate. The law has not had its intended effect because the U.S. government has blocked me and others from seizing Iranian assets in this country in full satisfaction of our claims. The result of this policy is Iran’s continued support of Palestinian Arab terrorists and the deaths of more innocent civilians.

If President Bush wants to reduce the chance of more deaths in the Middle East and bring some hope to Israelis and Palestinians, he should do what his predecessor was afraid to do — give us access to Iran’s commercial assets in the United States for the purpose of reducing Iran’s ability to sponsor terrorism. He must use the courage that I believe he has to disregard the entrenched policy wonks at the State Department, who tread lightly when it comes to Iran’s financial support of terror, and strike a blow on behalf of those Americans murdered in cold blood by its proxies in the field. If he does that, he will take Islamic Jihad, Hamas and others out of the terrorism game and the world will be a safer place.

This Land Is Our Land


You cannot remove other people’s anxieties, but sometimes you can help them to understand their feelings of unease and find ways to cope with them.

In my work with rabbinical students, I have faced the challenge in recent weeks of helping one particular group to sort out its fears and emotions about studying in Jerusalem this fall. Recently, we held a videoconference between our students going to study in Israel next year and those who are there now. Next year’s class members are understandably concerned, vacillating between the passion they have for Israel and their fears for their personal safety and security. Seeing and talking to their colleagues in Jerusalem gave them a picture of what life is like in Israel on a daily basis.

After the videoconference, the students felt relief: their colleagues were relaxed; they laughed, they looked great. They studied, shopped, and watched television, living a life of regularity and routine. Yes, there is anxiety, tension, trepidation, grief, anger. But that falls into the background. The tasks of daily living become predominant, allowing them to immerse themselves in their studies and in developing their love for Israel. The students in Israel articulated how profound their year in Israel has been, in spite of the situation. It has strengthened their commitment to Israel, and it will influence how they conduct their rabbinates in the future.

The American students’ experience in Israel is similar to the Israelis who live there permanently. They go about their daily lives in a routine fashion, but always with the knowledge that their world is not truly routine right now. The tension the Americans feel is real. That anxiety is all the more so for the Israeli soldiers, the families of the soldiers, the citizens of the land. This is a picture of Israel today.

The first picture we have of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt is in this week’s Torah portion, "Shelach." Moses sent 12 men to see what kind of country it was. He knew the land was good. After all, God told him at their first meeting that it was "a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey." What was the purpose of this mission? What could be gained?

The medieval commentator, the Ramban (Nachmanides) cites two possibilities. He reminds us that for anyone waging war in a foreign land, it is prudent to send scouts to survey that land. The Israelites created a reconnaissance party to advise the troops on which city to attack first and from which direction it would be easiest to capture the land. Sending the spies was a wise and pragmatic way to deal with the military factor of entry into the land.

Moses could also have sent the scouts to confirm what he already knew, that it was indeed a good land. The people would surely be feeling insecure, facing unknown dangers. A confirmation such as this would give the people reason to anticipate and rejoice as they approached the unknown. In his wisdom, Moses addressed this psychological uncertainty by providing emotional support.

What did the spies see in this first look at the land? They reported a land of abundance, flowing with milk and honey. They also said it was filled with men who were like giants, a place that would consume its settlers. Yet two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, vehemently disagreed. They declared the land a good one and that the people should not fear the inhabitants. The Israelites would be able to conquer them, with God’s protection as God had promised.

What do we see when we scout out Israel today? We can either see a land fraught with danger, a place that we would not want to enter. Or we can see the land as Joshua and Caleb did, a land that is very, very good. We can see it through the eyes of A. J. Heschel, the modern philosopher, who said, "Israel is an accord of divine promise and human achievement." This is the picture the students going next year see; this is the perspective of those who live there: a place of inspiration and holiness, our Jewish home.

We can be like Moses, providing needed support to those who dwell in the land. We can lend our voices to the political, strategic arena, remaining informed, being advocates to government officials, and expressing our opinions to the media. We can provide the emotional support that is so greatly needed by making personal contact, attending public events, donating funds, visiting Israel. (See the Federation’s list of 10 Things You Can Do for Israel on www.jewishla.org.) Even though Israel is geographically distant, she is Jewishly close. We can be part of her intimate caring community, sharing her joy as well as her anxiety. Ultimately, we can have hope, faith and belief that the land is good and that she will always remain part of our heritage and our future.

The Christian Right, Conservatism and the Jews


For generations, Jews have viewed religious conservatives with a combination of fear and disdain. Yet the recent events in the Middle East — and the steadfast support given Israel by religious conservatives — has gone a long way to correcting many often exaggerated, if not misplaced, assumptions about this large, and politically significant, group.

To the horror of reflexive Jewish liberals, organizations long suspicious of the religious right, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have now been making more of a common cause with them. This adds another dimension to an already strong linkage, based on shared values beyond Israel, between conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews.

Although more secular Jews may continue to conflict with Christian conservatives on many issues, such as prayer in school and abortion, the more pressing concerns over Israel impel our community to develop closer ties to a broad spectrum of this large American constituency. We need also to be aware that there are elements among Christians whose apocalyptic ideological reasons for backing Israel — largely that it brings them closer to the Second Coming of Jesus — should be viewed with concern. They often identify overly much with the Jewish messianic elements of the settlement movement, whose fanaticism and state support remain a continuing obstacle to peace.

Yet, whatever our misgivings, this is not a time for Jews and other supporters of Israel to nitpick over motivations. The Jewish state, and one could also say the Jewish people, are under attack, more so than perhaps anytime since the late 1940s. The Middle East is filled with people and governments screaming for Israel’s obliteration, and much of Europe seems more than willing to stand by as the Arabs finish Hitler’s handiwork.

In such a context, we need to know who our friends are — and equally important, who they are not. On this score, the Republicans, with the exception of an increasingly isolated and irrelevant Pat Buchanan, and their allies among the Christian conservatives have been exemplary, supporting Israel down the line.

Take a look at the vote on the recently passed “Solidarity With Israel Act.” One can quibble that Congress should not have taken this stand while the president and his administration are trying to bring about a peaceful settlement. But the vote was very useful in that it “outed” those whose sentiments toward the embattled Jewish state are at best, lukewarm.

The resolution, which backed Israel and denounced Palestinian terrorism, passed among Republicans 194 to 4, with only two voting “present,” which was a somewhat less than forthright way of saying “no.” Democrats also supported the measure, but with considerably less unanimity. The party that holds the loyalty of the vast majority of Jews supported Israel by 157 to 17, with a hefty 26 registering a present-but-not-voting stance.

Drilling down more deeply into the vote reveals some disturbing trends. Generally the further the “left” the congressmember, the more likely it was for them to oppose or at least refuse to support Israel. In California, for example, the no votes came from the Bay Area’s liberal fringe, including Berkeley Rep. Barbara Lee (a particular heroine of the left) and Reps. Pete Stark and George Miller of East San Francisco Bay. The “present” crowd, who should be held in equal if not greater contempt, include such liberal luminaries as Sonoma and Marin Rep. Lynn Woolsey, as well as Los Angeles Reps. Hilda Solis and Xavier Becerra.

This leftward drift against Israel represents the culmination of successful agitation against the Jewish state by Palestinians, Arabs and their allies. Today anti-Zionism — sometimes associated with anti-Semitism — is increasingly de rigueur among the campus and media left here, as it already has become in Europe.

Recent incidents at San Francisco State, where pro-Israel demonstrators were recently harassed with openly anti-Semitic slogans from Muslim students and their allies, reveal an underpinning of intolerance brewing on campuses across the country. Pro-Israel students there last month were surrounded by a mob of students shouting, “Hitler didn’t finish the job!” and “Get out or we’ll kill you!” Not to be outdone, the English department at my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, is even offering a course on “The Politics and Poetics of the Palestinian Resistance.” The course takes an avowed pro-Palestinian position and even urges “conservative thinkers,” which may now include those favoring Israel, to “seek other sections.”

As time passes since Sept. 11, one can expect the left to become ever more explicit in its anti-Israel position. Already, the Los Angeles Times’ ultra-liberal columnist Robert Scheer has weighed in with a highly critical assault against the Jewish state. Liberal Christians have also joined the bandwagon, with prominent Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist worthies asking Congress to adopt a more “balanced” Mideast policies.

The coalition against Israel is also gaining support from anti-capitalist, anti-globalist organizers. Most recently, the leaders of the Bus Riders Union, a group lionized by the Times, has shown its far-left mettle by circulating a proposal to have its members go on record demanding the end of U.S. support for Israel. The Union — actually a well-financed “anti-corporate” agitprop group and not a union in the sense of representing the bulk of actual riders — apparently does not feel “solidarity” for Israeli busriders, who risk being blown to bits every day by Palestinian homicidal bombers.

At the same time the left becomes ever more anti-Israel, the Christian right has become more supportive and, one may argue, less and less what we have been brought up to think. Recent research by University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith, for example, shows that, in contrast to their early 20th century antecedents, today’s fundamentalists and evangelicals are, on average, better-educated and more affluent than the average American.

Along with their growing affluence and sophistication, notes my Pepperdine colleague Steve Monsma, evangelicals and fundamentalists have also jettisoned the anti-Semitism that characterized some when they were largely ill-educated and rural. “It’s become a pretty well-educated and sophisticated constituency, who share in the general American recognition that anti-Semitism is wrong,” said Monsma, a political scientist specializing in the study of church and state issues.

Survey work done by Smith supports Monsma’s assertion. Even as they hold onto strong positions against abortion and in favor of prayer in school, religious conservatives are actually considerably less likely to oppose, for example, a Jewish president than the American mainstream. They do tend to be far more negative about putting atheists and homosexuals in the highest office than the average American, but are also more open to having an African American in that post.

Indeed, on many issues conservative Christian beliefs may be closer to the Jewish mainstream than those of liberal Christians or “progressive” Democrats. Although we often have felt more comfortable with the ultra-secularism and deconstructionism that dominates the media and, even more so, much of academia, Jewish values about family life, individual achievement, the importance of education and social order actually often far more resemble those of conservative Christians.

Finally, to this, I would like to add my personal experience, which some may weigh against me. For over 15 years I have been associated with Pepperdine University, a school affiliated with the conservative-leaning Church of Christ. Not once in that time have I ever experienced anti-Semitism. There has never even once been an attempt to convert me. In my travels across the country — much of it in the rural Great Plains and the Bible Belt — I have never felt any reluctance to reveal my Jewish identity or affinity for Israel. I am not sure I would be so sanguine these days at a place like San Francisco State or among committed “progressive” activists here in Los Angeles.

What does this mean for the future of Jews, and their relations with the left or right? Of course, like most Jews, I am secular and socially liberal enough to expect never to support Christian conservatives in many of their cherished causes. But unlike the reliably graceless Abe Foxman, our self-appointed Jewish pope, who says all we have to do is simply “say thank you,” I feel the Jewish community should do quite a bit more.

We need now to honor the conservative Christian community and make our best efforts to understand what they are trying to accomplish. We may never agree on everything, but on the issues that matter most, we may have to acknowledge them as not only temporary allies, but, as something far more important, real friends, which is something that increasingly cannot be said of the left, from which many of us found our earlier political direction.