Friendship Goals

I am blessed to have wonderful friendships. People I care about in profound ways, who have become family. Some I’ve known for decades, and others for a short time, but they are all people I love, admire, respect, value, and depend on. They are an eclectic group and truly matter to me. They know who they are, and what they mean to me. This blog is about one woman in particular, who will be beside me for the rest of my life. I am blessed by my friendship with Gamble Breaux.

I met Gamble online about three years ago. She read my blog and sent me an email. We started corresponding, and a friendship began. In the beginning I was dealing with cancer, and Gamble was going through some stress at work. For some reason we found each other and without having met in person, became a support system to each other. I was sad, and sick, and Gamble saved me. With no hesitation, reservation, or exaggeration, I can tell you she swept into my life and saved me.

We had been writing for a few months when Gamble got engaged and was planning her wedding. I had been through surgery, was feeling nervous, and had lost my way a little bit, but Gamble would not let me feel sorry for myself and insisted I come to her wedding. It was a big decision not only because I was dealing with medical stuff, but because I live in Los Angeles and Gamble lives in Melbourne, Australia. It was a long way to travel and I wasn’t sure I could make the trip, but Gamble was.

She kicked me in the ass and would not allow me to miss it, so in an attempt to be brave, I agreed to go. I was going to fly to the other side of the world, to the wedding of a woman I had never met before. I got the blessing of my son and my oncologist, and I was going. I have never done something so spontaneous, but I felt inspired and supported by Gamble, so it was happening. From the moment I met Gamble in person and we embraced, it made sense. We were bashert.

I don’t know how it happened, but our connection was instant and our friendship goes deep. We spent five days together celebrating her wedding, then I went back to Australia to celebrate her son’s 21st birthday. When I was nominated for Blog of the Year by the LA Press Club, she came to LA to be my date to the awards ceremony. Then when my son was moving out, she came back to LA to hold my hand and wipe my tears. She is one of my best friends and I love her.

She eases my sorrow. She makes me feel better. She makes me laugh. She gives me clarity. She believes in me. She nurtures our friendship. She is like a sister to me. There is no time of day that I could not call her and she would not pick up the phone. She is my knight in shining armor and my hero. She is the kind of friend everyone deserves to a have. Thank you for always making things better Gamble. I love you very much. You are the kind of blessing that comes from keeping the faith.



Shabbat Shalom from Oz

I am writing today from Melbourne, Australia, where I have come on a little holiday. By little of course mean I am here for 48 hours. I left Los Angeles on Wednesday night and arrived Friday morning. It is now Saturday morning in Oz, and I leave tomorrow at 9:00 am. It is a bit insane to travel for two days to spend only two days, but I am so happy I did it. I love it here and love the people I am with.

I’m staying with my friend Gamble in a glorious part of the country. Yesterday we ran errands and got caught up. Had lunch with her family and sat by the ocean as I tried my first oyster while having the best Cosmo I’ve had in a long time. It was a perfect day. This group is like family and I feel blessed to spend time here, even if just for a couple of days. I love Australia and have a real connection to this place.

When I was recovering from cancer, Gamble swept in like an angel and saved me from myself. I was either going to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself, or was going to get up and live my life. Not just live it, but be brave. Her kindness and nudging forced me to not waste my time thinking about what had happened, but rather what was still possible. Gamble made me brave and gave me Australia.

She attached herself to my heart and I am thankful. I get a lot of perspective on my life through knowing Gamble. I am able to see myself differently through her eyes, and able to see George differently through mine. I am in a very happy and settled place in my life, and Gamble has helped with that. Not only Gamble, but also her sister Tempest, who I love very much. These two remarkable ladies  are family.

I am in Melbourne for two days and it is perfection. The weather is divine, there are a million birds singing in the garden, and while I am sad to be leaving so quickly, am happy that I came and know I will be back soon, for a proper vacation and enough time to see everything this amazing country has to offer.  Tonight we will mark a milestone birthday, have too many cocktails, and celebrate friendship.

If you have an opportunity to visit Australia, you must. If you can spend more than two days, you REALLY must! I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Shabbat. I hope you all have friends like I do, women who inspire you to not only be better, but be happy with exactly who you are. Have a wonderful weekend and be safe out there. Remember that life is always better when you are keeping the faith.


‘Diamond Joe’ Gutnick, Australian mogul, declares bankruptcy

Mining magnate “Diamond” Joe Gutnick, once ranked among the wealthiest men in Australia with a fortune totaling more than $230 million, has declared bankruptcy.

Gutnick, who is an ordained rabbi, made his fortune in gold and diamond mining on the advice of the last Lubavitcher rabbi, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Gutnick declared bankruptcy on July 8, ahead of a court hearing July 11 to hear a petition by his former business partner Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative, or IFFCO, which was seeking to have him declared bankrupt over a $41 million debt. Gutnick lost a legal arbitration decision over the $103 million partnership that began in 2008 with India’s largest fertilizer collective.


Gutnick’s statement of affairs, obtained by Fairfax Media, shows he owes 25 creditors at least $210 million, and has no other assets except for $12,235 in savings and a worthless portfolio of shareholdings.

The $210 million collapse ranks him alongside the biggest bankruptcies in Australian history, although he still lags behind the $450 million owed by high-profile businessman Alan Bond when his empire crumbled.

Gutnick claims to have many overseas creditors, including $25 million to one “N Sternberg” of New York and a further $10.1 million to “Machne Israel” of New York, according to Fairfax Media.

Schneerson had told Gutnick after the 1987 stock market crash to go back to the Australian desert and search for “gold and diamonds.” Gutnick was responsible for overseeing the discovery of the Plutonic gold deposit, as well as the discovery, development and operation of the Bronzewing and Jundee gold mines in Australia, which all earned him the nickname “Diamond Joe.”

In 2010, Gutnick returned to the Business Review Weekly Rich List with an estimated wealth of $230 million following an absence of more than 10 years. At the time he owned a string of small mining companies that were exploring for everything from diamonds and gold to uranium and phosphate. He was still among Australia’s 200 richest people in 2014, when BRW estimated his wealth to be more than $190 million.

He did not respond to JTA’s request for a comment.

5 Jewish lawmakers elected to Australian Parliament

Five Jewish candidates in Australia — including the first Jewish Liberal from New South Wales in the 115-year history of the Parliament — have been assured seats in the next Parliament.

Several days later, Australia was still awaiting the final results of Saturday’s tightly contested general election.

Three Jewish incumbents — Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus (Victoria) of the Labor Party and Josh Frydenberg (Melbourne) of the Liberal Party — appear to have held their House of Representatives seats. Danby, who will be starting his fourth term, was the shadow attorney general in the last government, while Frydenberg was minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia.

The first Jewish Liberal from New South Wales is newcomer Julian Leeser, who was elected to the seat of former Liberal lawmaker Philip Ruddock, the second-longest serving member of the Parliament.

“I am very conscious of being the first Jewish Liberal elected to the House of Representatives from New South Wales,” Leeser told JTA. “I commenced my campaign with a mezuzah-affixing ceremony which was attended by hundreds of people and am looking forward to serving the people of Berowra and being a proud Jewish voice in the federal Parliament.”

On the outskirts of Sydney, pediatrician Dr. Michael Freelander of Labor won in his in his first foray into federal politics, defeating an incumbent Liberal member.

In the meantime, Australia was still waiting for the final results to see if the Liberals could hold on to the government.

The morning after Saturday’s election found the Liberal/National Party with 65 seats but Labor with 67. Five seats are held by others and 13 remain in doubt. One party has to win 76 seats to form a majority government.

The counting of votes, including postal votes, resumed Tuesday.

‘McKosher’ moniker rejected by Australia Trademark Office

An Australian lawyer who claims he is of Scottish-Jewish descent has failed in a bid to register the trademark “McKosher.”

Mark Glaser reportedly wanted to open “a Scottish and Jewish restaurant bearing the name McKosher” in the New South Wales town of Maclean, where he has an office. The town prides itself on being the Scottish capital of Australia and even boasts tartan telegraph poles.

His request led to a trademark fight with the fast food operator McDonald’s.

Glaser’s application was rejected this week by the Australia Trademark Office, which noted there was a likelihood of contextual confusion, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Attorneys for McDonald’s at a hearing held last week in New South Wales involving the Australia Trademark Office were told that the Jerusalem rabbinate is in negotiations with the international McDonald’s headquarters requesting the use of the name McKosher for the chain’s kosher-certified branches in the city to avoid confusion over those that are not kosher.

Glaser told the hearing he was of Scottish Jewish descent and his ancestors’ surnames included McKosher, MacAdoo, Beadle, Zimmerman and Rosenthal, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

He did not respond to JTA’s request for comment.

Choice for caregiver: Daughter or Australia’s oldest Holocaust survivor

Australia’s oldest Holocaust survivor is at the center of a spat between his Filipina caregiver and the Australian government, which has made it clear that if she leaves the country she will not be permitted to return.

Elenita Fernandez, 43, was in Australia on a tourist visa when she began caring for Helen Roberts. Following the death of Roberts eight years ago, Fernandez fulfilled a promise to her to look after her husband, Richard Roberts, a Holocaust survivor who is now 103 years old.

But April 24 marks the 18th birthday of Fernandez’s daughter Manlyn Mae and the caregiver is desperate to be with her in the Philippines to mark the occasion. Lawyers have requested that Fernandez’s visa be changed to one that will allow her to reenter Australia, but the matter remains in the hands of the government.

Fernandez lives in the same house as Roberts, which is in Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s political district in Sydney. A spokesman for the prime minister told J-Wire: “We can assure Elenita that the due process is underway but it can take a year. Until a decision is reached she is welcome to stay in Sydney and care for Mr. Roberts.”

Richard Roberts told JTA: “I arrived in Sydney in 1938 from Vienna having obtained a permit in England. I spent time in both Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps before being released and given a short time to leave the country. Australia has been wonderful to me. Now I am hoping that Lenie will be allowed to travel and return. We have bought a return air fare to show that she is coming back.”

As her daughter’s birthday approaches, Fernandez must decide if she is to risk traveling to the Philippines to be with her daughter and possibly forsake the opportunity of continuing to look after the man she has tended night and day for eight years.

“We are begging the government to give us a chance to let me go and return to look after Dick,” she told JTA.

When asked if she would instead join her daughter for her birthday on Skype, Fernandez replied: “My daughter has made it clear she does not want to celebrate her birthday without me there.”

Jewish Australians pitch in for victims of massive bush fires

Two Jewish men from Perth used Facebook to generate support for the victims of fires which destroyed the western Australian town of Yarloop claiming two lives.

Shmoo Burnie, 34, and Daniel Gerson, 35, took to social media to seek support for the victims of the massive bush fires which have destroyed over 130 homes in the Australia’s southwest. They drove some 435 miles in one day to deliver the donated goods.

“This story is not about us…it’s about the wonderful response we got from the Facebook post….from our friends and those they shared the call for help with,” Burnie told JTA.

The men received so much support from their Facebook community friends that they had to use two large pick-up trucks and a cage trailer to get the relief items to a collection point near the fire zone. The passenger seats in their vehicles also were jam-packed with goods.

The one-day round trip took mortgage broker Burnie and financial planner Gerson almost 13 hours because of the imposed detour around the fire area, which added about three and a half hours to the trip. Burnie said that “we were just a couple of people wondering what we could do to help and figured we could ask people for things which could help those in trouble, grab a couple of (vehicles)…and drive the donations down.”

The men delivered food, toiletries, clothes, bed linen, blankets, towels, sleeping bags, toys, and pet supplies, including combs for family animals which may have been affected by the fires. Everything was donated.

“We saw smoke from fires on the drive down but they would not have been from the devastated area. There are fires burning in other regions. The whole point of the long detour was to avoid the fires,” Burnie said.

He added: “We asked people for help. They helped. We packed. We went. We unpacked. We came home. We were just drivers. It was a big group effort.”

Australian church: Jesus was not Palestinian

Jesus was not Palestinian, a major church denomination in Australia said after an umbrella Jewish group’s challenge to a story that said Christ was born in Palestine.

Two Palestinian members of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, which has links with the Uniting Church of Australia, wrote the story that appeared Dec. 22 in the online political publication New Matilda. The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network has a relationship with the Uniting Church of Australia, the country’s third largest Christian denomination, through the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network.

Stuart McMillan, president of the Uniting Church of Australia, wrote in response to a letter from Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry: “I would like to assure you and the Jewish community that the Uniting Church does not accept the view that Jesus was Palestinian. We affirm that Jesus and most of his early followers were Jewish. We note that Jesus was born neither in Israel nor in Palestine, but in the Roman-occupied province of Judea, and that it is entirely inappropriate for anybody to attempt to claim political capital from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to bolster claims of either ‘side’ of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

In the article, Samah Sabawi and Bassam Dally wrote: “An official delegation representing our country in Israel has added fuel to the flames of extremism abroad by applauding proven human rights violators and insulting the living descendants of Christ in his home of birth in Palestine.”

In his letter to McMillan, Wertheim wrote: “The proposition that Jesus was a Palestinian and that the Palestinian Arab population of today are his ‘living descendants’ is so absurd and offensive that it deserves an immediate and substantive rebuttal.”

Wertheim referred to continuing attempts to “to erase the Jewishness of Jesus and the common origins of Christianity and Judaism, and to pretend that the Holy Land has no Jewish national or religious history.”

The Jewish leader told JTA that he would meet next month with McMillan to further discuss the issue.

Historic synagogue in Australian outback vandalized

A historic synagogue in the Australian outback mining city of Broken Hill was defaced with Nazi and Islamic symbols on its 105th anniversary.

The curator of the synagogue, Margaret Price, said she arrived at work Monday to prepare for a visit by tourists and found the front of the building had been vandalized with the symbols and slogans.

“We are dismayed by this scurrilous attack on the building on the very day of its 105th anniversary,” Price, the coordinator of the Synagogue of the Outback Museum, told JTA.

Price said the synagogue, which is under the ownership of the Broken Hill Historical Society, was vandalized about 10 years ago, when it was painted with swastikas on Hitler’s birthday. In 2010, a local bookstore that featured Chanukah material in its window also was defaced with Nazi symbols.

“Although there is no Jewish presence in the city these days, I grew up with Jews and my family worked with them,” Price said. “They were Broken Hillers and a strong part of our community.”

She added: “People are asking why this is happening now and one man offered me $50 to help clean it up.”

The synagogue was established in 1910 to meet the spiritual needs of a small but vibrant Jewish community serving the booming mining town. When the mining boom slowed down, most of the Jewish community left. Broken Hill is situated in far west New South Wales, hundreds of miles from other Jewish communities in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. It is the first city in Australia to be heritage listed.

“The presence of the synagogue played a part in the listing,” Price said. It last functioned as a synagogue in 1962.

Detective-Inspector Michael Stoltenberg of the Broken Hill Police told JTA that police are investigating the attack on the synagogue.

“These sorts of incidents are not common in our area and we want it to stay that way,” he said.

The CEO of The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said he visited the Broken Hill Synagogue two years ago while on the board’s annual bridge-building tour of Regional New South Wales.

“The bigotry inherent in any such attack is exacerbated by the idiocy of the perpetrators,” he said. “The Broken Hill Synagogue, which is 105 years old, is cared for by the same dedicated group of volunteers who take care of a mosque and two museums in the city, so attacking it impacts those other institutions, too, as funds will now have to be raised to remove the graffiti.”

The synagogue, which houses prayer books, ark curtains, tallitot and an Israeli flag, is visited by over 800 tourists annually.

Police storm Sydney cafe to end hostage siege, three dead

Heavily armed Australian police stormed a Sydney cafe on Tuesday and freed a number of hostages being held there at gunpoint, in a dramatic end to a 16-hour siege in which three people were killed and four wounded.


New South Wales police said two men, aged 34 and 50, and a 38-year-old woman died. The attacker was among the fatalities.

Heavy gunfire and blasts from stun grenades filled the air shortly after 2 a.m. local time (1500 GMT on Monday).

Moments earlier at least six people believed to have been held captive managed to flee after gunshots were heard coming from the cafe, and police later confirmed that they made their move in response.

So far 17 hostages have been accounted for.

Medics tried to resuscitate at least one person after the raid and took away several wounded people on stretchers, said a Reuters witness at the scene in downtown Sydney. Bomb squad members moved in to search for explosives, but none were found.

The operation began shortly after a police source named the gunman as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh facing multiple charges of sexual assault as well as being an accessory to murder.

He was also found guilty in 2012 of sending offensive and threatening letters to families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, as a protest against Australia's involvement in the conflict, according to local media reports.

A U.S. security official said the U.S. government was being advised by Australia that there was no sign at this stage that the gunman was connected to known terrorist organizations.

Although the hostage taker was known to the authorities, security experts said preventing attacks by people acting alone could be difficult.

​”Today's crisis throws into sharp relief the dangers of lone wolf terrorism,” said Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin, speaking in New York.

“There are two areas of concern. The first is ISIS (Islamic State) fighters with foreign passports who return to their home countries to commit acts of terrorism.

“The second is ISIS sympathizers radicalised on the internet who take it upon themselves to commit terrorist attacks to fulfill their radical ideology.

“We are entering a new phase of terrorism that is far more dangerous, and more difficult to defeat, than al Qaeda ever was.”


During the siege, hostages had been forced to display an Islamic flag, igniting fears of a jihadist attack.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has been on high alert for attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East.

News footage showed hostages holding up a black and white flag displaying the Shahada, a testament to the faith of Muslims. The flag has been popular among Sunni Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.

At least five hostages were released or escaped on Monday, with terrified cafe workers and customers running into the arms of paramilitary police.

The incident forced the evacuation of nearby buildings and sent shockwaves around a country where many people were turning their attention to the Christmas holiday following earlier security scares.

In September, anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and days later, a teenager in the city of Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.

The siege cafe is in Martin Place, a pedestrian strip popular with workers on a lunch break, which was revealed as a potential location for the thwarted beheading.

In the biggest security operation in Sydney since a bombing at the Hilton Hotel killed two people in 1978, major banks closed their offices in the central business district and people were told to avoid the area.

Muslim leaders urged calm. The Australian National Imams Council condemned “this criminal act unequivocally” in a joint statement with the Grand Mufti of Australia.

Concerns about an attack in Australia by Islamists have been growing for more than a year, with the security agency raising its national terrorism public alert to “high” in September.

Fear and indifference leave West Africa desperate for Ebola staff

When Australia offered more than $2 million last month to the medical charity leading the fight against Ebola in West Africa, Medecins Sans Frontieres bluntly rejected it.

What was urgently needed from rich Western countries, MSF said, was not more money but doctors and nurses.

Despite warnings that hundreds of thousands may die, foreign governments and organisations are still hesitating to dispatch highly trained civilian and military personnel to fight the worst ever outbreak of the deadly virus.

Even in the highly controlled environments in the West, two U.S. nurses and one Spaniard have contracted the disease, putting its dangers in sharp focus for Western governments and news media.

On Thursday, a New York City doctor who worked for MSF in Guinea became the organisation's third foreign medic to contract the disease while treating people in West Africa.

The contrast with other humanitarian disasters, from the Haitian earthquake to the 2004 Asian Tsunami is stark. Aid workers say it can partly be explained by unease over Ebola's deadly nature, uncertainty over how to look after infected staff, and competing demands from other crises around the world.

With nearly 5,000 recorded deaths, and estimates the real toll is likely to be three times higher, governments and health organisations have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the World Health Organization said this week that just 25 percent of the isolation beds needed to halt the disease's march through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are in place.

The WHO estimates that 1,000 foreign medical workers and 20,000 locals are needed to man the 50 Ebola treatment units due to be rolled out across the three worst effected nations.

So far, the WHO says there are firm commitments from foreign teams for just 30 of these Ebola units.

“The big gap is still in human resources,” said Manuel Fontaine, head of U.N. child agency UNICEF in West Africa. “Money is necessary. It is an expensive operation. But we need people.”

In order to get Ebola under control, U.N. organisations estimate they must get 70 percent of all cases into treatment centres and ensure 70 percent of those who die of Ebola are buried safely. They hope to achieve that within two months.

“It seems like it should be feasible but there is a lot of concern about bringing back infections,” he said.


Without doubt, treating Ebola is dangerous. At least 443 health workers are known to have contracted Ebola, of whom 244 have died.

Donors are stumping up millions of dollars to pay local healthcare workers risk bonuses following a rash of strikes.

“Building ETUs (Ebola treatments units) is the easy part, the more challenging and more dangerous part is making them run safely. To stay safe you have to think through thousands of details,” said Sean Casey, who runs one such unit for the International Medical Corps in Bong County in northern Liberia.

After the Haiti earthquake, Casey said “hundreds if not thousands” volunteered. This was party due to geography but also as they were able to work for two weeks at a time.

A stint fighting Ebola in West Africa involves six weeks in the region and another three away from work to avoid potentially infecting hospitals back home, he said.

Casey said organisations were often reluctant to tackle the disease. “In Haiti, everyone was there on the ground. Here all the usual actors have not responded to the call for help and some have even pulled out their staff,” he said.

U.S. charity Samaritans Purse withdrew non-essential staff treating patients in July after two of its members caught Ebola. It has since returned but is not providing frontline care.

Trevor Hughes, director of security and risk management at U.S.-based International Relief and Development, which has staff on the ground, said Ebola was testing the limits of people who are used to volunteering for crises.

“There is an issue of the obvious, which is certainly fear,” he said, adding that while organisations offered training, equipment and support, volunteers still worried about issues like insurance, logistics and whether sufficient standards were being maintained in a chaotic crisis zone.


One major issue had been the lack of guarantees that volunteers would be evacuated to Western hospitals if they fell ill. U.S. and EU officials have since guaranteed this.

“There will be a mark when the logistics and other things will be in place, when there is a little bit more trust being built, and people will start heading out,” Hughes said.

“It might be too little too late,” he added.

Some aid workers suggest that the strategic importance of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea was not high enough to mobilise major resources until people in the United States and Europe fell ill and it became an issue in the West.

Citing the case of an Ebola treatment centre in Macenta, Guinea, one aid worker said France was putting up financing but then “sub-contracting” the construction and operation of these units to non-governmental groups.

“France says it is building it but in fact it is being built by MSF and it will be run by the Red Cross,” she said.

The United States has pledged more cash and manpower than any other nation – up to $1 billion and as many as 4,000 troops. But U.S. personnel will build treatment units and train local staff, not provide care. Britain is adopting a similar strategy.

“When the risk is very high, the West is not going to send a lot of its own people,” Dakar-based independent West African political analyst Gilles Yabi told Reuters.

Cuba, however, has bucked the trend, with Havana training up 461 doctors and nurses so they can help fight Ebola. So far, 256 have been dispatched to West Africa.

Having been criticised for not doing enough to help while also imposing border closures and travel restrictions that have hurt Ebola-hit nations, African nations are now starting to pledge medics.

Doctors from Uganda, with years of experience fighting Ebola, are helping run a clinic in Monrovia. Congo, which has faced six outbreaks back home, is training 1,000 volunteers.

East African Nations have promised over 600 health workers and Nigeria, which has successfully contained its Ebola cases this year, has pledged 500 medics.

Ian Quick, director at Rethink Fragility, an organisation that focuses on fragile states, said the Ebola response was echoing current trends international peacekeeping, where rich states provide funds but poor nations send personnel.

“It makes sense in terms of comparative advantage … but does tend to stick in everyone's craw ethically.”

Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn in Dakar, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Giles Elgood

Israeli rabbi attacked visiting mall in Australia

A visiting rabbi from Jerusalem was threatened and verbally abused by a gang of youths in a shopping mall in Western Australia on Monday.

Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam, known as the Stropkover Rebbe, is visiting Australia on a lecture tour. On Monday he and his assistant were set upon by up to six pro-Palestinian youths at a big mall near a Jewish suburb, according to an eyewitness.

[Related: A hate incident against Elon Gold]

Danny Mayer, a modern Orthodox Jew who went to pick up the two ultra-Orthodox Jews, told JTA: “I’m a bit shaken from [Monday]. I’m the one who pretty much rescued the rebbe.”

He added: “They were surrounding him, so I raced over to get him into the car and they surrounded the car screaming, ‘You are killing babies in Gaza.’”

Mayer said the teenage gang got “very agitated” and started banging on the car and spitting on it.

“I’ve been in Israel for seven years,” added Mayer, “and it wasn’t too far from being in an Arab village and trapped in a car. We absolutely felt threatened.”

“The rebbe is shaken but OK,” he said.

The youths ran away when Mayer started taking photos on his phone, he said. “The wider community needs to know that Jews around the world are being affected because they are Jews,” Mayer said.

The incident has been reported to police and close-circuit TV footage is being checked.

The incident comes less than two weeks after the walls of Perth’s only Jewish school were painted with graffiti that read “Zionist scum.” It also comes in the wake of police confirming that a Perth-based Islamic preacher who described Jews as “filthy rapists” won’t be prosecuted under the state’s race-hate laws.

Ian Britza, a state lawmaker in Western Australia, told JTA: “I was absolutely horrified. I condemn it in the highest possible terms.” The state government should publicly condemn it and even offer the rebbe a public apology, he said, adding, “I’m not ashamed to be a friend of Israel.”

Halberstam, who runs several yeshivas in Israel, leads the Hasidic sect that originates from Stropkov, a town in Slovakia.

Sydney Jewish board: Newspaper cartoon ‘racially vilifies’ Jews

The umbrella body of the Jewish community in Sydney, Australia, threatened to take action against a major newspaper for publishing a cartoon about Gaza that “racially vilifies” Jews.

Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, wrote to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday claiming that the cartoon by Glen Le Lievre in the July 26 edition was in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

“In our view this is racial vilification, not only in the sense of offending, insulting, humiliating and intimidating Jews as a group, but also in the sense of inciting third parties to hatred of Jews,” Miller wrote.

The cartoon, published alongside a virulently anti-Israel article by columnist Mike Carlton, showed a yarmulke-wearing, hooked-nose Jew sitting in an armchair etched with a Star of David, using a remote control to detonate a collection of buildings, presumably in Gaza.

The Anti-Defamation Commission of the B’nai B’rith also lodged a formal protest against the “anti-Semitic” image.

“This is the venomous propaganda of Der Stumer recycled for a modern-day audience,” fumed commission chair Dvir Abramovich. “The cartoon portrays not just Israelis, but all Jews, as heartless, cold-blooded murderers.”

The furor comes as an Islamic leader called for a law prohibiting Australian citizens from joining the Israeli army. Samir Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, claimed that Australians who fight in Iraq and Syria face prosecution whereas those who fight for Israel do not.

“It’s hard when you say something to one side and they look and say ‘how come we’re not being treated the same’ — it’s not fair,” he told the Australian Associated Press this week.

But Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told JTA: “The law is to prevent
Australians from going to fight for proscribed groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., who are trying to undermine established states or commit terrorist acts.”

P.A. calls on Australia to clarify eastern Jerusalem stance

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry summoned Australia’s envoy in the wake of an announcement that Australia will not refer to eastern Jerusalem as “occupied.”

The P.A.’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, called on Australian government officials to give an “official clarification” of its position on eastern Jerusalem.

Australian Attorney General George Brandis announced late last week that Australia will no longer describe eastern Jerusalem as “occupied” or “annexed” territory.

“The description of east Jerusalem as ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’ is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful,” Brandis said in a statement following a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. “It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiations in such judgmental language.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman thanked the Australian government for “its honesty and integrity in its treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Australia’s Jewish cooking club

In the cookbook collection of nearly every Jewish family sits a sincere yet amateur plastic-ring-bound volume of recipes. A group of women known as the Monday Morning Cooking Club has adopted this tried-and-true sisterhood tradition of culinary anthropology and recipe collecting and brought it into contemporary food culture, via Sydney, Australia. 

Professional food styling and graphic design, plus the backing of a major publishing house, do nothing to diminish the spirit of their debut cookbook, “Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Food, The Stories, The Sisterhood.” Initially self-published in Australia, the paperback has been available in the United States since last month. The group recently passed through New York City and Los Angeles as part of a brief promotional tour.  

Lisa Goldberg, Natanya Eskin and Merelyn Frank Chalmers held court for a few hours at Joan’s on Third recently, where owner Joan McNamara’s endorsement was enough to bring in a steady stream of book buyers. A handful of Aussies — some known to the visitors, some not — came out of the woodwork to get a dose of life back home and hear about how their modern-day sisterhood has influenced current food culture. 

Then Dana Slatkin, a chef, culinary educator and founder of the Beverly Hills Farmers Market, who is also known as the Beverly Hills Farmgirl, hosted the three in her home for a social morning of cooking (or observing, technically) and eating. 

Goldberg explained that the Monday Morning Cooking Club eventually wanted “to create a cookbook that could sit next to any cookbook in the world.” (In other words: No plastic ring binders.) To get started, they began getting together on Monday mornings in 2006. All friends — mothers with flexible schedules that enabled them to meet during the week — they reached out to their community to create a book that would serve as a repository of recipes from Sydney’s best cooks. All the better if they got their hands on recipes that had been passed down among generations. 

For these women, who also include Jacqui Israel, Paula Horwitz, and Lauren Fink, Monday mornings became dedicated to cooking and testing the material that they gathered from friends and relatives, and that came in thanks to word of mouth through Australia’s Jewish community. Given the breadth of the Diaspora (the nation received significant numbers of Jews following the Holocaust, and immigration into the continent still continues, particularly among South African Jews), the collection reflects the diverse influences present in Australian kitchens. Australia’s Jewish population is currently estimated at 100,000. 

The book is essentially “an anthology of 65 cooks” vetted by the six core members, Chalmers said. The recipes, which in sum have a heavily Jewish slant, capture the traditions of previous generations while also reflecting today’s sensibilities. “We don’t necessarily cook Jewish food. It’s food Jewish people in Sydney cook at this time. It’s a snapshot,” she clarified. 

Each contributor’s section features an introduction with personal and family history, and nearly every recipe includes a specific story about that dish. The result is a collective account of the Jewish community throughout Australia, with accessible recipes and plenty of inspiring, gorgeous photos. A second volume is currently in progress; according to Goldberg, when complete, the set will cover almost all the classics of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, plus recipes that originate in far-flung locales such as Iraq, India, Israel and Burma. 

As Slatkin and the MMCC women — or “girls,” as they refer to themselves — demonstrated a few dishes to constitute an elegant, seasonal, light lunch befitting this particular demographic, their humor and warmth radiated through. Nor do they shy away from healthy disagreements about all things related to cooking. “We love arguing,” Goldberg said. 

Eskin retorted, “Six women together in a kitchen. Can you imagine?”

Eskin touched on some of the research methods and fieldwork involved, noting that with certain women, “every week it would be a different-sized handful” of ingredients. After years of amassing information, “We’ve preserved their recipes forever. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s such a beautiful thing to have.” Most recipes were handed over willingly, but others required persistence. 

All profits from the book and other kitchen items sold on the Web site go to charity, including organizations such as OzHarvest, a food distribution network, and various Jewish causes. In keeping with the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s mission and spirit of generosity, Slatkin donated a portion of the Los Angeles class and book sale proceeds to the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program. 

When the demonstration wrapped up and the participants milled about to get their books signed and eat lunch, Slatkin pointed to one of the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s best, if not necessarily deliberate, accomplishments. “I feel like we’ve bridged generations and oceans with this class.”

One of the recipes Slatkin asked the trio to prepare reflects the reach of the Monday Morning Cooking Club. Maxine Pacanowski’s cinnamon apple pie “is one you could really play with,” Chalmers noted. A pile of sliced apples topped with an egg, flour, oil and sugar mixture and baked in a springform pan, this dessert, which is more of a cake than a pie in the American sense, found a certain notable fan. Cookbook author and TV personality Nigella Lawson learned of the Monday Morning Cooking Club when she was in Australia, ordered a copy of the book back in London, and wrote on her Web site about how she had adapted the cinnamon and apple pie recipe to her own particular tastes. 

Both in reference to the recipe’s overall utility and its celebrity follower, “It’s a superstar cake now,” Goldberg proudly said. Try it and find out for yourself.. 


  • 6 to 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light olive or vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or experiment with alternative flours, such as spelt)
  • Extra cinnamon-sugar (optional), for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line the base and side of a springform cake pan.

Layer the apple slices in the prepared pan so they come about two-thirds of the way up the side. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the apples.

Make a batter by beating the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well; then stir in the flour. Spoon the batter on top of the apples and sprinkle with the extra cinnamon-sugar if desired. 

Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves 10


  • 1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 bunch scallions (approximately 12 stems), finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 4 salmon fillets, skinned and boned

Preheat the oven’s broiler to its maximum temperature. Cover a flat oven tray with aluminum foil.

Mix the ginger and garlic in a small bowl, then add the sherry, sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions and salt. Stir to combine.

Place the salmon fillets on the tray and spoon a thick layer of the sesame mixture on top. You may cook the salmon immediately or cover and refrigerate until you wish to cook it — up to 24 hours.

Place the tray under the hot broiler (on the second to top or top shelf) for 7-10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked to your liking and the topping has blackened a little. 

Serves 4.


  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Half small Savoy or half red cabbage (or a mixture), shredded
  • 1/2 cup whole toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 heaped tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

To make the dressing, put the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and place over  low heat. Add a drop of water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow the vinegar mixture to cool, then place in a large jar with the oil and soy sauce, and shake to combine.

Place the cabbage in a serving bowl and add the almonds and sesame seeds. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and toss to combine.

Serves 6.

Tony Abbott, staunch Israel backer, wins Australian premiership

Tony Abbott, a staunch supporter of Israel, was elected the country’s new prime minister of Australia.

Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party won a convincing and expected victory on Saturday, sweeping the Labor government from its six-year term leading the government. Kevin Rudd conceded defeat late Saturday.

Led by Abbott — a surf lifesaver and volunteer firefighter who once trained to be a Catholic priest — the Liberals are expected to have more than 90 seats in the new parliament to 55 for Labor.

Several of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives are yet to be confirmed.

Under Rudd, Israel has experienced turbulent diplomatic relations with Australia, including the expulsion of an Israeli agent from its embassy in Canberra following the 2010 Dubai passports affair.

The three Jewish lawmakers in federal parliament were returned to the government, with Joshua Frydenberg becoming the first Liberal Jewish member of Parliament since Peter Baume in the early 1980s.

Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus, both of Labor, will return as opposition members. They served in the Cabinet of the Rudd government.

Labor’s Mike Kelly, who is married to a cousin of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is in a battle to hold on to his seat, with the result still too close to call.

Abbott has said he wants to return bilateral relations to the era of former Liberal leader John Howard, who was an unapologetic supporter of Israel.

“I’d like to think that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have a stauncher friend than us,” Abbott told an Australia-Israel forum in Melbourne when he was first elected party leader in 2009.

The election had been scheduled to clash with Yom Kippur but was advanced  one week when Rudd was reinstated as prime minister six weeks ago in a last-ditch move by Labor to avoid the electoral wipeout predicted under Julia Gillard.

Australian film festival pulls movie deemed ‘anti-Israel’

A French-Canadian film deemed “anti-Israel” was withdrawn from the Israeli Film Festival in Australia.

“Inch’allah” was being screened earlier this month at the annual Israeli Film Festival when a patron complained to Albert Dadon, the chair of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, which presents the festival.

David Schulberg said the film was “anti-Israel” and was not even a bona fide Israeli film because it was filmed in Jordan and written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalett, who in 2010 signed a petition endorsing the campaign to boycott Israel.

Dadon agreed, telling Fairfax Media its inclusion was “an error.” He said the film also “represents an ideology we obviously can’t endorse. It justifies suicide bombing. It might have been OK to be in another festival, but certainly not in ours.”

“Inch’allah” follows a Canadian doctor working in a clinic in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, where she treats pregnant women and faces daily checkpoints to return to her apartment in Jerusalem. It won the Critics’ Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The film was screened several times before it was pulled. The festival is in its 10th year.

Ex-Australian Maccabi team coach jailed for child sex abuse

A former coach of a Maccabi basketball team in Australia was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually abusing four girls more than a decade ago.

Shannon Francis, who is not Jewish, was sentenced Wednesday by County Court of Victoria Judge Meryl Sexton. Francis must serve at least 5 1/2 years before he is eligible for parole.

A suppression order surrounding the case had prevented the media from revealing his name or that of Maccabi, the largest Jewish organization in Australia with some 9,000 members across more than 50 clubs, according to its website.

Earlier this year Francis, 37, pleaded guilty to four charges of child sex abuse, including one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16.

It is understood that at least one incident took place during an overseas trip to the United States. The incidents date back to 1999 and 2000.

Maccabi Australia President Lisa Borowick said in a statement, “Maccabi and its member clubs have never and will never condone or seek to protect their own interests in any case of suspected criminality, especially one involving harm to children. It is our understanding that the officials involved in 2000 acted in full consultation and agreement with the victims and their families.”

Manny Waks, founder of Tzedek, an organization for victims and survivors of Jewish child sex abuse in Australia, welcomed the news.

“It highlights the fact that the scourge of child sexual abuse is not confined to one specific segment of the Jewish community,” he said. “Just as within the broader society, child sexual abuse is prevalent within the Jewish community.”

Two other child sex abuse cases involving Jewish organizations are currently before the courts: one involves a non-Jewish bus driver who worked at the haredi Orthodox Adass Israel School in Melbourne. Reporting on the other case has been suppressed.

Australian Jews protest rehiring of men responsible for Maccabiah tragedy

Australian Jews criticized the Maccabi movement for continuing to employ officials responsible for the deaths of four Australians at the 1997 Maccabiah Games.

As this year’s games launched in Israel this week, Peter Wertheim, of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said: “It is hard to believe that a Jewish organization would behave with such callous disregard for the value of human life.”

Yoram Eyal, the chairman of the organizing committee of the 1997 games, was convicted in 2000 of criminal negligence for his role in the disaster that claimed the lives of Warren Zines, Yetty Bennett, Greg Small and Elizabeth Sawicki.

He is now general manager of the Maccabiah village, the headquarters of Maccabi World Union and a nerve center of the so-called Jewish Olympics.

His colleague, Ronald Bakalarz, president of the union in 1997, resigned in 2000 following three years of pressure from Australia and an ultimatum by the Knesset inquiry into the incident. Today, he is chairman of the board of the Maccabiah village.

“It’s disgraceful but hardly surprising,” said Colin Elterman, whose daughter Sasha survived 28 brain operations after ingesting toxins at the Maccabiah. She and others fell into the heavily-polluted Yarkon River when a bridge collapsed.

“There is nothing that the organization will not do to protect its insiders,” Elterman said. “Sadly it’s endemic in their system.”

Maccabi Australia president Lisa Borowick suggested it was time to move on.

“We can’t stop someone from earning a living,” she said. “Why can’t they [the media] focus on honoring those who lost their lives as we did at the memorial service held earlier this week.”

Eyal said he had no “organizational involvement” in the Maccabiah, although he is responsible for all guests, whether or not they are connected to the Maccabiah.

“No day has passed since then without my profound regret and respect for the lives that were lost and for their families, and it will be so to the end of my days,” he said.

Australia has a team of 400-plus athletes at the games, which opened Thursday night in Jerusalem.

Former JFS director of children and family services rejects report she shielded Australian abuser

When veteran social worker Debbie Fox’s name appeared in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald on April 10, the story about her claimed she was doing the unthinkable: protecting a known abuser of children.

The story purported to quote from an e-mail she wrote to an unnamed sex offender in November 2011. “I have no idea how anyone found out,” she was quoted as saying, “but calls are coming daily from many sources. So far, we’ve been protecting you.” 

Fox worked at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), until budgetary pressures led her to resign late last year. Most recently she was the agency’s director of children and family services. She also served as director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, an arm of JFS serving the local Orthodox community. 

Fox, who is internationally known as a leading authority on child abuse prevention within Orthodox communities, confirmed in an interview with the Journal that she wrote the e-mail quoted in the Herald, but said the Australian newspaper took it out of context in a way that misrepresents its intent. 

Speaking on April 14, Fox stated that her e-mail was not about protecting the offender from prosecution or from the local Orthodox Jewish community. 

Rather, Fox said she was informing the offender of what he already knew: that if he did not follow through with the evaluation and treatment that he and JFS had come up with, the victim, who had first brought the offender to Fox’s attention, would go public with what the offender had done to him 20 years earlier in Australia. 

The complete chain of e-mails, Fox said, make clear that she and Aleinu had no intention of protecting the offender from such exposure, and Fox said that each e-mail she sent to the offender also was copied to the victim and to a rabbi on Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board (HAB), a group of Orthodox rabbis who work with Aleinu on its cases and protocols. 

“The victim, the offender and the rabbi were all notified of every communication,” she said. 

The Herald’s story is just one of many published about abuse within the Australian Jewish community, and it comes at a time when revelations and prosecution of sexual abuse within Orthodox Jewish communities around the world are on the rise. 

This story could draw further scrutiny of the work of Los Angeles’ HAB, which has been considered by many Orthodox experts as a model for treating abusers because of HAB’s close cooperation with law enforcement. Critics, however, see HAB’s work as undermining reporting requirements by presenting itself as an alternative to law enforcement. 

Since the early 2000s, when three sex abuse scandals in Los Angeles’ Orthodox Jewish community received broad press coverage, Fox has been working on a number of fronts to prevent sex abuse. 

A licensed clinical social worker, Fox created a program that aims to educate children, parents and educators about how to prevent and respond to child abuse. She worked with the HAB rabbis to devise a “conduct policy” that has been introduced in Jewish schools and camps. And she oversaw the growth of the HAB to its current size, with 11 local rabbis from across the Orthodox community now working on a volunteer basis on some particularly sensitive issues.

Fox is herself a mandated reporter — if she has reason to suspect child abuse, she must inform authorities — as are JFS and Aleinu. But the HAB, Fox said, only intervenes in cases of child abuse where there is no reportable offense, and has taken on between 25 and 30 cases of alleged or confirmed child abuse in the past eight years. 

Fox said she was contacted in 2011 by a victim who was seeking to force the man who abused him decades earlier in Australia to go before the HAB. 

The offender, now living in Los Angeles, admitted to the abuse, but Fox said that when she called the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, she was told there was nothing to report locally because the offense took place decades earlier and in another country. Fox said she also encouraged the victim to call police in Australia, but he declined to do so at the time, citing personal reasons. 

For a victim of abuse to decline to report an offense, even years later, is not unusual in insular Orthodox communities. That is, Fox said, what drives the HAB in the work that it does. 

In 2011, both the victim and the offender — both of whom provided statements to Fox, but declined to be interviewed by the Journal either by phone, e-mail or in person — were in “100 percent agreement,” Fox said, both about what took place decades earlier and what had to happen going forward.

Under threat of exposure, the offender underwent an in-depth assessment to determine whether he was still a danger to children. 

Such evaluations, used frequently by the HAB, can last up to 50 hours and involve lengthy questionnaires, a lie-detector test and other examinations. 

This one, however, ended up being atypical, Fox said: The assessment found the offender had offended in the past but had not reoffended in “more than 20 years.” 

The outside evaluators recommended the offender undergo therapy with an expert in the field, Fox said, and in accordance with the victim’s wishes, disclose his past offenses to his own rabbi. The offender is now required to meet with that rabbi on a monthly basis. 

The offender complied, Fox said, and the victim told her he was completely satisfied with the results of the HAB’s involvement. 

The other unusual aspect of this case, Fox said, was that the offender took, in his words, “a significant period of time” to complete the evaluation and to get set up with treatment. 

Too long, as Fox made clear in her e-mail of Nov. 21, 2012. 

“We have NEVER had any evaluation take nearly this long,” Fox wrote in the e-mail obtained by the Herald, reminding him that he had to complete it “for [his] security.” 

Fox declined to share the entire e-mail chain with the Journal, but read the text of those that preceded the one obtained by the Herald to a reporter over the phone. The e-mails were insistent that the offender move forward with the agreed-upon assessment and treatment regimen. 

“Every communication was about following through with the protocol,” Fox told the Journal. “When he [the offender] did not follow through in a timely manner, what I said is, ‘I can’t protect you.’ 

“The victim is going to just let everybody know that this is what you’ve done 20 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it,” Fox added. “I can’t protect that. That is what the e-mail said.” 

Fox has many supporters within the Orthodox Jewish community, but some advocates for the sexual abuse victims are critical of her work with the HAB. 

 “Why do you need an advisory board? Why do you need gatekeepers?” asked Ben Hirsch, a spokesperson for Survivors for Justice, an organization that educates and advocates on issues related to child safety. “Duplicating the job of trained law enforcement professionals serves no purpose other than the occasional cover-up.

“The only thing rabbis should be doing is to tell people to report all incidents of abuse directly to the authorities — even when there is no legal requirement to do so — and to offer public moral support to victims who do report,” Hirsch added. 

Richard Baker, one of the reporters who wrote the Herald article, said this week that the unnamed offender is now under investigation by detectives in Sydney for acts committed against four victims when they were children. 

Australia has no statute of limitations on criminal charges of sexual abuse against children. 

Officials walk out of IAEA talks after Iranian cites Israeli ‘genocide’

U.S., Canadian and Australian officials walked out of a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency when the Iranian envoy accused Israel of genocide.

Joseph Macmanus, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, stormed out of the meeting in Vienna on Wednesday after Ali Asghar Soltaneh made the accusation, Reuters reported, as did Canadian and Australian officials.

Macmanus earlier had accused Iran of “deception, defiance and delay” in its dealing with the agency.

The meeting Wednesday comes weeks ahead of a renewed effort at talks in Istanbul by major powers, led by the United States, to negotiate terms with Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent. Western powers and Israel believe Iran is close to being able to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Iran denies this, and Soltaneh repeated these denials on Wednesday, calling the accusations “baseless.”

Report: Israel informed Australia when Zygier was arrested

Israeli intelligence services notified Australian officials of Ben Zygier’s arrest immediately after he was detained, an Australian news agency reported. 

Australia’s Fairfax Media quoted a “well-placed source familiar with the case” as saying Israeli intelligence had told Australian officials about the 2010 arrest of Zygier, a dual Australian-Israeli citizen dubbed Prisoner X who committed suicide later that year while in prison in Israel. Zygier is alleged to have worked with the Mossad.

Fairfax Media's former Middle East correspondent, Jason Koutsoukis, said he had been tipped off by an ''Australian intelligence source'' in October 2009 about concerns that Zygier may have been facilitating the use of Australian passports by Israeli spies. He then interviewed Zygier, who denied the allegation. A week after their last conversation, Zygier was imprisoned.

Fired gay day school principal settles with school out of court

The fired principal of a major Jewish school in Melbourne reached an out-of-court settlement on the eve of his unfair dismissal case in the Federal Court.

Joseph Gerassi, who is gay, sued Bialik College for millions of dollars in damages to his reputation and for lost income after he was dismissed by the board in 2011. The two parties settled for an undisclosed sum, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In a letter, Bialik President Graham Goldsmith said the relationship between Gerassi and the college’s board “had irretrievably broken down” but that his termination was not due to “any dishonesty or misconduct on his part whatsoever.”

There is no evidence that Gerassi, who is believed to be the first openly gay principal of a Jewish school in Australia, was fired because of his sexuality, according to the Herald.

Gerassi, a former teacher at the King David School in Johannesburg,South Africa, was ordered to resign or his employment would be terminated immediately.

Goldsmith acknowledged in his letter that the board could have handled the “manner in which his dismissal was carried out” differently.

“I don't know of any private schools in Australia where there are openly gay principals,” the newspaper quoted Gerassi as saying. “Boards of schools are quite conservative and would prefer not to have to deal with the issue. I'm not saying they are homophobic — it's just easier having someone who is not gay heading up a school.”

Israel denies mystery 2010 detainee spied for Australia

Israel denied on Tuesday that an Australian immigrant who committed suicide in 2010 while jailed for security offenses had spied for his native country.

The statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, which oversees Israel's intelligence services, was the first to confirm the affair concerned Ben Zygier, who was named in an Australian TV expose last week.

One of Zygier's lawyers has since linked him to Mossad, fanning speculation the 34-year-old Jewish man from Melbourne had been arrested and held in isolation on suspicion of betraying the Israeli spy agency's secrets – perhaps to Australia.

“Following many reports, the prime minister's office emphasises that Mr. Zygier had no connection to the Australian security services and organizations,” the statement said.

It said that Israel and Australia shared “excellent cooperation, full coordination and full transparency in dealing with the issues on the agenda”.

Zygier was held under alias to stem serious harm to national interests, Israel says, but has not given any other details.

In a separate measure to douse speculation of foul play, an Israeli court allowed the publication of a judge's inquiry, completed two months ago, that said Zygier hanged himself in his cell.

The investigation showed the prisoner looped a wet sheet around his neck, tied it to the bars of a bathroom window in his cell and hanged himself, choking to death.

Israeli media reported the bathroom area was not covered, for privacy reasons, by closed-circuit television cameras that transmitted images from other parts of the isolation cell.

Ruling out foul play on the basis of medical and physical evidence, Judge Dafna Blatman-Kardai said entry to the cell was monitored by cameras and examination of their footage showed no one “intervened in causing the death of the deceased.”

She said his family – which has not commented publicly on the case – agreed with the findings.

“A small amount of sedative was found in his blood. There was no alcohol or drugs. This does not change my determination … about the cause of death,” a forensic medical expert was quoted as saying in the judge's report.

Civil liberties groups and some lawmakers in Israel, protesting at the state censorship restricting local reporting on the case, have demanded to know whether Zygier's rights were violated by his months of incarceration, isolated from other inmates, and whether his death could have been prevented.

Those calls were echoed in Australia, where media suggested Zygier had been suspected of betraying Mossad missions to Canberra's spy services. Australia was angered in 2010 by the fraudulent use of its passports in the assassination of a Hamas arms procurer in Dubai, which the Gulf emirate blamed on Israel.


In her report, the judge said there was prima facie evidence that the Prisons Authority had been negligent, noting that it had received special instructions on supervising the prisoner to prevent a possible suicide.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said state prosecutors would decide whether charges would be brought.

A source briefed on the affair told Reuters that Israel has since installed biometric detectors in the toilet stalls of high-risk prisoners, designed to summon guards within seconds should they stop breathing or display other signs of distress.

Responding to the media reports about Zygier, Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told parliament on Monday that the detainee had received frequent family visits and been “supervised by mental-health support and treatment systems, both external and those of the Prisons Service”.

Zygier also consulted with Israeli lawyers, one of whom, Avigdor Feldman, said he saw the married father of two shortly before his death to discuss “grave charges” on which he had been indicted, and the possibility of a plea bargain.

“I met with a balanced person … who was rationally weighing his legal options,” Feldman told Israeli television last week, adding Zygier had denied the charges against him.

“His interrogators told him he could expect lengthy jail time and be ostracised from his family and the Jewish community. There was no heart string they did not pull, and I suppose that ultimately brought about the tragic end.”

Feldman declined to comment on an Israeli newspaper report that Zygier faced between 10-and-20 years in prison.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor on Saturday called Zygier's death a “tragedy” but said his treatment was justified.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Michael Roddy

Report: Zygier may have told Australian intelligence about Mossad ops

Suspected Israeli spy Ben Zygier may have given detailed information about his work to Australian intelligence, leading to his arrest and imprisonment in Israel, according to an Australian news program.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s “Foreign Correspondent” reported Monday that Zygier met with Australia's domestic intelligence agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, or ASIO, and provided details about Israel's Mossad secret service operations, including a top-secret mission in Italy that had taken years to plan.

Zygier, a Melbourne native, visited Australia often with his wife and children, and enrolled in a master's in business administration program at Montash University in that city. It was during one of those visits that he had contact with Australian intelligence, “Foreign Correspondent” reported, and also applied for a visa to Italy.

Zygier, who was known as Prisoner X as well as Ben Alon, was the subject of an expose by “Foreign Correspondent” that reported Feb. 12 that he was jailed in early 2010 and apparently committed suicide in the high-security Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv. The report suggested that he worked with the Mossad.

Following the report, internal investigations on his case were initiated in Israel and Australia.

Zygier was one of three Australian Jews who changed their names several times, receiving new passports for travel in the Middle East and Europe allegedly for their work for the Mossad, according to the news program. He was buried in Melbourne, where he attended day school.

Melbourne sex abuse probes spread to Sydney Jewish community

Allegations of child sex abuse, rampant in Melbourne’s Jewish community, have spread to Sydney, with police mounting investigations into two individuals.

Police in New South Wales state said at least one of the alleged perpetrators under investigation is believed to be a former employee of a religious institution associated with Chabad-Lubavitch. Neither of the men have been publicly named.

The allegations date back to the late 1970s or 1980s, a police spokesperson said.

Rabbi Eli Feldman, a spokesperson for the Yeshiva Center, the headquarters of Chabad in NSW, said in a statement Thursday that police had not contacted them.

“Yeshiva unequivocally condemns any form of abuse, including child sexual abuse,” the statement said. “We welcome any police investigation to uncover any improprieties, especially regarding alleged crimes against children.”

Child abuse victim Manny Waks, the head of Tzedek, an advocacy group for Jewish survivors and victims in Australia, welcomed the news.

“This is yet a further positive development,” he said. “The Sydney Yeshiva Center has made its position crystal clear: that it does not tolerate any forms of abuse, it encourages victims to go to the police, it commits to fully cooperating with the police, it offers victims and survivors an acknowledgement of what they may have experienced, and importantly, it offers them support and assistance in a practical and sensitive manner.”

Yeshivah College, the Chabad-run school in Melbourne, has been at the center of multiple child sex abuse allegations. Two former employees – David Kramer and David Cyprys – face multiple charges, including indecent acts on minors and child rape.

On Friday, a magistrate set April 23-24 as the dates for Kramer’s committal hearing, which will determine whether his case goes to trial. Kramer appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via video-link from jail.

Waks also said a new victim had come forward with allegations that she was sexually abused as a child by a congregant of a synagogue in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Israeli lawmakers press for answers on dead Australian ‘Prisoner X’

Knesset members pressed Israel's justice minister for answers on “Prisoner X,” who was identified in an Australian TV report as an Australian-born Israeli who worked for the Mossad and died in an Israeli prison.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Tuesday that the man referred to in Israel as Prisoner X was jailed in early 2010 and apparently committed suicide two years ago in the high-security Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv. The report identified him as Ben Zygier, who was known in Israel as Ben Alon. Israel has not confirmed the identification.

A gag order that is still in effect on Israeli media was issued in the incident in late June 2010, according to the network's investigative news program “Foreign Correspondent,” which said the order barred any mention of Prisoner X or of the gag order itself. In December 2010, the Hebrew-language Ynet newsite reported on the existence of the prisoner in a short article that was later removed.

Following the broadcast Tuesday, Israeli news editors were called to the Prime Minister's Office for an emergency meeting of the Israeli Editors Committee, an informal forum comprised of the editors and owners of major Israeli media outlets that dates back to David Ben-Gurion. Shortly after the meeting, news items reporting on the Australian report — a bid to avoid the gag order — were removed from Israeli news sites, according to Haaretz.

“Today we hear that in a country that presumes to be a democracy, journalists are cooperating with the government without the knowledge of the High Court, and that anonymous prisoners are committing suicide and no one knows who they are,” Meretz party chairwoman Zahava Gal-On asked Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman during a Tuesday Knesset session. “How does that comply with democracy and the rule of the law?”

United Arab List-Ta'al lawmaker Ahmad Tibi asked Ne'eman, “Do you have any information, sir, pertaining to this incident? Can you confirm the fact that an Australian citizen has committed suicide in prison under a false identity?”  

“I cannot answer these questions,” Ne'eman responded, “because the matter does not fall under the authority of the justice minister. But there is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into.”

“Foreign Correspondent” reported that Zygier was 34 at the time of his death and had moved to Israel about 10 years earlier. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two small children.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s website, Zygier was found hanged in a cell with state-of-the-art surveillance systems that are installed to prevent suicide. Guards reportedly tried unsuccessfully to revive him. His body was retrieved and flown to Melbourne, where he was buried.

The network said it “understands that he was recruited by the spy agency Mossad.”

Zygier's family declined to speak to the news program, which reported that friends and acquaintances approached by “Foreign Correspondent” also refused to comment.

For science and U.S. jobs: Allow Israelis to visit America visa-free

The majority of Americans are supportive of Israel. Still, for good reasons, many in Jewish and pro-Israel communities are deeply anxious about both the security of Israel and the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon and maintaining U.S. support for Israel in a chaotic and dangerous Middle East will remain pillars of the pro-Israel movement.  Nonetheless, there are other goals the community should pursue that will help truly deepen our nations’ ties, promote medical solutions and help boost much-needed economic growth in America.

American–Israel cooperation in high-tech sectors, including biotechnology and medical research, green energy, defense, homeland security, and information technology have spurred countless vital joint business and research endeavors.  Too often, however, Israeli entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists have to wait for several months to get a visa to visit America.  Conferences and meetings in the medical community and private sector to promote joint innovations and ventures are made unnecessarily difficult.

Israel is currently not included from the 37 countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which includes most of Europe as well as Australia and several Asian countries including South Korea and Japan.  Most recently, Taiwan was admitted to the program in 2012.  The citizens of these countries can visit the United States for business, tourism, or seeing friends and family for up to 90 days without a visa.  Israelis with passports can visit most of Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several other countries around the world, visa-free.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are spearheading a new bill in the House of Representatives to add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.  In a remarkable sign of support, over 30 Representatives, including many senior members, join with Sherman and Poe in introducing the legislation this week.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is introducing the same legislation in the Senate.

Congressman Sherman introduced this bill in the House last year with 13 members including lead cosponsor Congressman Poe.  34 Members cosponsored Sherman’s bill, which brought much-needed attention to this important issue.  Sherman, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, is now spearheading an even bigger coalition on Capitol Hill to move this bill through the new 113th Congress.

There are many indicators of how breaking barriers between Israelis and Americans would enhance an already vibrant scientific and economic relationship. With a disproportionately huge number of per capita scientific papers, patents filed, and startup companies in Israel compared to the world, there is great potential for increased U.S-Israeli business initiatives to the benefit of both nations.

With increased collaborations in finding ways to stop things like Alzheimer’s, Autism and other health issues, more close contact can only mean progress on the human level. This is vital as today another American gets Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, and that number will only double as the baby boomers get older.

Moreover, the CDC says that 1 out of 88 American children have Autism. Jews need to take a special interest in that area as there is a link between the age of the father and the likelihood of a child having Autism. Jews wait longer to have children than any other demographic group in America. In the waiting rooms of the top medical experts for Autism, there is a minyan of Jewish mothers waiting for help for their children.
The Israeli life sciences and biotechnology industry is growing at an astonishing rate.  A nation of 7 million, Israel has about 1,000 life science companies, hundreds of them formed within the past few years.

The Jewish state’s highly educated and savvy entrepreneurs have invested in American jobs and growth. The Israeli private sector has invested well over $50 billion in the United States since 2000.  Israeli Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States was $7.2 billion in 2010 alone.

During an April 2012 trip to Israel, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promoted U.S.-Israeli business and signed a letter of cooperation with Teva, one of the largest, most cutting-edge pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies in the world.  Teva has hundreds of employees in New Jersey and has been offered financial incentives by that state to build more facilities and add to job growth.

It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that led Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway to make its first-ever foreign acquisition in Israel and declare that, “Israel… has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”  Berkshire Hathaway purchased 80% of Iscar, an Israeli maker of precision blades and drills, in 2006.

It’s time for the U.S. to let Israeli entrepreneurs and travelers to visit our country freely.

The increased travel of Israelis to the U.S. would also help America’s tourism sector. Trips to the U.S. by Israelis totaled nearly 320,000 annually the past three years.  In 2011, Israelis spent over $1.6 billion in travel and airfare to the United States.  If Israel enters the program, closer to half a million Israelis are expected to travel to the United States per year.

With 7.8% unemployment and tepid GDP growth in the U.S., we can benefit financially from the innovation resulting from greater American-Israeli science and technology cooperation and business – as well as boosting our tourism and domestic travel sectors.

The Jewish and pro-Israel community should join with U.S. business leaders and representatives of information technology, biotechnology, medical research, defense, and other high-tech industries in backing the passage of theVisa Waiver for Israel Act into law this year.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of and the Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.

Gay ex-principal sues Jewish school over dismissal

One of Australia's largest Jewish schools is being sued by a former principal who claims he was the victim of unfair dismissal.

Documents filed in Federal Court allege Joseph Gerassi's dismissal last year from Bialik College in Melbourne was in breach of the Fair Work Act.

He is suing the school for millions of dollars over his firing, according to a report in The Age newspaper Tuesday.

The report said Gerassi is believed to have been the first openly gay principal of a Jewish school in Australia.

He was told in August of last year that the school board had unanimously decided they had ''lost confidence in his ability to lead the school,'' according to a letter from school president Graham Goldsmith to parents following the school board's decision.

“There is no suggestion whatsoever of any impropriety or misconduct on Joseph's part,” Goldsmith wrote.

Gerassi is seeking compensation for loss of income and damage to his reputation. He was principal at Bialik College – one of the top-rated schools in the state – from 2009, moving from the King David School in Johannesburg to take up the post. But last year he was told to resign or his employment would be terminated almost immediately.

The college declined to comment since the case is before the court. “The school community has been kept informed of the situation throughout,'' a spokesperson was quoted as saying in The Age.

Bialik College, which boasts more than 1,000 pupils, is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Its website describes it as “Australia’s only cross-communal Jewish school embracing the entire Jewish community regardless of affiliation or practice and with a strong and positive relationship with Israel.”

Australia UN Security Council seat

Australia won a temporary two-year seat on the UN Security Council despite critics suggesting its support for Israel would hamper the bid.

The country, which was up against Finland and Luxembourg for one of two seats in the 2013-2014 term, won 140 votes in the first round of Thursday's secret ballot of all 193 members of the UN General Assembly. At least 129 votes were needed to secure a seat.

Michael Danby, a Jewish government legislator, said the victory was “vindication” that the government “does not need to compromise Australian democratic values to win this position.”

“Never once,” he said, did Australia compromise its support for Israel. Critics, however, point to the government's changed voting pattern on Israel-related UN votes under Labor as compared to the virtual wall-to-wall support for the Jewish state under the previous Liberal government.

Australian Jewish leaders, who previously had declined to comment on allegations that the government's support for Israel could cost Canberra the seat, rushed to congratulate the Labor Party.

The magnitude of Australia's win “refuted decisively” those who claimed the bid was compromised by Australia's support for America and Israel, the leaders of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said in a statement on Friday.

“Australia does not need to weaken its adherence to its long-standing principles and allegiances in order to win international respect and support,” said the Danny Lamm, the group’s president, and Peter Wertheim, its executive director.

Philip Chester, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, said he hoped that Australia would discourage moves at the UN by the Palestinians for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said he hoped Australia would use the seat to address the UN's “systematic, entrenched and obsessive biases against Israel” and  an impediment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The election is the first time since 1986 that Australia has won a seat on the UN Security Council. Israel is bidding for a temporary seat in 2018.