Isn’t it depressing? by Rena Boroditsky


Expired And Inspired

Expired And Inspired

[Ed. Note: Republished from an earlier time. — JB]

Isn’t it Depressing?

People say to me, “I don’t understand how you do your job,” or,”What’s it like to be surrounded by death all the time?  Isn’t it depressing?”

It’s not depressing, but it can be sad. Those of us behind the scenes, the Shomrim who sit vigil with our loved ones, the members of the Chevrah Kadisha who reverently wash, purify and dress our loved ones..we feel the sadness.

We notice when families have one loss after another. We see the connections and overlap between families, and we see the ripple effect of death in the community. We often have personal connections to and memories of the deceased. It is a privilege for us to be able to serve in time of need. Death is very intimate. We see a slice of a family’s life at a very private and painful time.

And we feel immense sadness as we care for those who have no family and few friends. It is truly humbling and heartbreaking to attend a funeral where no one actually knows the deceased. Many of our staff also volunteer as pallbearers and minyanaires, to make sure that every individual is buried with respect and compassion, far above and beyond the call of duty.

On Rosh Hashana, or cleaning my house for Pesach, or lighting the Chanukah candles with my family, I remember the women I have cared for. My heart feels the heaviness of families facing their first Yom tov (holiday) without their mother, Baba, bubbe, auntie, sister.

When I light my Shabbat candles, my thoughts always include an acknowledgment of women no longer “benching licht“, their physical light in this realm literally extinguished. I like to believe that their “soul lights” continue to illuminate and guide their families … not far away … just beyond the veil of our understanding.

Rena Boroditsky is the Executive Director of the Chesed Shel Emes, the non-profit Jewish funeral chapel and Chevrah Kadisha in Winnipeg, Canada. For fifteen years, she has been a student and teacher of end-of-life Jewish rituals. Rena has been recognized in her community for her service. Rena has led sessions at Kavod v’Nichum conferences and at Limmud events in the US & Canada. She launched Death Cafe Winnipeg. She has served in past and presently as a board member of Kavod v’Nichum. She has been a lecturer and student in the Gamliel Institute. She is engaged in developing additional courses for advanced Gamliel Insitute students. Rena is a member of the first graduating class of the Gamliel Institute, having completed the required studies and projects, and she participated in the inaugural Israel Study Mission, the heart of the sixth course in the Gamliel Institute curriculum, International Perspectives.

Rena Boroditsky

Rena Boroditsky

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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. The instructors this year are: Dr. Dan Fendel, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, Rabbi Richard Address, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and Dr. Laurie Zoloth.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. These online sessions begin at 5 PM PST; 8 PM EST.

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is: http://jewish-funerals.givezooks.com/events/taste-of-gamliel-2017.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700   

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Plan to join us June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference. Register, and make your hotel reservations and travel plans now!

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017

Registration is now open. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study and more.

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. Please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options. Contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700, info@jewish-funerals.org

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, evenings, in the Fall semester starting September 5th, 2017.

CLASSES

The course will meet on twelve Tuesdays (Thursdays in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). There will be an orientation session on Monday, September 4th, 2017.  Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.

 ____________________

DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

___________

MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

 

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No need to shame the Federation


This column is a response to a column posted March 17 at jewishjournal.com, “A Deafening Silence from the Jewish Federation,” taking the Los Angeles Jewish Federation to task for not speaking out against certain policies and statements of President Donald Trump. You can join a Facebook discussion on this issue here.

Our local Federation can do no right. When it took a public stand two years ago against the Iran nuclear deal—which many of us considered bad for Israel and America, and still do—it got reamed by local Jews who felt the Federation should not exclude the many Jewish voices who favored the deal.

Although I was against the deal, I had sympathy for that pushback, since politics in general is very divisive and the Federation’s role is to be as unifying and inclusive as possible. The Federation learned its lesson. 

But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, some of those same voices are taking the Federation to task for staying out of politics and keeping quiet. In a joint op-ed in the Journal by four prominent progressive Jews, the Federation is shamed for remaining “deafeningly silent” in the face of the outrageous words and actions from our new president.

This goes against a long local tradition, the authors write, where “Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes.”

But the authors cite no precedent of past Federations taking on a president, or even a political cause. They use the loose term “Jewish leaders” without specifying if those were Federation leaders.

What they do suggest is that if anyone as bad as Trump would have become president over the past forty years, “The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition.” 

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way.

Fair enough, but here’s the problem with that position: I know a lot of Jews in Los Angeles who think Obama was pretty bad, too. They believe Obama increased the racial tensions in our country, did virtually nothing to stop the massacre of 500,000 civilians in Syria and the worst refugee crisis of the century, and tried to turn America into another failed, socialist European state.

Some of those Jews claimed Obama’s policies violated Jewish values, and that it was a Jewish value to oppose him. In fact, had progressive Jews mobilized to oppose Obama during the massacres in Syria, and implored the Federation to speak out in the name of Jewish values against Obama’s Syria policy, they might be getting a better hearing today.

Either way, I have no political dog in this fight. I’ve written columns urging Republicans to “dump” Trump and even wrote a piece calling him worse than a liar. Personally, I enjoy seeing the Trump opposition movement—it shows me our diverse community in action.

That long and noble tradition that the authors write about, of Jews being “active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances,” is alive and well. It reminds me of how much I cherish our freedom to protest and hold our leaders accountable, which I never take for granted.

But should that be the role of the Federation at the expense of further dividing our community? I don’t think so.

It’s interesting to note that when the authors try to strengthen their case by showing examples of prominent conservatives who had the guts to take on Trump, they cite three newspaper pundits. These pundits, they write, “all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage—but they spoke out nevertheless.”

Yes, but speaking out is the core role of a pundit. Pundits don’t have the duty to unify a community or help it heal. Federations do. Our Federation has made its share of mistakes over the years; I just don’t think that aiming for bipartisanship in tremendously divisive times is one of them.

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way. Instead of picking one voice, the Federation would convene multiple voices. Maybe really smart people will find a middle ground that can project Jewish values in a Trumpian world without dividing us any further.

As the Journal’s Esther Kustanowitz wrote on a Facebook post, “It’s easy to emerge as leaders, with a statement to rouse community to action, when everyone agrees. It’s when people disagree—when a community holds different beliefs in tension with each other—that emerging as a community leader gets difficult.”

If you ask me, any leadership move that can bring Jews together under the most divisive and stressful circumstances would be worthy of the highest Jewish value—Trump or no Trump.

The Case Against a Kosher Casket By David Zinner


[Ed. Note: Again this week, I am presenting a previously published blog entry. We are working on improving the presentation of the blog articles for readability, style, and appearance. I would appreciate hearing from you about this blog, particularly if you are having any difficulties, problems, or issues accessing or reading it. If you have any comments – or a blog submission, please contact me at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org. — JB] 

Kosher Casket

A Kosher Casket?

A Kosher Casket?

Kosher means fit or proper for ritual use, but unlike the biblical delineation of which foods are kosher, there are no biblical rules to give guidance regarding manufacture of kosher caskets. The Talmud contains dozens of occurrences of Hebrew words that are translated to English as “casket”, “coffin”, “bier”, “chest” and more. But nowhere in Jewish writings is there a discussion of what makes a casket kosher.

Tachrichim (shroud or burial garment) manufacturers have suggested that there are “kosher” tachrichim dependent on the observance level of the workers and certifying that the product was not made on Shabbat. The rationale for this seems slim for tachrichim, and even slimmer for caskets. Basing Kashrut on worker’s level of observance is a novel approach not practiced in kosher food manufacturing. More interesting and fruitful pursuits to define a kosher casket might include looking at working conditions, wages and health benefits of the employees, as well as the environmental impact of the manufacturing ingredients and process.

Simple & Inexpensive

The Talmud directs that all aspects of funeral and burial should be kept simple and inexpensive, and by extension fit and proper. BT (Babylonian Talmud) Moed Katan 27a- 27b contains an extended discussion of funeral practices and a story about Rabban Gamliel. This discussion can open a window to the meaning of ‘Kosher’ in relation to a casket.

Formerly, they were wont to bring out the rich [for burial] on a dargesh [a tall state bed, ornamented and covered with rich coverlets] and the poor on a plain bier, and the poor felt shamed: they instituted therefore that all should be brought out on a plain bier, out of deference for the poor.

 Without knowing the difference between a dargesh and a bier in Rabban Gamliel’s time, the implication is clear – the dargesh is fancy and affordable to the rich; the bier is simple and used by those who are poor. The dargesh made it easy to carry the body and to show off wealth. The bier (Hebrew – mitah) is a simple stand or platform that holds and/or carries the body.

Jewish Law (Halachah)

The Shulchan Aruch allows for burial with or without a casket, but gives no indication of how to determine if a casket is Kosher. Rabbi Mosha Epstein in his Taharah Manual of Practices quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Feinstein could find no source for an all wood casket. He cites Rambam, yet Rambam in his Book of Judges – Laws of Mourning – 4:4 says: “It is permissible to bury the dead in a wooden casket.”

In the 1960’s, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America negotiated funeral standards with the Jewish Funeral Directors of America. The Orthodox Rabbis were successful in incorporating taharah, tachrichim, Shmirah, and ground burial into the standards. They failed in their attempt to include simple plain caskets.

Plain Pine Box

It was only 60 years ago that an expensive all wood casket became acceptable in the Jewish community. Our Moed Katan example goes back over 1,700 years. We should pick up Rabban Gamliel’s cause and champion a simple casket (or none at all) as a return to less expensive funerals and burials.

David Zinner is the Executive Director of Kavod V’Nichum (honor and comfort), and of the Gamliel Institute, and serves as instructor for the non-denominational Gamliel Institute, a nonprofit center for Chevrah Kadisha organizing, education, and training. In his role as executive director Zinner co-teaches courses on Chevrah Kadisha history, organizing, taharah and shmira (sitting with the deceased until burial),  and building capacities in Jewish communities that enable all participants to meaningfully navigate these final life cycle events.

David Zinner

David Zinner, Executive Director of Kavod veNichum

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          GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings, in the Spring semester starting March 28, 2017.

CLASSES

The course will meet on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.

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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. The instructors this year are: Dr. Dan Fendel, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, Rabbi Richard Address, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and Dr. Laurie Zoloth.

Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, participants raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and the moderator calls on and unmutes participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly and easy to use platform.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions begin at 5 PM PST; 8 PM EST.

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is: http://jewish-funerals.givezooks.com/events/taste-of-gamliel-2017.

On registration, you will receive an automated acknowledgement. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information for the upcoming session.

You can view a recording of the sessions, uploaded after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700   

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, we plan to hold time for questions and discussions at the end of each program. 

Again, the entire series is free, but we ask that you make a donation to help us defray the costs of providing this series. The suggested $36 amount works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and extraordinary teachers that present it.

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome. 

The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual and actions around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with Israelis and British students joining us on occasion.

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Looking ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference. Register, and make your hotel reservations and travel plans now!

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017

Registration is now open. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study and more.

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. Please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options. Contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700, info@jewish-funerals.org
____________________

DONATIONS:

Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

___________

MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

_____________________

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt

Jewish watchdog ADL announces plans for Silicon Valley center to combat hate online


(JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League will build a Silicon Valley “command center” to combat online hate speech and harassment, the group’s CEO announced.

Jonathan Greenblatt made the announcement Sunday at the South by Southwest music and media festival in Austin, Texas. He said the ADL secured seed funding for the project from Omidyar Network, a self-styled “philanthropic investment firm” started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

“Now more than ever as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other hatreds have exploded online, it’s critical that we are bringing best-in-class technology and resources to this fight,” Greenblatt said in a statement the ADL released ahead of the announcement. “That’s why we will build this center in Silicon Valley, and why we are so grateful to Omidyar Network for providing seed funding for this effort.”

Greenblatt was on stage at SXSW discussing recent hate crimes with Evan Smith, the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper The Texas Tribune. According to the ADL statement, the center will bring together “the best technology” and “seasoned experts” to “monitor, track, analyze and mitigate hate speech and harassment across the Internet, in support of the Jewish community and other minority groups.

The group said it would produce reports and data, provide analysis to government and policymakers and “expose and stop specific cases of online harassment and cyberbullying.”

Brittan Heller, a lawyer who joined the ADL last year, is to serve as the founding director of the new center. She investigated and prosecuted cyber crime and human rights violations at the U.S. Department of Justice and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

“Inclusivity is key to a healthy society and yet this is being challenged and attacked in countries around the world, including the United States. Cyberhate is a big, growing part of the problem and it needs a big response. ADL’s work against hate is unmatched and the launch of the center in Silicon Valley will enable them to further collaborate with the technology industry to tackle these problems.” Stacy Donohue, an investment partner at the Omidyar Network said in the ADL statement.

Since Donald Trump’s election as president, the ADL has repeatedly warned that the anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise and called for action. More than 100 bomb threats have this year targeted Jewish Community Centers and other U.S. Jewish institutions, including ADL offices.

In March, Trump responded to a question from an Orthodox reporter about what action he would take by angrily denying that he was anti-Semitic, earning reprimand from Greenblatt and ADL National Chairman Marvin Nathan.

“It is mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction,” they said in a statement. “This is not a partisan issue. It’s a potentially lethal problem — and it’s growing.”

Under Greenblatt, the ADL has shown an interest in tackling hate online. After Jewish journalists were targeted by anti-Semitic trolls identifying as Trump supporters during the campaign, the ADL created a task force to look into the issue, which later issued a report. And days after Trump was elected, Greenblatt said the group had seen a spike in donations from people “most interested in seeing ADL scale up its work in the cyberhate space, where the anti-Semitism and hate speech has been most alarming.”

Cartoon by undergraduate political science major Felipe Bris Abejon in the UCLA student newspaper The Daily Bruin.

A cartoon protest threatens to redefine free-speech


There are few countries in the world – perhaps a few Islamic countries, India, Ireland – that define themselves for the world as being inextricably identified with their majority religion as Israel.  Israel is the “Jewish” state.  It wants to be seen as the Jewish state.  In certain arenas – say in negotiations with Palestinian entities – it demands to be acknowledged as the Jewish state.  I make no judgments about that. 

But if you’re going to identify as Jewish, seriously Jewish, there’s no way you can separate that identity from the Torah.  It’s the primary source of our learning, the blueprint for how Jews are supposed to live as a community, the foundation of the Jewish people.  And what more basic element could there be in the Torah than “The Ten Commandments,” mentioned twice in the Torah:  Exodus 20:2, and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6, and of which “Thou shalt not steal” is number eight (acknowledging that this can vary with interpretations – just as there are a number of interpretations of what “steal” exactly means).  “Steal” might mean steal another person – kidnapping.  It might mean taking what doesn’t belong to you.  It might mean a lot of things, but there is so much in our teachings, including about a dozen mitzvoth regarding respecting private properties and just due process, not to mention the Tenth Commandment regarding coveting the possession of others, that we all pretty much get the picture. 

So if the Ten Commandments and other mitzvot are at least one of the cornerstones of the Torah, and the Torah is the foundation of Judaism, and Israel is the Jewish state, then someone who decides to draw a political cartoon using the Ten Commandments to criticize Israeli policy would appear to be on pretty solid ground.  That’s what a UCLA contributing cartoonist, Felipe Bris Abejón did when he published a cartoon in the “Daily Bruin” newspaper, a cartoon now notorious for having been criticized as anti-Semitic and withdrawn by the paper with apologies.  The cartoon  in question, shows Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, standing in front of two commandments, one (listed as #6) with a word crossed off:  “Though shalt not steal” and another (listed as #7) “Thou shalt not kill.”  The caption says, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land,” and Netanyahu is saying, “#7 is next.” 

The caption, of course, refers to the Netanyahu controlled Knesset recently passing a law retroactively legalizing both housing and  makeshift “outposts,” at the time illegally built on Palestinian land and bringing them under Israeli sovereignty.  Some are recent; some go back decades.  Palestinian landowners would have to accept either “alternate plots” or financial compensation.  Clearly the “Regularization Law,” doesn’t mean “any Palestinian land.”  On the other hand, it does look a lot like theft of the weaker party by the stronger – never a good marketing image.  You can say it’s not theft because compensation is involved, but if someone 6’ 8” and 275 pounds, with a gun, stopped you on the street, took your watch, and offered you fifty bucks for it, take it or leave it, you’d probably still want to call a cop.  The law has been vigorously opposed by the opposition in Israel and will be appealed to its Supreme Court.   

Netanyahu’s threat to do the same thing with number seven – killing – is more problematic.  That commandment is usually meant to mean, thou shalt not murder, and once again, there are is a raft of commentary on this commandment.  To attribute to the Prime Minister the intention to implement as law, a policy to murder or in some way kill (the implication being Palestinians) is going pretty far, although there are those – and not just bizarre outliers – who would argue that this has been de facto policy for some time. 

The cartoon was strongly protested and condemned by various groups – some calling it anti-Semitic – including the anti-Defamation League, campus organizations, and even state legislators.  The ADL called it “deeply offensive….and impugning core Jewish beliefs.”  Many were outraged that the cartoon “mixed politics with religion.”  Danny Siegel, president of UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association Council, declared in a statement: “As a Jewish student at UCLA, I am disgusted by the anti-Semitic claim in my school newspaper that the Israeli government is purposefully using my Jewish faith to justify policy matter.”

But is that what it was doing, and is the cartoon anti-Semitic?  To me the cartoon isn’t using Jewish faith to justify policy – quite the opposite.  It’s pointing out that policy is violating tenets of Jewish faith.  It doesn’t say that Judaism calls for theft and murder; it cries out that Judaism abhors theft and murder at a fundamental level, and any attempt to legitimize it through acts of law are extremely troubling and should be scrutinized in the cold, harsh sunshine of First Amendment exposure. 

As for anti-Semitic, does the cartoon call for the destruction of the Jewish people – the spurious argument by those who label the BDS movement (which I categorically reject as wrong and wrong-headed) anti-Semitic?  No, it does not?  Does it equate Netanyahu with all Jewish people or even all Israelis?  No, it does not?  Does it equate Judaism with the abandonment of it’s mitzvot?  No, it does not.  Rather it accuses the Prime Minister of having somehow lost his way as the head of the state he so aggressively insists is Jewish, an accusation made in a variety of arguments by the opposition in his own country. 

Condemnation of the cartoon decried the fact that Abejón dragged religion into his commentary, but how can mixing politics with religion be out of bounds when discussing Israeli settlement policy, when the entire settlement history is inextricably entwined, from day one, with religious fervor and aspiration.  Somehow, the very use of religion, despite the fact that Israel identifies its very existence as religiously-based, is a taboo crossing into forbidden territory.  No one chose to defend the cornerstone of American democracy – free speech. 

Yes, Jewish history is unique.  Yes, we have been persecuted since the days of Sinai, and yes, in particular for our religion.  But that doesn’t not inoculate either Israel or Judaism from pointed and aggressive argument, and it does not allow for increasingly self-serving definitions of anti-Semitism.  The effort to steadily and relentless expand the definition of anti-Semitic, in confrontation with free speech, does not do us credit, just as the equally steady and relentless effort to equate criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism does Jews equal harm.  The “I know it when I see it” argument was dubious when used to define pornography; it is not improved when a certain segment of our demographic is allowed to define anti-Semitism for everyone, particularly public educational institutions – where the marketplace of ideas should most energetically flourish. 

The “Daily Bruin” quickly apologized and more. “This was a mistake that should have been caught at any point in the process, and it didn’t get caught,” said editor-in-chief, Tanya Walters. Was it?  Apparently no one thought so as it went to press.  I’m assuming a lot of people saw it.  I’m sure what they thought they saw was edgy, provocative commentary, not beyond-the-pale anti-Semitism.  Criticism that reminds us of our roots, our heritage, our connection to God may be uncomfortable – perhaps should be uncomfortable.  But it’s not illegal, not anti-Semitic, and should not be suppressed. 


Mitch Paradise is a writer, producer and teacher living in Los Angeles. 

Danielle Berrin takes aim at the Los Angeles Gun Club shooting range. Photos and video by Rick Sorkin

How Trump made me a Second Amendment American


We called ourselves Bonnie and Clyde for the day.

We felt dangerous and powerful holding the gun between our fists, laying our eyes on the target, spraying bullets into the air.

Boom! Bullet to the head.

Boom! Bullet to the eye.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Thigh, kidney, heart.

I never imagined I’d be a good shot. But there I was, spending a Friday afternoon at the Los Angeles Gun Club, shooting a weapon for the first time.

Something about the frenzied atmosphere of paranoia caused by the Donald Trump Administration — with its covert Russian ties, autocratic tendencies and growing contempt for the press (not to mention the surge of the alt-right) — inspired me to get a handle on self-defense.

I wasn’t alone. The New Yorker recently reported that Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives are buying foreign landing strips and underground luxury apartments, and stocking up on ammunition, preparing for the “crackup of civilization.” It’s a bit hysterical, I admit, and the moral calculus of the über-wealthy seeking only to spare themselves is disturbing. But it got me thinking: What recourse do the rest of us have if we can’t afford an end-of-days investment in former missile silos?

Enter: The Gun.

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Growing up, I never encountered one. “Mom was a little freaked out about them,” my dad said. So, we didn’t have one in the house. Guns, for me, were exotic and unfamiliar — the domain of Hollywood movies, faraway wars or my dad’s Republican cousin. As an adult, I came to associate guns with mass shootings and politics; at shul, I frequently heard sermons on behalf of gun control, but my exposure to the real thing was limited.

“I’m taking you shooting,” my friend, musician Rick Sorkin, said to me.

So, off we went to a nondescript building on a quiet block downtown. Inside, the L.A. Gun Club offers a dazzling array of firearms for rent and a small indoor shooting range.

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Guns were everywhere — symmetrically layed out in glass cases, mounted on walls and sitting in the holsters of the clerks who work there. An assortment of paper targets was plastered throughout for your shooting pleasure — a terrorist in a bush, a sketch of the human anatomy, or a plain old bull’s-eye. It was like a library, devoted to the culture of killing machines.

To get a gun, all Rick and I had to do was sign a release, then leave a fingerprint and a driver’s license. Minutes later, I was holding a Glock 17 in my hands — “popular with law enforcement,” the clerk said. Since it was my first time, he performed a brief demonstration, showing me how to lock, load and shoot before we entered the range.

DSC_0048Rick clicked in a round of cartridges, then handed me my first loaded gun. My nerves simmered as I gripped it, one hand over the other, index finger flat on the side, right above the trigger.

I stood in our little chamber as the sound of rifles exploded all around us, so loud it was dizzying, despite the fact I was wearing both earplugs and earmuffs. Feet firmly apart, I lifted the gun and aimed at the target.

“Take a deep breath, then pull the trigger on the exhale,” Rick said.

But I could barely breathe, I was so overwhelmed. I was sure the thing either was going to accidentally kill someone or backfire in my face.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I told him.

But there was no way I was going to chicken out while a guy had all the fun.

I squinted over the top of the barrel and aimed for the head on the target.

Boom! Right through the brain.

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Blood surged through my veins in a heady rush of adrenaline and excitement. I had metaphorically killed a man with my very first shot. That’s how easy it is to end a life.

Shooting a gun, it turns out, can be exhilarating, especially when you’re good at it. It also demystifies an object associated with death and destruction. As a woman, it’s empowering to hold a weapon in your hands and know how to use it. But it’s a complicated power — God forbid you ever need to exercise it.

DSC_0158The more I pounded my paper target, the more I realized the dissonance of what I was doing: Target practice is fun, even a bit addictive, but let’s be honest, it’s not the reason guns exist. They were created to kill animals and human beings.

That doesn’t mean, given the current political atmosphere and the history of our country, that I’m not grateful for the constitutional right to bear arms. I like that more than 200 years after the Second Amendment was adopted, a relatively defenseless urbanite like myself can walk into a gun range, get some instruction and learn a new way to protect myself — though I’m also aware of the risks of gun ownership and that I’d need more training and practice before I ever felt comfortable, God forbid, using a gun to save myself or someone else.

I also know the religious tradition I love aspires to a prophetic vision of a world of nonviolence, where swords will turn into plowshares and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

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But from one afternoon, the Demon Gun now feels a little less demonic. And me? I feel a little more American.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Sarah Silverman in "The Last Laugh." Tangerine Entertainment/Journeyman Pictures

Finding humor in Hitler and the Holocaust


Comedians — many of them Jewish — have poked fun at Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, even dating back to the days of the Third Reich. But is making fun of the Holocaust itself going too far?

Documentary filmmaker Ferne Pearlstein explores that question with comedians, critical thinkers and Holocaust survivors in her new film “The Last Laugh.” A special screening, along with a Q-and-A session with the director and cast members, will be held March 16 at Ahrya Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, sponsored by the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival in cooperation with Laemmle Theatres; it opens in theaters March 17.

One of the big surprises in making the film, Pearlstein said, was that comedians draw a distinction between making jokes about Nazis and making jokes about the Holocaust.

“It’s OK to make jokes about the perpetrators. It’s not OK to make jokes about their victims,” Pearlstein said in a phone interview. “That’s the bottom line for people — for most people.”

As several comedians point out in the film, the first rule of telling a joke about the Holocaust — or AIDS or 9/11 — is that it has to be funny.

“You can’t tell a crappy joke about the biggest tragedy in the world,” says comedian Judy Gold.

Several comedians, such as Joan Rivers, do cross the line with groan-inducing jokes about Jews and ovens.

“Comedy puts light onto darkness, and darkness can’t live where there’s light,” says comedian and actress Sarah Silverman. Otherwise, she says, taboo subjects that don’t get discussed “become dangerous.”

The film opens with a quotation by Heinrich Mann: “Whoever has cried enough, laughs.” It’s followed by an image of a uniformed Nazi officer figure skating. The film then reveals the ruins of Murphy Ranch in Pacific Palisades, an abandoned camp built by Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s that becomes the improbable setting for a picnic between a Holocaust survivor, Renee Firestone, and her daughter Klara Firestone.

The older Firestone recounts meeting Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. After inspecting her mouth, he told her that if she survived the concentration camp, she should think about getting her tonsils removed.

“Most people don’t expect survivors to have much humor after the Holocaust. And that’s really not the case at all,” her daughter says. “The survivors actually have some of the worst gallows humor ever.”

The film was inspired by a thesis paper written in 1993 by Pearlstein’s friend, Kent Kirshenbaum. He gave Pearlstein the paper and told her to make it into a movie. Because the subject was so provocative, it took her and her husband, Robert Edwards, nearly two decades to find funding for it. “We kept meeting people that said, ‘Great idea! Come back when somebody else says yes,’ ” Pearlstein said.

In the meantime, Roberto Benigni’s Holocaust comedy “Life Is Beautiful” came out in 1997, and the very off-color comedy-documentary “The Aristocrats” was released in 2005, giving Pearlstein hope that a film about Holocaust humor could gain an audience. While working on another documentary about poets who survived genocide, she met a wealthy Jewish woman “with a very dark sense of humor” who wound up providing almost all the funding for “The Last Laugh” (Pearlstein said her investor has asked to remain anonymous).

The film includes interviews with major comedians, including Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Comedy writer Larry Charles, who directed three films starring Sacha Baron Cohen — “Borat,” “Bruno” and “The Dictator” — and many episodes of “Seinfeld,” offers his insights about what types of jokes cross the line.

The interviews are woven together with clips from films and TV shows ranging from “The Producers” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to Jerry Lewis’ never-released Holocaust comedy “The Day the Clown Cried.” It even has rare footage of cabarets from inside concentration camps.

In a surreal scene, Pearlstein attends a Holocaust survivors’ convention in Las Vegas and joins two of the survivors on a gondola ride through the canals of The Venetian hotel. As a gondolier serenades them in Italian, Renee Firestone and her friend Elly Gross argue about the possibility of finding humor in the Holocaust. Firestone insists that humor is an important tool for survival, while Gross has a hard time finding anything funny, 70 years after the camps.

Though the movie questions the limits of good taste, Pearlstein said it was important to treat the material in a respectful manner.

When the movie premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, Gross was in attendance.

“In front of everybody, [Gross] talked about how much she loved the film and how tastefully she thought it was made — and could she have tickets to the next screening?” Pearlstein said. “That was my goal.”

Alan Zweibel, a veteran comedy writer and producer, said in a phone interview that gallows humor plays an important role in helping people deal with painful memories.

“We’ve got to keep alive the memory — the painful memory — that this took place, with all the deniers out there and the passing of time and the fewer and fewer survivors,” Zweibel said. “We’ve got to keep alive the fact that there was a Holocaust, and Jews deal with what everybody has been handing out to us for generations. We’ll survive, and this is how we do it.”

“The Last Laugh” screens March 16 at Ahrya Fine Arts, followed by a Q-and-A with Ferne Pearlstein, Sarah Silverman, and Renee and Klara Firestone. It opens in theaters March 17. For information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com. 

Photos by Jonathan Fong

Make a joyful noise (maker) for Purim


One of the highlights of any Purim celebration is the waving of noisemakers, or groggers, every time Haman’s name is mentioned during the Megillah reading. It’s a fun way to “boo” him and drown out his name.

Part of your pre-Purim festivities can be making your own noisemakers. They’re easy to assemble, with just a few supplies you probably already have around the house.   

What you’ll need:

– 2 small paper plates
– Plastic fork or spoon
– Duct or packing tape
– Dried beans
– Stapler
– Decorating materials

1. With duct or packing tape, secure a plastic fork or spoon to a small paper plate so that most of the utensil’s handle extends past the rim of the plate. This will serve as the handle of the noisemaker.

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2. Add about 10 dried beans to the plate. These beans, when shaken, will create the noise. Instead of beans, you also can use any small objects such as pennies, screws, jelly beans, paper clips — see what you have handy.

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3. Place your second paper plate upside down on top of the first one. Staple the edges so that the beans do not slide out. Make sure to staple the area around the handle, as the space between the two plates is biggest there.

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4. Now decorate the noisemaker however you wish. You can wrap it with paper, as shown in the example, or cover it with duct tape, stickers or felt. You even can draw on it with markers or crayons. Finish it with a ribbon at the base. Customize one for everybody at the celebration, and get ready to make a whole lot of noise.

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Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself  projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

How to Jew Purim


Saturday, March 11, to Sunday, March 12

BACKGROUND

Purim, celebrated every year on the 14th of Adar, commemorates how Jews living in the fourth century Persian Empire pre-empted a plot by the evil prime minister, Haman, to have them all killed. Haman — angered by the refusal of a Jew named Mordecai to bow down to him — persuaded the Persian ruler, King Ahasuerus, to issue a decree calling for the extermination of the Jews on the 13th of Adar, a date Haman had chosen in a lottery. (“Purim” is Persian for “lots.”)

Mordecai heard of the plot and appealed to his cousin, Esther, who the king had selected as his wife in a beauty contest, not knowing she was Jewish. Esther held a feast at which she revealed to Ahasuerus that she was a Jew and persuaded him to reverse the decree. The king then had Haman and his 10 sons hanged from the gallows, and named Mordecai prime minister. A new decree was then issued allowing the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies. When the 13th of Adar arrived, the Jews struck back against those enemies. They celebrated their accomplishment on the 14th of Adar.

TRADITIONS

The day before Purim is a day of fasting to commemorate the Fast of Esther — her three days of fasting before the feast. This year, because Purim is on Shabbat, the fast is observed on March 9 from dawn till dusk.

Traditionally, the Megillah (the Book of Esther) is read twice — on the night of Purim and on Purim day. During the often boisterous reading, the congregation makes noise with groggers and yells “Boo!” at every mention of Haman’s name. Purim also is a special time to dress up in costumes. Many synagogues and community centers have carnivals, parties and humorous skits or shows called Purim spiels.

Other aspects of the holiday involve giving gifts or providing acts of charity. One such tradition is to give a basket of treats, or mishloach manot, to neighbors, friends or members of the community. It’s also a custom to donate money to at least two needy people as part of a tradition called matanot l’evyonim.

SPECIAL FOODS

Jews enjoy the holiday with hamantashen — triangular pastries typically filled with fruit preserves — that, according to one legend, are symbols of Haman’s three-sided hat. Some celebrations include a special Purim challah, which is bigger than the usual bread and made with more braids to symbolize the rope with which Haman was hanged. Another holiday food is kreplach, dumplings filled with meat.

— Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer

Sources: Chabad.org, MyJewishLearning

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri. Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/REUTERS.

Local cemeteries refrain from security changes, despite heightened concern


Despite recent incidents of vandalism and desecration at Jewish cemeteries across the country, none has occurred in the Los Angeles area, and supervisors here have not yet taken any drastic actions to prevent trouble.

“We don’t feel we need added security measures or added personnel at this time,” Yossi Manela, a funeral director with Chevra Kadisha Mortuary, said.

Chevra Kadisha manages four Jewish cemeteries: Agudath Achim Cemetery and Beth Israel Cemetery in East Los Angeles, Mount Carmel Cemetery in Commerce and Young Israel Cemetery in Norwalk. All four have upright headstones.

Chevra Kadisha’s cemeteries are fully fenced with high gates. Mount Carmel and Beth Israel are open during the day and locked at night. Agudath Achim and Young Israel are always locked, but family members with loved ones buried there have access to the combination lock.

Manela, who has been a funeral director there for 23 years, said it would be too expensive to add measures such as round-the-clock security and cameras.

Jolene Mason, general manager of Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, which has a section of upright headstones, isn’t planning big changes, either.

“We’ve always had security that’s ready for anything,” she said. “That’s not just in light of what’s happening. That’s just our security policy.”

She said she has briefed the private company that handles security measures for Eden Memorial.

“We’ve just let them know in case they weren’t aware of what’s happening around the country and in case the supervisor wants to come and check more so they’re on heightened awareness,” she said. “We’re comfortable with our current security situation.”

Noelle Berman has been director of private estates at Beth Olam Cemetery in Hollywood for 16 years. Beth Olam is the 63-acre Jewish section of the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery that routinely draws tourist crowds visiting celebrity graves and droves of guests in the summer for outdoor movie screenings.

Beth Olam, whose graves are marked with Stars of David and menorahs, isn’t separated from the rest of Hollywood Forever. There also are some marked Jewish graves outside of the Beth Olam section, dispersed throughout the rest of the cemetery. Berman said additional security at Beth Olam, or the cemetery at large, isn’t in the plans.

“We haven’t had even one bit of concern as of this moment,” she said.

Berman cited constant foot traffic as a form of self-policing and Hollywood Forever’s central location as a deterrent to would-be agitators.

“Hollywood Forever is a cultural center,” she said. “I think there’s such a sense of community here that’s already built in that makes it feel safe. I can’t imagine anything happening here because it’s always so populated, and it’s right in the heart of Hollywood. The incidents around the country happened in more isolated areas.”

Len Lawrence, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Park and Mortuaries, took a different tone than his peers.

“There has been a significant amount of internal conversation about what to do,” Lawrence said. “With what’s happening to other Jewish cemeteries, it would be foolish of us not to review our security procedures.”

Mount Sinai’s two parks, one in the Hollywood Hills and another in Simi Valley, are both owned by Sinai Temple. Lawrence has overseen both for the last 15 years. During his time there, he had never received security-related inquiries by phone or email from concerned family members of loved ones buried in his parks — until now.

“We have spoken to them and assured them we are doing all we can,” he said. “These are sacred grounds that we’ve always protected and need to continue to protect.”

Both parks are fully fenced, locked and rigged with alarm systems. Security is on-site at all times, and both parks are in constant radio communication with a central base station. Surveillance cameras in strategic locations throughout the grounds monitor the parks.

Lawrence pointed out that it has been upright headstones targeted in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Rochester, N.Y. As memorial parks, Sinai’s don’t have upright headstones. Still, Lawrence said, that doesn’t make Sinai’s parks any less vulnerable.

“Even though we don’t have upright headstones, that’s not to say we can’t be vandalized,” he said.

He said his security personnel are adopting a proactive approach, reviewing protocol in the event of telephone threats and weighing further measures to bolster nighttime security, though for security reasons he declined to provide details.

Last week, a representative from the parks’ alarm system company made an on-site evaluation, and a representative of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Security Initiative (CSI) also came for an inspection.

Ivan Wolkind, Federation’s chief operating and finance officer, established the security initiative five years ago with the aim of helping the city’s Jewish community address its security needs in a more autonomous fashion. His team of five Federation employees, all with backgrounds in either the U.S. military or Israel Defense Forces, offers free site and vulnerability assessments as well as security training to any Jewish institution in Los Angeles. Wolkind said CSI’s city database includes 470 Jewish institutions.

“We have been reaching out, being proactive, and they have been reaching out to us, as well,” Wolkind said of the work with cemeteries and memorial parks. “We just want to make sure procedures and protocols that have been put in place are being acted on and adhered to. It’s also just checking in and making sure people are vigilant.”

Hamantashen: As easy as one, two, three corners


What makes the Purim holiday so special? Is it the heroic tale of Queen Esther? The children dressing up in costume to re-create the story? The sweet pastries her story inspired?

For all of these reasons, my family loves Purim! It is a time when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren dress up, attend a Purim carnival and feast at our Purim dinner — a reminder of how our children celebrated when they were young.

This year, we will enjoy the holiday with family and friends at one long table in the dining room. A sampling of our Purim groggers (noisemakers) will be arranged down the center. (We can’t include them all because our collection now numbers almost 100.)

The most popular treats for Purim are hamantashen, three-cornered pastries. They are served throughout the world, filled with poppy seeds, prune jams and more. 

I still remember making my first hamantashen using a recipe I received from my mother. Instead of using the traditional yeast pastry, sold in bakeries, she made them with cookie dough filled with poppy seeds and homemade strawberry jam.

Over the years, I have developed many recipes for making these holiday delights. One year, I added chocolate and poppy seeds to the cookie dough and filled it with a mixture of melted chocolate and chopped nuts, resulting in a decadent treat for chocolate lovers.

Another family favorite is a Poppy Seed Yeast Ring; it’s like a delicious coffee cake that doubles as a hamantashen yeast dough. The dough is covered with a towel and refrigerated overnight, then rolled, filled and served hot for breakfast. Or you can make the dough in the afternoon, refrigerate it for several hours, bake and serve for dessert after dinner.

This year I am including a recipe for a hamantashen pastry filled with vegetables, too. It can be served as an appetizer or a main course for the vegetarians among us.

Remember, the dough and fillings usually can be prepared in advance, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, then baked when convenient.

Now, go get ready to make some noise — in the kitchen and at the table with your Purim grogger!

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE HAMANTASHEN

– Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
– 3 cups flour
– 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 cup unsalted margarine
– 3 tablespoons hot water
– 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 egg
– 1 egg white

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Chocolate Filling; cover and set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, almonds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in margarine until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.

Blend water and cocoa in small bowl and beat in egg. Add to flour mixture and beat until mixture begins to form dough. Do not over-mix.

Transfer to flour board and knead into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. Divide into 6 or 7 portions. Flatten each with palms of hands and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Brush edges with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and brush with egg white. Bake in preheated oven until firm, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

– 1/2 cup cocoa powder
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup coffee, milk or half-and-half
– 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
– In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.
– Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

POPPY SEED YEAST RING

The dough from this recipe also can be used to make Yeast Hamantashen; see below. From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” by Judy Zeidler.

– Poppy Seed Filling (recipe follows)
– 2 packages active dry yeast
– 1 cup warm milk (110 to 115 F)
– 1/2 pound unsalted margarine
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 3 eggs yolks
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– Pinch of nutmeg
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 2 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the Poppy Seed Filling; set aside.

In a measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the milk. In a large mixing bowl, cream the margarine with 2 tablespoons sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well.

Combine the flour, nutmeg and salt. Add the yeast mixture to the mixing bowl alternately with the flour. With the back of a wooden spoon, smooth the top of the dough and brush with oil. Cover with a towel and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Divide the dough into 2 portions. Roll out each portion on floured wax paper into a 16-by-20-inch rectangle. Spread half the Poppy Seed Filling over each dough half, leaving a 1-inch margin around the edges. Starting from a long edge, roll up each one, jelly-roll fashion. Bring the ends together to form a ring.

Place each ring in a 10-inch pie pan, sealing the ends together. Brush the top with the remaining milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. (If you like, you can hold the rings in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour.) Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Makes two Poppy Seed Yeast Rings.

POPPY SEED FILLING

– 3 egg whites
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 1/2 cups canned poppy seed filling

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold in the 1/2 cup sugar and poppy seed filling.

Makes 4 cups.

To make Yeast Hamantashen:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Roll out the dough and cut it into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Place a teaspoon of poppy seed filling in the center of each circle of dough. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place the hamantashen on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and bake for 10 minutes; pinch edges again to reseal and bake 10 minutes longer or until golden brown. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes 3 dozen hamantashen.

VEGETABLE HAMANTASHEN

– Carrot or Eggplant Filling (recipe follows)
– 1/2 cup unsalted margarine
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 3 eggs
– Grated zest of 1 orange
– 2 cups flour
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Prepare Carrot or Eggplant Filling; cover and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat margarine and sugar until well blended. Beat in 2 of the eggs and zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder and salt, blending until dough is smooth.

Transfer dough to a floured board and divide into 3 or 4 portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with palm of hand and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Using scallop or plain cookie cutter, cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in center of each round. Brush edges of round with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling exposed. Pinch edges to seal.

Place hamantashen 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in preheated oven, until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.

CARROT FILLING

– 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
– 1 1/2 cups water
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup ground almonds
– 1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine carrots and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add sugar, almonds and raisins. Simmer on low heat until thick and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 2 cups.

EGGPLANT FILLING

– 1 (1 pound) eggplant, peeled and diced
– Water
– 2 cups sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 2 tablespoons lemon juice
– Grated zest of 1 lemon

Place eggplant in a large saucepan and cover with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine sugar, 2 cups water, cinnamon and nutmeg in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add eggplant. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 1 hour.

Remove eggplant with slotted spoon. Cover syrup until thick, about 20 minutes. Add eggplant, lemon juice and zest. Boil until syrup forms into a firm ball when dropped into cold water from spoon, 220 F on candy thermometer. Spoon into a bowl and cool.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

A children’s playground in Brooklyn Heights, New York was vandalized with a swastika in November 2016. Screenshot from Twitter

The paradox of today’s anti-Semitism


Jewish community centers and synagogues have received threatening calls. Headstones at Jewish cemeteries have been overturned in suburban St. Louis, Philadelphia and Rochester, N.Y., and perhaps even in Brooklyn. Jewish writers have found their Facebook pages filled with vitriolic anti-Semitic hatred. Faculty offices have been painted with swastikas and defecations outside the door. Clearly, anti-Semitism is on the rise, and the American Jewish community is rightfully uneasy.

And yet, a recent Pew Research Center survey found yet again that Judaism is the most popular religion in America.

Consider the paradox: How can both be true at once, that anti-Semitism is on the rise yet Judaism is the most popular of America’s religions?

Let’s begin with the Pew survey. What Judaism is the most popular religion in America really means is that Judaism is the least unpopular religion.

Eastern religions are not understood. Muslims are feared and commonly identified with terrorism. Roman Catholicism is in the midst of a deep credibility crisis. Protestantism is divided between evangelicals and liberals, and evangelicals are divided generationally, with younger evangelicals having different views on homosexuality, for example.

Judaism is thus respected and admired — or less disrespected and less disliked than other religions. Little do outsiders know how deeply divided we are.

Why, then, the seeming explosion of anti-Semitism? This, too, must be seen in context.

I doubt there has been an increase in anti-Semitism as much as there has been an increase in the permissibility of the expressions of anti-Semitism and its amplification by the tools of social media.

A bit of history: American anti-Semitism was at its height in the 1930s during the crucial years just before World War II and the Holocaust. Those with anti-Semitic views did not disappear or alter their views in the immediate postwar years. What changed was that they did not feel comfortable expressing anti-Semitism without feeling some social stigma and rebuke both in public and even in social situations. Therefore, many in my generation grew up without hearing many anti-Semitic comments. That changed in the late 1960s with the tensions between Blacks and Jews; it changed again later with some hostility toward Israel and American Jews during the oil crisis of 1973 and 1979. And it has changed more rapidly since the turn of the century with the distance that has developed with the Holocaust. The tools of social networks and the internet magnify anti-Semitism and reinforce those who spew hatred.

No one can deny that the expressions of hatred have intensified the more polarized our society has become, and the explosion of anti-Semitism must be seen as but one dramatic, though not necessarily central, expansion of the expression of all hatreds — toward Muslims, toward immigrants, toward African-Americans, toward gays, toward the poor, toward any minority group, including white Americans without a college education who were at the core of President Donald Trump’s support in the November election.

Although I am deeply hesitant to put this in writing because events even in an hour from now can prove me wrong, it must be noted that in recent days, threats of violence against living Jews — not actual violence — have been sufficient to unnerve the Jewish community. Bombs threats have been called in, but there have been no actual bombs. Cemeteries, however sacred, have been vandalized, tombstones overturned — these are attacks on dead Jews and on the loving memory of living Jews, but not direct assaults on the living. How long this shall continue we do not know, but the costs to the Jewish community in terms of security and even in terms of the enrollment of Jewish children in preschool and day schools and camps are significant.

We also must note that the interests of Israel and the interests of the Diaspora Jewish community are not identical and can diverge easily. When Trump averted directly condemning anti-Semism — he has done so subsequently — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s answer was instructive. “There is no greater supporter of Israel or the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we can put that [the question of condemning anti-Semitism] to rest.”

Trump may be a huge friend of Israel and a stupendous supporter of its prime minister, but while that may be terrific for the Israeli right, it does not necessarily translate into safety and security for American Jews.

It is not the first time Netanyahu misjudged the needs of a Diaspora community. His support of the Mexican border wall was an obvious gesture to Trump, but a slap in the face of Latino Americans whose views of Jews and Judaism are less well developed than other groups and who don’t know that Netanyahu doesn’t necessarily speak for the Jewish people or represent their views.

In the aftermath of the Hyper Cacher killings, the French prime minister and president made bold statements: “France without Jews is not France,” claiming these Jews as Frenchmen and committing themselves to defend the place of Jews and the safety of Jews in French society and culture. Netanyahu went to the main synagogue in Paris and then invited French Jews to come “home” to Israel where “we will protect you,” seemingly forgetting for a moment that Iran was an existential threat to Israel with the potential of nuclear annihilation. Just as France was claiming these Jews as they own, Israel pushed for burial in Israel, seemingly underscoring a perception that they were not Frenchmen, which was a blow to all French Jews.

Similarly throughout Eastern Europe, Israel is enjoying political support from ultra-nationalist, right-wing governments that are rewriting the history of World War II to cleanse their nations of the stigma of collaboration. Local Jewish communities speak out, scholars and public officials speak out while Israel remains silent.

I believe that Jews cannot fight the battle against the explosion of anti-Semitism without combatting all expressions of hatred, reaching out to others and even dialing down the vitriol that has characterized all political discourse. If the expression of hatred is unabated, Jews will be its victims — certainly not its only victims, and in all likelihood, not its primary victims. If we combat this promiscuous hatred together, new alliances may be struck and new possibilities emerge.


MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.

‘Anti-Zionism’ is the anti-Semitism of choice on college campuses


Hating Israel is the thing to do today on university campuses. It makes you seem “progressive.” It means you’re “woke” and socially aware. It means you’re fighting against a tyrannical regime. It is supporting the struggle of an oppressed people at the hands of white colonialist supremacy. Zionism is racism. Israel is evil, end of story

Except that’s complete nonsense.

Zionism is the support for and affirmation of the Jews’ right to self-determination in their indigenous homeland of Israel. It’s the Jewish civil rights movement. It is the struggle of a native people who have been oppressed for thousands of years, expelled from their land, killed and persecuted wherever they went in the world. It is the celebration of victory, of the return home after millennia of Diaspora, of surviving and flourishing against all odds.

Read the full column on timesofisrael.com.


NADIYA AL-NOOR is a young Muslim interfaith activist with a focus on Jewish and Muslim communities. She is a graduate student at Binghamton University, studying public administration and student affairs administration.

From left: Milken Community Schools Wildcats' Brian Pearlman, Aaron Harouni, Amitai Afenjar, Doron Matian, Daniel Solomon, Adam Aframian and Josh Afshan celebrate their championship victory over Shalhevet High School. Not pictured: Idan Yohanan, Kian Zar, Joshua Miller, Ryan Ghodsian, Ethan Harouni and Kyler Shoned. Photo by Richard Hartog

Wild finish thrills Milken Wildcats’ faithful


With just seconds left and time for one final play, Ilana Shirian, parent of a Milken student, scanned the crowd of approximately 1,000 fans of both boys basketball teams — Milken Community Schools and Shalhevet High School. All around her, students, parents, faculty members, alumni and board members filled the bleachers on both sides of the gym, which was electrified with excitement, nervousness and joy.

“Look at the energy in the room,” she said.

In a way, it almost didn’t matter which of the Jewish teams won the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section (CIF SS) division 4A championship on March 1. This was a game — and a moment — few would forget. It was close for almost all of its 32 minutes, with Milken hanging on for a 54-52 victory in the Crespi Carmelite High School gymnasium in Encino.

According to jewishhoopsamerica.com, a resource for Jewish high school basketball in North America, the game marked the first time two Jewish high school teams have squared off in a California sectional championship. And it was Milken’s first sectional championship victory.

After its victory over Shalhevet, Milken was slated to compete in the first round of the 2017 CIF state boys basketball championships in Division 4, visiting West High School in Torrance on March 8. Tickets are $9 at the door.

Meanwhile, Shalhevet, which also qualified to compete in the CIF state playoffs, elected instead to travel to New York to compete in the March 2-6 Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament at Yeshiva University in New York. The Firehawks lost, 49-47, in the championship game to the Frisch School Cougars of Paramus, N. J.

To many in the crowd just a few nights earlier, though, the victory belonged to Milken and Shalhevet students who helped created an atmosphere of unprecedented school spirit in support for their teams. 

“This is probably the closest thing I’ve experienced here to a real Midwestern sporting event,” said Kelly Shepard, Milken department chair of performing arts, who was raised in Indiana, where basketball is a way of life.

Standing beside Shepard was Kimberly Schwartz, Milken upper school principal, who said the team was “riding the biggest wave of school spirit Milken has ever seen.”

Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet head of school, said the game was about more than winning or losing. “I say with no joke, the thing that gives me the most pride is that this is the menschiest team you’ll ever see,” Segal said of the Firehawks. “These are great, great boys.”

The teams were closely matched over the course of the season. Milken, coached by Mike Whiting, had a record of 21-6 going into the game against Shalhevet; Shalhevet, coached by Ryan Coleman, was 26-7 going into the game.

Milken Community Schools junior Amitai Afenjar drives to the basket during Milken's championship game against Shalhevet High School. Photo by Richard Hartog

Milken Community Schools junior Amitai Afenjar drives to the basket during Milken’s championship game against Shalhevet High School. Photo by Richard Hartog

“Most of these kids are friends, off the court. They know each other, they’re part of the same community. We had a great turnout for the entire community and more than that, they played hard, the right way,” said Milken Head of School Gary Weisserman, who created a Kiddush Cup that went to the winning squad. “Either team could have won.”

Roars, chants and applause resounded at the tipoff. Milken took several minutes before it founding its groove, as Kian Zar, a senior, sank the team’s first basket, a three-pointer, 3 minutes, 20 seconds into the game.

Sharp three-point shooting had helped propel Milken to victory over Riverside Notre Dame High School on Feb. 25 in one of the semifinal games, said CIF SS communications director Thom Simmons.

At the half against Shalhevet, Milken led, 29-26, after Doron Matian, a junior, made a half-court shot at the buzzer.

With two minutes left in the game, Milken clung to a 51-47 lead, which closed to 54-52 with 17.8 seconds remaining. Shalhevet called timeout. Then, with three seconds left, senior Eitan Halpert of Shalhevet made a final drive to the basket but missed a layup.

“I’m so happy!” Milken junior Stephanie Afari said, watching her boyfriend, Josh Afshani, receive a championship T-shirt.

Shalhevet senior Ben Harel felt differently.

“We could’ve won. We had a good chance of winning. Our good player missed a layup, a very important layup,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Halpert to bounce back from his team’s loss. The Shalhevet senior scored 26 points and had 15 rebounds against Frisch at Yeshiva University.

Eitan Halpert, a guard on the Shalhevet High School Firehawks, attempts a layup during the school's matchup against Milken. Photo by Ezra Fax

Eitan Halpert, a guard on the Shalhevet High School Firehawks, attempts a layup during the school’s matchup against Milken. Photo by Ezra Fax, The Boiling Point 

In the locker room at Crespi, Milken’s 6-foot-4 junior forward, Amitai Afenjar, 17, sat with bags of ice taped to his ankles. If he were in pain, no one would have known. He led the Wildcats with 18 points.

“This is our moment, this is our big moment. We are about to make history,” Afenjar told the Journal. “We are making history.”

The season, the game and the thrilling final seconds contributed to a swell of team spirit that was something of a new phenomenon at Milken, junior Mira Berenbaum said.

“It’s pretty incredible,” she said. “The school didn’t have much spirit before the playoffs. “Now the whole school here is here.”

Even school administrators appeared to catch the fever. During halftime, Leon Janks, a member of the Milken board of trustees (and a Jewish Journal board member), said what was probably on the minds of many in the stands:  “[Whoever wins], at least one of the teams will be Jewish.”

Headstones were toppled at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in Rochester, N.Y. Photo courtesy of News 10 NBC WHEC

No Esther in sight


The role of Achashverosh, the vain king who prefers to drink from goblets of gold, who is ready to turn over a nation to a minister who offers ten thousand talents of silver, is too easily filled this year’s Purim. Haman and Bannon practically rhyme. It’s a facile elision I’m not sure I agree with, but it comes naturally. But where is our Esther, and where is our Mordechai? 

I don’t think people are still pinning their hopes on Ivanka and Jared. They couldn’t do anything to stop the erasure of Jews from the White House statement about the Holocaust. And Trump still denounced the Orthodox Jewish reporter who pitched him that softball question so he could denounce anti-Semitism.

It was only after the first Jewish cemetery was vandalized that Trump finally had something to say about the subject. That gave Jews on the right a glimmer of hope that the Haman and Achashverosh shoes wouldn’t fit. Was Ivanka working behind the scenes?

But after more Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, Trump shared another brilliant insight. He thinks it’s possible that anti-Trump people might be knocking down Jewish tombstones in order to make him look bad. Of course, David Duke said it first – not that Trump notices or cares where he gets his ideas from. That’s right up Achashverosh’s alley: everything bad happens to him; his is never the flaw or fault that allows it.

If there’s one thing Trump loves to talk about, it’s not crimes of hate but the crime rate. Despite Trump’s fantabulism, it’s increasing across the U.S. for real in just one way, hate crime. But he won’t talk about the seven African American transgender women who were murdered. Or give an ounce of reflection to how his rhetoric against immigrants might have played a role when an Indian engineer was murdered by a crazy white man who screamed “Get out of my country!” 

But that’s old news. Like Peter denied Jesus (l’havdil – not to morally compare them), Trump and his entourage won’t talk about how the perpetrators could be following the lead of his rhetoric. Every day we keep learning in new ways that Trump does not have the capacity or desire to understand what’s going on, or to take responsibility, the way we would want a president to do in order to lead the nation.

But if Trump doesn’t get it that cemetery vandalizers are undoubtedly anti-Semitic, how could his two closest Jews, Ivanka and Jared, not? It’s inconceivable that neither of them understands what kind of a person you have to be to knock down Jewish tombstones.

Any or all of these three things must be true: Jared and Ivanka are too cowed by Bannon to do anything, or they don’t have the power to change Trump’s course when Bannon is pushing him, or they are willing to let it slide as long as Jared gets what he wants for Israel.

I would guess number three, but whichever it might be, it means neither of them is prepared to be Esther. Not that I wouldn’t like to see Jared in a diadem (on Ivanka it would be redundant), but I don’t think the most beautiful crown will make either one a queen.

The bottom line is that with all that is happening, many right-wing elements in the Jewish community, like Jared, are willing to trade our safety here for the sake of letting Israel do whatever it wants as it trades Palestinian lives and land to build more settlements.

It would be as if Esther were to go to Achashverosh and beg to spare only the lives of a particular Jewish sect in the holy land, while letting Haman carry out his plot against all the other Jews throughout Persia’s empire.

Their bet seems to be that it will work out in the grim end, that Israel and the U.S. don’t need democracy as much as they need more control. They may also be betting that stateside Jews will come out with our privilege intact after everything goes down – that we will get to stay “white,” and not get grouped with Muslims and Latinos. (Never mind that Jews are all races, or that Sephardim may look like Arabs.)

That can only happen if we willingly separate our lives from the lives of Muslims and immigrants and Latinos and Black people and queer people. And maybe some American Jews could have done that, since we have almost forgotten that not too long ago, Jews were not considered white, and that our essential identity was one of refugees. But the world has been conspiring to remind us. 

Trump wants us to believe that we will stay white no matter what happens, as if his opinion will matter, while the cemetery destroyers desperately want us to to know that we never were white. Whoever is wrong, when pushing comes to shoving, I don’t think we will make it through unscathed.

So far, the most extreme extremists in the U.S., the ones who target Muslims and Jews equally, are outside the halls of power – it seems like a litmus test for White House staff is that one must be willing to target Muslims but not say anything against Jews. (And maybe there are too many Hanukkah books, after all.) That makes the Trump administration a natural fit with Jews who accept the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But how long will it be before the wall between being anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim falls as other walls go up? How long before anti-Semitism gets to embody its full meaning: hatred of the descendants of Noah’s son Shem, which includes Ishmaelites and Israelites, Jews and Arabs?

Facing his fear that Esther will fail, Mordecai promises that “help will arise from another place” – and then Esther comes through. Maybe it’s not too late for Ivanka. But for now, we need to be looking for help from that other place. Our best prospect may be the compassion that has been passing back and forth from Muslims to Jews and Jews to Muslims, as we each step in to help when the other is attacked. A Muslim community given the key to a synagogue after its mosque was burned down; Muslims raising funds and giving time to repair Jewish headstones.

Mishloach manot and matanot la’evyonim, sending nourishment to one another, exchanging gifts of encouragement to revive our lives, which are being impoverished by these times. Just like the Jews did for each other at the end of the Scroll of Esther.

Not exactly a silver lining, but if the powers that be can’t generate an Esther, then we have to step into those royal shoes. Let’s step lively.

A headstone, pushed off its base by vandals, lays on the ground near a smashed tomb in the Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Stop celebrating Muslim decency: Being congratulated for basic civility is no compliment


Since the recent wave of anti-Semitic bomb threats, vandalism, and cemetery desecrations, journalistic and social media have vocally celebrated condemnations, fund-raising, and volunteer efforts by Muslim groups in an attempt to bolster interfaith cooperation and rehabilitate the reputation of the Islamic community precisely when its very welcome in America is being questioned like never before.

But nobody deserves congratulations for basic decency. Condemning bomb threats and making donations to repair damage from bias crimes is something good people of all backgrounds do. Liberal hoopla over proper Muslim responses to anti-Semitism is no more than a religious riff on the soft bigotry of low expectations. When Muslims go to extraordinary lengths to show they embrace their Jewish neighbors – and they sometimes do – public praise is appropriate. But headlines about Islamic press releases condemning cemetery vandalism send the opposite message – that in normal circumstances Muslims are callous and heartless.

 Imagine these headlines:

• Asian Driver Arrives At Work Without Incident

• Jamaican Musician Passes Drug Test

• Black Man Marries His Children’s Mother

While those headlines aim to challenge nasty stereotypes, they actually reinforce their legitimacy.

News stories about broad community efforts to help besieged Jews that contain a sentence “Even the local Muslim community turned out in force” are entirely appropriate. But special congratulations when Muslims act like, well, people are not compliments.

I know how it feels to have my own group celebrated for simple propriety.

As a Zionist, I am perpetually annoyed by hasbara (roughly, propaganda) that celebrates Israeli actions that are only minimally admirable – like an Israeli soldier who shares her sandwich with a starving Palestinian child or an Tel Aviv hospital that provides an impoverished dying Arab woman with free medical care. Yes, I understand that these examples are intended to debunk the idea that Israelis are not decent (although I have yet to see anti-Israel discourse accusing Israelis of withholding sandwiches from orphans). But the very act of highlighting basic decency legitimizes the slander, which is particularly offensive given the many good Israeli actions that are far from just minimally proper.

The people spotlighting Muslim attempts to repair desecrated cemeteries may think they’re rebutting negative stereotypes. But they aren’t. Sorry to say it, but Americans who fear or hate Muslims don’t do so because they think Muslims tolerate vandalism. They do so because they think Muslims tolerate terrorism. These stories will not dent that perception.

Americans are rightly proud of the way its citizens of many groups came together to help one group among them recover in a time of distress – and Muslims should be part of that celebration. But breathless reports that American Muslims aren’t jackasses after all help nobody – including American Muslims.

David Benkof is a columnist for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and Muckrack.com/DavidBenkof, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

President Donald Trump on Feb. 28. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters

There is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism


The actual percentage is yet to be exactly known, but it is already clear that a serious number of the major anti-Semitic incidents taking place — such as defacing Jewish graves, painting swastikas on Jewish students’ dorm room doors, and calling in bomb threats to Jewish institutions — are being perpetrated by leftists who wish to perpetuate the belief that Donald Trump’s election victory has unleashed a national wave of anti-Semitism.

The same seems to hold true for post-Trump anti-Muslim and anti-Black incidents.

I could cite dozens of examples. Here are a few:

Last week, it was reported that a Black, left-wing journalist was arrested for phoning in bomb threats to the ADL and half a dozen other Jewish institutions.

On Feb. 27, the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined: “Racist graffiti found at Lakeville South High School.”

The article began: “Swastikas, racial epithets and other racist graffiti were found etched on bathroom stalls at Lakeville South High School on Monday.”

It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a non-white student: “A ‘non-Caucasian’ Minnesota high school student has been disciplined after it was determined he was responsible for racist and antisemitic graffiti found in a school bathroom. The scribblings included a picture of a lynching, the phrase ‘Hail the Ku Klux Klan,’ the ‘N’ word, and a swastika” (The College Fix, March 2).

On March 1, the Toronto Sun headlined: “Bomb threats targeting Muslims close Concordia buildings.”

The article continued: “ … a group threatened to detonate ‘small artisanal explosive devices’ once a day until Friday in order to injure Muslim students. The group, which described itself as a chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada, or C4, complained about Muslim prayer services on campus.”

The next day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported: “The man charged in connection with Wednesday’s bomb threats at Concordia University, Hisham Saadi, was a PhD student in economics there. … Saadi is of Lebanese origin.”

The College Fix, which accumulates data on these hoaxes, reported that “At Massachusetts’ Williams College, two students admitted to trashing the school’s Griffin Hall with a ‘red wood-stain substance resembling blood’ and spelled out ‘AMKKK KILL.’ ” The college newspaper, The Williams Record, later reported that the two students did it “to bring attention to the potential impact of the presidential election on campus.”

At Bowling Green State University on the day after the election, a Black student alleged three white males clad in ‘Trump’ shirts called her a racial slur and threw rocks at her. ABC News reported shortly thereafter that the police concluded she made up the story.

MSNBC posted a tweet that contained what appeared to be a video of a female Muslim student beating up a ‘racist’ male pupil at Washburn High School. “Don’t mess with Somali girls in Minnesota,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell announced. “The dude tried to knock her hijab (headgar) [sic] off, she gave him a hard lesson.”

The video, titled “Welcome to Washburn,” went viral after it was posted to Facebook, with more than 6.5 million views, more than 161,000 shares and more than 29,000 comments.

But the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared the footage a “hoax” and a “play fight” intended as a joke. And school staff confirmed the alleged incident never happened.

Another anti-Muslim incident that was widely reported was proven to be a hoax. A female Muslim student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette alleged that right after the election, two white men, one of whom was wearing a Trump cap, attacked her and stole her wallet and the hijab she was wearing. Her story prompted the ACLU of Louisiana to issue a statement denouncing both the incident and Donald Trump; the FBI launched an investigation; and the story was covered by The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN.

The Muslim student later admitted to police that she made up the whole story.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a San Francisco man who raised a Nazi flag on the roof of his home right after the election was a left-wing Trump-hater.

There are so many examples of hoaxes perpetrated by Black, Muslim and white leftists that they could fill this issue of the Jewish Journal.

The entire notion of a Trump-inspired crime wave is fake news spread by the mainstream media. For more examples, see “There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave In ‘Trump’s America.’ ”

Donald Trump is no more anti-Semitic than the columnists of this newspaper. Nor is Breitbart.com anti-Semitic. And there is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism in America.

This is only one more example of left-wing hysteria — like heterosexual AIDS in America; the “rape culture” on campuses; the alleged crisis of racist cops wantonly killing innocent Blacks; and global warming threatening life on earth.

Jews who think there is such a wave do so because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it. In other words, a lot of Jews want to believe that Jews are hated in America more than ever. Yet another way in which leftism has poisoned Jewish life.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Trump, Netanyahu discuss ‘dangers’ of Iran deal in phone call


President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the Iran nuclear deal in a phone call.

Trump called Netanyahu on Monday and the two leaders discussed “the dangers posed by the nuclear deal with Iran,” according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

“The two leaders spoke at length about the dangers posed by the nuclear deal with Iran and by Iran’s malevolent behavior in the region and about the need to work together to counter those dangers,” read the statement.

Netanyahu and Trump have both denounced the deal, which exchanges sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. But the U.S. president and other top officials have wavered in their commitment to undoing the agreement.

During the phone call, Netanyahu also thanked Trump for the “warm hospitality” during his visit to Washington last month and for condemning anti-Semitism during a joint address to Congress, according to the statement.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment by JTA.

Last Tuesday, Trump noted recent bomb threats on Jewish institutions and vandalism of cemeteries in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.

Nearly 100 Jewish institutions have been targeted with bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The Kansas shooting occurred when a patron who was ejected from a bar after hurling racial epithets at two workers from India allegedly returned with a gun, killing one of the men and wounding the other.

Trump has come under fire for his delayed responses to the threats against Jewish institutions, deflecting questions about it before finally issuing a denunciation. The White House did not address the Kansas shooting until Tuesday, six days after the attack.

Pro-Israel supporter in New York City. (photo credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Young Jews in America and Israel: Rising levels of religiosity, widening political gap


Conferences are a good way of meeting people and listening to what they have to say, often based on information that they have and you don’t. So last week, at the JPPI conference on the future of the Jewish People, I listened attentively to Prof. Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University as he presented a few numbers from a paper he authored with Ariela Keisar of Trinity College. He then kindly agreed to send me the slides that the two of them presented at the conference of the Association of Jewish Studies back in December of last year.

Like many papers, it has a fancy name: Contrasts and Comparisons of American and Israeli Jews: Millennials Under Scrutiny. Like some papers, behind the name there is information. In this case, it’s information about a group that the professional Jewish world is highly concerned about: millennial Jews in Israel and America. The two studies by PEW, in America and Israel, have comparable numbers to work with. So the authors decided to compare these two groups.

They are different, of course. Beginning with the fact that some Israeli millennials are still serving in the military while their cousins in the US go to college. Continuing with the fact that most US millennials are still single (90%) while their Israeli cousins have already begun getting married (31%) and having children.

DellaPergola and Keisar have discovered a few interesting things about Jewish millennials in the two largest and most significant Jewish communities today. For example: that religiosity among Jewish millennials is on the rise – a result, no doubt, of the demographic composition of this group compared to other groups of Jews (that is, it is more heavily Orthodox). The authors looked at the percentage of Jews agreeing with three statements: Weekly attendance at religious services; Religion is important in my life; I believe in God or universal spirit.

Take a look at the graph: younger Jews in Israel are becoming more religious, and so are younger Jews in America (in which you can also see a clear difference between Jews that were and were not “raised Jewish”).

Gap1

In a similar way – looking at the number of Jews who agree with three statements – DellaPergolla and Keisar examined the sense of peoplehood among younger Jews. The statements are: Being Jewish is important in my life; I have a special responsibility to take care of Jews around the world; and I have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people. In this case, the response is split: those raised as Jews – in Israel or America – feel more Jewish than the older generation. But the sense of peoplehood among those who weren’t raised Jewish is in decline (this should not come as huge surprise).

Take a look:

Gap2

The Israel support index is based on positive responses to two statements – and in this case it is possible to make the case that maybe the questions do not reflect exactly what the authors claim (support for Israel). The statements are “Caring about Israel / Living in Israel is essential to my Jewish identity”; “the Israeli government is making sincere efforts to bring peace with Palestinians.” Clearly, the first statement is direct and reflects support or identification with Israel. But the second question is trickier: does disagreeing with the contention that a certain Israeli government is making a sincere effort to achieve peace make a person less supportive of Israel? In recent JPPI studies we asked groups of Jews the same question and found what DellaPergola and Keisar also found: that Israel’s efforts are not considered sincere by many Jews in other countries. But they show us that the lower the age, the higher the skepticism of Israel’s sincerity.

The same doubt can be raised about the index they call Jewish Nationalism and which is based on the following three questions: Settlements help Israel’s security; God gave the Land of Israel to Jews; I do not think a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. Why do I find this index somewhat problematic? Because the first and third statements are political in nature, but the second is a cultural-theological question. In other words: the authors inadvertently assume that believing in a God-given land is connected with believing in the benefit of the settlement project. And while this assumption is probably valid in the real world – I do not think it is valid in the world of ideas.

DellaPergola and Keisar examined other questions, but sticking to politics, their last graph is the most interesting – as it paints vividly what we recognize as the growing political gap between young Israelis and young Jews in the US.

This graph uses again the “Israeli efforts for peace sincere” statement, but adds to it the mirror image statement “Palestinian efforts for peace sincere.” The index based on these two statements shows the percentage of difference between sincere Israeli and sincere Palestinian efforts, among young Israelis, young “raised Jewish” American Jews, and young American Jews (including those who weren’t raised Jewish). The result is a graph that tells the story of a growing gap. Young Israelis have much more confidence in Israel’s sincerity compared to the sincerity of the Palestinians, while US Jews don’t see as much difference between the sincerity (or lack thereof) of Israelis and Palestinians.

Here it is:

Gap3

What do we learn from this? That Israel might be successful in convincing its youngsters of its narrative, but it fails to convince young American Jews that it still wants peace. If young Jews in America, as they grow older, will view Israel as a country that doesn’t pursue peace, it will surely make it more difficult for them to support it – no matter if they are correct in their conclusion or widely off the mark.

Taharah & Telltale Tatoos by Kerry Swartz


 

[Ed. Note: I am reprising an earlier article which received a great deal of attention when it first appeared a few years ago. — JB]

The Tatoo Myth

One of the most prevalent myths about Jewish death pertains to tattoos: should you have them, you can’t have a Jewish funeral or be buried in a Jewish cemetery. This is simply not true. Indeed, this is the single most frequent tweet I make as a response for Kavod v’Nichum. Ironically, I’m Modern Orthodox, covered in tattoos, and a member of a Frum (observant) Chevrah Kadisha Taharah (ritual purification) team.

Learning About Tatoos

Inspired by the popular movie, Eastern Promises, I set about studying Soviet criminal tattoos some years back, and became familiar with some of their basic themes; they are really code for others who can translate them to understand what/who someone is, their crimes, their joys, etc. It’s really an ongoing roadmap about their life. That all proved useful, as one of the most memorable Taharot (plural of Taharah)I participated in involved an older Russian man who was covered in tattoos.

Taharah

Taharot for our team can feel routine, as we do several a week. Since this man died from natural causes, nothing that might surprise us was expected. As the man lay on the Taharah table, one could plainly see he was covered in tattoos, which I immediately recognized as Russian from my earlier study. The other team members stared for a moment in surprise, but quickly moved back to the routine of Taharah.

Meanwhile, whatever role(s) I normally play were set aside as I had my first chance ever to examine actual Russian tattoos. Our Taharah Rosh/leader was a bit impatient, so I tried my best to make mental notes while working, although at slower than normal pace, trying to take in as much information as possible.

Tale of the Tatoos

After the Taharah was completed, I was able to tell our team that this man had been an officer in the Soviet Army; he had liberated one of the camps, and no doubt saved the lives of many Jews. Later in life he had turned to some forms of petty crime and spent over five years in prison. He loved his two children, who had also followed in his criminal footsteps. He had killed several men, but I was unable to ascertain if this was from wartime or afterwards.

Honoring the Deceased

In sum, although he was covered with tattoos and had a criminal background, this man was given a full Taharah, Jewish funeral, and Jewish burial, which the team attended. The entire service was in Russian, so I felt especially fortunate to be able to tell his story to my team members. To them, he was just another deceased man. To me he became a fascinating link to the stories tattoos can tell and the knowledge I had garnered from them about this man’s life.

Kerry Swartz is a member of the Community Chevrah Kadisha in Vancouver and Victoria BC. He is a professionally trained photographer holding an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal. He is a graduate of the Gamliel Institute, and serves as the president of the Board of Kavod v’Nichum, as well as serving as a staff member and instructor of the Gamliel Institute, and as a mentor for Gamliel Institute students. Kerry is happily married with two teenagers who think his library is gross.

 

Kerry Swartz in casket he built

Kerry Swartz – in casket he built

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD:

UPCOMING COURSE

Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings, in the Spring semester.

COURSE PREVIEW

If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for the Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EST. The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to info@Jewish-Funerals.org.

CLASSES

The course will meet on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.

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TASTE OF GAMLIEL

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses.

Taste of Gamliel Webinars for this year are scheduled on January 22, February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. The instructors this year are: Dr. Dan Fendel, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, Rabbi Sarah Paasche-Orlow, Rabbi Richard Address, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and Dr. Laurie Zoloth.

Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, participants raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and the moderator calls on and unmutes participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly and easy to use platform.

This series of Webinar sessions is free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions begin at 5 PM PST; 8 PM EST.

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions, and will also receive information on how to access the recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is: http://jewish-funerals.givezooks.com/events/taste-of-gamliel-2017.

On registration, you will receive an automated acknowledgement. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information for the upcoming session.

You can view a recording of the sessions, uploaded after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700   

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, we plan to hold time for questions and discussions at the end of each program. 

Again, the entire series is free, but we ask that you make a donation to help us defray the costs of providing this series. The suggested $36 amount works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and extraordinary teachers that present it.

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome. 

The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual and actions around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with Israelis and British students joining us on occasion.

 

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KAVOD v’NICHUM CONFERENCE

Looking ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference.

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017
Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study and more.

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. Please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options. Contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700  info@jewish-funerals.org
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DONATIONS:

Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

 

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

 

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspired Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

 

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Hebrew Word of the Week: hitqarnefut


hebrew-word

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Terumah with Rabbi Dovid Asher


Our guest his week is Rabbi Dovid Asher, leader of the Keneseth Beth Israel congregation in Richmond , Virginia. Rabbi Asher studied at Yeshivat Shaarei Mevaseret Tzion in Israel and received his ordination from Yeshiva University. As part of his rabbinic training, he had several internships including Young Israel of East Bunswick, Riverdale Jewish Center, and Aish NY. Concurrently, he received a Master’s in Mental Health Counselling from Pace University.  After marrying Aliza, Rabbi Asher joined the Gruss Kollel, an affiliate of Yeshiva University in Israel, whereupon completing his studies they moved to Chicago to take part in a fellowship that focused on community education. In addition to his studies, Rabbi Asher has worked in various administrative positions for Aish, NCSY, and Yeshiva University.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) – is largely dedicated to the detailed instructions for the building of the holy Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. Our talk focuses on the idea of order and structure as a prerequisite for holiness.

St. Louis man arrested for bomb threats against Jewish institutions


A St. Louis man has been charged for making at least eight bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the Anti-Defamation League.

Juan Thompson, 31, made some of the threats in the name of a former romantic partner he had been cyberstalking, according to a statement Friday by the U.S. Attorney of Southern New York. Thompson has been charged with cyberstalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

“Today, we have charged Juan Thompson with allegedly stalking a former romantic interest by, among other things, making bomb threats in her name to Jewish Community Centers and to the Anti-Defamation League,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “Threats of violence targeting people and places based on religion or race – whatever the motivation – are unacceptable, un-American, and criminal. We are committed to pursuing and prosecuting those who foment fear and hate through such criminal threats.”

Thompson made some of the threats in his victim’s name and some in his own in an attempt to portray himself as being framed. In a series of  Twitter posts this week, he claimed his victim was in fact making the threats and framing him. He also tweeted sympathetic messages expressing support for the Jewish victims of the threats.

But the FBI complaint against Thompson says he was behind at least eight of the threats made in January and February, mostly via email. The complaint says Thompson threatened institutions including the ADL, JCCs in San Diego and New York City, schools in New York and Michigan, and a Jewish history museum in New York City. In the threats to the schools, made on Feb. 1, Thompson referred to a “Jewish newtown,” a reference to the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecuticut.

In total, more than 100 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have received bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in PhiladelphiaSt. Louis and Rochester, New York, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into JCCs, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year. No explosive device was found after any of the calls.

“The NYPD and the FBI have done an outstanding job in this regard,” Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions, told JTA on Friday. “We at SCN and the Jewish Federations of North America commend them and hold them in the highest regard.”

The threats prompted clamor for President Donald Trump to condemn the anti-Semitism behind the targeting of Jewish institutions.

After initially demurring to comment directly when asked about the spate of recent anti-Semitic incidents, Trump eventually called the threats to the community centers “horrible” and “painful,” and Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to a Jewish cemetery vandalized near St. Louis.

Program promises Shabbat of lifetime


The vast majority of tourists who visit Jerusalem go to the Old City and, depending on their interests and beliefs, make a point of seeing archaeological sites, eating in the Mahane Yehuda Market or visiting the Israel Museum.

What few get to experience is an authentic Shabbat meal in the home of a Jewish family.

Six years ago, Michelle Cohen and her husband, Nati, a young Jerusalem couple, decided to offer Shabbat dinners to groups and individuals seeking a genuine Shabbat dinner experience.

Sensing a business opportunity as well as a way to share the best of Israel with tourists, they launched Shabbat of a Lifetime, a company that Cohen said has grown to more than 70 host families that have offered a Shabbat dinner experience to more than 30,000 visitors from 100 countries.

For a fee that Cohen says is roughly equivalent to the cost of a Friday night dinner in a hotel restaurant, hosts offer Shabbat dinner (including ones customized for a variety of dietary needs, like allergies) tailored to overseas guests. Rituals are explained and questions encouraged.

The goal, Cohen said, “is to create positive encounters between them and Israelis. The tourists have a positive experience and return home as [goodwill] ambassadors.”

Cohen said she and her husband got the idea for Shabbat of a Lifetime after spending six months in India.

“During our time in India, we realized that the most meaningful part was meeting the local people and learning about their culture. There are maybe 2 million non-Jewish tourists who come to Israel every year, and we asked whether they are getting the opportunity to meet local Israelis in their homes. The answer was no.”

About 95 percent of guests come as part of a tour group, while the rest book directly via the company’s website (shabbatofalifetime.com). Ninety-nine percent are non-Jewish tourists or Jewish tourists who are not religiously observant.

“Let’s say you’re part of a group of 15 Chinese businessmen [who are] in Israel to understand how to invest in Israel. One part of your trip will be to join a Jewish family at a Shabbat meal to learn about Jewish culture and Shabbat traditions. Or, let’s say you’re an unaffiliated Jewish family who [is] in Israel to celebrate a daughter’s bat mitzvah. Rather than spend Friday night in a hotel, you can join an Israeli family.”

Some of the tourists hosted by Shabbat of a Lifetime are in Israel on dual-narrative tours that offer visitors the opportunity to spend time with Israelis and Palestinians.

“In the morning, they visit Palestinian farmers, and on Friday night, they’re sitting with a Jewish family in Jerusalem and having chicken soup. We’ve hosted a group of African pastors, students on university programs and Jewish women looking to strengthen their Jewish identity” and who had rarely or never experienced Shabbat before visiting Israel, Cohen said.

While the tourists learn about Israeli culture and food, “it’s eye-opening for the host, as well,” Cohen said. “We’ll have encounters between German tourists and a religious family, for example, and we have many, many groups from China.”

From her observations, Cohen said, Chinese tourists “tend to be very interested in the entrepreneurial mind of Jews and Israelis. They want to know what it is about these traditions that create the foundation for Israeli innovation.”

All families that host meals for Shabbat of a Lifetime observe Shabbat, “but there is a whole range of backgrounds and communities they identify with,” Cohen said. Families also must have the capacity to host a group of 14. One family can host 50.

“We prepare the host family about what it will entail to host, say, 30 Southern Baptists,” Cohen said. Although the food is important, so too is an understanding of their guests’ unique backgrounds.

“Our purpose is to facilitate genuine encounters,” not formal, stiff, overly polite dinners, Cohen said.

Yehoshua Looks and his wife, Debbie, have hosted more than 150 Shabbat of a Lifetime meals during the past four years. “We host up to 36 people and it sometimes ends up being a couple more,” he said, laughing. “We turn over our living room-dining space to Shabbat of a Lifetime. They provide the food, the tablecloths, the chairs. We like to serve on actual china, which goes into the dishwasher.”

Looks said his family became religiously observant long ago, “and part of our process was being involved in a very warm community in St. Louis.”

Even back then, Looks, an Orthodox rabbi, said, “we’d set a couple of extra place settings,” in anticipation of guests at the Shabbat dinner table. “We created a family dynamic of having an open home and welcoming people from all types of backgrounds.”

At Friday night dinner, Looks and his wife explain the reason Jews sing “Shalom Aleichem” and “Eshet Chayil,” and bless their children before reciting blessings over the wine and challah. 

“With some groups, the reaction is more cultural, for others, it’s more spiritual,” he said. “We get a lot of Christian evangelicals who are fascinated by the idea of Shabbat.”

Regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds, Looks said, his guests seem to enjoy discussing the Sabbath.

“We live in a world where we’ve lost the experience of rest. I’m 60-something and grew up in a world where, on Sundays, the stores were closed. There was more time and space for family bonding.”

Looks likes to tell his guests that Shabbat is his time to disconnect. “I share with all the groups that my favorite Friday afternoon activity is to unplug my internet, close down the routers. I even challenge some of our guests to try to shut off their cellphones for 24 hours.”

Looks hopes his guests — who include many secular Jews from abroad — come away with the sense that Shabbat “isn’t about what you can’t do but instead [is] a time to open ourselves up and connect on a more spiritual level to our families, our communities and to God.”

Although hosting week after week can be tiring, Looks said the “incredible warmth” his guests bring has enriched him and his family beyond measure.

“After living in Israel for 20 years, it’s easy to become a little complacent about Israel,” Looks admitted. 

“To hear stories from people who see Israel with fresh eyes invigorates us. It makes us excited about living in Israel all over again.” n

Sanctuary, then and now


Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

The entirety of Parashat Terumah consists of God instructing Moses, during their first 40-day “retreat” alone together atop Mount Sinai, on the details of the mikdash/Mishkan (holy place/Sanctuary) that God wants the Israelites to build. In fact, with the exception of chapters 32 through 34, which tell the stories of the golden calf and the giving of the Ten Commandments, the last 15 chapters and last five Torah portions of the Book of Exodus — starting with Terumah — focus on the construction of the Sanctuary.

God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites, “Let all those whose hearts are moved to do so, bring Me terumah (offerings/gifts)” (Exodus 25:2). Then God provides a list of precious gifts they might offer, including gold, silver, brass, fine linen, animal skins. God further explains how those gifts should be used: V’asu li mikdash v’shokhanti b’tokham — “Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I might dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Commentators often note God’s desire to dwell among them (the people), rather than in it (the Sanctuary). 

Why so much detail about this portable Sanctuary in the wilderness? It’s not as if later generations were going to use the same blueprints for their places of worship. Was God a control freak? Did God think the human designers couldn’t figure it out? That they were incapable of making something beautiful enough to honor the Holy One?

Contemporary commentator Richard Elliott Friedman points out that God is going to be associated with this tabernacle for many generations. Friedman notes that in 2 Samuel (7:6), God reports to King David that since bringing the Israelites out of Egypt I have been “going about in a tent and a Tabernacle.”  And the haftarah that accompanies Parashat Terumah reports that King Solomon began to build the Temple in Jerusalem in the 480th year after the children of Israel came out of Egypt. Perhaps so much detail on the traveling Sanctuary is simply because it will be in use for a very long time.  

Or perhaps God did originally imagine the detailed descriptions would be guides for generations to come, for future sanctuaries (including Solomon’s), places built from heartfelt gifts and by skillful hands. Perhaps the details were so exacting precisely because God did not want every sanctuary to become a place of competition, each builder or each congregation vying with the others to make the most elaborate, the most expensive.

As I consider the current discussions in the news, in synagogue and church boardrooms, in city council chambers and state houses about offering sanctuary, it seems that our introduction to the first sanctuary in chapter after chapter of Exodus might provide an opportunity for a more contemporary midrash: What if God’s intention in encouraging the building of so elaborate a sanctuary as that described in Parashat Terumah was to provide a comfortable place to live for humans seeking sanctuary?

After all, included in the “furnishings” of the Tabernacle were thick curtains for privacy, bowls for washing, lamps for light, fire for cooking, tables for bread, altars for protection, and a copy of the Law — God’s Covenant with us.  

What if God intended the beauty of the Sanctuary design as a sign of respect for those who might need to live (hide) there? Perhaps God thought, “Until they’d contribute so willingly and create so beautifully for people who need their help, I’ll tell them it is for Me.”

In this Torah portion, Moses has not yet received the first set of tablets up on the mountain. We know it’s coming soon, though, for also included in the Tabernacle God describes is the ark in which will be placed “the Testimony which I will give you” (Exodus 25:16). And over the Testimony Ark there is to be an “atonement cover” (kaporet), with two cherubim made of gold placed at either end of the cover.

No one knows for sure what these winged cherubim were like. Some Jewish sources say they had children’s faces; others that they were fierce looking. But God tells Moses that the cherubs will be “spreading wings above, covering the atonement dais with their wings, their faces each toward its brother: the cherubs’ faces shall be toward the atonement dais. … And there I shall meet with you and speak with you from above the atonement dais, from between the two cherubs that are on the Ark of the Testimony, everything that I shall command you to the children of Israel” (Exodus 25:20, 22).   

My midrash continues: “When you come to understand My choice to speak to Moses from between two golden brothers — faces turned toward each other — atop the Ark of the Covenant I have made with you, then will your hearts be moved to build a beautiful place of sanctuary to protect the vulnerable in your midst; and then indeed will you become a people in whose midst I will choose to dwell.”


Rabbi Lisa Edwards is senior rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim (bcc-la.org), an inclusive L.A. congregation founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue.

David Rubinger’s iconic photo shows Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem shortly after its capture during the Six-Day War, June 7, 1967. Photo by David Rubinger/GPO

David Rubinger, Israeli photographer who took iconic photo of soldiers at Western Wall, dies


David Rubinger, the Israeli photographer who took the iconic photo of Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall after its capture in the Six-Day War, has died.

Rubinger, whose photos chronicled much of the history of the Jewish state, died Thursday. He was 92.

Rubinger was awarded the Israel Prize for his body of work in 1997, the first photographer to receive the award. He reportedly took 500,000 photos of Israeli people and events during his career.

An immigrant to Israel from Austria, he arrived in Israel in 1939 at 15 and fought in 1944 with the Jewish Brigade, a military division of the British army led by British-Jewish officers in Europe.

He began his career as a photojournalist in 1955 with the daily HaOlam Hazeh and then for Yediot Acharonot. He was also Time-Life’s main photographer in Israel for five decades, beginning in 1954. He also served as the Knesset’s official photographer for 30 years.

The photo at the Western Wall was taken on June 7, 1967, after paratroopers pushed into the Old City of Jerusalem and reached the narrow space between the Western Wall and the houses that faced it at the time. Rubinger maintained that the photo wasn’t successful from an artistic perspective but that its wide distribution has made it famous.

His own favorite work, he told interviewer Yossi Klein Halevi in 2007, depicted a blind boy who arrived as a new immigrant in Israel in the 1950s stroking a relief map of Israel.

“I call it, ‘Seeing the Homeland,’” Rubinger told Halevi.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin eulogized Rubinger in a statement.

“There are those who write the pages of history, and there are those who illustrate them through their camera’s lens,” Rivlin said. “Through his photography, David eternalized history as it will be forever etched in our memories. His work will always be felt as it is seen in the eyes of the paratroopers as they looked upon the Western Wall, and in the expressions on the faces of the leaders of Israel, which he captured during the highest of highs and lowest of lows.”

Headstones were toppled at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in Rochester, N.Y. Photo courtesy of News 10 NBC WHEC

Jewish cemetery vandalized in Rochester, NY — third incident in US in less than 2 weeks


A Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York, was vandalized, the third such incident in the United States in less than two weeks.

Five headstones were found toppled Thursday morning at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in the city in western New York, according to News 10 NBC WHEC.

The president of the nonprofit managing the cemetery said he did not want to call the incident a hate crime or anti-Semitism.

“I don’t want to label it a hate crime. I don’t think there’s any proof of that. I don’t want to label it anti-Semitism. I don’t think there’s any proof of that,” said Michael Phillips, president of the Britton Road Association, according to The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Police were awaiting notice from the cemetery before commencing an investigation, News 10 NBC WHEC reported.

The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into Jewish community centers, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year.

Abraham Foxman. Photo by David Karp

Foxman: New approach needed to new phenomenon of anti-Semitism


President Donald Trump’s statement condemning a rash of anti-Semitic attacks, bombs threats at Jewish Community Centers, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries across the nations, at the start of his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday was welcomed by Jewish American leaders as a meaningful response.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“That he chose to focus on fighting anti-Semitism and hate (at the start of his address), we really welcome that,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation Leauqu (ADL),  said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. “That was a notable change from what we have seen. It was incredibly meaningful.”

Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major Organizations,  Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, said in a statement, “By reaffirming America’s strong commitment to speaking out against hate, President Trump sent an important message of support to the American Jewish community at a very difficult time and set an example for other political, religious and civic leaders to follow.”

Now that the President issued that much-needed clear and unequivocal statement, former ADL National Director Abe Foxman thinks the Jewish community should move on and focus on working with law enforcement authorities to apprehend the culprits and design strategies to protect the community from anti-Semitic attacks and threats.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Foxman suggested that this new phenomenon requires a new approach. “We have to fight it from the outside and the inside,” he asserted. “The outside is to get the political, moral, religious, and civic leadership, to condemn it and making it unacceptable. And number two is law enforcement. Law enforcement needs to take it seriously – to utilize all law enforcement techniques and institutions to combat it. And when you arrest a culprit, to make sure that the punishment is serious and not just a slap on the wrist.”

According to Foxman, it’s not the job of President Trump to come up with a plan. “His job is to condemn it and speak out. I don’t think it’s his job, though he has to fight prejudice, period.”

The former ADL head, who now serves as Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, further cautioned Jewish American organizations not to exaggerate the threat. “Our responsibility is to make sure that while we take it seriously, it doesn’t intimidate Jews from wanting to be Jews,” Foxman stressed.” Because, God forbid if we make it more of a threat than it is, the result will be that Jews will not want to be Jewish.” 

“The Jews, after every tragedy, stood up, brushed themselves off and reaffirmed their desire to continue to be Jews. And that’s the secret of Jewish survival,” he explained. “And therefore, here too, we face every single day when we talk about the dangers to our community centers, to our cemeteries, that is not, God forbid, undermining that commitment of Jews to continue to want to be Jews.” 

Gregory Martayan (right) meets Deputy Knesset Speaker Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union at the Knesset during a trip to Israel in December. Photo courtesy of Gregory Martayan for Los Angeles Unified School Board

Meet the non-Jew who wants Hebrew and kosher food in LAUSD schools


The most Jew-ish candidate for a local office in Los Angeles right now, it turns out, is not a Jew at all.

Gregory Martayan is Armenian. But the contender for the Los Angeles Unified School District board District 4 seat has a robust slate of campaign promises geared toward the Jewish community.

If elected, Martayan, 33, a public relations consultant, has promised to install Hebrew education in L.A. Unified schools, deliver kosher food to campuses that request it and institute a zero-tolerance policy toward anti-Semitism — all within six months. He professes stalwart support for Israel, having traveled there in December with a pair of campaign aides.

“Sometimes a goy like Greg can be more helpful to Jewish causes than a Jew,” said Andrew Friedman, Martayan’s campaign co-chair and a well-connected attorney in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Martayan’s candidacy pits him against two candidates who are Jewish: incumbent board President Steve Zimmer and Nicholas Melvoin. Both have better funding and name recognition. A fourth contender, Allison Holdorff Polhill, is not Jewish, but she also has raised more money than Martayan.

Yet Martayan is bullish about his chances. A mustachioed man who’s partial to pinstripe suits, he sells himself as a back-to-basics candidate, with three major issues: accountability, transparency and school safety. He makes frequent references to “the people,” specifically to people he says are underrepresented in LAUSD, not least among them Orthodox Jews.

“The Orthodox Jewish community has not been getting support under Steve Zimmer,” he said. “This is just a fact. And they’re not going to get services or support under any of the other candidates.”

Why tailor a campaign message to Orthodox families when many will choose to send their children to religious schools anyway?

“Our platform is to provide services to all communities of the city of Los Angeles,” he said. “And it’s up to them whether they want to utilize those services or not.”

Martayan said he supports school choice, another popular view among Orthodox Jews. “Parent choice is not a right that any government official has the ability to strip away,” he said.

But he’d like to see it get easier for Jewish families to enroll their kids in L.A. Unified. He asserts Jewish enrollment would go up if not for certain barriers, such as a lack of kosher food and a discriminatory atmosphere that he promises to reverse.

Martayan contends that bias against Jews — kids who wear yarmulkes, for instance — is rampant on L.A. Unified campuses. He says these incidents go unreported because of a lack of official channels for dealing with it.

“We have whistleblowers who have given us information,” he said. “However, in terms of documented, archived reports, there is no system in which those are being documented and archived.”

Martayan didn’t provide examples of anti-Semitic incidents in the school district. He said information is hard to come by under “an administration that likes to keep the truth out of the light,” and vowed to seek it out as a board member.

But he said his own campaign has become the target of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks in person and on social media. Recently, someone on the web accused him of being a “traitor and a hypocrite” because of his support for Israel, he said.

Martayan’s affiliation with the Jewish community goes back generations, to his grandfather’s time in New York City, newly arrived from Armenia, sleeping on the floors of butcher shops in immigrant neighborhoods where he worked.

Martayan’s father ran a printing press in downtown L.A., where many of his clients and associates were Jews. And Martayan himself grew up among Orthodox Jews in Hancock Park.

“I grew up eating latkes and applesauce,” he said. “I grew up spinning dreidels.”

Friedman said he met Martayan about five years ago at Congregation Bais Naftali on La Brea Avenue, where Martayan invited him and his wife to a banquet dinner. Friedman responded he would be able to eat only if the food were kosher. Martayan persisted.

“He made the entire dinner kosher rather than just serving me from paper plates, as many times they do,” Friedman said.

Originally, he said, Martayan had planned to campaign on installing kosher kitchens at LAUSD schools, but Friedman persuaded him to scale that plan back. Now, Martayan’s campaign promise is to make pre-packaged kosher food available to students wherever there is enough demand.

“There are more Jewish students in public schools than in parochial schools, and so at least making kosher food available for them would be great,” Friedman said.

His opponents have staked their run on education backgrounds: Melvoin is a former teacher and education activist, Zimmer spent 17 years as a high school teacher and counselor before his 2009 election to the school board, and Holdorff Polhill served as board president for Palisades Charter High School. By contrast, Martayan has had a diverse career outside the classroom.

He started a public relations and local issues firm shortly after graduating from Pepperdine University and later served as an ambassador for the National Crime Prevention Council and a member of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families. But to fuel his hoped-for victory, he cited his support in communities he says are traditionally underrepresented at the school board level — Orthodox, Asian American and Black.

Martayan may be betting on long odds in a sprawling district of mostly white neighborhoods, from Marina del Rey and Venice to Woodland Hills and back east to North Hollywood. Missing from that swath are large concentrations of Orthodox voters — in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Pico-Robertson and most of Hancock Park are parts of another L.A. Unified district.

Well aware of these demographics, Martayan nonetheless insisted, “We’re going to win.”

“We have a strong coalition, because we’re the only ones who represent the community,” he said. “No amount of outside money is going to be able to buy the race.”

For their part, Martayan’s opponents challenge the notion that he is the only candidate who cares about Jewish constituents.

“As a member of the board, I would support all communities, including, of course, our Jewish community,” Melvoin wrote in an email, citing his many ties to local Jewish organizations, including a Hebrew school education and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ New Leaders Project.

In a phone interview, Holdorff Polhill said she would be open to instituting Hebrew language education and kosher food at LAUSD schools. She said she wasn’t aware of rampant anti-Semitism on L.A. Unified campuses, but that the schools already take a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech. Additionally, she suggested convening a stakeholder group to better address the needs of Orthodox Jews.

Zimmer, the incumbent, wrote in an email that he works “regularly with the Orthodox community on issues that touch our school system.”

“I have stood against all forms of anti-Semitism and hate every day of my career as a teacher and have been proud to stand even stronger as a district leader,” he wrote. “To suggest anything less is inconsistent with my record and wholly ignorant of fact.”

Yet only Martayan repeatedly presses his pro-Jewish platform at campaign events. In Israel, he ignored warnings from his campaign staff and walked through a minefield near a school at the Syrian border. He did it, he said, “to show the world about how dangerous this region of the world is and what kind of fear these children live in.”

“I will always be pro-Israel,” he said. “I will always stand and fight for the Jewish community, and I will always protect the rights of the Orthodox community in the city of Los Angeles, come hell or high water.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti visits the Journal office for a wide-ranging interview. Photos by Lynn Pelkey

Mayor Garcetti on the future of Los Angeles, his faith and Trump


No one can escape the challenges of Los Angeles — not even the mayor.

As voters prepare to take a stand on ballot initiatives that aim to impact homelessness, development and, yes, L.A.’s infamous traffic, no one can say Mayor Eric Garcetti can’t relate. Just last week, he found himself ensnarled in gridlock, 20 minutes late for an interview at the Journal’s Koreatown office.

In the midst of a re-election campaign, Garcetti — the city’s first elected Jewish mayor — said he’s looking at the long-term. So while he’s confident that Los Angeles is moving in the right direction, he promised no quick fixes.

“I never approached my first term as, you know, I have four years to change this city,” he said in a freewheeling interview that covered topics as varied as city services to the city’s response to President Donald Trump’s executive orders to his own spiritual journey. “I think from the beginning, I’ve approached this job as an Angeleno, a lifelong Angeleno. And I kind of looked at the next decade to 50 years as the time horizon I wanted to influence. So I think my second term is very much similar to the first term, about being able to reach for great opportunities and address pressing challenges.”

Garcetti, who faces seven challengers in this election, talked about his role in raising the minimum wage, and putting the heft of City Hall behind last November’s successful ballot initiatives to fund transportation and homeless efforts to the tune of billions of dollars. Now he is campaigning for Los Angeles County Measure H on the March 7 ballot, which would raise the sales tax by 0.25 percent to provide drug and mental illness rehabilitation and prevention programs for the homeless. He’s also come out against Measure S, the initiative that aims to reform land use, saying it would negatively impact affordable housing in the city.

The mayor — son of a Jewish mother and a father of Mexican and Italian heritage, former District Attorney Gil Garcetti — had plenty to say about his increased spirituality, as well, and how it’s informed his response to recent events on a national level. (Garcetti has pledged to fight Trump’s effort to deport undocumented immigrants, who number about 11 million nationwide, with 850,000 of them in Los Angeles County.)

In a roundtable discussion, arranged by Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky, Garcetti discussed all this and more. An edited version of that conversation follows; for the full transcript, go to this story at jewishjournal.com.

JEWISH JOURNAL: Six years from now, what’s traffic going to be like in L.A. if you’re the mayor?

ERIC GARCETTI: We’ll be on the way to relieving traffic, no doubt. I don’t think it will be much better in six years. … It’s impossible to undo, you know, 40 to 50 years of urban planning in that short period of time. But I think the 10- to 20-year horizon is actually incredibly hopeful. We will build, you know, Measure M, $120 billion, about half of that to new capital [projects]. To boil that down, that’s 15 new lines or extensions of existing lines — the biggest, I think, physical change to this county since water came here. I don’t think it’s overstating.

JJ: What is homelessness going to be like at the end of the next term?

EG: I think we’ll be more than halfway home. … The biggest thing, I think, to end street homelessness is we need an army of social workers out there. I go out with these outreach teams all the time. I don’t know if a mayor’s done that before, but I go out as regularly as I can. I know people by their first names on the street now. I know their stories. And we had 15 people, trying to talk to 28,000 homeless Angelenos in the city of L.A. when I started. Just do the math. I’ve gotten that up to 80 through some city funds that I kind of have scraped along, but the reason I’m so passionate about Measure H is we probably need 500 or 600 — then we could really make an impact.

JJ: Talk about the deportations advocated by Trump. What are you prepared to do, and are you prepared to pay the price that you and the city might have to pay?

EG: Chief Justice [John] Roberts said [in a previous case that] the federal government cannot force you to do one thing in order to get money for another thing. … It’s very clear you can’t take port money because my cops won’t be turned into immigration officers. I’m not kidding myself that they won’t potentially try to take some dollars from us: Bring that fight on. I mean, what are you going to do? Take away radiological and biological weapons detectors at the port? You’re going to take away the vouchers that go to homeless vets that are now being housed and take away their rents?

I think this is a moment when [you should] stand up for your values, and we’re prepared to do that politically, legally and economically.

JJ: What obligations do you feel to Los Angeles’ very large Jewish community?

EG: I feel a deep one. I feel my values have been informed by both sides of my family. When I look at something like my responsibilities to the Jewish community, [they] are both direct in what I can do to serve them, but also in what we can do to activate each other. [Like] when a moment comes like people turned away from our airport because of their religion or the country of their origin. I re-read the [S.S.] St. Louis history, which, the one aspect I didn’t realize was, St. Louis wasn’t just turned away [in 1939] because it was refugees and Jews. They actually said they were worried there was a national security threat of Nazi spies on there, which is like so much a mirror of what the justification is right now for Syria and Somalia and other places.

JJ: Have you talked to law enforcement about the threats against Jewish facilities?

EG: Yes, I’ve talked to LAPD about it. Absolutely.

JJ: Is it a major concern of yours?

EG: It’s a concern. I’ve watched too many of us say the sky is falling before it actually falls, with this new administration and the change. I think we have to be really precise so that we don’t let anything go under-commented on but we don’t stoke the fears, as well. We’ve seen a doubling of hate incidents since the elections.

JJ: In Los Angeles? In the country?

EG: In Los Angeles. And that’s not just anti-Semitic.

JJ: According to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)?

EG: Yeah. LAPD statistics. So that’s what’s been reported. I get [reports] once a month, and I’ve asked them to add hate incidents since the election so I can track it more carefully.

JJ: Last question: What have you learned from your text studies with Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR that’s made you become a better mayor of Los Angeles?

EG: Well, you know, it’s funny, like most good talmudic studies, you just sit around and gossip a lot. … I’ve learned a lot. It’s funny, I love being, for instance, in a Black church in South L.A. and bringing up the lessons she taught me about, you know, for instance that it was a sin in the olden days to pray in a room that was windowless, because you had to reflect the divinity. … God isn’t about going inward; it’s about reflecting outward that divinity. And so I use that as a metaphor for what our responsibilities are — for us to not just close into our communities and close into our issues but actually reflect that divinity off of us. …

It’s not just with Sharon but with other folks as I’ve kind of come to more faith and spent a lot more time going to services. I actually love the High Holidays. I get to hear some really brilliant thinking that, you know, rabbis have tried to encapsulate an entire year. And there’s, I would say, a real split right now between those who see this moment as a moment to stand up and be urgent and to possibly offend some folks that are in their congregations, and others who are playing it safer and saying look, we have diverse views, I can’t get involved in that, but let me just talk about internal things. And, you know, I personally err toward the former. Whether you’re a religious or a political leader, we’re called on in these moments to stand up.