ADL reports ‘dramatic surge’ in anti-Jewish violence


When a Turkish owner of a cafe near the Belgian city of Liege puts up a poster that welcomes dogs but not Jews, that’s a sign of the times.

And when an on-duty doctor refuses to treat a 90-year-old Jewish woman from Antwerp and refers her to Gaza instead, that, too, is the kind of news that encapsulates a larger reality.

Such incidents, well publicized in the international media, suggest how Muslim immigration has lifted Europe’s post-Holocaust taboos and in turn loosened inhibitions for many educated Europeans. But behind those headline grabbers are countless smaller incidents that, though they seldom makes the news, are very much part of the daily grind of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere.

Some of these less noted incidents appeared in a report published Wednesday by the Anti-Defamation League. Titled “Violence and Vitriol,” the report offers a snapshot of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and elsewhere in the wake of Israel’s recent operation in Gaza. The report covers incidents in over 15 countries, including Australia, Canada and several Latin American nations.

“There was a dramatic surge in violence against Jews and Jewish institutions around the world during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said.

The list — ranging from firebombs hurled at a synagogue in the German city of Wuppertal to the beating of a Moroccan rabbi in Casablanca as retribution for Israel Air Force strikes – aims to “illustrate but do not fully document the hatred of Jews displayed thousands of miles away from Israel and Gaza,” the ADL wrote.

In the United Kingdom that hatred manifested itself in the placing of pro-Palestinian messages on two synagogues, including one that read “child murderers” in Kingston on July 30. Earlier that month in Manchester, anti-Israel protesters returning from a rally drove through Broughton Park while shouting and swearing at Jewish pedestrians with slogans that included “Heil Hitler.”

A pattern “continued and metastasized” during the operation, the ADL wrote. “Hamas fired missiles from Gaza; Israel’s military responded; Jews around the world were attacked, this time in even greater numbers.”

The pattern also included what scholars of anti-Semitism call Holocaust inversion: The portrayal of Israel as equivalent to Nazi Germany. This tendency was prominent in Latin American countries.

In Venezuela, lawmaker Adel El Zabayar claimed on state television on July 14 that relations between international Zionism and Nazism were established long before the creation of the State of Israel, and that a high-ranking official of Hitler’s government had visited Israel to support the creation of the future Jewish state.

And in Chile — where the Jewish community of Santiago received numerous death threats and where an Orthodox Jew was chased on the street and called a murderer —  one protester was seen carrying a sign accusing Israel of being worse than the Nazis, the ADL reported.

Jewish couple among the dead in Marrakesh cafe explosion


A Jewish couple were among more than a dozen people killed in an explosion Thursday in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Massoud Weizman, 32, and his wife Michal, 30, lived in Shanghai, China, but were visiting Massoud’s parents in Casablanca for Passover. They apparently dropped by the cafe overlooking Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fnaa square just before the bomb exploded. The spot is popular with tourists; 10 of those killed were foreigners. Authorities are treating the incident as a terrorist attack.

Michal, who is an Israeli citizen, was pregnant.

Morrocco’s King Mohammed VI has ordered an investigation into the bombing. The country’s last major terrorist attack was in 2003. The king reportedly has arranged for a charter flight to fly family members from Morocco to Israel, where the young couple will be laid to rest on Monday.

The Weizmans were actively involved in Shanghai’s ex-pat Jewish community, Rabbi Sholom Greenberg, head of Chabad of Shanghai, told lubavitch.com. Michal was on the parents’ committee at the Jewish preschool attended by the couple’s three-year-old son David Yosef, and Massoud was a regular at the center’s Torah study classes.

“We lost very precious people. The entire community is in shock. Messod and Michal were very special and beautiful people with the kindest of hearts and purest of souls. They were a sincere young couple with an open home,” Greenberg told reporters.

David Yosef was with his grandparents when his parents were killed.

Witnesses told Reuters they saw a man carrying a bag entering the cafe right before the explosion. Other witnesses told reporters the man was a suicide bomber. The explosion ripped through the first and second floors of the building, and body parts were found scattered throughout the wreckage.

Time for the last dance at folk dancing venue


This week marks the closing of Café Danssa, a mecca for folk dancers in Los Angeles for 41 years. For much of that time, Danssa was a slice of Israel, or on some nights a slice of Greece, the Balkans or Brazil. In its early years, it was a pilgrimage point for dance aficionados and amateurs alike; in later years, it was a pickup joint for singles or a destination for anyone who just wanted to pick up their feet and move for joy.

Danssa’s founder, Dani Dassa, envisioned the business as an international meeting place, where people could enjoy each other’s culture without thinking about their differences.

“Through dance, people of differing cultures and politics were united with their hands and feet,” Dassa, 78, said in an interview this week.

The renowned Israeli folk dance teacher and choreographer moved to Los Angeles with an entrepreneurial spirit to get others involved in the medium he cherished.

But the Dassas are but half the story. My family, the Blumes, have run Café Danssa for the last 31 years — a decent span by any reckoning. And our family place of business has been Los Angeles’ most prominent and, by far, the longest lasting folk dance cafe.

For most of this time, Danssa’s formula for success was the product of the dynamic relationship between the club’s founder and its later owner, my father, Dave Blume. Dassa used his charm, dance talent and dark, lean and handsome looks to make folk enthusiasts clamor for a dancing place they could call their own.

Dad was his complement, with his Buddha-like placidity and hostility to any form of physical exertion. Dassa instantly recognized the virtues of Dad’s solid business sense and ever-present sense of humor. The two remained close until Dad’s death last March.

Café Danssa opened for business in December 1965 on a nondescript block of West Los Angeles on Pico Boulevard. The name of the business was a morphing of the first three letters of Dani Dassa’s first name and the last three letters of his last name.

Dassa, a native Israeli who’d fought in the War for Independence and the 1956 Sinai campaign, and who was at heart a dancer, aspired to bring the art of dance to the masses, especially to Jews in America.

A front page story in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times proclaimed Café Danssa’s arrival, and soon after, the entire second-floor space was packed to the brim with elaborately clad traditionalist folk dancers and a bunch of out-of-place Beverly Hills socialites in fur coats.

The ethnic music blared and bounced off the cinder-block walls, one of which was painted with three shadow-like images of Dassa line dancing and the other depicting the biblical scene of Rachel at the well. The décor never got complicated; Dassa hung strawberry pots upside-down as light fixtures. They’re still there.

Dassa offered Israeli, international and Greek nights, occasionally working with other teachers/partners. Because the kitchen was unable to keep up with the demand for the homemade falafel and hummus, he bought property less than two blocks from Café Danssa in hopes of opening a space that could house both an Israeli nightclub for live music acts and a restaurant.

But his new partner backed out of the deal, leaving the Dassas with the burden of keeping two businesses going. It was too much, so Dassa sold Café Danssa to a customer named Lori Anderson to pay off the debt accrued from the construction of the new building. Then his new business, Jericho, was gravely undermined by the 1973 war in Israel, which dried up much of the cross-cultural commerce.

The new Café Danssa owners did not last, and soon the business was up for sale again. On Dec. 31, 1975, my parents, Dave Blume and Carolyn Hester, became the new owners. They had plans to turn it into a nightclub to feature their own musical endeavors.

Dad was a jazz pianist and Grammy-nominated composer, best known for writing the hit pop tune, “Turn Down Day.” My mother was a central figure among the folk music scenesters who emerged from Greenwich Village in New York in the late ’50s and early ’60s. She’s also known for helping launch Bob Dylan’s career by hiring him to play harmonica on one of her albums.

The Blumes were not folk dancers. But then, as my mother said, they also never had it in them to make people feel bad: “David kept saying, we’ll make the change in six weeks, but then that became six months, then a year.”

The customers warmed to the new ownership, and business began to pick up. Dad quickly concluded that Dassa should be invited back to Danssa. The Israeli dance equivalent of a rock star, Dassa to this day still has the magnetism to make women swoon.

Dad on the other hand, was a master of puns and a formidable manager of egos, and he took a laid-back approach to handling the desires of the customers, as well as the competitive squabbles among dance instructors. Dad would tell us not to take it personally when people would try to get in without paying admission, because as customers, “it was their duty to try to sneak in as much as it was our duty not to let them.”

My brother, Howard Blume, recalls that, “on some nights, people would literally be lined up outside the back office waiting for an audience with Dad either to seek his advice, tell him their troubles or just commune.”

Dad, a nondrinker otherwise, kept a bottle of cognac in his desk, which was consumed only as part of a friendship ritual between him and Dassa. The cognac bottle is still there today, only now Dassa has inscribed his own name as well as, Dad’s, Mom’s, mine and my sister Amy’s on the bottle in Hebrew.

For years, Dassa and two of his children, David and Dorite, each taught Israeli dance at Café Danssa. Although Israeli dancing remained the breadwinner for the nightclub, Balkan and Greek nights continued through the early ’80s. Café Danssa continued its reputation as “the first stop for Israeli immigrants when they land at LAX,” and the crowd was a mix of tan, Israeli men in tight pants trying to woo beautiful California girls.

A Different Standard


Ask Mimi Feigelson a simple question, you don’t get a simple answer.

“So how do you like L.A.?” I ask, as we sit down for coffee and pastries at a Pico-Robertson cafe, thinking this is just the warm-up for the real questions.

But for Feigelson, a visiting lecturer in rabbinics at the University of Judaism (UJ), small talk is for wimps. Every question is real and deserves a thoughtful answer.

She repeats the question to herself several times, smiles as she considers it carefully, and then tells of how kind and gracious everyone has been since she arrived here in July, how things have fallen into place quite easily. Still, she says, “like” is too facile a word, because Los Angeles is not, and never will be, home.

“I am grateful for my welcome, but Yerushalayim is home,” Feigelson concludes.

At 38, Feigelson has honed her ability to integrate disparate realities into one coherent and compelling existence. She is an American-born Orthodox Israeli woman teaching at an American seminary for Conservative rabbis. She is halachically observant, and has smicha, rabbinic ordination. She is aware of the political implications of her smicha, but insists it is a private odyssey. She has been vilified by many in the Orthodox establishment, but she maintains a commitment to honor and respect that same Orthodox establishment.

With a dark thick ponytail streaming over her right shoulder and her trademark thin braid hanging to the left, nearly touching the bottom of her black vest, Feigelson has a conservatively bohemian look, one that fits her dual mission of staying within the establishment while defying its conventions.

As she often does, Feigelson uses an analogy and a Chasidic story to explain herself. In traditional mystical sources, it is said the world will exist for 6,000 years. We are in year 5762, and therefore far along in the world’s life. “It used to be that people would come into the world and have shoresh neshama, the root of a soul, from one source. But today, each of us comes into the world and we have so many splinters of souls,” she says, likening it to the last tiny shards left when the big pieces of a broken vessel have already been swept up.

“That’s why we’re torn in so many different directions simultaneously, and some of us choose to listen to one voice and ignore the others, and then there are those of us who try to juggle as many voices as possible simultaneously, who are able to contain them,” she says.

Even for Feigelson, some aspects of her life’s path have been a challenge to contain — notably, being an Orthodox woman with smicha.

“I’ve been marginalized and ostracized to a certain degree, but in God’s eyes I am who I am,” Feigelson says.

Back home in Jerusalem, where she has lived since she was 8, Feigelson, who is single, is the director of the women’s beit midrash at Yakar, a community of Torah study, prayer and social activism that is on the leftmost vanguard of Orthodoxy.

Feigelson’s smicha is from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the late Chasidic master of song, story and Torah. When she started studying with him at the age of 16, he gave her entry into a Judaism from which she felt alienated for much of her Modern Orthodox upbringing, despite her passion for study and her devotion to halacha.

“What he gave me was the key to the back door,” she says of Carlebach. “When you are a guest you use the front door, but when you’re family you know where the key is hiding, and you can walk through the back even if the front door is locked,” she says.

But rather than just drink in his words while he visited Israel or she visited New York, she also studied on her own and got her master’s degree in Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University.

Finally, after 15 years of studying with Reb Carlebach, she told him she wanted smicha from him.

“He said, ‘Mimi, you already have my smicha,'” she says.

Still, he set up an intensive program for her — including oral and written exams — studying all the halachic and talmudic texts normally studied for ordination, plus some extras, such as sections on honoring one’s parents and business ethics.

Feigelson kept her smicha under wraps for seven years, until she was outed last year in an article in the New York Jewish Week.

Feigelson says she feared the kind of reaction that in fact came out once word spread — the condemnation and dismissal, the accusation of being blasphemous toward Torah.

“There is a moment where you think of the absurdity of it. Did I do something wrong?” she asks incredulously. “That I sat and learned? That I was tested on it? That I was credited for what I had learned, acknowledged for what I accomplished? What sin did I do?”

Despite her strong words, Feigelson seems possessed by a calm, even peaceful resolve, fueled by a deep awareness that she is in this for the right reasons.

“I’m not out to prove anything. I’m out to live my life in honesty and integrity in God’s eyes,” she says.

She maintains that her smicha was the next natural step on her personal journey and not a political statement — she does not use the title rabbi, out of respect for the Orthodox world.

Still, she is aware that her smicha puts her at the forefront of a movement in which women are taking on leadership roles in the Orthodox community.

In Israel, women now argue divorce cases before rabbinic courts, and others answer halachic questions regarding menstruation and reproduction. In New York, several women trained to be congregational interns, where they took on pastoral and chaplaincy roles, as well as teaching.

“I am not going to give up the halachic community, I’m not going to give up my halachic pursuits and whatever it takes to make that happen,” she says. “If that means that there are things that have to wait, I’ll wait, but I’m not going to walk away. I can’t believe the Orthodox world can’t contain me.”

For now, though, Feigelson is spending two years teaching rabbinics to future Conservative rabbis — first year and fifth year students — at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at UJ.

Through the tractates of Mishna and Gemara, she is exploring theological questions and challenging her students to think about their own missions.

“I feel like I’ve been given this gift to be able to learn together and ask these questions that are going to formulate how these future rabbis are going to work with people,” she says.

Deciding to leave Israel for two years involved months of tearful internal struggle. For the UJ too, the match did not seem perfect. Feigelson has neither a doctorate nor Conservative ordination, which makes her an odd candidate academically and as a role model. Her expertise is in Chasidic philosophy; they needed a teacher in rabbinics.

“Both UJ and I had to deal with the reality of who I am and where I am coming from and what I have to offer, and who they are and what are their needs,” Feigelson says.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of Ziegler school, is thrilled with the creativity and the passion for Torah that Feigelson has brought to the school.

“We are trying to be an unprecedented rabbinical school, and not to worry about the mold but to provide excellence in both traditional and academic forms,” he says, “and sometimes that means bringing in people who may not have the usual academic degrees, but do have a vast knowledge base and can serve as inspirational role models.” Feigelson has already established a rapport with students and colleagues, leading a kumsitz, or singalong, the first week of school and having people over to her house for informal study. She demands a lot from her students academically and challenges them to think about why they have chosen the rabbinate, and where God fits into the picture.

She expects her students to challenge her, as well.

“My teachers receive my respect and honor, but never the benefit of the doubt,” she says. “I expect the same from my students.”

She also admonishes them not to get to carried away by “spirituality.”

“There is fine a line between spirituality and stupidity,” she tells her students. “On the one hand, does everything have meaning? Yes. On the other hand, does everything have meaning? No. Can you contain that? That is the question,” she says.

Feigelson has high aspirations for her students, much as she does for herself — a love of God and Torah, a sense of obligation, a sense of comfort with the ongoing struggle to embrace Judaism.

“I want them to feel that the tradition is alive, that it is a vibrant organism, that the letters are three-dimensional — not dead letters on the page,” she says. “You have to have something to hold onto, something to grapple with, something that challenges you and touches every part of who you are and has a conversation with you in those places,” she says. “That is what I want them to see.”

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