An appreciation to summers spent in paradise


In the classic male-bonding film “Stand By Me,” based on a Stephen King novella, there is a line of dialogue at the end that I have never forgotten: “I never had friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12 … does anyone?”

In my case, however, five of the friendships that remain mainstays in my life and that I continue to cherish “later on” are precisely the ones I had nearly 40 years ago, going back to the time when I was 12.

My relationships with these fellows — along with many of the values that define our respective Jewish identities — were forged during idyllic summers spent as campers, and later counselors, at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps in Malibu — Hess Kramer and Hilltop. The camps turn 60 this year and, over that time 45,000 others have enjoyed the same experiences as my friends and I, including most of our group’s own children, who have followed us, l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation), as campers and counselors. I am not so naïve as to think that mine is the only nucleus of life-long friendship to emanate from Hess Kramer and Hilltop. I am personally aware of countless others from our camps, in addition to extended webs of connections and acquaintances, which continue to endure. And likely, these bonds are no different than those forged at other Jewish summer camps.

However, I can only speak to my own childhood and adolescent slice of paradise, and how Hess Kramer and Hilltop became, in countless ways, a tie that binds. Yet, little did any of us realize at the time we were deep in these “Malibu moments” — engaged in hiking, sports, song sessions or arts and crafts — that many of the ethics and beliefs that would subsequently become our compasses subtly were being shaped. For that, the 45,000 alumni — and arguably Jewish campers elsewhere — owe a debt of gratitude to the late Rabbi Alfred Wolf, the longtime spiritual leader of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

As a young associate rabbi new to Los Angeles in the late 1940s, Wolf envisioned summer camping for Jewish youth based on his own joyful outdoor experiences in pre-Hitler Germany. By 1952, through an indomitable will and spirit, Wolf, more than any other individual, brought this dream to fruition, pioneering a Jewish camping paradigm that influenced what followed on the West Coast, if not the nation as a whole. Two generations later, numerous sociological studies on the beneficial impact of Jewish camping on later religious identification have provided empirical validation for what Wolf seemed to know from instinct and personal passion.

With respect to my five friends and me, I used to think we were connected by nostalgia for place, shared experiences and inside jokes from the years together at camp. And granted, our repressed adolescent humor manages to brim to the surface in each other’s company in ways that make those on the periphery question our political correctness, if not our sanity. However, as the six of us reached adulthood, married wonderful women and began to raise families of our own, it occurred to me that these connections were part of something deeper and far more meaningful. It was not campfire jokes but common tenets and principles. First and foremost, our own parents and upbringings shaped these belief systems and values. But I also appreciate — as do my dear friends — how our Jewish camping experiences factored into that upbringing, as well.

I recall an article a few years ago, recapping a study of professional men that found the ages from mid-30s to mid-50s are the most solitary, as we devote ourselves to building careers and raising families often to the exclusion of our personal support networks and a sacrifice of socialization needs. While probably more pronounced in some than others, I don’t question the accuracy of the inquiry and have heard firsthand from others around my age about the toll extracted.

Thankfully, I have mostly sidestepped these effects owing to a loving immediate and extended family and a career that continues to bring me immense satisfaction. But I also don’t discount the beneficial impact and solace I get from this core circle of five men. I classify them as “3 a.m. friends” — the kind you can call at any hour of the day or night and know they will be there in an instant. We tease each other mercilessly and with abject cruelty that no outsider could possibly comprehend. Once, in fact, after a particularly brutal exchange of e-mail quips, I offered up an apology for my offenses to my worthy adversary. “Are you kidding?” he responded. “Sometimes this abuse is the only thing that gets me through the day.”

And, for the friends that I had when I was 12 — who remain friends to this day — along with countless life lessons, Rabbi Wolf and Camp Hess Kramer will always have my profound gratitude.

Gerald Freisleben is the president of FoleyFreisleben LLC, a Los Angeles-based strategic communications consultancy.

Shorter summer challenges camps


“Early-start” is finally starting.

After delaying implementation of a new, earlier school calendar last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will begin classes three weeks sooner this fall for the majority of students.

Caught in the middle are local summer camps, which are once again working to accommodate the change without compromising the quality of the camp experience. Jewish camps in the Los Angeles area are offering families stopgap deals to make overnight camp feasible for LAUSD students who will have a shorter summer vacation.

At many camps, the problem is twofold: Not only are students squeezed by the early start of school at summer’s end, but as the last academic year on the old calendar wraps up this June, those same kids might have to miss the beginning of camp, too.

“This summer, it hits us on both ends,” said Josh Levine, director of Camp Alonim at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley.

The L.A. Board of Education voted in September to move forward with the early-start plan, which members approved in 2010 but then scrapped in early 2011 due to concerns over start-up costs. The district will call school back to session on Aug. 14 and end instruction in early June in 2013, a schedule proponents say is more beneficial to students academically and places high schools in line with college calendars.

LAUSD schools on traditional calendars (not year-round) are scheduled to finish instruction on June 22. But Camp Alonim and Camp JCA Shalom both start their first overnight sessions on June 19, while Alonim’s CITs (counselors in training) are asked to arrive June 18. Camp Ramah and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps’ first sessions start on June 20.

Alonim lets campers whose school schedules conflict start camp a few days late — even CITs, who are required to be present all eight weeks. Around 10 percent of Alonim’s CITs typically arrive late because of school, Levine said.

“We’re actually looking forward to the beginning of our summer not conflicting with LAUSD” in 2013, when the new school calendar liberates kids for summer break on June 4, he added.

As for the end of summer 2012, Alonim’s third and final session ends Aug. 12, two days before L.A. public schools begin. “We haven’t heard any significant issues from our families this year and we haven’t seen an adjustment in enrollment,” Levine said. 

The transition won’t be as easy for Camp JCA Shalom. The Malibu camp plans to run a one-week mini-session Aug. 14-19, which now coincides with the first week of school.

“For those kids in LAUSD, that’s not going to be an option anymore,” JCA Shalom director Joel Charnick said. “We’re looking at the registration very closely to see if that week will even happen” if there aren’t enough sign-ups.

The last of the camp’s three full sessions, traditionally the most popular, clears the start of school by two days. But many families are still concerned that the window to prepare for class is too short. “We’ve heard from a number of parents who are saying it’s very hard and some who have requested they pull their kids out early,” Charnick said.

Still, the camp is discouraging parents from making children miss out on the fanfare and bonding that traditionally marks the last day of camp, he said: “That’s like playing four quarters of football and leaving in the last minute of the game.”

The fact that a “good chunk” of JCA Shalom campers attend LAUSD schools will necessitate talks about shifting the camp calendar for future summers, Charnick said. “If need be, our camp, and probably many others, will have to make the very tough decision of moving sessions around to accommodate that [early-start] schedule. We’re willing to do what it takes to keep our kids coming to camp. Having to miss part of camp every year because of a school change — we’re going to make sure it doesn’t come to that.”

School board members have pushed for the early-start calendar because it will give schools time to complete the first semester of classes before winter break, meaning students won’t have to spend their vacations studying for finals. Superintendent John Deasy had urged delaying implementation of the calendar last fall due to a one-time extra cost of $2 million to $4 million. But board members, including Tamar Galatzan and board president Monica Garcia, said the time to enact the change was now — 18 LAUSD schools already on the new schedule, many in the San Fernando Valley, already have shown academic improvement, they said. 

At Camp Ramah in Ojai, the second of the camp’s two four-week sessions ends Aug. 15, the day after LAUSD’s school year starts.

“Any change of timing in any school district will put pressure on families to enroll in a specific session of Ramah,” said Rabbi Joe Menashe, the camp’s director. “But we have not felt a drastic switch this year because it’s only a short overlap at the end of the summer.”

The camp will let families pick up their kids on or after Aug. 12, after campers spend their last Shabbat together. But Menashe is suggesting that parents bring their children back for the end-of-camp banquet the night of Aug. 15. “That way they can still be part of this nice end-of-summer experience,” he said.

Charnick, who was a JCA Shalom camper himself in the 1980s and ’90s, still recalls “every minute” of his last weekend of camp as a CIT — the final Havdalah as a group, hugs between friends, tearful goodbyes.

“Those last few days are just critical to kids’ experience,” he said.

Foundations Mentor Support Camps


Many California overnight camps have philanthropies to thank for their success as enrollment and interest in Jewish camp increases. Programs such as One Happy Camper and the Grinspoon Institute are helping send first-time campers to camp and offering free consulting to the camps, respectively.

“This is a winning product that is creating a more vibrant Jewish future,” Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), said. “When you have a winner, you invest in it. Not only are we doing it, but we are encouraging others in North America to invest in Jewish camp because it works. It creates Jewish leaders, it creates more engaged Jewish adults.”

The foundations are doing more than throwing money at the cause. In an effort to make camps more self-sufficient, they are also helping improve the fundraising abilities of camps by providing financial incentives intended to encourage professional development among board members and camp staff.

FJC has established a number of programs to help Jewish camps across the country, such as leadership training and helping counselors become more effective Jewish mentors.

Perhaps the biggest initiative FJC created is One Happy Camper — an incentive program that provides up to $1,500 in a grant to first-year campers to help them attend Jewish overnight camps. The JWest Program, a subgroup of One Happy Camper, operating in 13 Western states (including California), expects to send about 1,600 children and teens to camp this summer. An additional 8,000 to 8,500 campers will receive the One Happy Camper grant across the nation.

FJC, which is based in New York City, partners with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to provide service to California camps. Julie Platt, who serves as both the chair of Ensuring the Jewish Future as well as the chair of the Jewish Camping Initiative at L.A. Federation, said the Federation has committed more than $250,000 to the One Happy Camper initiative for Los Angeles-area campers. That number was then matched by FJC to bring the total to about $500,000, which will help send about 500 L.A.-area campers to camp this summer.

Alan Friedman, the executive director of Camp Mountain Chai, said the One Happy Camper program “had a huge impact on our camp and all of the Jewish camps. By [providing] incentives, Jewish families try Jewish camp instead of something else during the summer.”

Friedman cited others reasons his camp has increased enrollment but said One Happy Camper was a big factor. In 2005, Camp Mountain Chai, in the San Bernaradino Mountains, had about 125 campers. This summer, it expects an enrollment of nearly 525. The Grinspoon Institute helped accommodate that growth as well.

While One Happy Camper sends thousands of kids to camp, The Grinspoon Institute in Massachusetts is helping Jewish overnight camps around the country by providing camp management consulting. The Grinspoon Institute, a group within the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sends consulting mentors to camps directly to improve the camp’s board of directors, its strategic planning and fundraising.

“What they do is they just don’t give you money,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director with the Shalom Institute. “They make you figure out how to create systems, which is great, so you can do it on your own in the future.”

Kaplan, who has worked with the Grinspoon Institute for several years, said fundraising for the Shalom Institute and Camp JCA Shalom, both in Malibu, has tripled since working with the Grinspoon Institute. Kaplan said Grinspoon also helped make their board more effective and helped with strategic planning for the future of the Shalom Institute.

“They are providing the service for free, which is pretty amazing,” Kaplan said. “I mean, it’s worth thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Grinspoon works with about 80 camps around the country. Mark Gold, the director of the Grinspoon Institute, cited an old expression about helping camps in the long run.

“Don’t give them a fish,” Gold said. “Teach them to fish.”

Gold said the Grinspoon Institute would increase or decrease involvement with helping camps depending on the need of the camp. The Grinspoon Institute also publishes a lot of its advice online through webinars for organizations that aren’t necessarily primary clients.

“If we’ve got secondary clients that we don’t even know about, that’s good, too,” Gold said.

The Grinspoon Institute is in its eighth year and is the brainchild of the successful entrepreneur Harold Grinspoon.

“I owe all of this wealth that I have accumulated to my Jewish genes,” Grinspoon said. “I think I have a responsibility to give back that well to the Jewish people because they are in need of it.”

Although he never attended camp as a child, Grinspoon said that he frequently visits camps around the country during the summer.

“I just love being near all the positive energy,” he said.

The work of these philanthropies has already made an impression on the camps. Kaplan said enrollment at Camp JCA Shalom during the last three years is the highest it has ever been. Kaplan, who first came into contact with Camp JCA Shalom in 1976 as a camper, has seen the evolution of the business firsthand.

“I don’t think camps 20 years ago had development directors,” Kaplan said, as an example. “Now we have development directors.”

The complexity of each camp also has never been higher.

“Camps are running more like a business,” Kaplan said. “There’s more professionalism and more expectations than ever before.”

More Than Just Fun in the Sun


Hiking at Camp Alonim

Now that it’s June, most parents have made their children’s summer plans. If your kids are enrolled in a Jewish summer camp, you probably have reasons for selecting a particular facility. But how much do you really know about what your children will experience during their session? What types of Jewish activities happen each week? What is the level of observance? What do kids really take away from their time at camp?

To find out, we checked in with participants and leaders at some local Jewish sleep-away camps:

Camp Alonim, Simi Valley

Camp Alonim is located on the 2,800-acre Brandeis-Bardin Institute campus — a combination of wilderness, farmland, multipurpose facilities and housing used year-round. The camp itself was established in 1953 and has been a program of the American Jewish University since 2007.

Josh Levine, Alonim’s newly appointed camp director, believes one of the main things kids take away from sleep-away camp is that it’s cool to be Jewish and to learn about and embrace Judaism. Jewish camping, he said, “can be so effective because you can’t plug in and plug out. You are immersed in the culture 24 hours a day,” he said, and he should know: Levine and his younger brothers pretty much grew up at Alonim.
“Camp touched each of us profoundly. We are all different, and Alonim appeals to kids with all different types of interests,” Levine said, adding that he also met most of his closest friends at Alonim.

“Parents might not realize how intense the bonds are between campers,” said Meredith Raber, a former camper and current camp mom. Some of Raber’s most memorable camp moments revolve around Shabbat:
“Everyone wears white, and it’s so pretty … the people make the camp such a special place. It’s the connection with other Jewish people, and living together, that brings you closer.”
Raber and her husband, Elan, met as counselors at Alonim. This year, Raber’s daughter, Sydney, will attend Mini Camp (a one-week sleepover) and her son, Jack, will join Gan Alonim, the facility’s day-camp program. Camp Alonim is strictly kosher, so children from all levels of observance can attend.


Camp Hess Kramer, Malibu

With about 270 campers, Camp Hess Kramer is the larger of the two Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps (its sister camp, Gindling Hilltop Camp, has just 100 campers and its hilltop site offers a view of the ocean and surrounding hills and canyons).

Hess Kramer prides itself on helping campers build and establish relationships with other campers and the staff, according to Douglas Lynn, director of camps for Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps.

At the end of the day, the entire camp (sessions are age-specific) comes together in a closing ceremony — Siyum — “which the campers and staff alike point to as a unique moment for each day,” Lynn said.

“The tradition of Camp Hess Kramer is such an important part of our family, as it is for many others that I went to camp with who are sending their children today,” said Mark Kaplan, a former camper and counselor who, through his children’s continuing connection, boasts almost 40 years of camp stories and memories.

Kaplan believes the camp’s emphasis on Jewish content has been bolstered during the years, and, as a result, his children welcome the chance to delve into their Judaism. “But the essence and feeling at the camp is still the same,” Kaplan said. “I think you would find that going back to every generation that has gone through the programs at Camp Hess Kramer: Shabbat is still Shabbat, Inspiration Point is still Inspiration Point [home of the camp’s iconic menorah]. Those places and times are carried on.”

Kaplan’s children, Maya, 12, and Daniel, 9, agree with their dad. “I love Shabbat,” Maya said. “It is very magical. We eat, pray, dance, sing, have fun and spend time with our friends.” Both Maya and Daniel say their favorite place at camp is Inspiration Point.

“It feels magical there,” Daniel says. Kaplan said he remembers the daily Jewish programming and looks forward to sharing more stories with his own children. Camp Hess Kramer is aligned with the Reform movement.

Camp JCA Shalom, Malibu

“Mom, how many days till I go back?” was the response Brandon Polak, 10, gave when asked about his camp experience. With some prodding, Brandon elaborated on his camp favorites: “I love how we do all of the Jewish things at camp, since there aren’t many Jewish students at my school. It brings me closer to being Jewish.” This confirms the evidence reported in a Foundation for Jewish Camping study, which showed kids who attend Jewish sleep-away camps tend to remain more involved in Judaism. Experts even go so far as to say that one of the best predictors of a child’s commitment to living a Jewish life is whether he or she attends a Jewish summer camp.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute (the home of Camp JCA Shalom), has been on staff at the camp for 20 years. He began his camp career at JCA at 10. “I have been here so long because I see the incredible impact that Jewish camping has on children of all ages,” Kaplan said. “Our song sessions are the best way to see the impact JCA has. I call it ‘Jewish Exuberance’ or ‘Jewish Joy’  —  the kids singing and dancing to Jewish and Hebrew songs full of spirit and full of pride in being Jewish.” Camp JCA Shalom also has a kosher kitchen and welcomes campers from all levels of religious observance.


Camp Ramah, Ojai

“As a camping movement, Ramah has an exceptional reputation for developing secular and Jewish leaders,” said Zachary Lasker, director of Camp Ramah. Lasker has worked with the camp for nine years but has been affiliated with Ramah for more than 20 — first as a camper, later as a counselor and now as its director. He says the day-to-day Jewish experience is designed to make Judaism “come to life in an engaging manner that is organic. Getting the ideals out of the classroom setting.”

Many of the counselors are Israeli, and much of the programming involves Israeli themes, including a camp-sponsored trip to Israel that students entering 12th grade are encouraged to attend. As the official camp of the Conservative movement, Ramah offers year-round programs as well asone-,  two- and four-week sessions. Some campers stay for the full summer. The Ramah Commission has seven overnight camps throughout North America, and the programs are based on the following ideals: self-esteem, character development, Jewish learning, Jewish identity and community, Jewish observance, Zionism and Hebrew. 

The Inside Scoop:

What your kids don’t tell you about camp

“How was camp?” It’s a common question asked by parents when they pick up their kids from summer sleep-away camp. The answers, though, vary, from “It was great!” to more elaborate responses. Typically, though, most kids tend to stick to the facts without expanding on what, in many cases, has been a life-changing experience.

“Parents might not realize how intense the bonds are between campers,” said Meredith Raber, a former Alonim camper and current camp mom. “It’s really hard to go home [from camp] and get right back into your home life. [Sometimes kids] feel lonely, especially after being around so many other kids, and it’s really quiet at home.”

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, says many kids develop a greater sense of independence and self-esteem while at camp, traits that remain with them long after their camp session ends. And while many kids also come home with a greater appreciation for Judaism, they may not all express that change to their parents.

Douglas Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, says, “I often find myself talking to parents after the summer about how to work with their children who are ‘campsick.’  Many campers come home from camp and desperately miss their camp life.  I hear from parents that the second their campers wake up the day after camp, they are online with their friends, that they don’t necessarily want to see their ‘home’ friends, that all they can talk about — if they talk to their parents at all — is about camp.”

Why ‘peace camps’ do not make peace


Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, and Israeli society took a hard look at this pivotal turning point in its history.

Silver-haired generals, retired politicians, journalists and analysts were the week’s favorites on Israeli TV programs, as they struggled with the country’s most painful questions:

Could the war have been avoided? Could things have turned out better had the war not been launched on June 6, 1967? Has Israel missed any opportunity to turn victory into peace?

While almost everyone is in agreement that the occupation has taken a terrible material and moral toll on Israel society, many noted that the 1967 conquest also led to the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and it still offers Israel an indispensable bargaining chip in its current plea for peace with Syria and the Palestinians.

Thus, The Economist’s characterization of the 1967 war as “Israel’s wasted victory” is by general consent misconceived and ill informed. Audiences were further reminded that the 1967 war gave a death blow to Pan-Arabism, an ideology that could have posed as serious a threat to Israel’s existence as radical Islam does today.

While this soul-searching exercise was going on on Israeli TV, the June 6 anniversary also provided a platform for some of the most vicious attacks on Israel’s existence. Our friend, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has decided again that Israel’s days are numbered, and his intellectual allies in Europe and the United States did not sit idle.

My UCLA colleague, Sari Makdisi, for example, has raised the pitch of his racist rhetoric to conclude on the pages of The Nation that “Zionism has run its course, and in doing so has killed any possibility of a two-state solution.”

As usual, those who claim to be victims of “Orientalism” – that is, depicting Arabs from a Western perspective – have no qualms redefining other people’s identities.

Whenever I read any of the harsh anti-occupation articles, many by well-meaning Jews, I can’t help but wonder whether these authors truly believe that Israel oppresses Palestinians out of pleasure or greed, and I ask myself what makes them blind to the collective agony that Israeli society goes through on account of the occupation, as well as to the nation’s genuine struggle to extricate itself from it, if that were at all possible. I also wonder whether any of these erudite authors spend as much time researching the ramifications of an immediate Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders as they currently spend on bashing Israel’s attempts to reach a peace settlement first.

The most revealing information that emerged from last week’s developments came not from the “Israel-bashing” pack but from the pro-coexistence camps. If anyone wonders why the peace process is in no better shape today than it was in 1967 or in 1993 or 2000, a reading through the publications of the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps should provide the answer.

Both sides are stubbornly refraining from addressing the one issue that they know is necessary and sufficient for peace: Palestinian acceptance of the idea of a permanent Jewish state in the 1967 borders, including the resettlement of the refugees outside those borders. Each side pretends that this acceptance is already an established fact, and neither side, perhaps out of fear of offending the other or spoiling the dialogue, dares examine the evidence.

The Israeli peace camp speaks as if it believes that the majority of Palestinians desire permanent coexistence and that the problem is merely that of convincing or controlling a temporarily violent minority.

The Palestinian peace camp, on the other hand, speaks as though it believes that the majority of Israelis will agree to withdraw to the 1967 borders once terror is reigned in and that there is, therefore, no need to discuss Israel’s historic legitimacy or compromises on the Palestinians “right of return.”

These positions do not reflect prevailing beliefs in either community. Israelis do not believe the majority of Palestinians desire permanent coexistence, and the Palestinians know that Israelis are united against withdrawal from the territories as long as, and only as long as, this disbelief persists.
This week, for the first time, these facts received hard evidential confirmation.

New public opinion research conducted by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information has shown that fear of the Palestinians, lack of trust in both their aspirations and their ability to be partners for peace are the greatest obstacles to Israeli willingness to move ahead toward a peace process and toward making concessions. (Source: Gershon Baskin, Jerusalem Post, June 4, 2007.) The report states:

Sixty-two percent of Israelis believe that Palestinians want to establish their state on all the territory from the Jordan to the sea. Fifty-six percent believe that Palestinians want such a state without Jews. Nearly four times as many Israelis (30 percent) believe that almost no Palestinians are prepared to make concessions for peace as those who believe that most of them will (8 percent).

More revealing, the research also shows that Israelis are open to changing their attitudes toward Palestinians:

“When presented with a scenario where the Palestinian Ministry of Education removes all textbooks from the curriculum that incite against Israel and replaces them with textbooks educating for acceptance of the State of Israel and the importance of living with it in peace, nearly 70 percent of Israelis said it would increase their trust that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace.

“When presented with the following: A number of influential Palestinian religious leaders, including Hamas, declare on Palestinian television in Arabic that according to Islam, Jews have the right to live in their historic homeland and Palestinian Muslims must accept this, almost 60 percent of Israelis said it would increase their trust in that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace.”

Are Israelis’ perceptions of Palestinians’ aspirations overly paranoid? I doubt it. That Palestinians are far from accepting Israel’s legitimacy, or even a mild version of it, is clear not merely from their textbooks, TV programs, mosque sermons and Hamas’ victory in the last election but primarily from the activities of their spokespersons in the Palestinian diaspora.

Camps Spotlight Double Standard


Armed gunmen roamed freely in U.N. refugee camps. They stockpiled weapons, recruited refugees and launched cross-border attacks.

In response, opposing forces attacked the camps, aiming for the gunmen — but sometimes cutting down civilians in the process.

The international community was troubled both by the instability fomented and the thought of the beleaguered refugees — exploited within the camps, denied a truly safe haven, then caught in the crossfire.

So the United Nations took action.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan produced a pair of landmark reports singling out the militarization of refugee camps as a cause of conflict and insecurity. He called for the “separation of armed elements from refugee populations” to maintain the camps’ civilian character. And he outlined several steps to police the camps.

The U.N. Security Council followed suit in 1998 with Resolution 1208, defending the sanctity of refugee camps and criminalizing their militarization.

What was the source of this international concern — the Palestinian camps in Gaza and the West Bank? No, it was Africa in the mid-1990s, when civil wars in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia and elsewhere unleashed torrents of refugees across the continent.

To defenders of Israel, the scenario described above sounds familiar. They question why the world body has never applied Resolution 1208 to the 27 U.N. refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which were a prime source of attacks during the violent Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000.

Security Council resolutions carry the weight of international law — and Resolution 1208 makes note of the fact that it should be universally applied.

The question of the Palestinian exception to 1208 is more than theoretical. Despite moves toward reform in other areas, the U.N. General Assembly is unlikely to make any changes to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides relief and social services to the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Thus, an appeal to the Security Council to apply Resolution 1208 may be a viable option if, as some predict, the intifada is renewed and terrorists again use UNRWA camps to plan and launch attacks against Israel.

Annan underscored the universality of Resolution 1208 in March 2001, when reports of similar abuses emerged from refugee camps in West Timor.

“Not separating combatants from civilians allows armed groups to take control of a camp and its population, politicizing their situation and gradually establishing a military culture within the camp,” Annan wrote. “The impact on the safety and security of both the refugees and the neighboring local population is severe. Entire camp populations can be held hostage by militias that operate freely in the camps, spread terror, press-gang civilians, including children, into serving their forces.”

Yet Annan hasn’t voiced similar outrage regarding Palestinian militancy in UNRWA camps.

For example, on Oct. 6, 2002, Palestinians in the Khan Yunis camp in Gaza launched a mortar attack on a Jewish settlement. The next day, Israel fired a missile from a helicopter gunship, killing 14 people, among them accused militants and civilians.

On Oct. 8, Annan issued a statement deploring Israel’s “military attack in civilian areas” and the Jewish state’s “reckless disregard” for civilian life. However, he ignored the fact that the original mortar attack was launched from among civilians, settling for a bland “appeal to both sides to halt all violent and provocative acts.”

One Jewish group lodged a protest with the U.N. chief. Harry Reicher, at the time the U.N. representative for Agudath Israel World Organization, wrote Annan to contrast his outspokenness on West Timor with his “silence” on “the continuing strategy pursued by the leadership of the Palestinians of locating terrorists, as well as caches of their arms, in heavily populated civilian areas” and the “use of civilian men, women and children as human shields.”

UNRWA says it acknowledges Israel’s security needs and right to self-defense, but that civilian well-being should take priority.

An UNRWA defender agreed.

“Of course there are people trying to use these places, but having armed people inside the camps doesn’t legitimize Israel’s attacks on civilians,” said Raji Sourani, director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Yet critics say that if UNRWA really is concerned about civilians, it should speak out against any action that endangers them — including Palestinian attacks launched from among civilians that provoke Israeli retaliation.

What could be more guaranteed to encourage the Palestinian use of refugees as human shields “than the certain knowledge that, if Palestinian civilians are tragically killed, it is Israel that will be blamed by the United Nations?” asked Reicher, a professor of international law at the University of Pennsylvania.

The militarization of UNRWA camps is not a recent revelation. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan accused UNRWA of allowing its Lebanese camps to become armed bastions of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Forced to investigate when Reagan threatened to withhold U.S. funding for the organization, UNRWA admitted that several camps indeed had been militarized.

While the Security Council hasn’t enforced 1208 in the Palestinian territories, it has applied pressure on terrorist Palestinian refugees elsewhere.

Resolution 1559, passed in September 2004, demanded that “foreign forces” — an allusion to Syria — withdraw from Lebanon. Syria finally did end its 29-year occupation last April, two months after being implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Resolution 1559 also calls for the “disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias” — a reference to the pro-Syrian Hezbollah militia and to Palestinian terrorist groups in UNRWA’s 12 Lebanese camps. That part of 1559 has not been implemented.

After rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel in late December, Resolution 1559 once again gained the United Nation’s attention.

Al Qaeda claimed credit for the attack, reportedly its first on Israel. But some suggested it was carried out by Palestinian terrorists only loosely connected to Osama bin Laden’s global terrorist network.

The next day, Annan called on the Lebanese government “to extend its control over all its territory, to exert its monopoly on the use of force and to put an end to all such attacks.”

Still, from Israel’s perspective, militancy in UNRWA’s Lebanese camps is far less immediate a threat than militancy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Some Palestinian supporters argue that Resolution 1208 shouldn’t apply to the West Bank — or, before Israel’s withdrawal last summer, to the Gaza Strip — because Palestinians there are engaged in “legitimate resistance to occupation.”

Israel’s defenders, though, say it’s a clear case of double standard.

“Here the U.N. has adopted clear criteria for how refugee camps are supposed to be maintained and consistently fails to apply its own law when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Dore Gold, Israel’s former U.N. ambassador and current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “One of the most compelling arguments for demonstrating how Israel is systematically denied the same rights and privileges given to other member states is the story of Resolution 1208.”

Resolution 1208 clearly should apply to UNRWA, said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which handles the world’s other 19.2 million refugees.

“The Israelis may say UNRWA is not protecting the camps well enough or that we can do a better security job, but I don’t think UNRWA would ever say 1208 doesn’t apply,” Van Genderen Stort said. “If UNRWA people knew there were terrorists firing weapons from the camps, they should remove these people from the camps. But I can’t speak for UNRWA; I’m not on the ground.”

In an interview, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd acknowledged that Resolution 1208 officially applies to UNRWA camps but added that “it requires action to be taken by the authorities where the camps are located, not by the humanitarian agencies.”

“We don’t run camps; that is the responsibility of the sovereign governments and authorities wherever the camps are based,” she said. “It’s like asking, ‘What has Bethesda Hospital done to combat street gangs in Washington, D.C.?’ We do send situation reports to the U.N.’s security department and the office of the secretary-general. These are simple, straightforward factual accounts of clashes and other incidents.”

Yet a line needs to be drawn somewhere, Van Genderen Stort said.

“For me, a refugee camp is a place where people in need of protection or assistance can find it,” she said. “A refugee camp shouldn’t be a battleground or a place where criminals are hiding.”

If the intifada resumes and U.N. camps again become terrorist staging grounds, some pro-Israel activists say they’d revive a push for the Security Council to apply Resolution 1208 to UNRWA’s turf.

“I hope the U.N. will use the same standards to ensure the humanitarian nature of refugee camps in the Palestinian territories as they’ve mandated for the rest of the world,” said Felice Gaer, a human rights expert for the American Jewish Committee. “Exceptionalism for Palestinian refugee camps would be just another way of revealing the U.N. has often used a double standard when it comes to the Middle East conflict.”

If Resolution 1208 were applied, UNRWA would be obliged to report violations to the U.N. secretary-general, who would be obliged to deliver the information to the Security Council. Observers say it’s not inconceivable that, with their actions placed under the microscope, terrorists might be flushed from the camps, cut off from a prime source of recruits and denied a sanctuary from which to plan and launch attacks.

Given the political realities at the United Nations, that may be a pipe dream. But if nothing else, critics say, even the negative publicity might strike a symbolic blow.

 

The Treasures on Top of the Mountain


By many accounts, it ranks just below Jerusalem as one of Israel’s most beloved treasures. It holds United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) status as a World Heritage Site. Conde Nast Traveler magazine even named it the “World’s Best Monument.”

Masada, which represents a stronghold of Jewish courage and defiance, is among Israel’s most visited sites. Located in the Judean Desert, adjacent to the Dead Sea, King Herod the Great built Masada 2,100 years ago as both his winter palace and a place where he would retreat in times of crisis.

Thanks to monumental excavations begun in 1964 under the direction of Yigal Yadin, visitors regularly come to this lone mountain. At a sharp peak of 1,200 feet, Herod fashioned this marvelous palace with three floors of elegant halls. Its many other wonders included heated bath houses decorated with still-visible mosaics, a remarkable plumbing system to gather runoff from nearby flash floods and even chambers for storing ice in the desert heat. Masada, it seemed, was unconquerable.

But after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, fate would eventually prove otherwise. Some 960 Jewish zealots took over the abandoned palace as the last independent Jewish holdout in the Land of Israel against conquering Roman armies. The refugees survived atop Masada for three years until a 36-month Roman siege, involving tens of thousands of Roman soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Jewish slaves, finally succeeded.

What the Romans found when they arrived was a community that had taken its own lives rather than become captive slaves. The Roman siege ramp on the western side of Masada that led to the end of the battle still offers easy walking access to the top of the fortress. From there, you can also see the outlines of several Roman camps below.

The World Heritage Committee recognized Masada under the auspices of UNESCO, describing it as “a symbol of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Israel, an example of the opulence and luxury of the early Roman Empire and a symbol of Jewish cultural identity and, more universally, of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.”

In advance of expected, heavy millennium year tourism, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, in conjunction with the National Park Authority, completed a $40 million conservation and renovation project at the site. A 90-minute drive southeast of Jerusalem or about 20 minutes from Ein Gedi, Masada now includes a state-of-the-art visitors center, as well as high-speed, high-capacity cable cars, which start at the eastern entrance, one mile from the Dead Sea. But hundreds of visitors each day choose to hike up Masada’s Snake Path.

The weather is accommodating year-round, though high summer temperatures suggest an early morning visit. If you’re up for an early morning arrival, it’s a magnificent place to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Plan on spending about three hours to tour the site.

Masada is reachable via regularly scheduled bus service from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat. Use the western entrance for the nighttime sound-and-light show (fee required). For more information, sound-and-light show schedule and admission fees, visit

Hit Biblical Jackpot at Timna’s Mines


When you ascend the rose red pillars towering over the Arava desert, you hardly expect to look down upon the biblical Mishkan. But that’s exactly what you’ll find replicated at Israel’s picturesque Timna Park just outside Eilat.

Stretching across the desert near the Jordanian border and about 18 miles north of the Gulf of Eilat, Timna once played host to ancient Egyptians, Midianites and Amalekites. Today it welcomes visitors seeking to explore this unique nature reserve.

Timna Park is home to fascinating geological and archaeological finds such as the “mushroom” rock, stone arches and “King Solomon’s Pillars.” It also boasts the world’s oldest copper mines, ruins of work camps, workshops for copper smelting, mining shafts, smelting furnaces and even an Egyptian miners’ temple. In modern times, the now-defunct Israeli Timna Mining Co. operated there.

At the park’s main entrance, you can watch an audio-visual presentation in English. From there it’s a short drive toward the striking sandstone pillars, which are named after King Solomon — although no evidence confirms he ever ran the copper mines here. A Christian group in Germany developed the life-size model of the Mishkan that now stands at the base of the pillars and donated it to the park. Admission to the tent requires a nominal fee in addition to your park admission). If you’re interested in gaining a sense of the dimensions of the ancient tabernacle, it’s well worth it, though you’ll likely find it a bit kitschy.

Following biblical prescripts in Exodus, Chapters 25-30, a sacrificial altar is located in the foreground, complete with a ramp and a decorative minaret. A few feet away is a massive copper-colored washstand where the Kohanim, or high priests, washed before preparing offerings.

The nearby ohel moed, or tent of meeting, also follows biblical designs. Gold-painted cherubim decorate a series of panels that are woven from sky blue, dark red and crimson threads.

Unlike the original, this modern version of the Mishkan boasts a small generator to provide climate control for two plastic mannequins. One is dressed as a Kohen in his priestly attire and the other as his Levite assistant. There are also gold-painted models of the menorah, incense altar, bread and various utensils as described in the Torah. A cloth partition separates the main chamber from the smaller Holy of Holies, where a gold-painted model of the ark is decorated with two cherubim facing each other.

We were led through the exhibit by a Christian volunteer from the Southern United States, which made our experience a bit surreal.

Later we climbed the stairs cut into the massive pillars and took in the spectacular view of the tabernacle, the surrounding mountains and the huge desert plain. As we followed an easy footpath, we noticed Egyptian carvings in the flat walled surface of the mountain. And as we continued down another staircase, we arrived at the Miners Sanctuary of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of mining. Founded during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I (1318-1304 B.C.E.), this pagan temple served members of Egyptian mining expeditions and their local co-workers.

From there we drove a small distance to the “mushroom” rock. A combination of erosive forces of water and wind created this unusual pillar with a huge boulder resting atop it. The surrounding area is filled with ruins of copper mines, as well as small kernels of naturally occurring minerals. Sifting through the dirt, it’s easy to find real pieces of copper that have become oxidized with a pretty green patina.

Archaeologists who excavated Timna from 1959 to 1990 discovered that mining continued there from the late Neolithic period through the Middle Ages. Its heyday occurred during the reign of the pharaohs of the 14th-12th centuries B.C.E.

As the Egyptians lost control of the region in the middle of the 12th century B.C.E., they abandoned the Timna mines and the Hathor temple. Midianites remained there briefly, removing Egyptian imagery from the sanctuary in order to make it their own. Archaeologists discovered beautifully decorated Midianite pottery, metal jewelry and a copper snake with a gilded head reminiscent of the serpent described in Numbers 21:9.

Scholars believe the evidence of Timna’s sophisticated Midianite culture lends credence to the biblical narrative of the meeting of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, a high priest of Midian as mentioned in Exodus 18.

These are just a few of Timna’s highlights. Swimmers will want to visit the lovely man-made lake. The visitors’ center attracts guests of all ages.

And hikers will enjoy the abundant trails, camping privileges and expansive tranquility.

Timna Park is usually open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in summer and until 5 p.m. in winter. Even in spring, temperatures can be quite extreme, so remember to time your visit to avoid the blistering midday sun.

You’ll appreciate having a car to explore this massive park, although it’s not necessary for travelers in strong physical condition.

Guided tours are available. Camping is permitted by prior arrangement only. When you enter the park, you can rent a personal audio guide, fill souvenir bottles with colored sand and watch an audio-visual demonstration of ancient copper production.

For more information and to reserve a campsite visit timna-park.co.il. The writer’s trip was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

 

‘Almost’ a Beginning in Paris


Most boy-meets-girl movies end when the happy pair stands under the chuppah. After all, it’s not terribly dramatic what happens when they pick up the routine of daily married life.

It’s a bit like that with Holocaust films: The protagonists are either killed or liberated, but if they survive, we do not see how they get back to "normalcy" and cope anew with everyday life.

The modest, low-key French import "Almost Peaceful" ("Un Monde Presque Paisible") remedies this omission.

The year is 1946 and the setting is the old Jewish quarter of Paris, where Monsieur Albert and his wife Lea have re-established their pre-war ladies tailor shop.

They employ seven men and women, all scarred in one way or another by the war years and the Holocaust, but almost content with their steady jobs and harmonious workplace.

At first, the talk about customers and problems with the kids is quite normal, laced with a few Yiddish expressions. Only occasionally is there an almost inadvertent allusion to past experiences.

Leon, who is studying to become an actor, remembers that on the day Paris was liberated, he heard among the jubilation a few French patriots yelling, "Kill the Jews."

"The fascists are still here," Leon remarks, and young Joseph, the official shlimazel of the shop, confirms the observation when he goes to the police for a residence permit. He recognizes the inspector, as imperious as ever, as the same man who arrested and deported his parents.

The most deeply wounded worker is Charles (superbly portrayed by veteran actor Dennis Podalydes), who is still hoping for the return of his wife and children from concentration camps.

When a woman declares her love for him, Charles can only say, "Love is dead. It can no longer be spoken or experienced."

Director Michel Deville concludes the film with a picnic for all of Albert’s employees and their spouses and children, complete with sack races, laughter and much feasting.

The scene is as rustic and carefree as a Monet painting, but on the side sits a little boy obsessively playing with a vest pocket watch. Explains a guest, "That’s the watch his father left him when he was deported."

"Almost Peaceful" opens Oct. 1 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills. For information, call (310) 274-6869.

You Gotta Be in it to Win it


Want to win a full day school scholarship? Or maybe free synagogue membership?

Now you can, in the new Jewish community raffle, Arie Katz, chair of the Jewish Community Scholar Program (CSP), created the raffle to raise awareness of adult Jewish learning in Orange County and what he calls the “amazing infrastructure in our Orange County Community.”

Synagogues and Jewish institutions will help sell tickets, which can be purchased via credit card through The Jewish Federation of Orange County.

Funds raised from raffle sales will go to a variety of local institutions, including Jewish day schools, the Jewish Community Center, local synagogues and day camps. The bulk of the funds will go toward expanding CSP, which brings the world’s leading Jewish thinkers, scholars and artists to Orange County for a series of lectures, workshops and classes. Funds from the raffle will also partially underwrite the costs of a May 2004 community retreat and a proposed community Shabbat celebration in June.

“If the raffle is successful, then the whole community wins,” Katz said.

Tickets for the raffle, which will go on sale from Sept. 1 through Nov. 12, will cost $100. The winner, which will be selected Nov. 14., will be published in the December issue of The Jewish Journal of Orange County. For more information about CSP and the raffle, visit www.occsp.org or call (949) 682-4040.

Holocaust Exploited


An emaciated death camp survivor stares blankly alongside a
gaunt steer. “During the seven years between 1938 and 1945, 12 million people
perished in the Holocaust,” the image declares. “The same number of animals is
killed every 4 hours for food in the U.S. alone.”

The poster forms the heart of a new national campaign
launched last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that
compares the Holocaust and the meat industry — and that is ruffling Jewish
feathers.

Dubbed “The Holocaust on Your Plate,” PETA’s campaign and
its companion Web site,

Lifeline for Kids


Talia Hill, 11, was born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and bone deformities. She is hearing impaired, speech impaired, mobility impaired, fine-motor impaired and neither her two arms nor her two legs are the same length. In her short life, she has had multiple surgeries, a hearing aid and has had to take several kinds of medication on a regular basis.

"We have significant issues in every area," said Talia’s father, Danny Hill. "We spend a lot of time agonizing about what decisions to make for her, because we are not experts," he said. "The challenges are endless."

But one of the greatest challenges facing the Hills, who have two other daughters, is giving Talia a normal childhood. "We spent the first couple of years in hospitals," said Leah Hill, Talia’s mother. "And when you have a kid that has all these issues you never know when something is going to flare up, or how serious it might be. I felt so bad for our carpool people, because I was always had to call to say I can’t pick up carpool because I was at the doctors’ office or at the hospital. You are constantly imposing on somebody, and even if it is family, it is such an awful feeling to always be taking like that."

Which is why the Hills felt so relieved when Chai Lifeline came into their lives and offered them much-needed support without asking for anything in return. A social services organization that helps families with pediatric illnesses, Chai Lifeline took the Hills and other families to Boomers amusement park in Irvine during chol hamoed Sukkot.

On this sunny Wednesday, Sept. 25, Jewish music blared out of the park’s speaker system, sukkot were set up around the park to eat in and kosher food was sold from kiosks. All over the park, attentive volunteer counselors tended to children in wheelchairs playing arcade games, while other children afflicted with congenital illnesses tore around in bumper cars, rode ponies, and climbed the rock wall.

"We try to bring the kids to these events so that they can be around other families and other situations and connect with them," Leah Hill said. "They get to see that it’s not just our family that is different, and Talia sees that there are other junior high girls going through similar things."

Started in 1986 by Rabbi Simcha Scholar of Brooklyn, N.Y., Chai Lifeline opened its West Coast branch three years ago. Scholar had been a teacher and a community rabbi, and in his years of community service he saw how devastatingly pediatric illness affected families. "I really saw the pain of families when dealing with a sick child," said Scholar in a phone interview. "There was a compelling need in the Jewish community to normalize a sick child’s life."

Chai Lifeline now assists 3,000 families around the world, and 120 families on the West Coast. Their programs, which are available to Jews of all affiliations, are free, and include home childcare, tutors, transportation, support groups, individual counseling, family retreats, family fun days at amusement parks, art therapy programs for ill children and their siblings, homework buddies and insurance advocates.

"Their philosophy is that the family has a tough time, and they want to make it nicer for the family," said Danny Hill. "They don’t just focus on the kid with the disability, they focus on the whole family."

"Chai Lifeline is wonderful," said Debbie Gordon of Valley Village, the mother of two teenage boys with Familial Dysautonomia, a rare genetic disorder of the autonomic nervous system that primarily affects people of Eastern European Jewish descent. "We are not Orthodox, and they haven’t looked down on us that we are not. They just treat us like human beings."

"They have been a godsend," said Lainie Sugarman of Pacific Palisades, the mother of Alon Sugarman, 11, who has Ewing’s Sarcoma, a malignant tumor that occurs in the tissue. "We were one of their first families [to use the program] in Los Angeles, and it was the first time that someone had said to us, ‘What can we do for you?’ I said Alon needs visitors, and so Randy Grossman [the West Coast regional director of Chai Lifeline] had some volunteers come and visit him."

Every summer, Chai Lifeline runs two camps in New York, Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special. Camp Simcha is for children with cancer and blood disorders and Camp Simcha Special is for children with medical and chronic disorders. At Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special, the children enjoy a normal camp atmosphere, while all their medical needs are taken care of. There is a 1-to-1 camper to counselor ratio, and the children are taken on rafting trips, motorcycle and helicopter rides and riverboat cruises. There is also a video game arcade, canteen and soda machines. The children are allowed to order anything they want from the camp kitchen and — best of all — everything, including transportation to and from the camper’s home city, is free to the campers.

Scholar estimates that it costs Chai Lifeline approximately $10,000 per child to send them to Camp Simcha. "We spoil them with a lot of love and candy," he said. "We shower them with love."

There are approximately 15 Los Angeles-area children who attend Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special every year. "I loved it," said Alon Sugarman. "You could go to the canteen and say you wanted Now and Laters and potato chips, and you would get Now and Laters and potato chips. It was really, really fun."

For parents of children with pediatric illness, Camp Simcha offers them much needed respite as well. "Chai Lifeline also provided me with a rest while the boys were away at camp," said Gordon, whose two boys require a feeding tube to eat. "I’ve never had a night — unless the boys were in the hospital — where I didn’t have to hook them up to their pumps; it was nice not having to do that…. Also, since coming back from camp, my boys have received calls from their counselors who are now in Israel, and they received letters from counselors in England. It is really a compassionate and caring organization."

In fact, Camp Simcha’s reputation is so esteemed that counselor positions have become one of the most coveted and hard-to-get summer jobs in the Orthodox world. "Everyone you speak to who comes out of there says it was a life-changing experience" said Ari Adlerstein, 18, from the Fairfax area, who was a counselor at Camp Simcha Special this past summer.

"Before I went to camp, I thought these kids were different than me, and I had no connection to them. Now when I see a kid in a wheelchair, I don’t look at him so strangely anymore. I will think he is a great kid just like any other kid."

Berlin’s Open Wounds


A bombed-out building transformed into a discothèque; the central section of an apartment building that is bizarrely absent — these are just some of the visual images that preserve the memory of Berlin’s complex and turbulent past. War wounds remain conspicuously open and unconcealed, leaving nothing in the city’s history unexposed. Berlin has no intention of concealing its scars, and its candor makes a powerful statement.

It is no different with Berlin’s Jewish history. The memory of the Shoah and the city’s inevitable link to Jewish extermination is intentionally visible and evident in Berlin, and can be found even in the most unexpected places. Visitors to the square in front of Humboldt University law school are surprised to stumble across a small, but effective monument marking the location of the book burning by Nazi students in 1933. Designed by Israeli artist, Micha Ullmann, the monument consists of an underground library with empty shelves, which can be seen through a transparent plastic window.

Near one of the city’s most exclusive department stores, KaDeWe, shoppers are met with an unexpected reminder: A sign listing the 12 concentration camps stands in front of Grunewald train station, the main deportation location for Berlin’s Jews from 1941 to 1945.

Such memorials crop up everywhere in Berlin, recalling the city’s dark and not-so-distant history. However, this is Berlin’s past. It is not the present and, hopefully, not the future.

Some 57 years after the end of World War II, Berlin’s Jewish community is witnessing a renaissance. The city, whose Jewish population was nearly nonexistent after the fall of the Third Reich, now has approximately 12,000 Jews, according to the American Jewish Committee in Berlin. Many of them are emigrants from the former Soviet Union.

While the memory of the past can never be forgotten, it is perhaps Berlin’s effort to come to terms with its history that has provided a catalyst for a Jewish future.

"From all the German cities I know, I like Berlin the best," said Esther Birnbach, 41, a Jewish woman who has spent most of her life in the city. "It’s open, metropolitan and honest with its past…. I saw the open wounds of the German past in this city’s face where other West German cities already erased them. This always made me like the city and makes life here for me OK."

One need only visit Berlin’s 10 synagogues or several of its kosher restaurants to see this recovering Jewish community. Currently, Berlin is the only city in Germany where one can lead a completely Orthodox life, with its various kosher butchers and Jewish schools. There are Jewish primary, middle and high schools, and the recent birth of Germany’s first postwar rabbinical seminary, Abraham Geiger Rabbinical College, in nearby Potsdam.

The golden dome of the renovated Neue Synagoge (New Synagogue) Berlin glistens above the city, marking the Jewish Quarter around Oranienburger Strasse. The New Synagogue is now used as a museum, but it represents what was once the heart of traditional Jewish life in Berlin.

In the Jewish Quarter, evidence of destruction is interwoven with evidence of rebirth. Near the Neue Synagogue is a memorial plaque marking the site that was once the Jewish Home for the Aging, which the Nazis transformed into a collection point. Not far away, at Grosse Hamburger Strasse 26, is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin, destroyed by the Gestapo in 1942 and now containing only one standing gravestone: that of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786).

It is in this same neighborhood that there appears to be evidence of Jewish revival. The area buzzes with galleries, restaurants, bars and shops. Customers at Café Oren, a kosher-style, Israeli restaurant next to the Neue Synagoge, socialize with friends at all hours of the day and night. The intimate Hackesches Hof-Theater, Berlin’s Yiddish theater, is within walking distance. Pamphlets advertising klezmer concerts can be picked up at many of the local spots.

The signs of rebirth look promising in the Jewish Quarter, but one thing is conspicuously missing — Jews. "Actually, Jews are not going to the Jewish restaurants, the klezmer [concerts]. The real Jewish life still takes place behind closed doors, in the community center, families, school and kindergarten," Birnbach said.

Despite all strides that have been made by Jews, Germans and the German government to reconcile the past, Berlin’s Jews still live somewhat of a double life. "One visible life as a citizen of this country and one other as a Jew, more or less invisible for non-Jewish people," Birnbach said.

Unlike the Jewish Quarters in many other cities, Berlin’s Jews are no more likely to congregate or socialize in the Oranienburger Strasse area than any other German, nor do Jews typically reside in this neighborhood. But while such a discovery may be surprising to a visitor, it is historically accurate.

Before World War II, the majority of German Jews were quite successful and extremely assimilated into German culture, even to the point that many of their Jewish roots and ties were unidentifiable. "The western suburbs were the places where successful people lived and Jews who could move from the East to the West could say that they really had arrived," said Dr. Johannes Heil, a historian with the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism. It was the much smaller population of poor, Orthodox Jews living in the Jewish Quarter that the Nazis derived their anti-Semitic stereotypes from.

After the war, Jews who returned to or remained in Berlin settled in West Berlin, which is where most reside today. Thus, "the revival of the Oranienburger Strasse area is somewhat artificial and even ahistorical, since the poor Jews of Grenadie Strasse/Scheunenviertel in the East were, in the ’20s, not at all a tourist attraction, only a stage where anti-Semites could take their stereotypes from," Heil said.

Today, Jewish life in Berlin continues to exist somewhat behind the scenes — but exist, it does, and it is continually evolving, Birnbach said.

"I have two children [9- and 12-years-old] and they grow up as German Jewish kids, more normal than my generation perhaps, more clear about their identity. We had no Jewish elementary and high schools. They do. We had no parents with a more or less unbroken identity. They do."

The wounds of the past will forever affect the future of Jewish life in Berlin, but there is a Jewish presence that could never have been fathomed some five decades ago.

At the Wansee Villa museum, the house where 14 top officials of the ministerial bureaucracy and the S.S. met on Jan. 20, 1942, to discuss the systematic annihilation of the remainder of Europe’s Jews, a message scrawled in the guest book reads: "As a proud Israeli Jew, I am shocked and overwhelmed by the atrocities. Our being here today is the real victory over those who planned to exterminate us…. We shall never forget."

Jewish Berlin General Information

For more information, visit gntony@aol.com ; or call (212) 661-7200.

Berlin Tourism Marketing North
America

For more information, visit www.berlin-tourism.de. Click on Sightseeing and scroll down to Jewish Berlin.

American Jewish Committee, Berlin
office

Mosse Palais, Leipziger

Platz 15, 10117 Berlin

For more information, contact Deirdre Berger at bergerd@ajc.org; call 030-2265940; fax
030-22659414; or visit “>www.taltours.com .

Foundation Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum
Judaicum

Oranienburger Strasse 28-30, 10117 Berlin

Open: Sun-Thu 10 a.m.-6 p.m.;

Fri 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

For more information, call 030-88028451; or visit “>www.jmberlin.de .

U.N., Refugee Camps and Our Money


Why is the United Nations running refugee camps like Jenin, for people who claim to be living in their own land? How could a refugee camp under U.N. auspices become a world center for recruiting and training suicide bombers? And why is the United States essentially bankrolling these camps when wealthy Arab oil sheikdoms barely contribute?

According to U.N. records, the United States finances more than one-quarter of the cost of operating the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In 2000, for example, the United States pledged more than $89.5 million toward the more than $337 million total that UNRWA raised from all nations and sources in the world. By comparison, Saudi Arabia pledged $2.5 million — less than 1 percent of the UNRWA total and a minuscule fraction of the American contribution. Oil-rich Kuwait pledged $2 million. Syria pledged $37,209. Egypt pledged $10,000. Iraq and Libya apparently had difficult years; they pledged nothing, although Iraq sends bounties of $25,000 each to the families of suicide bombers.

The UNRWA is a subsidiary of the United Nations. Its commissioner-general, appointed by the U.N. secretary general, is the only head of a United Nations body authorized to report directly to the General Assembly. The UNRWA was founded by Resolution 302(IV) of Dec. 8, 1949, and to this day remains unique within the world body as a relief agency assigned to serve only one class of people.

All the world’s other refugees are served by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR serves the needs of more than 21.8 million refugees in 120 countries ranging from the Balkans, Colombia, West Africa and Chechnya to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Timor and the Horn of Africa. Palestinian Arabs alone are under the aegis of the UNRWA.

Locally recruited "Palestinian refugees" make up 99 percent of UNRWA’s staff in the 59 refugee camps that UNRWA operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the disputed territories that Israelis call "Judea and Samaria" and that the Arab world calls "the West Bank." The majority of UNRWA camps and nearly 60 percent of their residents are in the three Arab countries, the remainder are in the areas administered by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. According to the UNRWA, it is the main provider of basic social services in all those camps.

The UNRWA’s largest budget item is its school system, which comprises half its budget and two-thirds of its staff. In all, the UNRWA operates 266 schools with 242,000 students in the area administered by the Palestinian Authority. In the aftermath of Israel’s military incursion into the UNRWA refugee camp in Jenin, that agency has been under a microscope, partly because it has schooled four generations of Jenin children. According to the UNRWA, its schools use the same curricula and textbooks as do the host government schools. Palestinian Authority textbooks incorporate maps of the Middle East that omit Israel, and their texts delegitimize Israel, Judaism and Jews.

Under the UNRWA’s auspices, the number of refugees it serves has grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 3.8 million today. Thus, the overwhelming majority of its population are the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those who first were placed in UNRWA camps in 1950. Between 1947 and 1950, approximately 750,000 Jewish refugees were driven from Arab countries in the Middle East. There was no United Nations agency to serve their health, educational and social needs, so they were absorbed directly into the Israeli polity, and their offspring bear no indicia of refugee status.

Israel reports that approximately half the suicide bombers who have struck over the past 19 months were residents of the Jenin UNRWA camp or terrorists who were trained there. It also is odd that a "refugee camp" under United Nations auspices has emerged as a terror center where Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade terrorists run wild, stocking arms, building bomb-making factories and recruiting and training children educated at UNRWA schools to detonate themselves. Perhaps oddest of all is the American role as chief bankroller.

With Washington now scouring its outlays in the face of projected budget deficits, it is remarkable that America continues to pump scores of millions into a U.N. program that has institutionalized dependency among four generations of Arabs — while the oil princes barely contribute. It is remarkable, too, that the refugees and their descendants are still living in squalor a half-century after the helping hand first was extended.

This makes no sense. In a time when U.N. fact-finding commissions are all the rage, here is a subject for congressional fact-finders to investigate: Why are we throwing away all those tax dollars?

Even Bullies Go to Summer Camp


Directors at three of California’s Jewish sleep-over camps describe them as nurturing environments where every child is made to feel safe and part of a caring community. Campers, they say, generally meet the high expectations for mensch-like behavior.

But despite everyone’s best intentions, camps occasionally see aggressive or exclusionary behavior, and each camp has a policy to firmly and fairly discourage bullying.

“Our mission is to create a community of living Judaism within a holistic vision of physical, spiritual and emotional safety for all,” said Ruben Arquilevich, executive director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ (UAHC) Institutes for Living Judaism, which runs Camp Swig in Saratoga and Camp Newman in Santa Rosa.

“Our culture fosters shalom bayit [peace in the home],” he added. However, Arquilevich as well as directors of Camp Tawonga near Yosemite National Park and Camp Ramah in Ojai said they are prepared to deal with unacceptable behavior, too. “We acknowledge that certain behaviors appear in a group setting, and there are always a handful of cases every summer,” Arquilevich said.

“Although we don’t believe in the concept of a ‘camp bully,’ at some time we all exhibit bullying behavior. We see it as an opportunity at camp to identify, respond and give the bully and the other kids a lesson in how to be the best person they can be, a life lesson in conflict management that they can take home.”

Ken Kramarz, executive director of Camp Tawonga, described his camp as “a place of peace.”

Tawonga is a group-centered camp, where each cabin has its own identity and strong group ethic. Kramarz said each cabin has a personalized set of “10 commandments” and a cabin schedule that accommodates every camper’s individual needs.

“The entire culture is about getting along. The counselors are with the kids continuously and focused on the children’s interacting with each other,” Kramarz said.

Nevertheless, “the children bring with them the templates of behavior extrinsic to the camp environment,” he said, and in the rare case where a child becomes disruptive or mean, the director will sit with him or her and create a personalized written behavior contract. The parents will be notified that the child is “on contract” and may be sent home.

“But the kids really want to be here, and when the consequence is that they are not going to be here, the behavior is likely to improve,” Kramarz said.

Camp directors say expectations run high that campers will treat each other with respect, cooperation and inclusion.

Before youngsters head off to camp, parents receive handbooks that outline the rules of appropriate camper behavior. “The parents are asked in advance to engage their children in a conversation about the tone and culture the camp strives for, and they sign off that they will contribute to the environment in a positive way,” Arquilevich said.

He said that inappropriate behavior might first be noticed by a counselor or might be reported to a counselor by a camper. The counselors are trained to facilitate the kids working out the issue among themselves within their own cabin group.

“We are careful in judging and getting the broad story. The kid in the most pain is the one exhibiting the inappropriate behavior,” Arquilevich said, adding that the first step might be to ask what precipitated the behavior, followed by encouraging the cabin group to talk about it. Once they understand each other, they can work toward something positive.

In the rare case where hurtful behavior continues or even escalates, consequences ensue. Parents might be notified, and an agreement of understanding might be written up. If such a behavior contract is broken, the child could be dismissed from the group or the camp; however, such serious measures are necessary only about once every two years, Arquilevich said.

Brian Greene, executive director of Camp Ramah, said his counselors are taught to watch for inappropriately aggressive children and channel the aggression in a positive direction.

“What we really want to do is get to the bully and find out what’s behind the lack of self esteem. The child wants to feel powerful and important, but can fulfill that need in better ways than pushing other kids around,” Greene said. “We won’t let anyone ruin anyone else’s time and won’t tolerate a child hurting another child.”

Greene added that he believes bullying is a bigger problem at schools than at summer camps.

“When camp is at its best, a united feeling takes over and becomes dominant. Everybody counts.”

The Scent of Controversy


Ronald Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, philanthropist and conservative political activist, has been unanimously selected by a nominating committee to become the next chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The decision has ignited a furor among heads of liberal and labor-linked groups that make up nearly half the conference’s 55 members. Critics include most leaders of the two largest factions in Jewish life, the Reform and Conservative movements. Prominent activists call the choice “an outrage,” “a disaster,” “ludicrous” and other terms unfit for print.

Critics say Lauder’s right-wing views make him an inappropriate spokesman for American Jewry and would put him needlessly at odds with the Clinton administration — and perhaps with the next Israeli government. They say his close ties to the Netanyahu government will make it hard for him to play the crucial role of conciliator and consensus-builder in the sharply divided Presidents Conference. And they say that his reputedly weak communication skills won’t help.

“The key to being an effective conference chairman,” said Reform movement leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie, “is to be somebody who will listen carefully, and will be astute enough and talented enough to build a consensus in a very divided conference. And to remain silent when no consensus exists. Obviously, I hope he’ll be an effective chairman. But we’ll be watching.”

And, yet, true to the byzantine ways of Jewish organizational culture, most critics say that they will vote for Lauder when his name comes before the full body in February. Even in the nominating committee, Reform and Conservative representatives who had opposed Lauder agreed to vote for him once his nomination became inevitable. The goal, they say, is preserving unity in the Jewish community and its chief representative body. “To weaken the conference doesn’t help the Jewish community,” said committee member Stephen Wolnek, president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Lauder’s defenders call the opposition sour grapes. “Everyone would like their own representative to be chosen,” said Orthodox Union president Mandell Ganchrow, who was himself a candidate but calls Lauder a good choice. “I think he’ll do credit to the organization.”

Though scarcely known to the public, the Presidents Conference is generally recognized in government and diplomatic circles as the senior voice of American Jewry on international affairs. Operating with a tiny staff and a yearly budget of less than $1 million, it has succeeded for four decades, largely because community leaders and successive U.S. administrations have wanted it to.

In the last decade, though, the conference has lost clout, paralyzed by left-right divisions. Compounding the tension is liberal mistrust of the staff director, Malcolm Hoenlein. A staunch conservative, he is sometimes accused of shortcutting decision-making processes and taking hawkish positions without full conference approval.

The current chairman, New York attorney Melvin Salberg, has won high marks for his dogged efforts to follow procedure and build consensus. But the tedious discussions have left all sides exasperated.

Lauder, 54, is generally seen as Hoenlein’s personal candidate. But some observers say that he could surprise everyone.

The younger son of cosmetics magnate Estee Lauder, he left the family business in 1983 and joined the Reagan administration as an assistant secretary of defense. He later served briefly as U.S. ambassador in Austria.

In 1989, he mounted an expensive, spectacularly unsuccessful campaign for mayor of New York City. He ran under the banner of the small, right-wing Conservative Party, charging that Republican Rudolph Giuliani was too liberal. The race won Lauder little beyond ridicule for his wooden speaking style.

Since then, Lauder has devoted most of his energy to his Ronald Lauder Foundation, an acclaimed, multimillion-dollar program that runs Jewish summer camps and day schools in formerly communist Eastern Europe. He also serves as treasurer of the World Jewish Congress and chair of its commission on stolen art.

The presidency of the Jewish National Fund was offered to Lauder in 1997, in a move widely seen as positioning him for the conference chairmanship. Under Lauder, the fund, which was wracked by financial scandals, has dramatically recovered. He brought in new personnel and renewed morale. He also fulfilled a pledge to the right by ending the fund’s 30-year ban on spending American donations in the administered territories.

Israeli press reports regularly name Lauder as a major financial backer of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Some reports say that Lauder donated the services of conservative American media guru Arthur Finkelstein to the Netanyahu campaign.

In his interview with the Presidents Conference nominating committee on Jan. 7, Lauder denied any financial role in Israeli politics. Still, the issue was touchy enough to hold up his nomination for two days, while staffers looked for proof of his donations. None was found.

In the end, Lauder emerged from a field of six candidates as one of two finalists, along with former American Jewish Committee President Robert Rifkind. Committee members said that Lauder impressed them with a strong command of issues and a sincere commitment to pursue consensus. Most of all, though, members said that it was Lauder’s resumé — his JNF leadership, his foundation work, plus his wealth and prominence — that made his candidacy irresistible. “Name recognition does count,” said committee member Marlene Post, president of Hadassah.

As for Lauder’s political views, several committee members recalled the role of Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the Reform movement leader, who chaired the conference in 1977, when Menachem Begin became prime minister. Schindler’s embrace of the Likud leader helped pave the way for American acceptance of Begin. Lauder, they say, could similarly be a bridge-builder.

The comparison only angered liberals. “Schindler was a liberal speaking for a liberal Jewish community,” said one veteran conference member. “Lauder would be a conservative speaking for a liberal community to a liberal administration. What sense does that make?” In fact, he noted, no liberal has headed the Presidents Conference since 1982.

Indeed, some said that Lauder’s nomination seemed to mimic the current crises in Washington and Jerusalem, where right-wing minorities are successfully imposing their agendas on liberal majorities that are not effectively organized.

Lauder has worked hard to soothe his critics in recent days, promising in meetings to listen and govern from the center. Most significant, he has reportedly agreed to consider creating an executive committee. That would give the conference, for the first time, a decision-making tool that is nimble yet disciplined.

If he keeps his pledges, liberals say, he could breathe new life into the organization. If not, they warn, the body will simply continue its drift to irrelevance.


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.

Wiesenthal Report:


Jewish refugees fortunate enough to make it into Switzerlandduring World War II, were, in most cases, interned in forced-laborcamps, required to perform hard physical labor under primitive livingconditions, and separated from their families.

By 1944, the Swiss had established about 100 such camps, manysurrounded by barbed wire, which held some 22,500 refugees, most ofwhom were Jewish.

The charges were presented Tuesday in a press conference by Dr.Alan Morris Schom, an American historian, who attributed in hisjust-completed report the harsh treatment of Jews to “a pattern ofconsistent anti-Semitism” by Swiss officials.

Schom’s report, “The Unwanted Guests: Swiss Forced Labor Camps,1940-1944,” was prepared for and presented at the Simon WiesenthalCenter.

In his report and presentation, Schom identified 62 camps by nameand added the following charges:

* Men up to 60 were forced to work on road gangs and in forestswith shovels and pickaxes, from dawn to dusk, in summer and winter.

* Women and girls were assigned to institutions and privateresidences to perform the most menial labors.

* Camp commandants separated men from their wives, and mothersfrom even infant children.

* Recalcitrant refugees were sent to one of two special”punishment” camps or taken to the border and handed over to FrenchVichy police or German officials.

Throughout the war, Schom said, Switzerland maintained a two-trackpolicy for Jewish and Christian refugees. While the Swiss governmentprovided for Christians, the small Swiss Jewish community andAmerican Jewish relief organizations were required to pay the entirecost of maintaining Jewish refugees.

In addition, a special “Jew tax” was imposed on all wealthy Jewishrefugees, who also had to divulge full information on any bankaccount they might hold.

Schom also charged that throughout the Hitler era, the presidentof the Geneva-based International Red Cross, Dr. Max Huber, profitedfrom arms sales to Italy and Germany and owned a manufacturing plantin southern Germany run by the SS and employing slave labor.

In a letter to Swiss President Flavio Cotti that accompanied thereport, the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier asked that thetreatment of Jewish refugees be investigated by the BergierCommission of eminent historians.

If the charges are validated, Hier said, Switzerland should offerapologies and compensation to former camp inmates. Hier alsoemphasized that the forced-labor camps, though harsh, could not becompared to Nazi concentration camps, and that many individual Swisscitizens sought to succor the refugees.

Schom received a doctorate in history but is not affiliated withany academic institution. He lives in France and has written fourbooks, put out by respected publishing houses, on aspects of Frenchand British history.

In a brief interview, Schom said that he had talked to one formerSwiss camp commandant but had received no cooperation from otherSwiss officials. The historian said that he had been in contact withthree German Jews, now living in London, who had been interned by theSwiss, and he had researched recently declassified British wartimedocuments.

“As a historian, I fit together bits and pieces until I find apattern,” he said.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, a government spokeswoman, MarieMarceline Kurman, said that the Schom study was littered withhistorical inaccuracies and that the existence of work camps forrefugees has long been documented by Swiss historians.

Of various former camp inmates interviewed by The AssociatedPress, some praised their treatment by the Swiss, while otherscomplained of harsh conditions and anti-Semitic incidents.

However, some of Schom’s charges were endorsed by an unscheduledwitness. Annette Glazman, herself a wartime Belgian refugee inSwitzerland, testified that her first husband had been interned in aSwiss camp, where “he was treated like a slave,” and where mothersand children were separated.

“The Swiss were very anti-Semitic, and they treated people asbadly as they could,” the 77-year-old Glazman, a Camarillo resident,said. “We knew exactly when Germany began to lose the war, becausethe Swiss attitude toward us changed radically.”

During daylong sessions at the Wiesenthal Center, state InsuranceCommissioner Chuck Quackenbush took testimony from six witnesses whoaccused European insurance companies, particularly in Italy andGermany, of failing to make good on policies taken out by parents andrelatives.

Quackenbush warned the only insurance company representativepresent at the hearing that he and commissioners of other stateswould use their regulatory power over American subsidiaries of theEuropean companies to see “that justice is done.”

At another session, a Belgian and a Russian art expert relatedtheir labyrinthine efforts to track down art and literary workslooted by the Nazis.

For instance, Jacques Lust of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts inBrussels told of finding a rare book in Amsterdam in 1996 that hadbeen originally confiscated by the Nazis from a wealthy Belgian Jew.In tracing the book’s journey over 50 years, he found that it hadchanged owners in Berlin, Silesia, Minsk, Moscow and Amsterdam.