How Paris public schools became no-go zones for Jews


Twenty-five years after he graduated from a public high school in the French capital, Stephane Tayar recalls favorably his time in one of the world’s most thorough education systems.

As for many other French Jews his age, the state-subsidized upbringing has worked out well for Tayar, a 43-year-old communications and computers specialist. Eloquent but down to earth, he seems as comfortable discussing the complexities of French society as he is adept at fighting — curses, threats and all — for his motorcycle’s place in the brutal traffic here.

“You learn to get along with all kinds of people – Muslims, Christians, poor, rich,” Tayar said in recalling his school years. “You debate, you study, you get into fistfights. It’s a pretty round education.”

But when the time came for Tayar and his wife to enroll their own boy and girl, the couple opted for Jewish institutions — part of a network of dozens of private establishments with state recognition, hefty tuition and student bodies that are made up almost exclusively of Jews.

“Enrolling a Jewish kid into a public school was normal when I was growing up,” Tayar said in a recent interview as he waited with two helmets in hand to pick up his youngest from her Jewish elementary school in eastern Paris. “Nowadays forget it; no longer realistically possible. Anti-Semitic bullying means it would be too damaging for any Jewish kid you put there.”

This common impression and growing religiosity among Jews in France are responsible for the departure from public schools of tens of thousands of young French and Belgian Jews, who at a time of unprecedented sectarian tensions in their countries are being brought up in a far more insular fashion than previous generations.

Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third of them do so. The remaining two-thirds are divided equally between Jewish schools and private schools that are not Jewish, including Catholic and Protestant institutions, according to Francis Kalifat, the newly elected president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

The change has been especially dramatic in the Paris area, which is home to some 350,000 Jews, or an estimated 65 percent of French Jewry.

“In the Paris region, there are virtually no more Jewish pupils attending public schools,” said Kalifat, attributing their absence to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults” against Jews because of their ethnicity, and to the simultaneous growth of the Jewish education system.

Whereas most anti-Semitic incidents feature taunts and insults that often are not even reported to authorities, some cases involve death threats and armed assaults. In one incident from 2013, several students reportedly cornered a Jewish classmate as he was leaving their public school in western Paris. One allegedly called him a “dirty Jew” and threatened to stab the boy with a knife. A passer-by intervened and rescued the Jewish child.

The increase in schoolyard anti-Semitism in France, first noted in an internal Education Ministry report in 2004, coincided with an increase in anti-Semitic incidents overall. Prior to 2000, only a few dozen incidents were recorded annually in France. Since then, however, hundreds have been reported annually. Many attacks — and a majority of violent ones — are committed by people with a Muslim background, who target Jews as such or as payback for Israel’s actions in what is known as the “new anti-Semitism.”

In 2012, payback for Israel’s actions in Gaza was the stated motivation of a jihadist who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Since then, Jewish institutions across Europe and French Jewish schools especially have been protected by armed guards – most often soldiers toting automatic rifles.

In neighboring Belgium, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism has documented multiple incidents that it said were rapidly making Belgian public schools “Jew-free.” Some blamed Belgian schools for being more reluctant than their French counterparts to punish pupils for anti-Semitic behavior.

The latest incident there involved a 12-year-old boy at a public school outside Brussels. Classmates allegedly sprayed him with deodorant cans in the shower to simulate a gas chamber. The boy’s mother said it was an elaborate prank that also caused him burns from the deodorant nozzles.

In April, another Jewish mother said a public school in the affluent Brussels district of Uccle was deliberately ignoring systematic anti-Semitic abuse of her son, Samuel, in order to hide it. She enrolled him specifically at a non-Jewish school because she did not want him to be raised parochially, the mother said, but she had to transfer him to a Jewish school due to the abuse.

In addition to charting anti-Semitism among students, watchdogs in France and Belgium are seeing for the first time in decades a growing number of incidents involving teachers – as victims and perpetrators.

Last month, the Education Ministry in France began probing a high school teacher who shared with her students anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook — including ones about the clout of the Jewish lobby in the United States and another about French President Francois Hollande’s Jewish roots (he has none).

In 2012, a teacher from a suburb of Lyon said she was forced to resign after her bosses learned that she had suffered anti-Semitic abuse by students. Days later, two teenagers were arrested near Marseilles on suspicion of setting off an explosion near a teacher who had reported receiving anti-Semitic threats at school.

The atmosphere is pushing many French Jewish parents to leave for Israel, which is seeing record levels of immigration from France. Since 2012, 20,000 Jews have made the move. Their absence is already being felt in Jewish schools and beyond, said Kalifat, because “the people who are leaving are exactly the people who are involved in the Jewish community.”

Some of those who left were responsible for developing France’s Jewish education system long before anti-Semitism became a daily reality for French Jews, said Kalifat. More than 30 years ago he enrolled his own two children in a Jewish school “not because of anti-Semitism, which was not a problem back then, but simply to give them a more Jewish education,” he said.

Jewish immigrants from North Africa to France had a major role in the growth of Jewish schools from a handful in the 1950s and ’60s to the formation of Jewish education networks with dozens of institutions, said Kalifat — himself an Algeria-born Jew and the first North African Sephardi to be elected CRIF president.

Arriving in a country where a quarter of the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Jewish newcomers from former colonies of France were more traditional and religious than many French-born Jews.

“They developed all sectors of Jewish life, but Jewish schools more than anything,” Kalifat said.

The effort has paid off in several ways. Last year, Jewish schools topped two French media rankings of the country’s approximately 4,300 high schools. One was a Chabad institution; the other was part of the more liberal Alliance network.

Some French Jews, including Yeshaya Dalsace, a Conservative rabbi from Paris, say the rise of Orthodox religious schools and other institutions is part of a trend toward insularity that comes at the expense of openness at a time when Jews should be more engaged in French society than ever.

But to Tayar, the growth of Jewish schools amid anti-Semitism is a much-needed silver lining.

“That parents like me effectively can’t send their children to public schools is tragic,” he said. “The only positive aspect I can see here is that anti-Semitic hatred drives us to make the financial sacrifice that will raise a generation that has much more Jewish culture and knowledge than our own.”

Pope says Trump ‘not Christian,’ Trump calls comment ‘disgraceful’


Pope Francis assailed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's views on U.S. immigration as “not Christian” on Thursday, prompting the billionaire businessman to reprimand the religious leader as “disgraceful” for questioning his faith.

No stranger to controversy, Trump, the longtime party front-runner in national opinion polls, has vowed if elected president to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out immigrants who enter illegally.

In a freewheeling conversation on his flight home from a visit to Mexico, Francis told reporters, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Trump, a real estate developer and former reality TV star, said, “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS's ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said in a speech in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened,” Trump said.

“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” Trump said.

Trump has said he would deport millions of illegal immigrants if he wins his party's nomination and then the Nov. 8 election. Last week, responding to the pope's plan to visit the U.S.-Mexican border, he said that Pope Francis did not understand the Mexican border issues.

“The pope is a very political person. I think he doesn't understand the problems our country has. I don't think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico,” Trump told the Fox Business Network.

Asked about being called a “political person”, Francis said on Thursday, “Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' So at least I am a human person.”

The pope said, however, he did not want to advise American Catholics on whether or not to vote for Trump.

SOCIAL MEDIA ERUPTS

The pope's remarks and Trump's response lit up social media with many Twitter users speculating on how Trump would move on from the pope's withering comment. Author Dan Dicker @Dan_Dicker tweeted, “Let's see @realDonaldTrump insult his way out of this.”

Trump's social media director Dan Scavino @DanScavino tweeted, “Amazing comments from the Pope – considering Vatican City is 100 percent surrounded by massive walls.”

In a written statement Trump accused the Mexican government of making disparaging remarks about him to the pope “because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them.

“The pope only heard one side of the story – he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. He doesn’t see how Mexican leadership is outsmarting President Obama and our leadership in every aspect of negotiation.”

Jews for Jesus denounces Vatican for no converting Jews policy


The Jews for Jesus organization has denounced the Vatican for saying the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity.

David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, said in a statement issued Friday that his organization finds the position “… egregious, especially coming from an institution which seeks to represent a significant number of Christians in the world.”

The pronouncement against converting Jews came in a major document released Thursday by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration promulgated in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council that opened the door to formal Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

Brickner accused the Vatican of pandering to Jewish leaders.

“How can the Vatican ignore the fact that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ mandates that his followers are to bring the gospel toall people? he asked. “Are they merely pandering to some leaders in the Jewish community who applaud being off the radar for evangelization by Catholics? If so, they need to be reminded that they first received that gospel message from the lips of Jews who were for Jesus.”

Jews for Jesus, which calls itself the “largest Jewish mission agency in the world,” has branches in 13 countries and 25 cities, according to the statement.

The new Vatican document, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” discussed at length how Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Because of this, it said, the Church is “obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views.”

It added, “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

Why are we abandoning the Christians?


In all the self-righteous talk we’ve been hearing about Muslim refugees from Syria, who’s talking about the Christians? Over the past several years, no religious group has been more persecuted throughout the Middle East than the Christians. And yet, hardly a peep.

Yes, the Jewish way is not either/or. We’re supposed to be inclusive. So, with all the beautiful, heartfelt sentiment so many American Jews are expressing for Muslim refugees, why are we not including oppressed Christians in our hearts?

For some reason, the notion of “suffering Christians” seems to resonate less with liberal hearts than “suffering Muslims.” Maybe Muslims are seen as more “exotic” or “misunderstood”; maybe it’s the fact that many liberals have contempt for fundamentalist Christians in America, because of their political positions.

Whatever it is, the poor Christians can’t catch a break. A 2012 Pew study found that “Christians continue to be the world’s most oppressed religious group.”

Even the world’s two most prominent Christians — President Barack Obama and Pope Francis — have hardly said a word about the plight of Christian refugees in Syria.

The current refugee system overwhelmingly favors Muslim refugees. Even though Christians represent more than 10 percent of the Syrian population, of the 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States so far, only 53 are Christians while 2,098 are Muslims.

This low number is tragic, because Christians living in Muslim lands are in especially dire straits. “ISIS and other extremist movements across the region,” Eliza Griswold wrote in The New York Times last July, “are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.”

The goal of ISIS, Griswold reports, is no less than to “eradicate Christians and other minorities altogether. The group twists the early history of Christians in the region — their subjugation by the sword — to legitimize its millenarian enterprise.”

As author and Arab expert Raymond Ibrahim adds, “At the hands of the Islamic State, which supposedly precipitated the migrant crisis, Christians have been repeatedly forced to renounce Christ or die; they have been enslaved and raped; and they have had more than 400 of their churches desecrated and destroyed.” 

This horrible situation, Ibrahim writes, was not always the case: “Christians and other religions minorities did not flee from Bashar Assad’s Syria, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Muamar Gaddafi’s Libya. Their systematic persecution began only after the U.S. interfered in those nations in the name of ‘democracy’ but succeeding in only uncorking the jihadi terrorists that the dictators had long kept suppressed.”

Replacing evils with worse evils — that seems to be the nature of the beast in the Mideast jungle.

In any case, if we believe in the concept of triage — taking care of the most urgent cases first — the West ought to seriously wake up to the plight of the Christians of the Middle East, who have no Christian country in the area to escape to.

There are many Arab/Muslim countries who could take in Muslim refugees, but refuse. As reported recently in the Washington Times, Saudi Arabia has over 100,000 empty, air-conditioned tents that could house up to 3 million refugees, but has shut its doors to fellow Muslims in need. I guess oil-rich Arab states figure that the “compassionate West” will handle them.

The irony is that the very persecution of Christians makes it harder to rescue them. As Patrick Goodenough reports on CNSNews.com, the U.S. federal government relies on the United Nations in the refugee application process – and since Syrian Christians are often afraid to register with the U.N., they and other non-Muslims are left out.

This means that refugees in most need of rescue are hardest to reach. But isn’t that the real meaning of compassion — to go the extra mile for those in greatest need? Even if we put aside the charged issue of Muslim terrorists possibly infiltrating the refugees, and just look at basic human need, don’t we owe it to the Christians to pay more attention to their plight?

If the most powerful country on Earth can’t go the extra mile to rescue Christian refugees, who will?

If the most powerful man on Earth can’t bring justice to the most oppressed, who will?

Who will speak up for the most persecuted religious group in the world?

Who will start the #IAmChristian hashtag?


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Michele Bachmann: Bring into Christianity as many nonbelievers, including Jews, as we can


Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann called for an intensified effort to convert Jews to Christianity.

Bachmann, a former congresswoman from Minnesota who ran for the Republican nod in 2012, was in Israel last week on a tour organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group.

Toward the end of the week, she spoke on the council president’s radio program, “Washington Watch,” and discussed the meaning of the recent intensification of violence in Israel and the West Bank. She cast the violence as a signal of the return of Jesus, which would necessitate mass conversions.

“We recognize the shortness of the hour,” Bachmann said on the program hosted by Tony Perkins, “and that’s why we as a remnant want to be faithful in these days and do what it is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to each one of us, to be faithful in the Kingdom and to help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, He’s coming soon.”

The first to report Bachmann’s call was Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, a church-state separation advocacy group.

Israel’s Christian schools reopen after month of strike


On Sept. 28, one of the longest academic strikes in Israel’s history finally came to an amicable close when students enrolled in Israel’s Christian school system belatedly began their school year after 27 days of protests by teachers, administrators, parents and students.

The 33,000 students, mostly Christian Arabs, attending 47 institutions across Israel returned to school one day after an agreement was inked between church leaders who administer ecclesiastical academics and Israel’s Ministry of Education. The deal reinstated $13.8 million that had been cut from the Christian school system’s allocation from the Israeli government last year, established a joint committee to set future government contributions and barred the schools from striking during the next two years.

While communication between government officials and school leaders remained open and positive throughout the closure, according to negotiators in the Joint Arab List who sat in on the discussions, some in the Christian community had hoped to ensure state funding for future years.

“It’s a mixed feeling,” said Yousef Jabareen, a representative with the Joint Arab List, the Arab alliance in the Knesset, and a father of three enrolled in Christian schools. Jabareen was among the thousands of parents left scrambling to find child care during the four weeks of the strike — many of them carted their children to their workplaces. During those weeks, Jabareen brought his youngest son with him to work at the Knesset, while another son assisted at a relative’s clothing store and spent “a lot of time on Facebook and watching television, unfortunately, nothing meaningful,” Jabareen said.

“On one hand, I appreciate the struggle the schools have initiated, and I appreciate their courage to keep the strike for almost one month. On the other hand, I feel some disappointment because I thought we could get a better agreement.”

Jabareen and other parents active on the strike committee had hoped the government would come up with a fixed amount for state contributions in the coming years. Under the new agreement, the amount will be determined jointly by school officials and the Ministry of Education over the next six months.

“I believe this agreement was built by establishing trust between the two sides, and hope it will lead to the strengthening of relations moving forward,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, praising the compromise reached by the schools and state.

“I wish the students and teachers much success for a productive and enjoyable year,” he added.

Days before classes were due to begin last month, the church-run schools announced that, in protest of budget cuts, they would not open their doors. School officials said the Ministry of Education had reduced state contributions from 64 percent of their operating cost to 29 percent over the past two years, and the schools no longer had the resources to educate. Because Israel’s Christian schools are a public-private enterprise, called “recognized non-official,” they are capped at receiving 75 percent of their budget from the state. The remainder of their funding comes from parent contributions, ranging from $650 to $1,300 per pupil annually.

Church leaders had originally asked the government for a total of $52.6 million. They said that amount would cover the full 75 percent maximum benefit from the state, and would match the grants given to recognized nonofficial Jewish schools.

“I look at myself, I am a hardworking person, I pay taxes,” said Leila Haddad, a gynecologist and mother with two daughters enrolled in a Christian school in Haifa, where more than 60 percent of Arab students attend Christian schools.

“I think that everyone is looking for equality and not more. We know that these are sort-of private schools, so we are not looking for 100 percent funding, but the same that other schools in our category receive,” she added.

“This 50 million NIS [$13.8 million] hardly does anything when you divide it by 33,000 students,” said Wissam Asmar, a graduate of the same school Haddad’s children attend, which was founded in the mid-1800s. Asmar is a lawyer and a father of three children who were out of school during the strike. “This is something that we will not accept. This will not solve the problem.”

Church officials who oversee the schools hail from the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sects. Even so, the curriculums are often secular and noted for an emphasis on culture and civics. “They also exercise values and democracy, community, forgiveness, respecting the other, and being involved, being a caring citizen,” Jabareen said, adding, “I definitely credit my school for my career development.” In addition to serving as an elected official, Jabareen also holds a doctorate in law from Georgetown University.

In fact, Christian schools are regarded as outstanding performers in Israel’s fractured education system, serving, in addition to the Arab-Christian community, a number of Muslim and some Jewish children. Sixty-nine percent of students in Christian schools matriculate, compared to 27 percent of students from government-run Arab schools.

Four percent of Israel’s students are registered at Christian schools, yet among Arab students studying at Israeli universities, 39 percent graduated from the Christian system. What’s more, many graduates of these schools go on to become leaders in Israel’s professional class; alumni include doctors, lawyers and a staggering 89 percent of Arabs in the high-tech industry.

“I had the best education, I think. My school was one of the top schools in Israel,” said Aida Touma-Sliman, another Knesset member and graduate of a Christian school, also in Nazareth. “It’s not by chance that six our of 13 members of the Knesset [from the Joint Arab List] graduated from these schools.”

Israeli police arrest suspects in torching of Church of Loaves and Fishes


Israeli police said on Sunday suspects had been arrested on suspicion of torching a church revered by Christians as the site of Jesus's miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The suspects were arrested overnight, a police spokeswoman said, following a joint investigation with the Shin Bet internal undercover security agency.

The suspects are set to face a remand hearing in the northern city of Nazareth later on Sunday.

As well as extensive fire damage to the church, a verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of “false gods” was spray-painted in red on an outer wall of the church, suggesting Jewish zealots were responsible.

The church was built in the 1980s on the site of 4th and 5th century houses of worship that commemorated what Christians revere as Jesus's miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered the Shin Bet to launch a top-priority investigation, described the incident as “an attack on all of us”.

After the June 18 fire, the Rabbis for Human Rights group said there had been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

Dozens of arrests have been made in such cases, but there have been few indictments and convictions, with police and prosecutors acknowledging that the young age of many of the suspected perpetrators has led courts to show leniency.

Will love win?


“Love wins” was a popular reaction throughout social media last week to the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. I thought about that wonderful slogan as I attended two love-filled religious events — one connected to Islam and one to Christianity.

The events made me reflect on the very notion of love. We’re used to seeing love in a romantic context, as a deep emotion between human beings who share a unique bond. But equally compelling is a more universal kind of love among peoples of different cultures and religions.

Can Muslims love non-Muslims? Can Christians love non-Christians? Can Jews love non-Jews? 

We rarely ask these simple questions because they seem too corny and idealistic. They feel naive. When you see so much violence and hatred and divisiveness happening in the name of religion, the first instinct is to be cynical and protective, not idealistic. You want to build walls to protect yourself, not bridges to connect with others.

And yet, there are still plenty of people on all sides who embrace this idealism and preach that because we are all God’s children, no matter what our differences, we ought to love each other.

At an event for the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which I attended last Saturday night in Pasadena, the word “love” seemed to be repeated every few seconds. They spoke of CBN’s humanitarian efforts throughout the world, including building 16,000 water wells in the Third World, distributing 68 million pounds of food supplies a year and running orphanages in 55 countries.

Sure, my cynical side kicked in, and I thought about all the caveats: They want people to believe in their savior, their conservative views can drive liberals nuts, and they’re really good at raising enormous sums of money. 

That is one of the advantages of living in a free society like the United States: We have the luxury, and the privilege, of indulging in idealism.

At the end of the day, though, I have to give them their due: They are helping millions of suffering people, and, corny or not, their efforts are motivated by love.

There was plenty of love among the 300 people in attendance last Thursday night at the Community Iftar and Fellowship Celebration at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, an annual event organized by NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

The first page of the evening’s program set the mood: “At NewGround, we believe that conflict is natural and inevitable. Yet it is not intractable — no matter the history. Being stuck is a choice. Therefore, we build relationships between Muslims and Jews in order to transform communities through lasting partnerships.”

One of the partnership rituals was a recitation of parallel prayers for Ma’ariv and Maghrib. For example, while Muslims recited, “Ya Allah, let our hearts recognize the sacred in one another,” Jews recited, “Let us know one another and through one another know You.” 

What especially caught my attention was a statement from one of the Muslim leaders of the event. It’s commonly known that Iftar is the nightly breaking of the fast during the 30 days of Ramadan, but what I didn’t know was that, according to the Muslim tradition, you’re also supposed to fast — to refrain — from “anger and frustration.”

Again, as much as I loved hearing those words, my cynical side kicked in: “Didn’t those Islamist fanatics at ISIS get the memo? Which Quran are they reading?”

Putting those thoughts aside, though, I was grateful to see that not everyone is as cynical as I am, and that there are still dreamers and lovers doing the real work of reconciliation. 

It’s true that with all the religious-based violence we see in so many parts of the world, we have a tendency to turn inward. Our love becomes more tribal. Feeling threatened, we become more protective. Throw God and religion into the mix and the emotions are magnified. It becomes that much harder to break through our well-earned cynicism to reach a place of love.

That is one of the advantages of living in a free society like the United States: We have the luxury, and the privilege, of indulging in idealism. That might be the ultimate compliment one can give to a country — to be free to dream and be idealistic and create organizations that build water wells in Third World villages and bring Jews and Muslims together in a synagogue.

In this free nation, which we celebrate on the Fourth of July, we also have the luxury of imagining a world where the highest calling of religion is not to turn us into better Jews, or better Muslims, or better Christians, but into better humans.

This is a world where love wins.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Islamic State urges followers to escalate attacks in Ramadan


Islamic State urged its followers on Tuesday to escalate attacks against Christians, Shi'ites and Sunni Muslims fighting with a U.S.-led coalition against the ultra-radical group.

Jihadists should turn the holy month of Ramadan, which began last week, into a time of “calamity for the infidels … Shi'ites and apostate Muslims”, Isalmic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in an audio message. He urged more attacks in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

“Muslims everywhere, we congratulate you over the arrival of the holy month,” he said. “Be keen to conquer in this holy month and to become exposed to martyrdom.”

Adnani also called on Sunnis in Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to rise against “tyrannical leaders” and warned them against advancing Shi'ites, pointing to the treatment of Sunnis under a Shi'ite-led government in Iraq and in Syria under the Alawites, the Shi'ite offshoot to which President Bashar al Assad belongs.

He said his group was undeterred by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate.

“We will continue, God willing, in our path and will not care even if many nations gang up against us or how many swords we are struck by,” he said.

Adnani also warned U.S. President Barack Obama that Islamic State would retaliate for the attacks against it.

“Obama and your defeated army, we promise you in the future setback after setback and surprise after surprise,” he said.

Sunni tribes in Iraq were joining the militants after the Iraqi government and the United States had failed to bring them into Iraq's political process, Adnani said.

“The Sunni people are now behind the jihadists … the enemies have been petrified by the daily pledges of allegiance by the chiefs of tribes to the Mujahideen,” he said.

In response to the pleading of Iraqi tribal elders, Adnani said, Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had given Sunnis working with the U.S.-led coalition and those who were still in the Iraqi army one last chance to repent.

In recent weeks, several major Iraqi tribes in the restive Anbar province announced their allegiance to the militants in recorded videos.

Adnani devoted the bulk of his 29-minute speech to an appeal to Iraqi Sunnis. He said their enemies were Western infidels and Shiites, who wanted to expel them from Iraq and turn it into a Shi'ite state. Iraqi Sunnis were being evicted en masse from areas taken over by Shi'ite militias supported by the Iraqi government, he said.

“Needless to say, you all know the kidnappings, evictions, killings of Sunnis that happen every day in Baghdad,” he said. “Thousands and thousands” were already jailed in prisons in the predominantly Shi'ite provinces of southern Iraq, he said.

Adnani also called on those insurgents fighting the militant group in north and northwestern Syria to stop battling them or face the consequences.

Al Shabaab kills at least 147 at Kenyan university; siege ends


Gunmen from the Islamist militant group al Shabaab stormed a university in Kenya and killed at least 147 people on Thursday, in the worst attack on Kenyan soil since the U.S. embassy was bombed in 1998.

The siege ended nearly 15 hours after the Somali group's gunmen shot their way into the Garissa University College campus in a pre-dawn attack, sparing Muslim students and taking many Christians hostage.

Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said four gunmen strapped with explosives were behind the attack, the same number that killed 67 people during the 2013 bloodbath at a shopping mall in Nairobi.

“The operation has ended successfully. Four terrorists have been killed,” Nkaissery told Kenyan media.

Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinet said the attackers had “shot indiscriminately” when they entered the university compound.

Police and soldiers surrounded the campus and exchanged gunfire with the attackers throughout the day but were repeatedly repelled. At least 79 people were injured and many airlifted to Nairobi, Kenya's national disaster body said.

Al Shabaab, who carried out the deadly attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013, claimed responsibility for the raid on the campus in Garissa, a town 200 km (120 miles) from the Somali border.

The group has links to al Qaeda and a record of raids on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Nairobi sending troops to fight it in its home state of Somalia.

Al Qaeda bombed the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on the same day in 1998, killing 224 people and wounding thousands of people.

The United States condemned the latest attack and offered Kenya help in fighting al Shabaab.

One image provided by a local journalist showed a dozen blood-soaked bodies strewn across a single university classroom in Garissa. But some students managed to escape unaided.

“We heard some gunshots and we were sleeping so it was around five and guys started jumping up and down running for their lives,” an unnamed student told Reuters TV.

Authorities offered a 20 million shilling ($215,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of a man called Mohamed Mohamud, described as “most wanted” and linked to the attack.

Police chief Boinet said Kenya had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on four regions near the Somalia border.

TOURISM AND RELIGION

Al Shabaab, which seeks to impose its own harsh version of sharia law, has separated Muslims from Christians in some of its previous raids in Kenya, notably late last year in attacks on a bus and at a quarry.

Its repeated raids, together with attacks on churches by home-grown Islamist groups, have strained the cordial relations between Kenya's Muslim and Christian communities.

Having killed more than 200 people in Kenya over the past two years, Al Shabaab has also brought the tourism industry to its knees.

Thursday's attack undermined a renewed drive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to persuade foreigners the country is now safe to visit.

On Wednesday, he had urged Kenyans abroad to help attract tourists back despite the wave of militant violence, criticizing a warning from Australia of a possible attack in Nairobi and an advisory from Britain urging its citizens to avoid most coastal resorts.

Grace Kai, a student at the Garissa Teachers Training College near the university, said there had been warnings that an attack in the town could be imminent.

“Some strangers had been spotted in Garissa town and were suspected to be terrorists,” she told Reuters.

“Then on Monday our college principal told us … that strangers had been spotted in our college… On Tuesday we were released to go home, and our college closed, but the campus remained in session, and now they have been attacked.”

Many Kenyans living in the crime-ridden frontier regions blame the government for not doing enough to protect its citizens from the militants.

Ted Cruz enlists Christians for 2016 White House bid


Casting himself as the leader of a grassroots army, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) made an explicit appeal to Christian conservatives on Monday as he became the first major figure to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

Cruz's unyielding tactics in Washington have made him a hero to many on the Tea Party right and a thorn in the side of the Republican establishment. Seeking to break into the front ranks of candidates, Cruz solicited the support of born-again Christians who play a major role in states with early nominating contests.

Speaking at Liberty University, a Christian school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell, Cruz discussed his Baptist faith in personal terms and urged religious conservatives who have sat out recent elections to get off the sidelines.

“Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values,” he said.

Cruz's prominent role in the 2013 government shutdown made him one of the better-known politicians in America even as he made enemies in both parties on Capitol Hill. Becoming a senator only two years ago, he made his mark last year with a 21-hour speech against Obamacare on the floor of the Senate.

But the Harvard-educated son of a Cuban immigrant starts the race for the November 2016 election as a second-tier candidate. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have locked down deep-pocketed donors and built sophisticated campaigns-in-waiting as they court voters across the country.

Cruz, 44, came in third in an informal poll of activists last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls show him statistically tied with five other potential candidates, well behind Bush and Walker.

As the first to jump into the race, Cruz will get extra attention from the media and voters for several weeks as he tries to position himself as the conservative alternative to more centrist candidates like Bush and Walker.

MOBILIZING THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT

Campaign aides told the Houston Chronicle they do not expect to appeal to moderate or establishment-minded voters, but instead aim to run strongly among self-identified Tea Party members and pick up support from libertarians and religious conservatives.

That could help Cruz in early-voting states like Iowa, where 57 percent of Republican caucus goers identified as evangelical or born-again Christians in 2012. Cruz will likely have to compete for their support with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who won Iowa in 2012, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won in 2008.

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. said many evangelicals have sat out recent elections out of disappointment with the more centrist candidates that have won the party's nomination.

“Certain Republican candidates have promised so much and delivered so little over the last 25 years and I think that's the reason. If someone could mobilize that bloc, it would be amazing,” Falwell told Reuters.

Speaking without notes, Cruz employed the cadence of a preacher as he told an overflow crowd of 11,000 about the religious journey of his father, who left the family when Cruz was three years old but returned after joining a Baptist church.

“If not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been … raised by a single mom without my father in the house,” Cruz said.

In his speech Cruz called for the repeal of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law and the abolition of the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service. He cast divisive social issues in religious terms, referring to the “sacrament of marriage” and the “sanctity of human life.”

Cruz drew some of his strongest applause when he accused Obama of playing down the religious elements of Islamic State and fostering conflict with Israel, an important issue for evangelicals.

“I believe God isn't done with America yet,” Cruz said. “I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America.”

Cruz's birth in Calgary, Canada, has raised questions about his eligibility for the White House. The U.S. Constitution requires that the president be a natural born citizen. Cruz has said he qualifies by virtue of his mother having been an American citizen by birth.

Islamic State in Syria abducts at least 150 Christians


Islamic State militants have abducted at least 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria they had raided, Christian Syrian activists said on Tuesday.

A Syrian Christian group representing several NGO's inside and outside the country said it had verified at least 150 people missing, including women and elderly, who had been kidnapped by the militants.

“We have verified at least 150 people who have been adducted from sources on the ground,” Bassam Ishak, President of the Syriac National Council of Syria, whose family itself is from Hasaka, told Reuters from Amman.

Earlier the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 90 were abducted when the militants carried out dawn raids on rural villages inhabited by the ancient Christian minority west of Hasaka, a city mainly held by the Kurds.

Syrian Kurdish militia launched two offensives against the militants in northeast Syria on Sunday, helped by U.S.-led air strikes and Iraqi peshmerga.

This part of Syria borders territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq, where it committed atrocities last year against the Yazidi religious minority.

Islamic State did not confirm the kidnappings. Supporters posted photos online of the group's fighters in camouflage attire looking at maps and firing machine guns. The website said the photos were from Tel Tamr, a town near where the Observatory said the abductions occurred.

Many Assyrian Christians have emigrated in the nearly four-year-long conflict in which more than 200,000 have people have been killed. Before the arrival of Kurds and Arab nomadic tribes at the end of the 19th century, Christians formed the majority in Syria's Jazeera area, which includes Hasaka.

Sunday's offensive by Kurdish YPG militia reached within five km (3 miles) of Tel Hamis, an Islamic State-controlled town southeast of Qamishli, the Observatory said.

At least 14 IS fighters died in the offensive, in which Assyrians fought alongside Kurds, it added. Eight civilians were also killed in heavy shelling by the Kurdish side, which seized several Arab villages from Islamic State control.

Last year, Islamic State fighters abducted several Assyrians in retaliation for some of them fighting alongside the YPG. Most were released after long negotiations.

RELIEVING PRESSURE

Military experts said militants were trying to open a new front to relieve pressure on Islamic State after several losses since being driven from the Syrian town of Kobani near the border with Turkey.

“Islamic State are losing in several areas so they want to wage an attack on a new area,” said retired Jordanian general Fayez Dwiri.

Since driving IS from Kobani, Kurdish forces, backed by other Syrian armed groups, have pursued the group's fighters as far as their provincial stronghold of Raqqa.

A resident of Hasaka, jointly held by the Syrian government and the Kurds, said hundreds of families had arrived in recent days from surrounding Christian villages and Arab Bedouins were arriving from areas along the border.

“Families are coming to Hasaka seeking safety,” said Abdul Rahman al-Numai, a textile trader said by telephone.

Beyond interfaith marriage


There is a methodological debate among demographers as to counting the number of Jews in the United States. Some demographers maintain that the Jews in the America are 5.6 million. Another group of demographers maintain that the Jewish population in the United States is 5.2 million. 

I think I understand something about the conflict among the demographers. When our president, Elaine, and I look out at the lecture hall, Elaine will ask me to guess how many people there are. “Six hundred,” I say. She replies, “Three hundred.” I have figured it out: Elaine counts the heads; I count the feet. Those who count heads are more pessimistic than those who count feet.

Whether you count heads or feet, all the schools of demography report that we are, as a people, shriveling. Sociologists note the low fertility rates, the aging community, the rise of intermarriage and the diminishing of synagogue attendance. Demographers deal with numbers. Their numbers read that one out of every three married Jews is married to a non-Jew.

  • There are one million interfaith couples in the United States.
  • By the year 2005, it is estimated that about 2/3 of recent marriages will involve a non-Jew. 
  • Professor Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University in Israel estimates that the figure is considerable, and warns that the internal dangers of interfaith marriages are not limited to the United States, but that the same trends extend to France, Germany, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
  • The sociologist Dr. Sali Meridor claims that Jews are disappearing from the world at a rate of 50,000 a year. In another place, a sociologist puts the rate at 50 Jews lost to us per day.
  • The children in intermarried households number 750,000. Less than 1/3 of them are raised as Jews. A full half of them learn nothing of their Jewish legacy. We are losing our children.

I am frightened, and I fear the “hemorrhaging” of our people before our very eyes. Do not be deceived by the congregation on Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur. “You are but summer to my heart and not the full four seasons of the year.” We are losing our critical mass, which is indispensable for a vital people.

I come to you because I need you. I come to you not for your money, not for your contributions. I come to you for much more than that. I believe that it is possible to staunch the bleeding. 

The issue, from my point of view, is not intermarriage. That is the demographer's “bogey-man”. To focus on intermarriage is to see the symptom, and not the cause. The symptom is not the cause, and if you treat the symptom in isolation, you will mask the root of the malaise that eats away at our core. If we managed to stop all mixed marriage, you would not touch the lethal malaise that is tearing us apart. 

I'm not a demographer, but I'm a rabbi, and I meet with all kinds of Jews. I ask different questions and hear different answers in conversation. Come with me into my study. There enter two people, one Jack, the other Mary. They have come to ask me to officiate at their wedding and one of them is not Jewish. Which one is not Jewish? I don't know. These days, names and looks can't tell you that. Her name is Mary – I guess she's Christian. I ask her is she Catholic or Protestant – she does not know. “I think,” she says, “I'm Protestant.” I then ask, “Presbyterian? Episcopalian? Baptist? Seventh Day Adventist?” She doesn't know. She doesn't think her parents know either. Jack also doesn't know what kind of Jew he is – Reform, Orthodox, Conservative or confused. He had a Bar Mitzvah, but like the song, he doesn't remember “where or when.” 

With Jack and Mary, I'm dealing with an “inter-faithless” couple – a hybrid between a rabbit and a hen: “Nisht ahin un nisht aher.”

I begin with Mary, and we speak about what she knows about Jewish people and Judaism. I speak something about 4,000 years of Jewish history. Mary's eyes are wide open, but Jack is squinting, sitting in obvious impatience. He's not happy with the way the conversation is going. I ask him ever so politely if he would wait for us in the waiting room. 

Alone with Mary, I'm doing far better. Mary has a general notion that Judaism is a tradition of the home, that it emphasizes family and that it is free of doctrines and dogmas and that it its permissible, indeed encouraged, to ask questions. I ask her if Jack ever talked about Judaism or the possibility of her learning about Judaism. No, the issue never came up, but she is truly interested. Jack returns to the study. He is obviously upset with me, for he had come to see whether I'd stand under the chuppah, and now we're talking about sixteen weeks, a course in introductory Judaism – that he had not bargained for. Jack admits to me that he's not religious. He won't force anything on Mary. That makes me the “enforcer.” Who is talking about enforcing – as far as Jack is concerned, he would like me to stand under the chuppah for the sake of his parents and would even like to have Mary's priest or minister co-officiate with me. He's ecumenical. I'm too provincial. I recognize that I've met my match, so I tell Jack I can do it all myself. “Look, I received my ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary as a rabbi, and in my post-graduate work at the Pacific School of Religion, a non-denominational Christian school, I received my Doctor of Theology. I can do both ceremonies without calling in anyone else. I know the Christian ceremony, and I certainly know the Jewish ceremony.” Jack looks oddly at me, and blurts out, “That's crazy! You can't do both!” I think – I hope – he understands the point. I hope he understands that marriage and marriage vows have religious and social implications. That Judaism and Christianity are unique and different religions s – that should they have children and should they be blessed with a male child then on the 8th day they would have to choose either circumcision or baptism? Shrimp or tzimmes? I hope he understands that “Hot cross buns and challah” is a crazy menu, that out of respect for every religion, you cannot dump Judaism and Christianity into a Cuisinart.

Mary enlisted in the course at the University of Judaism and Jack went along reluctantly. I was a participant in the three-rabbi Bet Din and officiated by myself at their wedding as a rabbinic solo.

But our real dilemma was, and is usually, not prenuptial. The truer problem is post-nuptial. Months after they were married, Mary comes to me with great discomfort: “Rabbi,” she said, “I am a deeply spiritual person. God means something to me. The synagogue and ritual have come to mean a lot to me, but Jack will have nothing to do with it. I don't know whether he's ashamed or ignorant, or what, but he's an absent Jew. But it's certainly not what I had hoped for in choosing to be a Jew and enjoy a Jewish family.” Mary is the Jewishly observant one. Mary comes to schul alone. It will be Mary who will insist on a day school for their child.

So the problem is not Mary. The problem, which studies show, has far more to do with Jack. 

Not coincidentally, in the last national population study, there was a revealing figure that 1.5 million “born” Jews, when asked what was their religion, answered, “None.” Jack is not a Jew and not a Christian – he is a “Non-Jew”. Mary became a “Jew-by-Choice”, but Jack remains a “choice less Jew”. Neither God, nor language, nor literacy, nor ritual – this “biological Jew”, Jack, is wedded to nothing. Jewishly, he's a bachelor without commitments.

When a number of years ago we introduced a Keruv program for the un-churched and the un-synagogued, I came across a type of gentile I have not met before. The gentile searchers were not interested in matrimony; they were interested in patrimony – ancestry. They were not interested in marrying our sons or daughters; they were searchers for ancestry, for rootedness, for a culture and a civilization they have heard about as the mother of all monotheistic faith. They yearned for the depth of a history and a destiny. And they find something in Judaism that Jack never suspects.

Mary's in shul today. She comes quite often on Shabbat and she told me something I have heard many times before: “You won't believe it, Rabbi, but Jack's relations who don't attend the synagogue look down upon me. I have heard them whisper, `It will never work, you can't make a non-Jew Jewish because Jewishness comes with the chicken soup. It's a genetic taste.' There's a book by a Yeshiva University Graduate, Professor Michael Wyschograd, called The Body of Faith, in which he claims that Jews are “carnally elected” – that God chose us as a biological people that “remains elect even when it sins.” Jewishness is embedded in our physiognomy and even in our culinary predilections like gefilte fish, lox and bagels. Can you convert taste? But – by God – my own children don't like gefilte fish! Where did Malkah and I go wrong! It is humiliating to hear Mary tell me: ” I hear them say something in Yiddish. I found out what it meant. `A Shiksa bleibt a shiksa un a goy beibt a goy.”' As a Jew, I am embarrassed and deeply hurt and I wondered how many people who use that expression know that the word shiksa and shegetz comes from a Hebrew word sheketz, which means “abomination”, “an unclean creature”, “loathsome”, “vermin”. And Goy, while it means “nation”, is no compliment. “He has a `a goyishe kop' ” does not mean “he's the head of a nation.” 

Listen to the testimony of the executive director of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Elliot Schoenberg: “The Conservative Movement and the Conservative synagogue are perceived as places that fail to welcome the intermarried… it is the overall consensus about Conservative Judaism.” I am embarrassed by that alienation of those who should be warmly embraced.

I don't want to digress from my major point. Shagetz. That is a racism we must fight. When did the xenophobia penetrate Judaism? From its inception Judaism embraced the stranger, the ger, the “Jew-by-choice”?

Who are we? What does our Passover Haggadah tell us about our birth? Who are native-born Jews? Our ancestors were pagans and slaves. Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors, were the first “Jews-by-Choice. Abraham is called “Avi Ha- Gerim“, father of the proselytes. 

Our rabbis were proud to declare that Yithro, Moses' father-in-law, became a “Jew-by-Choice”, and so Batyah, the daughter of Pharoah, and so the Egyptian midwives Shifrah and Puah who saved Jewish children cast into the river by the edict of Pharaoh. 

We must not allow perversion of Judaism. We can't allow this racist bias to enter into a compassionate people who, according to the Talmud in Bava Metzia 59-B, note that one verse in the Torah is repeated thirty-six times, more than love of family. Thirty six times we are mandated to love the stranger, we are prohibited to wound the stranger, to oppress the stranger. We are to treat the Ger, the stranger who has chosen to share our culture and destiny, with concern and care and love.

Unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism never has been motivated by the notion that outside Judaism there was no access to God. Judaism is a sacred choice open to all people.

This is our pride. Every single day, thrice daily, we recite a benediction, the 13th benediction of the Amidah, praising God for having created righteous proselytes, men and women who choose Judaism on their own. This is sacred liturgical our tradition. In the Tanchuma, listen to the rabbis declare: “Dearer to God is the proselyte who has come to Him of his own accord than all the populace of Israelites who stood at Mount Sinai. For had the Israelites not witnessed the thunders and lightnings, the quaking mountains and the blaring trumpets, they would not have accepted the Torah. But the proselytes, without having seen any of these things, comes and takes upon himself the yoke of heaven. Can there be anything dearer to God? Yesh chaviv mizeh?

I read in the Talma Yevamot (47A) that our rabbis taught: “If, in present times, a person comes to be converted, they say to him, `For what reason have you come to be converted? Do you not know that, in present times, Israel is afflicted, pushed aside, swept away, displaced and subjected to suffering?' If he replies, `I know, and am not worthy,' they immediately accept him.” [M'kablim Oto Miyad] This text brings to mind that question I asked of a potential convert: “You know that anti-Semitism is a reality?” He answered, “I have studied the holocaust…I know, but I would rather be numbered among the persecuted than among the persecutors.” We embraced. As it is written in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 10, verse 19: “Love ye the proselyte for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

There are potential Jews who in this world of choice should not find synagogue, or Judaism a cloister – there are hundreds of interfaith couples, who say they wish to raise their child as a Jew – but the noblest of intentions left alone will evaporate in the anonymity of mass culture. If we in the synagogue do nothing, I mean VBS – I mean you and me – if we in the synagogue community abandon those people, if we forsake the child, the thousands if potential Jewish children, they will be abandoned and assimilated, not to another religion, but to the anonymity of mass culture. It is a mitzvah on moral, demographic and theological grounds to embrace the potential Jews all around us, in our community, in our family. Stop wringing your hands. Stop citing statistics. We can turn the challenge into an opportunity to enlarge and enhance Jewish life. 

Help me! Help me to help them! Help me to help ourselves! We at VBS are a significant congregation and we can make a dent in the thinking and behavior of Jewish life. If it starts here, it will not end here. Do you want to be part of a Mission of Mitzvah: Do you want to help change the Desperate Demography of our statistics? Will you enlist in a program of “in-reach”, the purpose of which is two-fold? First, to learn and to study about what Judaism is – but not for the sake of study itself. This is not another adult education program, but with a particular purpose – “lilmod u'l lomed ” – to study so that you can teach. To teach so that you can persuade. To persuade so that you can transmit the ethics, the spirit, the culture of a 4,000 year tradition. I urge you to become mentoring teachers because there is no better way to learn than to teach. It is not learning for the sake of learning. I ask you to tithe talent. The curriculum of this “in-reach” course is focused upon one basic theme: I want you to know enough about Judaism and to feel enough about Judaism and to study with leading teachers so that you can fill in the answer. I believe that Judaism is of such value and importance because … why Judaism is of such superordinate value that it makes all the difference in the world whether you child is raised in a Jewish home. I want you to join a special cadre of Jewish mentors instructed by Rabbis Hoffman, Feinstein and myself from within VBS to learn in order to affect the future of the Jewish people and the character of Judaism. I need your passion for Jews and Judaism. I need your sense of mission for the creative survival of one of the great religious civilizations in the world.

More, I want you to not only transmit Judaism from books or lectures but from belonging. To help potential Jews find a path to Judaism calls for us to open our own homes, to bring seekers along with you to Jewish lectures and concerts and plays and music and religious services. We need the Jewish warmth of belonging. We must reach within in order to reach without.

I need you. Jews need Jews to be Jewish and potential Jews need Jews to become Jewish. I want a pledge – not of money, not of cash and not of check, to transform us from passive to proactive. I want your idealism, your love of Judaism and the Jewish people to strengthen the open, lovely character of Judaism. The stranger is our mirror. It reflects the stranger in us. To meet the stranger, to embrace the stranger, is to raise ourselves. As the great Jewish philosopher Herman Cohen wrote, “In the stranger, man discovered the idea of humanity.” In our attitude and practice toward the stranger we as a community of faith will recover the moral passion and purpose in Jewish living. Out there I seek seekers who want to discover a faith, wisdom, ethics and people who can solidify their lives. Out there are intermarried couples who stand outside on the threshold of the synagogue, ambivalent, frightened to enter, waiting to be invited in. I look at the potential Jew with love: not as a surrogate for our low fertility rates nor as a replacement for the millions who were decimated in the genocide. 

I seek him/her because we are a people with a universal message to the world, because godliness needs allies and because Judaism seriously lived can offer them and their families the nobility of meaning and the utility of a purpose. The demographers prognosticate a bleak scenario. But my ancestors were not statisticians. They were prophets. Therefore, I believe that we can turn that challenge into an opportunity for life. You know within and without your family and friends who are inter-married – they need to know from you an address if a synagogue and rabbis who will not chastise, but wish to help them and their children enter the ambience of the Jewish community. Will you volunteer to “reach in” so that we can “reach out” to potential Jews?

Our people are waiting and they are waiting for us, for we of the synagogue to save Jewish life here and now. If not now, when? If not you, who?

Letter to world leaders calls for international effort to save Mideast Christians


This article originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A letter sent to 120 world leaders demanding a halt to the persecution of Middle East Christians was released in Jerusalem on Monday by its signatories, Dr. Jurgen Buhler, executive director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ); Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress; and Dr. William M. Wilson, co-chairman of Empowered21 Global Council and president of Oral Roberts University.

The letter marks the first time global Christian and Jewish organizations have jointly called for international action to end the violent persecution Christians in the Middle East are facing at the hands of Islamist groups such as the Islamic State.

“A year ago, Ronald Lauder came to us with a message that it’s time for Jews and Christians to unite against the persecution of Christians by ISIS in the Middle East,” Buhler said. Lauder vowed he would bring the plight of the Christians to the world as the world has remained silent while the Islamic State systematically threw out hundreds of thousands of Christians from the Middle East, killing tens of thousands if they chose not to convert to Islam.

Lauder said he found the “sweeping silence of the United Nations” surprising. “We hear daily of the death of 1,200 Gazans, but we also hear nothing of Christians having to leave Bethlehem. We Jews know how things in the 1930s ended up when Jews were being killed and the world was silent.  The Christian number of communities that have been wiped out is staggering. At one time 20 percent of the population of the Middle East was Christian,” Lauder said.

President Billy Wilson of Oral Roberts University made a plea for the world to “stand up and stop one of the greatest atrocities in the 21st century. Christians and Jews through the centuries have all suffered persecution,” he said.

Asked whether the plight of 12,000 Kurds facing slaughter at the hands of advancing ISIS forces at Kobani, Syria, is reversible, Lauder told The Media Line that he believed that only the Turkish army is in position to do anything and that air strikes by the US-led coalition are clearly insufficient to turn the tide: a sentiment that evoked strong agreement from those present.

“Equally disturbing was the fact the United States did not send in ground troops,” Lauder added. He told The Media Line that “it has to be done by boots on the ground; the question is who is doing it.” He expressed the fear that “it’s the 11 ½ hour and I don’t know if it’s too late, but very soon it will be.”

Wilson opined that “ISIS would not have been as powerful as it is had the United States armed the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group of rebel fighting forces.  

Also speaking at the press conference was Rev. Canon Andrew White, known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” who was thrown out of Iraq days ago after having been accused of being “a lover of Israel.”  He told the assemblage that just over the weekend children who belonged to his church were beheaded when they refused to convert to Islam.

White served as a special envoy to the Middle East peace process, having been the mediator during the standoff between the Israeli army and Palestinian gunmen at the Church of the Nativity in 2002. He later served as chaplain to British and American forces in Baghdad during which time he became a leading voice about the atrocities being committed in Iraq. Some 200 members remain in his church that once served 6,500 worshipers.

White says he also tries to take care of the six Jews who remain in Iraq.

The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem is a global ministry that represents millions of Christians worldwide who share a love and concern for Israel and who seek to repair a historic breach between their church and the Jewish people.

In addition to unveiling the letter, ICEJ used the occasion to distribute the first edition of the Israel Buyer’s Guide, a project aimed to counter Palestinian efforts to foment an international boycott of Israeli goods by encouraging Christians to “buy Israel.” In a reference to Israel’s reputation as a high-tech center, Buhler said the world cannot afford to boycott Israel “or it would just stand still,” citing Israeli technology in virtually every computer as an example.

I would have booed Ted Cruz, too


U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) must be the gutsiest supporter of Israel in American history, if you believe media accounts of his actions at a recent Christian assembly. After some in the audience booed his pro-Israel remarks, he had the gumption to walk out, saying, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

But the episode was more complex. The ambitious Cruz is a highly cynical, calculated politician, and nothing could have delighted him more than the chance to storm off a stage in mock disgust at people who wouldn’t cheer his advocacy for a position that’s popular within his party.

I’m a supporter of Israel – a big one. I’m an Israeli citizen whose politics are center-right, and who relishes the staunch support of Israel shown by American politicians, and especially by leaders of my own Republican party.

But this wasn’t a pro-Israel event. Senator Cruz received his jeers at a gathering of mostly Middle Eastern Christians trying to build unity on a crucial issue – the persecution and murder of their co-religionists in the Levant. Nonetheless, the Senator’s remarks repeatedly returned to his devotion to Israel and the Jews.

An excerpt:

“Christians are being systematically exterminated. In 1948, Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state. Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America. And those who hate Jews hate Christians.

“And if this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps, that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals…. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians and behead children are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason.”

Of course it’s always good when people praise our People, our Nation, and our Land. I do it all the time. But this specific event existed to garner attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – and hijacking that cause to promote Israel is just as bad as exploiting the world’s disgust for ISIS to attack Hamas, as I’ve written elsewhere.

The persecution and murder of Christians is an affront to good people everywhere. Communities of Christians numbering in the hundreds of thousands in places like Lebanon and Iraq have been decimated. Huge numbers of Christians have become refugees. ISIS is a constant, terrifying threat.

Folks, if there is ever a “V’im ani l’atzmi mah ani?” moment (“If I am only for myself, what am I?”) this is it. As a people that suffered terribly during the last century from persecutions in tsarist Russia, Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Arab lands (among other places), we cannot focus only on our own problems – important as they are.

So for Cruz to ignore the agenda of the gathering and harp on a pet issue of his – knowing that it would resound beyond his immediate audience – was shameful. Politicians simply don’t lecture anti-Obamacare rallies about capital punishment. If I were there, I probably would have booed, too.

Jews, of all people, should understand that morality requires juggling devotion to many challenges at once – some close to home, some more distant. Let’s stop our knee-jerk cheering for anyone who says something nice about Israel and look at the broader context. Because there are non-Jews suffering who need our help, too.

And if not now, when?

A version of this essay appeared in the Daily Caller. David Benkof is a freelance writer and the constructor of the Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle, which appears in this publication. Follow David on Facebook or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Why doesn’t the world seem to care when Christians die?


When Jews are killed, we make sure the world knows. When Palestinians are killed, the Web explodes. So why is it that when Christians are murdered and persecuted en masse, no one seems to care — not even other Christians?

We see this mystery playing out in Iraq with the hundreds of thousands of members of Christian minorities whose deaths have not yet provoked an outcry. 

It was only last week, when the torture and killing had reached such extreme levels that the world began to take notice, that President Barack Obama ordered United States humanitarian and military intervention to rescue some 40,000 members of the Yazidis, a non-Muslim minority cornered by radical Muslims on a mountain outside of Mosul. 

“It’s a full-scale genocide,” Nuri Kino, a Swedish-Assyrian journalist, told me recently. “They are bombing near Mosul as we speak.  It’s so frustrating to hear the U.S. media say this is so sudden and surprising. Systematic ethnic cleansing has been going on from day one, and it’s going to get worse.”

For 10 years, Kino has been writing about the growing strength of fundamentalist Sunni groups in Iraq and Syria, and of their persecution of those countries’ non-Muslim groups. 

What Kino has been writing and speaking about for years is now on CNN. But when I reached him by phone last week in Sweden, just before his next secret trip into the Middle East, Kino was far too emotionally wrought to feel vindicated.

A fundamentalist Sunni Muslim group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken over swaths of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. It is murdering, pillaging and exiling thousands of people from other ethnic and religious groups. ISIS gives Christians who live in the many villages in northern Iraq a choice: Convert to Islam, leave or be killed.

“Being a Turkmen, a Shabak, a Yazidi or a Christian in [Islamic State] territory can cost you your livelihood, your liberty or even your life,” Human Rights Watch’s Middle East executive director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a press release on Saturday from Iraqi Kurdistan.

As of last week, America has finally taken notice — and action. Kino and others fighting for the cause worry that tomorrow the airdrops and the spotlight will disappear, but the problem won’t. 

The Yazidis are an ancient minority whose religion recognizes Jesus as a prophet, but also combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam and other local traditions. They are just the latest target in ISIS’ genocidal campaign focused largely on Christian minorities.

Assyrians are Christians who speak a linguistic relative of Aramaic. Of the 2 million Assyrians worldwide, about 400,000 live in the United States. Only 250,000 remain in their homeland.  

There, ISIS’ documented abuses include executing Assyrian women who refuse to wear a hijab; raping a mother and daughter for not paying a religious tax; destroying the purported tomb of the Prophet Jonah, whom Assyrians revere; kidnapping; forced sexual slavery; and depriving refugees of clean water and food.

Since taking power from the Iraq army, ISIS has gone on a spree of killing and forcibly exiling all of the Assyrian, Chaldean and other Christian communities in its path. As far back as 2007, ISIS bombed a Yazidi village and killed 500 people.

In July, in Mosul, ISIS thugs painted the Arabic letter ن (noon) on the doors of Christian homes after their original inhabitants fled, were forced out or murdered. ن is the first letter of the Arabic Nasrani, the word for Christians.

The Assyrian diaspora community in Europe and America has been trying, without success, to draw the world’s attention to this campaign of intimidation and terror. A group called A Demand for Action organized a series of protests across the United States earlier this month, including one in front of the Federal Building in Westwood that drew about 200 marchers, mostly local Assyrians and Chaldeans.

“It is a modern-day Holocaust,” Suzan Younan, the organization’s spokeswoman, told me. “I compare Jewish homes that the Nazis painted a Star of David on with Christian homes that ISIS painted an ‘N’ on. There is a another genocide happening as we speak.”

What especially frustrates Kino is that this has been going on with almost no outcry from American politicians or religious leaders.

“We hear, ‘Gaza, Gaza, Gaza.’ ‘Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine.’  But where are the Christian leaders of the United States?” Kino demanded, his voice breaking. “These people are the roots of Christianity. They speak Jesus’ mother tongue. Shame on Sarah Palin, all those so-called good Christians. Shame on both Democrats and Republicans.”

Kino heaped scorn on American politicians who didn’t see this genocide coming.

The region is full of ethnic minorities with competing claims and agendas. The Assyrians are the largest of the Christian minorities, buffeted on one side by Kurds, who want the oil-rich Nineveh plains — the Assyrian ancestral homelands — as part of a future Kurdistan, and on the other by ISIS, which wants them gone, or dead.

Saddam Hussein granted Iraq’s forced-together minorities their religious rights, even as he denied them political rights. The Ba’athist Assad family ruled neighboring Syria the same way.

At the risk of raising the back hairs of died-in-the-wool partisans, much of the blame for the current debacle belongs to the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

“When the U.S. invaded Iraq,” Kino said, “it was amazing how unaware they were of the different sects of Islam and other religions. But this genocide was easy to predict. It’s what happens when you take power from the Sunnis and give it to the Shiites, then you guys leave the country and the Shiites discriminate, then of course the radicals will react.”

Fundamentalist Sunni groups have been marauding through the area for decades. Ideologically, they are the spawn of the extreme ideology that bred the Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas and al-Qaida.  

“ISIS is just al-Qaida. There’s no difference,” said Kino, who wrote a novel, The Line in the  Sand,  and an as-yet-unproduced screenplay about the Assyrians’ plight.

But this is the difference between ISIS and many radical Islamist groups: ISIS has plenty of guns and money. Where ISIS has overpowered the Iraqi army, it has captured the latest American weaponry. It controls oil fields and their revenues, and some $400 million it extracted from Mosul banks when it captured the city.

Savina Dawood, who represents A Demand for Action in Iraq, works among the refugees in the Kurdish city of Erbil, helping them find places to stay, medical care and supplies. When I reached her by phone there, she said the U.S. humanitarian relief to the Yazidis hasn’t noticeably relieved the Assyrian situation.

“This has had no impact,” she said. “People are still displaced, and they haven’t gone back to their homes.”

Dawood, 24, an Assyrian native of Erbil, has collected stories of extreme hardship. In the town of Singal, Iraq, she was told that ISIS took hundreds of women captive to serve as sex partners for the ISIS fighters. In Erbil, she met women whose husbands had been taken by ISIS weeks ago and have yet to be seen. 

Meanwhile, Assyrian refugees crowd into churches, public parks and community buildings around Erbil and other larger towns — protected, for now, by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. 

Dawood said she has no idea when, or if, they will ever be able to return to their homes.

I asked her if the Assyrians have received any help from the international community.

“The attention we’re getting internationally is only from our own people outside Iraq, not others,” she said, speaking of the Assyrian Christian diaspora. “ISIS is trying to force us out of our ancestral country because we are indigenous people, and we are Christians. But we are also human. So if people don’t care about Christians or indigenous people, fine, but can they help us as humans?”

Helping the non-Muslim minorities in Syria and Iraq and stopping ISIS will take long-term resolve. Kino and others say the best way to begin is to immediately establish a safe haven in northern Iraq’s Nineveh plains. United Nations forces, or other international security forces, can be deployed to protect them from attack.  

The Assyrians want their safe haven to evolve eventually into an autonomous nation of their own, where they can protect themselves. A hundred years ago, at least 250,000 Assyrians were slaughtered in the genocide perpetrated by the Young Turks regime that decimated the Armenian population as well. Now, a hundred years later, they face a second round of extermination. Carving their own bit of land out of an oil-soaked swath of Kurdistan and Iraq with no army and no international support may be a distant dream.

In the meantime, what they most want, and need, is protection and assistance from an indifferent world.

“The international community must help us,” Dawood said.  “Their silence means they are fine with it.”


For more information and for ways to help, visit this column at jewishjournal.com. Follow Rob Eshman on Twitter @foodaism.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com.

Pope says Israelis, Palestinians must seek peace ‘undaunted in dialogue’


Pope Francis told Israeli and Palestinian leaders they “must respond” to their people's yearning for peace “undaunted in dialogue” during an unprecedented prayer meeting among Jews, Christians and Muslims at the Vatican on Sunday.

The pope made his vibrant appeal to Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian Authority counterpart Mahmoud Abbas at the end of a two-hour evening service in the Vatican gardens, an encounter he hopes will relaunch the Middle East peace process.

“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities,” he said.

The pope spoke after Jewish rabbis, Christian cardinals and Muslim Imams read and chanted from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran in Italian, English, Hebrew and Arabic in the first such inter-religious event in the Vatican.

At times the chanting made it seem that participants were in a synagogue or outside a mosque in the Middle East rather than a primly manicured triangular lawn, a spot the Vatican chose as a “neutral” site with no religious symbols.

In his strong speech in Italian, Francis called for respect for agreements and rejection of acts of provocation. “All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity,” he said.

Francis, who made the surprise invitation to the two leaders during his trip to the Holy Land last month, said that the search for peace was “an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples” and noted that millions around the world of all faiths were praying with them for peace.

SPIRAL OF HATRED

“We have heard a summons and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word 'brother',” the pope said as Peres and Abbas listened intently and read the live translations.

He said the children who have been the innocent victims of wars and conflicts made the search for peace an imperative. “The memory of these children instils in us the courage of peace, the strength to persevere undaunted in dialogue,” Francis said.

It was the first public meeting between the two presidents in more than a year and took place more than a month after United States-led peace talks collapsed amid bitter mutual recrimination.

Peres, who is 90 years old and whose mandate expires next month, departed from his prepared speech in English and Hebrew to say that he was an old man who had “seen war” and “tasted peace” and that all leaders owed their children a better future.

Abbas prayed to God “to bring comprehensive and just peace to our country and region so that our people and the peoples of the Middle East and the whole world would enjoy the fruit of peace, stability and coexistence”.

The pope, the two presidents and Patriarch Bartholomew then planted an olive tree and members of each delegation shook hands as music played. The four later held private talks for about 20 minutes before the two presidents left the Vatican.

NETANYAHU ABSENT

The Vatican has played down any expectations that the meeting – billed as a “pause from politics” – will lead to any immediate breakthroughs in efforts to solve the region's tortuous problems and says it is not meddling in regional issues and does not want to get involved in details of negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the key Israeli decision-maker, is not attending and he refuses to deal with the Palestinian unity government, backed by Hamas Islamists, that Abbas swore in last Monday.

Netanyahu has made no direct comment on the meeting, but in remarks on Sunday at a paramilitary police base in Jerusalem he suggested that prayer is no substitute for security.

“For thousands of years, the people of Israel have been praying for peace daily. But until peace comes, we will continue to strengthen you so that you can continue to defend the State of Israel. Ultimately, that is what will guarantee our future and will also bring peace,” he told the troops.

But the fact that Francis's bold move has managed to bring together the two presidents at all shows his desire to engage political leaders, offering inter-religious dialogue as a building block.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by David Goodman

Israelis, Palestinians vie for Latino support during Pope’s visit


The first Latin American pope brought a wave of Latino love with him on his trip to the Holy Land last weekend.

At Pope Francis’ public prayer at Manger Square on May 25 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, near the site where Jesus is believed to have been born, Spanish was being spoken almost as much as Arabic. Flags from Argentina and Spain flew alongside those of the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican.

Francisco Primero, te quiere el mundo entero! (Francis the First, the whole world loves you!) a group of Spanish tourists chanted as they rushed the square, surrounded by giddy Palestinian schoolchildren. And then, louder: “Viva El Papa! (Long live the Pope!)

On the walls of stone buildings above the tourists, Palestinian Museum officials had hung mural-sized posters mixing images from classic Christian paintings with photos of Palestinian suffering. In one, a re-mixed “Madonna in the Meadow” showed the Virgin Mary huddling with Baby Jesus under the infamous separation wall that now divides Israel and the West Bank. In another, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” the saint’s hand was replaced by a Palestinian’s holding out his ID for an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint.

“Welcome to Palestine,” a huge banner proclaimed on the local mosque. “The detainees in the occupations prisons are pleading for freedom and dignity.”

So began Day One of the “Hasbara Superbowl” between Israelis and Palestinians, in which the ultimate prize was support of the international Christian community — and, in particular, Christian Latinos.

Joseph Hyman, president and founder of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, made the Superbowl comparison back during the first-ever Israel Summit last January, where 17 pro-Israel organizations were vying for funding from some 100 philanthropists. The star of the summit, Hyman said, was Fuente Latina, an organization that assists Spanish-language media looking to cover Israel and the region. The organization needed a funding boost to provide extra resources during the Pope’s much-anticipated visit to the Holy Land.

Its pitch was a no-brainer. Latinos form the largest minority in the United States — this year, they even surpassed non-Hispanic whites in California.

And in the University of California system, where impassioned debates over whether to divest from Israel have been pushing student-government meetings late into the night (as at many other campuses across the U.S.), more Latino students than white students have been accepted for fall 2014.

That’s not to mention the 21 countries that make up Latin America — whose population is 90 percent Christian, and mostly Catholic, like the pope — plus Spain and Portugal.

Fuente Latina’s director, Leah Soibel, an American with Argentinian parents, founded the organization in December 2012 after working seven years at The Israel Project, another nonprofit that aims to improve Israel’s image abroad. “We’ve been preparing for weeks,” she said in an interview a few days before the Pope’s arrival. “It’s going to be 72 hours of madness when he’s here. A lot of people are going to be watching — all eyes on Jerusalem.”

Even more than his predecessors, Pope Francis has captured hearts beyond the Catholic world: A pop-culture icon for his focus on the disenfranchised and his willingness to break molds of papal opulence, Francis was named 2013’s “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine. He speaks tirelessly of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and of putting social justice before capitalism. At a press conference in Jerusalem arranged by Fuente Latina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the leader of Argentina’s Jewish community and one of the pope’s closest friends, called him “probably the most influential person in the world.” 

Soibel said that the three employees at Fuente Latina normally process 50 to 100 requests in a month. In contrast, during the Pope’s visit, the organization was providing heavy assistance to about 300 media outlets.

Fuente Latina connected reporters with Spanish-speaking experts in Israel, arranged press conferences — most notably, the one with Rabbi Skorka, who co-authored the pope’s book on inter-religious dialogue — and took them on helicopter rides across Israel.

On one such sky tour, Soibel explained the reality on the ground to reporters from Mexico and Columbia, with an emphasis on Israel’s reasoning for building the separation wall and the fear experienced by Israelis near the border. The group also touched down in Sderot to tour a police exhibit of rockets that have been fired from Gaza. “When they don’t feel they’re getting enough attention, they begin to send rockets again,” Soibel said of the terrorists in Gaza.

Fuente Latina Director Leah Soibel with a case of rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Photo by Simone Wilson

Later, the Mexican reporter wrote in an online piece for her news site, Religión Confidencial, that although the pope would observe the separation wall, in many Israeli cities he would also observe minimal separation — places where Jews, Christians and Muslims live in peaceful coexistence.

Jewish philanthropy leader Hyman said of the helicopter rides: “For journalists to look at the size of Israel and understand its nature, it lends a sensitivity to why Israel is so concerned on the existential front.”

The Vatican also pulled its weight in the battle for public opinion. The pope’s visit was the picture of balance: He ate lunch with Palestinian refugees and spontaneously stepped down from his Popemobile to pray at the separation wall in Bethlehem, which is covered in anti-Israel graffiti. On the other side of the Green Line, he laid a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and blessed a group of gravely ill Christian Arab-Israeli children (at the request of Israel’s branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation).

The pope also stopped for an instantly iconic photo of three very different Argentinians — the heads of Argentina’s Jewish, Catholic and Muslim communities — hugging at the Western Wall.

“He will try to balance,” Rabbi Skorka said in advance of the pope’s visit at the Fuente Latina press conference. “This is going to be his policy in his speeches and in his acts. Total balance, this is what he is.” 

But while Pope Francis tried to spread his love evenly, Israeli and Palestinian heads of state fought for the upper hand. After the pope’s stop at the separation wall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjaman Netanyah steered him toward a Jerusalem memorial for Israeli victims of terrorism, so he could pray there, too. And both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argued in their welcoming speeches that life is better for Christians under their jurisdiction.

Abbas condemned “the settlement enterprise, and daily attacks on places of worship including churches and mosques.” He also emphasized his willingness to “work together to strengthen the Palestinian indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the pope: “The rights of Christians in this state are protected. To my sorrow, that doesn’t happen in other places in the Middle East. … Palestinian terrorists not only hurt us, they also harm Christians.”

Rima Saba, an American-educated Palestinian and “staunch Catholic” from Ramallah, spoke to the Journal in the crowd at the Bethlehem rally — the pope’s only public, open-air event while in the Holy Land. “This is an international, historical moment,” Saba said. “It means a lot for Palestine and its people. This is the land of Jesus Christ, but it also carries a lot of meaning and emotion for us as Palestinians. The fact that [the Pope] chose to come to Palestine first shows he really has clarity of vision, vis à vis the Palestinian question — that we are refugees, that we have been tortured and evicted.”

An increasingly popular annual conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” a project of the Bethlehem Bible College, has tried to loosen Israel’s monopoly on Evangelical Christian financial and moral support abroad.

“With every passing month, more evidence is emerging that these anti-Israel Christians are succeeding in reaching beyond the evangelical left and are influencing the mainstream,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), wrote after this year’s conference. “In particular, they are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly: the millennial generation.”

OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano, author of the “¡Ask a Mexican!” column and an advocate of Jewish-Latino relations, agreed that although Israel has wooed many members of the Latino political class, it's losing them at college level: “In the Latin market in general, but especially in the U.S. and among young people, the Palestinians are definitely winning the battle.”

According to Arellano, the “brown people oppressed by white oppressors” narrative is easy for pro-Palestine groups to sell to young Latinos going through their “leftist years where they love all revolutionary causes.”

He said this stems from the reality that “the Israel question registers not a blip for Latinos — not until one side of the other comes to them with their perspective. Kind of like, ‘We’re yours, whoever gets to us first.’”

Pope Francis drives by a crowd holding Palestinian flags in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Separate polls conducted by The Israel Project and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) over the past few years have shown that U.S. Latinos, in particular, are somewhat of a blank slate when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“There’s a lack of awareness” about the region among Latinos in the U.S., Soibel said. “They have more pressing issues, like immigration, health care, economy. We know very well that Israel is down the list of things that matter personally to them.”

But as Latinos become more politically and economically empowered in America, said Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute at AJC, “they’re slowly but surely becoming a very influential and important group, which will have an impact on decision-making in this country. So it’s important to us that they understand what Israel is about. That they understand we are partners.”

Geraldo Rivera, a columnist for Fox News Latino, likewise pointed out in 2011 that Israel would not be a state, nor would Palestine enjoy “non-member state” status at the United Nations, if not for the Latin American voting block.

“Relations between Latin America and Israel are starting to look like a budding love affair,” World Politics Review commentator Frida Ghitis wrote in February following a wave of cross-globe visits between Israeli and Latin American leaders.

“Israel and Latin America have discovered each other — or, to be precise, a portion of Latin America has,” she added. “Latin America is increasingly falling into two separate camps, and it is one of those camps that has found an affinity for Israel.”

Speaking to the Journal at the pope’s prayer rally at Manger Square, most religious tourists from Spain and Latin America distanced themselves from the Israel-Palestine issue, refusing to take a stance.

“It’s very complicated,” said Laura Rodriguez, a Catholic visitor from Spain. “There’s no one truth about it.”

Also in the crowd was Buenos Aires politician Lidia Saya, who said she had traveled to Bethlehem with a group of 60 dignitaries, including Argentinian religious leaders Father Pepe Di Paola and Rabbi Alejandro Avruj. “The grand majority of us [Argentinians] don’t understand the conflict. The grand majority don’t have a position,” she said. However, “coming here, and having to go through a checkpoint just to get to the plaza — I can see that it’s very bad for the citizens.”

Argentinian journalist Nelson Castro interviews religious tourists from Argentina in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Carlos Boselle, also from Buenos Aires, was on a tour with around 70 Catholics from across Latin America. He said that many Israelis and Palestinians had tried to argue their position to him. Although he called the Israelis “big fanatics,” he said he understood that “Israel has its reasons” for building the separation wall. “They’re protecting their rights, too.”

Another group of sunburned Argentinians heading back through the checkpoint at the end of the day looked rather shell-shocked when all the Palestinians were pulled off the bus and examined for 20 minutes before they could continue on to Jerusalem.

According to Vann at the AJC, missing this prime era for Latino outreach could have big consequences. 

“It could go one way, or it could go the other way,” Vann said. “Because there’s a lack of information out there [about Israel], you have an incredible opportunity, if you do it correctly in a strategic way, to inform. … There’s a sense of urgency and a small window of opportunity to make a difference before Latinos truly become empowered.”

AJC, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, runs dozens of Israel tours for Latino politicians, faith leaders, culture-makers and other dignitaries. But other organizations, like Fuente Latina, have taken a more back-channel approach to reach a greater audience.

“As this area began to heat up in terms of the Arab Spring, which was widely covered by the Latino media — Syria, Egypt, ongoing issues here in Israel — there was a growing demand” for Spanish-language press resources in the region, Soibel said.

And with the pope’s visit to Israel, demand flew off the charts — opening new opportunities for Latino outreach. “When you have a journalist that is taking one stance versus another stance, it’s about making that personal connection,” Soibel added. “That’s why the language is so important.”

Israel encouraging more Christians to join military service


Israel said on Tuesday it was stepping up efforts to encourage military enlistment by Christian Arab citizens, a community long closer to the larger Muslim minority in identifying with the Palestinians.

Israel's Christian Arabs number about 160,000, some two percent of the Jewish state's eight million people, and the expected number of conscripts – now about 100 – will rise in coming months, a senior military officer said.

“We intend to appeal to the Christian population of conscription age (17 and 18) and will send them call-up notices to volunteer for service,” Lieutenant-Colonel Amir Hai told reporters in a telephone briefing on Tuesday.

Being mostly Palestinians themselves, Israel's Christian Arabs have traditionally stood alongside the Muslim community on Israeli-Palestinian issues. The Muslim minority comprises about 20 percent of the population and men of conscription age are largely exempted from military service.

Hai said that all branches of the military, including elite units, would be open for the volunteers as long as they are suitable for the demands of the task.

“No (unit) will be closed to (Christian conscripts) ahead of time, unless there is criteria that limits the recruit's ability to serve,” Hai said. Only males will currently be called, although females were welcome to volunteer too, he added.

“I welcome this important, historical step … for the Christian community to be a member of Israeli society, equal in rights and duties,” Father Gabriel Nadaf, head of the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, told Army Radio.

NO LARGE NUMBER EXPECTED

Israeli Jews are obliged to serve in the military at age 18, with men serving for three years and women for two. The vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempted on religious grounds, a divisive issue in Israeli society.

Other minority groups that are called up for service are Israeli Druze Arabs and Bedouin Arabs.

Sammy Smooha, professor of anthropology and sociology at Haifa University and a leading expert on Israel's Arabs, doubted

the proportion of Christians in the military would not change.

“The increase sounds impressive because the numbers are so small so far. I don't anticipate this will rise much further. There are greater numbers of Christians going for civilian national service options,” he said.

He described those enlisting as a fringe phenomenon driven by concern at the persecution of Christians in the Muslim Middle East and a desire for social advancement in Israel.

Nadaf, an outspoken and controversial proponent for greater integration of Israel's Christians into Israeli society, said they wanted to be fully viewed as citizens of the Jewish state.

“We are not Arabs. We are not Palestinians. We are Israelis, citizens of this country and we see ourselves as loyal to this country and its institutions as any Christian living in any other place in the world would,” he said.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Tom Heneghan

Why evil committed in the name of God is worse


If I could ask one question of a religious person — of any faith — it would be, “What is the worst sin in your religion?”

The answer to this question can often tell you more than that of any other question about that person’s religion, or at least about that person’s own religious values. If someone were to respond, for example, “non-marital sex” or “atheism,” that would be, most of us would agree, unimpressive. These are sins in every monotheistic religion, but they are hardly the worst sins. Most of us would surely deem murder, or torture, or any serious act of immoral violence as a far worse sin.

The answer to this question is one of the few issues about which most religious Jews agree. When it comes to naming the worst sin in Judaism, they would respond “chillul haShem,” desecrating God’s name. This means doing evil while acting religious — or, to put it more simply, doing evil in God’s name.

From a Jewish perspective, as horrific as murder is, murder committed by an atheist individual or government is not as damaging as murder by a religious individual or government. From the victim’s perspective, of course, there is no difference. 

Why is murder committed in the name of God worse? Because it ruins God’s name. And belief in a morally demanding and morally judging God as the only means to a better world is at the heart of the Jewish message. When God is rendered the source of evil rather than the source of good, hope for a good world is shattered.

That is why the evil committed in our time by Muslims in the name of God and of religion has had a particularly negative effect on this generation’s faith in God. Never has atheism been as robust as it has been in the last few decades. 

It cannot be a coincidence that this period has also seen more evil done in God’s name than any time since the Middle Ages. And while religious spokespeople have, of course, condemned Islamic terrorism, few Jewish or Christian — not to mention Muslim — clergy have regularly spoken out against all this evil in God’s name. Instead, far more Jewish and Christian clergy have devoted considerable time to speaking out against “Islamophobia.” They have inferred from all the murder and maiming done in the name of Allah that it is not God’s name that most needs defending, but Islam’s. In so doing, these Christians and Jews have damaged religion and the essential religious message that God is good and demands good.

One might add that the Roman Catholic priests who molested young boys — and sometimes, but much more rarely, young girls — also not only horrifically harmed their victims but God’s name as well. 

Exactly 40 years ago, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and I wrote our book “The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism.” One of the nine questions was, “If Judaism Is Supposed to Make People Better, How Do You Account for Unethical Religious Jews?” 

We ended our answer to that question with an appeal to observant Jews who were known to be dishonest in their business affairs: If you are known for keeping kosher and also known for shady business practices, we wrote, please stop those practices. But if you do not stop those practices, please stop keeping kosher.

If Jews and Christians better understood the commandment against “taking God’s name in vain,” perhaps the greatest sin would have been more obvious to them.

“Do not take the Lord your God’s name in vain” is how the King James Version translates what Jews call the third commandment (Jews and Christians number the Ten Commandments somewhat differently). This translation is understandable, but it is a serious mistranslation.

Literally translated, what the commandment states is: “Do not carry [or “lift”] the Lord your God’s name in vain.”

And who is it that carries God’s name in vain? The person who commits evil in God’s name. The proof that this is the correct translation is not only linguistic. The very fact that God says that this is the one commandment whose violation He will not forgive makes it clear that this is the worst sin, and that it cannot possibly mean one who says “God” in a non-religious context — such as saying, “God, that was a terrific movie.”

If religious Jews and Christians want to make a moral dent in the world, there is no greater place to start than by announcing loudly and clearly what the greatest sin is. Until then, atheism will only increase. No atheist arguments alienate people from God as much as bad religious people do. 

And when the religious world is largely silent about the religious evil that permeates our world, it reconfirms the irrelevance of God and religion to making a good world. As I said, the problem is not protecting Islam’s reputation — that is the job of Muslims — it is protecting God’s reputation.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Syria’s Assyrian Christians find refuge with Turkish neighbors


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Miydat's Assyrian Orthodox community is still encumbered with festive cookies and candied nuts from their Christmas festivities. In every home, tables groan with remnants from the recent celebrations, which for many of Midyat's residents found themseslves in situations far safer than the previous holiday spent in Syria.

Often reported to be sympathetic to the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad, although all the Christians in Midyat are quick to assert their neutrality, Syria's christian and Assyrian communities have come under an increased threat from more extreme Sunni rebel groups, like Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS); and many have sought refuge across the border in Turkey's south-eastern provinces.

“The Islamists were kidnapping us. It's another kind of terrorism,” said Kalill, a former resident of Al-Qamishli, now living as a refugee in Midyat with the help of the local Assyrian community. A journalist by trade, Kalill had been critical of the Jihadists in the north of Syria near his home. “I didn't know which day the Islamist groups would come into my home. I had been writing against them, so I was threatened,” he told The Media Line.

Turkey is home to nearly 600,000 registered Syrian refugees with hundreds of thousands more living in the country without registering with the authorities. The presence of refugees from minority groups within Turkey is a 'see it to believe it' phenomenon, with most Turks and Syrian's refusing to believe they exist. Abuna Ishok Ergun, a Syriac-Orthodox priest in Midyat, says many of the Christians who end up in Midyat do so because, “In Istanbul they won't accept them as refugees because they say there is no problem.”

But the refugee population of Turkey is not a homogenous group. While the country geographically and politically lends itself to the arrival of large numbers of mainly Sunni Muslim refugees from Syria's north, amongst them live Kurds, Alawites and Christians.

Each group is assisted by their closest Turkish relatives, be that literal – as is the case with many of the Kurdish refugees who arrive in the country and stay with family; or figurative – like the Alevi mosques in Istanbul who aid their Alawite neighbours.

The Assyrian community in Midyat, close-knit and supportive, is initially suspicious of a stranger but they soon open up and welcome the chance to tell their stories.

Sahaleb Mouza, who left Syria seven months ago, says he likes Midyat and has been welcomed by the local Assyrian networks, but he misses home. “It's not like Syria. It's not like my own country,” Saheleb told The Media Line. He said he took his children and left because, “We were in Qamishli; there's no electricity for eight hours a day and no schools for the children. There is no future.”

The Raber family now shares a small apartment in Midyat. Their boys, aged 22, 20 and 19, fled Al-Hasakah with their mother after their father was killed by Jihadist groups who later attempted to kill one of the brothers. They receive help “sometimes from the church and sometimes from family.” Eziky, the eldest son, said, “We are safer here but we don't have the best life. We were studying before and now we don't do anything.”

Around 1 million Assyrians were living in Syria before the conflict. They form a sub-section of the Christian community (although there is very small minority of Muslim Assyrians) of Syria, who number around 2.5 million or 10% of the population.

The Assyrian Christians live mainly across the north east of the country, around Qamishli and Al-Hasakah, towns just over the border from Turkey which are now controlled by the Kurdish military in a place commonly referred to as 'Rojova'. Pockets of Christians also lived in Mal'oula and Saidnaya as well as in the larger cities of Aleppo, Latakia, Damascus and Homs.

In Mal'oula, 11 Christian nuns were kidnapped in early December when the city was overrun by rebel forces. Despite the outcry from the international community and parties within Syria, the nuns remain missing. The incident is cited by all the families in Midyat as evidence of the rising sectarian violence in Syria.

“Every ethnic group has lost everything. It's Sunni vs Shia; all the other ethnic groups have been affected,” said Kalill. “In Qamishli, before the crisis, we were living with our neighbors with no problem.”

For now, the Kurdish military wing called the People's Protection Units (YPG), which is the predominant fighting force in the Rojova area in Syria's north east, works alongside the Christian and Assyrian communities and protects them. Their common enemy, the Jihadist rebel groups of Jabhat Al-Nusra and others, create a reason for their marriage of convenience. But the Christian community is not wholly convinced its interests will be protected by the Kurds who seek autonomy and their own state. “We are worried about President Barzani, that he won't respect our rights,” Kalill says about the President of Kurdish Iraq who is seeking a united Kurdistan: “I expect in the Rojova area it will be a sectarian war in the countryside.”

Father Abuna Ishok Ergun, explains that there were around 130 Assyrian Orthodox living in Midyat before the crisis. Over the last twenty months another 300 individuals have arrived and are cared for in 13 villages in the area. Twenty more had arrived just two days before. The war has been hard on them, according to Father Ergun. “They have different problems like insomnia and depression.”

The response of the church is thorough. Father Ergun says they discussed the likely influx of refugees back in 2012 with the local Archbishop and made a home for the Assyrian Orthodox in a local monastery when they began coming in numbers later that year.

A Turkish refugee camp was built in the region and was to have a sector for the Christian community. After much controversy about whether it was the correct response for the refugees in question, just three Christian families moved into the camp, with the rest choosing to stay within the Midyat community and in the surrounding villages. Many of the families move onto Europe or elsewhere, using the region as staging post.

The act of leaving Syria is, in many cases, sudden and unplanned, Father Ergun told The Media Line. “The Jihadists enter their homes and say you can't take the money or your phone, and if they argue they kill them. They leave so they will not be killed, so they won't kidnap their children and destroy their shops and houses.”

Part of the problem, according to Father Ergun, is that, “The Christians in Syria don't have an organization that is defending them.”  This is a sentiment echoed by all the refugees in Midyat. Their sense of being in it alone is palpable; they feel Syria has now become sectarian with other groups supported by external governments and organizations. Even the Kurds have a strong political and military presence both in Syria and in Turkey.

Once they flee Syria to predominantly Sunni Muslim Turkey, the situation again leaves them with little support outside of the church. Yet, despite the difficulties they face in Turkey, Sahaleb Mouza says they would rather be here than elsewhere. “It's better than Lebanon or Jordan. It's bad for Assyrians in Lebanon.”

George W. Bush and Jews for Jesus


Former President George W. Bush spoke for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) this past week, and this has led to a good deal of writing on Jews for Jesus and the ex-president’s address.

Some observations:

• Like nearly every other Jew, I was saddened by the news. The MJBI is not some quiet Messianic congregation consisting of Christians and born-Jews who affirm Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and Messiah; its entire raison d’etre is to convert Jews to Christianity. Needless to say, in a free society, such as ours, one should be free to engage in proselytizing. And if President Bush had spoken before a Christian organization whose purpose was to spread belief in Jesus, no one would have said a thing. 

But the MJBI is different. First, it is devoted solely to bringing Jews to Christian faith. Second, it does so by telling Jews that they do not become Christian when they accept Christ; they stay Jewish. They simply become “fulfilled” Jews. So unlike every other case of religious conversion in the world, the Jew who converts to Christianity remains a member of the religious group he previously identified with.

To most Jews, that is intellectually dishonest. Such Jews should call themselves by the name of the faith whose religious doctrines they now embrace — Christian. Jews may be saddened when a Jew leaves Judaism, but they can respect the decision. After all, if Christians can become Jews, Jews can become Christians. What Jews cannot respect is when Jewish converts to Christianity deny they are Christians, call themselves Jews, and devote their lives to converting other Jews.

• Even many Evangelical Christians who are genuinely and selflessly devoted to fighting on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel find it difficult to understand why Jews react so negatively to Jews for Jesus. The best way I have found to explain this to them is by comparing the Jews’ attitude toward Jews for Jesus to Evangelicals’ attitude to Mormons. Evangelical Christians have no more problem with there being Mormons than they do with any other religious group; their problem is with Mormons calling themselves Christian — just as Jews have no problem with the existence of Christians, only with Jews who convert to Christianity who still call themselves Jews — and claim that the only authentic Jew is one who is a Christian. 

• Jews should not allow their opposition to Jews for Jesus to bleed over to opposition to Christian Zionists, as a writer on this subject recently irresponsibly did in the liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward. Christian Zionists have been the best friends Jews have had for most of the last two centuries. As Andrew Brown, the religion writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, wrote this week:

“Without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen — almost exactly the equivalents of George W. Bush — there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.”

Today, groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and other Evangelical pro-Israel groups are the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in the world — and they are not working to convert us. If the Evangelicals turn against Israel the way the liberal churches have, we will be in deep trouble.

• Concerning George W. Bush, it should not be difficult for Jews to object to his address to MJBI while continuing to express gratitude for his steadfast support for Israel while president of the United States. I think it is fair to say that nearly all the Jews of Israel are far more angered by President Barack Obama’s policies toward Iran than George W. Bush’s appearance at a Jews for Jesus institution. As Yossi Klein Halevi said this week (on my radio show), “a majority of Israelis today have no faith in the Obama administration’s will to stop a nuclear Iran.” Israelis did have faith in George W. Bush’s will to stop Iran. So, let’s not lose perspective because of one address to a group of Christians few people have ever heard of.

• For 40 years I have argued that Jews for Jesus pose little or no danger to Jewish survival. We Jews should be preoccupied with all the Jews for Nothing, the Jews for anti-Zionism, the Jews for radical Leftism, the Jews in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who developed the obscene vegetarian campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate” that equates the barbecuing of chickens in America with the cremating of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Our sons and daughters in college are not being alienated from Judaism, the Jewish people, and, of course, from Israel by Jews for Jesus, but by the secular left-wing professors who teach contempt for God, for religion, for Zionism and for Israel.

• The claim of Jews for Jesus that they are not Christians but Jews is false advertising, but the claim that they remain Jews is not false. Take, for example, the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. He was born a Jew, Aaron Lustiger, and converted to Catholicism. On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said: “I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”

Yet, Jews around the world came to revere Cardinal Lustiger for his unceasing efforts to rid the Catholic Church of anti-Semitism and to help Israel in the Catholic world. This Catholic, who considered himself Jewish, was a regular speaker for the World Jewish Congress and was even invited to speak at the Modern Orthodox Jewish seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

Of course, Lustiger did not devote his life, as Jews for Jesus organizations do, to converting Jews. But Jewish law regarded him as a Jew, mainstream Jews honored him, and he asked that the Kaddish be recited for him upon his death.

• The only positive Jewish response to Jews for Jesus is to figure out how to keep Jews Jewish so that they will not leave us for other secular or religious faiths. And the way to achieve that is to instill in young Jews faith in the Jewish trinity: God, Torah and Israel. Then they won’t seek any other trinity.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Chanukah and Christmas: A legacy of bad timing


Admit it. It is bad timing, these two very unique festivals of two very different faiths colliding in time and space. Even when our Hebraic lunar calendar separates the two by a week or so, the commercial heralding of both in our consumer-focused society continually blends the two, as if Chanukah were some Jewish version of Christmas. Both having “light” as their theme doesn’t help matters either. And most people are oblivious to the fact that Chanukah preceded Christmas by more than four centuries and has nothing at all to do with the birth of Jesus or of anyone else. If there is any relationship between the two, it would be with the pre-Christian pagan rites of the winter Solstice, as opposed to the latter-day Christian adaptation of those rites to Church doctrine and mythos.

The irony of this situation is that Chanukah is a celebration of the triumph of the Jewish spirit against oppression and suppression of the very kind that was continually heaped upon us by Christianity itself more severely and for far longer than the short-lived Greco-Assyrian persecution of the Chanukah epic. 

In the early days of Roman occupation of Judea, two centuries after the Chanukah thing, a curious Roman noble visiting with the sages of Israel asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Kor’cha the following: “We have our festivals, and you have yours. Granted. So what happens is, that when we are rejoicing, you are not, and when you are rejoicing we are not. When, pray tell, can we both rejoice together, at the same time?”  Rabbi Yehoshua replied: “When it rains.” The Roman’s eyebrows raised in puzzlement: “When it rains?” The rabbi nodded nonchalantly:  “As Rabbi Tanchum bar Chiyyah taught, ‘Greater is rainfall than even the revelation of Torah at Sinai, for the gifting of Torah at Sinai was a joyful event for the Israelites alone, whereas the gift of rainfall is joyful for all peoples, and for all the plants, trees, birds, and wildlife’” (Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 13:6 and Midrash Tehilim 117:1). 

If we are so bent on joining with others in celebration of something in common, we ought to celebrate what we indeed do have in common rather than contrive admixtures of ingredients that at their roots are antithetical to one another. Like the ancient rabbis put it: “When a pig lies down, it shows off its cloven hooves, as if to say, ‘See how kosher I am?’” (Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 65:1).

When people automatically wish you a “Merry Christmas” don’t be afraid to correct them if you are not Christian. The age-old assumption by far too many that most everyone is Christian, or that everyone across the board celebrates Christmas, is not only arrogant and misleading, but it is also a convenient cover-up of tragic truths that linger beneath all that “Peace on Earth and Good Will to all Mankind” rhetoric. How many devout and Jew-friendly Catholics, for example, are aware that even at this very moment the Catechism of their Church preaches anti-Jewish diatribes? To mention just one: Jews bear a terrible burden because they willfully insist on being an obstacle to the well-being of the rest of humanity, preventing the arrival of the Messiah and human salvation because of their “unbelief” in Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 674). 

“It is likened onto a bear who was richly adorned with fine gold, silver, jewels and other attractive ornaments. Upon seeing the bear, some onlookers shouted: ‘Jump at the bear and seize riches for yourselves!’ But one wise person declared to them: ‘Alas! It is sad that you only notice the shining adornments. I notice the fangs and claws’” (Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 86:4).

My recommendation: Since the original Chanukah celebration was intended to make up for not being able (or allowed) to observe the eight-day harvest festival of Sukkot, let’s reverse it and celebrate Chanukah during Sukkot from now on.

Any takers?

What do Bush and Pew have in common?


I am often asked if Jews for Jesus missionaries are still a problem. Since most people don’t see them handing out religious tracts on street corners and college campuses, the way they did in the 70’s and 80’s, they assume that they are no longer a concern. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Missionaries like Jews for Jesus and “Messianic Jews” have migrated to the web where they reach our children in the comfort of their home and dormitory room.

Additionally, these missionaries regularly launch crusades in major Jewish populations worldwide and are growing in Israel, with dozen of missionaries canvassing the country and placing ads in newspapers like Ha’aretz and on the side of Egged buses.

Two recent news items dramatize this phenomenon.

The Pew study claims 34% of Jews think you can be Jewish and believe Jesus is the messiah.  Additionally an article in Mother Jones reported that President George W. Bush will be the keynote fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains evangelical Christians from the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Jews for Jesus and the “Messianic Jews” have fought for 35 years to achieve acceptance in society. These news items prove that they have been successful. Today, most Christians don’t think twice about the oxymoron of being Jewish and Christian simultaneously. Additionally, the messianic Jews have gained acceptance by riding on the coattails of evangelicals who support Israel financially and politically.

A number of years ago I was asked to attend a Jewish Federation meeting to hear a well-known evangelical pastor. During the Q&A I expressed my concern about the deception of “Messianic Jews” who wear Yarmulkas and light Shabbat candles. The pastor did not see the hypocrisy of Jews who have accepted Christianity using rabbinic traditions to masquerade as traditional Jews.

This misconception is rampant among the Christian community and George Bush is just another victim of the ploy of thinking it is all right to be Jewish and Christian at the same time.

I believe the Pew study also missed the point. If it had asked if you can be Jewish and believe Jesus is God I think the response would have been dramatically lower than 34%.  Simply believing Jesus is a human messiah is often a convenient compromise for many intermarried Jews. It would be more uncomfortable for them to accept the Christian belief that Jesus is divine.

As we approach Chanukah, we must take to heart the message of not losing our precious Jewish identity through assimilation and apathy. Let’s commit to continue the battle of the Maccabees and say no to being a Jew for Jesus.


Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz founded Jews for Judaism International and celebrating 28 years at their December 10th Gala. For information visit www.JewsforJudaism.org/Gala.

George W. Bush to headline fundraiser for Texas proselytizing group


Former President George W. Bush will headline a fundraiser in Texas for a group that seeks to convert Jews to Christianity.

Bush is scheduled to appear Nov. 15 in suburban Dallas to raise funds for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a Texas-based group that says its mission “is to bring Jewish people into a personal relationship of faith with Yeshua the Messiah, knowing their acceptance will eventually mean life from the dead.”

Tickets for the event at the Irving Convention Center start at $250 and rise to as high as $100,000.

According to Mother Jones, which first reported the fundraiser, the $100,000 tickets include a VIP reception with Bush and a tour of Israel guided by the institute’s president, Wayne Wilks.

Francis pledges to further Jewish-Catholic dialogue


Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to fighting discrimination and furthering Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

During an audience at the Vatican Thursday with a 60-member delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Francis said that he has “repeated many times, in recent weeks, the church’s condemnation of any form of anti-Semitism.”

Such condemnations were just part of the solution, he said, noting that Christians remain persecuted in some regions.

“I would like to underline that the problem of intolerance must be faced in its entirety,” he said, according to an official English text of his address released by the Vatican. “When any minority is persecuted and marginalized on account of its religious beliefs or ethnic origin, the good of society as a whole is placed in danger, and we must all consider ourselves affected.”

The church has raised particular alarm about discrimination and violence against Christians in some Arab countries.

“Let us unite our strengths to promote a culture of encounter, of mutual respect, understanding and forgiveness,” Francis said, stressing that education was key in transmitting experience, and not merely knowledge, to the younger generation.

“We must be able to transmit to them not only knowledge about Jewish-Catholic dialogue, about the difficulties overcome and the progress made in recent decades,” Francis said. “We must, above all, be able to transmit to them our passion for encounter and knowledge of the other, promoting the active and responsible involvement of young people.”

During the audience, Wiesenthal Center Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier called the pope “an ally in our struggles against anti-Semitism.”

“We want to reiterate to you that you have an ally in the Simon Wiesenthal Center in your struggle to secure the rights of religious minorities everywhere, especially endangered historic Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and beyond,” Hier said.

Hier said the he hoped that Francis’s expected visit to Israel next year would “help all those committed to a lasting Middle East peace, to finally recognize the existence of a Jewish state alongside her twenty-three Arab neighbors.”

The pope has said he would like to visit the Holy Land next year but no date has yet been announced.

From Nairobi to Pakistan religicide rears its ugly head


The carnage at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the homicide bombers massacre of worshipers at an historic church in Peshawar, deposed Muslim Brotherhood loyalists torch scores of Coptic churches in Egypt, a series of vicious attacks against Nigerian Christians and churches…

Nigeria’s Boko Haram, (recently described by US State Department merely as a group with grievances about Nigerian governance) through its murderous targeting of innocent Christians, served as a cruel prequel to the Kenyan and Pakistan attacks. All wars are hell, but we are now witnessing not only a quest for conquest but a campaign to destroy anyone whose path to G-d deviates from the pure theology of hate.

Last month, Boko Haram terrorists disguised as Nigerian soldiers set up roadblocks between the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu. Motorists were stopped and asked their names. If Muslims, they were allowed to pass only after reciting a line from the Koran. On that day, 143 motorists were identified as Christians. They were dragged out and killed–their bodies dumped along the side of the road. Two days later, more Christians were murdered at a different location.

We know of no evidence directly linking the attacks in these countries.  But Kenya's chief of general staff, Julius Karangi was correct in describing Al-Shabaab terrorists as “a multinational collection from all over the world… We have also have an idea that this is not a local event.” Coordinated or not, these terrorists all selected their victims according to religion.  In Pakistan it was simple enough—attack the embattled Christian minority at the historic All-Saints Church. The Nairobi murdererstook the time to identify Muslims and let them exit the mall.

On November 2nd, 1943 Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spoke at Berlin’s Luftwaffe Hall. Having met both Hitler and Himmler, he knew of what he spoke when he declared, “The Germans know how to get rid of the Jews.”

Little did anyone know that some of the Nazi techniques would be used 70 years later by al-Husseini’s heirs, jihadists who like the Nazis brazenly select who shall live, and who shall die.

Georges Clemenceau, one of the chief architects of Versailles said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”  The world has been slow to understand that for some Islamists, victory is defined not merely by conquering territory, but by destroying people—especially people of (another) faith. The Nazis called it extermination. We call it Religicide- but whatever the label, we must act to thwart this horrific trend.

To have any hope, the counterattack must be led by Muslims. After the latest outrages, an important condemnation was expressed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “Those who have committed this heinous act have gone beyond basic principles of humanity…There is no cause that can justify the killing and maiming of young children, the elderly and the most innocent in society. This perverted mindset that sheds blood without regards to any humanity must be confronted and challenged by all of us,” its statement declared.

An important message – especially in light of the silence of religious leaders around the globe who failed to quickly and unequivocally expressed their outrage. It was diminished only by its depiction of these heinous crimes as “senseless violence.” Alas, the violence of the jihadists is anything but senseless, or simply uncontrolled barbarism.  It makes all too much sense to the demagogues who teach it to their followers. The platform of global jihadists includes religicide and genocide of anyone who prays and thinks differently than they.

Four hundred years ago, Rabbi Judah Loewe of Prague, known as the Maharal, puzzled over the biblical narrative of Cain and Abel, the earliest fratricide. As the curtain comes down, the good brother, Abel lies dead; his guilty brother Cain cops a suspended sentence. This sends a confusing message. Would it not have been better for good to triumph over evil, or at least for the murderer to have been brought to stricter justice? In answer, Maharal points to Abel’s name in the original Hebrew – hevel, which means vacuousness and emptiness.  Abel may have acted more properly than his brother, but his commitment to good was weak and flimsy, not firm and determined. Abel loses to Cain because good does not always win out over evil. Strong, resolute evil will beat outweak, irresolute good. It is a lesson that 21st century humankind would do well to ponder and internalize. 

If we don’t want to go the way of Abel, we better be prepared to take on Cain.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Pepperdine to honor Hollywood’s Jewish moguls


Ask George Schlatter what inscription he would like on his tombstone, and, without missing a beat, he replies, “It Wasn’t All My Fault.”

Schlatter’s “fault,” in this case, lay in his role as creator and executive producer of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” the seminal 1960s and ’70s television series that raised a generation spouting such catchphrases as “Sock it to me,” “You bet your sweet bippy” and “Here come de judge.”

Schlatter is now a major player in an ongoing, six-week series of events at Pepperdine University, under the overall title “Hollywood Visionaries and Beyond,” honoring the Jewish moguls who invented Hollywood.

“From the beginning, Hollywood was a family business presided over by legendary names like Mayer, Goldwyn, Laemmle and Zukor,” observed Craig Detweiler, director of Pepperdine’s Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture.

There is a touch of irony in the venue and Schlatter’s central role in the tribute to a group of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, who were scorned by “real American” businessmen in the early days.

Pepperdine defines itself as “an independent Christian university,” and Schlatter, though he took courses at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and drops occasional Yiddishisms, is the Alabama-born son of a Presbyterian father and a Christian Scientist mother.

To Detweiler, who is teaching a new generation of film and television professionals, it all makes sense. Particularly at a Christian institution, he said, “It is important that our students be sensitive to the Jewish contributions to the entertainment industry.”

A centerpiece of the Hollywood Visionaries events is the creation of the George Schlatter Comedy Collection, to be housed at Pepperdine, which claims the producer as an alumnus.

“I entered Pepperdine on a football scholarship, when the campus was still at the Vermont Knoll in South Los Angeles,” he recalled. “I was injured, dropped out after a year and went to work at MCA Records.”

The Comedy Collection will include much of the memorabilia accumulated by Schlatter in his 80 years, including his early shows with Flip Wilson and Robin Williams as well as a trove of gems from “Laugh-In.”

The collection project was officially announced on Sept. 25 at a “Still Laugh-In” toast to Schlatter, hosted by Larry King.

On Oct. 1, Bruce and David Corwin of Metropolitan Theatres; Hawk Koch, president of the Producers Guild of America; and entertainment attorney Robert Koch; as well as Academy Award-winning producer Walter Mirisch and Lawrence Mirisch, owner of the Mirisch Agency, all reminisced as part of a panel discussion on “American Dreams and the Big Screen: Projections of Jewish Faith, Ethnicity and Culture Through the Generations.”

Continuing through Dec. 20 at the university’s Payson Library is the “Hollywood Visionaries Exhibition: The Photography of Leigh Wiener,” an exhibition including film screenings and panel discussions.

“Jewish Humor in the TV Writers’ Room,” on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Elkins Auditorium, will feature a screening of “My Favorite Year” with its screenwriter, Norman Steinberg.

On Oct. 29, at the same time and venue, the evening’s topic will be “From Draculas to Dybbuks: The Laemmle Families and Universal’s Horror Films.”

The closing event will be a two-day symposium on “Women in Hollywood: 100 Years of Negotiating the System,” to be held Nov. 15-16 at Pepperdine School of Law’s auditorium.

Speakers will include Nina Jacobsen, producer of “Hunger Games”; Nell Scovell, co-author of “Lean In”; and Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter for the “Twilight” series.

An evening reception themed “Lean In: Honoring the Next Wave of Hollywood Women Leaders,” at Pepperdine law school, will conclude the Hollywood Visionaries program, which is supported by the Brenden Mann Foundation.

Although men still hold most top executive positions in Hollywood, women have always played a major role in the industry.

“About half of the film scripts are written by women,” said Rachel Kimbrough, vice president for business and legal affairs at Lionsgate Entertainment, and one of the growing numbers of key women in the studios’ administrative offices.

“Women bring something special to the table,” said Kimbrough, an alumna of Pepperdine’s law school program in entertainment law. “Women are team builders who tend to bring out the strength in other individuals.”

Currently, women make up some 65 percent of the 600 Pepperdine students preparing for some form of media career, including movies, television, journalism, public relations and advertising, Detweiler said.

“For years, Pepperdine was intimidated by the UCLA and USC predominance in these fields,” he said, but he now feels that the Malibu institution is coming into its own.

Detweiler observed that when the future Jewish founders of Hollywood came as immigrants to the United States, they soon found out that entry into many traditional fields was closed to them.

“So they created their own industry through a gut instinct for the popular taste and a large dose of chutzpah,” Detweiler noted.

Although Hollywood’s major studios are now owned largely by American and foreign corporations, some of those founders’ Jewish values remain, he added.

Among them are drive, initiative and strong family loyalties. Indeed, nepotism was such a hallmark among the early moguls that insiders reinterpreted the acronym MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) as standing for Mayer’s ganze mishpachah (whole family).

Another continuing Hollywood tradition is to draw in the talents of groups that had long struggled for their share of the American dream.

Most of the success of “Laugh-In,” Schlatter testified, was due to its hilarious female comedians, among them Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley and Judy Carne.

Elsewhere, American humor in the past century has been largely shaped by Jewish and black comedians, while gay designers have made “enormous contributions to Hollywood,” Schlatter emphasized.

Yet, he is not entirely happy with the state of the art he did so much to shape. “Comedy has become crude,” he said. “People used to laugh at a dirty joke because it was funny; now they laugh because it’s dirty.”

Another gripe is about the decline in the producer’s role and authority.

“What used to be decided by a single producer is now determined by a committee,” Schlatter observed, adding, “If you watch the credits at the end of a TV episode, you might see the names of 15 producers.”

Currently, Schlatter is focused on writing his autobiography, titled — what else? — “Still Laugh-In.”

Pepperdine University is located at 24255 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. For “Hollywood Visionaries and Beyond” registration or more information, call (310) 506-4138 or visit www.pepperdine.edu/hollywood-visionaries.

Year in Review: Highlights of 5773


From wars and elections to scandals and triumphs, here’s a look back at the highlights of the Jewish year 5773.

September 2012

Sept. 19: Islamists throw a homemade grenade into a Jewish supermarket near Paris, injuring one. The incident is part of a major increase in attacks on Jews in France in 2012.


October 2012

Arlen Spector

Oct. 14: Arlen Specter, the longtime moderate Jewish Republican senator from Pennsylvania whose surprise late-life party switch back to the Democrats helped pass President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, dies at 82 following a long struggle with cancer. During his time in the Senate, Specter offered himself as a broker for Syria‑Israel peace talks and led efforts to condition aid to the Palestinian Authority on its peace process performance.

Oct. 15: Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, American economists with ties to Israeli universities, win the Nobel Prize for economics.

The Israeli Knesset votes to dissolve, sending Israel to new elections for the first time since 2009.

Oct. 17: Jewish groups pull out of a national interfaith meeting meant to bolster relations between Jews and Christians following a letter by Protestant leaders to Congress calling for an investigation into United States aid to Israel.

Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman is arrested at the Western Wall and ordered to stay away from the site for 30 days after attempting to lead a women’s prayer group at the holy site in violation of Kotel rules. The incident, which is witnessed by dozens of American participants in town for the centennial celebration of the women’s Zionist group Hadassah, stokes outrage among liberal American Jewish groups.

Oct. 22: Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast, killing more than 100 and causing an estimated $50 billion in damages. The populous Jewish areas of New York and New Jersey see extreme damage, and a Jewish man and woman are killed by a falling tree in Brooklyn. Synagogues and Jewish organizations nationwide join efforts to raise money to help victims of the superstorm.

Mitt Romney, left, and Barack Obama

Oct. 25: Israel, a heated issue throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, is mentioned 31 times by Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney at the final presidential debate, which was devoted to foreign policy and held in Boca Raton, Fla. Both candidates sought to score points on the issue, but actual policy differences seemed to be in short supply.

With a charter flight of some 240 Ethiopian immigrants, the Israeli government launches what it says is the final stage of mass immigration from Ethiopia to Israel. The following summer, the Jewish Agency announces that the last Ethiopian aliyah flight will take place in August 2013.


November 2012

Nov. 11: Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opens to great fanfare.

Nov. 6: Obama is re-elected, with exit polls giving the incumbent about 68 percent of the Jewish vote — down from the estimated 74 to 78 percent in 2008. Many of the campaign battles between Jewish surrogates were fought over Middle East issues, but surveys suggested that like most other voters, American Jews were most concerned with economic issues.

Nov. 7: Major League Baseball player Delmon Young pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges related to an incident in New York in which the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter yells anti‑Semitic slurs at a group of tourists talking to a homeless panhandler wearing a yarmulke. Young is sentenced in Manhattan Criminal Court to 10 days of community service and ordered to participate in a mandatory restorative justice program run by the Museum of Tolerance in New York.

Nov. 14: After days of stepped-up rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel launches Operation Pillar of Defense with a missile strike that kills the head of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari. In all, six Israelis and an estimated 149 to 177 Palestinians are killed during the weeklong exchange of fire. Egypt helps broker the cease-fire between the two sides.

A constitutional court in Poland bans shechitah, ritual slaughter, along with Muslim ritual slaughter. An effort in July to overturn the ban fails.

Mohamed Morsi

Nov. 27: The decision by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to grant himself near-absolute powers dismays U.S. and Israeli observers just days after Morsi is lauded for helping broker a Hamas-Israel cease-fire. Morsi backtracks in December, but the move helps stoke popular discontent in Egypt with the country’s first democratically elected president.

Nov. 28: The United Nations General Assembly votes 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to recognize Palestine as a state. Passage of the resolution, which does not have the force of law, prompts condemnations from the United States and warnings of possible penalties, but none are invoked. Israel responds with its own dire warnings and announces new settlement constriction in the West Bank. Over the course of months, the change in status in the U.N. proves largely irrelevant.


December 2012

Dec. 4: After months of occasional cross-border fire on the Golan Heights, including errant Syrian and rebel shells landing in Israel, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian government is violating a 1974 disengagement agreement with Israel by deploying military equipment and troops over the cease-fire line.

Ahmed Ferhani, 27, an Algerian immigrant living in New York, pleads guilty to planning to blow up synagogues in New York City.

Dec. 10: In a case that ignites passions in the Charedi Orthodox community in Brooklyn, Satmar Chasid Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, is found guilty of 59 counts of sexual abuse. Days later, a Chasidic assailant throws bleach in the face of a community rabbi, Nuchem Rosenberg, who advocates for victims of sex abuse. In January, Weberman is sentenced to 103 years in prison.

Dec. 12: German lawmakers pass a bill enshrining the right to ritual circumcision but regulating how circumcisions are to be conducted. The law displaces a ban on Jewish ritual circumcision imposed by a court in Cologne in June.

Dec. 13: Yeshiva University President Richard Joel apologizes for alleged instances of sexual misconduct and harassment by two former faculty members — Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon — at the university’s high school more than two decades earlier.

Dec. 14: Numerous Jewish groups call for stricter gun control regulations after a gunman kills 20 first‑graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn. The youngest victim is a 6-year-old Jewish boy, Noah Pozner.

Dec. 18: Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the leader of one of London’s largest congregations and a former chief rabbi of Ireland, is named Britain’s chief rabbi-designate. This fall he is to succeed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who has served in the post since 1991.

A Paris court orders Twitter to monitor and disclose the identities of users from France who posted anti-Semitic comments online, including Holocaust denials. Twitter later appeals the decision but loses, and the U.S.-based company complies with the demand in July.


January 2013

Jan. 4: Video emerges from 2010 of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi — then a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood — calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.” Morsi tells U.S. senators that he gets bad press because “certain forces” control the media.

Jan. 10: Obama nominates Jacob Lew, his chief of staff and an Orthodox Jew who frequently serves as an intermediary with Jewish groups, to be secretary of the Treasury Department.

Jan. 18: Data released from a 2011 survey of New York-area Jews shows that two-thirds of the rise in New York’s Jewish population over the previous decade occurred in two Charedi Orthodox communities in Brooklyn — a sign that Orthodox Jews will constitute a growing share of America’s Jewish population.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2012.

Jan. 22: Benjamin Netanyahu wins re-election as Israel’s prime minister, but his Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction suffers significant losses at the polls, falling to 31 seats. The big winners are two newcomer parties: Yair Lapid’s centrist, domestic-focused Yesh Atid, which comes in second with 19 Knesset seats, and Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Jewish Home, which wins 12 seats. Both later opt to join Netanyahu’s coalition government, which takes nearly two months to assemble.

Jan. 29: Iran and Argentina sign an agreement to form an independent commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and was blamed on Iran. Argentinian and American Jews denounce the agreement as a farce. Iran’s parliament has yet to sign off on the pact.

Jan. 30: Amid concerns that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah, Israeli planes bomb a Syrian weapons transport on the Lebanese border. It is one of several Israeli strikes in Syrian territory during the year.


February 2013

Ed Koch

Feb. 1: Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York City mayor whose political imprimatur was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats, dies at 88 of congestive heart failure. At his funeral, a cast of political luminaries remembers him as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.

Feb. 5: Bulgaria affirms that Hezbollah was behind the attack in Burgas in July 2012 that killed six people, including five Israelis. The finding adds to pressure on the European Union to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. After concerns are expressed in the ensuing months that Bulgarian officials are backing away from their assertions, Bulgaria’s foreign minister reassures Israel on the attack’s one-year anniversary that Bulgaria still holds Hezbollah responsible.

Feb. 12: The Australian Broadcasting Corp. identifies a man known as “Prisoner X,” who hanged himself in a maximum-security Israeli prison in 2010, as Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier. Zygier is said to have worked for the Mossad.

Feb. 21: A British court convicts three British Muslims of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in the country, including on Jewish targets.


March 2013

March 4: Vice President Joe Biden tells thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) activists meeting in Washington that Obama is “not bluffing” when he says he will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

March 8: The U.S. State Department cancels plans to honor Egyptian human rights activist Samira Ibrahim after opponents note that anti‑Jewish tweets were posted on her Twitter account.

Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market

March 12: Mike Engelman, the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market in Los Angeles, is videotaped directing his employees to unload boxes of meat from his car while the store’s kosher supervisor is absent. The footage leads the Rabbinical Council of California to revoke the shop’s kosher certification the day before Passover, leaving many kosher consumers in the lurch.

March 20: Obama makes his first visit to Israel since taking office in 2008. In a speech upon arrival at the airport, Obama says the United States is Israel’s “strongest ally and greatest friend.” His trip receives widespread praise from Jewish groups.

March 22: Following prodding by Obama, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu agree to resume normal ties after Israel apologizes for the deaths of nine Turks in 2010 during a clash with Israeli commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Erdogan later balks, saying normalization will not take place until Israel fulfills its obligations under the agreement.

Berlin’s Jewish Museum provokes controversy with its “Jew in a Box” exhibit (formally titled “The Whole Truth”), in which Jews spend a shift sitting in a glass box and answering questions from visitors.

March 28: A Lebanese-Swedish citizen is convicted in Cyprus on charges of spying on Israeli tourists for Hezbollah. The closely watched trial is a sign of Hezbollah’s expansion of terrorist activities into Europe and fuels calls for European Union countries to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.


April 2013

April 10: Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister who was lauded for his technocratic approach toward state building in the West Bank, resigns. He is replaced in June by university president Rami Hamdallah, who announces after two weeks on the job that he is quitting.

French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim

April 11: French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigns following revelations that he plagiarized the work of others in his books and claimed unearned academic titles.

April 12: After being asked by Israel’s prime minister to come up with a solution to the Women of the Wall controversy, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky proposes that the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall be expanded and renovated to allow for egalitarian prayer there at any time. Reaction to his proposal is mixed.

April 15: Rabbi Michael Broyde, a prominent legal scholar in the Modern Orthodox community and professor at Emory University, is forced to step down from a leading religious court after admitting that he systematically used a fake identity in scholarly journals. The admission followed a report by The Jewish Channel exposing the ruse.

April 19: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opens in Warsaw.

April 24: Bret Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and now deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wins the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

April 23: The Jewish Museum of Casablanca reopens following a major renovation funded by the Moroccan government. The renovation is part of a broad effort led by Morocco’s king to restore Jewish heritage sites in the country, including an ancient synagogue in Fez and dozens of former Jewish schools.


May 2013

May 13: Following complaints from pro‑Israel groups, the Newseum in Washington cancels a planned honor for two slain Palestinian cameramen employed by a Hamas affiliate.

Eric Garcetti

May 22: Eric Garcetti, a veteran L.A. city councilman, becomes the city’s first elected Jewish mayor. With his victory, America’s three largest cities boast Jewish mayors.

The Claims Conference is embroiled in controversy after the public learns that officials at the organization failed to adequately follow up on allegations of fraud in 2001, missing an early chance to stop what turned into a $57 million scheme. The disclosure comes during the trial of the scheme’s mastermind, Semen Domnitser, who is found guilty. In July, the Claims Conference board agrees to some outside input in formulating plans for its future but votes to re-lect its embattled chairman, Julius Berman, who oversaw a botched probe in 2001 into the allegations.

Arvind Mahankali

May 30: A 13‑year‑old Indian‑American boy, Arvind Mahankali, spells the Yiddish‑derived word “knaidel” correctly to win the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.


June 2013

June 3: U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg dies at age 89 after a long and accomplished career advocating for Jewish issues.

Jun. 10: Yeshivat Maharat, a women’s seminary started by Rabbi Avi Weiss in 2009, graduates its first class of Orthodox women clergy known as maharats.

June 14: The Canadian Jewish News decides to abort a plan announced in April to stop printing the newspaper.

June 21: Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, is arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

June 26: Liberal Jewish groups hail the Supreme Court decision striking down California’s ban on gay marriage, while Orthodox groups express muted disappointment.


July 2013

July 1: In a letter announcing his retirement, Yeshiva University Chancellor Norman Lamm issues an apology for mishandling sex abuse allegations decades earlier against faculty members at the university’s high school for boys. Days later, several former students file a $380 million lawsuit against the university.

July 5: Three campers at the Goldman Union Camp Institute near Indianapolis are injured, one critically, in a lightning strike. A few days later, a Jewish camp counselor is killed by a falling tree at Camp Tawonga, a Northern California camp located near Yosemite National Park.

Michael Oren

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, announces he will return to Israel after four years in the position. He is to be replaced by Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu. Both ambassadors are American born.

July 9: Egypt’s army deposes President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader. The Obama administration stops short of calling the action a coup, avoiding an automatic cutoff in U.S. aid to Egypt. Morsi had become deeply unpopular among liberal and secular Egyptians but retained deep-rooted support among members of his Muslim Brotherhood.

July 11: Portugal enacts a law of return to make citizenship available to Jewish descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews. The move is intended to address the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal in the 16th century.

July 18: The European Union issues new guidelines prohibiting grants to Israeli entities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem, prompting an outcry from Israeli officials.

July 22: The European Union designates the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

July 23: In New York, Jewish mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner admits to engaging in lewd online exchanges after his resignation from Congress amid a sexting scandal in 2011, but he declines to withdraw from the race. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Jewish mayor, Bob Filner, rebuffs calls to resign as he faces a barrage of sexual harassment allegations, including from staffers. Instead, Filner takes a two-week leave of absence to undergo sex therapy. Eventually, he agrees to resign, effective Aug. 30.

July 24: Rabbis David Lau and Yitzchak Yosef, both sons of former Israeli chief rabbis, are elected Israel’s Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis. Days later, Lau is caught on tape using a derogatory term to describe black basketball players.

19th Maccabiah Games

July 27: The 19th Maccabiah Games open in Israel with a record number of athletes.

July 29: After months of intense shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israelis and Palestinians restart direct negotiations for the first time in three years.


August 2013

Aug. 13: In a goodwill gesture to accompany renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel releases the first 26 of 104 Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists convicted of murder.

William Rapfogel

Aug. 14: William Rapfogel, the longtime CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, is fired and apologizes for misconduct and alleged financial improprieties, including allegedly inflating insurance bills and pocketing the overcharges for himself.

Palestinian prisoners are released in advance of peace talks.

Aug. 19: As Egypt’s military rulers kill hundreds of civilians in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel lobbies behind the scenes against a cut in U.S. aid to Cairo.

History and the war in Syria


While the bloody civil war in Syria rages on, Israel keeps a watchful eye on the Israeli-Syrian border, making sure the fighting between the rebels and Assad’s forces doesn’t spill over into the Golan Heights.

One of the rebel groups calls itself the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades. Yarmouk, it should be noted, is a very loaded word in this region’s ethos. It was on the Yarmouk River, a major tributary of the Jordan River, south of the Golan Heights, where, in August 636 C.E., the Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate defeated the Christian forces of the Byzantine Empire, opening the way to a series of Muslim victories over Christianity.

It was surprising, therefore, to hear a spokesman of the group — which is suspected of having links to al-Qaeda — talk over the phone to correspondents of the Times of Israel, promising that “[t]he Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has no international aspirations; we are only in conflict with the Assad regime.” The spokesman, Laeth Horan, even went a step further: “There is nothing between us and Israel. We only have demands of Assad, even after the war.”

Only time will tell if this is true, but in the meantime, Yarmouk has more to remind us, this time in the Palestinian context.

In the summer of 1970, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, in one of his most reckless gambles, challenged the Jordanian regime by trying to establish a “mini Palestine” in northern Jordan. In “Black September” of that year, King Hussein’s loyal Bedouins crushed the Palestinian uprising and kicked Arafat and his followers to Lebanon.

Refusing to learn the lesson, Arafat repeated the same mistake in Lebanon, shattering the already fragile equilibrium between the various religious communities of the country. In 1976, his Yarmouk Brigade was fighting Christian forces in the Tal-al-Zaatar Battle. Robert Fisk of the Independent told the L.A. Weekly in 2002 that the Palestinian troops “were given permission to surrender with a cease-fire. But at the last moment, Arafat told his men to open fire on the Christian forces who were coming to accept the surrender. I think Arafat wanted more Palestinian ‘martyrs’ in order to publicize the Palestinian position in the war.”

All this came to an end in 1982, when Israel had enough of the Palestinian harassment coming from Lebanon. In the First Lebanon War, the Israel Defense Forces defeated the Syrian and Palestinian forces (including the same Yarmouk Brigade) and kicked the PLO leadership out of the country.

Our next stop in the Yarmouk tour is Baghdad. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Arafat rushed to congratulate him in his palace in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood. This turned out to be the most expensive kiss in history, because when Kuwait was freed, it retaliated by expelling 400,000 Palestinians who had worked and lived there (need we mention that some lived in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood in Kuwait City?).

We can go on forever with this historical “Yarmouking,” except that in the meantime there is a human tragedy going on near Damascus and, more precisely, at the Yarmouk camp, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which since 1949 has been trying to alleviate the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees, 130,000 Palestinian refugees have fled their homes in Yarmouk since December 2012, and the remaining 20,000 are being crushed between the forces fighting each other in Syria.

I don’t envy Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. What hope can he offer his brothers and sisters in Yarmouk, or in the other refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza? That they would some day return to the homes they left in 1948, in Jaffa and Haifa? Like his predecessor, Arafat, he knows perfectly well that this is impossible.

Abbas, however, is more sincere than his predecessor (which is not saying much); while Arafat was always talking about the refugee issue from both sides of his mouth, Abbas, who had fled his hometown of Safed (in northern Israel) in 1948, told Israeli Channel Two Television in November 2012 that he wanted to visit Safed: “It’s my right to see it,” he said. But then he added the highly significant words: “but not to live there.”

Then he went on to outline his vision: “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever ‭. ‬. . . ‭ ‬This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts [are] Israel.”

This is where we can see a ray of hope. Let Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree on a Palestinian state with the ’67 borders, with a fair land swap to compensate the Palestinians for the Israeli settlements that will remain in Israel’s territory. Then a new, ambitious Marshall Plan to settle the Palestinian refugees can be launched. When Syria calms down, the refugees in Yarmouk, supported by generous funds, can decide whether they want to stay in Syria, move to the Palestinian state or regroup in another country. This is not a humanitarian move only; it is in the best interests of Israel: When the kids in Yarmouk refugee camp have a future, my grandchildren will be safer.

Yarmouk can then stand for other things, not for bloodshed and misery only — for example, a soccer game between Maccabi Haifa and the Kuwaiti Al-Yarmouk club; a discussion of the Arab League Peace initiative in Al-Yarmouk district in Riyadh; a cooperation agreement between the Technion and Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan; and more. Insh’Allah!


Uri Dromi blogs at