French rabbi, Muslim rapper to release song for murdered Jew

A rabbi and a Muslim rapper announced the release in France of a song against racism that they co-produced ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the anti-Semitic murder of Ilan Halimi.

Coco TKT, a well-known rapper who converted to Islam after spending several years in prison for robbery, collaborated with Rabbi Michel Serfaty of Ris-Orangis north of Paris to perform the clip, which the two intend to release online on Feb. 13 – the date on which Halimi, a cell-phone salesman who was kidnapped and tortured because he was Jewish, was found dying in a field outside the French capital.

“A rabbi who goes to prison to look for a rapper who converted to Islam to sing with him for the sake of coexistence it a pretty crazy undertaking,” Coco TKT told the Le Parisien weekly, which reported on the initiative Friday. “But I think he was right: Rap can be the vehicle through which young people can be reached in France.

“Ilan Halimi is the proof that one must must act to fight against anti-Semitism and all that separates the people and communities,” said Coco TKT, whose real name is Julien Cocoa. According to the weekly, he was released last year from prison.

“Rap is used to disseminate many negative messages, but it can also become a tool to reach young people,” said Serfaty. The 72-year-old rabbi and the 30-year-old rapper have collaborated in the past, and are both members of a non-profit Association for Friendship between Muslims and Jews in France, or AJMF.

Separately, the Haverim Jewish organization held a ceremony commemorating Halimi, 26 at the time of his death, on Thursday in a public garden named after him in Paris’ 12th district. Several hundred people attended the event.

Hospitals and universities try to stay above the fray

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Coexistence quietly continues in Jerusalem.

Ahmed Eid, an Arab, and Elchanan Fried, a Jew, admit that there are sometimes tensions between them. Fried is the Director of the Surgical ICU unit at Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, and Eid is the director of surgery. But the tensions have nothing to do with politics.

“We both have big egos,” Fried told The Media Line. “We often work on the same patients and we have to figure out how to do that.”

That is what happened recently when a 13-year-old Israeli arrived at Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, after he was stabbed by a 13-year-old Palestinian. The young Israeli was clinically dead and had no pulse. Both Fried and Eid saw the young patient.

“He had a small stab wound near his shoulder but that didn’t explain why he was in such bad condition,” Dr. Ahmed Eid, the head of the Department of Surgery told The Media Line. “I asked to turn him over to see if there was a wound there. Then blood started coming from this wound, and I understood that a major blood vessel was cut or injured.”

It was touch and go for a few days, but now the patient is out of danger and “spinning us around on his little finger,” as Fried said.

Eid and Fried (pronounced “eed” and “freed” — their names even rhyme) have an obvious affection for each other.

“I spend more time with him than I do with my wife,” Fried said laughing. “We’re good friends. He is a good man and an excellent physician. It’s a great honor to work with him.”

Both men have five children, and they occasionally socialize. Eid calls Fried “Elhi”, a nickname for Elchanan, and admits they have different political ideas.

“Maybe I and Elhi have contrary opinions about general policy – what we should do with the settlements and whether Israel should withdraw,” Eid told The Media Line. “I think we will have a big difference. But we don’t discuss this in our daily work, and we work very closely. We both work on the same patient.”

It is impossible to ignore politics in Israel. In 2002, a relative of Fried’s and a father of seven young children, Rabbi Elimelech Shapira, was killed in a West Bank shooting. The perpetrators have not been found.

Fried, who wears a skullcap showing he is religiously observant, says he checks his politics at the door. As the hospital is close to several large Palestinian villages, more than half of the patients are Arab. About a quarter of the medical staff is also Palestinian.

“There’s no difference whatsoever who the patient is,” Fried says emphatically. “A patient is a patient is a patient. What’s going on outside doesn’t cross the fence here in the hospital.”

Recently, some Israelis have called for doctors to withhold medical treatment from attackers. They argue that Israel should not expend precious resources on trying to save terrorists. Both doctors say they vehemently oppose adopting this idea.

In Hadassah Ein Karem several of the attackers are receiving treatment, although they are sometimes shackled to their beds and have armed guards posted at their door. Their families are not allowed to visit them.

Next to Hadassah Mount Scopus, Arab and Jewish students attend classes together at Hebrew University. While there have been some pro-Palestinian demonstrations at other universities, it has been quiet here. Yet some students say they feel the tension.

“Here on campus there haven’t been many problems but you can feel the tension,” Basel Sader, a Palestinian student from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina told The Media Line. “When the Arab students come to university they have to cross through a lot of checkpoints.”

He said there has been a dramatic increase in security at the university.

“Since we’re Arabs for most of the people here we’re terrorists or potential terrorists,” he said. “That’s completely wrong. We’re here to study and go home.”

Jewish students say that while they feel safe on campus, they worry about the environment outside.

“We are surrounded by Arab villages and it is frightening,” Aviran Cohen told The Media Line. “We’ve had a lot of stabbings nearby. Inside there is a lot of security but outside, going to the bus, it is scary.”

Jerusalem residents try to cope with terrorism

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Yakov Klein, 16, takes the 78 bus every day to school in Armon Hanatziv, a southeastern neighborhood in Jerusalem. This morning, just by chance, he didn’t go to school as his family was traveling to a wedding, and so wasn’t on the bus when two terrorists from the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Jebal Mukaber opened fire and began stabbing passengers, killing two Israelis and wounding several others seriously.

“Just before the terrorist attack, my son told me he was on a bus to meet us,” Sarah Klein told The Media Line. “I would have had a complete heart attack on hearing the news if I didn’t know that he was in a different location already. OMG. Hashem (God) please spread your protection over Israel…NOW.”

In a second attack, a Palestinian worker for the Israeli phone company Bezek, drove his car into a bus stop, and then got out and started stabbing waiting passengers, killing one man.

The series of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem has shaken many residents, causing them to alter their routines and scramble to find ways to protect themselves. Nadia Levene, a community organizer, said she has organized a one-session self-defense course for women including tips on how to use pepper spray and how to fend off a knife attack. Twenty women have already signed up.

“I’ve been here for over 20 years, and I lived through the second intifada (Palestinian uprising from 2000 to 2005) Levene told The Media Line. “I bought pepper spray this week and I feel safer just holding it, but if you’re going to buy it, you have to know how to use it.”

All school trips in Jerusalem have been cancelled until further notice. Schools sent out notices urging parents not to let children walk to school alone and not to arrive before the gate to school is opened. Facebook was flooded with videos on self-defense and inquiries about where to buy bullet-proof vests such as this one.

“Anyone know where I can get a knife-proof vest (with a collar) for KIDS? They ride the back of my bike every day in some “border” areas and I'd prefer it that they had some protection,” one father posted in a Facebook group called Secret Jerusalem.

In several Jerusalem schools, Arab cleaners have been told that they will be allowed to work only after the students have gone home for the day. Businesses and shops in downtown Jerusalem, and even Jerusalem’s famed fruit and vegetable market, were deserted. People say they feel jumpy and out of sorts.

“We’re all checking the news ever two minutes and it’s really hard to concentrate,” Barry Leff, a Conservative rabbi who moved to Israel with his family eight years ago told The Media Line. He lives very close to Armon Hanatziv and often goes running there. “I’m planning a run later this afternoon and I’ll have to change my route.”

His daughter Katherine, 19, who is doing national service helping a group of young adults with cerebral palsy said her supervisor told her that none of the young adults is allowed to leave the apartment today, and gave her tips on how to discuss the situation.

“It feels like everybody is talking about what’s happening all of te time and you can’t even get a break from it,” she said. “My parents started talking about how bad it would have to get before we went back to America.”

It is not only the Jewish residents of Jerusalem who are feeling the effects of the wave of violence. Palestinians say they worry they could be victims of revenge attacks. Ibrahim al-Hawa, 21, who works at ZARA, an upscale clothing store in Jerusalem’s Mamilla mall, near the Old City, says that many of the Arab workers in the mall have been told to speak Hebrew, rather than Arabic with each other, to cut down on the chance they will be attacked.

 “Everybody – every Israeli and every Palestinian —

  has a mother. We need to live together.”

Al-Hawa says a close friend was beat up by extremist Israelis ten days ago after two Israelis were killed. Some of his friends stayed home from work, and his parents didn’t want him to go either.

“Nobody recognizes me as Palestinian because I don’t look Arab,” he told The Media Line. “None of us want the situation like this. We just want to live in peace, or at least in silence.”

At the scene of the terrorist attack in Armon Hanatizv, a Palestinian bakery owner quickly closed his shop, after police told him to stay inside.

“Everybody just wants respect and to live a normal life,” he told The Media Line, on condition that his name not be used. “Everybody – every Israeli and every Palestinian — has a mother. We need to live together.”

Abu Tor report: Our deadened morality

I knew that I would not need to set my alarm for morning minyan once I heard on the radio that Rabbi Yehudah Glick had been shot. Helicopters had already been present since the Gaza war, and their numbers increased along with all sorts of other police and military vehicles with the settler incursion into Silwan. Here in Abu Tor (a mixed Arab-Jewish community that transverses the Green Line), we immediately knew that their middle-of-the-night “return,” along with their home defenses and much security — private and governmental — would soon have a bad end. We only wondered how fast and exactly where violence would ensue. We didn’t expect that it would be the Light Rail and attempted assassination of a rabbi, and, this morning’s killing of Glick’s assassin in the hood.

Abu Tor has become a difficult border town and a noisy one. During the summer, just seven houses down the block, we had angry Arab rioters with firebombs and the rest of the paraphernalia. But it was possible to see that their hearts were not fully in it. 

The riot “problems” seemed to be limited to Oct. 30 and 31. I asked an Arab neighbor about it. He replied poker-faced that I should know these three things: “a) our boys don’t want to get hurt, b) they don’t want to get arrested, and c) they need to get up early on Sunday to go to work or to school.” I blurted out, “They sound Jewish!” He let out an unfathomable but serious sigh.

I think that illusive sigh, nonetheless, tells us a lot about the promise of our situation in Jerusalem, at least in Abu Tor. The vast majority of our residents and citizens (greatly overlapping categories) simply want to live their lives. Young adults yearn to go to school, get jobs and pursue romance. You can see all of this on Naomi Street and on the promenade (Tayelet), and it is just humanly inspiring. Are there serious troublemakers among them? Certainly. But we Jews make it immeasurably worse, upset the neighborhood balance and allow for the terrorists to have their sway by allowing our police-protected extremists to do whatever they want.

The Silwan Settler Sympathizers (SSS) argue that the new Jewish homes will keep the city Jewish. And that, not traffic easement, has been the real argument for the Light Rail. And for the building on Givat HaMatos, although the added claim that it will also benefit all citizens has somehow, incredibly, not been understood by the Arab population. Of course, all this activity only plays into the hands of Arab terrorists. They feed on their population’s sense of being threatened, which can override the push for normalization and create further havoc. The SSS and Jewish Sovereignty Proponents only want further repression, which further plays into the terrorists’ hands. But it could be — and this morning, it seems to me — that Jewish extremists do indeed want this … all so that we can further extend our “governance” and so that their War Messiah can come (finally, already!) and clean up the mess. 

We Jews have allowed the stress of the conflict to deaden our moral sensitivity. We express little regret for Arab families ruined in the last Gaza war. We know the name of the sweet innocent Jewish baby murdered in the Light Rail attack, but who of us knows the name of one Arab child killed by our arms? (Yes, Hamas forced us into it over and over again.) We are now allowing for segregation (I only say segregation because I can’t get myself to use that other word) on buses for dead-tired Arab workers who are doing Israel’s hard labor. And stupidly, we don’t act to decrease, but rather we increase the sense of threat felt by Jerusalem’s Arab population.

Three days later, everyone is up for minyan in Abu Tor. We are not sleeping anyway, what with all the new police and military traffic, alarms on newly damaged cars going off, and the Muslim call for prayer having somehow gotten louder. Oh yes, we have plenty of helicopters overhead — but beyond “protecting” us, they are only spinning their propellers.

Rabbi Daniel Landes Is director of the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem

Letters to the editor: Murders in Israel, coexistence, Jewish Renewal and more

Deadly Impact

This crime hasn’t any impact on my feelings for Israel (“Does the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir Make You Doubt Israel? It Should,” July 11). The national response to the crime might. But not the crime itself. 

If the sentiment to kill Palestinians because they are Palestinian became widespread and a daily mantra in mainstream Israeli print and broadcast media, as the sentiment to kill Jews has become an integral component of Palestinian culture and media, then I would start to sit shivah for the death of Israel’s soul.

However, this crime does buttress my disgust with the current government for empowering such ugly nationalistic thugs, many of whom are the same ones who set up and populated a number of illegal outposts in the West Bank. By dragging its feet on the court-ordered dismantling of these outposts, the Netanyahu government has bestowed a sense of privilege and empowerment on the worst segments of Israeli society.

But until Israel’s lunatic fringe becomes mainstream, as the lunatics have in Palestinian society, this horrific crime in and of itself does not change my perspective on Israel in the slightest.

Mark Ira Kaufman via

If Israel had not arrested those responsible for Abu Khdeir’s murder, then Israel’s values would indeed be compromised. Nevertheless, the murderers are in custody. On the contrary, it is the government’s constant attempts to appease Palestinians by releasing equally murderous prisoners and giving away land, only to receive nothing in return is what ought to be re-examined and questioned.

Chaya Gilburt via

Extreme rhetoric can lead weak minds to extreme actions. But society speaks with another voice. These people I expect will, if guilty, be punished as the pariahs they really are. They will find no museums celebrating their act, they will not be heroes one day welcomed home to cheering crowds. Instead if they ever see the light of day they will be seen for their true selves, murderous barbarians who brought shame to their society, families and state.

Epa Minondas via

Joyful in the Schoolhouse of Prayer

After 14 years of public schooling, I have firsthand knowledge of the decline and demise of prayer in public schools (“L.A. Mayor and America’s Decline,” June 27). Growing up with an Orthodox Jew and an atheist as parents, I found it much preferable when I went to school to hear a Christian trying to save my soul than a punk telling the teacher what he or she could go do with his or her self. As for my parents, I split the difference and became a Conservative Jew.

Warren Scheinin, Redondo Beach

All Hail Herzl!

In David N. Myers’ interesting and informative “Legacies of the Great War” (July 4), he refers to Zionism as the “last, least typical of European nationalisms.” The underlying miracle is, of course, our beloved Theodor Herzl who, as one wit answered [the question], “In one sentence, what did Herzl accomplish?” — “Herzl got us our address!” And, as to the “significant boost” from the Balfour Declaration, long before Weitzman ever heard of Balfour, Herzl hired and paid with his own money the brilliant young attorney to work for the Jews. Hopefully, Herzl will serve as an inspiration for future generations.

Charles S. Bediansky, Los Angeles

Rekindle Through Renewal

The quoted teachings of Reb Zalman that have guided Rabbi Stan Levy, and are foundational for the Jewish Renewal movement that Zalman founded, have proven to be an indispensable gateway to a return to Judaism for me and countless others (“Remembering Reb Zalman, A Blessing,” July 11). If you struggle to bring kavanah to your recitation of the Shema, prepare next time by reading these teachings beforehand and notice the difference. You might then consider posting them together with the Shema upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

Roger Schwarz, Los Angeles

A Hope for Tomorrow

Amen, brother (“A Very Different Ramadan,” July 11)! May our two peoples, who share a deep connection to the same corner of the Earth and a narrative of oppression and resilience, find a way to live and grow together.

Cathy Engel-Marder via

The Best of (Jewish) Los Angeles 2008

We like to think of our Annual Guide to the Best of (Jewish) Los Angeles as kvetch-proof. Our writers and editors provide personal favorites that are so idiosyncratic and eclectic that it’s hard to argue. (“No, that’s not the best place to buy a $50 set of used Talmud, this is!”)Our contributors are out there — in the community, in the neighborhoods, off the beaten track — and their choices not only reflect the varied tastes of our staff, but the great diversity of L.A. Jewish life. Year after year, by the way, Los Angeles is still our “Best Jewish City.”

Best Places to See Jewish Opera: Los Angeles and Long Beach

Thanks to maestro James Conlon and his “Recovered Voices” project, Los Angeles Opera has become the go-to destination in this country to see fully staged productions of works suppressed by the Nazis. This year’s fare included the one-act “The Broken Jug” by Viktor Ullmann, who composed the piece just before he was interned at Terezin (he died in Auschwitz in 1944). Conlon aims to stage one such opera per year to help “right musical wrongs” — Walter Braunfel’s rarely performed “The Birds” is planned for 2009. Meanwhile, the iconoclastic Long Beach Opera had such a successful run with its re-staging of Grigori Frid’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” (performed in a parking garage to evoke the claustrophobia of Anne’s attic) that a second production was added this month.Los Angeles Opera, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.(213) 972-8001.Long Beach Opera, 507 Pacific Ave., Long Beach. (562) 432-5934. .

— Naomi Pfefferman

Best Really Jewish-Themed Plays Now Around Town (or, At Least, Some of the Many)

If you’re in the mood for a long weekend of Jewish theater (you’d have to start on a Thursday), check out Jennifer Maisel’s “The Last Seder,” in which the family patriarch has Alzheimer’s, the pregnant lesbian daughter brings her life partner and another daughter shows up with a guy she met at the train station, among other intrigues (at the Greenway Court Theatre through July 27). Then there’s Naomi Newman, of San Francisco’s acclaimed Traveling Jewish Theatre, who’ll play a Holocaust survivor recounting her long life (traversing the 20th century) in Martin Sherman’s solo show, “Rose” (among Rose’s adventures: visits to a hippie commune and to a West Bank settlement), at the Odyssey Theatre (July 5-Aug 31). “The Accomplices,” by former New York Times political reporter Bernard Weinraub, spotlights what the United States government and American Jews did — and didn’t do — to help Jews fleeing the Nazis, at the Fountain Theatre (July 12-Aug. 24). The satiric “Adam Baum and the Jew Movie,” directed by Paul Mazursky, is at the Hayworth Theatre through July 20. Watch these pages for more shows as they hit town. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-7679. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 663-1525. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 389-9860.

— NP

Best New Literary Salon:Town Hall’s Writers Bloc

A decade ago, Andrea Grossman started Writers Bloc in her Beverly Hills kitchen; over the years, the salon has hosted pop-culture-meets-literati conversations between the likes of Norman Mailer, Elmore Leonard and Erica Jong. This past year, the venerated series merged with Los Angeles’ 70-year-old Town Hall Los Angeles program to form (what else?) Town Hall’s Writers Bloc series, which has made a splash with authors from Salmon Rushdie to angry Jewish comic Lewis Black. Stay tuned for best-selling author Paul Auster (“Brooklyn Follies”) who will talk about his war-themed new book, “Man in the Dark,” later this summer.Town Hall Los Angeles, 515 Flower St., Los Angeles.

— NP

Best (Sinfully Rich) Persian-Infused French Bakery: Mignon

When I see a bakery with a French name in the Valley, it’s a good bet it’s Persian. One example is Mignon Bakery (mignon means cute in French). The aroma of fresh pastries baking and the owner’s warm smile make Mignon a delightful stop on a shopping trip to Valley Produce, a favorite market among Israelis. Although there are French items, so far I’ve focused on the Persian pastries, and all that I’ve tried have been fresh and of good quality, from saffron-glazed turnovers with almond-cardamom filling to tasty cinnamon-walnut baklava to exotic sweets like cardamom-flavored chickpea balls. There are a variety of Persian cakes and pastries, like delicate Yazdi cupcakes, syrupy fried pastries and gata, a rich round breakfast bread. This is the only place I know to get fresh barbary bread, the long, oval ridged Persian bread. Like baguette, it has a pleasing crust that’s most delicious when just baked. If you want some, come early — they disappear quickly. Try not to eat the whole loaf before you get home! Mignon Bakery, Valley Produce Plaza, 18353 Vanowen St. Suite G, Reseda. (818) 774-9920.

— Faye Levy

Best Place to Learn Persian and Hebrew While Drinking Blended Coffee: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf


The L.A.-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, whose stores are certified kosher throughout Nevada and Southern California, draws a wide range of customers who enjoy drinking a blended beverage and maybe picking up a new language. At many of the stores, from Pico-Robertson to the Westside to Ventura Boulevard, you can hear Persian-language speakers and Hebrew speakers mingle over mochas. Just plop in a corner and see if you can follow along. As an added bonus, the purple straws and yummy pastries have been joined by challahs, available for order and pickup right at the store. For locations, visit

— Shoshana Lewin

Best Way to Visit the World of Krusty the (Jewish) Clown: The Simpsons Rideat Universal Studios Hollywood


Homer, Marge, Bart and the rest of the family have recently moved from Springfield to Universal City. The six-minute simulator attraction took the site once occupied by the “Back to the Future” ride — and completely changed the look of the theme park’s upper lot. The ride takes you into the crazy world of Krusty (a.k.a. Herschel Shmoikel Pinkus Yerucham Krustofsky) through a visit to the very low-budget Krustyland. But there’s a hitch: Sideshow Bob has escaped from prison and can’t wait to get revenge on Krusty and the Simpsons. After riding Krusty’s “

Image and Reality in L.A.

Critics say Los Angeles is all image. The city, they claim, presents an illusion to the world much like the movies Hollywood projects on its big screens. The myth goes that it’s a city of facades, with the favored tools are the editor’s airbrush or the plastic surgeon’s scalpel. There are no friendships here, only contacts and connections, they say.

After five years on “extended vacation” in Southern California, I have found these statements far more superficial than the city they decry. As a permanent resident of the tormented Middle East, my time here has left me in awe of the wide variety of religions, colors, languages and life philosophies that intermingle in Los Angeles. To be a minority is to be in the majority in Los Angeles, and despite its fragmented sprawl, coexistence is real, with each community adding to the flavor of the city.

That is not to say, however, there aren’t absurd aspects about life in Los Angeles. There is, for example, the infatuation with cars and the impossibly tangled web of freeways. When we bump into people, it is likely in the most literal sense — a fender bender on the 405.

It is little wonder that I learned one of Los Angeles’ more important lessons with the help of my car. Traveling alone on the 10 Freeway opened my eyes to the multitude of faces, languages, cuisines and cultures that run into each other here. Starting in Venice, stereotypical images of Los Angeles abound — from beach bums soaking in the sun to fitness fanatics pumping iron at Muscle Beach. Moving east, the Jewish neighborhood of the Pico corridor became a second home for me. On my way downtown, I stopped in Koreatown, historic Adams and eventually East Los Angeles, making friends in each community: each group diverse, each group proud, each group American.

I traveled this freeway and others often during my tenure here, visiting a variety of communities along the way. What I have learned here has given me a “Thomas Guide” of sorts to maneuver and navigate through our differences to arrive ultimately at our similarities.

Dorothy Parker once described Los Angeles as “72 suburbs in search of a city,” but I sometimes wonder how badly they really want to find it. The communities I passed on my drive down the 10 didn’t seem to be looking for it; they already appeared to be perfectly at home and at peace as Angelenos. On July 4, for instance, people from all over this city simply don’t appear interested to gather en masse at some civic center, but prefer neighborhood parades, local fireworks displays and backyard barbeques.

Despite this geographic disconnection, the people of Los Angeles are nonetheless remarkably united. They share the same debates about Kobe vs. Shaq, the same frustrations with the traffic, the same concerns about schools and public safety, the same appreciation for the amazing beauty and vibrant cultural life that Los Angeles has to offer. Most importantly, the diverse population of this city shares a truly laudable spirit of respect and tolerance for “the other.” There have been, of course, many tough times. However, friendships and relationships that transcend ethnicity and religion are the norm here. By and large, people relate to each other as individuals — not as groups, not as categories, not as stereotypes. As coming from the Middle East, where ethnic divisions have paralyzed us, I am in awe of the positive cross-cultural interaction between the people of Los Angeles.

It is easy to see the problems from the inside — social and economic inequality, tensions that sometimes bubble to the surface, the challenge of educating 750,000 children who collectively speak more than 80 languages. It would be easy to focus on the chaotic events that have marked my time here: the energy crisis, wildfires, earthquakes and the recall election.

Yet, for an outsider, Los Angeles is something of a miracle. At the end of the day, you see millions of people from every background imaginable living side by side, working together and forging a future under the bright California sun. In today’s world, where terrorism, prejudice and hatred widen the already existing gaps between peoples, this is an inspiration. As I return to my own homeland, I carry with me the hope and promise that Los Angeles offers to the future — a fitting going-away present from the city of dreams.

Ambassador Yuval Rotem served as consul general of Israel in Los Angeles from September 1999 to August 2004.

Arabs, Jews Mix at Haifa Holiday Festival

Thousands of Jews and Arabs fill the winding stone alleyways
of a Haifa neighborhood, sampling latkes, roasted chestnuts and pastries
dripping in honey at a coexistence festival to mark the holidays of Chanukah,
Christmas and Ramadan.

Walking a path lined with poems by Arab and Jewish poets,
celebrants take in sculptures strung over archways and perched on street
corners, colorful murals painted on walls and photographs based on this year’s
theme, “Utopia.”

“It’s all about the longing for something better,” says Hana
Kofler, curator of the festival’s exhibition, which featured some 100 Israeli
artists. “Everyone wants a better future, both Jews and Arabs.” Â

Now in its 10th year, The Festival of Festivals provides a
rare occasion of unity for Arabs and Jews, who have grown increasingly wary of
each other during the three years of intifada.

Residents of Wadi Nisnas, the majority Arab working-class
neighborhood that hosts the festival, say Israel and others around the world
can learn a lot from their community and from the city of Haifa, a mixed
Arab-Jewish city.

Locals here are proud of a long tradition of Jews and Arabs
working and living together in peace.Â

“We have always gotten along here, and to see all these
people from around the country coming here is fun,” said Hassan Zatut, a
mechanic who lives in Wadi Nisnas.Â

As he speaks, a steady stream of people walk up the hill
outside his family home, which is crowded with merchants selling toys and

“We are proud of what we have — this is the way it should
be,” he said.

“It’s an amazing sight to see so many Jews coming to an Arab
neighborhood, when most Jews in the country are terrified to go anywhere Arab,”
said Dan Chamizer, a Jewish artist and member of the Beit Ha’Gafen Arab-Jewish
Center, which organizes the event. “This is the only spot in the Middle East —
maybe in the world –where Arabs and Jews not only live together, but like each
other, work together, make art together.”

In honor of this year’s theme, Chamizer designed a giant
pair of rose-colored glasses made from iron and swirled pink-and-white glass.Â

Painted yellow footprints on the pavement lead visitors
throughout the neighborhood where artwork from festivals of previous years
mixes with new installations.

One artist posted a traffic light called “The Messiah.” When
the light turns green, the words “He is coming” light up; when it turns red,
“He is not coming” appears.Â

The mix of the whimsical and the serious characterize the
collection of art that fills Wadi Nisnas and expands every year. Because of the
festival, tourists come visit year-round.

On Saturday, church bells tolled and children in Santa Claus
hats rang bells and sang Christmas carols in Arabic under a canopy of gold

During the week of Chanukah, children’s plays are

To mark the recent end of the Ramadan fast, the public was
invited to join in the feasts and celebrations known as Eid al-Fitr.Â

Festival organizers say the winter festivals of the three
faiths is the ideal opportunity to throw a party. Each year the festival grows,
and nowadays tens of thousands of people come for each of the five consecutive
weekends of celebration. Dance productions, concerts and plays are part of the
festival, which also includes coexistence workshops.Â

The streets are lined with locals selling grilled meats,
Middle Eastern salads and cotton candy. The smell of cardamon wafts overhead as
strong cups of steaming Arabic coffee are poured into cups.Â

“It’s nice to see the folklore and traditions of both Jews
and Arabs,” says Michael Kandero, an Israeli Jewish factory worker from Afula,
who brings his family to the festival. “To connect with Arabs close up is
something we have missed out on in the last few years.” Â

Taking the First Step

Taking the First Step

More than 40 rabbis, from Orthodox to Reform, look for ways to increase respect among Jews

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

One of them calls himself a hardliner. Another says he doesn’t believe in pluralism. Still another admits he has never actually called a woman a rabbi. And yet all these Orthodox rabbis, along with an impressive list of others, have spent several evenings over the past few months sitting with Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis figuring out how to tone down the rhetoric and turn up the level of respect among Jews with sharply differing beliefs.

“This group has a different focus from other attempts,” says Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of the Jewish Studies Institute of Yeshiva of Los Angeles. “Nobody has any interest in persuading anybody to modify his or her stance. We are dealing with a lot of strongwilled people who are not in any mood to budge on principles, but who feel strongly that Jews can treat each other with respect even when we disagree to the core.”

The rabbis involved consider themselves civilians — all represent only themselves and have left institutional affiliation behind. And the group, which recently named itself Darchei Shalom, or paths of peace, is, by its own admission, highly limited in its goals. There is no pretense of ecumenism or even pluralism, no discussion of the great debates ripping at the Jewish people, such as the conversion controversy in Israel.

Rules for Coexistence

Rather, as a statement signed by 40 prominent Los Angeles rabbis attests, the goal is simply to “explore ways in which to change the often shrill and derogatory way that many of us treat the ‘other.'”

The statement outlines a code “to govern the way we speak and write about each other.”

At first glance, the list reads almost like the rules on a sixth grade bulletin board: “Address issues rather than people. Avoid stereotyping and sweeping generalities, such as defining whole groups by the behavior of some. Avoid words of incitement. Language meant merely to mock, deride and insult should never be used.”

But, basic as the list seems, “I wonder if we could get 60 members of the Israeli Knesset to sign on to it,” says Adlerstein. In fact, the impetus for the group stems from some of the abusive and increasingly uncivil language heard among Jewish leaders in Israel and the United States.

Dr. Bill Bender, (left) a veterinarian in Canoga Park, spent much of last year’s High Holidays thinking about the bickering. Bender’s rabbi, Solomon Rothstein — a conflict resolution expert — had spoken about the issue at services, and Bender approached him afterward looking for ways to help.

With the assistance of Rabbi Paul Dubin, then executive director of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, Bender contacted local rabbis from across the denominations asking them to come to a meeting to explore ways to change the way Jews speak to each other.

Rabbi Aron Tendler, a teacher at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high school and rabbi of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in North Hollywood, says one of the reasons he so readily agreed to participate was because the request came from a concerned Jew, someone without the baggage of institutional affiliation.

“I felt that the goal was really a proper one and an appropriate one and one that everybody could concur with,” says Rabbi Elazar Muskin, leader of Young Israel of Century City. “We’re not talking halacha, or debating where we differ. We’re trying to work to treat each other with mutual respect, and that would benefit the Jewish community at large.”

Participating in interdenominational halachic dialogues or debates has long been seen by some in the Orthodox community as lending validation to the other movement by placing them on seemingly equal footing as Orthodoxy.

For Rabbi Janet Marder,(left) director of the Reform movement’s Western region of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, it is the overriding concern for Jewish unity that allows her to overlook the limited scope of the group, though she herself would like to see more theological dialogue.

“I hope those in the Orthodox community will come to appreciate that there are significant numbers of liberal Jews who are serious about Torah and learning and observance and continuity,” she says. “And I hope those in my community will learn that the Orthodox are not demonic, not necessarily filled with hatred and contempt for Reform Jews.”

Making those inroads is beginning with Darchei Shalom, where establishing personal contact has been a major force in “de-demonizing” the other, as Tendler puts it.

“I never got the feeling from even the most Orthodox among them that disparaged my form of Judaism in any way, but rather I heard and I felt from them a respect for the seriousness with which I take Judaism,” says Rabbi Steven Carr Rueben, rabbi of the Reconstructionist Congregation Kehillat Israel.

While there was some initial tension at the first meeting, that broke down quickly as honesty about fundamental differences and a strong mutual respect emerged.

“The thing that resulted from the meeting was the realization that the people who lead the other denominations are sincere. I don’t agree with their approach, and not necessarily with their goals. But I do agree with their sincerity. They fell for the Jewish people, they are passionate about what they would like to do and give over to their congregants,” says Tendler.

The group’s next step will be to bring that concept to lay people. The rabbis are currently setting up guidelines for study sessions where interdenominational groups can focus on their commonalties, rather than their differences.

“We don’t have to argue about what is women’s role in the synagogue where there are significant differences of opinion,” says Rabbi Aharon Simkin of Young Israel of Northridge. “But I think everybody can agree upon v’ahavta lerayacha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself.”

Even such benign activities could raise some eyebrows on the right end of the Orthodox spectrum, where any religious communication with other denominations is viewed as breaking down important walls. But those involved hope naysayers will realize that these rabbis are committed to holding firm to their form of Judaism — and that the unity of the am, the nation, is paramount.

“We all have this feeling that there is something special about being Jewish that pulls at our heartstrings whenever we are dealing with other Jews,” Adlerstein says. With that in mind, he sees the dialogue he is participating in as holy work.

“I think, personally, this brings us a lot closer to where Hakodesh Baruch Hu [The Holy One, Blessed be He], wants us to be.”