Museum of Cold War Artifacts Gets New, Bigger Home in Culver City


The Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City is tucked away in an anonymous office park. But crammed inside the nondescript warehouse is the largest collection of Cold War-era artifacts and artwork outside of Europe, from hand-painted kitchenware and children’s toys to surveillance equipment and busts of Stalin and Lenin.

The name Wende (pronounced “venda”) means “turning point” or “change” in German and refers broadly to the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The museum is undergoing its own transition, as it moves to a larger permanent location nearby, the former National Guard Armory building. A ticketed gala and a free community open house is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 18-19.

Justin Jampol, the Wende Museum’s executive director, founded the museum in 2002 when he was 24. A native of Los Angeles, Jampol graduated from UCLA and has a doctorate in modern European history from Oxford University. In the mid-1990s, he recognized the need to preserve Soviet-era materials for research and educational purposes. After the Cold War ended in 1991, people were eager to get rid of their belongings. Historical markers and statues were toppled and vandalized, archives were destroyed, and photos and film were allowed to decay. Jampol began traveling to the Eastern Bloc to collect artworks, clothing, restaurant menus, home movies and chunks of the Berlin Wall.

The grass-roots effort soon expanded into a museum and research institution consisting of more than 100,000 artifacts that tell the story of life behind the Iron Curtain. The museum’s location in Los Angeles proved to be an asset, said its chief curator, Joes Segal. Being far removed from anti-Soviet sentiments helped them secure the personal papers of East German state leader Erich Honecker and a huge archive of documents from the border guards of Checkpoint Charlie in East Berlin.

“All these people realized that in Germany itself these materials would be interpreted in a very political way,” Segal said. “So the geographical distance was to our advantage.”

With the museum’s move to a larger location, the public will be able to see more of its collection, which the museum’s leadership hopes will help raise the museum’s profile in L.A.’s cultural landscape.

“It hasn’t been a public-facing institution, which is why, while we are renowned within the field, the public knowledge of the museum is significantly less now than it will be when we’re in the new space,” Jampol said.

The Wende Museum’s new home will include two exhibition spaces, to be changed three times a year, as well as a permanent exhibition space. It will also have a gift shop and coffee stand, and an outdoor sculpture garden with a fountain and movie screen.

The building also has a Cold War legacy, in what Segal calls “a paradox of history.” As the Cold War was escalating in 1949, the armory was built to withstand Soviet bombs in the event of World War III and has two above-ground nuclear fallout shelters.

The new location’s inaugural exhibition, “Cold War Spaces,” explores private, work, border, secret, outer, utopian and changing spaces of socialist cultures. Objects include a 1970 poster of a Soviet moon rover, a top-secret map of divided Berlin, surveillance equipment and a model of the Sputnik satellite.

The museum’s recently launched discussion series, “Art-Past-Present,” will continue in the new space, as well as experimental collaborations with artists and research institutions.

“What we try to do is use the Cold War past as a kind of treasure trove to think about the present,” Segal said.

Other upcoming exhibitions involve collaborations: with the Getty Research Institute, for a show on Hungarian visual culture; with the Wellcome Library of medical history in London, for a show called “The War of Nerves” about the psychological history of the Cold War; and with the University of Bristol in England, for an exhibition on Soviet hippie culture.

Besides acquiring rare and threatened objects, the museum also collects the stories behind the objects. The museum’s Historical Witness Project began as a series of recorded conversations with collectors who have donated items to the Wende and has expanded to include oral and written testimonies of scholars, artists, filmmakers and everyday citizens of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The Wende Museum also produced a documentary directed by Mark Hayes called “From Red State to Golden State: Soviet Jewish Immigration to the City of Angels.” It follows several Jewish families that left the Soviet Union to build new lives in Southern California during the 1970s and 1980s. Much of the community is centered in West Hollywood, which has the second-largest concentration of Soviet Jewish immigrants outside of New York City. The film premiered in 2013 to a sold-out audience at the Autry Museum of the American West.

Several objects in the Wende Museum’s collection have a link to Soviet Jews. One such object is a small Soviet-Russian photo album from the city of Birobidzhan, the capital of Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the former U.S.S.R. The album, issued in the 1950s by the communist youth organization, showcases photos of buildings in the community.

Other objects include two Bukharan Jewish family portraits from 1957 and from 1966, and a silver Russian Kiddush cup with an embossed pattern depicting a village, homes and gardens.

Segal said collecting Jewish artifacts has been challenging “because those materials tend either to stay in families or are sold or donated to Jewish institutions.”

In 2014, Taschen Books published Jampol’s 904-page encyclopedia of The Wende Museum’s East German collection called “Beyond the Wall: Art and Artifacts From the GDR.” The massive tome includes a 56-page facsimile of a German Democratic Republic family scrapbook documenting their real and imagined travels in East Germany and elsewhere.

The Wende’s highest-profile installation was staged in 2009, when, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jampol brought 10 segments of the original wall from Germany and placed them along Wilshire Boulevard, directly across from LACMA. Notable graffiti artists took turns decorating them in front of an audience of thousands.

“The museum,” Jampol said, “has become a kind of matchmaker for people of all walks of life and diverse interests to try to find the connective tissue between the historical collections and their own personal interests.”


The Wende Museum of the Cold War reopens Nov. 18-19 at the former National Guard Armory building at 10808 Culver Blvd., Culver City. For more information about the ticketed gala and free community open house, go to wendemuseum.org.

Russia says it will retaliate if U.S. weapons stationed on its borders


A plan by Washington to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO states on Russia's border would be the most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War, and Moscow would retaliate by beefing up its own forces, a Russian defense official said on Monday.

The United States is offering to store military equipment on allies' territory in eastern Europe, a proposal aimed at reassuring governments worried that after the conflict in Ukraine, they could be the Kremlin's next target.

Poland and the Baltic states, where officials say privately they have been frustrated the NATO alliance has not taken more decisive steps to deter Russia, welcomed the decision by Washington to take the lead.

But others in the region were more cautious, fearing their countries could be caught in the middle of a new arms race between Russia and the United States.

“If heavy U.S. military equipment, including tanks, artillery batteries and other equipment really does turn up in countries in eastern Europe and the Baltics, that will be the most aggressive step by the Pentagon and NATO since the Cold War,” Russian defense ministry official General Yuri Yakubov said.

“Russia will have no option but to build up its forces and resources on the Western strategic front,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

He said the Russian response was likely to include speeding up the deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave bordered by Poland and Lithuania, and beefing up Russian forces in ex-Soviet Belarus.

“Our hands are completely free to organize retaliatory steps to strengthen our Western frontiers,” Yakubov said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the Pentagon plan, citing the lack of any official announcements from the U.S. government.

ALLIED ARMY

U.S. officials said their proposal envisages storing a company's worth of equipment, enough for 150 soldiers, in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Enough equipment for a company or possibly a battalion, or about 750 soldiers, would also be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary.

The idea was that, in the event of an attack on NATO's eastern border, the United States could quickly fly in troops who would use the equipment, cutting out the weeks or months it would take to transport convoys of gear overland across Europe.

However, the U.S. proposal could cause tensions within NATO, an alliance that often struggles to accommodate more hawkish members such as Poland or Lithuania alongside other states that want to avoid a military stand-off with Russia at any cost.

Speaking after talks in Warsaw with the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said he expected a final U.S. decision on the equipment within a few weeks.

“They know how important this is to us, because we want to build a permanent U.S. presence, the allied army here on the Polish territory,” Siemoniak told reporters.

“It seems to me that such enterprises, that is equipment warehouses, are a very crucial step when it comes to building such a presence.”

A spokesman for Lithuania's foreign ministry, Kestutis Vaskelevicius, said any increased NATO presence was intended to improve the security of the Baltic states. “(It) is not directed against anyone, and it does not threaten anyone,” he said.

TWO-SPEED NATO

Since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and a rebellion by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states – countries with a history of Russian occupation – have pushed NATO for a muscular response.

But proposals for a permanent NATO combat presence in eastern Europe were blocked by Germany and some other alliance members. Instead, NATO intensified exercises, rotating troops through the region and set up a command headquarters for a rapid reaction force in north-west Poland.

Sources close to the government in Poland, and other states in the region, said that response persuaded them they could not fully rely on NATO, and that their best bet in the event of an attack was that the U.S. military would come to their aid.

At a NATO summit in Wales last year, agreement was reached on “pre-positioning” military equipment in eastern Europe, but the Pentagon's plan appeared to go further and faster than measures envisaged by the alliance.

The initiative could force some former Warsaw Pact countries now in NATO to make uncomfortable choices.

Bulgaria and Hungary both say they are committed members of the alliance, but they have maintained close cultural and commercial ties to Moscow, and may not want to jeopardize those links by storing U.S. military equipment on their soil.

Rosen Plevneliev, the Bulgarian President, said it was too early to say if his country would join the Pentagon's initiative.

“At the current moment there is no proposal whatsoever to the Bulgarian government upon which we can start discussions,” he said.

Lessons from the Berlin Wall


Last Saturday night in the posh section of Berlin, I took a hammer and chisel and pounded away at the Berlin Wall.

I was staying at the Westin Grand Hotel for the festivities marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. The hotel offers guests the chance to make their own souvenirs out of a 6-foot-tall block it bought years ago and planted by its entrance.

The manager supplied me with goggles, a hardhat and heavy leather gloves and walked me outside. I looked like a guy whose mother had dressed him for the revolution.

I did feel a little sheepish — after all, I wouldn’t take a shovel to the Gettysburg battlefield. But what begins in horror often ends in kitsch — that’s just the way of the world.

Besides, who doesn’t want a piece of the Wall?

I pressed my chisel against the concrete and struck hard, and a quarter-shaped shard pinged onto the sidewalk. 

Just then, an elderly Berliner passing by confronted the manager in German. “This is wrong!” he shouted. The manager countered, calmly, that the hotel bought this section and could do whatever it wanted with it. As I walked back inside, the old man was still shouting.

But I had to smile at history’s twists: What this man had once yearned to destroy, he was now fighting to protect. After 25 years, a hated symbol of oppression had become a beloved memorial to freedom.

I walked all over the city during the celebratory weekend. Long rows of light-filled helium balloons attached to thin metal rods outlined the 97-mile path of the wall, some 8,000 white orbs in all.  Volunteers were to release each one with the pull of a simple lever during the final ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 9. During the day beforehand, the round balloons served as an almost whimsical reminder of the joy of freedom. At night, their glow reflected in the dark river Spree and lit the huge crowds retracing the once-forbidden path.

I was walking with an archivist who manages the photo collection of the former German Democratic Republic, or GDR, as East Germany was formally known. He pointed out exactly where in the river 19-year-old Günter Litfin was shot in the back of the head by GDR police as he swam for freedom in 1961. Just across from where his lifeless body was pulled from the water, we watched as a little girl grabbed at the pole holding up a balloon and swung it back and forth, laughing. 

All cities are palimpsests of history and civilization, but in Berlin the momentousness is recent. Nov. 9 was also the day in 1918 when Kaiser Wilhelm II was dethroned and the monarchy ended. In 1923, Hitler attempted his Beer Hall Putsch on Nov. 9. And Nov. 9, 1938, was Kristallnacht, when Nazis burned and looted approximately 7,500 Jewish businesses and synagogues and arrested some 30,000 Jewish men and carted them off to concentration camps. Name another city that offers up such a concise and compelling history of the 20th century in so few footsteps.  

During her remarks at a celebratory event for the fall, Chancellor Angela Merkel began by recalling Kristallnacht. For the older generation of Berliners, the memories are all alloyed. But when a young Berlin man later told me Nov. 9 was “the happiest day in German history,” I knew what he meant; I just wondered whether he did.

One afternoon, I came upon a former East German guardhouse-turned-museum and shook hands with the man who ran it. He was in his late 70s, stout, with a shock of white hair — he was Günter Litfin’s brother.

This anniversary was perhaps the last big-numbered chance to celebrate the fall surrounded by the generation that witnessed it. There were many of them at events around the city last weekend, but I think my favorite you-are-there story came from my friend Burkhard Kieker, CEO of the visitBerlin tourism bureau, who invited me to come to the city to take part in the 25th anniversary celebrations.

Kieker was a 28-year-old journalist in West Berlin on Nov. 9, 1989.

He was at home watching television when the anchorman reported that the hardline communist government of the GDR was allowing East Berliners to cross into West Berlin.

“This anchorman had a reputation for drinking,” Kieker said, “so I thought he was drunk.”

But Kieker rode his bike down to the tall concrete wall that East Germany had erected in August 1961 to keep its population from fleeing to the free West, and, sure enough, something was happening.

From the other side, Kieker could hear people chanting, “Let us go! Let us go!”

An East German guard with a machine gun against his fat belly stood between the masses and the other side.  He was waiting for orders.

“The orders could have just as easily been to shoot,” Kieker told me. Months earlier, then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev had issued orders not to suppress peaceful protests with violence.  “Who knows?” Kieker said. “They could have changed their minds.”

Instead the guard, frustrated that his superiors would not give any orders, finally said, “Ach, go now. Go!”

Kieker heard the steel door at the checkpoint creak open. The East German guard stepped aside, and for the first time in 28 years, East Germans were free.

The first man Kieker saw cross over was old, carrying two shopping bags. He took the first step, like Nachshon at the Red Sea, a step that for decades could have meant a bullet in the head.

The old man hesitated, looked up at the guard and said, “But I come back, OK?”

Thousands followed. People ran into the arms of strangers. 

 “The city was beside itself with joy,” Kieker said.

Kieker was wearing a black leather jacket. The next morning, he noticed his jacket had indelible stains on each shoulder — people had hugged him all evening, weeping salty tears.

“It was the desire to be free, to travel, and to say and write what you want,” Kieker said. “That desire had a great beginning that night.”

Two great truths rose up when the Wall came down. First was the power of human potential, unleashed. Free, united Berlin is now a crazy, young, exciting city. The skyline is decorated in cranes. Former abandoned East Berlin neighborhoods have all but gentrified. Prinzlauerberg, close to what was once the East German no-man’s-land, now has so many young yuppie families moving in, they call it Pregnant Hill. In just the last year, 49,000 new jobs and about as many new residents have swelled the capital’s once-depleted ranks. A former bombed-out brewery, abandoned after World War II and neglected in the East, has been refitted with glass and steel walls and is becoming the German headquarters for Twitter.

When one builder proposed to tear down the last remaining continuous section of the Wall for yet another multiuse live-work complex, people took to the streets in protests — like the man who’d confronted us at the hotel. The best monument to the power of freedom will be the city Berlin is striving to become.

The second truth is even more elemental: Change is possible. At a banquet the evening before the celebration, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi leader in microfinance, reminded the audience that no one had predicted the Wall would fall when it did. Experts, journalists, politicians, intelligence agencies — no one saw it coming.

“Great change is always unexpected,” Yunus said, “and it comes from the ground up. Politicians didn’t do this. Soldiers didn’t do this. People did it.”

On the evening of the big celebration, the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the surrounding streets filled with tens of thousands of people. Peter Gabriel sang a song in English, followed by German entertainers and eyewitnesses. Daniel Barenboim conducted an orchestra and chorus in Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which ended with fireworks over the Brandenburg Gate. The event concluded when a young couple walked on stage, he with a violin, she with a cello, and they played a low, mournful song. It took me a while to realize it was Germany’s national anthem.

The crowd was strangely subdued. If it had been an American patriotic celebration, I said to a German friend, the audience would have been tearing up and singing along. Germans have an uneasy relationship with large, patriotic gatherings, for obvious reasons, she said — just another way memory works.  

In the midst of all this, the visitBerlin people asked me to pull the lever on one of the balloons. But first I was to write a message on a tag and tie it to a string attached to the balloon. My message said, “May the spirit of a free Berlin spread over the world.” I wrote in English, French and Hebrew — who knows how far a helium balloon can go? 

After we set free our balloons, we walked to the Adlon Hotel for a goodbye dinner. Our group happened to include a few Israelis. Sure enough, the conversation turned to the last Gaza war and the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Yes, it was weird — and very Berlin — to be an American Jew and three Israelis arguing about Israel in one of the Nazis’ favorite hotels, where East German bureaucrats had encamped during the Cold War.

Our discussion ended as so many conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about Iran, about ISIS, about all the world’s intractable problems and divisions do — with the feeling that things will just get worse, that nothing will ever change.

Then again I remembered: One day not so long ago, people rose up, without violence, and led the way, and their leaders followed. The Wall came down, and all at once the world changed for the better:  The city was beside itself with joy. 

Like I said, who wouldn’t want a piece of the Wall?


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

Germany celebrates 25th anniversary of fall of Berlin Wall


More than a million Germans and people from around the world on Sunday celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that more than any other marked the end of the Cold War.

A spectacular 15 kilometer-long string of 7,000 illuminated helium balloons traced the course of the barrier that once snaked through the city, slicing across streets, between families and even through graveyards.

They were set free one after another into the night sky, symbolizing the breaching of the Wall by crowds of protesters in 1989. The Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra played Beethoven's 9th Symphony “Ode to Joy” in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

“We're the happiest people in the world and we're thrilled that you brought the Berlin Wall down 25 years ago,” Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit said as the first balloons were sent aloft. “Nothing and no one can stand in the way of freedom.”

Germans, whose national pride was shattered by Nazism, the Second World War and the Holocaust, have proudly focused on the peaceful East German revolution that felled the Wall as a rare and bright shining moment in their modern history.

Festivities to mark the anniversary drew more than one million Berliners and tourists to the heart of the once-divided city. Earlier, Peter Gabriel played a powerful rendition of “Heroes” and several German artists performed on stage as well.

Despite the fog and cold, many wandered along the former “death strip” where the Wall stood and where the illuminated helium balloons forming the “Lichtgrenze”, or Border of Light, were perched 3.6 meters (11.8 feet) high on poles matching the height of the barrier built in 1961 by Communist East Germany.

The crowd also cheered when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, widely admired in Germany for his role in paving the way for the Wall's collapse, stood and waved. He ominously warned in a speech in Berlin on Saturday that a new Cold War was looming over the Ukraine crisis.

WORLD LOOKS TO BERLIN

The anniversary of the Wall's fall was marked around the world. Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that it should spur people to try to topple other walls. “Where there is a wall, there is a closing of hearts. We need bridges, not walls,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fall of the Wall showed the world that “dreams can come true” and should inspire people trapped in tyranny everywhere.

Merkel, a young physicist in Communist East Berlin when she got her first taste of freedom on Nov. 9, 1989, said in a speech that the Wall's opening in response to mass popular pressure would be eternally remembered as a triumph of the human spirit.

“The fall of the Berlin Wall showed us that dreams can come true and that nothing has to stay the way it is, no matter how high the hurdles might seem to be,” said Merkel.

“It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better,” she said, noting that people in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere around the world should feel heartened by the example of the Wall's sudden demise.

“It was a victory of freedom over bondage.”

But she added the date Nov. 9 bears historical burdens. It was also the day in 1938 of the anti-Jewish pogrom “Kristallnacht”, or “Night of Broken Glass”, when Nazis carried out attacks on synagogues and Jewish shops across Germany.

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to stop East Germans fleeing to the West. It began as a barbed wire and cinder block wall and was then fortified as a heavily guarded 160 km (100-mile) white concrete barrier that encircled West Berlin.

DIVISIONS REMAIN

At least 138 people were killed trying to escape to West Berlin and many who were captured ended up in jail.

Communist regimes collapsed in the face of popular uprisings across Eastern Europe in 1989, signaling the end of the Cold War, of which the Berlin Wall had become the starkest symbol.

But despite the Wall's fall, German unity a year later and 2 trillion euros pumped into the formerly communist east of the country, there are still lingering east-west political, economic and social divisions in the city and country.

Voting patterns in east Berlin and eastern Germany are different, there is still an east-west income and wealth gap, and unemployment is nearly twice as high in the east.

“Forty years of division left their mark on many,” said Kai Arzheimer, political scientist at the University of Mannheim. “The differences might be diminishing as years pass but only a lot slower than anyone would have dreamt 25 years ago.”

Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Roma; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Tom Heneghan

Russia to hold war games in show of strength near Ukraine


Russia announced military exercises near the border with Ukraine on Monday in a show of strength as the Ukrainian army recaptured more territory from pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

The Russian air force said more than 100 aircraft, including fighter jets and bombers, were taking part in the manoeuvres this week in the central and western military districts.

The move could alarm Western powers which have accused Russia of beefing up its troops along its border with Ukraine and arming the rebels in eastern Ukraine, although Moscow denies the accusations.

The manoeuvres include missile-firing practice and will assist “coordination between aviation and anti-missile defence”, Interfax news agency quoted an airforce spokesman as saying.

He said Russia's latest bomber, the Su-24, was taking part, as well as Su-27 and MiG-31 fighter jets.

Russia upset the West by staging military exercises near Ukraine in March after the conflict with Ukraine flared. Moscow said in May it had pulled back its forces but NATO military commander General Philip Breedlove said last week it still had more than 12,000 troops and weapons along the frontier.

The crisis has pushed relations between Russia and the West to their lowest level since the Cold War, with each side accusing the other of orchestrating events in Ukraine, and the United States and European Union imposing sanctions on Russia.

Russia has a firm grip on the Crimea peninsula, which it annexed in March after Ukraine ousted a pro-Moscow president, but the rebels who wanted Moscow to also annexe east Ukraine have been losing ground in the past few weeks.

UKRAINIAN ARMY ADVANCES

Government forces said they had recaptured an important rail hub in the latest fighting near Donetsk, the biggest of the two large cities the rebels still hold after almost four months of fighting.

“Units taking part in the 'anti-terrorist operation' yesterday took the town of Yasynuvata, which is an important hub of the region's railway system,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Kiev's military operation in the east, told a briefing.

The separatists had seized the Yasynuvata railway control centre in May as their rebellion spread in eastern Ukraine. It sits just north of Donetsk near a main road leading to Luhansk, another remaining rebel stronghold.

Five government soldiers were killed and 15 wounded over the previous 24 hours, Lysenko said. There were no new casualty figures for the rebels in a conflict the United Nations said had killed more than 1,100 people from mid-April to late July.

Fighting has intensified since the West accused the rebels of shooting down a Malaysian airliner last month, killing all 298 people on board. Russia and the rebels blame the disaster on Kiev's military offensive.

In a sign that not all the fighting is going the Ukrainian army's way, Russian border guards said 438 Ukrainian soldiers had crossed into Russia during the night seeking asylum.

“They were tired of the war and wanted no further part in it,” Vasily Malayev, spokesman for the borders guards in the Rostov region of Russia, told Reuters by telephone.

He said they had been treated well, and 180 were being returned to Ukraine later on Monday, but it was not clear what the rest wanted to do.

Lysenko said the soldiers and border guards had crossed into Russia in search of safety after being blocked between the Russian border to the east and pro-Russian rebel positions in the west for more than three weeks.

He gave no numbers but said Kiev was trying to negotiate their return.

The fighting had prevented Dutch and Australian experts reaching the wreckage of the downed airliner in rebel-held territory for several days but they have managed to recover some human remains and belongings in the past few days. The victims included 196 Dutch, 27 Australians and 43 Malaysians.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Polina Devitt and Tatiana Ustinova in Moscow and by Gabrieal Baczynska and Natalia Zinets in Kiev; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Will Waterman

Obama says strains over Ukraine not leading to new Cold War with Russia


President Barack Obama escalated U.S. economic sanctions against Russia on Tuesday for its aggression against Ukraine but dismissed suggestions the growing chill in U.S.-Russian relations marked the start of a new Cold War.

The United States and the European Union, in a carefully coordinated action, announced targeted new sanctions against Russian banks, energy and defense firms.

It was the West's most serious response yet to what it calls Russian instigation of and continuing support for the separatist uprising in the east and the shootdown of a Malaysian passenger jet on July 17 over eastern Ukraine.

Obama, speaking at the White House, said the sanctions will have a “greater impact on the Russian economy than we've seen so far” in a drive to force Moscow to stop backing the separatists.

Until now Europe had stopped short of tougher steps against Russia for fear of retaliation. Obama said the new sanctions were a sign of “the waning patience Europe has with nice words from President (Vladimir) Putin that are not matched by actions.”

Senior U.S. officials voiced growing alarm about a Russian troop buildup on the border with eastern Ukraine and a continued supply of heavy weaponry to the separatists.

These are signs that, so far at least, the sanctions are not forcing Putin to back down despite the damage the sanctions are doing to the Russian economy.

“It's not a new Cold War,” Obama told reporters. “What it is, is a very specific issue related to Russia's unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

The new targets for sanctions included VTB, the Bank of Moscow, the Russian Agriculture Bank and the United Shipbuilding Corp., the Treasury Department said.

The sanctions on the three banks prohibit U.S. citizens or companies from dealing with debt carrying maturities longer than 90 days, or with new equity.

Five of the six largest state-owned banks in Russia are now under U.S. sanctions.

Also targeted was United Shipbuilding Corp, a shipbuilding company based on St. Petersburg, in a move that freezes any assets it may hold in the United States and prohibits all U.S. transactions with it.

The Commerce Department classified United Shipbuilding Corp as a defense technology company.

The new sanctions block the exports of specific goods and technologies to the Russian energy sector. The Commerce Department said it will deny any export, re-export or foreign transfer of items for use in Russia's energy sector that may be used for exploration or production of deepwater, Arctic offshore or shale projects that have the potential to produce oil.

Obama also formally suspended credit that encourages exports to Russia and financing for economic development projects in Russia. He warned there would be additional costs to Russia should Moscow not back down.

“Obviously, we can't, in the end, make President Putin see more clearly,” Obama said. “Ultimately, that's something President Putin has to do on his own.”

The Ukraine crisis has set back U.S. relations with Russia to near-Cold War levels. Ties were further strained this week by U.S. charges that Russia had violated the 1988 Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty designed to eliminate ground-launched cruise missiles.

White House officials refused to divulge details of the allegations but demanded immediate talks with Moscow, whose response thus far has been “wholly unsatisfactory,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

The new U.S. sanctions were announced during a visit to Washington by Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who discussed prospects for resolving the conflict with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Both Kerry and Klimkin told reporters further pressure on Russia was essential to halt the flow of men, money and weapons into eastern Ukraine, but said the United States and Ukraine were examining possible political steps that could be taken inside Ukraine to address Russian concerns.

“We talked today about a political road ahead,” Kerry said. That included looking at ways in which Ukraine can convince Moscow that it will fulfill earlier promises, which included giving Russian speakers in the east more autonomy and rights.

Discussing ways to “de-escalate” the situation on the ground, Klimkin stressed Ukraine's commitment to decentralize power.

Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Will Dunham and David Storey; Editing by Sandra Maler and Tom Brown

U.S., EU set sanctions as Putin recognizes Crimea ‘sovereignty’


The United States and European Union imposed personal sanctions on Monday on Russian and Crimean officials involved in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing the region as a sovereign state.

The moves heightened the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War, following a disputed referendum in the Black Sea peninsula on Sunday in which Crimea's leaders declared a Soviet-style, 97-percent vote to secede from Ukraine.

Within hours, the Crimean parliament formally asked that Russia “admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic”. Putin will on Tuesday address a special joint session of Russia's State Duma, or parliament, which could take a decision on annexation of the majority ethnic-Russian region.

That would dismember Ukraine, a former Soviet republic once under Moscow's thumb, against its will. Kiev and the West said the referendum, held under armed Russian occupation, violated Ukraine's constitution and international law.

Russian forces took control of Crimea in late February following the toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich after deadly clashes between riot police and protesters trying to overturn his decision to spurn a trade and cooperation deal with the EU in favor of cultivating closer ties with Russia.

U.S. President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for the seizure, including Yanukovich, and Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev, two aides to Putin.

Putin himself, suspected in the West of trying to resurrect as much as possible of the former Soviet Union under Russian leadership, was not on the blacklist. A White House spokesman declined to rule out adding him at a later stage.

Amid fears that Russia may move into eastern Ukraine where there is a significant Russian-speaking community, Obama warned that “further provocations” would only increase Moscow's isolation and exact a greater toll on its economy.

“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” he said.

A senior U.S. official said Obama's order cleared the way to sanction people associated with the arms industry and targets “the personal wealth of cronies” of the Russian leadership.

In Brussels, the EU's 28 foreign ministers agreed to subject 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials to visa restrictions and asset freezes for their roles in the events. They included three Russian military commanders in Crimea and districts bordering on Ukraine.

There were only three names in common on the U.S. and European lists – Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov and Leonid Slutski, chairman of the Russian Duma's committee on the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), grouping former Soviet republics. The EU blacklisted Yanukovich earlier this month.

The U.S. list appeared to target higher-profile Russian officials close to Putin, including a deputy Russian prime minister, while the EU went for mid-ranking officials who may have been more directly involved on the ground.

Washington and Brussels said further steps could follow in the coming days if Russia does not back down and formally annexes Crimea.

A senior Obama administration official said there was “concrete evidence” that some ballots in the Crimea referendum arrived in some Crimean cities pre-marked.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was named on the White House sanctions list, suggested that the measures would not affect those without assets abroad.

DISMEMBERING UKRAINE

Obama said Russian forces must end “incursions” into its ex-Soviet neighbor, while Putin renewed his accusation that the new leadership in Kiev, brought to power by the uprising that toppled his elected Ukrainian ally last month, were failing to protect Russian-speakers from violent Ukrainian nationalists.

Moscow responded to Western pressure for an international “contact group” to mediate in the crisis by proposing a “support group” of states. This would push for recognition of the Crimean referendum and urge a new constitution for rump Ukraine that would require it to uphold political and military neutrality.

While a Western diplomat said some of the Russian ideas may offer scope for negotiation, Ukraine's interim president ruled out ever accepting the annexation of its territory.

A complete preliminary count of Sunday's vote showed that 96.77 percent of voters opted to join Russia, the chairman of the regional government commission overseeing the referendum, Mikhail Malyshev, announced on television.

Officials said the turnout was 83 percent. Crimea is home to 2 million people. Members of the ethnic Ukrainian and Muslim Tatar minorities had said they would boycott the poll, held just weeks after Russian forces took control of the peninsula.

Putin's popularity at home has been boosted by his action on Crimea despite serious risks for a stagnant economy.

Russian shares and the rouble rebounded as investors calculated that Western sanctions would be largely symbolic and would avoid trade or financial measures that would inflict significant economic damage.

However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said EU countries had begun discussing the need for Europe to reduce its reliance on Russian energy “over many years to come”. Much of that energy is shipped through gas pipelines crossing Ukraine.

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, gets 40 percent of its gas from Moscow and could become more dependent as it switches from nuclear power.

In a sign of possible internal debates ahead, euro zone newcomer Latvia said the EU should compensate any countries hurt by sanctions against Russia. The three former Soviet Baltic states, home to Russian-speaking minorities and dependent on Russian energy supplies, could suffer in any retaliation.

MOBILIZATION

Moscow defended the takeover of Crimea by citing a right to protect “peaceful citizens”. Ukraine's interim government has mobilized troops to defend against an invasion of its eastern mainland, where pro-Russian protesters have been involved in deadly clashes in recent days.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday endorsed a presidential decree for a partial military mobilization to call up 40,000 reservists to counter Russia' military actions. Ukraine recalled its ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

Russia's lower house of parliament will pass legislation allowing Crimea to join Russia “in the very near future”, news agency Interfax cited its deputy speaker as saying.

U.S. and European officials say military action is unlikely over Crimea, which Soviet rulers handed to Ukraine 60 years ago.

But the risk of a wider incursion, with Putin calculating the West will not respond as he tries to restore Moscow's hold over its old Soviet empire, leaves NATO wondering how to help Kiev without igniting a wider conflict.

For now, the West's main tools appear to be escalating economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

Highlighting the stakes, journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, stood before an image of a mushroom cloud on his weekly TV show to issue a stark warning. He said: “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.”

Many Tatars, who make up 12 percent of Crimea's population, boycotted the vote, fearful of a revival of the persecution they suffered for centuries under Soviet rule from Moscow.

“This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not?” said Shevkaye Assanova, a Tatar in her 40s. “I don't recognize this at all.”

A pressing concern for the governments in Kiev and Moscow is the transfer of control of Ukrainian military bases. Many are surrounded by and under control of Russian forces, even though Moscow denies it has troops in the territory beyond facilities it leases for its important Black Sea Fleet.

Crimea's parliamentary speaker said on Monday that Ukrainian military units in the region would be disbanded, though personnel would be allowed to remain on the Black Sea peninsula.

Ukraine's border guard service accused Russian troops of evicting the families of their officers from their apartments in Crimea and mistreating their wives and children.

Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White and Andrew Osborn in Simferopol, Ron Popeski, Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Lina Kushch in Donetsk, Roberta Rampton and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Adrian Croft and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Lidia Kelly and Timothy Heritage in Moscow; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Paul Taylor; Editing by Mark Heinrich

The day the Earth stood stupid


Say goodnight, Earthlings.

That message — plus the slimmest of shots at an eleventh-hour reprieve — was announced to the people of the world last week. 

When this happens in science fiction — 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is the classic — the planet pays attention.  The flying saucer lands; an alien, in this case played by Michael Rennie, emerges; a final warning is issued:  Stop it.  If you don’t, you’re doomed.

Back then, the “it” was violence — the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear midnight.  Last week, it was climate change — greenhouse gases, and the promise of ecological extinction.

“Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears,” ran the headline on the front page lead What does it take to grab us by the eyeballs?

It’s not that people who know our planet’s hair is on fire aren’t trying to get our attention. The “>National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's “>scientist after “>drought will spread and – in the “>The Climate Reality Project’s website features 18 disturbing but entertaining videos about the price of carbon and our addiction to fossil fuels.  ““>350.org “>The Years of Living Dangerously,” Showtime’s climate change documentary series now being shot, has producers who know a little something about how to capture audiences: James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Those efforts use media to engage an informed, activist public.  Could such a citizenry make change?  There’s plenty we can do in our personal lives to reduce our carbon footprint.  Local and state policies in conservation, transportation, building design and urban planning can also curb greenhouse gas emissions.  But without federal leadership like killing the Keystone XL pipeline and putting a tax on carbon, and without global commitments with teeth to enforce them, it’s hard to imagine a path back from the brink. 

In the U.S., the same dysfunctions preventing anything else useful from happening — the Senate filibuster, the gerrymandered House, the corrupt campaign finance system — also hold climate change mitigation hostage.  So does denial.  And though some denial can be attributed to hoax propaganda funded by the fossil fuel industry, some comes from an infantile strain in the American psyche that should not be mistaken for religious freedom. 

Last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) gave a floor “>Reagan was a big fan of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and as president he often referred to it.  When he first met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, he speculated that the threat of an alien invasion might get the Americans and the Soviets to cooperate.  If Michael Rennie’s ““>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

James Baker says Bush’s Syria policy is ‘ridiculous’; Sobell finally gives it up


Baker Calls Bush ‘Ridiculous’ on Syria

The Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Syria is “ridiculous,” said James Baker, a former U.S. secretary of state.

Five former secretaries of state met Monday under the auspices of CNN to discuss what advice they would give the next president.

“I would advise the president to fully engage with Syria,” said Baker, who as secretary of state under Bush’s father helped convene the 1991 Madrid talks, which for the first time brought Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and other Arab nations into the same process. “I think it is ridiculous for us to say we’re not going to talk to Syria and yet Israel has been talking to them for six to eight months.”

The Bush administration has discouraged Israel’s talks with Syria, currently held under Turkish auspices. Israel wants to draw Syria away from the Iranian sphere; the Bush administration says it will not engage Syria until it fully disengages from Lebanon and stops its support for terrorist groups.

Also appearing at the session were Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, who served under President Bill Clinton; Colin Powell, who served under the current President Bush; and Henry Kissinger, who served under presidents Nixon and Ford.

Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying

One of the co-defendants in the Rosenberg espionage case has admitted to spying for the Soviets.

Morton Sobell, who was tried and convicted in 1951 with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges, admitted for the first time on Sept. 11 in an interview with The New York Times that he had turned over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, call it that,” he told The Times when asked if he was a spy. “I never thought of it as that in those terms.”

Sobell drew a distinction between providing information on defensive radar and artillery, which he did, and the information that, he said, Julius Rosenberg provided to the Soviets on the atomic bomb. He said he believes the Soviets already had obtained from other sources most of the information Rosenberg provided.

Sobell also said he believed that Ethel Rosenberg was aware of her husband’s spying, but did not actively participate. Both Rosenbergs were executed for their crimes.

The 91-year-old Sobell, who long had professed his innocence, refused to testify at his trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was released in 1969 and currently lives in the Bronx, N.Y.

He spoke as the National Archives released the bulk of the grand jury testimony in the Rosenberg case.

Will new ‘Cold War’ play out in Middle East?


When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert goes to Moscow next month, his first order of business will be to make sure the Russians don’t sell sophisticated new weaponry to Syria that could alter the military status quo in the Middle East.

Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Russia to make a pitch for the arms, new anti-aircraft missiles and ground-to-ground rockets that would put all of the Jewish state within range of Damascus.

Though Russia rejected the request, the Russians apparently are prepared to sell Syria other anti-aircraft missiles, state-of-the-art anti-tank missiles and fighter planes.

In January 2005, Vladimir Putin — then Russia’s president and now its prime minister — promised Israel not to sell arms that might upset the strategic balance in the Middle East. So far, Putin has kept that promise.

But with talk of a new Cold War in the offing following Russia’s recent military successes in Georgia, Israel is worried Russia might reassess this policy and use the sale of new weaponry to Syria — or the threat of it — to strengthen Russia’s hand vis-à-vis Israel’s primary ally, the United States.

Some experts are concerned that the growing clash between Russian and U.S. interests will prompt Moscow to feel freer to sell its arms to countries outside the U.S. orbit that also happen to be hostile to Israel. The worst-case scenario, experts say, is that Russia would revert to its Soviet role as Middle East spoiler, fanning the flames of conflict and undermining peace efforts.

Most say, however, that Russia will always stop short of direct confrontation — and the Georgia episode hasn’t changed this approach.

“There is no way the Russians are going back to the Cold War or anything like it,” one Israeli official said on the condition of anonymity.

But Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States who is now at Tel Aviv University, argues that Russia has emerged much stronger from its Georgia campaign and that this will have repercussions for the Middle East.

In Rabinovich’s view, U.S.-Russian cooperation on Iran is now far less likely, and Russian arms sales to Iran and Syria are much more likely.

Israeli analysts say the Russian military industry long has been pushing for unrestricted weapons sales, but Putin has been wary of selling weapons that could spark regional flare-ups and involve Russia in head-to-head conflict with the West.

In the past, Russia has refrained from selling strategic weapons like the Iskander-E ground-to-ground rocket or the S-300 anti-aircraft missile to Syria.

The Iskandar is far more accurate than the Scud rockets currently in the Syrian arsenal and could pinpoint any target in Israel from Haifa to Eilat. The S-300 has a range of 125 miles and can handle 36 targets at once. Deployed in Damascus, it could threaten aircraft deep inside Israeli airspace.

With Moscow emboldened after its dramatic success in Georgia, some Israeli analysts worry these weapons eventually could find their way to Damascus.

In the telephone conversation last week during which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev invited Olmert to Moscow, the Israeli prime minister bluntly conveyed the extent of Israel’s opposition to any such sale to the Syrians. It would be a pity for Assad to spend billions on arms Israel would be forced to destroy, Olmert reportedly warned Medvedev.

The Russian-Syrian connection goes back to the mid-1950s, when the Soviet Union turned the Arab-Israeli conflict into a proxy war with the United States.

In those days, the Soviets were perceived as a real threat to Israel’s existence and as an obstacle to peace. Syria became Moscow’s chief client state after Egypt expelled the Soviets in 1972 and made peace with Israel in 1979. This changed only in the late 1980s, when Syria no longer could afford to buy conventional weapons from Russia.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia pursued a more evenhanded policy in the Middle East. Although it continued to sell arms to Syria, it developed economic ties with Israel worth more than $2 billion a year — a volume of non-military trade that exceeds that between Russia and the entire Arab world.

Israeli officials do not expect this to change much in the wake of the Georgia campaign.

The key question is what the Russians do in Iran. The record so far is not encouraging.

Russia has done little to help stop the Iranian nuclear weapons drive. On the contrary, Russia has signed lucrative contracts to develop Iranian nuclear plants and oil fields; blocked U.N. Security Council proposals for stricter sanctions; built Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor; reportedly started supplying Iran with $4 billion worth of air defenses, including S-300 missile systems, to thwart a U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities; and reportedly signed contracts worth about $20 billion to build 20 civilian nuclear power stations by 2020.

Israeli officials believe that Russia ultimately does not want to see Iran with a nuclear bomb — that would threaten Russian interests, too. Rather, Israel expects Russia to try to reap as much economic benefit as possible from its Iranian connections while stopping short of allowing Iran to acquire the bomb.

The question going forward will be whether the tension between Moscow and Washington heats up or cools down.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is hoping any potential Moscow problem can be defused with incentives from the West. During a visit to Washington in July, Barak proposed that the United States give up its planned missile defenses in Eastern Europe in return for a clear-cut Russian commitment on Iran.

The Americans, however, were not convinced.

Letters to the Editor


Chamberlain Ad

I do not know if I can communicate how deeply offended I was by the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) Neville Chamberlain ad on page 6 of the Sept. 8 Jewish Journal. Besides the complete lack of intellectual honesty, the appalling lack of logical reasoning fails beyond the pale to measure up to the traditions of Judaism specifically and humanity in general:

Rather than deal with the threat that Al Qaeda actually presents to our national security, President Bush has chosen to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on a personal vendetta in Iraq washed in five years of the blood of the Iraqi people and citizenry of our great nation.

Rather than communicating with a government seeking to open communication between the United States, President Bush consciously closed all potential paths of dialogue and continuously vilified and threatened a sovereign nation in a tinhorn cowboy attempt to force Iran into a diplomatic mistake of nuclear proportions.

Rather than assist Israel to defend itself against continuing malicious attacks from Hezbollah or Hamas, Bush specifically chose to do absolutely nothing for five years, and more importantly, two weeks of Israel’s invasion into Lebanon, then sent the single most ineffectual secretary of state within the last century to negotiate a failed cease-fire proposal.

If The Journal is so strapped for cash, it would be a far better use of its ad space to place a plea for donations and financial support from its readership, rather than compromising all dignity and integrity by running further tripe from the RJC.

Richard Adlof
North Hollywood

Shame on the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for running two ads which desperately tried to denigrate the Democratic Party.

First, shame on the RJC for taking an issue of great bipartisan agreement — support for a strong U.S.- Israel relationship — and turning it into a wedge issue for tawdry partisan political advantage. Any objective observer of U.S. politics has to agree that both of our major political parties are remarkably supportive of Israel. This fact is crucial in maintaining the strong relationship between the United States and Israel. For the RJC, however, it appears that twisting the truth for some petty partisan gain is apparently more important than maintaining bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

It is true that in both parties there are a handful of politicians who are not part of this bipartisan consensus. Carter is one of these outsiders who find no support for their positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict within their own parties.

Jewish newspapers, like all newspapers, have an obligation to not print false and misleading ads. We hope in the coming weeks, as RJC slings more mud, this newspaper will fact-check their ad copy to make sure the RJC doesn’t continue to use these pages to violently twist the truth.

Marc Stanley
First Vice Chair
National Jewish Democratic Council

The Republican obsession with Iraq has left Israel open and vulnerable to the possible nuclear overtures of a Holocaust-denying Iran. The Republican obsession with the Cold War almost led to a military defeat for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War (and did lead to a country-permeating malaise). The Republican obsession with a fundamental Christian theology that is based on the apocalyptic demise of not only Israel but Jews everywhere is too eviscerating and too self-evident to even require an elaboration.

Does any Jew still believe that the Republican party has their true interests at heart?

Marc Rogers
Thousand Oaks

We applaud the recent public discussion about the support for Israel by the political parties (“GOP Sees Israel as Way to Woo Democratic Jews,” Sept. 1).All who are pro-Israel should appreciate the positive influence our growing Jewish Republican community is having on the GOP. Our access to senior GOP leaders is warmly encouraged, and, in return, the Jewish community is increasingly impressed by an administration and a Republican Congress that have been deeply pro-Israel.

The example of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton is instructive. The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) was virtually alone among national Jewish organizations in supporting the nomination of this hero of the Jewish people, who not only helped to defeat the odious “Zionism is racism” resolution years ago, but who now vigorously defends Israel at the United Nations against unfair demonization and delegitimization. Many Jewish Democrats now see that Bolton is the right man at the United Nations.

Putting aside the issue of Israel, moderate Jews might approach 21st century American politics with an open mind on who is best on both national security and domestic public policy issues. It is time that respectful attention be paid by Jews to positive GOP ideas about economic growth, welfare and entitlement reform, medical liability and tort/legal reform, energy independence and educational choice and competition to best serve children.

To the benefit of Israel and the United States, the days of one-party Jewish voting are, thankfully, over.

Joel Geiderman
Chairman
Larry Greenfield
Director
Republican Jewish Coalition, California

Illegal Jewish Immigrants

Your articles focused on illegal Israeli immigrants who are not terrorists and do not take low-paying jobs away from minorities (“Living and Working [IL]Legally in America,” Sept. 8). Instead they engage in commercial activity that is beneficial to Israel.

Thanks to your article calling attention to them, perhaps immigration officials will divert attention from terrorists to crack down on these Israelis.

Are you The Jewish Journal or the anti-Jewish Journal?

Marshall GillerWinnetka

The Jews Didn’t Do It

Not all conspiracy theories are equal (“The Lie That Won’t Die,” Sept. 1). Richard Greenberg’s article asks us to believe otherwise, holding out only two possibilities to the American public: Either you accept the government version of Sept. 11 or you are a “conspiracist.”

But the world is much more complex than these two positions allow, and the democratic process itself depends on citizens who question official stories. David Griffin, author of “The New Pearl Harbor” and three additional books on Sept. 11, raises important questions about the adequacy of the Kean Commission report.

3 Novels Explore Life in Cold War Era


“Meritocracy: A Love Story,” by Jeffrey Lewis. (Other Books, $18).
“Dancing With Einstein: A Novel,” by Kate Wenner. (Scribner, $24).
“When She Sleeps,” by Leora Krygier. (The Toby Press, $19.95).

The memory of the Holocaust has haunted the Jewish imagination for three generations. It represents the rupture in our communal history, its shadow falling on everything else. And yet, we have amassed new memories since. Three books by local authors use the legacy of the Holocaust in their attempts to grapple with many facets of the Cold War.

By the 1960s and ’70s, when these three novels are set, Jews had established themselves at the vanguard of the United States. As if trying to make up for all that had been taken from them in midcentury Europe, Jews rose to the highest levels of education, politics, science and cultural production, benefiting from the new spirit of meritocracy that, as Jeffrey Lewis puts it in his novel of the same title, was the result of “a slight softening of the contours of traditional anti-Semitism, in the guilty aftermath of catastrophe.”

“Meritocracy” tells the story of a group of friends, all recent Yale graduates, who travel to Maine before one of them, Harry Nolan, ships off to basic training. Elegiac in tone, the novel mourns all those promising young men lost to the Vietnam War, while consciously drawing parallels to today’s political landscape, dominated as it is by other sons of privilege who attended Yale and Harvard during the late 1960s.

The novel’s tone is pitch perfect, slow and contemplative, shadowed by tragedy before it even strikes. Nostalgic, too, because even though this is a work of fiction, it is far too autobiographical (the narrator’s name is “Louie,” which we learn, late in the day, is a nickname bestowed by Harry) not to absorb its author’s mourning for his own youth, his generation’s potential that was never, as the novel makes clear, fully realized.

This is beautiful story, one that captures the fears and hopes of a generation of well-educated, well-positioned young people that thought itself blessed, but found that, like all those around them, they were not immune to life’s misfortunes. Its weakness lies precisely in its title, and in the author’s ruminations on the meritocratic ideal in this country, which are unnecessary, because their meaning is illustrated through the events of the book. That one flaw notwithstanding, “Meritocracy” is a beautiful book: evocative and immeasurably sad.

Kate Wenner’s narrator, Marea Hoffman (named for the dark seas of the moon) is of the same generation as Louie, Harry and their friends, but she has run from them, as she has from all reminders of her past. After seven years wandering the earth, she returns to New York to face herself and her father’s legacy: as a scientist with the Manhattan Project, he helped build the atom bomb. Marea, who grew up with the arms race, witnessed the tension between her pacifist, Quaker mother and her ally, Albert Einstein — a family friend and Marea’s “Grandpa Albert” — and her father, who both believed in and was tortured by his work.

Marea is a quirky, unstable character, but also smart and full of humor. She engages four different therapists to try to get to the heart of herself — her inability to put down roots and her need to forgive her mother, whom she blames for her father’s early death.

Jeffrey Lewis will appear Sunday, Nov. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at Borders Books, 475 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena. (626) 304-9773.

“Dancing With Eintein” is a novel that grapples with the many layers of memory: how one generation’s needs for absolution get passed down to the next. Wenner has written a luminous book: the characters, from Marea and her New Age, baker boss, Andrew, to Albert Einstein, himself, are all portrayed with depth and nuance.

The book’s ending is somewhat abrupt. Marea suddenly is able to commit to a place, relationships and the idea of a future. By this point, though, we have grown so fond of her that we want a happy ending for her.

Kate Wenner will appear Tuesday, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m. at a private residence in La Canada-Flintridge. For reservations and directions call the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys at (626) 967-3656. $10. Both Lewis and Wenner appear as part of the Jewish Book Festival.

The last and least of the books considered here is Leora Krygier’s “When She Sleeps.” From the uninspired title to the overwrought writing, this book telegraphs its desire to be “deep,” in the parlance of the late 1970s, when its story takes place.

“When She Sleeps” follows the experiences of two teenage girls, half-sisters who have never met. Vietnamese Mai is the Amerasian daughter of a linguistics professor and an American army doctor who tried to get his lover and daughter out of the country, and has never forgotten that he failed to save them before the fall of Saigon. Lucy lives in the Valley, spending all her time in the darkroom, filtering her experiences through the manipulation of photographs.

The girls form a psychic connection through the dreams that Mai “steals” from her mother and transmits, without knowing it, to Lucy, so that by the time they meet, the sisters already share knowledge of their parents’ past that has previously been closed to them.

The idea of this story has merit: the time has come to think about the results of the Vietnam engagement, especially, as is done here, by refracting it through the lens of the Holocaust. There is much to say about the relationships forged between American servicemen and their Vietnamese girlfriends, as well as the children they produced. This is not the book to do that, though: The characters are all too one-dimensional and similar for the novel to truly ground itself in reality (even a magical version), and the language is so self-conscious and forced that it never soars.

Leora Krygier will appear Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 380-1636; and Sunday, Nov. 21 at 4 p.m. at Village Books, 1049 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades, (310) 454-4063.

Something for Every Bookworm

Saturday, Nov. 13

Journalist-author Yossi Klein Halevi, foreign correspondent for the New Republic, speaks on “Israel’s Current War and the Looming Battle Within,” 8 p.m., $15 with R.S.V.P., $18 at the door, B’nai David Judea, 8906 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 276-9269.

Sunday, Nov. 14

Jonathan Kirsch on “God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism,” about the final clash between one God and many. Jewish Book Festival: A Celebration of Jewish Book Month, sponsored by the Jewish Federation serving the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. 4 p.m., free, Borders Montclair, 5055 S. Plaza Lane, Montclair, (909) 625-0424.

Dr. Leonard Felder, “When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People,” his latest conflict-resolution how-to, 10 a.m., $7.50, bagel breakfast, men’s club, Congregation Shaarei Torah, 550 S. Second Ave., Arcadia, (626) 445-0810.

Second annual Jewish Children’s Bookfest, celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in America, Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., featuring readings, arts and crafts workshops, a tea party and entertainers such as puppet master Len Levitt. Look for The Jewish Journal’s workshop. Free. At the Triangle, Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley, (866) 266-5731 or www.jewishchildrensbookfest.org.

Tuesday, Nov. 16

David Bezmozgis on “Natasha,” his acclaimed short story collection about a Russian Jewish family struggling to achieve the immigrant dream in Toronto. Jewish Book Festival, 7:30 p.m., $10, at a private residence. Directions will be provided with reservation, (626) 967-3656.

Thursday, Nov. 18

David Horovitz, “Still Life With Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism,” about the profound effect the current intifada has had on the lives of ordinary Israelis. Jewish Book Festival, co-sponsored by The Jewish Journal, 7:30 p.m., $10, Congregation Shaarei Torah, 550 S. Second Ave., Arcadia, (626) 445-0810.

Saturday, Nov. 20

Judea and Ruth Pearl, editors of “I Am Jewish,” a collection of reflections inspired by the last words their son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, spoke before he was murdered in Pakistan. Jewish Book Festival, , co-sponsored by The Jewish Journal, $20, 7:30 p.m. Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, (626) 798-1161.

Tuesday, Nov. 30

Rochelle Krich on her noirish mystery, “Grave Endings,” about a modern Orthodox journalist investigating the murder of her best friend, $8, 9:30 a.m., sisterhood breakfast, Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 553-7468.

Thursday, Dec. 2

Gregg Hurwitz on “The Program,” his thriller about a U.S. marshal who infiltrates a mind-control cult. Jewish Book Festival, 7:30 p.m., free, Borders Arcadia, 400 S. Baldwin Ave., Suite 920, Arcadia, (626) 445-1320.

A Miracle Behind Bars


Dark clouds covered the European skies, threatening the children of Israel in the fall of 1939. The Nazis had tightened their grip over Eastern Europe and, as it often happens, nature acted with unfriendliness toward the oppressed. A cold winter came upon us — the refugees — after the traumatic and dreadful fall, when the German occupation began.

Jewish refugees who barely escaped with their lives from the Nazi savage were not met with open arms by the Soviet authorities. The Soviets had recently invaded the eastern part of Poland. They turned every public building into a temporary prison where the refugees from the Nazis were incarcerated under the suspicion that there might be German spies among the wretched.

My older brother, Simcha, and I were lucky to be imprisoned in a real prison, the infamous "Brigidkes," in Lwow. This was a prison where political prisoners were kept during the reign of the Polish fascist regime till the outbreak of the Second World War. Fifty-eight people were deposited in one cell that could hardly hold 25. The majority of the prisoners were Jews who were detained during the crossing of the San River, which became the newly established border between the Soviets and Germany.

We suffered horribly, morally and physically. The Soviets stripped us naked while searching our belongings and confiscated every valuable item, including items that were close to our souls. They confiscated all our prayer books, prayer shawls and tefillin. This painful situation added to our depressive mood when our thoughts were with our beloved ones. The only happy moments that we were blessed with were the times we spent donning the tefillin one man had successfully managed to smuggle into the cell. The pleasure lasted only a minute or two because everyone was eager to partake in the mitzvah of donning tefillin daily. Most of the refugees were religious people, and it was very hard for everyone to digest the non-kosher food that we were served. There were a few holdouts that survived on bread and water only.

There was among us one unique personality. His name was Reb Shmuel Nachum Emmer, a pious, Chasidic person. He was not an ordinary person; he was an angel sent from heaven. He supported us spiritually, and consoled us not to despair, assuring us that our suffering was only temporary. His love for a fellow Jew was immeasurable. He never became angry with people who were not observant. He suffered for all of us, but he did not show it outwardly. On the contrary, whenever he talked someone into reciting a blessing over food, or not to smoke on the Sabbath, it made him the happiest man in the cell.

When Chanukah was upon us, suddenly, Reb Shmuel’s face dropped and became filled with sadness.

"How in the world are we going to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles?" he lamented.

We all felt his pain but could not help him. We found no words to cheer him up. Unless another miracle occurred, people thought to themselves, what chance did we have to observe Chanukah in a Soviet jailhouse?

On the first night of Chanukah we recited the evening prayers in a depressed mood. Everyone was heartbroken, Reb Shmuel more than anyone else. After the sound of the whistle was heard that signaled to us that it was time to lie down on our uncomfortable beds, the lights in our cell were left burning, as it was customary around the world that in every prison the lights never go out.

Around midnight the lights did go out. A power failure occurred in the entire prison compound. Soon after, the guard ran from cell to cell distributing candles so that the prisoners should not be in the dark. When the guard opened our cell door, with a box of candles in his hands, someone sneaked behind his back and pulled the bottom flap of the box open and the candles spilled all over the floor. Needless to say, the guard never collected all the spilled candles. As soon as the guard left, we quietly gathered in a corner, and Reb Shmuel, with a radiant face, lit the first Chanukah candle with great devotion. We quietly sang Chanukah songs, and the stronger believers were convinced that it was a divine act, that a real miracle had occurred.

We managed to light a small candle each night during the eight days of the Festival of Lights. Believe it or not, in a certain way, we had a happy Chanukah.

Sadly, Reb Shmuel did not survive the harshness of the Soviet labor camps. However, he did leave a legacy, namely, a prayer book handwritten on small pieces of paper in the Zhitomir prison, which remains in the hands of my brother, Simcha. Reb Shmuel had a remarkable memory, and remembered all prayers by heart. The prayer book went through many searches and was never discovered. It is a work of art, which my brother cherishes to this day.


Harry Langsam is an 81-year-old writer living in Los Angeles.

The New Germany


The opening of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, an architectural marvel that houses a celebration of German Jewish culture, has done wonders to invigorate interest in Germany as a Jewish tourist destination.

Vibrant Jewish communities are also adding to the allure of a nation that, during the Cold War, few American Jews would buy a car from, much less visit.

While accurate figures regarding the number of Jewish tourists traveling to Germany are not available, tour providers indicate that interest is growing.

“The increase in inquiries is definitely on the rise,” said Stuart Katz, president of Tal Tours.

“The number has increased considerably,” said Dr. Johannes Heil, a 39-year-old historian with the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University in Berlin.

Heil believes that more Jewish Americans are visiting Germany, “because of the history and to see what this ‘new’ Germany looks like.”

Germany’s Jewish history is a rich one. Home to some of the most renowned Jews — from Albert Einstein to Leo Baeck — Germany was once the center of Zionism and the birthplace of Reform Judaism. Jewish museums detailing this history are not limited to Berlin. They can be found across Germany, in cities like Frankfurt, Munich, Farth, Schnaittach and Braunschweig.

Berlin

When arsonists set fire to the Moorish-influenced New Synagogue Berlin (www.cjudaicum.de) during Kristallnacht, Wilhelm Kratzfeld, a local precinct police chief, chased them away and called on the local fire brigade to save the building. Unfortunately, the synagogue at Oranienburgerstrasse 28-30 was later damaged by Allied bombing during World War II, and its main room was demolished in 1958, two years before the Wall would shelter the building from the West.

In 1988, one year before the Wall fell, the New Synagogue Berlin-Centrum Judaicum Foundation was established, and by 1995, the building, with its golden dome and Oriental spires, was reopened as a museum that celebrates Jewish life in Berlin, Germany’s largest Jewish community with about 11,000 Jews.

Berlin is a city renowned for its museums. Museum Island — a five-building complex featuring 6,000-years worth of archaeological collections and art — and the Berlin Film Museum at Sony Center are just a few of 150 museums that dot the city’s landscape.

The Jewish Museum Berlin (www.jmberlin.de), a zinc-paneled, lightning bolt-shaped building, is a glowing example of Germany’s efforts to reconcile its National Socialist past.

In the two years the Jewish Museum remained empty awaiting exhibits, the $60 million facility, designed by U.S. architect Daniel Libeskind, drew 350,000 visitors. Some were so moved by the structure that they argued it should remain empty.

The museum’s seemingly endless collection, which celebrates past and present Ashkenazic life and culture, is partly intended as a way to counter the perception that the Holocaust is the sum total of German Jewish history.

The collection both informs and encourages discussion. Talmudic scholar Moses Mendelssohn’s life and contributions are explored in one room, while another features a Christmas tree in a living room representing the ever-present pull of assimilation. Multimedia stations throughout the museum tempt both children and adults with interactive programming, and crawl spaces beckon to children in need of a break.

In a nearby enclosed sloping courtyard where 49 willow oaks tower in concrete columns above visitors, Libeskind simulates the disorientation that exile brings with “Garden of Exiles.”

“I think people understand it as a place of learning, as an opportunity to learn about a destroyed daily reality,” Heil said.

Even though the Jewish Museum’s collection doesn’t focus heavily on the Holocaust, Berliners don’t need to go far for reminders. The signs are everywhere.

In front of Berlin’s KaDeWe, continental Europe’s largest department store, a sign (one of many that can be found throughout Germany) lists the names of 12 concentration camps and reminds pedestrians: “These are the places of terror that we should never forget.”

Conceptual artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock have also placed 80 signs on lampposts in Berlin’s Schoeneberg District to commemorate the 16,000 Jews who once lived there. Each sign carries an example of Germany’s anti-Jewish laws of the 1930s and 1940s — “Jews are not allowed to buy newspapers,” “Jews are not allowed to emigrate,” “Baths and swimming pools in Berlin are closed to Jews.”

Berlin currently houses seven synagogues offering Conservative, Liberal and Orthodox services, and a decent number of Jewish restaurants. Noah’s Ark, an upscale kosher fleishig (meat) cafe in the Berlin Jewish Community Center at Fasanenstrasse 79-80, is the oldest Jewish restaurant in the city. The Orthodox Adass Yisroel community runs Beth Cafe, a kosher dairy restaurant established in 1991 at Tucholskystrasse 40, and Kobol, a kosher shop just around the corner. And Israeli cuisine with a Teutonic twist can be had at Café Oren, one of the city’s trendier spots, and Café Rimon at Oranienburgerstrasse 26-28. Other eateries include the New York-style Barcomi’s Deli, Restaurant am Wasserturm, Salomon’s Bagels and Tabuna Restaurant.

Frankfurt

The former home of Jewish moneylending has remained Germany’s financial center. It’s also home of the rags-to-riches tale of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, progenitor of the Rothschild dynasty.

Rothschild, who grew up in Frankfurt’s Jewish ghetto, the Judengasse (Jewish Alley), became an antique merchant specializing in rare coins. Supplier to Landgrave William IX of Hesse-Kassel, Rothschild became the prince’s Hofjude (court Jew) and made fantastic financial connections. In time, the Rotshchilds established a European financial empire and a legendary reputation for philanthropy.

In the former Rothschild Palace at Untermainkai 14-15, Frankfurt’s Jewish Museum (www.juedischesmuseum.de) traces the social and religious life of the city’s Jewish community back to the 12th century. The museum, opened in 1988, features religious artifacts, a scale model of the Judengasse, and a research library with documents and images that cover the country’s Jewish history.

Established following an excavation in 1987, The Museum Judengasse Am Barneplatz, at the intersection of Battonstrasse and Karl-Schumacherstrasse, brings the medieval history of Jewish Frankfurt to life with the original foundations of five medieval homes, a well and two mikvot (ritual baths).

Next to the Museum Judengasse is the Alte Judische Cemetery, which served the Frankfurt Jewish community for six centuries. Frankfurt has memorialized its Jewish citizens who perished in the Holocaust with 12,500 name plaques that encircle the cemetery wall five rows deep. A cacophonic gravel walk between the cemetery and the museum purposefully abates to striking silence at the square built around the foundation of the Barneplatz Synagogue, destroyed on Kristallnacht.

Jewish philanthropy continues to thrive in Frankfurt. The impressively designed Frankfurt Jewish Community Center, located in the city’s fashionable Westend at Savignystrasse 66, is the administrative home to the city’s Jewish organizers and rabbinate. Established in 1986, the center offers a concert hall, classrooms, and Sohar, a delightful kosher restaurant.

Munich (Munchen)

Munich’s only synagogue was spared a fiery fate on Kristallnacht due to its proximity to the Gartnerplatz Theater and other buildings. The synagogue has since grown to become the Jewish Community Center, at Reichenbachstrasse 27, which houses several Jewish organizations and a kosher restaurant.

The center also features a small Jewish Museum, which traces the fate of a Munich Jewish family, the Blechners, before, during and after the Holocaust. A full-scale Jewish Museum, much like in Berlin and Frankfurt, is in the works.

The Bavarian capital’s Jewish community is more prominent than before 1933 and continues to grow, mostly as a result of emigration from the former Soviet Union.

Like Israel, Germany welcomes Jews with open arms and financial assistance. As a result, Germany’s Jewish community has become the third largest and fastest growing in Western Europe. In 2000, more than 6,000 Jews immigrated to Germany, mostly from the former Soviet Union, bringing the country’s Jewish population to nearly 90,000.

In Munich, the Jewish population has doubled in the last decade, from 4,000 in 1991 to 8,000 in 2001.

“Munich has always been a community of emigrants from Eastern Europe,” said Ellen Presser, director of the Munich Jewish Community Center.

But with the influx of immigrants comes challenges. One of the more pressing needs is Jewish education.

Dr. Rachel Salamander, owner of Literaturhandlunch, a Munich-based Jewish bookstore chain opened in 1982, has been meeting that challenge both in Berlin and Munich.

“The whole practice of Jewish customs are missing,” Salamander said. “The Jewish people lost their roots, so we had to supply books.”

But in a city best known for Octoberfest and pretzels, Yochi and Jacques Cohen have made a name for themselves with their Jewish-Israeli restaurant at Theresienstrasse 31.

Cohen’s, voted “Best Foreign Restaurant in Germany” for 2000 by a leading German culinary magazine, is as much a Jewish community center as it is a restaurant.

During Passover, the Cohens invite a rabbi to lead a Seder that traditionally draws 100 people. The couple prepares take-home meals for Rosh Hashanah and offers a break-the-fast dinner for Yom Kippur. Friday nights always feature klezmer at Cohen’s.

But there’s one event that fills the Cohen’s and other Munchens with pride.

When the people of Munich caught wind of a hate rally at a local plaza, four Cohen’s regulars organized the first Die Lichterkette (candlelight demonstration) against xenophobia and racism.

On Dec. 6, 1992, more than 400,000 people, with candles in hand, came together to oppose right-wing radicalism.

“The people of Munich gathered in a plaza so deep that the neo-Nazis couldn’t enter to demonstrate,” Presser said.

For more information about travel to Jewish Germany,
visit the German National Tourist Office Web site at www.visits-to-germany.com , or call (800) 637-1171 to request the booklet, “Germany for the Jewish Traveler.”

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