Palestinian students stand in front of a mural depicting late Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in Gaza City October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Palestinian Authority Colombia mission quotes Arafat in calling for the destruction of Israel

The Palestinian Authority mission in Colombia called for the destruction of Israel in a tweet on Thursday that has been deleted.

The tweet, written in Spanish, is a quote from Yasser Arafat that states, “Our goal is the end of Israel, and there can be no compromises or mediations…. We don’t want peace. We want WAR and victory.”

Here is a screenshot of the tweet:

Israel’s Foreign Ministry denounced the tweet, describing Arafat’s legacy as “death, hatred and disgust.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on it as well:

The Palestinian Authority has yet to offer any sort of statement in light of the deleted tweet. The Israeli ambassador to Colombia alerted law enforcement in the area about the tweet.

The tweet comes as Hamas, an organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews, could potentially join the Palestinian Authority as part of a unity government. Israel has listed a set of conditions that Hamas must abide by in order for it to negotiate with such a unity government, but Hamas has rejected those conditions.

Yasser Arafat is considered to be “the Father of Modern Terrorism”, as his record includes orchestrating the Achille Lauro bombing in 1985, waging intifadas against Israel and introducing the idea of using commercial airplanes as a weapon, which al-Qaeda later used in the 9/11 terror attacks. Arafat also declared in 1996, “We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilled to redeem our land!”

Israeli company to build $640 million toll road in Colombia

An Israeli company will have a pivotal role in a multinational plan to upgrade Colombia’s roads.

Shikun & Binui will build the nearly 100-mile-long Cundinamarca 010 toll road near Bogota, the South American country’s capital, the Israeli news portal Israel21c reported. The project – including financing, construction costs, rehabilitation, operation and maintenance – is estimated at approximately $640 million.

An Israeli global construction and infrastructure company headquartered in Airport City, near Ben Gurion International Airport, Shikun & Binui said  it recently completed the financing for the construction, operation and maintenance of its $1 billion toll lanes project in metropolitan Houston.

In both Colombia and Texas, the construction will be performed by SBI, Shikun & Binui Group’s international contracting subsidiary.

“We will continue to compete for new mega projects in line with our strategic targets,” said Moshe Lahmani, Shikun & Binui’s chairman.

Colombia is home to some 3,400 Jews in a population of about 48 million people. In June, an Israeli realtor was shot to death at close range in Medellin, its second largest city.

Jewish coach leads Colombia soccer team to 3rd place in Copa tournament

Colombia’s national soccer team finished third in the prestigious Copa America Centenario tournament led by its Jewish coach, Jose Pekerman.

Colombia defeated the United States, 1-0, on Saturday in the bronze medal match at University of Phoenix Stadium. Sixteen countries competed in the centennial edition of the tournament, which ended Sunday with Chile beating Argentina in the title match.

Pekerman took over as Colombia’s coach in January 2012 and “has overseen a renaissance” with the Colombian national team, according to the Copa America websiteHe is a former midfielder with the Argentine national team.

He was born in Villa Dominguez in the Argentine countryside, one of the main centers of Jewish immigration to Argentina. His grandparents came from Ukraine. Pekerman lived in the Buenos Aires Jewish neighborhood of Villa Crespo.

In the finals, played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Chile defeated Argentina on penalty kicks, 4-2, after the game ended in a scoreless tie. Argentine star Lionel Messi missed his penalty shot, later asserting that he will no longer play for his national team.

In April, Messi was ripped as “Jewish” and “Zionist” after donating cleats to an Egyptian charity. Messi, a Catholic, visited the Western Wall on a peace tour in August 2013 with the Barcelona club. One year later, Messi supported a soccer match organized by Pope Francis to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but he did not play in the match due an injury.

The Copa tournament celebrated 100 years as the oldest national team cup in the world. Some 1.5 million fans attended the 32 games held in 10 venues across the United States, for an average of more than 46,000 fans per game, making it the most attended Copa America in the tournament’s history.

Along with record-setting attendance, more than 100 million viewers watched the games on the Univision and FOX networks, including the most-watched men’s soccer match ever on the FS1 network for the USA vs. Argentina semifinal on June 21. The tournament has been televised in more than 160 countries around the world, reaching more than 1.5 billion households.

Rabbi Juan Mejia: From Catholicism to Judaism

Recently, Temple Ner Tamid in Downey hosted Juan Mejia, a rabbi who has been profiled in the New York Daily News and Israel’s Haaretz; the Jewish Daily Forward called him one of “America’s most inspirational rabbis.” 

At 36, Mejia comes across a bit like a young Jewish Santa Claus, with his jolly laugh, ample girth, scraggly beard, dancing eyes … and a kippah. He speaks and thinks quickly, moving between English and Spanish with no effort or accent, peppering his comments with Hebrew and Yiddish. His animated gestures — ardent nods, arms waving, hands clasped — are typically Jewish.

But this notable rabbi has an unusual personal narrative: Mejia is a convert who became an observant Jew and ordained rabbi.

At an informal patio gathering, Temple Ner Tamid’s rabbi, Argentine-born Daniel Mehlman, introduced Mejia (Meh-HEE-ah) to a group that, like Mejia, straddles two worlds, including both an aging congregation of Jews and local Latinos who have converted to Judaism or are in the process of doing so. 

Mejia told his story of growing up in a middle-class Catholic home in Bogota, Colombia — his father a physician, his mother an artist — and of his education at a school run by Benedictine monks.

At a Christmas family gathering when Mejia was 15, his tipsy uncle told jokes about racial and ethnic stereotypes. It was all fun and games … until the uncle mocked Jews. That’s when Mejia’s grandfather became very upset.

Mejia didn’t understand the reaction; he pressed his grandfather, who finally admitted: “My grandfather was Jewish.” The old man recalled how, when he was a child, he saw his grandfather and other family members put “towels” over their heads and pray. 

“No one had ever told me we had Jewish roots,” Mejia said. “That discovery — coupled with the fact that I really didn’t believe in most of the things I was supposed to believe in — made me realize I wasn’t really Catholic.”

After Mejia graduated from the Benedictine school, his mother passed away. “That sent me into a religious and emotional crisis,” he said.

Mejia postponed college for a year, grabbed a backpack and set out to see the world. Call it fate or premonition, the first place he stayed for any length of time — three months — was Israel.

“In Colombia, I never had Jewish friends,” Mejia said, “so being in Israel, being among Jews for the first time, made a deep impact. I fell in love with the country — the food, the landscape, the language; did I mention the food?” He laughed, patting his stomach. “I used to be thin … then I became Jewish.” 

But when Mejia visited the kotel — the Western Wall instead of having a life-changing mystical experience, he had “a mystical hangover.”

“For 300 years, my family had kept up Jewish traditions,” Mejia said, “but in the last few generations, they’d dropped the ball. I felt there was a big hole in my soul because I should have been Jewish but wasn’t. It was very upsetting.” 

From Israel, Mejia traveled to Europe, and, “It was Jews, everywhere Jews.” In Spain, he happened upon places where synagogues had been. He got on the wrong train in Munich and ended up in the town of Dachau. In Antwerp, Belgium, he took shelter from the rain, and a Chasid opened a door and said, “Are you Jewish? You look Jewish, and we need a 10th man for Mincha.

“All these things started to pile up,” Mejia said, “so I made a promise to myself: I’m going to investigate this Jewish thing, and if I still feel this hole inside me, I’m going to convert.” Then, he added, “Now, listen: Never, ever make a bet with God! She has a strange sense of humor.”

Mejia returned to Bogota and went to college, majoring in philosophy. He hunted down everything available about Judaism and “devoured” it. He tried to go to shul but learned that many Latin American synagogues, partly for security reasons, don’t welcome non-Jews, so he studied Judaism on his own. Determined to continue his Jewish studies, he applied for, and received, a scholarship to do graduate work at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

There, Mejia felt surrounded by a “smorgasbord” of Judaism. “Every kind of yeshiva, classes about everything — kabbalah, history, Talmud,” Mejia said. “The more I learned, the more it confirmed my desire to learn more.”

Mejia finished his conversion and enrolled in a yeshiva, where he met “another nerd, a beautiful girl from Florida.” Eight months later, Mejia and Abby Jacobson married and moved into a small Jerusalem apartment. 

Mejia’s landlady, an American, became interested in his unusual story and interviewed him for a Jewish Agency publication. The article appeared online in several languages, including Spanish. 

As a result, Mejia received pleas from Latin Americans who, like him, had grown up Catholic and wanted to be Jewish. Mejia wrote them that he was “simply a yeshiva student” and wasn’t qualified to help them. That’s when Jacobson — whom Mejia calls “the smartest rabbi I know” — paraphrased Hillel: Where there are no teachers, you be the teacher.

Following their shared passion, Mejia and Jacobson both applied to rabbinical school. “I figured they weren’t going to take me,” Mejia said. “I’m too new at Judaism, still dripping wet from the mikveh.” But Mejia was accepted. He and Jacobson spent the next five years at the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. 

While studying to be a rabbi, Mejia created a Web-based Sephardic siddur, in Spanish, for beginners. “It took me three years to complete,” he said. “You can find it online at and it’s free. Just the basics, how to daven, how Jewish prayers work.” Since then, he’s created more texts for Spanish speakers new to Judaism, and he also teaches Mishnah and Talmud online.

After their ordination, Jacobson became a congregational rabbi at a shul in Oklahoma City, where the couple has lived for most of the last decade: Mejia said he’s the “rebbetzin” and spends some of his day taking care of the couple’s two young daughters. He’s also Southwestern coordinator for Be’Chol Lashon, a nonprofit whose mission is to increase Jewish diversity.

He and Mehlman have worked with “emergent” Jewish groups in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and other countries, in places where there’s no Jewish community, or where a nearby shul doesn’t welcome converts, he said. Mejia and Mehlman have converted hundreds and established kehillot — entire Jewish communities — and they remain cyber-connected to these kehillot, sometimes visiting them as well.

Mejia acknowledged that establishing Jewish communities is difficult work. He and Mehlman have run into barriers with both Jews and non-Jews, butting heads with rabbis at established shuls or with Catholic families who are upset when a loved one converts to Judaism.

In Mejia’s own case, he received acceptance from his own family for the choices he’s made. “When I converted, my father took it very well,” Mejia said. “He’s an old hippie: ‘Judaism, Shmudaism, we’re all children of the light.’ ”

In the evening, often late into the night, Mejia becomes, as Jacobson had once suggested to him, a teacher for those who have no teacher — via the Internet. 

“You can’t ignore the Internet,” Mejia said. “It’s where millennials are living their Judaism, it’s the main force behind Judaism in Latin America. Every emergent community in Latin America started in an Internet forum. That’s what’s providing the content and the community.”

Mejia said that when he and Mehlman carry out conversions, they remain in contact afterward. “If these kehillot aren’t nurtured,” Mejia said, “there aren’t going to be any Jews there after a decade, and that would be a sad thing.” 

His aim, Mejia said, is to work with people who sincerely want to be Jews and live a Jewish life, whether they have Jewish roots or not. “I don’t check anybody’s pedigree,” he said. “What I’m looking for, as a rabbi, is for these communities to look forward, to look to the future. 

“I don’t care who your grandparents were,” Mejia said, summing up his attitude and his mission. “I care what your grandkids are going to be.”

Colombia’s Jewish soccer hero: Jose Pekerman

A Jewish Argentinean has become a national hero in Colombia.

Coach Jose Pekerman is leading Colombia’s national soccer team to its best-ever appearance at the World Cup.

On Saturday the cafeteros (coffee makers) beat Uruguay 2-0 and reached the quarter final stage for first time.

Before this year, Colombia hadn’t even qualified for a World Cup since 1998.

Colombians in Israel celebrated the victory with a double dose of happiness.

Olga Zuloaga, who has lived in Israel for 14 years, was celebrating the victory with a group of friends on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv.

“We are very happy, our coach is Argentinean but Jewish,” she said.

When the Colombian team qualified for the World Cup last year, the country’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, called to congratulate him. Now, after the Uruguay match, a popular Twitter hashtag in Colombia is #PekermanPresidente – Pekerman for president.

But Pekerman, 64, lives in Argentina, in the Jewish Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Crespo. He started playing soccer with a Maccabi club in Argentina’s Entre Rios Province. He had previously coached the Argentina national team in the 2006 World Cup, losing in the quarterfinals against Germany.

Colombia’s next World Cup opponent is host country Brazil.

If after beating Uruguay, Colombians are saying they want Pekerman as their president, what will happen if he leads Colombia to victory over Brazil? Pekerman for king of Colombia?


Israelis investigated for drug trafficking in Colombia

At least eight Israelis described as former military personnel are being investigated for drug trafficking in Colombia.

The men, who are also being investigated for money laundering and the exploitation of minors, have been monitored by police for the past year, Colombia’s prosecutor told local media on Sunday, the El Tiempo newspaper reported.

The Israelis, based in the Caribbean city of Taganga, say they are legitimate investors and their papers are in order. They also are accused of links to a group of drug traffickers called the “Los Urabenos,” which reportedly is part of a different investigation.

Phone calls among the suspects that were intercepted by police must be translated since they are in Hebrew, according to El Tiempo.

World Briefs

U.S. Vetoes U.N. Resolution

The United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have demanded Israel not “remove” Yasser Arafat. The United States vetoed the resolution Tuesday at the 15-member council in New York because it does not explicitly condemn Palestinian terrorism. At a meeting of the council Monday, almost all the speakers condemned Israel’s threats against Arafat, made after two suicide bombings last week killed 15 Israelis.

Settlers Convicted in Bomb Plot

Three Israelis were convicted for plotting to bomb a Palestinian girls’ school in eastern Jerusalem. Shlomo Dvir, Yarden Morag and Ofer Gamliel, all residents of the West Bank, were found guilty Wednesday of attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms. Dvir and Morag were arrested as they were about to plant a bomb at the school. Gamliel was arrested after the two were interrogated.

Report: Hamas Gets Saudi Money

At least 50 percent of Hamas’ operating budget comes from Saudi Arabia, The New York Times reported. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Saudi support for Hamas increased as donations from elsewhere in the world dried up, according to American analysts cited in the report. The donations, roughly $5 million a year, were allegedly made in cash and therefore are difficult to trace.

No Word on Colombia Captives

The fate of four Israelis and four other foreigners abducted near Colombia’s Lost City is unknown, Israeli government sources said. Colombian intelligence services, citing intercepted communications by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said the eight trekkers are alive, but the group has denied even holding them.

Campbells Gets OK by O.U.

Campbell’s Vegetarian Vegetable soup was certified as kosher by the largest kosher-certification group. The company shut down a production line so it could be cleaned and certified by officials with the Orthodox Union.

“The coveted O.U. symbol is one of the best-known trademarks in the world,” said Jeremy Fingerman, the president of Campbell’s U.S. soup division.

The 6 Percent French Solution

Six percent of French Jews say they will move to Israel, according to a recent poll. The poll, conducted by Erik Cohen, a demographer at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, found that 36 percent of French Jews said they might consider immigrating to Israel while 58 percent said they would not consider the option, the Jerusalem Post reported. Last year, some 2,400 French Jews left for Israel, according to Jewish Agency for Israel figures. The survey contacted 1,132 French Jewish families for the survey.

Birthright Budget Cut

Israel is reducing its allocation to the Birthright Israel program to a symbolic sum. The cut in the state’s 2004 draft budget would bring the figure down to $500,000 for 2004 from its original commitment of $14 million for five consecutive years.

However, Israel will restore its full financial commitment to Birthright in 2005, said Israel’s minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, Natan Sharansky, who was involved in 11th-hour negotiations on the matter with Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American philanthropist Michael Steinhardt.

Funding for the program, which provides free trips to Israel for Jewish youths aged 18 to 26 who have never before visited Israel on an organized tour, is shared equally by Israel’s government; the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella federation group; and private philanthropists, as well as other Jewish groups.

U.S. Reducing Aid to Israel

The United States will deduct funds from the loan guarantees it has given Israel. The White House announced Monday that funds used by Israel for settlement activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be deducted from the $9 billion in loan guarantees Israel will receive from the United States.

The Bush administration has chosen not to follow through on threats made this summer to deduct money used on a security fence in the West Bank from the loan guarantees, according to unnamed sources. The loan guarantees officially were made available to Israel on Monday.

Iran Ordered to Pay Victims

Iran was ordered to pay more than $400 million to eight Americans injured in a 1997 terrorist attack in Jerusalem. A U.S. judge ruled last week that Iran bore the responsibility for the attack, perpetrated by members of Hamas, since Iran supports the terrorist group. Five people were killed and nearly 200 wounded in the Sept. 4, 1997, attack.

New Reform Moniker?

The Reform synagogue union may get a new name. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which represents more than 900 North American Reform synagogues, may become the Union for Reform Judaism. The new name will go before the group’s 67th biennial convention in Minneapolis on Nov. 5-9 for a vote after the recommendation last year by its board of trustees.

UAHC’s President, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, wrote in Reform Judaism magazine that the new name is “short and euphonious” while the old title is “clumsy and difficult to remember.”

UJC Wants You

The Jewish Federation umbrella is recruiting new employees. The United Jewish Communities, which represents 156 federations and 400 independent communities, launched the National Recruitment Corps in Chicago last week in an effort to woo and train entry-level Jewish professionals.

The drive began by training 16 federation veterans to spot new talent in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Delaware, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis, Toronto and Washington.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.