Expired And Inspired - the Kavod v'Nichum Blog on Jewish End-of-Life Matters

The 15th Annual Kavod v’Nichum Conference by Rabbi Joe Blair


Wow. I have just returned from the Kavod v’Nichum (KVN) Conference, held this year over June 18-20 in San Rafael, California. Other than physically exhausted, I am exhilarated, energized, and enthused. There was so much offered, so many opportunities to learn, to network, to compare notes, and to socialize with others who engage with the holy work we do. It was truly an amazing and wonderful event (just as the other KVN conferences I have attended have been). This one, however, seems to have surpassed others (although I have to admit that perhaps that is due my less-than-perfect memory). 😉

Kavod v'Nichum - Honor & Comfort

Kavod v’Nichum – Honor & Comfort

Who came?

One hundred and forty-seven people gathered to talk about supporting members of their own communities through offering education, training, comfort, honoring the dead, performing rituals and rites, being present, providing final resting places for the dead and places for the living to visit, remember, and honor them. Obviously, this is a self-selected group that share a passion, but all the same, by almost any measure, this was a very special cadre, and I was honored and proud to be among them.

What Did They Talk About?

Conference sessions (summaries of the topics only – many of these topics had several sessions that presented different aspects) included cemetery record keeping; emotional responses to Taharah; possible concerns raised in gender-fluid and transgender situations; cemetery expansion; the journey of the soul and concepts of reincarnation in Judaism; the End of Life Option Act; infection control in Taharah; Green burial; Vidui; extensions to Taharah; cemetery restoration; ways to talk about death; reviving rituals with a feminine focus; using stories and drashot; liturgy and text study; Shmirah; approaches to identify, protect and preserve cemeteries; providing better deaths; the impact of cremation; using animation to educate about death; and models for providing community education.

There were also visits to two different cemeteries, and an intensive presentation on how to start and manage a community Funeral home, as well as discussions on both home Taharah and home funerals.

Gamliel Institute Day of Learning

Students of the Gamliel Institute had the opportunity to stay on for an additional Day of Learning. The three sessions included there were largely text-based, and looked at the figure and legacy of Rabban Gamliel; the Kohen Gadol and Olam Habah in the Zohar; and an examination of pre-1917 Love, Death and Community in Russian/Pale of Settlement Jewry.

And this was only the formal presentations! The informal networking and conversations were incredibly rich and diverse.

Who Spoke?

Presenters, other than the Gamliel Institute Faculty/Staff and students, and the Kavod v’Nichum Board members included: Dr. Patrick Arbore, Deena Aronoff, Shirley Barnett, Dan Doernberg, Samantha Feld, Harley Felstein, Rabbi Stacey Friedman, Rabbi Dr. Rafael Goldstein, Lynn Greenhough, Dr. Dawn Gross, Beth Huppin, Howard jampolsky, Colin Joseph, Dara Kosberg, Rabbi Manachem Landa, Rabbi Michael Lezak, Rev. Rosemary Lloyd, Cantor David Margules, Steve Matles, Charlie Meyers, Ruth Minka, Bill Pechet, Rabbi-Cantor Elana Rosen-Brown, Lori Salberg, Sam Salkin, Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, Jeremy Shuback, Cathy Steirn, Betty Rose Webne, Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, Steven J. Zipperstein, and Dr. Jessica Zitter.

Thanks

I am incredibly grateful to all of them, as well as to the students, staff, and board members who also presented, and who each gave of their time to make this such an amazing and wonderful event. [The full list will be made available in the conference program brochure online at http://www.jewish-funerals.org/2017-chevrah-kadisha-and-jewish-cemetery-conference.] A special shout out to the volunteers in planning and executing the conference program – it was Fabulous!

Recognition Evening Program

One of the evening programs was an opportunity to honor Rabbi Stuart Kelman for his work in founding Kavod v’Nichum, and establishing the Gamliel Institute. We recognized his impact as the Chair and as a board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and his ongoing leadership and direction as the Dean of the Gamliel Institute. He has been an educator par excellence, central in the efforts to reclaim the mitzvot of Taharah and Shmirah, and to re-establish the Chevrah Kadisha as a significant aspect of Jewish life and death across the Jewish world.

As part of this recognition, we were proud to welcome fourteen new graduates of the Gamliel Institute, with the second cohort, bringing the total to twenty-eight at this time. Those awarded the Gamliel Institute Certificate connoting advanced studies in Chevrah Kadisha work include: Deborah Brown, Auria Bernace Gonzalez, Blanca Ruth Hernandez, Gloria Esther “Doris” Rivera, Ingrid Altagracia Mercedes, Rafael Ortiz, Wilfredo Guerrero, Michelle Siegel, Theresa Bates, Isaac Pollak, Sally Shannon, Fred Helms, Rabbi Eva Sax-Bolder, and Zoe Van Raan. Mazal tov to each of them!

They join the first cohort: Kohenet Ellie Barbarash, Jean Berman, Robin Black, Rabbi Joe Blair, Rena Boroditsky, Nancy Dotti, Dan Fendel, Rabbi Me’irah Iliinsky, Rick Light, Rabbi Myrna Matsa Laura Rocco, Edna Stewart, Kerry Swartz, and Vickie Weitzenhofer.

What was missing?  YOU!

I honestly can’t say enough about how excellent it all was. I suppose I could complain about the heat wave that hit while we were there, but even that didn’t dampen spirits or limit how terrific the entire event was.

I have to say that personally, though I loved most of the sessions and the topics presented, it was the people – the comraderie, the warmth, the sense of community among those present – that made this event so very special for me.

If you have been ‘on the fence’ about attending the conference, all I can say is “go!” It is worth it.

Next year, the conference will be in the Washington DC area. We don’t have the specific dates locked in yet, but try to block out time in June and plan to attend now. You will be glad you did.

Rabbi Joe Blair serves two small congregations in the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Bridgewater College, and serves as webmaster and coordinator for Jewish Values Online. He studied at, and was one of the first group of graduates from the Gamliel Institute. He serves as a staff and board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and as Dean of Administration for the Gamliel Institute. He is the editor of the Kavod v’Nichum blog, Expired and Inspired, which appears on the L.A. Jewish Journal blogs website. He is involved in several Chevrot Kadisha.

Rabbi Joe Blair

Rabbi Joe Blair

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free preview/overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. Contact info@jewish-funerals.org or  j.blair@jewish-funerals.org for information on how to connect to the preview.

There will be an orientation session on Monday, September 4th, 2017. This session will go over use of the online platform and the online course materials system. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

 

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

 

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Obama calls on Israelis and Palestinians to ‘exercise restraint’


President Barack Obama, making a surprise address, told a Haaretz-sponsored conference in New York that Israelis and Palestinians must “exercise restraint.”

“Inexcusable violence has taken too many lives — Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others,” Obama said via teleconference on Sunday morning at HaaretzQ, the liberal Israeli newspaper’s event with the New Israel Fund. “I’ve been clear that Palestinian leaders have to condemn the ongoing attacks and stop the cycle. Individuals responsible for violence, including violence against Palestinians, have to be brought to justice, and we call on both sides to work to diffuse tensions, exercise restraint, prevent more loss of life and restore hope.

“Of course, the best way to reduce tensions and ensure Israel’s own security is to continue working in concrete ways towards a two-state solution.”

A spate of attacks since October has killed 22 people, according to the Israeli government. In the same period, 106 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers, police or civilians either while committing attacks or in their aftermath, on suspicion that they were about to carry out attacks or clashes with Israeli forces, Reuters reported last week.

The U.S. leader, who was not on the program of speakers, told the audience of approximately 600 at the Roosevelt Hotel that they would always have a partner for peace in him and in the United States.

“Peace is necessary, just and possible,” Obama said.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, in his keynote address noted his visit last week with Obama and emphasized that “the president’s commitment to a secure Israel is beyond any question.”

Saying peace is important for Israel’s safety and security, Rivlin said, “For that we need to think outside of the box.”

The conference, the first of its kind for Haaretz in the United States, is designed to provide a “unique platform for robust debate and intelligent reflection” on key issues regarding Israel, according to the newspaper.

“Isolated under [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, the editors of Israel’s leading liberal newspaper are coming to New York to try to restore a sense of reason,” Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, wrote in the Daily Beast on Friday. “We begin by turning to our American friends whose voices have been drowned out for too long.”

Rivlin, saying he sometimes is “annoyed and angry” by what he reads in Haaretz, said however that the newspaper is “a beacon for freedom of expression in Israel” and “I am here today because I believe the free market of ideas is a holy principle.”

With Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of military veterans that accuses Israeli soldiers of mistreating Palestinians, presenting on one of the panels, Rivlin praised the morality of the Israel Defense Forces and earned vigorous applause.

“The IDF does everything in its power to keep the highest moral standard possible, even under impossible conditions,” he said, adding that no other army in the world is as moral.

Tzipi Livni, a Knesset lawmaker from the center-left Zionist Union party and Israel’s former justice minister, in her address criticized the settlements.

“Settlements don’t give security to Israel,” she said, “settlements take security from Israel.”

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO and a leading negotiator for the Palestinians, said the source of the current violence is failed peace talks.

“When every day we bury our loved ones — it’s for one thing,” Erekat said. “It’s our failure to achieve peace. It’s out failure to achieve a two-state solution.” He begged the audience not to give up on the idea.

Erekat insisted that Israel has a partner for peace with the Palestinians, saying the conflict with Israel is purely political. He also called the Islamic State terrorist group “criminals and thugs,” saying they have nothing to do with Islam.

Others scheduled to speak are the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh.

Rabbi David Wolpe and Elon Gold at JFN 2013 [VIDEO]


Rabbi David Wolpe speaking at the 2013 Jewish Funders Network Conference.

Elon Gold speaking at the 2013 Jewish Funders Network Conference.

Seeking impact, Jewish funders convene in L.A.


“Philanthropy is what you’ll be remembered for,” Jewish Funders Network (JFN) President Andrés Spokoiny told the 400 attendees at the Beverly Hilton on March 18, the first full day of the group’s annual conference. “Philanthropy is your legacy.”

What the legacies of Jewish funders in the early 21st century will be may not become clear for a generation, but at JFN, philanthropists, scholars, Jewish community professionals and others all engaged with questions about what causes to support and how to best ensure that charitable dollars are being deployed strategically, effectively and sustainably in the long term.

In organized sessions and impromptu conversations, executives working for some of the world’s wealthiest Jewish philanthropists, as well as some Jews just beginning their philanthropic journeys, focused on a diverse range of challenges and specific causes, including education, Israel advocacy, crisis management and the arts.

The separate conversations could be seen as part of a broader discussion about what, collectively, Jews should fund. But the decisions that funders ultimately make are often undertaken alone.

“We have deconstructed the infrastructure systems of the Jewish community,” said Jeffrey R. Solomon, president of Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, during a session dedicated to the not-always-collaborative interactions between local and national funders. “There are no wholesalers. We are all retailers, and that’s not the most efficient way to operate.”

The charity Solomon oversees is well on the way to completing a spend-down of its assets by 2016; another panelist in the room, Yossi Prager, is executive director of Avi Chai Foundation North America, which will spend its last dollars in 2020.

Prager was acutely aware of the impact the disappearance of Avi Chai will have on the world of Jewish education, particularly on local funders who will almost certainly be approached by organizations that had previously depended upon national support for their operations.

“I’m completely sensitive to the local San Francisco funder who says [to a national funder], ‘You came in, you took a little local organization, you made it a big organization, and now you want to leave it in our lap,’” Prager said.

This year’s JFN conference highlighted work being done to advance social change on the grassroots level.

Thirty-two participants joined Rabbi Sharon Brous ok IKAR on a bus tour on Monday to visit social action projects around Los Angeles. Tuesday’s closing plenary session featured a presentation by James K. Cummings, board chair of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the organization’s president, Simon Greer, about their recent experience of the “Food Stamp Challenge,” by which individuals attempt to feed themselves for a full week on the minimal allotment given to those on nutritional assistance programs (just under $37 in New York; just under $35 in California).

The Cummings Foundation also announced the creation of a new $1 million matching fund for organizations involved in Jewish social justice efforts.

The reasons the funders attend JFN’s conference are as diverse as they are.

Ami Aronson came to JFN from Washington, D.C., where she serves as the managing director of the Bernstein Family Foundation. Aronson’s grandfather — financier and real estate investor Leo M. Bernstein — died in 2008, at 93; the family foundation made $330,000 in grants in 2011 to organizations focused on Jewish causes, democracy and the arts.

“What JFN does is it helps us celebrate and strengthen our assets as Jewish philanthropists,” Aronson said.

E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney who has focused his philanthropic energies serving as president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, said he couldn’t help but think that his personal charity of choice – a museum whose approximately 30,000 annual visitors are predominantly non-Jews – was something of an outlier at JFN 2013. Much of what he heard was focused on charities that serve mostly Jewish people.

“It’s interesting,” Schoenberg said. “What attracts attention and what’s reaching a lot of people are different things.”

For the Jewish funders who came to Los Angeles from out of town, the plenary session on Monday morning offered a taste of what Jewish life in this sprawling city can offer. Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, described his city as one to which Jews came “to escape Jewish institutions, and to build new Jewish institutions.” The speakers who followed him continued in that vein.

Then Joshua Avedon, co-founder and COO of Jumpstart, a think-tank and incubator dedicated to fostering Jewish innovation, moderated a conversation with philanthropist Peter Lowy, who holds leadership positions at a number of L.A. nonprofits, including serving as chairman of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal. Jill Soloway, a TV and film writer, director and producer, who founded the innovative and itinerant Jewish community East Side Jews, was also on the panel.

Lowy and Soloway both talked about the importance of innovation and reinvention in attracting Jews to Jewish events and bringing the disaffected into Jewish institutions in L.A.

As an Australian, Lowy, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Westfield Group, said he tends to “hate” the status quo and authority, “even,” he noted, “when I’m the status quo and I’m the authority.”

Soloway, meanwhile, recognized that East Side Jews, which has organized events in multiple spaces around the region, is now playing against type by making its home the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center.

“The building is there, the people are there,” Soloway said. “How do we put them back together?”

Rabbi David Wolpe, who addressed the conference-goers at lunchtime, made a case for funding local synagogues and Jewish schools — the “unexciting places” that have kept Jewish communities vibrant for generations.

“When I go out and push my synagogue,” Wolpe, who is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in West L.A., said, “I talk about Friday Night Life and the special bar mitzvahs and all the innovative programs. But they’re actually not what I’m proudest of.

“What I’m proudest of,” he continued, “is the morning minyan and the Shabbos service and the shiva committee, and the fact that we have a Bikur Cholim committee that goes and visits people in the hospital – in other words, all the things that institutions do day after day after day that are the lifeblood of a real people.”

Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to the AIPAC Policy Conference [FULL TEXT]


Thank you, Mr. President.  (Applause.)  It’s great to be here.  It’s great to be here.  (Applause.)  Hey, Debbie.

Ladies and gentlemen, oh, what a difference 40 years makes.  (Laughter.)  I look out there and see an old friend, Annette Lantos.  Annette, how are you?  Her husband, Tom Lantos, a survivor, was my assistant, was my foreign policy advisor for years.  And Tom used to say all the time, Joe — he talked with that Hungarian accent — he’d say, Joe, we must do another fundraiser for AIPAC.  (Laughter.)  I did more fundraisers for AIPAC in the ‘70s and early ‘80s than — just about as many as anybody.  Thank God you weren’t putting on shows like this, we would have never made it.  (Laughter.)  We would have never made it.

My Lord, it’s so great to be with you all and great to see — Mr. President, thank you so much for that kind introduction.  And President-elect Bob Cohen, the entire AIPAC Board of Directors, I’m delighted to be with you today.  But I’m particularly delighted to be with an old friend — and he is an old friend; we use that phrase lightly in Washington, but it’s real, and I think he’d even tell you — Ehud Barak, it’s great to be with you, Mr. Minister.  Great to be with you.  (Applause.)

There is a standup guy.  There is a standup guy.  Standing up for his country, putting his life on the line for his country, and continuing to defend the values that we all share.  (Applause.)  I’m a fan of the man.  (Applause.)  Thanks for being here, Ehud.  It’s good to be with you again.

Ladies and gentlemen, a lot of you know me if you’re old enough.  (Laughter.)  Some of you don’t know me, and understand I can’t see now, but in the bleachers to either side, I’m told you have 2,000 young AIPAC members here.  (Applause.)  We talked about this a lot over the years.  We talked about it a lot:  This is the lifeblood.  This is the connective tissue.  This is the reason why no American will ever forget.  You’ve got to keep raising them.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder, a lot of us in this auditorium, defending the legitimate interest of Israel and our enduring commitment over the last 40 years.  And many of you in this hall — I won’t start to name them, but many of you in this hall, starting with Annette Lantos’s husband, who is not here, God rest his soul — many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators, and that is not hyperbole.  You literally have been.

But my education started, as some of you know, at my father’s dinner table.  My father was what you would have called a righteous Christian.  We gathered at my dinner table to have conversation, and incidentally eat, as we were growing up.  It was a table — it was at that table I first heard the phrase that is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough — first I heard the phrase, “Never again.”

It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel.  (Applause.)  I remember my father, a Christian, being baffled at the debate taking place at the end of World War II talking about it.  I don’t remember it at that time, but about how there could be a debate about whether or not — within the community, of whether or not to establish the State of Israel.

My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble it was, like the United States.  (Applause.)  Everybody knows it’s real.  But I want you to know one thing, which some of you — I’ve met with a lot of you over the last 40 years, but the last four years as well.  President Obama shares my commitment.  We both know that Israel faces new threats, new pressures and uncertainty.  The Defense Minister and I have discussed it often.  In the area of national security, the threats to Israel’s existence continue, but they have changed as the world and the region have changed over the last decade.

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel — and the United States — to reassess old and settled relationships.  Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program, and its continued support of terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah and Hamas, not only endanger Israel, but endanger the world.  (Applause.)  Attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel are increasingly common, and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these pressures are similar but different, and they put enormous pressure on the State of Israel.  We understand that.  And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence.  But if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, from the moment the President took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not:  our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel.  That has not changed.  That will not change as long as I and he are President and Vice President of the United States.  (Applause.)  It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative.  (Applause.)

And to all of you, I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment.  And while we may not always agree on tactics — and I’ve been around a long time; I’ve been there for a lot of prime ministers — we’ve always disagreed on tactic.  We’ve always disagreed at some point or another on tactic.  But, ladies and gentlemen, we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own, must be able to do it on its own, and we must always stand with Israel to be sure that can happen.  And we will.  (Applause.)

That’s why we’ve worked so hard to make sure Israel keeps its qualitative edge in the midst of the Great Recession.  I’ve served with eight Presidents of the United States of America, and I can assure you, unequivocally, no President has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel — the most in history.  He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership.

I can say with certitude, in the last eight Presidents, I don’t know any time, Ehud, when there has been as many meetings, as much coordination, between our intelligence services and our military.  Matter of fact, they’re getting tired of traveling back across the ocean, I think.  (Laughter.)

Under this administration, we’ve held the most regular and largest-ever joint military exercises.  We’ve invested $275 million in Iron Dome, including $70 million that the President directed to be spent last year on an urgent basis — to increase the production of Iron Dome batteries and interceptors.  (Applause.)

Not long ago, I would have had to describe to an audience what Iron Dome was, how it would work, why funding it mattered.  I don’t have to explain to anybody anymore.  Everybody gets it.  (Applause.)  Everybody saw — the world saw firsthand why it was and remains so critical.

For too long, when those sirens blared in the streets of the cities bordering Gaza, the only defense had been a bomb shelter.  But late last year, Iron Dome made a difference.  When Hamas rockets rained on Israel, Iron Dome shot them out of the sky, intercepting nearly 400 rockets in November alone.  It was our unique partnership — Israel and the United States — that pioneered this technology and funded it.

And it is in that same spirit that we’re working with Israel to jointly develop new systems, called Arrow and David’s Sling, interceptors that can defeat long-range threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — equally as urgent.  (Applause.)  And we are working to deploy a powerful new radar, networked with American early warning satellites, that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of an attack.  This is what we do.  This is what we do to ensure Israel can counter and defeat any threat from any corner.  (Applause.)

But that’s only the first piece of this equation.  Let me tell you — and I expect I share the view of many of you who have been involved with AIPAC for a long time.  Let me tell you what worries me the most today — what worries me more than at any time in the 40 years I’ve been engaged, and it is different than any time in my career.  And that is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state.  That is the single most dangerous, pernicious change that has taken place, in my humble opinion, since I’ve been engaged.  (Applause.)

And, ladies and gentlemen, it matters.  It matters.  To put it bluntly, there is only one nation — only one nation in the world that has unequivocally, without hesitation and consistently confronted the efforts to delegitimize Israel.  At every point in our administration, at every juncture, we’ve stood up on the legitimacy — on behalf of legitimacy of the State of Israel.  President Obama has been a bulwark against those insidious efforts at every step of the way.

Wherever he goes in the world, he makes clear that although we want better relations with Muslim-majority countries, Israel’s legitimacy and our support for it is not a matter of debate.  There is no light.  It is not a matter of debate.  (Applause.)  It’s simple, and he means it:  It is not a matter of debated.  Don't raise it with us.  Do not raise it with us.  It is not negotiable.  (Applause.)

As recently as last year, the only country on the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against — I think it’s 36 countries, don't hold me to the exact number — but the only country on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to vote against the establishment of a fact-finding mission on settlements was the United States of America.

We opposed the unilateral efforts of the Palestinian Authority to circumvent direct negotiations by pushing for statehood and multilateral organizations like UNESCO.  We stood strongly with Israel in its right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report was issued in 2009.  While the rest of the world, including some of our good friend, was prepared to embrace the report, we came out straightforwardly, expressed our concerns and with recommendations.

When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla in 2010, I was in Africa.  We spent a lot of time on the phone, Ehud and — the Defense Minister and I.  (Laughter.)  And Bibi and I spent a lot time on that phone with my interceding, going to the United Nations directly by telephone, speaking with the Secretary General, making sure that one thing was made clear, Israel had the right — had the right — to impose that blockade.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, that's why we refuse to attend events such as the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference on Racism that shamefully equated Zionism with racism.  (Applause.)  That's why we rejected anti-Semitic rhetoric  from any corner and from leaders of any nation.  And that's why I’m proud to say my friend, the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, spoke out against the kind of language in Ankara just this Friday.  (Applause.)  By the way, he’s a good man.  You're going to be happy with Kerry.

And it was in the strongest terms that we vigorously opposed the Palestinian bid for nonmember observer status in the General Assembly, and we will continue to oppose any effort to establish a state of Palestine through unilateral actions.

There is no shortcut to peace.  There is no shortcut to face-to-face negotiations.  There is no shortcut to guarantees made looking in the eyes of the other party.

Ladies and gentlemen, Israel's own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they've all called for a two-state solution and an absolute  secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game.  (Applause.) 

We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve.  Even some of you in the audience said, why do we even talk about it anymore?  Well, it's going to require hard steps on both sides.  But it's in all of our interests — Israel's interest, the United States' interest, the interest of the Palestinian people.  We all have a profound interest in peace.  To use an expression of a former President, Bill Clinton, we've got to get caught trying.  We've got to get caught trying.  (Applause.)

So we remain deeply engaged.  As President Obama has said, while there are those who question whether this goal may ever be reached, we make no apologies for continuing to pursue that goal, to pursue a better future.  And he'll make that clear when he goes to Israel later this month.

We're also mindful that pursuing a better future for Israel means helping Israel confront the myriads of threat it faces in the neighborhood.  It's a tough neighborhood, and it starts with Iran.  It is not only in Israel's interest — and everybody should understand — I know you understand this, but the world should — it's not only in Israel's interest that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, it's in the interest of the United States of America.  It's simple.  And, as a matter of fact, it's in the interest of the entire world. (Applause.)

Iraq's [sic] acquisition of a nuclear weapon not only would present an existential threat to Israel, it would present a threat to our allies and our partners — and to the United States.  And it would trigger an arms race — a nuclear arms race in the region, and make the world a whole lot less stable.

So we have a shared strategic commitment.  Let me make clear what that commitment is:  It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Period.  (Applause.)  End of discussion.  Prevent — not contain — prevent.  (Applause.)

The President has flatly stated that.  And as many of you in this room have heard me say — and he always kids me about this; we'll be in the security room — and I know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz knows this because she hears it — he always says, you know — he'll turn to other people and say, as Joe would say, he’s — as Joe would say, big nations can't bluff.  Well, big nations can't bluff.  And Presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff.  And President Barack Obama is not bluffing.  He is not bluffing.  (Applause.)
 
We are not looking for war.  We are looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully, but all options, including military force, are on the table.  But as I made clear at the Munich Security Conference just last month, our strong preference, the world’s preference is for a diplomatic solution.  So while that window is closing, we believe there is still time and space to achieve the outcome.  We are in constant dialogue, sharing information with the Israeli military, the Israeli intelligence service, the Israeli political establishment at every level, and we’re taking all the steps required to get there.

But I want to make clear to you something.  If, God forbid, the need to act occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected to avoid any confrontation.  And that matters.  Because God forbid, if we have to act, it’s important that the rest of the world is with us.  (Applause.)  We have a united international community.  We have a united international community behind these unprecedented sanctions.

We have left Iran more isolated than ever.  When we came to office, as you remember — not because of the last administration, just a reality — Iran was on the ascendency in the region.  It is no longer on the ascendency.  The purpose of this pressure is not to punish.  It is to convince Iran to make good on its international obligations.  Put simply, we are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make.  They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program, or they can continue down the path they’re on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.

But even preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon still leaves them a dangerous neighbor, particularly to Israel.  They are using terrorist proxies to spread violence in the region and beyond the region, putting Israelis, Americans, citizens of every continent in danger.  For too long, Hezbollah has tried to pose as nothing more than a political and social welfare group, while plotting against innocents in Eastern Europe — from Eastern Europe to East Africa; from Southeast Asia to South America.  We know what Israel knows:  Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.  Period.  (Applause.)  And we — and me — we are urging every nation in the world that we deal with — and we deal with them all — to start treating Hezbollah as such, and naming them as a terrorist organization.  (Applause.)

This isn’t just about a threat to Israel and the United States.  It’s about a global terrorist organization that has targeted people on several continents.  We’ll say and we’ll do our part to stop them.  And we ask the world to do the same.  That’s why we’ve been talking to our friends in Europe to forcefully declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.  This past month I’ve made the case to leading European heads of state, as Barack and Israelis know, together we have to continue to confront Hezbollah wherever it shows — sews the seeds of hatred and stands against the nations that sponsor campaigns of terror.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria as well.  Assad has shown his father’s disregard for human life and dignity, engaging in brutal murder of his own citizens.  Our position on that tragedy could not be clearer:  Assad must go.  But we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus.  (Applause.)

That’s why our focus is on supporting a legitimate opposition not only committed to a peaceful Syria but to a peaceful region.  That’s why we’re carefully vetting those to whom we provide assistance.  That’s why, while putting relentless pressure on Assad and sanctioning the pro-regime, Iranian-backed militia, we’ve also designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization.

And because we recognize the great danger Assad’s chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States, to the whole world, we’ve set a clear red line against the use of the transfer of the those weapons.  And we will work together to prevent this conflict and these horrific weapons from threatening Israel’s security.  And while we try to ensure an end to the dictatorship in Syria, we have supported and will support a genuine transition to Egyptian democracy.

We have no illusions — we know how difficult this will be and how difficult it is.  There’s been — obviously been a dramatic change in Egypt.  A lot of it has given us hope and a lot of it has given us pause, and a lot of it has caused fears in other quarters.

It’s not about us, but it profoundly affects us.  We need to be invested in Egypt’s success and stability.  The stable success of Egypt will translate into a stable region.  We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses.  Again, our eyes are wide open.  We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this:  There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel.  It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk.  It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists.  And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process.  And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.  There’s no certainty about anything in the Arab Spring.

I expect President Obama to cover each of these issues in much greater detail.  I’ve learned one thing, as I was telling the President, I learned it’s never a good idea, Ehud, to steal the President’s thunder.  It’s never a good idea to say what he’s going to say the next day.  So I’m not going to go into any further detail on this.  (Laughter.)  But in much greater detail he will discuss this when he goes to Israel later this month, just before Passover begins.

I have to admit I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say “this year in Jerusalem,” but I’m the Vice President.  I’m not the President.  (Applause.)  So I — when I told him that, I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not.  But anyway.  (Laughter.)

As will come as no surprise to you, the President and I not only are partners, we’ve become friends, and he and I have spoken at length about this trip.  And I can assure you he’s particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear directly from the people of Israel and beyond their political leaders, and particularly the younger generation of Israelis.  (Applause.)

And I must note just as I’m getting a chance to speak to 2,000 young, American Jews involved and committed to the state of Israel and the relationship with the United States, he’s as anxious to do what I got a chance to do when I was there last, Ehud with you, as you flew me along the line.  I got to go to Tel Aviv University to speak several thousand young Israelis.  The vibrancy, the optimism, the absolute commitment is contagious, and he’s looking forward to seeing it and feeling it and tasting it.

The President looks forward to having conversations about their hopes and their aspirations, about their astonishing world-leading technological achievements, about the future they envision for themselves and for their country, about how different the world they face is from the one their parents faced, even if many of the threats are the same.

These are really important conversations for the President to have and to hear and for them to hear.  These are critically important.  I get kidded, again to quote Debbie, she kids sometimes, everybody quotes — Democrat and Republican — quotes Tip O’Neill saying, all politics is local.  With all due respect, Lonny, I think that's not right.  I think all politics is personal.  And I mean it:  All politics is personal.  And it’s building personal relationships and trust and exposure, talking to people that really matters, particularly in foreign policy.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me end where I began, by reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.  It’s not only a longstanding, moral commitment, it’s a strategic commitment.  An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world is in the practical, strategic interests of the United States of America.  I used to say when I — Lonny was president — I used to say if there weren't an Israel, we'd have to invent one.

Ladies and gentlemen, we also know that it's critical to remind every generation of Americans — as you're doing with your children here today, it's critical to remind our children, my children, your children.  That's why the first time I ever took the three of my children separately to Europe, the first place I took them was Dachau.  We flew to Munich and went to Dachau — the first thing we ever did as Annette will remember — because it's important that all our children and grandchildren understand that this is a never-ending requirement.  The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the ultimate guarantor, it's the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people in the world.  (Applause.)

That was most pointedly pointed out to me when I was a young senator making my first trip to Israel.  I had the great, great honor — and that is not hyperbole — of getting to meet for the first time — and subsequently, I met her beyond that — Golda Meir.  She was the prime minister.  (Applause.)

Now, I'm sure every kid up there said, you can't be that old, Senator.  (Laughter.)  I hope that's what you're saying.  (Laughter.)  But seriously, the first trip I ever made — and you all know those double doors.  You just go into the office and the blonde furniture and the desk on the left side, if memory serves me correctly.  And Golda Meir, as a prime minister and as a defense minister, she had those maps behind her.  You could pull down all those maps like you had in geography class in high school.

And she sat behind her desk.  And I sat in a chair in front of her desk, and a young man was sitting to my right who was her assistant.  His name was Yitzhak Rabin.  (Laughter.)  Seriously — an absolutely true story.  (Applause.)  And she sat there chain-smoking and reading letters to me, letters from the front from the Six-Day War.  She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family.  This went on for I don't know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it — oh, my God.

And she suddenly looked at me and said — and I give you my word as a Biden that she looked at me and said — she said, Senator, would you like a photo opportunity?  (Laughter.)  And I looked at her.  I said, well yes, Madam Prime Minister.  I mean I was — and we walk out those doors.  We stood there — no statements, and we're standing next to one another looking at this array of media, television and photojournalists, take — snapping pictures.  And we're looking straight ahead.

Without looking at me, she speaks to me.  She said, Senator, don't look so sad.  She said, we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world.  And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something.  Because you can see the pictures, I still have them — I turned to look at her.  We were supposed to be looking straight ahead.  And I said, Madam Prime Minister — and never turned her head, she kept looking — she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go.  We have no place else to go.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, our job is to make sure there's always a place to go, that there's always an Israel, that there's always a secure Israel and there's an Israel that can care for itself.  (Applause.)  My father was right.  You are right.  It's the ultimate guarantor of never again.  God bless you all and may God protect our troops.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Limmud conference to launch in Moscow


The first of six Limmud conferences for Russian-speaking Jews will open in Moscow.

Limmud FSU Moscow will begin Thursday and run through April 22. Some 1,000 participants are registered for the conference, which is designed to bring young Russian-speaking Jews closer to Jewish history and culture.

The conference will focus on Russia as a society undergoing change both in general and for its Jewish citizens.

Session presenters will include Sofa Landver, Israel’s minister of immigrant absorption; Alex Miller, chair of the Knesset Education and Culture Committee; Carmel Shama-Hacohen, chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee; and Dorit Golender, Israel’s ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Limmud conferences also will be held this year in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Israel and the United States. The next Limmud conference will take place at Princeton University in New Jersey and focus on the life and work of Albert Einstein.

Conference to probe ethics of Holocaust studies, honor historian


What are the moral and artistic limits faced by a novelist, filmmaker, historian or artist in depicting the Holocaust?

Some of the leading thinkers on this often agonizing question will present their views at a UCLA conference, April 21-23, on “History Unlimited: Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture.”

The occasion will also serve as a tribute to UCLA historian Saul Friedlander, who has retired as the first holder of the “1939” Club Chair in Holocaust Studies. He was awarded the MacArthur “genius” award in 1999, and his book “The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945,” the second of two volumes on the Nazi persecution and extermination of European Jewry, was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

One of his earlier books, “Probing the Limits of Representation,” published in 1992, set the terms for the debate continued in the upcoming UCLA conference.

Speakers at the conference will include some of the most respected names in Holocaust studies, including Yehuda Bauer of Israel’s Hebrew University, Christopher Browning of the University of North Carolina, Hayden White of UC Santa Cruz, author Daniel Mendelsohn and Friedlander himself.

Also taking part will be architect Peter Eisenman (Yale), Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, and filmmakers Peter Forgacs and Yael Hersonski.

In the 20 years since Friedlander published his book on Holocaust representation, the depth and breadth of the field has expanded enormously, said Todd Presner, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and conference organizer.

“There has been a vast addition of new material with the opening of the German archives at Bad Arolsen and of other archives in the former Soviet Union,” Presner said.

Much of this and other material are being disseminated online, as are the more than 50,000 interviews, mostly with survivors, conducted by the Shoah Foundation.

Admission to the conference is free, but pre-registration is required by calling (310) 267-5327, or by sending an e-mail to cjsrsvp@humnet.ucla.edu.

Opinion: Amos Oz inspires J Street conference in Washington, D.C.


“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a pure tragedy of Greek proportions…because it is a clash between right and right…between two nations who have never known another homeland.”

So said Amos Oz this week at the opening of the 3rd annual J Street Conference in Washington, D.C. His message resonated powerfully among the 2500 activists who converged on Washington from all over America, Canada, the UK, and Israel, among whom were 750 college students from 43 college campuses. Members of the Knesset joined with members of Congress and Ambassadors from around the world to affirm both Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy, and to affirm the principle of two states for two peoples, a state of Israel and a state of Palestine.

Oz noted the necessity for a “divorce” to take place between Israel and the Palestinians because of the toxicity of the relationship. It is like two spouses sharing the same apartment who cannot find a way to leave or divide equitably the property and move on with their lives. This is a time, he said, for painful compromise and noted this truth: “Where there is life there is compromise. The opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death.”

There is good news and bad news, he said. The good news is that the majority of Palestinians and Israeli Jews accept the 2-state solution and are ready for partition of the land. But the bad news is that the “patient is unhappy and in serious need of surgery, but the doctors are cowards.” Thus, he said that the two parties need help because they cannot effect a divorce themselves.

“Nations,” he reminded us, “make peace with clenched teeth.” But the future can be bright. Who would have thought that of all the nations in the European Union that Germany would be Israel’s closest ally today, that Anwar Sadat would ever have come to Jerusalem, or that Menachem Begin would ever have given up the entire Sinai for peace with Israel? One day, it is very likely that Israel and the Palestinians will be living and thriving side by side. 

In conclusion, the Israeli writer affirmed that J Street offers the best path to help Israeli Jews and Palestinians resolve their conflict. Then he said, “J Street – I have been waiting for you my whole adult life!”

That was all I needed to carry on.


Rabbi John Rosove is a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet, and the Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood

Obama and Netanyahu disagree, in private and in public


President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree, at least in principle: Keep the talk on what to do about Iran behind closed doors. But once they’re behind those doors, they can’t agree — and they can’t seem to resist bringing their disagreements into the open.

Within hours of a long and private Oval Office meeting on March 5 that aides to both leaders said was productive, Netanyahu suggested that Obama’s sanctions-focused approach to Iran’s nuclear program wasn’t producing results. The next day Obama was warning that the United States would suffer repercussions if Israel struck Iran prematurely.

There also seem to have been some concessions from both sides.

Netanyahu told Obama and congressional leaders that he had not yet decided to strike Iran. And Obama’s defense secretary, Leon Panetta, issued perhaps the most explicit warning yet of possible U.S. military action against Iran in his address on March 6 to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference.

“Military action is the last alternative when all else fails,” he said on the conference’s last day in a round of morning addresses aimed at motivating the 13,000 activists in attendance before they visited Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers. “But make no mistake, if all else fails, we will act.”  

That formulation is more acute than the “no-options-off-the-table” language that has been the boilerplate for the Obama and Bush administrations.

Much of Panetta’s speech appeared to be a bid to persuade Netanyahu to coordinate more closely with the United States.

“Cooperation is going to be essential to confronting the challenges of the 21st century,” Panetta said. “The United States must always have the unshakeable trust of our ally Israel. We are stronger when we act as one.” 

Top Obama administration officials have tried to persuade Netanyahu that diplomatic options have not yet been exhausted in the bid to have Iran stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program. 

Netanyahu did not seem as eager to cooperate in his hard-hitting speech on Monday night, which repeatedly brought the AIPAC crowd to its feet for ovations. He stressed Israel’s right to act and expressed impatience with the pace of efforts to bring pressure to bear on Iran.

“I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran, and these sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy, but unfortunately Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward,” Netanyahu said. “We’ve waited for diplomacy to work, we’ve waited for sanctions to work, none of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

Responding to commentators who argue that military action against Iran would be ineffective or provoke a violent response, Netanyahu said, “I’ve heard these arguments before.” He then dramatically held up correspondence from 1944 between the World Jewish Congress and the U.S. War Department in which the latter rejected the WJC’s plea to bomb Auschwitz and the railways leading to the death camp.

“2012 is not 1944, the American government today is different. You heard that in President Obama’s speech yesterday,” he said. “But here is my point: The Jewish people is also different today. We have a state of our own, and the purpose of a Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and secure our future. Never again.” 

He repeated the line that he had told Obama at the outset of their meeting earlier Monday:  ”When it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.”

Such talk appeared to frustrate Obama. The next day, in response to a question at a news conference, Obama pointedly said that military action against Iran could have consequences for the United States.

“Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security,” he said. “And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any prime minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.”

But then he added, “The argument that we’ve made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal, particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interests, this is an issue of U.S. interests. It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel, if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well.”

If that wasn’t enough to get the message across, Obama painted a searing picture of such consequences.

“You know, when I visit Walter Reed,” the military hospital in Washington,  ”when I sign letters to families that have — whose loved ones have not come home — I am reminded that there is a cost,” he said.

Obama insisted there was still time for diplomacy to work, and in a subtle gibe at Netanyahu said that Israel’s intelligence establishment agreed.

“It is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically,” he said. “That’s not just my view — that’s the view of our top intelligence officials, it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials.”

Both leaders appeared to be caught between wanting to make their case and keep some matters behind closed doors. Netanyahu started his Monday night speech to AIPAC’s policy conference by pledging, “I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or not do — I never talk about that.”

A day earlier in his AIPAC address, Obama criticized what he called “loose talk of war.”

“Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program,” he said. “For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.”

The three Republican presidential candidates who addressed AIPAC on Tuesday used the opportunity to take aim at Obama’s Iran policy, accusing the president of being soft and hesitant on the issue.

“I will bring the current policy of procrastination to an end,” Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said via satellite.

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives also speaking via satellite, said that as president he would not expect a warning from Israel should it decide to strike Iran.

Rick Santorum, the ex-U.S. senator who was at the conference in person, despite it being Super Tuesday, said that differences between the U.S. and Israel over what should trigger a strike were emboldening Iran.

“There is a clear and unfortunate and tragic disconnect between how the leaders of Israel and of the United States view the exigency of this situation,” Santorum said. He accused Obama of “turning his back” on Israel.

The evening before, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, proposed from the podium that the U.S. should openly threaten Iran with the prospect of “overwhelming force” if its nuclear program progresses past certain thresholds.

“If Iran at any time begins to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program,” he said to applause, although his remarks do not reflect any AIPAC policy.

In the president’s news conference, which was supposed to be about the housing crisis, Obama pushed back against hawkish talk from his Republican critics.

“When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war,” he said. “I’m reminded of the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy. This is not a game, and there’s nothing casual about it.”

Conference gathers to stop hatred and extremism


A Jewish member of the Ukrainian Parliament said it is up to religious leaders to educate young people to ensure that hatred and extremism are stopped.

Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian lawmaker and Founder of the Institute of Human Rights and Prevention of Extremism and Xenophobia, made the comments Tuesday in conjunction with his unveiling a new initiative to encourage the world’s youth to become better advocates for tolerance education and inter-religious dialogue.

The announcement came at the end of a conference in Kiev called World Religions and Civil Society United against Hatred and Extremism.

“More than politicians or any other public figures, clerics and religious leaders bear the heaviest onus of responsibility to ensure that the world become a more loving and tolerant place,” said Feldman. “Education is the key to creating tolerance. The children of today need guidance in religious tolerance and sensitivities. If we start with the young, we have hope for the future.”

Feldman also criticized a decision by Israel’s chief rabbinate to refrain from interfaith dialogue with Muslim clerics until they denounce recent violent attacks by Palestinians on Jews in Israel.

“We feel the conversation and cooperation between different faiths must continue,” Feldman said. “Only good can come out of dialogue between our communities. Stopping to talk will solve nothing and will only be viewed by the terrorists as an achievement in disrupting all the successes our communities have already achieved.”

The two-day conference brought participants from the three main monotheistic religions from all around the world including France, the Netherlands, Israel, Jordan, U.S.A., Norway and locals from the Ukrainian community.

Diplomats Make End Run With Early Ratification of Final Durban Document


GENEVA (JTA)—Durban II reached its conclusion, it seemed, three days early.

A day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tirade against Israel triggered a walkout by the European delegation and generated headlines around the world, diplomats at the U.N. forum scrambled to ratify the conference’s final document on Tuesday—three days before the parley’s close, when the document was scheduled to be adopted.

It was not immediately clear whether the move was meant to head off further debate over the text or to prevent additional walkouts by delegations in protest.

The document ratified by delegates includes the item that prompted Israel and half a dozen other countries to boycott the conference: reaffirmation of the 2001 Durban document, which singles out Israel, brands it a racist country and cites the Palestinians as victims of racism.

“Clearly they were panicking and had to get a quick victory before the text could spiral even further out of control,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, said of the delegates’ vote. “Of course, the text is unacceptable because it still ratifies the flawed 2001 text.”

Despite the document’s early ratification, the very public walkout by EU delegates during Ahmadinejad’s speech and the events surrounding the conference guaranteed that Durban II would not be a reprise of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Pro-Palestinian elements hijacked the original event in Durban, South Africa, and turned it into an anti-Israel free-for-all.

Geneva has had some similarities with Durban.

In 2001, the conference provided a platform for a polarizing leader from the developing world to rebuke Western nations: Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who was greeted enthusiastically by thousands of activists at the NGO Forum that preceded the conference. This time it was Ahmadinejad, the only head of state to address the conference, who called Israel a “racist government.”

But whereas the Durban conference was chaotic, noisy advocacy in Geneva was banned from U.N. grounds and activists were restricted to a few minutes per day to address its follow-up.

And whereas critics of Israel in 2001 went largely unanswered or drowned out pro-Israel voices, Ahmadinejad’s speech was met by denunciations in the media, including a rare rebuke by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And after Ahmadinejad relinquished the podium, the very next speaker, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, called the Iranian president’s speech “incitement to hatred, spreading politics of fear and promoting an indiscriminate message of intolerance.”

For their part, pro-Israel protesters went on the offensive, interrupting Ahmadinejad’s speech and providing context to the Israel-focused tone of the conference with their own news conferences, demonstrations and Holocaust commemorations—the conference coincided with Yom Hashoah—in Geneva and beyond.

While the singling-out of Israel surprised delegates at the 2001 conference, Israel’s allies worked hard in the months leading up to Geneva to ensure it did not devolve into a repeat of Durban.

To some extent, then, the document’s early adoption Tuesday could be considered a defeat.

The document had been the center of diplomatic activity in the weeks leading up to the conference in Geneva, which was supposed to evaluate progress toward the goals set by the 2001 event.

Diplomats worked late last Friday to hammer out details of the final draft of the document, in part to avoid threats of boycott by countries concerned about its implicit branding of Israel as a racist state. In the end, the changes were insufficient to satisfy concerns by the United States, Australia, Germany and a few other countries, which announced they would not attend the conference. Most European countries, however, did not pull out.

In theory, the document could have been debated and changed at the conference itself, for better or for worse. Indeed, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference called for “open discussion on all issues” at the conference. But any such possibility ended when the draft document was ratified Tuesday with no additional changes.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters the original scheduled adoption date of April 24 was “just in case the main committee needed that much time—just in case various debates reopened or questions were raised.”

“None of that happened,” she said.

Pillay called the document’s early adoption “great news,” saying it “reinvigorates the commitment” of states to combat racism and “highlights the suffering of many groups.”

B’nai B’rith denounced the document’s ratification, calling it “flawed and offensive” and blaming Libya for engineering its early and swift passage.

“We condemn this rubber stamp document in the strongest terms possible,” Richard Heideman, the head of the B’nai B’rith Delegation in Geneva, said. “The adoption of this document shows nothing has changed since 2001, no lessons have been learned.”

Though the document was adopted by consensus, it was tainted by the boycott of 10 nations, including the Czech Republic, whose delegates walked out in protest during Ahmadinejad’s speech and never returned to the conference. Along with the United States, Australia and Germany, the other boycotting countries included Canada, New Zealand, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.

The extent of the boycott was cheered by Jewish and pro-Israel groups, which sought to discredit the Geneva proceedings.

After Monday’s theatrics and Tuesday’s ratification, the remainder of the conference was expected to be taken up by NGO activists criticizing the deprivation of human rights for various peoples, including the Palestinians.

Calendar Girls picks and clicks for April 5-11


SAT | APRIL 5

(MUSIC FEST)
” target=”_blank”>http://www.lfjcc.org.

(CONCERT)
The three-movement composition titled “Water From a Stone” was inspired by a gift — the Jerusalem Fountain — given to the Catholic Church by the Skirball Foundation and an anonymous Jewish family. Composer Michael Isaacson, founding music director of the Israel Pops Orchestra, has written a work combining Jewish biblical themes, Hebrew prayers and Israeli folksongs. With forceful hands, pianist Andrea Anderson will tell the story that begins when Moses defies God, strikes the rock and incites dramatic confrontation, followed by a second movement that draws its melody from a Hebrew prayer for rain. The end is buoyant and hopeful, echoing the imperative of an Israeli folksong based on the words of Isaiah: “Draw water joyfully from the Fountain of Deliverance,” says the prophet, bringing the music and its message back to the symbolic fountain sitting in the cathedral’s courtyard. The performance also includes works by Mozart, Debussy, Copeland and Prokofiev. Sat. 8 p.m. $10 (suggested donation). Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5200.

(PLAY)
It’s a scenario not commonly heard: a young Eastern European Jew flees the pogroms of Russia in 1909 and floats his banana boat to Hamilton, Texas. The story made its stage debut as “The Immigrant” in the 1980s. Written by Mark Harelik, the coming-to-America play reveals the true-life tale of Harelik’s �(c)migr�(c) grandparents and will premiere new creative content in an updated musical version. Sarah Knapp’s lyrics add dimension, depth and emotionality, buoying the spirit of a story about starting over. Sat. 8 p.m. $37-$42. Through May 4. The Colony theater, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/wings.

SUN | APRIL 6

(VOLUNTEER)
Menschs for mitzvahs wanted! Jewish Family Service is enlisting volunteers to help with their three community seders for immigrant families and seniors. Those who are blessed with holiday celebrations filled with family and friends are just the right people to bring those feelings of warmth and comfort to others. Sun. 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., Los Angeles. To sign-up, call Sherri at (323) 761-8800 or e-mail skadovitz@jfsla.org.

(CONFERENCE)
Prepare to answer touchy questions today at a forum organized by UCLA Extension Public Policy that ponders “Can Faith Be Rational? Cooperation and Conflict Among Christians, Jews and Muslims.” While these faiths trace their roots to a common source, they can and do clash in the context of contemporary life. Is peaceful coexistence possible? How does the religious diversity of modern society impact public policy decisions on education, scientific research and foreign relations? Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel, Amir Hussain, associate professor in theology at Loyola Marymount University, and Phyllis Herman, chair of the religious studies department at CSU Northridge, will dialogue during this half-day seminar, explaining their respective faiths’ historical backgrounds and spiritual beliefs and how these philosophies can survive in the current world. Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $50. UCLA, Semel Institute for Neuroscience, 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. (310) 825-9971. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.temple-sinai.net.

(SENIOR SINGLES)
New Age Senior Singles could simply never tire of the theater. During their Theater and Dinner Party, they’ll first head to the proscenium for “Moonshine,” described as a “musical romantic comedy with touches of magical realism.” Following the performance, the group will dine at Pomodoro’s during a no-host dinner, where schmoozers can air their best art criticism and satiate their appetite after those theater-snack morsels. Sun. 2 p.m. $24. Woodland Hills theater Group, West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth, Canoga Park. For reservations, call (818) 347-8355.

Conference tackles thorny Jewish-Polish relationship


In a groundbreaking collegial but hard-hitting conference sponsored by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, a slate of top scholars, public officials, diplomats and Polish Jewish community leaders met to discuss the controversial and complicated relationship of Poles and Jews.

Titled “From Past to Present: The State of Research in Polish-Jewish Relations,” the international conference held Jan. 13 and 14 was originally envisioned as a closed, scholarly gathering around a conference table. But the topic generated such intense interest that it was moved to larger rooms on the UCLA campus to accommodate the approximately 20 conference participants and overflow crowds of up to 150 people.

“Few historical relationships are as complex as that between Poles and Jews. The Poles see themselves as prime victims of the Nazi onslaught. The Jews see themselves as the prime victims, adding the belief that the Poles were often willing collaborators,” said David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

The impetus for the conference came more than two years ago from Holocaust survivor Severyn Ashkenazy, who divides his time between Los Angeles and Warsaw and who has been at the forefront of Jewish renewal in Poland.

“I think the time has come to stop bashing one another,” Ashkenazy said, stressing that it is impossible to rebuild Jewish life in an atmosphere of mutual accusation.

Ashkenazy brought his idea to the Polish consulate in Los Angeles, currently headed by Consul General Paulina Kapuschinska, and to Myers, who received funding from the “1939” Club Holocaust Memorial Fund at UCLA. Both co-sponsored the event, with assistance from the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel and the American Jewish Committee.

The conference consisted of three academic panels, a reception and photographic exhibit at UCLA Hillel and a concluding roundtable. What made it unique, however, in addition to the invitation to the public, was the format of the panels — a senior historian moderating and two junior historians presenting papers based on cutting-edge research.

These younger scholars have access to troves of new archival sources that only began opening up after the communist regime collapsed in Poland in 1989, according to Myers, and are self-critical, rather than bogged down in old stereotypes and interpretations. Additionally, they feel almost a sense of obligation, in Myers’ words, “to repopulate the landscape of Poland with a Jewish cultural presence.”

The historians presented papers on particularly thorny issues in Polish-Jewish dialogue. Marci Shore of Yale University, for example, spoke on “Zydokomuna: The Family Romance of ‘Judeo-Bolshevism.'”

Zydokomuna, essentially an untranslatable word meaning Jewish communist, is fraught with the anti-Semitic accusation that the Jews were responsible for the introduction and operation of communism in Poland. Shore asserted that this was not necessarily a stereotype, since even though the total number of Jews in the Communist Party was small, they were overrepresented as a group, especially among the party elite.

Joshua Zimmerman of Yeshiva University presented a paper on “The Attitude of the Home Army to the Jewish Question During the Holocaust: The Case of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”

Zimmerman, who referred to the Polish home army’s relationship to the Jews as “highly emotional and not uncontroversial,” showed that it also changed during the war years. As he and the other presenters consistently demonstrated, the situation between the Poles and Jews was not black and white but many shades of gray.

Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa offered a more somber note in his presentation titled, “Re-writing the History of Polish-Jewish Relations From a Nationalist Perspective: The Recent Publications of the Institute of the National Remembrance.” He described the Institute of National Remembrance, a clearinghouse of information established by the Polish Parliament, as an organization with a decidedly nationalistic view of the past.

What was clear in all the presentations is that there is a need for Jews to be reinserted into the Polish historical picture. During the half-century of communist rule, Jewish history was deleted from textbooks and either erased or manipulated in peoples’ memories. Even the word “Jew” was removed from Poland’s vocabulary.

“If Poles write Jews out of their history, they deprive themselves of the basic knowledge of who they are,” historian Samuel Kassow of Trinity College said.

The sentiment was echoed by Jolanta Zyndul, a scholar at Warsaw University who grew up in communist Poland and who never heard the word Jew throughout her childhood, except in church. “I felt cheated when I learned Poland had a Jewish presence,” she said.

Conference presenters emphasized that the mostly opposing Polish and Jewish historical narratives have to be accurately confronted, and many old stereotypes were debunked during the two days.

Natalia Aleksium of Touro College, for example, in her presentation “Re-thinking Polish Jewish Intelligentsia in Interwar Poland,” addressed the fact that Jews did not all live in hermetically sealed Orthodox communities, and a large percentage were fully integrated into Polish society.

Adam Daniel Rotfeld, the former Polish foreign minister, who was born in 1938, survived the war in a monastery, where he had no idea of the serious risks undertaken by his rescuers.

Rotfeld remained in Poland after the war, and he said that the punishment for aiding Jews in Poland, unlike that in any other country occupied by Nazis, was death to the person and to his or her entire family.

“Poles, as a society, are proud that Yad Vashem has over 6,000 trees planted for the Poles,” said Rotfeld, pointing out that Poland has more people recognized as Righteous Among the Nations than any other country.

Rotfeld stressed that stereotypes against Poles continue to prevail because of the enormous number of Jews who trace their ancestry to Poland and because the Nazi crimes were perpetrated on Polish soil.

While the conference was primarily academic, its hot-button topic attracted observers who came for personal reasons. These included Jewish survivors and those of Polish ancestry who wanted to learn about their parents’ or grandparents’ country. The conference also attracted non-Jewish Poles, such as Chris Justin, who left Poland in 1980 and who now lives in Huntington Beach. “I have lots of Polish friends and lots of Jewish friends,” he said.

The moment it dawned on me that being Jewish is important


During the opening session for the Professional Leaders Project (PLP), a conference for young Jewish leaders, a man delivered inspirations via PowerPoint, asking us to consider the one “moment” that inspired us to connect to Jewish projects and commit to the Jewish professional world.

So charged, the room began to buzz with energy as enthusiasm spilled forth from the mouths of the newly inspired, freshly minted Jewish leaders, many of them products of Taglit-birthright israel, or of youth groups that showed them the way. But my story is a lot less dramatic.

“What made you committed, when and why?” Well, committed is the right word. Sometimes I feel like I’ve signed away the papers to my own sanity, voluntarily committing myself to a Jewish nonprofit facility. When I graduated college, I discovered that beginning salaries in publishing were $17,000 a year, while Jewish organizations were paying $21,000. Punch line: I went into Jewish nonprofit for the money. But that’s probably not the kind of answer they’re looking for in this exercise.

“What was your ‘moment’? When did it dawn on you that being Jewish is important?”

Good questions. Had I ever had such a moment of awareness, belonging, mission or peoplehood? Maybe one Yom Kippur, when I was too dehydrated and hungry to notice? Or maybe that time I passed out on an airplane was actually a dawning awareness so momentous that it rendered me unconscious.

“Why be Jewish?” Because it’s all I know. It’s an important part of my family life, my professional and personal rhythm, and my social context. I write paragraphs and pages trying to determine which of my connections to Jewish life and to Israel — Jerusalem in particular — are authentic and which ones are conditioned. It might not matter, as long as I feel they’re of value. But that’s an emotional response. Intellectually, it bothers me that I can’t articulate a specific why.

It seemed like everyone I knew who was involved in Jewish projects had a moment to write home about. Once on another path, they have now chosen a road less traveled: my road, as it happens. They were lyrical and articulate, recounting the moments of their revelations. But a Jewish writer who lives in a world of words 24/6 comes up with a blank page.

For doctors, lawyers, Internet gurus or others who have been suddenly born again as Jewish professionals, there’s a eureka moment as their skills mesh with a newly discovered passion for Jewish identity and self-exploration. Approaching the Jewish world from the outside, they spoke of “trigger” moments: Israel, a college experience at Hillel, the connection on a social justice level, some other experience that “activated” their connection to Jewish life. Their eyes shine with purpose, while I look back at them, simultaneously awed, and envious of a trigger I’m not sure I ever had.

I’m not really complaining. Living my life in an observant Jewish home and receiving a Modern Orthodox education, I was given an enviably solid background in text and tradition. I connect to the Hebrew language like none of my secularly educated friends can. I feel the earth of Israel as living Torah, even if I don’t observe every precept. And for some undefined reason, I connect to Jews more frequently than I connect with non-Jews.

But because I was born into my Jewish connection, which was then carefully and painstakingly nurtured, I was cheated of the opportunity to experience this level of revelation. I’m brainwashed by education and a drone by birth. If there’s a “moment” of importance, it could be this one, in which I’m beginning to question the nature and depth of my connection to this confounding fabric of my being, discovering how I really feel about my own faith and people.

I’m a writer, so I understand. It makes a better story when a secular kid has a birthright epiphany and then devotes his or her life to Jewish content. I love those stories, too; they can be inspiring, and usually feature amazing people who have a right to recognition. But as a freelancer who’s worked in the Jewish nonprofit world for over a decade, I can tell you that familiarity is not always a Jewish professional’s friend. Organizations expect seasoned professionals to do something for almost nothing, or to give them a “friends and family rate” — to which we often agree, undercutting our profits and undervaluing our services. To expect anyone to work for little or nothing is unrealistic and unfair. And yet, in certain organizations, it is also de rigeur.

But I am still hopeful. Having just come back from the General Assembly, I was extremely gratified by the olive branches extended by the establishment to some more innovative initiatives. I hope that some of our creativity will inspire mutually beneficial partnerships and match experienced professionals and volunteers with their next-generation counterparts. I am seeing projects like PLP and ROI, which have committed to investing in the future through people like my creative band of friends and me. In all their initiatives, my “newly activated” friends inspire with a passion and commitment that reinvigorates my own. And I provide a more experienced voice, an intensely educated influence, and skills that I’ve been nurturing in the world that they’ve just entered.

The road’s wide enough for all of us. By integrating our stories, they intertwine in a way that benefits everyone. Pooling our education, our acquired knowledge and our particular skills, we create a reservoir of passionate commitment and renewable energy for a stronger, more sustainable Jewish future, and generate many more meaningful moments for tomorrow’s Jewish professionals.

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://jewishleaders.net.

Esther D. Kustanowitz writes for many blogs, including JDatersAnonymous.com and MyUrbanKvetch.com, and is senior editor for PresenTense Magazine (presentense.org), a publication by and for Jews in their 20s and 30s.

Survey says Reform rabbis don’t know what members want


Leaders of Reform synagogues don’t quite get their members, according to a new study by the movement.

The study shows a marked disconnect between what the leaders think their members are looking for and what the members say they actually want.

In general, the synagogue leaders seem to underestimate their members’ interest in Jewish practice and worship. And they overestimate the synagogue’s importance in the religious lives of their families.

The two-year study, to be released at the Reform movement’s upcoming biennial, suggests that synagogue leaders better focus more on building warm, welcoming communities if they want to have and hold their members.

Questions addressed by the study — Why do people join Reform congregations? Why do they leave? And what can synagogues do to make themselves into warm, welcoming communities? — will be a major focus of the 69th biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) set for Dec. 12-16 in San Diego.

A week ahead of the conference, 3,200 people had registered for what generally proves to be the largest national gathering of any Jewish stream. That includes a higher number of international delegates than usual, according to conference organizers, as well as a strong showing of high school and college students.

In addition to unveiling the survey on membership, highlights of the five-day biennial will include:

  • URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s announcement of a movement-wide initiative to increase the personal observance of Shabbat by Reform Jews;
  • The first large-scale use of Mishkan Tefilla, the movement’s long awaited new prayer book that has begun arriving in synagogues this past month. Copies will be given to every participant and it will be used at worship services during the biennial;
  • Release of three new URJ Press publications — “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary” and two books on men’s programming — as part of an exploration of gender differences kicked off by a two-day pre-conference symposium;
  • A closing-day plenary address by Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America — the same group Yoffie addressed over the summer.
    Of the many topics to be addressed at the biennial, the most popular are turning out to be those sessions on outreach and membership.

Conference organizers report that hundreds have signed up for workshops on those issues, as well as intermarriage and conversion — more than for any other topic, and significantly more than those who enrolled for workshops on those issues in previous years.

Movement leaders attribute the spike in interest to a generally positive response to Yoffie’s 2005 biennial initiative. In his Shabbat morning sermon that year, he urged Reform congregations to honor their non-Jewish members, to invite those non-Jewish members to convert and to focus on how to remake their congregations so members stay throughout their lifetime rather than quitting after their children become b’nai mitzvah.

Those initiatives “clearly resonated” among Reform Jews, said Kathy Kahn, the union’s director of outreach and membership.

Now the Reform movement has some data with which to frame its outreach and membership discussions.

The new membership study involved two years of phone interviews, online surveys, case studies and undercover visits by “mystery shoppers” to Reform services in four cities — Cleveland, Seattle, Springfield, Mass. and Boca Raton, Fla.

Results showed that current and former members of Reform synagogues mostly join for reasons of community, not for “services” provided.

“Congregations that work go out of their way to integrate new members, inviting them to Shabbat dinner rather than just putting them on committees,” said Emily Grotta, URJ’s communications director, who conducted many of the study’s phone interviews.

Grotta points to one Cleveland congregation that created small chavurot, or prayer fellowships, of members with similar interests, and successfully built a sense of community that permeated the larger congregation.

“You could hear it in people’s voices, the difference,” she said.

The survey found that synagogue leaders misunderstood members’ interest in spirituality and worship.

It included interviews with 910 former members of Reform congregations to find out why they joined and why they eventually left.

Whereas 50 percent said they joined because they wanted a place to worship, synagogue leaders thought worship was important to just 5 percent of those former members.

Synagogue leaders also overestimated the importance of their institutions in the religious lives of their members.

Fifty-eight percent of former members said they “were able to be Jewish without a congregation,” a factor that didn’t show up on the leadership’s radar. Also, 18 percent said they filled their Jewish needs “elsewhere,” again a factor the leadership failed to recognize.

That should serve “as a wake-up call to all the denominations,” Grotta said.

Interest in worship and spirituality is pronounced among newer as well as former members of Reform congregations, she said.

“What jumped out at us was the number of new people who join for worship, for spirituality, to learn how to become better Jews,” Grotta said. “The leaders didn’t get that at all.”

Money is also important, or rather the perceived value of what members get for their dues: 40 percent of former members of Reform congregations said they withdrew because membership was too expensive. Just 9 percent of the leadership thought cost was an issue.

Overall, the study shows that Reform Jews remain synagogue members if their congregation becomes their community, the place where their friends and family are.

Thirty-five percent of those who left Reform congregations said they “didn’t find community” at the synagogue, and 33 percent said it was because their “children didn’t connect” after they became b’nai mitzvah.

“If we don’t build a sense of community,” movement leaders warn in the study’s conclusion, then members of Reform congregations “will leave when they have received the services they want.”

Briefs: Interfaith call to action from Reform organization, Conservatives reflect on future


Interfaith Call to Action

The prophet Amos said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream.” Why the word “justice” and not “charity?” Because justice addresses the root of a problem, Rabbi Suzanne Singer said, paraphrasing Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of America’s Union for Reform Judaism and the man who started the Reform movement’s lobbying arm, the Religious Action Center.

“Congregations tend to be good at doing a mitzvah day — feed the hungry, clothing the poor — and that’s very important, but we also need to spend time addressing the root of the problem, so there are fewer hungry people, fewer poor people,” said Rabbi Singer, the chair of Interfaith Call to Justice: LA 2007. The Nov. 11-12 conference will be a two-day interfaith social justice training and community strategy planning conference.

Singer organized her first advocacy conference in 2005 at Temple Sinai of Oakland, and the upcoming southern conference follows the same model. An interfaith effort with some 60 sponsors, “the point of the conference is to help congregants get involved in [local] legislative and public policy advocacy,” she said. While her first conference focused on the problems — housing costs, hunger, poverty, etc. — this one will focus on how to solve those problems, by teaching participants effective advocacy, community organizing, and working with existing organizations in those fields.

But why interfaith?

“Each one of our faiths mandates that we must take care of strangers, widows, orphans,” Singer said. “We really need to join forces and come together. We can set our differences aside and work for common goals.”

Organizers request that participants sign up online by Friday, at http://www.call-to-justice.org.

On The Future of Judaism

Being Jewish in the next generation is largely a matter of choice, Rabbi Arnold M. Eisen, the new chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) said last Friday night at Temple Sinai. The seventh JTS chancellor was the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Scholar-in-Residence, and in the course of the weekend delivered three lectures on the future of American Judaism, including “Modernity, Mitzvah and the Future of American Judaism,” “The Meanings of Mitzvah” and “Rethinking Conservative Judaism.”

“Moses Mendelssohn already recognized that volunteerism, choice, autonomy, individual responsibility — while wonderful, wonderful things — complicate the job of [building] Jewish community,” Eisen said. Unlike Rashi and Rambam, Mendelssohn was the first Jewish thinker “who had to worry that the Jews who read his book might decide not to be Jewish because they didn’t like what he said in his book,” he said.

In other words, Jews today must confront the fact that — unlike in the past — being Jewish is largely voluntary. “Therefore, since we must persuade every Jew to step into a Jewish time and space … you can’t anymore presume that they should be here, or you have the right to demand they be here, because they’ll just run the other way if you do that — and you have to fill these spaces with contents that are so full of joy and excitement that they need to be here,” Eisen said. “This is not an easy thing.”

The way to do it is by building community — particularly Jewish camps and day schools that imbue the values of the community. “We are in the business of building communities. If we do not do this, nothing else will be successful in 2007 in the United States of America.”

Eisen spoke about denominationalism and the future of Conservative Judaism in greater depth on Sunday, but on Friday night he said the current trend toward post-denominationalism, or groups who may be Conservative in practice but don’t identify as such, are not a problem for the movement. “Conservative Jews don’t see it as a loss if they participate in a group that’s not labeled Conservative, but just Jewish,” Eisen said. He himself is a product of this trend, since years ago he belonged to the non-denominational Minyan Ma’at in New York, which later produced many of the faculty at JTS.

“What is best for the Jewish [community] is best. We’re not here to build up a particular movement; we’re here to build up the Jewish people,” Eisen said.

Nevertheless, he did say that where denominations fit in is that one can’t be a Jew in general, but eventually must make decisions such as where to send kids to school, what type of prayers one wants, what is one’s outlook on the world. “You’ll have to answer questions like this,” he said. “You’ll very likely band together with people who see things like you do.”

“I think that we have to get our minds around a different notion of what denominations are. They’re not ends in themselves. They’re not ultimate. They’re adjectives. There are things that are far more important,” he said. “It is not truly important whether there are Conservative Jews 100 years from now; it is important whether Torah exists, that God is talked about and believed in and acted upon. That is ultimately important….”

New reports expose rampant anti-Semitic attacks in Western Europe


Home and Jerusalem



Israel according to Hollywood:
Click the BIG ARROW for the trailer from “Exodus” (1960)

The two greatest Jewish inventions of the 20th century are, to my mind at least, Hollywood and Israel. Jews founded Hollywood to help the world escape reality; theyfounded Israel to help Jews escape the world.

Yes, there were individual Jews whose genius shaped the past century — Freud, Marx, Einstein and, of course, Dylan — but Hollywood and Israel are two enterprises a great many Jews built collectively.

One big difference, of course, is that while Jewish enterprise created Hollywood, it wasn’t, like Israel, a Jewish enterprise.

But both these grand inventions have something very important in common: Jewish writers.

Jewish writers created the movies that defined Hollywood. And other Jewish writers, a world away, created the movement that defined Israel. These thoughts wandered through my head as I dipped in an out of a rare offering this week, an international conference in Los Angeles on Israeli literature. Held under the auspices of the relatively new UCLA Israel Studies Program, “History as Reflected in Israeli Literature” brought together several dozen of the world’s top scholars in a surprisingly rich field.

Actually, as the Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua made clear in his keynote address Sunday evening, the importance of the literary imagination to Israel should surprise no one.

“Zionism was founded by writers,” he said.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was a popular journalist and aspiring playwright.

“Herzl was a failed dramatist,” Yehoshua said. “Perhaps if he was a more successful dramatist….” His voice trailed off as the audience laughed, imagining Herzl forsaking his life’s mission for a three-play deal on the Ringstrasse. “We are perhaps one of his plays.”

But Herzl forsook plays and instead wrote books, bad fiction and good nonfiction, outlining his vision of a Jewish state. That tradition continued after Israel’s founding in 1948, though the quality of the fiction greatly improved. Those early works, as Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s Yigal Schwartz said at one panel, mostly wrestled with the basic questions of identity.

“Most Hebrew literature dealt with trying to make a new nation through literature,” he told conferees. These works created, “the Zionist religion of Nationhood.”

But on their heels, in the 1950s, came novels challenging the hard-won status quo.

“The major subject of this literature is the disappointment with the state,” said professor Avner Holtzman of Tel Aviv University. “There wasn’t any writer who didn’t express disappointment.”

Holtzman pointed out that the early Soviet literature evinced the same kind of post-revolutionary letdown.

The difference was, of course, that the Soviets killed their disappointed novelists. Israel lauded hers. Another generation — Yehoshua’s — blossomed, and its literature was still more complex, combining political themes with the personal and historical. And as these Israeli writers gained fame, something extraordinary happened — Israelis continued to listen to them.

As professor Robert Alter pointed out in a presentation with Yehoshua, this attention marks a great divide between Israeli and American novelists. Israel has a tradition of novelists and writers engaged in the public square.

“How different this is from the American writer,” Alter said. “I think very few practicing American novelists today feel any impulse to comment on political matters, and even more crucially, if they did, if Phillip Roth did comment on American politics, nobody would pay attention to him.”

In fact, Roth denies that his book, “The Plot Against America,” is a direct critique of the Bush administration, despite the fact that many have read it as such.

When Yehoshua gave a press conference last summer alongside novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman calling for an end to the recent war against Hezbollah — Yehoshua supported it but believed it was going on too long — it made national headlines. When Yehoshua declared that in the Diaspora being Jewish “is a jacket you take on or off,” while in Israel it is “a skin,” the outcry made international headlines. (He repeated the charges Sunday night, with considerably less shock value.)

In fact, the importance of the artistic imagination to the Israeli endeavor should be abundantly clear to anyone who dips into L.A. culture these days. The Israel Film Festival is at the Laemmle theatres, featuring a slate of cutting-edge movies from Hollywood-on-HaYarkon. This May, a vast exchange is in the works bringing Tel Aviv fine artists to galleries in L.A. Musicians from David Broza to the entire Israel Philharmonic Orchestra have played to large audiences recently.

And last week’s literary conference was, according to professor David Myers of UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies, which co-sponsored the event, the first of its kind in Los Angeles.

In America, it’s fair to say, Hollywood’s writers have more power than novelists over the public political and cultural consciousness. But in Israel the lions of literature still have an impact, and that, Yehoshua said, is not by chance.

“The others,” he said, going back to the beginnings of that other Jewish invention, “the rabbis, the leaders of the community, they could not foresee what was happening, what will happen to the Jewish people. It was only by a certain imagination, an audacity, that these writers could understand what has to be done in order to avoid the catastrophe.”

“My feeling is that we continue this certain tradition of writers, this vision for Zionism of seeing clearly what is to be done,” he continued. “I don’t say we have seen always the right thing, that our analysis was always correct. But the fact is that this is a certain tradition of Zionism, that writers and intellectuals are important and the public is hearing us. Maybe they were thinking we were perhaps na?ve, perhaps stupid, but there is a place for the intellectual to say his words. In this sense I am always grateful to Israel for the way in which it never persecuted us, and always gave us attention.”

Would you expect anything else from a great Jewish invention?

The challenge of pluralistic day schools


More than 225 Jewish educators from pluralistic community day schools across the country convened in Los Angeles for four days of networking and brainstorming last month.

The 20th annual conference of Ravsak: Jewish Community Day School Network, held at the Biltmore Millennium Downtown, was the organization’s first conference in Los Angeles and its largest ever.

Ravsak — an acronym for the Hebrew meaning Jewish Community Day Schools Network — was founded 20 years ago with about 12 schools. By 1994 there were 27, and by this year there are 120, a reflection of the tremendous growth in day school attendance across the country.

The theme of the conference, underwritten in part by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, was “Everything to Everyone: The Challenges, Limits and Opportunities of Jewish Community Day School Education.”

The theme stemmed from the reality that as attendance at community day schools has mushroomed, the socioeconomic levels, cultural background, learning styles and Jewish affiliation of the students and families has become increasingly diverse.

While 20 years ago day school attendance was dominated by families that were already Jewishly committed and observant to varying degrees, that is no longer the case.

“Today we see families with new commitments, families whose commitment to the Jewish people is largely articulated through enrollment in Jewish day school, who are building their lives based on what the kids do in school,” said Marc Kramer, executive director of Ravsak, pointing out that a growing percentage of children have only one Jewish parent.

Some topics covered at the conference could have applied to any school — students’ sexual identity, mental health and learning differences, lay leadership, philanthropy and legal issues. Other issues pertained specifically to community day schools — how to create inclusive prayer atmospheres, forging an attachment to Israel and the Jewish people and successfully integrating sub-communities, such as the Orthodox, the Reform or the intermarried.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino delivered the opening keynote speech, challenging leaders to question their assumptions about community day schools.

Pardes, the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools, folded its conference into the Ravsak conference, and the North American Association of Jewish High Schools recently merged with Ravsak, which had previously dealt mostly with kindergarten through eighth-grade schools.

Aside from the conference, Ravsak provides leadership training, consulting services and curricular and staffing initiatives for day schools, and recently opened a new Center for Jewish Day School Education, as a laboratory of ideas for teachers and administrators.

For more information visit www.ravsak.org or www.pardesdayschools.org.

Jewish Leaders Help LAUSD Tackle Diversity

Five Jewish leaders were among the 22 appointees to a new Human Relations Council for the LAUSD Board of Education. The council will advise and review policies and make recommendations to the Board of Education on matters related to human relations, diversity and equity.

Appointed to the board were: Dan Alba, L.A. regional director of Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that educates students and teachers about how to apply lessons of tolerance through understanding the Holocaust; Jenny Betz, project director of the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute, which runs cultural diversity and tolerance workshops for students and teachers; Rabbi Allen Freehling, executive director of the L.A. City Human Relations Commission and rabbi emeritus of University Synagogue in Brentwood; Beverly Lemay, program manager at the Museum of Tolerance, which hosts thousands of school children each year; and Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, executive director of Jewish World Watch, which raises awareness and funds to stop genocide throughout the world.

“In a community as diverse as Los Angeles, community leaders must have a role in developing policies that emphasize the importance of tolerance and respect of other cultures,” said School Board President Marlene Canter. “The Council provides a formal, ongoing forum for our community partners to voice their opinions and concerns.”

Hillel Pumps Up the College-Bound

Los Angeles Hillel Council’s March 18 “Get Into College Conference and College Fair” is geared toward helping Jewish students and their parents understand the importance of Jewish life and community in deciding which college to choose. Aside from general information about schools and admissions, the fair focuses on topics such as Jewish life on campus, how to deal with anti-Semitism, cults and anti-Israel rhetoric and a parents-only session on letting go and helping your student succeed.

The conference takes place March 18, 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles.

For more information visit www.getintocollegeconference.com.

Free Spirits Wanted

Alex Melamed
Shalhevet senior Alex Melamed was one of 102 student journalists nationwide — a male and female from each state — to win an Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholarship from Freedom Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to a free press. Along with a $1,000 scholarship to the college of his choice, Melamed will be flown to Washington, D.C., in March to receive the award and attend a journalism conference. Two of the 102 winners will be chosen for an additional $50,000 scholarship.

Melamed, who emigrated from Ukraine at age 6, worked his way up to being editor in chief of The Boiling Point, Shalhevet’s newspaper.

Some of the topics he has written about include an examination of the specific mandates of Jewish journalism and a three-part series on Torah and evolution. As editor in chief, he has motivated young writers to push themselves to write complex articles.

For more information visit www.shalhevet.org or www.freedomforum.org.

Science Scholars Receive Awards at Milken

Six Milken Community High School students received Excellence in Science Awards from the American Technion Society Southern California Chapter. The awards are part of a collaboration between Milken and the American Technion Society meant to foster more interest and expertise in science while promoting closer ties to Israel and Technion, Israel’s leading science and technology university. In addition to the awards, professors and researchers from Technion have visited Milken science classes and the Technion website is available for use in researching the science projects.

The winners were: Alixandra Kriegsman, 10th grade, for “Indigo vs. Dycromine Dye — Which is More Colorfast?”; Abigail Zwick, 10th grade, for “Effect of Wearing a Swim Cap on Streamline Velocities”; Jonathan Batscha, ninth grade, for “Determining the pH of Various Soils Affected by the Simi Valley (2005) Fires”; Yael Cypers, ninth grade, for “Calculating the Salt Concentrations of Various Sidewalk Samples”; and Madison Friedman, ninth grade, and Daniel Reisfeld, ninth grade, for a study of increasing efficiency of photovoltaic cells.

Briefs: Israel reviews Jerusalem dig; U.S. offers reward for Islamic Jihad leader


Israel Reviews Jerusalem Dig

Israel is pressing ahead with a controversial dig near the Temple Mount but will review plans to build at the site. The Jerusalem Municipality announced Monday that a plan to renovate a pedestrian walkway leading from the Temple Mount’s Mughrabi Gate to the Western Wall Plaza would be put on hold to allow for consultations with police and Muslim authorities.

“This is due to the sensitivity of the plan,” the municipality said in a statement, referring to recent Palestinian rioting sparked by Arab allegations that Israel is trying to undermine the foundations of two major Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount.

But the municipality said excavations in the Western Wall Plaza would continue in order to salvage any archeological artifacts that might be damaged by the planned renovation. Israel has said the dig does not threaten the Muslim shrines and is designed to prevent the pedestrian walkway from collapsing due to weather erosion. Muslim leaders have incited their followers in the past with accusations of Jewish plots to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount.

Holocaust Denier Says He Accosted Wiesel

A Holocaust denier claims he is the one who accosted Elie Wiesel, with the aim of kidnapping him. “Eric Hunt” posted an acknowledgment on ZioPedia, an anti-Semitic Web site, saying he followed Wiesel onto an elevator at San Francisco’s Argent hotel after the author, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor participated in a panel on peace. Wiesel reported such an assault on Feb. 1 and San Francisco police are seeking the assailant.

“After ensuring no women would be traumatized by what I had to do (I had been trailing Wiesel for weeks), I stopped the elevator at the sixth floor,” Hunt wrote. “I pulled Wiesel out of the elevator. I said I wanted to interview him. He protested, grabbed at his chest as if he was having a heart attack. He then screamed HELP! HELP! at the top of his lungs.” Hunt said he let Wiesel go because “he was no use to our worldwide struggle for freedom if he had a heart attack.”

He said he “had planned on either getting Wiesel into my custody, with a cornered Wiesel finally forced to state the truth on videotape, getting arrested or fleeing.”

U.S. Offers Reward for Islamic Jihad Leader

The United States put a bounty on the head of a Palestinian terrorist leader. The State Department this week offered up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shallah, who is based in Damascus.

Shallah is wanted for complicity in suicide bombings, murder, extortions and money laundering. Responding to the State Department’s announcement, Islamic Jihad said it would attack American targets if Shallah is taken into custody.

The State Department offered a separate bounty for Mohammed Ali Hamadei, a Lebanese Hezbollah member suspected of involvement in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 that resulted in the murder of a U.S. sailor.

Katsav Complainant Tells All

A woman who accused Israel’s president of raping her gave a full account to a British newspaper. Moshe Katsav’s former secretary, whose name is withheld from publication by law, told Britain’s Sunday Times the president first subjected her to unwanted sexual scrutiny until finally forcing himself on her when she reached up to get a book in his office.

“Maybe I didn’t struggle enough,” she said. “I was shocked. I was thinking, what if people know, what if I don’t have a job.” The complainant — who was described by the newspaper as “Michelle Pfeiffer in Chanel tortoiseshell glasses” — came forward last year, prompting Israel’s attorney general to draft rape charges against Katsav. The Israeli president has denied wrongdoing.

Jewish Groups to Stage Eco-Friendly Conferences

Two Jewish organizations have pledged to offset the carbon produced by their upcoming conferences. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life announced they’ll calculate the amount of carbon produced by their three-day conferences in Washington in late February, and will offset it through reforestation projects. The conferences, which will include nearly 1,000 participants, will limit the amount of carbon they produce through greater energy efficiency and the use of renewables.

“The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is dedicated to doing its part to combat climate change,” said Steve Gutow, the group’s executive director. “Offsetting the carbon emissions from our conference is an easy and effective way to help make a positive difference in our environment.”

The effort, billed as the first of its kind for Jewish groups, will be facilitated by Carbonfund.org, the country’s leading carbon-offset organization.

Klezmatics Win Grammy Award

The Klezmatics received the Grammy award for Contemporary World Music Album for “Wonder Wheel,” with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israeli entry ‘Mud’ wins at Sundance


‘Mud’ Wins at Sundance

Two Israeli films taking critical looks at the Jewish state’s society and institutions have won major prizes at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival at Park City, Utah.

“Sweet Mud,” or “Adama Meshugaat” in Hebrew, a top-grossing film in Israel, follows a 13-year-old boy coming of age in a 1970s kibbutz while coping with a mentally unstable mother. Director Dror Shaul was honored with the World Cinema Jury Prize for best drama film. It had been Israel’s entry for Oscar honors in the foreign-language film category but was not named among the five finalists.

“Hot House,” directed by Shimon Dotan, received a special jury prize in World Cinema Documentary competition at Sundance. The film depicts Israeli prisons as a breeding ground for future Palestinian leaders, as well as terrorists.

The Sundance awards illustrate both the festival’s growing role as a showcase for independent foreign films and Israel’s rising prestige in the world of cinema.

Last summer’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival, for instance, featured an Israel Day for the first time, with the screening of an unprecedented 15 Israeli films.Sundance gave one of its highest honors, the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary, to Jason Kohn, a young New York expatriate. In “Manda Bala” (“Send a Bullet”), his first feature-length work, Kohn explores the violence and corruption of Brazilian society.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Reich’s Pearls of Music

Disney Hall was packed for the West Coast premiere of “Daniel Variations” by composer Steven Reich.

As Reich, one of America’s greatest composers, watched from his perch in the control room, conductor Grant Gershon led the L.A. Master Chorale through the haunting, evocative work Reich wrote in honor of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Afterward, VIPs gathered in the Founders Room to honor Reich, who turned 70 this year. The composer, clad in black and wearing a signature baseball cap, spoke of the emotional pull the story of Daniel Pearl had for him.”I’m also a father,” he said.

Judea Pearl, speaking on behalf of his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Tamara, who were also in attendance, praised Reich’s “dark and exuberant” work, which was commissioned in part by the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

“I was totally impressed by how you expressed the darkness turning into hope,” he said.

Pearl, himself a musician, said he realized how Reich did this, by using violins to weave light, upbeat notes through the 20-minute work.

“I kept saying, ‘Danny, this is your humor,'” Pearl said.

— Staff Report

Pepperdine Connects Genocide and Religion

On July 6, 1941, Simon Wiesenthal was arrested with other Jews in the Ukraine and ordered to line up in rows to be shot by Nazi forces. The shooting lasted through the afternoon — but suddenly stopped when a church bell rang and the soldiers had to stop for prayers.

Wiesenthal’s life work as a Nazi hunter embodies issues such as these, at the crossroads between genocide and religion: justice, vengeance and forgiveness, justification and responsibility.

Now, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Pepperdine University School of Law will explore many of these issues in an upcoming conference, “Genocide and Religion: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Resisters,” on Feb. 11-13 at both the Wiesenthal Center and the Pepperdine campus in Malibu. The conference will explore all the components of genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries, beginning with Armenia and continuing today in Sudan. The conference will examine what role law should play in mediating this intersection between religion and genocide.

Speakers include Hebrew University professor Israel Charny, president of the International Association of Israel Scholars; Bruce Einhorn, U.S. immigration law judge, and Michael Bayzler, a Pepperdine Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law who was a fellow at Yad Vashem.

For more information, call (310) 506-7635.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Teen Readers and Writers Talk Shop

Teens and young adults, and authors who aspire to write for them, are invited to attend Sinai Temple’s “Focus on Young Adult/Teen Literature” conference, Sunday, Feb. 4, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. The panel of young adult authors will include Sarah Littman, Debra Garfinkle, Dana Reinhardt and Simone Elkeles, and will be moderated by Linda Silver, editor of New Jewish Valuesfinder. An afternoon program will feature an interactive historical survey of Jewish literature for children. Participants can shop at a children’s book sale and marketplace, or they can try to improve their own marketing by meeting with an editor available for manuscript consultations ($40 fee).

For reservations and information, call (313) 474-1518 or e-mail lsilverman@sinaitemple.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Bay Area takes on ‘progressive’ anti-Semitism


Three years ago, Jonathan Bernstein received an e-mail from a distraught political activist in the San Francisco Bay Area concerned about rising anti-Semitism among fellow political progressives.

“The growing acceptance of anti-Semitic rhetoric is so commonplace it is not even recognized as anti-Semitism,” wrote the activist, who went on to list a number of anti-Semitic incidents in her community that had left her rattled.

Despite her opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the woman had not attended a recent anti-war rally due to her reluctance to support the group organizing the protest.

“We’ve gotten calls for help like that almost weekly here for the last three years,” said Bernstein, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) office in San Francisco. “With each case we’ve helped put out fires by trying to get the right person to speak out about whatever the issue is.”

On Jan. 28 the ADL will try to do more than just douse fires when it convenes Finding Our Voice, a daylong conference in San Francisco aimed at empowering Jewish progressives to respond to anti-Semitism on the left.

Co-sponsored by more than 50 Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum — including the ADL, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Americans for Peace Now and the Jewish Labor Committee — the conference aims to empower participants to respond to what organizers describe as an alarming trend.

Workshops will feature presentations by university professors, community activists, elected officials and religious leaders. Among the titles are “That’s Not Funny: Cartoons and Editorials — What’s Legitimate and What Isn’t”; Opposing the War While Opposing Anti-Semitism”; “Breaking Through the Myth of Jewish Whiteness”; and “Using Positive Messages to Challenge Hate: Advocacy on the Campus.”

The keynote address will be presented by Anthony Julius, a British Jewish attorney who successfully defended Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt in the libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving.

While much attention has been paid to the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” in which antipathy toward Jews is masked as rabid criticism of Israel, the Finding Our Voice conference represents the first organized effort by liberal Jews to fight back.

A similar effort organized by non-Jews, Facing the Challenge Within, was launched in the Bay Area in 2004.

“Right now it seems that the best way to further progressive causes, and particularly a broader sense of how Jews can be active in peace causes, is to give progressive Jews the tools to constructively address anti-Semitism when it comes up in progressive circles,” said Rabbi Jane Litman, a Reform rabbi in Berkeley.

A lifelong progressive, Litman received death threats during Israel’s war last summer against Hezbollah in Lebanon. An exhibition dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a public arts center across the street from her synagogue included images Litman considered hateful, leading her to organize a counter-exhibition to show alternate, peace-oriented images.

“The progressive movement is about tolerance and justice and peace,” Litman said. “It seems so strange that hatefulness can have a home there.”

The left’s tolerance for anti-Jewish bigotry is considered strange by many progressive Jews in the Bay Area, who noticed a marked increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric following the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Several anti-war protests in San Francisco organized by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) featured imagery and slogans some considered anti-Semitic, including the burning of the Israeli flag, chants of support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Nazi-like arm salutes.

Conference participants say that while some of this activity reflects a sinister political agenda, much of it stems from ignorance of the complexity of the Middle East conflict.

Some say a tendency to project familiar tropes of imperialist aggression or American racial politics onto the conflict produces a simplistic narrative in which Jews are the “white” oppressors and Palestinians the “black” victims.

Julius calls the ignorance thesis “a touch naive,” believing instead that the problem stems from the failure of the socialist revolution and the search by disaffected leftists for a new cause.

“The 1967 war coincided with the collapse of the socialist project in Europe, and particularly in Eastern Europe,” Julius said. “And anti-Zionism in a way comes out of that collapse, out of a kind of sense of hopelessness of the project of human liberation. Anti-Zionism was the consolation prize to the defeated, disappointed socialists.”

Similarly, just as the anti-war movement has brought together anti-Israel groups with dejected socialists, the conference on anti-Semitism is uniting groups of varying political persuasions — a sign of broad community support for the project, but also a challenge for the organizers.

Some Jews on the left view groups like the ADL and AIPAC with skepticism, believing they deliberately blur the line between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. Others are staying away from the conference out of fear that association with it could cost them credibility in the progressive community.
“We’ve all had to break out of our comfort zones to put this together, including myself,” Bernstein said.

But for some, the ADL hasn’t broken out enough.

Two prominent Bay Area Jewish organizations active in the progressive movement — Tikkun and Jewish Voice for Peace — were not invited to co-sponsor the conference. Two others were invited to participate but declined, citing concerns about the agenda.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun and perhaps the most well-known Jewish progressive in the country, will be in Washington on the day of the conference protesting the Iraq war.

A spokesperson for Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal advocacy group working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said: “From our perspective, you cannot get to the roots of anti-Semitism in the progressive movement without honestly addressing the severe human-rights violations that Israel engages in every day. Judging by the lineup, that kind of honest examination is not likely to happen at this conference.”

A source involved in planning the conference said that it was precisely that type of discussion that organizers wanted to avoid out of concern that it would distract from the primary focus on Jewish oppression.
Certain groups were eliminated because their personalities might overshadow the conference, the source said.

“We were really trying to get a cross-section of the Jewish community there, and to do that we needed to be a little bit smart about who we invited,” Bernstein said. “I’m hopeful that once we get talking with each other and open up some channels of communication, then that umbrella can broaden and we’ll be able to pull every group in.”

Kabbalah boom prompts meeting of mystical minds


In Maui, at a New Age gift shop, a woman in a sarong pays for a candle in the shape of the Buddha, a bundle of sage used in Native American ceremonies and a copy of “Becoming Like God: Kabbalah and Our Ultimate Destiny,” by Michael Berg.

At a Baltimore bookstore, a young man wearing a cross around his neck pours over a copy of “Kabbalah for Dummies,” as he sips his Starbucks.

In Lilongwe, Malawi, a white woman ties a red wool string around the thin brown wrist of a young boy.

And the Web site at the Bnei Baruch World Center for Kabbalah Studies gets 2.5 million views a month, translated into 22 languages.

What was once shrouded in mystery and the exclusive domain of educated Jewish males over the age of 40 is now as accessible as the King James Bible. At the same time that more and more non-Jews unite to study and engage in some of Judaism’s most sacred and intimate texts, the schisms among Jews who draw upon the same teachings grow ever wider.

In light of this, the ever-expanding world of Kabbalah scholars are increasingly asking: What are the ramifications of Kabbalah becoming a universal spiritual path? Is there a way to keep it authentic and anchored to its Jewish roots?

These were some of the concerns that compelled Rabbi Yakov Travis of Tiferet Institute in Cleveland to orchestrate an unprecedented forum of rabbis, professors, authors, scholars and spiritual seekers with radically different approaches to Jewish mysticism. Travis is the founder and director of Tiferet Institute’s two-year home-based study program via Web conferencing, “Kabbalistic Spirituality: Principles, Pathways and Practices,” which is designed to foster a serious and stimulating learning community of kindred spirits across the country.

The forum, “Kabbalah for the Masses? The Promise and Problems in Mainstreaming Jewish Mysticism,” was held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego at the tail end of the Association for Jewish Studies annual meeting on Dec. 18 and 19, the fourth and fifth days of Chanukah.

The forum’s goal was to begin a constructive conversation on the contemporary phenomenon of mainstream Jewish mysticism. In a structured format, presentations by panelists were followed by respondents from the academic community, as well as an open question-and-answer session.

Included in the lineup of presenters was Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author of the novel, “Kabbalah: A Love Story”; Rabbi Berg of Los Angeles, heir to the Kabbalah Centre dynasty; and Tamar Frankiel, dean of students and professor of comparative religion at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles and author of “Kabbalah: A Brief Introduction for Christians.”

Also included were Mark Elber, author of “The Everything Kabbalah Book”; Arthur Kurzweil, author of “Kabbalah for Dummies”; Rabbi Pinchas Giller, professor of Kabbalah at University of Judaism; Rabbi Moshe Genuth of the Baal Shem Tov Center in Toronto; and Rabbi Wayne Dosick of San Diego’s Elijah Minyan.

In the realm of Kabbalah, time and space take on a whole new meaning, so it was appropriate that two of contemporary mystical Judaism’s most beloved and vibrant teachers — Rebbe Zalman Schachter Shalomi, one of the major founders of the Jewish Renewal Movement, and Rabbi Arthur Green, rector of Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School — were beamed in via live, interactive audio-video Web conferencing.

At a panel discussion on “Kabballah for Non-Jews?” speakers represented a variety of viewpoints. Whereas Giller sees the Kabbalah Centre as an answer to the declaration, “I am not religious, I am spiritual,” Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, professor of Jewish intellectual history at Arizona State University, accused Berg and the center of hawking spiritual wares, hedonism, self-centeredness and material secularism.

Berg’s response was that the center was many things to many people — that it is up to the individual to choose how deeply he will immerse himself in what the center offers.

“We don’t have to study Kabbalah or understand the Zohar [the pivotal texts of Kabbalah] to become better people,” he said.

“I wanted this forum to be as inclusive as possible, to bring all Jews to the table,” Travis said in his opening remarks. Then he half joked, “Even those that are wrong. Even those that have ideas that are the opposite of mine.”

When the laughter died down, he looked around the room.

“Where is the vision?” he asked. “If we want to be a light to the nations, we need to talk.”

There was not only talk but deep listening. There was also storytelling, laughter and an abundance of metaphors. Sparks flew, too. Rabbi Elliott Ginsburg described the experience of such a meeting of minds and hearts as “cognitive whiplash.”

On the subject of Madonna, which was inevitably raised, Kurzweil came to her defense.

“I’d like to defend Madonna,” he said. “The media have made it all a joke. She’s an easy target. Doesn’t she have the right to her own spiritual journey?”

However, most present seemed to hold Frankiel’s view that “it’s intellectually dishonest if someone presents Kabbalah as simply a universal philosophy and not as something essentially Jewish.”

Many of the 102 people at the forum arrived holding strong opinions and concerns about the Kabbalah Centre, with its slick marketing strategies, pop-culture appeal and “mercantile dimension,” yet this was the first opportunity they had to listen to and question Berg.

“If ever there was an occasion to recite the ‘Shehecheyanu,'” said Rachel Miller of Los Angeles, as she glanced at the list of presenters, “this is it.”

Although all the presenters were united by their passion for the study and practice of Kabbalah, the most observable differences lay in their approaches as to how Judaism’s most sacred and intimate teachings should be disseminated.

“The Bnei Noah movement is going to explode in the next 10 to 20 years,” said Genuth, referring to the growing number of Christians who, disillusioned with their religion, have found their way to Kabbalah through the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh and the new Ba’al Shem Tov Center in Toronto. Here, the “holiest of holies” is shared with non-Jews within the framework of the seven principles of the Covenant of Noah.

In the esoteric teachings of the Zohar, the work of Jewish mysticism, what you see is only a fraction of what really exists. And what exists at the Kabbalah Centre goes far beyond Madonna and the sale of red string, Berg said. His lineage dates back to Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (1885-1954), who believed that only Kabbalah can save the world from disaster.

Shoah Denial Conference: Damage Assessment


While world Jewry recovers from the shock of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust conference in Tehran, emotions are slowly giving way to analysis.

Why is Ahmadinejad pursuing this foolish crusade against the Holocaust? After all, even he must know that the Holocaust is one of the most documented events in human history and, hence, that denying its reality or even questioning its magnitude and significance is likely to end up in embarrassment. Why then is he so insistent?

The three main reasons analysts cite for Ahmadinejad’s obsession with the Holocaust are themselves questionable. We understand, of course, that by questioning the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad hopes to undermine what he believes was the main justification for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

We also accept Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria’s explanation that “Iran is seeking leadership in the Middle East, and what better way to do so than by appropriating the core grievance of the Sunni Arabs: Israel.”

Finally, Ahmadinejad clearly enjoys ridiculing what he sees as a European double-standard — criminalizing Holocaust deniers on the one hand and advocating free speech on the other.

But these reasons, if they are the real reasons, entail heavy risks for Ahmadinejad. First, a serious risk exists that driven by all the media attention, curious, bright youngsters in Iran and Arab countries will venture to dig into the vast evidence for the Holocaust and upon realizing its magnitude and veracity, begin to ask what other parts of history were purged from their state-controlled education.

Second, promoting the Palestinian cause through Holocaust denial tarnishes the former with all the absurdities of the latter, in much the same way that post-Sept. 11 conspiracy theories have discredited Muslims and weakened their claims.

Lastly, using Holocaust denial as an instrument for delegitimizing Israel may actually backfire. Columbia professor Joseph Massad argued (Al Ahram, 2004) that Arabs’ preoccupation with Holocaust denial creates the impression that the Holocaust, if it were true, suffices to justify the establishment of Israel. This, according to Massad, serves the Zionist agenda, hence, “All those in the Arab world who deny the Jewish Holocaust are in my opinion Zionists.”

My concerns lie elsewhere. I fear that as the buzz winds down and the dust settles, there will be only one thing remembered from the Holocaust Conference in Tehran: Israel and the Holocaust are one. That is, Israel owes its existence to one and only one factor: European guilt over the crime of the Holocaust. Once this is established, the next obvious question is: Why should the Palestinians pay for Europe’s crime?

We, of course, do not see things that way. For us, the State of Israel is the culmination of a long historical process of collective homecoming, not a rescue boat from the claws of Germany. While the Nazi genocide definitely accelerated that process, it did not initiate or redirect it.

The concepts of “Holy Land,” “Shivat Zion,” “Kibbutz Galuyot” — the ingathering of the exiles — three vital engines of Jewish history, are as old as Judaism itself. The majority of the 600,000 Jews who immigrated to Palestine prior to 1940 did not flee the Holocaust nor did the 580,000 Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries in the early 1950s.

Jews are generally aware of the immutable connection between Eretz Israel and Jewishness. We know deep down that Shimon Peres is not less indigenous to the Land of Canaan than, say, Mahmoud Abbas. Yet, we seem unwilling to openly assert it.

Take the movie, “Munich,” for example, written and produced by two educated Jewish artists. While a Palestinian terrorist in the movie is shown yearning for his father’s orchard, you will be wasting your time combing the script for a hint that Israeli society has any clue why they are in Israel and not, say, in Uganda. Tony Kushner knows why; he also knows that every Israeli knows why, yet he apparently did not feel comfortable enough to articulate it anywhere in his script.

I see a similar pattern in the criticism of the Holocaust Conference in Tehran. I hear tons of well-deserved condemnations of Ahmadinejad for orchestrating such an offensive conference but not one voice saying: Hey man! What a waste of time. We don’t need a Shoah to justify a Jewish state on that sliver of land. Our history was born there, and our collective consciousness has remained there.

The main danger that I see emerging from Ahmadinejad’s conference is that the international community, busy to rectify his misconceptions about the Holocaust, would ignore, and in fact mimic, his wanton disregard of the historical, national and religious ties that bind the Jewish people to their ancient land.

They ought to be reminded, and Ahmadinejad has given us a stage to do so.


Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation

Los Angeles mom pleads for life of son kidnapped in Iran


“Why is the world so silent — why are Jews so silent about the plight of Jews being held captive in Iran?” Elana Tehrani, an Iranian-born Jewish woman now living in Los Angeles asked a crowd during a speech at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills.

Tehrani believes her son is being held captive in Iran, and after 12 years of trying to quietly work through channels, she and 11 other families — who also believe their loved ones are in the same situation — have filed suit against Iran’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, in U.S. Federal Court. They are asking that the U.S. courts hold Khatami responsible for the kidnapping, imprisonment and disappearance of loved ones between 1994 and 1997.

“As a citizen of the United States,” Tehrani said at a rally in New York, “I ask that President Bush and those in Congress help me retrieve my son from the hands of the Islamic Republic!”

Tehrani began speaking out on Sept. 20 before a crowd of more than 30,000 people who were gathered outside the United Nations in New York for a rally organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presence at the United Nations. With her were Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, U.S. senators, national Jewish leaders and Israeli officials.

“I was hoping that from this rally … the world would become more aware of this issue,” she told The Journal in an interview from her West Los Angeles home. “But I don’t know why there was no media coverage of it anywhere, and no one said another word about it since.”

She believes her son, Babak, was kidnapped and imprisoned by Iranian secret police while trying to flee Iran in 1994.

“We have been trying for the last 12 years to get our sons back, but since we have not heard anything about their status after all these years, we were forced to take this action against Mr. Khatami,” Tehrani said. “We want to tell the world that with every day that passes by, we will pursue this issue more and more, until the Islamic Republic of Iran gives us answers”.

A homemaker who also works with her husband in their downtown L.A. shoe store, Tehrani said doctors have told her she has developed glaucoma as a result of excessive crying.She said she has developed a closer bond with her two other sons, who also live in Los Angeles, and an inner strength from praying three times a day.

“I refuse to give up on Babak and give up hope that he’s still alive,” Tehrani said. “We have witnesses that have seen him, and I will not stop looking for my child until he is back in my arms.”

Tehrani said her worst nightmare became a reality on June 8, 1994, when Babak, then 17, and his 20-year-old friend, Shaheen Nikkhoo, attempted to secretly leave Tehran. Because they were the age of military conscription, leaving the country was illegal. The two boys, both Jewish, arrived with their smuggler, Atta Mohammed Rigi, in the southeastern city of Zahedan, near the Pakistani border. Witnesses saw them being arrested there by non-uniformed Iranian secret police, Tehrani said.

Leaders from the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), a Los Angeles umbrella group of Iranian Jewish organizations, have made quiet diplomatic efforts for the last 12 years to help secure the release of Babak Tehrani and the other imprisoned Jews. Six years ago some activists in the Iranian Jewish community, among them George Haroonian and Frank Nikbakht, became so unhappy with the IAJF’s lack of progress, that they began to pursue a more vocal public approach in attempting to secure the release of the prisoners.

IAJF leaders have long advocated minimizing criticism of Tehran’s regime out of fear of retributions against the approximately 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. Despite internal differences of opinion, the various factions within the local Iranian Jewish community recently banded together in support of victims’ families’ lawsuit.

“Our entire community is united in demanding the immediate release of these individuals and will support any legal and moral course of action that their families may choose to pursue,” the group said in a statement released by the IAJF.

In 2000, with the assistance of various American Jewish groups, the Iranian Jewish community spread news of the case of 13 Iranian Jews from the city of Shiraz who had been imprisoned in 1999 on fabricated charges of spying for Israel. Ultimately the international exposure put pressure on the Iranian regime, prevented the execution of the “Shiraz 13,” and they were eventually released.

Babak Tehrani was last seen in 1996, according to Fereidoon Peyman, an Iranian Jew who was the Tehranis’ neighbor in Iran and who now lives in Los Angeles. In a sworn affidavit given to the Tehrani family, Peyman said that in 1996 he visited Tehran’s infamous Evin prison while attempting to sell land nearby to prison officials. While there, he stated, he saw Babak.

“As I was walking, a jail cell with a window caught my eye, I went forward and I saw several youths who were sitting on the floor,” Peyman stated in his affidavit. “The poor kids, including one whom I knew particularly since he was my daughter’s classmate and whose name was Babak.”

Evin prison is a maximum-security prison allegedly used by the Iranian government to house and torture political dissidents, student protesters, journalists and anyone else believed to pose a threat to the Iranian regime, Nikbakht said.

Experts familiar with Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic laws say such a long imprisonment of Babak Tehrani and the other 11 Jews is highly unusual for an attempted escape from the country and could be politically motivated. According to Chapter 11, Article 34 of Iran’s official Criminal Laws and Regulations, punishment for illegal exit from the country is either a fine or a prison term ranging from two months to a maximum of two years.

Babak’s father, Joseph Tehrani, said he was particularly disappointed with the lack of support and assistance from the Israeli government for the plight of his son and the other imprisoned Iranian Jews.

Don’t dismiss Iran Holocaust conference as harmless fringe elements


Even Borat, the bumblingly anti-Semitic comic character, could not have contrived a more absurd and utterly offensive assemblage: David Duke, erstwhile Imperial
Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, alongside Robert Faurisson, the French pseudo-academic who argues that the Holocaust never happened, accompanied for dramatic effect by a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews whose anti-Zionist fanaticism motivates them to desecrate the memory of millions of murdered Jews.

On Monday and Tuesday, they and other likeminded sociopaths “debated” at the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran whether or not my grandparents and my 5 1/2-year-old brother were gassed at Auschwitz. And the sponsors of the “International Conference on ‘Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision'” are the very folks James Baker and Lee Hamilton, authors of a recent re-evaluation of U.S. policy in Iraq, want to enlist to stabilize the Middle East.

Other participants in this perversion included Australian socialite Michele Renouf, who explained that anti-Semitism is caused by “the anti-gentile nature of Judaism,” and Rabbis Moishe Arye Friedman from Austria and Ahron Cohen from England, who strutted through the conference halls and gladly posed for the cameras.

Friedman told the press that he believes that only about 1 million Jews perished in the Holocaust, and Cohen declared that he does not consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who sponsored the conference and who has called frequently for the Jewish state to be destroyed, an anti-Semite.

The Tehran reunion of misfits demonstrates conclusively why the Ahmadinejad government cannot be allowed anywhere near responsible political endeavors of any kind. If the international community ostracized South Africa during apartheid and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it should isolate present-day Iran in the most remote diplomatic Siberia imaginable.

Ahmadinejad has made it clear that his espousal of Holocaust denial is a pretext for his desire to destroy the State of Israel. In response, a group of Iranian students showed tremendous moral courage by publicly demonstrating against their president, burning his picture and protesting the “shameful conference” which, in the words of one student, “brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world.”

In contrast, the reaction of the U.S. government was surprisingly, even shockingly, subdued. Substantially after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Tony Blair all sharply condemned the Tehran conference, the White House issued a statement calling the event an “affront to the entire civilized world” and accusing the Iranian regime of providing “a platform for hatred.”

President Bush, however, has not personally spoken out on the subject, relegating his administration’s response to an institutional press release. The man who usually never misses an opportunity to bash one of the charter members of his Axis of Evil seems to have developed laryngitis.

So, apparently, have Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their failure to use their bully pulpit on this occasion not only plays into Ahmadinejad’s hands, but serves to empower Holocaust deniers generally.

Why does the Tehran conference have ominous significance? Because Duke, who managed to get 43 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful 1990 U.S. Senate campaign from Louisiana, will now be able to tell students at colleges in heartland America with a straight face that his contention that there were never any gas chambers has international academic and institutional support. And because the noxious views emanating from the podium in Tehran are hardly unique.

Pat Buchanan, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and now a well-paid television commentator, would have fit in perfectly. He once wrote that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of Treblinka and has referred to a “so-called Holocaust-survivor syndrome” which he described as involving “group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.”

Professor Deborah Lipstadt has long maintained that while we should never engage Holocaust deniers in debate, we must nevertheless expose them at every opportunity. The Tehran conference is not just another gathering of skinheads in some obscure beer cellar; it is a government-sponsored effort to evoke and manipulate the darkest, most heinous impulses in society.

Every single one of us, from the president of the United States on down, must repudiate this inexorable obscenity publicly, unambiguously and in person.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

U.S. Jewish Population Rising; California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact


U.S. Jewish Population Rising?

The new American Jewish Yearbook reports that there are 6.4 million Jews in the United States. That’s significantly more than the 5.2 million figure provided by the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study.

The yearly survey, published by the American Jewish Committee, is based on a tally of individual Jewish communities across the country. According to the survey, 2.2 percent of the American population is Jewish. New York has the largest Jewish population of any state with 1,618,000, followed by California with 1,194,000, Florida with 653,000 and New Jersey with 480,000, the AJCommittee said in a release.

California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact

The state of California and the state of Israel have jointly established a commission to encourage their citizens to visit each other, proving again that the Golden State is big enough to conduct its own foreign policy. At a recent ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Isaac Herzog, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, signed an agreement launching the California-Israel Tourism Commission. Both credited Los Angeles-based media mogul Haim Saban for the initiative to establish the commission.

During the ceremony, Schwarzenegger recalled that he has visited Israel three times, first as a body builder, then to open his Planet Hollywood restaurant in Tel Aviv and last year for the groundbreaking of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

No breakdown was available on the number of Californians visiting Israel, or Israelis visiting California, however, the latest figures from Israeli tourism officials showed that between January-September of this year, 1.5 million tourists came to Israel, of whom 400,000 were Americans. In 2005, Israel had 2 million visitors, among them 533,000 Americans.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Iran Hosts Holocaust Deniers Conference

The Iranian government held a conference of Holocaust deniers and skeptics this week, a discussion of whether 6 million Jews actually were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

A report in The New York Times quoted the opening speech by Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies, which organized the event, saying that the conference would allow discussion “away from Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them in Europe.”

Speakers at the event include David Duke, the American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in France over his denials of the Holocaust, the Times reported.

— Staff Report

Seattle Rabbi Regrets Xmas Tree Removal

A Chabad rabbi in Seattle expressed regret that his request to add a menorah to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport’s display of Christmas trees resulted in the trees’ removal.

“I am devastated, shocked and appalled at the decision that the Port of Seattle came to,” Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Pacific Northwest said in Monday’s Seattle Times.

Last week, Bogomilsky’s attorney Harvey Grad threatened the port with a lawsuit after not receiving a response to a request, first made in October, to install an 8-foot menorah, which Bogomilsky offered to supply.

Port Commissioner Pat Davis told the Times that the commission had not heard about the request until Dec. 7, the day before Grad was to head to court.

An airport spokesperson said it was decided to take down the trees because the airport, preparing for its busiest season, did not have time to accommodate all the religions that would have wanted a display.

The removal resulted in a firestorm of criticism, much of it directed at Bogomilsky, who said he never wanted to see the trees removed.

Thousands March for Hezbollah

Hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hezbollah marched in downtown Beirut Sunday to demand that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora either cede some government power to the terrorist group and its allies or resign, The Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah has been pressing for increased power since its war with Israel over the summer. Lebanese troops Sunday sealed off Siniora’s compound, as well as the roads nearby. Siniora and most of his ministers have stayed in the complex since Dec. 1, when Hezbollah launched massive protests aimed at toppling Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Senate Approves Red ‘Crystal’

The U.S. Senate certified the Red “Crystal,” paving the way for Magen David Adom’s acceptance into the International Red Cross’ bodies. The Red Cross approved the symbol which resembles a playing card diamond earlier this year, ending a decades-long shutout of non-Muslim and non-Christian groups such as Israel’s first responder, which rejected using the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols as inappropriate. The Red Cross had also rejected the Star of David symbol used by MDA.

The Senate’s certification last Friday, the last day of Congress, protects the symbol’s copyright and follows similar legislation passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Israeli Hostages Said Wounded

Two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah since July were seriously wounded during their capture, security sources said. Israeli security sources last week quoted a declassified military report that said bloodstains and other evidence gathered at the site of the July 12 border raid in which Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were seized showed the hostages were seriously wounded.

To survive, the sources said, the two army reservists would have required immediate medical attention, something that may not have been available in the custody of the Lebanese terrorist group.

Hezbollah has refused to provide information on the captives’ condition, saying it would only release them as part of a swap for Arabs held in Israeli jails. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out a swap on Hezbollah’s terms unless the terrorist group provides information on the soldiers’ health. The captives’ families criticized the release of forensic details from the raid.

“I think this may be an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to lower pressure to get the kidnapped soldiers freed,” Regev’s brother, Benny, told Israel Radio.

U.S., Israeli officials see conflicting Iraq study ideas


American and Israeli government officials agree on two things: Iraq has nothing at all to do with Israeli-Arab issues.

Except when it does.

From President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on down, the leadership of the Israeli and U.S. governments are simultaneously embracing and rebuffing last week’s conclusions of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, which makes Israeli-Arab peace progress a linchpin of a successful outcome in Iraq. The crux of their argument is that while it is wrong to blame the Israeli-Arab impasse for any part of the crisis in Iraq, actors in that crisis — chief among them Iran and its allies — are successfully using Israel as a justification for raising the stakes in Iraq.

“We do this not because we are persuaded by some linkage or another, but because it is in the U.S. national interest,” David Welch, the top U.S. State Department envoy to the Middle East, said Friday of U.S. involvement in Arab-Israeli peace when he addressed the Saban Forum, an annual colloquy of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Another Bush administration official put it more bluntly: “Palestine is not a relevant issue to Iraq, but it is an issue exploited by Iran and extremists throughout the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab-Israeli peace talks would have a “positive, emboldening effect,” the official said. “If progress among Israel and the Palestinians is manifested, then moderates throughout the region win and extremists lose.”

Conversely, the official said, “We believe that a success in Iraq, a success for moderates against forces of extremism, whether secular or religious, will have a very significant impact in the region, in Syria, in Lebanon, as well as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Bush administration has welcomed Olmert’s recent overture to the Palestinians, in which he promised a release of prisoners and increased mobility, should a cease-fire hold and the Palestinians prove themselves able to present a negotiating team that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s existence.

Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president, has all but given up on such concessions from the Cabinet, led by the terrorist Hamas group, and has proposed new elections.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, said at the Saban Forum that Israel and the West should encourage alternatives to the Hamas government, although she did not elaborate.

Bush launched a weeklong review of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on Monday, starting with meetings with top State Department officials. Later in the week he was to have met with outside experts, top U.S. diplomats in the region and top military brass.

His primary concern about the report is its deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. Bush has steadfastly resisted timetables until now. However, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is scheduled to tour the region, Bush suggested that he embraces the report’s Iraq-Israeli-Palestinian linkage, counting it as one of three ways to move the Iraq process forward.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to be solved,” the president said.

That’s music to the ears of Blair and other Europeans. They enthusiastically welcomed the recommendations of the commission headed by James Baker, secretary of state for Bush’s father, and Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana Democratic congressman.

“The German government shares many of the political observations in the report,” a statement from the German Embassy in Washington said last week on the eve of a U.S. visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The entire Middle East region must move into the international community’s scope. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance.”

Such views were hardly welcome at the Saban Forum, where the Iraq Study Group’s report lent an anxious irritability to the weekend proceedings. The Saban Center, a Brookings Institution subsidiary funded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, attracts top names to its annual colloquies. Last year’s was in Jerusalem.

“The Iraqi conflict has very little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” Yuli Tamir, Israel’s education minister, said during a break from the conference’s closed sessions. “I don’t think it’s relevant — it’s a good justification but not a reason.”

On Sunday, Olmert, who had earlier suggested that he disagrees with the report’s conclusions, ordered his Cabinet not to comment on it, saying it was an internal American affair.

Livni did not mention the Baker-Hamilton report by name, but its conclusions were clearly the focus of her keynote address at a gala State Department dinner last Friday.

“There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East; that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region,” Livni said. “So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism.”

Nevertheless, in the same speech Livni was preoccupied by how Iran would fare in the Iraq crisis — and what a success by its Shiite Muslim protégés in Iraq would bode for Israel and the region.

“The idea of spreading Shiism all over the region is a threat not only to Israel but the region itself,” she said, citing efforts by the Hezbollah terrorist group to topple Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Bush expressed wariness about the commission’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria. He was adamant that those countries are out of bounds until they stop backing terrorists. If Syria and Iran are “not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up” to a regional conference on Iraq, he said after meeting with Blair.

Iran’s ambitions dominated much of the Saban Forum. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke darkly of the possibility of war in a Saturday panel with former President Bill Clinton.

“Iran’s strength derives from the weakness of the international community,” Peres said. “If there was an international coalition, there would be no need to go to war against Iran, and Iran would return to its natural dimensions.”

Israel backs U.S. and European efforts to sanction Iran until it gives up enriching uranium, a step toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Peres described a range of options to prevent Iran’s nuclearization: monitoring its missiles with nuclear warhead capability, economic sanctions, limiting its oil production and assisting regime change.

It happened one weekend … at the Sisterhood


“Something happens,” I was told across the “first timers” table Nov. 2 at BJ’s Restaurant in Woodland Hills. “When these women get together. I can’t explain it, but
something happens.”

The get-together was the 46th annual Biennial Assembly of the Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) Pacific District (that’s the West Coast, plus Hawaii, Alaska and Vancouver). The woman talking to me was Sylvia Rose of University Synagogue in Los Angeles. She had a name badge around her neck that displayed a ribbon sporting a plethora of colored stickers — YES Fund (Youth, Education, Service), WUPJ (World Union of Progressive Judaism), JBI (Jewish Braille Institute) — symbolizing some of the myriad programs sponsored by the sisterhoods of WRJ. By the end of that weekend at the Woodland Hills Hilton, Rose would be inducted as one of six vice presidents for 2006-2008.

I looked around the party room 40 of us had taken over for the evening at a preassembly function. I was without question the youngest in the room (if you exclude the wait staff). At 28, I was the youngest person at the conference; as co-vice president of membership for my sisterhood, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, I am the youngest woman on our board.

While my peers might have been spending their weekend partying, going to see “Borat” or enjoying a day at the beach, I was learning Torah, voting on policy changes and teaching women twice my age how to increase their sisterhood’s membership.

And I loved every minute of it!

I kept hearing over and over again that this “wasn’t your mother’s sisterhood” (of course, every time I heard that, I looked at the next table where my grandmother — the “e-mail chair” and former president of our sisterhood — was sitting).

I joined my sisterhood five years ago, after attending a sukkah party with my grandmother. Like most women who shared their experiences at the assembly, I started small — I volunteered my time on a committee. I was involved in a Jewish sorority in college and saw sisterhood as the next step up — minus the keggers, rush week and homecoming. So I went to some meetings, which led to more meetings, and today I co-chair that committee.

The women whom I now consider my good friends at first thought of me as “Char’s granddaughter from Chicago.” Now she’s known as “Shoshana’s grandma.”

The face of sisterhood is changing, yet a stigma remains. For all of the efforts of these articulate, intelligent, hard-working women, the word “sisterhood” still brings up images of old ladies wearing aprons as they set up the Shabbat Kiddush. It probably doesn’t help to point out to my contemporaries that all of the district officers inducted at the meeting were my mother’s age or older.

When I suggest joining sisterhood to my friends, who are in their 20s and 30s, they tell me they’ll join sisterhood “later” — and they come up with a slew of reasons why they don’t want to join now. But I’ve never been one to take no for an answer.

Complaint: I don’t have anything in common with these women.
Answer: How do you know unless you meet them? Our youngest member is 15; she and her mother are good friends of mine. Our oldest member is 95; she’s also a friend of mine.

Complaint: How will I meet guys my age hanging out at a sisterhood?
Answer: Um, hello. These women are mothers and grandmothers who have Jewish sons, grandsons and nephews.

Complaint: The programs are so boring. I don’t want to just sit around listening to speakers.
Answer: So join and change it. Our sisterhood has a group of young mothers of children in preschool and religious school who recently sponsored a bra fitting at Nordstrom before the store opened to shoppers — and brought in an OB/GYN to talk about breast cancer awareness.

Complaint: I don’t have time to be involved.
Answer: Really? Well can you make a phone call, fold an invitation or send out an e-mail? Bet you can.

Sisterhood is not for everyone: People who can’t stand other people won’t like it. But that’s about it.

These women offer an arm when you’ve twisted your ankle and a shoulder to cry on when you get bad news. They bring food when you can’t leave the house and tell jokes when you need a good laugh. They’ll argue with you when you want a good fight and support you 100 percent when you feel that no one else will. They raise money to send rabbis to school and to send Jewish kids to Jewish camps; they help the infrastructure of their synagogues and that of synagogues around the world.

WRJ is also the predominant sponsor of the new Women’s Torah Commentary that is being published next year (I saw a preview of the Chayei Sarah segment, and it looks awesome).

By Saturday, I wore an small Torah pin I had purchased at the “Faire and Share,” in support of the YES Fund. But I’m very proud that I join the ranks of those name-badge-wearing sisters who came before me.

Sylvia was right: These women get together and something happens. But I can’t really describe it either — I guess it is something you’ll have to see for yourself.

FYI: We’re taking over San Diego in December 2007.

GA taps into passion, will, power of the people


Perhaps it was the civilian, Karnit Goldwasser, who said it most clearly: “There are so many powerful and important people gathered together here. Together, we must raise up our voices.”

Goldwasser’s specific intent was to urge the thousands of Jewish leaders and a cadre of Israeli ministers present at the United Jewish Communities 75th annual General Assembly to keep up the pressure to rescue her husband, Ehud, who was kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists in July along with two other Israeli soldiers.

But in a larger sense, tapping into the power of the collective passion, will and resources of the Jewish establishment was at the heart of this year’s GA, which had as its highlight an address Tuesday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The event concluded on Wednesday after four days at the downtown Los Angeles Convention Center.

The GA brings together federation leaders and representatives of just about every Jewish organization in North America and Israel for a combination trade show, policy conference and marathon pep rally. Officials said the event attracted 5,000 participants and volunteers — protected by a hypervigilant private security battalion and a phalanx of LAPD officers — making this the largest GA since the 2003 gathering in Jerusalem.

GA officials would not say how much the event cost, but The Los Angeles Federation estimated it expended about $200,000 in staff time and hard costs, money that leaders have been saving since they began planning the L.A. GA 13 years ago.

The mood was dark at many of the plenaries, which focused on the threats to Israel, the international fear of Islamic fundamentalism and the specter of a nuclear Iran.

Speakers from the prime minister on down, at numerous sessions and speeches, hammered home the point that Israel’s first and foremost security threat was a nuclear-armed Iran ruled by a president who has declared his intention to “wipe Israel off the map.”

“We in the intelligence community are willing to pay billions of dollars to learn what our enemies are thinking,” Israel’s Intelligence Minister Avi Dikter told an audience at a Tuesday panel with Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. “The president of Iran is putting it on the table free of charge.”

The GA’s theme, “Together on the Frontline: One People, One Destiny,” emphasized Israel’s security, politics and relationship with the Diaspora. Yet in addition to the spotlight on Israel, more than 150 organizational exhibitors and 60 sessions cut a wide swath through Jewish life, highlighting issues such as reaching out to family caregivers, raising young philanthropists and innovations in Jewish education.

Speaking at the opening plenary, Goldwasser’s anguished but unfathomably poised plea to Israel and the international community to keep attention on the abducted soldiers brought choked-up delegates in the enormous exhibition hall to their feet. It was a moment of emotion that speaks to why a GA is important: Being in a room with so many people who are so moved by the same thing ignites a passion and energy that reminds people that Jews belong to each other.

“It’s a remarkable ingathering of all of these people, where we have an opportunity to share ideas and talk and teach each other,” said Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles. “I’m not sure there are too many moments of this magnitude where you can get a sense of Jewish peoplehood the way you do here.”

This year brought an unprecedented six Israeli Knesset members and six Cabinet ministers — including Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — and dignitaries such as French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy and Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria.

The star power was also on hand with appearances by the likes of Mare Winningham, Jeff Goldblum and Jon Voight and Jewish musical favorites Debbie Friedman and Mike Burstyn. But what the conference was for was pumping up leaders for another year of raising both Jewish consciousness and philanthropic dollars. The networking over dinner and in organizational receptions and the casual contacts made on the perennially snaking line to the Starbucks in the Convention Center lobby were just as key to strengthening the Jewish network as the official program.

A highlight was the sold-out Monday night show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, with a Yiddish theater revue and selections from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music.

Before the war with Hezbollah this summer, the theme of the GA was “Be With the Stars,” a Hollywood-esque way of highlighting the community’s major players and programs, as well as looking to the future stars — the next generation of leaders.

But the upbeat star theme gave way to the more earnest “Together on the Frontline: One People, One Destiny,” focusing on Israel and international Jewry’s responsibility for and relationship with Israel.

“The program really touched on topics and issues that were on people’s minds. We focused on what people are thinking about, and we had overflow crowds,” said Glenn Rosenkrantz, director of media affairs at UJC.

The organization, which last year raised $3 billion among all the federations, has raised $350 million for Israel since the war this summer (which probably explains the presence of the 12 Israeli politicians).

Many participants interviewed said they were glad to have the chance to more deeply understand what feels like an existential crisis.

John Fishel, president of The Los Angeles Federation, said he understood and supported the decision to focus on Israel but regretted some of the compromises that had to be made.

“I guess I would have preferred more of a balance in terms of some of the domestic issues,” said Fishel, the conference’s host and go-to guy for all sorts of situations. “The Federation’s mandate is not only Israel or overseas projects, it is about local and domestic issues, whether that be public policy, service delivery or discussions about Jewish identity and innovations in Jewish education,” he said.

It also meant that sessions that had been scheduled to feature local Jewish organizations ended up being pushed aside.