Life on the Jerusalem homefront

It is that time of year. I am on my bi-annual pilgrimage to Israel. For the past fourteen years, I have come at least annually, most of the time bi-annually and sometimes three or four times a year. I love it here. I get a spiritual lift; I see friends; sometimes I even take a friendly swim in the Mediterranean.

As it happens, today I am in Jerusalem. I do as I often do. I get up, grab a coffee and make my way to the Old City. It is a crisp morning, I walk through Jaffa Gate and everything is normal. Workers take out the trash, small children play and tourists take selfies. I was seeing an old friend when I got a panicked text: “Terrorist attack in Old City.” At that moment, I was sitting in the Rova; to me it is likely the single best pedestrian square in the world. There’s no terrorism here. Birds are chirping, kids are playing and yes, tourists walk by with phones attached to long poles.

But of course, only a few hundred yards away, there was a terrorist attack. Three people were stabbed; two civilians are dead; two terrorists also dead. It happened where I had been only minutes earlier. I am left with a conundrum.

Danger is strange. Until one is directly confronted with it, danger is a state of mind. At that very moment, I was in absolutely no danger. I was sitting in a calm, peaceful, loving pedestrian square. Everything around me was familiar – the epitome of safety. But am I safe? Only steps from here, minutes earlier, terror. This is an event I would have read about 10,000 miles away, but it is happening in front of my eyes. Yet, I don’t see it. I only see birds, kids and tourists. What does this mean? How do I behave? How does this affect me? Is this even real?

The way I see it, I have three choices:  1. Go home. 2. Stay inside. 3. Continue as though this isn’t a concern.

1. In the United States terrorism doesn’t affect us there the way it does here… or does it? I live in Los Angeles. We have terrible crime, but really, I don’t see it. It happens on the other side of the city. There are gang wars and gang initiations and theft and vandalism and lots of crime. But that doesn’t scare us like terrorism. Crime is somehow controlled, anticipated. Terrorism is random and that sort of random violence doesn’t really affect us – until three weeks ago. San Bernardino a sleepy town, completely off the radar screen, was hit, 14 people murdered and many more injured. Clearly, going home has no logic.

2. But staying inside? Really? What’s the purpose of being across the globe if I am going to be locked inside an apartment or a hotel lobby. That is not why I came all the way here.

3. Carry on – clearly this is the only option that makes sense.

In the digital age, it is bizarre that something as analogue as a knife should engender so much fear. In fact, I believe it is the actual low-fi nature of a knife that makes it so terrifying. Stabbing someone with a knife is personal – you have to get up close. It is brutal – it requires personal force. It exposes the ultimate in vulnerability – a blade goes for the soft under-belly. Anyone who wields a knife with deadly purpose has to get close, so that means, they have to look normal. Anyone who looks like a terrorist will be ineffective – the victim will see him/her coming and will move away. A knife from ten feet away can’t do too much damage. That means that a terrorist using a knife looks like a friend.

This is the real terror. In a world where people are dying from knife attacks, can we really trust anyone? This is the terror. It is the deterioration of trust, of neighbors, of goodwill.

I am not leaving Israel. Even as an American, this is my country. I refuse to surrender my trust or my vacation to nefarious forces. What is most amazing about Israel and Jerusalem in particular, is that they continue on. Admittedly, I am now hyper aware of everyone around me, but I will still go to my favorite places like the shuk, even if it means I will be deep in crowds. I will not allow my life to be driven by fear.

Hebrew word of the week: Sakkanah

The English word “danger” comes from French, strangely related to Latin dominus “lord, master, dominant, one with power to harm.” Hebrew sakkanah is of obscure origin, possibly related to sakkin “knife.” The root s-k-n “to be dangerous”* appears only once in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 10:9) but is common in rabbinical literature.

Other related words: sikkun “risk, danger” (opposite of sikkuy “chance, prospect”); mesukkan “dangerous”; histaknut “risking, endangering oneself”; rabbinical sakkanat-nefashot, now more often called sakkanat-mavet/Hayyim “life-threatening; danger to life.”

*Apparently of a different origin from s-k-n “be in a habit of,” as in (Balaam’s donkey’s speech): Hasken hiskanti “Have I been in the habit (of doing so)?” (Numbers 22:30).

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Iran closer to attaining nuclear weapon than previously thought, new intelligence reveals

New intelligence information obtained by Israel and four Western countries indicates that Iran has made greater progress on developing nuclear weapons than the West had previously realized, according to Western diplomats and Israeli officials who are closely involved in efforts to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

A Western diplomat who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence information said the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Israel agree on that assessment.

According to the source, this assessment began to take shape in February, when Iran refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the base at Parchin, where it is believed Iran is carrying out part of the research and development of its military nuclear program. Visits of IAEA inspectors in Iran, and especially revelations of information the Iranians had been trying to hide, intensified suspicions that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons at a faster pace than it had previously seemed.


Unrest in Syria presents Israel with potential dangers and opportunities

With the turmoil rocking the Middle East now threatening the regime in Syria, Israel faces potentially grave dangers and huge opportunities.

The dangers are clear: The emergence of a more radical regime in Syria could mean a stronger Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis. Iran could get direct access to its allies in Lebanon through a Syrian regime that’s even friendlier toward Tehran. Syria’s huge stockpiles of missiles and chemical weapons could fall into the wrong hands. The unrest on Israel’s doorstep could spread to the West Bank and to Jordan. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s more radical successors could use a conflict with Israel to build domestic legitimacy.

Against all that, a huge opportunity is opening up for positive regional change if Syria’s incumbent president or a more moderate successor regime is spurred by this unrest to turn to the West with a program of democratic reforms and a call for economic aid to make it work. That would mean a severe weakening of the Iranian axis and an opening for peacemaking with Israel.

Given the possibilities, the Israelis aren’t sure whether to hope for the fall of Assad or not.

Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and one of Israel’s leading experts on Syria, says that if Assad falls, the big losers will be Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

So far, Iran has been one of the main beneficiaries of the regional turmoil, Rabinovich noted in a column in Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot. Iran’s rival in Egypt was toppled from power; Shiite allies have staged an uprising in Bahrain; the pressure on rival Saudi Arabia’s regime is growing—and it’s all deflecting world attention away from Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

But if a new Western-leaning regime in Damascus were to emerge, that would be a huge blow to Iran’s regional ambitions. To prevent that, Iran might press Assad to escalate tensions with Israel in an attempt to unify the Syrian people against a common enemy, Rabinovich and others have warned.

But Israeli government officials say it’s unlikely that the unrest in Syria will spill over into new cross-border hostilities.

“The probability of Assad heating up the northern border to divert attention from his domestic troubles is not high,” Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel Radio. He added that the turmoil in the Arab world presents not only dangers, but also opportunities; he did not elaborate.

Most Israeli-Syrian experts believe that Assad’s chances of retaining power are good.

Hebrew University’s Moshe Maoz, author of several books on Syria, said that although the Alawite minority community from which Assad hails numbers only about 13 percent of Syria’s population, it has firm control over the levers of state power, especially the armed forces.

“Like his father, Bashar Assad has carefully placed his own people everywhere,” Maoz told JTA. “And although there are Alawites who see themselves as Bashar’s enemies, they fear the moment he falls they could be subject to massacre by the Sunni majority.”

Although the Muslim Brotherhood is the most well-organized potential opposition force in Syria, Maoz says it does not have the wherewithal for a successful rebellion.

“They can preach rebellion in the mosques, but they don’t have the arms to carry it out,” he said. “There is no military force in Syria that could seriously challenge the army, over which Bashar has absolute control. And I don’t see Bashar giving in and stepping down without a fight. For him it is a battle for survival for the family, the tribe, the sect.”

There are other factors working in Assad’s favor.

For one thing, no clear opposition group or leader has emerged. For another, young people in Syria have been subject to years of pro-regime indoctrination, and Assad is not universally hated the way some of the other Arab autocrats are (or were). The Assads even created special Koran schools to make the Alawite faith more palatable to the Sunni majority.

This is why Assad’s carrot-and-stick policy actually could work, Maoz said. Assad is offering far-reaching reforms, such as canceling the 1963 emergency law and allowing the formation of political parties, while at the same time using the armed forces to keep the protesters at bay. So far, dozens have been killed.

Assad is unlikely to go to war with Israel because he knows it would be disastrous for Syria and for his regime, Maoz said. “Assad has his own military calculus. He is not under Iran’s thumb,” he added.

Indeed, Maoz believes the unrest could drive Assad toward the West to better meet the new demands of the Syrian people.

“If he remains in power, he might take a more pragmatic approach, looking for Western economic aid and for negotiations with Israel to get back the Golan, which is important to him for strategic and emotional reasons,” Maoz said.

Alon Liel, chairman of the Israel-Syria Peace Society, is also upbeat. Liel, who held informal peace talks with Syrian delegates between 2004 and 2006, also thinks Assad is likely to survive.

Apart from his control of the levers of state power, Liel noted, Assad has received strong support from key regional players such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as from the international community.

Unlike in the cases of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak or Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi, the United States has not exerted any pressure on Assad to leave. That makes all the difference, Liel says: If Assad survives, he might feel beholden to the West and see in it the answer to his domestic troubles.

“He will have to make significant reforms,” Liel said. “That is not only a domestic demand. It is a demand of the international community that will have saved him.”

In Liel’s view, in the most likely alternative scenario, Assad will be ousted by others in the close-knit leadership group, made a scapegoat for all Syria’s woes, and replaced by someone like his estranged brother-in-law Assef Shawqat, a hardliner who is closer to Iran.

The dark side of Chanukah

Almost anyone who celebrates Chanukah today knows at least the rudimentary outline of its story. A righteous Judean clan in the 2nd century B.C.E. led an uprising against Greek-influenced Seleucid rulers who had desecrated the Temple and outlawed the traditional practices of Judaism. The revolt led to the recapture of Jerusalem, the purification of the Temple and the establishment of an independent Jewish state.

But there are a number of darker events related to Chanukah and its aftermath that have been swept away in the aroma of frying latkes and the whiz of spinning dreidels. The first is that the war Chanukah commemorates was in fact a civil war, fought between Hellenizing Jewish reformers and Jewish traditionalists whose Temple-centric life had been severely compromised by Greek influence and rule. The fratricidal conflict consumed 34 years in the life of the nation and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

With the conquest of Jerusalem in 164 B.C.E. and the complete defeat (although annihilation would be a better description) of the Hellenizers 22 years later, the lone surviving brother, Simon the Maccabee, stood widely recognized as ethnarch and high priest of the first independent Jewish state in 440 years. It would, then, be his progeny and descendants who would dominate Judean life over the next century.

Simon was succeeded by his able and fervent son John Hyrcanus, who expanded the realm and remained faithful to the example laid down by his father and uncles. It was during the reign of his grandson, Alexander Jannaeus (104 B.C.E.-76 B.C.E.), however, that the Hasmonean legend began to disintegrate. Alexander had no interest in the religious fervor of his ancestors and exhibited a particular hatred for religious rigorist sects, such as the Pharisees and Essenes. He carefully aligned himself with the upper-class Sadducees and in one incident massacred 6,000 Pharisee worshippers in the Temple courtyard after receiving a personal insult from them during the Festival of Sukkot. The incident spurred the renewal of a civil war that resulted in 50,000 more Jewish deaths. In one further event, after returning to Jerusalem following a victorious campaign in the north, Alexander had 800 of his Jewish male prisoners crucified, but not before murdering their wives and children before their very eyes.

After the death of Alexander Jannaeus, the Hasmoneans continued as rulers of Judea for another 40 years — in and out of civil war — until finally being all but eliminated by Herod the Great (37 B.C.E.-4 B.C.E.), an Idumean usurper who feared the family as a threat to his rule.

The point of recalling this gruesome tale is to illustrate a historical truism. History often comes full circle, rendering meaningless the achievements of previous generations because memory has lapsed and the commitment to former ideals is absent. The Hasmoneans began as liberators and ended as oppressors. They started as fervent adherents to Judaism and concluded as its deniers. In the end, they far more resembled the Greek-inspired Hellenizers they had fought to eliminate than the vaunted redeemers portrayed in legend.

Ancient Judea’s contemporary political incarnation, the State of Israel, also has much to learn from the historical lessons of the Hasmoneans. As a country that formed 60 years ago with high ideals and the promise of Jewish renewal, the current state is transforming into a bitter parody of itself. Rampant political corruption, an incompetent and self-serving echelon of leaders, an oligarchical economic structure that places 60 percent of the country’s assets in the hands of less than 1 percent of its population and a poverty level that hovers around 33 percent, are all signs of the imminent collapse of idealism and foundational principles. The abandonment of the Jews of Gaza, evicted from their homes in 2005, is yet another sad example of how deeply bruised is the Israeli notion of respect for and protection of Jewish life, property and dignity.

It is important to remember that men can never predict how their descendants will act or how their legacy of achievement will be treated. But the burning question the full Hasmonean story presents to us is how can nations protect the memory of past struggles and make them meaningful and relevant for the current generation? Ironically, the institution of the Festival of Chanukah was such an attempt. And in large part it succeeded. But the nagging question remains — why did things go so terribly wrong in ancient Judea within such a relatively short period of time? Given our current national challenges, this Chanukah our thoughts should be firmly on that question, as much as on the great Hasmonean triumphs of 2,000 years ago.

Avi Davis is the Executive Director and Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance.

Be aware of the danger of fire with Chanukah candles

Candles burning, latkes frying, lights glowing. The holiday of Chanukah is wrapped in warm and comforting images, unless you’re a firefighter. Then you recognize these seemingly innocent traditions as hazardous warnings for a December you may never want to remember.

The combination of kids running around, mom attempting recipes of deep-fried treats and dad trying to bring a cheerful glow to the home often amount to a disaster zone for pans spilling, wires sparking and candles falling.

According to a U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) study, national fire loss for December is estimated at $990 million across the United States annually. Each year, these losses result from an estimated 128,700 fires that required a fire department’s direct response. These “December fires,” as the local firefighters refer to them, cause an average of approximately 1,650 injuries and 415 fatalities.

The USFA cites cooking as the leading cause of residential building fires in December, accounting for 41 percent of all the blazes. The agency explains that “cooks in the kitchen may find themselves distracted with holiday guests, entertaining and last-minute details. Unfortunately, these distractions can turn into fire hazards all too quickly. Over half (54 percent) of December residential building cooking fires are the result of either the food or the equipment being left unattended.”

These December fires also account for some of the most expensive and dangerous types of accidents, because they are often located at places and times where lots of people are congregated in the heart of the home. The USFA also notes that nationally “during this period, the daily number of residential structure fires caused by children playing fluctuates but remains around 40 per day” and increases throughout the holiday season as children are left unattended around candles.

But the Festival of Lights would be hard pressed to abandon the candles that so define the festival. Although Hillel and Shammai may have once disagreed on candle order and lighting direction, never did they consider abandoning the custom.

Candles, however, are what fire departments cite as being the catalyst for 3 percent of all residential building fires during the holidays. As the initial heat source in these cases, candles lead to residential building fires when they are left unattended or are lit next to flammable items. More candle-related fire incidents occur in December than in any other month.

Community members are becoming alarmed by these trends. The Orthodox Union (OU) was prompted to issue a statement concerning fire safety during Chanukah as part of its initiative, “Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools” program. Emanuel Adler, OU Synagogue and Community Services Commission chair, announced: “Any fire has the potential to do severe damage, but the pain increases when fire transforms a joyful holiday like Chanukah into a tragedy. Chanukah presents us with the opportunity to sensitize the community to dangers associated with use of fire in many of our observances.”

At Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s preschool, fire safety and stressing to children that candles are for grownups is an important component of teaching youngsters about the holiday, said Elizabeth Cobrin, an assistant teacher. As the teachers light the matches before saying the prayer, they say, “matches and fire are,” and the kids scream back “hot, hot, hot,” Cobrin said.

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, associate director of OU’s department of synagogue services, emphasizes: “It is incumbent upon parents to be aware of the environment surrounding the candles, as well as what their children and pets may be up to. It’s always important to know what your children are doing, but it’s absolutely imperative when you have half a dozen fully loaded menorahs blazing.”

The Los Angeles Fire Department warns everyone to be aware of some basic safety precautions when using candles anytime of the year.

Hirsi Ali, critic of Islam, honored for courage

A tall African-born woman, raised a devout Muslim but now one of Islam’s sharpest critics, last week calmly dismantled some of the favorite shibboleths of American liberalism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was in town to accept an inaugural award for her remarkable personal and civic courage from Community Advocates, Inc., in front of some 600 Angelenos of various political stripes.

In an interview, and in parts of her remarks at the downtown Japan America Theatre, she questioned the virtues of multiculturalism, the West’s understanding of Islam and its comprehension of the roots of terrorism.

Hirsi Ali, 38, was born in Somalia, was an ultra-devout Muslim during adolescence, but changed gradually, and then radically, when she found asylum in Holland in 1992.

She was elected to the lower house of the Dutch parliament in 2003 and became an international figure in 2004, after she wrote the screenplay for the short film “Submission,” a barbed indictment of Islam’s treatment of women.

That same year, the movie’s director, Theo van Gogh, was assassinated on an Amsterdam street by a young Muslim, who pinned a death threat against Hirsi Ali to Van Gogh’s chest.

She now lives under constant police protection in America and continues to write and speak out as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

In 2005, she made TIME’s list of “100 of the World’s Most Influential People.”

Her categorical denunciations of Islam have been questioned, but never her personal mettle. It was for the latter characteristic that she was honored with the inaugural Ziegler Prize For Courage of Conviction by Community Advocates, Inc. (CAI) chairman and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, together with CAI President David Lehrer and Vice President Joe Hicks.

The accompanying citation reads: “In recognition of your indomitable courage and spirit, which teaches, offers hope and provides inspiration to humanity.”

In her acceptance response and during her interview with The Journal, Hirsi Ali also faulted the West for its choice of weapons in fighting threats from Iran and Islamic militants.

“The United States has the option of using military force against Iran, which it may still have to do, or diplomacy, which has not worked so far,” she said.

But the West has failed by not promoting its ideology in the “clash of ideas and values,” Hirsi Ali declared.

“When Saudi Arabia spends $2 billion abroad for hospitals, mosques and schools, it conditions the aid on the recipient’s acceptance of Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist form of Islam,” she said. “But Western private and public philanthropy comes with no message, it’s value free.”

What the West must do, she urged, is to attach a clear message to its aid inculcating the values of individual responsibility, the equality of men and women and a scientific approach to counter tribal superstitions.

The West also fails to understand that there’s little basic difference between Islamic “moderates” and “extremists,” Hirsi Ali argued.

“When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, we may consider him crazy, but the concept that Jews are vermin is accepted throughout the Islamic world,” she said. “In none of the 57 nations that make up the Organization of Islamic Countries is the Holocaust taught.”

Hirsi Ali recalled, “I was raised in an educated family, and my father led the opposition to the Somali dictatorship, but I heard nothing about the Holocaust until I came to The Netherlands.”

Another Western mistake lies in its admiration of multiculturalism and its exclusive focus on white racism, Hirsi Ali maintained.

“It is a fallacy that all cultures are equally valuable and must be preserved,” she said. “Some cultures are superior to others. Some value human rights, while others justify the subjugation of women.”

Along the same line, “While white racism is properly denounced, we’re too shy to address black racism or Islamic racism.”

CAI, headed by the white liberal Lerner and the black conservative Hicks, has made a name for itself by frequently challenging the accepted wisdom and strategies of mainstream civil rights and human relations groups.

In its writings and actions, CAI states, it seeks “to promote critical discourse about issues that transcend race, ethnicity, gender and religion.”

Fatah fighters’ escape to Israel and what it means

Even for the complex Middle East it was a moment of exceptional irony. Some 180 Fatah loyalists fleeing a series of shootouts and summary executions by Hamas

on the streets of Gaza ran for the border — banking on the mercies of the enemy they usually target.

Remarkably, Israeli soldiers braved Hamas fire to save the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, however, opted to return the fighters to Gaza. The first group of 35 returnees was promptly arrested by Hamas.

Seeing the danger to their erstwhile foes, the Israel Defense Forces balked at transferring the rest of the Fatah men, while the Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to block the forced repatriation. Finally, Israel prevailed upon Abbas to give safety to his own followers, and they were sent to Jericho.

The reaction in the Arab world to this incredible turn of events is instructive. Writing in Beirut’s Daily Star, columnist Rami Khouri offered an assessment of the larger issue:

“This is the latest and most troubling example of how a once-grand and noble Palestinian national liberation movement has allowed itself to degenerate into ineptitude…. As Fatah and Hamas battle it out like a bunch of armed neighborhood gangs, it will not be surprising to see some friends of Palestine quietly walk away, mumbling that if the Palestinians wish to kill each other and destroy their own society, they are free to do so.”

Writing in Al-Hayat, Mohammad Salah goes even further:

“The flight by Ahmad Hilles and other Palestinians to Israel in search of safety away from the bullying and aggression of Hamas affirms that the Palestinian issue is on its way to disappearing, evaporating and being forgotten. It also proves that Israel, for many Palestinians, is a refuge or objective one seeks and heads toward when Palestinians oppress each other.”

The border episode should have been cheered by nongovernment organizations and church groups who insist that peace will come to the Middle East not through governmental fiat, but when people on both sides recognize the humanity of the other.

Other developments, however, indicate that we are a long way off from moving beyond widely held stereotypes in the Arab World that depict Christians as bloodthirsty crusaders and Jews as the offspring of pigs and monkeys. The reaction to a University of Haifa course shows just how much toxicity prevails in the Arab street.

Professor Ofer Grosbard, assisted in a project by 15 Muslim students, quoted verses from the Quran that would help Muslim psychologists reinforce in their religious patients concepts like respect, responsibility, honesty, dignity and kindness. Their selections were vetted by three Islamic clerics.

Nonetheless, the project drew furious responses. Speaking to Gulf News, Dr. Abdullah Al Mutlaq, of the Senior Ulema Board in Saudi Arabia, insisted that the project should not be trusted by Muslims, because it is run by Jews who openly show their hatred to Islam and Muslims, and that Grosbard’s interpretation of the Quran’s lessons in human dignity and kindness would give Muslims the wrong impression of their religion. Not surprisingly, officials of the Palestinian Authority concurred.

Don’t expect the caretakers of the global civil society to challenge the Arab world anytime soon. Some self-appointed activists, operating in the rarified moral high ground of nongovernmental organizations, refuse to be impacted by the facts. For even as Israelis fought to obtain the safety of Arab fighters on Aug. 5, two boats in Cyprus were preparing a mission to burst through Israel’s sea blockade into an embrace with Hamas. The success of the mission was to be measured by Google hits on BBC and Iranian media coverage, not by any humanitarian cargo for the beleaguered residents of Gaza.

Israel has consistently allowed such supplies in and arranged passage for many critically ill patients to Israeli hospitals. This despite the fact that at least one ill woman from Gaza used the privilege of shuttling back and forth to an Israeli hospital to try to smuggle a bomb that would blow up the very facility and doctors who treated her.

Most nongovernmental organizations (NGO) that see themselves as protectors of Palestinian interests remain blind and silent, both about the Israeli largesse and the rupture of Palestinian society. Have they ever wondered what issues Israelis grapple with, what their needs are in the Gordian knot we call the Holy Land?

Did anyone consider the reaction of the parents of Gilad Shalit to the Fatah rescue? Shalit is the Israeli soldier kidnapped near that very crossing where the Fatah members were saved by other Israeli soldiers.

And what of the bereaved families of Vadim Nurhitz and Yossi Avrahami, two Israeli reservists who took a wrong turn into Ramallah? Taken to a PA police station, they were brutalized and dismembered by a mob. Rather than protect the two soldiers, a PA policeman at the station participated in the lynching.

For too many, repeating empty mantras about the “occupation” is much easier than rethinking the nature of a future Palestinian state and how it would treat its own citizens or its Jewish neighbors. Indeed, too few in the international community care enough to demand a modicum of accountability from the Palestinians.

These events present a microcosm of a clash not between two governments but of two fundamentally different cultures. Nothing will ever change until the world comes to understand the truths that led the Fatah fighters to choose the Israeli enemy over their Palestinian brothers?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of interfaith relations for the Wiesenthal Center.

The painful truth about teen mouth piercing

A pierced tongue may be the height of cool in some teen circles, but a new study by Israeli researchers suggests that skin piercings in the mouth may lead to an increased risk of oral health problems and even tooth loss.

The researchers from the School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University (TAU), found that about 15 percent to 20 percent of teens with oral piercings are at high risk of both tooth fractures and gum disease. The resulting tooth fractures, combined with periodontal problems, can lead to anterior (front) tooth loss later in life.

High rates of fractures due to piercings are not found in other age groups, and cases of severe periodontal damage in teens without oral piercings are also rare, says Dr. Liran Levin, a dentist from TAU’s Department of Oral Rehabilitation, who conducted the study with partners Israeli army dentists Dr. Yehuda Zadik and Dr. Tal Becker.

Today, 10 percent of all New York teenagers have some kind of oral piercings, compared to about 20 percent in Israel and 3.4 percent in Finland.

Levin and his team carried out their initial study on 400 young adults aged 18-19. A review by Levin and Zadik, published in the American Dental Journal late last year, is the first and largest of its kind to document the risks and complications of oral piercings, drawing on research from multiple centers in America and across the world.

“There are short-term complications to piercings in low percentages of teens, and in rare cases a piercing to the oral cavity can cause death,” Levin said. “Swelling and inflammation of the area can cause edema, which disturbs the respiratory tract.”

He also warns that the most common concerns — tooth fracture and periodontal complications — are long-term, and can even lead in rare cases to death.

“There is a repeated trauma to the area of the gum,” Levin said. “You can see these young men and women playing with the piercing on their tongue or lip. This act prolongs the trauma to the mouth and in many cases is a precursor to anterior tooth loss.”

The study was based in Israel, and researchers questioned teens with piercings and without, asking them about their oral health, knowledge of risk factors associated with piercings, and about their piercing history, before conducting the clinical oral exams.

Ironically, Levin noted, the youngsters who opted for oral piercing were very concerned about body image, but seemed to be unaware of the future risks such piercings can cause.

According to Zadik, the best advice a parent can give a teen who wants a mouth piercing is to tell them to avoid it altogether. If your teen is insistent, however, then he warns that it is essential that piercing tools are disposable, and that all other equipment is cleaned in an on-site autoclave to help reduce infection.

After the procedure, he says the area should be rinsed regularly with a chloroxidine-based mouthwash for two weeks. And don’t play with the piercing, he warns. It should be cleaned regularly, and dental check-ups performed regularly. — Israel21c Staff

Advice and Reality Face a Moment of Truth in Israel

“Just don’t take the bus.”

As I left on a trip to Israel a couple months ago, this was the advice I got from everyone. Even then, a time of relative peace, the
ersatz front-page pictures of terror-torn Israeli commuter buses surrounded by wounded people being moved to ambulances were still too fresh. Suicide bombers, not rockets, were foremost in our minds. And we all know that suicide bombers target buses and cafes — public places where innocent people gather.

So as I took off in late spring, leaving behind my young daughter and husband, I thought about this simple panacea — “Avoiding buses and cafes, how hard is that?” Did I expect to see buses blowing up all around me as I stayed safely on the sidewalks? Not really. But traveling to a land that has been beset by terrorists carries with it added anxieties, so why take chances?

Then I arrived in Jerusalem.

My first instinct in any new city is to mingle. I like to walk the streets, stop into ordinary shops — grocery stores and electronic shops, not just the Judaica stores or Dead Sea skin care outlets for tourists. I like to take public transportation.

My instincts set in. I wanted to see what it is like to live in Jerusalem. So first thing, instead of a taxi, I took a shared cab from the airport to my hotel — an amazing ride where everyone made friends during our 40 minutes together. A psychologist from San Diego was chatting with an ecologist who split her time among Israel, the United States and Latin America. The clearly religious were giving advice to the traveling bohemians. Lively chatter among complete strangers filled the minivan, and when I arrived at my hotel without the exact fare — upsetting the cab driver — someone I’d never met before paid my part without a question.

“Just being in Israel replenishes my soul,” the woman who’d just spent $10 on me told me as I took off gratefully with her card so I could send her money back.
It was dusk, and darkness was falling over the city. I asked at the hotel’s front desk whether it was all right to walk in the neighborhood to find a place to eat; the manager assured me it was. Out I went, jet-lagged but invigorated, into the heart of Jerusalem. And even at 9 p.m., many many people — young and old — were walking everywhere. I was especially struck by the women alone on the streets. I’m used to Los Angeles, where first, no one walks, and second, no one walks alone. At night, Jerusalem seemed so safe.

I saw buses drive by filled with commuters. I wondered.

A mini town square, Ben Yehuda lies at the heart of the tourist district and at the heart of where young Israelis hang out. In the course of the 10 days I was in Israel, I went there many times — for a falafel on my first night, to shop for souvenirs on another, for a late-night dinner after Shabbat. For several blocks the street is cordoned off from cars, like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, so vendors and performers fill the public spaces.

It was an easy walk from my hotel.

The question of the bus came up really only on my third day in Israel. I’d made a commitment to meet a friend in Tel Aviv, and I was not about to pay $60 to $70 each way to take a taxi there. I rose early on Sunday morning, a regular workday in Israel, and set off for the bus station, where I’d been told I could catch a gesher — a shared cab or minivan available to all, much like the one I’d taken from the airport. I walked to the bus station, a longer hike than I’d expected, because I wanted to get a glimpse of a different part of Jerusalem, particularly the regular, working-class neighborhoods.

Getting where you want to go is easy, because everyone helps anyone asking directions, even when you speak only English. However, having misjudged the distance, I made my way to the bus station with little time to spare. And then I couldn’t find where the geshers were stationed. And no one knew enough English to know what I was asking about. I was really in Israel now. Suddenly, I was in line to go through the metal detectors to enter the terminal, and once inside, even with my limited Hebrew, I could easily see that a bus was leaving for Tel Aviv in just a few moments.

I stepped up to the ticket line. Flashes of my daughter went through my mind. I pushed away thoughts of the final blackout scene in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film “Paradise Now.” I accused myself of being ridiculous and went up and bought my ticket — $3.50 for a ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on the bus. Door 15 the ticket seller told me.

I was taking the bus.

Not so easy, I soon saw. So was everyone else. The bus hadn’t arrived and dozens — maybe even a hundred — Israelis were pushing toward the doorway to be first in line. The danger now, I realized, was getting crushed. My New York bus instincts began to take over. My Los Angeles freeway driver gusto came into play, too. I was going to get on that bus.

As it turned out, I did. One of the last to get a seat, I sat next to a gun-toting soldier returning to his base who had two cellphones ringing constantly, which he could only answer after removing his iPod earphones, which were already projecting loud enough for me to share his music. In the aisle next to us, a mother with her two young girls sat on the floor. The bus was packed with what looked like workaday commuters. We arrived in Tel Aviv on time and without incident.

When I was returning to Jerusalem later that day, my friend escorted me to the gesher, and I sort of regretted getting the help. I e-mailed my husband that night that I’d done exactly what everyone told me not to do and was none the worse for wear. He was shocked. I was proud. It was such a simple thing.

Maybe, sometimes, overcoming your fears and joining in is an accomplishment. I say this as many of my friends are considering whether to travel to Israel right now. Maybe it’s important to go, now more than ever. To be with the Israelis who are continuing their daily lives there, despite the threats. Maybe sometimes taking the bus is the best way to go.

Tracks of an Ethiopian Exodus

Until the late 1970s, very few Ethiopian Jews had ever wandered beyond the borders of their country and made it to Israel.

But in 1979, an insurgency in northern Ethiopia opened an exit route to Sudan, and thousands of Ethiopian Jews — who called themselves Beta Israel but were known to outsiders as Falasha — began fleeing the famine and war of northern Ethiopia on a journey they hoped would end in Jerusalem.

Along with thousands of other Ethiopians fleeing their country, which at the time was ruled by communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Jews settled in refugee camps in Sudan and waited for Mossad operatives to take them out.

For the first few years, those who were taken to Israel left in one of three ways. Some were given forged documents and put onto planes in Khartoum bound for Athens. Once in Europe, they then were quietly put onto planes to Israel. Others were moved from their Sudanese refugee camps at night to Port Sudan, where Israeli naval commandos put them onto clandestine naval vessels and then transferred them onto ships headed for Israel. A few were airlifted directly to Israel from the Sudanese desert on illicit flights.

A famine in Ethiopia in 1984 lent great urgency to the effort to rescue Ethiopia’s Jews, many of whom were dying of starvation and disease in refugee camps in Sudan while they waited to be taken to Israel.

In the covert maneuver Operation Moses, Israel began airlifting large numbers of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan’s desert beginning in November 1984. Leaks about the operation and growing risks forced its early end in January 1985, after more than 8,000 Jews had been brought to Israel in the space of just six weeks.

Thousands more remained stranded in communist Ethiopia.

For those left behind, life was harsh. During Mengistu’s 17-year reign, Ethiopian city streets were left riddled with corpses as a warning against opposing the government, bereaved parents were forced to pay for the bullets that killed their sons and suspected political opponents were imprisoned and tortured.

The Jews suffered no more than ordinary Ethiopians, but anyone who was suspected of trying to flee to Zion was tortured, imprisoned and often killed.

In the early 1990s, the tide turned in the war between the rebel Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government, known as the Derg, and in May 1991 rebel forces surrounded the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Israel, which had clandestine ties with Mengistu’s regime, feared that the TPLF’s anti-Zionist rhetoric and hostility toward Mengistu could lead to massacres of the Jews when the rebels took Addis, and quickly put together a plan to rescue the country’s remaining Jews. Israel pressed the United States to persuade the rebels to hold their positions on the hilltops around Addis for 36 hours while Israel airlifted more than 14,000 Jews out of the country.

The fall of Addis came just hours after the completion of Operation Solomon, on May 24, 1991.

In the end, it turned out that Israel’s fears were unfounded: The new regime in Addis Ababa proved itself friendly toward the Jews and forged strong ties with Israel.

After Operation Solomon, the only Ethiopians with Jewish ties left behind in Ethiopia were the Falash Mura — Ethiopian Christians whose progenitors were Jews who had converted to Christianity. Many of them sought to return to Judaism in a bid to emigrate, but Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, instructed his government not to accept them. Unlike those who had immigrated to Israel, Shamir noted, these Ethiopians were not identifiably Jewish and maintained Christian practices.

Israel’s policy gradually changed, however, and since the early 1990s, tens of thousands of Falash Mura have moved to Israel — nearly as many as the Ethiopian Jews who made aliyah during and before 1991.

During these last 15 years, Ethiopia’s government has maintained a policy of open emigration, which is why no special operations have been necessary to bring the Falash Mura to Israel.

In the last decade and a half, led by rebel-turned-head-of-state Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s government has accelerated the pace of the country’s industrialization, improved its economy and so far prevented any repeats of the devastating 1984-85 famine that killed an estimated 1 million Ethiopians and struck hardest in Tigray.

And though the Ethiopian government remains a target of human rights advocates, including some in Israel, observers abroad say the Meles government’s excesses do not approach the scope of that of Mengistu’s Red Terror.

But since last May, when government forces shot to death dozens of people in Addis Ababa protesting disputed election results, there have been growing tensions between the Amhara elite who live in the center of the country, around the capital, and the Tigrean minority that runs the government.

There also has been increased international criticism of the Meles government, which had been a rare African darling of Western democracies.

Some American Jewish federation leaders visiting Ethiopia last week suggested that one reason for Israel to speed up the aliyah of the Falash Mura is political instability in the country. But recent political tensions notwithstanding, experts on Ethiopia say there is little danger of imminent collapse for the current regime.


Tightrope of Life

In the days of communism’s fierce grip on the Soviet Union, there lived a Chasidic Jew named Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel repeatedly put his life at risk with his efforts to promote Jewish education behind the Iron Curtain and for some 14 years was incarcerated in prisons and labor camps for his “crime” of teaching Torah. While in the Siberian gulags, he spent most of his free time studying and praying, but he also interacted and conversed with other prisoners — some Jewish, some not. Among these prisoners was a circus performer whose claim to fame was his incredible skill as a tightrope walker.

Reb Mendel would often engage this man in conversation. Having never been to a circus, Reb Mendel was totally baffled by the man’s profession. How could a person risk his life walking on a rope several stories above ground? (This was in the days before safety nets were standard practice.)

“To just go out there and walk on a rope?” Reb Mendel challenged incredulously.

The performer explained that due to his training and skill, he did not need to be held up by any cables and that, for him, it was no longer all that dangerous. Reb Mendel remained skeptical and intrigued.

After Stalin died, the prison authorities relaxed their rules somewhat and the guards told the prisoners that they would be allowed to stage a makeshift circus on May-Day. The tightrope walker coordinated with other acrobats in the camp, but there was no doubt that his famous tightrope act would be the highlight of the show. The tightrope walker made sure that his friend, Reb Mendel, was in the audience.

After all the other acts finished, the lights came down; everybody waited with baited breath. The tightrope walker climbed the tall pole to the suspended rope. His first steps were timid and tentative (after all, it had been several years) but within a few seconds, it all came back to him. With his hands twirling about, he virtually glided across the rope to the pole at the other end, and then, in a flash, made a fast turn, reversed his direction and proceeded back to the other side. Along the way, he performed several stunts. The crowd went wild.

When he was done, he slid down off the pole, took a bow and went running straight to Reb Mendel.

“So?” he said. “Did you see that I was not held up by any cables?”

A very impressed Reb Mendel replied, “Yes. You’re right. No cables.”

“OK. You’re a smart man. Tell me, how did I do it? Was it my hands? Was it my feet?” the man asked.

Reb Mendel paused for a moment, closed his eyes and replayed the entire act back on his mind. Finally, Reb Mendel opened his eyes and said, “It’s the eyes. It’s all in your eyes. During the entire time, your eyes were completely focused and riveted on the opposite pole.”

“Exactly!” said the performer. “When you see your destination in front of you and you don’t take your eyes off of it, then your feet go where they need to go and you don’t fall. OK, now one more question. What would you say is the most difficult part of the act?”

Again Reb Mendel thought for a moment. “Most difficult was the turn; when you had to change direction.”

“Correct again!” he said. “During that split second, when you lose sight of that first pole, and the other pole has not yet come into view, there is some real danger there. But… if you don’t allow yourself to get confused and distracted during that transition, your eyes will find that pole and your balance will be there.”

This special Shabbat — the bridge between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — is referred to as “Shabbat Shuva.” In this week’s Haftorah, we hear the words of the prophets — exhorting us, pleading with us, beckoning us to improve the quality of our lives; to even change direction if need be.

It is also noteworthy that this week’s Torah portion — in which we learn about the events that transpired on the last day of Moses’ life on earth — is called “Vayeilech Moshe” (And Moses went). The commentaries point out that even on the last day of his life, Moses was on the move — walking forward, achieving, growing — making the most of every precious moment of life. Moses’ message to us being that so long as we have a breath of life, there ought to be “Vayeilech” — explorations of new horizons, journeys to new frontiers.

How do we walk this tightrope called “life” without stumbling? The answer is: by establishing clear and proper goals and remaining focused on those goals like a laser beam.

The Torah provides us with a road map to a meaningful and fulfilling way of life. It sets down goals and defines purpose.

When you know what your purpose and destination is, and you do not take your eyes off that pole, then you know where to put your feet. Even when things turn, and we momentarily lose sight of the pole, we need not despair. Shabbos Shuva teaches us that a change of direction ought not to send us plummeting. On the contrary, we can and should shift gracefully with changes of circumstances, catch our balance and let the next pole come into view.

Rabbi Moshe D. Bryski serves as the executive director of Chabad of the Conejo and dean of the Conejo Jewish Day School.


Bills Seek to End Israel Travel Penalty

It happens over and over again: A planned trip to Israel induces gasps of worry from friends who have never visited the country. Every suicide bombing or mortar attack on television reinforces the vision of Israel as a vast raging war zone.

Some travelers appreciate the concern; others simply ignore it. But this perception of danger has had serious repercussions for people in California and in other states. For several years at least, life insurance companies doing business in California and elsewhere have been denying coverage or charging increased premiums to individuals who have either recently visited Israel or plan to visit soon. The assumption is that the country is just too dangerous, and that someone foolish enough to risk going to Israel once is likely to do so again.

A bill making its way through the California Legislature would make it illegal to impose such a penalty on travelers to Israel or any other country. Two similar bills are before House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

“Traveling to Israel is so broad,” said Nancy Appel, Anti-Defamation League regional deputy director, who testified in support of the state legislation, Senate Bill 1105, at a July committee hearing. Compare “traveling to Eilat vs. going to a war-zone area.” For insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of travel anywhere in the country is “like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” Appel told The Journal.

Momentum appears to favor her view. The states of Washington, New York and Illinois have recently passed similar legislation, although the latter two only ban discrimination based on past travel, rather than future plans. A House bill by Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.), the Life Insurance Anti-Discrimination in Travel Act, deals specifically with past travel, while a bill by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Life Insurance Fairness for Travelers Act, bans insurance discrimination based on future plans.

In the Legislature, the bill was quickly introduced in midterm by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), with the support of Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is running for state treasurer in 2006.

“This bill appeared right in the middle of the session, and we only saw it a week before it was heard in the Assembly Insurance Committee,” said Brad Wenger, president of the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, which represents the insurance industry’s legislative interests in Sacramento.

The association opposed the bill at first, but then Speier’s staff struck a hallway compromise that could prove to be a model in other states or even nationally.

To secure industry support, Speier agreed that a company could deny coverage or charge higher rates if it could justify that decision by citing “sound actuarial principles” or “reasonably expected experience.” After adding that language, the association immediately changed its official position on the bill to “neutral,” making its passage a near certainty.

In plain English, the bill now allows insurers to penalize travelers to Israel only if they have actual evidence that higher risk exists. A similar resolution was reached in the 1980s, after the industry came under pressure for allegedly discriminating against the disabled.

“SB 1105 gives the California Department of Insurance the ability to ask an insurer what they’re basing a [discriminatory] decision on, and they would require a pretty good case to be made,” Wenger said.

Wenger quickly added that the department already can investigate alleged discriminatory practices.

“This just makes it a little more specific,” he said.

“Everybody was comfortable [that] this language would not create a loophole,” Appel added. “If they have hard data backing up their opinion to deny coverage or charge more, they can do that. The problem now is that they deny coverage with no data backing up their reasons.”

Still, the definition of “data” can be vague. Some past coverage denials were ostensibly based on State Department travel warnings, which, though anecdotal, derive from a credible source. Such a warning is currently in effect. The State Department cites recent bombings and notes, “The U.S. government has received information indicating that American interests within Israel could be the focus of terrorist attacks.”

Wenger did not provide specific examples of what would constitute sound actuarial principles in the context of the California legislation.

“It’s a very, very competitive market out there,” he said. “I think you have to have some sympathy for [the insurance company] when there is a place in the world that is either at war or in a very dangerous situation.”

With the insurance industry’s official neutrality, the state legislation without opposition in the California Assembly on Aug. 18. The bill is now headed to the state Senate. If it passes there, as expected, the measure would reach the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not yet taken an official position on the bill.

“It’s just amazing,” Appel said. “Some bills take forever to get written [but] this one happened very fast.”

Whether the bill has the intended effect will take longer to work out.


Students Seek Justice for Americans in Israel

Armed with reams of notebook paper and plenty of pens, 600 yeshiva students rallied for legislation that would support American families whose loved ones have died in Israel at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

In honor of Yom HaZikaron (the Jewish Day of Remembrance), students from Yeshiva University High School (YULA), Maimonides Academy, Emek Hebrew Academy, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and West Valley Hebrew Day School gathered at B’nai David Judea Synagogue in Los Angeles on Tuesday, May 6 for YULA’s third annual memorial rally and letter-writing campaign. This year’s event was in memory of Yael Botwin, a Los Angeles teenager who was murdered in the September 1997 Palestinian bombing on Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

After hearing heart-breaking stories of lives lost, students wrote letters to U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urging them to co-sponsor the Koby Mandell Act, which would create a special unit in the Justice Department to pursue Palestinian terrorists who have harmed Americans. Last year’s rally led to co-sponsorship of the bill by several representatives, including Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

"I think it’s important to pass the [Koby Mandell Act]. I don’t know why it hasn’t received more attention," YULA senior Motti Klein said.

Ezra Pinsky, another YULA senior, has a personal interest in the act, as he plans to study at a yeshiva in Israel upon graduation from high school this June.

"I’d like to know that America is going to take actions against those who could be threatening me," said the 17-year-old, clutching his letter. "It’s not going to be a pleasant year if I’m in danger."

Help — Don’t Cry

One of the best University Synagogue tours ever was our 2000
trip to Argentina and Brazil. Both countries were physically beautiful and Jewishly fascinating, and the
speakers with whom we met were unforgettable.

Since that time, however, Argentina has been reduced to
terrible economic straits, and its once-thriving middle class is in danger of
disappearing. That middle class made Argentina unique in South America, where
polarization between rich and poor is the norm.

Moreover, the 200,000 Jews of Argentina generally found
themselves in that middle class, and for the last two decades, it afforded them
democracy, security and prosperity. Now, those touchstones of everyday life are
eroding, and thousands of Jews have been forced over the last 20 months to ask
for financial help from synagogues, Jewish centers and local federations.

It would have been unimaginable two years ago to see Jews
eating at soup kitchens or standing in unemployment lines. Some have made
aliyah, but it’s so hard to begin life and language again when you are no
longer young. So most suffer, and they do so silently, because they are ashamed
even to ask for help.

Jewish schools are closing, synagogues can’t afford to even
set out a nice kiddush on Shabbat and everyone feels helpless and demoralized.

Imagine what would happen to us if our earnings and savings
dropped by 75 percent and unemployment rose to 54 percent. We’d be in shock,
unable to cope, afraid of the present and terrified of the future for ourselves
and our children. That’s the situation in which Argentina finds itself.

Six months ago, University Synagogue raised over $60,000 in
a six-week period to donate an ambulance to Israel through Magen David Adom. We
performed the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh (saving lives).

Now, once again, we have launched a life-saving campaign, as
we adopt Buenos Aires’ Congregation Dor Hadash, a synagogue that hosts a soup
kitchen for the Jews and non-Jews of its neighborhood.

That neighborhood, Villa Crespo, is so Jewish that its
nickname is “Villa Kreplach,” but its Jewish future can no longer be taken for
granted as its residents begin to leave, moving into poorer parts of Buenos
Aires or leaving the country completely.

We have asked each University Synagogue adult to contribute
$50 or more and each child $18 or more so that we can send a gift to
Congregation Dor Hadash as soon as possible. We also have a Patron’s category
for $500 to $1,000 or more per adult. Patrons will receive special recognition
from Congregation Dor Hadash.

All gifts of any size are appreciated and necessary. Each
day that we delay means more hunger, more fear, more humiliation and more
desperation. We invite the community to join us by supporting our appeal or
establishing others within their synagogues.

The popular song from “Evita” tells us: “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”
We’re not crying for Evita, whose Peronist Party is greatly responsible for Argentina’s
economic plight, but for Argentina and its people and our fellow Jews.

In this new year of hope and possibility, let’s show the
same spirit of tzedakah (charitable giving) for our Jewish brothers and sisters
in Argentina that we, as Jews, have shown across the world. As Hillel reminds

Si no ahora, quando?/Im lo achshav, aymati?/If not now,
when? Â

Arnold Rachlis is rabbi at University Synagogue in Irvine. For more information on the fund drive, call (949) 553-3535 or visit

‘The Danger Is Still Great Here’

The man whom many call the conscience of Germany has announced that he has failed.

In an interview with the newsweekly Stern, Ignatz Bubis gave a somber, often pessimistic assessment of his efforts to bring Jewish and non-Jewish Germans closer and to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten.

Bubis, who is nearing the end of his seven-year term as president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, added that he was wrong to have ever thought he could call himself a “German of the Jewish faith,” as Jews did for centuries before the Holocaust.

Jews remain perpetual outsiders in German society, said Bubis, who was born in Breslau and survived several concentration camps.

Perhaps most poignantly, Bubis, who is 72 and ailing, said in last week’s interview that would prefer to be buried in Israel than in Germany, where his grave might be desecrated — as happened to the man who preceded him as the leader of Germany’s Jews.

Last December, Heinz Galinski’s gravestone in Berlin was blown up. An anonymous letter claimed that the bombing was prompted by plans to rename a Berlin street for Galinski. The case remains unsolved.

The frank words, together with photos of the Jewish leader in a contemplative mood, made front-page news across the country. They drew strong reactions from those within the Jewish community and invited speculation — which Bubis tried to quash — that he was not planning to seek re-election in January.

In contrast to Bubis’ pessimism, other Jewish leaders here painted a brighter picture of German-Jewish relations — despite reports of a growth in right-wing activity, increased attacks on foreigners and repeated incidents in which monuments and graves are desecrated.

Only last week, a sculpture depicting Holocaust victims was partly destroyed in Weimar. And, in another incident, three neo-Nazi youths were arrested outside Berlin, allegedly for beating up a police officer.

But these are exceptions, say many observers. Miguel Freund, a Jewish leader in Cologne, said the relationship between Jews and non-Jews has actually improved during the last decade. Young Germans, he added, are searching their towns and cities for traces of the Jewish life that once was there.

The vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, disagreed with Bubis’ pessimistic assessment of his own efforts, saying he has brought recognition to Germany’s Jewish community.

Council member Michel Friedman echoed that assessment, saying Bubis has presided over a period of unprecedented growth in the German Jewish community — from 40,000 at the start of his term to some 80,000 today, according to official figures.

Friedman, who is sometimes mentioned as a possible challenger for the presidency, said Bubis should be re-elected.

Council member Michael Fuerst said Bubis was unfair to suggest that today’s politicians want to forget about Germany’s past. He suggested that Bubis, who was recently confined to a wheelchair, is depressed because of his current health problems.

In fact, “relations between German officials and Jews have changed for the better” under Bubis, said Richard Chaim Schneider, a Jewish journalist in Munich. It is “not only a reaction to the Holocaust, but has to do with Jews and Germany today.”

But Schneider agreed with Bubis that Jews here still cannot identify themselves primarily as Germans, then as Jews.

“He is an honest man, and he is expressing now his deepest emotions that he has been trying to hide,” Schneider said.

Andreas Nachama, head of the Jewish community in Berlin, said Bubis should not be so pessimistic. Just the same, Nachama agreed to some extent with his fears.

“If a society allows gravestones to be destroyed, and not only Jewish gravestones, then it is really an alarm sign,” he said.

Nachama’s words are significant in light of the attack in Weimar last week on the work of British artist Stuart Wolfe. Vandals destroyed six of the 16 figures — representations of Holocaust victims — that were recently on display in Weimar, which is located only a few miles from the former concentration camp at Buchenwald.

This year, Weimar is Germany’s “cultural capital,” with exhibits and performances attracting throngs of international tourists.

Attacks on memorials have increased in recent years. A stone commemorating the deportation of Berlin’s Jews has been vandalized three times since December 1997.

More troubling are the attacks on people — such as last week’s brutal beating of the police officer in Eberswalde, near Berlin. The youths whom the officer tried to arrest reportedly kicked him in the head with steel-toed boots when he tried to stop them from singing Nazi songs, which are illegal in Germany.

Such stories rarely make the front page, and most observers say they do not reflect the true state of affairs in Germany.

But Bubis has not been one to let things go. Last year, he took German writer Martin Walser to task for saying it was time to stop haranguing Germans about Auschwitz. With newspapers covering their argument blow by blow, it became a topic of everyday conversation. Many Germans felt liberated by Walser’s views and expressed resentment of being reminded about the Holocaust.

Around this time, someone released a pig on the broad plaza of Alexanderplatz in Berlin, with a Jewish star painted on one side and “Bubis” on the other.

But such incidents have not deterred Bubis from speaking out. In the interview with Stern, he said that he does not want to incite feelings of shame or guilt when he calls on Germans to remember their wartime past. Instead, he said, he wants to instill the responsibility to learn about and fight right-wing extremism.

“I tell young people, ‘I don’t expect you to take a pile of ashes and throw it on your head, but you have to know what people are capable of doing,'” he said.

Bubis said that he has spoken to 600,000 people over the years, but that he should have spent more time addressing teachers instead of their students.

He also spoke of the nightmare image of his own grave one day being defaced.

“The danger is still great here,” he said, “that the dignity of the dead can be violated. Especially when one is a public figure. I’m realistic. I want to be buried in Israel.”