Abbas Fails His People — Again


When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas described Israel as a “colonialist project that is not connected to Judaism” — as he did in a speech last week that was littered with anti-Semitic overtones — the natural reaction from the pro-Israel community was to condemn the lies and defend the truth.

Abbas’ libelous speech, in fact, was condemned across the political spectrum. Even J Street released a statement saying there was “no excuse for calling into question either the Jewish connection to, or Palestinian recognition of, the state of Israel — or for language and proposals that are justifiably earning widespread condemnation.”

Moderate commentator Ben-Dror Yemini on Ynetnews characterized the speech as “More hallucinations. More illusions. More rejectionism” — adding that Abbas’ real problem is not with the creation of Israel in 1948 or the expansion of the state after 1967 but the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that first supported the Jews’ right to a national home.

The reason Abbas is obsessed with the 1917 recognition of Jewish sovereign rights is that it undermines his faux narrative that Israel is a colonialist state rooted in European guilt after the Holocaust. As long as he can position the Jewish state as an artificial project that punished Palestinian Arabs, he can claim the mantle of victimhood and continue his diplomatic war against the legitimacy of Israel.

This addiction to victimhood is also crucial to his retention of power. Put yourself in Abbas’ shoes. His people live in misery while, next door, the hated Jewish state thrives. Doubling down on victimhood means he can blame every Palestinian hardship on Israel.

It also justifies saying no to every peace proposal, as Palestinian leaders have done for decades. After all, if Israel is the result of Jews stealing Arab land, what is there to negotiate? There is only one thing a thief must do, and that is return the stolen goods in full — and maybe even throw in a penalty for emotional damages.

If Palestinian leaders ever conceded the 3,000-year Jewish connection to the Holy Land, it would explode the edifice of lies they have told their people. It would force them to acknowledge that Jews also have sovereign rights, which would force them to accept compromises. It would mean they’d have to admit that their problem with Israel is not with the settlements that came after 1967 but the settlements that came after 1917. It would mean they’d have to accept at least some responsibility for the miserable state of their failed society.

Even for those who tend to blame Israel for the absence of peace, it’s hard to deny the fundamental obstacle of one party completely denying the legitimacy of the other.

The minute Abbas himself concedes the legitimacy of the Jewish state, an avalanche of pressure would descend upon him. All of a sudden, he would have to look at the hated Zionist state as a partner rather than a thief and start caring for the welfare of his people. All of a sudden, he’d have to actually produce results.

Compare that to the status quo. By sticking to his narrative of exclusive victimhood at the expense of Jewish oppression, Abbas is celebrated around the world. He continues to cash in on “humanitarian” aid that fills his coffers and that of his cronies; he continues his diplomatic and legal war against Israel at the United Nations and international criminal courts; and, above all, he’s off the hook to make any compromises for peace.

For a corrupt liar who has contempt for Zionism, this status quo is, well, heaven on earth.

There is, of course, one complication in this whole picture — the Palestinian people. The day they realize they have been lied to for so long by their own leaders is the day those leaders will abandon their villas in Ramallah and hop on their private jets to any country that will take them.

That day may come sooner than they think.

According to a poll conducted in the summer of 2016 by the reputable Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and published in Al Monitor, 65 percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip want Abbas to resign.

Among the reasons cited, journalist Ahmed Labed from Gaza City told Al Monitor: “President Abbas, who has been in power for 11 years, has been illegitimately occupying the presidential office. His mandate expired in January 2009. Moreover, throughout the period of his presidency, Abbas hasn’t accomplished any noteworthy achievement for the Palestinians.”

His major “accomplishment” has been to malign and undermine the Jewish state and instill hatred in his people for their Jewish neighbors, all while pretending to be a “moderate” to the world.

Even for those who tend to blame Israel for the absence of peace, it’s hard to deny the fundamental obstacle of one party completely denying the legitimacy of the other, especially when that party has an interest in maintaining that lie.

Israel has made its share of mistakes. Its biggest, perhaps, is that it never had a long-term strategy for handling the territories captured in 1967, especially in Judea and Samaria. This has allowed Palestinian leaders to place all the blame for the absence of peace on the growth of Jewish communities in these territories.

Never mind that Palestinian leaders have rejected every peace offer made by Israel without ever making a counteroffer. As bad as those rejections have been for Israel, they’ve been even worse for the Palestinians.

Meme Suissa, bottom left, with her parents and siblings at a pilgrimage in Morocco, circa 1934.

A Hunger for Memory


Why would my mother serve an Arab kid before serving her own hungry children? I was about 6 years old, and my family was on one of those pilgrimages to visit the gravesite of a Jewish holy man on the anniversary of his death. Along with hundreds of other Moroccan Jews, we would camp out for a few days in some type of wilderness location, not far from the gravesite. For kids, it was a chance to ride on donkeys, play a little soccer and have some “camping fun.” For the grown-ups, it was a chance to pray and bask in holiness and blessings.

As my father was pitching the tent and we got settled in, I recall my mother cutting up slices of a megina, a type of omelet pie, to feed her four hungry kids. But before serving the first slice, she noticed a young Arab boy sitting off to the side, his eyes fixated on the pie. Quietly, she took the first slice and brought it to him, and then came back to serve us. She didn’t say a word about it — no “teachable moment” about caring for the stranger, etc. — and neither did anyone else. It was one of those innocuous moments that has lingered silently in my memory for decades, not dramatic enough to ever discuss, but not routine enough to ever forget.

Years later, when my Jewish journey triggered the memory of that moment, I brought it up to my mother. She had no recollection. Evidently, she had just followed her natural order of things — she felt the hunger of a kid, and she gave him some food.

It is a different type of hunger — a hunger for memory — that has triggered our cover story this week by my friend Aomar Boum, assistant professor of anthropology at UCLA. Aomar is a practicing Muslim who was born and raised in the southern province of Tata, Morocco. From what I’ve been told, my ancestors were also from the south of Morocco, and were called the “people of the Sous” (hence my last name).

Aomar and I share more than geography in common. We both love Moroccan culture. We both love holiness. And we both love memory.

Aomar’s story brings these three loves together. It’s the story of Muslims who for centuries have cared for the Jewish holy sites throughout Morocco. At our Shabbat table last Friday night, he elaborated on this unique attachment between Muslims and holy Jewish sites. But as he has written in the past, this is only one chapter in a larger, more complicated story.

By the late 1980s, about 240,000 Jews had emigrated from Morocco, many to Israel (we moved to Canada). Today, fewer than 3,000 Jews remain. In his book, “Memories of Absence,” Aomar explores how the Jewish narrative in Moroccan history has largely been suppressed. A good part of his scholarship is devoted to reviving that narrative.

He writes: “Called ‘people of the book’ (dhimmi) by Muslims, the majority of Jews lived under the protection of the Moroccan king.

My mother recalls the unique coziness of growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in a Muslim country… and the holiness of Jewish gravesites that perfumed the Moroccan air.

“The Jews had ambivalent relations with their Muslim neighbors. Although Jewish communities resembled Muslim ones in language and custom, Jews faced occupational and social restrictions, such as in farming, and were mainly artisans, peddlers, and merchants.

“Rabbis and wealthy leaders who enjoyed special ties with Muslim authorities administered the Jewish community’s internal social, legal, and religious affairs. Around 1862, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) built schools in the coastal cities and later in the hinterland, enabling many Jews to integrate into the wider world beyond Morocco.

“Around the same time, however, political Zionism began to make inroads among the Jews of Morocco, and a century later, in 1956 after Moroccan independence, Jews were affected by the new government’s Arab-Islamic policies and a widely celebrated national Arabization program. Zionist movements began to encourage Jews to move to Israel, and many people of Jewish descent left.”

In this story of gradual physical absence, pretty much all we have left is memory.

“Moroccans are left with the memories of a Jewish life that once existed,” he writes. “The great-grandparent and grandparent generations continue to discuss nostalgically the richness of Jewish-Muslim life in the past; the younger generation demonstrates narrow and misinformed perspectives of Jews.”

My mother belongs to the grandparent generation, from the Jewish side. She may not recall an anecdote of serving an omelet slice to an Arab boy, but she recalls a lot more. She recalls the unique coziness of growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in a Muslim country, the textures of an Arab culture that infiltrated Jewish life through food, music and language and, maybe above all, the holiness of Jewish gravesites that perfumed the Moroccan air.

It’s true that memory can play tricks on us — that we have a tendency to exaggerate the past, whether in a positive or negative light. It’s also true that we hunger for memories that can nourish our present.

Maybe I’m blessed that the trauma of the Holocaust did not contaminate my childhood memories, as it did for many of my Ashkenazi friends. I’m left with a nostalgia for a past I barely knew but still remember, a past that I now see through the lens of others who tell me story after story of what life was like for the Jews of Morocco.

As my own Jewish journey has progressed, I have found myself constantly looking back to my Moroccan heritage for some kind of spiritual nourishment. I want to learn more about my ancestors, my bubbes and zaydes, and I want to hand down these things to my own children.

I especially love that it’s a Muslim friend who is helping me on this journey, just like my mother helped that Muslim kid.

Where’s #MeToo for Persian Victims?


For the crime of shaking hands with her lawyer, cartoonist Atena Farghadani was forced to undergo a “virginity and pregnancy test” prior to her 2015 trial in Iran on a charge of “illegitimate sexual relations.”

Commenting on her case, Said Boumedouha, deputy director at Amnesty International, said, “The Iranian judicial authorities have truly reached an outrageous low, seeking to exploit the stigma attached to sexual and gender-based violence in order to intimidate, punish or harass her.”

Seeing the waves of protests that have broken out in recent days throughout Iran, I thought of all the other Persian women who must be praying to be liberated from such insidious oppression.

Why are they not part of the #MeToo movement?

Well, for one thing, because in Iran, women pay a price for speaking up. Farghadani herself, in addition to her “illegitimate sexual relations” trial, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in an Iranian jail because she drew cartoons that “insulted” members of Parliament.

As I wrote back in July 2015, “Farghadani is not alone. There are thousands like her languishing in Iranian prisons because they had the nerve to oppose an evil and oppressive regime. How oppressive? According to Human Rights Watch, ‘In 2014 Iran had the second highest number of executions in the world after China, and executed the largest number of juvenile offenders. The country remains one of the biggest jailers in the world of journalists, bloggers, and social media activists. ’ ”

Since then, after the 2015 nuclear deal that empowered Iran with billions in sanctions relief, the oppression has only gotten worse.

According to Amnesty International, “Iran continued to execute children in 2016,” including hanging 17-year-old Hassan Afshar because of homosexual activity. At least 49 inmates on death row were convicted of crimes committed when they were under 18 years old.

In March 2016, the United Nations Children’s Rights Committee noted that in Iran “flogging was still a lawful punishment for boys and girls convicted of certain crimes” and that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) children had been subjected to electric shocks to ‘cure’ them.”

The committee also reported that “the age of marriage for girls is 13” and that “sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine lunar years was not criminalized.”

That is what evil does — it grabs more power so that it can stay in power, even if that means jailing women, hanging gays and conniving the West into releasing billions, all in the name of God.

How is all of that for motivation to run on the streets and storm the barricades of theocratic despots who treat women and children worse than slaves?

Yes, those are the same despots who suckered the West into empowering their evil regime in return for an agreement that, at best, delays a nuclear Iran by a decade.

And they’re the same despots who have been wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East while remaining, according to the latest U.S. State Department report, “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

“Who knows? Iran may change,” President Barack Obama said to Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in April 2015, around the time that Atena Farghadani was being sentenced to jail for her cartoons.

Of course, at the time, Obama was eager to conclude his legacy nuclear deal, which may also explain why he stayed so quiet when protests erupted on Iranian streets in 2009. Instead of betting on the Iranian people, Obama spent his two terms in office betting on the mullahs who were oppressing those very people.

Obama was as passionate about his deal with the mullahs as he was silent about those who were hanged for being gay or women who were jailed for speaking up.

In his zeal to promote his deal, he kept making hopeful comments that all those billions in sanctions relief would help the Iranian economy and trickle down to ordinary citizens. As he told Friedman, he hoped the deal would “harness the incredible talents and ingenuity and entrepreneurship of Iranian people” and empower the nonviolent forces inside Iran who’d want to “excel in science and technology and job creation and developing our people.”

Two years later, the only thing that’s trickled down to Iranian citizens is more oppression and misery. But why should that surprise us? Obama bet on evil, and evil bit him right back.

The Iranian evil includes blatant corruption. For decades, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accumulated assets of about $95 billion through an organization, Setad, that was created to help the poor but has morphed into a business juggernaut.

As detailed in a Reuters investigation:

“Khamenei’s grip on Iran’s politics and its military forces has been apparent for years. The investigation into Setad shows that there is a third dimension to his power: economic might. … Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget.”

That is what evil does — it grabs more power so that it can stay in power, even if that means jailing women, hanging gays and conniving the West into releasing billions, all in the name of God.

It’s an unfortunate timing that this week is our annual Mensch issue, where we focus on human decency and goodness. Maybe the contrast between mensches and oppressors will spur people to launch a #ThemToo campaign, this one on behalf of desperate victims risking their lives right now on Iranian streets.

Letters to the Editor: Jerusalem, Hanukkah, Gun Control and ‘Wonder’


FROM FACEBOOK:

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

This article attributes wisdom to a president who does not deserve it. Donald Trump’s statements are not about what is good for Israel, or what is good for the peace process, or even what is good for the U.S. In some way, these statements serve only one purpose — Trump. It’s a shame so many Jews miss this critical point. And while we may clamor for the recognition of an empire, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Brian Lichtman

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. We Israelis never doubted it. Even if someone argues that it was meant to be an international city, we know that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that can keep it as free and international while it’s also its capital.

Ora Cooper

The truth needs to be repeated that President Donald Trump’s speech contained much wisdom. He acknowledged the reality of Israel’s capital city being Jerusalem while stating that the final borders would be left up to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That the Palestinians’ response was to declare multiple “days of rage” and their refusal of further meetings with U.S. representatives speaks volumes about their true desire for peace.

Bill Bender


How Jerusalem Decision May Impact Jews

David Suissa’s column “Can Jerusalem Be Good for All Religions?” (Dec. 15) was great! However, I believe this event creates an urgent need to ask a second (and more important) question: Can Judaism be good for most Jews? Obviously, to answer this question we must first define “Judaism” — so that most Jews (and especially, most young Jews and old rabbis) actually can agree about Judaism in 2018.

Aaron H. Shovers, Long Beach 

David Suissa’s Editor’s Note about Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is outstanding. I was so impressed that I took it with me today to read to my daughter while she drove me to the Veterans Affairs/West Los Angeles Medical Center. He is an excellent writer and a brilliant man. And I have noticed a distinct improvement in the type and quality of the articles now being published for our community.

Keep up the good work.

George Epstein via email


Fond Memories of Hanukkah on the Go

The Hanukkah story by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, “Stronger Together” (Dec. 8), is a heartwarming reminder that Jewish life and many of our holiday customs are both joyful and portable.

And they’re even better when we manage to share them with others, wherever and whenever possible.

I’ll add three of our Hanukkah travel tales: First, at California’s Yosemite National Park lodge when my children were young, the desk clerk allowed me to post my hand-drawn sign with an eight-branched menorah plus candles along with an open invitation for hotel guests to join us in our room to light and sing Hanukkah brachot/prayers together.

Among several couples and families who arrived, one couple turned out to be formerly unknown distant family relatives with roots in Western Europe, visiting from the American Midwest.

On another occasion, we managed to light Hanukkah candles at Los Angeles International Airport (not likely permitted today) while en route to Argentina to visit my wife’s family.

Another memorable time I lit a hanukkiah while traveling was while en route to Israel on a stopover at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on an American Professors for Peace in the Middle East faculty group study mission (an important U.S. and Canada faculty Israel support group founded in 1967). The two-hour layover before boarding our El Al flight was enough to allow the minimum half-hour needed for the candles to burn, per Jewish custom and law.

With permission from nearby boarding gate staff, I set up a menorah and three candles on the counter to light them, readily visible in the area. Others approached and while singing the prayers, together we recalled the living yet ancient “ages-old victory and miracle” (nes gadol hayah sham) while awaiting our flight to depart.

Again, as airport travelers en route to Israel, we joined in prayerful melodies and lights in a public reminder and joyful Hanukkah celebration of the Maccabees’ victory and our enemies’ defeat with God’s help — to restore the Temple in Jerusalem and enabling us to honor Jewish values and practices, thanks to this wonderful and supportive country, the United States, in which we have the privilege to live!

Allan Levine via email 


Gun Laws and Gun Violence in the U.S.

I read Danielle Berrin’s column about the need for gun control in this country (“The Great Gun Debate,” Dec. 15). First of all, homicides have gone way down from a high of nearly 20,000 over 10 years ago to around 12,000 to 14,000 thousand now. Of course, mass murders have increased, though.

The city of Chicago had very weak gun control laws years ago and had about 250 homicides a year. Now, with among with the strictest gun control laws in this country, the city has recorded more than 600 homicides this  year.

Gun control has never been effective in reducing homicides in this country and never will. Homicides may go up or down regardless of stricter gun control laws.

Lynda Wadkins, North Hollywood


Did Columnist See the Same Movie as Letter Writer?

How in the world could one possibly see the movie “Wonder” as “one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate”? (“ ‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels,” Dec. 1.)

You not only printed a piece contending that protecting America is hatred personified, you made sure the whole point of Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column was mainly about that.

You’ve bought (and are now selling) the craziness of MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, comedian Kathy Griffin and the rest of the people who claim that all of the Trump supporters are a “basket of deplorables.”

Hasn’t that gotten a little old by now?

Steve Klein, Encino


Letter About Rohingya Was Misinterpreted

I am saddened by Usman Madha’s letter (“Muslim Wants to Dispel Distortions About Rohingya,” Dec. 15) misinterpreting the facts contained in my original letter regarding the Buddhist-Muslim strife in Myannmar (“Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets,” Dec. 8). I was clear in expressing sympathy for the innocent Rohingya at the outset of my letter, which focused primarily on the years of jihadist wars that have left indelible scars on the people of the Indian subcontinent.

This reality sheds light on the reactive behavior of Myanmar’s Buddhists to the Muslim Rohingya today. Madha admits he is well aware of the Jihadist problem in Islam when he proclaims he is a “practicing pluralist, non-jihadist Muslim.” Moreover, my letter did not focus on Jewish-Muslim relations but rather on Islamic-Buddhist relations, which lie at the heart of the Myanmar dispute.

I am a fan of moderate Muslim thinkers such as Zuhdi Jasser, who has called for a reform of Islam’s jihadist roots in a post-9/11 world. The recent rapprochement of Saudi Arabia and the moderate Arab countries with Israel, as well as the tone of Madha’s welcoming letter, give me hope for a better future.

Richard Friedman, Culver City

On Politics and Conversation


As we end 2017 and head into 2018, I thought I’d share some personal reflections on our modern political conversation, and how I see the Jewish Journal playing a role.

First, I may love politics and current events, but they do not own me. I like to follow the news, see what’s happening locally and around the world, study the threats to humanity’s future. Politics gets me pumped up. It builds up my outrage, makes me feel alive, as if I’m dealing with stuff that really matters.

So, why does the political conversation so often get on my nerves? Because I see what it does to people. It makes them hysterical. It breaks up relationships. It ignites anger and bitterness. At best, it keeps us in our silos and echo chambers, protected from views we cannot fathom.

My wish for 2018? To manage politics so that it doesn’t fray our communal bonds and bring out the worse in us.

Second, I know that politicians will never make me happy. My friends will make me happy. My family will make me happy. A great film will make me happy. Politicians will make themselves happy — with the perks and privileges that come with power — but they can never make me happy. Usually, they just disappoint me.

It’s true that politics plays a role in Judaism. Our tradition calls on us to make the world a better place. Since politics revolves around power, it follows that if we’re serious about repairing the world, we must engage with power. That’s why you see many rabbis address political issues from the pulpit. They see it as an expression of the Jewish imperative to pursue justice.

But that is not the whole story. We can do plenty of repair work on our own, without asking anything of politicians. This is called community engagement. The Jewish Federation system is an example of Jews taking control and responsibility for their communities. There are thousands of smaller examples of individual initiatives that aim to make the world a better place, politics or no politics.

Much of our community coverage at the Journal honors those efforts.

Third, the news doesn’t help us make sense of the news. Following the news, which comes at us fast and furious through our Twitter feeds, has become an addiction. At a gala dinner the other night, I couldn’t help looking at my phone when I received a piece of breaking news. The item was so juicy I had to share it with the person sitting next to me. This is not healthy.

I’m sure if we injected more news and current events in the Journal, we’d be more “juicy” and look more topical.

I want us to put politics in its proper place, to protect our friendships, to wallow in beauty, to find poetry in life, to have curiosity for the unfamiliar, to repair not just the world but ourselves.

But when you have a publication that comes out once a week, it’s silly to try to compete with the daily news you get every minute. This is not a problem—it’s an opportunity. It means we can focus on deeper stuff, on commentaries and analyses that help you make sense of the news, not to mention the world we live in.

Fourth, there’s so much more to life than current events. It’s a common technique among columnists to quote current events in the opening paragraph to grab your attention. I do it often. It’s a way of showing immediate relevance by dealing with “what’s happening in the world.”

Of course, the Journal will never stop running columns that deal with topical events. But here’s a confession: Very often, my favorite columns are precisely those that do not deal with the latest news. These are the columns that convey timeless ideas that are relevant on any day or week… or century.

Politics today colors so much of our culture we can easily lose sight of how beautiful and pure culture can be. I love art, poetry, literature, music, film and human stories that have nothing to do with the state of the world. Their innate beauty is what makes them relevant.

Fifth, yes, crisis sells, which is one reason Judaism is always in a state of crisis. Everyone knows it’s a lot easier to raise money when you convey a state of crisis. At a time when it’s more and more difficult to get people’s attention, there’s nothing like a good crisis to shake people up.

In media, crises help attract more readers. It’s a known fact that you can boost your online views just by putting up words like “anti-Semitism” in your headlines. This is human nature. We are attracted to conflict. All good entertainment revolves around drama and conflict.

I can’t help being aware of this when I make editorial decisions. If there’s a story, for instance, about a swastika sprayed on a synagogue, it’s deadly serious and there is no hesitation to publish it. But there’s also that little voice inside me that whispers: “The readers will eat this one up.”

One of our biggest challenges at the Journal is to earn your attention without the easy tricks of crises, conflicts and disasters. How do we get you hooked on an idea that elevates the spirit, on a poem that makes you dream, on a biblical story that takes you back 3,000 years?

How does an abstract poem compete with the drama of a terror attack? Or a neighborhood story with the prospect of a presidential impeachment? Or an inspiring view of Hanukkah with the latest sex scandal?

They don’t. They can’t. The drama of conflict will always win out. Yes, it’s human nature.

But at its best and deepest, Judaism helps us transcend human nature. We go beyond our immediate appetites. We read the Hanukkah fable, or the dreamy poem, or the neighborhood story, even though they’re not as sexy as the latest political scandal. This content nourishes our minds, but also our souls: We enjoy beauty for beauty’s sake, story for story’s sake, knowledge for knowledge’s sake, wisdom for wisdom’s sake.

In a sense, I am conveying a militant message. I want us to fight back against the insidious and sensationalistic “breaking news” cycle that corrodes our conversations. I want us to put politics in its proper place, to protect our friendships, to wallow in beauty, to find poetry in life, to have curiosity for the unfamiliar, to repair not just the world but ourselves.

Those are my wishes for our community, but they are also my wishes for the paper you are reading.

See you in 2018.

Letters to the Editor: U.N. 1947 vote, Roy Moore, PLO and ‘Wonder’


The Miracle of the UN’s 1947 Decision

While I enjoyed David Suissa’s editorial, I would correct one error: The date Nov. 29th is important enough to Israelis that streets are named after that date (“Homeless for 1,900 Years … and Then a U.N. Vote,” Dec. 1).

Louis Richter, Reseda


Where Does Truth Lie in Moore Controversy?

I see Ben Shapiro’s point in equating the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Al Franken and Judge Roy Moore (“Roy and Al,” Nov. 24).

However, Al Franken was photographed with his victim on that USO Tour — caught in the act, clearly a crime. He has acknowledged that interaction and apologized. Other accusers have come forward, citing a propensity for his behavior.

Roy Moore, who is running in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat, has vehemently denied any veracity to allegations by several accusers, 40 years after they supposedly occurred. His attorney requested to have the only tangible “evidence” — an autographed yearbook — belonging to accuser Beverly Young Nelson, be submitted for independent, forensic examination. The accuser’s attorney, Gloria Allred, has refused.

We have seen this mischief many times before.

Last year’s presidential campaign saw even The New York Times gather several women who had worked with Donald Trump. The slanted point of view of The New York Times was that Trump was a sexual harasser and unqualified for public office. The women, to their credit, immediately said that their comments were misconstrued and manipulated.

The current brouhaha with Moore was propagated by The Washington Post, another “leftist bastion.” After several statewide election campaigns in Alabama, why have these allegations of sexual impropriety against Moore not surfaced before? Why now, when Moore is leading in the race?

Allegations in the mainstream media grab attention, but where is truth?

Enriqué Gascon, Los Angeles


A Hanukkah Poem

Rock of ages
Mount Sinai’s thunders,
Angels whisper
Masada’s secrets of old.

Of freedom almost lost
In the City of Gold,
A Temple defiled
And Maccabees had restored.

The miracle of oil
A spark in our soul,
Liberty for all creeds
Letters on dreidels spins.

Holocaust’s nightmares
Never again shall repeat,
The promise of a rainbow
The waters that split.

The gathering of exiles
To their promised land,
Where mountains rejoiced
And bright stars tallied twelve once again.

Danny BenTal, Tarzana


How to Change the Mood in America

Another great editor’s note: “Make America Grateful Again” (Nov. 24). While reading it, I felt the uneasiness of David Suissa to “balance polarities.” And he is quite honest in describing the mood of this country. His first sentence is quite correct: “America is in a lousy mood.” I was myself in a worse than lousy mood for the past three years, so I can relate to that. And I know how difficult it is to get out of the “mess.”

I have always considered good journalists to be like the consciousness of the society and to be among its teachers. Yes, good teaching begins with asking questions. And the better teaching begins with asking the right or more important questions. For example: How can one change the mood for the better of a society of 300 million people?

I was born and lived most of my life in a socialist country. If most of my countrymen were grateful for and had faith in our leaders at that time, my country would have not changed toward democracy.

So, I am very grateful to live in a democratic society now.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles


Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets

Stephen D. Smith effectively shines the light on the plight of the innocent Rohingya living in Myanmar. However, he omits historical context which harshly judges the Buddhist government and fails to address its  legitimate  fears (“It’s Time to Speak Up for the Rohingya,” Dec. 1).

In the past millennium, approximately 80 million non-Muslims were killed by Muslim jihadists. Smith quotes the Polish Jew Raphael Lemkin and the 1933 Madrid conference, which tried to legislate against barbarity.

Ironically, Smith mentions the book “The Yellow Spot: The Destruction of the European Jews.” Smith seems unaware that Nazis borrowed the yellow Jewish badge from the Muslim practice adopted in the eighth century called the Pact of Umar, which relegated Jews and Christians to subservient class status beneath Muslims. Hitler heartily approved of the Muslim approach toward Jews.

Perhaps the words of history scholar Andrew Bostom best explain the current religious conflict in Myanmar: “The origins of the Bengali Muslim Jihad in Western Myanmar in the late 19th century through the World War II era, illustrates that it is rooted in Islam’s same tireless institution of expansionist Jihad which eliminated Buddhist civilization in Northern India.”

Richard Friedman, Culver City


PLO Hasn’t Changed Its Spots

The 1993 Oslo Accord recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative of the Arabs of Palestine. This terrorist group was supposed to change its spots, but it has not.

In return for ignoring other Arab leaders and factions, it was invited to set up headquarters in Ramallah and to begin a peace process with Israel. It pledged to prepare the population for life alongside Israel and to end violence and enticement to violence. It also pledged not to attack Israel in international forums.

Well, it lied from Day One. It has rejected every peace offer from Israel, even those offered by Barack Obama’a administration. It is apparent the PLO/Fatah has manipulated everyone. It’s time for them to leave the stage. With support of major Arab League players and the United States, the Palestinians can find new leadership. If not, they will remain the world’s major welfare recipients and others will determine their fate.

Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hills


Jews, Christians Share Love of Israel

As the holiday season nears, I’m reminded how grateful I am that tens of millions of American Christians strongly support the State of Israel. It’s a miracle that so many Christians have reversed nearly two millennia of anti-Semitism and joined Jews in our pride and love for Israel.

Because Christian loyalty guarantees continued American support, vital for Israel’s survival, they have become our true brothers and sisters under God, and I welcome them with love and joy.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

Rueben Gordon, Calabasas


AND FROM FACEBOOK …

“‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels” (Dec. 1)

This is an excellent film. I find it sad and disgraceful that people use this film as the latest way to attack President Donald Trump. Why can’t we just enjoy a good film without someone dragging this nonsense into it?

Jay Lehman

“So many lessons to learn in this beautiful film. Well done.”

Marilyn Sommer

The Dazzling Idea of Hanukkah


“What is Judaism?” asks Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “A religion? A faith? A way of life? A set of beliefs? A collection of commands? A culture? A civilization?”

It is all of these, he responds, but something more — a “constellation of ideas.”

Judaism values the power to think. The rabbi describes our tradition as “a dazzlingly original way of thinking about life.”

In our Twitter-crazy world of radical polarization, are we losing this power to think? It often feels like it. We seem to always be in combat mode. We want to catch our opponents in a mistake, crush them with our talking points. Instead of valuing ideas, we value clever arguments. Above all, we want to be right.

Great ideas, though, are not about being right. They’re meant to enlighten, not bludgeon. They seek to open minds, not change them. They inspire thought, not angry passion.

Great ideas are not about being right. They’re meant to enlighten, not bludgeon.

Among his favorite ideas, Sacks quotes the American Declaration of Independence and its key sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

While claiming that “this is arguably the most important sentence in the history of modern politics,” Sacks notes the irony that “these truths are very far indeed from being self-evident. They would have sounded absurd to Plato and Aristotle, both of whom believed that not all men are created equal and therefore they do not have equal rights.”

The transformational idea of human equality, Sacks explains, can be self-evident only “to someone brought up in a culture that had deeply internalized the Hebrew Bible and the revolutionary idea set out in its first chapter, that we are each, regardless of color, culture, class or creed, in the image and likeness of God. This was one of Judaism’s world-changing ideas.”

Yes, ideas can change the world, but they can also change us.

One of my favorite ideas in Judaism is how we extract deep wisdom from our holidays. Digging for meaning is integral to the observance of rituals. We don’t just fast, pray or sit around a festive table. We’re supposed to go deep, find life lessons, ask big questions: How can these rituals help us grow? How can they bring us closer? How can they add meaning to our lives?

In our cover story this week, Rabbi Yosef Kanesfsky goes deep to find meaning in the quirky holiday of Hanukkah. If there’s one Jewish holiday that can use such an excavation, it’s surely the festival that has been so trivialized by its modern playfulness — by the dreidels and gelt and jelly doughnuts and latkes and Adam Sandler songs and those nightly gifts for the kids.

Beyond the fun stuff — which we should never undervalue — there’s spiritual gold to mine, and Kanefsky goes digging for the gems. Some of those gems speak directly to issues our community is facing.

“If we listen closely to Hanukkah,” he writes, “to its story and its laws, we’ll discover several indispensable pieces of advice that it offers — advice about how to hold together a community of differences, and about how such a community can learn to live and sing together, despite not always agreeing about every issue that arises.”

In his search, Kanefsky explores why Hanukkah falls so late after the great victory it commemorates. Why did Judah the Maccabee and company specifically choose the 25th of Kislev as the day to rededicate the Temple, even though the Syrian-Greeks had been driven out of Jerusalem months earlier, during the summer of 163 C.E.?

If there’s one Jewish holiday that can use such an excavation, it’s surely the festival that has been so trivialized by its modern playfulness.

“Judah’s wisdom of waiting,” Kanefsky writes, “was the wisdom of recognizing that Jews interpret the world and God’s role in it differently, with resultant differences in how to commemorate and observe significant events. And he understood that the greater our ability to hear and honor many voices, the greater is the likelihood that we will be able to establish a calendar and to practice sacred rituals that unite us all.”

That’s just to give you a taste of the spiritual gems that lurk beneath the dreidels and latkes. They’re part of that “constellation of ideas” Rabbi Sacks speaks about when conveying the compelling nature of the Jewish faith.

“Too few people think about faith in these terms,” Sacks writes. “We know the Torah contains commands, 613 of them. We know that Judaism has beliefs. Maimonides formulated them as the 13 principles of Jewish faith. But these are not all that Judaism is, nor are they what is most distinctive about it.”

What is distinctive is a “dazzlingly original way of thinking about life.”

In this issue, we offer you a dazzlingly original way of looking at Hanukkah. But don’t worry, we also have some great food and gift ideas.

Happy Hanukkah.

Homeless for 1,900 Years… and Then a U.N. Vote


When I left for Israel recently for a quick one-week trip to visit my son, I didn’t expect I’d be experiencing a cross section of Israeli society. We started in a funky hotel in Tel Aviv, where we were surrounded by hipsters, healing spas and fusion restaurants. Then, instead of spending Shabbat in Jerusalem (as I usually do), we were invited by my cousin, the mayor of Dimona, to spend Shabbat in his little town in the Negev Desert.

If Tel Aviv is SoHo, Dimona is Sinai. This is a desert town that looks like a desert town — humble, simple, hardworking. The majority of residents have Sephardic or Russian roots. Building housing is a top priority — there’s construction everywhere. There’s also plenty of faith: In a town of 40,000, there are about 70 synagogues.

After Dimona, we drove north to the mystical city of Tsfat, where we visited the graves of holy men like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Tsfat is one of those places where every day feels like Shabbat. But in the midst of its devout enclaves, you’ll also find hip art galleries that celebrate beauty and not just Torah.

At each stop, we tasted a different Israel. We could have visited countless other places throughout the country and experienced similar diversity. This is part of the miracle of Israel — it changes everywhere you go. How could it not? Jews have come from all over the world to populate the Jewish state, joining the indigenous Jews and Arabs and Bedouins who were already here.

Today, more than 100 nationalities are represented in this tiny country. There’s even a group of African-Americans known as the Black Hebrews, who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Many of them live in Dimona, where I got to meet one of their leaders, Prince Immanuel Ben-Yehuda. The prince told me he grew up in Oklahoma, where his parents taught him the Old Testament and to love the land of Israel. (I filmed our interview and will post it on jewishjournal.com.)

The seeds of Arab rejection and animosity were planted from the very beginning.

In one short week, I tasted the multicultural miracle of Israel, a miracle that would never have happened had it not been for another miracle that preceded it 70 years ago — a vote at the United Nations. This seminal event, which is the subject of this week’s cover story by historian Gil Troy, is not without its complications.

On the Saturday night of Nov. 29, 1947, the newly formed United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York at the Queens Museum to vote on Resolution 181, which called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. After weeks of endless drama and lobbying for votes, the final tally was 33 member states voting in favor, 13 against and 10 abstaining.

The Jewish state was on its way.

But as you’ll see in our cover story, the drama was only starting. The seeds of Arab rejection and animosity were planted from the very beginning. This rejection was so loud and threatening that the resolution itself expressed concern:

“The [British] Government of Palestine fear that strife in Palestine will be greatly intensified when the Mandate is terminated, and that the international status of the United Nations Commission will mean little or nothing to the Arabs in Palestine, to whom the killing of Jews now transcends all other considerations. Thus, the Commission will be faced with the problem of how to avert certain bloodshed on a very much wider scale than prevails at present ….”

As the historian Troy writes, the resolution was “cursed” by the adamant Arab rejection of a plan that could have brought “70 years of peace.” Instead, it has brought 70 years of conflict that continues to this day. As fate would have it, Nov. 29 also marks International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed annually by the United Nations. Just last year, the General Assembly passed six resolutions condemning Israel and supporting the Palestinians.

It’s not a coincidence that the Nov. 29 vote does not rank as high as other dates in Israeli lore, certainly not as high as May 14, 1948, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion officially declared the State of Israel, or even Nov 2, 1917, when the Balfour Declaration called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

If anything, the proximity of the 1947 vote to the Holocaust has only fed the false narrative that the creation of Israel came only because of that darkest horror, overlooking the 3,500-year Jewish connection to the land.

“The delegitimizing narrative claims Europeans sinned by killing 6 million Jews from 1939 to 1945, then exorcised their guilt by ‘giving’ Palestinian land to the Jews on Nov. 29, 1947,” Troy writes.

For those who cherish the Zionist dream, including the Black Hebrews from Oklahoma, Nov. 29, 1947, was a miracle indeed.

This delegitimizing narrative has fueled the lingering hostility toward the Jewish state, embodied today by the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

And yet, despite all the rejections and wars and condemnations and anti-Israel resolutions and terror attacks and calls for boycotts, here stands Israel — the little country that could, the little country that accepted the Partition Plan, the little country that is still standing, still thriving, still arguing, still creating, still struggling, still innovating, still fighting back, still making do with what it has.

Animosity or not, after 1,900 years of homelessness, the founders of Israel simply could not refuse an offer to return to the land of their ancestors. For those who cherish the Zionist dream, including the Black Hebrews from Oklahoma, Nov. 29, 1947, was a miracle indeed.

Make America Grateful Again


America is in a lousy mood.

Everything is a mess. This is how Matthew Continetti describes the state of the nation in National Review Online:

“Riots and the suppression of freedoms on campus, drug addiction, deadly clashes between white nationalists and left-wing radicals, increasing numbers of hate crimes, mass shootings, bitter arguments over the national anthem … a cascading stream of allegations of sexual impropriety against figures in entertainment and in politics, the slow-motion disintegration of our major parties — it’s as if America itself has been thrown into the midst of a demolition derby, with every one of our prominent figures and major institutions targeted for destruction by Monster Truck.”

Given this chaos, how are we supposed to feel grateful this Thanksgiving?

I have a friend who says you can’t feel grateful until you first take a deep breath. This breath helps us relax so we can meditate on the big picture. So, what’s the big picture?

Well, first, there is our tradition. In Judaism, gratitude is a core virtue. The very root of the word Jewish in Hebrew means gratitude. The Talmud instructs us to say 100 blessings a day. And each morning, no matter how horrible the news is, the first blessing we make is Modei Ani — we thank God for returning our souls to us.

Beyond our tradition, though, there’s also that thing called happiness.

As psychologist and author Melanie Greenberg writes in Psychology Today, “Gratitude is an attitude and way of living that has been shown to have many benefits in terms of health, happiness, satisfaction with life, and the way we relate to others.”

If gratitude is so connected to our happiness and well-being, why doesn’t it come to us more naturally?

Maybe we’re simply not hardwired to seek happiness. “Our brains’ natural tendency,” Greenberg writes, “is to focus on threats, worries and negative aspects of life.”

In a way, that makes sense. How can we improve if we don’t worry about our mistakes? How can we repair the world if we don’t look at what’s broken?

The problem comes when negativity turns into a state of mind. The media have an inherent interest in focusing on the darkness — on the threats, the chaos and the crises. If we allow this negativity to permeate our consciousness, we won’t see much hope. We will wallow in the  world’s brokenness rather than working to repair it.

I sense that this is happening in much of the country right now. We have little faith in our leaders. The problems feel endemic, not fixable. We’re hopelessly divided. On top of that, when the media remind us all day long of this brokenness, our brains’ tendency to focus on “threats, worries and negative aspects of life” goes on overdrive. The urge to repair turns into an inclination to despair.

Enter Thanksgiving.

Divided or not, broken or not, once a year America forces us to grapple with gratitude. This is our national “deep breath.” Of course, when the nation is in such bad shape, it can feel awkward to imbue ourselves with gratitude.

The easy thing to do is ignore the darkness and count our blessings, at least for this one day. Many of us like to go around the Thanksgiving table and share the many things we are thankful for — and God knows there are plenty. You can never go wrong doing that.

But this year, because things are in such turmoil, we thought we’d go deeper.

So, we’ve come up with a Thanksgiving Haggadah, put together by Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles working with our community and religion editor Tom Fields-Meyer.

The idea was to borrow from the Passover seder and offer four questions around the theme of gratitude. These are not easy questions. They’re meant to provoke thought and meaningful conversation. In combination with blessings and commentaries, we hope this little discussion guide will elevate your Thanksgiving experience.

One thing I’ve learned in working on this issue is that gratitude is not as simple as it seems. On the surface, it’s such an obviously good idea. Looking at the glass as half full, taking nothing for granted, counting our blessings — all of those clichés are meaningful and true.

All too often, though, life gets in the way. How do we focus on gratitude while also focusing on our mistakes? How do we feel grateful while also feeling outrage at the world’s indignities?

Balancing polarities always has been the great Jewish dance. We don’t pick one imperative over another. We don’t wallow only in gratitude or only in fixing our lives. We don’t look only at the full part of the glass or at the empty part. We look at the whole glass at all times. The full part gives us hope; the empty part gives us the drive to go forward.

Maybe, in the end, the deepest expression of gratitude is to be thankful for the very fact that we are able to move forward, that we have the opportunity to make everything around us just a little bit better.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld (fourth from left) appears at the American Friends of Magen David Adom (MDA) Red Star Ball with (from left) MDA first responders Nati Regev, Rivka Or, Aharon Adler, Israel Weingarten and Mohammed "Chamudi" Arrabi. Photo by Michelle Mivzari

Moving & Shaking: Seinfeld Headlines Ball, Iranian-American Jewish panel and Israeli American Council National Conference


Leave it to Jerry Seinfeld to transform a Beverly Hilton ballroom into an intimate comedy club.

Performing a half-hour set to conclude the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) Red Star Ball on the evening of Oct. 30, the comedic legend commanded the large, candlelit room like he was headlining the Improv.

Seinfeld opened the evening with a few minutes of material — joking about how Gentiles attend events for the alcohol, Jews for the rolls — but he promised he would return at the end of the night. When he came back onstage after 10 p.m., the funnyman captured both the mood of the fundraiser and the comic sensibility he is famous for.

“It’s been a beautiful night of generosity …,” he said. “Now, let’s get back to complaining.”

The gala raised pledges of more than $18 million, a record for an AFMDA event anywhere in the country, according to an event spokesperson. It also spotlighted the life-saving work of Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s ambulance, blood-services and disaster-relief organization that serves as emergency medical first-responders for the state’s more than 8 million people. MDA is mandated by the Israeli government to serve in this role, but it is not a government agency.

Of those in attendance, Humanitarian of the Year Honorees Sheldon and Miriam Adelson pledged $12 million to the organization, and Maurice Kanbar, creator of SKYY Vodka, pledged $5 million.

“My heart is in Israel,” Sheldon Adelson said. “And Israel is in my heart.”

Renee and Meyer Luskin received a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their support for the arts and education in Greater Los Angeles.

Next Generation Award winner Nikita Kahn — an actress, model and animal rights advocate — credited gala co-chair Dina Leeds with instilling in her the importance of supporting Israel.

“Her passion for Israel is contagious,” Kahn said of Leeds, who co-chaired the evening with her husband, Fred.

Additional speakers included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and the Leeds’ daughter, Alisa. The latter highlighted the contributions of MDA to Israel. She has volunteered with the organization and called it a model for peace as it treats patients regardless of religion or ethnicity.

A number of MDA medics attended the gala, including Rivka Or, a senior emergency medical technician; and Mohammed “Chamudi” Arrabi, a gay, Muslim medic.

“It makes me happy when I help somebody,” Or said.

Also in attendance were comedian Elon Gold; Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky, of the faith-based rehabilitation organization Aleph Institute; USC Hillel Executive Director Bailey London; Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa; and Israeli reality TV star Yossi Dina.

From left: Jesse Sharf, Kam Babaoff, Aliza Karney Guren, John Ghermezian and Kamyar Shabani participate in 30 Years After’s “The Builders of Los Angeles.” Photo by Jasmine Foroutan

30 Years After, the Iranian-American Jewish civic engagement organization, held its first in a series of events celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event, titled “The Builders of Los Angeles,” took place on Oct. 24 at the PH Day Club – Luxury Penthouse in West Hollywood and brought together a panel of prominent real estate developers and philanthropists.

The panel included Kam Babaoff, managing director of Ensemble Investments; Aliza Karney Guren, CEO of Karney Properties; John Ghermezian, chief business officer of Mall of America; and Kamyar Shabani, principal of Optimus Properties and a member of the 30 Years After advisory board. Jesse Sharf, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, moderated.

The panelists discussed their careers, the real estate industry, their passion for philanthropy and the Jewish community, and how their Jewish identities influence their philanthropy and businesses.

“People think that bad people get ahead in business, but people actually like doing business with good and philanthropic people,” Sharf said in response to an audience question. “It gets you further.”

When the panelists were asked what compelled them to be philanthropic, Babaoff responded: “My mom and dad were my role models. Growing up in Iran, our house was like Grand Central Station. People who needed help were always coming through, whether for money or dispute resolution. It is our duty and responsibility to give back, and giving back isn’t just giving money.”

“Money isn’t satisfying, but philanthropy is,” Ghermezian added. “A cause gives you a reason to continue working hard.”

About 250 people attended the event, including former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, and 30 Years After co-founder Sam Yebri.

In an interview, 30 Years After Executive Director Shanel Melamed said she was proud of how the program has helped provide a space for Persian Jews.

“This decade of engagement and leadership training has led to a comprehensive, emerging generation of Iranian-Jewish leaders who are equipped and motivated to contribute to, and lead, Los Angeles,” Melamed said. “We’re proud to be the central organization empowering Iranian-American Jews to be impactful members of society, and we have even greater goals for the next 10 years. We welcome everyone to join our exciting and growing movement.”

Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer

Diego Cartagena, vice president of legal programs at Bet Tzedek. Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek

Bet Tzedek, a pro bono legal aid agency, has named Diego Cartagena as its next vice president of legal programs.

Cartagena succeeds Gus May, who became a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in August, and will report directly to Bet Tzedek CEO Jessie Kornberg.

“This is a good day for Bet Tzedek and a great day for the thousands of clients that depend on us for a fair chance and a better life,” Kornberg said in a statement announcing Cartagena’s appointment.  Diego exemplifies what is best about our mission: an audacious commitment to push the bounds of what seems possible and deliver on our pledge to deliver equal justice for all.”

Cartagena’s responsibilities will include managing “the continued growth of Bet Tzedek’s community services,” according to the announcement. He has worked at Bet Tzedek since 2012, serving as the organization’s pro bono director.

“I look forward to working with longstanding and new community partners, pro bono supporters, and sister legal services agencies to continue to build on Bet Tzedek’s incredible history of protecting the rights of those most vulnerable by building innovative programs and coalitions that are responsive to the evolving community landscape,” Cartagena said.

Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to the Jewish Journal’s David Suissa at the Israeli American Council National Conference. Photo by FPerry Bindelglass

The Israeli American Council (IAC) National Conference attracted a record number of attendees this year — about 2,500 — when it was held from Nov. 3-6 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

“We have to make sure that America is pro-Israel regardless of who is in Congress and who is in the White House,” Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said at the event, which examined Jewish and Israeli identity, Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people and cutting-edge innovative ideas in education, technology and community building.

Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer also appeared and described President Donald Trump’s recent speech criticizing the Iran deal as “the second-best day since I have been ambassador.”

Additional speakers included U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who participated in an interview with Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa; diplomat and author Dennis Ross; IAC Chairman Adam Milstein; and Miriam Shepher, an IAC national council member from Los Angeles. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, sat for a conversation with IAC board member and chairman emeritus Shawn Evenhaim.

The IAC is an umbrella organization with 16 chapters across the country, including in Los Angeles. Since 2007, the organization has prided itself on investing in programs that assist the Israeli-American community.

From left: Imam Abdullah Antepli, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa and Yossi Klein Halevi participate in a discussion titled “Enemies, A Love Story.” Photo courtesy of Beth Jacob Congregation

An Oct. 29 discussion at Beth Jacob Congregation, titled “Enemies, A Love Story: A New Way Forward for Jewish-Muslim Relations,” featured a formerly self-proclaimed extremist Jew and a formerly anti-Semitic Muslim discussing Muslim-Jewish relations. The Shalom Hartman Institute, a pluralistic research and leadership institute for Jewish thought, organized the discussion.

Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa moderated the discussion between Yossi Klein Halevi and Imam Abdullah Antepli, co-directors of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, which, according to Hartman.org, “invites North American Muslims to explore how Jews understand Judaism, Israel and Jewish peoplehood.”

Halevi and Antepli spoke with compassion and conviction about how they want to see the program work now and in the future. Their remarks often drew applause from the approximately 250 people who attended, including Beth Jacob Rabbi Kalman Topp.

Ginger Vick contributed to this report

Larger Than Life children and volunteers attend the 14th annual Larger Than Life gala dinner at the JW Marriott L.A Live. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

Larger Than Life–L.A. Family, a nonprofit affiliated with the Israel-based Larger Than Life organization, in October brought to Los Angeles from Israel 38 youths with cancer for a 10-day dream vacation.

The youths, ages 10-18, enjoyed Southern California theme parks, rode ATVs, sailed on a yacht and partied at a gala dinner downtown at the JW Marriott hotel at L.A Live on Oct. 29. It was the 14th annual trip organized by Larger Than Life.

At the gala, approximately 750 guests watched a video about two friends, May Gurfinkel and Noa Tzemach, who both died months ago after battling cancer for two years. The two became close after visiting Los Angeles in 2015 on a Larger Than Life vacation.

“Noa started as a mentor to May, and they became one soul. They went together to the very end, talking about things that we will never, ever be able to understand,” said Gurfinkel’s father, Golan, who traveled from Israel for the event. May Gurfinkel died in July.

“I used to be the one who gave others money and a helping hand, and I thought I could handle this by myself, but it simply wasn’t possible,” he said. “We needed all the help we could get. Without Larger Than Life, your generosity and help, we wouldn’t be able to make it. The Larger Than Life dream trip gave May hope and the best friends ever.”

The event raised more than $1 million, including $2,000 raised by the youths themselves.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Screenshot from YouTube.

Are Jews the Only Ones Who Need a Thick Skin?


Why would Larry David stride up so confidently on the “Saturday Night Live” stage and joke about picking up women in a Nazi concentration camp? And why would he wallow in the fact that many of the recently accused sexual aggressors have Jewish names? Hasn’t he heard about anti-Semitism?

Here’s my theory: He assumes Jews can take it. At a time when everyone is allowed to get offended by the smallest slight, Jews are supposed to be, well, different.

College students can get offended by an email about Halloween costumes, but Jews should handle gross jokes about the Holocaust. Any student can yell about a micro-aggression, but Jews are expected to handle macro-aggressions.

Maybe David figured Jews are on another level. We’re the chosen ones, right? We’re the sophisticated Americans obsessed with education and with being loved by gentiles. Who has endeared the Jews to America? It’s not the lawyers, believe me. It’s the comedians.

For more than a century, from Burns to Benny to Allen to Crystal to Seinfeld, we’ve made America laugh by poking fun at ourselves. And why not? When you’ve been persecuted for 2,000 years and you finally find a place that accepts you, what better way to show your gratitude than by being entertaining?

And Larry David surely is an entertainer. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is my all-time favorite comedy. I love, among other things, that there’s no laugh track. No one cares whether I laugh or not. I get to eavesdrop on a wacko who obsesses over stuff that makes me squirm.

That’s the key word — eavesdrop.

Last Saturday night, as David was using the Holocaust to try to make me laugh, I wasn’t eavesdropping at all. I was looking straight into the eyes of a stand-up comic. This was not the David of “Curb” who was oblivious to my presence and just going about his crazy business. This was a guy who was pushing my buttons, who wanted something from me.

One of the extraordinary things about “Curb” is David’s ability to break virtually all taboos. I’ve often watched an episode and thought, “I can’t believe he’s pulling this off.” He’s poked fun at African-Americans, people with disabilities, Palestinian Muslims, and, yes, even Holocaust survivors, and, somehow, he pulls it off.

For one night at least, I wanted to yell to my fellow Jew to curb his enthusiasm.

His mistake last Saturday night was a professional one — he overlooked the context. What works in his “Curb” bubble doesn’t necessarily work under the bright lights of a live stage. The sacred cows he could slay on “Curb” ambushed him on stage.

The funny thing is, until he brought up the Holocaust, he seemed to understand those limitations. His act was quite funny. It’s only when he veered into the excruciatingly sensitive subject of a Nazi concentration camp that he blew it.

As Rabbi David Wolpe tweeted, David was “joking about how a starved, shaved and beaten woman might still reject him. I’m helpless with laughter.” Without the protective cover of his show, David just stood there, naked. On “Curb,” he’s an oblivious fanatic who can get away with almost anything. On “SNL,” he’s a self-aware comic with no margin of error. That’s not the best moment for a Holocaust joke.

After watching his act, part of me wanted to say, “Hey, we’re Jews. We can take it. We have a sense of humor!” But the other part wanted to say, “You know what? I’m tired of trying to be better. I want to be offended, just like other Americans.”

That side won out. For one night at least, I wanted to be like those college students and tap into my sensitive gene. I wanted to be an activist with Jewish Lives Matter and yell to my fellow Jew to curb his enthusiasm.

A Second, Quieter Festival Explores the Sephardic Journey


It’s hard to describe the pull of nostalgia. I left Casablanca, Morocco, when I was 8, and grew up in Canada and the United States. I’m a proud U.S. citizen and I love my country. When I travel overseas, I skip over Morocco and usually go right to the Jewish homeland of Israel, which I also love.

So, how do I explain my nostalgia for Morocco, an Arab-Muslim country? How can I be attached to a country that feels so foreign, so distant?

It’s true that with the passage of time there’s a tendency to romanticize our past. The very idea of romanticizing feels Moroccan to me. The mystical deserts where Jewish holy men are buried; the souks of Marrakesh; the drama of Tangiers; the French flavors of Casablanca; the Arabic music I still love; the Arab expressions my mother still uses — all of those things dance in my mind as I try to make sense of my attachment to the country of my ancestors.

But there’s something else — the “Moroccan Judaism” I grew up with. This is a Judaism that elevates celebration, aesthetics, holiness, neighborliness and tolerance. I didn’t grow up with the trauma of the Holocaust. I grew up dreaming in the deserts and beaches around Casablanca. What I most recall about our Jewish neighborhood was cozying up with family and neighbors during Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

It was an intimate and happy Judaism — one you could touch, feel and smell. We were Jews in a non-Jewish land, and we had to hug our Jewish rituals and each other to feel alive and whole.

Are my memories idealized? Probably. But here’s the thing: They feel real to me. The pull of my Moroccan past feels genuine.

This pull of nostalgia is one of the areas explored in the Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, which runs Nov. 5–12. While the buzz in the city will be around the larger and more established Israel Film Festival — which we feature in this week’s cover story — it’s worth paying attention to this other festival, especially if you enjoy the story of wandering Jews.

In a way, it makes sense that both festivals are happening simultaneously, because there’s one place where they clearly intersect: Israel. The Jewish state has played a major, even transformational, role in the recent history of Sephardic Jewry. In fact, the film premiering at the Sephardic festival, “Back to Casablanca,” could well have been featured at the Israel Film Festival.

The film tells the story of Ze’ev Revach, an Israeli actor and director born and raised in Morocco. As described on the festival’s website, “He sets out on a journey back to Casablanca, in search of a Moroccan actor to star alongside him in his next film, which he dreams that he’ll be able to distribute around the Arab world. He connects with his mother tongue, discovers the commonalities between the two cultures, but his mission is not a simple one.”

Another film, “Journey from Tunisia,” deals with “the upheaval of centuries of roots for Jews and their Arab neighbors in North Africa, and the forming of new roots in Israel, soon after its rebirth as a nation.”

And then there’s “Why Do They Hate Us?” — a must-see from French-Jewish filmmaker Alexandre Amiel, who hails from Morocco. Shortly after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market attacks, Amiel was shaken by his 11-year-old son, who asked, “Why do they hate us Jews?” His response was to produce a series on racism and anti-Semitism in France. It aired on French television and will be presented at the festival.

While the film festival is sure to attract Sephardic Jews, it’s also an opportunity for Ashkenazi Jews to learn more about their Sephardic brethren. This learning can’t happen as easily in religious institutions like synagogues, because most of us are attached to our religious customs, our style of prayer, our denominations and so on. Having said that, I know several Ashkenazi synagogues that now offer Sephardic services to their members. A great example is at Valley Beth Shalom, which you can read about in this week’s Journal, where Sephardic musician Asher Levy leads Middle Eastern-style services based on his Syrian roots.

A cultural event like a film festival is an ideal way to learn about different Jewish stories. Culture doesn’t ask us to change our ways, it just invites us to open our eyes and ears and hearts and experience a moment.

Although I’m deeply attached to my Sephardic roots, I have spent a good part of my adult life exploring Ashkenazi traditions, religiously and culturally, for the simple reason that I’m fascinated by the story of my people.

As with the story at Valley Beth Shalom, I’m noticing a similar interest among many of my Ashkenazi friends. Last Friday night, for example, after we sang the Ashkenazi version of “Shalom Aleichem,” one Ashkenazi guest asked, “What’s the Sephardic melody for that song?”

Singing that melody pulled me back to my childhood in Morocco. It’s ironic that an Ashkenazi Jew made me sing it, but that’s emblematic of our generation. We’re pulled by the nostalgia of our own past, but we’re fascinated by the past of other Jews we meet. After centuries of living apart, we’re discovering new Jewish stories, new Jewish melodies, new Jewish traditions, right here in Los Angeles. That’s something I could never taste in my Casablanca neighborhood, as much as I miss it.

Can Jewish Journalism Aim to Please?


The conventional wisdom in journalism is that if you don’t have angry readers, you’re doing something wrong. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this line — “If you get angry letters from the right and angry letters from the left, then you must be doing something right.” It’s as if having angry readers has become a badge of honor, an inevitable sacrifice for a greater good.

As much as I understand that sentiment, I still ask myself: Is it possible to please all segments of the Jewish community when you run a community paper? This question weighs on my mind because I love every segment of our community, and I like the idea of trying to please and nourish all of them.

It’s as if you are all guests at my Shabbat table, and I want you to enjoy the experience.

Of course, pleasing people was a lot easier when I was in the advertising business, which is all about making consumers feel good about buying a product.

But journalism is different — you can’t avoid controversial and divisive issues. I saw this when I started writing my weekly column 11 years ago. I still wanted to please my readers, but I held some strong views, which often would diverge sharply from the views of many of those readers.

So, I had to balance my need to please with my need to be honest. In searching for that sweet spot, I tried to express my opinions without triggering anger or animosity.

How do you provoke thought without provoking anger?

I reached out to people who had different worldviews, religiously and politically. I listened. I engaged. I wrote about them. I told their stories.

When I wrote political columns that displeased my friends on the left, it wasn’t uncommon to hear: “Hey, David. I didn’t agree with your last column, but I enjoyed reading it.” (That, by the way, is one of the best compliments you can give a writer.)

Occasionally, I would get a nasty letter. It could be from one of my buddies on the right (“Suissa, don’t go left on us!”) or a stranger from the left (“You right-wingers just don’t get it!”). But these were surprisingly rare.

Over the years, I grew to enjoy this weekly dance. I also learned the art of timing. Some moments, I learned, are just not conducive to unpleasant arguments. The Shabbat table is one of them. We have the whole week to argue. Shabbat is a great time for bonding. And I bonded with Jews from across the political and religious spectrum. I’m sure the Moroccan food helped.

I was gliding along comfortably in this weekly rhythm, when, one day, the stakes suddenly rose. I was offered the position of editor-in-chief at the Journal. So, after 11 years of being responsible for only 800 words a week, I would now be responsible for … about 30,000.

Oy.

If you think it’s difficult to please readers with one column a week, try it when you’re held responsible for 50 or more pages a week. How would I pull this off?

The real challenge, I have learned, is this: How do you appeal to all segments of the community without serving up mush and fluff? How do you provoke thought without provoking anger? How do you deal with the most sensitive issues without being divisive?

Ultimately, of course, you will be the judge.

From my end, after three weeks on the job, I can share a few insights.

First, when you’re dealing with controversial issues, it’s a good idea to print both sides of the argument in the same edition — and on the same page. This conveys instant impartiality. Publishing opinions without opposing views only nourishes the anger of those in the opposing camp.

Second, it’s important to find voices who struggle with the truth. These voices don’t claim to have all the answers. They value doubt. They consider all sides of an argument before leaning to one side. They’re not easy to pigeonhole.

Third, and not surprisingly, it’s crucial for a community paper to be all-inclusive. This is especially true in a city with the diversity of Los Angeles. I can say I’m blessed to have tasted this diversity for the past decade as I’ve written my weekly column. Now, I get to “cash in” on all those coffees and lunches and salons and Shabbat dinners with Jews from across the spectrum. I’m making a lot of phone calls.

Diversity, however, doesn’t apply only to people; it’s also about the subjects we cover. That’s something else I’m learning: We’ve become so obsessed with one subject — politics — we seem to lose sight of how much more this world has to offer.

As you’ll see in this week’s issue — where we cover topics ranging from current events to history to culture to Torah to food — we take this diversity seriously.

We don’t want to just be a mirror, we also want to be a window.

Needless to say, diversity in a Jewish paper includes the Jewish tradition.

I will write a separate column one day on the intersection of Judaism and journalism. For now, I want to leave you with this thought: Even though the majority of our readers may not sit around a Shabbat table every Friday night, we still want to celebrate the beauty of that ritual, as well as other rituals of our Jewish tradition.

In other words, we don’t want to be just a mirror, we also want to be a window. We want to challenge our readers to look beyond their own customs and traditions, whatever those are. Challenging our readers to open their minds to new ideas may not always be comfortable, but it’s another way we think we will please you.

Shabbat shalom.

Letters to the Editor: Gun rights debate, keeping politics out of temple, Radical Middle and David Suissa


Gun Rights Debate Continues

First of all, congratulations to the Journal for debating an issue that the Supreme court handed down a decision on almost 10 years ago (“Does the Second Amendment Guarantee the Right to Bear Arms?” Oct. 13).

Second, my admiration to Karen Kaskey for her very well-done arguments. In contrast: The best part of Ben Shapiro’s arguments is the headline: “Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality.” His analysis of the facts, though, is superficial and he fails to see the reality that modern society is not the same as it was 200 years ago. Everything in the universe, including American society, is subject to change. He doesn’t understand that the purpose of the constitution of any country is to serve its people and should be subject to change, as well.

As far as the Supreme Court decision on the issue: Yes, the court has the legal authority to clarify the meaning of any part of the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean justices can read the minds of those who wrote it. Nobody can.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles

Regarding Ben Shapiro’s column on the Las Vegas shooting (“Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality,” Oct. 13):

• Congress and the states have the legal authority to ban assault weapons.

• Polls show a majority of Americans want assault weapons to be illegal.

• Shapiro doesn’t even deal with the issue of assault weapons in his column. Instead, he changes the subject to a supposed effort to take away all guns from all citizens, which is untrue and irrelevant to the massacre in Las Vegas.

• Shapiro makes the lame conservative argument that because it’s impossible to stop all shootings, there’s no point in even trying. That makes as much sense as saying that I won’t lock the doors, windows and gates of my house because I can’t stop all burglaries.

• Conservatives love to say that the left can’t see evil when it’s staring them in the face and won’t act against it when they can. The real evil here is that conservatives are just fine with mass shootings, won’t do anything about them because they’re on the payroll of the gun industry, and callously thwart the desire of all Americans to feel safe from the threat of assault weapons.

Michael Asher via email


Leave Politics Out of the Temple

I was in shock when I read “Political Pundits Discuss ‘Trump’s America’ in Debate at Valley Beth Shalom,” (Oct. 13). First, this should never have been organized at this temple. I believe that there are tax consequences, aside from being very distasteful. Peter Beinart and David Frum are looney Jews talking trash about Trump.

Any normal person would be absolutely fed up with this constant line of crap! Trump is a racist, Trump is anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and on and on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valley Beth Shalom is losing membership. I know that other “liberal” temples are. Keep houses of worship just for spiritual purposes and leave politics at home!

Alexandra Joans, Los Angeles

Please add my name to those who feel the same as the “heckler” at Temple Israel of Hollywood (“Heckler Interrupts Kol Nidre Sermon,” Oct. 6).

Your “senior writer” seems to have given a new definition to the term heckler. Not long ago, “heckler” would conjure up a picture of someone sitting at length in an audience, making it rough on some budding entertainer.

Your reporter indicated none of that. The man got fed up with the narrishkayt and stated, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer.”

According to your reporter, he was not the only one disturbed by Rabbi John Rosove’s flights into “liberal political rhetoric.” Others voiced their displeasure that our synagogues were being turned into houses of rebellion against the government. He stated his protest — and left. “Stormed”? Tsk, tsk.

My wife and I “stormed” out of Temple Beth Hillel this past High Holy Days, demanding (and receiving) our money back, after the rabbi made sure that the congregation was apprised that Israel is an occupier, that it is non-egalitarian toward women who just want to pray at the Western Wall, that we should be magnanimous enough to welcome all in need to share our boundless country and, oh, yes, that the Reform movement has asked all Reform synagogues to “rise up against this [illegitimate] government.”

As your reporter quoted another irate citizen not afraid to buck the rising liberal nonsense, “We don’t need to listen to this bull—-!”

P.S. Apparently, neither do the fine people of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who pulled out of the movement for the same reason.

Steve Klein via email

Obviously, there were people attending the Kol Nidre service at Temple Israel of Hollywood who strongly felt that denouncing our president during the rabbi’s sermon was not appropriate — so much so that they walked out; and one man even spoke out in opposition as he stormed out of the sanctuary.

I agree with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple about keeping politics out of the synagogue. It is not intended to be a place for expressing political differences.

According to Wikipedia, “politics is the process and method of gaining or maintaining support for public or common action, the conduct of decision-making for groups.” It serves to sway people’s allegiance.

On the other hand, a temple is “an edifice or place dedicated to the service or worship of a deity.”

Whether or not you like our president (I voted against him), the temple is a place for religious worship — certainly not intended for political denunciation of our president.

George Epstein, Los Angeles


Both Parties Leave  the ‘Middle’ Behind

Karen Lehrman Block is completely right, but rather late (“Toward a Radical Middle,” Oct. 6). The “middle” (to which I belong, as well) was written out of the Democratic and Republican parties years ago, and I see no sign of it being able to return because its politicians have morphed into the “establishment” and are functioning only to their own benefit. That’s what Donald Trump ran against and that’s why he was elected.

Your first redesigned issue was excellent.

Stephen J. Meyers via email


Progressives Should  Reconsider Their Ethics

In “Dancing With Darkness” (Oct. 13), David Suissa extols the personal freedom we enjoy in the United States, although it tragically enabled the Las Vegas massacre. American freedom has a particular resonance with Jews because it’s inspired by the Ten Commandments, which assert that true freedom requires moral behavior. The Founding Fathers were so profoundly aware of their Hebrew roots that the Liberty Bell’s sole inscription is from Leviticus; Ben Franklin’s original idea for the Great Seal of the United States was a depiction of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea; and George Washington personally assured the fledgling Jewish community that its members were free and equal citizens.

Despite this history, progressives have for years condemned Christianity and Judaism, the latter by demonizing Zionism. Since turning their backs on Judeo-Christian ethics, progressives have become meaner and less tolerant, like the crowds who cheered Madonna when she mused about “blowing up the White House,” and Linda Sarsour when she praised a convicted terrorist murderer.

After the Las Vegas massacre, a young, Jewish CBS vice president declared she was unsympathetic to the victims because “country music fans often are Republican.” Progressive indoctrination, such as Hillary Clinton calling candidate Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables,” robbed this woman of her conscience and empathy.

Hopefully, the Harvey Weinstein scandal will lead progressives to reconsider their values, or we may well forfeit the freedom our ancestors died for.

Rueben Gordon, Calabasas


Good Luck, David Suissa

Congratulations to David Suissa on his new role as editor-in-chief of the Journal. The most recent Journal already shows that there is a changing of the guard and a new leadership reflecting a new light shining on different aspects of Jewish life, Israel and the world.

I have been a longtime reader of the Journal and I want to wish you much success in your new position. Go from strength to strength.

Best wishes.

Leila Bronner, Los Angeles

Letters to the Editor: David Suissa, Politics from the Bimah, Iran nuclear deal and Monty Hall


Journal Under New Leadership

I’ve been a reader of the Jewish Journal since the days I started work at the Shoah Foundation about 15 years ago. I really appreciate this local paper with a Jewish take on life. I want to wish the staff well with the recent change of leadership and I look forward to continuing to support your work. I also wanted to mention the column by Dani Klein Modisett. I really enjoy her humorous take on life.

Sonya Sharp via email

I just read the first issue of the Journal since the leadership has changed. Kudos!

It is a surprising and wonderful difference. The Journal is more engaging, friendly and respectful of the diversity of its readers. There isn’t any of the prior judgmental, negative and hostile tone.

“Beginnings are important,” as reflected by the editorial that opens the issue. It is welcoming and demonstrates an intellectual openness and curiosity. This approach also has clearly determined the choice of writers in the issue and probably resulted in their adopting a similar tone. I hope you can keep it up!

Charles Portney, Santa Monica

David Suissa: Congratulations on your maiden voyage. You’ve gathered an excellent and what promises to be an eclectic group of personalities to fill your pages.

I look forward to your successes at the helm of a great Jewish paper.

Gordon Gelfond via email

How refreshing and enjoyable it was to read the Jewish Journal in the first edition under the leadership of David Suissa as editor-in-chief. Conspicuous by its absence is the biased, liberal-left diatribe that was so prevalent in previous editions.

I enjoyed reading Karen Lehman Block’s column (“Toward a Radical Middle,”  Oct. 6). She pointed out how so many of the regressive left have displayed their dislike for Israel and, in fact, began to spread lies about Israel.

I enjoyed the cartoon; it was devoid of the liberal, left bias that was so apparent in the cartoons by Steve Greenberg.

I commend David Suissa for his editorship and hope it directs the Journal to focus primarily on a publication that services the Los Angeles-area Jewish community rather than a politically biased publication that repeats the talking points of the fake news liberal left mainstream media.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills


Politics From the Bimah on Kol Nidre

In his story “Heckler Interrupts Kol Nidre Sermon” (Oct. 6), Eitan Arom recounts Rabbi John Rosove’s scathing remarks in his sermon attacking President Donald Trump. These political calumnies are unsuitable in a place of worship, especially on the most holy day of the year.

It is interesting that in all my years davening in Orthodox shuls, I have never heard political diatribes against an American president, either of the right or left persuasion — not once! Is there a reason why leftist rabbis vent in this most crude way and Orthodox rabbis do not? Is it because many left-leaning rabbis and their congregants think less of the Torah than they do of their leftist/fascist principles? As Norman Podhoretz writes in his book “Why Are Jews Liberals?” “Liberalism has become the religion of American Jews.”

But why dump on Trump? In his less than nine months as president, after eliminating many of former President Barack Obama’s odious regulations, the stock market has soared, reaching unprecedented highs; the GDP has grown by more than 3 percent in his first quarter as president — not achieved in all eight years under Obama, who averaged only 1.4 percent — and the job market is thriving with meaningful jobs and increasing wages. 

Does the left not think that this is significant? Of course they do, but only if it occurs under a Democratic president.

C.P. Lefkowitz, Rancho Palos Verdes

This story illuminates perfectly why I hate politics from the bimah. For me, going to shul/synagogue, especially during the Chagim, is about heart-opening, not mind-bending. I need to connect with the Holy One. I need to learn how to practice compassion and forgiveness.

If I had been the rabbi on that pulpit, I would have stopped mid-sentence when the so-called heckler stood up, and offered a teaching on the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. I would have reminded the kahal that Yom Kippur is the Great Shabbat and a day of introspection and forgiveness, not the time for resentment, anger and self-serving applause.   

Evelyn Baran, Los Angeles

The sanctuary at Temple Israel of Hollywood has photographs from the civil rights movement of Rabbi Max Nussbaum with Martin Luther King. As long as there is injustice, rabbis must speak out against it.

Michael Schwartz via Facebook

I wouldn’t have walked out but I would have been irritated. I agree with Rabbi David Wolpe: There are moments when they must speak about politics but those times are limited. I don’t want to hear about Trump at synagogue services. I rarely want to hear about him at all.

Dena Nechama Smith via Facebook

Applause at a religious service? Gevalt! It’s inappropriate and disruptive at bar/bat mitzvah services, and it would be even more so at Yom Kippur. And it’s shul. It’s the holiest day of the year; the D’Var Torah should be a D’var Torah and one which nourishes the soul, stimulates the mind, and calms the heart. Keep the secular speeches for a different venue, not a religious service.

Lisa Shepard via Facebook


Iran Nuclear Deal Up for Review

Larry Greenfield’s argument to decertify the Iran nuclear deal (“It Was a Fraud From the Start,” Oct. 6) fails completely as it is no different than the reason many Donald Trump supporters give for their continuing support of the president: “Hillary Clinton was a liar and a thief.”  

Greenfield alleges Trump should decertify the deal because: 

• Barack Obama wasn’t a qualified negotiator.

• Obama failed to enforce his red line in Syria. 

• Tehran residents have chanted, “Death to Israel.”  

• The nuclear deal rewarded a terrorist state.  

• Trump has decried it as one of the worst deals ever. 

Those points may be true, but they are irrelevant. The election is over and the agreement was signed. Neither can be changed. 

Greenfield makes one more point in his argument to decertify the nuclear agreement with Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu has said Iran has become more dangerous since the agreement was signed.” The statement may be true, but the statement by itself doesn’t argue why decertifying the agreement would reduce the danger to Israel.

Michael Ernstoff via email

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Larry Greenfield’s op-ed. I commend him on writing such a powerful and persuasive piece about the Iran nuclear deal. It was extremely well written and well thought out.

Greenfield’s eloquent writing style and his research on the impact of the Iran nuclear deal was very impressive. I would like to see more stories written by him in the Journal.

Karen Reissman via email


A Doctor’s Response to Death

As a physician, I saw death almost daily, but I did not know what it really was until I faced it 30 years ago (“As I Lay Dying” Oct. 6). Having just returned from Israel the night before, I restarted my running routine at 6 the next morning; I was suddenly trapped by two Rottweilers, who had broken out of their compound less than a block from my home. Each took turns ripping into me until I could no longer stand, and saw death face-to-face. Then a neighbor suddenly appeared and threw a rake and broom into my hands to fend the dogs off until the police arrived.

I have lived in the moment ever since and see every second as precious. I sympathize with the tragedy Kay Wilson experienced. I know two elderly neighbors, who always walked a little later in the morning, were saved from the jaws of fate that day. Life is too precious to waste. We have to look out for our neighbors and be the good Samaritans to anybody in need.

Jerome P. Helman, Venice


Remembering Monty Hall

Baruch dayan emet. May his memory be a blessing for the whole Los Angeles Jewish community (“Monty Hall, Philanthropist and Host of ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ 96,” Oct. 6).

Helene Sicherman via Facebook

Fond memories of Hall joining Rabbi Pressman doing the annual Israel Bond drive “Let’s Make a Deal”-style at Temple Beth Am. I will choose to remember him that way.

Clinton Thomas Bailey via Facebook

To Rob, with love


When my friend Rob Eshman suggested I write a weekly neighborhood column in the Jewish Journal in August 2006, my immediate response was, “How can I do it every week? I can’t write about the same neighborhood week after week.”

His response: “So write about whatever you’re passionate about that week.”

Those words have stayed with me ever since, and whenever I wasn’t sure what to write about on any given week, I just followed Rob’s advice.

Well, now that I have to fill Rob’s pretty considerable shoes as the Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, I will try to do the same.

My first issue in my new role will be next week’s Sukkot issue. I approach this moment with some trepidation. Already, from my experience of just the past two weeks, I can tell you it is a huge amount of work to produce quality journalism every week.

When I started a spiritual magazine many years ago called OLAM, we had months to put it together. We could agonize for weeks over the articles, the writers, the images, the design, everything. Will I have as much time to agonize at the Jewish Journal? Not a chance. Will I try to be as meticulous? Yes. Wish me luck.

Producing a weekly community paper is, above all, an enormous responsibility. The eyes of a community are on you, on every word and on every image. The more I get into it, the more appreciation I have for what Rob did over the past 17 years as editor-in-chief, week in and week out.

First, I’m learning that everyone thinks they’re Ernest Hemingway, everyone has a piece that absolutely must be published. Rob knew how to manage sticky situations like this — where you want to be honest without hurting people’s feelings — with class and grace. Will I have the same grace? I don’t know. I’ll try.

Second, many readers get angry when they read content with which they disagree. Rob had this remarkable willingness to publish letters to the editor that completely reamed his own paper. Will I be as fearless? I don’t know. I’ll try.

Third, Rob was a journalist at heart. He loved news. He loved everything that would advance a story. He loved stories, period. Will I be as great a journalist and storyteller? I don’t know. I’ll try.

One of Rob’s great contributions to the Journal and to our community is his appreciation for diverse voices. I know from experience. Occasionally, I would send him an op-ed from another writer that I knew he would sharply disagree with, and I’d get this kind of response: “I disagree with it, but it’s well written and well argued.” And more often than not, he’d publish it.

You can never underestimate this talent. At a time when the nation has been as polarized as ever, when people are repulsed by views they disagree with, when disagreements easily turn into animosity, it takes guts to publish stuff you completely disagree with.

Will I have that same courage? I don’t know. I’ll try.

One thing I do know is this: If there is one thing that has bonded Rob and me over the years, it is our love of fresh and different voices, our love of trying new things, our love of shaking things up and keeping readers on their toes.

In fact, when he first brought up the idea that I take over his role, one thing he said was, “Hey, maybe the place can use some new blood.”

Am I that new blood? I don’t know. I certainly hope so.

What I can tell you is that Rob had a genius for constantly providing that new blood. His eyes and ears and taste buds were always open for something new to share with readers. If he tasted something he liked at my Shabbat table, he’d show up at my home the following week and film my mother making her famous galettes.

It is that openness I will miss the most. Those impromptu conversations in our offices about movies, food (always food), the Jewish community (don’t ask), a new book, Israeli politics (always polite), a new person we met, a cool event we attended or that was coming up, a story about one of our kids … there were always new stories to share.

Will I continue to follow Rob’s lead and tell all those new stories with fairness and passion? I’m not Hemingway, but I’ll try.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

[WATCH] My delightful meeting with 101-year-old Alyse Laemmle of Laemmle Theatres


As soon as I heard the magic words from my friend Tish Laemmle– “She’s 101 years old”– my immediate reply was: “Can I meet her?” A few weeks later, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I drove down to Hermosa Beach to chat with Alyse Laemmle, 101-year-old wife of the late co-founder of the theater chain, Kurt Laemmle. Here is a little taste of our delightful rendezvous.

 

Rob Eshman, longtime Jewish Journal editor-in-chief and publisher, to leave post for writing projects


Rob Eshman

Rob Eshman, longtime editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal, has announced he will be leaving his position on September 26.

Eshman, who has written and sold two movie projects while at the Journal, said that after 23 years at the paper, he wants to switch the focus of his career to full-time writing. He will be working on a food book—Eshman writes the blog “Foodaism”—and another movie project.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what the Journal has become,” Eshman said. “And I am honored and grateful to have been a part of it. I will always love this paper, its staff and this community.”

Peter Lowy, chairman of TRIBE Media, which produces the Jewish Journal, said that current President David Suissa will be stepping into Eshman’s role.

“Rob has been integral to the Journal and the Jewish community,” Lowy said. “He brought curiosity, intellect, and a sense of humor to his work.  Most of all he cares passionately about journalism and Judaism—and he showed that every week.”

Lowy said Eshman approached him in late July to begin discussing the move, and together with Suissa they worked toward a smooth transition.

“What makes the Journal great is a great staff, its board, and the community we serve,” Eshman said. “Those will remain the constants of the Jewish Journal.”

The Journal combines news of the 600,000-person LA Jewish community –the third largest in the world after New York and Tel Aviv–with commentary, features and national and international news.  It publishes 50,000 print copies each week in Los Angeles, and updates jewishjournal.com, one of the world’s most widely-read Jewish news sites, throughout the day.

In 1994, Eshman arrived at the Journal after working as a freelance journalist in San Francisco and Jerusalem. The paper’s founding editor, Gene Lichtenstein, hired him as a reporter. At the time the Journal was a print-only publication. The Journal was independently incorporated but distributed via the Federation membership list.

Eshman became Managing Editor in 1997. In 2000, then-Chairman Stanley Hirsch named him Editor-in-Chief.

As editor, Eshman expanded the reach of jewishjournal.com from 4000 unique visitors to upwards of 4 million today. He brought on a greater mix of political and religious voices. He also overhauled the print circulation model, completely dropping Federation distribution and making the Journal a free weekly, distributed throughout the city. Then-chairman Irwin Field was instrumental in seeing these changes through, Eshman said.

“I wanted to reach every Jew,” Eshman said, “especially those who weren’t connected to the organized community. I realized a good Jewish paper was the easiest way into Jewish connection, and I wanted to make it even easier.” 

In 2009, the Journal, like most newspapers in the country, fell into dire financial straits. Eshman turned to Lowy, CEO of Westfield Corp. to rescue the company and help steer it through the double blow that the Internet and the recession dealt the industry. With a handful of other philanthropists, Lowy formed a new board and came on as Chairman. A year later, Eshman tapped Suissa, formerly the founder of Suissa/Miller Advertising and editor and publisher of OLAM Magazine, to run the Journal’s business side. At that time, Eshman was named Publisher as well.

In the process, Eshman chose a new name for the company –TRIBE—to reflect the its growing multi-media nature and broader mission. These moves ensured the paper’s survival, and eventual growth.

“David Suissa brought his passion and creative genius to the paper, and has been an invaluable partner,” Eshman said.

While Eshman leans left and Suissa right, the two wrote often-opposing columns and the Journal came even more to reflect—and combine—strongly divergent voices that would otherwise stay secluded in separate media bubbles.

During the 2016 Iran nuclear deal, which Eshman supported and Suissa opposed, their ability to spar publicly while maintaining a close friendship and partnership drew media attention.

L.A. Jewish Journal’s heads spar over Iran deal, but stay friendly,” read a headline in the Times of Israel.

Under Eshman, the Journal has won numerous press and community awards. It has expanded across other media platforms, including video. Its livecast of the Nashuva congregation’s Kol Nidre service draws 75,000 viewers each year, making it the world’s most-watched High Holiday service.

Asked to name highlights of his tenure, Eshman pointed to two. In 2015, Islamic terrorists in Paris massacred the staff at Charlie Hebdo magazine for printing cartoons they found offensive. The Journal renamed the Jan. 16 masthead of the paper, “Jewish Hebdo,” and ran the offending cartoons inside.

A year later, Eshman oversaw the first poll of American Jewish opinion during the Iran nuclear deal. It found most American Jews supported a deal that the vast majority of Jewish organizations, as well as Israel’s Prime Minister, opposed. The results reverberated internationally, and the White House acknowledged the Jewish Journal as “One of the most widely read Jewish publications online.”  

“To go from a small locally-circulated newspaper to a media company that reaches millions around the world, and has an impact on the great debates of our time while still serving its core readers with the kind of independent journalism that serves and builds community–that’s very gratifying,” said Eshman. “But it wasn’t at all just me. It was us.”

Eshman credits his past managing editors Amy Klein and Howard Blume, former executive editor Susan Freudenheim, and current managing editor Ryan Smith—as well as a slew of talented writers—as instrumental to the Journal’s editorial accomplishments.

Eshman, 57, is a native of Encino, CA and a graduate of Dartmouth College. He is married to Rabbi Naomi Levy, an author and founder of Nashuva. They have two children, Adi and Noa.

During his tenure at the Journal, Eshman, a member of the Writers Guild of America, wrote and sold a feature film screenplay and a multi-part television project. He also created the food blog, “Foodaism,” named one of L.A.’s best food blogs, and created and taught “Food, Media and Culture” at USC Annenberg School of Communication, where he will continue to teach. He has served on several non-profit boards, including, at present, The Miracle Project.

“We wish Rob well and look forward to an exciting future with David building off the base that Rob and his team has built,” said Lowy.

Eshman pointed out that there has been at least one Jewish newspaper in Los Angeles since the first one was founded in 1870. 

“I was so honored to serve this community and be part of that history,” he said. “And it goes on.”

 

 

Letters, 6/30-7/6


Uplifting Stories

I just read Ed Elhaderi’s story and can’t thank you enough (“My Quest for Fulfillment: How I Left My Roots in Libya to Find a New Life in Judaism,” June 23). I’m 88 years old and am still learning. I’m the daughter of Jewish immigrants and so happy when others find love in Judaism. 

Shirley Goldenberg

via email

I just finished reading your article about Rafi Sivron (“The Unseen Hero,” June 2). I think it’s great that he is getting the attention he deserves. 

Thank you for a great article!

Ryan Stanley

via email

Bringing Civility Back to Political Debate

David Suissa suggests that political debate should occur on weeknights rather than Shabbat (“Rabbis Should Aim Higher Than Politics,” June 23). However, if politics is “ugly and divisive,” as he suggests, no debate is likely to be fruitful. I think the objective instead should be to make politics something other than “ugly and divisive.”

Politics has been defined as the process of deciding who gets what, when and how. Of special importance in our democratic political system is the relative openness of the system, which enhances opportunities to have a say; the idea that the strongly placed and advantaged do not always prevail in the competition; and that ordinary people can and do have an impact upon the result. I feel that rabbis can legitimately dwell in their sermons on the usefulness of the process of politics without arguing for a particular result.

They also can contrast conflicting points of view and ask their congregants to decide for themselves. This is a good way to establish that issues are not “black and white.” (I have taught that way at Cal State Long Beach.)

I have heard Rabbi Jacob Schachter, a leading decisor of the Orthodox Union, argue that every political issue has a solution in Jewish law. If so, this would be the most ambitious way to deal with the problem. It certainly leaves the “ugliness” behind.

Barry H. Steiner

Emeritus Professor of Political Science

Cal State Long Beach

I like what David Suissa said. Our souls should be touched and elevated — that’s one of the reasons I go to temple on Shabbat: to shut the chaos of the week gone by and have my soul soak up the words that I’m hearing from the pulpit. Just maybe they will guide me to go higher than I did last week.

Susan Cohn

Redding, Calif.

Whose Land Is Israel Occupying?

The left thinks it owns the language. It does not! In his short op-ed (“50 Years Later: The Fighting Continues,” June 23), Adam Wergeles, no fewer than five times refers to “the occupation” of the West Bank — viz., Judea and Samaria — part of the ancient territory of Israel. 

Whom does Wergeles and his leftist cohorts think this land is occupied from? Which country? If he answers, “The Palestinians,” let him tell me what country this is. There is no Palestinian state or country, there never has been. It is a made-up name, just like the West Bank. 

If anything, one can say that this territory was taken back from Jordan after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Jordan lost it as a result of Israel’s victory over the aligned Arab countries that were about to attack and sought to destroy Israel. But Jordan never had any claim to the West Bank. 

Jordan held the land as a result of the armistice agreement between the combatants — the so-called Green Line — after the ’48 Arab-Israeli War of Independence. 

In a war, especially when not the aggressor, a country does not return land that was taken back from its enemy. Except in relatively few cases, as in the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt after Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, conquered territory is incorporated within the confines of the victorious country. 

The Southwestern states of the United States have a sizable Mexican population. Does this mean that they can claim this territory as occupied? 

Saying “occupied” doesn’t make it so.

C.P. Lefkowitz

Rancho Palos Verdes

CORRECTIONS

The Sunday show time for “I’m Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce” at Theatre 68 was incorrect in the June 23 edition of the Journal. It can be seen 3 p.m. Sundays.

An item in the June 23 edition of Moving and Shaking mistated the official name of the American Society for Yad Vashem gala. The name of the event was Salute to Hollywood.

In Marty Kaplan’s column in the June 23 edition (“Hunk Hawks Hideous Health Bill”), references to Medicare should have been Medicaid.


THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via email must not contain attachments. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: Jewish Journal, Letters, 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1250, Los Angeles, CA 90010;
email: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684.

Calendar: March 24-30, 2017


SAT | MARCH 25

KENNY ARONOFF & FRIENDS

Kenny Aronoff & Friends will perform two sets in their long-awaited return to The Baked Potato stage. The trio features Aronoff (who has played with John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge and John Fogerty) on drums, James LoMenzo (Megadeth, White Lion, David Lee Roth) on bass and vocals, and Brent Woods (KISS, Sebastian Bach, Vince Neil) on guitar and vocals.  9:30 p.m., $30; 11:30 p.m., $25. The Baked Potato, 3787 Cahuenga Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-1615. thebakedpotato.com.

“ISRAEL AND SYRIA: WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW”

Andrew J. Tabler, the Martin J. Gross Fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute, will discuss the dynamics of Syria and how it affects Israel, the broader Middle East and the United States. Tabler, who has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, PBS and NPR, is the author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle With Syria.” Co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal. 9:30 a.m. Shabbat service; 11:30 a.m. lecture. Free. Limited seating; RSVP at info@beverlyhilllsjc.org. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246.

SUN | MARCH 26

“STREIT’S: MATZO AND THE AMERICAN DREAM”

For five generations, the Streit family business has held strong to Jewish tradition, but even these New Yorkers are not immune to the challenges that small businesses face. Come see the tradition and resilience surrounding this Lower East Side matzo factory in the documentary directed by Michael Levine. 2 p.m. $10; $6 for students; free for members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 400-4500. skirball.org.

“UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME”

Leaders of the Islamic Center of Reseda will answer visitors’ questions, such as: What are the core Islamic values? How do Muslims feel about Jews? Does Islamic theology drive ISIS? Hear about this and more at the Temple Etz Chaim Men’s Club Sunday Brunch. 10:30 a.m. $10; $8 for club members. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891. templeetzchaim.org.

“THE SEVEN QUESTIONS YOU’RE ASKED IN HEAVEN”

cal-wolfsonRon Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education in the Graduate Center for Jewish Education at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, will discuss “The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven: Reviewing and Renewing Your Life on Earth.” Wolfson’s books include “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community” and “The Best Boy in the United States of America.” 10 a.m. brunch; lecture to follow. Free. RSVP to Kehillat Ma’arav. 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

THE PERSIAN PASSOVER RITUAL

Shirin Raban, an award-winning designer, cine-ethnographer and educator, and Saba Soomekh, associate director of research at UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, will talk about Persian Passover ritual. 4 p.m. Free. RSVP required. USC Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. usc.edu/esvp.

“THE INNER WORLD OF IILSE KLEINMAN”

Join the opening reception for “The Inner World of Ilse Kleinman: Reflections on Oppression,” featuring a presentation by the artist’s son, Dennis Kleinman, and remarks by art psychotherapist Dr. Esther Dreifus-Kattan. The artist and her parents fled Berlin in 1933 and settled in South Africa as the country was facing the rise of apartheid. Kleinman’s art features Holocaust- and apartheid-related motifs. 2 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

EMAN EL-HUSSEINI and JESS SALOMON

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Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini

Stand-up comedians Eman El-Husseini and her wife, Jess Salomon — one Palestinian and one Jewish — will perform. They will be introduced by comedian Noël Elgrably. Food and drinks will be available. 7 p.m. $15. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. themarkaz.org.

JEWISH ABILITIES CENTER BENEFITS WORKSHOP

This Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center workshop will focus on “Working While Receiving Benefits.” Jerri Ward, who specializes in Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security with Disability Rights in California, will lead the program and cover topics such as Social Security’s calculation of income, “substantial gainful activity,” a nine-month “trial work period,” work incentives, and contribution of Medicare and Medi-Cal. 6:30 p.m. Free; RSVP required. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Goldman Center Rooms A&B, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. jewishla.org.

MON | MARCH 27

SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER CO-FOUNDER SPEAKS

Joseph J. Levin Jr., co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will discuss the history of the organization’s work, then talk about the current landscape of crimes, anti-Semitism and the pursuit of justice on behalf of vulnerable communities. Q-and-A to follow. 7 p.m. wine and cheese; 7:30 p.m. lecture. RSVP at Temple Isaiah. 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. templeisaiah.com.

TUES | MARCH 28

WORDS, WIT AND WISDOM

Brandeis San Fernando Valley Chapter presents lunch and a presentation by three authors — Gina Nahai, Carole Bayer Sager and Jonathan Shapiro — followed by a Q-and-A. The session will be moderated by Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. Book purchases and signing available. 10 a.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. brandeissfv.org.

WED | MARCH 29

“BEING JEWISH ON THE COLLEGE CAMPUS”

Harkham GAON Academy welcomes all Los Angeles high school students and their parents to an event focusing on learning Passover-related topics that can be shared at the Passover seder, as well as general information about Judaism on a college campus. 6:30 p.m. Harkham GAON Academy at the Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.

“HOLOCAUST ESCAPE TUNNEL”

A preview screening of the upcoming film “Holocaust Escape Tunnel” on PBS’ “Nova” (airing April 19) will be presented by the American Jewish University’s Sigi Ziering Institute with the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The film reveals the story of a lost city — Vilna, Lithuania — which for centuries was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, until the Nazis destroyed it. A team of archeologists excavating the remains of the city’s Great Synagogue uncovers a hidden escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site. A panel discussion and Q-and-A will follow the screening. Free. 7:30 p.m. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. gradassistant@aju.edu or (310) 440-1279.

MAGGIE ANTON

cal-maggie-antonMaggie Anton is the author of the “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy, “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” and its sequel, and, most recently,“Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say About You-Know-What.”  The writer, who was born in Los Angeles and still resides here, will take part in a book reading and discussion. 7 p.m. Free; donations appreciated. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 613-8444. templemenorah.org.

“ISRAEL, TRUMP, WEAPONS & THE MEDIA”

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Yaakov Katz

Jewish Journal’s Crucial Conversations, in partnership with Modern Minds on Jewish Matters, presents Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and co-author of “The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower,” in conversation with TRIBE Media Corp. President David Suissa. 7:30 p.m. $10 in advance. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911. bethjacob.org.

THURS | MARCH 30

“COMPETING VISIONS FOR ISRAEL”

Jewish settlers and J Street experience their fair share of demonization in the Jewish community and beyond. Both desire a secure Jewish future for the State of Israel — and Jews worldwide — amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but their vision for the path to that objective could not be more divergent. What happens when we stop paying attention solely to those who agree with us and listen to the other side? Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills will address this and other topics in the third of its Behrendt Conversation Series, “Competing Visions for Israel: J Street and a Settler in Conversation,” with Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, and Alan Elsner, special adviser to the president of J Street (see their op-ed pieces on Page 12). 7 p.m. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way. For more information or to RSVP, go to: tebh.org/
conversations or email Events@tebh.org.

From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy


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Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


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Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.


From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


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Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Photo from Pexels.

Letters to the editor: Criticism and love for columnists, response to GOP health care bill


Dennis Prager Misses Mark With Crime Wave Premise

Congratulations to Dennis Prager. His splenetic “No Wave” column exceeded his usual repugnant level of see-through propaganda (“There Is No Wave of Trump-Induced Crime in America,” March 10). This inexplicable Nazi/white power apologia reached all the way to outright sick-making (especially appearing in a Jewish publication).  

Bonus points for tacking on, at the thrilling conclusion of this slop, blithe lecture-y dismissals of the effects of climate change, AIDS, rape and racism among police, too (efficient!). Love how you brought a little Kellyanne into our Jewish world — fun!  

Grrrr.  

Steve Heller via email

Columnists Stir Strong Feelings Among Readers

Dennis Prager and David Suissa appeared to be an oasis of credible journalism and well-thought-out commentary in the March 10 edition. It wasn’t a Purim joke; it was rational, credible journalism. In particular, Dennis Prager clearly showed that there is no wave of Trump-induced crime in America. David Suissa exposed the so-called Women’s March as a political movement with a bias toward the liberal left (“Why I’m Protesting the Protests of March 8,” March 10). The Women’s March completely ignored the real persecution of women, such as in some countries that persecute women under Muslim law.

Rob Eshman should, by now, get the message that his bias toward the liberal left has created a disconnect with the Los Angeles area Jewish community. He should take a lesson from and try to emulate Dennis Prager and David Suissa.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

Thank you, David Suissa. Your take on recognizing Trump as a bullshitter (“Is Trump Worse Than a Liar?” Feb. 24) and on handling acts of Jew-hatred in America from a position of strength (“Fight Jew-Haters but Don’t Promote Them,” March 3), I found right on the mark.

And I especially want to thank Gina Nahai for her firsthand illuminating account of life under the shah (“The Nature of Rubbish,” March 3). I gained tremendous understanding and compassion for what her family and other Persians went through. We Americans need to understand and appreciate how people cope with and survive totalitarian regimes, including “fake news.”

Sharon Alexander, Torrance

GOP Caught in Health Care Trap

Michelle Wolf wrote that the proposed Republican health plan will drastically cut Medicaid benefits from the most needy and vulnerable Americans (many of whom voted for Trump) (“The Cruelest Cuts of All,” March 10).

That is only part of the story. Many, but not all Republicans would like to repeal Obamacare altogether and do away with all government assistance to the medically needy. They got elected on the promise to abolish Obamacare.

However, when it comes to reality, there is a conundrum: Many Republicans campaigned on the shortcomings of Obamacare that, indeed, over promised. They not only promised repeal, but a substitution program which would retain all the popular provisions of Obamacare and add more benefits but cost less.

Now they are caught in the trap of over promise. The actual proposed plan (Trumpcare) would indeed cost less, but would drastically cut benefits, leaving about half of the approximately 20 million newly insured without insurance and most of the rest paying more for less. There is no magic. You usually don’t get more for less. If there is a lesson to be learned from what happened to the Democrats, the Republicans have not learned it.

Or maybe they just painted themselves into a corner. Consider turning over a new leaf: Medicare for everyone.      

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Watch Your Language, School Board Candidate

Thank you very much for your coverage of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board candidates, including Nicholas Melvoin (“Melvoin: ‘New Blood, New Ideas’ and Charter Schools,” March 3). If I were Harvard, I’d ask Mr. Melvoin to return his English diploma: “Me and Steve could be brothers.” This from someone who is seeking a seat on the Board of Education? Why would anyone support a candidate who cannot construct a simple declarative sentence correctly?

Mine will be one less vote for Mr. Melvoin.

Beryl Arbit via email

AIPAC’s respect for Israeli voters


The theme of this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference — “Many Voices, One Mission” — speaks to the importance the Israel lobby group places on attracting a plurality of voices. This focus on bipartisanship has long been AIPAC’s bread and butter. By being sensitive to the democratic choices of Israeli voters, whether on the left or the right, AIPAC always had what looked like a reasonable and fail-safe strategy.

Indeed, for many years, that approach worked to strengthen AIPAC’s bipartisan image. When Israel was led by aggressive peacemakers, AIPAC could appeal to liberals, and when it was led by hawks, AIPAC could appeal to the right. Generally speaking, as Israel went, AIPAC went.

The problem for AIPAC is that about 15 years ago, after the failure of Camp David II and the ensuing Second Intifada, Israel went right and hasn’t looked back. Israeli voters, for better or for worse, lost faith in the “peace first” approach and fell back on “security first.”

This shift was reinforced by Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. The typical Israeli reaction was: “We called their bluff and gave them land and all we got was war.” As a result, the Israeli peace camp lost much of its credibility. Long gone were the days when the world media would cover Israeli prime ministers like Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert busily engaging in peace talks.

Those talks may have failed, but they provided good optics for AIPAC, as it enabled the group to connect with peace-obsessed American liberals. In recent years, however, behind a right-wing government that has failed to generate any peace momentum, AIPAC has found it harder to maintain that connection. J Street, which feels no obligation to respect the choices of Israeli voters, has happily exploited that gap.

The fact that AIPAC honors that core Israeli reality is an asset, not a liability.

AIPAC is faced with a tough balancing act. Although it has taken heat from some Jews on the right who feel it doesn’t go far enough, its biggest challenge is to maintain a connection with the new generation of liberal American Jews.

This challenge is magnified by the fact
 that American liberal Jews and Israeli Jews in general are going in opposite directions. While the peace camp may have shrunk in Israel, in America it is louder than ever. Liberal Jews not only idolize peace but they place most of the blame for its absence on Israel. They may be overly simplistic and idealistic, but their presence is real and growing.

So, is there a chance for AIPAC to attract more of these J Street Jews?

Only if it can create a deeper empathy for Israeli voters. It’s one thing to develop your political views while sipping cappuccinos
 on the Upper West Side or in Beverly Hills; it’s another to develop those views while calculating the 15-second distance to a bomb shelter in Sderot or Haifa. The fact that AIPAC honors that core Israeli reality is an asset, not a liability.

At this year’s conference, AIPAC will showcase what it calls “the various communities that shape and define our broad, bipartisan movement.” In my mind, the community that most shapes and defines AIPAC is the broad plurality of Israeli voters who are torn between the dream of peace and the reality of war.

In his keynote address at the 2016 AJC Global Forum, my friend and frequent AIPAC speaker Yossi Klein Halevi captured that dilemma:

“We face vexing challenges we could not have imagined in 1967. How can Israel safely extricate itself from the wrenching dilemma of ruling another people? A majority of Israelis know we must end that occupation — now approaching its 50th year — but fear the absence of a credible partner for a durable peace.

“Much of the international community trivializes our dilemma by insisting that Israel’s choice is between occupation and peace — ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism and a poisoned educational system that teaches Palestinian children to hate Israel and deny any Jewish connection to the land.

“Israel’s critics all but ignore the terrorist groups on our borders — Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic State and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — and speak of solving the Palestinian conflict as though Israel were an island in the South Pacific.”

AIPAC understands that Israel is not an island in the South Pacific, because it has always stayed connected to the complicated reality and hard choices of Israeli voters. Those voters live on the front lines, and if you ask me, 
it is their voices that American Jews of the left and right should hear first.

Photo from Pexels.

Letters to the editor: Fear of Muslims, praise for Bret Stephens, quiet Trump supporters


‘Kapos’ and Auschwitz

I read the letter from a survivor indicating that all “kapos” at Auschwitz were of the German criminal groups assigned to Auschwitz (Letters, Feb. 24). With all due respect, and I hesitate to take historical issue with survivors whose act of witness I revere, but I must. While that may have been true of his experience, it is not true of Auschwitz and certainly not of other camps.

Michael Berenbaum, Director of Sigi Ziering Institute, American Jewish University via email

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

My husband is not afraid of heights. He is not afraid of snakes. And he is not afraid of the sun (“The Rabbi Speaks Out,” Feb. 10). But, he is very scared of Muslims — Muslim mentality and Muslim savagery. I know because I have heard him repeat it daily for the past 46 years. 

He is afraid of Muslims because as a child living as a Jew among them, he was already witness to many atrocities committed by them.

Your mother-in-law’s aunts and uncles and cousins were murdered in the Holocaust, as were mine, but my husband’s kin were slaughtered in the streets of Algiers by Muslims.

Yes, Jews have been refugees and immigrants and have been given safe haven, myself included.

But Jews do not terrorize. Jews do not massacre. Jews do not create havoc worldwide.

I am proud of my husband because, unlike many North American Jews who either suffer from short-term memory or are brainwashed, he always remembers the inhumanity and is never afraid of being politically incorrect.

He is not afraid of speaking out against Muslims, the perpetrators of so much repeated evil against the Jews and against the world.

Naomi Atlani via email

Smart Words About Trump

I read your article on Bret Stephens taking on Donald Trump (“Five Dumb Words,” Feb. 24.) I have never been so moved. This put everything in perspective.

I want everyone I know to see this, even though I know true Trump supporters would make an excuse that this is liberal BS. They will not hear it.

Thank you for publishing this and do not stop.

Sherry Pollack via email

Daily Bruin Cartoon

I can see how some people would find the editorial cartoon that appeared in the Daily Bruin offensive, but as a Jew I believe it’s important not to assume that cartoons and articles critical of Israeli policies are necessarily either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic (“Bruin Cartoon Assailed as Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 17). I protested vigorously against the policies of the United States during the Vietnam War and approved of cartoons and articles that did the same. However, I certainly was/am not anti-American. Likewise, many of us who decry the continued building of settlements that encroach on Palestinian land are against this Israeli policy, but are not against Israel and are not anti-Semitic.

Barbara Bilson via email

No Bull From Suissa

Recently, I was introduced to David Suissa in a restaurant. When he asked me which side I am on, I responded, “On the right side: the left.” Thus, one might surmise that I often disagree with his views. However, in his recent column (“Is Trump Worse Than a Liar?” Feb. 24) he hit the nail on the head regarding Donald Trump. To summarize, he explains how bullshit is the greater enemy of truth than lies. While liars know, but manipulate the truth, bullshitters are unanchored to the truth and create “alternate realities.” I would go a step further. Although I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, I believe that a tenuous connection to reality is usually diagnosed as schizophrenia. The more common term is madness. May God have mercy on us all.  

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Instigating the ‘Haters’

While I agree with the nuances covered by Shmuel Rosner (“Spite Doesn’t Make Trump Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 24), unless one has been and still is like a proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, Trump’s vitriol, rhetoric and hate encourages haters to act out. Yes, some are anti-Semitic.

Whether or not he is a friend of Israel and has a daughter and grandchildren who are Jewish, actions have consequences and his are the worst ever in the White House.

Bottom line: Anti-Semitism is on the rise due to his comments and lack of respect for all.

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark

Silent Support for Trump

The demonizing of Donald Trump in the Jewish Journal will solidify his victory in the 2020 election, as it did in 2016. Unlike the liberal opposition, unlike the Democratic opposition, the backers of Trump are a quiet lot. They do not send hate letters, they do not burn office buildings, they respect the U.S. Constitution, they do not denigrate the founding fathers, but their determination to restore the values that enabled us to defeat the enemies of freedom in World War II will again prevail, thanks to them.

Philip Springer, Pacific Palisades

From left: Claudia Puig, president of the L.A. Film Critics Association; Robert Magid, producer of “Eyeless in Gaza;” Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Rezner and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa. Photo courtesy of Roz Wolf.

Moving and Shaking: New Gaza film screening, local olympian celebrated, TIOH Rabbi announces retirement


“Eyeless in Gaza,” a documentary that attempts to show how Israel suffered from biased media coverage during its 2014 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, had its Los Angeles premiere on Feb. 6 at the iPic Theaters in Westwood.

The film incorporates news footage of the war, including that of a media company capturing on camera Hamas fighters setting up rocket-launch sites in densely populated Gaza neighborhoods. Israel has long maintained that this is standard practice by Hamas and that it is part of the reason why Israel inflicts high civilian casualties on Gaza in the event of violent conflicts with the anti-Israel terrorist organization.

The 50-minute film also incorporates original interviews with Hamas officials; Israeli-Canadian journalist and author Matti Friedman, who formerly served in the Israel Defense Forces and pro-Israel attorney Alan Dershowitz. It delves into the history of Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip, beginning with Israel’s 2005 withdrawal and its dismantling of settlements in the region.

During the 2014 war, mainstream media depicted Israel as using disproportionate force against the Gaza people. Reporters cited the uneven death toll — 1,483 Palestinian civilians killed compared to five Israeli civilians, according to gazadeathtoll.org, which cites the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — as evidence of Israel’s brutality.

The film explains that Israel’s Iron Dome defense prevented Israel from suffering higher casualties despite the constant rocket fire on Israel from Gaza.

About 60 people attended the screening, including pro-Israel philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff.

A post-screening panel featuring the film’s producer, Robert Magid; Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Renzer; and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa examined the media’s portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Los Angeles Film Critics Association President Claudia Puig moderated the panel.

The film will be available Feb. 28 on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime and Vimeo.


From left: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinsky; Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) Executive Director Rabbi Dave Sorani; NBC Universal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer; and JGSI Director of Operations Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg attend the Jewish Executive Leadership Conference. Photo courtesy of Jewish Graduate Student Initiative.

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) on Jan. 29 drew the largest crowd ever to its Jewish Executive Leadership Conference, which was held at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

More than 400 Jewish graduate students and recent college graduates attended the conference that featured 50 panelists and three keynote speakers.

The goal of the conference was “to create a forum for Jewish graduate students and young professionals to interact with high-level Jewish executives who share insights into their careers and industries while impacting upon them the importance of philanthropy and community leadership,” said Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg, JGSI director of operations. “Participants are then introduced to volunteering opportunities with a full range of L.A.’s premier Jewish nonprofits.”

The featured speakers addressed a variety of topics, including real estate, finance, law and the entertainment industry. The three keynote speakers were Scooter Braun, founder of the entertainment and media company SB Projects; Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal; and Elaine Wynn, co-founder of Wynn Resorts.

“This year was our best-attended and most successful conference ever, with our best lineup of speakers to date,” Rosenberg said. “We look forward to hosting an even bigger and better event next year and getting even more young people involved in their Los Angeles Jewish community.”

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer


World Swimming Championships XOlympic champion swimmer Anthony Ervin, a native of Valencia, is among inductees elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for 2017.

Ervin captured a pair of gold medals at last year’s Olympics in Brazil in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter relay. His performances were a near repeat of his gold- and silver-medal-winning efforts in the same events at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. He now resides in Florida.

The other inductees to the hall of fame include two Americans, a Canadian, a Hungarian, an Israeli, a New Zealander and a Russian.

One of the Americans, who among all the inductees arguably has had the longest impact on spectator sports, was the late Albert Von Tilzer, a New Yorker who wrote the immortal baseball anthem “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in 1908. The other American, Thelma “Tybie” Thall-Sommers, was a two-time world champion in table tennis. In 1948 she paired with Richard Miles to become the first Americans to win the world mixed doubles title. In 1949, as a member of the U.S. team, she won world championships in singles and doubles. She also won several national titles during her career.

The other inductees are:

The late Hy Buller of Canada, a National Hockey League star who played for the New York Rangers. He set a rookie record in 1951-52 for scoring the most goals, and ranked second for most goals among all NHL defensemen in three consecutive seasons.

The late Joszef Braun, who joined the MTK Budapest soccer club in 1916 at age 15 and three years later was named Hungary’s “Player of the Year.” His team won nine national championships through 1924. Braun perished in a Nazi forced labor camp in 1943.

Israel’s Lee Korzits, a four-time world sailing champion, who won her first Mistral-class title in 2003. After a long layoff due to injuries, the Hadera native won world gold medals in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

New Zealand sailing champion Jo Aleh, who won gold medals (with Olivia Powrie) in the women’s 420 Class event at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and at the 2007 and 2013 world championships.

Swimmer Semyon Belits-Geiman, a Moscow native who broke 67 Soviet national freestyle records, set a world 800-meter freestyle record in 1966, and the same year won two gold medals at the European championships. In 1999, he and his wife moved to Stamford, Conn.

The election results were announced in December by the hall of fame’s co-chairmen, Alan Sherman of Potomac, Md., and R. Stephen Rubin of London. Formal inductions are slated for July 4 at the hall of fame’s museum on the Wingate Institute campus in Netanya, Israel.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor



rabbi-rosove-headshotT
emple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) Senior Rabbi John Rosove has announced his plan to retire from TIOH and become the Reform synagogue’s rabbi emeritus, effective June 30, 2019.

By the time he retires, Rosove will have served as senior rabbi at TIOH for 30 years and “will have completed 40 years of service to the Jewish people since my ordination” at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, in 1979, Rosove said in a Feb. 8 statement.

“Though my retirement is still two-plus years away, I am announcing now to give our Temple leadership the time necessary to thoughtfully establish a process that will ensure the best and wisest selection of my successor as Senior Rabbi,” he said.

Rosove assumed the position of senior rabbi at TIOH in 1988. The Los Angeles native graduated from the UC Berkeley in 1972.

He is the board chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America; holds a seat on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; serves as a Jewish Agency for Israel committee member; recently was national co-chair of the rabbinic cabinet of J Street, a left-leaning, pro-Israel organization and more.


From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community. Photo by Eitan Arom.

From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community.
Photo by Eitan Arom.

In middle school, Micha Thau wanted to live what he called “the Jewish Orthodox American dream” — a future with a house in Beverlywood with a Honda Odyssey in the driveway, four kids and a pretty wife eight years his junior. When he realized he was gay, in eighth grade, “it spit in my face, robbed me of all motivation.”

Now a senior at Shalhevet High School, Thau spoke at Westwood Village Synagogue on Feb. 8 as part of a panel called “Modern Orthodoxy and LGBT: Navigating a Complex Reality,” alongside Shalhevet head of school Rabbi Ari Segal; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; a clinical psychologist, and moderator Alexander Leichter.

In high school, Thau was ready to come out to his community. “It came to the point where staying in the closet was so much more painful than anything that could happen outside of it,” he explained to about 50 people who gathered at the synagogue, upstairs from Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Westwood.

Something clicked for Segal when he realized Thau had spent years worrying if Shalhevet would ostracize him for being gay. “I made a decision at that moment,” he said. “We were going to have a [gay-straight alliance], we were going to stop pretending that we don’t have gay kids at the school.”

After that, Segal wrote an editorial for Shalhevet’s newspaper calling LGBT acceptance “the biggest challenge to emunah [faith] of our time.” With Thau at the helm, Shalhevet issued a pledge Jewish schools can sign to commit themselves to supporting gay students. So far, Shalhevet is the only school to have signed it, Segal said.

Gold, an observant Jew, played a gay father in the web series “Bar Mitzvah.” He spoke about his brother, Ari, who came out at the age of 18. To this day, his brother doesn’t feel comfortable within the Orthodox community, Gold said. “He is a very proud Jew,” he said. “He just feels like he can’t stay observant. It’s too conflicting.”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Letters to the editor


Thanks … but No Thanks?

Thank you, Rob Eshman, for writing what is in so many of our hearts (“Thank You, Obama,” Jan. 20). Well done, but missing one paragraph:

Thank you, Obama, for selecting Joe and Jill Biden, also fine people, who set the bar as high as you and Michelle did as examples for our nation and our youth.  

Again, Rob, a fine and important column.

Pam Pacht via email

I thank you for your “Thank You, Obama” column, and sadly say thank you to the departed Mr. and Mrs. Obama, who graced us with intelligence, wit, kindness and style. Which makes it even more difficult to face our current president, who lacks exactly those qualities.

Rick Edelstein, Los Angeles

Rob Eshman’s column overlooks many of the highly problematic issues of Obama’s presidency. To say that, “In my lifetime, there has never been an administration so free from personal and professional moral stain,” is to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, to say the least.

Obama can be credited with deporting more immigrants than any of his recent predecessors, expanding military operations in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, and granting more powers to the executive branch, which makes the Trump administration so frightening.

Aaron L. White, Los Angeles

For too many years, the Jewish Journal has been, thanks to Rob Eshman, a Democrat Party publishing organ. Naively, I always thought that the Journal’s mission was to represent all of Los Angeles’ Jewish community’s schools of thought and politics. Marginalizing readers who are not “left of center” will ultimately guarantee the demise of this publication. It is high time for the board to choose a nonpartisan editor with an inclusive world view. Let Eshman embark on his anti-Trump campaign elsewhere.

Ron Rutberg via email  

Rob Eshman should be ashamed of himself and resign as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal.

Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 3,000 years, since King David moved it from Hebron (where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried) to Jerusalem.

It has been our capital long before Berlin, London, Moscow or Washington, D.C.

Why are you so fearful about establishing its rightful position among the nations of the world?

What can the Arabs do to us that they haven’t already tried? What can the world do to us that Hitler hasn’t already done?

Eshman: Resign.

Betzalel “Bitzy” N. Eichenbaum, Encino

Eshman’s expressions of gratitude have almost brought tears to my eyes but vomit to my mouth.

Keep up the good work, Rob. Your popularity is soaring in Gaza, Jenin and Ramallah.

Giorgio Berrin, Lake Balboa  

It’s hard to believe that a publisher could write such gratuitous fantasies about the Obama administration’s past achievements. There is no doubt that many readers would find this article offensive and misleading. Eshman’s blind admiration of Obama’s “accomplishments” is biased, one-sided, politically wrong and far from Jewish interests.

Fortunately, in the same edition, the Jewish Journal had a sense of balance by publishing the excellent opinion piece by contributor Larry Greenfield (“A Legacy of O,” Jan. 20) describing the true Obama disasters.

I urge all readers to read his op-ed.

Alex Chazanas via email 

This has been such an ugly campaign that it’s no wonder the ugliness continues. Larry Greenfield’s piece on the Obama years surpasses even the alt-right distortions. I was shocked to read this in the Jewish Journal. 

Theresa McGowan, Santa Monica

Opposing Trump

David Suissa (“When Values Divide Us,” Dec. 23) draws a false comparison between those who hate Obama and those who oppose Trump. While I can’t speak for his Shabbat guests, Trump’s ubiquitous lying, hateful speech and winks to racists must be opposed. Yes, Mr. Suissa, these violate Jewish values. The hatred of Obama is, at best, partisan politics and, at worst, latent racism.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, Washington, D.C.

Politicians will never make us happy


According to a 2015 Pew report, just 19 percent of Americans say they can trust their government “always or most of the time,” while only 20 percent would describe government programs as “being well run.”

This is not a shocking statistic — we’ve been hearing about the declining faith in government for a long time.

What is surprising, though, is another finding in the same report: Americans still expect a lot from that same government they don’t trust, with majorities saying they “want the federal government to have a major role in addressing issues.”

This dissonance reflects the dysfunctional nature of the political process: To get elected, politicians feel they must promise the moon, and when that moon never shows up, well, we are disappointed. So, on the one hand we’re conditioned to expect a lot, but on the other we’re resigned to feeling let down.

It’s like ordering one of those miracle workout machines that promise you the perfect body in 30 days and then seeing it end up in your bedroom as a piece of furniture to hang your clothes on. In the advertising business, we call that “antisappointment”— you anticipate, and you’re disappointed.

But promises are intoxicating. We want to believe. We know deep down we’ll get burned, but we’re eternally seduced by the drug of hope.

Politicians never stop feeding us that drug. The more cynical we are, the more hope they promise. It’s a race to the bottom, with antisappointment becoming a permanent American condition.

If you watched the Republican and Democratic conventions, you may have noticed that very few speakers, if any, demanded something back from the voters. In addition to the usual maligning of the other party, it was the same classic playbook: “We promise you the moon, and in return you vote for us.” Never mind that voters will probably get burned again.

A friend of mine used to ask waiters in restaurants, “What’s not good here?” If they answered honestly with an item, he would trust them when they told him something was good.

If Hillary Clinton wants to beat Donald Trump this year, she might want to try that approach. Don’t just tell us that Trump is horrible, and don’t just tell us what you can do. Be straight with us: Tell us what the government cannot do, what the government is not good at.

Here’s a presidential stump speech I’d love to hear:

“Look, I can stand here and promise you that my policies will transform our country and improve your lives, but I’d be lying. That’s not how it works. I can promise you I’ll work really hard to generate more jobs, level the playing field, upgrade our education, care for the downtrodden, make the world safer and cleaner and so forth, but that doesn’t ensure I will succeed or that your lives will improve.

“The truth is, no politician can make you happy. That’s something only you can achieve. You can work harder and smarter. You can take better care of your health. You can control your anger and be more forgiving. You can spend more time with your family. You can get more involved with social and civic causes and your local communities. You can enjoy the arts and the beauty of nature. None of those actions has anything to do with whom you will vote for.

“Of course, I will do my best to make sure the odds are on your side. But, at the end of the day, your well-being is mostly on your shoulders. It’s about what you can do for yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your city, your country, your world.

“My platform is to bring out the best in Americans by reminding you how needed you are and how much potential you have. I will do my share, but I expect you to do yours. My campaign slogan is, ‘Bringing out the best in America,’ because the best of each American is what our great nation deserves.

“If you can handle that truth, I will accept your vote.”

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Breaking Bodies


Leave my body alone.

This is my thought when I see terror.

I don’t care if it’s a truck, a gun, a knife, a bomb.

Just leave my body alone.

Do not slice my flesh.

Do not splinter my bones or explode my arteries.

Do not rape my muscles and ligaments.

We talk about ISIS and Islam and hatred.

But hatred doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is a bullet that pierces my pancreas.

Or a car that severs my spine.

Madness doesn’t bother me.

A sharp knife launched into my belly bothers me.

Or a rock that cracks my skull.

I don’t care about pundits or faith or interfaith.

About stereotypes or damage control.

I care about a bomb blowing next to my brain.

Or a white truck crunching 84 bodies.

Terrorists are not cowards,

They are artists of death.

Do not call them animals.

Animals kill to eat,

Terrorists kill to break bodies.

Animals do not want to die.

Terrorists?

What shall we do with them?

We can leave their faith and minds alone,

But we cannot leave their bodies alone.

We must break their bodies,

Even if they want us to.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Letters to the editor: Political balance, anti-Semitism, Harris Newmark and more


Orthodox Survey Needs Context

Shmuel Rosner’s column this past week is very troubling (“The Formerly Orthodox American Jews,” June 24). Rather than coming off as a news story, it comes off as very negative toward observant Jews. For example, there are statistics on relationships with parents, and there is nothing to compare it to, such as relationships with parents for the general population. Perhaps the percentage of people with a negative relationship with their father or mother in the general population is higher than that of the formerly Orthodox. 

Also, as someone coming from the other way (grew up non-observant and now observant), I know many people who are like me and do not have a good relationship with their parents. Some of their parents do not accept them being religious. Is Rosner going to write another column detailing the other side and how many non-observant Jewish parents are not accepting? So while I understand the column is based on this survey that was taken, the article could have at least been written in a less negative demeanor toward Orthodox Jews.

Alexander Wold via email

Statistics Don’t Reflect Rise in Anti-Semitism

According to the Anti-Defamation League audit issued last week, there was an increase in recorded incidents of anti-Semitism nationwide (“Anti-Semitism Stable in 2015, ADL Says, but Cause for Worry Remains,” June 24). While episodes in California declined marginally, the most violent incidents were up by 50 percent last year from 2014, incidents on college campuses nearly doubled nationally and assaults on Jews have risen every year since 2012. These figures do not include an explosion of hateful anti-Semitic rhetoric online and in social media. Though your headline reflects a cause for concern, I do not understand how you expressly imply the situation is stable when it most certainly is not. 

Pauline Regev, Santa Monica

Blast From the Past

Thank you for the article about an amazing man and family (“Harris Newmark Saw Our Future,” June 24). He was my great-great-grandfather: My father was Stephen Newmark Loew Jr. His father was Stephen Newmark Loew, his mother was Emily Newmark Loew, daughter of Sarah and Harris Newmark, married to Jacob Loew.

Susan Loew Greenberg via email

Dump Trump, but Then What?

I fully agree with David Suissa’s criticisms of Donald Trump (“Republicans Must Dump Trump,” June 24). In addition, and based on Trump’s track record, Trump (as president) would be a terrible role model for all American children, adolescents and adults. In fact, a worse role model than Trump would be hard to find.

However, Republicans dumping Trump at their convention would not guarantee that a gentler Republican presidential nominee would emerge to lead America down a path to achieve goals that many Americans (including myself and possibly even Trump) would support. In any event, the Republican delegates at the national convention will be between a rock and a hard place during their process of selecting their candidate for the November presidential election.

Marc Jacobson, Los Angeles

More Balance on Politics. Please 

The publication of two anti-Trump diatribes, without publishing a single rebuttal, leaves the false impression that American Jews are dead set against Trump. It is also poor journalism, since the public is entitled to both sides of the story.

Philip Springer, Pacific Palisades

Nothing Judaic About ‘Progressivism’

David Myers’ linking of “progressivism” and Judaism is opposed by common sense and facts (“Sanders Reignites Potent Strain of Progressivism,” June 17). First, progressivism is a terrible misnomer for the anti-freedom belief system some call “socialism” or “democratic socialism” but I call “welfare-state fascism.” It is not at all progressive, but regressive, even reactionary. It is, in fact, closer to feudalism than to modernity.

Bernie Sanders is touting a system that should be seen as anathematic to Judaism (and to Christianity). Judaism and Christianity have among their basics four rules: Thou shalt have no other god before me; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not covet; thou shalt not commit murder.

Yet the big-government approach preached by Sanders is based on covetousness and envy. And naturally on stealing. (Sanders will take from A to give to B. He calls it “taxation”; many of us call it, bluntly, “theft”!) Anyone who objects to being robbed stands a good chance of being killed, even if “legally.”

And God? He is shunted aside as Sandersistas prefer to worship the state. I see nothing Jewish in this form of collectivism and statism. I see a great disservice to Judaism in making such a link.

Michael Morrison, Encino

Correction

An article about the recent Israel-German Congress (“Israel-German Congress Aims to Ensure Support for Jewish State,” June 24) incorrectly identified the affiliation of Deidre Berger. She is director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee.

Letters to the editor: Baca, BDS, Women in the Torah and more


Gratitude for Baca 

I want to respond to Michael Rubinstein’s letter regarding political cronyism (June 10). I suppose Mr. Rubinstein did not learn the Jewish concept of hakaras hatov. The Jewish community will eternally be grateful to former Sheriff Lee Baca for all that he has done for us. I am personally aware of his involvement in saving a kollel member when lost in the mountains, and without Baca’s help he would not have survived. Likewise, under his administration, the sheriff’s department guaranteed every Jewish inmate the right to practice his/her religion. Lastly, Baca and numerous Israeli police chiefs fully cooperated in fighting terrorism to save Jewish lives.

More than 250 Jews, Christians and Muslims gave Baca a standing ovation as he accepted the well-deserved honor at Congregation Bais Naftoli. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Congresswoman Diane Watson and many more federal, state, county and local officials should be commended for their participation. By the way, the sheriff never pleaded to any corruption whatsoever.

Andrew Friedman, Congregation Bais Naftoli president 

No Palestine, No Peace

David Suissa’s argument that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is best fought by exposing the lack of concern of Palestinian leaders for their people is fatally flawed (“Fight BDS with a Pro-Palestinian Narrative,” June 10). The argument has validity only on the assumption that an independent Palestinian state exists. It does not exist, and in fact Suissa’s underlying assumption seems to be that it should not be allowed to exist. Until it does, responsibility for the Palestinian people is shared by the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders.

Suissa also says that exposing BDS harmfulness to Palestinians may “if we get lucky … even be good for peace.” I have no idea what peace he is talking about, but I am convinced that peace can and should never depend on luck.

Barry H. Steiner, CSU Long Beach professor of political science

David Suissa responds: Mr. Steiner ignored my key point: Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused Israeli offers of a Palestinian state because they put their own interests above that of their people. The day that changes, we will all be lucky, indeed.

A Lot to Like in the Journal

Seems every time I go for some good barbecue, there you and your people are, transforming what I had intended to be a simple mindless hour off into a mind-opening, perspective-stretching afternoon. Great Jewish Journal issue today (June 10)! 

Danielle Berrin’s piece captured a powerful message about the next steps in female power (“The Torah of Female Power”). Eitan Arom’s article helped me comprehend the echo chamber in ways that escaped me when reading other articles (“(((The Emboldening)))”). David Suissa’s words (“Fight BDS with a Pro-Palestinian Narrative”) pushed me to reconsider how I want to relate to the anti-BDS movements and, like a good wine, paired nicely with the other BDS pieces 

Shmuel Rosner, Michelle K. Wolf, Jeffrey Salkin and Daniel Sokatch each enlightened and informed. Loved loved Rabbi Adam Greenwald’s dvar Torah, as it addressed a problem that I saw and couldn’t reconcile. 

Your articles, as you often do, put into words what I was struggling to grasp. You leave me all bothered. Now I gotta figure out how to deal with this unease. Thanks (said both in truth and with sarcasm simultaneously). 

Wait long enough and I’ll find something to kvetch about. That’s what we do. But not today. Because I loved, loved, loved this week’s issue. Bravo to your team. 

Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas

Thank you for continuing to explore topics and authors with diverse, even controversial opinions. For example, this week’s Journal has an article by Dennis Prager on the nature of atheism (“Two Questions for Atheists,” June 10).  Normally, I find Mr. Prager a bit right wing in his opinions, but this article was touching and really got to the core of his seemingly rigid opinions — the meaning of DEATH. I feel I had the opportunity to look underneath the Pedantic Prager and see a little of the humanity inside. Thank you for the opportunity.

Then, lo and behold, I flipped the page and saw the article by Danielle Berrin. “The Torah of Female Power” lifts us higher in our desire to make the world a better place, by reminding us that “freedom from and freedom to” is what the Torah is all about. If we become free and don’t ensure that others who are enslaved become free, then we have ignored our inner “shared responsibility for the well-being of the world.”

Two pages, two great articles about faith — kudos to the Jewish Journal again.

Denise Neumark-Reimer via email

CORRECTION: A column about The Miracle Project (“Anti-Bullying: The Musical,” June 10) misidentified the award won by a documentary on HBO about the project. It was an Emmy Award. 

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