Netanyahu rips Abbas over Al-Aksa destruction claims

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned a speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which Abbas said that Israel was planning to destroy the Al Aksa Mosque.

“This is a harshly inflammatory speech from someone who claims that he is bent on peace,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued from his office Sunday night. “The time has come for the Palestinian leadership to stop denying the past and distorting reality.”

Netanyahu said that in Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, “There is freedom of worship for all, and Israel will continue to carefully maintain the holy places of all religions.”

In a speech Sunday at the International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem in Qatar, Abbas said that “The Israeli occupation authorities are using the ugliest and most dangerous means to implement plans to erase and remove the Arab-Islamic and the Christian character of east Jerusalem” and spoke of Israel’s plans to “Judaize” Jerusalem, including ethnic cleansing of Arabs.

Abbas also denied the existence of a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and accused Israel of planning to harm the Al Aksa mosque. He also called on Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] knows full well that there is no foundation to his contemptible remarks, including his baseless and irresponsible claims regarding the Al Aksa Mosque,” Netanyahu said in the statement.

Several Israeli-Arab lawmakers, including Ahmed Tibi, Taleb al-Sana and Ibrahim Sarsour of the United Arab List-Ta’al party, attended the conference along with representatives of 70 other countries.

Jewish museum officials decry Vienna exhibit destruction

Directors of Jewish museums and educational institutes in Europe have written an open letter condemning the destruction of a 16-year-old exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Vienna.

The exhibit, based on holograms, was removed recently to make way for a new exhibit due to open next summer. According to the museum’s website, efforts to preserve the exhibit proved technically impossible.

Public criticism grew after photographs of the shattered exhibition made their way onto museum-related blogs.

In the open letter to Danielle Spera, director of the Vienna Jewish Museum since July, the critics said they expected colleagues to “show dignity and respect for their own institutional history. And the same dignity and respect should be shown to our colleagues and their work.”

According to the letter, the holograms “were among the most remarkable presentations of Jewish history in the world of Jewish museums and beyond.” They were designed to underscore the point that concrete cultural objects had been destroyed in the Holocaust.

Directors of Jewish museums in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Austria were among those who signed the letter.

Cilly Kugelmann, program director at the Jewish Museum Berlin, told JTA that she hoped the letter would raise awareness about the importance of preserving historic museum displays, even though they must sometimes make way for new innovations.

“One should not throw the old overboard,” she said.

Kugelmann, who said she was “shocked by the destruction,” said there had been no response to the letter.

On the museum’s website, Peter Menasse, director of the financial and organizational department, describes the holograms as a “trademark” exhibition that showed the history of Vienna Jewry, but that also were showing signs of wear and tear. He wrote that one slip and the safety glass used for the holograms shattered into thousands of pieces, tanking plans to preserve them.

In an interview and fashion shoot last year in the Austrian magazine First, Spera said it was her greatest wish to design a permanent exhibit that would show all facets of Jewish life in Austria.

Write your own dirge for Tisha B’Av 2008

Jewish tradition teaches that we are commanded to write a Torah in our lifetime, but not a kinah, or dirge. For ages, our prophets and rabbis have done this for us, filtering and distancing, putting our most painful group memories into acrostic, poetic form.

Beginning with Eicha (Lamentations) and continuing with additional kinot, our forebears have turned the darkest days in our history into a ready-to-use alef-bet of tragedy.

Now as we approach Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the fast day on which we remember the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other disasters that occurred on this date by chanting these kinot, I am encouraging you in this age of immersion and Googley do-it-yourself to pick up pencil or pen and write your own dirge.

Tisha B’Av, which starts this year on the night of Aug. 9, literally cries out for our involvement. Writing your own kinah can create a powerful connection to a summer day that might otherwise pass you by.

Historically, not all kinot were in Hebrew—Italian Jews wrote them in their own language, so you can, too.

Through the kinot, Tisha B’Av lives as a construct of memory. The day takes on new meaning as we place our own memories, in our own words, into the construct.

The writing of personal kinot is an activity that I have led several times in Los Angeles with a lay-led Jewish community called the Movable Minyan. Participants have found that writing their own kinot helps them forge an intimate connection to Tisha B’Av—a fast day many Jews find difficult to encounter—especially if they are read or even chanted.

In these kinot workshops, participants have written about personal loss during the Holocaust, onset and recovery from serious illness, how Jewish generational links have been broken and re-forged, earthquakes and riots.

Over the centuries the focus of these poems—which began with the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temples—has evolved to include other calamities as well. There is a kinah for the York massacre in 1190 and one for the French Crown’s order in 1242 that all copies of the Talmud be burned.

The Ten Martyrs—you will recall them from Yom Kippur’s Martyrology Service—also have a kinah dedicated to their sacrifice. Several kinot have been written about the Holocaust and are now in use around the world. Sephardim have written them about the Expulsion from Spain.

No one is expecting you to be an elegiac master. With a few good moments of focus and intent, the form of the acrostic kinah can be yours to appreciate and use. Don’t be thrown by the acrostic part. It is based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with the acrostic being created by the initial letter of each verse. Two common explanations for choosing this literary form are that the use of the entire alphabet represents the totality of the destruction, and that even in destruction there is a beginning and an end.

In Hebrew, the lines of a typical kinah gain strength from alternating long and short lines. Rhythmically, the lines play off each other, adding nuance and meaning. In English translation, you can reach some of the same rhythm.

Take, for example, this section from the beginning of Eicha, the book read on the night of Tisha B’Av (it helps to read aloud):

Lonely sits the city
Once great with people!
She that was great among nations
Is become like a widow;
The princess among states
Is become a thrall.
(JPS Translation © 2000)

And here, listen carefully to each line’s rhythm:

Her enemies are now the masters,
Her foes are at ease,
Because the Lord has afflicted her
For her many transgressions;
Her infants have gone into captivity
Before the enemy.

For your kinah, writing 10 lines will give you a good feel for the form. Alas, the wellspring for poetic inspiration about loss and tragedy in Jewish life often seems endless. Yet try to focus on one theme. Your source might be Jewish-related news, an e-mail or a late-night call.

Once you have a theme, simply begin your first line with an “A” word and work your way line by line to “J.”

There is no need to rhyme, only to recall and feel. Think of the kinah as a soulful mnemonic in which each line’s beginning helps you to remember.

As you prepare to write, get into the mood of the approaching day. Many congregations chant Eicha while seated on low stools or even on the floor. Lights are dimmed. For as the commentary Eicha Rabbah teaches, “What does a mortal king do when he is in mourning, he extinguishes the lanterns.”

Use a simple pen or pencil. Find an “un-easy” chair. Go basic, light a candle. If you can, let some hope in, as Eicha’s closing line is: “Renew our days as of old.”

On Tisha B’Av, sitting together, we chant the kinot. It’s a communal experience where the memories and pain are mourning shared.

Prepare and help others to prepare for Tisha B’Av by sharing your creation.

To awaken your inner poet, just listen a little, sift a bit, think and write yourself into this Jewish way of remembering.

Edmon J. Rodman is a writer and designer of children’s media and toys.


P. F. Sloan: does he still believe we’re on the ‘Eve of Destruction’?

“Eve of Destruction,” the famous folk-rock protest hit from 1965, isn’t usually regarded as a specifically Jewish song. Or even a religious one, for that matter.

It’s a litany of anguished complaints about the problems of the temporal world of the time — civil rights marchers repelled in Selma, Ala., the imminent danger of nuclear war, the threat from a militant “Red China.” It struck such a chord with a teenage audience worried about the future that it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a youthful crie de coeur against the political status quo. It became an extraordinary pop-cultural event in its own right.

But the long-missing-in-action writer of “Eve of Destruction,” 61-year-old Los Angeles resident P.F. (Phil) Sloan, cites his studies of Jewish mysticism as a key source of inspiration. After decades of fighting physical and mental illnesses that ended his professional career, Sloan is back with a new CD, “Sailover,” recently released on Hightone Records. Only his sixth album since 1965, it includes versions of “Eve” and other songs he wrote in the 1960s, plus new folk-rock compositions. And he performs at Largo in the Fairfax district, where he grew up, on Sept. 27.

After his bar mitzvah at Hollywood Temple Beth El, Sloan’s rabbi recommended him for early kabbalah training, especially study of the mystical writings and Torah interpretations in the Zohar.

“It is rare because you’re supposed to be 40 [to study],” Sloan said, speaking by phone from Chicago where he was performing at a club. “My rabbi suspected I was an old soul.”

He studied for about 18 months, he said, providing him with “a greater, deeper understanding of Judaism and its relationship to people.”

But at the same time, Sloan was also interested in rock ‘n’ roll. In 1964, while still a teenager, he and friend Steve Barri wrote and recorded “Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin'” as the Fantastic Baggys. His “P.F. Sloan” persona appeared in 1964, when in response to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he wrote several protest songs, “Eve of Destruction,” “The Sins of the Family” and “Take Me for What I’m Worth.” It took a full year before the growlingly, deep-voiced singer Barry McGuire, fresh from the New Christy Minstrels, released “Eve” on L.A.’s Dunhill Records — also Sloan’s label — and it became a hit.

Sloan feels the song was “directly attributable” to his kabbalah studies.
“The song was a divine gift,” he said. “I was given information about the history of the world through that song — not that that’s unusual in mystical Judaism. It was quite a wonderful gift at age 19 to be given that. I knew it was special and knew it would change things.”

Sloan sees the song as his dialogue with God.

“I say to God that ‘this whole crazy world is just too frustrating,’ and then God says to me, ‘But you tell me over and over and over again about these problems I already know,'” he said.

“It’s an endless dance around this razor’s edge about what God is saying every time I sing this song,” Sloan explained. “He’s telling me, ‘Don’t believe we’re on the eve, I’m not going to allow it.’ And then other times when I sing it, I get the message he’s going to allow destruction to happen. Every time I sing it, I get an insight into what’s going on.”

Sloan’s parents moved from New York, where he was born as Philip Gary Schlein, to Los Angeles for his mother’s arthritis. But when his father had trouble getting permission to open a downtown sundries store under his name Schlein, he changed it to “Sloan” to avoid anti-Semitism.

Working with Barri or alone, Sloan wrote hits for other pop stars in the 1960s, including “Secret Agent Man” for Johnny Rivers, “Where Were You When I Needed You” for The Grass Roots and “Let Me Be” for The Turtles. But his attempts at becoming a successful singer-songwriter like his idol, Bob Dylan, didn’t work out. He says his record company was reluctant to support him at the time and that he signed away his songwriting royalties.

And from roughly 1971 to 1986, he said, he was incapacitated by undiagnosed hypoglycemia that led to depression and catatonia. He lived with his now-deceased parents until they found an apartment for him and helped him get nursing care.

But in 1986, he also started visiting Sai Baba, a controversial Indian guru who claims healing powers, at his ashram. He has gone back every two years and slowly started to recover. He said by 2001 he felt good enough to start performing again. In 2003, for instance, he participated in a tribute concert to Jewish religious singer and songwriter Shlomo Carlebach at Congregation Beth Jacob.

“I’m now walking 1 1/2 miles a day,” Sloan said. “I have a huge amount of energy. It’s like God has touched me and just given me a tremendous amount of love and energy. I feel like I’ve been reactivated.”

P.F. Sloan will be at Largo, 432 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. Doors open at 8 p.m. $5-$20.

For more information, call (323) 852-1073 or visit

PASSOVER: 10 Contemporary Plagues

In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues — bloody, violent, magical — are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.

We don’t suggest that these modern plagues are the work of a punitive God or punishment for society’s wrongdoing — we’ll leave that analysis to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

But we recall that with the original plagues, the rabbis tell us, the purpose was to instruct the Israelites as much as to punish the Egyptians. In that light, we offer 10 contemporary plagues, named in Hebrew, as an opportunity to mourn their victims and discuss how we can prevent them and their like from plaguing us next year.

Huizar Proposal Would Close Razing Loophole

An order to investigate the demolition of a historic Jewish Community Center (JCC) building in Boyle Heights is now on the agenda of the Los Angeles City Council.

Under a motion introduced March 22 by Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights, municipal departments would be ordered to explain why they greenlighted the razing of the structure without requiring a demolition permit notifying neighborhood organizations and officials.

The motion would also require the city’s Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety to review current ordinances and close any loopholes to prevent a similar fate for other cultural and historical landmarks.

At an outdoor news conference Wednesday, adjoining the historic Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, Huizar said, “I am deeply concerned by the loss of the Jewish Community Center, and I am here today to call for action that will help ensure that this community — and this city — protect what remains of our cultural heritage.”

Huizar said he would instruct the appropriate departments to survey all of Los Angeles to identify similar sites that may not have been officially designated as historic landmarks. Currently, some 800 such landmarks are registered.

The new burst of activity was triggered by a report in The Journal that the former Soto-Michigan JCC building, later known as the Eastside JCC, had been razed by a developer without public notice or demolition permit.

The building was of architectural, as well as historical, significance. It was designed by Raphael Soriano, who helped pioneer the architectural style known as California Modernism.

Dedicated in 1939 to keep Jewish kids off the street and away from “potentially demoralizing influences,” the building became the All Nations’ Center in 1958, as the community became increasingly Latino.

After the structure was razed in late February by a private San Diego developer, The Journal learned that the developer would erect a new structure to be leased to the U.S. government for a Social Security office.

The federal government does not have to comply with city regulations, such as obtaining a demolition permit. However, one gray area Huizar intends to probe is whether the exemption rule applies when a private company takes over and then leases the property to a federal entity.

Huizar was joined at the news conference by Latino community leaders and by Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Stephen Sass, president of the regional Jewish Historical Society; and Ken Bernstein, director of preservation with the Los Angeles Conservancy.

The JCC and similar sites are “a reflection of what was, and what can be again, an opportunity for our diverse citizens to create a future that intersects in meaningful ways,” Schwart-Getzug said.

Sass, who was instrumental in preventing the destruction of the Breed Street Shul in 1988, said that efforts are under way to renovate the impressive shul’s structure as a multicultural community center.

Bernstein pointed out that only 15 percent of Los Angeles has been surveyed for possible cultural and historic landmarks.

“Some 85 percent of the city is a blank slate,” he said.

Also on hand was Rosalie Turrola, a high school counselor and lifelong Boyle Heights resident, who told The Journal that she recalled her former Jewish neighbors fondly.

“I remember everyone lighting candles on Friday nights, and I loved the potato pancakes,” she said. ” I had a nice neighbor who always called me a ‘shayne maidele’ [pretty girl].

“In those days, I used to be a Mexican-American, now I’ve turned into a Chicana.”


The Mysticism of Fire

Smoke intoxicated the air and dark clouds cast an eerie glow over the Southern California sky as fire engulfed our Simi Valley neighborhood.

At last, when the freeways opened and we finally felt comfortable breathing outside air, we noticed the destruction left in the fire’s wake. It was like the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: blackened mountains, trees and shrubs reduced to rubble, melted guardrails, blackened signs; complete decimation of the life and vegetation that was once blooming in the area.

Even with the destruction, I couldn’t help but feel thankful to God that everyone’s life in the Simi Valley area was spared. And since most of the homes in our area were not damaged, people could resume their lives as before the fires.

But it is difficult to go back to life just as before. It is difficult to ignore the anguish and disappointment of the thousands who have lost all of their worldly possessions in the merciless fires. It is difficult to ignore the pain of the many lives lost to the devouring flames of this fiery beast that stretched across Southern California.

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement, taught that one can learn from all of life’s experiences in how to live a better life as a Jew. But what can we gain from the negative experiences in this horrific wildfire with all the damage that it caused? Surely, there must be a positive lesson here, something good to impact our lives.

Fire, in and of itself, can be a very useful tool. It may be used as a source of light, for warmth and for cooking. Yet, it can also be so destructive when it goes beyond its limit and is not rooted to anything concrete. On a mystical level, the soul is compared to fire — a powerful spiritual force with a constant yearning to reach greater heights.

When people were told to evacuate their homes, they had to pack up their most important possessions immediately. It was during those crucial moments that one came to realize their true priorities in life. Suddenly, all those worldly goods that one spent many devoted hours in acquiring lost their significance as the true value of life came into clear focus.

The story is told of a shtetl in Eastern Europe that was being ravaged by fire. As one family’s home burned to the ground, the mother cried uncontrollably. Upon investigation, it was discovered that this woman wasn’t concerned at all with the worldly possessions being destroyed. Her anguish was caused by the knowledge that the documents of her family’s esteemed lineage, which traced its roots to illustrious beginnings, was now gone forever. Hearing this, her young son comforted her by saying that he will devote his life to being the best he could be, thereby establishing the family roots once again with the illustrious and esteemed heritage it inherently had. Indeed, this young boy grew up to be one of the greatest rabbis of his time, documenting his family once again as being of honorable ancestry, just as he had promised.

After a fire’s destruction, one realizes that we are not defined by what we have, but by what we are.

There is a Yiddish saying that is rooted in holy sources, that "after a fire one becomes rich." According to mystical teachings, God rules the world with different attributes: kindness (chesed), strict judgment (din), etc. The kabbalah explains that after giving the world its share of strict judgment — such as a fire — God treats the world to the attribute of mercy; compassion (rachamim), which is boundless by nature; a limitless flow of kindness; and positive energy (nachala bli maitzarim).

Certainly, God — the source of all life — constantly gives life to every part of creation. Yet, as explained before, "after a fire one becomes rich." God grants us to live our lives on a much better level, through the Divine flow of compassion-boundless positive energy.

Today, after the wildfires have subsided, we, too, must gaze toward the heavens to the Giver of all life, and gratefully acknowledge His infinite goodness to us. May we all merit to receive His infinite blessings in a way we can truly appreciate, and may these blessings lead us to be better people and better Jews, who will do what it takes to make this world a much better place — the way it was always meant to be.

Bassie Gurary is associate director of Chabad of Simi Valley.

Painter With a Camera

Robert Sturman said he never felt the need to observe Jewish rituals. Born in Los Angeles to Jewish parents, the 33-year-old photographer-painter said, “I would do anything to stand up for the Jews … but religion is a whole ‘nother story.”

Although he still doesn’t practice Judaism, a stop in Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 2002 intensified his Jewish identity. In his gallery book, “Reflections for the Soul” Sturman crafted four pieces of artwork that symbolize Jewish destruction and then triumph in war-torn Europe. Inspired by the pen drawings of prisoner artists, Mieczyslaw Koscielniak and Wladyslaw Siwek, Sturman sought to capture the haunted nature of the death camp.

Two days after Auschwitz, Sturman took photographs in Kazimierz, a small Jewish town in Krakow, Poland. He came upon a poster framed by flowers advertising a film about the remaining Jews in Poland. As he was shooting, Sturman was accosted by an undercover police officer who began ridiculing Jewish practices. For Sturman, who never experienced anti-Semitism first hand, the encounter made what he had seen in Auschwitz-Birkenau all the more real. Titled “Memory and Healing: Krakow, Poland,” the piece sends a message of life in contrast to his darker shots at the death camp.

There is fluidity to all of Sturman’s pieces, as if one is viewing the artwork submerged in water. He first captures his images using Instamatic film, and then carves into the surface of the film while the emulsion is still wet. Though his work looks more like an impressionistic painting, the brilliant colors and contrasts are not painted in, but testify to his skill in achieving the perfect lighting for his shots. While the artistic process is intricate, Sturman said that the art is in the subject and the message — not the techniques.

Now that his Jewish identity has been reinforced, Sturman has an overwhelming desire to do a series in the Holy Land.

“I want to celebrate the culture … eat falafel and drink Coca-Cola with Hebrew writing on it,” he said.

Robert Sturman’s gallery book is available through his
Web site. His next solo exhibition is in May 2004 at the Riskpress Gallery, 8533
Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.

Santa Monica Tragedy Mirrors Israel Terror

Last week at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, I got a taste of what it is like to be an Israeli. Going about the ordinary tasks of life one moment, standing next to a corpse the next.

My day started out ordinarily enough. In pursuit of the perfect tile for my new barbecue center, I headed out of the scorching San Fernando Valley to the mid-70s of Santa Monica.

Thanks to the constant traffic that consumes the 101, I was half an hour late for my 11:30 a.m. appointment at Mission Tile West on Fourth Street. I spent nearly an hour with the general manager, Tom, on what seemed like the important task of selecting the perfect tile and then an additional 15 minutes discussing Tom’s upcoming wedding.

Hungry and dreading my return to the Valley, I headed toward the Farmers’ Market.

I browsed the booths and then walked over to the Third Street Promenade for a quick lunch. The line at Subway was the shortest, so I joined it. I gobbled my sandwich on the patio and returned to the rows of white kiosks that form the Farmers’ Market each week.

A woman carrying flowers passed me, and I considered looking for the flower kiosk but changed my mind when I remembered that I had recently purchased flowers. Instead, I surveyed the various jams and jellies available at another stall.

Perhaps if the women manning the booth had engaged me in a discussion about the jam business, I would have been standing at that stall when 86-year-old George Russell Weller accelerated his way past her stand. As luck would have it, I left the stand and moved to the sidewalk that could have been, but was not, in the driver’s path.

I was in Santa Monica, but the next sights and sounds were ones that more often are found in Israel. The quiet hum of shoppers was interrupted by the crash of a barricade being smashed, bodies being slammed onto the pavement, screams of victims and near victims forming a haunting chorus. Names of missing friends were called out; ashen faces pushed against cell phones, begging 911 operators to send help.

It was impossible to imagine that so much destruction and terror had been caused by a mere automobile, so I, like many of the other witnesses, assumed a terrorist act was in progress. I held my breath and waited to see if there was more to come.

When the crashing sounds diminished, I walked the 10 feet to the street that had been hidden from my view, thanks to a kiosk that had escaped the speeding car. My goal was to see if someone needed help. The sight before me was not what I expected.

A man was lying in the street perhaps five yards from the spot that I had been standing moments before — or was it the exact spot that I had been standing? I’ll never know.

His head was cracked open, and his dark, sticky blood poured out onto the payment. Seconds before, he had been buying a vegetable, innocently presuming that he would have life left to enjoy it. Across from him was another man, also dead, whose body was contorted into a shape that barely resembled a human silhouette.

Screaming and crying, I returned to the visual security of the sidewalk. Other screams joined mine, until they were drowned out by sirens from dozens of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks.

Hysterical, I called my husband as I made my way to my car. Shaking, I started the engine of the convertible and headed home to pick up my son from day camp. As I left Santa Monica, rain fell, but I did not close the roof. I was afraid to stop moving.

As I drove, I thought of how brave Israelis are to go about their daily life, knowing that they may not come home; how they can dance freely at a disco, knowing that any shimmy could be their last; shop at local markets for goods that they might not have a chance to eat, and get on city buses, wondering if they will ever reach their destination.

I was able to pick up my children from camp on July 16 only because Tom at Mission Tile West ended our conversation exactly when he did, the women who made my Subway sandwich made it quickly, I remembered that I didn’t need flowers after all and the women selling jam were too tired to talk me into a jar of homemade plum jelly.

The dead and injured weren’t able to pick up their children that day. And the mother of the dead 3-year-old won’t have a child to send to camp.

When this happens in Israel, what do we do? We watch the aftermath, the cleanup, seeing sanitized pictures of burnt-out buses and dead bodies covered in sheets.

We don’t hear the screams or see the mangled bodies of ordinary people who did nothing more extraordinary than board a bus or walk into a pizza place. We aren’t privy to the Israeli child waiting at school for a mother who never comes. So we shake our heads, say what a shame and go about our day.

People complain the news is too graphic. Now I think the news is not graphic enough. Maybe a close-up in the Los Angeles Times of a young man lying in the street in Santa Monica, with blood gushing from his head, or a photo of a broken 3-year-old, with her mother screaming over her dead body, would cause people to be outraged that Weller was permitted by the Department of Motor Vehicles — and presumably his family — to drive a car.

And maybe some close-ups of Israeli children blown apart by a suicide bomber would awaken us all to the real horror of the terrorist attacks that have rocked Israel the last few years. If the world actually experienced the innocence of the "before" and the visual carnage of the "after," it would certainly be outraged. But then I guess that is why terrorists don’t make videotapes.

I was lucky. I came home. But the next time a suicide bomber kills innocents in Israel — or Bali or Kenya or here — I will not just shake my head.

Wendy Jaffe is a freelance writer based in Bell
Canyon. Her e-mail address is:

To Stay or Go?

Yossi Cohen, a Tel Aviv taxi driver, is taking it easy these days. He has been slicing time from his usual 10-hour shifts because there just aren’t many clients out there. At the same time, he wouldn’t consider leaving Israel for anywhere else.

"What, I need to be a cabbie in Queens?" asked Cohen, 47, shrugging his shoulders. "I’m right where I need to be, here, in my homeland, offering my bit of support."

That’s one of the typical reactions offered by Israelis after more than a year of violence. They’re tired of the drive-by shootings, the suicide bombings, the endless cycle of death and destruction. But they’re hunkering down in Israel, because this is their homeland and they’re not leaving.

But there also is an opposite reaction — the Israelis who decide to leave because they can’t take it any longer. They want to feel safe and secure. They want good jobs and nice homes and safe futures for their children. However, they don’t leave without a certain amount of guilt over "abandoning" their homeland.

The continuing Palestinian intifada, coupled with the global economic downturn — Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced this week that the country officially is in a recession — has forced more than a few Israelis to consider a temporary or permanent move.

"The decision to leave is very complex and usually comes about because of a number of factors," said Danny Gordis, who made aliyah with his family shortly before the intifada began in September 2000. "People are out of work and they’re hurting financially. You can sense a general societal unhappiness."

Yet being in Israel during the intifada forces Israelis to reexamine why they are here in the first place, Gordis pointed out.

"I think this has clarified for a lot of Israelis the degree to which they’re committed to the Jewish State," Gordis said.

No statistics have been gathered by Israeli organizations or government ministries on the number of Israelis who have left since the intifada began. According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, aliyah from Western Europe and North America has been affected slightly since last fall.

There were 1,159 emigrants from North America between January and October 2001, an 11 percent drop from the previous year. Another 1,382 Western Europeans made aliyah during the same time period, a 19 percent drop from the same period in 2000.

"The reasons for the drop could include the intifada and the current economic situation," said Yehuda Weinraub, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency. "But we can’t be certain."

Yet despite depression over the continuing violence and the worsening economic situation, only a small minority of Israelis — both Arabs and Jews — are considering emigrating, according to the monthly Peace Index.

The survey, conducted by the Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, asked 580 Israeli Jews and Arabs in August whether they have considered emigrating as a result of the situation. Fully 80 percent of Jewish respondents said they had no plans to emigrate even if they could, and only 14 percent said they would leave due to the situation. Of the Arabs surveyed, 94 percent said they had no intention of emigrating.

"It would seem that neither pessimism about chances of attaining peace, nor uncertainty about the present state of affairs, have caused the public to change its daily way of life," wrote Ephraim Ya’ar and Tamar Hermann, who run the center. "The ability to cope with the situation, as reflected in maintaining daily routine, is also reflected in the low numbers who announced that they were considering leaving the country, which is surprising."

Yet everyone seems to know someone who is leaving. People often say they’re going away for a few years, just to take a break. Some call it a sabbatical, others a breath of fresh air from the tension of life in Israel.

For Sissy Block, an American who made aliyah nine years ago and is now heading to New York, it’s a matter of weighing opportunities.

"The decision to leave was agonizing, because I had an image of being a successful Zionist," Block said. "I definitely [will save] Israel as an option, but I’m going. "