$1.3 million reward offered for information in Leviev jewelry heist

An insurance company is offering a $1.3 million reward for clues leading to the recovery of stolen diamonds and jewels owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.

The $136 million in jewelry was stolen July 28 from a resort in Cannes, France, where it was part of an exhibition on the Leviev diamond house.

“A reward of up to 1,000,000 euros pro rata is offered to the first person who provides information which leads to recovery of the goods,” SW Associates, a Paris-based loss adjuster and risk manager working for Lloyd’s of London, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The statement, with photographs of some of the stolen goods — two diamond rings, a brooch and a necklace — will be published in the French newspapers Le Parisien and Nice-Matin, and the International Herald Tribune, Reuters reported.

A masked gunman stole the diamonds and jewels from an exhibition at the Carlton Hotel. The thief threatened the exhibition staff and visitors, filled a briefcase with the jewels and fled in an operation that lasted about a minute, police told the AP.

Private security guards had protected the exhibit.

The French hotel’s display about the Leviev diamond house had been scheduled to run through August.

Month of Diamonds and Demons

The birthstone for April is a diamond. In ancient Greek, the meaning of diamond is “unbreakable.” As the month begins, we look to the state of civil rights and intergroup relations in this city and are reminded that, while our bonds are strong, the diamond days of April hold many imperfections.

On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles erupted in riots after a jury acquitted four white police officers caught on home video clubbing Rodney King. Before it was over, 55 people were dead, more than 2,300 were injured and 1,100 buildings were destroyed. As we approach the 19th anniversary of the King riots, we wonder about the likelihood of another conflagration. We worry every year at this time. 

We worry because April 20 is Hitler’s birthday, a day universally celebrated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis who use the insignia “4/20” to telegraph shorthand messages of hate. We worry because April 20 also marks the 12th anniversary of the student massacre at Columbine. We worry because April 19 marks the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and the 18th anniversary of the deadly encounter at Waco.

Every day at both the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Los Angeles Urban League, evidence comes across our desks of the socioeconomic divisions in our community, the racial rifts in our schools, the cultural divides in our dialogue. We know there are demons among us — sending messages of hate, xenophobia, homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism — and we just hope the diamonds outnumber them. 

We believe in a multifaceted approach to try to gain the upper hand in the fight against bigotry and hatred. The first component of our approach, and the area where much of our work lies, involves educational programs to reach our youth.  Both the ADL and the Urban League know that if young people are not guided properly, hate can seep into their hearts. But we also know hatred is learned and can be unlearned. The ADL’s anti-bias education programs reach preschoolers and their families, K-12 school-age youth, and college students to counteract bias and bigotry and teach respect for diversity.  The Urban League works across the lifecycle of the student, from pre-K through high school, with education initiatives that create opportunities for academic enrichment, promote healthy relationships with positive adult role models, facilitate connections with relevant career options, and encourage a supportive peer culture.

The second element is our proactive work with local law enforcement agencies, especially the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD has come a long way since 1992 and has improved in policing our diverse city and in making cultural inroads both internally and externally. In an age when civics is no longer part of the classroom curriculum, it strikes us as crucial that civilians as well as guardians of the law understand what so many have forgotten: that harmony in society depends on the compact for honesty and fairness and mutual trust that we have in our day-to-day relations with one another. This is as true for the police as for the man and woman on the street — but the police will always be held to a higher standard as they set the example for the rest of us.

Finally, as leagues working toward common goals, we build bridges among the many diverse communities in Los Angeles to foster a positive environment for open and frank discussion about topics of mutual concern. There is a common experience of blacks and Jews fighting for equal rights in this country that is sometimes overlooked; the relationship between these two groups, once characterized as allies in the civil rights struggle, now can seem relegated to the history books. 

While April holds many dates that are celebrated by those who hate, April 4 was a day of remembrance for those of us in the civil rights arena because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At a time when racism and anti-Semitism are alive and well on the streets and on the Internet, we need to carry on Dr. King’s message about our shared history and revitalize our commitment to work together. 

The Anti-Defamation League and the Los Angeles Urban League, along with the entire civil rights community, have made substantial progress on basic issues of equality, civil rights and freedom. We have made huge strides in eliminating discrimination in employment, in education, in public accommodations and in housing. But there is still much work to be done. We go together into April with eyes wide open for the diamonds and the demons — and hope that our work together helps the community at large make the distinction between them.

This op-ed is being published simultaneously in the Los Angeles Sentinel, the largest subscriber-paid African American-owned newspaper on the West Coast.

Amanda Susskind is the regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League. Blair H. Taylor is president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Urban League.

Israel’s diamond body expels member for attempt to smuggle blood stones

Israel’s Diamond Exchange says it has expelled a longtime member for attempting to smuggle illegal Zimbabwe blood diamonds into the country.

Spokesman Assaf Levin said Tuesday that the bourse expelled David Vardi after he was arrested at Ben-Gurion International Airport last week with about $200,000 worth of illegal Zimbabwe stones. He said his organization “will not tolerate dealing in blood diamonds.”

Zimbabwe is banned from exporting diamonds under the Kimberley Process, the 75-nation regulatory group that seeks to end the trade of so-called blood diamonds, which fund violence in Africa.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

A kiss on the hand may be so Continental, but diamonds aren’t forever anymore

“No one would want a diamond on their finger if they knew it meant another person lost a hand.” — Jennifer Connelly in “Blood Diamond.

When I turned 18 years old, my parents gave me a pair of diamond earrings.
Later that same night at a comedy club, when a comedian on
stage asked me what I got for my birthday, I showed him the diamonds.

“You must be Jewish, right?” he said.


Jewish Singles Cruises

I was — still am, as a matter of fact. But I didn’t know yet about Jews and diamonds. I’m not talking about the diamond industry, in which Israeli and Diaspora Jews are heavily involved, but in the purchase and wearing of diamonds.

Over the next few years, as more of my young girlfriends got engaged, boasting rocks the size of eyeballs on their smooth, manicured hands, I was as mystified by the appeal of these gargantuan rings as I was by the rush to the chuppah.

Why would you want to wear a $10,000, 2-carat obstruction — getting snagged on sweaters, dirty on hikes, hidden on subways, lost during hand-washing — on your hand every day? Was this the price of your dowry? Was it the measure of a woman’s value, like so much chattel, as written into the traditional ketubbah, the Jewish wedding license?

It must be, I thought, as it seemed that the bigger the ring, the more valued my friends seemed to feel.

Look, it’s not like young Jewish women are the only ones taken in by the diamond hype — women everywhere have fallen for the industry slogan, “Diamonds Are Forever,” which, as evidenced by the high divorce rate, they are not. (So what if the stones last forever? The promises of love they ostensibly represent can fade like ice melting.)

This whole issue came to mind again after watching “Blood Diamond,” director Edward Zwick’s exposé of conflict diamonds — stones acquired in war zones, in this case during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Much has been written about the film and the state of the diamond industry today — for instance, is it true that the big companies store away diamonds to make them more valuable? Is it possible for consumers to differentiate between “conflict diamonds” and “conflict-free” diamonds? But after all is said and done, what bothers me still about diamonds is the same question I had when I was 18.

What do diamonds have to do with love?

Now, as when I was 18, I still believe: nothing.

When I was 18, I thought I’d buck the trend. I swore I wouldn’t get married till I was at least 25, I said, to the consternation of my friends and relatives, and I wouldn’t wear a diamond ring.

“You just don’t understand!” My friends rolled their eyes at yet another of my feminist outbursts. A diamond, they said, represents something. “People see the rings on your finger, and they know you’re taken, and well taken care of.”

“Why can’t I wear an amethyst, a sapphire, a ruby?” I said.

It’s not like I really wanted to wear a different stone. There would still be the same snagging, mugging and hiking problems. As a matter of fact, I hate all rings, because when it comes to typing, writing, playing piano and surfing, they just get in the way.

But a diamond ring seems to me — now that I see the controversy of their production — a symbol of everything wrong about the institution of marriage.

No, I’m not so antediluvian as to say: “Why get married? It’s just a piece of paper.”
I believe marriage is a holy covenant, one that makes both a private and public statement as to a couple’s commitment. I just don’t know why a diamond, through marketing genius, must represent that commitment.

And why we, as consumers, as single women — some of whom now buy themselves diamond rings as symbols of their self-sufficiency — give in to the hype, especially now knowing the controversial origins of some diamonds.

As to my own diamond earrings, like most of my jewelry — lost, broken, languishing in boxes waiting to be restrung, cleaned, soldered — I lost one of the earrings a few years after my birthday. I had the other one made into a necklace. It hangs from a gold chain, fastened by a secure clasp to prevent loss. It’s a rather delicate, miniscule stone, really, and it’s the only piece of jewelry I’ve kept over the years.

It survived the years with me: the transcontinental and transatlantic moves, the boyfriends, the jobs, the successes, the losses — and somehow it has come to mean more to me than the sparkle it emits, more than the sum of its parts.

I hope that when I get married I’ll eschew the whole ring thing, or at least the diamond, or maybe the diamond that costs two months’ salary — and especially the diamond that costs someone their hand or their life.

But who knows? Love — and especially weddings — have a way of making even the most staunch feminists starry eyed. Still, I hope it’s my love — not the materialistic sparkling symbol of it — that lasts forever.

A girl can always dream.

Director Zwick excavates the bloody price of ‘Diamonds’

Edward Zwick, director of the new film, “Blood Diamond,” believes his Jewishness has played a role in his desire to make social issue movies.

“Glory” was about black soldiers fighting in the Civil War, “The Siege” about the threats of domestic terrorism, “Courage Under Fire” about the aftermath of the first Iraq War and “Last Samurai” about warrior societies. He first gained Hollywood status as the executive producer of the influential “thirtysomething” TV series about boomer rights-of-passage.

“Blood Diamond,” among other subjects, focuses on how the worldwide demand for diamonds allowed violent, inhumane rebels in the West African nation of Sierra Leone to fund their atrocities through a smuggling scheme.
“As a very young kid, at Passover my grandparents would bring in people from the world who needed a place to go,” recalled the Chicago-born Zwick, during an interview at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. “It doesn’t sound like a political act, but it turned out to be one – the idea you are part of something larger than yourself.

“Certainly, something central to what I understand about Judaism has to do with social conscience and being aware of the world one lives in,” continued the 54-year-old director.

He has a quick, concise way of answering questions in a soft voice that does not waste time: “That is something very important to me, and to find a way to get it into my work has always been central.

“And I’m also a child of 1960s,” he added. “To have gone to university in the late 1960s-early 1970s and be part of any number of moments of political history forged whatever consciousness I have.”

The action in “Blood Diamond” — which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou — occurs during the late 1990s, when Sierra Leone rebels attack the capital city and slaughter and maim civilians on a massive scale.

There are many fictional elements to the plot, in which DiCaprio plays a South African-“Rhodesian” diamond smuggler-arms supplier, Connelly a crusading reporter and Hounsou an innocent Sierra Leonean forced by rebels to work a diamond field. Zwick developed the story with screenwriter Charles Leavitt.

But Zwick based his grueling, terrifying depictions of the war on research into what actually happened. Among other things, Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels forced kidnapped children to become killers. Its soldiers also intimidated civilians by amputating their limbs.

The film, in one of its most controversial elements, depicts a British diamond company that knowingly purchases smuggled stones. Zwick acknowledged, without making accusations, that it is modeled on De Beers, the British-based worldwide leader in the mining and supply of rough diamonds.

Sierra Leone is now at peace, achieved with the help of international intervention, and trying to recover from its strife. But its recent history makes for many harrowing scenes in “Blood Diamond.” The fact that the rebels sold diamonds to support their monstrous acts, relying on a worldwide “lust for bling,” might make some moviegoers wonder about their own unwitting complicity in all this.

It is an issue directly tied to the Jewish community. The diamond industry has traditionally employed many Jews in all its manufacturing and sales aspects. Here in Los Angeles, Jews — including many who are Orthodox — are well-represented as merchants in the downtown Jewelry District.

On its Web site, the Israeli Diamond Industry claims to manufacture two-thirds of all gem-quality diamonds in the world, and the World Diamond Congress held its annual meeting in Israel this year. The German-Jewish Oppenheimer family led De Beers to become the worldwide leader in the mining and sales of rough diamonds, although its patriarch reportedly converted to the Anglican Church in the 1930s. De Beers also has a worldwide retail operation, including a store on Rodeo Drive.

According to author Edward Jay Epstein, who wrote “The Rise and Fall of Diamonds,” Jews turned to diamonds as an asset during the Spanish Inquisition, because they could be easily concealed and instantly redeemed wherever they were forced to move. When they fled Lisbon and Antwerp, for instance, they moved to Amsterdam and established diamond-cutting factories.

“One of the great historical ironies is the fact Jews needed a currency for the Diaspora — something small, something that can be taken with them — and that led to roles within this industry,” Zwick said. But he also added that the “conflict diamond” problem “is more about an industry than a religion.”

Or is it?

“Yes, it’s a Jewish issue because [so many] of the diamond dealers in the world are Jewish,” said a Jewish Los Angeles diamond merchant, who asked not to be named for security reasons. “Think of how many people are employed in the diamond industry in Israel and how vital it is to that economy.”

Well ahead of “Blood Diamond’s” release, the diamond industry moved to address the problem of “blood diamonds” used by rebels in Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other nations with insurgencies in the 1990s. The Congo still has problems. At the same time, it wants to protect the economies of African nations like Botswana, where legitimate trade in diamonds is an important means of jobs and growth.

The World Diamond Council was created in 2000, the same year that the diamond industry — along with governments involved throughout the diamond-business pipeline — set up a UN-mandated voluntary self-policing effort called the Kimberley Process to stop this trade. It was implemented in 2003. De Beers is a member of the council.

Among other Kimberley Process activities, African nations attest to warranties attesting that their exported rough diamonds are “conflict-free.” This was implemented in 2003 and the World Diamond Council said the flow of such diamonds has declined from 4 percent of the world market in the late 1990s to less than 1 percent today.

“It’s been now seven years since the Kimberley Process was created and the industry has made huge strides in this,” said Carson Glover, the World Diamond Council’s U.S. spokesperson. “We’ve gone from a small percent of world diamond supply to virtually no percent” [being of “conflict” origins].

Antwerp’s Diamonds, Jews Are Forever

If you own a diamond, you can be 80 percent sure it’s been to Antwerp, Belgium, at some point in its life. Perhaps it was graded there in the heart of ancient Europe — or ground, polished, valued, bought or sold there.

Diamonds might be everlasting, but there is another fascinating continuum in Antwerp. This becomes obvious immediately upon arrival at the city’s Central Train Station. A unique feature of the city is the presence of a large Chasidic community, which is mainly located within the diamond district. There are between 15,000 and 20,000 Jewish citizens in Antwerp now, whereas before the Second World War, there were more than 55,000.

The Jewish presence in Antwerp is certainly not a new phenomenon. There have been three major immigration phases, beginning as early as the 13th century. At that time, Ashkenazi Jews moved from Central Europe to Antwerp and offered vital financial support in developing the Duchy of Brabant. The residents of the Duchy of Brabant, however, swiftly forgot their gratitude in the need for a scapegoat for the plague. Jews were blamed for the onset of the illness and, as a result, Brussels and Antwerp powers that be had them all killed or expelled.

At the end of the 15th century, the Catholic kings of Spain and Portugal saw fit to expel all Jews. This was the reason for the second wave of Jewish immigrants to Belgium. Many Marrono Jews from Portugal settled in Antwerp, but Emperor Charles V was not happy with this. He did his utmost to have them banned from the city, but the magistrate of Antwerp closed his eyes and let them continue to live and practice their trades secretly: this was not opportunistic, but a sign of respect for fellow human beings. Having said that, they had become essential to the financial development of Antwerp as the new world harbor … keeping a low profile was order of the day and surely not too pleasant.

During the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, things became a little better, although extra taxes and the passing of a law stating that only the oldest son of a Jewish family could marry ensured that the Jewish community in Antwerp remained very small.

Emperor Joseph XI of Austria changed all this. Thanks to him and his Edict of Tolerance, Jews were again allowed to integrate completely in the social and economic life of all cities under Austrian rule — of which Antwerp was one.

This integration was authenticated by the French Republic in 1791 and continued under Napoleon. Surprisingly, the Jewish group in Antwerp remained very small, (numbering only about 38 families) under the Dutch regime and even later, after Belgian independence.

The Central Consistory of Israelites in Belgium was founded in 1832, and continues to remain the officially recognized superior institution of the Jewish community in Belgium.

Things started to change after 1880 when a third immigration wave bolstered the Jewish presence in Antwerp. Many Eastern European Jews immigrated to escape the pogroms and settled in Antwerp where they found work in the diamond industry. By 1901, there were 8,000 Jewish inhabitants. By 1933, this number had risen to 55,000. This group of 55,000 no longer represented one Jewish way of living or one Jewish way of thinking. All the different political and religious views were proudly represented within its numbers.

The Nazis invaded the Benelux countries on May 10, 1940. As in other Nazi-occupied countries, many Jews "left in the night" and were transported to concentration camps. The Nazis, however, were often irritated to the extreme by the "soft" attitude of the Belgians toward the "Jewish Problem." Indeed, many Belgians saved Jewish children by hiding them wherever possible, sometimes even adopting them into their own families.

In 1993, the Jewish population of Antwerp relished the solidarity of the Antwerp people as documented by Flemish author Jan Walgrave in his article to commemorate the 26th World Diamond Congress. "The diamond world is a business for insiders and its basis, therefore, is in trust and tolerance and in moments of danger, in the solidarity of the whole world of the diamond."

Today, the Jewish world in Antwerp is, in a certain way, a closed world. The community is very visible but it is difficult for an outsider to gain access into the fascinating heirloom of this antique world. Ancient traditions are faithfully perpetuated. "The Scribe" works in a small office above a shop. This is an ancient and revered form of employment. He writes out religious texts by hand using a quill pen and special ink. Couples getting married, for example, often request handwritten passages from the Torah appropriate for weddings. The past is omnipresent and skills are handed down from parents to children: a hatter, a baker and a cobbler to name but a few. Every day in the synagogue, men and boys study and debate religious texts. Aged diamond merchants speak with passion about diamonds; each diamond is unique and they can decide on the qualities of each one with just a look.

Jewish and kosher shopping abounds. Anything from butchers to books, furs to falafel, watches to wigs. There are top-quality kosher restaurants.

The diamond business in Belgium is No. 1 in the worldwide rating and is Belgium’s sixth largest export industry, so in recognition of this, Antwerp now proudly boasts a shiny new Diamond Museum. It is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building and cost the provincial government $5.12 million to develop. Buzzwords like "high tech" and "interactive" fly off the promotional flier like sparks from a diamond-cutter’s drill.

After visiting Antwerp and returning to Brussels, or journeying on to London or Paris, one is left with the feeling that some things change too fast these days. But it is perhaps interesting to note that a cut diamond not only refracts, diffuses and reflects light, but also slows down its speed.

However, diamonds haven’t slowed things down too much in Antwerp. A Web site, owned by Jewish Antwerp, aims at becoming the meeting place for all of the city’s Jews, and for all those inside wishing to interact with them. A Web site is fine, but if you want to discuss something important, even confidential, it’s just as easy to cross the street. This is the way things have always been in Antwerp’s Jewish Quarter.

‘Diamond’ Story Has Familiar Ring

Dan Cohen wasn’t told what his father did for a living until he was a teenager — not because his father was an underground criminal or international spy. In fact, Cohen’s father was a diamond salesman — a job rife with risk of robbery.

That’s the premise of Cohen’s film "Diamond Men," a lighter take on Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman" and a tribute to Cohen’s late Jewish father.

Eddie Miller (Robert Forster) is an aging diamond man, a quiet type and a widower. As Cohen describes him, "he’s lived honestly and been a good worker." No longer insurable since his recent heart attack, Eddie agrees to train his replacement, Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg), to try to keep his job. Walker is an arrogant young guy with a penchant for rock music, fast cars and fast women.

The story delves deeply into the psyches of the two men, whose relationship begins antagonistically, but soon develops into friendship. But one thing we never hear about is religion.

While the diamond business is historically a Jewish industry, this fact is implied, but never stated, in the film. Cohen points out his choices of character names: Eddie’s last name is Miller, a Jewish last name and a nod to playwright Arthur Miller. Eddie’s late wife is named Sarah.

"The business, as it used to be in my father’s and grandfather’s day, was primarily Jews," Cohen said. But "most of the customers are not Jews, and it’s a business based on trust," he said. "I didn’t want to weigh the movie down with anything additional, because there’s so much in there already."

What’s in there is a buddy movie, a love story and a sexy diamond caper. It’s also an ode to salesmanship. "I wanted to set the record straight from ‘Death of a Salesman,’" Cohen said, "and show a guy with a life different from Willy Loman."

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Find the Gems

There once was a man who could provide only potatoes for his family’s subsistence. As the monotony and the poverty wore on, he prayed, and his prayers were answered. There fell into his hands a mysterious map to a magical Island of Diamonds.

Begging a boat, he set sail on a long and difficult voyage. One day, he spotted the island, gleaming on the horizon. Upon landing, he discovered a pristine beach covered with diamonds. His heart leapt as, carrying a dozen potato sacks, he pulled his small boat ashore and began to fill the sacks with diamonds.

He was so busy, he didn’t notice that the people of the island had come to watch.

"What are you doing?"

"I’m gathering diamonds; I’m going to be rich."

"Rich? Those won’t make you rich! The whole island is covered with them. If you want to be rich here, you have to find something much more rare and valuable. The most valuable thing here is potatoes."

"Potatoes? I know potatoes!"

So he dumped all the diamonds from his sack, and ran into the forest. In 15 minutes, he found a dozen potatoes. The crowd looked on in awe. They carried him from the beach, and installed him as king of the island.

After a year, he remembered his family and informed the island people that he would soon be leaving for home.

When finally he arrived in his home port, the whole town turned out to meet him. Fearing him long lost, he was greeted with tears of joy. Finally, his wife mustered the courage to ask:

"Did you find the Island of Diamonds?"

"I became king of the Island of Diamonds!"

"Did you bring back diamonds? Diamonds from the island?"

"Diamonds? Heavens no! I brought back something much more valuable than diamonds! Behold, potatoes!"

Why do we set out in life to find diamonds, only to return with bags full of common potatoes? How were we persuaded that potatoes are more valuable than diamonds? How were we enticed into collecting potatoes when we stood upon a beach covered with diamonds?

The most common Hebrew word for "sin" is het. This word comes from archery. Het literally means missing the mark, missing the target. This is not a failure of intent, nor a failure of fundamental morality. There are other words for that. Het indicates a failure of vision, a problem of distraction. And distraction may be the greatest spiritual problem.

"The great danger facing us all," wrote the American preacher Phillips Brooks, "is not that we shall make an absolute failure of our life. Nor that we shall fall into outright viciousness. Nor that we shall be terribly unhappy. Nor that we shall feel that life has no meaning. The danger is that we shall fail to perceive life’s greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unable to tender the most needed service, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God, and be content to have it so."

Our nation has embarked on a great campaign to cleanse the world of terrorism and find some measure of justice in response to our tragedy. We certainly have the means. The question is, will we have the resolve? America’s attention span is notoriously short. We live for distraction. Soon, there will be new stories, new scandals, new crises to displace this tragedy from our headlines. Can we sustain the commitment to achieve this great goal? n

Contrary to the popular conception, Yom Kippur is not the holiest day of the Jewish year. Today is. True, Yom Kippur is the most severe. Yom Kippur demands fasting, self-denial, prayer and repentance. Its stringency supersedes even Sabbath. On Yom Kippur, we are all saints — all our intentions pure, all our resolutions robust. Because on Yom Kippur, it’s only abstract, theoretical, hypothetical. Today, we go back to the workplace, to the carpools, to the routine. Today, we go back to normal. And today, we discover if Yom Kippur really changed anything. Today is the holiest day of the Jewish year because today we see if we shall come home with potatoes or if we shall come home with diamonds.