Childhood Dreams

Have you ever loved something you have never seen in real life, only photographs? Convinced that if you were to ever see it, you would plunge into depths of joy that engulf your entire being? Scared that if you did see it, you would somehow be disappointed and your dreams crushed? Over the weekend a dream of mine came true and I was profoundly moved by it. I spent the weekend in the English countryside and was transported to my childhood dreams.

I have always wanted to live in the England countryside. I would have a grand, old home with lots of land, magnificent gardens, and tons of animals. I’d spend my days walking through fields and forests, cooking glorious food, with a door always open to family, friends, and strangers. Anyone who had a story to share. I’d have a massive dog and an English husband. As I’ve grown old the dream remains the same, only now there is a pub in town that makes a great Cosmo.

Adam Ant was the first man I ever fell in love with and he was the husband of my childhood dreams. I thought he was the most handsome man in the world and I’d listen to his records endlessly. I thought we’d get married and live happily ever after. I was certain if given the opportunity to meet me, he’d fall instantly and desperately in love. Every minute I spend in England is with the hope I’ll see him, our eyes lock, and our lives entwine as they were always destined to.

I stayed in a magnificent home and as I wondered into each room it took my breath away and required all my strength not to cry. I stood in my sprawling bedroom as the sun was setting, looking out onto the Isle of Wight in the distance, and I was mesmerized. It is not often someone’s dreams come true and I was emotional. I felt as if my beloved English father was looking down on me, thrilled the dream we had spoken of so often had come true. It was magical.

The rooms were romantic and historical. The fireplaces held stories of so many who sat in front of them. There was so much to see one could spend days in each room and constantly discover new treasures. The home was grand and important, yet warm and welcoming. You could feel happiness contained in the walls and while I’m certain a home so old must be haunted, the ghosts were simply happy to have company and enjoyed the merriment. I loved every moment.

On Sunday, pretending that I actually lived there and Adam was on his way home, I went to the pub and raised a glass to my dad, who’s stories of his childhood in England became my dreams. I took lots of pictures with both my camera and my mind’s eye, so I could come back to the exact moment we walked through an enchanted forest with deer running between 2000-year-old trees. It was a spectacular weekend and I am once again dreaming of a life here.

Sidebar: The pub didn’t make a Cosmo, so I requested the drink I invented in my country home. The “Fallen Angel” is now a favorite and I’ve had a couple since the weekend. The drink is fizzy elderflower, a shot of vodka, and a splash of grenadine, over ice. It is sweet and light and the perfect substitution to my believed Cosmo. I’m not sure how easy it will be to find sparkling elderflower in LA, but I will, and Fallen Angels will be a go to beverage for the summer. Try it!

It is quite spectacular to be transported to your childhood at the exact moment you see a vision of your future. This piece of heaven made this angel very happy. Thank you to my lovely hosts for a wonderful time. From the walks, to meeting the animals, to the Yorkshire pudding and blackberry crumble, it was all perfect. I felt lucky to be included in the weekend and look forward to one day being your neighbor. I am looking out for Adam, and keeping the faith.








Did the Brexit vote unleash the bigots? Some British Jews think so

For two years, in her travels around the English capital, Natalie Pitimson has toted a library bag emblazoned with a word in Yiddish.

“The word ‘schlep’ written on the side perfectly describes my regular hour-long trek through central London,” Pitimson, a senior sociology lecturer at the University of Brighton, wrote on her blog.

She had encountered no unpleasant incidents over the bag, whose slogan “reminds me of growing up in a lively Jewish family where such phrases littered otherwise very English sentences,” she wrote.

But last week, the bag caused Pitimson distress when it invited a vicious verbal attack by a fellow passenger of the London underground. According to Pitimson, the man told her to “f— off back to Israel with the other yids.”

The June 28 incident left Pitimson “shaking and very upset,” she wrote. “I thought about nothing else for the rest of the day. I have never been targeted in this way before.”

Pitimson traces the schlep incident to a noticeable uptick in expressions of xenophobia following the June 23 referendum in the United Kingdom, in which 52 percent of voters supported a British exit, or Brexit, from the European Union.

As the nation struggles to deal with the aftermath of the divisive vote, Brexit opponents cite such incidents as proof that the vote has unleashed a wave of racism. According to the National Police Chiefs Council, 331 alleged hate crime incidents were reported to police in the week after the vote, compared with a weekly average of only 63 before the vote (the statement did not specify the previous time period).

The Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s watchdog on anti-Semitism, expressed its concern, along with other British Jewish groups, over this rise in incidents, which included hate graffiti against Polish immigrants and verbal abuse of other immigrants on the street.

But neither CST nor the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a smaller, volunteer-led alternative to the CST, can point to any directly related rise in anti-Semitic incidents following Brexit.

In the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Golders Green, some locals said they feel no less safe after the vote than they did before. “I don’t see it, not more than usual,” said Mike Cohen, an observant Jew from Golders Green. “Not on the street, not on television, not anywhere.”

Nevertheless, reports of hate crimes and verbal attacks prompted front-page headlines and passionate op-eds in Britain’s liberal media. Minister David Cameron, who has worked tirelessly to prevent a Brexit vote and resigned over his efforts’ failure, condemned the spate of attacks.

“In the past few days we have seen despicable graffiti daubed on a Polish community centre, we’ve seen verbal abuse hurled against individuals because they are members of ethnic minorities,” Cameron said in Parliament last week. “Let’s remember these people have come here and made a wonderful contribution to our country. We will not stand for hate crime or these kinds of attacks; they must be stamped out.”

But some Brexit supporters suggested Cameron and other Brexit opponents were exaggerating the severity of the situation to undermine the Brexit results.

Will Franken, a conservative London comedian and blogger, wrote that the media and watchdog groups reporting a rise in hate crimes were “scaremongering” to discredit those who voted to leave the EU.

CST’s director of communications, Mark Gardner, said his organization was “taking very seriously concerns that anti-Semitism might be abused by those with other agendas than fighting racism.”

But Gardner also said that complaints of racist rhetoric after Brexit nonetheless gives cause for concern.

“The racism that came out in Brexit’s wake is based on the principle of ‘taking the country back’ and when that is the mode of thinking, it is very easy for Jews to also be labeled as aliens, as inauthentic to Britain,” he said.

He added the “Brexit has been seized upon by far-right anti-Semites in social media circles, where some celebrated the vote as a defeat to Zionist bankers.”

Pitimson has no doubt that her subway ordeal is Brexit-related.

“I’ve just been verbally abused – tell me again how racism played no part in Brexit,” she titled her blog entry on the experience.

Though her interlocutor said nothing of the vote specifically, Pitimson feels his actions are an expression of nationalist sentiment against anyone perceived to be foreign. Immigration was a major theme for those who voted to leave the EU, many of whom cited concerns over the stream of 1.8 million Muslims who entered Europe this year from the Middle East. Migrant workers from Eastern European were also a major gripe.

In another London underground incident, filmmaker Haim Bresheeth said that on June 24, an “obvious Brexiter” confronted him because Bresheeth spoke in Hebrew on the phone. “In this country we speak English! Can’t you speak English, sir?” the man told Bresheeth, but made no reference to the vote, according to Bresheeth’s account on Facebook of the incident.

Anti-Semitism charges stir the calm waters of bucolic Oxford

For a city that has made headlines recently for its anti-Semitism problem, Oxford has a pretty laid back Jewish scene.

On a recent Friday night, dozens of recognizably Jewish families and students wearing kippahs were enjoying the afternoon sun as they strolled to one of Oxford’s two synagogues.

They converged at a modern building that houses a Jewish community center, complete with a kosher kitchen and a shul with a tall, sloped ceiling of white plaster that evokes the feeling of standing between the pages of a giant book. The same building has separate halls for Progressive congregants (Conservative and Reform) and Orthodox prayer, where services are held simultaneously.

Across Britain and Western Europe, worshippers more commonly cover their kippahs with a hat on the way to synagogue, where they are inspected or questioned – and sometimes even frisked – at the entrance by police or military. And while the Oxford Jewish Centre has some security, visitors can often walk in no questions asked.

It’s part of living in a city with hardly any violent anti-Semitic incidents, says Jake Berger, a third-year psychology student from Manchester.

“I definitely feel safer walking around with a kippah here compared to Manchester,” Berger said.

Yet despite the rarity of physical attacks on Jews, anti-Semitic rhetoric and hate speech against Israel in Oxford has invited scrutiny and cast an ugly shadow on this bastion of the British left. A picturesque university town of 160,000 residents 60 miles northwest of London, Oxford is internationally famous for its scholastic excellence and for churning out leaders in a variety of fields. The University of Oxford was ranked as the world’s fifth best in the Center for World University Rankings this year.

Students fill the many affordable pubs here until deep into the night. On weekends, lovers and hikers walk or sail along the Oxford Canal, which intersects the city’s center and stretches for 80 miles.

Especially for Jews who are openly supportive of Israel, Oxford is “an Eden with a dark underbelly,” according to Richard Black, a fourth-year history student and former member of the local JSoc, the Oxford University Jewish Society. As a pro-Israel activist, he has been called “baby killer” several times in Oxford.

He says he overheard a classmate explaining that Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust while committing their very own Holocaust against Palestinians, adding that Jews control American finance and media. After an argument on Israel, Black recalls, a member of the academic faculty told him that the Hebrew Bible was “genocidal” and that Black provided “the best advertisement for anti-Semitism.”

Black also recalls that at one event in 2011, a pro-Palestinian activist told him that “Adolf Hitler was a good man.” She was holding a banner supporting Palestinians and speaking with Black calmly about the factors that led to Israel’s existence, including the Holocaust.

“I was shocked back then, but I have grown accustomed,” Black said.

Like many Jewish students at Oxford, Black cites the increasingly popular pejorative of “Zio” as proof of widespread but covert anti-Semitism. Short for Zionist, “it’s shorthand, used by people who hate Jews as cover for what they’re really saying: ‘Dirty Jew,’” Black said. “The true meaning lies in context: Zio media, Zio lobby – You overhear this sort of thing here.”

Last year, African rights activist Zuleyka Shahin, during a failed campaign for president of the Oxford Union, wrote on Facebook that “Judeo-Christian white men” and “Zio white men” are “complicit in the funding of wars and the social genocide of my people.”

In February, a non-Jewish Oxford student had enough of anti-Semitic chatter. Alex Chalmers, a co-chair of the university’s Labour chapter, resigned his post over the chapter’s passing of a motion endorsing Israel Apartheid Week, explaining that he no longer wanted to be associated with a framework that has “some kind of problem with Jews.”

The word “Zio,” he wrote in an op-ed explaining his move, “was part of the [Labour] club’s lexicon.” The song “Rockets over Tel Aviv” was a favorite among a certain faction of the club. Concerns of Jewish students “were ridiculed,” Chalmers added.

His resignation triggered an internal probe by Oxford’s Labour chapter which found that the Oxford University Labour Club is not institutionally anti-Semitic, but faces “difficulties” that must be addressed, the Jewish Chronicle reported Tuesday.

More significantly, it also started a chain reaction, exposing the left-wing party to intense media scrutiny in Britain that generated one of its worst public relations fiascoes in years. Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn – himself branded untrustworthy by Jewish community leaders over his support for the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah – was forced to suspend at least 20 of the party’s members for making hateful remarks or statements on Jews and Israel.

Among those suspended this month were former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who said Hitler supported Zionism in defending a Labour lawmaker who had been suspended earlier for making a similar statement.

Earlier this month Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, told The Times of London that Jewish students at British universities, including Oxford, face a “wall of anti-Zionism, which they feel and know to be Jew hatred.” He is scheduled to speak later this month at the Oxford Union.

For some Jewish students and faculty, the storm is “just brouhaha,” said Jonathan, a former computer science student who graduated in 2013.  He returns to Oxford regularly for JSoc activities and to attend lectures.

Jonathan, an observant Jew who did not want his last name mentioned, said: “The ones who experience anti-Semitism are the hacks,” meaning people active in student or university politics.

Most Jews in Oxford “enjoy a very good situation of safety and a robust Jewish community with excellent facilities that are actually far better than what one finds in many other British universities,” said Berger, the psychology student from Manchester. Even Black – a supporter of the Conservative Party – said that “for every negative experience” with non-Jews in Oxford, he has had “a hundred positive ones.”

While the recent scandal exposed widespread hate speech at Oxford, it also reinforced growing rejection of anti-Semitism “by the vast majority in Oxford” who understand “how criticism of Israel spills into anti-Semitism,” Black said.

Last month, four of Oxford’s six delegates to Britain’s National Student Union said their university should disaffiliate from the union following the election of Malia Bouatia as its president. Bouatia, a student at the University of Birmingham, is accused of justifying violence against Israelis and opposing a motion to condemn the Islamic State terror group lest it stigmatize Muslims. She also blamed the “Zionist-led media” for oppression in the global south.

Two British universities, Lincoln and Newcastle, this month disaffiliated with the union, citing lack of confidence in its leadership. Oxford is set to hold a disaffiliation referendum in the coming weeks.   

As for Israelis living in Oxford — there are hundreds of them, mostly students and researchers — they say they suffer no discrimination or abuse for their country of origin.

“It’s a very international place, many languages spoken, very tolerant,” said Lior Weizman, 36, a father of four who moved to Oxford last year to work as a post-doctoral fellow at Oxford specializing in medical imaging of the brain.

“I’m not a political person,” he said. “But if there are situations of people being singled out in Oxford because of their country of origin, I haven’t encountered them.”

See who a Koufax teammate discovered in England

Norm Sherry didn’t go ashore in 1952 when the ship that was transporting his U.S. Army infantry division stopped in England, the country of his mother’s birth. Once in West Germany, Sherry led his division’s baseball team to the championship of American military units there.

Now 84, Sherry would go on to become a major league catcher, manager and coach. He’s still never visited England.

Sherry mentioned his mother’s birthplace during a recent interview about former Los Angeles Dodgers’ teammate Sandy Koufax, leading to a look by “Seeking Kin” into her roots. The search connected Sherry to British cousins he’d never heard about. (This success was accomplished with the assistance of Pat Vassilaros, a Pennsylvanian who helps “Seeking Kin” in its searches.)

The discovery, Sherry said from his home in San Diego, California, is “nice to know,” although he doubts he’ll get to meet his newly found kin.

His mother, Mildred Walman, was born in 1900. She and her father, Philip, worked as tailors.

His newly found kin includes Paul Walman, a resident of the London suburb of Essex who is a second cousin of Sherry, once removed. Walman and Sherry have common ancestors: Benjamin Walman and his wife, Miriam (nee Leventhal) – Philip’s parents and the great-great-grandparents of Paul Walman. The couple immigrated to England in the mid-to-late 1800s, apparently from Riga, Latvia. Like his American relatives, Walman’s family members in England were tailors.

One of the Walmans’ seven children, Nathan, married a woman named Rachel, whose maiden name appears in various documents as Katz, Katson and Katchin. Two of the couple’s nine children, Lottie and Esther, married in London and moved with their husbands to Paris. The sisters were deported to Auschwitz and killed there in 1942.

Records have not been located to learn the fate of Louis Gelazzer (also spelled Gelasser), Lottie’s husband. Esther’s husband, Aaron Greenberg, survived and was later reunited in Paris with their three daughters, who had escaped the city and hid in southern France – as did the two daughters of Lottie and Louis.

Paul Walman met Esther’s daughter, Freda, on visits to Paris in the 1960s and again two years ago.

Sherry said he’d figured he “must have” relatives killed in the Holocaust. The assumption now being confirmed “is terrible,” he said.

Tragedy had struck Nathan and Rachel much earlier, when their infant triplets – Simon, Philip and Lily – died separately of disease in 1900. Walman said he uncovered a document in the country’s Royal Archives stating that Queen Victoria sent Nathan and Rachel Walman a gift of 3 pounds on June 26, 1899, upon the triplets’ birth, apparently to help cover additional household expenses.

Many touchstones still exist in London connected to the Walmans’ lives there. Walman recently visited his mother when she was sick in Whitechapel’s Royal London Hospital, “where most of the Walmans were born,” he said. The East London Synagogue, where many Walmans were married, continues as a congregation, albeit in another building. Much of the East London neighborhood where the immigrant family settled is now occupied by Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants. The apartment on Old Compton Street where Nathan and Rachel lived still stands in the heart of London’s Piccadilly Circus.

“It’s been fascinating,” Walman, 57, said of his years of research and uncovering of documents.

A software consultant, Walman used to travel to California for business. He says he was unaware of his Sherry relatives living in the state or he’d have visited.

Asked whether he was familiar with America’s national pastime, Walman was quick to pronounce, with a laugh, “No! I know as much about baseball as you do about cricket.”

Maybe he’ll get to learn more on a future trip to California. Sherry also could take him to the Los Angeles neighborhood where he was raised or to the San Gabriel home where his maternal grandparents, Philip and Rose Walman – Philip was the brother of Paul’s great-grandfather Nathan – lived in a house set 50 yards up the road, at the end of a berry-tangled fence that would guide Norm’s aunt as she drove the Sherrys there for Sunday visits.

In the past week, Sherry was also recalling his two appearances in the World Series as a coach. His team lost both times, in 1984 and 1989.

Like millions of others, he viewed the showdown between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets.

“It’s always interesting to me to watch,” he said. “Winning the World Series is the ultimate goal.”

For genealogy enthusiasts, finding long-lost relatives is akin to raising the World Series trophy.

100,000 sign petition calling for arrest of Netanyahu in Britain

A petition calling for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits Britain this week has reached more than 100,000 signatures and must be considered for debate in Parliament.

The online petition was uploaded on Aug. 7 to the United Kingdom Parliament’s official website.

“Under international law he should be arrested for war crimes upon arrival in the U.K. for the massacre of over 2000 civilians in 2014,” the petition says, citing Netanyahu’s visit scheduled for Thursday.

The petition had nearly 107,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning. It passed the 100,000 mark over the weekend.

Responding to the petition, the British government said that under U.K. and international law, the visiting heads of foreign governments, like Netanyahu, have immunity from the legal process, and cannot be arrested or detained.

“We recognize that the conflict in Gaza last year took a terrible toll,” the government said. “As the Prime Minister said, we were all deeply saddened by the violence and the U.K. has been at the forefront of international reconstruction efforts. However, the Prime Minister was clear on the U.K.’s recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.”

The House of Commons has not set a date for a parliamentary debate on the petition.

On Monday, a group of union leaders, three British lawmakers and prominent activists published a letter in the The Guardian newspaper denouncing Netanyahu’s visit.

“Our prime minister should not be welcoming the man who presides over Israel’s occupation and its siege of Gaza,” the letter said, in part. “We call on him to instead impose immediate sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel until it complies with international law and ends the blockade and the occupation.”

Demonstrations and protests against Netanyahu are planned for London in advance of the visit, according to the Guardian.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews called for supporters to gather outside the Prime Minister’s Office at 10 Downing St. at 11 a.m. Wednesday to show support for Netanyahu and for the relationship between Britain and Israel.

British Jewry: A tale of two stories

Is England good or bad for the Jews? Well, it depends on which Cohen you listen to — Danny Cohen or Shimon Cohen.

Danny Cohen, a senior executive with the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) who’s been called one of the most influential figures in British television, caused a stir recently when he said at a conference that he had “never felt so uncomfortable being a British Jew” and questioned Britain as a “long-term home.”

As reported in the Independent, Cohen spoke “after it emerged that anti-Semitic incidents in Britain hit record annual levels in 2014.” The paper listed incidents such as a group of young men driving in a convoy through a Jewish neighborhood shouting “Heil Hitler”; a physical attack on a rabbi in Gateshead and a sign saying “Child Murderers” outside a synagogue in southwest London.

“You’ve seen the number of attacks rise, you’ve seen murders in France, you’ve seen murders in Belgium,” Cohen was quoted as saying. “Having lived all my life in the U.K., I’ve never felt as I do now about anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The Gaza War certainly has darkened the atmosphere. As British Jewish leader Vivian Wineman said to the Independent, “A summer filled with hostile, anti-Zionist demonstrations has clearly left its mark.”

But despite all this darkness, PR specialist Shimon Cohen has a more upbeat take. In his rebuttal to Danny Cohen in the Jewish Chronicle, he wrote: “Danny, you’re wrong. Britain is a wonderful home for Jews.” He doesn’t deny there’s anti-Semitism, but he reminds us “there’s also Islamophobia, homophobia and gender inequality.” What he finds “increasingly troubling” is the Jewish community’s “apparent need to embrace the role of the victim so enthusiastically.”

“Are we truly victims?” he asks. “More so than any other minority group?”

Shimon is a longtime champion of British Jewry. He can’t stand alarmism. He prefers to see the glass as half full. In a 2012 Times of Israel piece, he wrote:

“The challenges facing U.K. Jewry are significant and cannot be ignored, but neither should they be distorted or embellished. Increasingly, from Jewish schools to Limmud to Jewish Book Week, Jews are celebrating their identity with confidence, vitality and innovation. British Jewish life is experiencing something of a resurgence, proud of its heritage, connected to Israel and finding its voice. Far from running for cover, British Jews are standing tall.”

What are we to make of these polarities, of these two stories? Are we more responsible when we focus on the half-empty part of the glass or the half-full part? Should our Jewish anxiety trump our Jewish optimism?

When I look at British Jewry from my home base of Los Angeles, I’m clearly in the Danny Cohen high anxiety camp. I react to what makes news — the nasty demonstrations against Israel, the growing calls to boycott the Jewish state, the rise in anti-Semitic attacks throughout many parts of Europe and so on.  

But after spending 10 days in England immersed in the Jewish community, I’m tempted to move to the Shimon Cohen camp. All I saw was a thriving community. 

At a Friday night Shabbat at the home of Alan Mendoza, head of the Henry Jackson Society, I learned about the vibrant Sephardic community. The following Shabbat, at a Chabad in an exclusive part of London, I saw a lively community of Jews from around the world, and donors committed to its future.

During the week, I was on a university campus with 2,500 Jews at Limmud U.K., indulging in the world’s greatest festival of Jewish learning and diversity — a festival born in England that has spread throughout the globe.

I also visited the London School of Jewish Studies, a world-class center of Jewish learning that caters to the whole community throughout the year with programming that’s both broad and deep (and that I’d love to see replicated in the U.S.).

In short, I saw a community that, with all of its challenges, is doubling down on Judaism.

The problem is that here in America, we rarely see this positive stuff on the news or even in our Jewish media. It’s not as “urgent” or as “important” as the anti-Semitic attacks, and I get that. Danger is more newsy, and Jews are certainly attuned to danger. We are a people for whom insecurity is a 2,000-year-old reflex.

We want to be Shimon Cohens, but reality and memory turn us into Danny Cohens. We crave to see the bright side, but our enemies force us to see the darkness. We’ve learned the hard way that the price of being too optimistic is much higher than the price of being too pessimistic.

And yet, we find a way to get up and do great things. We build communities. We build institutions of learning. We build reasons for optimism.

Danny Cohen and Shimon Cohen live in every Jew. Our task is to never forget Danny Cohen, but to also remember that we want Shimon to win.

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

European anti-Semitism exploding: It’s not just about Hamas

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the current explosion of anti-Semitism across Europe is caused by the war with Hamas in Gaza. But it’s not that simple. The riots on the streets of Paris, the vicious anti-Jewish graffiti defacing the ancient streets of Rome, the unanswered threats to Jews living in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, all point to a much deeper malaise.

To be sure, Hamas has done more than its share to stoke the flames of genocidal hate. Anti-Semitism is the one battlefield in the asymmetrical war against the Jews they know they have a chance to win. Their self-generated “martyrs on demand” fill 24-hour news cycles and infect social media platforms, and the searing visuals of dead babies are more than enough to send young revenge-seeking Arabs and Muslims into Europe’s streets to attack The Enemy.

And the “enemy” is? The Jewish people. Jews in their synagogues, their community centers, their kosher butcher shops, their religious gatherings.

But the virulent anti-Jew narrative was well underway before the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members on the West Bank and the unending rocket and missile attacks on Israel’s heartland led to the current war in Gaza.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a key player in supercharging anti-Jewish sentiment. Erdogan co-opted former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s game plan by bullying Israel, in word and (often) in deed, to win over the Arab and Muslim streets. His hate recently reached its apex by libeling the Jewish state’s counterattack against Hamas as “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Turkey, a country that for half a millennium earned a record of tolerance for its Jews, now boasts members of parliament who participate in violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy and a leading singer who proudly tweets, “May God Bless Hitler” and “It will be again Muslims who will bring an end of those Jews, it is near, near.”

The damage done by Erdogan and company not only endangers Turkish Jewry, it has helped further validate extreme anti-Jewish invective by Turkish imams in Germany and the Netherlands.

Last year, Dutch social worker Mehmet Sahin found his life turned upside down after he had the audacity to confront anti-Semitic Dutch Muslim youth on national TV. That Friday, the imam in the mosque he and his wife attended publicly accused Sahin of “being a Jew,” forcing him and his young family to flee into a witness protection program.

“Rabbi,” Sahin told me recently, “you don’t understand. It was never like this before, but today, ‘Jew’ has become a dirty word in our community.”

In the United Kingdom, where Israel has been pounded for decades by media and cultural icons, the current situation includes attacks against rabbis and synagogues and racist death and firebomb threats. In Manchester, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a shop selling Israeli cosmetics reported phone calls threatening to burn down the shop and beat up or kill staff.

One caller threatened: “You would be wiped out right now … if [your owner] puts more videos on Facebook I will f*** him up … I will kill you with it.”

Another threatens, “I will burn your shop down,” and posted on the shop owner’s Facebook page was, “I hope he burns in hell like the rest of the Jews.”

Without question, however, anti-Jewish violence was at its worst in France, where only the presence of gendarmes averted a disaster in Paris, as rioters almost breached synagogues and their worshippers. For days, Jewish neighborhoods were subject to violence, looting and intimidation. In Toulouse, not even the memory of Jewish kids murdered in the schoolyard in 2012 spared the already traumatized community — with the local JCC firebombed.

But let us remember that, well before this conflagration, many French Jews, alarmed by the establishment’s unwillingness or inability to protect them, had already packed their bags and left.

And there are other threats looming. Last month, I met with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace as he confirmed to a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that 1,000 French citizens had been active in Syria. “Thirty-one have died, and some others suffered trauma, but the majority have returned to France and melted into the population,” Hollande confirmed, adding that many were armed and that authorities had no idea where the ticking human time bombs were. He didn’t have to remind us that both the Toulouse murderer and the terrorist who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were both French Muslims, trained by jihadist terrorists overseas.

The threat to Jewish continuity in Europe goes beyond angry Muslims. It goes to the heart of Europe’s elite. Why did the mayor of The Hague refuse to order the arrest of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters who threatened Jews in the center of the city on the very day that ISIS was tweeting photos of its beheaded prisoners in Iraq? Where are the Dutch people in Amsterdam to reassure their Jewish neighbors that they don’t have to remove the mezuzahs from their doorposts for fear of attack? Why have German officials failed to take action against an imam in Berlin who called for the murder of all Jews from his pulpit? Where is the outrage when Green Party members join far-right and Muslim extremists amid chants of “Gas the Jews” on the streets of Germany? Where is Swedish civil society to finally demand of elected officials and police that Jewish citizens of Malmo be fully protected from constant anti-Semitic harassment? Who in Belgium will call out the doctor who refused to treat a Jewish patient because of Israel’s alleged misdeeds in Gaza? When will the churches, non-governmental organizations and cultural elite of Europe — from the UK to Spain to Norway — who never miss an opportunity to stand in silent tribute to 6 million dead Jews — finally have the decency to acknowledge that 6 million live Jews have the rights to pursue their destiny in the democratic Jewish State of Israel?

The canary-in-the-coal-mine analogy is often invoked to describe the plight of Europe’s Jews. But in 2014, unlike 1938, Jews can leave. The Jew is no longer the clueless canary, but European values themselves are in real danger. We Jews will survive; we have Israel and we have each other. But if current trends continue, Europe will wake up one morning to find itself, bereft of its Jews, surrendering, yet again, to the forces of evil.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Protesters threaten British cosmetics store that sells Israeli products

A cosmetics store in Manchester, England, that sells Israeli cosmetics has been victimized by callers threatening to kill the staff and burn down the store.

Local police are investigating the ongoing threats, the Jewish Chronicle reported. The store, called Kedem, has been the scene of daily anti-Israel protests since the start of Israel’s operation in Gaza.  Six anti-Israel protesters have been arrested.

Pro-Palestinian protesters also have posted threatening messages on the store’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, also in Manchester, two 13-year-olds were charged this week with criminal damaging for vandalizing gravestones last month at a Jewish cemetery. The gravestones at the Rochdale Road cemetery were painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, and about 40 were toppled.

British Jewish cemetery is vandalized

Gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in England were painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, and some were toppled.

The vandalism in Manchester was discovered Monday; it is believed the attack occurred on Sunday or early Monday. A similar attack occurred earlier this month, according to the Manchester Evening News.

Inspector Mike Reid of the Greater Manchester Police told the newspaper that the incident is being treated as a hate crime and comes with stiffer punishments when the vandals are caught.

“The vandalism of a gravestone is, in itself, a sickening act, but to violate the memory of those resting in the cemetery still further by daubing racial slurs on the graves is truly repulsive,” Reid said.

Extra security patrols have been added in the area, according to police.

The pioneers: A revealing look at Israel’s early prime ministers

Moriah Films, the documentary-making arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has bitten off another solid chunk of Israeli history in “The Prime Ministers,” a film based on the lively book of the same title by Yehuda Avner, who doubles as the chief narrator of the two-part production.

Born in Manchester, England, Avner made aliyah in time to serve in Israel’s War of Independence and eventually became the trusted speechwriter and adviser to five prime ministers, from Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir to Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, and, later, Shimon Peres.

One of his jobs was to take confidential notes at cabinet and other top-level meetings, which would underpin the official minutes of the meetings and then be destroyed.

Instead, Avner stashed away the notes and eventually extracted them from filing cabinets as ready-made reminders of the momentous years between 1963 and 1983, during which Israel fought the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War six years later.

At times, the film bridges the historical footage with voice-over comments by the leaders, with Moriah’s usual assembly of top Hollywood talent doing the honors, for free.

In this case, Leonard Nimoy is the voice of Eshkol, Sandra Bullock is Golda Meir, Michael Douglas is Rabin and Christopher Waltz is Begin.

There is a touch of irony in the choice of Waltz, the German-Austrian actor who made his name in American movies as the ruthless Nazi and relentless Jew hunter in “Inglourious Basterds,” now becoming the voice of the Israeli statesman. In Moriah’s preceding “It Is No Dream,” Waltz was the voice of Theodor Herzl.

While there are no earth-shaking revelations in “Prime Ministers,” there are small and intimate moments that shed light on the Israeli leaders and the history they made.

On the day David Ben-Gurion was to announce the country’s independence, its inhabitants were in the dark about the new state’s name.

One inquiring resident was Leopold Mahler, a descendent of composer Gustav Mahler, 

The often underrated Eshkol, frequently accused of indecisiveness in the run-up to the Six-Day War, emerges as a man “who made the right decision at the right time,” Avner said.

In one wonderful scene, Eshkol arrives at the Texas ranch of President Lyndon B. Johnson to plead for American aid to replenish Israel’s depleted arsenal after the Six-Day War.

LBJ proudly shows Eshkol around his spread, and when the old kibbutznik expertly examines a cow’s muscles, the two unlike men bond.

Abba Eban, adored in the Diaspora for his eloquence and mastery of English, comes off as the frequent butt of derision by his earthier colleagues.

“Eban never makes the right decision, only the right speech,” was Eshkol’s putdown, and Rabin, while ambassador to the United States, complained that “a conversation with Eban is a soliloquy — he talks and we listen.”

Co-producers and writers Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and Richard Trank (who also directed) started research on “The Prime Ministers” in 2010 and initiated the first of about 100 interviews with Avner in November 2011.

“Our biggest challenge was how to cut our great interviews with Avner,” Trank said. “Everything he said was gold.”

Part I of “Prime Ministers” is the 13th production by the Oscar-winning Moriah team, which now has its own in-house digital film studio. It will open in theaters in mid-October.

Part II, focusing on Rabin and Begin, is scheduled for completion next spring or summer.

Suspected London terror attack signifies no special risk for Jews, security unit says

British Jews are no more at risk from terrorism than they were before the slaying of a British soldier by suspected terrorists, British Jewry’s security unit said.

“For the Jewish community security, the primary lessons remain unchanged,” CST wrote Thursday on its website. “Rather than living in fear, we should be alert to the full picture of terrorist activities and rhetoric here in Britain, whether it be Jihadist, far Right or whatever.”

British police wounded and then arrested two men suspected of using a large knife to kill a soldier in the Woolwich district of London in a daylight attack. One of the assailants was recorded on video at the scene saying, “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

Mark Gardner, CST’s director of communications, told JTA that “there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Wednesday’s attack was connected to British Jews.”

Notwithstanding, CST’s statement read, “We are keenly aware that the same Jihadists who want to kill soldiers may well also want to kill Jews. This happened in Toulouse, in March 2012, when Mohamed Merah’s murder of French soldiers was the prelude to his killing three Jewish children and a rabbi at the Otzar HaTorah school. That morning, Merah apparently set out to kill a policeman. He failed, so simply switched targets.”

CST’s Muslim counterparts are “already reporting a wave of violence and intimidation against random Muslim targets throughout Britain,” the statement said. “This racist violence is as stupid and counterproductive as those waves of anti-Semitism repeatedly suffered by Jews in Britain (and elsewhere) since the Year 2000.”

“Looking forward,” the statement continued, “the risk of actual far Right terrorism against a Muslim target is surely heightened; as is the danger of other Jihadists trying to copy the Woolwich murderers, using the most basic of easily available ‘cold weapons. ‘ ”

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Vivian Wineman, said in a statement, “Our thoughts are with the victim of the horrific and barbaric murder. We stand with other faith groups in deploring violence in the name of religion.”

Also Thursday, Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a letter of condolence to the family of the dead soldier and the people of Britain in the wake of the attack.

“Terrorism is a global threat and one the world must face together,” Peres wrote. “I know that the people of Britain will stand strong in the face of this threat and the State of Israel stands side by side with them.”

Former British PM Margaret Thatcher, ‘staunch friend of Israel,’ dies

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was considered a good friend of Israel despite a rocky relationship with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, has died.

Thatcher died Monday after suffering a stroke. She was 87. Thatcher suffered from dementia at the end of her life, which was dramatized in the 2011 movie “The Iron Lady.”

The only female to serve as prime minister of Britain, she also was the longest continuously serving prime minister in the 20th century,  leading the country and her Conservative Party from 1979 to 1990.

Thatcher was supportive of Israel but had a troubled relationship with Begin, who served two terms in the 1980s. She called Begin the “most difficult” man she had to deal with, according to the Chronicle. She also strongly opposed Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mourned her passing in a statement.

“She was truly a great leader, a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of strength; a woman of greatness,” Netanyahu said. “She was a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people. She inspired a generation of political leaders. I send my most sincere condolences to her family and to the government and people of Great Britain.”

Thatcher had a strong relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and together they fought communism, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Her Cabinets included several Jewish members, including Nigel Lawson, Malcolm Rifkind, Keith Joseph and Leon Brittan, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Margaret Thatcher remembered for her affection for Britain’s Jews

Margaret Thatcher will be remembered by history for relentlessly facing down Communism and helping to turn back more than three decades of British socialist advance.

But it was her warm embrace of the country's Jews and her insistent promotion of Jews in her Conservative Party that inspired an outpouring of tributes from Jewish and Israeli leaders following her death Monday at 87.

Thatcher, who suffered from dementia in her later years, died peacefully after suffering a stroke, her spokesperson said.

Thatcher's tenure as prime minister, from 1979-1990, helped thrust Britain back onto the international stage after its post-World War II years of end-of-empire angst and political turmoil. For the country’s Jews, however, the naming of at least five of their number to cabinet positions, and her determined pushback against anti-Jewish grumbling among the party’s backbenchers, made what once was laughable imaginable: The possibility of a Jewish prime minister.

“Lady Thatcher was always extremely supportive and admiring of the ethos of the British Jewish community,” Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told JTA.

Wineman said the mutual admiration was rooted in personal history. In the 1930s, Thatcher's family took in an Austrian Jewish refugees. In 1959, Thatcher was elected to parliament representing Finchley, a north London constituency with a large Jewish population.

“She counted a number of Jews among her closest advisers and confidants, and at one point nearly a quarter of her cabinet were of Jewish origins,” Wineman said.

Moshe Maor, a Hebrew University political science professor whose expertise is Britain, said Thatcher admired the British Jewish community’s self-reliance, an ethos she embraced as she dedicated herself to weaning Britons off public assistance.

“Thatcher admired hard work, and the Jewish community was not dependent on the state,” Maor said. “It was structured in such a way that Jews help others in their community. That was the culture Thatcher tried to advance.”

It was one also embraced by Britain’s late chief rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits, whom Thatcher elevated to the House of Lords. Frustrated by protests among Christian leaders of the rapid pace of her economic reforms, she increasingly turned for spiritual reinforcement to Jakobovits, who became widely known as “Thatcher’s rabbi.”

Thatcher’s rule coincided with social changes among the country’s 350,000 Jews. Once proudly working class, British Jews had become, by the 1980s, increasingly middle class, more likely to be self-employed and alarmed at the leftward lurch of the leadership in the Labor Party.

“She got on quite well with Jews,” Wineman said. “She said once that she thought she probably had more constituents in Tel Aviv than in Finchley.”

Thatcher never hesitated to advance the careers of talented young Jews in her party — among them Leon Brittan, a secretary of trade; Nigel Lawson, a chancellor of the exchequer; Edwina Currie, a health minister; Malcolm Rifkind, a secretary of state for Scotland; and Michael Howard, a secretary of employment.

Rifkind went on to become foreign minister. Howard became home secretary and then opposition leader, burying forever the notion that a British leader had to come from the country’s official faith, Anglicanism.

Thatcher’s embrace of the Jewish community did not make its romance with the Tories a permanent one. Tony Blair’s purges of the Labour left after his 1997 election helped draw back some Jewish voters. But Howard’s precedent helped set the stage for ascension of the current leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants.

Thatcher also earned kudos for her robust foreign policy and for maintaining strong ties with Israel at a time of tension between the Jewish state and other European nations.

“She was truly a great leader, a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of strength; a woman of greatness,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “She was a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people. She inspired a generation of political leaders.”

Thatcher restored the notion of Britain shining everywhere the sun rose in 1982 when she launched a war to keep Argentina from claiming the Falkland Islands. That war won — and the days of Argentina’s autocracy of the generals numbered — Thatcher was ready to take on the mantle of Iron Lady vs. Iron Curtain. She became President Ronald Reagan’s indispensable partner in squeezing the life out of Soviet hegemony.

In 1983, she told leaders of the Soviet Jewry movement that she would do “absolutely everything” to support their cause, which dovetailed with her revulsion of Communism.

Thatcher did not shy from taking on Israeli leaders. She tussled with her Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin over his refusal to deal with Palestinian leaders and the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, calling him the “most difficult” man she had to deal with.

In the mid 1980s, she worked Shimon Peres, then the head of a fractious national unity government, to reach a peace agreement with Jordan, but that was scuttled by Begin’s successor as Likud leader, Yitzhak Shamir. Thatcher also pressed Reagan to deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization, suasions that bore fruit when the president recognized the group during his final months in office in 1988.

Peres, now Israel’s president, said Thatcher’s strength served as an example. “She showed how far a person can go with strength of character, determination and a clear vision,” he said.

Cnaan Lipshiz contributed to this article.

Poll: 45 percent of Britons favor banning shechitah

About 45 percent of 1,900 Britons polled favored banning Jewish ritual slaughter and 38 percent said they favored banning nonmedical circumcision.

In the poll, which was conducted last week by the YouGov polling agency for The Jewish Chronicle of London, 45 percent of respondents backed banning ritual slaughter, known as shechitah. Another 28 percent said they were undecided and 27 percent opposed such a ban.

When asked about “male circumcision for religious reasons,” 38 percent supported a ban, 35 percent opposed a ban and 27 percent were undecided, The Jewish Chronicle reported this week.

Among 18-24 year-olds, 41 percent would ban both nonmedical circumcision in underage boys and ritual slaughter of animals for food.

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban starts at English school

Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani girl who drew global attention after being shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education, returned to school on Tuesday in Britain where she has been treated for her injuries.

Yousufzai, 15, has become an international figure as a symbol of resistance to Taliban efforts to deny women's rights and is even among nominees for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

She described her return to school as the most important day of her life.

“I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school. I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity,” she said in a statement.

Accompanied by her father and carrying a pink rucksack, Yousufzai joined other pupils at Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham, central England, close to the hospital where she underwent surgery to reconstruct her skull last month.

“I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham,” she said.

Yousufzai was brought to Britain for specialist treatment after she was shot in the head at point-blank range by Taliban gunmen last October.

She left hospital in February after she made a good recovery from surgery during which doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate and inserted a cochlear implant to help restore hearing on her left side.

Yousufzai will study a full curriculum at the school, where annual fees are 10,000 pounds ($15,100), before selecting subjects for GCSE exams, which are generally taken at age 16.

“She wants to be a normal teenage girl and to have the support of other girls around,” said Edgbaston headteacher Ruth Weeks. “Talking to her, I know that's something she missed during her time in hospital.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Mark Heinrich

London Jewish community, already vigilant, is advised to beef up security for Olympics

Typically on high alert, London’s Jewish community organizations are being advised to take additional security measures during the Olympics.

The Community Security Trust, the charity that represents and recommends the community on matters of security, has told Jewish groups to implement or increase patrols around their buildings. CST’s guidelines also remind community groups of basic security steps such as questioning visitors to community buildings, not congregating outside and ensuring that all security equipment is working.

“We are not aware of any specific threats related to the Jewish community,” emphasized Dave Rich, the CST’s deputy director of communications. “This is the normal kind of advice we would give to people when there are high-profile events taking place in London. There might be some anti-Israel demonstrations, but we are not expecting massive disruptions.”

The London Jewish community’s security infrastructure already is highly developed, with guards posted outside nearly every synagogue, school and community building. Additionally, CST-trained volunteers help to secure major community events.

Among the concerns is that the high volume of overseas visitors expected at Jewish community venues during the Games will present a security challenge. In addition, the security alert for the entire city may be raised.

“There is no doubt that the Jewish community needs to be vigilant, but there is nothing new in that,” said Hagai Segal, a lecturer at New York University in London and a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs and terrorism. “There is no evidence of any specific targeting of the Jewish community or of terror attacks being planned in general, either.”

Pointing to the general security operation in London that is “unprecedented in British history,” he said, “When the country is better protected, the Jewish community is better protected, too.”

In the absence of a specific threat, Segal added, the Jewish community has no need to increase its security arrangements significantly, as they are already so extensive.

“The community has had to get used to having patrols around synagogues and a system for the reporting of anti-Semitism, and it is recognized as having one of the best community security systems anywhere,” he said. “The London Metropolitan Police actually uses the CST as an example of efficient community policing. The community is expert in this area, which ensures that when there are special events in the city, they don’t have to do much more.”

Similarly, he said, London as a whole had been operating at the highest or second-highest level of threat assessment since the subway and bus bombings on July 7, 2005, and is also accustomed to extensive counterterror measures.

“A lot has been learned since 7/7. The UK has become very good at counterterrorism,” Segal said.

Meanwhile, the details regarding security for the Israeli delegation to the Olympics are being closely guarded.

Efraim Zinger, secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and head of the Israeli Olympic delegation, would confirm only that the British were responsible for the team’s security and that the delegation would not be housed in a separate building in the Olympic Village.

“We are closely following the security measures taken by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and by the British government,” Ziniger said. “We really appreciate the enormous effort and money that is being invested. They know how to do this work and we trust them.”

He acknowledged that a large event like the Olympics was “naturally very attractive for the bad guys,” but said that the threat was not just to Israel, as the British and Americans could be targeted as well.

“There is complete cooperation in all areas, we have open channels,” Zinger said. “Those who need to protect the Games are concentrating on that and doing an excellent job. We are concentrating on our sportspeople doing an excellent job.”

The operation to secure London as a whole will be the most expensive in British history, costing $1.55 billion. Some 17,000 troops, 12,500 policemen and 7,000 security guards will be posted in the city, which has been nicknamed “Fortress London,” while an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames River, surface-to-air missiles will be deployed at six sites and unmanned drones with surveillance cameras will patrol the skies. 

Nevertheless, the security arrangements have been severely criticized in recent weeks after it emerged that the company contracted to protect the Olympic Park and stadiums failed to deliver enough personnel. The government has deployed 3,500 more troops than originally planned and warned that more might be necessary

Nerves were rattled earlier this month after six Islamist extremists were arrested in London over a possible terror plot. Three lived just a mile from the Olympic stadium. However, the London Metropolitan Police said the arrests were not linked to the Olympics.

Former neo-Nazi elected to local council in England

A former neo-Nazi who once defaced buildings with swastikas reportedly has been elected to a local council in south central England.

Margaret Burke won a seat on Milton Keynes Council earlier this month after demonstrating her remorse to local Labor Party officials and describing her earlier activities as those of a “brainwashed idiot,” the London Jewish Chronicle reported.

During the 1980s, Burke ran a pro-Hitler organization with her husband. She wore Nazi-style uniforms and organized racist leafleting. After the couple divorced, Burke joined the Animal Liberation Front and was jailed for vandalizing a butcher’s shop.

She told the Milton Keynes Citizen that she regretted her actions and had dedicated herself to working for the community to make amends.

The council’s Labor leader, Kevin Wilson, said the candidate selection panel had been aware of Burke’s past and had “questioned her at length.” He called her post-Nazi behavior “exemplary” and said it would have been “wholly wrong to deny her the possibility of being a candidate.”

Opinion: The pragmatists

Yehuda Avner arrived in Israel in 1947 from his native Manchester, England, as an idealistic religious Zionist. His keen intellect landed him a post in the foreign service, and his English proficiency almost guaranteed that he would be the designated note taker as he traveled with four prime ministers from the earliest days of the State to the aftermath of the Lebanon War. 

He scribbled those notes in an invented shorthand and rounded them out with the occasional observational adjective. And, fortunately for us, he kept those notes. 

The result is “The Prime Ministers,” a 700-plus-page book that you will read in a single gulp. The book, like Israel itself, is a great story.

On Monday morning, I phoned Avner, who will be in Los Angeles shortly to speak publicly about his book. He was at his home in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. 

His voice, like that of his book, is enthusiastic, engaging and, considering he is closing in on 84, vibrant. It doesn’t hurt that he has a charming British accent: From Abba Eban to Mark Regev, we American Jews are suckers for Israelis who speak British and think Yiddish.  

Avner is quick to set one thing straight: “The Prime Ministers” is not the work of a historian. It is a memoir. But as someone who has stood by the side of four Israeli leaders during times of dire crisis and triumph, Avner has earned the right to offer his perspective.

The heroes in Avner’s telling are not the usual suspects. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, the Yiddish-speaking shtetl Jew who inherited the reins of power after the great David Ben-Gurion, comes across as a leader of pivotal importance for Israelis — and Americans. 

“He was the Harry Truman of Israel,” Avner told me.

In the tense days before the Six-Day War, Eshkol exerted his steel will to resist calls for preemptive military action against the Egyptians, even as his top generals and ministers, and the entire country, lined up against him. In the meantime, he worked to convince President Lyndon Johnson that Israel’s — and America’s — interest would be served by American support for an eventual Israeli attack. When Johnson gave the yellow light, Israel pounced — defeating its enemies while retaining the superpower support Eshkol knew was critical. 

“I saw a situation where persuasion actually worked,” Avner the diplomat told me. “Eshkol got through to Johnson. That relationship marked a major historic turning point between Israel and America.”

Another hero is Menachem Begin. Often caricatured in the West as an irredentist right-winger, the Begin that emerges in Avner’s anecdotes is a man of supreme erudition and deep concern for all Jews, with a willingness to join forces with his ideological opponents for the good of the country.  

As for Yitzhak Rabin, Avner recounts several conversations that show what a concentrated and analytic intellect the general brought to bear on existential issues. 

How, I asked Avner, do today’s leaders compare? 

“They were made of much flintier rock,” he told me of the men and woman he served. “The circumstances forged them in that furnace of Eastern Europe, with its constant state of social and political turbulence. Also, all of them were literate Jews. They took it for granted they would breed a generation of literate Jews. It didn’t work out that way.

Olmert, Barak, Bibi — none of them have been put to the test. When was the last war of survival Israel had to fight? The Yom Kippur War. But maybe it’s Bibi’s turn with Iran.

The private deliberations Avner recounts do shed light on what made the great Israeli leaders great. There is a cocktail of Zionism that has to be mixed with just the right proportion of realism and idealism, of messianic fervor and pragmatic compromise. And these leaders understood that. They were, in Avner’s words, “intensely pragmatic.”

Despite Israel’s longstanding public policy not to negotiate with terrorists, in private Rabin, and even Begin, both were willing to do so to save lives. Rabin also saw how Israel’s long-term security depended not just on winning wars, but also on compromise. 

“You can’t just ignore it,” Avner said about the demographic problem that Rabin understood confronts Israel. “At the end of the day, it is two states for two people.” 

Looking back from his considerable vantage point, Avner marvels at his country’s sweeping progress.

“I can’t recall a time that has been better than it is now,” he said. “There’s no war. The borders are quiet despite some acting up, and the country is flourishing.”

But his optimism is tempered by the awareness that the story of struggle and crisis he so aptly tells is far from over. 

Avner himself was wounded fighting in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948; his son was wounded in the Yom Kippur War, and his daughter was severely injured in the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.

“It has taken quite a lot to defend Israel,” he said. “We actually have fought two Wars of Independence. The first was in 1948, the right to defend ourselves in our own land. The second war is not yet over. We are still surrounded by enemies on every side.”

I asked Avner if during ’48 or ’67, in the years of hardship and fear, he ever envisioned the kind of state Israel would be at 64.

“No, never,” he said. “You live in the present.”

And you take notes.

Yehuda Avner will speak about his book “The Prime Ministers” at Congregation Beth Jacob on May 18 and 19. The public is invited. For details, visit this column at

Availability of kosher food aboard Titanic sheds light on immigration via England

Of the 2,225 people aboard Titanic on its maiden voyage, 1,512 perished in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic when the ship went down in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

Charles Kennell was among the nearly 700 crew members to die that night. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, the 30-year-old Kennell signed on to the White Star Line’s Titanic on April 4, 1912. He listed his address as 6 Park View, Southampton, the port city in southeast England from which the Titanic would embark.

Kennell had already served on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, which took its maiden voyage in 1911. Now he came aboard the larger, more luxurious Titanic for wages of four pounds a month. Kennell was the ship’s “Hebrew cook.” The Titanic had kosher food service.

Midway through the great wave of Eastern European Jewish immigration to America—which brought two million Jews to the United States between 1881 and 1924—major passenger lines crossing the Atlantic began instituting kosher food service for its Jewish passengers, mainly immigrants in third-class steerage.

But historians and authors who explore and preserve the body of knowledge about Titanic know little else about kosher food and Jewish life aboard the ill-fated liner.

“It’s been a very tough subject to get much on,” said Charles Haas, president of the Titanic International Society. “My research has generated more questions than answers. It’s been, in a way, frustrating because I haven’t been able to find anybody who knows for sure almost anything.”

Haas and John Eaton are authors of five books on Titanic including the meticulous “Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy,” which has just been released in a newly expanded third edition.

Over the years, they’ve cultivated friendships with Titanic survivors and their descendants, conducted Titanic research in England and Northern Ireland, and have plunged to the ocean floor to see the Titanic’s wreckage.

The two will be among the guest lecturers on the Titanic Memorial Cruise from Southampton to New York, April 8-19 aboard the Balmoral cruise ship.

The White Star and Cunard lines, as well as the German lines all had kosher facilities by the time Titanic sailed, Haas said.

Based on information Haas has found about kosher kitchens on other ocean liners of the time—particularly on Titanic’s sister ship Olympic—he believes, “we have some probably reasonable assumptions in terms of Titanic.”

The earliest reference Haas has found about kosher service on an ocean liner dates to 1904.

“There’s an article in the Trenton Times in June 1904 and it says, among other things, ‘American Line officials arranged another innovation in the form of special kosher cooks for the Jews. The English will have their meals served separately and their cabins will also be separate from those of the Jews.’ And that was on the S.S. Philadelphia.”

One of the big names in shipbuilding at that time, Haas said, was Albert Ballin, chairman of the Hamburg-American Line. In 1905, Ballin, who was Jewish, decided to place separate kosher facilities on all of his steamships between New York and Bremen.

According to a contemporary news article about the Hamburg-American line, the addition of kosher service was “in accordance with a request from a number of representative Jewish organizations.”

Valery Bazarov, director of family history and location services for HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, also confirmed the first decade of the 20th century as the beginning of kosher food service on liners crossing the Atlantic. He added that HIAS, which continues to help resettle Jewish refugees to America, established a kosher kitchen at Ellis Island in 1911.

Jewish steerage passengers on Titanic—as was the case on other liners departing from England for America—were primarily refugees from Eastern Europe. But why would they stop over in England first?

“To get out of immediate danger, and more than that,“ Bazarov explained. “It was not only immediate danger like a pogrom; it was also immediate danger if someone was drafted to the Russian army.”

Transmigrants through Britain

A century ago, the term of conscription to the Russian army was three mandatory years. Bazarov referred to conscription as “the underground pogrom, only much longer and much more painful.”

The Jews of Eastern Europe, he added, were limited in their successes because of pervasive antisemitism. “It was not just immediate danger but just the quality of life as a whole,” he said, that also led them to flee.

“To travel abroad, all Russians, not only Jews, needed foreign passports,” Bazarov said. “And to get it, they wrote a petition to the local authorities. They needed to bring the certificate about their relationship to the military service. Without that, they wouldn’t be allowed.”

That’s why so many Eastern European Jews forged or purchased forged passports, he said.

Some Jews fled to England because they couldn’t afford the ocean passage; some tried to make lives for themselves there. Others were required by law to keep moving.

“Even at that time, two stop-overs cost less than a ‘direct flight,’ like now,” Bazarov said.

England’s National Archives has estimated that between 1881 and 1905, up to 100,000 Eastern European Jews settled in England. Parliament curtailed this immigration in 1905 with the Aliens act. Most Eastern European Jews could then only stop over in England as “transmigrants,” on their way to other destinations.

The British National Archives has also estimated that between 1880 and 1914, approximately one million Jewish transmigrants arrived at England’s eastern ports, crossed the country “quickly,” and departed via England’s western ports.

Before liners offered kosher food, Jews who kept kosher had to fend for themselves, bringing their own food. Some didn’t survive. Despite the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh—that saving a life takes precedence even over keeping kosher—Haas cited a Washington Post article from Nov. 2, 1909 about Gisella Greiner, a “young Hebrew immigrant,” who died of starvation in Ellis Island’s hospital. Kosher food was not available during her nine-day voyage across the Atlantic; she chose to fast.

Even for those passengers who didn’t keep kosher, food service in the old steerage system could be a vile experience.

In December 1909, the U.S. Immigration Commission reported on steerage conditions to the U.S. Congress. The report described the “disgusting and demoralizing conditions of the old steerage,” in which 300 or more people would sleep in large compartments. There were no regular dining rooms for steerage class. A minimum number of tables and seats were set in common areas.

An immigration commission agent described the sleeping compartment of one of these liners as subdivided into three sections: “one for the German women, which was completely boarded off from the rest; one for Hebrews; and one for all other creeds and nationalities together. The partition between these last two was merely a fence, consisting of four horizontal 6-inch boards. This neither kept out odors nor cut off the view.”

That particular liner did have a separate galley and cook for kosher food. “They used the same tables with others if they used any, and were served in the same manner,” the agent reported. “Their food seemed of the same quality.”

It was competition for steerage passengers, the 1909 report continued, that led the major lines to develop improved steerage conditions.

Haas said, the “new steerage” arrangements of the White Star Line, particularly those of Olympic and Titanic, provided third-class passengers with foods they had neither seen nor could ever afford before, such as oranges.

“The White Star Line, although we tend to think of them as the steamship line of luxury, they really catered to the third class, because they made more per head on the third class tickets than they did on a first-class,” Haas said. “And if they could get word-of-mouth advertising where immigrants reached America and wrote home and said how wonderfully they were treated on the White Star Line’s ships, that was the best kind of advertising they could hope for.”

On Olympic and Titanic, Haas said, the largest cabins in third class accommodated six. In some cases, there were cabins for four and even two.

“The third class, in most cases, were accustomed to waiting on others,” Haas said. “And here for the first time they had stewards serving them. And there’s even a notice on the bottom of the menu saying, ‘any complaints regarding the lack of civility from a steward should be reported to the chief steward immediately.’”

As in all steerage arrangements of the time, Titanic’s third-class passengers were segregated by gender. The men were in the bow of the ship, unmarried ladies in the stern, and families were also in the stern.

Haas, who is not Jewish, has attempted to track down details of Titanic’s kosher facilities while conducting research in Belfast, where the Titanic was built, at Harland and Wolff shipyard. He’s never seen a kosher-only menu card specific to Titanic.

“All of the existing menus for the Titanic, to the best of my knowledge, there’s not specific reference to that,” Haas said. “I don’t know whether that would have been done by word of mouth or it might possibly have been at the time passengers booked their tickets.”

He and Eaton have seen a generic 1911 White Star third-class menu that indicates the availability of kosher meat. The menu was part of an advertisement for Olympic.

“In terms of artifacts that have been retrieved from the ocean floor,” he said, “we’ve not seen any kosher service dinnerware, although we do know from the Olympic, what the design (for dishes) looked like and everything.”

Karen Kamuda, vice president of Titanic Historical Society Inc. and Titanic Museum in Indian Orchard, Mass., said in an email that her understanding of kosher food service on Titanic comes from Paul Louden-Brown, a former society vice president and author of “The White Star Line, An Illustrated History.”

She explained that on Titanic, all kosher “china, stoneware and silver-plate or other serving utensils were marked in Hebrew and English either ‘meat’ or ‘milk.’” The same standards, she indicated, “applied for all classes, and even first class silver-plate was marked ‘milk’ or ‘meat.’ Kamuda added that “rabbis regularly inspected the liners’ catering departments in both Southampton and New York.”

A few clues

Eaton, Haas’ writing partner, puzzles at the scarce documentation of kosher service aboard the Titanic.

“There are fundamental questions of when and who decided to hire a ‘Hebrew Cook’ for Titanic’s kitchen,” he explained in an email. “Who and when were (which) Jewish authorities called in for consultation? For the actual implementation of the facility…the ‘victualizing’ inventory for the Titanic is well known: all sorts of cookware as well as serving plates and tableware are categorized and listed. But nowhere is there any mention of or separate designation for ‘kosher’ items.”

But Eaton did remember that about 20-25 years ago, likely at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Holywood, Northern Ireland, he caught a brief glimpse of a Titanic deck plan that included a space indicated by an arrow for kosher service.

“It was a small space as I recall,” he said, “scarcely large enough for a single sink or workspace. It was not the size of a full installation of ranges and sinks, by any means.”

Eaton made a return visit to the Ulster museum last spring and asked if staff could find that deck plan again. They were unable to locate it. At the end of March/beginning of April, he and Haas were scheduled to be in Belfast for a week, ahead of the centennial cruise, and “will likely make an effort to locate the plan then.”

Haas said that before Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, was scrapped in 1935, all the contents of the ship were sold via auction. The auction included Olympic’s kosher kitchen and supplies, including a cooking range with rack and hood, stoking irons, dressers, cupboard, sink, tilings and light fittings.

Tim Sluckin is secretary of England’s Southampton Hebrew Congregation, which dates to 1833. According to England’s Jewish Year Books, the seaport city was home to 20 Jewish families in 1905, 60 Jewish families a decade later.

Though Sluckin isn’t aware of any hard documentation, in an email conversation, he indicated that, “It is known that for many years the kosher butcher (in Southampton) was kept in business by supplying the ships…our butcher was getting the meat from our rabbi, who was also the shochet (kosher slaughterer).”

Martyn Rose, president of Southampton Hebrew Congregation, also affirmed in an email that, “Although there was kosher food on the Titanic, it would have been the same for all liners calling or using Southampton as a base at that time. Indeed until the mid 20th century, when liner travel to the USA and beyond Southampton had kosher meat suppliers, and our minister (rabbi) was the shochet.”

The 1909 U.S. Immigration Commission report on steerage conditions may give an indication of the role of Charles Kennell, Titanic’s Hebrew cook.

An immigration agent who reported on “new steerage conditions” wrote of the unnamed line she investigated: “The Hebrew steerage passengers were looked after by a Hebrew who is employed by the company as a cook, and is at the same time appointed by Rabbi as guardian of such passengers. This particular man told me that he is a pioneer in this work. He was the first to receive such an appointment. It is his duty to see that all the Jewish passengers are assigned to sleeping quarters that are as comfortable and as good as any; to see that kosher food is provided and to prepare it. He has done duty on most of the ships of the _______ Line. On each he has instituted this system of caring for the Hebrews and then has left it to be looked after by some successor.”

This immigration agent also reported that friends and acquaintances, and “various nationalities” were quartered together as much as possible, and that “the few Jewish passengers were assigned staterooms distantly removed from all others.”

Yet all of these upgraded accommodations for steerage passengers in general and Jewish immigrants in particular couldn’t substitute for the absence of common-sense safety measures at every level on Titanic.

Speeding through a North Atlantic ice field, its crew ignoring warnings from nearby ships, lifeboats for only half of those on board, poor communications among crew members, and an off-duty wireless operator on the nearest ship, Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14 and sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15.

Of the 710 third-class passengers on board, only 174—one fourth—escaped death. Most died of hypothermia in the 28-degree ocean after the ship sank.

The survivors arrived at New York’s Pier 54 at 9:30 p.m. on April 18 aboard their rescue ship, the Cunard liner Carpathia. Third-class passengers had to wait until 11 p.m. to disembark. According to Haas and Eaton, “federal immigration officers waived the usual examination of steerage passengers.”

The following day, The New York Times reported that “A score of the Titanic’s steerage were taken to the Hebrew Sheltering Home and Immigrant Aid Society, 229 East Broadway for the night.” According to HIAS records, the agency assisted 27 Titanic survivors.

If the body of Titanic’s Hebrew cook, Charles Kennell, was ever retrieved, his remains were never identified.

Marshall Weiss is the editor and publisher of The Dayton Jewish Observer. 

See More Coverage of the Titanic Disaster Centennial on the Website of The Dayton Jewish Observer

A Jewish housemaid in England at wartime

Natasha Solomons is a British writer whose first novel, published in the United States in 2010 as “Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English,” should have received a wider readership. Inspired by the experience of the author’s grandparents, European Jews who fled Nazism for safety in England, that novel focused largely on the challenges and conflicts of assimilation. In the recently published “The House at Tyneford” (Plume, $15), Solomons returns to the Jewish refugee experience in England in the 1930s. If the plot of “The House at Tyneford” is perhaps less compelling than that of its predecessor, the novel nonetheless reflects its author’s prodigious talents and imparts another historical tale that merits readers’ attention.

“The House at Tyneford” opens in Vienna in the spring of 1938, just before Elise Landau, 19, is to leave for England, where she has found a position as a housemaid in Dorset. It will be a difficult adjustment for Elise not only because she has grown up in an affluent household with staff of its own—her mother is an acclaimed opera singer and her father an avant-garde novelist—but also because she will be leaving Vienna alone. Her parents are still trying to arrange their own immigration to New York, and her older sister, Margot, will soon leave with for northern California with her husband, an astronomer who “had been fired from the university [in Vienna] a week after the Anschluss” but has located an academic post in America.

Soon enough, Elise arrives in England. Solomons’ writing shines when it comes to setting and sensory detail, and she makes it easy for us to visualize her protagonist’s new home. Here, for instance, is Elise’s description of one memorable Sunday not long after her arrival:

I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with summer. The air was laced with the fragrance of a thousand wildflowers, and the sunlight made the snapdragons and foxgloves in the cottage shine vermillion pink. The entire countryside was smeared with color; the sky a bold, throbbing blue and beneath it the meadows sprinkled with buttercups, shining like gold coins. Back then, I didn’t know the names of the flowers—they came later—but now instead of patches of orange and yellow petals, I recall cowslips and creeping jenny. In the distance the sea sparkled and glittered, white spray crashing on the shore.

In commendable ways, “The House at Tyneford” echoes compatriot novels, including some of my own favorites. For example, although butler Wrexham and chief housekeeper Mrs. Ellsworth hardly replicate the romantic tension between Stevens and Miss Kenton from Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day,” their collaborative efforts to manage the household seem nicely familiar. (Readers may recall refugee Jewesses working at Darlington Hall, too; suffice to say that fortunately for Elise, Tyneford’s Mr. Rivers is no Lord Darlington.) Then, those who remember the framing device of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” — Charles Ryder’s return to the requisitioned estate with the British army during World War II — may think of it again when the house at Tyneford, too, is taken over for military purposes.

Still, I can’t help wishing that I hadn’t managed to anticipate nearly every key plot point. The fate of Elise’s parents seems obvious from the outset, as does the essential element of “upstairs-downstairs” romance that suffuses the book. Even lesser moments, such as the mean-spirited actions of one spoiled aristocrat-houseguest, often seem entirely predictable.

When unexpected wrinkles arise near the book’s end, readers may be left more confused than intrigued. In one case—the fate of her father’s final manuscript—even Elise appears to share my puzzlement. In another—an estrangement between Elise and her sister that lasts for decades—Elise’s single-paragraph explanation simply fails to convince. In fact, the novel’s entire last chapter seems shaky as its speeds across time to a conclusion.

Perhaps my enthusiasm for Solomons’ debut novel made me expect too much of this one. Perhaps I have spent too much time with other, similar stories. “The House at Tyneford” provides solid storytelling and another glimpse into experience on the margins of the Holocaust. But for this reader, at least, it offers few surprises.

Erika Dreifus is the author of a short-story collection, “Quiet Americans,” which Shelf Unbound magazine recently named one of the Top 10 Small-Press Books of 2011. She lives in New York City.

Britain’s sick society

Watching the ferocious criminality displayed during the riots in British cities during the past weeks, one might be forgiven for thinking that this explosion of mob violence was taking place in some dilapidated god-forsaken Third World country. The horrific scenes of homes and businesses of ordinary Britons going up in flames will not be easily forgotten. Property was smashed up with brazen impunity, cars burned, and there was looting on a truly massive scale. Not only businesses, banks, post-offices, off-licenses, newsagents and luxury-goods shops, but also restaurants, pubs and cafes were comprehensively trashed. The video-recordings often show hooded looters replete with bundles of “free” sports goods under their arms, emerging from shops with big grins on their faces. Looters helped themselves to everything from flat-screen TVs and mobile phones to iPads, laptops and a wide variety of electronics.

For the first three days, the Metropolitan Police (MET) in Britain’s capital city appeared alarmingly powerless to stem the tide. The police have, unfortunately, had to function within a society paralyzed by the politics of victimhood, loudly defended by an increasingly misguided liberal intelligentsia. Within this victim culture most social problems are conveniently blamed on the “racism” or oppression of the majority, while ignoring the failings or delinquency of criminal individuals or gangs. Under this banner, even the British riots can be blamed on unemployment, poverty and the cuts in public spending (not yet implemented) proposed in the austerity program of the Cameron government. The simplistic equation adopted by the liberal left sees the root cause of social disorder in “economic despair” and unspecified “racial tensions” between various communities. Not unexpectedly, London’s former leftist Mayor, “Red” Ken Livingstone, immediately blamed the “Thatcherism” of the present Tory Government for the violence. For Livingstone and most of the Labour Left, it is all stunningly obvious – no spending cuts, no riots.

This has also been the knee-jerk response of the New York Times, pontificating about the alienation and resentments of Britain’s unemployed youth, as if they were the real victims. But as Max Hastings pointed out in the London Daily Mail, the British mayhem was not sparked by hunger or evidence of real want, let alone any social or political agenda. It reflects the emergence not just of an amorphous underclass but of an amoral, brutalized subculture in which intellectually challenged youngsters claimed to be showing the rich and the fuzz that “we can do what we like.”

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, got it partly right when he responded to the chaos by stating: “This is not about poverty, it’s about culture” – a culture of rights and no responsibilities. But conservatives as much as liberals or leftists are to blame for their foolish support for a dependency culture in which recipients of the largesse of the welfare State have no incentive to be employed. Together with the dependency culture, came the disastrous assumption of entitlement to a high standard of living irrespective of any individual effort. As a result, the nanny-State has created a generation of morally crippled youths with no compunction about willfully smashing up their own communities.

During the last 40 years Britain has seen the breakdown of the family, households with absent fathers, high divorce rates in general, and the encouragement of a sexual free-for-all, embroidered by the dominant clichés of life-style choice. Liberal and leftist intellectuals have continued their relentless assault on British national identity in the name of multiculturalism and “anti-imperialism”; calls for drug liberalization became increasingly frequent; education has become more and more “child-centered,” leaving issues of sexual morality and drug-taking largely in the hands of teenagers themselves. Sadly, Britain has been fostering an educational system in which teachers are more intimidated than pupils, a society where the police force is partially paralyzed by young looters destroying property with utter impunity, where corrupt politicians fiddle their expenses, where millionaires repeatedly evade tax and uncontrolled immigration is steadily undermining the social fabric.

In the United Kingdom, long notorious for its uncouth soccer hooligans and yob culture, there had long been disturbing signs of the incipient breakdown of civilized behavior which were studiously ignored. The current collapse of the British welfare-state model into mindless thuggery is a warning to all countries of the fragile nature of supposedly stable Western democracies. The thin façade of civilization protecting us from barbarism and mob rule has been exposed to full view. No society in which a significant sector of its youth are without fathers, without guidance, educational qualifications, modern skills or positive ambitions, can expect to survive, let alone prosper. The writing is on the wall for all to read.

Robert S. Wistrich is Professor of Modern European History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he also serves as the director of The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism (SICSA).

German prosecutors slowing investigation, victim’s mother claims

The mother of a Jewish man who was killed under unexplained circumstances in Wiesbaden eight years ago says German prosecutors are dragging their feet in the investigation.

Erica Duggan of England returned March 28 to the site of her son Jeremiah’s death to deliver a plea to prosecutor Christiane Schick-Jensen to interview witnesses and bring closure to the case.

“I am very disappointed that I have come all this way and that she hasn’t found a moment to see me,” Duggan told JTA.

Meanwhile, Duggan’s attorney has lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the German court has failed to properly investigate the case.

Jeremiah Duggan, 22, died March 27, 2003 after attending an anti-war meeting of the LaRouche Schiller Institute in Wiesbaden. Jeremiah reportedly was terrorized by followers of the institute after he objected to statements blaming the Iraq war on Jews and identified himself as Jewish.

He fled into busy traffic and reportedly was hit several times by oncoming vehicles, but Erica Duggan contends that her son was under attack at the time of his death.

In her open letter to Schick-Jensen, Duggan claims witnesses who might shed light on the case have not been interviewed.

Her Berlin-based attorneys say Schick-Jensen has not responded to their queries for two years. Attorney Christian Noll told JTA it was “very unusual” for a prosecutor to refuse to speak with a family member or attorney.

“I hope the European Court will agree that the investigation is deeply flawed and incomplete,” he said, adding that such a confirmation would not force the court to act but would put pressure on it to act.

Duggan said she had “gathered up all the memories of [Jeremiah] and will bring them home for good.”

Protest forces London Ahava store to close

An Ahava store in London was forced to close again after pro-Palestinian activists blocked the entrance.

Two activists reportedly chained themselves to a cement-filled barrel and had to be removed by police, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Ahava produces lotions and bath crystals using Dead Sea minerals on West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians. It has been the target of boycotts and protests worldwide.

The same London store was forced to close twice in 2009, in September and December, due to protests in which activists locked themselves to the same barrels.

Disraeli: The curious case of England’s Jewish prime minister

Adam Kirsch, “Benjamin Disraeli” (Nextbook: Schocken, 2008 ) $21.00.

Benjamin Disraeli was born Jewish, baptized as a boy but (mostly) considered himself to be Jewish.

He famously proclaimed to Queen Victoria — who began by hating him and ended adoring him — that he was the “blank page” separating the Old and New Testaments. He was an unconventional Tory, a reactionary with the glimmer of a radical peeking through. This proud defender of the majesty of his ancient people remains to this day the only Jewish prime minister England has ever known.

Into this career, tangled with old political fights and unclear motives, comes Adam Kirsch. Kirsch is an accomplished poet and critic with a deservedly formidable reputation. In addition to writing for various literary periodicals, he was a regular book columnist for the now defunct-New York Sun, whose serious book coverage was rare among newspapers. From his early days at The New Republic, this son of a local lawyer, historian and much-loved man of letters Jonathan Kirsch, has shown an erudition and judgment far beyond his years. Just as well, for few subjects require discernment as rigorous as the complex, vertiginous character aptly known as “Dizzy.”

French writer Andre Maurois began his biography of Benjamin Disraeli: “In the year 1290, on All Saints’ Day, King Edward I expelled the Jews from England.” English historian Robert Blake began his celebrated biography as follows: “Benjamin Disraeli’s career was an extraordinary one; but there is no need to make it seem more extraordinary than it really was.”

Peculiar, is it not? Why begin a biography more than 500 years before the birth of its subject, or begin by proclaiming its subject less remarkable than he is sometimes portrayed? But taken together these biographical choices tell us something about this fascinating character and about how Kirsch set about portraying Disraeli in a distinctive and persuasive way.

These opening sentences form the vectors that shape Disraeli — his Jewishness and his maddening mixture of achievement and artifice. Nobody was ever quite sure about the Lord of Beaconsfield; he was mightily gifted, but what, exactly, did he believe in, other than himself?

Benjamin Disraeli was born to a Jewish family in 1804. Despite his early baptism (at the age of 12), his contemporaries continued to see him as Jewish. Disraeli alternately evaded and relished his heritage. When his most undiplomatic enemy, Daniel O’Connell, attacked him in the House of Commons — referring to Disraeli’s Jewish lineage — Disraeli answered “Yes, I am a Jew. And when the ancestors of the right honorable gentlemen were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

History designates some people to travel in tandem. Disraeli, with his mocking wit, will always be paired with the earnest, brilliant and periodically bizarre William Gladstone. Gladstone, among the most successful prime ministers in British history, detested Disraeli; Disraeli, it is said, when asked to define the difference between a misfortune and a calamity, said that if Gladstone fell into the Thames River, it would be a misfortune. If someone fished him out, it would be a calamity.

In addition to Gladstone’s liberalism and Disraeli’s Toryism, what distinguished them was that Gladstone was an insider. Here is where Kirsch’s biography particularly shines. Recently, Yirmiyahu Yovel demonstrated in an important biography of Spinoza how much of the philosopher’s thought could be understood through the prism of exile and alienation. Kirsch does something of the same for Disraeli.

This biography is part of the exemplary Schocken/Nextbook series, under the editorship of Jonathan Rosen. Kirsch uses this natural Jewish emphasis to show us that Disraeli was constantly tacking against the wind of his outsiderness. Part of the insincerity intuited by others was that more than most politicians, Disraeli could not answer with untempered instinct; everything had to be calculated, because he would never be accepted as ‘fully English.’ To be a prime minister and yet not thought part of the real polity of the country is an extraordinary situation indeed.

Kirsch takes us through the controversies of Disraeli’s career — the corn laws, the Reform bill, the Chartist movement, the Eastern question — all of them recounted briskly and with a clarity that enables us to understand these buried controversies. Page by page, we are reminded how precarious it was for Disraeli to have one foot in each testament.

Kirsch ends the book with a helpful bibliography. At the conclusion, he reminds us of the wonderful biography of Blake, saying it “remains the best starting point for any reader who wants to get to know him.” Now we can say — read Blake, by all means, but begin with Kirsch.

David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple. His column on books appears frequently in The Journal.

No stiff upper lip as U.K. Jews celebrate Israel @ 60

LONDON (JTA)—With a pair of massive rallies for Israel held simultaneously in London’s Trafalgar Square and Manchester’s Heaton Park on Sunday, British Jewry may be signaling that its transformation is at hand.

Some 30,000 participants attended the public shows of support for Israel, which were inspired by New York’s annual Salute-to-Israel parade.

Several thousand people waving Israeli and British flags marched from the Ritz Hotel to Trafalgar Square followed by dozens of carnival floats, cyclists, dancers and bands. At Trafalgar Square, an Israeli Cabinet minister, Britain’s secretary of state for Education and Britain’s chief rabbi all addressed the crowd. Israeli musicians performed between the speeches.

“I’m sure that my father, who served here as an officer in the British army, couldn’t have imagined that some day tens of thousands of Jews would be waving Israeli flags here in Trafalgar Square,” said Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, who helped organize the events.

Observers and critics alike said the unprecedented show of pride and self-confidence at the rallies is a sign that British Jewry is shaking off its reputation for being timid and low key.

Highlights video from the organizers

Organized by a coalition of community groups under the direction of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, the rallies were aimed at expressing solidarity with Israel at its 60th anniversary and the unity of British Jewry.

Newmark said the idea for the event was born when he and several British Jewish organization executives attended last year’s Salute to Israel parade in New York. Discussing the parade with representatives of the American Jewish Committee, Newmark recalled an AJC representative saying a New York-style Israel salute probably wouldn’t play in Britain.

But Newmark said the New York experience changed his mind.

“Seeing this tremendous display of communal unity and affirmation of the relations between not just the Jewish community but actually America and Israel, we thought, ‘Well, here is one thing that might just play in the UK,’” he said.

Israel’s minister for welfare and Diaspora affairs, Isaac Herzog, who addressed the London rally, told JTA he was pleased that “Anglo Jews decided to follow the American Jews’ example with a display of power and unity.”

An event like Sunday’s Salute to Israel could not have taken place as recently as a decade ago, Newmark said. But a political shift that has made British politics much more tolerant of minorities, lobbies and interest groups changed that, he said.

“If you want to influence political decisions in Britain, you have to operate up front as an interest group, and the community had to adjust to that,” Newmark said.

Some Jews long have complained that British Jews are too timid.

Three months ago, a renowned British-born Israeli expert on anti-Semitism, Prof. Robert Wistrich, told the Jerusalem Post that Britain’s Jewish leadership is taking a “softly, softly approach” in tackling the problem of anti-Semitism.

“There is a long tradition of doing things behind closed doors,” Wistrich said. “It is difficult to break with tradition, but it should be broken.”

Newmark believes the breakthrough is already under way.

“The caricature of Anglo-Jewry that Wistrich and others have sought to portray is no longer the case; it’s history,” he said. “Ask any minister in a government portfolio that relates to the Jewish community in any way if the Jewish community is shy about coming forward or making noise, if they feel they’re not being treated the way they want to. You’d get a pretty clear response.”

Newmark points to several high-profile media campaigns launched by the British Jewish community in the past year, including fighting an academic boycott and campaigning against the Anglican Church’s “divestment intentions,” as further evidence of the community’s willingness to speak up.

“We now have strong support for Israel within all the mainstreams in the nation’s political parties as a consequence of the work done by the Friends of Israel organizations within each party,” he said.

At the rally, Herzog lent support to this argument, saying he felt “decision makers in British politics as well as in the media are much more attentive today to Israel’s case than several years ago.”

Researchers of British Jewry say the Jewish community here has never been healthier.

Keith Kahn-Harris, a sociologist based at London’s Goldsmiths College, says research suggests that in recent years, even during the height of the second intifada, an overwhelming majority of British Jews feel settled and comfortable in their homeland.

To be sure, there are concerns about the growing threat of anti-Semitism and the virulent anti-Israel views coming from some in the media and the intellectual elite. But, Kahn-Harris said in a phone interview, “The threats are manageable and the community developed effective mechanisms to counter them.”

Yaakov Wise, a researcher at the University of Manchester’s Center for Jewish Studies, said the number of British Jews was growing for the first time since the end of World War II.

A large part of this growth is due to an exceptionally high birth rate among the fervently Orthodox, though they were largely absent from Sunday’s parades.

Also underrepresented were Israelis living in England. One communal leader admitted he was “disappointed” by the “limited success” of efforts to engage Israelis in Britain.

On the fringes of the Trafalgar Square rally, some pro-Palestinian Jews took part in a vigil organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Brian Klug, a prominent left-wing activist who announced two months ago he had no intention of celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary, told JTA he did find something positive about the parades in the fact that “Jews are able to express in public their views about something that affects them, which was not the case about 30 years ago when I was growing up in London.”

Still, he said, the Salute to Israel was “unhealthy.”

Salute to Israel organizers, however, didn’t seem to care much about the voices of dissent.

“We’re focused on having a good day and a few fringe voices are not going to upset anybody,” Newmark said.

At the London rally, huge screens projected greetings from Israeli President Shimon Peres and London’s new mayor, Boris Johnson, followed by a slew of American celebrities such as former President Bill Clinton, Billy Crystal, Michael and Kirk Douglas, Ashton Kutcher and Ben Stiller.

The events cost some $700,000, and nearly 600 volunteers were required to secure the Trafalgar Square rally alone.

“We promise to do this again next time Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary,” Henry Grunwald, the president of the Board of Deputies, quipped when asked if the Salute to Israel would be repeated.

“I’m sure we will have such events again in the future” he later added, “but probably not on an annual basis like in New York.”

MUSIC VIDEO: Hadar Manor — ‘Queen of the Underground’

Israeli singer Hadar Manor—who lives in London—was just named ‘Queen of the Underground’—and here’s why!

MUSIC VIDEO Lauren Rose – ‘Hava Nagila Baby Let’s Dance’

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It didn’t make Britain’s Top Ten Christmas records, but it’s still a killer version: Lauren Rose sings ‘Hava Nagila’ like you’ve never heard it—or danced it—before!

MUSIC VIDEO: Cockney Melody, Yiddish Ditty (British home movie)

MUSIC VIDEO: Cockney Melody, Yiddish Ditty (British home movie) 43 secs.

Ozzy’s Father-in-Law Bails Out Synagogue

Rock legend Ozzy Osbourne’s father-in-law has intervened in the Higher Crumpsall/Higher Broughton Synagogue row with the Synagogue Council to settle the shul’s debt with a burial board.

Manchester-born Don Arden (formerly Harry Levy), whose sister Eileen Somers is administrator of the synagogue, was so grieved to hear of the shul’s problems that this week he transferred funds of £3,695 (almost $6,033) to cover the shortfall, plus a significant donation.

Arden — now 77 and living in Los Angeles, where he bought Howard Hughes’ former home — was a member of Higher Crumpsall’s choir and was bar mitzvahed there. His daughter, Sharon, is married to Osbourne and Arden himself is often seen on MTV’s highly rated Osbournes’ family saga.

Arden himself is a legendary name in the music business. Having left school, Arden began his show business career at 13 as a singer and stand-up comic in Manchester. In the 1960s, he began booking American rockers for European tours. Then he started to manage major ’60s acts like The Move and The Small Faces, before reaching a commercial pinnacle in the ’70s as manager of ELO and of singer Lynsey de Paul. He also founded his own Jet record label.

Arden worked as an entertainer on the British variety circuit. He impersonated famous tenors, like Caruso, and movie gangsters such as Edward G. Robinson and George Raft. On weekends, Yiddish-speaking Arden wowed Jewish audiences with his Al Jolson routine. In 1954, he became a showbiz agent and started organizing Hebrew folk song contests, then putting together his own shows. He signed up American rock ‘n’ roller Gene Vincent in 1960 and, for several years, brought American rockers, including Vincent, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, to England. — The Manchester Jewish Telegraph

Hidden Heritage Inspires Director

British film director Stephen Frears was drawn to "Liam," about the making of an anti-Semite, partly because of a startling family secret he discovered in his late 20s.

His brother blurted out the news during his grandmother’s 90th birthday party, not long after Frears had married a Jewish woman. "He said how pleased our grandmother was that I had married a Jewish girl — and that our mother was Jewish," recalls Frears, 60, the director of "The Grifters" and "High Fidelity." "Of course I was surprised that something like this had been concealed from me for so long."

The revelation came out of left field. Frears and his mum had regularly attended Church of England services in his gritty hometown of Leicester, where, he recalls, "there was simply no evidence that Jews existed." Frears didn’t meet his first identifiable Jew until he was 13 and off at boarding school. "We called him ‘Ikey,’ which is what they used to call Jews in the East End, in an unthinking, schoolboy way," he says by phone from his home in the Notting Hill section of London.

Frears’ mother never revealed why she chose to conceal her background, but the director has his theories. Perhaps it was to rebel against her parents, he suggests; perhaps it was to conceal her German maiden name, Danziger, during World War II; perhaps it was to circumvent the covert anti-Semitism prevalent in Britain after the war. "People are very open about Jewishness in America, but in England, there’s a great deal of silence about it," he explains. "People just eliminate what they don’t like."

The anti-Semitism depicted in "Liam," now in theaters, is of a more strident nature. The setting is a rigidly Catholic neighborhood in 1930s Liverpool, where 7-year-old Liam (Anthony Borrows) prepares for his first Communion as his father becomes increasingly resentful toward the Jews.

The trouble starts when Dad is laid off by his Jewish employer, forcing Liam’s teenage sister to go to work as a servant for a Jewish adulteress (she’s bribed to keep silent about the affair). A Jewish pawnbroker and moneylender continually gouge the family. Eventually Dad becomes a fascist.

Frears admits some of his Jewish characters are less than flattering — but that is the point, he insists. "This is the story of a man who ends up as a Black Shirt, so of course his point of view is going to be hideously stereotyped," he says.

Liam’s impoverished childhood reminds Frears of his own early years during World War II. "I remember a lack of food," says the director, who is the son of a physician. "Most of the rooms in our house were closed because we couldn’t afford to heat them, so I basically sat with my mother in the kitchen for five or six years. I used to have baths in front of the fire, like a working-class child."

Even when his family’s lifestyle improved, Frears found Leicester to be "dull and oppressive." He escaped by retreating to the cinema twice a week.

In his 20s, the Cambridge law grad went to work for director Karel Reisz — known for "slice of life" films about the working class — and eventually churned out his own British TV movies about the working poor. His BBC film "My Beautiful Laundrette," about the relationship between a Cockney punk and a Pakistani immigrant, earned him international acclaim in 1985. Three years later, he came to Hollywood to make his first American film, "Dangerous Liaisons," starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich as French aristocrats bent on games of sexual revenge.

Frears made an interesting discovery while shooting subsequent U.S. films such as "Hero," starring Dustin Hoffman. "I found that the film industry here is dominated by Jews, and that America has a completed different attitude toward Jews than Britain," he says. "It was all much more public and upfront and talked about and part of life. So, as it were, the British silence had ended."

Yet, Frears never bothered to set foot in a synagogue or read up on Judaism. One reason, he hints, is a cruel irony that devastated him around the time he learned he was Jewish. His now 29-year-old son was born with a genetic illness, familial dysautonomia, that is carried by one in 30 Ashkenazi Jews. "His life has been dominated by this illness," Frears says. "I may not have known I was Jewish, but I carried the gene."

"Liam," based on Jimmy McGovern’s autobiographical screenplay, is one of the few times Frears has actively sought out anything to do with his heritage. "I was very aware that this was the first time I was making a film that dealt with the Jewish experience and people," he says. "I guess I was curious. I was sticking a toe into the water."