English can be the official second language of Israel

English is the widest used language in the world, a language that is truly universal. It can also be considered a convenient, practical, and most common language for Jews to use around the world. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense for Israel to transform itself into both an English and Hebrew speaking country.

It is used in diplomacy, business, commerce, science, high technology, aviation, air-traffic control, maritime communication, The U.N., International Olympic Committee and many other International organizations.

English allows for easy communication that also provides for safer and more enjoyable travel around the world. Therefore, visitors to Israel also need to be able to communicate in English.   

In China, they start learning English in Kindergarten. Even children as young as two are sent by some parents to private language schools, which makes it possible for them to become fluent in English by age 10. That is something that Israel could do as well, with instruction continuing right into College.

According to Ronald Kotulak, author of “Inside the Brain,” during the first three years of life 50% of the ability to learn is developed and another 30% by age eight. Therefore, children’s natural ability to learn a second language should be taken advantage of at that time.

There is also an international system for English instruction by which instruction is divided into 9 levels. The focus is on listening and speaking, besides reading and writing.

The objective is to have the ability to communicate in English in every day life including the ability to read newspapers and magazines.

By the time a student graduates from high school their proficiency level could be at level 8 and reach level 9 in college.

A university education that includes science courses needs the English language as does working in high technology afterwards.

The importance of English is very obvious when over 50% of the Internet content is in English. When the English language is dominant in Business and Commerce. When over 96% of articles in the Sciences are written in English. When over 2-billion people in the world use the English language!

Six major countries have English as their spoken language. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

English is the Official language of 37-countries, which includes India having the largest number of English speaking people in the world.

There are 34-countries where English is primarily a Native language. That includes South Africa and Nigeria where a substantial number speak English.

There are also five countries where English is widely used as an unofficial language.

The use of English in our world is so vital and beneficial that it merits the right to be an official language of Israel, right alongside with Hebrew.

As it is right now the majority of Knesset members do not even know how to speak in English. How can they possibly contribute to positive PR with visiting parliamentarians? And that is just one unacceptable situation of many!

How ridiculously arrogant, sad and insulting it is to have the Minister of Absorption of all people, not being able to communicate in English, to an English speaking Nefesh B'Nefesh group that had just arrived in Israel with their 50,000th Olim?

The same goes for President Reuven Rivlin holding a speech at the same Nefesh B'Nefesh event, where except for a few words in English, his very prolonged speech was only in Hebrew?

Their obvious intention was engaging in self-promotion by courting the Israeli home viewer at the expense of the just arrived English-speaking immigrants.

What sadly was very evident is that Reuven Rivlin was so self-absorbed in his perceived self-importance that he could not even hold a banner without covering up the message of the celebrating girls T-shirt.

Unfortunately the Nefesh B'Nefesh flight arrival, instead of being properly addressed in spoken English, were introduced by what can only be characterized as dysfunctional self-serving politicians not able to fulfill their intended purpose of communicating an understandable greeting to the Nefesh B'Nefesh group!

Remedial action to the above can start with the next election by making English proficiency a requirement for anyone running for office! In fact, all Public Services should absolutely have the ability to communicate in English as a requirement.

State documents should be in both English and Hebrew side by side! Financial, Legal, Real Estate services, the Stock market, anything and everything that is put into print should be in both languages.

With the adoption of English, huge advantages for Israel will come into play. The use of English will open up many opportunities for a better life and a better future for the country.

English is simply a realistic necessity for an advanced economy and a modern society!

For many English-speaking adults the learning of Hebrew is a considerable challenge and a stumbling block to any possible move to Israel.

It would make all the difference in the world if English were to be an official second language. That would make it possible and easier for an older adult to adjust to a new life and also be an incentive for those same people to make aliya, who otherwise would not even consider doing so!

The resulting increase in aliya from English speaking countries would be enormous!

John Brent is an entrepreneur and retired Independent Insurance Broker from the State of California, now residing in the State of Nevada.

Hebrew word of the week: eqsit

Trendy American words are quickly incorporated into Israeli Hebrew and cherished by the media gossips. They are taken from the English, as seleb (בלס) “celeb,” or selebrita’it for “female celebrity;” a formal Hebrew synonym is yedua’nit (less common).

Eqsit takes informal English ex, meaning “ex (wife),” and adds the Hebrew feminine suffix -it. Other examples are studentit for “female student,” seqsit for “sexy female,” qulit for “cool female.” 

*Spelling foreign words in Hebrew requires that all K sounds — whether from X, K, Q, C — are spelled with the Hebrew quf (ק = q), for example, meqsiqo is “Mexico,” sheqispir is “Shakespeare,” qolombus  “Columbus,” qvarts “quartz,” qumunist “communist.” An exception is aleksander “Alexander,”  which uses a kaf.

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

Iranian regime’s propaganda use of Jews would make Goebbels proud

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that roughly two dozen Iranian Jews took part in a “pro-nuclear rally” at the United Nations office in Tehran. The report indicated that the Iranian Jews held Torahs in their arms and also signs in Hebrew and English proclaiming their support for the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions. While some individuals may wrongly believe that some of Iran’s Jews are supportive of the regime’s nuclear ambitions, Iranian journalists and community activists like myself who have long followed the Iranian regime know that this “rally” was nothing more than a propaganda charade put together by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence to improve its image among the international media. Sadly, this “rally” was just the latest in a long line of publicity stunts and propaganda moves by the Iranian regime to use or manipulate the Jews of Iran to deceive the world into believing it loves the Jews.

Toward the later years of World War II, the Nazi propaganda ministry created a propaganda film focused around the infamous Theresienstadt concentration camp, which was given the appearance of a “country club” for the Jews. Today, the Iranian regime’s propaganda machine carries on this shameful Nazi tradition by again marching forward different leaders of the Jewish community in Iran to sing the praises of the regime before the Western news media. Nowadays, the regime’s Jewish mouthpiece is Ciamak Moreh Sedgh, the only Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, who always claims that the Jews are living in “total freedom and face no danger while living in Iran.” 

In October, with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, visiting New York for his appearance before the United Nations, Moreh Sedgh was also brought along with the Iranian delegation to “praise the Iranian regime for their benevolence to the Jews” and at the same time condemn Israel before Western news media outlets. Sadly, the news media and some Americans are being duped by buying into Iran’s propaganda messages that Jews are supposedly living under the “benevolent” protection and freedom of Iran’s totalitarian Islamic regime. The truth of the matter is that the Iranian regime and its secret police of thugs have a tight grip on the activities of the Jewish community in Iran. 

The latest episode of a pro-Iranian regime rally in Iran two weeks ago is proof that the Iranian regime loves to parade Jews in front of the international news cameras to attack Israel in any way possible because it knows these news outlets will carry stories about Jews “condemning Israel.” The Jewish member of the Iranian parliament in the past and present has always been spouting out “anti-Israel” statements to the international news media and on Iranian broadcast news to keep the Iranian regime’s dictatorship happy. Such was the case in 2009 during “Operation Cast Lead,” when Israeli forces invaded Hamas-controlled Gaza to destroy terrorist cells attacking Israel. During that operation, the Jewish community of Tehran was forced to march in the streets and condemn Israel for defending itself, and Moreh Sedgh condemned Israel for “crimes against the Palestinian people” before the Iranian parliament. 

As a journalist, I have been following the Iranian regime’s shameful use of the Jews in Iran to advance its own public image for more than a decade. The only reason Jews in Iran even participated in the sham protests against Israel is because members of Iran’s secret police threaten their lives if they do not do what these radical Islamic thugs dictate.

There are various reasons why some 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still live in Iran, due to economic issues or family ties. Yet, the truth of the matter is that the Jews of Iran since the Babylonian exile have always had a great love of the land of Israel and a tremendous sense of Zionism. Zionist organizations were established in Iran as early as the 1920s among Jews in the country longing to return to their ancient homeland. Likewise, after the establishment of Israel in 1948, thousands of Jews left their homes in Iran and established new roots in Israel. Still more Jews immigrated to Israel after the 1979 Iranian revolution and live there today. Iranian Jews living in Israel, Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the free world still display a great love of Israel by giving to philanthropic causes in Israel, investing in Israeli companies and traveling there frequently.

Sadly, the Iranian regime has gone a step further and even used the country’s Jewish leadership to advance the regime’s efforts to remove U.S. and international sanctions on Iran. In October, Homayoun Sameyah Najaf Abady, a leader of the Jewish community in Iran, appeared before the BBC, denying that Jews in Iran live in a state of fear and also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to normalize relations with the Iranian regime. 

Likewise, Moreh Sedgh, during his public relations tour with Rouhani last month, shamefully appeared on different U.S. news programs proclaiming everything was “fine for the Jews of Iran who enjoyed the same freedoms and equalities as Muslims.” Unfortunately, U.S. journalists interviewing Moreh Sedgh failed to ask him why Jews in Iran still have a second-class citizenship status under Iran’s constitution, or why the Iranian regime for the last 34 years forces Jews to keep their Jewish day schools open on the Sabbath. 

If the Iranian regime “loves the Jews and grants them equality,” then why have more than a dozen Jews been randomly executed by the regime on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States during the last 34 years? And why, between 1994 and 1996, if life is great for Jews in Iran, were 12 Jews who were trying to flee Iran via Pakistan arrested by the Iranian secret police and not been heard from since? Likewise, if things are so happy and rosy for the Jews of Iran, why was Toobah Nehdaran, a 57-year-old married Jewish woman, brutally murdered and her body mutilated by radical Islamic thugs in the Iranian city of Isfahan in November 2012? Why have Nehdaran’s killers not been brought to justice yet by the Iranian authorities? On a regular basis, as a journalist covering Iranian Jewry, I am reminded by countless Iranian-American Jewish leaders to “watch” what I might be writing about the Iranian regime for fear that what I might report on may have negative repercussions on the Jews of Iran. So my question is: Why on earth are Iranian-American Jews so concerned about my words and the safety of their brethren in Iran if everything is supposedly so fine and dandy for Jews in Iran? These are unanswered questions that should leave serious doubts in the minds of all individuals about the Iranian regime’s supposed “love” for the Jews of Iran. 

Those of us who live in the free world cannot allow the Iranian regime to win the public relations war that it wages to portray itself as a lover of the Jews or a granter of wide freedoms and equality to non-Muslims living in Iran. We must call out the Iranian regime’s propaganda and expose the truth about its brutality not only to Jews living in Iran but toward Baha’is, Christians, Zoroastrians, Sunni Muslims, Kurds, LGBT, women, labor movement leaders, journalists and others in Iran who have been randomly imprisoned, tortured and executed by the Iranian regime’s leadership for no reason at all. The words coming out of the mouths of Iran’s Jewish leadership carry zero credibility and must not only be ignored by Western news media outlets but also not given any validity by all freedom-loving individuals worldwide.

Karmel Melamed is an award-winning internationally published journalist and attorney based in Southern California. He authors the “Iranian American Jews” blog.

Iranian Jews hold pro-nuclear rally in Tehran

Iranian Jews holding Torah scrolls demonstrated in Tehran in support of Iran’s nuclear program.

Demonstrators, who also held signs in English, Hebrew and Farsi, rallied Tuesday in front of the United Nations office in Tehran, according to The Jerusalem Post. They denounced Zionism and threw their support behind the country’s nuclear talks negotiating team.

The rally was held a day before the resumption in Geneva of negotiations between Iran and world powers over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Also in advance of the meetings, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday announced in broadcast remarks that his country wants friendly ties with the world community, including the United States, but that Israel is “doomed to extinction.”

He said France, which has taken a hard-line stance during the negotiations, is “not only succumbing to the United States, but they are kneeling before the Israeli regime.”

Israel has objected fiercely to the current deal reported to be on the table, under which crippling sanctions on Iran would be eased if it stops enriching uranium to more than a minimum percentage.

Textism: Does spelling even matter anymore?

f u cn rd ths, u cn bcm a sec & gt a gd jb w hi pa.

You can tell that’s not a text message.  When secretaries were getting good jobs for high pay, no one was texting.

Those School of Speedwriting “>Does Spelling Matter?,” who told an interviewer that “judging character or worth by how meticulous a speller a person [is] ‘is a way to say I’m better than you…. It’s a form of licensed prejudice.’”  No, my beef with spelling isn’t that it protects the ruling class.  It’s that it’s so irrelevant.

I mean, really:  Occurred has two c’s and two r’s.  Is getting that wrong really a slippery slope to barbarism?  The truth is that I always know what someone means by your welcome, and a misspelling never flummoxes me.  I may squirm inwardly when I hear “between you and I,” but I never misunderstand it.  It’s ridiculous that people now say “literally” when they mean “figuratively,” but it’s never so ridiculous that I fail to comprehend them. Dan Quayle was spit-roasted for spelling potatoe with that e at the end; it was seen as evidence that he was just a dumb blonde.  But not a single person laughing at him would ever mistake a potato for a turnip, which arguably should be what’s at stake here.             

It’s one thing for Professor Horobin, or me, to cut misspellers some slack.  In my case, the grammar that Mrs. Bustard drilled into my head served me well on standardized tests, in college and in my career, so it’s easy for me to go wobbly on rules now.  But what about today’s texting toddlers who grow up thinking that lol is a word?  Are we raising a generation of illiterates whose fuzzy spelling is the precursor of fuzzy thinking? 

It’s not as though we can stop them, no more than King Canute could stop the tide.  The coming universal penetration of smart phones, the Wild West vibe of the Internet, the bias of social media for brevity, instantaneity and comedy: these vectors are inexorably torqueing how we communicate.  But are they also dumbing us down?

A study sponsored by the “>Best Columnist award this year, holds the Norman Lear chair in “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him martyk@jewishjournal.com.   

West Bank Hebrew language study is growing

Listening to Hebrew songs is officially frowned upon by many West Bank residents, but interest in learning the language of the “other society that is very close but still far away” is clearly picking up among Palestinians wishing to understand Israelis. One example is the Mohammed bin Rashid Bin Al-Maktoum School in Al-Bireh, a town adjacent to Ramallah, where many students in grades 7 through 10 are opting to study the Hebrew language.

A somewhat strategic explanation for this little-known fact was offered by Samer Nimer, a director of the private school, who told The Media Line that, “We want to know what is going on in Israel first hand, not what others are saying about Israel.” Perhaps even more surprising is Nimer’s revelation that “we use the curriculum issued by the Israeli Ministry of Education.”

Interaction between Palestinians and Israelis is often limited to conflict-related situations, such as Palestinians passing through Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank; or Palestinian laborers who are permitted to work inside of Israel finding themselves in need of a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew. 

For these reasons, the administration of the 600-pupil school, considered to be conservative with boys and girls separated, made the decision to offer Hebrew as the third language, after Arabic and English. “We found support from the parents who thanked us,” Nimer explained. “Some parents said they preferred their children to learn French, but we think the use of French is limited here,” he said.

According to Nimer, there are presently around 120 Hebrew students in the school, including eighth-grader Lana [her name is changed for her safety], who is in her second year of study. Her mother told The Media Line that, “This is the language of the enemy, and it’s important for us to learn it.” Nevertheless, Lana herself offers a more optimistic outcome from her Hebrew study. She said, “I visit Israeli websites and try to read. Also, on school trips, we try to speak with Israelis in Hebrew.”

Although Hebrew is mostly viewed as a practical language, many Palestinians apparently agree with Lana’s mother, and are interested in following Israeli affairs in order to gain an insight of what is going on in Israel.

The language courses are not the only indication of the Palestinians’ interest in wanting to know first-hand what is going on inside of Israel. The Palestinian Ma’an satellite television channel presents a weekly show that translates reports from Israeli media; and three daily newspapers printed in the West Bank carry a regular section of articles and op-eds translated into Arabic after having been published in the Israeli press.

Maher Safi, a private sector employee, not only agrees with this approach, but wants public schools to follow suit as well. He told The Media Line that, “There is a saying that ‘One who wants to avoid the other nation’s harm should know their language.’ I think the Palestinian Authority should teach Hebrew as part of its curriculum.”

Jihad Zakarneh, the Director General of Curriculums in the Palestinian Ministry of Education, explained that the PA schools do not teach Hebrew because Hebrew is not a language that is used outside of Israel, and therefore, “the demand for this language is not high. Students who want to study abroad seek German, French, or Russian language because it will help them,” according to Zakarneh.

For those who want to learn Hebrew, there are options. There are some 200 language and translation centers operating in the West Bank and the PA’s Education Ministry grants them permits to teach Hebrew. “Hebrew is not a forbidden language, but most of those who wish to learn it are workers in the private sector who have to deal with Israelis in their work.” He explained that “there is a demand for Hebrew among those who work in imports and exports, finance, insurance and customs.

Shorouq Mraqatan, a 30-year old public employee from Hebron who works for the Palestinian Standards Institute, has been studying Hebrew for 6 months, claiming that while it’s out of necessity, he enjoys it. “I need to know Hebrew to read the Israeli standards, and I also like to learn about Israel,” he told The Media Line.

The PA’s Zakarneh added that the decision by the Hamas-controlled education ministry in the Gaza Strip to offer Hebrew to its students was justified by need. “Gazans need Hebrew as their only outlet to the outer world.  Our students in the West Bank don’t need Hebrew.”

The PA’s Education Ministry has no estimate of the number of private schools teaching Hebrew on the West Bank because such programs are not supervised. But they make the point that “a considerable number of those who know or teach Hebrew have learned the language during the time they were imprisoned by Israel.

Israeli-Iranian singer Rita performs at U.N.

The Israeli-Iranian singer Rita performed at the United Nations General Assembly Hall.

Rita performed in Hebrew, English and Farsi at the “Tunes for Peace” concert on Tuesday night — just the third full-fledged concert at the U.N. venue.

The singer, who goes by just her first name, but whose full name is Rita Yahan-Farouz, performed for an audience comprised of Iranian expatriates, Israeli diplomats, U.N. employees and representatives of 140 U.N. delegations, according to Haaretz.

The concert was sponsored by the New York and Los Angeles chapters of the Iranian American Jewish Federation and the UJA-Federation of New York, and hosted by Israel's permanent mission to the United Nations.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon introduced the evening using the word “shalom,” Hebrew for peace as well as hello and goodbye, and called Rita “a cultural ambassador,” according to Haaretz.

“It is our sincere hope that this musical evening will echo from New York to the hearts and minds of people throughout Israel and Iran,” said Ron Prosor, Israel's U.N. ambassador.

Pollard clemency petition reaches 103,000 signatures

More than 103,000 people have signed a petition calling on President Obama to free imprisoned spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard.

The petition, which appears in Hebrew and English, was placed online Feb. 11 and will be hand delivered to Obama during his visit to Israel later this month, according to the Justice for Jonathan Pollard organization.

The organization is aiming for 150,000 signatures before Obama arrives in Israel on March 20.

“We, The People, simple citizens of the State of Israel, sincerely hope that you will take this opportunity to respond positively to the many requests for Jonathan Pollard's release, including those made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres on our behalf,” the petition reads. “We appeal to you as one who symbolizes the shared values of humanity, compassion and hope for a second chance that both of our nations embrace. We implore you to commute Jonathan Pollard's sentence to time served without delay and allow him to live out his remaining days as a free man. It is our fervent hope and prayer that your upcoming trip to Israel will bring us the good news we have waited for, for so very long, and that this tragic and painful episode can finally be put to rest once and for all.”

Pollard's wife, Esther, met Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to urge them to discuss the Pollard case during Obama's visit. She was accompanied by Lawrence Korb, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, and Justice for Jonathan Pollard head Effie Lahav.

Netanyahu this week pledged to seek Pollard's freedom during the Obama visit.

“The time has long since come for Jonathan to go free,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office. “This issue will come up during President Obama's visit. It has already been raised countless times by myself and others, and the time has come for him to go free.”

“Jonathan can't anymore,” Esther Pollard said. “This is a golden opportunity now that the president of the United States is coming. If not now, when?”

Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who spied for Israel, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987, despite a plea bargain in which he admitted his guilt. The calls to release Pollard have intensified in the last year, with pleas from lawmakers and former top officials of both U.S. political parties.

LAUSD OK’s English-Hebrew charter school

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has given a green light to a proposal for a dual-language charter elementary school to be located in Van Nuys offering classes in English and Hebrew. 

Lashon Academy is the first Hebrew-language charter school to be approved by LAUSD, which has previously approved charters for dual-language immersion schools teaching other languages. 

The school board unanimously approved the petition for the school, whose name means “language” or “tongue” in Hebrew, on Jan. 15. But while LAUSD board member Tamar Galatzan voted to approve the petition, she voiced skepticism about Lashon. 

“I have grave concerns about this school and schools like it,” she said at the meeting. “I think they’re really private schools masquerading as public schools.” 

Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition. LAUSD has approximately 230 charter schools operating in its district, more than any other school district in the United States.

The Hebrew Charter School Center (HCSC), a New York-based nonprofit backed by mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, helped Lashon’s local board craft its petition and has been seeding Hebrew-language charter schools across the country. Lashon is the sixth HCSC-supported charter to be approved nationwide since 2009 and the second to be approved in California, following the approval of Kavod Elementary Charter School in San Diego in March 2012. 

Josh Stock (whose last name is listed as “Feigelstock” on the 390-page document approved by LAUSD) is Lashon’s lead petitioner; he said Lashon’s curriculum would be modeled after the first HCSC-established school, Hebrew Language Academy (HLA) in Brooklyn, N.Y., which is now in its fifth year. 

HLA’s curriculum focuses on the “culture of Hebrew and Israel and its immigrant communities,” and each classroom is staffed by two educators, one English-speaking and one Hebrew-speaking. Lashon will use that model, despite California’s awarding charter schools less funding per pupil than New York state does. 

“As our schools get up and running, they typically rely on philanthropic dollars to make up for funding gaps,” HCSC Executive Director Aaron Listhaus wrote in an e-mail, adding that when the schools reach capacity, the public funding can cover their costs.

Lashon’s success in winning board approval for its charter petition comes after a series of rejections to petitions by another local charter program offering Hebrew, the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEALAS). A charter high school offering Hebrew as a second language opened in 2010 in Santa Clarita, but subsequent petitions by the nonprofit to establish an AEALAS elementary school were rejected by three different Los Angeles-area school districts. AEALAS has not formally submitted a charter to LAUSD, however. 

LAUSD approved Lashon’s charter for five years, but it’s unclear whether the school — which has not yet hired a principal or secured a facility — will be ready to open its doors to students by fall 2013. 

Most of the five members of the school’s board are Jewish. Pastor Jim Tolle, who is the spiritual leader of The Church on the Way, an Evangelical church in Van Nuys with approximately 15,000 Latino members, is the board member in charge of doing outreach for the school, which is to be located in the Van Nuys area. Most of his congregants are Latino, and Tolle, who is a fervent supporter of Israel, is charged with helping ensure that Lashon’s student body is reflective of the surrounding neighborhoods. 

The school’s outreach plan was key to its approval, Galatzan said at the LAUSD meeting, adding that she’d be watching the school’s enrollment closely. 

“I just want us to keep an eye on these programs because this to me sounds like a private school that’s publicly funded, if the only kids who are going there are white, Jewish, Israeli kids from the Valley,” she said. 

“They’re in Van Nuys for a reason,” Galatzan added, alluding to the proposed school’s proximity to more Jewish areas nearby. The school, according to its petition, is to be located somewhere in a 30-square-mile area stretching from Valley Village to Canoga Park. At least five private Jewish elementary schools are located in or near that area. 

Stock disagreed with Galatzan’s characterization of Lashon. “At the end of the day, Lashon Academy is a public school,” he said. “There’s nothing Jewish about it.”

To watch the LAUSD school board vote: http://laschoolboard.org/node/1443

Israel celebrates education gains, but challenges remain

Just before 1 o'clock on a sunny afternoon, students streamed out of the Amirim Public School and headed for home. But for their teachers, the workday was far from over.

Some would stay late to attend faculty meetings and prepare upcoming lessons. Others would help small groups of students in subjects like math and science, Hebrew and English.

The extended hours are but one aspect of sweeping changes instituted by the Israeli Ministry of Education in 2009 after the country's students posted disappointing results in several international achievement tests in 2006 and 2007. Israeli fourth-graders had ranked 24th among some 60 countries in math, while eighth-graders came in 25th in science and 31st in reading comprehension.

In an effort to improve performance, the Education Ministry urged teachers to focus their classes on the international tests and develop precise lesson plans and curriculums. The education budget was upped by hundreds of millions of dollars — $100 million more was allocated in 2012 alone — and teachers were compensated for lesson planning time and teaching small-group enrichment classes.

“I'm happy that we have these resources,” said Orly Bahat, Amirim's principal. “We never had a situation where, when the kids went home, we could stay here and they would pay us. The kids got this new help.”

The results have been significant, both across Israel and at Amirim.

In 2011, Israeli fourth-graders had improved to seventh place in the math section of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study test given to students in approximately 60 countries including the United States, China and several European countries. Eighth-graders came in 13th on the science portion of the test. Israelis also finished 18th in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which tested students in about 40 countries.

At Amirim, students taking the math test moved up from an average grade of 64 percent in 2007 to 80 percent, placing them in the top 10 percent of Israeli schools. Its students also moved into the top fifth of Israeli students in Hebrew, an improvement of 10 percentile points.

“We had a clear measurable goal; every teacher and every employee knew what was expected of them,” said Dalit Shtauber, the director-general of the Education Ministry. “We [previously] talked about process and we [moved] to an emphasis on results at every level, from the general staff through individual schools.”

The improvement in test scores paints only a partial picture, at best, of Israeli education. Low-income students performed far worse than wealthier ones. Arabs lagged behind both Israeli Jews and the international average in math and reading. Class size in Israel, which is about 50 percent higher than the U.S. average of 24 students, remains a cause for concern. Haredi Orthodox students, who don’t learn the country’s core curriculum, did not take the test and thus were not factored into Israel’s averages.

Shtauber says that test scores in all socioeconomic sectors have improved since 2007, though the Education Ministry’s statistics show the gap in scores between rich and poor had shrunk only slightly in that period and have widened on the reading comprehension test.

But on the whole, the improvements have been dramatic. And Israeli teachers, who initially opposed the increased demands on their time, seem to have come around.

“We know what’s expected and we’re very precise,” said Orly Barel, a Hebrew teacher at Amirim who described the initial reaction of her colleagues as “antagonistic” to the new requirements.

Teachers are now expected to work longer hours, and they bemoan the size of Israeli class sizes, which range from 32 to 40 students per class. And like teachers in other countries where standardized testing has been made a crucial part of accountability in education, they resisted infringement on their classroom autonomy.

“The teachers need to adjust themselves to the system,” said Ran Erez, who heads Israel’s high school teachers union. “If you’re teaching one way for 20 years and they say to do it differently, it’s hard.”

The funding increases also have allowed schools to hire more teachers to teach specific subjects, as opposed to having one teacher teach several subjects.

“It’s just like when you break a leg, you go to an orthopedist, not a general practitioner,” Bahat said. “Parents and kids know they have expert teachers.”

The chairwoman of Amirim’s Parents’ Committee, Nava Levy, says the additional resources have led students to perform better.

“A lot of things have changed,” she said. “Now the teachers help kids more, listen to parents better. They help us help our kids at home.”

Amirim is one of Israel’s luckier schools, located in an upper-middle class neighborhood of Holon, a city of 184,000 south of Tel Aviv. The ministry hopes to close the achievement gaps between schools like Amirim and those in lower income areas in part by reducing class sizes and providing students more opportunities for small-group learning. Teachers who choose to work in low-income towns also receive financial incentives.

But Shtauber says the ministry “can’t solve the whole problem” of economic inequality.

“If a kid comes from a good home, he has a computer, his parents read,” Bahat said. “Parents with no time or money, their kids come from a tough background. Their upbringing isn’t the same.”

Iranian TV interview blames Israel for Sandy Hook massacre

An Iranian state-run media outlet reported on an Arizona businessman's claim that Israel is behind the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

PressTV, Iran's 24-hour English language news network, cited an interview with Michael Harris, who said that the massacre was an Israeli mission to teach President Obama a lesson. Adam Lanza, the man police have identified as the killer, was made the “fall guy.”

Harris, who PressTV identified as a former GOP candidate for governor of Arizona, publicly associates with neo-Nazi groups, according to the Washington Post.

In the interview, Harris cites what PressTV calls inconsistencies in the “cover story” of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., calling it a “terrorist attack.”

PressTV quotes Harris as saying: “The facts are now becoming obvious. This is another case where Israel has chosen violence and terrorism where their bullying in Washington has failed. Israel believes the U.S. 'threw them under the bus,' particularly after the recent Gaza war, allowing Israel to be humiliated in the United Nations. Their response was to stage a terror attack, targeting America in the most hideous and brutal way possible, in fact, an Israeli 'signature attack,' one that butchers children, one reminiscent of the attacks that killed so many children in Gaza?”

Harris also pinned other massacres by lone gunmen on Israel: “This is exactly what Israel did in Norway; the political party that voted sanctions against Israel was retaliated against by a 'lone gunman' who killed 77 children. This is what Israel always does, they go after the children. It is what they do in Gaza every day. It is what was done in Norway. It is what happened at Sandy Hook. Nobody buys the 'lone gunman' story anymore, not with the Gabby Giffords’ shooting, not with the Aurora 'Batman' shooting, certainly not with Breveik, and certainly not in Connecticut.”

Holocaust, Jewish themes remain prominent among foreign Oscar offerings

The long-forecast “Holocaust fatigue” among filmmakers and their audiences has not yet arrived, judging by the entries for 2013 Oscar honors by producers and directors in numerous countries.

Each of a record 71 foreign — meaning non-English-speaking — countries has submitted its top film, ranging alphabetically from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

So broad a representation of the world’s tastemakers and opinion-shapers, though hardly scientific proof, tends to reflect the topics and themes likely to attract home audiences.

So, just as in Hollywood, there are lots of movies on love in all its permutations; high and low comedies; and spy, action and detective thrillers.

But also entered are five movies that deal directly with the Jewish fate during the Nazi era and its aftermath, one film with talmudic roots and one on the wartime clash between Russian and German armed forces.

Also of special interest to Jewish moviegoers are the Israeli entry, and, after an absence, a Palestinian film.

Probably the least-expected entry is “Lore,” submitted by Australia. While the Aussies speak in what might still be considered colonial dialect, that would hardly be considered a foreign language by the standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But “Lore” features an all-German acting and -speaking cast. The title character is a 14-year-old girl, the daughter of a high-ranking SS officer and his like-minded wife, who are arrested by Allied authorities in the closing days of World War II in Europe.

Lore is charged by her mother to take her four younger siblings, one still a baby, across rubble-strewn Germany, pass through the Russian-occupied zone and find the farm of her grandmother in American-ruled West Germany.

Along the way, Lore is befriended and protected by a young man, to whom the adolescent girl is physically and emotionally attracted. To her horror, the Nazi-suckled Lore discovers that her protector seems to be one of the despised and evil Jews she has been taught to hate all her life.

The only Australian part of the film is its director, Cate Shortland, and under the Academy rules, that entitles her country to enter “Lore” as its own.

Shortland, who with the Journal during a visit to Los Angeles, was asked why she would make a film on this particular topic and in a language she doesn’t speak.

“I have long been interested in totalitarianism and, especially, what it does to children,” she said, adding that it was challenging to view ultimate evil from the perspective of the perpetrators.

Her decision was reinforced by her marriage to a man whose German-Jewish parents arrived as refugees in Australia, and by her own conversion to Judaism four years ago.

Aside from “Lore,” the other four entries dealing with the Holocaust were made in Eastern European countries dominated in the postwar decades by communist regimes, which largely ignored the extermination of its Jewish populations during World War II.

One of the entries is from Macedonia and another from Serbia, two countries established by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

“The Third Half,” by Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski, has some of the elements of a Hollywood product — poor boy falls in love with rich girl, and the underdog team beats the champion.

In this case, a scruffy, low-class workingman and part-time soccer player pursues the aristocratic daughter of a rich Jewish banker, and his laughable provincial team beats the league’s top team.

What sets “The Third Half” apart is the time — 1941 — and the locale of Macedonia, occupied by Nazi ally Bulgaria. The occupiers introduce all of Hitler’s racial agenda, including the graphically depicted humiliation and deportation of the Jews.

Bulgaria, which saved its own Jews but turned the Jews of occupied Macedonia over to the Germans, has bitterly protested the film as a perversion of history. According to Mitrevski, Bulgarian authorities have retaliated by blocking talks for Macedonia to join the European Union.

The director remains unfazed. “I am fascinated by the individual stories of Holocaust survivors,” he said. “There should be 11 million such movies of Jewish, Gypsy, homosexual and political survivors.”

In Serbia’s submission, “When Day Breaks,” an elderly music professor, who has always considered himself a Christian, discovers that he is the son of Jewish parents, who left him with a farmer’s family and later perished in the Holocaust.

As the stunned professor wanders through present-day Belgrade, he finds that few people remember the war years or that the city’s neglected fairground served as a concentration camp for the city’s Jews. With his musician friends, he set about to establish a memorial on the site.

Like the professor, “I cannot not remember,” said director Goran Paskaljevic in a phone interview. “If we forget the crimes committed during World War II, and later in Bosnia, that opens the door to new crimes.”

The Czech Republic’s entry, “In the Shadow,” starts as a film-noir detective story, but as it evolves, it leads to the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic show trials of the 1950s, staged by the communist regime in Prague.

The Holocaust targeted not only Jews, but also other “racially inferior” people, particularly the Romas (Gypsies). Hungary, an Axis partner during the war, relives this past in its Oscar entry, “Just the Wind.” The movie depicts the murder of five Romani families in an isolated village and the subsequent trial of the suspects.

“White Tiger” is an enigmatic Russian film that centers on some of the devastating tank battles between German and Soviet forces during World War II. The title character is a massive German tank, which appears suddenly to destroy its Russian opponents and just as suddenly disappears into the void.

Critics have interpreted the film’s underlying theme as pointing to war as a natural part of the human condition or as a representation of the German lust for power and domination, which will fade away for some time and then suddenly reappear.

The Latvian movie, “Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg,” goes back to the biblical and talmudic legend of Lilith, the reputed first wife of Adam, who in subsequent reincarnations controls men through her sexual attraction.

Israel’s contender, “Fill the Void,” wrestles with profound issues of faith within the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community of Tel Aviv. Director Rama Burshtein, a New York native who became fervently Orthodox after making aliyah, focuses the film on whether 18-year-old Shira will follow her mother’s wishes to marry the husband of her older sister, who died in childbirth.

Shira is caught between the strictures of her community — whose rituals and lifestyle are depicted in loving detail and not without humor — and personal choice.

In the Palestinian film, “When I Saw You,” Tarek is a precocious 11-year old, who flees his West Bank village after the Six-Day War and ends up with his mother at a refugee camp in Jordan.

Seeking freedom and adventure, Tarek leaves the camp and falls in with a group of militant anti-Israel fighters.

The motion picture academy will winnow down the 71 foreign entries to an initial shortlist of nine semifinalists and is scheduled to announce the results on Dec. 21. Subsequently, five finalists will be made public on Jan. 10. The Oscars will be presented on Feb. 24.

Among film critics, the favorites for the top prize are Austria’s “Amour” and France’s “The Intouchables,” which were both nominated for Golden Globe awards. However, Israel’s “Fill the Void” and Australia’s “Lore” also are considered likely contenders, and the selection committees for best foreign-language film are well known for their often-unexpected choices.

In the meantime, though, the academy has already announced its 15 nominees for best documentary choices. Included are “5 Broken Cameras” by directors Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli; and “The Gatekeepers” by Israel’s Dror Moreh. “The Gatekeepers” consists of lengthy and surprisingly frank interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, discussing the past and likely future of the tumultuous regional conflicts.

Frum women find a place

When “Rivky,” a Charedi, or ultra-Orthodox, woman with “a very large family” — she declined to say how large, fearful of tempting fate — opened a woman’s clothing shop in the basement of her Jerusalem home 40 years ago, advertising her business was easy.

“There was only one newspaper serving the ‘frum oylom,’ ” she recalled, referring to the “religious world” in Yiddish-accented English.

Today, the grandmother said, the Charedi community “is fragmented.”

“There are four daily papers and 15 100-page circulars published every week, and you get the feeling you have to advertise everywhere. You’re spending all your money on advertising even before you’ve earned anything.”

Eager to discuss the situation with others, Rivky, who like many Charedi women declined to share her real name or be photographed for reasons of religious modesty, decided to attend the third annual Kishor Conference for religious businesswomen.  

From the modest way the participants dressed, the strollers several pushed, and the types of seminars being offered, it was clear this was no ordinary business conference. 

Although the 400 attendees, who ranged from Modern Orthodox to Charedi, were treated to the kinds of networking and entrepreneurial pep talks any business conference would offer, the summer event also featured remarks — and some warnings — by a prominent rabbi and a workshop titled “Eshet Chayil [A Woman of Valor] — Not Superwoman, Keeping Our Priorities Straight.”

There was also a seminar on Internet marketing, despite the admonitions of some Charedi rabbis to stay offline.  

The conference’s theme, “Homemaker, Business Builder,” reflected the attendees’ feelings of responsibility to their families, and the belief that, with the proper training and guidance, the same skills they use to smoothly run a home with six to 15 children can be used in the business world.       

The gathering was an outgrowth of the Kishor Women’s Professional Network, which was established in 2008 (under a different name) to provide a monthly forum for meeting, educating and supporting religious businesswomen or those aspiring to be one.

The conference took place at a time when a few thousand Charedim, both male and female, are pursuing advanced degrees or intensive job training, many in programs tailored to them.

Thanks to the secular subjects they study in school, Charedi young women are more prepared for a career than their male counterparts, who study only religious subjects in the higher grades.  

While Charedi women have always held jobs as teachers or worked in shops, the need to be the breadwinner while their husbands learn in kollel (Hebrew for “house of study”), the reduction in government child allowances and greater contact with mainstream society, is motivating them to reach further.

Many Charedi rabbis do not object to the community’s women establishing their own businesses if it enables their husbands to learn full time, and as long as the women work according to the precepts of Jewish law.

The rabbis understand that their insular lifestyle is under threat as a growing number of Israelis demand that Charedim, who have the most children and lowest workplace participation, earn a living and serve in the army. 

Founded by Sarah Lipman, a Charedi high-tech entrepreneur, the Kishor network was a way to provide Charedi women with the tools and support non-Charedi businesspeople usually take for granted — in a religious framework.  

Lipman noted that advertisements for mainstream business events are posted in media that are not seen by the Charedi community and that networking events are mixed (men and women) and therefore uncomfortable socially. She said that business programs and events are costly or held at hours that children are home from school.

As in previous years, the conference was sponsored by Temech, an organization that promotes religious women’s participation in the workforce. Signaling greater society’s determination to help Charedi families escape the cycle of poverty, it was co-sponsored by Bituach Leumi (Israel’s National Insurance Institute), the Jerusalem Development Authority and the MATI Jerusalem Business Development, with assistance from private companies.

The conference is especially important, some of the participants said, because women aren’t welcome at the annual Management Forum, the premier, all-male Charedi economic conference in Israel.

Among the Kishor participants were store owners, accountants, architects, high-tech entrepreneurs, a doula, graphic designers, a massage therapist and the manufacturer of a line of modest swimwear.

Exactly how many Charedi women run businesses in Israel isn’t clear, presumably because the community is so insular and also because many enterprises are run off the books.

“This hidden economy makes it difficult for the government and NGOs [nongovernment organizations] to reach this population and accelerate their economic growth with the kinds of educational and capital support extended in general,” Lipman said. 

Temech director Shaindy Babad noted that her organization, which is funded by American philanthropists, offers basic computer training courses in cooperation with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Microsoft; another program, facilitated by Temech and Bituach Leumi, offers workplace readiness and one-on-one mentoring.   

“One of our goals is to reduce social gaps through work integration of at-risk populations,” Brenda Morginstin, a Bituach Leumi official, said of the Charedi population, which, along with the Arab sector, has the lowest workplace participation in Israel.

“We want them to reach their potential, despite their shortage of work skills, large families and family attitudes,” Morginstin said.  

The successful Charedi mentors who spoke during the conference’s final event shared their experiences and know-how with a roomful of eager participants.

“If I’m sitting here, anyone can,” said Elisheva Kligsberg, who related how she came up with the idea to open a school to train event planners during the year-and-a-half she was bedridden following a car accident.

Devorah Zaks, whose company employs 20 other Charedi women, said that when her children were small, “I worked mornings and nights” in order to be with the kids when they arrived home from school. When teenagers arrived home just before dinnertime, she shifted her schedule accordingly.

“Having the flexibility to make your own hours is one of the reasons to go into business,” Babad said. 

Another reason, participants said, is the fact that many non-Charedi employers won’t hire religious women, believing they will go on paid maternity leave every other year. Still another reason: plain prejudice against Charedi Jews.  

Chana Malka Landau, a clothing designer with shops in virtually every Charedi neighborhood, described how an acrimonious relationship with her main distributor led to her decision to open her own stores. 

While the speakers talked business fundamentals, they also emphasized their community’s values.

“It’s important that the time you spend on your businesses won’t hurt your husband’s or sons’ studies,” Landau told the audience.     

“Never forget why you are working: to help your husband do his work, whether he is learning or working,” Landau agreed.

While advice like this may sound old-fashioned to nonreligious women, “It’s what I needed to hear,” said one participant.

Another participant, Marci Rapp, the creator of MarSea Modest Swimwear, said she was attending the conference “for networking and reinforcement.”

“I want to expand my business, which is, thank God, growing, and this is a good start,” Rapp said.

Hebrew media is imploding, but Israeli English press booming

On Oct. 17, seven Israeli English news websites led with seven different stories.

The Jerusalem Post had a piece on Egypt’s commitment to its treaty with Israel. Haaretz's English site ran with a recently released Israeli document on Gaza. Ynet News, Yediot Achronot’s English site, led with threats to a retired Israeli security chief. Then there were the stories on the websites of the Times of Israel, Israel Hayom’s English edition, Israel National News, and +972, a popular news and commentary blog.

Twenty years ago, of these seven publications, only The Jerusalem Post existed. Two of the news outlets, Israel Hayom English and the Times of Israel, are less than three years old.

While Hebrew newspapers and TV channels are struggling, the Israeli English-language news market appears to be booming. But with the business of journalism under threat worldwide due to declining revenues, Israel's English-language media face an uncertain future.

“We see an explosion of new media because online platforms are cheap and easy to use,” said Noam Sheizaf, CEO of +972. “We couldn’t have done +972 four years ago. Times of Israel would have been a much more expensive operation five years ago.”

The past few months have seen an implosion of the Hebrew press. Maariv, a tabloid founded in 1948 and for its first 20 years Israel’s largest circulation daily, recently was placed in the hands of a court-appointed trustee and could shut down within weeks, leaving 2,000 people jobless. Haaretz, Israel’s leading broadsheet, did not print on Oct. 4 due to a staff protest of 100 proposed layoffs. Israel’s Channel 10 TV is in deep debt to the government and faces possible closure.

Many in Israel blame Israel Hayom, a staunchly conservative, freely distributed paper funded by American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, for aggravating the crisis in Hebrew media.

The tough environment “is exacerbated by the fact that in Israel we have the most generously funded free newspaper in the world,” said Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, who before starting the site in February was editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. “That’s made life hard for all the publications in Israel.”

The boom in English-language media in Israel is due in part to the limited audience for Hebrew-language news: Israel has fewer than 8 million citizens, many of whom prefer the Arabic or Russian press to the Hebrew dailies. Editors of English publications here say Israeli media are looking for audiences overseas to sustain their operations, and there appears to be a limitless appetite around the world for news and opinion on Israel.

“There’s an audience for news coming out of the Jewish world,” said David Brinn, managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. And because most news content is free online, people interested in Israel news will visit any number of news sites — so new publications do not necessarily threaten older ones, Brinn said.

Much of the growth of Israel’s English media has been online. Haaretz, Ynet News, Israel National News and Israel Hayom all translate their Hebrew reportage while weaving in some original English reports.

In May, Haaretz, the only one of the Hebrew papers to have an English print edition, put up a paywall on its popular English website, charging digital subscribers $100 annually for unlimited access. It’s still uncertain whether the strategy will pay off, though the paywall experiment will be expanding soon to the Haaretz Hebrew site, too.

“It’s unrealistic to rely solely on a print model to fund our journalistic operation,” said Charlotte Halle, editor of Haaretz’s English edition. “We wouldn’t be taking care of our journalistic future if we didn’t seek additional sources of income.”

Halle said the paper’s “authority, breadth of coverage, and dozens reporters and editors we have in the field” have helped attract thousands of digital subscribers.

The Jerusalem Post has pursued additional revenue opportunities by printing a range of publications beyond its daily newspaper. The Post has international, Christian and French editions — all produced, along with the daily, by just 60 employees. Most of the paper's readers are online — the Post says it garners some 2 million hits per week.

The Times of Israel, which combines original reporting with articles that repackage information reported on Israeli TV, radio and news sites, would not disclose readership statistics. But Horovitz says the site is exceeding expectations and has garnered 40,000 “likes” on Facebook since its launch eight months ago.

Horovitz says the publication’s “nonpartisan agenda” stands in contrast to the right-leaning Jerusalem Post and left-leaning Haaretz. The news coverage seeks to strike an unbiased tone, he says, while hundreds of bloggers, all unpaid, opine on a range of topics — from Iran’s nuclear program to the morality of circumcision.

“We strive to tell it like it is,” Horovitz said. “People want to know what’s going on, and they don’t want to feel like it’s filtered through some political agenda.”

With such a crowded market in such challenging times for the news industry, Israel’s English-language journalists are not without trepidation about the future. “There will be some sort of reevaluation” of the Post print newspaper’s viability in a few years, Brinn said.

Beyond competing for the same readership, the publications must vie with an ever-expanding cyber universe that occasionally breaks stories before they do.

“Social media has served to democratize the media market in Israel,” said Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s director of new media and a prolific tweeter of Israel news. “When people share information through Twitter, it is a personal experience.”

While many Israeli journalists have become active tweeters, +972's Sheizaf is concerned that publications that are thriving now are resistant to change, which could hurt them in the future.

“People are not experimenting,” he said. “The readers are evolving and changing but the journalists, the stories they write, look like the stories written in the 19th century. We need to be a lot more creative.”

Tel Aviv council rejects proposal to put Arabic on city emblem

The Tel Aviv City Council rejected a proposal to include Arabic on the city’s official emblem.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said during the council meeting Monday that Arabs comprise only 4 percent of the city’s population, according to Ynet.

Councilman Ahmed Mashrawi had initiated the proposal, saying the unification of Tel Aviv and Jaffa in 1950 has led to the blotting out of Arabic history in the city.

“The Arab community of Jaffa is today a minority in the city, but it has a glorious history in Jaffa and it is fitting that it be honored by putting the name in Arabic on the municipality logo,” Mashrawi said last week, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The logo currently features Hebrew and English.

Popular English word game isn’t lost in Hebrew translation

When his family moved to Israel in 1998, Robert August-Dalfen probably never envisioned the day he would wear a banana costume.

But that’s exactly what Robert recently donned along with his wife, Sharon, to promote the new Hebrew version of Bananagrams, the popular American game in which players mix up tiles with letters and form words in a similar format to Scrabble (though in this game, the letters come in a banana-shaped bag).

“My wife was the mover behind that one,” Robert says of the fruit suits. “I didn’t think I would have the guts to do that.”

It all started one a Shabbat afternoon about a year ago at the August-Dalfens’ Ra’anana home. The couple was playing Bananagrams with one of their four daughters, and soon, some Israeli friends came over and joined in.

Robert recalls seeing his daughter’s friends struggle to put the English words together.

“We said, ‘this thing is going to work well in Hebrew. Why don’t we try do it in Hebrew?’” he says.

An accountant by training, Robert was in between jobs and looking for work he could have fun with and be passionate about. So, he called up the Bananagrams corporation, and just two days later signed a deal.

Robert prepared the Hebrew font, and the tiles were then manufactured at the company’s plant in China, before being shipped back to the family home in Ra’anana for distribution to customers in Israel and the U.S. The family, which made aliyah from Montreal, has since watched the mountain of boxes filled with banana bags decline.

The August-Dalfens have sold an impressive 4,000 games out of the 5,000 they were sent in the first shipment, Robert says, with 95 percent of those sales to Israeli customers. The pile will grow again, as they have already ordered their second shipment.

Robert says it’s really a family business featuring his wife and four daughters: Talia, 20, Gila, 18, Chana, 14, and Michal, 10. Sharon and Robert sell the game at malls around Israel and have promoted it through word of mouth, friends, and their website—not to mention the banana suits.

While it’s mostly the parents running the business, (“The kids aren’t all that excited about it to be perfectly honest,” Robert says, laughing), the family enjoys playing the game together.

“My youngest enjoys it the most,” Robert says. “I get a lot of practice because every day she says, ‘Let’s play a game.’” Robert adds that his 14-year-old beats him every time.

Even if your Hebrew knowledge is fairly basic or limited, Robert says a rich vocabulary isn’t required for the game, since many three and four-letter words exist in Hebrew and there are no rarely used letters like in English. “By playing the game you really do improve your vocabulary,” he says. “I can tell you that first-hand.”

The family has mostly targeted English-speaking Israelis, since they are already familiar with the game, and has promoted it among Shabbat observers in Israel since it makes for a low-tech Shabbat game. But since December, the August-Dalfens are doing more outreach to the general Israeli market and also began shipping to the U.S. out of the Bananagrams office in Providence, RI.

“I think this is something that’s going to catch on,” says Robert, who is looking to bring Hebrew Bananagrams into North American Jewish day school classrooms and game rooms at corporations like Microsoft. The family has already prepared an online educational package to accompany the game and is moving forward on a smart phone application.

“It’s been a small success in Israel and hopefully [we’ll] make it a big success where it’ll become a more well known classic game,” he says, adding that he has received “tremendous” feedback from Israelis.

Bananagrams, named Toy Fair’s 2009 “Game of the Year,” is also available in English, French, Spanish, German and Norwegian. 

“We are beyond thrilled to release Hebrew Bananagrams,” said Rena Nathanson, CEO of Bananagrams, Inc., in a statement. “Bananagrams is already bigger than our wildest dreams with more than five million of these little yellow pouches floating around the world, and this opens up the fun to a whole new audience.”

Tunisian pizza

There’s a concept in the Persian language – ghessmat – for which no exact equivalent exists in English. It refers to a person’s unrelenting, inescapable, for better or worse but either way, it was designed and executed specifically for you, destiny.

Like when you miss your flight because the cab got a flat tire, then the plane you were supposed to be on crashes in the Atlantic Ocean. Or when you work a lifetime and hide all your money in your mattress because you don’t trust the banks, then the mattress catches fire and burns to ashes. Or, more immediately in my experience, when you resist eating at kosher dairy restaurants for 30 years because the food gives you heartburn, only to end up in a place at Pico and Bedford on a Wednesday night, eating pizza with cheese, fried egg, and tuna, and living to rave about it.

My mother has been recommending this place – 26 by Shiloh’s – for a year already. She talks about it like it’s Perino’s come back to life in Pico-Robertson, and maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but all I’ve ever seen of kosher dairy is Greek Salad (I make it better myself), humus (they sell a nonfat version at Trader Joe’s), and pizza with a thick, greasy crust and too much cheese. My mother is a very talented artist with an intensely accurate intuition – she dreamt JFK was lying with his head in a pool of blood two days before he was assassinated – but she tends to have one or two blind spots for the people she loves, her entire, very extended, very international family among them. You want to achieve sainthood in under three minutes? Be born or marry into the Merage family, and my mother will see to it that you’re fast-tracked ahead of Mother Teresa.

In this case, one of the owners, Geoffrey Ghanem, is related to her by marriage. Geoffrey is a French Jew who met his wife, Debbie, on the boardwalk in Eilat. They were both 21. He didn’t speak English; Debbie didn’t speak French. Debbie’s parents are Iranians who met and married strictly because of ghessmat: In 1972, Debbie’s mother, Shana, broke up with her fiance the morning of the wedding because she “didn’t know the guy well enough and didn’t want to get to know him anymore.” To escape the heat, she left Tehran to spend a couple of months with her sister in New York. If ever she got married, she told her sister, it was going to be after a long, long, courtship.

One snowy afternoon, an old friend of her sister’s came to visit. The friend had a brother, Ray, who had lived in Pasadena since he was 17, coming to the United States alone and with no money. He slept in a church or at the YMCA, started to work as a busboy at Manny’s Cafeteria in Pasadena; three years later, he was managing eight Denny’s restaurants, but he lost his job because one of chefs left the stove on when they locked up for the night. In the morning, the place had burned to the ground and Ray was told he should think about a career change. He went into banking. In 1972, he was engaged to the daughter of Pasadena’s chief of police when they decided they had rushed into something prematurely and broke off the engagement.

Ray and Shana met on a Sunday afternoon. On Wednesday of the following week, they went to City Hall in New York and got married.

Some 30 years later, their daughter Debbie met Geoffrey on a Wednesday afternoon in Eilat. She didn’t want to live anywhere except in Los Angeles; he had always known that he would live anywhere but Los Angeles. He proposed after a week and followed Debbie to L.A. to work in real estate; instead, he and Debbie opened two restaurants. They’re still happily married and raising 5-year-old twins and 3-year-old triplets. That, too, is ghessmat.

My mother is so fond of the twins and the triplets, she has their pictures framed and displayed all over her house. That’s very sweet, I think, but it does make her recommendation of 26 a little suspect. As far as I know, in Los Angeles you’re lucky if you get a plate with your slice of pizza; you want a tableside flambe and French and Italian tapas? Go to France and Italy. Then again, you can only withstand a force of nature for so long before you have to relent, and that’s how I finally ended up at 26 on a Wednesday night during its grand reopening, and I have to say, I was a little stunned by the elegance and beauty of the restaurant’s interior; it looks like it should be in the meat packing district of Manhattan instead of in Pico-Robertson, down the street from the kosher fish stores and Iranian grocery stores and all those other shops that could stand a few coats of paint and some major renovation.

That already makes it an anomaly. So does “sea bass with pomegranate sauce” and “baked fig with a cheese crust” and, yes, “Tunisian pizza” with fried egg and tuna. I order this last one only because I want to see what it looks like, but then the food arrives, and it’s all very good and not expensive. And then the chef comes out to talk to us about his “concept” of “Western European cuisine” with “essence of international flavor,” and “natural, seasonal, market-fresh items,” and how he was the executive chef at the Hotel du Lac in Switzerland and later at the Carlton in Cannes.

All this is great and wonderful and, for someone who has underestimated the potential of kosher dairy for so long, rather humbling, but what are the chances, I’d like to know, that two Iranian Jews would both leave fiances at the altar, meet and marry in three days against all reason and live happily ever after, have a child in Pasadena who will meet and marry a French boy in Israel after a week when neither of them even speaks the other’s language, come back with him to Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, have a set of twins and a set of triplets, and open a restaurant that serves pizza with fried egg and tuna that — I kid you not — is delicious?

Jewish English-language magazine launched in Germany

German-Jewish author Rafael Seligmann has launched a Jewish quarterly magazine.

Jewish Voice From Germany, a private initiative started last week, is aiming to convince English-speaking Jews around the world that there is a future for Jewish life in Germany.

Seligmann, 64, a native of Israel who came to Germany with his parents in 1957, said it pains him that many Jews outside Germany associate his country only with the Holocaust.

“The fact is, we are a small but a very fast-growing Jewish community in Germany,” Seligmann said in a telephone interview. “We have a vivid community — it is a shadow of what it was — but it blossoms again.”

About half of the initial run of 30,000 copies went to Jewish households in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and Canada. Several thousand were distributed to politicians and other leaders in Germany, and also are on sale at sites such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

Seligmann, who is funding the initial print run with his own savings and advertising revenues, has made the first edition available online by request. Each issue is slated to cost about $4; annual subscriptions are available, too.

Germany is home to an estimated 240,000 people of Jewish background, but less than half affiliate with Jewish communities. About 85 percent have come to Germany from the former Soviet Union since 1989, bringing their own cultural traditions. The next edition of Jewish Voice will focus on them, Seligmann said.

“There are some Jews who say, ‘That is not our culture, not our people,’ but that is nonsense,” he said. “I think we should take it and enjoy it.”

Seligmann noted that while there are conflicts, “They are our Jewish brothers and sisters, and it is an enrichment.”

Dana International is Israel’s choice for Eurovision

Transgender pop diva Dana International will represent Israel at this year’s Eurovision song contest.

The Israeli music star won the chance to sing the Hebrew and English song “Ding Dong,” written by Zvika Pik, during a contest Tuesday night broadcast on Israeli television, where viewers voted for their choice. She won Eurovision in 1998 with the song “Diva,” also written by Pik.

Dana was known as Yaron Cohen before a sex change operation two decades ago.

Eurovision will be held May 14 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Dana will compete first in a semifinal two days earlier.

VIDEO: Message from people of Israel to people of Gaza

Message to the residents of Gaza from the people of Israel

Danielle/Dahlia of Jewlicious.com narrates

Here is the English:

Dear Residents of Gaza,

This is a message from the people of Israel.
We do not hate you.
We do not rejoice in your suffering.
We are not happy when we see your children cry.
We allowed shipments of medical supplies to enter Gaza and some of your wounded are being treated in Israeli hospitals.
These are not the actions of an enemy.

We are your neighbors.
All we want is a life of peace and prosperity for your children, and ours.
Please urge your government to stop their violent actions against us.
Show to the world that you are committed to peace and a better life.
There is no glory in death; only widows and orphans, blood and tears.
For peace is not a dream but can become a reality.
We know you yearn for a better future.
Yet, acts of violence against your closest neighbor is not the appropriate way for a better life.

May God bless you.

Please excuse my flawed Arabic.

Thank you.

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.”

Group Therapy

Excerpt from an Israeli TV show “Ktzarim”: some troubled people meet for group therapy. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

‘Zorro’s Bar Mitzvah’ documents the real rite of passage

In the new Austrian film, “Zorro’s Bar Mitzvah,” Jewish party documenter Andre describes the addictive nature of his video extravaganzas.

“There are people in Israel with relatives who collect my films, not just of their family, any family,” he explains from his audiovisual studio, which looks sufficiently equipped for a Disney production.

“I know two or three women, it tends to be women, they play these films all day at home when they’re ironing, just have them playing in the background,” says Andre, a middle-age Viennese Jew.

He philosophizes that perhaps it is his destiny to endlessly attend bar and bat mitzvah parties because he never got to have one.

Hard to imagine collecting bar mitzvah videos?

After seeing “Zorro,” you might be tempted to play it again and again like Andre’s Israeli fans, just to catch the nuance of what the four families in the film have to say about Jewishness, adulthood, identity, gender, schmaltz and, yes, the masked hero Zorro.

This masterful cinematic documentary of three recent Viennese bar mitzvahs and one bat mitzvah is the work of Austrian Jewish filmmaker Ruth Beckermann, whose documentaries about World War II and Jewish memory have earned her critical acclaim.

Zorro opened at an Austrian film festival at Lincoln Center in New York in early December and at art film houses in Vienna. The 90-minute film, in German with English subtitles, is making the round of festivals. The U.S. distributor is First Run/Icarus Films.

The film’s title is inspired by the video clip Andre is shooting for a Georgian-Viennese family. The clip will be the centerpiece of their extravagant bar mitzvah party.

Sharon, the handsome bar mitzvah, who looks more like 19 than 12, is to play Zorro, and Andre sets up a shoot replete with horses, stuntmen, makeup artists, costumes and sword fighting in front of a baroque Austrian estate.

Never far from the scene is Sharon’s sexy mother, whose perfect French manicured nails, showy outfits and willingness to spend vast sums on a party that resembles the Academy Awards seem to fascinate Beckermann.

The lavishness, however, is undercut by the sincerity of mother and son.

Sharon’s mother is only doing what her extended family expects — they want a party appropriate for the son that her own father circumcised.

Far from being spoiled, Sharon is dutiful, respectful and performs his Torah portion with finesse.

Then in the film’s most hilarious moment, after a downcast Sharon tells Andre he only wanted to play the man in black because of a scene from “The Legend of Zorro” that “my mother won’t allow” — where Antonio Banderas as Zorro startles and then embraces a half-naked Catherine Zeta-Jones — the audience is treated to that scene.

When Sharon finally speaks on camera about the meaning of his bar mitzvah, it’s clear that dancers imported from Israel and a stage encircled by torches are not an inappropriate tribute for what he feels is the most important day of his life.

The greatest contrast to the cleavage and booty shaking at the Georgian party is the bar mitzvah of Moishe, whose family is from a Chasidic branch of Judaism. Watching Moishe pray and recite Torah at such a high level surely makes this the most distilled passage into Jewish adulthood in “Zorro.”

Among the film’s most compelling scenes is the presentation of a prayer book to Moishe by young boys in traditional black-and-white Chasidic dress with side curls. They sing “Yam Mama Mama” with the passion of a professional choir.

Beckermann makes a point of showing how female friends and relatives, including Moishe’s mother, can only view the proceedings by peering through gaps in a row of bushes set up as a gender barrier in the party room.

The other b’nai mitzvah are full of family drama.

We meet the mother of young Sophie praying behind the curtain that separates women from men at an Orthodox service. She pokes out her head as Austria’s chief rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, says a prayer on her behalf.

The mother, Nana, has survived the Asian tsunami while on vacation and clearly is still shaken by the experience. Going ahead with Sophie’s bat mitzvah after such a trauma is clearly not easy.

The energetic and loving Sophie, meanwhile, who mostly speaks English during the film with a strong American accent — her father is an American — is a typical 12-year-old girl focused on her dress and the seating arrangement at her party.

What might puzzle some American viewers is that Sophie’s bat mitzvah service does not include the Torah or Haftarah readings that girls often perform in Conservative or Reform ceremonies. Instead, she descends temporarily from the women’s gallery at Vienna’s Great Synagogue, offers a short speech of thanks from the bimah and then recites the “Shema.” In Europe, most synagogues function according to Orthodox principles, even when their members are largely secular.

One of Sophie’s American relatives peevishly complains about women having to sit upstairs during the service, but the mood is lightened when Sophie’s grandfather jokes that while the women are busy talking upstairs, the men do business downstairs.

As a Hungarian Jew who came of age in the spring of 1945, Sophie’s grandfather, Hans, never had the chance for a bar mitzvah because “conditions were such that it was impossible to hold one,” he recalls.

The same is true for the Iraq-born grandfather of Tom, whose Iraqi-Israeli-Viennese mother organizes Tom’s bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. At his farm in Israel, Tom’s grandfather relates that his family had no money when he turned 13, and bar mitzvahs were uncommon at the kibbutz where he was sent to live. He went to the Western Wall for the first time after fighting in the Six-Day War and “that was my bar mitzvah.”

One of the more ardent bar mitzvah supporters in the film is Tom’s Christian father, named Christian.

Betty Neymark: Second Career From a Second Language

Betty Neymark

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

“Why isn’t Temple Judea doing something like this?” Betty Neymark’s daughter, Nancy, asked her more than 19 years ago, referring to an English as a second language program at a nearby church. That was all the push Neymark needed.

She and her daughter, along with friend and reading specialist Evelyn Stecher, promptly began a program at their Reform synagogue in Tarzana.

On the first day of registration in January 1990, Neymark thought no one would show up. Instead, she encountered a line of people stretching past the Temple’s driveway. Fifty students registered, and Temple Judea’s all-volunteer ESL program was born.

Today that program boasts 150 students, 25 volunteer teachers and five administrators, including Neymark. While her daughter has begun a new career and Stecher has moved away, Neymark remains.

“I just love it. I meet wonderful people. It enhances my life,” said Neymark, who previously worked as a human resources administrator in two school districts.

Those “wonderful people” include the students, primarily from the former Soviet Union, Iran and South America. Most are 50 or older, and they are both Jewish and not. Many are new immigrants. A few have lived here as long as 20 years.

Neymark also has great affection for the teachers, who range in age from 21 to 89. Only two are new this year, and 18 of them have been with program 10 years or more.

The classes are small, with four to seven students. They meet for two hours twice a week, from September to June. In addition to English, students learn about American culture.

“Students come in with no English and then are able to function in society and make their lives better,” said Neymark, noting that many go on to become citizens and to vote.

Temple Judea provides the classroom space. The program is free; students pay only for their textbooks. Donations and a corporate grant cover other expenses.

“I call myself a coordinator,” said Neymark, a 47-year temple member who won’t reveal her age. She registers new students, evaluating their English proficiency and placing them in one of six homogeneous classes, ranging from beginning to conversational English. She also arranges for new teachers to receive 12 hours of training each fall.

Additionally, she publishes a newsletter twice a year for the teachers, holds two faculty meetings a year and organizes the annual faculty party.

Neymark is reluctant to take credit for program’s accomplishments.

“It runs itself,” she said, emphasizing that it’s a team effort. She also refers to her husband, who does all her computer work, as her “secret weapon.”

Hilda Fogelson, a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who has taught in the program for 16 years, said, “Betty is very organized and very professional. That’s why the program is so successful.”

Neymark feels a responsibility to continue to support Temple Judea and the Jewish community.

“I’m not going to fade away any sooner than I have to,” she said.

Janglo and Taanglo: Israel’s English-Speakers Find a Link

When Devora Kidorf wanted to help a family of four from northern Israel displaced by Israel’s battling with Hezbollah, she knew where to turn. Having hosted the family for a night but needing to make room for relatives from abroad, the English teacher and mother of seven posted an urgent message on ” TARGET=”_blank”>Taanglo — for Tel Aviv/Dan area residents — played a useful role in aiding those in need. Messages offering free counseling services, assistance and transportation to northern residents, as well as solicitations for donations and favors, were posted on a regular basis.

“If you look in our [Janglo] archives, you’ll find a ton of people who wanted to open up their homes and wanted to help any way they could,” said Stub, who studies at a yeshiva and is a former Jerusalem Post business journalist. “It’s amazing the way the community wanted to help.”

While Janglo usually doesn’t accept real estate messages, it made a special exception during the conflict, because of the large number of displaced residents in the north, Stub said.

He is in the process of removing Janglo and Taanglo from its Yahoo list service and placing it on its own site, expected to be up around Rosh Hashanah. While the service will remain free, the two will become profit-making ventures by becoming incorporated and hosting their own advertising.

The Taanglo site is run by computer consultant Beau Schutz, originally from Washington, D.C., and has about 2,800 members in the Tel Aviv area. Similar sites with various names and formats have sprung up independently in many smaller communities throughout Israel.

The new Janglo/Taanglo Web site will offer business listings, such as restaurant and entertainment venues, as well as a place to rate them. Listings will also be categorized under topics, such as events, for sale and real estate — similar to the U.S.-based Craig’s List — rather than being randomly organized as they are now, Stub said.

Stub, who immigrated from Chicago, founded Janglo after constantly being solicited about home appliances, general advice and rentals. The tall, wiry 29-year-old said he felt a sense of duty to connect English-speaking residents to one another to share information and opted to automate such a service through Yahoo Groups.

With up to 150 postings a day, offensive messages — including ads for pornography sites — have occasionally slipped by moderators. Stub, who is instantly notified about these by a barrage of furious e-mails, is quick to apologize to members and said such experiences have “taught me a lesson about strength and sticking to the rules.”

Because of differences in taste, jokes, political statements, inspirational or religious materials — other than to publicize events — are not allowed. But such rules hardly deter fans who swear by these sites.

Members claim they have located lost passports, had important items transported to them from other cities and even found their life’s calling through ads posted on Janglo and Taanglo.

Jerusalem resident Shari Fisch spotted a Janglo posting for a job with a publishing house — where she has now worked for nearly three years — just as she and her husband were depleting their savings. “I told the Janglo moderator at the time, ‘You guys saved my life. This is amazing”” said Fisch, an immigrant from New York.

Sharon Sleeper, who advertises her bed and breakfast business on Taanglo to find renters for her home during the summer months, agreed, saying, “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread for the English-speaking population.”

Brenda Gazzar is a Jerusalem-based freelance writer.

Thrown For A Loop

“Avi we’re doing some looping for a movie called, ‘The Mount of Olives.’ It was filmed in Israel and we’re looking for Hebrew and Arabic speakers.”
Being an actor and comic in Los Angeles, you run into some interesting gigs. When my friend, Joey, himself a Christian Arab from Lebanon, called me about this one, I couldn’t resist.

Looping is plugging in background sound for movies after they are shot so they sound more realistic. I had done some looping sessions before, but they were all in English. While this movie was also in English, there were plenty of scenes with Hebrew and Arabic in them. My Hebrew is far from perfect, but I can still pull off the Israeli accent so I was pretty sure I could do the job.

I got to the soundstage early in the morning, and the first person I met was a really nice guy named Sayid from Egypt. He was an accomplished actor, and I even recognized him from the movie, “The Insider,” with Al Pacino.

As everyone else arrived for the looping and we filled out paperwork, we began schmoozing a little. (I’m guessing the Arabs would use a different word to describe it.) There were people from Egypt, Sudan, a really sweet girl from Iraq, a Druze from Lebanon whose family lived in Haifa, and four other Israelis beside me. There were Christians, Muslims, and Jews with all different levels of religious observance. I myself had to leave a little early because the session was on Friday, as I observe Shabbat.

The first few scenes were harmless enough — we covered small background conversations, mostly in Hebrew. I immediately noticed that while we were all very friendly with one another, when it came to where we all sat, all the Israelis were on one side, and the Arabs on another. I didn’t read too much into it and figured it was just out of convenience as most scenes were in either one language or another.

“OK guys, I need all five Hebrew speakers. This is right after a bus bombing, and I need as much sound as possible. You’ll notice paramedics, victims, etc.”
All five of us approached the microphone. We watched the scene with no sound and it was pretty gory. There was blood everywhere. We each decided who we would cover on the screen and got started. When the cue came, we all immediately started screaming our parts. You heard shouts in Hebrew of “My leg, my leg!” “I’m bleeding help me!” “Where’s my father!” “Out of the way, move, move!”

The one Hebrew-speaking woman was doing a great job crying in agony. When the sound cue was over we all stopped, and Joey chimed in, “I don’t know what you guys were saying but … man. Really intense guys.”

I looked over toward the Arab speakers, and I noticed them all staring back and forth at each other. The Iraqi girl named Yasmin Hannaney, who couldn’t have been nicer, finally just looked at us all and said, “Wow guys.”

I could tell they were affected by it, but oddly enough we sort of weren’t. It just seemed like we were almost too used to seeing it.

Shortly after there was a scene at a gravesite where Kaddish was being said. Two women displayed prominently in the shot were answering “amen,” and they needed to be dubbed. The only two female voices we had were Yasmin and the other Israeli woman. Yasmin smiled as she asked us, “How do I say it, aymen or amen?” As we told her the right way she just smiled and thanked us.

The next few scenes shifted to shots of Palestinians at various rallies, and Joey asked if he could get as many guys up as possible: “OK guys, we need a lot of volume to cover the chanting. Sayid, why don’t you lead.”

I suddenly found myself, along with all the other Israeli men, chanting “Allah Akbar,” and various other chants about God’s glory in Arabic. I couldn’t help but grin as I was doing it. Here I was, an Israeli-born Jew raised in a hugely Zionistic family, chanting at a Palestinian rally. I’d even spent the last three years leading a group of comics to Israel to perform to help support the state. I was at least hoping I would get a good joke out of all of this.

I’m not sure how I would have felt had I had to do some scenes where the chants were “Death to Israel” or something similar. Luckily it never came up. The time just seemed to fly by. Before I knew it I had to leave, and Joey told me it was fine. He completely understood, as opposed to most Jews I deal with in Hollywood who seem to always give me problems over my observance.

I felt badly that I had to sneak out so quickly, not having said goodbye to everyone, but I’ve kept in contact with some of the people from the session. Yasmin and I have e-mailed back and forth, and she’s started an organization dealing with making films in the Middle East.

I was honored when she asked me if I wanted to be involved and immediately accepted. I invited her and some of the other guys to some of my upcoming shows.

It seems ironic that if you want to make a movie about Arabs and Jews fighting with each other, the only way you can make it work is if you have them getting along.

And Mari Makes Three

Another woman has come into my relationship with my boyfriend, and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us.

A week ago, a 22-year-old Japanese foreign exchange student named Mari moved in with us for the month while she studies English in the morning and hip-hop dances in the afternoon.

She is everything you could want in a boarder. She’s polite, she came bearing gifts — a bottle of sake, two sets of lacquered chopsticks and a fan splashed with a Japanese mountain range — and she insists on washing dishes. I actually had to stop her from washing a paper bowl, that’s how sweet she is.

Mari, though she would never know it, may be saving my hobbled and frequently toxic relationship, at least for now.

Aside from being tiny, a taut wisp of a thing with streaky highlights in her bobbed hair, she is totally vulnerable. Even with her handheld electronic translating device, it’s difficult for her to communicate. She has never been to this country before, and everything from her bus pass to our currency is unfamiliar. We are all she has.

As her “home stay” parents, we are only required to provide a room, breakfast and dinner. Still, Mari, with her plastic bag full of gifts and her misspelled “Monkey Buisiness” T-shirt, is bringing out the best in us.

The night before her first day of school, my boyfriend, Brandon, spent an hour mapping out her bus route on the Internet.

“I think she’ll be OK,” he said, looking worried. “But maybe you should walk her. Don’t forget, her bus leaves at 11:46 a.m.”

The next morning, Mari made herself a bowl of cereal, washed her dishes and packed up her backpack for school. When we arrived at her bus stop on Virgil Street, the bench was littered with a pile of gnarled chicken bones. I was slightly embarrassed for my countrymen.

“Gross,” I said pointing.

“Yes, gross,” she said, but just laughed, gamely.

An urge from somewhere in the kishkas compelled me to give the girl a hug as I wished her luck in school. On my walk home, I was already planning what to make the three of us for dinner. Later that afternoon, I picked up some extra milk for her cereal.

As it happens, having a witness to your life and to your relationship can be positive. With Mari around, we can’t leave messes or get in three-hour fights about nothing or eat a tub of macaroni and cheese for dinner on the couch while watching six TiVo’ed episodes of “Lost.” Without discussing it, we have morphed into this “show” couple; part real, part what we wish we were.

We have this routine at the dinner table. Brandon teases me if I finish a beer, making a drinking motion with his hand, as if to imply that I drink too much. That’s when I say: “He is handsome, but not smart,” pointing to my head. This makes Mari laugh every time, a kind of remedial vocabulary vaudeville act. It’s the kind of faux-sparring an actual, real-life happy couple might engage in, and even though it’s forced by our joint need to entertain our guest — and even though we’ve been fighting for months since he moved out here from New York — it makes us feel happy, like a forced smile can make you feel happy.

One night, she was taking a late dance class and wasn’t scheduled to be home until after dark. I could see Brandon looking out the window, pacing. We decided to pick her up at the subway stop, waiting across the street at the Circle K. When she saw us waving to her out the car window, the look on her face was pure euphoria and gratitude.

“Thank you! Thank you!” she kept repeating all the way home.

And I don’t even mind how cheesy this sounds: money can’t buy that feeling.

Speaking of money, don’t think I’m some Mother Teresa taking in needy students to get closer to God. No, I’m just a girl with a mortgage.

Here’s the equation: spotty freelance income + many months since last fulltime television job + three-bedroom house = foreclosure. When a friend forwarded the language school’s Craig’s List posting, I thought, I’m saved.

So, as I bragged to my friends about becoming Mrs. Garrett from “The Facts of Life,” I booked not only Mari and another Japanese student for when she leaves, but also a 17-year-old French girl who arrives in October. My friends joke that maybe I shouldn’t be welcoming a parade of young women into my relationship. This concern is beyond me. I’m not the jealous type. If one of my students gets a job hosting a network show, she’ll be out on the street. But sleeping with my boyfriend? I don’t even worry about it. I may have problems with Brandon, but he’s no sleazebag.

And when it comes to playing the role of tall, handsome happy American man who can make spaghetti and who cares about your bus route, he’s pretty convincing. Even to me.

Teresa Strasser in an Emmy Award- and Los Angeles Press Club-winning writer. She’s on the web at www.teresastrasser.com.


To Live and Teach in L.A.: A Difficult Job


Eight-year-old Danielle dashes to the front of her third-grade classroom and shows off her drawing of an equilateral triangle.

“That’s fah-bulous, dah-ling,” the teacher says.

Danielle flashes a satisfied smile and prances back to her seat. The other students look admiringly at her.

Then, one asks, “What’s fabulous mean?”

Danielle’s (all the children’s names have been changed in this story) classroom is one of about 25 bungalows — detached, concrete rooms — that constitute Wilshire Crest Elementary School on West Olympic Boulevard near South La Brea Avenue.

Like many classes in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 75 percent of the nearly 1 million students failed to meet state performance standards in 2003, this class has it challenges.

At least half of the students live in a single-parent household. Most of the parents work two or three jobs and do not speak English.

“They’re just trying to survive,” says teacher Cindy Berger.

In a district that is 90 percent minority and whose per-child spending ranks among the lowest in the nation, Berger has her work cut out for her.

Colorful decorations cover the walls. “We love to learn about everything!” shouts a blue sign. “Read!” says a poster of a furry animal holding a book. One wall displays pictures of “star students” above essays stating their goals for the year. An American Flag graces the back of the room.

Nineteen children sit at desks that form a horseshoe opening to Berger, 44, who stays warm in the chilly room by wearing a long, gray skirt, black boots and a white scarf.

Through her black-rimmed glasses, she surveys her students, black and brown, none white.

“Bubbelas,” Berger says, “listen up. Tell me the shapes on your desk that are quadrilaterals.”

Hands shoot into the air, waving for attention.

“This is the best class I’ve had in 21 years of teaching,” Berger boasts.

But her enthusiasm gives way to a desperate, worried look.

“They wonder why test scores are low. It’s not because teachers aren’t teaching. These kids have so many obstacles,” she says.

Berger points to Laticia, a girl who moves slowly, dragging her body as if it were made of stone. Laticia’s father was murdered about a year ago, Berger says. The child cries every day.

Berger says she sent Laticia home with the paperwork needed to get school counseling, but the student’s mother did not return the papers.

“A week ago, Laticia came up to me and said, ‘I don’t want anyone ever talking to me. I want to be left alone,'” Berger says. “A few days later, she came back to me and said, ‘It’s just not working out. People are still talking to me.'”

Then, there is Victor, who got in trouble during recess for teasing another child. Last week, when he was asked to describe himself, Victor said he was bad, mean and ugly, according to Berger.

“There’s no one who’s said he can be more,” the teacher says. “He’s not getting the nourishment he needs.”

Berger says police came to the school a few weeks ago after one of her students blurted out, “My dad was beating up my mom. I tried to help my mom, but then I got hurt.”

The teacher keeps a book labeled, “Guess What?” where the children can write to her anything they wish. When students start to reveal something personal in the middle of class, she reminds them about the book.

Berger says Jewish values influence her teaching.

“There’s an emphasis in Judaism on education and advancement” and on performing mitzvot, she says.

The teacher spends up to $5,000 of her own money on supplies for the class, on “all this — their treats, art projects and things to organize the room.”

“But the issue is not materials,” Berger says. “It’s the extracurricular.”

Berger wishes someone would volunteer to tutor or mentor a student or to take a kid on a field trip.

“I hope someone will say, ‘I have tickets to a basketball game.’ These kids need experiences.”

“OK, bubbelas,” the teacher says, turning to her students. After winter vacation, she explains, the class will watch a movie about Helen Keller, who learned to write despite being unable to see or hear.

“There are no excuses in learning,” Berger says.

The 8-year-olds sit on this thought for a moment. One student raises his hand high into the air.

“Mrs. Berger,” he says, “is it time for recess?”

Anyone wishing to volunteer as a mentor or tutor should contact the school at (323) 938-5291 and ask for Cindy Berger.


Bilingual Blues

Here we go again. For the third time in four years, Californians are about to be treated to another racially tinged slugfest, this time over bilingual education.

Slated for the June 1998 ballot, the measure — called “English for Children” — would direct California’s educational resources away from bilingual programs, which seek to teach children in their native language before moving them to English with the more traditional “immersion” method. Its leading proponent, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, sees the initiative as necessary for ending California’s continuing slide toward educational mediocrity, and as critical for helping our large immigrant population gain greater self-sufficiency. The measure also calls for some $50 million more to be spent on adult English education.

Of course, many, particularly in the left-leaning media and among the political and academic elite, will no doubt castigate “English for Children” as yet another example of roiling anti-immigrant, racist-inspired politics, the legitimate offspring, as it were, of propositions 187 and 209.

Unz, a conservative Republican who ran against Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1994 GOP primary, has already been accused of harboring “anti-Latino racism” by Nativo Lopez, president of the Santa Ana School Board.

But before signing up to fight Unz’s initiative, even knee-jerk Jewish liberals should think twice. For one thing, Ron Unz may be a conservative, but he also strongly opposed Proposition 187, not only with words but with hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money. Indeed, Unz has been one of the nation’s most fervent, even uncritical, supporters of immigration; that was one reason for his 1994 challenge of Wilson.

More to the point, there is compelling evidence that bilingualism does not serve the interest of immigrants — indeed, many Latino parents have campaigned openly against the education establishment’s insistence on steering their kids into bilingual programs.

Nor is “English for Children” easily dismissed as anti-teacher; many teachers, and even union officials, including the late American Federation of Teachers boss Albert Shanker, have long been critical of bilingualism.

Indeed, for Jews, most of whose parents and grandparents learned English through immersion, belief in English-dominated education should be as natural as lox and cream cheese on bagels. As Irving Howe noted in his “World of Our Fathers,” a situation close to hopelessness existed even for the most learned Jews in turn-of-the-century New York. “There are many intelligent people,” he quotes the old Yiddish Forward, “[who] spend their lives in a candy store on Ludlow Street, or a paper stand, wasting way….”

Substitute Spanish for Yiddish, Mexicans or Salvadorans for Jews, and Pico Union or East Los Angeles for New York’s Lower East Side, and you can see the analogy. Jewish immigrants learned English, often painfully, and, in the process, lost Yiddish and much of the shtetl culture. But they gained a new world and a brighter future.

And, over time, the English language and American culture also gained some of its most brilliant voices — Malamud, Roth, Bellow, to name a few. In the coming decades, we should be able to look forward to a comparable effervescence of Latino-American culture, as we can already see in the writing of brilliant essayists, such as Richard Rodriguez, or in the music of Los Lobos.

Yet if the right choice on “English for Children” seems clear, I would join the Unz crusade, but with one critical concern. Attached to the anti-bilingualism drive comes a new ideology — captured in the term used by Unz, “one nation” — that expresses a stronger, and potentially dangerous, reaction to the dangers of the multiculturalist agenda. Having been driven to distraction by the destructive tribalism of the left, the “one nation” ideology answers with a