Part of gold medal ‘belongs to Israel,’ Kiwi sailor Jo Aleh says


Jo Aleh, the New Zealand Jewish Olympian who won gold in the sailing regatta, said part of her medal “belongs to Israel.”

Aleh, the New Zealand-born daughter of dual Israeli and Kiwi citizens Shuki Shukrun and Daniella Aleh, clinched gold last week in the women’s 470 sailing event with her partner Olivia “Polly” Powrie. Her parents were on hand to witness the triumph.

The new Olympic champion—whose father lives in Moshav Yinon near Kiryat Malachi and whose mother served in the Israeli army—said she was amazed and slightly bemused at the media fanfare in Israel.

“It feels great to know that there is even more people behind me and, given my parents’ background, part of my medal belongs to Israel,” she said.

Aleh’s half-sister Shefa is celebrating her bat mitzvah in two weeks. Aleh, the 2007 world champion, was scheduled to go straight to Israel, but as one of five Kiwi gold medalists she is traveling back for parades in Auckland on Wednesday and the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch on Friday.

“I am still hoping to make it back to Israel in time for my sister’s bat mitzvah,” she said.

In New Zealand, it was after midnight Aug. 10 as many in the small Jewish community, which numbers around 7,000, celebrated a slice of their own history: Aleh is believed to be the first Kiwi Jew to win an Olympic medal.

“I was not aware of this,” Aleh said. “I guess it’s a good bonus.”

Shemi Tzur, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, said that “This is both an outstanding personal achievement and a great accomplishment for New Zealand. My colleagues at the embassy in Wellington and I followed the competition enthusiastically and we all share your joy and pride.”

Jewish glory, frustration mark London Games


The London Olympics may have “lit up the world,” as organizing committee head Sebastian Coe put it, but for Jews the 2 1/2 weeks offered healthy doses of frustration and glory.

On the plus side, new medalists such as America’s Aly Raisman gained the spotlight with her grace, which included a floor routine to “Hava Nagila” en route to a U.S. women’s team gold in gymnastics. She followed that with an individual gold for floor exercise and a bronze on the balance beam.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Jo Aleh brought home a gold for Kiwi fans in the women’s 470 regatta and Australian kayaker Jessica Fox won a silver medal in the slalom K1. They joined in their glory with previous medalists such as U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak, who helped his relay team win a silver in the 4×100-meter freestyle in what was likely the last of his four Olympics.

Yet the game’s opening ceremony ended hopes that the International Olympic Committee would officially recognize with a moment of silence the 11 Israeli athletes murdered 40 years ago at the Munich Games by Palestinian terrorists. An international campaign for a moment of silence had the support of President Obama and numerous other world leaders.

And Israel’s athletes—for the first time in 24 years—went home without a single medal, which has prompted conversation about the country’s lack of commitment to Olympics excellence. Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team made it to the finals, but on Sunday it finished last among the eight teams in the all-around group competition.

Two Israeli citizens, however, are coming home with some Olympic glory. David Blatt, an American-Israeli, coached Russia’s bronze-winning men’s basketball team and Aleh will soon make a family visit to the Jewish state.

Blatt, the coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, has helped rebuild the Russian national squad since being brought in as head coach in 2006, Sports Illustrated reported. He took the team to a 2007 European Championship.

He played for Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabiah Games. Following the Maccabiah Games, Blatt played for several Israeli teams until he was injured in 1993 and took up coaching.

The disappointment in Israel over the lack of a national delegation medal may be behind what Yuli Edelstein, minister of Diaspora affairs, told Raisman last week as she accepted his invitation for the Raisman family to be his guests in Israel.

“Making your first visit to Israel is not only important because it is the homeland of the Jewish people, but also because you can contribute from your experience to the young generation of Israeli athletes,” Edelstein said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Beating her to the Jewish state, however, will be Aleh. After a parade back home to celebrate New Zealand’s success at the London Games, she reportedly is heading to Israel for the bat mitzvah of her half-sister.

The greatest disappointment of the Games for many Jews, however, was the failure of the international campaign to have the Munich 11 remembered. It included a petition launched by the Rockland JCC in suburban New York that garnered nearly 111,000 names, a private meeting with two Munich 11 widows and IOC President Jacques Rogge, and the backing of President Obama and political leaders from Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

One widow of the Munich 11 had biting words for Rogge when he attended the London Jewish community’s memorial for the murdered athletes and coaches.

“Shame on you, IOC,” said Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who died in the attack. “You have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You discriminate against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.”

Meanwhile, the Arab-Israeli conflict was felt when the Lebanese judo team refused to even practice in a gymnasium next to the Israelis. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Also, Iranian judoka Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the Games, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. The report speculated that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

Aly Raisman says she was for Munich 11 moment of silence [SLIDESHOW]


Slideshow highlighting Aly Raisman‘s Olympics at bottom

Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman expressed her support for a moment of silence at the Olympics for the Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Games.

Raisman was speaking to reporters Tuesday following her gold medal performance in the floor exercise.

“Having that floor music wasn’t intentional,” she said of her floor routine to the music of “Hava Nagila,” the New York Post reported Wednesday. “But the fact it was on the 40th anniversary is special, and winning the gold today means a lot to me. If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it.”

A memorial ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in Munich was held Monday in London, organized by the Israeli Embassy in London and the National Olympic Committee of Israel along with the London Jewish community.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge held a moment of silence for the Israelis at a small ceremony in the Olympic Village late last month, but he said a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in London would not be appropriate. He spoke at Monday’s memorial.

International politicians and public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the governments of several countries had called for an official moment of silence at the London opening.

[Aly Raisman’s results: team / all-around / balance beam / floor exercise]

Aly Raisman takes a gold and bronze


Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a gold medal in the floor exercise as well as a bronze on the balance beam at the London Olympics.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., took the gold on Aug. 6 with a score of 15.6 to edge Catalina Ponor of Romania and Aliya Mustafina of Russia, the silver and bronze medalists.

Earlier in the day, Raisman won the bronze on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result. She had finished fourth behind Ponor, who fell off the beam in the finals. After the Americans’ protest, the re-scoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tiebreaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman had helped Team USA take the women’s team gold — the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman won the floor exercise in the team competition while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagilah.”

Also on Aug. 7, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

New Zealand Jewish rower Nathan Cohen wins Olympic gold


New Zealand won its first gold medal of the London Olympics when rowers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan took first place in the men’s double sculls event.

Cohen, who is Jewish, previously won gold in the men’s double sculls event in both the 2010 and 2011 World Rowing Championships. He also is the first person from the Southland region of New Zealand to win a medal at the Olympics, reported Algemeiner.

The team on Thursday broke the Olympic best time in the heats and produced a late surge to overtake Italy with 200 meters left. They won with a time of 6 minutes, 31.67 seconds, reported the Washington Post.

The gold medalists finished ahead of the Italian team’s Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti by 1:13 seconds. Slovenian 2000 Olympic champions and 2004 silver medalists Luka Spik and Iztok Cop came in third.

Aly Raisman loses bronze in tie-breaker, Gabby Douglas wins gold


Smiling 16-year-old Gabby Douglas took the Olympic Games by storm on Thursday when she won the all-around gold medal ahead of Russian Victoria Komova.

Komova was reduced to tears for the second time in three days when American Douglas pipped her to the title by 0.259 of a point after producing the day’s best performances on the vault and the beam.

Aliya Mustafina, who with Komova was disappointed to take team silver behind the Americans on Tuesday, clung on for bronze despite a fall from the beam. She and Douglas’s compatriot Aly Raisman finished with the same total but the Russian won the medal on the tiebreak rule.

Douglas, dubbed the “Flying Squirrel” for the shape she produces on the bars, was watched from the stands by team mate and world champion Jordyn Wieber, who had come into the Games touted as the favorite for Thursday’s honors but failed to qualify for the final.

[For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/olympics]

Rules and regulations seem to be plaguing the Americans here. Wieber finished fourth in qualifying for the all-around but missed the cut since each nation is allowed only two women in the final. As Douglas and Raisman ranked above her in the preliminaries, Wieber was demoted to the role of spectator at the North Greenwich Arena on Thursday.

Raisman lost out on bronze despite finishing off with the second-best floor routine of the evening under the rule that separates equally-placed contestants by toting up the totals of their three best apparatus.

Douglas, though, was beyond the reach of such concerns, leading from the first of the four rotations when she was the opener on the vault.

A slight hop sideways on landing could have cost her but all her rivals fluffed their landings, with Komova stumbling sideways right off the mat.

MISSED CHANCE

Raisman banged her foot on one of the asymmetric bars in the second routine and began to look concerned. Douglas, for all her prowess on the apparatus, was beaten by the two Russians, with Mustafina scoring a high 16.100, but the American stayed in the lead.

With Douglas and the 17-year-old Komova duelling for the gold, their team mates were left to fight for bronze and Mustafina looked to have thrown away her chances when she came off the beam attempting to complete a twisting somersault.

Her score was a low 13.633 and Raisman took to the narrow piece of wood knowing she could take advantage. Her hopes shrivelled, though, when she only just saved herself from overbalancing and then wobbled precariously on a spin and she dropped to fifth place.

Though she recovered with 15.133 on the floor, where she won a world bronze medal last October, it was not enough to put her ahead of 2010 world all-around champion Mustafina.

Komova was last on the floor and Raisman stood with her arm around Douglas as they waited for the giant scoreboard, high above them, to show their fate. Seconds later, only Douglas was celebrating.

As Raisman bit her lip and Komova slumped in a chair and covered her face with both hands, Douglas climbed on to the dais by the vault run-up and waved to the wildly cheering and flag-waving American fans.

Her victory was another feather in the cap of Chinese-born coach Liang Chow who coached another American, Shawn Johnson, to all-around silver and beam gold at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

Reporting by Clare Fallon; Editing by Pritha Sarkar

Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold [VIDEO]


Aly Raisman, a Jewish American, won the floor exercise in helping the U.S. women’s team to the gold medal in the gymnastics competition at the London Olympics.

The Americans on Tuesday won their first team gold medal in women’s gymnastics since the Atlanta Games in 1996,  finishing with 183.596 points to defeat Russia (178.530) and Romania (176.414).

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., scored 15.300 in the floor exercise to win the event, performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila” as she did on Sunday. Raisman also had performed to “Hava Nagila” when she gained a berth on the U.S. team last year.

[Related: Video of American gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral]

Raisman is favored to win the all-around individual competition on Thursday, as well as the floor exercise on Aug. 7, when she also will be competing in the balance beam final. She and Gabby Douglas are representing the U.S. in the individual finals.

Raisman is a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York.

Aly Raisman, Jason Lezak shine for Team USA


While both took to the podiums in London this week to receive a medal, 18-year-old Aly Raisman’s Olympic star was rising as 36-year-old swimmer Jason Lezak’s appeared to be setting.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Also, Raisman is favored to win the all-around individual competition on Thursday, as well as the floor exercise on Aug. 7, when she will be competing in the balance beam final. She and Gabby Douglas are representing the U.S. in the individual finals.

Lezak, a four-time gold medalist likely competing in his last Olympics, helped the American men’s swimming team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle swimming finals. The team went on to finish second, receiving a silver medal—Lezak’s eighth medal overall in four Olympics. Lezak did not compete in the finals.

[Related: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]
[Related: Video of Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral]

Meanwhile, the Israeli delegation was experiencing its ups and downs early in the Games.

On Tuesday, two Israeli medal hopefuls were faring well in windsurfing. Lee Korzits was in second place in the women’s eight-day long RS:X event while Shahar Tzuberi was in 10th in the men’s competition.

The Israeli judo team was expected to do well after winning four medals in recent European matches, but judoka Alice Schlesinger was eliminated from competition early this week.

Political differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors came to London when the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to the Israeli team. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, even before the start of the Games, Iranian judo athlete Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the competition last week, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. That led to widespread speculation that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

At the Games, the American swimmers led all the way in the men’s 4×100-meter relay until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).

The French turned the tide on the Americans from four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind him in the stretch. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the U.S. and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

Lezak, though he did not swim in the relay on Sunday night, had helped his teammates Lochte and Phelps qualify in the morning preliminaries.

“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told FOXSports.com late Sunday via email. “Of course, I would have liked to be a part of the final. If you asked any of us who swam prelims they would have answered it the same.”

While he has not specifically said he would return for another Summer Games, Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, is the oldest member of the U.S. men’s swim team.

“As the body gets older, sometimes the mind wants to go hard for a lot longer. But I’ve learned over the course of the last several years how many laps is enough, how many is too much,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California. He has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, Calif.

“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he said in 2009. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”

Raisman scored 15.300 in the floor exercise to win the event, performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila” as she did on Sunday. Raisman also had performed to “Hava Nagila” when she gained a berth on the U.S. team last year.

She is trained by Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan, the Romanian couple who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s. The coaches and her mother selected “Hava Nagila” after several exhaustive late-night online searches, they told JTA last year.

She is proud to be using the Jewish song “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there,” Raisman told JTA last year. And, she added, “I like how the crowd can clap to it.”

Raisman is a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York.

Other notable performances of Jewish athletes included U.S. fencer Timothy Morhouse, who lost to Italy’s Diego Occhiuzzi in the quarterfinals.

In tennis, Israel’s Shahar Peer was eliminated by Russia’s Maria Sharapova, one of the top-ranked players in the world. Peer is winless against Sharapova in seven matches.

In men’s gymnastics, Israel’s Alex Shatilov qualified for the finals of the floor exercise after finishing fourth overall. He also qualified for Wednesday’s all-around individual final after finishing 12th overall.

In men’s rowing, David Banks of the U.S. team finished first in the preliminaries and qualified for the finals.


For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/Olympics.


Israeli peewee ice hockey team takes gold


An Israeli ice hockey team of 10- to 13-year-olds, who mostly practice on roller skates, won the gold medal at a tournament in Canada.

The Bat Yam Club peewee ice skating team, made up of boys from Bat Yam, Rishon Lezion, Nes Ziona, Maalot and Kfar Saba in central Israel, went undefeated in five games to take the Division B title last month at the the Bernieres-Saint-Redempteur International Peewee Tournament in suburban Quebec City, the Canadian Jewish News reported.

The tournament included 96 teams from Canada, the United States, Finland, France, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The 17 young Israelis, who were hosted by the local Jewish community, finished 5-0 in the tournament, including a 7-3 victory in the final over the Seigneurs Lotbiniere club of Quebec.

The closest ice skating rink to Bat Yam is the Canada Center in Metulla, a two-hour drive north; it is Israel’s only ice skating rink. The team practices mostly on roller skates and asphalt.

Jason Lezak earns first individual medal


BEIJING (JTA)—Jewish Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak followed up his relay heroics with a bronze medal in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.

Lezak, whose late dash in the 4 x 100-meter men’s freestyle relay propelled the U.S. team to the gold medal and a world record, finished in a time of 47.67 seconds Wednesday at the Water Cube in Beijing. He trailed Alain Bernard of France at 47.21 seconds and Australian Eamon Sullivan at 47.32.

For Lezak, at 32 the oldest male swimmer to ever qualify for an Olympic team, it was his first individual medal in his third Olympic Games. He had won five relay medals, including three gold.

“That’s what’s been driving me the last four years since Athens,” Lezak said when asked how it feels to earn his first individual medal.  “It definitely feels good.”

Lezak, of Irvine, Calif., had overtaken Bernard in Monday’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Bernard and Sullivan had exchanged the world record in the semifinals.

Report from Beijing: Swapping old Jewish swim records for new ones


BEIJING (JTA)—Jewish-American swimmers Garret Weber-Gale and Jason Lezak, along with Cullen Jones and the unstoppable Olympic champion Michael Phelps, made history in the pool on Monday, August 11.

The US relay team won the Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay and smashed the world record by nearly four seconds on their way to the gold.

In a strange Jewish sports irony, the gold for this half-Jewish team may come at a price to the legacy of an iconic Jewish sports figure.

Phelps needed this gold medal to help him on his quest to break legendary Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz’s 36- year-old ” alt=”ALTTEXT” width=”432″ height=”441″ />

Mark Spitz, sports icon

Irvine’s Jason Lezak anchors 400-meter relay swim team for the gold


“I can’t even explain it, it was unreal. I’ve been a part of the two teams at the last two Olympics that came out behind, and I think I wanted it more than anybody, not just for myself, but to show that we are the nation to be beat in that relay, ” Jason Lezak told the Los Angeles Times

Lezak swam the final lap for the 400-meter team (including Michael Phelps), which won another gold for the U.S. That makes three Jewish medallists to date; Americans swimmer Dara Torres, swimming relay, and Sada Jacobson, fencing, have both earned silver.

Lezak, born in Irvine, has four Olympic medals. He was on a gold-medal-winning medley relay team, and won gold as a member of the medley relay team in Sydney.

He also has a silver medal from swimming on the 4×100 freestyle relay in Sydney and a bronze in the same event from Athens.

Lezak and another Jewish swimmer, Garrett Weber-Gale, comprised half the U.S. squad with Michael Phelps and Cullen Jones. The Americans finished Monday’s race in 3:08.24, erasing the world mark by about 4 seconds.

Lezak swam 46.06 seconds in managing to overtake world record-holder Alain Bernard of France. Lezak, who picked up his third career gold medal, trailed by nearly a second heading into the final lap. His time would have beaten his American record in the 100 freestyle.

Weber-Gale followed Phelps’ opening leg with a time of 47.02.

The U.S. team had beaten the world mark in the qualifying round with a team that did not include Lezak or Phelps but did have Ben Wildman-Tobriner, another Jewish swimmer.

Phelps has now earned two gold medals in his bid to win eight and break the mark of seven set by Mark Spitz, also a Jewish swimmer, in the 1972 Games in Munich.

Five Gold Bangles and World of Difference


The morning of my wedding day, my mother called me into her bedroom.
“Come sit with me,” she said quietly, patting the spot next to her on the bed.
I sat down beside her, the softness of the mattress causing our shoulders to touch.

She turned her face toward mine, looking happier than I had seen her look in years. I attributed it to the fact that her almost-30-year-old daughter was finally getting married. Smiling, she handed me a box.

“Open it,” she urged.

Inside the box were five beautiful, gold-filigree bangle bracelets of different patterns. The gold was unlike any I had ever seen and warmed to my touch. They were not new, their shapes having been altered from perfect circles to imperfect ones by the wrists they had adorned.

I turned them over in my hands and, one by one, slid them on my right arm. They were truly beautiful.

“Oh, Mom, I love them! Where did you get them?”

She answered by telling me a story about my great-grandmother, Jemilla Danino, who, at the age of 12, married a man more than three times her age to become his second wife. Born in 1882 to a poor family in Alexandria, Egypt, she had no choice but to respect the arrangement her parents had made. One afternoon he arrived, and within the week she left with her new husband to live in Haifa, never to see her parents again. The bracelets on my arm were the same ones that Jemilla had received from her husband as a token of his commitment to marry her.

Living in the 21st century, it is hard to fathom an arrangement like the one Jemilla’s parents made for her. I barely get a vote as to whom my own daughter dates, let alone a veto. And I cried for three nights when I sent her off to summer camp and she was the same age that Jemilla was when she left home forever. And knowing, as Jemilla’s parents surely did, that I would never see my child or my grandchildren, is a thought I don’t even want to entertain.

It’s hard to believe that as recently as the early 1900s, my great-grandmother lived in a harem; marketing, cooking, washing and cleaning side by side with the other wives who shared her husband’s bed. Yet for Sephardic Jews who lived in communities influenced by Islam, like Egypt, Yemen, Morocco and Turkey, polygamy was an accepted practice.

This is in contrast to the Jews of Eastern Europe, where Rabbi Gershom decreed a ban on polygamy in the 10th century. Sephardic Jews did not accept Rabbi Gershom’s ban however, and when Israel was created in 1948, the state faced the problem of what to do with Jewish immigrants who had multiple wives. The Israeli government permitted those marriages already in existence to stay in effect while forbidding any future ones. Today, the ban on polygamy is universally accepted in the Jewish world.

The Bible is filled with stories of the problems and the unhappiness that exists in a polygamous marriage: Sarah was derided by Hagar because she couldn’t have a child, Leah was jealous of Rachel because Isaac loved her more and Solomon’s many wives brought idolatry into the land of Israel. My great-grandmother suffered a similar fate when, at the age of 13, she gave birth to my grandfather amidst women who could not bear children. Barely a teenager herself, she learned how to care for her child in a home where her life was made miserable by the disappointment and bitterness of other women. What saved her during those difficult years, and throughout her life, was her wit, wisdom and undying love for her son, my grandfather.

There are other laws that have been changed or prohibited throughout Jewish history. Another example is Rabbi Gershom’s decree prohibiting a man from divorcing his wife against her will, for any or no reason at all. This reversed a long-standing injustice that left women totally vulnerable in a marriage. The law was changed requiring the consent of both parties to a divorce, although there are still problems when a husband refuses to give the woman a bill of divorcement, or a get in Hebrew. (But I will save that topic that for another time!)

I treasure wearing my gold bracelets for many reasons. They help me remember my great-grandmother, a woman whose courage, strength and devotion carried her through a lifetime of struggle. They remind me of my mother, who wore them as a young girl when she was raised by Jemilla as a result of her own parents’ tragic and untimely deaths. And they give me a sense of optimism about our future as Jews.

For it is through the wisdom of the Jewish tradition and its ability to change and respond to laws that are patently unfair or result in causing hardship and injustice, that our greatest hope for the future lies.

Community Briefs


Gold Train Delivers to Local Agency

The Hungarian Gold Train has finally pulled into the station, figuratively speaking, bearing $67,536 for Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles.

In the chaotic days following the end of World War II in Europe, 24 freight cars loaded with boxes of jewelry, cutlery, thousands of wedding rings, art works and other personal property taken by German and Hungarian Nazis from Hungary’s Jewry were discovered stranded in Austria by American troops.

As was the custom in those days, GIs and officers “liberated” some of the valuables. In due course, Washington settled a class-action suit last year and allotted $25 million as compensation.

Rather than attempting the near impossible task of tracking down the original owners 60 years later, the Claims Conference, as steward for the money, has decided to distribute it among needy Hungarian survivors throughout the world.

An initial down payment of $4.2 million has been allotted to 27 social service agencies in seven countries, including the JFS grant.

The local agency is currently assisting 45 Hungarian survivors and, in line with the grant mandate, is forming an advisory committee among them. Lisa Brooks, JFS communications director, said the money would probably be used for the survivors’ ongoing medical needs.

The largest of the initial allocations is going to survivor agencies in Israel and Hungary. The remaining $21 million will be distributed over the next five years, according to the Claims Conference.

In addition, the U.S. government has earmarked another $500,000 to create an archive related to the Gold Train and the Nazi looting of Hungarian Jewry for educational and scholarly purposes. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Alliance Joins Drive to Improve Life in LAX Area

Five years ago, 30 soaring glass and steel columns, shimmering in ever-changing hues of blues, pinks, oranges and yellows, were installed at the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport. As time passed, the lighting became erratic — colors didn’t change properly and some lights failed. Last month, the entire system was closed for repairs.

But even when they worked, the glowing pylons did nothing to improve a surrounding area that remains plagued by poverty and high crime rates. That deeper problem is the subject of a broad-based coalition spearheaded by religious and community leaders who announced a “Campaign for a New Century.” As a first step, the group is circulating a petition that calls “on city and industry leaders to join us in formulating a plan for a new century.”

Citing a report prepared by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, coalition leaders assert that while the 13 major hotels on Century Boulevard have among the highest occupancy rates and the largest concentration of rooms in Los Angeles County, their approximately 3,500 workers earn far less than their counterparts in the region. The effects of these low wages can be seen in the high rates of poverty, crime and overcrowding in the neighboring communities of Lennox, Inglewood and Hawthorne, where many of these workers live, according to the report.

“We in the Jewish Community understand both the importance and complexity of community,” said Catherine Schneider, assistant director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). “The people who live and work in the Century Corridor are trying to build a healthy community.

“This campaign is not just about wages. It’s not just about health care,” she continued. “It’s about living in a beautiful place. PJA joins this effort to create a gateway to Los Angeles that we can all be proud of.”

For more information, visit www.newcenturycoalition.org. — Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer

ADL Report Links Southland Skinheads to Drugs, Guns

Southern California is home to a small but volatile stew of racist skinheads involved with guns and drugs, according to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League.

“There’s so much of this going on in Southern California,” said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. “It’s equally hateful toward Jews, African Americans, Hispanics.”

The ADL’s national Racist Skinhead Project has identified 110 racist and neo-Nazi skinhead groups, many of them new, in outlying areas, such as the Inland Empire and Los Angeles County’s Antelope Valley.

While such locales may seem remote to a Jewish community heavily concentrated in the Conejo Valley, the San Fernando Valley’s southern suburbs and on the Westside, individual skinheads have committed crimes in Canyon Country, Simi Valley and Chatsworth. A small gang called the San Fernando Valley Skins has been seen at high schools. The ADL report noted that its members appear “closely allied” with the Nazi-imitating National Socialist Movement.

In total, the number of active, racist skinheads in the region is less than 1,000, Susskind said. Last year, the neo-Nazi group, Volksfront, created an all-California chapter in San Bernardino County. Orange County’s Public Enemy No. 1 Skins has about 300 members and is allegedly involved with methamphetamine sales.

“We track organizations that have an ideological conviction and translate that to action,” said ADL investigative researcher Joanna Mendelsohn.

The ADL described another group, the Nazi Low Riders, as “a strange amalgam of street gang, racist skinhead group and racist prison gang” involved with armed robbery and drug dealing.

In the mid-1990s, Nazi Low-Riders successfully were prosecuted on felony weapons charges in a federal probe by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF). While the number of Nazi Low Riders has since declined, “you’ve got dozens of other groups out there that have filled the void,” said John A. Torres, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles field division.

Whether it’s Bloods, Crips or neo-Nazis, “the common denominator is their propensity to firearms,” Torres told The Jewish Journal.

The ADL report highlighted the March 2005 arrest in San Bernardino County of a Southern California Skinhead group member on several charges, including one involving a stolen handgun.

Similarly, ATF raids on skinhead hideouts in the Antelope Valley have turned up an abundance of guns and Nazi memorabilia. “Signs and pictures — it’s right there, hand-in-hand with the firearms,” Torres said. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Chaplains Foundation Honors Schulweis, Interfaith Group

An Israel-Palestinian interfaith group and Rabbi Harold Schulweis were honored last weekend aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach for reaching out to other religions.

The honors came from The Immortal Chaplains Foundation, created in memory of the four U.S. military chaplains — two Protestant, one Jewish and one Catholic — who drowned together after giving their life preservers to soldiers on a sinking troopship on Feb. 3, 1943. Organizers said the foundation uses the chaplains’ self-sacrifice as an example to honor others for altruistic, interfaith deeds.

Schulweis and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous created by him have spent two decades honoring non-Jews who rescued Jews in the Holocaust. In recent years, the longtime rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom has spoken out against the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, another outreach prompting The Immortal Chaplains’ honor.

“From their point of view, it was an appreciation of somebody to emphasize the need for goodness,” Schulweis said in an interview. “You had here people of different faiths and backgrounds who had found so much in each other, so much in each other to love and to appreciate.”

The other honoree at the Feb. 5 ceremony was Yehuda Stolov and his Jerusalem-based Interfaith Encounter Association, which has had more than a dozen dialogues, retreats and other interactions between Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze in the Holy Land.

“For me, the main thing is the recognition of our work and the possibility to leverage it to get more awareness to what we’re doing and get more funding,” said Stolov in an interview. He was scheduled to speak this week in Southern California about his interfaith work. — DF

 

For the Kids


Made With Fear

In the Torah portion Ki Tisa, the Israelites take one ingredient — gold — and they melt, bake and mold it into a calf because they are fearful that Moses will not come back down the mountain. It turned out to be a bad idea and God became very upset with the Israelites. It is never a good idea to try to make anything when we are full of fear.

if you feel scared, take a big breath, relax your body and think carefully about what will be the wisest thing to do next.

Calling all junior chefs ages 15 and under…

Bring your fabulous charoset creations to the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.

When: Sunday, March 28 from 12-3 p.m.

Where: 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 120, Los Angeles, CA, 90048

One of you will WIN and everybody will get a prize. Starting at 3 p.m., Judy Zeidler and other celebrity chefs will gather to select the Best Charoset in the West. Please send your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, age and ingredients to the above address.

Jerusalem


"A voice from the heavens/

Carries down to the whole world/

The angel is crying above/

Lamenting his son’s image."

Israeli countertenor David D’or might be singing about himself in the ethereal song, "A Voice From the Heavens." With a three-and-a-half-octave range, the crossover pop and classical star has been compared to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli with a Middle Eastern flavor.

This month, D’or joins the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble to celebrate its 20th anniversary, with "Neshama: Stories of the Soul," a multimedia production focusing on the central importance of Jerusalem as a symbol and experience of human life. "Neshama," which is funded in part by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, a Jewish Federation beneficiary, uses music, song, visuals and narration spanning the time of creation until present day.

With six gold albums to his name in both the classical and popular genres, D’or is a perfect candidate to bring Jerusalem to life. Last month, the angelic singer was selected to represent Israel at the 49th Eurovision, the international song competition. Although Eurovision is often scoffed at internationally, and virtually ignored in America, a number of stars have gotten their start from the contest, like ABBA, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias. Since it began competing in 1973, Israel has won the contest three times, most infamously with transsexual Dana International in 1998.

D’or’s upcoming performance in Los Angeles is par for the course. He has often collaborated with other artists, beginning in the army and later at Habima Theater, with such artists as Habreirah Hativ’it, Shlomo Bar and Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. But neither Los Angeles nor Eurovision should make D’or sweat, because he has performed in the Vatican for the pope since 1995.

While D’or’s eclectic performances of "Amazing Grace," "Phantom of the Opera" and original songs to classical works by Bach and Handel have brought him worldwide attention in the classical world, back home with the younger crowd, he’s become a radio star with timely tunes like this one:

"Protect the world, little boy/

There are things that should not be seen/

Protect the world, little boy/

If you see you’ll stop to be/

Hero of the world, little boy/

With the smile of angels,

Protect the world, little boy/

Because we already haven’t succeeded."

"Neshama: Stories of the Soul" with David D’or and the Kesehet Chaim Dance Ensemble, Feb. 21, 8:30 p.m. ICC, L.A. Scottish Rite Auditorium, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, visit www.kcdancers.org or call (818) 986-7332.

Love Spelled G-O-L-D


“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

This beautiful expression of commitment from Song of Songs,
is for many Jewish couples the perfect way to say “I love you” every day —
without uttering a word.

Called the “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” in Hebrew, it adorns many
a wedding band. For other couples, only an exquisite diamond ring will do. And
for the majority, the solid gold wedding band remains, as it has through the
ages, the ring of choice. Though choosing a wedding band is a matter of
personal taste and preference, it is also a matter that Jewish tradition weighs
in on. Most importantly, the ring must be one solid piece, with no stones of
any kind, gaps or perforations. It should be purchased by the groom, or be a
family heirloom from his side. As for Hebrew lettering, engraving or embossing
— that’s a little open to interpretation.

For couples seeking advice, the guidelines concerning
wedding bands are “an easy topic to broach,” said Rabbi Judah Dardik. There are
two aspects, explains the Orthodox rabbi.

The “unbroken circle is a beautiful concept,” he said. Under
the Talmud, “our custom is not to use rings with any stones in them. The woman
has to know exactly what she is getting, with no false pretense.” A stone that
to the untrained eye may sparkle like a diamond might indeed be glass. And a suitor
who would be so disingenuous as to try and fool his bride-to-be is nothing more
than an impostor.

Whether etchings are permitted under Jewish law, “that’s
more of a question,” Dardik said. An etching “takes out some of the metal. Does
that make it difficult to evaluate the value [of the ring]?”

Orthodox Rabbi Jacob Traub said inscriptions and Hebrew
letters are “OK,” and the ring “can be ornate, to a certain degree.”

Traub does share Dardik’s concern: “The main thing is no
stones, because it’s important that the bride know exactly what it is she is
getting.” In his years counseling engaged couples and officiating weddings,
Traub has found that for the “overwhelming majority” of couples, “the plain
band I think is still your band of choice.”

Rabbi Daniel Kohn said the ring is a “minor issue [that] is
only for the wedding ceremony itself.”

Owners of jewlery shops with a significant Jewish clientele
say their selection of bands runs the gamut.

“Given the fact that we certainly live in an assimilated culture,
Jews buy the full range of gold rings,” said Bill Caplan of Topper. His store
carries a large range of finely made modern wedding bands, including ones with
Hebrew lettering, though “religious Jews,” he said, “mainly use simple metal
bands for the ceremony.”

In his family jewelry business since the 1960s, Caplan said
styles have changed somewhat. “In the ’70s, there were a lot of very heavy, big
pieces. Today, they’re more delicate, smoother.”

Ellen Bob of bob and bob in Palo Alto, said even married
couples purchase bands with the “Ani l’dodi,” for a “special anniversary” as an
affirmation of longstanding love.

“It’s sort of like a little intimate secret. It’s not
obvious that it’s words, but it is something that you and your partner share in
a special way.” Jewish couples who come to her store also favor another
selection from Song of Songs, she added: “This is my beloved, this is my
friend.”

Afikomen’s wedding shop carries a selection of bands with
Hebrew on them, but “these are not the most popular,” noted owner Jerry
Derblich. “People seem to want a more traditional ring.” His bestseller, in
fact, is the narrow gold band.

“The ‘Ani l’dodi’ are fairly wide,” he explained. There is,
however, great variation among the seven to eight vendors he uses.

The owners of Edelweiss Jewelers in Berkeley don’t go far
for their Hebrew bands: husband and wife Robert and Anne Flexer both make them.

Nearly 14 years ago, Robert Flexer said, “one customer came
in and asked me to enlarge such a band. I started asking a lot of questions.”
He said one thing led to another, and “I made one just to see…. Now I have a
whole collection.”

Anne Flexer began crafting them about four years ago.
“People ask for different quotes from the Bible. Their names — his and hers,”
she said of the commissions that come her way. “They prefer Hebrew lettering;
they don’t want something in English. It’s meaningless to them.”

Flexer said she provides a needed service to the Jewish
community.

“Outside of Hebrew letters, very few things, motifs, that
you can use are typically Jewish. How many different kinds of rings can you
make with the Star of David?”

Hebrew letters, on the other hand, “are so unique. Given
that we don’t write the vowels, you can really pack in a lot of text.”

As for her favorite expression of love, the “Ani l’dodi” is
“one of the best that I know of,” she said. Â