Greek anarchists arrested in protest of El Al at Athens airport


Greek police arrested at least 10 members of an anarchist group who were protesting at the check-in desk of El Al Airlines at the Athens airport.

The protesters chanted “No to the agents of the Mossad” at passengers waiting to check in on Wednesday, the Kathimerini news website reported.

The anarchist group, known as Rouvikanos, said in an online statement that its members were protesting an incident last week in which a Colombian man was allegedly assaulted by El Al security staff for acting suspiciously at the airport.

Last week, Rouvikanos members tried to storm the Mexican Embassy in Athens to protest human rights violations in Mexico.

Greece faces last chance to stay in euro as cash runs out


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras launched a desperate bid to win fresh aid from skeptical creditors at an emergency euro zone summit on Tuesday, before his country's banks run out of money.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on arrival there was still no basis for reopening negotiations with Athens.

“It is not a matter of weeks but of a few days” to save Greece from collapse, Merkel told reporters.

With Greek banks down to their last few days of cash and the European Central Bank tightening the noose on their funding, Tsipras tried to convince the bloc's other 18 leaders to authorize a new loan swiftly.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said after conferring on Monday in Paris that the door was still open to a deal to save Greece from plunging into economic turmoil and possibly having to ditch the euro.

But some of Athens' 18 partners in Europe's common currency vented exasperation at five years of crisis wrangling with Greece. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite complained: “With the Greek government it is every time manana.”

Merkel, under pressure in Germany to cut Greece loose, made clear it was up to Tsipras to present convincing proposals after Athens spurned tax rises, spending cuts and pension and labor reforms that were on the table before its 240 billion euro ($262.7 billion) bailout expired last week.

Euro zone finance ministers complained that their new Greek colleague Euclid Tsakalotos, while more courteous than his abrasive predecessor Yanis Varoufakis, had brought no new proposals to a preparatory meeting before the summit.

“I have the strong impression there were 18 … ministers of finance who felt the urgency of the situation and there is one … who doesn't feel the urgency of the situation,” Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said.

Greek officials said the leftist government broadly repeated a reform plan Tsipras sent to the euro zone last week before Greek voters, in a referendum on Sunday, overwhelmingly rejected the austerity terms previously on offer for a bailout.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the Eurogroup of currency zone finance ministers, said the ministers would hold a conference call on Wednesday to review a Greek request for a medium-term assistance program from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund, due to be submitted within hours.

Reflecting the irritation of several ministers, he said the Eurogroup was still awaiting a Greek letter with one clear set of proposals.

A Greek government official retorted: “Some are maintaining 'we don't have proposals'… Is it really that 'we don't have proposals' or is it that they don't like our proposals?”

Tsipras met privately with the leaders of Germany and France, the currency area's main powers, and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker just before the summit began. Euro zone officials said there was no plan to issue any statement at the end of the summit. One official said there could be another emergency summit on Sunday after more work by finance ministers.

WORKING TO EXCLUDE GREECE?

Earlier Juncker, who has tried to broker a last-minute deal, told the European Parliament: “There are some in the European Union who openly or secretly are working to exclude Greece from the euro zone.”

He did not name names but may have been referring to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has made no secret of his scepticism about Greece's fitness to stay in the euro and last week suggested a possible “temporary” exit.

From the Greek side, the key to making any deal politically acceptable will be to secure a stronger commitment from Merkel and other lenders to reschedule Greece's giant debt burden, which the International Monetary Fund says is unsustainable.

Without some firmer pledge of debt relief, neither Greece nor the IMF is likely to accept a deal. But that may be more than Germany and its northern allies can swallow.

Schaeuble said on arrival that anyone who had read the EU treaty knew debt write-offs were forbidden in the euro zone. He did not rule out other forms of restructuring.

At stake is more than just the future of Greece, a nation of 11 million that makes up just 2 percent of the euro zone's economic output and population. If Greek banks run out of money and the country has to print its own currency, it could mean a state leaving the euro for the first time since it was launched in 1999. The precedent could raise risk for other countries.

Yet even in France, one of the euro zone countries most sympathetic to Athens, an opinion poll published on Tuesday showed one in two people want Greece to leave the euro zone.

TSIPRAS STRENGTHENED AT HOME

Strengthened by the overwhelming 61.3 percent 'No' vote in Sunday's referendum, the leftist Tsipras won the unprecedented support of other Greek party leaders on Monday.

But he gave little clue of what reform concessions he would make to try to convince deeply skeptical European leaders to lend Athens more money after five months of acrimonious and fruitless negotiations with his leftist administration.

Even with the country on the brink of economic collapse, Greek officials said the government was still seeking exceptions from its reform pledges to protect special interests.

Athens wants to keep a 30 percent discount on value added tax on Greek islands and delay defense spending cuts. It is also resisting raising VAT on restaurants to 23 percent, and wants to wait until 2019 to phase out an income supplement for poorer pensioners, officials said.

Juncker told EU lawmakers he was working night and day to get negotiations reopened and chided the Greeks for their aggressive attitude, saying it was unacceptable to accuse the EU of behaving like “terrorists”, as Varoufakis did last week.

European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny suggested the bank might be able to provide some sort of bridge funding while Greece negotiated a longer-term conditional loan to see it over a crucial July 20 bond redemption to the ECB.

But one of his hardline ECB colleagues, Ilmars Rimsevics of Latvia, said Greece had effectively voted itself out of the euro and issuing a second currency was the most likely next step.

An ECB policy paper said the central bank could not be overly generous with emergency funding nor provide liquidity on insufficient collateral.

A bank closure in force since the talks collapsed was prolonged until Thursday at least, and cash withdrawals remain limited to 60 euros a day, with 20 euro notes running out.

The Athens stock exchange was also ordered closed for two days on Tuesday and Wednesday to throttle speculation.

Greek FM thanks Israel for concern over rejection of austerity measures


Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Kotzias offered his gratitude to Israel for its concern over his country’s economic crisis while visiting Jerusalem.

“I thank Israel for following what is happening in Greece, and for caring for us,” Kotzias said Monday before meetings with Israeli officials. “Greece is a small country with a long history and more than a few problems, but I am sure that we will overcome this crisis.”

Kotzias arrived in Israel for a three-day visit hours after his country voted 61 percent to 39 percent to reject further austerity measures in exchange for an economic bailout from international creditors. His visit reportedly was set several weeks ago.

The visit will have an “economic emphasis,” the Times of Israel reported, citing Emmanuel Nahshon, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Kotzias is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also is his country’s foreign minister, along with President Reuven Rivlin and other government ministers. He also is scheduled to meet with opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

On Wednesday, he will meet with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Kotzias announced last month during a meeting with P.A. Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad al-Maliki that he had instructed his ministry to refer to the area under the P.A. as “Palestine.”

Israel’s National Economic Council chairman, Eugene Kandel, on Sunday briefed government ministers on the economic crisis in Greece, and on its implications and lessons for Israel. Kandel also reportedly will meet with Kotzias during his visit.

Crack down on Golden Dawn, Greek Jews urge gov’t following rapper’s murder


Greek Jews implored the government to crack down on the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party in the wake of the murder of the anti-fascist rapper known as Killah P.

On Monday, a statement from the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece said the Sept. 18 stabbing death of Pavlos Fyssas again showed the need for the government to take tough action against Golden Dawn.

The arrest of a suspect with ties to Golden Dawn spurred major protests against the party and clashes in Greece.

“Fyssas, a defender of democracy, was murdered by a sworn follower of Nazism,” the statement said. “Our dignity, our freedom, our democracy, our humanism were literally violated. The punishment of the perpetrators is not enough.”

Golden Dawn, which Jewish and international groups have condemned as being racist and anti-Semitic, has denied any connection to the killing.

A long-promised anti-racism bill meant to counter a surge in hate crimes linked to Golden Dawn’s rise fell earlier this year.

“We urge the Prime Minister, as well as all the leaders of the democratic parties to work together … to cooperate for the voting of a strong and effective legislation that will combat racism, intolerance and anti-Semitism,” the Central Board’s statement said. “All parties have to turn their promises into legislative action and finally stop those who seek the return of the darkest period of our history.”

Golden Dawn emerged on the political scene last year, winning 7 percent of the vote, or 18 seats in the 300-member Parliament. Recent polls have indicated the party, which runs on a fierce anti-immigrant platform, now has about 12 percent of the population’s support.

Full of sound and fury: Bloch’s ‘Macbeth’ opera gets a rare airing


Ernest Bloch, the renowned 20th century Swiss-born American composer, wrote just one opera, “Macbeth,” and it has rarely been produced in the United States since its 1910 Paris premiere. Now, the Long Beach Opera is presenting the opera’s first U.S. staging since John Houseman’s 1973 production, at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro on June 15, 22 and 23.

Like Houseman’s “Macbeth,” which was presented at the Juilliard School in New York, the Long Beach Opera’s production of Bloch’s three-act adaptation of Shakespeare’s five-act play will be sung in English in a libretto rescored by the composer in the early 1950s from the French to fit the English dialogue. 

It will feature baritone Nmon Ford in the title role, with soprano Suzan Hanson as the malevolently ambitious Lady Macbeth, tenor Doug Jones in the roles of Banquo, Duncan and Lennox, and baritone Robin Buck as Macduff. The Long Beach Camerata Singers will make up the chorus.

Although Bloch later became famous for his enduring Jewish-inspired works — “Schelomo” for cello and orchestra, the “Baal Shem Suite” and the “Sacred Service” —”Macbeth” shows him as a young composer absorbing the whirl of music around him, not only of Wagner and Mussorgsky, but of Debussy and Richard Strauss, as well. 

Completed in 1906 when he was 26, Bloch’s “Macbeth” already shows a striking confidence and maturity, not least because the young composer was risking comparison with the other operatic “Macbeth” up to that time — Verdi’s, which premiered in 1847.

“It’s very impressive for a first and only opera,” said Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s music director, who is also stage director for this production. 

“Bloch had a great sense of timing and a gift for building tension and suspense,” Mitisek said. “He knew how to use music and a wide vocal range to underscore and portray emotions.” 

Mitisek especially admires the composer’s powerful handling of famous scenes like Macbeth’s dagger scene (“Art thou but/A dagger of the mind …?”) and the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, memorable for lines like, “Out, damned spot!”

The conductor, who plans to use a Romantic-size orchestra of 40 or so musicians to convey Bloch’s very melodic, lush sound, added that even the orchestral interludes in “Macbeth” “carry an emotional charge.” 

Because Bloch’s operatic version of Shakespeare’s narrative of witches, power struggles, murder and madness is heightened, Mitisek said it’s important to keep the focus around the two main characters. “Everything feeds into their thirst for power,” Mitisek said. “The play is like a Greek tragedy. The truth in it speaks to our time. We see these things happening over and over again.”

Mitisek, who is also general director of the Chicago Opera Theater, recently announced that that company will be giving performances of “Macbeth” in September 2014 at the city’s Harris Theater.

Although the Nobel Prize-winning French author Romain Rolland rated Bloch’s “Macbeth” highly in 1910, and, more recently, critic Andrew Porter called it the best opera based on a Shakespeare tragedy, Bloch didn’t write another.

“Bloch was not enamored of the intrigues and politics he observed in getting ‘Macbeth’ to the stage in Paris,” said David Z. Kushner, music professor emeritus at the University of Florida and author of “The Ernest Bloch Companion.”

Nonetheless, according to Kushner, between 1911 and 1918, Bloch worked on but did not complete a biblical opera, “Jezabel.” The sketches and drafts are in the Ernest Bloch Collection in the Library of Congress.

Ernest Bloch, second from left, with the cast of “Macbeth” in Rome, 1953.  Photo courtesy of the Ernest Bloch Foundation

In his later years, Bloch, like Saul Bellow in literature, came to dislike being thought of as a Jewish artist, preferring to be seen in a more universal light. Bloch’s daughter, Suzanne, a renowned early music specialist who died in 2002, promoted her father’s legacy for years, often noting that his Jewish-inspired music, which amounted to less than one-third of his total output, was crowding out other major works. 

Kushner agreed, citing Bloch’s five string quartets (“I wish they could find their way into the standard chamber music repertoire”), violin concerto, “Concerto Symphonique” (for piano and orchestra), “Sinfonia Breve,” the two violin sonatas and two concerti grossi as among the composer’s greatest accomplishments.

Bloch was the son of a cantor and not himself a practicing Jew, but he delved deeply into spiritual impulses. “It is the Jewish soul that interests me,” he wrote, “the complex, glowing, agitated soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible … the sacred emotion of the race that slumbers far down in our soul.”

After he arrived in America in 1916, his “Jewish Cycle,” which includes “Three Jewish Poems,” the “Israel Symphony” and settings for voice and orchestra of Psalms 22, 114 and 137, made him famous. (Bloch became an American citizen in 1924.) 

Kushner noted that Bloch’s” Jewish label” was also “cemented by the imprimatur of a Star of David with his initials, EB, encased within on the cover” of his scores. 

Bloch’s grandson, Ernest Bloch II, 75, who plans to attend the opening of Long Beach Opera’s “Macbeth” on June 15, is taking up where his late Aunt Suzanne left off.

“My major purpose is to enlarge and extend the Bloch legacy,” he said by phone from Oregon. Ideally, he said, he would like to digitize all of his grandfather’s works to make them more available to the public.

Bloch was 21 when his grandfather died in 1959, and recalled visiting him many times at his home on the Oregon shore. “He loved America,” Bloch said. “He endured anti-Semitism and man’s inhumanity to man. When he got to New York, it was like coming to another planet.”

After a tumultuous, itinerant life, which included significant stints as the first director of the Cleveland Institute of Music and five years as director of the San Francisco Conservatory — Bloch’s students include George Antheil and Roger Sessions  — Bloch finally fetched up on the shores of Agate Beach in Oregon. 

The grandson observed that Bloch composed many of his finest works there, including most of his five rhythmically intense, brooding and meditative string quartets.

“When he settled in 1941 in the only home he ever owned, he finally got to a place where he could do what he was put on earth to do,” the younger Bloch said. “The later works were in many ways his best works.”

The composer also was once treated like a rock star. “He had one heck of an ego,” the grandson said. 

But, he added, Bloch also had a softer side: “I got to know him in the 1940s, and when I contracted polio at age 5, he showed me the importance of patience.” 

In “The Essential Canon of Classical Music,” Juilliard professor David Dubal said the composer “used his art to probe his psychological states,” calling him “an artist of lofty feeling, often with an agonized sense of suffering humanity.”

Bloch’s early score for “Macbeth” already embodies this sensibility. Moreover, Mitisek’s staging for Long Beach Opera’s production poses a question that tormented Bloch for most of his life. The audience, Mitisek said, will observe the opera from the left and right of the stage. 

“The action will take place between them,” the conductor said. “Like watching voyeuristically, with everyone looking at it from different angles. All the characters, good and bad, are also parts of us we don’t let out. Have we learned how to become more human? One hopes.”

Greek police to investigate Golden Dawn threat to turn immigrants “into soap”


Greek police are investigating the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party after some of its members were filmed threatening to turn immigrants “into soap” and put them in “ovens.”

The investigation announced Wednesday was prompted by the broadcast Tuesday of a program on Britain's Channel 4 News that followed Golden Dawn candidates during last year’s elections. In the program, one of the candidates, Alexandros Plomeratis, makes clear Holocaust references in threatening the many immigrants who live in Athens. “We are ready to turn on the ovens,” he says. “We will turn them into soap but we may get a rash.” Plomaritis, who was not elected to parliament, also threatened to “make lamps from their skins.”

Following the broadcast, the Greek police’s new anti-racism task force said it had submitted the footage to an Athens prosecutor for review.

Golden Dawn said in a statement posted on its website that its members had been illegally filmed and that they had been “joking” with the reporters.

Golden Dawn swept into the Greek Parliament with 19 lawmakers in last year's elections, campaigning on an anti-austerity, anti-immigrant platform that preyed on the fears of Greeks who have seen the country flooded with immigrants amid a terrible recession. Greek and international Jewish groups repeatedly have condemned Golden Dawn as racist and anti-Semitic.

Golden Dawn issues anti-Semitic diatribe against AJC’s David Harris during Greece visit


The Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn said a visit to Greece by American Jewish Committee leader David Harris is meant to ensure further “Jewish influence over Greek political issues” and safeguard the interests of “international loan sharks.”

Harris, the executive director of the AJC, is leading a Jewish delegation to the region that is meeting with several Greek leaders, including Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. During the meetings, Harris expressed his “concern and solidarity for Greece during the crisis.”

The statement from Golden Dawn, posted on the party's website Thursday, slammed the Greek government for giving Harris high-level access. “Just from the meetings, one can understand the influence of international Judaism on the Greek political scene,” the statement said. “The political leadership will once again express its total subjugation to the whims of the ‘chosen’ people.”

It also derided Harris.

“The only solidarity of this gentleman is to his compatriots — the international loan sharks, who are humiliating the Greek people. His concern most likely is related to the inability of Greece make the payments of the predatory interest rates of the vile loans,” it said. “We do not need the crocodile tears of a Jew.”

Golden Dawn swept into the Greek parliament with 19 lawmakers in last year's elections, campaigning on an anti-austerity, anti-immigrant platform that preying on the fears of Greeks who have seen the country flooded with immigrants amid a terrible recession. Greek and international Jewish groups repeatedly have condemned Golden Dawn as racist and anti-Semitic.

Its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, uses the Heil Hitler salute and has denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps during World War II. Another lawmaker read a passage from the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The attack on Harris and a separate article titled “Absolute Evil” that was published on the party's website Friday appeared to be a hardening of Golden Dawn's anti-Semitic rhetoric, apparently in anger over pressure from Jewish groups to get the Greek government to reign in the party. The “Evil” statement said that blaming Golden Dawn for Greece’s woes constituted an attempt to divert attention from the real culprits for Greece’s financial crisis.

“They are none other than those who possess most of the international wealth. The people behind the international loan-sharks,” the statement said. “Everyone knows they belong to a certain race, which presents itself as a victim, while in reality it is the perpetrator. Everyone knows that they are none other than those pulling the strings behind the marionettes. They are the absolute evil for mankind.”

The second statement ended with a threat.

“The time will come when the nationalists of the Golden Dawn will take revenge like the horsemen of the storm, and all of them, being the absolute evil, will pay!”

Claims Conference steps up aid to Greek Holocaust survivors


The Claims Conference is tripling its aid to Greece’s Holocaust survivors in light of the country’s economic crisis and funding an education program on anti-Semitism due to the recent rise of a neo-Nazi party.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which administers Holocaust reparations from Germany, said Tuesday that it would give $272,000 for 2012 to the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece for social services to Nazi victims. The Claims Conference had provided $86,000 in 2011.

Some 5,000 Jews are living in Greece, including more than 500 Holocaust survivors who have seen their living conditions and social services deteriorate rapidly as the country struggles with the fifth year of a harsh recession.

Government pensions have been slashed, income from property rentals have fallen significantly and there have been steep tax hikes and price rises. At the same time, state social services and medical assistance has been significantly reduced.

“Today’s economic crisis has made these survivors more vulnerable than ever at a time in their lives when they most need aid,” Gregory Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, wrote in a report on the new assistance.

“The Claims Conference is taking dramatic and immediate action to help ease their situation as much as possible and to prevent a crisis from becoming a catastrophe for this vulnerable population.”

Greece’s prewar community of about 78,000, most of whom lived in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, was nearly wiped out entirely in the Holocaust.

The Claims Conference also said that with the rise of the Golden Dawn party—a fascist party with a Nazi swastika-like flag and Holocaust-denying leader—it also would fund an educational program on anti-Semitism for the first time in Greece.

Running on a populist, anti-immigrant platform, Golden Dawn won 18 seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament in elections earlier this month.

An allocation of nearly $120,000 will go to the Jewish Museum of Greece, which is establishing a program on anti-Semitism that includes a traveling classroom version of the museum’s exhibit.

“For survivors in Greece, already grappling with the catastrophic consequences of the government austerity plan, the emergence of this party adds another dimension to the upheaval that has already made their old age more difficult,” Schneider wrote.

Neo-Nazi party maintains strength in Greek elections


The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party defied predictions and won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the Greek national elections.

Polls and Greek commentators had predicted that support for the fascist party, which entered the Greek Parliament for the first time in inconclusive elections six weeks ago, would drop in Sunday’s election, saying the original vote was a protest against the established political parties held responsible for Greece’s economic crisis.

The conservative New Democracy Party, which supports Greece staying in the European Union and honoring its commitments under bailouts it received, won the most votes in results released Monday and likely will form the new government.

Golden Dawn, with its Nazi swastika-like flag and Holocaust-denying leader, picked up 6.92 percent of the vote, which will give the party 19 lawmakers in the 300-member parliament. The party had won 6.97 percent of the earlier vote.

“It shows we were all wrong and that this is the real percentage of people who support them with their anti-illegal immigrant policy and their Nazi style that they show the people,” David Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told JTA.

“It is a problem for Greek democracy, and we have to see how the parties will react. We hope they will isolate them.”

Golden Dawn had campaigned on an anti-austerity, anti-immigrant platform, preying on the fears of ordinary Greeks who have seen their neighborhoods overrun by the nearly 1 million immigrants who have flooded the country from Asia and Africa hoping to use it as a gateway to the European Union.

After the first election, Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos — who came to prominence when he won a seat on the Athens City Council in 2010 and celebrated by giving the Nazi salute at the first City Hall meeting — gave an interview in which he denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps.

Greek mob attacks Jerusalem Post reporter Gil Shefler [VIDEO]


Greece has condemned mob attack on a Jerusalem Post reporter.

Greek Ambassador Kyriakos Loukakis sent a letter to the paper on Thursday apologizing for the Tuesday assault on Gil Shefler.

A former JTA intern, Shefler was assaulted in Athens while trying to film outside the National Archeological Museum, where gang members were beating migrants, refugees and the homeless.

The mob turned on Shefler, who was hospitalized for head and chest wounds. He is in good condition and has returned back to Israel, according to the Post.

A bloodied Shefler can be seen in his video of the incident.

In the letter to the Post, Loukakis said that “the Greek government unreservedly condemns the attack.” He said police were conducting a thorough investigation into the incident.

Greek gov’t, Jews slam Golden Dawn chief for Holocaust denial


The Greek government and Jewish community condemned the leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party after he denied there were gas chambers or ovens at Nazi death camps.

Speaking Sunday in an interview on the private Mega TV network, Golden Dawn head Nikolaos Michaloliakos said gas chambers were lies and claims that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust was an exaggeration.

“There were no ovens. This is a lie. I believe that it is a lie,” said Michaloliakos. “There were no gas chambers either.”

His comments drew condemnation from the Greek government.

This “constitutes a distortion of history and a fierce insult to the memory of the millions of Holocaust victims,” government spokesman Pentelis Kapsis said Tuesday.

“The Greek people have not forgotten that they mourned hundreds of thousands of victims of Nazism, including tens of thousands of Greek Jews,” Kapsis said.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece called on the Greek government and public to “firmly condemn and isolate the forces seeking the revival of the darkest ideology of European history.”

Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece today. The prewar community of some 78,000, most of whom lived in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, was almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust.

“It is an insult to the historical memory, the memory of the 6 million Jews, our brethren, amongst whom there were 70,000 Greek Jews, who perished in the death camps of Auschwitz, Dachau [and] Treblinka,” the Jewish community statement said.

The extreme-right Golden Dawn Party, whose flag closely resembles the Nazi swastika, received 21 seats in parliament, the first time it passed the threshold to enter the legislative body. It campaigned heavily on an anti-immigrant platform under the slogan “So we can rid this land of filth.”

Michaloliakos came to prominence when he won a seat on the Athens City Council in 2010 and celebrated by giving the Nazi salute at the first City Hall meeting.

Crisis-hit Greek Jews fear for their future


Patricia Alcalay, 24, has been unemployed since she finished her nursing degree in December 2010. Her father lost his job four months ago, a year shy of retirement.

Her older sister, who was studying abroad, meanwhile, found work in the Netherlands and is not coming back to Greece anytime soon.

Stories like these have become common among the Jewish community in Greece, which like the rest of the Greek population is struggling to stay afloat in a country engulfed in the fifth year of an economic crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Approximately 5,000 Jews live in Greece—about 3,500 in Athens, 1,000 in Thessaloniki and the rest scattered elsewhere—and community leaders say they are laboring to maintain Jewish institutions and deal with the additional heavy demands on welfare programs.

Some of the leaders fear a greater threat to the community’s future: an exodus of young, unemployed Jews leaving a country where they see little hope.

“It is a very difficult situation for us because of the financial crisis in Greece. It affects the Jewish community very heavily,” said Benjamin Albalas, the president of the Jewish Community of Athens, an association that provides funding for the city’s Jewish institutions. “We are supporting two synagogues, the school, the cemetery, a community center and a number of needy people that is growing all the time.”

As the need for community aid has increased, the funding to the communal institution has decreased sharply.

Much of its revenue comes from Jewish community-owned commercial and residential properties dating back before World War II, when some 78,000 Jews lived in Greece—many in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, a community that was almost wiped out entirely in the Holocaust.

But in the past year the Greek government, faced with chronic income tax evasion, imposed steep property taxes in a bid to raise state income. “And because of the general situation, the people who rent our properties have either left or they have asked us to lower rents,” Albalas said.

In addition, he said, donations from hard-hit community members have dropped 50 percent.

Albalas declined to give specific figures, either for income or for the needs.

As part of the harsh austerity measures imposed on Athens, the Greek government has slashed pensions, lowered public and private sector wages, and reduced tens of thousands of state jobs, all of which have hurt the weaker sectors of the Jewish community.

“Our two main problems now since the crisis are that pensions have gone down and there is very big unemployment,” said Isaak Mordechai, the deputy head of the Athens welfare committee. “Pensions have diminished so much, people cannot live.”

The Jewish Community of Athens is providing direct assistance—financial help, supermarket food vouchers, and medical and psychological support—to some 60 people. “But it is clear that a lot more people are going to need help,” he said.

In February, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors voted to grant about $1 million over two years to help Greece’s Jewish communal institutions continue operating. Other Jewish groups have offered aid, too.

However, community leaders in Athens and Thessaloniki say they have not been officially informed of the decision and the money has yet to arrive.

The money, though, will focus on Israel education, and is earmarked to help the Jewish communities of Athens and Thessaloniki cover specific initiatives, according to JAFI spokesman Josh Berkman. Among those initiatives are shlichim (Israel emissaries to the community), counselors for the Jewish summer camp and financial assistance to the Jewish school in Athens.

“I can assure you we are in touch with the Jewish leadership in these communities,” Berkman said.

As of late February, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee had donated $330,000 for welfare and school scholarship to the Athens Jewish Community, according to a news release.

Such funding, however, will not keep the the institutions alive and support the needy.

National unemployment is more than 21 percent and tops 50 percent among those under 25. Albalas says the levels are about the same in the Jewish community.

For the young, the future looks like a wasteland.

“I have occasionally had some part-time jobs, but nothing permanent. It’s very disappointing,” said Alcalay, who has been searching for work as a nurse for 16 months and is considering abandoning her profession.

“I’m looking for a job in any field now because I need the money. I don’t have anything else apart from my parents, and both of them are also unemployed,” she said.

Alcalay is not alone.

“There are many of my friends who have just finished university this year or last and can’t find jobs,” said Evie Leon, 24, a former head of the Jewish Youth of Athens.

The community tries to help. Jewish businessmen network to find jobs for the young unemployed. Two young men receive stipends for taking part in daily minyan.

“We are talking about simple jobs, we are not head hunting,” Mordechai said.

But ultimately it is not enough.

“The unemployment is so bad that unfortunately they are leaving for abroad, either to study or find work,” said David Saltiel, who heads Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, where the situation is equally grim, and is president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.

Leon says her friends in Greece are “depressed and stressed.” The rest have left and “are not planning on coming back until the situation gets much, much better.” Even though she has a job, she also is “looking into opportunities to leave the country.”

Alcalay’s 25-year-old sister is among those who left to study and did not return after she found a job with an IT company in the Netherlands.

“She wants to come back in a few years, but I don’t recommend it,” Alcalay said. “Even though I love her, I say don’t come back because you will be unemployed.”

Those who leave are doing what they can for themselves and their families. But leaders know and fear the toll this will have on the community.

“When our young generation leaves and becomes well established abroad, I think it will be difficult for them to return,” Saltiel said. “We will become a community of old people.”

New aid going to Greece’s Jewish community


The Jewish Agency will provide emergency aid to the Jewish community of Greece facing a serious financial crisis.

The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel on Feb. 27 voted to grant about $1 million over two years to help Greece’s Jewish communal institutions continue operating, as well as to strengthen the community’s ties with Israel and to develop aliyah programs for those who wish to immigrate to Israel.

Other Jewish organizations have been offering assistance to the community.

The Jewish Agency aid package will be funded by the agency and its partners, Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. There will also be a fundraising campaign for the Jews of Greece, and Hebrew teachers will be sent to local schools and summer camps in Greece to preserve Hebrew instruction in the community.

For several months, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has been assisting the Greek Jewish community, according to JDC CEO Steven Schwager, who visited Athens last month. The JDC has donated $330,000 for welfare and school scholarships to the Athens Jewish community, while other groups such as the Lauder Foundation and Leichtag Family Foundation, as well as the American Jewish Committee, also have provided funds, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece, including 3,500 in Athens and 1,000 in Thessaloniki, according to the Jewish Agency.

The Jewish community operates synagogues, a Jewish school, a museum and a soup kitchen. Community leaders told the Jewish Agency, as well as other Jewish groups, that the majority of Jewish communal institutions in the country are on the verge of closure due to the financial crisis gripping the country.

Ayalon: Israel will defend Greek oil drilling in Cyprus


Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in Greece that Israel will defend Greek oil drilling in Cyprus.

Asked at a news briefing Tuesday what Israel’s reaction is to a threat by Turkey regarding drilling in Cyprus, Ayalon said, “If anyone tries to challenge these drillings, we will meet those challenges.”

Ayalon, the first foreign official to visit Greece since the formation of its new government, added that he did not think that Turkey would challenge any drilling in the southeast Mediterranean. Turkey said last month it would send naval forces to protect its drilling rights.

The briefing was held at the residence of Israeli Ambassador to Greece Arie Mekel. Ayalon is on an official visit to Greece.

Greece’s deputy foreign minister, Dimitris Dollis, stressed in his meeting with Ayalon that Israel-Greece relations upgraded in the past year would continue and be strengthened in the near future. Dollis said the ties would not be affected by the change of government in Greece.

“These are not meetings that are held just so we can get together,” he said. “They are meetings that will help us to jointly promote the issues we are dealing with and, naturally, provide an institutional framework—and thus continuity—for this conference.”

The two officials agreed to convene in Greece members of the Jewish and Greek diasporas from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, France and Britain. The meeting is planned to take place in the spring in Salonika.

Ayalon and Dollis discussed cooperation among Israel, Greece and Cyprus concerning the subject of natural gas. A trilateral memorandum of understanding on the issue, as well as the management of water resources, has been drafted and is due to be signed soon.

The deputy foreign ministers noted that Greece and Israel have common strategic interests in energy and energy security, and immense prospects for collaboration in that area.

On Wednesday, Ayalon met with the new Greek foreign minister, Stavros Dimas, and defense minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, to discuss strengthening relations between the two countries.

Next week, the Greek minister for the environment, energy and climate change, Giorgos Papakonstantinou, will visit Israel.

French flotilla boat seized, U.S. activists end activities


A French boat that left a Greek port for Gaza earlier in the week was detained by the Greek coast guard, while a U.S. activist group has ended its activities.

The French-flagged Dignity, a pleasure craft with eight passengers on board, was detained Thursday while refueling in Crete. A Greek official told CNN that the ship would not be allowed to continue on to Gaza.

Meanwhile, Leslie Cagan, coordinator of the U.S. Boat to Gaza, wrote Wednesday on the US to Gaza website that the team of activists from the United States ended its activities in Athens.

“The Greek government’s willingness to serve as the enforcer of Israeli’s naval blockade of Gaza made it impossible for this journey to happen,” Cagan wrote.

The U.S.-flagged Audacity of Hope remains in the hand of the Greek authorities and it is not known when it will be released.

Greek Jewish leader awarded top French honor


David Saltiel, the head of Greece’s Jewish community, was honored by France with its highest civil decoration.

Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and head of the Thessaloniki Jewish community, was awarded the title of the Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor during a ceremony Tuesday at the French Embassy in Athens.

France’s ambassador to Greece, Christophe Farnaud, bestowed the medal on Saltiel and praised his longtime work and achievements for the benefit of the Greek Jewish community.

“This decoration is in recognition of the quality of services and your commitment to our country,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a letter to Saltiel, who is involved in the importing and exporting business with France.

The Legion of Honor, which was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is awarded to people of all backgrounds and nationalities who have made significant achievements through scholarship, the arts, sciences, politics, business and social work.

Scholar explores ancient Jewish reactions to ancient pagan statues


Imagine a rabbi encountering a statue of Zeus in Roman Palestine, circa 70 to 300 C.E. — a monotheist’s nightmare.

“The myth is that he would have uttered something like the Yiddish ‘gevalt,'” said professor Yaron Z. Eliav of the University of Michigan, who recently spoke about Jews and statues at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. “We imagine he would have put his hand over his face, the way an ultra-Orthodox Jew might shield his eyes from a poster of a woman in a bikini.”

But the sages who wrote classical texts, such as the Talmud, could not afford to ignore such statues, which were like the mass media of the ancient world.

Images of gods, mythological monsters, sports heroes and emperors were greek statueeverywhere: atop pedestals and in niches, adorning public buildings, temples, fountains and tetrapyla, the colonnaded structures marking street intersections. They were intended to be lifelike and often heavily painted, as revealed in the Getty’s new exhibition, “The Color of Life: Polychromy in Sculpture From Antiquity to the Present.”

“One could not have strolled heavily Jewish cities such as Tiberias or Caesarea without encountering Roman sculpture every step of the way,” said Eliav, as he strolled amid ancient statues at the museum. “While the assumption has been that the sages opposed everything Graeco-Roman, they were in fact far more sophisticated and varied in their response.”

Eliav co-directs the multidisciplinary Statuary Project at the University of Michigan, which, among other endeavors, peruses classical Jewish texts for references to statues (there are at least 6,000 of them — many appreciative of the figures’ beauty and tolerant of female nudes).

The texts reveal that the rabbis were fluent in Greek and in the customs of the ancient world. “Not only did [they] repeatedly mention statues by name, such as Aphrodite, Mercury … emperors, or even the ‘faces which spout out water in the towns’ (t. Avod. Zar. 6:6), they were also conscious of the social and political dynamics associated with the positioning of statues,” Eliav wrote in an essay.

Thus they were able to work out pragmatic rulings on how Jews should interact with the ubiquitous sculpture. In a Mishnah debate on idolatry, just one scholar, Rabbi Meir, insisted that “all statues are forbidden”; most of the others argued that only statues meant to be worshipped were off limits. A passage in the Yerushalmi, the Palestinian Talmud, suggests that informal rituals conducted in front of public sculptures did not necessarily turn them into idols — a practical viewpoint in a society where the informal veneration of statues, including processions and the sprinkling of libations, were common.

As Eliav traversed a room filled with statues of Aphrodite (also known as Venus), the goddess of love, he recounted the Mishnah anecdote about Rabban Gamaliel in the “Aphrodite bathhouse.” When a pagan asked how Gamaliel could tolerate the bathhouse’s statue of the goddess, the rabbi said the sculpture didn’t function as a deity, but rather was “an ornament for the bath.” Gamaliel reasoned that Romans would not walk around naked in front of a statue they intended to worship; he added that: “She [Aphrodite] is standing by the drainage, and all the people are urinating in front of her.”

Eliav paused by a statue that could have decorated such a bathhouse — a small, second century marble Venus, missing her head and arms, but still sensual with wet-looking drapery clinging to her curvaceous body.

“Many bathhouses had statues like this Venus, which would have been appropriate, because Venus was born of the sea,” Eliav said. “The rabbis would have engaged this kind of statue on a daily basis, because everyone in the Roman world loved bathhouses — they offered warm, clean water, which people didn’t have in their homes.”

Next, Eliav pointed out a very different image of Venus: A massive, clothed statue that may well have been worshipped (one possible giveaway was her size.) The rabbis noted other ways to discern statues that were worshipped — such as those wielding “a stick or a bird or a ball” (the eagle was associated with Zeus, for example).

“What fascinates me is that the rabbis knew the attributes the Romans used to identify their own deities,” Eliav said.

Kenneth Lapatin, associate curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, joined Eliav in the gallery.

“The rabbis re-contextualized the statues and found ways to ‘read’ them that made them acceptable on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “And their world view often allowed them a great deal of variability, because they, like us, lived in a complex society, where on the Sabbath they were [strictly] Jewish and on Tuesday they might serve on the city council and on Wednesday they were perhaps working in their blacksmith shop, making armor for the centurions.”

Eliav, 43, spent much of his childhood in the ultra-Orthodox community of B’nai B’rak in Israel. His father, an ardent Zionist, separated from the more observant branch of the family in order to join the army, to attend a secular university and New York University law school.

Eliav attended yeshiva in New York for five years before moving back to Israel, where he enrolled at Hebrew University. “My religious identity was always shaky, but I always had a lot of passion for Jewish texts,” he said. “I decided to study the Talmud, but with the help of my professors, I realized I didn’t want to study it out of context. That is when I began studying classics and archeology in order to understand the environment in which the texts were created.”

Today, Eliav’s specialty is the encounter between Jews and Graeco-Roman culture. His book, “God’s Mountain: The Temple Mount in Time, Space and Memory,” won the 2006 prize for best first book from the American Academy for Jewish studies.

He believes that the findings of the Statuary Project will have relevance for Jews today.

“It shows that the rabbis worked to pave a path that would allow people to embrace their Jewish identity within a multicultural environment,” he said.

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