God Bless America & PS, Trump is Mentally Deficient


As a little girl I used to dream about living in the United States. I grew up watching American television, trying very hard to lose my Canadian accent, and would always tell my parents I was going to live in Los Angeles one day. I have now lived in Los Angeles longer than I lived in Canada. This is where my son was born, where my dreams came true, where I found peace, and where I have built my life. I love the United States, I love California, and I count my blessings each and every day.

For the first time in my 25 years here, I feel uneasy. I am embarrassed by the President of this beautiful country and have said I am Canadian more in the past 9 months than I have in my entire life. I am sad and scared about what is happening here. Trump’s America is dark and depressing. The Fourth of July is a special day for everyone who is fortunate enough to live here, but with each day Trump is President we become a less fortunate nation because he puts us at risk.

On this Fourth of July I will pray. Pray for each and every one of us. Whether or not you support the 45th President of the United States, you should be afraid. Afraid of not only what you know he is doing, but more importantly, what you don’t know he is doing. He is making a mockery of his job and putting us in harm’s way. From healthcare, to being in charge of the military, to cries of fake news, our futures are in jeopardy. Important to note this is not about our political affiliations.

I know many great Republicans and there is a difference between a Republican and a Trump supporter. Republicans believe in different things than I do, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad, just different. A Trump supporter however, is just as dangerous as their leader. I have yet to meet a Trump supporter who can articulate why he a good President. They can’t because they are mentally deficient. Is that mean? Sorry, but it is time to get real and sometimes that can be mean.

I am exhausted by all the fake kindness and political correctness. I believe Donald Trump is dangerous and mentally deficient. Those who support him, by association, are also dangerous and mentally deficient. Too harsh? I don’t think so. It is my 1st Amendment right to say what I think so I will say it again. Donald Trump is mentally deficient. That feels good! Have a happy and safe 4th. God Bless America, and PS God, sorry about Donald Trump. Don’t give up on us because we are praying.

As I read this I know it will upset a lot of people. It is a politically charged time and there are lines drawn in the sand, but that does not and should not change how I write. I have never worried about what people will think about what I write, but rather worried about how I would feel about myself if I was not honest in my writing. So now it is out there. No tiptoeing, just honesty. I am scared, but I am hopeful. He got lucky when he won and we will be lucky when he is impeached.

May God Bless America. I am sending prayers and good wishes to all those who are serving in the military and putting their lives on the line for our freedom. To the military families, thank you for your sacrifices too. I am blessed to live in America and I pray for her safety. I pray for all of us actually. I hope we make it through this difficult time and come out the other side united and strong. Wishful thinking to be sure, but it is possible. All it requires is for all of us to keep the faith.

 

 

 

 

These two notes were left on a house neighboring Chabad of Oak Park in February. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Yisroel Levine

ADL audit notes spike in anti-Semitism since 2016


Anti-Semitic acts have become significantly more widespread in America since the beginning of last year, nearly doubling in the first quarter of 2017, according to a national report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The United States saw a 34 percent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, with an additional 86 percent increase in the first three months of this year, according to the ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released April 24. The audit shows a year-over-year comparison of harassment, vandalism and assault linked to Jew hatred.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

Graphic courtesy of ADL.

 

In addition to the national report, the ADL released a companion report for incidents in its Pacific Southwest region, which includes Los Angeles. In California, the audit noted 211 incidents of anti-Semitism in 2016, up 21 percent from 2015.

The reports come on the heels of a pair of polls conducted by the ADL, published earlier this month, that found 14 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic beliefs.

Amanda Susskind, Pacific Southwest regional director for the ADL, noted a number of alarming trends in the audit, some of which she said likely are tied to the national political environment and the November election of President Donald Trump.

“We believe the 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere may have played a role in some of the increase,” she told the Journal.

Though the reports provide only a rough assessment of anti-Semitic acts, Susskind pointed to some causes for concern, namely, the proliferation of swastikas as a hate symbol and, among youth, “a feeling of freedom to express themselves verbally in hateful ways.”

The regional audit notes a Riverside County elementary school vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, including the words “Burn Jews,” and an Indio high school student who wore a Nazi uniform to high school for Halloween.

Susskind said the president’s failure to appropriately check his supporters who express virulently anti-Semitic views helped create a permissive atmosphere for hateful speech.

“I have no doubt that it trickled down into the mainstream and ultimately into the school yards and playgrounds where kids are starting to become more loose-lipped,” Susskind said.

Nationally, the ADL reported “a doubling in the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”

“Seeing [anti-Semitism] in K-12 is pretty disturbing,” Susskind said. “Not that it’s not disturbing in college, but it’s newly disturbing to us this year.”

As for the swastikas, she said, “I hope it’s an anomaly.”

She noted an “extraordinarily large” number of incidents where swastikas were etched into cars, presumably owned by Jews. The regional report makes note of swastikas scratched into cars in Jewish neighborhoods including Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills.

The national audit makes particular note of an uptick in anti-Semitic activity since the presidential election. Of the 1,266 acts noted in the report “targeting Jews and Jewish institutions” in 2016, almost 30 percent of them occurred in November and December.

During the first three months of 2017, there were 541 incidents, far more than the 291 reported during the same time period the previous year. The 2017 count includes a national wave of phony bomb threats against Jewish institutions.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016 and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release.

Susskind was careful to note that the incidents in the audit represent only those reported to the ADL or that ADL staffers read about and followed up on, and also that the information was anecdotal rather than scientific.

Moreover, she said there are other arenas where anti-Semitism is entrenched that are not included in the reports.

Susskind said the ADL continues to monitor cyberhate, for instance, which has not abated since the election. She said haters are emboldened when the White House fails to quickly and strongly condemn acts of anti-Semitism.

“There’s a failure of leadership consistently, and in that vacuum, hate rushes in,” she said.

Why They Hate the Jews


Just a day after twelve people were gunned down in a Paris newspaper office, an additional gunman walked into a kosher supermarket and slaughtered four Jewish men. All of this in the name of Islam. I was saddened to the core, but this was still no surprise to me. That after the first attack, there would be another – this time against the Jews. 

As the whole world grieved, I wondered: Why are the Jews so hated? Why do we always have to be the object of somebody’s wrath? Throughout history, the Jewish nation has been the target of such fervent animosity, it boggles the mind to see how we’ve actually made it. Whether it be Haman, or Pharaoh, inquisitions or crusades, pogroms or even an all out Holocaust – anti Semitism has always been raging through the veins of the nations of the world. Today, nothing has changed. What did we ever do to be detested throughout the way we are and the way we have been in the past? Multiple nations have made their life goal the extermination of the Jewish people.  In 2014’s list of most hated countries, North Korea took home medal for number one, and Iran struck bronze. Believe it or not, Israel was sandwiched in between the two. Yes, you heard me right, Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is the second most hated country in the entire world.  I have witnessed the hostility towards my people, I have heard the ugly accusations made against us, and I have thought long and hard. 

Thousands have attempted to answer this question and they have produced many theories. The first of three that I will mention, a very popular one, is pulled straight from the lips of the ancient Jewish Sages. “And Esau will hate Jacob”, Esau being the nations of the world, Jacob representing the Jewish people. Explained simply, the verse tells that ingrained into the minds, boiled into the blood, fixed into the heart of the gentile nations is an innate hatred that will last for all eternity. But it’s just not satisfying. I personally find this explanation overwhelmingly depressing. This explanation basically proves that no matter what we do and no matter how hard we try to ameliorate things, we will always be disliked. Once again, extremely bleak, and I cannot take it to heart. 

Theory number two: Jealousy. Every human being on earth knows the ugliness of jealousy and the grotesque consequences that jealousy has on a person’s well-being, on relationships, on life itself. Jealousy has a reputation for ripping people apart, and everyone has experienced that very specific feeling of rage that only jealousy can surface. If neglected, that rage ultimately turns into resentment, and this resentment can be fatal. Theory number two gives a clear explanation to the famous question addressed above. Everyone is just so damn jealous of the chosen nation. Jews run the world! They dominate Hollywood, control Wall Street and embezzle money. Who hasn’t heard of these before.

Lets get to the bottom of these lies. Every nation in the world believes they are chosen. They believe that they were lovingly chosen from among all the other nations, they were chosen to carry out G-ds mission on earth, to heal the world of it’s ills. No one is jealous of the chosen people, because every religion considers themselves the chosen people.         

Up until seventy years ago, Jewish blood was spilled carelessly and constantly. We have been expelled, persecuted, murdered, libeled against, gassed, hunted down and annihilated. You name it and we’ve gone through it. No nation on earth has a history as tragic as the Jews do. Jealous of what? What could they possibly be jealous of? I would have switched realities with any jealous person if I had lived seventy years ago. The Jews as a nation have only been making real progress for around sixty years now. Until then they were dirt poor with no place to call home. What a stupid approach. Jealous of gas chambers and crematoria? I think not. 

Theories one and two bring no reconciliation. But there is one more. Nobody likes the kid in class who reminds you not to cheat. Nobody likes the “righteous adviser”. I can recall many childhood stories involving in a noble advisor being thrown into prison, if not killed. We all hate that guy. The Jewish people have always been the world’s moral conscience, that constant,, annoying voice coming from somewhere in your mind. We were the ones who stood up for justice when society was barbaric. From the day we received the Ten Commandments, we reminded the world that you are not allowed to kill, no matter how much you hate that man. You can not steal from that man, no matter how much money he has, no matter how much you may need it.  No matter how bad your marriage may be, you can not covet your friends wife. We have taught the human to battle his nature and in turn, we have spoiled all the fun. When the Jews sinned in the Desert, Moses himself had the audacity to stand up tp Gd, telling Him to erase him from his book if he destroyed the Jews, no matter what their sin. Moses, the greatest leader of the Jewish people, reminded Gd himself that he was not abiding by the moral code he had created.  We, like Moses, have remained defiant and stubborn, in the face of wrongdoing. Gd gave us a mission to mold the world a certain way, and the world has chosen to shoot the messenger.   

Why did Hitler dedicate his whole life to the extermination of the Jews? What could have possibly been so important, how could his hatred have driven him to devote his whole life to our extinction? Hitler was not only trying to eliminate every Jew from the face of the earth, he was trying to construct a new moral code, by means of eradicating the old one. The Jews had built a moral foundation, a foundation given to them at mount Sinai that rested on the belief that every man is of equal and infinite value. Hitler’s way of life defied that completely. He believed in a superior race. Aryan blood was of more value. He detested Jews with his very being, and they therefor had to be erased from the face of the earth without a trace of their existence. He was framing a new world, where murder was justified if you had a good reason behind it, where cruelty was rationalized if it was for a greater good. His world included gas chambers and crematoria, killing machines of mass murder. This new order of ethics not only allowed for these evil things to be done, but shifted the moral compass of an entire nation so these acts were no longer evil. He created a world of monsters who had no distinction between good and bad. But he couldn’t do that with the Jews around. He was desperate to show the world that he had the power of life and death in his hands, that his power was limitless. The Germans believed that he was a gd of some sort, they worshipped him wholeheartedly. The Jews taught the world that as human beings we will always be number two. The Kipa symbolizes subservience to the all-powerful. It is a reminder to the man that wears it, that Gd comes before him, that there is a power, too great to comprehend that is the source behind all life.  

Judaism was the first to introduce feminine passiveness over male aggressiveness. Abraham was waiting by the entrance of his tent, desperate to feed passerby, while the quintessential male at that time was conquering cities. Jacob, the namesake of the Jewish people, was called a “simple man, a dweller of his tent”. He was a scholar who sat in his tent peacefully and learned. As a people, we have always tried to avoid war at all costs, but when given no other choice, we excersize the right to defend ourselves. We are the people of the book, not the sword.             

After my parents had come home from a trip in Senegal, I remember them mentioning how sad it was that all the billboards on the highways were advertising skin bleach. People, who hardly had enough money for food, were buying skin bleach to lighten their skin. The white man had tortured them for so long, that they internalized that hatred. After centuries of being treated as inferior, they began to believe it. 

We must never make the same mistake. We must never be apologetic for the way we live, for the way we defend Israel, for the way we defy evil. We can never blame ourselves for the wickedness of others, justifying it through believing that we are at fault. We will never be ashamed of our righteous, compassionate nature, no matter how hated we are for it. 

Rochel Leah Boteach is a High School student and writer. She lives in New Jersey.

 

Three Jews visit Scandinavia; an adventure in anti-Semitism


Just before the Israeli-Gaza conflict, I emailed Mousa, a Palestinian-American actor I know, to say that I wanted to sit down with him to discuss what's going on in the Middle East and to see if there was something the two of us could do as artists to try to help spark change for the better. I come from the mindset that Israel is repeatedly trying to make peace and failing because the Palestinian leadership and radicalized civilians care more about wiping Israel off of the map than sovereignty. Mousa sees the Palestinians as an oppressed minority, forced from their land and unable to gain freedom due to the colonization by the Israeli government. We do not agree with each other about each side's motives. But we both want peace. And we're not only willing to sit down to discuss it — we want to.

I'm on a flight back from Copenhagen right now, having spent eight days with two close friends visiting Stockholm and Copenhagen as a gift to myself for my 40th birthday. Both countries were wonderful in their own way. Stockholm was the cleanest city I've ever seen — the only thing more beautiful were the people on the street. Copenhagen was rawer — a little rough around the edges — but the people were less reserved than Sweden, and I loved that bicycles seemed to be the main transport. We made friends in both cities, and if I had the opportunity, I'd love to go back again.

But the trip was tainted by a twinge of unmistakable anti-Semitism, which lingered in the air almost everywhere we went. I traveled with Shmuly, a religious Jewish friend with a long beard and a yarmulke. He's a gregarious guy, and like me, he loves to meet all kinds of people. But his visage drew stares — some curious, some angry. And as the night grew longer, and the people grew drunker, even in reserved Sweden, anti-Semitic cries rang out in the streets. In Stockholm, it mainly took place at the bus stop near our Sheraton hotel. One night it was some Somalian Muslim girls in hijabs, who instead of helping us with directions, turned to us and seethed, “Put a dick in your ass!”

Stockholm

Another night it was a group of Arabs who stared at us as we passed. A tall man raised a fist in the air and shouted, “Fuck Israel!” When we ignored it, he persisted — “Fuck Jews!” I was frustrated. And instead of cursing him back, I found myself singing, “Am Yisrael Chai! (The People of Israel Live)” over and over again — a song I probably mumbled my way through in elementary school. I've never had a reaction like that to ignorance. I've fought back, I've run away, I've been both rational, and immature. But song? What was this? West Side Story? He and his friend started walking towards us, a game of chicken to see if we'd confront him head on. But we didn't. We quickly turned the corner to our hotel and ducked inside.

We drank at a beer garden late one afternoon and met great people at the shared tables overlooking the city.

Star of David gate along the roof of this beer garden.

But racism peeked its head out again, as we headed down an elevator, the door closing to reveal a swastika crudely carved into the door.

In Copenhagen it was more of the same — only it wasn't solely Muslims who confronted us. Danes wanted to know where we stood on the Israeli-Gaza conflict, and they weren't shy to ask. I don't mind a healthy debate, but this was loaded. Our answers were irrelevant. They wanted an excuse to rage, and in a country with very few Jews — especially ones so easily identifiable — we became the perfect victims. With the conflict in Gaza going full tilt as of the writing of this article, tensions are understandably high. The loss of lives on both sides is a tragedy. Thanks to Israel's Iron Dome defense, many Israeli lives have been spared. But Hamas keeps trying. And Israel keeps fighting back. And the horrible cycle goes on and on.

On a bike ride around the city, we came across the City Hall Square, only to realize a Pro Gaza rally was wrapping up, the anti-Zionist and anti-Israel chalk-writing all over the cement. We rode on, not wanting to get caught up in anyone's anger.

City Hall Square 

On our last night, we went to a bar by the hotel, where we befriended a group of college students. They taught us how to play a Danish dice game called Meyer, and we laughed, drank and left with hugs as they pointed us to Pizza Huset, a late night pizza place they recommended.

Shmuly only eats kosher, so I joked with him about having to watch me eat delicious pizza while he waited to get back to his prepackaged food in our room. I remembered seeing Pizza Huset the night before. We were actually going to stop there to eat but there was a large group of Muslims outside, and even though Shmuly was in a cap we heard them whispering, “Yehudi?” the Arabic word for Jew, when they spotted us. A man shouted Shalom to see if we would turn around. We didn't.

But on our last night, the small restaurant was quiet. While my pizza was cooking, Shmuly waited outside. He poked his head in to say hi, and saw two girls ordering their food. One girl wore pants, checked with a similar pattern to the counter wall. Shmuly, always looking for a laugh, told the girl she matched the tile. She didn't turn around. He took the hint and went outside, but her friend darted after him. I heard yelling so I quickly ran out to make sure all was okay. “You stole my land,” she told him, and I took out my phone to film the diatribe. Oddly, not only did she give me permission to film her when I asked, she repeated her rant for the camera, raising her arm in a Nazi salute as she recited Heil Hitler over again. After she went back inside, I went in to check on my pizza. She directed her anger at me, but when I responded her more volatile friend screamed, “Shut the fuck up!” I took out my camera again. I wanted to document what people have been denying is happening. I wanted to document it in case anything went wrong. And then she ran over to me and slapped the phone out of my hand. The glass shattered on the floor, and she ran out of the shop to get her boyfriend.

We turned to the man running the counter of Pizza Huset, but before I could say a word, he said, “I'm not getting involved.” He didn't like us. I didn't need to ask why. The entrance to the restaurant is tiny, and as I ascended the stairs to leave before her boyfriend got there, I was pushed back inside by a brick wall of a man. He was large, intimidating, and he asked me if I filmed his girlfriend. He then told me to delete all of the videos. When I tried to defend myself he pushed his chest against me, making it clear I better do as he insisted. And I did. And he let us go.

Luckily Shmuly had some of the video footage on his phone, as well. And we uploaded it to Facebook so we could show our friends what is going on in Europe. The video quickly spread, and soon politicians, reporters and Danish citizens were writing us to say they were sorry for our experience. It made me feel like most people are good in the world. But fighting hate and ignorance takes work. It takes hard conversations. And it takes being able to sit down with people you may not agree with, in order to spark change. If a Palestinian and I can do it, I'm sure a Turkish Muslim on the streets of Copenhagen can, too.

I got an email from Mousa telling me he'd like to know what my experience has been like in Europe. I told him. When I get back we'll sit down and have a coffee. I'll drink mine with ice. He'll drink his hot. But we'll clink glasses, take a sip and then have the hard conversations people need to have to try to make the world a better place.

Originally published on Huffington Post

About the author: Despite fighting a life-long recurrence of eczema on his left pointer finger, Seth hasn't let it stop him from acting in various commercials and television shows while continuously writing web sketches and TV pilots his agent refers to as “sometimes funny.” He's sold a couple of shows, spends an inordinate amount of time in coffee shops, and when he remembers, he both feeds and clothes his children.
 

Denounce violence in the name of religion, Vatican liaison says


The Vatican chief liaison to world Jewry voiced an urgent call from Pope Benedict XVI for all religious leaders to openly denounce violence in the name of religion.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, on his first visit to the United States as a Vatican representative, made his remarks Monday during the inaugural luncheon for the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“We know God does not dwell in violence, only in peace,” Koch said.

Koch is the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Vatican branch encompassing the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. He assumed his position in June 2010.

During an appearance Sunday at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Koch told an audience of rabbis, priests, theologians and specialists in interfaith dialogue that many Jews approve of the likely canonization of Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII, the wartime pope who many accuse of not doing enough to defend Jews from the Nazis.

His assertions, including that the opening of the Vatican’s Holocaust-era archives would not add more information about Pius’ activities during the Nazi era, were met with anger from some attending the program, the Forward reported.

Westboro case poses dilemma for Jewish groups


Jewish defense organizations long—and proudly—have upheld a delicate principle in defending the First Amendment: Hate the speech, defend the speaker.

But a Supreme Court case whose arguments were scheduled for Wednesday have put that precept to the test: A Maryland family is suing the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing the funeral of its scion, Matthew Snyder, a soldier killed in a noncombat accident in Iraq.

Jewish organizations that routinely have defended free speech that others might find abusive are sitting this one out. The American Jewish Committee has not filed a brief; the Anti-Defamation League filed a brief arguing that the case has no merit.

The case pits the Snyder family’s right to privacy and protection from defamation against the rights of Westboro church, which is well known for its message that America’s woes derive from its tolerance for homosexuality. The tiny Kansas-based church also has a long record of anti-Semitic activity and regularly pickets Jewish institutions throughout the United States.

“Free speech encompasses hate speech,” said Marc Stern, the associate legal counsel at the American Jewish Committee, “but this church is off the wall. They’re not just saying things, they’re shoving it down people’s throats.”

The Snyders sued Westboro after church founder Fred Phelps picketed the Catholic church where Snyder’s funeral was held, protesting against U.S. soldiers for not rising up and overthrowing the “sinful” U.S. government.

Ultimately the family won $5 million, but an appeals court threw out the award. The Snyders brought the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the side of the Snyders is a coalition of state attorneys general who argue for the family’s right to privacy. Civil rights groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, are defending the Westboro church’s right to political and religious expression.

In its brief, the ADL argues that the court should not have taken the case because there was no actual conflict. Police had separated the protesters from the service to the extent that the Snyders were not aware of the event until afterward, when Matthew’s father read about it online.

“ADL unequivocally condemns the anti-Semitic and homophobic rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church and its funeral protests,” said a statement by Deborah Lauter, ADL’s civil rights director. “However, the Supreme Court need not and should not address the constitutionality of their conduct in the absence of a real conflict.”

The key danger, said Steven Freeman, the ADL’s director of legal affairs, is that by addressing a theoretical confrontation instead of an actual one, the court risks ruling in an advisory capacity, expanding the judicial branch’s powers.

“That would set them down a path of issuing advisory opinions, giving advice as opposed to resolving people’s disputes,” he said. “It’s a bad path.”

Westboro increased its anti-Jewish profile about a year ago, picketing outside federations and synagogues, drawing publicity in the process. The anti-Semitic rhetoric in its published materials dates back at least to the 1990s, when the church compared its own tribulations to the persecution of Jews in the Holocaust.

In 2004, writing about Gen. Wesley Clark’s decision to drop out of the Democratic primaries and endorse John Kerry, a Westboro church statement said, “His Christ-rejecting, God-hating Jew blood bubbled to the surface. Yes, like his boss Kerry, Clark is a Jew.”

Clark and Kerry had fathers whose Jewishness was revealed to them only in adulthood.

Freeman said it was clear for a long time that the ADL would be presented eventually with a dilemma about whether to defend virulent anti-Semites and homophobes. In recent years, the ADL has condemned the explosion of hate speech on the Internet but maintained that it is constitutionally protected.

“This isn’t the right case to address this thorny issue,” Freeman said. “We’ve been reporting on Westboro for a long time—by the same token we have a long tradition of defending First Amendment rights.”

Stern, who left the American Jewish Congress and joined the AJCommittee after the decision was made not to file a brief in the case, said the Supreme Court ruling could have broader—and worrisome—repercussions should the court uphold the ruling for the Snyders, who sued the church both for violation of privacy and defamation.

Should the court rule solely on the issue of privacy, the free speech ramifications would be minimal. However, should it emulate foreign courts that have banned certain forms of hate speech, it would amount to a major change in interpretation of the First Amendment.

Stern noted the appeal of such a ruling to otherwise incompatible bedfellows: conservatives who are repulsed by the Westboro church’s targeting of the bereaved, and leftists who in recent years have held that hate language is an instrument of oppression, citing laws in countries such as France, Germany and Israel.

“There are strong free speech arguments for the church,” Stern said. “If the court rules that certain kinds of speech are not protected at all or of such little utility as to deserve protection, that would be a really radical change in American law.”

Them vs. Us


Was it Mort Sahl who said, “Just because I’m a paranoid, doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get me”?

In this week’s parsha, the narrative begins with the drama of Yaakov and his tender flock — two wives, two quasi-wives, 11 sons, a daughter — preparing to meet with an oncoming army, imposingly headed by his anything-but-fraternal “twin” brother, Esav. Yaakov fears the worst, and even as he prays to Hashem for protection and sends gifts to appease Esav, he prepares for war. The brothers meet ultimately, and Esav “ran to greet him, and hugged him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Genesis 33:4).

Rashi, the paramount medieval commentator, notes the two midrashic traditions that discuss what actually happened during “The Kiss.” Because the Torah text is unusually punctuated, with six extraneous dots marking the word va-yishakehu (“and he kissed him”), the rabbis analyzed what happened.

One midrashic opinion is that the kiss was insincere — that Esav actually tried to bite Yaakov’s throat out after deceptively inducing his brother to relax his defenses. The other opinion is that after 20 years driven by relentless hate, Esav laid eyes on his brother, and it all came to him at once: He is my brother, for God’s sake, my brother. And he kissed him with all his love.

For many, that midrashic discussion historically has served as the narrative’s denouement and the ultimate launching pad for distrusting non-Jews, all of them. According to the opinion that Esav tried to bite the neck, not to kiss it, that animus reflects an immutable law of nature, comparable to gravity, only with metaphor attached: “It is a known law that Esav hates Yaakov.”

Metaphorically interpreted: All non-Jews are out to get us.

I was taught that law as a child being schooled in Brooklyn. They all are out to get us.

As for the second interpretation, which bears equal weight in the original midrashic discussion — that Esav kissed his brother lovingly — well, it never was taught to us as kids. We did not even have to know it for the test. I only discovered it years later, when on my initiative I looked at the original source discussion.

Certainly, ours is a history of being targeted by “them” for no reason other than our being “us.” The Christian, en route to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel Muslim Saracens, stopped along watering holes throughout Europe to massacre whole Jewish bystander communities.

Three centuries later, as a bubonic plague took hold throughout Europe, insane justification somehow was found to murder one-third of our people. Three centuries later, Bogdan Chmielnitzki and the Cossack massacres. Three centuries later, Hitler, the Nazis and their European confederates. Not to mention the Inquisition in Spain, the expulsions from lands as gentle as France and England, the persecutions of Mashad, the mellahs of Morocco and the ghettos of Italy and the June 1941 Iraqi Shavuot pogrom after the fall of the Golden Square.

So many times we got caught in the crossfire of other people, insane and crazy with one or another agenda of hate, who stopped by along the way to target us, too. As recently as Mumbai, where goons and thugs fighting over the Pakistan-India Kashmir dispute chose to perpetrate horrific evils against targeted Jewish bystanders while on a murder spree, we have been caught or targeted in their crossfire.

It is easy to see how persuasive the “known law of nature” seems to be: They all are out to get us. Just look at history. All of them are out to get us.

Only, that is not all of our history. From Righteous Gentiles who genuinely risked and sometimes gave their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust to centuries and millennia of next door neighbors who lent us milk or sugar or watered our plants and picked up our mail (yes, an anachronism) when we went on vacation, to non-Jewish employers who hired us and non-Jewish teachers who helped us learn to read and to count, a second law also exists: No, they are not all out to get us.

And despite this country’s shameful moments — Peter Stuyvesant’s governance, Ulysses Grant’s General Order No. 11, the Leo Frank lynching, the 1928 Massena Blood Libel, the years of Father Coughlin and Henry Ford and the 1991 Crown Heights Riots — we have flourished and built Torah institutions, gained huge support for Israel, including financial and military backing and the right to hold dual citizenship with her, and have been able to play a role in every aspect of this land’s culture and enterprise and civilization. We assuredly owe it to our kids to teach them that, no, all of them are not out to get us.

And because the playing field at this time and place in our history is essentially level, it is incumbent on us to conduct our affairs honestly and ethically and to expect and demand the same from those business enterprises that operate in our community or — even if they are out in the sticks of the Corn Belt — that operate to serve our community.

Rabbi Dov Fischer is adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School and is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, a Modern Orthodox shul in Irvine. His Web site is www.rabbidov.com.

Anti-Semitism in Pakistan — hate on a sliding scale




This is the second of two parts on Pakistan and terror. Previously: Pakistan Reaction: Something dark is growing in our own backyard



Right in the middle of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, stands one of the most recognized symbols of Judaism: the Star of David. It adorns, in relief, Merewether Tower, one of the city’s best-known landmarks, a 112-foot-tall clock tower built by Sir Evans James in 1892. Today, a busy transit intersection has developed around the tower, which hundreds of thousands of Muslims pass each day Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackon their way to work.

Nadeem Ahmed, a broker at the Karachi Stock Exchange located just across the street, points to some old graffiti at the base of the tower that reads “Israel na manzoor” (Israel is not acceptable).

“These marks show the anger of some fanatics for the brutality of Israelis against the Muslims of Palestine and Lebanon,” he says. “Frankly speaking, I’m neither happy nor sad about the Jews who were killed in Mumbai.”

Ahmed’s apathy falls right in the middle of the spectrum of Pakistani attitudes toward Jews. At one end are the virulently anti-Semitic beliefs held by people such as the members of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Army of the Pure, a banned terrorist outfit operating in Kashmir. The LeT is suspected of being behind the attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai and the murder of the five Jews, including Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah.

At the other end of the spectrum are Pakistanis such as Maria (not her real name), a Shia who converted to Judaism, married a Jewish professor whom she met during her studies in the United States and with whom she has two children.

Unfortunately, tragedies such as what took place in Mumbai last month, in New York in 2001 and in London in 2005, as well as the 2002 murder in Karachi of Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Daniel Pearl, throw the spotlight on only one end of the spectrum in Pakistan and give the worst impression of Muslims. The other end lies in the dark — the many other variations of how Pakistani Muslims perceive Jews are left out of the picture.

ALTTEXTMerewether Tower

It’s time for words to lead the peace process


It is now clear that no peace agreement, not even on principles, will be signed by the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating team before some time in 2009, after the
new American administration takes charge, the Israeli election runs its course and the fate of Mahmoud Abbas’ presidency is decided.

Analysts who have been urging the two sides to expedite matters for all the many reasons that made the window of opportunities narrower by the day are now urging them to “keep the momentum going,” lest the window, which I doubt ever existed, becomes too narrow to re-open.

But how do you keep momentum going when the two sides are locked in a fundamentally immobile stalemate?

Israel is physically unable to accommodate a sovereign neighbor a rocket range away from its vital airports, one whose youngsters openly vow to destroy it. And Palestinians, on their part, cannot change their youngsters’ vows after having nourished them for decades, especially under occupation, while Iran is promising to turn those vows into reality.

Yet there is a way. If we cannot move on the ground, we should move above it — in the metaphysical sphere of words, metaphors and paradigms — to create a movement that not only would maintain the perception of “keeping the momentum going,” but could actually be the key to any future movement on the ground.

Let us be frank: The current stalemate is ideological, not physical, and it hangs on two major contentions: “historical right” and “justice,” which must be wrestled with in words before we can expect any substantive movement on the ground.

Starting with “historical right,” we recall that a year ago, the Annapolis process was on the verge of collapse on account of two words: “Jewish state.”

In the week preceding Annapolis, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat proclaimed, “The PA would never acknowledge Israel’s Jewish identity,” to which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted angrily with: “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state…. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me.”

Clearly, to the secular Israeli society, the insistence on a Jewish state has nothing to do with kosher food or wearing yarmulkes; it has to do with historical claims of co-ownership and legitimacy, which are prerequisites for any lasting peace, regardless of its shape. Olmert’s reaction, which is shared by the vast majority of Israelis, translates into: “Whoever refuses to tell his children that Jews are here by moral and historical imperative has no intention of honoring his agreements in the long run.”

In other words, recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” is seen by Israelis as a litmus test for Arabs’ intentions to take peace agreements as permanent. Unfortunately, for the Arabs, the words “Jewish state” signal the legitimization of a theocratic society and the exclusion of non-Jews from co-ownership in the state.

Can these two views be reconciled?

Of course they can. If the PA agrees to recognize Israel’s “historical right” to exist (instead of just “right to exist” or “exist as a Jewish state”) fears connected with religious exclusion will not be awakened, and Israel’s demand for a proof of intention will simultaneously be satisfied: You do not teach your children of your neighbor’s “historical right” unless you intend to make the final status agreement truly final — education is an irreversible investment.

But would the PA ever agree to grant Israel such recognition?

This brings us to the second magical word: “justice.” One of the main impediments to Palestinians’ recognition of Israel’s “right to exist,” be it historical or de-facto, is their fear that such recognition would delegitimize the Arabs’ struggle against the Zionist program throughout the first half of the 20th century, thus contextualizing the entire conflict as a whimsical Arab aggression and weakening their claims to the “right of return.”

All analysts agree that Palestinians would never agree to give up, tarnish or weaken this right. They might, however, accept a symbolic recognition that would satisfy, neutralize and, perhaps, even substitute for the literal right of return.

Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab wrote in the Washington Post (May 12): “The basic demand is not the physical return of all refugees but for Israel to take responsibility for causing this decades-long tragedy.”

Similar to Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Palestinian refugees demand their place in history through recognition that their suffering was not a senseless dust storm but part of a man-made historical process, to which someone bears responsibility and is prepared to amend the injustice.

Journalist Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset, believes that this deep sense of injustice can be satisfied through an open and frank Israeli apology.

“I believe that peace between us and the Palestinian people — a real peace, based on real conciliation — starts with an apology” he wrote in Arabic Media Internet Network, June 14 (www.amin.org).

“In my mind’s eye,” he writes, “I see the president of the state or the prime minister addressing an extraordinary session of the Knesset and making an historic speech of apology:

‘Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

‘On behalf of the State of Israel and all its citizens, I address today the sons and daughters of the Palestinian people, wherever they are.

‘We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

‘The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement was to save the Jews of Europe, where the dark clouds of hatred for the Jews were gathering. In Eastern Europe, pogroms were raging, and all over Europe there were signs of the process that would eventually lead to the terrible Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews perished.

‘All this does not justify what happened afterwards. The creation of the Jewish national home in this country has involved a profound injustice to you, the people who lived here for generations.

‘We cannot ignore anymore the fact that in the war of 1948 — which is the War of Independence for us and the Naqba for you — some 750,000 Palestinians were compelled to leave their homes and lands. As for the precise circumstances of this tragedy, I propose the establishment of a Committee for Truth and Reconciliation composed of experts from your and from our side, whose conclusions will from then on be incorporated in the schoolbooks, yours and ours.'”

Is Israeli society ready to make such an apology and assume such responsibility? Not a chance.

For an Israeli, admitting guilt for creating the refugee problem is tantamount to embedding Israel’s birth in sin, thus undermining the legitimacy of its existence and encouraging those who threaten that existence. The dominant attitude is: They started the war; wars have painful consequences; they fled on their own, despite our official calls to stay put. We are clean.

Can this attitude be reconciled with Palestinians’ demands for official recognition of their suffering? I believe it can.

Whereas Israelis refuse to assume full responsibility for the consequences of the 1948 war, they are certainly prepared to assume part of that responsibility. After all, Israelis are not unaware of stories about field commanders in the 1948 war who initiated private campaigns to scare Arab villagers and, on some occasions, to force them out.

So, how do we find words to express reciprocal responsibility? Here I take author’s liberty and, following Avnery, appeal to my mind’s eye and envision the continuation of that extraordinary Knesset session at the end of the Israeli president’s speech.

I see Abbas waiting for the applause to subside, stepping to the podium and saying:

“Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

“On behalf of the Palestinian people and the future state of Palestine, I address today the sons and daughters of the Jewish nation, wherever they are.

“We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

“The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Palestinian national movement was to liberate Palestine from colonial powers, first the Ottoman empire and then the British Mandate Authorities. In their zeal to achieve independence, they have treated the creation of a Jewish national home in this country as a form of colonial occupation, rather than a homecoming endeavor of a potentially friendly neighbor, a partner to liberation, whose historical attachment to this landscape was not weaker than ours.

“We cannot ignore anymore the fact that the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 has resulted in the British White Paper, which prevented thousands, if not millions, of European Jews from escaping the Nazi extermination plan. Nor can we ignore the fact that when survivors of Nazi concentration camps sought refuge in Palestine, we were instrumental in denying them safety and, when they finally established their historical homeland, we called the armies of our Arab brethren to wipe out their newly created state.

“Subsequently, for the past 60 years, in our zeal to rectify the injustice done to us, we have taught our children that only your demise can bring about the justice and liberty they so badly deserve. They took our teachings rather seriously, and some of them resorted to terror wars that killed, maimed and injured thousands of your citizens.”

Admittedly, this scenario is utopian. The idea of Palestinians apologizing to Israel is so heretical in prevailing political consciousness that only six Google entries mention such a gesture, compared with 615 entries citing “Israel must apologize.”

Yet, peace begins with ideas, and ideas are shaped by words. And the utopian scenario I painted above gives a feasible frame to reciprocal words that must be said, in one form or another, for a lasting peace to set in.

And if not now, when? Recall, we must keep the momentum going.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org) named after his son. He and his wife, Ruth, are editors of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Where’s the struggle?


I feel cheated. I’ve always been told that Judaism is all about the struggle — the struggle with God, with ourselves, with ideas.

I’ve been told that Judaism embraces the tension between opposing views; that a key part of being Jewish is the ability to hold onto, even nurture, this tension as a way of refining our character.

So, what happened?

When I see the coarse arguments currently raging over the issue of same-sex marriage, I don’t see any thoughtful or fascinating debates or any embracing of tension. I see two armies shooting at each other.

These two armies have one thing in common: They’re both absolutely sure they have the truth on their side.

Many proponents of same-sex marriage are so sure of themselves that they’ll accuse the other side of “hatred, discrimination and bigotry.” When I saw a neighbor a few weeks ago put up a sign that said, “No to Hate, No to 8,” the first thing that crossed my mind was: If these people can go so far as to accuse the neighbors who disagree with them of hatred, well, they must be incredibly sure of themselves. No inner turmoil there.

I can’t say I’ve reached that state of blissful certitude. That’s because for every heartfelt, passionate argument I hear in favor of same-sex marriage, I’ll hear something that complicates the argument, such as this from Carol A. Corrigan:

“If there is to be a new understanding of the meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of our state and find its expression at the ballot box.”

Corrigan is not a Mormon missionary. She’s a justice of the California Supreme Court. She was one of three dissenters in the decision last May to overturn the result of Proposition 22 from March 2000, when 61 percent of Californians who cast ballots voted that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Corrigan also happens to be a lesbian, who would personally like to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land. But as she wrote in her dissent:

“We are in the midst of a major social change. Societies seldom make such changes smoothly. For some, the process is frustratingly slow. For others it is jarringly fast. In a democracy the people should be given a fair chance to set the pace of change without judicial interference. That is the way democracies work.

“Ideas are proposed, debated, tested. Often new ideas are initially resisted, only to be ultimately embraced. But when ideas are imposed, opposition hardens and progress may be hampered.”

Does that sound like someone who’s full of hatred, discrimination and bigotry?

Similarly, I came across a scholarly and respectful essay from professor Margaret Somerville of McGill University titled, “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage.” The Bible is never mentioned. Instead, strictly from a secular and ethical viewpoint, Somerville delves into the many layers of the issue, always recognizing the opposing viewpoint. And without a trace of self-righteousness, she advances, slowly and carefully, her belief that “society needs an institution that represents, symbolizes and protects the inherently reproductive relationship.”

I would love to see all proponents of Proposition 8 show the same appreciation for the complexity of this issue.

As I see it, the key point is not whether one agrees or disagrees with Corrigan and Somerville, but rather, recognizing that there’s a lot more thoughtful debate on this issue than meets the eye.

Frankly, when I see the increasingly vitriolic attacks being launched against people who exercised their democratic right to vote on a proposition, all I’m thinking is: They’re losing me.

One person who certainly didn’t lose me was Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of the IKAR community. Over coffee at Delice Bakery the other day, she made arguments in favor of same-sex marriage that were compelling and genuinely moving.

What moved me the most was the way she made her arguments — without any hint of anger or condescension, but with kindness, reason and heartfelt anecdotes. She didn’t feel the need to use scare tactics. She was against using words like “hate” to characterize the opposition, because, as she said, that kind of language doesn’t “open the heart.”

My conversation with Brous made me reflect on my own approach. Because I’m driven by curiosity as much as ideology, I have a tendency to immerse myself in both sides of an issue — even if I usually lean one way or the other.

I admit that I’m often tempted to just go over to my side, pick up a gun and start shooting. And sometimes I do. But then I ask myself, does the community need another partisan shooter, or does it need someone who can encourage all shooters to put down their guns and try to speak with the calmness and sensitivity of a Carole Corrigan, a Margaret Somerville or a Sharon Brous?

Maybe that’s the real struggle. Instead of trying to “convert” other people to our beliefs, we should struggle to convey those beliefs in a way that won’t alienate, demean or patronize the other side.

Even when — especially when — we’re absolutely sure that we are right and they are wrong.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

‘When there’s life, there’s hate’: Q & A with ADL’s Abe Foxman


Abe Foxman is director of the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Poland in 1940, he survived the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Foxman joined the ADL in 1965 upon graduating from New York University Law School and was appointed director in 1987.

Under his leadership the organization has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent human rights organizations, going after neo-Nazi groups and winning passage of groundbreaking hate-crime legislation. It has also been a magnet for controversy and criticism for its outspoken stands on issues ranging from Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” to the Armenian Genocide.

A week before coming West for the ADL’s annual meeting, Foxman spoke by phone with the Jewish Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.

Rob Eshman: The Republican Jewish Coalition ran a series of ads implying Sen. Barack Obama is anti-Israel and soft on terrorists. If those charges were true, it seems the ADL should have weighed in on Obama.

Abe Foxman: We don’t weigh in on political charges.

RE: But if you truly thought he was all those things, you’d be compelled to weigh in.

AF: We don’t weigh in one way or the other, except when there were rumors very early on which started before it became a major issue, floating in the Jewish community that Obama was a Muslim, went to a madrassa, was sworn in on the Koran. We did our own research, ascertained none of it was true, posted it on our Web site before it became an issue. Whether he is or isn’t [pro-Israel], nobody knows; that’s an opinion, a political opinion. And there’s a whole debate about William Ayers — that’s an opinion. That’s not an issue we would get an involved in.

RE: You released a statement saying the downturn in the economy has increased anti-Semitic invective. But your evidence is online message boards, which consist of crazy people posting on the Internet. How worried are you about this problem?

AF: We’re worried because there is a spike. You call them crazies. I call them bigots. Maybe every bigot is crazy or not. It’s not a surprise that bigots use a crisis situation to spew forth their venom, their hatred, their anti-Semitism. What is of concern is the quantity. What you call crazy or I call bigot out there can communicate his anti-Semitism instantaneously, in nanoseconds, if you will. We don’t know how far it reaches, into whose home, into whose institution, into whose school. We want people to be aware that it’s out there, and we’ve reached out to the servers, those who provide the platforms for it, and at this point they have been responsive. Some of the horrendous stuff is removed, but it doesn’t take very long for it to come back in another forum on another server, so we take it very seriously.

RE: Have you seen any signs that the hate has gone beyond the Internet?

AF: I don’t care what category you put it in, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad stands in front of the world and declares that the economic downturn is the result of Zionist Jewish control of finances. Hamas declares the same thing on its media. Yeah, it crosses into mainstream.

RE: You believe extremism in Iran is the most important issue facing Jews today?

AF: I think it’s the most important issue facing the free world. I think that … when Iran obtains nuclear power, it will first blackmail the Middle East. Then it threatens freedom and democracy in Europe, it will threaten trade, it will threaten oil supplies, etc. But, yes, I do see it as a greatest threat to the Jewish people, because here is a state in our lifetime that threatens the destruction of the Jewish state. It’s one thing for him to use words, and we believe words can kill, but he is developing the ability to deliver on his words.

RE: Your biography is so striking, so emblematic of the plight of Jews under anti-Semitism. But now there have been two or three generations who have no first-hand experience like you have. Do you worry that they simply won’t feel the urgency on these matters that you lived through?

AF: There are so many people working for the ADL; they are not all Holocaust survivors; they are not all of my age group. What’s happening now, unfortunately, is that … many who felt they would be handing over to our children and grandchildren a different experience wake up in the year 2008 and see that they better become concerned with anti-Semitism, looking at what’s happening in France and in Great Britain and in the Middle East and in Latin America. So this has nothing to with the fact that Abe Foxman is a Holocaust survivor.

RE: Yet the ADL seems to have an image problem. Do you agree with that?

AF: Tell me what that image is?

RE: You had someone like Joey Kurtzman write on Jewcy.com and Joe Klein write in Time that the ADL engages somewhat in fear-mongering.

AF: They have their own interests and axes to grind. I respect it. I disagree with it. I work for an organization that is as quick to say that it’s not anti-Semitism as we are to say when something is anti-Semitism. So, in fact, if you want, why don’t you look at the statistics of our sister agency, The American Jewish Committee, who finds in their polls that Jews see anti-Semitism as the greatest threat to them in the United States? I’m not even talking about abroad. Because when you take Iran or you take Europe or you take the Middle East, it has grown exponentially in the last six to eight years. But I think what you will find is that we are an institution that when it’s up, we say it’s up, and when it’s down, we say it’s down.

RE: During the height of controversy over Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion,’ we ran a Purim spoof cover showing Mel Gibson thanking you at the Academy Awards for drawing so much attention to his movie. Of course, it’s easy for us to make fun. How do you balance drawing attention to anti-Semites versus letting them blather in obscurity?

AF: We never have the luxury of ignoring anti-Semitism. By the way, I believe — I don’t think I should say it, I think you should say it — I believe I’ve been vindicated by the very fact that we raised issues about Mel Gibson and his film. We raised concerns, and I never called him an anti-Semite until he himself stood up and exposed himself publicly as the anti-Semite that he was. But you always ask the question, ‘If you talk about it, do more people know about it?’ ‘Is it worth it?’ etc.

My justification, if you will, is to say to you and all those who had a good time on Purim, take a look. Mel Gibson was an icon in this county. When this issue and debate began, Mel Gibson was the people’s choice. He was the most popular actor, producer, director, moneymaker in Hollywood. OK? And when we spoke up, people said, shocked, ‘He’s an icon.’ Well now look, several years later. In the interim, he did his film, he made his money and then he revealed himself for what he was. That’s the beauty of America. Where is he today? He’s still around; he’s no longer an icon. He’s no longer the most popular guy to run after. Where is he? He is where he needs to be. Because this country, the good people of this country did make consequences for him. It happens to politicians in this country; it happens to commercial enterprises. It’s not foolproof; its not 100 percent, and that’s what encourages me to stand up and speak out.

RE: When you see that anti-Semitism is up, around the world, when we thought anti-Semitism would end after the Holocaust and now it’s going on in Iran and in Europe, you have to wonder — is it just built into the civilization? Is it immortal in some ways?

AF: Hatred has been around since Cain and Abel. I’m not a philosopher; I’m not a sociologist. I don’t pretend to be. But they used to say, ‘Where there’s life, there’s bugs.’ When there’s life, there’s hate.

We’re into the age of DNA. The greater hope in our business is DNA, because if we can eventually map and find and isolate these DNA that makes people good, love, courageous, altruistic verses hate, greedy, jealous, etc., we may be able to change the universe.

RE: But the same technology could be reversed to take good people and inject them with hate.

AF: Absolutely. There’s always a risk in science. Take a look at the Internet. Great use for education and information, great use for bigots.

This interview has been condensed and edited

Wall Street, Main Street, Jew Street


I like to believe that as a 21st century American Jew, I’m no more paranoid than necessary.

But if I hear one more politician extol the virtues of “small towns,” I am fixing up a hiding place in my attic.

If I hear one more pundit bash Wall Street and grow misty over Main Street, I will check airfares out of the country.

“We grow good people in small towns,” vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin said in her acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The crowd went wild with applause.

Sen. Barack Obama told a Florida audience last month, “[Sen. John McCain] wants to run health care like they’ve been running Wall Street. Well, senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren’t going to think that’s such a good idea.”

First the presidential election and now the financial crisis have given rise to rhetorical nativism. It is open season on the big city. In their bid for those elusive independent, middle-class voters, McCain and Obama and their seconds, Sen. Joe Biden and Palin, are fanning the myth that the real America resides in some shining Mayberry on a hill. If only those nasty money changers and culture vultures in the seething cities below would just let them sow their wheat and do their books and raise their children up good.

These tropes are not new to America; they are older than Shylock. The Jews make up the city: corrupt, scheming, complicated; while the common folk, the good people, occupy the farms and villages. The Jews lord over the metropolises, making easy money off the hard labor of others.

There’s an overlooked and ultimately sympathetic 1934 movie, “The House of Rothschild,” which perfectly captures the previous centuries of anti-Semitic caricature.

The film opens in 1750 on Frankfort’s “Jew Street,” as Mayer Amschel, founder of the Rothschild line, scurries to hide his precious guilden from the cruel tax collector.

“They keep us in chains!” he tells his boys. “They won’t let us learn a trade! They won’t let us own land. So make money. Money is the only weapon the Jew has to defend himself with.”

This stereotype and its accompanying rhetoric only ramps up in times of economic crisis. During the Great Depression, anti-Semitism was most virulent not in the cities where Jews lived but in the Farm Belt and Far West, where the image of “the Jew” lived.

Now the Anti-Defamation League reports “a dramatic upsurge in the number of anti-Semitic statements being posted to Internet discussion boards devoted to finance and the economy.”

Scan those Web sites and you quickly see what the candidates themselves likely don’t even realize: For the bigots and haters, Wall Street is code, the city is code, Hollywood — a staple enemy in the culture wars — is code. They’re code for “Jew.”

We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, when Palin said, “We grow good people in small towns,” she was quoting the late Westbrook Pegler, a notorious anti-Semitic columnist who called Jews “geese,” because “they hiss when they talk, gulp down everything before them and foul everything in their wake.”

Our candidates and our talking heads should be ashamed or, at least, careful. Because not only are such black-and-white dichotomies dangerous, they’re dumb.

Wall Street is not solely to blame for what’s happened — Main Street was a willing and gluttonous partner. And people on Main Street kept voting into office leaders who spouted pure pablum about “government getting out of the way” and deregulation and took their eyes off the market chicanery.

Main Street and Wall Street are inextricably bound up and always have been. Credit is as important to the economy as corn.

“Why is it everyone always talks about protecting the family farmer?” Rep. Barney Frank once told me. “What about the family shoemaker? What about the family banker?”

And those stump-speech paeans to small towns? Please.

First of all, most Americans live in cities, suburbs and exurbs. Cities aren’t cruel, shapeless Gothams and Gommorahs, they are historic centers of creativity and capital, beacons of hope and opportunity. New York is the symbol of American achievement — the terrorists on Sept. 11 didn’t go after Wasilla or some Home Depot in Delaware. Los Angeles — if it can get its act together — is the city of the 21st century, where Hollywood shapes the world’s current imagination and future reality. Ingenuity, productivity and creativity gushes out from America’s cities.

Last Sunday, I attended a fundraiser for Friends of the Los Angeles River. They closed off the Sixth Street Bridge downtown and filled it with a buffet, dinner tables and a dance floor. Maybe 300 people showed up to support a waterway whose restoration will knit together all sorts of economically and ethnically diverse communities. I stood on the bridge watching the sun set behind the rail yards, behind the downtown skyscrapers and the distant hills, and I saw in that instant how Los Angeles is a great city made up of small towns: We call them neighborhoods.

I live in one of those small towns, and so do you. I like that Wall Street, when it works well, provides the wherewithal for my Main Street to grow and compete.

So I’m not going to pack my bags yet, but I sure know where I’d run to if need be. Because no matter how much they hate Wall Street and how much they fume over Hollywood, they always say they love Israel.

I guess that’s where the good Jews live.

Ahmadinejad spews same old hate at U.N.


NEW YORK (JTA)—Iran’s president delivered a scathing attack on Zionists at the United Nations.

In an address replete with classical anti-Semitic motifs, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Zionists are criminals and murderers, are “acquisitive” and “deceitful,” and dominate global finance despite their “minuscule” number.

“It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential nominees have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings and swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to win financial or media support,” Ahmadinejad said.

“These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and threats of the Zionist network against their will.”

Ahmadinejad said the “Zionist regime” was on the path to collapse and that a messianic age of peace and brotherhood is soon to arrive.

The Iranian president also sounded a defiant note with respect to his country’s nuclear program, which he described as peaceful but which Western nations suspect of pursuing weapons capability. Ahmadinejad called nuclear power his country’s “inalienable” right and accused “a few bullying powers” of opposing Iran’s progress.

“It is very natural that the great Iranian people, with their trust in God and with determination and steadfastness, and with the support of its friends, will resist the bullying and will continue to defend its rights,” he said. “We will not accept illegal demands.”

Ahmadinejad also included the “underhanded actions of the Zionists” as among the causes of the recent unrest in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said Israel’s demise would benefit everyone, especially the United States.

“The regime resembles an airplane that has lost its engine and is kind of going down. And no one can help it,” he said. “This will benefit everyone.”

Campus hate — while down — is still a problem, wailin’ on Palin


Quiet War at UCI

We agree with the Sept 5 letter from five UCLA academics that anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism at UCLA is less severe than that at UC Irvine (“Quiet War on Campus,” Aug. 22).

However we commend The Journal for running [Brad] Greenberg’s review of the situation on American campuses. It was a comprehensive piece that included differing views about the problem’s severity, and was of great service to Journal readers who are concerned about the issue.

We disagree however with the professors’ strategic recommendations and the elitist tone of their letter. Minimization or denial will not solve the problem, nor will denigrating off campus groups who share concern about the immediate and long-range impact of campus anti-Zionism. The 20,000 faculty members who felt it necessary to form an organization, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) to combat imbalance and poor scholarship about the Middle East conflict certainly cannot be accused of being “amateurish,” promoting “shoddy research” and “propaganda,” and of not understanding the campus or “academic freedom.”

SPME’s roster includes highly acclaimed professors and Nobel Prize winners.

There is a crying need for united action so Jewish students and faculty can proudly support Israel, not only in Hillel buildings, but also in classrooms, faculty offices and on campus quads. Jewish campus institutions have a vital role to play in this effort, but they may be constrained by sensitive campus affiliations. Independent organizations also have an important role because they are freer to express student and faculty concerns about abuses, intimidation and propaganda-like distortions.

If the five academics collaborated with other well-intentioned groups, they would find them much more reasonable, open-minded and sophisticated than their letter implies.

Roz Rothstein, Executive Director
Roberta Seid, Education Director
StandWithUs

Palin and the Jews

In response to your recent article, “Sarah Palin and the Jews” (Sept. 5), please count me as one reader who was shocked and sickened by the nastiness and pettiness of Sarah Palin’s speech [at the Republican National Convention].

If insulting community organizers, making snide remarks about Sen. Barack Obama’s popularity and mocking the location of Obama’s acceptance speech make her presidential material, then America is in serious trouble.

Jeff Goldman
Culver City

I was shocked by your flattering treatment of Gov. Sarah Palin. After picking through the trivia and smears for substance, you conclude that she “has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents … and appears to have a fondness for Israel.” However, you present no evidence that she has genuinely warm feelings about Jews or genuine fondness for Israel.

Furthermore, you brush off her wearing a Pat Buchanan button when he visited her town “as a courtesy.” Come on! Would it be acceptable for her to put a sheet over her head as a courtesy if the Ku Klux Klan paraded through her town?

James Kallis
Los Angeles

I hear Jews around America saying that they are voting for Sen. John McCain because he is good for Israel. Democrats are better for Israel than McCain could ever dream to be, but now that Gov. Sarah Palin is on McCain’s ticket, there are more pressing matters at hand.

Palin recently said that the war in Iraq is “God’s task.” She’s even admitted she hasn’t thought about the war much … just last year, she was quoted as saying, “I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq.”

Palin wants to teach creationism in public schools. Creationism is not going to be taught from the Tanach; it will be from the New Testament — how can we allow that?

I hope that the Jews of Los Angeles will stand up against Palin so that she will not be able to continue on her path toward ruining our country.

Aimee Sax
Los Angeles

Charter School

As a retired Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) middle school teacher, I was elated to read about the New Los Angeles Charter School (New L.A.) that will be opening this month (“P.S. Tikkun Olam,” Aug. 29).

Given the poor academic performance and high dropout rate throughout much of the LAUSD, it is imperative that parents have meaningful options, such as New L.A., to assure that their children receive quality instruction in a safe and nurturing environment.

Unfortunately, both the LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) have misplaced priorities. LAUSD’s insular district office personnel are often insensitive to the real needs of on-site administrators, school faculties and students. Meanwhile, the teachers union (UTLA) spends much of its resources blocking sorely needed reform.

It was the union that stood in the way of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to create 100 additional charter schools in Los Angeles. Little wonder that New L.A. received almost three times as many applications as it has openings.
Anything that can topple the status quo is welcome relief. On behalf of the children of Los Angeles, todah rabbah and yasher koach to Matt Albert and his crew for putting forth the effort and accepting the risk associated with starting the New Los Angeles Charter School.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Singles Comic Strip

Never Mind Amy the Date (“True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict,” Sept. 5). Amy’s comic strip should get dumped. Three words sum up that inert strip: worst comic ever.

Seriously, with all of the amazing Jewish comedic minds out there in Hollywood and beyond, can’t you find one real cartoonist to create something funny? Maybe you can poach a guy from HEEB.

Erin Stack
Beverly Hills

Ed. Note: We like it. Judge for yourself.

Correction
The D.I.S.C caption in the Sept. 5 issue (page 41) should have read "Dr. John T. Knight, Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon, D.I.S.C. Spine and Sports Center," instead of "Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr., CEO and Founder, one of the country's preeminent neurological spinal surgeons."

Free speech on campus


Fear of an Obama Planet grips some Americans


As soon as I saw The New Yorker cover spoofing right-wing fear mongering over Barack and Michelle Obama, my first thought was that my friend, Sanjay, in Mumbai, India, hada point about Americans and stupidity.

What was it but stupidity that left so many Americans gullible to right-wing accusations that Obama was that turban-wearing, Osama bin Laden-loving Muslim on the magazine’s cover, bumping fists with his militant, rifle-toting wife, Michelle, as the American flag burned in their fireplace.

Where was Barry Blitt’s cartoon months ago, when a loud “So what?” might have nipped in the bud those ridiculous “Obama is a secret Muslim” rumors? So this Muslim, at least, was relieved to see the stupidity lampooned so starkly.

But as soon as I began to revel in the caricature, a little dismayed hand-wringing began. Because now the very people who were offended by right-wing accusations about Obama were acting offended by a cartoon lampooning those very same right-wing machinations. It is as if America has gone mad, or worse, gone brainless.

I remember a dinner-table conversation in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago when Sanjay — an architect and businessman — turned to me quite earnestly to proclaim, “Americans are inherently stupid.”

“How do you live with them?” he asked.

There we were — an Indian and an Egyptian — discussing America over dinner at the Royal Yacht Club, built by British colonialists for the enjoyment of white privilege and off limits to us brown people back when they ruled India.

Then Manique, a Sri Lankan woman, joined the conversation to tell us that during a visit to the United States a few years ago, someone actually asked her if they had bread in Sri Lanka. I asked her, half-jokingly, if it was the same American who asked my dad at an Athens hotel over dinner years ago whether we had fruit in Egypt.

More than just shocked amusement, these incidents show why all of us would vote for Obama if we could. He would never ask us if we had bread or fruit in our countries. Why? Obama is much like us. He has traveled. He has lived abroad. And he has family in several countries. He has a different script for what an American is. He is an American who is comfortable as a citizen of the world — with or without his lapel pin.

This is what makes the right-wing “secret Muslim” accusations and the stupid gullibility surrounding them all the more ludicrous and imperative to lampoon — just as Blitt does in this week’s New Yorker.

Those howls of “offensive” and “tasteless” flung at The New Yorker suggest to me Blitt’s ability to lampoon not just the right wing but even some on the left wing who have promoted fears about Obama.

Wasn’t it Hillary Clinton’s campaign that leaked pictures of Obama in Somali traditional garb, looking just like that crazy figure on the cover of The New Yorker? And didn’t Clinton herself suggest that white, working-class America wouldn’t vote for black, hypereducated Obama?

And wasn’t it The New York Times that published an op-ed by a right-wing commentator that was such an ignorant and embarrassing display, claiming that Obama wasn’t Muslim enough and would be hunted by Muslims because he had abandoned the faith of his father — who was an atheist, by the way.

Just as we were amused at how confounded Americans are that we, too, have bread and fruit in our countries, the Obamas confound because they don’t fit with in simplistic boxes meant to keep them securely in their place. They’re not at all the black stereotype, and it seems to scare the hell out of some Americans.

Jack White points out in an essay on The Root Web site: “We are all, including Obama, in a place we never really thought we would be, and it has knocked us off our feet. We don’t know how to act. We don’t have a plan. We’re searching for our equilibrium. And until we regain our footing, we can expect all sorts of bizarre behavior from people who ought to know better. Hold on to your hat.”

Which is why methinks the outrage over Blitt’s cartoon is less an issue of genuine offense and more a case of “the lady doth protest too much.” It touches on a fear of the world changing much too fast for many Americans to keep up.

The New Yorker cover ridicules an America that is being left behind, grappling with quaint notions of Muslims in regulation turban and white robe and militantly angry black women. And whether other countries have bread or fruit.

We, the children of a post-colonial world, don’t fear an Obama planet. It has been our world for a long time. We’re happy finally to see the growing success of one of our own.

No, I didn’t mean a Muslim. Stop hyperventilating.

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning, New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.

Same old United Nations, Sarkozy [hearts] Israel, Gilad Shalit turns 21 in captivity


Groups Assail U.N. Conference

A U.N. conference under way in Geneva is as bad as expected, watchdog groups say. In reports from Switzerland, two major U.N. watchdog groups said the conference – the first in a series of preparatory meetings for the follow-up to 2001’s notorious anti-Semitic Durban conference against racism – was following the path of its predecessor.

Anne Bayefsky, editor of the Eye on the U.N. Web site, called the meeting’s opening session “a slap in the face to every state and nongovernmental organization that really cares about equality and nondiscrimination.”

Egypt, speaking Monday on behalf of the African group, singled out Israel for its “continued occupation of Palestine and violations arising there from.” Pakistan, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, urged the conference to “move the spotlight on the continued plight of Palestinian people” and accused critics of waging a “smear campaign” against the gathering.

The conference is intended to combat racism and discrimination. Even before the conference began, critics warned that the process could lead to a repeat of the 2001 Durban conference, where an event ostensibly aimed at fighting discrimination became a platform for the dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda and the singling out of Israel.

Sarkozy Reaffirms Pro-Israel Stance

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed his affection for Israel and hostility toward Hamas.

“I have the reputation of being a friend of Israel, and it’s true. I will never compromise on Israel’s security,” he said Monday in his first foreign policy speech since taking office in May.

While he said France would continue to cultivate rich ties with the moderate Arab world, Sarkozy drew a line at engaging Hamas or allowing Iran to procure nuclear weaponry. He described the Gaza Strip as “Hamastan” – a term seldom heard outside Israeli political circles – and said the Islamist Palestinian group must be curbed, lest it take over the West Bank as well.

Sarkozy, who was speaking to French diplomats, further urged Iran to abandon its nuclear program or for effective international sanctions to be imposed on Tehran. Otherwise, he hinted, there could be military intervention.

“This tactic is the only one that allows us to escape from a catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran,” he said.

Captive Israeli Soldier Turns 21

Israelis marked the 21st birthday of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Supporters of Shalit held a rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the conscript sergeant’s second birthday in Palestinian captivity. Newspapers and other media carried fresh coverage of his family’s ordeal.

Shalit was abducted in a June 25, 2006, cross-border raid by Hamas-led gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Two of his comrades were killed in the incident.

His father, Noam, said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not doing enough to recover his son from Hamas, which wants a prisoner exchange. Olmert has signaled a willingness to bargain for Shalit’s return but has ruled out the lopsided swap demands by Hamas.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Monday that a deal was almost clinched to trade Shalit for 350 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, but that it fell through over the types of prisoners the Olmert government would release. Israel has said it will only release prisoners not involved in killings.

YouTube Under Fire in Germany Over Hate Videos

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has joined the call to punish YouTube for failing to remove hate material from its Web site. YouTube, the online video sharing portal, has been accused of spreading neo-Nazi material.

According to a report in the ARD television magazine, anti-Jewish propaganda from the Third Reich and music by the banned neo-Nazi group, Landser, can be viewed unhindered on YouTube. Such material is illegal in Germany. The report said some of the material had been online for several months.

The federal Ministry of the Interior has recommended filing charges. German officials reportedly have warned YouTube more than 100 times to remove the material but without a response. The vice president of the German Jewish Council, Salomon Korn, has asked that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Justice Ministry intervene to stop the online publication of offending video clips.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, is based in California and thus beyond Germany’s legal reach. But German officials could come down harder on Web companies with operations in Germany.

Israeli Holocaust Assets Listed Online

Israeli assets believed to have been left behind by Holocaust victims can now be claimed by their heirs over the Internet. The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets, which was set up in 2006 following disclosures that Israeli banks hold many accounts and properties that have gone unclaimed since World War II, has set up a Web site with the names of some 7,000 original owners believed to have perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Heirs of those who appear on the list can apply for restitution at www.hashava.org.il. The site is in Hebrew with English translation. The site does not deal with living persons or properties and accounts outside of Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency.

Justice takes a beating in Long Beach racial hatred case


The nine black youths who beat three young white women have now been sentenced by a Juvenile Court judge, and there’s only one problem.

While these “kids” could
have killed their victims, the judge slapped them on the wrists lightly and sent them home. Astoundingly, after finding the nine defendants guilty of intent to cause bodily harm, with hate crime enhancements, the judge then reversed direction and gave them probation?

A tenth youth was acquitted.

The basic facts of the case are that last Halloween, a pack of black youths, with no evidence of any provocation, set upon three young white women who had come to an upscale part of Long Beach known to attract trick-or-treaters. Out of the larger crowd of attackers, 10 were identified and placed on trial.

After a lengthy process, that saw witness intimidation from gang members (one was forced to move; another had her car totaled), the expectation was — that if found guilty — a verdict and sentence would be handed down that delivered a strong message of intolerance for such uncivilized acts.

Instead, another message was delivered — that racism in its black guise will be treated with leniency and “understanding,” since this kind of racial retribution is an undesirable but understandable outgrowth of historic mistreatment at the hands of whites. What complete rubbish.

In case you wondered, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Affairs, out of the 1.2 million cases of interracial crimes each year, 90 percent involve a black perpetrator and a white victim. The interests of law and order and a civil society were not served well by this judge’s sentences.

What highlights the crass, crude and bigoted nature of this ugly mass attack is the fact that Loren Hyman, one of the three victims, is both Jewish and Latino, but like a pack of hyenas converging on some yearling antelopes, this crowd was in no mood to parse out the finer points of ethnic and religious identity.

However, while these defendants have escaped culpability, others have not been brought before any judge. Ten black youths were put on trial, but it has been estimated that between 25 to 40 black teens surrounded Hyman, Laura Schneider and Michelle Smith last Halloween.

This was no routine youthful fracas — the attacks left Loren with more than a dozen facial fractures, a serious injury to her jaw, partial loss of sight in one eye and a recessed eye socket. Schneider was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion.

One male attacker knocked one of the girls unconscious with a skateboard, while another was stomped as she lay unconscious.

According to both victims and witnesses, the attackers hurled anti-white slurs while beating the girls.

And to add insult to injury, on the day that four of the defendants were being released from custody to the comfort of their homes, Hyman was undergoing a seven-hour surgery to repair her shattered eye socket — the outcome of which is still unknown.

The rationale for giving probation, say Juvenile Court officials, is to promote rehabilitation — something presumably a harsher sentence couldn’t have accomplished? But, how can rehabilitation occur, when the parents and the teens have remained defiant, without any remorse.

Yes, they admit they were there but claim somebody else beat the girls. OK, I get it. They’re not guilty of an ugly assault; they’re actually, uh, victims.

But then the whole affair is bizarre, lodged squarely in the midst of the politics of racial identity. What if the scenario were reversed? For instance, what if the pack of black thugs who attacked these girls was white skinheads and their victims had been several young black youths?

Would the national media have virtually ignored the incident? Would every nationally known black leader have swooped into town, set up an encampment at the Long Beach Courthouse and demanded justice for the victims?

Wouldn’t everybody from the mayor to the governor and beyond be demanding that the judge send a message against racism? And, what if a judge handed down a sentence of probation for the skinhead scumbags — would the city have escaped massive “social justice” marches, with its leaders lustily yelling, “No justice, no peace”? Get the picture?

Some of us still remember the ugly incident on the first day of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, you know, the one where white trucker Reginald Denny was set upon by several black thugs and nearly killed, simply for being white and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some excused the actions of the thugs who beat Denny, saying it was misdirected black rage, but in no way was it racism.

Fast forward that tape to 2007, and we find Farai Chedeya, a black National Public Radio show host, saying shortly after the Long Beach attacks that “… some people say black folks cannot be racists because the root of the issue is power.”

What a convenient dodge. I wonder if that came to the mind of the victim as a black thug broke a skateboard over her head, sending her into unconsciousness. Now that’s power.

Joe Hicks is the former executive director of the L.A. chapter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is currently vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and a KFI-AM talk show host.

Clergy abuse — the cover and the story; Anti-Semitic road rage — do the right thing?


Cover Choice

It is appalling to me that you should depict this dreadful image on your cover (“Don’t Kid Yourself,” Jan. 12)

I understand your exploring the topic in an article, but to put this image and headline on the cover of The Jewish Journal when you describe plenty of anti-Semitism incidents causing us problems already is really inappropriate. As a subscriber of several years, I am really disappointed in your choice of covers, to say the least. You could use some better editorial advisers.

Fleurette Hershman
Sherman Oaks

While The Jewish Journal should be commended for addressing this issue, the cover photo illustration was not necessary.

Harry Green
via E-mail

I wanted to personally thank The Jewish Journal for having the courage to publish the entire JTA series, “Reining in Abuse” (Jan. 12). You have helped to break the taboo of silence and secrecy. Awareness and education are the first steps in making changes in hopes of ending sexual violence and bringing healing to our communities.

In the article, “Awareness Center and Blogs Draw Praise, Criticism,” I wanted to point out a fact that was omitted. The Awareness Center has posted our polices for removing alleged and convicted offenders from our Web page (www.theawarenesscenter.org/policies.html).

Vicki Polin
Executive Director
The Awareness Center Inc.
(Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)

I was so moved by the writings and revelations of clergy abuse within the Jewish community. Someone was finally telling the truth. Someone had managed to put into print what has been taboo for so long. This article brings to light that rabbis, cantors and Jewish religious educators are just as capable of committing this horrendous sin of abuse.

I feel it is [also] important that the Jewish community realize that one in three women and one in seven men have been sexually abused at some time during their childhood. Just as Jewish clergy are not immune from clergy abuse, the Jewish community as a whole is not immune to incest.

Rabbis, cantors and chaplains need to confront their own feelings and fears about incest in order to provide pastoral care to their congregants in need of being heard. This cannot be pushed aside any longer.

Bonnie Leopold
Via e-mail

Ride on Wild Side

While I truly empathize with Gary Wexler’s rude awakening to anti-Semitism, I cannot help but ask, what took him so long (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007)?

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

I was shocked that in Gary Wexler’s column, “Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” there would even be a question about reporting the Jamaican car service driver who threatened his life and spewed anti-Semitic remarks on the way to the airport.

No mention was made of reporting this incident to the police or even contacting the car service that employs this driver.

Sometimes we meet evil incarnate, and we have a responsibility to confront it. It is very unsettling that someone could have this experience and not feel a responsibility to act.

Doesn’t Wexler realize that an irrational anti-Semite serving the public makes everyone who uses that service unsafe and that Wexler and his family’s safety is not increased by not reporting this incident to the police?

Pamela Abramovici
Pasadena

Gary Wexler reports on his brush with an insane anti-Semite and his dilemma about a proper reaction.How about reporting this lunatic to company management, then consider appropriate legal proceedings. The district attorney can decide on a proper course of action, especially if there is a pattern of such abuse.

I emigrated from France as a teenager, so I never got too used to the golden age of acceptance Wexler mentions. Most Jews outside the United States know anti-Semitism as a fact of life. No, they do not like it.

But, despite lacking a full embrace by much of the rest of the world, Jews throughout the ages have chosen to celebrate and perpetuate Judaism. This is what many of us continue to do today.

So, Wexler, do not feel afraid, guilty or ambivalent. Be proud. Defend yourself, your family and your people. As a Jew, you deserve as much respect as any other human being. Do not settle for less.

Stephan C. Schonbuch
Culver City

I read your article and would like to raise several issues with you (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007):

Why didn’t you use your cellphone to call the cab company and complain while riding? After all, I can guarantee you the driver would not have killed himself to kill you.

When you got out of the taxi, you should have told this fool that his table would be turning fast, when the authorities knock on his door.

Your apologetic and no-courage sentence: “You have no idea who I am or who my people are. All you did was spew hate,” was much redundant. Who cares what he knows. Could you educate and turn around a fool?

And, as this idiot asked, “Are you going to report me like the Jew did about Mel Gibson? Are you going to get all your Jewish organizations after me now?” you should have said: “You bet I will and more.”

I hope no tip was included!

And with the self-pity one reads in between these lines, you should have then turned around and asked yourself, “What am I going to do about the Mel Gibsons of the world; about people like Judith Regan; about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threats to have a world without Israel and the U.SA.; about the brutal torture and killing of Ilan Halimi in France and the like; about all the recent pronouncements of anti-Semitism throughout the world. What are you going to do about it all?

What is your contribution besides self-pity? I would like to know!

I’m… dreaming… of a white… Chri — ummm, holidays


Excerpted from “Spoiled Rotten America, Outrages of Everyday Life,” by Larry Miller (Regan, 2006). Reprinted with permission.

First of all, I’m a Jew. (Now there’s a grabby start, eh? Probably cut into sales of my book in France, but what the heck.) The thing is, there are certain subjects in life where it’s a good idea to say what you are before giving your opinion. Maybe it’s a factor, and maybe it’s not, and maybe it won’t be necessary in 1,000 years, but it still helps in the present as a qualifier, disclaimer, badge, shield, whatever.

Like it or not, one’s background affects the way we receive his opinions on a given issue. Whether you’re hawkish or dovish on war, it helps your credibility if you’ve ever been in one. (Since my own uniformed service ended with the Cub Scouts, I try to avoid sentiments like, “I say we drop the big one.”)

Let’s say there’s a bill in Congress to give every American under 5-feet tall $100 million. (Don’t kid yourself, it’s not that far-fetched.) This may or may not be a good idea, but if someone writes a column saying he supports it, and that, yes, the short folk should definitely get the money, it adds at least some perspective to have a note afterward saying, “The writer is 4-feet-11 in height.” Therefore, saying you’re a Jew is probably the right way to start a discussion about Christmas (or a date with Claudia Schiffer).

Second of all, I use the word “Jew” intentionally. I always use it. I never say Jewish, I say Jew. Being Jewish is easy for me, because it’s about responsibility and ritual, and knowledge and morals and worship. Being a Jew is hard, because no one means it as a compliment. So I embrace it. Like other religions, being Jewish is done in private, with others who are the same as you, or alone in prayer. Being a Jew, though, is what I am in the world, and if you’re one, too, I hope it doesn’t come as a giant shock to hear that that’s almost all anyone who looks at you will ever see.

Even if you’ve never said a prayer and have no beliefs, no matter how hard you try to please others and be invisible, even if you wear sandwich boards that say “Not me!” or “No Jew here!” and become a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Calvinist, a Rosicrucian or a Wiccan, you’re a Jew, so you might as well start loving it. Try getting off the train at Auschwitz 60 years ago and telling the guy pointing to the room where you drop your shoes and get naked that there’s been a terrible mistake, because you’re not religious.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Don’t pull that concentration camp stuff anymore, it’s ancient history.” OK, maybe you’re right. Try being a door-to-door salesman in Fallouja, then, and saying to everyone, “Oh, you don’t understand, I’m a secular Jew and really don’t follow the whole thing. Thank you, I’ll be glad to come in. I mean, we go to temple on Yom Kippur — everyone does, you know how it is — but just for a little while, and most of the time I’ll have a cup of coffee and a cigarette as soon as we get home.

OK, OK, I’m kneeling, take it easy. Anyway, the most Jewish thing I ever do is the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. Or try to, heh-heh. I had an uncle who used to do it in ink. Say, those sure are some weird banners you’ve got up there. Can I go now?”

And maybe you’re thinking, “Don’t pull that Fallouja crap, either. The only reason they’d do that is because we’ve invaded their country and ruined all their kite flying.” Okay, maybe you’re right again. Try it in Egypt, then, or Saudi Arabia. Or Yemen. Or Turkey. Or Chechnya.

Try it in Paris.

No, if you’re Jewish, you either know you’re a Jew, or you’re an idiot, and if you’re an idiot, don’t worry, I’ve been one, too, lots of times. We all have. Perhaps, though, now would be a good time to stop, since the world’s not going to change anytime soon.

Of course, you may be a resident of that rarest of wards in this asylum, the incurables, the ones who say, “The only reason any of it is happening is because of Israel.” Then I can’t help you. Your soul is so torn and in such frightened denial you wouldn’t know your head’s been cut off even after the video of it has won for Best Newcomer at the Al Jazeera Emmys.

Speaking of which, “I’m a Jew, and my parents are Jews” is the last thing they made Daniel Pearl say. And when they first snatched him and called their bosses to ask what to do, they didn’t say, “We have a reporter,” or “We have an American,” or “We have a capitalist from the Wall Street Journal.” They said, “We have a Jew.” If that’s still not enough, you might as well go all the way, like one of us, and become the attorney for Hamas.

Which, hooray, finally brings us around to … one more word about Jews. (I know, for a chapter on Christmas there hasn’t been an awful lot of it so far. Hold onto your yarmulkes, I’ll get to it.)

Actually, this next point brings us right to Dec. 25, because Christmas, you know (unless you’ve all forgotten, which is increasingly possible), doesn’t celebrate the birth of Santa, but the birth of Jesus, and Jesus was a Jew.

That may sound like overstating the obvious, but it’s not. You might say, yeah, we all know that, let’s move on, but think about it. Jesus wasn’t a Christian, that all came after. He was born, lived and died a Jew, a rabbi, in fact, and it’s worth taking a good look at it: Jesus was a Jew, his parents were Jews, everyone he grew up with and knew was a Jew, the disciples were Jews: St. Paul, who built the church; St. Peter; James; Mark; Thomas; Mary Magdalene; the guys crucified next to him on Calvary were Jews; everyone sitting on the grass listening to the Sermon on the Mount; and the first 10,000 Christians.

John the Baptist wasn’t a Baptist, he was a Jew who baptized.

UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics


Like Moses upholding the Tablets of the Law, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller stood on the steps of UCLA’s Ackerman Union last week, his outstretched arms grasping a large, hand-lettered cardboard sign, which proclaimed:

Peace for Israel
Peace for Palestine
Share the Hope

Milling near the solitary UCLA Hillel director were Arab and Jewish students with competing exhibits, but to reach them a visitor had to pass through a colorful marketplace of causes up Bruin Walk.

The largest crowd was listening to the deafening rock band, Moving Units, anchoring a gauntlet of tables, leafleteers and displays urging students to participate in the Inaugural Bruin Cardboard Boat Race, engage in Christian Bible studies, fight drug addiction, play volleyball and so on.

At the end was a large photo collage of men and women of different races and nationalities, each asserting “I am a Palestinian” to indicate international solidarity for the cause. The announced Apartheid Obstacle Course, presented by the Guerrilla Theatre, was running an hour late.

The Bruin Walk display was one of the events organized by Muslim, Arab and supporting students as part of the weeklong “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace” program.

The low-key theme appeared to be an attempt by the sponsoring Students for Justice in Palestine to lend a respectable scholarly touch to the anti-Israel demonstrations.

If this approach indicated a higher level of sophistication by the sponsors than in previous years, so did the Jewish response, organized by Bruins for Israel.

Bruin Walk was dotted with graphic pro-Israel posters aimed at different campus constituencies.

“Where in the Middle East Can Gay Officers Serve Their Country?” asked one poster, answering, “Only in Israel.” Other posters, with the same bottom line, queried, “Where in the Middle East Can Arab Women Vote?” and “Where in the Middle East Are Daughters Valued as Much as Sons?”

Smack in front of the Palestinian display stood 21-year-old Michael Smoyman, a yarmulke on his head and holding a sign inscribed, “Obstacle to Peace: Suicide Bombing.”

As Seidler-Feller’s arms grew tired of holding the peace poster, he was approached by George Malouf, an Arab graduate student from Gaza, who took over the rabbi’s sign and post.

When the “apartheid wall” finally arrived, it lead to a mind-bending face-off between Arab students dressed as Israeli soldiers manning roadblocks, and Jewish students dressed as suicide bombers and carrying such signs as, “If I were a Palestinian suicide bomber, you would be dead now” and “If I were your neighbor, you would want a fence, too.”

Two campus cops on bicycles were on hand to break up a threatening scuffle, but on the whole the week’s mood was largely nonconfrontational.

It was quite a different story a week earlier at UC Irvine, which for the past three years has witnessed militant anti-Israel agitation during Palestine Week.

Instead of UCLA’s benign “Obstacles to Peace” slogan, the theme of the UCI Muslim Student Union was “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” featuring lectures on such topics as “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”

Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a Black Muslim imam and veteran rabble-rouser given to bloodcurdling threats against Israel and “Zionist Jews” spoke at both UC campuses.

While he pulled out all the stops at an UCI outdoor rally, at UCLA he spoke to some 70 people in an indoor auditorium in a considerably calmer and less vituperative voice.

Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the regional American Jewish Congress chapter, monitored the UCI events and, shocked by the hostile atmosphere, said “I now understand what it’s like to be a Jew in pre-war Germany or an American Embassy hostage in Tehran.”

Jeffrey Rips, the Hillel executive director at UCI, said that while there was general agreement that free speech should not be abrogated on campus, the administration had the right and duty of exercising its free speech by publicly condemning anti-Semitic demonstrations and hate harangues.

This point represents a long-standing demand by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and some UCI faculty members, who protested this year’s events to Chancellor Michael V. Drake.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is currently investigating charges by the Zionist Organization of America that the UCI administration has failed to take a stand against anti-Semitism and to prevent harassment of Jewish students on campus.

To balance the dour campus picture, Rips said that except during Palestine Week, there was little tension between Muslim and Jewish student the rest of the year.

While some Jewish students, especially freshmen, were intimidated in the past by the militancy of Muslim students, who outnumber Jewish students, “now you see students wearing kippot and ‘I’m Proud to be Jewish’ T-shirts, and we also had a large sukkah on campus,” he said.

Rips blamed the tenser atmosphere at UCI, compared to UCLA, on a more radicalized Muslim student group, which takes its cues from Malik Ali, and the fact that UCI has become the main media focus for national Arab-Jewish campus tensions.

General and Jewish papers ran extensive stories on UCI’s Palestine Week; UCLA’s was covered only by the campus daily.

 

Defender of France


Jean David Levitte, France’s ambassador to the United States, is arguably its most effective defender against charges of anti-Semitism, in no small part because he himself is Jewish.

I met Levitte at the Beverly Hills residence of the French consul general, Phillipe Larrieu. It’s a sprawling, modernist home near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the walls lined with contemporary art, the small streetside drawing room furnished in … French Regency. Silver coffee service and a plate of petits fours appear.

Levitte, 60, is youthful, patient and polished. He is used to contradicting accusations that France is anti-Semitic, in no small part because of all the anti-Semitism French Jews have suffered over the past few years.

The worst incident occurred just last February, when kidnappers tortured and killed 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, taunting his parents with anti-Semitic slurs during phone calls. The heinous crime led to an uptick in French Jewish immigration to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, and renewed concern that French Jewry’s days were numbered.

I began my interview by mentioning that exactly a year ago, I traveled to Paris to interview French officials and Jewish leaders, all of whom agreed the government had been taking anti-Semitic attacks seriously and that the frequency and severity were in decline. This is what I reported, so my first question to the ambassador was, in so many words: Am I a chump?

Levitte said no. French anti-Semitism continues to be a problem among a disaffected Muslim population egged on by extremist imans, exposed to anti-Israel Arab media and frustrated by its status at the fringes of French society. “If we have a problem with racism,” he said, “it is not anti-Semitism, it is anti-Arab.”

Anti-Semitic attacks, he said — reinforcing what the philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Lévy told our reporter Marc Ballon (see Page 16) — are the smoke from the Israeli-Palestinian fire. “The problem is the connection to the Middle East,” Levitte told me.

Levitte reiterated what I learned last year. The French government has responded to anti-Semitic acts with forthrightness: harsher penalties, better coordination with prosecutors, widespread educational reforms, a crackdown on hate-spewing Iranian and Arab media and ongoing public statements from the president on down.

“When a Jew is attacked in France,” said President Jacques Chirac on Nov. 17, 2003, “it is an attack against the whole of France.”

These steps all contributed to a 48 percent decline in anti-Semitic acts in the first six months of 2005.

Then came the brutal Halimi murder, which obliterated these achievements in the public eye.

Halimi’s parents claimed the French police botched the investigation by, in part, refusing to see it as anti-Semitic in nature. Initial statements by government officials downplayed the role Jew-hatred might have played.

But to Levitte, the official and popular reaction only supports his contention that France is intolerant of intolerance. Tens of thousands of citoyens took to the streets of Paris to express their outrage at the murder. French officials quickly identified 21 suspects. Fourteen are under arrest and 11 are being charged with kidnapping and murder with the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism.

The perpetrators, Levitte pointed out, were not all Muslim. They were inhabitants of the often lawless, neglected neighborhoods surrounding Paris and other large cities. (In the French movie, “La Haine,” (“Hate”), the youthful criminal gang from one Parisian slum includes a Jew. “Hate,” in fact, released in 1995, is a cinematic tarot card of what would be in store for France).

Many of France’s 10 percent Muslim population live in these banlieux. Most are law-abiding and loyal.

“The problem is the 10 percent who are not well-integrated,” Levitte said.

He pointed out that the racial unrest that broke out in Paris this winter (not to be confused with the anti-labor law reform riots of the spring) were not in the “new cities” with large Muslim populations, There were no riots in Marseilles, for example, whose Algerian population is second only to that of Algiers.

The rioters also did not take to the streets waving Algerian flags. What they wanted was not separation but belonging.

“Islam is not the demand of these teenagers,” said the ambassador. “They feel excluded.”

Levitte reiterated his government’s approach to the problem: better schools, stricter law enforcement, more work incentives and the creation of tax exempt zones to spur business investment in the worst areas.

Nevertheless, Levitte acknowledged, isolated attacks against Jews have, “triggered feelings of insecurity” among the country’s 600,000 Jews.

But Levitte said the claims of a French Jewish exodus to Israel are overstated. Many Jews will buy apartments or homes in Israel, but they remain in France. Those who go for good, he said, often come back.

Meanwhile, Israelis themselves seem to harbor less ill will toward the French than American Jews. France is the No. 1 tourist destination among Israelis.

And the feeling appears to be mutual. Levitte quoted (correctly) a 2005 poll by the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, which asked citizens in more than 12 countries their feelings about Jews. The Dutch came in first, at 85 percent, and France placed second, with 82 percent of French citizens checking off “positive feelings” about Jews. (The United States scored fifth at 77 percent, and Jordan and Lebanon tied for last, at 0 percent).

Indeed, for Levitte, the (wine) glass of French Jewry is perennially half full: The Dreyfuss Affair? It showed how the republic stood up to an insidious cabal of anti-Semitic army officers.

“Today it is Dreyfuss who is our hero, not them,” Levitte said.

The Holocaust? Seventy-five percent of the nation’s Jews were saved, and many Frenchmen risked their lives to save them. The government of Israel has recognized 2,500 of them with the distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Levitte’s own grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. His father and uncle joined the resistance, and his father later became the leader of the American Jewish Committee in France for 30 years.

“We will not accept anti-Semitism in France,” the ambassador said, with finality. “We will fight this disease.”

 

Cartoon Tension at UC Irvine


The showing of three cartoons of the prophet Muhammad at a conference last week on radical Islam at UC Irvine attracted a near-capacity crowd of about 400, including leaders of some local Jewish groups, while protesters demonstrated outside.

A palpable tension descended on the audience at the unveiling of the three cartoons, including one that depicted a bomb in a turban on the prophet Muhammad’s head. The printing of these cartoons — and several others — in a Danish newspaper prompted some Muslim religious leaders and governments to incite violent protests, which have sometimes turned deadly. The display at UC Irvine also included three anti-Semitic cartoons that have run in the Arab press.

The conference’s co-sponsors, the College Republicans and the conservative United American Committee, said they wanted to affirm the First Amendment and to stimulate an important discussion about the growing threat of radical Islam.

“We believe unfettered speech is the only way we can come to a better understanding of what’s going on in the world,” said Francis Barraza, treasurer of the College Republicans. “Things that are obscene, things that are crazy, things that are uncomfortable should be exposed. And they can’t be exposed if they’re shrouded.”

The Muslim Student Union vehemently complained to university officials about the showing on the grounds that the cartoons are an affront to Islam. Instead they held a raucous protest outside, where more than 350 Muslims prayed and carried signs against hate speech and in praise of Muhammad.

“As a civilization and a society, we speak of spreading world peace, democracy and compassion,” said Osman Umarji, a former Muslim Student Union president who now advises the group. “Inciting religious hatred goes against that and only seeks to polarize a world in which we need more understanding and compassion.”

No violence was reported, although a Muslim heckler and another audience member nearly came to blows during the panel discussion.

Some of the Jews in attendance accused the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of hypocrisy. They asserted that, over the years, the MSU has invited speakers to campus — over the objections of Jewish students and groups — whose attacks on Zionism crossed the line into anti-Semitism. The Muslim group has denied the charge, saying it opposes Israel and its oppression of Palestinians — not Judaism.

Jewish leaders called that a double standard.

“When hate speech is aimed at Jews, it’s OK,” said Gary Ratner, executive director of the local chapter of the American Jewish Congress. “But when they perceive hate speech aimed at Muslims, it’s not OK.”

Security was tight, with metal barriers separating protesters from those lined up to enter.

Inside, the commentary was hardly all about conciliation. The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, president and founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, repeatedly called Islam an “evil religion,” although he said Muslims weren’t. Homeless activist Ted Hayes seemed to blame Muslims for selling Africans into slavery during a heated exchange with an audience member.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) declined an invitation to participate, citing the sponsorship by the United American Committee, which it finds objectionable, said CAIR spokeswoman Sabiha Khan.

Besides Ratner, other politically active Jews in attendance included Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition; Roz Rothstein, executive director of the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, and Allyson Taylor, associate director of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region.

 

French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death


Paris — The brutal murder of a young Jewish man in Paris is roiling the community and reviving questions over whether France is a safe place for Jews.

In an incident that has dominated headlines across the country, Ilan Halimi, 23, was lured away from the store where he sold mobile phones on Jan. 21 by a woman, abducted and then held in a suburban housing project for three weeks by a criminal gang, where he was repeatedly tortured, according to French officials. Halimi’s captors allegedly beat, burned, stabbed and poured toxic fluid on him.

He was then dumped, barely alive and reportedly with burn marks all over his body, at a suburban train station on Monday, Feb. 13. Halimi died while being driven to a hospital.

Until last week, officials and detectives investigating the case said they were not linking it to anti-Semitism. But in a turnaround, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a Jewish communal gathering last week that officials had decided to treat the case as an act of anti-Semitism.

De Villepin said the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s torture and murder be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was among tens of thousands of Parisians, mostly Jews, who rallied last weekend in what was billed as a community march against hate.

“There can be no tolerance of this act of torture and murder and anti-Semitism,” said Sarkozy. “This concerns the Jewish community and all French people.”

Among the marchers was Sandrine Berda, who runs a catering business. “It seems that so much is going on now to try to force us to leave Paris,” Berda said. “I am here to show there are lots of Jews here, and if we leave, Paris will become a pitiful city.”

Police estimated the number of marchers at 33,000, although others put the number much higher.

The question of whether France is still safe for its estimated 600,000 Jews was a major topic of discussion among the demonstrators.

“Many people decide on the safety of Paris by what happens to their children at school,” said Diana Tabbacoff, a psychologist originally from Brazil. “I think everyone believes we must react against ignorance, but personally, my daughter has not suffered for being Jewish. If she did, I would think of returning to Sao Paulo.”

Ironically, officials recently announced that anti-Semitic acts in France dropped by 47 percent in 2005 over the previous year.

The earlier spike of anti-Semitic attacks was largely perpetrated by youths of North African origin, and these incidents had increased in France during the first few years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. This rise had been largely attributed to tensions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The climate for Jews had seemed to improve, however, in recent months, as had France’s relations with Israel. One factor was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Paris last summer and the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

But the recent incident has rocked the Jewish community, with many saying they had felt all along it was a deliberate act against Jews.

“We are here to demonstrate for France, because we live here and we are fed up,” said David Riahi, a student at the HEC business school, marching under the banner of the French Union of Jewish Students. “This is not about calling for people to go live in Israel or the States.”

But one marcher was skeptical that anything could be done to improve the situation.

“Will this really move people to take a look at what is going on or push the government to take more action?” asked Eric Chicheportiche, former head of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “I really don’t know, and I really don’t know what can be done.”

Although most of the marchers were Jewish, there were North African Muslims and blacks in the crowd, and all agreed that this was an anti-Semitic act.

“There are cultured and educated Arabs marching here today who believe we can live and work in peace with Jews [and other French people,]” said Khadidja Cherkaoui, who is finishing a master’s degree in management here. “This was an anti-Semitic act committed by savages.”

Cherkaoui said some typically racist attitudes may come from school.

“I have heard of youngsters being taught by certain teachers that Jews are all rich,” she said. “That is not true and is racist, like saying that all Arabs are terrorists.”

While the statistics show the climate of anti-Semitism has improved in
France during the past few years, Malik Boutih, the former president of the
activist group SOS Racism, who is currently a Socialist Party official, said
the problems of anti-Semitism and racism remain. “We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

“We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

Also noted was the enormous stupidity of the crime.

“These guys are total idiots,” said Audrey Benyoun, marching with friends and her father. “They got absolutely nothing from this except this demonstration. I think a lot of French people are fed up with hearing about such stupid acts.”

While the Jewish community is almost unanimous in its belief that the kidnapping and torture occurred because Halimi was Jewish, many French still want to believe that it was simply a criminal act committed by sick individuals.

Police have made 15 arrests among associates of a gang that apparently called itself the Barbarians. Eleven face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder motivated by anti-Semitism. Those arrested include suspects of North African and black African Muslim origins and of white French background.

French police officials said they originally thought the only motive of the kidnapping was money. After questioning several of the suspects, the police reported that there had been six other kidnapping attempts, four of them against Jews.

Officials said the suspects told police that because Jews were all rich, someone would find the money to ransom them. Only one of those attempts was reported to the police when it took place.

Authorities tracked the accused ringleader, Youssouf Fofana, to the West African country of Ivory Coast, where he was arrested. Extradition proceedings are under way to return Fofana to France.

JTA correspondent Lauren Elkin contributed to this report.

Indifference Enables Moscow Shul Attack


Jewish leaders have blamed Russian authorities, law enforcement agencies and societal attitudes for the Jan. 11 stabbing attack at a Moscow synagogue, saying that the authorities have not responded properly to previous anti-Semitic and hate incidents.

“The entire world has seen what the lack of fight against fascism leads to today,” the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC), Russia’s largest Jewish group, said in a statement.

Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis and a federation leader, demanded that Russian authorities react promptly to the incident.

“We won’t be silent,” Lazar said at a news conference in Moscow. “We are expecting that the state organs, law-enforcement agencies will take real measures so that” these types of incidents will not occur again.

The federation also said the attack was a direct consequence of earlier manifestations of anti-Semitism that Russian authorities left almost unnoticed. In particular, the group cited an infamous letter signed by some Russian lawmakers and public figures that in early 2005 called for a ban of Jewish organizations in Russia.

Some Russians seem to share this view; 81 percent of 3,992 callers to a popular Moscow radio station said that the attack was a sign of rising xenophobia and extremism in Russia.

Many groups are also looking into increased security. The Israeli Embassy is pressing Russia’s Foreign Ministry to install more security at Jewish institutions in the country. “Events in Moscow have aroused grave concerns,” said Mikhail Brodsky, the embassy’s press secretary.

The incident took place just before the evening service, when the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue in downtown Moscow was full of worshippers. The shul is one of the oldest in Moscow and serves as the base of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad in Russia, a Lubavitch organization.

The man, identified by police as Alexander Koptsev, 20, struck out at random before being pushed to the ground by Yitzhak Kogan, the shul’s rabbi, and Kogan’s son.

The attacker, with self-inflicted injuries, was checked into the same Moscow hospital as most of his victims. Once his condition permitted, prosecutors charged Koptsev with racially motivated attempted murder. Officials quoted Koptsev as saying he stabbed the Jews because “they live better.” He also reportedly will be charged with actions aimed at humiliating religious groups.

All of his victims are in stable condition or better, several were released within days of hospitalization. None of the injuries was life-threatening, medical sources said, despite initial reports to the contrary. Among the injured were Russians, several Israelis, an American — Kogan’s son-in-law, Michael Mishulowin, who had formerly lived in Los Angeles — and a rabbinical student from Tajikistan.

Witnesses said the attacker shouted, “I came to kill you,” and looked like a skinhead, but a source with the Moscow police told news agencies that the attacker is not a known member of any known neo-Nazi groups. Some sources have indicated the young man may suffer from a mental disorder.

Investigators classified the attack as attempted murder and “inflicting injuries out of ethnic or religious hatred,” which in Russia carry a maximum punishment of 12 years in prison.

The FJC leadership called on the authorities to take tough measures against the existing neo-Nazi youth groups and against the publishers and distributors of anti-Semitic books that can be easily bought in public places in most of Russian cities.

Lazar said that the rampage was a direct result of the atmosphere in a Russian society that easily tolerates xenophobia.

In the meantime, the federation said it has beefed up the security measures in all its synagogues across the country.

Russian synagogues usually hire private companies to provide security. Another Russian Jewish umbrella group, the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations said it would call on its local constituents later this month in an attempt to raise funds to improve security measures at provincial synagogues and Jewish institutions.

“We should appeal to the authorities for protection,” said Vladimir Pliss, a spokesman for the group. “But in the end we should definitely take care of ourselves; no one will help us on that.”

 

Hitler’s Favorite Book Ignites Feud


A mounting Internet feud has led to the expulsion of a public leader of the Holocaust revisionist movement from Amazon.com and triggered a slew of threatening e-mails against a Jewish communal official.

The trouble started soon after Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the Los Angeles office of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), ordered one of Hitler’s favorite books, “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success,” Sept. 10 from a seller on Amazon.com’s marketplace. Only afterward did she find out that she had purchased the book from Holocaust revisionist Michael Santomauro, who runs an e-mail list called, ReportersNotebook, that is dedicated to Holocaust denial, as well as to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material.

When Amazon banned Santomauro from its marketplace a few weeks later — due to e-mails he had sent to Taylor — he distributed her home address and e-mail account to his thousands of subscribers. Taylor was immediately hit with a barrage of threatening e-mails — one of which led her to contact the Los Angeles police: “Since you support Zionists,” the anonymous e-mailer wrote, “I’m sure you won’t mind having your family members shot and your house bulldozed.”

The Internet has been a boon for Holocaust revisionists, who have found few other mainstream outlets for their ideas and products. Earlier this year, Santomauro began selling “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success” on the Amazon marketplace, which serves as a middle man between Internet buyers and sellers.

The book, which was written by Theodor Fritsch, was first published in 1887 and became one of Hitler’s favorites. In an e-mail to supporters, Santomauro wrote that the book explained how “Judaism is a conspiracy against non-Jews. Its aim is to fulfill the covenant and gain dominion over mankind by controlling wealth.”

He reprinted 1,000 copies of a translation of Fritsch’s book, and by September, he had sold more than 100 of them. Taylor came across the book as part of her work with the AJCongress, where she said she is “in charge of monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism on high school and college campuses.”

Taylor has posted a number of online reviews of books relating to Israel and Judaism on Amazon.com. In a review of a book edited by prominent left-wing Israeli historian Tom Segev on Israeli political dissent, she wrote, “If you like lies, revisionist history, falsehood and numbers without statistics to back them up, then this is the book for you.”

The same day that Taylor bought “Riddle” from Santomauro, she posted a review of the book. In it, she wrote, “Shame on Amazon and shame on you if you purchase this trash.” Santomauro wrote to Taylor using the e-mail address he had received through the order, and asked her why she had written a bad review before reading the book. (Taylor said that she had read excerpts before purchasing it.)

Amazon prohibits sellers from having any contact with customers that is unrelated to the transaction. Taylor said that soon after, she received two more e-mails from Santomauro’s personal e-mail account, one of which, she said, “talked about Jews masturbating over body parts.” When Amazon asked for a customer review of her experience, she sent along the e-mails from Santomauro.

In an interview with The Forward, Santomauro said he sent the e-mails only after Taylor asked to join his ReportersNotebook e-mail list. Taylor countered that she did request to join his list — for monitoring purposes — but only two days after receiving the first batch of e-mails. Neither claim could be confirmed, because both Santomauro and Taylor told The Forward that they had deleted their e-mails from the relevant time period.

Amazon.com has already taken steps to avoid any possibility of a repeat occurrence, at least one involving Santomauro. Amazon spokesman Craig Berman confirmed that Amazon.com will no longer allow the Holocaust revisionist to sell books through its Internet Marketplace.

The Marketplace allows third parties to sell “new, used, refurbished and collectible items” through Amazon facilities, in exchange for a fee equal to 15 percent of the proceeds.

Santomauro violated his participation agreement with Amazon, which prohibits information about a book buyer from being misused “for sending unsolicited e-mail, harassment, invasion of privacy, or other objectionable conduct,” said Berman.

However, as a basic principle, Berman added, “Amazon believes in providing access to all reading material, however controversial or distasteful. Anything else, we believe, is censorship.”

Santomauro and various pro-Nazi groups have urged their followers to protest Amazon’s alleged censorship in cutting off sales of “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success.” Berman said he had no information on how many protest e-mails Amazon had received.

This is not the first time that his various e-mail lists have gotten crossed. He also runs a roommate-matching service on the Internet and in 2003, was swamped with complaints after his Holocaust revisionist e-mails accidentally were sent out to his real estate clients.

Amazon wrote to him Oct. 11, telling him that he was “no longer able to sell on our site,” because of “inappropriate e-mail contact that originated from your e-mail address.”

Santomauro told a different story in e-mails that he sent out to his supporters after he was banned by Amazon. He immediately wrote to his ReportersNotebook list, proclaiming that he was the target of a “professional campaign to smear booksellers that deal with the ‘Jewish Question.'” He told his readers to protest to Amazon.

Then he sent out a separate e-mail with Taylor’s home and e-mail addresses. Santomauro told The Forward that he sent out Taylor’s personal information to help journalists who wanted to write about the story.

Since then, Taylor said, she has received about 50 threatening e-mails. A friend helped Taylor track down the person who sent the most threatening e-mail, and she reported it to the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI.

While two additional neo-Nazi groups — Mein Kampf and Der Leibstandarte — have joined the campaign against Taylor, she has received no further hate e-mail following the initial flurry, Taylor reported this week.

“Apparently, they have been scared off by learning that the FBI is on the case,” Taylor said.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, citing agency policy, but The Journal has learned that the FBI is actively investigating the threats against Taylor as a domestic terrorism case.

Santomauro said he saw nothing wrong with his decision to publicize her address: “For somebody who is trying to destroy my livelihood, and saying things in derogatory ways — I didn’t see what was wrong to announce her address.”

About the threatening e-mails, Santomauro said, “How do I know it’s not a campaign being fabricated in cahoots with the [Anti-Defamation League]?”

Neo-Nazi Internet magazine National Vanguard picked up Santomauro’s story and reprinted his telling of it, without including a response from Taylor. The magazine identified her as an “alleged operative of the ADL,” because of an e-mail she wrote to one of Santomauro’s supporters, saying she intended to pass along the book to the ADL. An ADL official said that the organization has had no contact with Taylor about the incident.

Taylor has written to Amazon, asking the site’s operators to display prominently the fact that sellers on the site will receive buyers’ contact information.

“Had I known I was giving all my information to Santomauro,” Taylor said, “I would have done things differently.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward (

Community Briefs


Hillary Clinton to Speak on Forgiveness at Temple

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will speak on Yom Kippur, Oct. 13, at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.

Clinton will deliver a 10-12 minute speech on forgiveness, as part of Rabbi David Baron’s “living sermons,” which typically feature well-known guests.

Past participants have included Dr. Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl; Steve Emerson, a counterterrorism expert; Peter Zvi Malkin, the Israeli agent who captured Adolf Eichmann; Cmdr. Scott Waddle, whose nuclear submarine accidentally killed a group of Japanese tourists; Bill Bingham, whose father rescued artist Marc Chagall; and John Miller, who left ABC News to handle counterterrorism for the Los Angeles Police Dept.

“A living sermon means instead of me quoting them or their books, I can present them in person,” Baron told The Journal.

It was after reading the senator’s book, “Living History,” that Baron asked Clinton to speak to his congregation, which numbers as high as 1,800 on Yom Kippur. The service will be held at the synagogue’s new permanent home at the historic Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.

“Living History” was the former first lady’s 2003 perspective on events in the Clinton presidency.

“For me, [her book] was about forgiveness and functioning, when you have people who want to harm you on personal or professional level, and she was an exemplar of forgiveness,” Baron said.

He began communicating with her a couple of years ago — she was even considering coming last Yom Kippur, but her husband’s health problems detained her.

Baron believes that his guests — Jewish and non-Jewish — always have something to teach him and his congregation. “Most of us are talking about [forgiving] in the private arena, and I think someone who has to do that on both levels” — public and private — “has a lot to offer,” he said.

Forgiveness is only one part of the day’s theme. Another is how to move forward after a life-altering experience, Baron said. In that vein, another Yom Kippur guest this year will be mountain climber Aaron Ralston who had to cut off his arm in order to survive.

Will some congregants be upset that such a political persona will be speaking in temple on the holy Day of Atonement?

“I’m sure that will be the case,” Baron said, emphasizing that Clinton’s speech will be completely nonpolitical. “But again, I would hope that people will see this for what it is — an opportunity to meet someone who has something instructive to say, and that to me is the most compelling reason why I have her here.”

Her political aspirations notwithstanding, the rabbi said, “I hope that on Yom Kippur of all days people will suspend their judgment and criticism.”

For more information about Temple of the Arts tickets, call (310) 444-7500. — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Stand With Us Premieres Campus Hate Documentary

“Zionism is a mixture of white supremacy and the chosen people,” said Abdel Malik Ali to a group of mostly Muslim students at a public event at UC Irvine in February 2005.

Such statements are not only tolerated but represent just the tip of the iceberg, warns the new documentary, “Tolerating Intolerance: Hate Speech on Campus.” The film was produced by StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy organization, and premiered last week in Los Angeles at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills

“I never thought of making the film until I heard these guys speak,” said Roz Rothstein, director of the documentary and national director of StandWithUs. “Racism on college campuses must be exposed and rejected.”

The film, made for $25,000, includes examples of alleged anti-Semitism on college campuses, including UCLA, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz.

Through interviews with students, educators and college administrators, the film also explores the fine line between free speech and incitement, demonstrating how virulent anti-Israel speeches can sometimes lead to intimidation, or in some cases, violence. The film also argues that administrators and lecturers are often complicit in encouraging anti-Israel bias through the speakers and lectures they sponsor.

“Of equal importance to protecting free speech is the moral obligation to create a civil society on the campus,” Rothstein told The Journal.

The screening before an audience of more than 400 was followed by remarks from people featured in the film, including professor Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and Nonnie Darwish, an Arab-American who is outspoken in her support for Israel.

Pearl, who teaches computer science at UCLA, described the anti-Israel rhetoric he has observed on campuses as a disguised form of anti-Semitism.

“We are seasoned to deal with anti-Semitism,” Pearl said, “but we are novices when it comes to anti-Zionism.”

For now, StandWithUs will screen the film on a limited basis, but ultimately intends to make the film widely available. — Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer

 

A Picture of Hate


Quite possibly the curators missed it entirely. Or maybe they noticed it, and included it without comment as a quiet reminder that we, and they, are perhaps not entirely different after all.

I always try to go to Mass on the anniversary of my mother’s untimely death 26 long years ago. But this year I decided to do something different. I attended the “Liberation!” exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance — photos and objects and footage from the moments in the spring of 1945 when the doors of the Nazi concentration camps were thrown open to the world, and when those few remaining within were set free.

I was immediately drawn to a photograph of a couple dozen dazzling young Jewish women … in prison stripes, in Bergen-Belsen, liberated by the British on April 15. I did some quick arithmetic, and concluded that my mother had been a dazzling young Irish Catholic woman in Brooklyn on that day, busily tormenting the young Irish Catholic men of Brooklyn who hadn’t yet been sent off to war. Most of the young women in this photo, I suspected, had only been in the camps a short while — they looked too healthy, too well-fed, too unbowed to have been there very long. And all were flashing the most glorious, breathtaking, resplendent smiles — saved, miraculously, from certain and immediate doom. Now, suddenly, they had decades not hours of life ahead; their fates were so different from the unfortunate Anne Frank and her sister, Margot, murdered in this very charnel house only a few weeks earlier.

I poked around the exhibit, looking at letters home from liberators, a huge Nazi flag autographed by American soldiers, photos of Gens. Eisenhower and Bradley and Patton — all rather pale and sickly as they toured the Ohrdruf camp on April 12, 1945 (the day Franklin Roosevelt died).

I moved on to a set of nine pages from one soldier’s personal photo album, delicately laid out inside a glass case, taken by “a U.S. Army medical officer” at the Gusen and Ebensee camps. Somehow these seemed more real than the official historical photographs enlarged on the walls — pictures snapped by an ordinary GI with a cheap camera who happened to be in the presence of history.

The medical officer clearly had sympathy for victims of Nazi cruelty. “A very pathetic case,” he wrote. “A 24-year-old German lad [half-Jewish] died of tuberculosis.” “A previously wealthy Hungarian businessman — gone berserk in concentration camp.”

My eyes moved on to four U.S. soldiers posing side by side — hale, hearty, on the side of the righteous and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Then, suddenly, I stopped. I wasn’t sure I had seen what I thought I had just seen. I rubbed my eyes. I looked again.

The medical officer’s caption read: “Abe — Myself — Nigger — Stanislaus.”

I peered more closely at the tiny snapshot. Indeed, the third soldier from the left did appear to be African American. An African American, apparently for the medical officer, with no name. An African American, apparently for the medical officer, who was not so much a man as a thing. An African American, apparently for the medical officer, whose primary characteristic was not his individual identity, but his racial origin.

Why could this man so plainly see the Nazis for what they were, yet so utterly miss the roots of the same attitudes in his own heart? How could he be so eager to remove the log from his brother’s eye, yet be so oblivious to the speck in his own eye? And shouldn’t this stunning incongruity cause us to ask ourselves whether we, in other times and other places, might find ourselves lured down a similar road?

The late American diplomat and historian George F. Kennan, posted to Moscow in 1944 and watching a long column of haggard, hungry and humiliated German POWs on forced march through Red Square, felt compassion for the young captives (likely destined to starve to death in Soviet camps) and observed that “they are no more responsible for the accident of birth that brought them to this place than are the young Russians who fight against them.”

What if I’d been born in Dresden in 1920, rather than in Detroit some decades later? By 1937 I would have been young, impressionable and desperate to prove my manhood. Hitler would have whispered to me that I was the vanguard of a master race. He would have implored me to eradicate the subhuman elements from our superior civilization. He would have demanded that the humiliations suffered by the fathers in 1918 now be avenged by the sons.

Would I have been able to view what was going on from the perspective of some detached, universal morality? Or would I instead have devoured the führer’s demagoguery, fallen under his spell … and found myself seven or eight years later sporting an SS Death’s Head insignia, and shoving a pregnant teenage Jewish girl that I myself had raped into a cage filled with ravenous dogs?

I’d very much like to believe that had I been born at that place at that time, I would have mustered the courage to at least ask some hard questions of Hitler’s foul henchmen before joining them on their one-way excursion to the gates of hell.

But I really don’t know.

Do you?

Tad Daley (tad@daleyplanet.org), issues director for the 2004 presidential campaign of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), is now peace and disarmament fellow in the Los Angeles office of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Nobel Laureate anti-nuclear organization.

 

A Smile Can Be Key to Temple Security


Will you feel safe going to synagogue this New Year?

The High Holidays bring a special dilemma to American congregations. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur attract more Jews to synagogue — and more attention to American Jews in general — than at any other time of year.

The very prominence of this intensive Jewish season raises significant security concerns for clergy and lay leaders responsible for the safety of their members and guests. Yet the New Year is the single best opportunity to engage and welcome both new and returning members of the congregation.

Can synagogues protect and serve?

For 10 years, Synagogue 2000, a transdenominational project to envision the synagogue of the 21st century, worked with some 100 synagogues across America to re-imagine congregations as sacred, welcoming communities. Beginning this year, Synagogue 3000, its successor, is making that vision of an open tent available to every Jewish spiritual community in the country.

But at a time when virtually all the synagogues in North America have had to install some level of security screening at their front doors, is this welcoming vision realistic, let alone responsible?

We believe that the creation of a welcoming ambience is not only responsible; it is the surest way to keep our communities safe. Remember the origin of the handshake: mutual prevention of violence. Two hands grasping one another cannot wield a sword or a rock.

The reality is that a truly inviting community can be a truly secure community. The question is: how to balance the imperative for hachnasat orchim, the welcoming of guests, with the imperative to protect against strangers who threaten to disrupt these Days of Awe?

These concerns are real. Here in Los Angeles, for example, recent threats against Jewish institutions have made synagogues into high-profile potential targets. The Anti-Defamation League’s September briefing for congregational leaders was at once sobering and reassuring. While we live in an uncertain environment, attendees were told, nevertheless we have the resources and the support to keep our communities as safe as possible.

Still, synagogue leaders were told, “Harden the target.”

So, we have erected guard houses, installed scanners and hired uniformed personnel to check our IDs, search our tallit bags and take our tickets. Running the gauntlet of security is not exactly the kind of “welcome” anyone has in mind.

The very barriers that guard our gates can discourage those taking new and tentative steps toward affiliated synagogue life. What good is praying for the gates of heaven to open, when the gates of the shul are shut?

Consider the steps that many police departments recommend to reduce institutional vulnerability: get involved in your surrounding community, get to know your neighbor and get to know your members. Would that most synagogues knew all of their members.

Let’s be honest. On the High Holidays, we see not only new faces, but also those of the many members who rarely come around during the rest of the year. Nevertheless, a synagogue that installs greeters just outside the security perimeter who offer a smile and a warm “Gut yontif” or “Happy New Year” can create an initial impression of welcome. A follow-up qualifying question to a newcomer can express genuine interest, such as, “Who recommended us to you?” or “What’s your favorite part of the New Year service?”

In Southern California, three of the five most recent hate crimes and terrorist incidents against Jews involved individuals with weapons searching for targets of opportunity. We learn from prison interviews with convicted perpetrators that a synagogue with people greeting one another at the front gate, on the front steps and at the front door is not a target of opportunity. A synagogue whose members care enough to greet one another is a synagogue whose members are its first and most important line of defense against the unusual, the people or vehicles that don’t look quite right, the potential threat.

Savvy synagogue leaders have turned this obstacle into an opportunity. The best congregations have trained their security personnel in the art of greeting. You don’t have to be fluent in Hebrew or even be Jewish to say, “Shanah tovah.” Others deploy volunteers to mitigate delays and other inconveniences caused by security checks.

On Rosh Hashanah 2001, just days after Sept. 11, the Synagogue 2000 team at Temple Israel of Hollywood knew that their congregants would be forced to wait on a sidewalk for up to 15 minutes to go through security screening. They organized a crew of volunteers to “work the line,” offering trays laden with apples and honey to welcome the people to their congregation. Other volunteers brought guitars to pass the time with song.

Ultimately, all members of a sacred community have the responsibility of creating a culture of welcome and safety. Whom does a visitor or a congregant meet when entering a synagogue? A parking attendant, a security person, the custodian, the gift shop volunteer, the front office receptionist, the staff secretaries, the kitchen crew, the caterer, the school office assistant, the religious school teachers, the executive director, the cantor, the rabbi — every one of these people represents the congregation. Every one has the potential to make each interaction with members and guests a positive experience — or not. Everyone must greet and guard.

Perhaps the best way to harden the target is to soften our hearts. All it takes is a smile and a handshake.

Ron Wolfson is president and Shawn Landres is director of research at Synagogue 3000 (

Saving Zionism


Where Jewish terrorist Eden Natan-Zada lived — first in Rishon L’Tzion, then evidently in Tapuach — there is ostensibly an ideology that encourages the murders he committed last week in Shfaram. This so-called ideology is no more than a translucent patina that does not conceal the hate it overlays.

Natan-Zada, dressed as an Israeli soldier, fired indiscriminately inside a public bus, killing four Israeli Arabs. An enraged crowd then apparently boarded the bus, overpowered officers who’d taken Natan-Zada into custody and beat Natan-Zada to death.

There will be official inquiries and investigations; there will be protest marches — the day will live, for a time, in infamy. But we learn very little from what this 19-year-old deserter from the Israel Defense Forces did, save that the Jews in general, and Israeli Jews in particular, in this instance, are not immune from the disease of terrorism.

But we knew that already, didn’t we? Did we not learn it in 1994 (if not much earlier) when Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Muslims at prayer in the Cave of Abraham? Or, more recently, from Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, whose action arguably changed the course of history.

These terrible and tragic outbursts preoccupy us, but can also divert us from matters of greater moment. For it is not the actions of crazed murderers that most immediately threaten Israel. It is, instead, the sober arguments of people who seem perfectly rational, arguments that have brought Israel to its gravest domestic crisis in the 57 years of its young life as an independent nation.

It turns out that there is a gathering and dangerous intellectual consensus among the opponents of Israel’s impending disengagement from Gaza. Its substance is, quite simply, that the withdrawal from Gaza is not about Gaza at all. It is about destroying the religious Zionist movement.

That sounds absurd, I know. But hear the argument out; internally, it is entirely coherent, as well-honed ideological arguments so often are.

According to dozens of essays that have run in major Israeli newspapers and been posted on Web sites, Israel’s left (usually termed “the secular elite”) is basically decrepit. It is played out, tired, rudderless. Its desire now, according to Rabbi Yigal Kaminetzky, is “to disengage … from the entire past of the Jewish people, from its history, from its values, from its beliefs, from the belief in the God of Israel, from the destiny of the people.”

At the same time, the elite witnesses the very substantial enthusiasm of the religious Zionist movement, recognizing that unless it does something to quash that contagious excitement, its own days in power (and privilege) are numbered.

What to do?

The alleged “solution,” the plot of the elites, is to dispossess the religious-Zionist movement.

But little did the elite imagine that the religious-Zionist movement, uprooted from the settlements for which it had won so much praise over the decades, would regard its “expulsion” from Gaza as equivalent to exile. And still less did it imagine the that the movement would consolidate to reject the “secular” state, while biding its time (the crazies excepted) until the public at large sees the corruption, the fatigue, the emptiness that afflicts the left. The State of the Faithful, no matter how long delayed, is not merely the goal of the movement; it is the destiny of the nation.

The pioneering role once played by the declining kibbutz movement has been revived and adopted by the religious Zionists, according to a common reading. Thus, the settlements in Gaza and in the West Bank have been quite widely seen as a renewal of the Zionist enterprise. And the religious Zionists who peopled them represented the vanguard for the transformation of Israel into a halachic state, a state governed by Jewish religious law, as their mandate.

Is the “secular elite” in fact played out? Has its day passed?

Crime rates are up, corruption is up, the exploitation of foreign workers is up, drug use is up, educational attainment is down, and on and on. One does not have to look far to prepare a telling indictment against the “secular elite,” for all this has happened on its watch. People may criticize Ariel Sharon or admire him, but scarcely anyone regards him as a man seriously committed to democracy. If this be democracy, then plainly halacha is to be preferred.

So goes the argument, and there are some hundreds of thousands of Israelis who subscribe to it. Never mind that there are even more hundreds of thousands who think it, on balance, preposterous. Here and there it hits close enough to home to dent the liberal resolve. And the casualty, for now, is the Judaism of the middle, the religious ethos that accepts pluralism as the oil that lubricates the wheels of a wildly heterogeneous society. In effect, the religious Zionist movement has hijacked Judaism even as the behavior of the crazies has discredited it.

The resolute close-mindedness of the religious Zionists is, indeed, noxious — but the open mindedness of the “secular elite” too often resembles nothing so much as a sieve. And no one, or so it seems, is listening to the sturdy advocates of “a third way.” These include Knesset member Yossi Beilin, leader of the Yachad party, a principal author of the Geneva Program for a permanent peace. His efforts and those of like-minded rational voices have, sadly, had trouble recently being heard over the din.

Leonard Fein’s latest book, “Against the Dying of the Light,” was published by Jewish Lights in 2001.