Beggars apparently can be choosers — or so the Iranian
government seems to believe.
The Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran, which is
struggling to recover from the Dec. 26 earthquake that killed at least 20,000
people and damaged an entire region, has announced that it will not accept
humanitarian aid from the “Zionist entity.”
However, U.S. Jews and Israelis still are finding ways to
help the victims. And one of the few U.S. nongovernmental organizations running
relief on the ground is led by an Iranian American Jew.
Farshad Rastegar formed the Los Angeles-based nonsectarian
Relief International 14 years ago to aid victims of an earlier earthquake in Iran.
As an Iranian American Jew working in his native country, it’s “very
emotional,” he said.
Rastegar, who is planning to leave for Iran soon, said his
group has raised more than $150,000 for relief work in Iran, $65,000 of which
already has been routed to a bank there.
Like other Jewish humanitarians working in Iran, Rastegar
tries to keep politics out of the picture.
“Pain is the same everywhere, whether you’re in Bosnia in Sarajevo
and somebody’s shooting at you, or whether you’re in Chechnya,” he said. “A
bullet is a bullet, a child is a child and pain is pain. The religion, the
ethnicities, the national differences really dissipate in the face of these
kinds of tragedies.”
Rastegar’s religion is known to Iranian government
officials, and his group, which worked with professionals in Iran before the
earthquake, continues to be well received, he said. Despite the Iranian
government’s hostile attitude toward Israel and Jews, there should be no
problem in routing Jewish funds to those in distress, Haroun Yeshaya, head of Iran’s
Jewish community, said in a phone interview from Tehran.
“All Iranian people are going to be glad” to receive funding
from anyone in the world, Yeshaya said through Kamram Broukim, a translator in California.
Through his organization — the Fariborz “Fred” Matloob unit
of B’nai B’rith, named in memory of an Iranian Jewish boy — Broukim has raised
more than $50,000 since Dec. 28 for earthquake victims. The funds will be
directed to Iran’s Jewish community, which plans to use the money to set up a medical
clinic in Bam, the center of the disaster. Broukim is working with Iranian Jews
in New York and London to raise additional funds. About 18,000 of Iran’s 30,000
Jews live in Tehran; another 8,000 live in Shiraz. There are no known Jewish
Despite Iran’s rebuff to Israel, at least one Israeli
nongovernmental organization is addressing the tragedy.
“I have a direct and open line to Iranians,” said Ra’anan
Amir, project manager of Latet, an Israeli humanitarian group that provides
domestic and international relief. Latet has sent “tens of thousands of
dollars” to earthquake victims, Amir said.
“We are welcomed, and we have the routes to come and work in
Iran,” he said.
Amir wouldn’t say whether Latet has people or equipment on the
ground in Iran, and he admitted that he has encountered patches of anti-Israeli
resistance along the way. However, he said, such resistance in Iran and
elsewhere comes from politicians or government officials, not from individual
According to the New York Sun, Iranian citizens criticized
their government’s refusal to accept aid from Israel, which has highly trained
disaster relief teams that have assisted victims around the globe.
Asked if he thinks humanitarian good will will help bridge political
or religious divides, Amir said he doesn’t “fool with idealism.”
“In the first few days of every disaster like this one,
nobody thinks about any of these topics,” he said. “People are just looking for
a place to put their head at night, to get covers, to get something to eat, to
get something to drink and to find their relatives.”
If his presence happens to change some Iranians’ views of
Israelis or Jews, that’s great, he said. But he doesn’t know whether Latet’s
clients even know of the group’s origins — or what effect, if any, such
knowledge would have.
“I’m not going and carrying the flag with me,” he said.
Like other Jewish humanitarians, Rastegar said he is driven
by his faith.
“We’re the chosen people not for privilege; we’re the chosen
people to serve,” he said.
Ronni Strongin, spokeswoman for American Jewish World
Service, agreed, saying, “The Jewish people are compelled to step above hatred,
and we cannot stoop to the level of others. Jews must provide humanitarian need
to those that are in deep distress.”
The agency raised approximately $7,000 last weekend for
quake victims. The money will be used to purchase medical supplies, which will
be dispersed through Direct Relief International (DRI). DRI, which is not
related to Rastegar’s group, is seeking an Iranian partner to handle efforts on
Strongin said her group received several angry e-mails from
Jews who believed that Iran, which is implacably opposed to Israel and has
persecuted its Jews, doesn’t deserve humanitarian aid from Jewish groups.
For its part, the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee (JDC), the largest U.S.-based Jewish relief and welfare organization,
has not begun a fund for the earthquake victims.
“We haven’t been active and don’t have a presence to be able
to extend any kind of direct assistance, so we would have to work through
outside NGOs [nongovernmental organizations],” said Will Recant, the JDC’s
assistant executive vice president.
In any case, he noted, “we haven’t had a response from the
American Jewish community” inquiring about the earthquake or asking if the
group was accepting funds.
Contributions can be sent to Relief International at “>www.ajws.org;
Imagine if hitting the restaurants was a mitzvah. For one day, at least, it will be. Finally, the guilt-free excuse to overeat you’ve been looking for. On May 4, the Sunday before Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), Eat-4-Israel, a campaign created by yeshiva high schoolers, will do just that — encourage people to patronize participating kosher restaurants. The restaurants will donate 10 percent of the day’s gross receipts to their choice of seven Israel-based humanitarian organizations that are endorsed by the campaign: Hatzolah, Bet Ashanti, Ezer Mizion, Save Our Soldiers, Yad Eliezer, Yad Sarah and ZAKA.
Eat-4-Israel was the brainchild of Monique Grunberger, a high school senior at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, who developed the idea with two local Yeshiva University of Los Angeles students, Yitz Novak and Zvi Smith.
“I was getting fed up,” said Grunberger, who in March was frustrated by the underwhelming response to a pro-Israel letter-writing campaign she aimed at senators on Capitol Hill.
In two months time, the trio of 18-year-olds enlisted a roster of North American restaurants, mostly Los Angeles-based businesses, including Pico-Robertson area destinations — Jeff’s Gourmet, Nagila Pizza and Chick ‘N Chow — and Pizza World and Mr. Pickles Deli in greater Los Angeles.
The high schoolers partnered with several organizations — including StandWithUs, UCLA Hillel, the Zionist Organization of America, Far West United Synagogue Youth, West Coast National Council of Synagogue Youth, HaBonim Dror and the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA — to promote the event. Smith also noted that the Bureau of Jewish Education, a Jewish Federation beneficiary agency, will contribute a $1,000 Israel Teen Leadership Seminar Grant, which will go toward advertising costs.
Grunberger, Novak and Smith — all of whom will be studying together in Israel next year — have short-term and long-term goals for Eat-4-Israel.
“Other than raising at least $10,000 for Israel,” Grunberger said, “I would like to see Jewish communities where this event is taking place come together, no matter what denomination, to help Israel. I would like to see this as an annual event.”
“The most basic reward of putting this together has been the experience of working with the community,” Smith added. “But it’s also very fulfilling to represent Israel. It’s nice to see that no matter where we are, we can stand with Israel.”
Eat-4-Israel will take place on Sunday, May 4. For a complete list of participating restaurants, go to www.mobilize4israel.org/eat4israel .
by Eric Silver Jerusalem Correspondent
If there is one thing Israelis have learned — from the twoand a half years of the present intifada and from all the battles that precededit over 54 years — it is that there are no surgical wars.
You can’t wage war without killing and maiming people, soldiersand civilians, whether by accident or design. Some die from friendly fire. Someare taken prisoner. And in the Middle East, the enemy fights dirty.
As United States and British forces suffered their firsttelevised setbacks this week, Israeli military commentators pointed thelessons. Not with glee but with a discernible whiff of “We could have toldyou.” And they did not flinch from saying the unsayable.
The American people, Avraham Tirosh wrote in Ma’ariv,learned about the horrible face of war.
“It got several awful examples of what awaits it,” Tiroshexplained. “Not a deluxe war, which it was perhaps mistakenly led to expect,not an easy drive to Baghdad, with the main adversary being the dust and thesand. But dead, wounded, missing, helpless captives and victims of murder.”
The mob, trampling the banks of the Tigris River on Sundayin search of American pilots, shooting into the reeds and setting them alight,Tirosh added, had never heard of the Geneva Convention.
“Nor did those who fired at the heads of captive Americansoldiers,” he wrote.Â “And even if they had heard, the Geneva Convention wouldhave interested them as much as last year’s desert storm. Woe is he who fallsinto their hands.”
Writing in the same daily paper, Amir Rappaport warned:”From now on, the captives will serve as Saddam Hussein’s human shield. It iseasy to imagine a situation toward the end of the war with the Americansclosing in, when Saddam will make it clear that the moment he is attacked, thecaptives will die with him. It is very difficult to imagine what George Bushand his generals will decide if they face this terrible dilemma.”
Precisely because of situations like that, Rappaportexplained, Israel decided years ago to do everything to prevent the kidnappingof its soldiers. That was the reason, he said, why in 1994, an elite commandounit tried to rescue Nahshon Wachsman (the son of U.S. immigrants) fromcaptivity, even though the chances of success were known to be low. That was alsowhy Israel declared dead three soldiers captured by Hezbollah two and a halfyears ago, even though the Lebanese militia was still holding their bodies.
From bitter experience of what happens to POWs in Arabhands, Israel also questioned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rush todenounce the Iraqis as war criminals for parading prisoners before the TVcameras. Their exposure to the media, argued Yoav Ben-David, who was held andtortured by Syria for a year after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, constituted a kindof insurance policy, however limited.
“The Americans,” he suggested, “still don’t realize that theIraqis will be careful not to hurt soldiers taken prisoner, photographed andseen by the whole world. Precisely because of that, it is important that theydo not hide themselves and look away, but rather be seen as much as possible bythe camera lens and even to smile and try to look good.”
Taking a longer view, Amir Oren argued in the liberalHa’aretz that TV shots of GIs, dead, wounded and taken prisoner, the image ofbloodthirsty Iraqis, would only intensify Bush’s determination to “Shock andAwe” them — and intensify the popular support for the war.
“This will be a turning point in the campaign for bothdomestic and international legitimacy for the war,” Oren predicted. “It willnot drive Bush out of Iraq the way Syria’s capture of navigator John Goodmandrove Ronald Reagan out of Lebanon or the downed Black Hawk helicopter droveBill Clinton out of Mogadishu.”
Similarly, Alex Fishman contended in Yediot Aharonot,Israel’s biggest-selling Hebrew daily, that Uncle Sam would have to take offthe gloves.
Â “The Americans want to show humanitarian warfare that iscareful about human life,” he wrote. “But they have no intention of losing thewar either. To win it, from now on, they are going to need to destroy en massethe members of the Republican Guard and anyone near them.”
As Israelis know all too well, there are no benign wars. Â
New Boss With Abbas
Bringing Tolerance to the World
French multimedia mogul Jean-Marie Messier will spearhead a five-year project to build a European Museum of Mutual Respect in Paris, modeled largely on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.
The chairman and CEO of Vivendi Universal announced plans for the museum while accepting the Wiesenthal Center’s 2002 Humanitarian Award at its national tribute dinner May 2 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
At the same event, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, presented plans for a New York Tolerance Center.
The youthful-looking, 45-year-old Messier focused on his vision for the Paris museum and why it is needed at this particular time and location.
"Never before in our recent history, has there been such a need for a place such as this, a place of reflection, a place to remind us of the importance of mutual respect as we face an uprising of the extreme right in Europe, of racism and xenophobia everywhere," he said.
To get the project underway, Messier said he had already established contacts with Paris municipal authorities; Jose Maria Azner, current president of the European Union; Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Jewish organizations in Europe.
Acknowledging that he was not qualified to speak about Judaism, Messier said that nevertheless, he knew that "to be a Jew is to understand, deep in your bones and right through your heart, that intolerance is wrong. Absolutely wrong."
Preceding Messier’s address, Hier screened schematics for the Wiesenthal Center’s New York tolerance center, currently under construction in the old Daily News Building at 42nd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.
The New York center, which is receiving some funding from the state legislature, the governor and the federal government, will serve a dual function. During the day, law enforcement officers and educators will participate in the "Tools for Tolerance program," which aims to sensitize "frontline professionals" to the problems of dealing with diverse ethnic and religious groups in a large city. In the evening, the facility will be used as a leadership training center for young people active in the Jewish community. A dedication ceremony is planned for next January, and Hier expects the facility to be in operation by the end of next year.
At the same time, plans are going ahead for a three-acre Wiesenthal Center-sponsored Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, with Frank Gehry as the architect. The center will bear the name Winnick Institute, in recognition of a $40 million pledge by Los Angeles business executive Gary Winnick toward the $150 million cost of the project (plus a $50 million endowment fund). Hier said Messier has shown an interest in supporting the Jerusalem center.
Among the museum’s major goals are "to promote civility and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths and creeds."
Hier expects construction to start in about 12-15 months, after which it will take another two-and-a-half years to complete the project.