The Israeli Way


There is something different about making energy and water policy when 100,000 rockets are pointed at your family.

I went to Israel last month to exchange strategies on water and clean energy. I came home with an entirely new perspective on lawmaking.

In 2014, California and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on energy and water innovation. The mission of our California delegation to Israel was to put muscle behind the memo with funding and technical expertise.

Just as we were getting started in our clean energy lab at the Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute, in a room packed with some of the top energy minds in Israel, a news alert sounded on my phone: “BREAKING: HAMAS TERROR TUNNEL EGYPT-ISRAEL DESTROYED.”

Israel Defense Forces had struck a tunnel only a short distance away by California standards. The news shook me silent. My mind went blank. I looked around the room for guidance.

This is what Israel does, day after day. No paralysis. It  just moves forward.

The Israelis at the conference didn’t skip a beat. People looked down at their phones for a moment. Nodded. And dived right back into the work at hand.

Every conversation in Israel is under the Iron Dome. In the fierce urgency that necessarily, although quietly, weaves itself into the texture of daily life, of relationships, of governing, one cannot help but be humbled by Israel’s fortitude.

Where did this strength come from? I would submit that its origins are ancient. And that it lives in all Jews. As the Midrash relates, when the Jews made the Exodus from Egypt, their faith was shaken at the shores of the Red Sea, where they were trapped like sitting ducks, bracing for the oncoming Egyptian army, with no water and a range of bad options.

As some Jews attempted to micromanage Moses, one group suggested they turn and fight. Another thought to simply surrender and return to slavery. A third argued that ending it all would be more just, and they should just hurl themselves into the sea and die. And a fourth disagreed with all the others; the answer to their quandary was to pray for salvation from God.

Moses rose above his stutter, as he did in these moments, to deliver to the Jews a message from God: Let’s just go through the sea, faithful, unafraid, eyes on Mount Sinai. Rather than anticipate, plan or resist the seemingly impossible challenge ahead, the Jews just went through it.

This is what Israel does, day after day, no matter how many tunnels are discovered or rockets are stockpiled. No paralysis. It just moves forward.

And move forward we must. Energy and water are not just critical environmental challenges. They impact the security of Israel and California, and our respective states’ abilities to compete economically on a global stage, where self-reliance and sustainability are rewarded. Israel’s energy strategy currently relies heavily on fossil fuels — only 2 percent of its grid is renewable.

California, on the other hand, has a cleaner grid but a sea to cross when it comes to water. Israelis capture and recycle about 85 percent of the water they use. California wastes about 85 percent of all stormwater, failing, unlike Israel, to capture this valuable resource before it dumps into our coastal waters.

Israel is a nation at constant risk. Yet, Israel’s leaders find a way to diligently proceed with the work to modernize their nation.

Our joint efforts to secure a cleaner, more sustainable energy and water future for Israel and California must proceed, with California imagination and market power, and that deep fortitude that is ancient in origin, and alive and well in Israel today.


State Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) is an environmental attorney and educator. He represents the 27th District, which includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Israeli border policemen stand away after shooting a Palestinian man with a knife and what looks like an explosive belt near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File photo

Palestinian Wearing Fake Explosive Belt Stabs IDF Soldier


A Palestinian man wearing a belt that appeared to be laced with fake explosives stabbed an Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier on the shoulder and was shot as a result.

The man, identified as 29-year-old Mohammed Aqal, was reportedly at a riot in Ramallah that became violent to the point of IDF intervention. Aqal allegedly stabbed an IDF soldier twice in the shoulder. Law enforcement officials responded by shooting Aqual and then shooting him again when they noticed the apparent explosives on his belt.

Aqal died from his gunshot wounds. The Hadashot newspaper later reported that the belt didn’t contain actual explosives. The IDF soldier who was stabbed is currently in stable condition.

Aqal was one of four Palestinians who died in riots in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem on Friday in response to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Another 250 were injured and a total of 2,500 Palestinians took part in the riots, a decline of “thousands” from the week prior. According to the Times of Israel, “Demonstrators burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli troops, who fired back at them with tear gas and rubber bullets.”

A 30-year-old Israeli who has yet to be identified was wounded when some Palestinians chucked rocks at his vehicle. His injuries are not believed to be serious.

Video from the riots can be seen here.

The flare-up in riots come as Vice President Mike Pence is set to visit the Middle East at the beginning of next week. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is refusing to meet with the vice president due to Trump’s Jerusalem move.

Screenshot from Twitter.

Israeli Soldier Murdered by Palestinians in Likely Terror Attack


An Israeli soldier has been murdered by Palestinians in what is believed to be a terror attack.

The 20-year-old soldier, who has yet to be identified, was fatally stabbed in his upper torso at a bus stop outside a mall in the city of Arad at approximately 9:30 pm on Thursday. The soldier proceeded to try and get help by stepping in front of a car, where he began vomiting blood.

“He was conscious and tried to say something but couldn’t,” the driver of the car told Ynet News. “We tried to help him, he fell to the ground. We called Magen David Adom and put a towel on him.”

By the time paramedics arrived, the solider was no longer breathing and didn’t have a pulse.

“We provided life-saving medical care and performed advanced resuscitation techniques, but we were ultimately forced to declare him dead at the scene,” said MDA paramedic Ziv Shapira.

Video footage of the scene of the attack can be seem below:

There are two Palestinian suspects connected to the murder and they are still at large. The police, Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces are all working together in trying to find them, even going as far as setting up roadblocks and sending out a helicopter.

The preliminary investigation suggests that the attack was “nationalistically motivated.” Arad Mayor Nissan Ben-Homo said, “The working assumption is that this was a terror attack.”

You need to listen to what these 2 IDF soldiers have to say


What would you do if you were given the chance to change one of the world’s most disturbing misconceptions and deceptions?

StandWithUs’ (SWU) tenth “Israeli Soldiers Tour” (IST) recently came to conclusion, when six teams of two reservist IDF soldiers returned home, after touring throughout the United States from October 22 – November 5.  These twelve reservists spoke at more than 170 campuses, high schools, synagogues, churches and community centers, reaching tens of thousands with their stories and millions through conventional and social media.

Israeli Soldiers Tour” puts a “human face” on the IDF uniform. The main purpose of this tour is to give people a perspective about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the reality of living in Israel by relating their personal experiences during Israel’s Operations against Hamas in Gaza, interactions with Palestinians in the West Bank and serving on checkpoints and on the Gaza border, protecting Israel’s southern cities from rocket attacks.

They also share their backgrounds, struggles, successes, describe life in Israel and answer questions, the tougher the better.  Their stories have never been heard before and their last names are withheld for security purposes.

 

Because Israel has to constantly defend itself, military service is mandatory here, and young 18 year olds must enlist once graduating high school; men serve for 3 years and women for 2.

“Israelife” caught up with Itamar, who toured the South and Shir who toured the Midwest after the tour to gain their insights about speaking in the U.S.

Itamar, 25, is from Pardess Hana-Karkur, a small town in Northern Israel. Now living in Kibbutz Magal, he studies Education and Political Science at Oranim College. For the last 4 years, Itamar has worked in informal education on a Kibbutz, and has served as Head of the At-Risk Youth department in the Menashe Municipality.

Itamar served in the intelligence forces of the IDF in a classified unit. During his military service, Itamar consistently dealt with the complicated encounters between soldiers and Palestinian civilians

Together with Ilan Lopez, director StandWithUs Latin America, Itamar met with the Jewish community in Mexico prior to touring the South. Ilan joined the southwest team.

Shir, 26, grew up in Gush-Katif settlement in Gaza until the disengagement in 2005. Today she lives in the southern Israeli village of Beer-Ganim, and studies Law at the College of Management Law School.

Shir served in the Israel Defense Forces as a First Lieutenant in the ground forces as a “war room” operator on the northern border with Gaza, where she continues to serve as a reservist.  Shir took part in two operations against Hamas in Gaza as an officer – “Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and “Protective Edge” in 2014.

Shir volunteered in Africa with children, as a part of the Colman Student Union delegation.  She works as an Administrative-Legal Director at “Tmura center – The Legal Center for the promotion of equality” – representing victims of discrimination and various biases.

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?

Shir: It’s important to let people hear information that is different from the information they’re used to receiving. People should be able to choose what they think about certain issues, and in order to do so they need to have different opinions. In addition, students on campus struggle in a difficult arena in which they hear about Israel in negative contexts – we are there to show a different, more positive side.

Itamar: I believe that telling our stories in campuses can create a dialogue, especially when sometimes people are given only one side and not the full picture. Things are more complicated than the media sometimes portrays.  I think that the opportunity of sharing our own personal experience, will encourage students to explore and ask more questions. It will help them realize that although the reality in our region is complex and despite everything Israelis have been through, we believe in education which is the key that can make a difference for the future.

 

What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

Itamar:  Israel to me and to my family is a safe haven. My family arrived here from Europe and from Morocco and Yemen after suffering from persecution. I always knew, that in the state of Israel we’ll be safe.

My country is a place where each population can feel safe, no matter where they are from or what religion they practice.  Israel to me is a place where I can express my opinions, and where I feel that if I need anything, everybody will help me.

Shir: My heart and the craziest and yet sanest place I know.

 

Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

Itamar: One of the most exciting events that we had, was in Houston, Texas.  We met Pastor Becky (Keenan) of Gulf Meadows Church and spoke to a combined Spanish and English Israel class she conducts weekly.  We then joined congregants and volunteers and helped people who are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. It was an amazing experience; we met a community that loves Israel, supports the Jewish community there and prays for Israel.  I wish we had more time to stay with them.

Here is Kayla and I:

 

Shir:  When we spoke with law students at one of the universities. In the last row sat four anti-Israel students with laptops who attacked us with masses of twisted and misinformation about the conflict, and the way that Israel behaves.  My tour partner Carlos and I calmly, fluently and professionally answered all the accusations – until they had no words left. I felt that we didn’t need to hide behind a computer and masses of information – I have the truth by my side, and that’s all I need.

What is your advice for people reading this interview, who also want to join the battle against the Israel delegitimization campaign currently taking over social media? 

Shir: Know the facts, research the subject you are talking about, know the twisted narrative of the other side – and always be critical towards any information you receive. If you are not an expert in a particular field or unsure of the facts – just say so. Correcting a wrong and false statement is more difficult than holding back.

Itamar:  My advice is to share as much as you can.

Unfortunately the social media campaign is huge, but on the other hand, it’s up to us to share and educate for the truth. Some people just see the headline or a short video without seeing the bigger picture. I think it’s our responsibility to have the answers and explain what it really means to boycott Israel – the technology that everyone uses, factories that hire Palestinians, and more important, our values as a democracy.

 

Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself? 

Itamar: I believe that if something happened once, it can always happen again. But I know that the only way that it won’t, is if we keep remembering and never forgetting what happened to the Jewish people throughout history. We need to educate the next generation that keeping our country safe, and learning about history is the key for saving our people.  It will also help us be responsive to people around the world who need our help because we’ll be able to identify with them.

Shir: Depends on what aspect. Could the Jews be threatened at this level again? Probably. Will we reach a situation similar to the Holocaust?  Never, because we have a country and a strong moral army. Such a situation could never be repeated.

 

How do you believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved?

Itamar: I believe in dialogue. We don’t have a partner for peace because they don’t educate for hope or for co-existence. When I watch how the summer camps in Gaza teach children to fight Israel, it’s hard to believe it. But we have to. I want to believe that the Palestinian leadership we’ll decide to stop this, and will prepare its people for similar values of peace and hope. I know that I will keep educating the kids I work with for hope. We should not give up. I believe that the next generation will find a solution, and it’s our job and their job to educate in a way that will allow a true dialogue.

Shir: Through education. By bringing the two peoples closer together, by stopping being afraid of the other side. Through more programs that bring the two peoples together, and that enable a dialogue with the other side, rather than distance and separation.

 

 

Letters to the Editor: Harvey Weinstein, IDF Destroys Hamas Tunnel, Pickles


Harvey Weinstein: Disgrace to Judaism

I picked up a recent copy of the Journal, which I always look forward to reading. However, when I saw the photo of Harvey Weinstein on the cover, I was stunned. His picture, if in the Journal at all, should be small and on the last page of the paper, declaring that he shamed himself, his family, and that he is a disgrace to everything Jewish. The cover of the Journal should have someone we respect and emulate, who lives an exemplary life and makes this world a better place. I am sure you can choose more wisely the next time you prepare the paper.

Marion Lienhard, Thousand Oaks


A New Look, New Direction for the Journal

Congratulations on the new format, type, layout and the change in focus.

The new parsha commentaries show the variety of possibilities in interpretation.

The political differences are best shown when focused side by side on a single topic. The expansion of writers gives voice to many other topics of interest.

Mazel tov!

Enriqué Gascon, Los Angeles

When I lived in Baltimore I told people I read their Jewish News and they responded by saying, “Honey, no one reads it, we just look through it.”

One cannot say that about our Jewish Journal.  Its content is rich, diverse, readable and good enough to be savored.  All of that in addition to learning new things, human interest stories, and opinions that do not require you to want to tear your hair out.  OK maybe a little hair-tearing.

Don’t you just love change?

Sherri W. Morr via email

The Journal’s profound new tone and writers continue to amaze. In “A Deeper Feminism (Oct. 27),” Karen Lehrman Bloch’s assertion that freedom requires “thoughtfulness, a need to recognize reality and human nature” is a breath of fresh air. Although Bloch considers herself politically neutral, the media are so predominantly leftist that she seems to speak for the right. Her observation that “Women are equal to men but … different,” and “We should take pleasure in the differences,” is a mature, common-sense response to the growing, misguided progressive dogma that there’s no difference between the sexes or that it’s all cultural indoctrination. She’s a real delight!

I’ve even started reading Marty Kaplan’s column again. For a while, he was just trashing President Donald Trump every week, but his fascinating Oct. 27 rumination, “When Bad People Happen to Good Art,” explores the age-old enigma of profound art created by immoral, self-indulgent people. I wonder if it struck Kaplan that all the abusive artists he cited are likely Trump-haters, and that every Weinstein associate and political crony is a Democrat. Is the contempt some leftists have for Christianity and traditional Judaism eroding their consciences? I’m not suggesting Republicans aren’t sinners, but unlike secularists they don’t just rationalize bad behavior away. I’d love to hear Kaplan’s thoughts on this.

Rueben Gordon via email

What a great editor’s note: “Can Jewish Journalism Aim to Please?” (Oct. 27)! Note, that reveals a great journalist’s mind! Mr. Suissa, you have found that “sweet spot” already. By asking questions, you provoke thought, and by remaining true to yourself, you avoid triggering anger. The three insights you write about are excellent ways to reach out to as many readers as possible.

I am not a Jew, but I really enjoy the Journal, now more than before, finding those insights applied on all the pages. In my opinion, it is impossible to please each and every reader, but it is fully possible and necessary for journalists to be true to themselves when reporting the facts. Then let the readers be the judge! That’s how we, the readers, will be challenged to open our minds to new ideas and to “look beyond our own customs and traditions.”

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles


Put the Brakes on Those GPS Satellites

Your interview with Barry Barish (“Barry Barish on His Nobel Prize — and Why He Never Wrote That Novel,” Oct. 27) contains an egregious error. He is quoted as saying that the GPS satellites travel at 1/4th of the speed of light. They actually travel at 14,000 kilometers per hour (kph) relative to Earth, which is 0.001 percent of the speed of light. The relativistic offset of the space-borne clocks is 38 microseconds/day relative to a stationary clock on Earth, which would cause an Earth-bound user to make a 14-centimeter position error.

As a mere PhD in engineering I hesitate to correct a Nobel Prize winner. I suspect the interviewer misunderstood him.

Myron Kayton via email


Israel’s Destruction of Hamas Tunnel

I would like to thank Aaron Bandler for the story he wrote on the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) destroying a tunnel built by Hamas (“IDF Destroys Hamas Tunnel,” Oct. 30). I 100 percent agree with what Bandler wrote about what the IDF did. Not only did I agree with it but I also completely [endorse what] the IDF is doing. In this story, I discovered that the IDF destroyed a tunnel made by Hamas. The tunnel spanned from Khan Younis in Gaza toward Kibbutz Kissufim in Israel. The reason I agree with this is because Israel warned that Hamas digs over six miles of tunnel a month toward Israel and that members of Hamas can travel through the entirety of the Gaza Strip underground through their network of tunnels. So if Israel lets this continue to happen, then many will probably die.

Nathan Tabibi via email


Israel and the Politics of Pickles

In the column “We, the Pickles,” Shmuel Rosner discusses many things. For the most part, I agree with his statements, although he wrote that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meant that we all no longer care about the country or the people, but rather maintaining the government. But isn’t that what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing? No matter what Netanyahu does, the critics grumble. He does well and he gets no credit, but as soon as something bad happens, he is to blame. As I see it, if Netanyahu is just thinking about the government, he is doing the right thing to please the critics and the country.

Avner Shamtoub via email


The Cause and Cure for Terrorism

When terrorists attack, they tell us very clearly why they are killing (“8 Dead, 12 Injured in Manhattan Attack,” Nov. 3). They yell, “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) — a jihadi battle cry. Yet we ignore it. We wring our hands and lament. We send teddy bears to the victims. That will not stop the next attack.

What will stop Islamic terror is simple but not easy. Imams, Muslims — all who practice Islam — must begin citing the many specific passages of the Quran, the Hadiths of Muhammad and sharia law that tell their flock that jihad, killing infidels and Jews are holy acts, and then denounce these passages as wrong, despite their appearance in holy texts. Unless and until this happens, we will continue to have more deaths. This is not bias. This is common sense.

Not all who practice Islam will commit jihad but some are doing so. We see their bloody work on an almost weekly basis.

Islamic and all religious leaders should stand together and denounce these passages.

Some examples: A command in the Quran: “Fight against those to whom the Scriptures were given [i.e. Jews and Christians] … until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.”

Ginette Weiner, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Screenshot from Twitter

Israel to Hamas: Give Us Back Our Soldiers’ Remains, and You’ll Get the Tunnel Victims’ Bodies


Israel has issued an ultimatum to Hamas: if you want the bodies of the terrorists that died in the tunnel blast, you’ll have to give us the bodies of our soldiers.

On Monday, Israel blew up a partially built Hamas tunnel, resulting in the death of seven terrorists, two of which were senior commanders of Islamic Jihad. Hamas requested that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Israel retrieve the bodies of five terrorists believed to be buried underneath the tunnel.

Israel has signaled that they will not accept Hamas’ request unless they return the bodies of Israeli soldiers Shaul Oron and Hadar Goldin they kidnapped and killed in 2014 Hamas-Israel conflict. Hamas is also believed to have kidnapped three Israeli civilians.

“Israel will not allow search operations in the area of the security barrier in the Gaza Strip without progress on the issue of Israelis kidnapped and MIAs,” Israel Major General Yoav Mordechai reportedly told the ICRC in Gaza.

The families of the missing soldiers agreed.

The family of Shaul Oron told the Times of Israel, “We hope that the Israeli government will not dare to comply with Hamas’s request as long as they do not return Oron. Oron was kidnapped through a tunnel that Hamas dug, and for more than three years has been held by them in Gaza, and yet they do not allow the Red Cross to check on his condition.”

Goldin’s family echoed Oron’s family, stating: “Any Israeli humanitarian gesture toward Hamas must be contingent on bringing our boys home. If Israel responds [positively] to Hamas, it would be a moral injustice and a sign of political weakness.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is also on the side of the Goldin and Oron families.

“Hamas has violated the basic norms of humanity by holding hostage the remains of two Israeli soldiers,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a press release sent to the Journal. “We learned first-hand of the anguish of the family of Hadar Goldin, who visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center a few months ago.

“The International Red Cross should immediately launch an effort to release all the remains to their families, without delay.”

Israel has been working to retrieve their kidnapped citizens and bodies of their soldiers, to no avail. In September, Egypt ceased its mediation between Israel Hamas on the matter, making the prospects of an agreement between the two even more remote.

“We are not giving up on this mission – including over the last few days – until we successfully carry it out,” Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in July.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

An Apologetic No-Apology in Gaza


When Israel found a terror tunnel crossing the border into its territory on Oct. 30, it did what every country would do: It destroyed it. The tunnel was not there for peaceful purposes, and Israel did not use peaceful means to destroy it. It bombed it. And as the tunnel crumbled, Islamic Jihad operatives were killed — no great loss for those wanting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.

Those killed were not the target of the operation; they were collateral damage. But being who they were, you would not expect Israel to feel overcome with sorrow over their unplanned deaths. Still, when Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers were speaking about the incident, they sounded almost apologetic about the killing. Boastful remarks were rare — the military was proud of the new technologies that enabled the operational achievement, yet refrained from counting the killing of terrorists as part of that achievement. Politicians were asked by the prime minister to keep their thoughts to themselves — and did.

Why?

Pragmatism.

Left-wingers more easily accept Israel’s decision in this case.

Israel is a pragmatic country with pragmatic policies — and this is no less true when it has a right-wing government headed by a hawkish prime minister. It does not need an eruption of violence in Gaza. It does not seek confrontation with Hamas. It does not want to give the impression that its goal is to disrupt the process of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Of course, this does not mean that it will turn a blind eye when a terror tunnel is discovered. But it does mean that a small price, such as faking an apologetic response about killing very bad people, is not out of the question.

Or is it?

Some Israelis on the right, most notably Education Minister Naftali Bennett, did not easily accept these rules of overly restrained Israeli response. “We should not apologize for succeeding in eliminating terrorists,” Bennett said. Politicians in Israel — much like in the United States — see apologies as unfashionable and unnecessary. President Donald Trump does not apologize, but Bennett can take credit for having had a no-apology policy even before Trump. Maybe that’s the reason for his gut reaction to the IDF’s half-hearted celebration of victory.

It is easy to identify with Bennett’s reluctance to accept these rules of restraint. After all, these terrorists were coming to kill us, and we killed them right back! It is also easy to understand why the IDF is being so cautious. After all, the military would be the one having to deal with any eruption of violence. And if such violence can be avoided by having a low-profile celebration of this small victory, why not try this approach?

Politics, as always, stands in the way.

Right-wingers are lukewarm about playing down their response and wonder whether the IDF’s action indicates it is guilty of a defeatist apprehension of Hamas. The Israeli right-wing has developed a bad habit of constantly looking for signs of weakness in others, always suspecting that Israelis other than right-wingers do not have the stomach to do what it takes to keep this country safe.

Left-wingers more easily accept Israel’s decision in this case. Their instinctive preference is for Israel to always be restrained and always be considerate of the sensitivities of the Palestinians. But as they praise Israel for this measured, calculated response, they fail to notice other aspects of this exact same realism. Taking things as they are and not as you’d want them to be, accepting small humiliations so as not to complicate an already complicated situation — these explain both Israel’s limited celebration this week and Israel’s averse response to peace processing.

Sober realism, pragmatic attitude, a results-driven approach — all these have benefits and a price that cut both ways. They can make us curb our enthusiasm when terrorists — our most-detested, most-radical enemies — are killed. They also can make us curb our enthusiasm when a pipe dream of peace is offered.

Photo from Facebook.

Female Soldier Wouldn’t Take No For an Answer


“When you grow up in America, the DMV and all the red tape involved is the absolute worst. Then you make aliyah and you realize that [Israel’s Ministry of Interior] is definitely the worst. But then you get to the army and you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that there can be nothing worse than this.”

So muses Sariba Feinstein — and she should know. At 25, Sariba was seven years past Israel’s conscription age when she knocked down the doors of the recruitment office in Tel HaShomer and demanded to be drafted. But like the requisite rejection from rabbis to a potential convert, they turned her away — multiple times. Unflinching, Sariba insisted she wasn’t moving until she could speak to a higher-up.

“I’m stubborn like that,” she said.

Her tenacity about getting into the army ultimately prevailed. Getting into a combat unit, however, was out of the question — until it wasn’t.

“It was a fight to get into the army and a fight to get into a combat unit,” she said.

Sariba ended up being drafted into Caracal, the first co-ed combat battalion of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), named for the eponymous cat with sexes that appear the same. That didn’t stop the catcalls she and her army buds received from Egyptian soldiers stationed a stone’s throw away across the border, though.

Her two-year service, which now has concluded, consisted of intense training, even more intense tête-à-têtes with commanders several years her junior, and plenty of struggles with the language. During idle times, Sariba took to social media using the hashtag #WatchMeCrackle to recount tales of her service and aggregate lists of things she loved about serving in the IDF, such as the dining hall PSAs announcing when the food is spicy — for the benefit of the Ashkenazi soldiers — or the fact that she doesn’t actually remember the last time she saluted anyone.

This proved to be a rather different experience compared with that of two of Sariba’s brothers back home who chose to serve in the U.S. Army, one in the 10th Mountain Division and the other in the 101st Airborne Division. That half of the Feinstein children chose to serve in the military at all is a curious fact given their upbringing in a Chasidic home.

The recent Netflix documentary “One of Us,” which follows the lives of three individuals who chose to leave their insular Chasidic sects, encouraged Sariba to share her own experiences as an OTD — the somewhat dubious slang given to people who are “off the derech (path)” and who abandon religious observance.

She’s quick to point out that the Chasidic sects portrayed in the documentary have vast differences from the Chabad lifestyle that Sariba’s parents espoused, which, among other things, encourages interaction with nonobservant Jews while other sects reject any dealings with people outside of their communities.

Sariba ended up being drafted into Caracal, the first co-ed combat battalion of the IDF.

Until the age of 11, Sariba lived in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights in New York, the Chabad movement’s epicenter. Her family then moved to Postville, Iowa, where her father took a job as a registered nurse in a hospital. The small town’s Jewish community was largely religious but not exclusively Chabad, with most people affiliated with the town’s kosher slaughterhouse.

When asked if there was any pivotal experience that turned her off religious observance, Sariba demurred, chalking it up to a general feeling of disconnect that just intensified over the years.

“I just stopped feeling like it was my place, like it was mine,” she said without a trace of bitterness in her voice.

After several years in New York and halfway through an online degree, Sariba made plans to move to Southern California. But an impromptu trip to Israel — her first — with Birthright in January 2013 threw a wrench in her plans for the next half-decade, and counting.

“I kept making excuses to stay longer,” Sariba said of her choice to extend her trip.

Ironically, it was on July 4 when Sariba, who now is studying at Bar-Ilan University, finally made the decision to make aliyah.

“I could explore life and live life as I wanted,” she said. “And I just felt that I was at home here.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

IDF Won’t Apologize for Killing Terrorists in Hamas Tunnel Blast


The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will not apologize for killing terrorists while blowing up a Hamas tunnel on Monday.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the explosion, which killed seven terrorists, wounded 12 others and left five terrorists missing wasn’t meant to harm any Palestinian. Education Minister Naftali Bennett used Manelis’ statement to claim that the IDF was apologizing for killing terrorists.

“These were terrorists involved in digging an attack tunnel inside Israeli territory with which they intended to kill Israeli women and children,” Bennett tweeted.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman fired back on Twitter, writing that “comments like this seriously damage the security of Israel and the IDF.” Yesh Atid MK Elaza Stern, a former IDF general, issued a statement denouncing Bennett’s comments and stating that the IDF in no way apologized for the killing of terrorists.

“It is a shame that government ministers, instead of backing the IDF after an incident like this, chose once again to use it to score political points at the army’s expense,” said Stern.

Two of the terrorists killed in the tunnel explosion were senior commanders for the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has responded to the tunnel explosion by accusing Israel of using poison gas to kill the terrorist, who they referred to as “martyrs.”

“We call on all of the international organizations to stop these materials that the Israeli occupation is using against our unarmed people,” PA Health Ministry Spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said to the PA’s news outlet.

Hamas has called the explosion “a dangerous escalation against our people” and Iran referred to Israel as the “blood-sucking Zionist regime” in response to the explosion.

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza. Suhaib Salem/ Reuters

IDF Destroys Hamas Tunnel


The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyed a Hamas tunnel on Monday that was still in the process of being built.

The tunnel spanned from Khan Younis in Gaza toward Kibbutz Kissufim in Israel. The IDF was able to detect it through an unspecified technological advancement and then destroyed the tunnel through a controlled explosion.

The explosion resulted in nine dead Palestinian terrorists, one of which was the senior commander of Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the tunnel’s demolition as how Israel is “developing breakthrough technology to deal with the tunnel threat.”

“Today, we located a tunnel and we destroyed it, and we will continue doing so,” Netanyahu declared. “We will continue to protect Israel’s borders.”

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stressed that the explosion took place on the Israeli border and that the Jewish state isn’t interested in another armed conflict with Gaza. However, Lieberman noted that “despite Palestinian unity, the Gaza Strip remains a terrorist kingdom.”

“There is no doubt Hamas, which controls Gaza, is responsible,” said Lieberman.

Hamas called the tunnel’s explosion a “Zionist crime” that “is a dangerous escalation against our people” to halt “efforts to restore Palestinian unity” in a statement.

“We affirm that resisting the occupation in all its forms and by possessing its various forms is a natural and guaranteed right of our people,” the statement read.

Iran, which funds Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, also denounced the tunnel’s destruction by referring to Israel as the “blood-sucking Zionist regime” that “wants to weaken the resolve of the oppressed Palestinian nation through the massacre of Palestinian youth.”

This is the third Hamas tunnel that has been destroyed by Israel since Hamas first started using the tunnels in the 2014 conflict. In 2016, Israel warned that Hamas digs over six miles of tunnel a month toward Israel and that they can travel through the entirety of the Gaza Strip underground through their network of tunnels. There have been some instances in which the tunnels have collapsed on Hamas members.

Members of the El Camino Metro congregation in Sun Valley offer a blessing to former Israeli soldier Iyyar Schwartz. Photo by Eitan Arom.

Former IDF Soldiers Start U.S. Speaking Tour


While the rest of the crowd raised its hands toward the ceiling of the middle school auditorium, an olive-skinned woman in a knee-length black dress shifted on her feet in the front row, her hands folded in front of her.

Iyyar Schwartz, 28, visited the bilingual congregation El Camino Metro in Sun Valley on Oct. 22 as part of a United States tour by former Israeli soldiers, organized by the pro-Israel education organization StandWithUs. She and her traveling companion, Ilan Lopez, make up one of six teams touring the country until Nov. 5. On this morning, Schwartz addressed the English-language service of the nondenominational Christian congregation while Lopez spoke at a larger Spanish-language service at a high school.

Schwartz shared her experience as an artillery officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), including the time when a rocket went off as she was patrolling the border of the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. Dropping to the ground, she lay prone in a muddy field. “I won’t forget that,” she said. “I had mud in my nose and my mouth, and I was thinking, ‘Would I rather lose my arms or my legs?’ ”

Before the rocket landed, it was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system — but the incident served as a touchstone for her to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need for dialogue.

“We need to put ego, money, politics — we need to put that aside, and we need to listen to each other,” she said.

After Schwartz’s remarks, Pastor Cruz Navarro called on the approximately 100 people in attendance to raise their hands and bless Schwartz and all of Israel. “Today, we bless through Iyyar not just her, but the entire nation,” he said.

“They love Israel but they still need connections to what’s going on today.” – Ilan Lopez

The visit to El Camino Metro marked the beginning of the nationwide tour that will bring former IDF soldiers to more than 150 audiences in churches, synagogues, high schools and other venues. Schwartz traveled to California from Israel with Lopez, the director of StandWithUs Latin America. The pair also will travel to Colorado, Nevada and Arizona.

The visits are meant to expand Americans’ understanding of Israel, and to counter negative attention Israel receives in the media.

“There’s a divine mandate in the Bible to bless Israel,” said Pastor Josh Tolle, as he introduced Schwartz.

Nonetheless, Lopez said it was important to introduce Spanish-speaking congregations like El Camino Metro to a “human face to relate to” that was connected with Israel. In downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 5, Lopez is scheduled to visit Tabernaculo Biblico Bautista Amigos de Los Israel, a Hispanic church.

“They love Israel,” Lopez said in an interview, “but they still need tools [to support it] and connections to what’s going on today.”

After Schwartz’s appearance, Lopez took the stage across the street at El Camino Metro’s Spanish service with about 1,000 people, mostly immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Lopez spoke in Spanish about his upbringing as the child of a Jewish mother and Christian father in Venezuela, where, in 2009, a mob overpowered security guards at a Sephardic synagogue, then tossed the Torah scrolls across the room and spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti. A year later, Lopez moved to Israel and enlisted in the IDF.

He spoke about his humanitarian work as an IDF soldier, relating a tale about how he helped move a boy from a Palestinian hospital to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, where Israeli doctors treated the boy for burns suffered after an accident at his home.

After Lopez spoke, the Salvadoran-born Navarro reminded the congregation about an upcoming church trip to Israel in February.

“If there are pupuserias in Israel,” Navarro said, referring to Salvadoran stuffed tortillas, “I’m moving there right away.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Bernie Sanders sponsors event supporting Palestinian village of Susiya


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is sponsoring a September 19th briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight the cause of the Palestinian village, Susiya, which is designated for demolition by the Israeli Army, a Senate staffer confirmed to Jewish Insider.

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

While the briefing marks International Peace Day which is September 21, due to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, it has been moved to the 19th to allow those celebrating to attend, according to a copy of the invitation. The organizer Rebuilding Alliance declined to publicize Sanders’ sponsorship in its invitation.

The California-based Rebuilding Alliance is slated to fly-in children from the West Bank villages of Susiya and Al-Aqaba along with Gaza. “It is our hope that upon hearing their presentation, members of Congress will personally make calls to the Israeli Embassy to express concern, stop the demolitions, recognize Palestinian planning rights, turn on the lights, and assure due process,” the event explains.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Susiya is an illegally constructed outpost near Hebron and “are continuing to build in defiance of a court order.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has written multiple letters to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on Jerusalem not to demolish the contested village.

Earlier this year, Sanders was one of four Senators to send a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighting the case of Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who is charged by the Israeli military for obstructing soldiers. The Vermont lawmaker also delivered a harsh critique of Israel’s conduct in the 1948 war at the J Street conference last February. “Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees,” he said.

The September 19 briefing will be the second pro-Palestinian event on Capitol Hill this year. In June, Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) sponsored an event titled: “50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children.”

Jason Greenblatt in Israel. Photo from Facebook

Greenblatt’s Gaza proposal leaves more questions than answers


Towards the end of Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt’s trip to the Middle East this week, he visited the Israeli-Gaza border with IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “It is clear that the Palestinian Authority must resume its role in managing the Gaza Strip,” Greenblatt declared and explained, “since Hamas has severely harmed the residents and failed to meet their most basic needs.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Yet, Middle East experts questioned how realistic Greenblatt’s proposal is and urged more clarity from the Trump administration in how they would implement the return of PA rule in Gaza. “I think it is good that the Trump Administration expressed support for PA governing Gaza,” explained David Makovsky, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The question remains how to make this happen. Abbas missed a moment to establish the PA back in Gaza after the 2014 war. The PA has yet to put forward a plan that would make Gazans believe they care about them. For Abbas to win back Gazans, he cannot speak in generalizations but he needs a plan. The US cannot want the PA back more than the PA itself.”

Following the 2014 Hamas-Israeli conflict, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a United Nations Security Council resolution supported by the United States, France, and Jordan to return PA forces to Gaza, Walla News reported.

“Absent any strategy or structure, it’s a pipe dream today,” said Grant Rumley, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). “There are no incentives for Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza when it can have (Abdel Fatah) Sisi or (Mohammad) Dahlan and the U.A.E. bail it out, and there are no incentives for Abbas to risk troops and political capital without guarantees that a repeat of the 2007 civil war won’t happen. Re-inserting the PA into Gaza will require a framework, regional buy-in, and a leadership in Ramallah that is willing to take risks — I see none of those on the horizon today.”

A White House spokesman declined Jewish Insider’s request for comment on the White House’s proposal.

Conditions in Gaza remain dire. Power in Gaza has declined to approximately four hours a day after the P.A. reduced fuel payments to the impoverished enclave. Unemployment in the impoverished enclave has spiked to 42% and among youth it’s at 58%. Hamas and Israel have fought three bloody wars resulting in thousands of casualties between 2008-2014.

Khaled Elgindy, a Brookings fellow focusing on Palestinian politics, cautioned, “Various Palestinian officials have said in one form or the other that they will not go back to Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks. The fact that this statement is coming from the Trump administration may not be helping things. People in Hamas may be looking at it: ‘Wait a minute, Is this an attempt to try and impose something on Hamas?’”

The timing of Greenblatt’s statement supporting the return of Fatah rule in Gaza is noteworthy in light of a senior Israeli government official’s comments to Yediot Achronoton Tuesday clarifying that Jerusalem is “interested in the stability of Hamas rule in Gaza.” Elgindy asked, “Does that mean the US and Israel are not on the same page when it comes to Gaza?”

While backing the Trump administration’s focus on the challenge of Gaza, Rumley concluded, “Unfortunately, absent any parameters or way forward, the Trump administration is likely to reach the same dead-end as the Bush and Obama administrations.”

Former Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, middle, waits to hear the ruling at an Israeli military appeals court in Tel Aviv on July 30. Photo by Dan Balilty/Reuters

Israeli soldier asks army chief for leniency after losing appeal in shooting of downed Palestinian


Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, convicted of shooting a downed Palestinian terrorist, has asked the head of the Israel Defense Forces for leniency.

Azaria made the request of Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot days after a military appeals court upheld both the conviction and the 18-month prison sentence, which the prosecution had called too lenient. Azaria reportedly will not appeal the decisions to Israel’s Supreme Court.

In the letter, Azaria reportedly repeated his defense that he believed the Palestinian attacker was planning a suicide bombing from his prone position after he was shot and injured by other soldiers.

Azaria has not expressed remorse for his actions; regretting them could help him obtain leniency, observers say.

Azaria’s attorney, Yoram Sheftel, attacked Eisenkot in a television interview Monday, saying the chief of staff “is fat and doesn’t project a soldierly image in his appearances.”

Following the verdict, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and several other Israeli government ministers called for Azaria to be pardoned. Netanyahu also backed a pardon following Azaria’s conviction in January.

Azaria also noted his mother’s reliance on sleeping pills and his father’s stroke in the wake of the case, The Times of Israel reported.

Azaria, who was sentenced in February, has been under house arrest since leaving the military last week. He had been confined to the closed Nachshonim military base since being arrested in March 2016.

A medic in the elite Kfir Brigade, Azaria came on the scene following a Palestinian stabbing attack on soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. One assailant was killed, and Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was injured. Minutes later, while Sharif was lying on the ground, Azaria shot him in the head in a shooting that was captured on video by a local resident for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Azaria was arrested the same day and indicted nearly a month later. Autopsy reports showed that the shots by Azaria killed Sharif. Prior to shooting Sharif, Azaria had cared for a stabbed soldier.

250,000 To Be Evacuated By Israel From Potential Northern Border War


The Home Front Command declared that it has a special contingency plan in place in Israel to evacuate up to a quarter of a million residents living close to the Lebanon border. This was confirmed by a senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Around 1 million live in Israel’s North and in the event that a war starts with Hezbollah, evacuations can start. According to the officer:

“In the past we didn’t think of needing to evacuate whole communities, but now we understand that we will have to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people. “

This is mainly because of the fact the battlefield experience and technological abilities of Hezbollah are growing “thanks” to the fighting happening against Syria. Regional changes that the military did not expect happened. Israel’s borders witness changes and the IDF has to get ready for war against various groups instead of country armies.

While students from other countries do not have to worry about much except where to buy essays and similar, those living in northern Israel should be aware of the potential of war breaking out. The Home Front Command evolved though and it is ready to protect Israeli citizens. It was said that the army did always think about whether or not it is prepared or relevant. That is not just because of the Hezbollah rocket barrage threat that became a possibility in the past few months. The real reason is the possibility of faced with ground attacks carried out by terrorist groups against the civilian communities.

Israel is listening to everything that Hassan Nasrallah says and the threats issued are taken seriously. Civilians were told in the past that they simply need to go to the special bomb shelters but this needs to be changed as having civilians in front lines is not at all a good idea.

Unfortunately, it is close to impossible to evacuate all the residents in the area. However, it was stated that the army is working with communities and emergency services in order to prepare people that live in the northern communities for a mass evacuation scenario. Evacuated communities would eventually be housed in guest houses, schools and hotels in Jerusalem, Eilat, Jordan Valley and West Bank. The goal is to take people away from the North front lines. Whole communities can end up being housed together based on the experienced situation.

IDF believes that Hezbollah will most likely not attack Israel soon. The border with Lebanon is the one that is highly explosive and it is possible that the very next conflict is going to be truly devastating. Hezbollah did rebuild the arsenal it had since the 2006 Lebanon War, having access to over one hundred thousand short range rockets and even thousands of other missiles that would be able to reach the middle of Israel. This does include Tel Aviv.

The news broke out as Nasrallah issued a warning that Israel has to think “a million times” before a war with Lebanon would be started as the fighters he has will not have “Red lines” in the following conflict.

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R) And Gen. Narkis in the old city of Jerusalem. Photo from Wikipedia

The Six-Day War, in real time for the first time


Israel’s State Archives has unsealed documents from the Six-Day War after 50 years. They include transcripts of full cabinet meetings and of the Security Cabinet meetings. Here are a few observations.

In Cabinet meetings, people say many things. In tense Cabinet meetings, they say even more things. Thus, when transcripts are released, it is easy to isolate quotes and make big headlines out of them to serve a position or an ideology. If it were up to us, a politician muses, we would “deport the Arabs to Brazil.” Is this a statement that proves Israel’s malicious intentions? Some might say yes. They had the same reaction when Yitzhak Rabin mused about his desire to see Gaza drowned in the Mediterranean.

But you also can see it as a statement proving the sobriety and realism of Israel’s ministers at the time — a statement proving that they realized, on Day One, that occupying a territory in which many Arabs reside is going to be a headache. They did not deport anyone to Brazil. They were stuck with the headache. We still are stuck with it.

Not everything the ministers said seems impressive in retrospect. But what is quite impressive is the ministers’ refusal to engage in desperation in the weeks leading to the war and their reluctance to surrender to euphoria after it. The ministers behave in these meetings as all Israelis did: The period leading to the war was highly worrisome and the country was in a dark mood during the three weeks of “waiting.” The period after the war was one of celebration and invincibility.

The ministers are apprehensive, and they are uplifted — but in a more subdued way. They do not panic before; they do not lose proportion after. Yes, many of their assessments seem naive, misconstrued, even foolish in retrospect. But this is not due to a lack of seriousness.

Reading the debate about the future of the West Bank feels prescient. There are annexationists who want to absorb the territory and believe the demographic challenge of absorbing so many Arabs along with the territory will sort out itself. Menachem Begin, a member of the emergency Cabinet that was assembled prior to the war, argues that within seven years there will be a Jewish majority in the West Bank. There are those for whom demography is the key. Pinchas Sapir, the finance minister, worries about Israel’s future as a Jewish state if so many Arabs will become residents or citizens of Israel.

It is almost boringly familiar, and yet so distant.

I’m reading a transcript of a Security Cabinet meeting from May 26, 1967. Rabin, then the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is asked to assess whether Israel can withstand an attack. Look how careful he is: “I think if we have the tactical surprise, there is a possibility … that we will have achievements.”

Here is a question: Was this a rhetorical failure on part of the IDF and Rabin? Consider an alternative scenario: It is the same meeting, but Rabin promises a great victory, then Israel faces a military defeat. What would we say in such a case? Probably that the chief of staff didn’t assess the situation correctly and thus provided Israel’s political leaders with inaccurate information on which they made the wrong decisions.

But no one has the time or reason to ask the exact same question when the assessment of the military commander is inaccurate in a positive sense — that is, a prediction of great difficulty that later proves to be an overstatement.

And there is more. A minister warning defense minister Moshe Dayan that the IDF ought to be reminded to treat the civilian population humanely. Ministers arguing for and against taking East Jerusalem. Concern that overeagerness could prolong the war and occupy more territory because of the victories.

There also are lies that Israel decides to tell. The protocol shows how Israel attacked Syria in the Golan Heights. Minister Yigal Alon calls for the attack, disregarding the possibility of diplomatic tension with Russia because of it. He says he prefers controlling the Heights over diplomatic problems with the Russians.

The director of the Foreign Ministry warns against action — attacking Syria will complicate things for us with the Russians, he argues. But Rabin wants action. “Ending such a war without hitting the Syrians would be a shame,” he says.

Israel tells the world that the Syrians are fighting. “This is not the truth,” argues minister Haim-Moshe Shapira. True, says Alon. “I admit that this isn’t the truth, but these are the kind of lies that we can tell to have peace” — namely, to have the Syrians’ cannons removed from the Heights that overlook Israel.

Some things still feel different, and the most notable of them is the approach of the representatives of Israel’s religious-Zionist sector. Today, they are the most hawkish. In 1967, they famously were the least hawkish. They were the ones preaching for caution and moderation.

Shapira did not want the attack on the Syrians. His friend Zerach Warhaftig cools down Dayan when the defense minister suggests that Israel send its forces to Beirut.

“I would argue that we should have some limits,” Warhaftig says.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

Staff Sgt. Joana Chris Arpon on Israeli soldiers saving her grandmother in the Philippines: “I was like, “Whoa, that’s what I want to do.” Photo courtesy of IDF Spokesperson

Why this Filipina is fighting for Israel


Staff. Sgt. Joana Chris Arpon isn’t Israeli, or even Jewish. Her service in the Israel Defense Forces is personal.

Arpon, 20, is the daughter of Filipino parents who came to Israel to find work. She said she enlisted as a combat soldier because an Israeli army  team rescued her grandmother in the aftermath of the 2013 typhoon that devastated the Philippines.

“It was amazing to see the soldiers show up and help people. They saved my grandmother when her house was destroyed,” Arpon said. “I was like, “Whoa, that’s what I want to do.’”

On Tuesday, Israel’s 69th Independence Day, Arpon will be one of 120 soldiers recognized by Israel’s president for distinguished service. Later this year, Arpon and her mother will be granted Israeli citizenship thanks partly to her time in the army.

Born in Israel, Arpon always felt like part of the Jewish state. While many Filipinos live clustered in Israel’s big cities, her mother raised her and her older brother in the small town of Mishmar Hashiva, in central Israel. At their high school in nearby Rishon Lezion, they were the only Filipino students.

Arpon’s mother immigrated to Israel in 1988 to work as a nanny, and stayed to raise her children even after her husband left. The vast majority of the some 31,000 Filipinos who live in Israel are female caregivers.

As a rule, Filipinos are only allowed to live in Israel as temporary workers. But Arpon and her brother are among the hundreds of Filipino children the government has granted permanent residency, along with their immediate family members. After the children serve in the army, their families qualify for citizenship.

Arpon long knew she would follow in the footsteps of her brother, who served as a paramedic and is now a citizen. But it was only recently that she decided she wanted to be a combat soldier. Only about 7 percent of Israeli combat soldiers are women, though that number is growing despite opposition from some Orthodox Jews and others.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines with record-breaking force. At least 6,300 people were killed, and tens of thousands lost their homes, including Arpon’s grandmother.

 

A few months later, Arpon flew with her family to the country to visit her grandmother in the hospital. Israel had sent soldiers and other emergency responders to help, and Arpon learned that its army’s Search and Rescue Unit had helped save her grandmother from her destroyed home.

“People said without the Israeli soldiers, they weren’t sure they would have survived,” Arpon said. “I realized that I wanted to be part of this unit, and definitely this country.”

When Arpon returned to Israel, she fought to enlist in the army as a non-citizen and was granted her preferred placement — in the Search and Rescue Unit. Over the past 2 1/2 years, she has served in bases across the country and responded to domestic disasters, including the wildfires that ravaged Israel in November and the Tel Aviv parking garage that collapsed in September, killing three.

Arpon said she did not know why she was being honored Tuesday from among “so many people with amazing stories.” But she said her mother and brother were proud of her, and would be on hand for the event. She said, too, that her grandmother, who died recently, likely would have approved of her plans for after she finishes her army service in November and becomes a citizen.

After the army, Arpon wants to study architecture — and design houses that will stand in any weather.

“I’m really glad I chose this type of service, where I was able to help the country that helped me,” Arpon said. “I see my future in Israel.”

Fighter jets capture stunning footage of Israel at 69


 

The Air Force’s annual Independence Day flyover Tuesday was an impressive display of Israel’s aerial ascendancy.

But the pilots in the cockpits arguably saw the better show. Cruising at low altitude, they were treated to stunning views of Israel celebrating its 69th birthday at barbecues and beach parties held across the country, from the Negev to the Galilee.

“It was very, very exciting to see these places so close up,” said Lt. R, who piloted an F-15 in the flyover and could only be identified by his first initial because of Air Force security rules. “Our friends and family were waving at us, and we were looking for them.”

R’s fighter jet was one several outfitted with cameras for the event. The footage offers close-ups of the squadrons in action and expansive shots of Israel’s cities, coastline and farmland.

“When I flew over my hometown in the south, I knew where my family was, and they knew how to spot me,” Lt. R said. “My dad always wanted to be a pilot, and he taught me to have the same dream ever since I was a little boy.”

 

The main flyover included a few dozen fighter jets, helicopters, transport planes and trainers. Starting in the south, the aircraft traveled 530 miles and covered much of the country, including the major cities Beersheba, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. The Air Force also held acrobatic shows above cities and army bases throughout the country, from the morning until the afternoon.

Among the planes on display were three of Israel’s five F-35s, which were welcomed with much fanfare in recent months. Israel — the first country other than the United States to get the state-of-the-art fighter jet — plans to purchase a total of 50 of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft, which Israelis call the “Adir,” or “mighty one.”

“Of course I would like to fly the F-35,” R said. “But I love my plane. I wouldn’t trade it.”

A general view of apartment blocks under construction is seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit in 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

6 Palestinians injured in West Bank clashes with Israeli troops


Six Palestinians were wounded in a series of clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

The clashes Friday came amid a so-called day of rage in support of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, The Times of Israel reported.

In the village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, three people were injured by live fire, the Palestinian humanitarian group said. Another three were injured in Beit Omar, near Hebron. All are in stable condition, a spokesperson for the group said.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately comment, The Times of Israel reported.

Some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners have been striking for over a week over demands for better medical care and greater access to telephone calls.

Israeli security forces and emergency personnel inspect the scene of a Palestinian car ramming attack near the Jewish settlement of Ofra near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 6. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Israeli soldier, 20, killed in suspected West Bank car-ramming attack


An Israeli soldier was killed and a second injured in a suspected car-ramming attack in the central West Bank.

Sgt. Elhai Teharlev, 20, from the West Bank settlement of Talmon, was killed in the attack Wednesday morning at a bus stop near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, located northeast of Ramallah. He served in the elite Golani Brigade.

The Palestinian driver of the vehicle, a silver Audi, was apprehended by other soldiers on the scene and detained. He was identified by the Palestinian Maan news agency as Malek Ahmad Moussa Hamed, 23, from the village of Silwad near Ramallah.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin mourned the soldier’s death.

“We have lost today a dear son, Elhai Teharlev, in the State of Israel’s ongoing struggle to ensure its security, and safeguard its citizens,” Rivlin said in a statement. “We will never allow terror to weaken us. Israeli society is strong, and we must stand firm in defense of our state and our land.”

Hamas praised the attack, calling it “a response to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people and a direct continuation of its heroism in the al-Quds Intifada,” the wave of violence, mostly stabbing and car-ramming attacks, that started in October 2015.

Meet the Israelis Who Battle Bigotry and Ignorance


This is the 9th year of the “Between The Lines: Voices From Israel: Stories Untold” tour (formerly the “Israeli Soldiers Tour”.) This project is one of the most significant counter-attacks of the notorious “Israeli Apartheid Week,” where false information about Israel is being spread by haters across North America college campuses.

 

This tour, organized by the pro-Israeli nonprofit organization, StandWithUs, brings 12 reserve duty Israeli soldier-students to thousands on North American campuses, high schools, churches (including Hispanic), synagogues, community events and through the media.

 

During the tour, they related their personal experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upholding its strict moral code, often in the face of an enemy that hides behind its civilians.  Their stories from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria have never been heard before.

 

StandWithUs “Between The Lines” tour puts a human face to the IDF uniform, thus trying to combat the demonization of Israel and Israelis led by anti-Israeli movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.)  Their in-front-of-the-lines-and-behind-the-headlines stories, which have never been heard before, try to depict the more accurate, more balanced, reality in Israel.

 

Itay and Ilan (Last names are withheld for security purposes) have recently returned back home from their tour, and agreed to share their experiences, the good and the bad, with us.

 

Itay is studying political science and communications at Bar Ilan University. He served in the IDF for five years as a human resources officer. His most recent role was in the Medical Corps where he continues to serve in his reserve duty.

 

One of Itay’s roles was to coordinate the construction of a field hospital to treat those wounded in the Syrian conflict. In addition to his studies, Itay works for the Ministry of Tourism as an assistant spokesperson and social media manager. In 2015, he participated in the Israeli delegation to South Korea as a part of the “Intergovernmental Youth Exchange Program.”

 

Ilan extended his Israeli Soldiers tour by speaking to Latino groups in Miami, Florida and then, in Mexico.  Born in Venezuela, he moved to Israel in 2010.  Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education and life have always been an example of multiculturalism and coexistence.

 

Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT. During his service, Ilan worked with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the life of Palestinian families.

 

Itay spoke in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest together with Yuval.  Ilan, who is also Director of StandWithUs Espanol and Mark traveled the Southeast.  The reservists were met by inquisitive audiences and an array of questions about Israel and the IDF.  But, every year, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stage a protest and for the second time, the University of Georgia was the target.  Ilan and Mark persevered and The Atlanta Jewish Times was present.

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?

 

Itay:

It’s important to know what the IDF is REALLY all about: people who are defending their country but at the same time willing to help and treat anybody who needs it –- even people we may consider to be our enemies or they may consider us to be their enemies. The students we address are not necessarily aware of this.

 

The medical corps constructed a field hospital to treat the wounded from the Syrian civil war on Israel’s northern border. Thousands of Syrians received medical care that no one else offered them but Israel. The same happened in 2014 near the Gaza strip, only there Hamas denied its own people access to the hospital and the medical care that was offered to them. They even targeted the hospital with projectiles.

 

It is also worth noting that the IDF provides humanitarian aid not only in Israel’s region, but in the entire world: Turkey, Japan, Philippines and Haiti are just recent examples from the last years where our medical forces combined with search and rescue teams were sent to help in disaster struck areas.

 

Ilan:

I think it’s very important for people to have an opportunity to meet an Israeli and hear the reality from someone who actually lives there.

 

As a Venezuelan, I always wondered what the people from Israel think about the situation. Now, I have the opportunity to share my story – my Israel story – with people in other countries.

 

We realized that pro-Israel students need to hear our experiences, to receive more accurate information, and to build a connection to Israel through them.

 

Who are you aiming for? Who is the target audience you want to reach?

 

Ilan:

During this tour, I had the opportunity to read every kind of audience: Jewish and non-Jewish, students who have never heard about Israel in their lives, anti-Israel students, Christian leaders, community members, etc.

 

I think we have an important message to transmit to everyone, but I was especially excited to address people who were hearing about Israel for the first time in their lives.

 

How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?

 

Ilan:

In Georgia, we had an anti-Israeli protest. Approximately 20 students rejected dialogue after hearing my experiences of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. They were so blinded by their hatred of Israel, that they didn’t realized they were violating the memory of their own victims. When we asked them to respect human life and not throw pictures of victims on the floor, they started placing them on tables.

 

To them and every other protester I say: the only path to peace is if we meet and discuss. Groups who decide to take unilateral actions, obstruct justice and eliminate responsibility from one of the parties, are not contributing to peace but encouraging hate.

 

Itay:

Criticism is important for every organization, including the government and the military in order to minimize errors, form new rules, improve for future times and hold people accountable for their actions.

 

That being said, the actions of ‘Breaking the Silence’ suggest nothing of the sort. They are promoting a political agenda under anonymous testimonies which cannot be verified.  Even channel 10 television – which is very critical of the current government policy – investigation revealed that out of ten testimonies, only two were completely accurate. The others were impossible to verify, not true or overly exaggerated. Unfortunately, these testimonies are being used abroad for the sole purpose of smearing Israel and the IDF.

 

Add that to the fact that they are being funded by European countries and organizations with a similar agenda and with an expectation that their money will provide results – it is very hard not to question not only their actions and goals, but the content of their material.

 

I ask you to remember one of Winston Churchill’s finest quotes, “When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack my own country.  I make up for lost time when I come home.”

 

What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

 

Ilan:

For me Israel is an inspiration. It’s a country built by immigrants and minorities, built on the values of multiculturalism and coexistence….a country that helps others.

 

When I sought a way to transmit what I feel, I realized that sharing my daily dilemmas, the decisions and opportunities as an Israeli and especially an IDF soldier, was actually a good way to present Israel, the complexity of the Middle East and the incredible story of achievements of the Jewish people.

 

I think, people relate to Israel today because of its story of overcoming every single obstacle, and growing stronger every time. Our task is to create a connection between people’s every day obstacles, and Israel.

 

Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

 

Itay:

We were speaking in the Napa Valley, California.  During the Q&A, an 11-year-old wondered why we help those who have hurt us in the past, seek to hurt us today, hate us and view us as their enemies.

 

I explained that first and foremost, we are not fighting the people and we should separate them from their leadership. – even though they are taught to hate us. Why? Because we need to achieve the higher moral  ground. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who hate or teach hatred, but they are NOT the majority in Israel.

 

The true nature of a society is not determined by its extremists, but by its majority. Unfortunately, that’s the difference right know between the Palestinian and Israeli societies. I hope that one day we’ll see a change within the Palestinian education system. It’s an important element towards achieving peace.

 

Second, to achieve that higher moral basis, our values cannot be empty slogans. While some of our neighbors glorify martyrdom and death,  we say we praise the value of life.  We should transform our beliefs into actions, otherwise they don’t mean anything. This is our message of hope for peace. Yes, you may have hurt us in the past, but we are willing to overcome it even though it still hurts.  Our hand is reaching out for a better future.

 

Ilan:

In Jacksonville, Florida, we shared our story in a school located in a dangerous area.  We talked about the second Intifada and how Israel dealt with violence, and asked the students if they knew or, were ever affected by violence?  Every one of them raised their hands. As sad as that was, we created a connection between them and Israel by how we – and they – overcame violence.

 

How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?

 

Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself?

 

Itay:

It is well known that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, the recent despicable anti-Semitic attacks are not new to our people.

 

Anti-Semitism is almost as old as our religion exists. I cannot foresee the future, but I know that much has changed throughout the years:

 

For one, there wasn’t a Jewish state back then. There is a reason why our army was named “Israeli Defense Forces” – its purpose is to protect the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. It’s important to understand that Israel is the home for every Jew around the world, even those who don’t live in Israel. It is a part of our responsibility because of the horrific past our people have endured.

 

That leads me to my second point which is: I believe most Israelis and Israel’s government condemn every act of anti-Semitism. We’re encouraging our allies around the world to denounce it and act against it. The Jews in the Diaspora are not alone and will never stand alone. I was moved by the actions VP Mike Pence took when he visited one of the vandalized cemeteries and by British PM Theresa May’s statement about anti-Semitism. Fortunately, they are not the only world leaders who condemn these kinds of actions.

 

Anti-Semitism is an old disease, and similar to many others, it might not perish completely from this world. That doesn’t mean we won’t fight against it wherever we encounter it.

 

Ilan:

I think the ideas that generated the Holocaust are still around us, and the line between an idea and a reality is very thin.  StandWithUs believes that education is the path to peace. I think education is the only way to stop hatred from spreading worldwide.

Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pick up truck near the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. Aug. 1, 2016. Photo by Ammar Abdullah/REUTERS.

Syrian truck driver on road to Damascus reportedly killed by Israeli drone


A Syrian man was killed when the truck he was driving in the Quneitra region of the Golan Heights on the road to Damascus allegedly was fired on by an Israeli drone, Syrian media is reporting.

The Israel Defense Forces is not commenting on the alleged air strike, neither confirming nor denying the Syrian reports.

The alleged victim has been named as Yasser al-Sayed, with some reports calling him a terrorist member of Hezbollah and others identifying him as a civilian.

Hours before the strike, Syrian media reported that Syrian army forces had repelled an Israeli drone in the same area.

The actions come after the IDF confirmed carrying out aerial strikes in Syria and intercepting missiles launched at its aircraft from the ground on Thursday night.

No Israelis were hurt during the strikes Thursday night or from the anti-aircraft fire, the first time that Israel has used the Arrow anti-missile system.

According to the nrg news site, the strikes Thursday were against targets affiliated with Hezbollah, possibly on a weapons shipment to the Shiite terrorist group, which is based in Lebanon but is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces against rebels and Sunni militants.

The incidents on Thursday are reported to be the most serious between Syria and Israel since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago. At that time, Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Syria and Syria’s air defense system fired an anti-aircraft missile at the Israeli planes.

Israel is believed to have carried out several attacks on Syrian soil in recent years, but usually refrains from confirming or denying reports on its alleged actions there.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in an interview with Israel Radio threatened to take out Syrian air defense systems.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said. “Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

IDF targets Hamas positions after rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel


JERUSALEM – Israel’s military targeted two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip hours after two rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

One of the rockets fired on Saturday landed near the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and the second appeared to fall in Gazan territory. The launches triggered the Code Red rocket alarm system.

No injuries or damage was reported in the attack on Israel. No casualties were reported in Israel’s strike on the Hamas targets later on Saturday.

On Sunday morning the Code Red alarm system sounded in several Gaza border communities. The IDF said it was a false alarm.

A member of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stands guard at a site, which according to the Gaza police, was hit by an Israeli air strike, in the east of Gaza City. March 16. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS.

Israel strikes 2 Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire


Israeli airstrikes hit two Hamas positions in northern Gaza overnight Thursday in response to a rocket fired from the strip at southern Israel.

No damage or injuries were reported from the Gaza rocket strike, which struck an open area of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, near the Gaza border, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The Code Red rocket warning system did not sound in the area since it was determined that the rockets would fall in an unpopulated area.

The Palestinian news agency Maan reported there were no injuries from the Israeli Air Force strikes but three electric lines were downed.

The IDF said it holds Hamas responsible for any strikes emanating from Gaza.

Maya Avraham. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

Calendar: March 3-9, 2017


SAT | MARCH 4

UNPLUG L.A.

Join Reboot and Open Temple for an “Unplugged Party” in celebration of Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging. Your phone will be checked at the door. Step off the grid to listen to live music, play board games, visit the analog photo booth, and more. Event dedicated to the late Levi Felix, founder of Digital Detox and Camp Grounded; $3 of each ticket will be donated to Camp Grounded in his memory. 21 and older. 7 p.m. $18; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. nationaldayofunplugging.com.

A TOAST TO HEROES

Honor a group of 10 young Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers visiting Los Angeles who have been wounded in combat. Food, drinks and an open-bar after-party with a DJ spinning until midnight. All proceeds go to Lev Chayal’s program for wounded IDF soldiers. Black-tie attire. 8 p.m. VIP reception; 9 p.m. cocktails and buffet. $180 for individual reservations; $100 for young professionals ages 21 to 35. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Venue TBA. levchayal.com.

SUN | MARCH 5

ALONG THE GOLDENEH LINE: JEWISH LIFE AND HERITAGE OF NORTHEAST L.A. AND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY

A chartered bus will take riders alongside the Metro Gold Line into the San Gabriel Valley on a tour that will focus on the area’s unique Jewish heritage and its contemporary community life. Wear comfortable walking shoes — the tour includes two miles on foot. Instructors include Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California since 1989, and Jeremy Sunderland, who is on the board of directors for the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Space is limited. Lunch on your own. 9 a.m. $58. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

NEFESH B’NEFESH ISRAEL ALIYAH FAIR

The ninth annual Nefesh B’Nefesh Israel Aliyah Fair offers the opportunity to gather aliyah information under one roof. Professionals will discuss financial planning and budgeting, choosing a community, building a strategic job search plan, navigating the health care system, buying or renting a home in Israel, and more. 10 a.m. for retirees and empty nesters; noon for students and young professionals. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. nbn.org.

“HIGH NOON: THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN CLASSIC”

cal-hign-noon“High Noon” is more than a Western; it is also a story about the Hollywood blacklist. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel will discuss his book about  screenwriter Carl Foreman, producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zinnemann and actor Gary Cooper, and how their creative partnership was influenced — and crushed — by political repression and agendas. Book signing to follow presentation. 2 p.m. $14; $10 for students and seniors; $6 for children; free for members. Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles.

THE LOS ANGELES BALALAIKA ORCHESTRA

The Los Angeles Balalaika Orchestra presents its 22nd annual concert, featuring the voice of Mark Goldenberg, cantor at Young Israel of Century City. 3 p.m. $35-$45. Herbert Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (626) 483-2731. balalaikala.com.

“VISIONS FOR A SHARED SOCIETY: THE ‘TRIBES’ OF ISRAEL”

Elana Stein Hain, director of leadership education at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, will discuss the core values of some of the “tribes” that compose Israel today, and how a divided people build a shared society. Part of the Synagogue Collaborative Lecture Series. 4 p.m. $20. (Post-lecture dinner and discussion extra; RSVP only.) Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. shalomhartman.org/LAcollaborative.

“LABSCAPES: VIEWS THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE”

“Labscapes” presents vivid images from the mysterious and usually unseen wonders that exist under the powerful lenses of the microscopes of some of the world’s most renowned researchers at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. A special presentation by students will be followed by the grand opening. RSVP requested: jose@ats.org or (310) 254-9899. 5 p.m. presentation; 6 p.m. reception and exhibit. Through March 27. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. ats.org/labscapes.

MAYA AVRAHAM

Before joining The Idan Raichel Project, Maya Avraham was a widely sought-after backup singer for Israeli superstars such as Eyal Golan, Sarit Hadad and Shlomi Shabat. She will sing some of The Idan Raichel Project’s greatest hits as well as her own songs. 7 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

“FROM SHTETL TO STARDOM: JEWS AND HOLLYWOOD”

This panel discussion features Vince Brook of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; David Isaacs, TV scriptwriter, producer and Emmy winner; Shaina Hammerman, Jewish film, literature, religion and cultural historian; Josh Moss, visiting assistant professor of film and media studies at UC Santa Barbara; and Ross Melnick, associate professor of film and media studies at UCSB. 6:15 p.m. dessert reception; 7 p.m. panel. Free. RSVP by March 3 at wbtla.org/shtetl or (424) 208-8932. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

TUES | MARCH 7

GOOGLE FOR GENEALOGISTS

Learn how to use Google Earth and Google Maps to gather information about where your ancestors lived, and how to educate yourself and meet other like-minded individuals (and perhaps relatives) using Google’s social media. Mary Kathryn Kozy, who has been researching her family history for more than 35 years, will speak at this meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County. 7 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. jgscv.org.

THURS | MARCH 9

ELON GOLD

cal-elon-goldComedian, writer and actor Elon Gold kicks off the Purim weekend with a night of comedy, drinks and a DJ. Also featuring Alex Edelman. 8 p.m. $40. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (888) 645-5006. sabanconcerts.com.

“THE AUSCHWITZ VOLUNTEER”

Explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust at this event. Wine and cheese reception will be followed by a multimedia program and discussion about the Polish underground’s mission that sent officer Witold Polecki into Auschwitz to gain intelligence and build resistance among the prisoners. 7:30 p.m. $8. Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 at the Yad Vashem. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

Report on 2014 Gaza War slams Netanyahu, military leadership


Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and army chief of staff did not update the Security Cabinet about the serious threat of Hamas tunnels from Gaza, the nation’s state comptroller said in a report on the 2014 Gaza War.

The Security Cabinet did not have enough information about the threat posed by the tunnels to make decisions about how to proceed during the war, leaving the Israeli military unprepared, Yosef Shapira wrote in the 200-page report released Tuesday afternoon.

The government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide the military with clear objectives for the war and also failed in the one identified objective of what was dubbed Operation Protective Edge — to identify and destroy the tunnels. According to the report, which also scored then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, the Israel Defense Forces only destroyed about half the cross-border tunnels.

The report also criticized the Security Cabinet for not holding discussions on and dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the collapse of infrastructure including water and electricity.

The comptroller also criticized Netanyahu for failing to consider diplomatic alternatives in Gaza and not presenting such a possibility to the Security Cabinet for its consideration.

In the year-and-a-half prior to the Gaza War, the Security Cabinet held 33 meetings on Gaza, according to the report.

Yaalon called the report “political” and said that it “examines partial aspects of the complex campaign.” He also acknowledged that the Security Cabinet at the time was “a superficial, political and populist Cabinet. A Cabinet of leaks, of speaking with two voices – one in the room and one in public.”

Netanyahu defended the handling of the Gaza conflict, saying “The unprecedented quiet that has prevailed  since Operation Protective Edge is a test of the results.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu to resign.

“The report clearly reveals how Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Cabinet which he led failed in their role of understanding the threats, setting strategy, understanding the reality, properly preparing soldiers and civilians, particularly residents of the south,” he said.

30 under 30: Brocha Yemini and Chaya Israily


Opening their hearts to wounded Israeli soldiers

The 10 Israeli soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles in June with the fledgling organization Lev Chayal had been variously blown up, run over and crushed by rubble. One has his own death certificate as a souvenir of the time his heart stopped.

But you wouldn’t know it to look at their smiling faces in photos taken at Knott’s Berry Farm, in the Dodgers dugout and posing on Hollywood Boulevard.

The young men were enthusiastic and humbled by the experience — much like the two women responsible for bringing them there, Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini.

Preparation for the June trip began in February, shortly after the two childhood friends decided to create Lev Chayal, which translates to “heart of a soldier.” The idea came from a careful vetting of what organizations in L.A. already were aiding Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.

“There were other organizations taking care of the IDF part, the soldier part, the glory of the army, the ranks and the glam and glitz of it,” said Yemini, 24, sitting across from her friend at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Pico Boulevard. “We were like, ‘Let’s take a different perspective. ’ ”

The plan was simple: Create an opportunity for wounded Israeli soldiers to come to L.A. and relax while enriching the local community through their presence and their stories. While Israel amply honors its fallen soldiers, those who get back up from grievous injuries aren’t afforded quite the same attention, they said. “Their lives do go on, but they don’t,” Israily, 24, said.

Soon, the local pair began to assemble the necessary $75,000, along with the connections and resources they needed to make the June trip happen. It helped that Yemini’s parents, Rabbi Amitai and Fayge Yemini, are the co-directors of the Chabad Israel Center, which serves as a community center for Israeli Americans in Los Angeles.

They found people were eager to offer up anything they could. The owners of the Four Seasons hotel on Doheny Drive, Robert and Beverly Cohen, provided them with free rooms. Dodgers President Stan Kasten invited the soldiers onto the field at Dodger Stadium. Philanthropist Marvin Markowitz offered the two organizers funding and free event space for a gala dinner.

Preparations went on for five months, with the pair carefully balancing the effort with their work lives — Yemini is the director of Camp Gan Israel, the Chabad Israel Center’s day camp, and Israily runs a line of modest clothing, Solika.

As soon as the soldiers landed at Los Angeles International Airport, they were a hit. A photographer and videographer had been contracted to document the trip.

“Everybody at the airport was like, ‘What’s going on? Who are these people?’ ” Israily said.

Their semi-celebrity status persisted through public outings and trips to coffee shops, where bystanders were curious and eager to hear of the soldiers’ experiences. They told their stories to children at Camp Gan Israel and for a video that played at the gala.

Since the June trip ended, Israily and Yemini have begun planning for another one in February. And after that, they already have plans to travel to Israel to meet with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and supporters of their organization in the Knesset.

“We are incredibly grateful to everybody that opened up their doors, opened up their hearts, opened up their wallets, that believed in our mission, that believed in what we’re doing,” Yemini said.

Israily interjected, “It was a team effort.”

Netanyahu: Pardon soldier who shot downed Palestinian


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a pardon for the Israeli soldier who shot a downed Palestinian terrorist.

Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter on Wednesday in a military court.

“This is a difficult and painful day for all of us – and first and foremost for Elor and his family, for IDF soldiers, for many soldiers and for the parents of our soldiers, and me among them,” Netanyahu said in a statement posted on Facebook and Twitter.

The statement also said: “I urge all citizens to act responsibly toward the IDF, the officers, and the IDF chief. We have one army, which is the basis of our existence. The soldiers of the IDF are our sons and daughters, and they need to remain above dispute.

“I support a pardon for Elor Azaria,” the statement concluded.

Netanyahu joins many lawmakers in calling for a pardon for Azaria, including at least one member of the opposition.

President Reuven Rivlin’s office issued a statement saying that “requests for pardons are dealt with when submitted by the applicant themselves, or by one with power of attorney, or an immediate relative, following a conclusive judicial ruling.”

The Rivlin statement appears to have been issued following the calls from lawmakers and reports that at least one lawmaker had requested a pardon. It said a properly submitted pardon request “will be considered by the President in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities.”

Azaria, a medic in the elite Kfir Brigade, arrived on the scene following a Palestinian stabbing attack last March on soldiers in Hebron in the West Bank, a flashpoint for Palestinian violence against Jewish Israelis.

One assailant was killed and another, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was injured. Minutes later, while Sharif was lying on the ground, Azaria shot him in the head in a scene that was captured on video by a local resident for the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem. Azaria was arrested the same day and indicted nearly a month later. Autopsy reports showed that the shots by Azaria killed Sharif.

Prior to shooting Sharif, Azaria had cared for a stabbed soldier.

Making a home for lone soldiers fighting for Israel


A sign on a kitchen cabinet at the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers explains color designations for meat, dairy and pareve dishes. Near the cabinet, empty beer bottles and handles of alcohol line up like trophies on a shelf above the kitchen sink. A stack of magazines, including a Rolling Stone featuring a cover story about Leonardo DiCaprio, sits at the end of a bench next to a dining room table, within reach of a rifle with a scope latched to the top of the weapon.

The gun belongs to Levi. Eyes red, cheeks flushed, Levi (who, for security reasons, asked his last name not be included in the story) enters the Beit Shemesh house wearing his green Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uniform on a recent Sunday afternoon. The 19-year-old from Pico-Robertson is a member of Tzanhanim, a paratroopers unit, and he now lives in this house; he’s been in Israel since the summer of 2015, when he arrived in the country on a Birthright trip and never left. 

Levi immediately makes himself coffee and reflects on why he joined the Israeli army instead of the American military.

[Want to join the IDF? Three paths to service]

“I don’t think the [American] cause is as important as the Israeli cause. In America, we’re good, but in Israel, we’re fighting for our existence here,” he says. “I love the U.S. military, but they definitely need us more here.” 

Levi is one of 12 male soldiers living in the Beit Shemesh Home, and one of more than 6,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the Israeli army.

Levi, a lone soldier from Los Angeles, stands at a bus stop across the street from the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers. Photos by Ryan Torok

Wendy Serlin, 59, and Gayle Shimoff, 49, two olim (immigrants to Israel), established the house in November 2015, in response to the 2014 deaths of Max Steinberg, a lone soldier from Woodland Hills, and Sean Carmeli, from Texas, during Operation Protective Edge. The 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas exposed the world to the phenomenon of lone soldiers, members of the Israeli army who are serving without the nearby support of their immediate families. 

“[The deaths of] Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli — that sort of alerted the Jewish people to the fact of lone soldiers, that there are a lot of them and they are alone. We came up with all these ideas, invited people in the Beit Shemesh community, decided we would rent a home, get together a board and have guys live here,” Serlin, who is originally from Cleveland, said.

“This is their home away from home, during their 1 1/2 to three years of army service,” she said.

Levi falls into one of three categories of lone soldiers, an official classification for soldiers that determines the number of leave days and amount of money they earn during their service. Lone soldiers can be Diaspora Jews who join the Israeli army and don’t have any family in Israel to support them; some are Israeli orphans in the military, while the third group consists of soldiers from Charedi and religious families who join against the wishes of their parents.

“If a religious boy was disowned by his parents who don’t want to speak with him, he is considered a lone soldier,” said Eli Fitlovitz, co-founder and co-chair of Families of Lone Soldiers.

From left: Lone soldiers Adam and Yoseph; Avigail and Elidor, machrichim (counselors) of the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers; and lone soldiers Gavriel and Avi.

How and through what means the soldiers enlist in the army also often determines their housing situations. This reporter, for example, traveled to Israel on an Aug. 17 flight chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps Jews immigrating to Israel (known as making aliyah); that flight carried more than 70 lone soldiers who, through the organization Tzofim Garin Tzabar, would be living on kibbutzim around the country during their first year of service, and afterward they will have the option to remain on the kibbutz or to live in their own housing. 

Because the residents of the Beit Shemesh home did not come to Israel via any organized group  — each soldier joined the army on his own — they were required to find their own housing. They each applied to live in the Beit Shemesh house, which is run under the aegis of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, an Israel-based organization that provides a variety of services to lone soldiers. To qualify, they had to undergo interviews with the house’s volunteer committee, whose members, like the soldiers, are olim. 

The goal of the house’s leadership was to find soldiers who would mesh well together.

Two soldiers share each of the bedrooms in the Beit Shemesh home, which mixes frat-boy like décor with kosher observance and the realities of military life. A pingpong table rests against a wall in the house’s courtyard, where Gavriel, a resident from South Africa who also asked his real name not be included here, has planted a tea garden. Tiny bits of hair were scattered on the patio next to the garden when this reporter visited, as several of the guys had just had their heads shaved by Elidor, who, along with his wife, Avigail, live in an attached unit and are the madrichim (counselors) of the house. Gavriel normally wears his hair long, so at this moment he was a bit self-conscious about his new haircut.

Two Californians live in the house. In addition to Levi, there’s Efraim, of San Diego, who was not at the house at the time of the Journal’s visit — it is rare that all 12 are there at the same time because, though they are all combat soldiers, with two of them serving in special forces, they belong to different units, and each unit runs on a unique schedule. Others are from Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Manchester, England.

The house is located in the Givat Sharett neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, “midway between Ramat Beit Shemesh and the original neighborhoods of ‘old’ Beit Shemesh,” according to press materials. It is a short train ride from Tel Aviv, an easy bus ride from Jerusalem. The bus stop is located across the street from the house, and the train station is a short drive away. A large shopping center is located at the train station. 

Beit Shemesh, divided between the newer neighborhoods of Ramat and old Beit Shemesh, is a quiet, predominately religious city filled with English-speaking olim who came for its affordability and abundance of schools and synagogues; the population now numbers approximately 100,000. The fact that the city is filled with olim creates a synergy between the residents of the city and the residents of the lone soldiers home.

“The majority of our friends in the neighborhood are English-speaking, and we understand where they [the soldiers] come from,” Serlin said.

On Shabbat, the city closes down. Walking around, it feels a lot like walking around Pico-Robertson.

The house is on a sloped block. A storage room is the first area one passes when walking onto the property. Inside, multiple laundry machines whirl with the dirty clothing of the soldiers.

“On Friday, the machines are always going,” Serlin said, leading this reporter into the house a few hours before Shabbat. 

An outdoor staircase leads to a patio area. Plants grow in pots and toilet bowls. A large piece of white paper with handwritten messages welcoming people to the house is taped to the wall at the entrance to the house. Inside is a mundane environment, with a kitchen, dining room area and a living room. The Netflix series “Black Mirror” is on pause on a television set. An acoustic guitar stands in the corner. 

Bedrooms are located on the first, second and fourth floors. The third floor has another lounge area, with a video game system hooked up to a television. The fourth floor is an attic that was recently converted into two additional bedrooms. When the house was launched, it housed only eight residents. 

Though the religious level of each of the residents differs, residents of the lone soldiers home are required to observe Shabbat and spend Friday night dinner in the neighborhood with a host family. On Saturday, they are left alone and eat meals that have been cooked for them by people in the community. 

Community support for the house is evident everywhere one looks, from the artwork created by children of the Beit Shemesh community — kids in the neighborhood recently had a bake sale raising $2,000 for the home — to the bins of donated socks, toothbrushes and other supplies that have filled their linen closet. Serlin handed Adam, 22, of Rockaway, N.J., his mail after giving this reporter a tour of the house.

“It’s my banking statement — I don’t need it. I have an app for that,” Adam said.

This is one of two homes for lone soldiers overseen by the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin. The other is in Jerusalem. Both are currently full, but there are hopes to accommodate more. Brian Lurie, president of the recently launched U.S. Supporters of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, the organization’s American fundraising and awareness-raising arm, said the organization is considering creating an additional apartment complex for lone soldiers in Jerusalem.

“The goal is to do something really big,” he said.

Lone soldiers have been part of Israel’s military since the days of the Jewish state’s founding. Realizing Israel was short on experienced fighters before Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, David Ben-Gurion, then the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the future first prime minister, worked with the Haganah — the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces — to recruit soldiers from abroad, many of them World War II veterans. These soldiers were known as Machal, a Hebrew acronym for “Volunteers From Abroad.”

The Machal continue to be an important part of the lone soldier phenomenon. Soldiers from abroad interested in serving in the IDF without becoming Israeli citizens do so through the Machal programs. They serve side by side with all of the other soldiers in the IDF; Levi enlisted through Machal. 

Operation Protective Edge (in Hebrew referred to as “Miv’tza Tzuk Eitan,” or “Operation Strong Cliff”), also known as the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, was an important moment for many current olim. Hamas’ kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens led to Israel’s crackdown on the Gaza Strip, which led to the fighting that claimed Steinberg and Carmeli’s lives. The conflict also intensified Levi’s support for Israel. When pro-Palestinian groups demonstrated outside the Israeli consulate in West Los Angeles, Levi participated in counter demonstrations across the street on Wilshire Boulevard.

“I became more interested in Israeli politics and aware of lone soldiers,” he said. “I knew I wanted to [enlist] but had never been to Israel.”

Levi’s Birthright Israel trip was his ticket to Israel. After the 10-day excursion ended, he contacted the office of Machal. After four or five attempts to reach out to them, he succeeded in enlisting. He went through a couple of living situations that did not work out well before contacting the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, which arranged for him to live at the home in Beit Shemesh during his service. Like all of the residents, he will remain in the house until a couple of months after he completes his 18-month service. If he decides to become a citizen of Israel, his service would potentially be extended. 

Levi, for now, said he does not know whether he will make aliyah after he finishes his service, but said he is happy he found the lone soldiers home.

“I get the privacy I need and the social interactions I want and the support,” Levi said. “So, this is the best house for me.”

Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers co-founders Gayle Shimoff (left) and Wendy Serlin. Photo by Ryan Torok

Serlin and Shimoff understand what it’s like to uproot one’s life and move to an unfamiliar country. Serlin, who has a master’s degree in social work, made aliyah more than 22 years ago and is now the mother of five kids, including a son who recently completed his three years of army service, as well as another child currently serving. 

“There wasn’t Nefesh when we made aliyah. It was hard. You had to want to be here. There were no perks, no fun flights, it was really hard. You had to stand in line for hours; there was bureaucracy, it wasn’t like how it is today,” Serlin said.

Shimoff, a learning disabilities specialist who made aliyah 21 years ago and is studying for a master’s degree in nonprofit management and leadership at Hebrew University, has a son who recently completed army service and another currently serving in the IDF.

The two met while living at an absorption center in Ra’anana shortly after making aliyah.

They work with a committee of volunteers in overseeing the house. The house cost $60,000 to set up and has an annual operating budget of $60,000. They are also trying to raise $800,000 to purchase and renovate the home, which is for sale. Soldiers’ salaries from the army help cover costs. 

Serlin and Shimoff are confident the lone soldiers home fulfills an essential need for its residents, though they have not always received the gratitude from the parents of the soldiers that they expected they would.

“We thought we’d get responses from all the parents, ‘Wow, Gayle and Wendy, that is wonderful, thank you so much for taking care of our kids,’ and I think all of these boys — some of them are running away, some of them are running to, some of them aren’t interested in their families, some have great relationships with their families, but I wouldn’t say all 12 boys have amazing relationships [with their families, or that] all their parents are sending us chocolates and flowers every week,” Serlin said.

Take Levi, for example: “It took his parents a long time to accept him being here,” Serlin said.

Nevertheless, many people, including Serlin and Shimoff, at the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center and volunteers from the community, are working together to help these young men navigate the unusual experience of serving without their families nearby. 

“They’re 12 guys, and they have all different stories,” Shimoff said. 

“Some of them are positive stories; some of them are not positive stories; some of them are running away, some of them want to be heroes, some of them are trying to find themselves either religiously or emotionally, and by us providing this environment … [we’re] giving them independence and space … security and people they can trust.”

For information about how to support the lone soldiers home in Beit Shemesh, visit lonesoldiercenter.com/homebeits. For information about the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, visit lonesoldiercenter.com.

Three ways a lone soldier can join the IDF


There are three ways a lone soldier can serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

One is Mahal (mahal-idf-volunteers.org), which operates programs for non-Israeli citizens to serve in the Israeli military. Mahal is an acronym for “Volunteers From Abroad,” and its usage dates to Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Short on experienced soldiers, the newly declared Jewish state fighting for its existence recruited fighters from abroad, many of whom had recently fought in World War II. Those soldiers were known as Mahal. 

[FEATURE: Making a home for lone soldiers fighting for Israel]

Mahal has programs for nonreligious and religious participants, and requires a minimum length of service of 18 months. 

Young adults — men from 18 to 25 and women 17 to 20 — who have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) are required to serve in the IDF. Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps facilitate aliyah, making the bureaucratic process much easier, offers free chartered flights for olim (immigrants) throughout the year and runs a program for enlistees that partners with the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). 

The Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program (lsp.nbn.org.il) was created with the “goal of providing assistance and support to new immigrants that are required to serve in the IDF,” according to the program’s website. Its funding comes from the FIDF and the Israeli government. Required service for a lone soldier who is an Israeli citizen is longer than for a lone soldier serving through Mahal. 

Many young adults who make aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh also participate in Tzofim Garin Tzabar, a partner program of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Garin Tzabar provides a more guided experience for olim required to join the military, as it places the olim on kibbutzim — adopted homes — across the country.

Garin Tzabar (garintzabar.org) events take place for the olim in their cities of origin before they embark on their aliyah journey. 

All lone soldiers in the IDF serve shoulder to shoulder with one another and with soldiers from Israel. Thus, they are expected to speak fluent Hebrew and are required to participate in intensive Hebrew courses, known as ulpan, before their service.

“Because the army is a unifying force … it’s an unofficial rule they all have to speak Hebrew,” Gayle Shimoff, co-founder of the Beit Shemesh Home for Lone Soldiers, said. “There are plenty of English-speaking bilingual guys who are regular soldiers in the army who you think would help the lone soldiers, but they are not supposed to talk in English. They are supposed to talk in Hebrew.”

The army offers ulpan for free to all lone soldiers. Adam, a current lone soldier from Rockaway, N.J., bemoaned how difficult Hebrew can be. Nevertheless, he said in an interview, lone soldiers are “strongly motivated to do the best they can do.” 

Adam, 22, who when he is not on base lives in the communal home in Beit Shemesh with 11 other lone soldiers, comes from the state that is the most significant producer of lone soldiers, according to Mara Tannenholz, 24, a volunteer with the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, which oversees the Lone Soldier Home in Beit Shemesh.

More lone soldiers come from the New Jersey cities Englewood and Teaneck than from any other American cities, she said in a phone interview. 

Many others come from Los Angeles, Tannenholz said, though she did not have the exact figures.

Michael Meyerheim, COO of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, said that about half of the more than 6,000 lone soldiers currently serving are from outside of Israel. The numbers, however, also include soldiers from Israel who are serving without family support. 

More lone soldiers from abroad come from the United States than from any other foreign country, Meyerheim said.

According to FIDF, which provides lone soldiers with financial, emotional and social support, “950 new lone soldiers join the army each year.”

+