EXCLUSIVE: Tom Hanks on Elie Wiesel, the importance of Holocaust remembrance


In an exclusive interview, Tom Hanks talks about spending time with Elie Wiesel at the Friar’s Club in New York City where they discussed topics ranging from displaced persons camps to dogs.

Hanks also discussed the importance of Holocaust remembrance.

Interview by Danielle Berrin
Video by Tess Cutler

THE LAST WORD *Movie Review & Director Interview*

In THE LAST WORD, a retired businesswoman named Harriet (Academy Award winner Shirley MacLaine) confronts her mortality as she sculpts her own obituary.  Harriet targets Anne (Amanda Seyfried), a reporter, to distill her life into its final success story.  The pair take a metaphorical–and literal–journey with Brenda (newcomer Ann’Jewel Lee), a pre-teen who has as much to gain from the relationship as the other two.  The movie also stars Thomas Sadowski, Anne Heche, Philip Baker Hall and Tom Everett Scott.  Mark Pellington (ARLINGTON ROAD, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, COLD CASE) directs.  

I spoke with director Mark Pellington about symbolism and themes in THE LAST WORD.  He sees the film as a study in mortality and what each of us leave behind at the end of our lives.  Pellington says:  “I want these characters to have suffered some degree of loss, yet I don’t want it to be through death.  I want them to be left alone in that they’re searching to become a little more whole, a little more complete.”

Harriet, Ann and Brenda come together as incomplete sides of the same coin.  Each is missing a specific person in their lives within the parent/child relationship, but lacks in other important ways, too.  For example, Harriet appreciates the qualities about Brenda with which she herself identifies.  However, these are the very characteristics she regrets in herself having let them rule her life.  Brenda’s ability to say anything and stick up for herself are laudable, though without a measure of regulation they will overtake her life the same way they have Harriet’s.

The women’s evolution is emphasized during a baptismal scene of cleansing as they go for a late-night swim.  Traditional film analysis looks at water from this perspective, and Pellington does as well.  “By the end, for her to take off her clothes, to let it go, to get messy is a change she was ready to go through because she had achieved these goals of seeing herself differently,” he explains.

The film shows that evolution is possible regardless of age or temperament and nothing is a replacement for personal connection.  Isolation comes in many forms.  The first shot of Harriet is standing in a dormer window looking out at the grounds of her home.  Ann sits in isolation, blaring loud music on her massive headphones, though she’s surrounded by coworkers.  Even Brenda’s first interaction sets her apart as she battles a recreation center supervisor.

The complicated relationship among the trio becomes an unexpected friendship in this coming-of-age story.  True to life, it is sometimes impossible to realize something is missing until you’re confronted by it.

For more about THE LAST WORD, including Shirley MacLaine’s thoughts on labeling women in Hollywood, take a look below:

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Actor James Caan castigates know-it-all actors; Says Obama not supportive of Israel

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Since acting in the classic film Irma LaDouce in 1963, James Caan has appeared in eighty other movies, including his iconic role as don-in-waiting Michael Corleone’s older brother Sonny in The Godfather. But until now Caan, a self-described life-long Zionist, had not visited the state of Israel, an apparent shortcoming remedied last week by the Einstein Fund, the Hebrew University and the Ministry of Tourism, all of which combined to host Caan’s maiden voyage to the Holy Land.

Clearly a man who speaks his mind, Caan left us in a quandary, having admonished us not to pay attention to Hollywood types, dismissing politically-active colleagues who act as though they hold impressive foreign policy credentials. But Caan himself had much to say. We recommend reading it for yourself… 

TML: The entertainment world seems to be divided between those who travel to Israel and those who won’t. Did anyone ask you not to visit Israel?

James Caan: They would have gotten punched in the face. No, I don’t hang around with anti-Semites if that’s what you mean and I don’t know any. And if I did, I’d punch them in the face.

TML: Is this your first visit to Israel? How does it feel?

James Caan: Yes. It’s great so far. They are wearing me out with these tours and I just had my back operated on, so walking up and down those hills is not so much fun. But it’s not supposed to be. Yesterday was great. I was at the Western Wall and got a great history lesson going through the tunnels. It’s just mindboggling.

TML: What does that make you feel after seeing it for the first time?

James Caan: It’s my people. It’s where I come from and it’s just the wonder of how that was made. They talk about the pyramids. Well, that’s a piece of cake. This tunnel is mindboggling. I saw a rock that was 40-something feet long, 11 feet high and weighed 560 tons. Who moved that? Three strong guys?

Then I went to visit Professor Hanoch Gutfreund [at Hebrew University]. That was incredible. We sat for an hour and talked about Einstein. He has Einstein’s collection. They have everything there. I talked about things I never heard. 

TML: What was the reason for your visit?

James Caan: I’ve always wanted to go to Israel and was never given the opportunity. I was too busy having children all the time. Getting married and having children. Now, I took my 20-year-old son and I thought it would be good for him to see as well as myself. I met the prime minister at a party a few months ago and he said we’ll have dinner together. I’m going to see him tomorrow which is exciting. To bring my son over here — he plays football and this and that so he’s used to smoking and drinking and I don’t know what they do but I can’t find him, can’t catch him. I think this will stick with him, though. 

TML: During your long career — 53 years since your first film — you’ve been described as outspoken. In fact, you’ve been described as an “outspoken liberal,” and one newspaper said you described yourself as an “ultra-conservative.” What are your views on the Middle East?

James Caan: I don’t know who writes that. I’m not outspoken when it comes to politics. Wherever this information comes from, that person should have their head examined. 

Look, they didn’t interpret what I said properly. I said, in a joking way, that I was a radical ‘middle of the roader.’ I was not into politics. I don’t like actors who get on television and try to sway people. They don’t have political science as a major. They’re morons like me.

What’s been going in the world today is this lack of current government and these entitlement programs, the weakness of the country that I live in which was once the sheriff. I think through power there is strength. Not that they go out and beat up people, but you say, “You touch her again and I’ll break your neck.” So that’s all. That doesn’t mean it keeps peace. When I refer to myself as being…I said, if this continues, this ridiculous, horrible, stupid policy, these policies that deal with Iran; and [the president] is partially responsible for the black-white divide. He’s done less for “his people” or Americans. I mean, that’s the goal. He got involved in the Ferguson shooting. He was wrong. He got involved in the other one with the DA. But you don’t hear him say anything about Chicago where 30 kids a day are getting shot. Why don’t you talk about that? Or the white guy who got shot by two black guys. A crime is a crime. Cops are being cops. It’s got to be the worst job in the world today. I get flustered like I would in the streets.

It’s driving me to be an “ultra-conservative.” It’s like horses for courses. Right now we need a hawk. That’s a very ultra-statement. But it doesn’t mean that it’s my lifestyle. I was fortunate enough to be friendly with Bill Clinton who I thought was a great president. He was socially liberal and he was fiscally conservative. So it was not a problem. I have a problem with her and obviously with Trump. But at least with Trump, you don’t know exactly what he’ll do but I do think you know exactly what she’ll do.

TML: Israel’s critics have moved to boycotts to make their point and the effort finds a great deal of support in the entertainment and educational communities in the United States and elsewhere. What do you say to your Hollywood colleagues who urge their fans to divest from Israel?

James Caan: I don’t like it because none of them have studied political science. And they stand up there and they have billions of dollars. So they can afford to be liberal. Or I can get on my triple-7 or private business jet to fly to the problem and talk about the problem.

Give money to where it belongs if that’s how you feel, don’t just shoot your mouth off. I don’t take part in that. I hate when they talk about the Hollywood liberals. My best friend, Robert Duvall, and Gary Sinise, Friends of Abe who are conservative. As a matter of fact, the funniest thing was, when I went to a big dinner with 500 people and I thought I’d go with my buddy. We’re listening and we sat down for dinner. And then John McCain got up and said “I’d like to start off by thanking James Caan for risking his career by coming here tonight.” That’s how silly it is.

TML: What are you taking away with you?

James Caan: I haven’t finished. A lot of education so far, a stronger feeling for Israel, which in turn gives me a stronger feeling against our current government who I feel like is not the greatest ally in the world to Israel and hopefully that will change.


Two time Academy Award nominee Rick Goldsmith was looking for his next project when he came across Chamique Holdsclaw in the newspaper.  After some conversations and moments of self-reflection, WNBA legend and Olympic Gold Medalist Chamique Holdsclaw agreed to allow Goldsmith to turn her life-story into a documentary.

The resulting project is MIND/GAME: THE UNQUIET MIND OF CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW which addresses Holdsclaw’s difficult childhood as well as her struggles with bipolar disorder.

The documentary manages to transcend the typical sports crowd by making Holdsclaw’s life a tale of overcoming adversity.

Chamique Holdsclaw took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about what it was like watching such an intimate portrait of herself, her more memorable fan encounter and much more.

Take a look below for the full interview and when you’re through, leave me a message in the comments below to tell me if you plan on seeing the documentary!

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

Dress to impress on your next interview

You applied for your dream job and scored an interview. Congrats! Now it’s time to show your future employer that you mean business. While it may be tempting to wear something quirky or unique, keep it professional with these vestments and accessories by Jewish designers and let your personality shine instead. Now go get ’em!


The hand-silkscreened microfiber LOOSE SCREW TIE ($40) from UncommonGoods (above), a company founded by David Bolotsky, pulls together your look and elevates it with a subtle yet playful design. ” target=”_blank”>rag-bone.com

Tip: Make sure it’s ironed — details matter when an interviewer has to make quick judgments. 

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Tip: When buying dress pants, make sure the pant legs break at the top of your shoes. 


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Tip: If you do carry a smartphone, turn it off during your interview. 

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Tip: When buying a blouse, make sure it doesn’t gap at the bust and the buttons don’t pull. Be mindful of anything that exposes more than your collarbone. 

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Tip: Pencil skirts (and similar styles) should hit the knee or 1 to 2 inches above. 

Kahane’s widow: Jewish extremists ‘have nothing to do with’ Kahane’s ideology

Her husband was assassinated and her grandson is in prison.

But Libby Kahane, widow of the late far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane, has remained faithful to her husband’s ideology.

She repeats his call for Israel to expel its Arab population. She believes the Israeli left, Jewish media and some American Jews – particularly college students – are hurting Israel. She denies that Jews are responsible for last July’s arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma, which killed three members of a Palestinian family.

But she says her grandson Meir Ettinger, who has been held in an Israeli prison without charge since last August for leading a Jewish extremist group, has failed to live up to Kahane’s way.

Kahane sat down with JTA recently to talk about Ettinger, the biography she’s writing about Meir Kahane and why the Israeli government has no right to cede any land.

JTA: How do you feel about your grandson’s detention?

Kahane: It’s not fair. The harsh terms of his imprisonment, first of all, don’t match the rules for treatment of prisoners in administrative detention. A prisoner in administrative detention has not been accused of any crime, so he can’t be treated like a criminal. The rules are he can wear his own clothing and have better treatment than an ordinary prisoner. Meir has been kept from visitors and on and off kept from telephone calls.

When did you last speak to him? How is he doing?

A month ago. He never wants to sound bad when he speaks to me. He’s always upbeat. But now that he’s started a hunger strike it’s even worse, because a prisoner on a hunger strike, they take all his privileges. He gets a telephone call a day to his lawyer.

[Israeli media recently reported that Ettinger ended his hunger strike.]

Do you feel your grandson is following in your husband’s footsteps?

The ideas I hear he has are not Meir [Kahane]’s ideas. Meir [Kahane] always wrote to his followers: “Don’t do anything illegal. They’ll find you. You’ll sit in prison.”

But your husband also spent time in prison after conspiring to bomb Soviet offices in New York.

The Russian demonstration – the point was to get public attention to the plight of the Russian Jews by doing things that were against the law, disturbing the peace in minor ways. He was against his followers doing anything that might end them up in prison.

How do you view the so-called Hilltop Youth extremists who look up to your husband and have carried out acts of violence against Palestinian people and property?

That’s really stupid. It’s such a childish thing done by children. It’s childish of the government to even consider it anything but childish. There are hotheads within the country that have nothing to do with the ideology of Rav Kahane, or any ideology. They’re just seeking revenge. Meir was all for the possible eventuality that Israel should be a Jewish state and a Torah state, but as far as how we implement it … there’s a difference here of maturity. A lot of these kids feel it’s unjust, what the Arabs have been doing here. Of course I feel sympathy for them. Today this friend was killed, this friend’s father was killed, sister was killed. Tomorrow they don’t know who will be killed. How can you live like that?

Would you call the arson at Duma childish? Three people have died.

It’s 99 percent certain a Jew did not do it. The graffiti that was left is not handwriting. It’s in the middle of the village. What stranger would go into the middle of the village, with the dogs barking? It’s just not a thing a Jewish boy would do. And take into context that there was a feud going on between two families [in Duma]. Nothing Meir [Ettinger] ever wrote could be construed as supporting that.

Do you feel your grandson has been imprisoned without cause?

I think he was a convenient scapegoat because he’s the grandson of Meir Kahane. What really bothers me is the way the Shabak [Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency] leaked things about him that were outright lies or innuendo, and the leftist media picked it up and made it a scandal, and made him No. 1.

You’ve said you’re writing Rabbi Kahane’s biography to explain what he thought and stood for. What would your husband, who was killed in New York in 1990, say about Israel today?

There are certain things he wrote that were prophetic. He wrote that now is the time to get the Arabs out of Israel. They’re growing and we’ll have terrific problems from them. They will gain more strength and want more strength. He [Kahane] adjusted what he wrote to what was happening at the time. He wrote about the bad public relations job Israel is doing. He did speak on campus, and said things official spokespeople didn’t say.

The left is contributing to the bad name of Israel from early days. We’re also dealing with American Jews who are anti-Israel. I’m talking about the American Jews on campus who are anti-Semitic, who demonstrate against Israel. It’s not a small subset at all. It’s the Jewish newspapers, the Anglo-Jewish press. It’s pro-Palestinian.

What were Kahane’s values?

Jews have to help Jews, and not help people who are not helping Jews.

If you believe in the Torah, you believe the Land of Israel belongs to us, and then you realize you have no permission to cede any part of it to non-Jews. The government of Israel is not only the government of Israel. It represents the entire Jewish people, and it can’t act in a way that will harm them. They can’t give up land because it’s not theirs to give up.

If Jews don’t know what they’re fighting for, they won’t fight. They won’t protect themselves. They’ll keep giving more to the Arabs. If peace isn’t possible, it’s a pity. But it doesn’t mean you give up the Jewish state.

This interview has been condensed.

Interview with Jeb Bush: ‘I would win consistency award’

They keep on saying he’s dead, politically. His poll numbers are in the low digits and his protege, the charismatic Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, is leaping ahead of him in the sweepstakes and the crucial primary state of New Hampshire. But Jeb Bush is not showing any signs of raising the white flag.

In recent town hall meetings in New Hampshire, following his improved appearance at the last televised debate, Jeb has shown more energy, more passion and, above all, a sense of toughness. If only he could win the GOP nomination, the former Florida Governor, and son and brother of U.S. presidents, would have the best shot to challenge Hillary Clinton and win in the fall, supporters say.

“I’m just telling you that in my opinion, out of all those who’re running, Jeb is the only one that would make an outstanding president,” Sam Fox, a former Ambassador and the former national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told Jewish Insider.

In a wide-ranging interview with Jewish Insider, while campaigning in New Hampshire, Jeb explained the reason he has maintained significant support among Jewish donors despite the summer free fall is because “they know I could be president.”

“Look, people of the Jewish faith – that are Americans – love this country as much anybody else does and, first and foremost, they want a strong America,” he asserted. “Yeah, they want a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship where there’s strong trust and that the relationship isn’t torn aside because of personal animosity, which this president has effectively done. They know that I will restore that trust and restore a relationship that will create security for Israel and security for the United States.”

Jeb also boasted about his consistency. “I think people, first and foremost, think I could be a pretty good president. And secondly, they know that I am not going to veer from my views. I believe what I believe. I am not going to be pressured for political purposes to bent, and many of the other candidates seem to have a tendency to do that.”

But there’s also another reason the Republican presidential hopeful has managed to uphold his standing in the pro-Israel community. Over the past few months, his brother George W. Bush headlined several fundraisers in support of his campaign. Jeb is often asked on the trail whether he’s more similar to his brother, George W., or his father George H. Bush. On Thursday, during a town hall meeting in Londonderry, New Hampshire, Jeb once again addressed the issue. “I’m blessed to be George and Barbara’s son, and I’m blessed to be George W.’s brother. But the world we’re in today is dramatically different than 2000, when my brother got elected, and 2001, when the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon and the plane went down in Pennsylvania.”

The question also comes up on the issue of Israel. One of Jeb’s foreign policy advisors in James Baker, who served as Secretary of State under George H. Bush, known for his clashes with the Israeli government in the early ’90′s. Baker addressed a J Street conference in DC last year, angering pro-Israel donors, including Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. “Although Netanyahu and his right-and-center coalition may oppose a two-state solution, a land-for-peace approach has long been supported by a substantial portion of the Israeli body politic, by every American [administration] since 1967 — Republican and Democratic alike — and a vast majority of nations around the world,” Baker saidduring his speech at the J Street conference. 

More recently, during a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum, Jeb said he takes his advice on Israel from his brother George W., who is admired by Republican Jews for his pro-Israel stance as president.

During the interview with Jewish Insider, Jeb insisted that Baker is “not providing advice as it relates to Israel” and that his brother’s legacy is what will guide him in his relationship with Israel and the peace process. “My brother’s legacy is one that has brought a realistic view that there’s no moral equivalence between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as it relates to forging consensus on how to move forward,” he stated. “I believe my brother was the strongest friend to Israel in modern history, and that would be a guide as it relates to my presidency – plain and simple.”

Bush also touted his pro-Israel record as Governor of Florida, going back to his time as Secretary of Commerce in the late 1980′s when he signed a trade agreement between Israel and the State of Florida with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was the Minister of Commerce at the time.

We also discussed the Iran nuclear agreement with the former Florida Governor. But unlike most of the Republican presidential candidates, Jeb refused to give a straight answer as to what he would do with the nuclear deal on Day One. “I would reimpose sanctions where there have been violations as it relates to their testing of medium-range missiles. I would reimpose sanctions immediately and confront their ambitions to undermine the region,” was the only answer he was willing to give on the matter.

“Would you seek to renegotiate the international accord or tear up the deal?” we asked.

“You know, I think the bigger issue is the overall relationship, not just the nuclear aspect. We have as much of a challenge and a threat as it relates to our security, the security of Israel and the security of the Middle East,” he responded. “I think the fallacy of Obama was he targeted this in a very narrow fashion; unilaterally made concessions that were supposed to be Ironclad when he started, and sends a signal of weakness that not only impacts us – it has destroyed the trust that is essential between the U.S. and Israel – but also sends a signal to Asia, Europe and other places that we are not a serious country anymore.”

Read a transcript of the interview below:

Question: Given the latest missile tests and the reluctance of the administration to impose sanctions on Iran, would you do on Day One with the nuclear agreement?

Jeb Bush: “I would reimpose sanctions where there have been violations as it relates to their testing of medium-range missiles. I would reimpose sanctions immediately and confront their ambitions to undermine the region. By our giving the appearance of changing sides in the Sunni-Shia conflict, we’ve created — we have participated in the instability of the region. And I think we need to be clear that our traditional allies, we have not abandoned them. We need to challenge Iran’s ambitions as it relates to formatting terror across the region, and we need to impose sanctions, immediately, which could have some effect because we still are the largest market in the world for many of the companies that are looking to do business in Iran; we need to make it clear that until Iran complies with all of its agreements that they shouldn’t do that.”

“There is also an element in this that I find appalling, which is there’s been no effort to try to support the Americans held hostage by the Iranian government. Apart from destabilizing what the Quds forces have, their support for Hezbollah and the rebels in Yemen, and their propping up of the brutal Assad regime, they are also holding Americans. And we should not be legitimizing a regime that is an existential threat to our strongest ally in the region – Israel, and is constantly trying to create upheaval in the region and holds hostage of Americans. I find it appalling.

Q: Would you, therefore, seek to renegotiate the international accord or tear up the deal?

JB: “You know, I think the bigger issue is the overall relationship, not the just the — the fallacy of the Obama administration is that it’s focused just on one element of this which is — the nuclear aspect. We have as much of a challenge and a threat as it relates to our security, the security of Israel and the security of the Middle East. I think the fallacy of Obama was he targeted this in a very narrow fashion. He unilaterally made concessions that were supposed to be Ironclad when he started and sent a signal of weakness that not only impacts us – it has destroyed the trust that is essential between the U.S. and Israel – but also sends a signal to Asia, Europe and other places that we are not a serious country anymore.”

Q: In Iran’s dispute with Saudi Arabia, how far would you go to support the Saudis in defending them from Iran?

JB: “Look at history – the Saudis have been oil allies of the United States, and Iran has been a consistent enemy of the interests of the U.S. and of our own country. I think we need to show support to Saudi Arabia. One would hope that there’s not an armed conflict coming forward. But our inability to be consistent in terms of our support of one of our strongest and longest-serving allies in the region, is partially the reason why we have this conflict emerging. If there was a sense that the United States had to back up Saudi Arabia, I don’t think they would’ve taken any kind of actions that would have provoked Iran. But I think if we had to pick between Iran and Saudi Arabia, we should be on the side of Saudi Arabia.”

Q. You said last month at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum that your brother George W. is your advisor on Israel. You also have James Baker as your foreign policy advisor. How do you balance that? Who has greater influence?

JB: “We have scores of advisers that were named, and James Baker is a statesman; he’s a friend, but he’s not providing advice as it relates to Israel. I speak to my brother regularly. I think his relationship with Israel is a model of how to go about the U.S. relationship with Israel – that you don’t force Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians until they have established some degree of credibility, because they have none; until they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State inside safe and secure borders, or say it not; until they have the political legitimacy to not only commit to a deal but enforce a deal, which they don’t. And my brother’s legacy is one that has brought a realistic view that there’s no moral equivalence between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as it relates to forging consensus on how to move forward.”

“I do seek my brother’s advice, and I think he was a great president as it relates to having undying, committing loyalty to the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

Q: Your brother was also the first U.S. President to endorse the creation of an independent Palestinian State publicly. He pushed for the implementation of the two-state solution. And he continuously called on Israel to stop its settlement activity, at least outside of the large settlement blocs. Would you bring the same views to the White House if elected?

JB: “As I said, I believe my brother was the strongest friend to Israel in modern history, and that would be a guide as it relates to my presidency – plain and simple.”

Q: Would you do anything different to bring the two parties together in negotiating a peace settlement?

JB: “Not until the Palestinians recognize the right of Israel to exist within safe and secure borders; not until they stop the hatred of the Jewish State, and of Jews in general; not until they stop teaching their children to hate Israelis, and not until they have the capability of delivering on any negotiated settlement. No, I wouldn’t. That’s the lesson learned by my brother’s administration.”

Q: Are you planning a trip to Israel during the campaign or as the first trip abroad as president?

JB: “I’ve been to Israel five times. I don’t have plans to visit there. But what I’ve said is that on Day One, I would announce that the U.S. Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Q: As Governor of the State of Florida, are there any moments you can recall as it relates to your relationship with the Jewish community?

JB: “The State Board of Administration made an extended commitment to purchase Israeli bonds. We obviously stopped any kind of disinvestment ideas, that never became a real threat but was discussed by left-wing groups. When I was governor, I traveled on a trade mission that was focused on high-technology – that was extraordinary – meeting a lot of young Israeli entrepreneurs inspiring the start-up nation. We were focused on building an innovative economy as well, so we learned a lot and had a lot of commonality of interest.”

“One of the things I did when I was Secretary of Commerce was to create a trade agreement between Israel and the State of Florida. This was in the late 1980’s, and Ariel Sharon was the Minister of Commerce that signed the agreement, which was pretty extraordinary. I was so honored to participate in that ceremony.”

Q: Some have called it an exaggeration you taking credit for Operation Joshua, the rescue of Ethiopian Jews in 1985. What was your role in that mission?

JB: “I give credit to my dad, who was in government and acted decisively and saved lives. I was simply a conduit to get people that were knowledgeable about the situation to brief my dad, and he acted.”

Q: Despite your low poll numbers, you’ve maintained strong support among Jewish donors; you launched the first Jewish leadership team, why do you think you’ve attracted that level of support?

JB: “Because they know I could be president. They know I have a steady hand. They know I have the leadership skills to keep our country safe. Look, people of the Jewish faith – that are Americans – love this country as much anybody else does and, first and foremost, they want a strong America. Yea, they want a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship where there’s strong trust and that the relationship isn’t torn aside because of personal animosity, which this president has effectively done. They know that I will restore that trust and restore a relationship that will create security for Israel and security for the United States.”

“I think people, first and foremost, think I could be a pretty good president. And secondly, they know that I am not going to veer from my views. I believe what I believe. I am not going to be pressured for political purposes to bent, and many of the other candidates seem to have a tendency to do that.”

Q: Who are you referring to, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie?

JB: “I will let you be the judge of consistency. I can just tell you that if they are giving out awards for consistency on political views, among the candidates running for president, I will win that award.”

Hillary Clinton talks to Lena Dunham about feminism, college years

In the wake of the never-ending email scandal and Bernie Sanders’ rise in the polls, Hillary Clinton is feeling some serious heat in the 2016 presidential race.

In an attempt to connect with younger voters, the Democratic frontrunner agreed to be interviewed by Lena Dunham, the Jewish creator of HBO’s hit show “Girls.”

The full interview will be available on Tuesday to subscribers of Dunham’s new Lenny newsletter, whose name is a portmanteau of Lena and Jenny (as in Dunham’s “Girls” co-writer Jenni Konner). Konner has also pointed out that it’s the name of an “old Jewish man.” The newsletter will include content on “feminism, style, health, politics, friendship” and more according to its website.

A minute-long preview clip of the interview released on Thursday shows Clinton – who confessed that she does not watch “Girls” – as relaxed as she has ever looked in a public appearance.

When asked by Dunham if she considers herself a feminist, Clinton leaned forward with a smile and said, “Yes, absolutely.”

“You know I’m always a little bit puzzled when any woman of whatever age, but particularly a young woman, says something like, and you’ve heard it, ‘Well, I believe in equal rights but I’m not a feminist.’ Well, a feminist is by definition someone who believes in equal rights. I’m hoping people will not be afraid to say, that doesn’t mean you hate men, it doesn’t mean you want to separate out the world, so you’re not a part of ordinary life – that’s not what it means at all! It just means we believe that women should have the same rights as men, politically, culturally, socially, economically. That’s what it means,” Clinton said in the clip.

According to Politico, Clinton also talked with Dunham about her college years and early 20s and her initial ambivalence about a political career.

Dunham supported Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Rumors also swirled back in July that Malia Obama, the elder of the Obama daughters, was interning (or at least hanging out) on the set of “Girls,” which is filmed in Brooklyn, New York.

Obama talks on Israeli TV about Netanyahu, Israel and David Blatt [TRANSCRIPT]

Below is a transcript of an interview between President Barack Obama and Israel Channel 2's Ilana Dayan on May 29 released by the National Security office of the White House 


Ilana Dayan: Mr. President, thank you so much for having us at the White House.

PresI.D.ent Barack Obama:  Wonderful to have you here.

I.D.: Here’s what you said just a few years ago:  “I had the impression that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not interested in just occupying a space, but is interested in being a statesman and putting his country on a more secure track.”  And even — also, you saI.., “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace.  I think he’s willing to take risks for peace.”  Would you repeat those very same words today?

P.O.:  Well, I think it’s always difficult to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.  And I think Prime Minister Netanyahu — I’ve gotten to know and worked with since almost the beginning of my presidency — is somebody who loves Israel deeply.  I think he cares about the security of the Israeli people.  I think he recognizes the history of hostility and anti-Semitism that makes it very important to him and his place in history to preserve Israel’s security.  And I respect all that.

I think that he also is someone who has been skeptical about the capacity of Israelis and Palestinians to come together on behalf of peace.  I think that he is also a poitician who’s concerned about keeping coalitions together and maintaining his office.

I.D.: To the point of not being willing to take the risks you’d like him to take for peace?

P.O.:  I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not about what I or the United States wants from him, but what Israel needs in terms of its long-term security. 

I have said from the start of my presidency and from the time that I was a U.S. senator and the time that I was a state legislator back in Illinois that I consider it a moral obligation for us to support a Jewish homeland, that I would do everything I could to make sure that the Israeli people are secure.  And I’ve kept that promise throughout my presidency.  Even my critics I think in Israel would acknowledge that the military cooperation, the intelligence cooperation, the work we’ve done together on Iron Dome — that I have been there when it comes to protecting the Israeli people.

But what I’ve also said is that if, in fact, we want a Jewish homeland and a Jewish democracy, then this issue of the Palestinian people has to be resolved.

I.D.: And we’ll get to that, and to the Palestinian problem. But you mentioned your critics in Israel.  And you know, I’ve been speaking to people here and I’ve been asking those people who admire you and know your commitment to the security of the state of Israel, how come it isn’t delivered?  And someone told me it’s because “he is not a hugger.”  He is simply not a hugger. (Laughter.)  Might that be part of the problem?

P.O.: Well, the people here think I’m a pretty good hugger.  I think there are a lot of filters between me and the people of Israel.  They’re not generally receiving a message directly from me.  When I’ve visited Israel, when I was in Sderot, talking to families who had seen missiles crash through their living rooms, when I was with young people in Jerusalem and talking to them about the possibilities of peace, the reception was incredibly warm. 

And the challenge I think that I have when it comes to these issues is that I do think part of my obligation of being a friend of Israel’s is to speak the truth as I see it.  And the truth as I see it is that the very moral imperatives that led to the founding of Israel — the belief that all of us share a basic humanity and dignity and rights that make it important for us to speak out against anti-Semitism — those things also require me from my perspective to say clearly that a Palestinian youth in Ramallah who feels their possibilities constrained by the status quo, that they have a claim on us, that they have a claim not just on Palestinian leaders, they have a claim on Israeli leaders.  They have a claim on U.S. leaders in the same way that children around the world who are locked out of opportunity have those claims.

And so I think it’s — when you speak in those terms, so often these days, here in the United States as well as overseas, what I consider to be a constructive and necessary admonition to live up to the core values that led to Israel’s founding can be twisted or interpreted as not being sufficiently supportive of Israel.

I.D.: But you know what, because the very same Prime Minister with whom you disagreed on parts of those issues was elected by the vast majority of Israelis.  They want him to be its leader.  So that’s part of the problem.

P.O.:  Well, I think — I’m not an expert on Israeli politics.  You are.  But I’m a student of it, and an observer.  And I think what’s true in Israel is true in the United States and is true everywhere — that we’re always trying to balance a politics of hope and a politics of fear.  And given the incredible tumult and chaos that’s taking place in the Middle East, the hope of the Arab Spring that turned into the disasters of places like Syria, the rise of ISIL, the continuing expressions of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli settlement in so much of the Arab world, the rockets coming in from Gaza, the buildup of arms by Hezbollah — all those things, justifiably, make Israelis concerned about security, and security first.

And I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is somebody who’s predisposed to think of security first; to think perhaps that peace is naïve; to see the worst possibilities as opposed to the best possibilities in Arab partners or Palestinian partners. 

And so I do think that, right now, those politics and those fears are driving the government’s response.  And I understand it.  But my argument has been — directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu and I think publicly — is that what may seem wise and prudent in the short term can actually end up being unwise over the long term. 

And it’s not simply the fear immediately of terrorism that should concern Israel.  What I think Israel also has to be concerned about, although it’s a long-term concern, is that if the status quo is not resolved, then, because of demographics, because of the pressures and the frustrations that are going to exist in the West Bank and certainly already exist in Gaza — that over time, Israel is going to have a choice about the nature of the Israeli state and its character.  And if it loses its essential values that are enshrined in its declaration of independence, I think that is something that has to be guarded against as well.

I.D.: But you see, Mr. President, when Israelis hear of a historic compromise, in this office 17 years ago, you applied pressure on the same Prime Minister Netanyahu to hand the Golan Heights over to Hafez Assad.  So many Israelis are terrified today at the mere thought of us having now ISIL or al Qaeda or a bunch of other unfriendly groups taking a swim in the Sea of Galilee.

P.O.:  Right. 

I.D.: That’s the essence of Israeli —

P.O.: Well, and I want to be clear, though, that in all my discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu and all my public statements, I have never suggested that Israel should ever trade away its security for the prospect of peace.  And I’ve never suggested that it is inappropriate for Israel to insist on any two-state solution taking into account the risks that what appears to be a peaceful government Palestinian Authority today could turn hostile.

So when John Kerry was engaged in some very aggressive and difficult diplomacy last year and we were looking at the possibility of creating a framework, I sent some of my top military advisors to Israel and asked the Israeli government, describe for us on your terms what you think you need in order to protect yourself against the worst-case scenario, and if we can figure out how to meet it, then are you prepared to move forward. And the truth is, is that we have ways in which we could deal with issues like the Jordan Valley. 

So the issue here is not let’s be naïve and let’s assume the best; the issue is how, in a very difficult situation, where Israel has very real enemies, should it approach the imperative, the necessity to resolve this issue.  Because if it does not, then the long-term trends are very dangerous for Israel.

I.D.: You heard our Prime Minister one day before the election saying very clearly he does not want to see a Palestinian state on his watch.  A day after the election, and over and over again ever since, Prime Minister Netanyahu is saying he is committed to the two-state solution.  Just yesterday he said he wants to cooperate with other Arab countries on that matter.  He does endorse a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.  Why not take him at his word?

P.O.: Well, I think that when he spoke right before the election, he was fairly unequivocal in saying that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership.  As long as he was Prime Minister, there wouldn’t be two states.  I think subsequently, his statements have suggested that there is the possibility of a Palestinian state, but it has so many caveats, so many conditions, that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met any time in the near future.  And so the danger here is that Israel as a whole loses credibility. 

Already, the international community does not believe that Israel is serious about a two-state solution.  The statement the Prime Minister made compounded that belief that there’s not a commitment there.  And I think that it is difficult to simply accept at face value the statement made after an election that would appear to look as if this is simply an effort to return to the previous status quo in which we talk about peace in the abstract, but it’s always tomorrow, it’s always later.

I.D.: You refer to it — sorry to interrupt you, Mr. President — you referred to it in an interview to The Atlantic the other day — to that and to some other statements the Prime Minister made before the election about Arabs — and you said a very interesting sentence — you said, “All that has foreign policy consequences.”  I’m asking you on a very practical level, Mr. President, what is it that Israel is getting from the United States today that it might not get in the future?

P.O.:  Well, when I said after the election that we would have to evaluate our policy, I was referring to something very specific, and that is how we approach defending Israel on the international stage around the Palestinian issue.  So in terms of what the United States provides to Israel, the most important thing we provide — security and intelligence and military assistance — that doesn’t go away, because that is part of the commitment, the solemn commitment that I’ve made with respect to Israel’s security.  And that’s something I feel very deeply and that’s not something that’s conditioned on any particular policy.

But the practical consequence that I refer to — let’s be very specific — if there are additional resolutions introduced in the United Nations, up until this point, we have pushed away against European efforts, for example, or other efforts because we’ve said, the only way this gets resolved is if the two parties work together. 

I.D.: But you’re not sure you’re going to continue doing that?

P.O.:  Well, here’s the challenge.  If, in fact, there’s no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there’s a peace process, then it becomes more difficult to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation– it’s more difficult for me to say to them, be patient and wait because we have a process here — because all they need to do is to point to the statements that have been made saying there is no process.

And so the issue here — and this is something that we expect to work with the Israeli people as well as Palestinians, as well as the international community — how do we move off what appears right now to be a hopeless situation and move it back towards a hopeful situation.  That will require more than just words.  That will require some actions.  And that’s going to be hard work, though, because right now I think there’s not a lot of confidence in the process. 

And the United States has a great investment in this not just because we care about Israeli security, but because we also care about making sure that the region as a whole stays focused on issues like ISIL, which are so dangerous to everybody.

I.D.: And given the makeup of the current Israeli government, and given the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, do you think there is a chance of you giving it another try in the next 18 months?

P.O.: I don’t see a likelihood of a framework agreement.  I don’t see the likelihood of us being able to emerge from Camp David or some other process and hold up hands and say  —

I.D.: Not that —

P.O.:  No.  And this is where the reevaluation takes place.  The question is how do we create some building blocks of trust and progress so that if I’m a well-meaning Palestinian right now — let’s say, I’m a Palestinian student or I’m a Palestinian businessman in the West Bank, and I believe in peace, and I don’t buy the rhetoric of Hamas, and I know there are good people inside of Israel and I recognize Israel’s right to exist, but every day I’m traveling through checkpoints that may take me hours, and if I have a business trip or a student exchange trip, I may not be able to go because I don’t have a state, and I’m restricted and somebody else is making that decision, and I don’t see opportunities for me in the future — the question is what do we say to them?  What are their prospects?

And part of what I think we all have to do is to find a way to have an answer that is more than just more of the same.

I.D.: Which brings me to a question and a plan that I’m sure you had a chance to hear about, and that’s the plan which I should note was suspended for now to segregate some West Bank bus lines.  And I think about who you are, the kind of memories you give voice to, and I wonder, what’s the first thing that came to your mind when you heard about it?

P.O.:  Well, here’s the message I recently delivered at a local synagogue — that when Rabbi Heschel worked alongside Martin Luther King on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement, he didn’t have to do that.  He did that because he recognized, in the plight of African Americans and the discrimination that was being conducted against them, part of his own experience and his own traditions.  He knew what it was like to be a stranger.  He knew what it was like to be mistreated.  He knew what it was like to be segregated.  And that compelled him to act.

In my mind, there is a direct line between the Jewish experience, the African American experience, and as a consequence, we have, I hope, a special empathy and a special regard for those who are being mistreated because of the color of their skin or the nature of their faith. 

And the Israeli people I think don’t have to look to me to determine how to feel about a law like that.  I think the Israeli people need to look within their own traditions — because the Jewish traditions that helped found Israel have a direct point of view on an issue like that. 

And I always tell people here, when I was in Jerusalem and I spoke, the biggest applause line I got was when I said, I know that the people of Israel care about those Palestinian children. And the applause was overwhelming because there was a self-recognition.  This wasn’t me lecturing them.  It was simply reflecting what I’ve seen in my interactions with Israelis, what I’ve seen in terms of Jewish values here in the United States and the role it’s played in making this a more open and tolerant society.

I.D.: Mr. President, I want to talk about the Iran deal for a couple of minutes.

P.O.:  Yes, of course.

I.D.: There’s a remarkably sincere observation you made once — you said, “Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable.”  And you said, “Any given decision I make, I wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work.”  I’m afraid Israelis cannot afford even three to four percent chance you’re wrong, Mr. President, because if you are, the bomb will hit Tel Aviv first.

P.O.:  Well, let’s back up on this.  We know that Iran, prior to me coming into office, had gone from a few hundred centrifuges to thousands.  We know that the potential breakout time for Iran, if it chose to build a bomb, is a matter potentially of months today instead of years. 

And seeing that, I came in and organized an international coalition — including countries like Russia and China that tend not to be very sympathetic to sanctions regimes — and we have imposed the most effective sanctions on Iran over the course of the last five years that has led them to essentially lose a decade, perhaps, of economic growth. 

At the time, people were skeptical.  They said, oh, sanctions aren’t going to work.  Then we were able to force Iran to the negotiating table because of the effectiveness of the sanctions.  And I said that in exchange for some modest relief in sanctions, Iran is going to have to freeze its nuclear program, roll back on its stockpiles of very highly enriched uranium — the very stockpiles that Prime Minister Netanyahu had gone before the United Nations with his picture of the bomb and said that was proof of how dangerous this was — all that stockpile is gone. 

And in fact, at that time, everybody said, this isn’t going to work.  They’re going to cheat.  They’re not going to abide by it.  And yet, over a year and a half later, we know that they have abided by the letter of it.

So we have I think shown that we are able to construct a mechanism, if, in fact, we get an agreement, to verify that all four pathways to a nuclear weapon are shut off.

I.D.: But what if they take the $100 million showered at them after sanctions are lifted and not take them to build movie theaters and hospitals in Tehran, but rather divert it to military use?

P.O.: Okay, so that’s a different question, though.  So I just want to separate out the questions.  There’s one critique of a potential nuclear deal which is it won’t hold, and Iran will cheat, and they will get a bomb.  And I have confidence that if, in fact, we arrive at the kind of agreement that I’m looking for, and that was described in Geneva but now has to be memorialized, then we will have cut off their path to a nuclear weapon and we will be able to verify it with unprecedented mechanisms.

Now, it may be that Iran is not able to make the necessary concessions for us to know we can verify it — 

I.D.: Then there’s no deal.

P.O.:  Then there’s going to be no deal.  But let’s assume there’s a deal.  There is now a second set of arguments, which is you bring down sanctions —

I.D.: Now, that’s wishful thinking —

P.O.:  — and they’ve got $100-$150 billion, and now they can do even more mischief around the region.  I would make three points on that.

Number one is that we will be putting in place a snapback provision so that if they cheat on the nuclear deal, the sanctions automatically go back into place; we don’t have to ask Mr. Putin’s permission, for example, to put sanctions back. 

Number two, we shouldn’t assume that we can perpetuate the sanctions forever anyway.  There’s a shelf life on the sanctions, because the reason the international community agreed was to get to the table to deal with the nuclear issue, not to deal with all of these other issues.  So we will get a diminishing return just on maintaining sanctions.

Number three, Mr. Rouhani was elected specifically in order to strengthen the Iranian economy.  There’s enormous poitical pressure on them — as I said, they’ve lost a decade of economic growth.  Their economy has been contracting each year.  And it is true that out of $100 billion or $150 billion, of course the IRGC, the Quds Force, they’re going to want to get their piece.  But the fact is, is that the great danger that the region has faced from Iran is not because they have so much money.  Their budget — their military budget is $15 billion compared to $150 billion for the Gulf States — I just met with them. 

They have a low-tech but very effective mechanism of financing proxies, of creating chaos in regions.  And they’ve also shown themselves, regardless of sanctions, to be willing to finance Hezbollah with rockets and others even in the face of sanctions.

So the question then becomes are they going to suddenly be able to finance 10 times the number of Hezbollah fighters?  Probably not.

I.D.: I see. Mr. President, you know I do —

P.O.:  I know you’re running out of time.

I.D.: Yes.

P.O.:  But you got me all stirred up.

I.D.: So perhaps you will give us a couple more minutes.

P.O.: I’ll give you a couple of extra minutes.

I.D.: I don’t know if you noticed, Mr. President, but our Prime Minister gave a speech to Congress a few months ago.

P.O.:  Really?  I didn’t notice.  (Laughter.) 

I.D.: Yes, really.  I was wondering if you noticed that.  But I asked your good friend, David Axelrod, your chief strategist, about it later and he said this was a highly political exercise. Would you agree on that?

P.O.:  As I said before, I think the Prime Minister cares very much about the security of the Israeli people, and I think that in his mind, he is doing what’s right. 

I care very much about the people of Israel as well, and in my mind, it is very much in Israel’s interest to make sure that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.  And I can, I think, demonstrate — not based on any hope, but on facts and evid.ence and analysis — that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement.  A military solution will not fix it, even if the United States participates. It would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program, but it will not eliminate it.

I.D.: Can you even imagine a scenario where Prime Minister Netanyahu, after this deal — which he says it’s a bad deal, that’s why he came to Congress — launches a military strike and doesn’t even call you ahead of time?

P.O.:  I won’t speculate on that.  What I can say is — to the Israeli people — I understand your concerns and I understand your fears.  But what is the worst scenario is the path that we’re currently on in which there’s no nuclear resolution, and ultimately, we have no way to verify whether Iran has a weapon or not.

Sanctions won’t do it.  A military solution is temporary.  The deal that we’re negotiating potentially takes a nuclear weapon off the table for 20 years.  And so when the Prime Minister comes here, I understand he is speaking because he believes that it’s the right thing to do.  But I respectfully disagree with him.  And I think that I can show if, in fact, Iran abides by the deal that we’re outlining now — and they may not.  They could still walk away and miss this opportunity.

I.D.: But you thought, Mr. President, the speech was “destructive to the fabric of the relations,” to take the words of your National Security Advisor, Susan Rice?

P.O.:  I will — you know what.  Some things are in the past.  I think it’s fair to say that if I showed up at the Knesset without checking with the Prime Minister first, if I had negotiated with Mr. Herzog — (laughter) — that there would be a sense of some protocols that had been breached.

I.D.: You said the other day to Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview that you plan to be around 20 years from now, therefore you’ll feel responsible if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.  And I just realized, perhaps you plan to be many years more around — if only to postpone the moment that Bibi come speak at the funeral?

P.O.:  (Laughter.)  That was one of my better jokes.

I.D.: You enjoyed the punch, didn’t you?

P.O.: That was a good joke.

I.D.: Can we skip the part in which you tell me there’s nothing personal between you two?

P.O.:  I will tell you this.  When I’m with Bibi, we have good conversations.  They’re tough, they’re forceful, we disagree, but I enjoy jousting with him, I do.

I.D.: Remember the meeting four years ago here at the White House when he took the time to speak about some chapters in Jewish history?  I could see your jaw was locked.

P.O.:  Oh, no, I think — I was probably just hungry and waiting for lunch.  (Laughter.)  I think that so often these issues get framed in personal terms because it’s easier.  If I’m a journalist, it’s easier — when you’re a writer, you always want to have a protagonist and it’s easier to follow —

I.D.: No, it’s because I saw you with David Cameron, and I saw you with Angela Merkel at the time.  And I saw Clinton with Rabin and I saw Bush with Sharon.  There is something that is called chemistry between leaders, isn’t there?

P.O.:  Of course.  There’s no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu and I come from different political traditions and have different orientations.  But part of what’s been valuable about the U.S.-Israeli relationship is it has — it is deeper than any individual leader or any particular government.  That won’t change. 

I am less worried about any particular disagreement that I have with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  I am more worried about what I described earlier, which is an Israeli politics that’s motivated only by fear and that then leads to a loss of those core values that, when I was young and I was admiring Israel from afar, were what were the essence of this nation. 

And I want to say this — because I always have to be careful if I’m speaking about another country to recognize ultimately it’s up to the Israeli people and their duly elected government to make decisions about what their policies are.  All I can do is to, as a friend and an ally — the most important friend and ally Israel has — that these are concerns. 

These concerns are ones that I have about my own country.  Look, when I came into office, we had gone through years in which, as a consequence of a reactive fear, we made what I believe were very damaging strategic mistakes.

I.D.: And wars.

P.O.: And wars.  And we lost lives, and we lost credibility in the world stage.  And in some cases — for example, around issues like renditions and torture — we lost our values.  And it’s taken a long time to rebuild those.  So I am just as self-critical about what I and U.S. government officials have to do in order for us to preserve what’s best in us.  But I would respectfully suggest that Israel has to do that same self-reflection, because if it doesn’t, there are things that you can lose that don’t just involve rockets.

I.D.: I have to ask you a personal question before we have to end this interview.  After six and a half years in office, what is it that surprises you more when they wake you up at night — good news or bad news? 

P.O.:  Well, good news always surprises me.  (Laughter.)  The bad news is constant.  I will tell you this, though.  We have gone through some incredible, very difficult moments in this presidency, starting with a world financial crisis, dealing with terrorist organizations, the upheaval in the Middle East, the invasion of Ukraine.  But when I speak to young people, I always remind them that as difficult, as challenging, as sometimes scary as the current moment appears, if you had to choose a moment in the world’s history when you would want to be born and you had the best chance — not knowing whether you were going to be born rich or poor, male or female, black or white —

I.D.: What would you choose?

P.O.:  — you would choose today.  Because there’s no moment in history in which the world is healthier, is wealthier.  There’s actually less violence today than there was 50 years ago, or 100 years ago.  And so the arc, the trajectory of humanity has been to steadily embrace those values that Israelis and Americans share. 

I.D.: Bends towards justice.

P.O.:  Yes. 

And when you look at Israel, as challenging as the environment seems, imagine how it seemed to Ben-Gurion.  Imagine how it seemed to Moshe Dayan, when you didn’t know that your military could defeat the massed armies of Arab — when I’m in Jerusalem or I’m in Tel Aviv and I’m meeting these incredible young tech leaders and talking to them about the inventions that can help save people’s lives around the world, and when I see what’s happened in terms of irrigation innovation to make a desert bloom, that has to give us optimism.

So my point is that, whether it’s here in the United States, whether it’s in Israel, we have to be properly aware of we have real enemies out there; we have to be vigilant in guarding against harm to our people; we have to be self-critical about all the failures that we have — but we can’t just be driven by this sense that there’s only danger.  There’s also possibility.  There’s also hope. 

And I’ve seen that in the faces of Israeli children.  I’ve seen it in the faces of Palestinian children.  And it’s our job  — my job as President but even as a citizen, and you as a journalist, and everybody who’s watching — to feed hope and not just feed fear.

I.D.: One last personal question, Mr. President.  You already think about January 20, 2017?  Do you think about it with relief or with anxiety, the day you leave this house?

P.O.:  Oh, I think that I will be very melancholy and sad about all the friendships and the incredible team that I’ve built here.  I think that I will miss the incredible privilege of this office.  But I very much respect the wisdom of two-term limits.

I.D.: But you know, retiring these days is the best way to come back to the White House as a first spouse or something like that.  (Laughter.) 

P.O.:  You haven’t met Michelle.  That will never happen.  (Laughter.) 

I.D.:  One offer that I want to make.

P.O.:  Yes.

I.D.: I know how much you love basketball.  And I know that you tweeted the other day that LeBron is the heart of Cleveland, right?  But you know who the coach is?

P.O.:  He’s an outstanding former Israeli coach, David Blatt.

I.D.: So if you’re looking for a second career in basketball, we can do something about it, Mr. President.  (Laughter.) 

P.O.:  I’m way too old.  (Laughter.)

I.D.: Thank you very much, Mr. President.  It’s been a pleasure.  Thank you so much.

P.O.:  I enjoyed it.  Thank you so much.

A conversation with Erwin Chemerinsky

Jonathan Kirsch: Let me begin with a quote from “The Case Against the Supreme Court.” You write: “From the outset, in writing this book, I have been concerned that it would be criticized as a liberal’s whining that the Court’s decisions have not been liberal enough.” What apprehensions did you have, if any, about the reception to your book? And did those apprehensions turn out to be well founded? 

Erwin Chemerinsky: Like any author, my largest fear is that no one will pay any attention to the book. But one has to say what one believes is right. 

JK: You concede in your book that you have not fared well in the cases you have handled in the Supreme Court. Do you think that the criticisms in your book will make it even harder when you next appear before the Court?

EC: I don’t think the justices will pay much attention to this book. If they do, I think they will agree with a lot of what I have to say. 

JK: Traditionally, the Supreme Court included a Jewish seat. Does the Jewish seat survive in any sense? 

EC: The first Jewish justices — [Louis] Brandeis, [Benjamin N.] Cardozo and [Felix] Frankfurter — are among the most renowned in history, but I think the Jewish seat is a dead letter. It ended when Abe Fortas left the Court in 1969, and Nixon did not replace him with a Jewish justice. No Jewish justice served [again] until Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg was appointed in 1993. Now there are three Jews and six Catholics on the Court, and it’s hard to speculate what that will mean.

JK: Your principal argument is that the Court has failed to protect the individual against the powerful, both in government and business. Does this reflect an ideological stance rather than a judicial philosophy?

EC: It’s not ideological. The purpose of the Constitution is pre-eminently to protect minorities of all sorts. The majority does not need the Constitution to protect itself; the majority can protect itself through the judicial process.

JK: Do you think the program you suggest stands any realistic chance of being adopted?

EC: I think so, at least for some of them. For example, I think there is a constituency to apply ethical rules to Supreme Court appointees and a strong desire to change the way the Supreme Court communicates by allowing cameras in the courtroom. Term limits has the broadest support — if Rick Perry and I can agree on that, it shows the scope of the constituency. But it would take a constitutional amendment, and that makes it far less likely.

JK: Do you despair of achieving the primary goal you advocate, that is, the appointment of a majority of justices who embrace the notion of favoring the rights of individuals above the prerogatives of the wealthy and powerful?

EC: The honest answer is, I don’t know. Had [Al] Gore or [John] Kerry been president in 2005, when [William] Rehnquist and [Sandra Day] O’Connor were replaced, constitutional law would be vastly different today. It’s possible to imagine a Democrat winning in 2016, but it’s also possible to imagine a Republican winning, which would result in a conservative Court for the rest of our lifetimes. 

Q&A with Federation head Jay Sanderson

At the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly (GA), held this year in National Harbor, Md., Nov. 9-11, thousands of Jewish professional and lay leaders filled a conference center and hotel to listen to famous and powerful Jews, including two Supreme Court justices and the Israeli prime minister (via telecast), sit through breakout sessions and, most important, network with one another and share ideas that have been tested at Jewish Federations across the country.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson came here this year with seven staff members and 17 lay leaders; for him, this year’s GA caps a year in which the L.A. Federation’s leadership predicts it will reach its fundraising goal of $50 million and its outreach goal of 20,000 donors by Jan. 1.

In two interviews with the Journal during the GA, Sanderson spoke with his usual candor about what the GA does and doesn’t offer, about the L.A. Federation’s successes and shortfalls in 2014, and his frustration at the inability of Israeli Americans in Los Angeles and the local Federation to create a partnership that will help further integrate Israeli Americans into the local Jewish community.

Jewish Journal: What do you see as the goal of the GA?

Jay Sanderson: This is the one time that the Federation system can tell its story to national and international lay and professional leaders.

JJ: What’s the story?

JS: There’s no organization in the world like the Federation system. There just isn’t. There hasn’t been. You’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. You’re talking about the establishment of the State of Israel, the rescuing of Soviet Jews, of Ethiopian Jews. That’s done through the Federation collective.

JJ: Is Federation losing relevance as Jews become increasingly disengaged from Jewish communal life?

JS: There are more Jews involved in Federation in L.A. today than there were 10 years ago. OK? That’s factually correct, not anecdotal — based on number of donors and number of people in leadership, and meaningful leadership. Those are things you can measure, and we have a dramatic, and growing, increase in engagement and involvement. 

Now that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of Jews are not — in your generation for sure — are not disengaged; they are disengaged from institutional life, not Federation life. They are disengaged from synagogues, they are disengaged from the Anti-Defamation League and [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] — they are disengaged. We have a majority of Jews disengaged in institutional organizational Jewish life. That is a communal challenge, that’s the Pew [Research Center] report. 

I can say in Los Angeles that we are focused on addressing that. I’d say most organizations say it, but we have strategies to do it. So the GA is — right now you’re going to meet mostly the people who drank the Kool-Aid, some of the people who make the Kool-Aid, some of the people who bathe in the Kool-Aid. You’re not going to see a lot of people here who think there’s too much sugar in Kool-Aid.

JJ: Changing topics: 2014 is almost done. What’s a goal L.A. Federation has accomplished that you’re proud of, and what’s an area where you came up short?

JS: One accomplishment was we wanted to make the Federation a better place to work. We’ve started all these programs for people to feel more engaged, and we’ve given a lot of people opportunities to do other things. So there’s been a lot of people that work at the Federation that are moving into new opportunities within the building. 

JJ: Where have you come up short in 2014?

JS: NuRoots, our initiative for young adults, is behind — timing-wise — where it should be. I thought we’d be further along in NuRoots. We launched the fellows program, we had four engagement fellows working in the community, building micro-communities in four geographic locations, and we are moving in other directions. But I think we are six to nine months [behind] where I thought we would be now. It’s gone slower than I had hoped in terms of development of the project. 

I wish we were further along in our relationship with the Israeli-American community in Los Angeles. We’ve had a lot of fits and starts trying to work with the [Israeli-American Council], and they are growing nationally and they are very successful, but I feel like there’s not the kind of partnership with the Jewish community that I was hoping for when I started this job. I think some of it is cultural challenges between the two institutions, and I don’t think it’s a big enough priority.

JJ: For either side?

JS: Maybe for either side. I think it needs to be a bigger priority for both sides.

Foxman one on one: anti-Semitism, BDS and Mel Gibson

Over the past 20 years, I’ve accused Anti-Defamation League (ADL) chief Abraham H. Foxman of being an alarmist, an opportunist, even a hypocrite. 

I mocked his outspoken campaign against Mel Gibson’s “The Passion,” saying it just helped boost the snuff film’s box office. I challenged his way of measuring anti-Semitism, saying it artificially inflated the numbers of haters by posing questions that even Jew-lovers would agree with. And I castigated him for opposing the building of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan, N.Y., saying he would never say a peep if a synagogue wanted to do the same.

But if I acted as a thorn in Foxman’s side, a contrarian, a loudmouth who calls the powerful to account, it was only because I was emulating someone I admire: Abe Foxman.

Now Foxman is stepping down after serving the ADL for 50 years, 27 of them as its national director. If the position has allowed Foxman to become one of the most high-profile and influential American Jews, that’s because of the sheer force of his personality, vision and accomplishments — and his biography.

Foxman was born in Baranovichi, Poland, in 1940. Foxman’s parents hid him from the Nazis by giving him over to his Catholic nanny, who risked her life to hide him. Abe Foxman became Henryk Kurpi, and he was baptized and raised as Catholic until, after a long custody battle, he was reunited with his parents after the war. 

After immigrating to the United States with his parents in 1950, he graduated from Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, N.Y., earned a law degree at New York University and joined the ADL in 1965.

Foxman launched effective tolerance education programs in schools and for law enforcement, perhaps his greatest and least-known legacy. He led the Jewish community’s rapprochement with the Catholic Church, and has nurtured bonds with black, gay and Latino communities. He has served as a fierce and outspoken watchdog against extremism in the U.S., abroad and online. While he is comfortable operating in the diplomatic shadows, he has been just as willing to step into the fray or, when the need arises, to create the fray — and take the occasional blowback for doing so.

Foxman will be in Los Angeles Nov. 6-8 for the ADL’s annual national meeting, his last major L.A. appearance before officially stepping down next July. I spoke with him by phone prior to his trip out here and found him, as always, insightful, combative — and forgiving.

Rob Eshman: Why do you think that anti-Semitism persists?

Abe Foxman: Well, it’s because it isn’t one single solitary reason. In every country, in every history, in every society, the reasons are different. In some, it’s because they believe we killed Christ. Or it’s because we’re communists, or we are fascists, or we’re militarists, or we’re too liberal, or we’re too rich or we’re too poor. So it’s like a Whack-a-Mole, you know. Ironically, for all these years in Europe, they told the Jews to go to Palestine. Now the anti-Semites are telling the Jews to get out of Palestine.

RE: We Jews tend to focus on the negative, but at the same time, European governments have responded to thwart anti-Semitism.

AF: That’s the good news. If you would ask me now what’s a model country, I would say to you, “France.” France’s response, from the prime minister, from the president and the foreign minister to the police chief, has been superb. But it doesn’t filter down, and the manifestations on the streets are so blatant.

RE: What would you advise the governments to do? 

AF: The only answer that we know of is education. You know, people learn to hate much quicker than they unlearn it. That’s the only antidote: It’s to educate. Educate about the Holocaust, educate about prejudice, to make sure that the institutions are viewed with respect.

Look what happened in the last election to the EU [European Union]. The populist movements are growing. Xenophobia is growing. Europeans have never accepted foreigners. They’ve never assimilated foreigners. 

RE: And you have the radicalized Muslims.

AF: In the recent survey that we did on anti-Semitism, we found that the highest level of anti-Semitism in the world is in the Middle East and North Africa, that today, globally, one out of two Muslims is anti-Semitic. So now you have that added overlay in Europe, so it’s a human conveyor belt of anti-Semitism coming into Amsterdam and Brussels and Paris and Rome and Berlin.

RE: Would an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians decrease that kind of anti-Semitism?

AF: My hand on my heart, I don’t think it will change. They’ll find another reason. That’s an excuse. What happened in Gaza was an excuse for the anti-Semitism. But I would love to see peace for peace’s sake. Maybe it will take away a platform, a reason, a rationale, but they’ll find something else.

Look, the No. 1 issue that we found in our poll, 41 percent globally believed the Jews can’t be trusted or [are] not loyal, OK?

This is almost one out of two adults in the world [who] believe that Jews can’t be trusted.

So if there’s peace tomorrow — will the anti-Semites find another platform? Yes.

RE: That poll that you’re talking about, I’ve been critical of it in the past, as have others. Some of those questions you asked, if you polled Jews, you would find that they agree with some of those answers.

AF: Yeah, but that’s entertainment, Rob. Jews don’t kill Jews, OK? 

RE: But that’s what I’m asking. How do you parse what’s truly malignant, and what is just a bad attitude?

AF: So it’s not an exact science. But let me tell you something. If you believe that Jews disproportionately control media, finance and governments, you’re an anti-Semite. Now, that does not mean you’re going to get up in the morning and kill Jews. No! But there is a potential there that if you have a crisis, a family crisis, an emotional crisis, etc., what history has taught is that … people do act out.

RE: What does it say to you that though we just went through one of the worst financial crises in American history, and there were high-profile Jews involved in this crisis, we really didn’t see any acting out?

AF: The U.S. is still a historical anomaly — thank God! But for a lot of reasons: for the values, for assimilation, for integration, all of these things.

RE: What’s fascinating is that in those countries with high rates of anti-Semitism, like Hungary, Spain, Greece and in the Middle East — outside of Israel — there are barely any Jews.

AF: We have learned you don’t need Jews for anti-Semitism. It doesn’t matter whether there are Jews or there aren’t Jews, you can have anti-Semitism. Although Laos is the lowest in the world.

RE: Laos?

AF: Yeah. Asia was low, but Laos is the lowest. 

RE: So is that where you’re going to retire?

AF: No fun. I mean, there’s nothing for me to do there.

RE: After the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the ADL was instrumental in creating and winning passage of anti-mask laws, which prevented them from wearing hoods as they committed their acts of hate. Now you have the Internet, which is kind of the ultimate mask.

AF: The Internet is a new mask. Because of the anonymity, everybody has a megaphone. I think it’s a major challenge: How do we balance freedom of speech, First Amendment [rights], with civility. How do we protect civility?

A big part of it is not necessarily legislation, it’s societal. In this country, if you’re an anti-Semite, you’re going to pay a price. If you’re in commerce, you’re going to pay a price. If you’re in politics, you’re going to pay a price. My worry [is], if we ever lose that price, what are the consequences?

RE: Like Mel Gibson.

AF: I know we had a lot of controversy about Mel Gibson. But Mel Gibson to me is a very important example because he paid the price. He wasn’t punished by laws for being an anti-Semite bigot. He was punished by society. He went from No. 1 to No. 247. Politicians in this country who try to play with prejudice can make it once; they won’t make it a second or third time.

So that’s the beauty of this country, and that’s why we have to make sure that there is always, always a price to be paid for prejudice. 

RE: Where do you draw the line between the anti-Zionism we see on many college campuses and anti-Semitism?

AF: To me, it’s very simple: Anti-Zionism 99 percent of the time is a euphemism for anti-Semitism. 

RE: Let me just stop there. There’s so much criticism of Israel within Israel; you know that.

AF: I don’t have a problem with that. Criticism of Israel, per se, is not anti-Semitism. It could be, but it’s not. I would say if you were anti-Zionist and you are not anti-Palestinian nationalism, anti-French nationalism, anti-Chinese nationalism, anti-American nationalism, then you’re an anti-Semite. If the only nationalism that you find racist or unacceptable is Jewish nationalism, then you’re an anti-Semite.

Now, I will tell you something else about the campus. I was on the campus in the ’60s. In the ’60s, it was not fun being Jewish on the campus. You had anti-Vietnam, you had Black Panthers, you had Arab students galore, etc., etc.

Things have changed. Out of 3,500 campuses in America, somewhere between 25 and 50 are politically active. It’s the same campuses that in the ’60s were active in anti-Israel that are today. The difference today is, again, the Internet. Something happens in Paducah, and it’s global.

I would say to you that on a college campus today, we have more Jewish resources, we have more Jewish students because of Birthright Israel, who can stand up and can challenge. There’s a coalition of organizations supporting Jewish campus activities. So I don’t see it as this great calamity or this great crisis. It’s always there. The campus goes through phases of political activism. Today, one student with a megaphone, which is a website, can do all kinds of things that they couldn’t do 20 years ago.

So, OK, you know, we provide services, we’re out there when they need support. The kids today are more educated on the subject than they’ve ever been. So I don’t see it as a crisis. I think we should be there [to] make sure that they have [our] support when they reach out.

RE: And the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement doesn’t concern you?

AF: No. I don’t think that BDS will take hold in this country. We are not a country of boycotters. A lot of these votes are by 20 to 30 people. 

I think we’ve made it more an issue than it is, where we seriously should be able to differentiate between where it’s serious and where it’s not. When we think it’s serious, we can rally the forces, as you’ve seen that’s been done from time to time.

RE: I’ve always been fascinated by your biography. I wondered what it meant to you that at the same time that your family was persecuted by Christian anti-Semites, a Catholic nanny risked her life to save you. What does that teach you about human nature?

AF: I have been very, very lucky, because two very strong elements of human behavior shaped me. I survived the worst of human behavior, which is hate and anti-Semitism. And I survived because of the best of human behavior, which is the courage and sacrifice to stand up for another individual.

Now, say, there’s the irony that through these two anti-forces, I wind up in a job where that’s what I did every day: fought the hate and tried to instill understanding. So I’ve been very, very happy; very lucky. Did I succeed in everything? No. Did we make progress? Yeah. Is there a lot to be done? Yeah. Others will do it? Absolutely.

Interview with Avigdor Lieberman: ‘About our PR, I completely agree, it is very, very bad’

The meteoric rise of Israel’s Russian-speaking, Moldova-born immigrant and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be proof, as he told an admiring Jewish National Fund (JNF) crowd in Los Angeles on Sept. 15, that Israel is more like America than even America.

Not quite a pristine Cinderella story, though, at 56, Lieberman is as notable for his political successes as for the political and media controversies that surround him.

When Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly offered Lieberman the option of switching to either the minister of defense or finance in 2012, Tzipi Livni, who used to hold Lieberman’s current post in the Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that his becoming Defense Minister would be “an existential threat to the State of Israel.”

Lieberman, 56, signed on for a second term as Foreign Minister in the coalition government led by Netanyahu’s Likud and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party. And to Livni’s chagrin, Lieberman’s political fortunes may be headed north, perhaps one day as far north as Prime Minister—at least if he can continue to emerge unscathed from the occasional scandals that involve his name (see: his off-the-record trip to Vienna last weekend to meet with businessman Martin Schlaff, as reported by Haaretz.)

The so-called “Lieberman Plan” that he proposed in 2004 would have redrawn Israeli and Palestinian borders so that many Israeli-Arabs would be included in an eventual Palestinian state—and likely lose their Israeli citizenship. In March, an internal Foreign Ministry legal brief argued that such a move would be legal if the Israeli-Arabs consented and if they did not become stateless.

In 2006, he likened Arab-Israeli Knesset members who met with Hamas to Nazi collaborators who were executed for their crimes. The Arab-Israeli collaborators, Lieberman said at the time, should meet the same fate.

Willing to speak his mind, Lieberman — as he told the Journal in an interview shortly after his address to JNF — prefers to be honest, even if it means damaging his (and thus the Israeli government’s) reputation in international media. As he admitted to the JNF crowd, somewhat surprisingly, Israel is lacking in the media relations department: “First of all, about our hasbara, about our PR, I completely agree — it is very, very bad.”

How much that has to do with his insistence on speaking his mind, well, that’s a question he addressed in the interview.

In fact, during his address, there were two points where he appeared to have fun with the monstrous role that he, and often Israel, are assigned in world opinion. Nine minutes into his 30-minute speech, when he was discussing the importance of religious education for Jewish children in the United States, three young female protestors from the left-wing group CODEPINK stood up and shouted, “What about the children in the schools in Gaza!” Security — and the crowd’s boos — quickly put an end to their interruption.

Smiling, Lieberman joked that he “was surprised that this provocation took so much time.” Perhaps he is used to anti-Israel protestors hijacking his speeches before the nine-minute mark.

Later in the address, the Foreign Minister played devil’s advocate, suggesting that even if he really were the bad guy that he is painted as, and even if politicians such as him are roadblocks to peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, then why haven’t “nice guys” like Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak been able to reach peace? The answer, as Lieberman implied, is that Palestinian leaders, from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas, aren’t interested.

In the interview, Lieberman was careful to not overly criticize Netanyahu and played down Netanyahu’s frosty relationship with the Obama Administration. When asked about Israel’s poor PR, he indicated—in a quite unsatisfactory response — that Israel has too many other budgetary concerns to allocate what’s needed for effective marketing, but countered that he feels the government did a sufficient job of justifying its Gaza operation.

An edited version of the interview follows:

Jewish Journal: Looking back on the war in Gaza, what would you like to have been done differently?

Avigdor Lieberman: They [Hamas] survived, they are in power and they continue to run the Gaza Strip. It was the third operation in the last five-and-a-half years and as long as Hamas remains in power it’s only a matter of time until we will launch the next operation because Hamas will impose on us the next operation.

JJ: Would it be different if the Palestinian Authority ran Gaza?

Lieberman: Israel never interferes in the domestic issues of any other country. It’s not our matter, it’s not our policy. Hamas fired rockets on Israel; Hamas kidnapped our teenage boys and it’s impossible to accept the reality when you have rockets on Tel Aviv or on Jerusalem or in the south of Israel. You cannot imagine rockets on L.A. or on New York. I don’t know any other country [that] would accept this reality. It’s not [a matter of] who’s in power in Gaza but [what matters is that there are] no military capabilities; no missiles; no tunnels.

JJ: If Hamas were toppled, then what?

Lieberman: It’s their choice, the choice of the people of Gaza to create the real peace or at least to create conditions of coexistence. Every country, every government — our first obligation is to provide security and safety for our citizens.

JJ: You said in your address to JNF that Israel’s PR is not good. What do you think is the reason?

Lieberman: I think it’s impossible for our budget. Because today it’s also first of all a matter of money. We devote very small money because we are facing too many challenges around the whole region — Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, ISIS. Everything is burning, we are in the midst of an ocean of bloodshed and violence. We have priorities but still despite … I think that we have succeeded to explain our position. Everybody knows the reason for the last operation; everything started with the kidnapping of the three boys and their execution. Hamas started with rockets on Israel; they used the civilian population as human shields.

JJ: Does it bother you that much of the international media view you as extreme right-wing and people like you as the cause of the conflict?

Lieberman: It’s impossible to handle all the prejudiced views with people that have their vision without any background. Even if I agree [with my critics] that I am a bad guy and radical and a settler and everything, why since the Oslo agreement [has peace not been achieved with] so many “good guys” in power? Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert … Ehud Barak was ready to divide Jerusalem and to evacuate all settlers. Sharon undertook the same process called disengagement; evacuated 21 settlements and we transferred more than 10,000 Jews — and what is the bottom line?

JJ: Do you not care that the sound bytes that you say to the media are then used around the world to basically hurt Israel’s image?

Lieberman: I don’t think so. I think that the best policy is to say the truth.

JJ: Are you concerned about the American-Israeli relationship? It has appeared to be very cold of late. Will it continue?

Lieberman: I think it’s a misunderstanding. It’s very stable. Our relations [have been] based since the first day on many, many factors. First of all we are sharing the same values and second, of course, it’s the ties between the Jewish community in Israel and [in America]; it’s strategic interest and military cooperation between the United States and Israel. At the end of the day Americans know that the ones they really can trust in all the Middle East, it’s only Israel.

JJ: Is there comfort within the Israeli government over the cooperation with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan?

Lieberman: [This is] the first time that the moderate Arab countries and leaders understand that the real threat for them is not Israel, is not Zionism and is not Jews — it’s the radical Islamic wing … What we’ve seen over the last meetings and discussions within [the] Arab League and between Arab leaders and the Western world — there are three issues. First of all it’s the Iranian threat, it’s [the] Muslim Brotherhood and [it’s] the spillover from the Syrian crisis.

JJ: Follwing Gaza do you have faith in the Prime Minister’s ability to lead the country?

Lieberman: First of all, he’s the leader and I supported him during the last election and during the coalition negotiations. I think I have a right to my opinion and of course he has a right to his opinion. He has a majority in cabinet and I respect the democratic decision. It’s impossible always to be with the majority in coalition government, especially when it’s a very complicated coalition.

What makes Rabbi Rick Jacobs tick?

In December, 5,000 Jews from around the country gathered in San Diego for the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Biennial conference. Overseeing it all was longtime pulpit rabbi-turned-URJ president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs. In these excerpts from an interview with the Journal, he talks about audacious hospitality, giving up his family’s business to pursue the rabbinate and why the Reform movement should have the same goals as Chabad.

In your 16-page address to the Biennial, you talked about a lot of positive things happening within the movement. What’s keeping you up at night? 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs: I’m a person much happier being asked what gets me up in the morning. But you can’t have your eyes open and see what’s going on in Jewish life if you don’t have deep concern — I do. But I like to channel worry into constructive, productive action. People sit around and worry, “Why don’t young people care about being Jewish?” I don’t want to spend five minutes thinking about that. I interact every day with people who do care, and I think our job is to discover and teach how we could all care more. 

Isn’t that avoiding reality a little bit?

RJ: Reality is the place where you start. At my first congregation, people would come up to me during the epidemic of homelessness on the streets of New York City and say, “What are you doing for the homeless?” I said, “You meant to ask, what are we doing for the homeless?” I said, “What are we doing? Zero. What could we do? Let’s put our thoughts together.” And we actually opened a homeless shelter — four nights a week, the homeless slept in our synagogue, in our social hall, for 30 years. 

Your concept of “audacious hospitality” is a theory of inclusion some have referred to as “big-tent Judaism.” But if the tent is open to anybody and everybody, what obligations or responsibilities does the tradition require in order to be “in”?

RJ: I would not say that the tent is infinite. There are things we don’t stand for. Once, when I was leading a bar mitzvah service, a very traditional group of people walked in wearing black fedoras — Orthodox Jews walking into a Reform synagogue — and one of the guys said to me, “Would it be OK if we just ask the women to sit on this side and the men on that side?” And I said, “I actually can’t do that.” I can give you a hundred examples of where we will not compromise who we are.

Do you think the URJ is leading today as it did in the past? 

RJ: We’ve been the backbone of social justice in America. One of my predecessors, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, carried a Torah scroll with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. Barack Obama spoke to our Biennial in D.C. two years ago and said, “I would not be the president of the United States were it not for the Religious Action Center that helped to blaze a trail. …” So we’ve been leading. And that’s not just talking about our role within Judaism — that’s our role in the community and in the world. When people say, “I want the Reform movement to stay focused on religion and not do all the political stuff,” I say, “You want to pull out social justice from Judaism? You can, but you basically don’t have Judaism left.” 

You come from a family with a long established business background. It was a different choice for you to go into the rabbinate. What called you? 

RJ: I grew up working for my parents’ furniture business, and their hopes, believe me, were that I would go into the business. I carry around my grandfather’s card in my pocket. When he was getting started in the furniture business, he developed a web of relationships that was so full of trust, integrity and warmth that when my mother’s sister’s husband died and she had to drive across country with kids, my grandfather gave my aunt one of these cards and said, “If you get into any kind of trouble, you go into any furniture store and you just show them this card and they will take care of you.” And my grandfather was not a boastful man; he actually knew that his good name — [Theodore Baumritter, a founder of the home furnishing company Ethan Allen Inc.] — was the thing that was most important. I carry that [card] around to remind me. I just couldn’t see myself being in the business world. I wanted to be a serious student of Judaism. 

What about Judaism so inspired you? 

RJ: Rabbi David Hartman was my mentor and teacher for 30 years. He’s the reason I became a rabbi. When I [spent] my junior year abroad at Hebrew University, he had just made aliyah, and he was teaching a class on Maimonides, Halevi and Spinoza. And I walked into this seminar, and here’s this Orthodox guy, running around the classroom — he is gesticulating; he is hysterically funny; he’s profound; he challenges everything I thought and assumed — and I’m just drawn in. When I told him I was going to become a Reform rabbi, I assumed he was going to be really angry, like, “Why did I waste my time with you?” But he was so proud. 

How did your family respond when you chose this path?

RJ: At first they were a little bit surprised; I was also a trained modern dancer. So my dad, who is a very funny man, said, “Rick, I just have to tell you something about these two possible career choices — the rabbinate and dance: You’ve got two losers here. You’re gonna be poor, and you’re gonna be frustrated. But it’s your life.” 

You have had the opportunity to venture deep into the core of your passions, and by contrast, some people see Reform Jews as wanting Judaism “lite.” Do you think a religious practice should be easy, accessible and accommodating, or rigorous and challenging? 

RJ: There has to be discipline to anything that’s artistic or spiritual. I’ve got this whole way of looking at Judaism whereby, basically, Orthodox Judaism is ballet and Reform Judaism is modern dance. And people think modern dancers don’t have technique, that they don’t work and sweat and really push. People think it’s just “whatever I feel, whenever I feel like doing it.” But I don’t think that’s Reform Judaism; I think that’s just people who haven’t experienced what it really is about. I have the exact same job as [Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, head of Chabad] — to take people wherever they are. You could be on the farthest shore — they’re going to bring you in.

You could argue, however, that while Chabad is very good at outreach, few people who attend their Shabbat dinners actually embrace Orthodox Judaism.

RJ: They’re not only thinking that their success is measured in people who become Orthodox. They want to ignite Jewish connection and responsibility. [The URJ] is working not just in congregations, but in the ecosystem called The Jewish People. Like Chabad, we want to have a bigger agenda: to shape a world of compassion, justice, joy and wholeness. And we do that by nurturing really serious religious communities. 

One criticism I’ve heard about you is that you rarely express vulnerability. So I wonder, what makes you feel truly vulnerable as a leader and as a human being? 

RJ: I was in Eastern Chad [with American Jewish World Service] visiting with Darfuri survivors, and you could barely keep from sobbing, it was so painful. And I was walking around [this camp], and all of a sudden, this kid got my hand. And he was not letting go. And the head of the refugee camp told me the kid’s story. So I said to the guy, “You know, we have a house in the suburbs … he could share a room [with my kids].” And the guy said, “Rabbi, that’s a lovely thought, but a very wrong-headed idea. Your job is to go home without him and make sure that he and all of his peers are going to be remembered.” Honestly, the feel of that kid’s hand was [with me] for years. If you’re not vulnerable in the world, and you don’t open your heart and feel the pain and say, “Is there anything I can do to help that pain?” then you’re not alive.

ADL raps rapper Kanye West for ‘classic anti-Semitism’ [VIDEO]

The Anti-Defamation League rapped rapper Kanye West over his off-the-cuff remarks in a radio interview that Jews and “oil people” are more well-connected than black people in general and President Obama in particular.

“If the comments are true as reported, this is classic anti-Semitism,” the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement.  “There it goes again, the age-old canard that Jews are all-powerful and control the levers of power in government.  As a celebrity with a wide following, Kanye West should know better.  We hope that he will take responsibility for his words, understand why they are so offensive, and apologize to those he has offended.”

For the record, here’s what West said:

Man, let me tell you something about George Bush and oil money and Obama and no money. People want to say Obama can’t make these moves or he’s not executing. That’s because he ain’t got those connections. Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don’t have the same connection as oil people.

“You know we don’t know nobody that got a nice house. You know we don’t know nobody with paper like that we can go to when we down. You know they can just put us back or put us in a corporation. You know we ain’t in situation. Can you guarantee that your daughter can get a job at this radio station? But if you own this radio station, you could guarantee that. That’s what I’m talking about.

Longtime West observers might suggest that these comments are just classic crazy Kanye rambling, a habit that occasionally has taken the rap impresario into some offensive places. Back in 2011, West drew criticism when he whined that his detractors looked at him as if he were Hitler. (The ADL seems to have steered clear of that Kanye kerfuffle.)

Still, West’s latest crazy comments provided an opportunity for some thoughtful punditry.

Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress agrees that West was engaging in stereotyping and takes issue with his premise. “The Presidency is as connected an office as exists anywhere in the world,” she writes.

But Rosenberg also suggests that there is a kernel of legitimate insight in West’s remarks. She suggests that West was giving voice to “a sense that there isn’t enough internal solidarity and self-help in African-American communities, in part because there aren’t enough black people in positions of power who can extend a hand up to the people who aspire to follow him.”

Nevertheless, Rosenberg concludes:

It’s one thing, though, to attempt to learn from the ways that other marginalized groups have built political and cultural power. And it’s another entirely to ascribe them with mystic powers of solidarity that paper over deep divisions and conflicts that do great harm to both members of the groups in question, and to people outside them. West may admire Jewish networking, but I doubt that he wants African-Americans to have the exact same experience of Jewish political organizations in the U.S., which haven’t exactly been conflict-free. Invoking some sort of monolithic Jewish authority isn’t just a bad idea because it’s a stereotype, and one that’s fueled hatred and suspicion of Jews for years. It’s a myth that obscures the difficulties of building political power and an enduring movement.

Tablet’s Adam Chandler, meanwhile, thinks West’s remarks were “ultimately harmless.” He writes:

But Kanye, who once declared himself “the Lyor Cohen of Dior Homme” (that’s Dior Homme, not Dior, homie) after the Israeli industry mogul, wasn’t just talking about Jewish power in music. He was talking about Jewish power in everything. Was it pernicious? Not entirely. Just last May we were talking about Vice-President Joe Biden’s oratorical contribution to Jewish Heritage Month, which raised some hackles because it was so laudatory of Jewish influence that it seemed to resemble the tropes of those who trade in conspiracies about Jewish power.

Discarding the fact that one does not become senator, POTUS, or editor of the Harvard Law Review without some contacts, this seems another inelegant but ultimately harmless utterance about Jews, which speaks to a popular perception that keeps some Chinese employers interested in hiring Jewish workers. For those who were fixating on the statement over Thanksgiving, I’ve got to ask, how you gonna be mad on vacation?

Q&A with Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom has succeeded in striking an important chord in all of us — the intrinsic human desire to discover what lies beyond, the need to believe that the way we conduct our lives matters and that “the end is not the end,” after all, but another beginning. These intertwined themes are evident in most of Albom’s best-selling books, which have sold more than 33 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 40 languages, each time rendered in an accessible style that belies the profound message his stories carry. 

Albom spoke with the Jewish Journal about his much-anticipated novel, “The First Phone Call From Heaven,” which Publishers Weekly has hailed as “another winner from Albom.” 


Jewish Journal: I’ll start our interview with the opening sentence of “The First Phone Call From Heaven”: “On the day the world received its first phone call from heaven, Tess Rafferty was unwrapping a box of tea bags.” 

Your decision to marry the most extraordinary event, a phone call from heaven, with the most ordinary act of unwrapping a box of tea bags, is an authorial act of genius that immediately draws the reader into the story. Did that come to you easily or after many edits? 

Mitch Albom: I could not have asked for a more precise reaction to that line — the most extraordinary thing and the most ordinary. It’s amazing how people skip right over that, and so I thank you for recognizing that. You don’t just start a book anywhere you feel like starting. 

I spend a lot of time thinking how to begin my books, because it puts me in the frame of mind I want to continue from. If I don’t start well, I never land where I want to go. I spent forever trying to figure out the first line of “Tuesdays With Morrie,” because it was such a big thing in my life. By the time the paragraph was over, you knew he was dying and teaching a course on the meaning of life. 

In “The First Phone Call From Heaven,” one of the themes is that miracles interweave themselves within every day of our lives. I thought it was a great juxtaposition to have that extraordinary thing (first call from heaven), with a mundane thing of life (opening a teabag). I thought, ‘OK, that works, that’s good.’ Usually, if I labor over it too long, then I have to throw it out because that means I’m forcing it. When it comes quickly, as that one did, I stick with it.


JJ: “The First Phone Call from Heaven” offers readers an added bonus, a page-turning mystery interwoven with fascinating facts about Alexander Graham Bell’s relationship with his deaf wife and how it led to the invention of the telephone. Was it difficult for you to make that leap into the realm of history and mystery?

MA: It was an accident. I was a fifth of the way into the book when I looked up how the phone was invented. The more I researched, the more fascinating the story of the telephone became. When I read that Bell’s first phone conversation was, “Come here, I want to see you,” I thought that paralleled my story. 


JJ: You mention that each of your books taught you something, “both in the writing and in the reaction.” What did “The First Phone Call From Heaven” teach you?

MA: The human voice and its preciousness. My mother suffered several strokes and lost her ability to speak. Once I lost that voice, I lost the biggest part of her, the essence. So, I created this story, which was the reverse of that; you get the voice back, even if you don’t get the body. 


JJ: If you could get one call from heaven, who would you like to be on the other line?

MA: I’d want it to be one of those phone calls where I could say, “Can you please pass the phone and give it to somebody else?” Because there are about 20 people I’d want to talk to.

But, the most interesting conversation would be with Morrie, because he died before one word of “Tuesdays” was written. I’ve always wondered whether he’d be happy that his words are now taught in schools all over the world. 


JJ: Did you work hard to master this accessible voice that makes your stories universally loved or did this style come to you naturally, perhaps because of the columns you write?

MA: Probably a bit of both. “Tuesdays” was a unique experience, because I wrote that book to pay for Morrie’s medical bills, and I plowed right into the idea without knowing what kind of book I’d make. While Morrie was still alive, I went around New York to find a publisher. Most said no, thinking it would be boring and depressing. I said, “I know I’m learning something very special and unique,” but I didn’t have the story fully formed in my head. When somebody finally agreed to publish it, I felt like I had done what I set out to do — pay his bills. 

After he died, I struggled with the beginning. Then I went to the attic and got out some of my old stuff from college. I found a stack of papers I’d turned in to Morrie; I took about eight classes with him. In the ’70s, a term paper had a specific style — didactic and stripped down. I thought that might be the way to approach writing this. Almost like a term paper. Any time I was being too maudlin or flowery, I’d edit myself. I thought, I don’t care how short it ends up, the story will tell itself. It served me well.


JJ: The transient quality of time looms large in your books. You mention that before writing “Tuesdays” you were “a harried, ambitious sportswriter who never spent five minutes thinking about mortality.” You are a sports writer, a radio host, a lyricist, pianist, producer, director, playwright and a philanthropist to boot. With all this on your plate, has your relationship with Father Time changed in the last 16 years since “Tuesdays”?

MA: The truth is, I don’t do anything full time. I still write for the newspaper, but mostly out of loyalty because they believed in me long before I was well-known. I’m happy to be a voice of the community — this is my home; this is where I live. And I’m off a few months a year from my radio program. So I’m not as impressive as you make me out to be. 

I do a lot but keep things in their place and protect what’s precious to me. I get up and turn on the coffee maker, say a few prayers, come down to my little office and write. I don’t take any phone calls; I don’t read any newspapers; I don’t watch the news; I don’t turn on the television. There’s no input of any kind between that cup of coffee and the three hours of creative writing I have in me each day. Then, I come back upstairs and turn the phones back on and begin my life.

To answer the question about my relationship with time, I’m very aware of our mortality and very grateful to be alive. I don’t take any of that for granted. One common behavior of almost everybody in America is that we take time for granted. So, if my books can be a bit of a reminder of the importance of time, then maybe there’s some value to them. 


JJ: Although you never portray death in a negative light in your book, I imagine it might still be difficult or depressing to write about.

MA: I don’t feel that I write about death. I use death as a reflector of life: time, family relationships, faith, finding meaning in your work and this one about miracles. So, there’s no reason for me to be depressed. 


JJ: Tell us something about Mitch Albom that will surprise us.

MA: I’m a huge Elvis Presley movie fan, the early movies. They’re corny, but always happy, and reflective of an innocent time. Every now and then Elvis picks up a guitar; it’s not even plugged in, and he starts playing and it manages to work.


JJ: You were raised by observant parents, attended Akiba Hebrew Academy in Lower Merion, Penn. How does Judaism inform your writing?

MA: That’s an interesting question. Some of the earliest stories and storytelling I was exposed to were biblical stories with a message, as opposed to just entertaining. I must have gravitated to those stories early on. Even Yiddish proverbs always have a point about life. Almost everything that you hear through Judaism has some kind of message. 


JJ: When you get to heaven, what would you like to hear God say to you?

MA: I would want to hear God say, “You were pure of heart and you did things for the right reasons.” 

Dora Levy Mossanen is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels “Harem,” “Courtesan,” and T”he Last Romanov,” which have been translated into numerous languages.  She is a regular contributor to the Jewish Journal and the Huffington Post. Her widely anticipated novel, “Scent of Butterflies,” will be released in January of 2014.

The Gospel according to Aslan [Q&A]

Reza Aslan, author of the best-selling “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” spoke with Jewish Journal book editor Jonathan Kirsch by phone from Portland, Ore., where Aslan was part of a national book tour. This interview took place just a few days after Aslan’s attention-getting appearance on Fox News.

Jonathan Kirsch: Did you feel some trepidation, not only as a Muslim, but as a public figure who has taken on the role of explaining the Islamic world to Westerners, in writing a book about Jesus?

Reza Aslan: Honestly, not in the slightest. It’s true that I have made a name for myself in writing and talking about Islam. That’s the religion that people most want to talk about nowadays, but that’s not my educational background. My background is in the study of religions, and especially Western religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. “Zealot” is a book that I had intended to write all along. I understood that some people would regard it as an attack on Christianity. But I had already written a book about Islam that overturns a lot of orthodoxies, “No god But God,” and I was prepared.

JK: The Fox News interviewer seemed to assume Christian readers would resent the fact that a Muslim writer has dared to point out the difference between, as you put it, “the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history.” Has that turned out to be true?

RA: One of the very interesting things that has happened as a result of this book is the response I have gotten from Christian readers who, for the first time, realized what it meant to say, as orthodox Christianity does, that Jesus is fully God and fully human. When you go to church, all you hear about is the “fully God” part. To think about the Gospel story as though it was written about a person, rather than a god, is to open up a whole new level of spiritual understanding. I have had numerous e-mails and conversations with Christian readers that this book on Jesus the man has actually strengthened their faith in Jesus Christ.


Lance Armstrong and the disease of wild narcissism and ruthless ambition

Lance Armstrong proved surprisingly poor at backpedaling. His stone-faced, reluctant regret made many who watched the interview wonder if this was an illness. Why did this man mow down associates, besmirch employees, lie, cheat and bully his way to the top of a sport he is now insouciantly tearing down around him?

One way to understand disease is to map its contagion. So let’s look for Armstrong’s ailment throughout our society. In sports, Barry Bonds was headed for the hall of fame. But that was not enough. So the year Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a (steroid fueled) home run derby, Bonds began to dope as well. Five neck sizes later, his head swelled in every literal and metaphorical sense, people began to suspect. Of course Bonds was not alone; he is just a standout in a widespread scandal of those for whom good enough was not good enough. A keen diagnostician begins to detect signs of Armstrong illness.

Corporations are another place to look. CEOs now command salaries not twice as much as workers, which used to be the case, but 20, 30 and even 40 times as much. Even with this steroidal salary rage, there have been a string of indictments for misdeeds on Wall Street, because apparently hundreds of millions of dollars are no disincentive to cheating to make money.

The disease is a compound of wild narcissism and ruthless ambition. It threads its way unchecked through our social and political life. Music is a fertile breeding ground: Songs that once spoke of yearning or searching have turned increasingly to boasting and strutting. Awards shows proliferate as self-celebration becomes the preferred mode of public presentation. Turn on the radio at random: The socially conscious ode has given way to the sexually flamboyant shout-out. Sometimes it seems that the whole world is doing an end zone dance.

The illness is not ambition. Ambition is the engine that drives achievement. But Armstrong and Wall Street and sports figures and so many other areas parade before our weary eyes the wreckage of ruthless ambition. The greater good is a sucker’s succor feeding the individual good. Why don’t I want a background check if I sell a gun individually? Because it is me, that’s why! Any infringement on my autonomy, no matter how considerable the benefit to society, violates the code of ruthlessness that dictates that my good supersedes others. Ego needs are their own justification. The new motto is Ego ergo sum.

The biblical counterexample is worth remembering. When God chose Moses to lead the Jewish people, it was not because Moses leapt in the air, in the manner of Shrek’s donkey, yelling “Pick me! Pick me!” Rather Moses repeatedly protested his unworthiness. His humility qualified him for leadership. Self-effacement no longer gains traction in our age of wild narcissism. Television ads proclaim the perfection of each candidate. Our candidate is ideal and our positions unassailable. Partisan unwillingness to concede any wisdom to the other side reminds us of the great axiom of the age: anyone else’s triumph diminishes me.

As income disparities rise and social mobility freezes, good fortune is reinterpreted as merit. I am on the top of the heap not because I was born with certain attributes to certain parents but rather because I am, quite obviously, great. There was a generation (think the Kennedys, the Bushes) when enviable advantages of birth were a call to public service. Jacob Astor, one of the richest men of his day, deliberately stayed on the Titanic as it sank to give way on the lifeboats to women and children. How many modern hedge-fund tycoons would emulate him? Now riches are a call to steroidal self-regard. In the storm of the “I” no community can exist. We are alone together.

Lance Armstrong is the ugly face of American exceptionalism. This blessed country became prosperous with the ethic of individual work benefitting the larger community. Teamwork overrode stardom; the soloist paid obeisance to the band; public service was about being vessels, not victors. Now the plural is invoked to evade responsibility; so Armstrong cannot recalled who “we sued” as though he was part of the law firm of Armstrong and cannot be expected to remember all the small fish caught up in the netting of his litigation.

This spells trouble. The prophet Micah’s advice for life: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God, no longer tracks for our children. To do deals, to love spotlights and to swagger self-importantly – that is more near the lesson they are learning. Such lessons come with consequences.

At the founding of the republic Ben Franklin put it crisply: We must all hang together, he said, or we will all hang separately. The gallows may be gilded but wise old Ben is still right. Our greatness, after all, is dependent on our goodness. 

Rabbi David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple.

Is there a place in religious life for marijuana? Ask Yoseph Needelman

After graduating from a Modern Orthodox high school in New York, 30-year-old author Yoseph Needelman moved to Jerusalem to explore the use of marijuana in Jewish tradition. For eight years he bounced around religious institutions, interviewing spiritual leaders to find out if there was indeed a place for drugs in the Jewish world.

The result of his research is compiled in “Cannabis Chassidis,” a book that explores the Jewish use of marijuana. The book was published originally in 2009 under Needelman's pen name, Yoseph Ibn Mordachya.

With Colorado and Washington having recently voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, popular views of the drug are rapidly evolving. Needelman’s book may find an audience among those seeking religious and practical advice on the use of marijuana.

JTA caught up with Needelman while he was on a book tour in America.

JTA: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to write this book?

Yoseph Needelman: I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and went to Modern Orthodox day schools. I went to Israel after high school to find things in Judaism that I felt must have been part of ancient traditions of how to live well, notably cannabis. I was introduced to drinking in a religious context, but relating to marijuana [religiously] was a big question for me. If the Torah is a religious framework that guides us in enjoying everything that is good, it must relate to other things I connected with, like pot or yoga.

I wrote this book because I think kids need advice and counsel on doing drugs that they are going to do anyways. If they are smoking pot and taking other drugs, they need to know how to do it effectively. My book discusses how to do those things in a helpful, effective and responsible way. That might include noticing the point where you don’t need a particular drug anymore.

Why do you think religious institutions have a negative outlook on drugs like marijuana?

Judaism is defined by its certain rejections. It is designed to protect us from foreign ecstasies and bad habits. I think here in America, certain Western values became the law, and they reject smoking and using herbs for a bunch of reasons. Judaism, which emerged from the ashes of Jerusalem's survivors, the people who were able to make themselves seem most unthreatening to the state, demands that its successful leaders not threaten anyone, especially not the state, so it’s become taboo. Marijuana is not identified as being especially Jewish, even though a lot of big rebbes traditionally were associated with it.

Where is it written that Chasidim use drugs, and who are some of the famous ones?

The Vilna Gaon [an 18th century rabbi and opponent of Chasidism] wrote in his cheirim, or writ of excommunication, that Chasidim are untrustworthy because they dance, sing and smoke. Some famous rabbis that sound like they used drugs were Rabbi Yisroel Ben Eliezer, or Ba’al Shem Tov, the father of the Chasidic movement. A Baal Shem/Doktor is someone who picked wild grasses and barks, and made medicines out of them which he would sell, along with advice on how to use [them] properly. He used to smoke from a water pipe to experience an “aliyat neshama,” or ascension of the soul.

His biographer, Rabbi Yakov Yosef of Polonoye, said that he would give his entire portion in this world, and in the world to come, just for a taste of what the Ba’al Shem Tov got from his pipe.

Rabbi Israel Friedman of Ruzhyn used to smoke a pipe, too, and fill up the entire room before Shabbat. He would open a window and say, “These are the clouds of the week leaving, and the clouds of Shabbos are coming in.” Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev used to smoke a pipe before he prayed.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who came much later, was actually opposed to drugs, but he would smoke occasionally [in order to gain trust] by the people who were already on a high level of spiritual awareness and curiosity. Carlebach, however, was always frustrated by the sense of dependence the group had on it.

Was marijuana ever used for Jewish practices?

In Exodus 30:23, it talks about the anointing oils and there’s an ingredient called “knei bosem.” [The 11th century commentator] Rashi says it is “important,” and the Ramban explains in greater detail that the ingredient is “universally valued, in every country, and every empire.” Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a later redactor, gives over other opinions, one which is this ingredient is marijuana because it was globally popular, especially in traditions of lands like Yemen and Morocco.

Are there any biblical references to psychedelic use?

There is an opinion circulating amongst some academics and theoreticians lately that the Jews in the desert [experienced hallucinations] from the matzah they ate. Matzah was unbaked, raw, rye dough that was carried around and slowly cooked in the sun. It went through a process called St. Elmo’s fire, where their food turned into psychoactive substances, causing the entire nation to start hallucinating. The text alludes to these hallucinations when it talks about the splitting of the sea, like the nation seeing the skies crashing down on the Egyptians or seeing visions of all their ancestors. The text also talks about hallucinations when the Jews received the Torah, how they saw the voices and heard the lightning. Eventually the hallucinations got too overwhelming and the priests had to intervene.

In your book, do you talk about using drugs for a spiritual experience?

No, I don’t like when people say that. The drugs don’t create a spiritual experience. Maybe the intentions of why you are using can be spiritual. But pot alienates you from your responsibilities and needs. It’s not like alcohol that makes you feel warm. But then again, marijuana is the least dangerous drug — the worst thing it can do is make you lose track of your priorities.

What are the benefits of marijuana? 

The main advice I suggest are a few things. The best framework for smoking pot is when you are on your own and you have an activity to focus on. It’s also good to be in a small group of people that you really love. It’s also really important to make sure that smoking pot won’t become a problem for you, and that it won’t keep you from noticing what’s really important.

The good effects are that it [can give] a sense of peace of what’s going on around you. It can help you break down daunting issues that might be on your mind and help you process things more easily. Weed is also great for praying, especially if you’re not in a hurry. And of course, the best way to use it, spiritually, is to share it with someone.

Do you think people’s view on pot will change now that efforts to legalize its use are gaining momentum?

Honestly, I don’t know. Historically, Chasidim never cared much about what was legal and not legal. I’m not sure if people will change their view on it. I’d love to watch and see. But the people who are interested in using marijuana in a good way are already doing it. They are already aware of the powers and limitations of these things, so I’m not sure how things will change. But things will change, and the more people know how to take responsibility for being awesome and whole, the more we all can't help but to change for the better eventually. L'chayim!

Shalit gives first interview in Israel since release

Gilad Shalit in his first interview in Israel since his release spoke of how he passed the time in captivity and his sense of great “relief” upon being set free.

Israel's Channel 10 played excerpts from the interview, undertaken near the first anniversary of Shalit's release by Hamas in a prisoner exchange from his more than five-year captivity in the Gaza Strip. The full interview will be broadcast in coming days, according to Channel 10.

Shalit, who was an Israeli soldier when he was taken captive, said he played board games with himself and made a basketball out of socks that he aimed at the wastebasket. He said he also drew maps — of the country, of his community and of his favorite places — so he would not forget them.

Speaking of his release, Shalit said he felt a sense of great “relief” when he crossed into Egypt and that he was disconcerted by the “flurry” of people around him after only seeing a few people for nearly six years. Shalit said he felt a lot of “pressure” during the trip from where he was hidden to the Rafah border before being set free.

He added wryly that when he was forced to be interviewed on Egyptian television, the interviewer was the first woman he had seen since being taken captive.

Read a translation of the full interview on the Israelife blog.

Netanyahu: ‘It’s not about elections in America, but centrifuges in Iran’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dedicates much of his time to thinking about how to handle the Iranian nuclear issue, considering it a rapidly approaching existential threat. Not surprisingly, it was also the main topic of a wide-ranging interview he gave with Israel Hayom before Rosh Hashanah. Here is what the Israeli leader had to say:

IH: What did you say, and what did you hear, in your recent conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama?

Benjamin Netanyahu: “It was a good conversation that revolved around significant issues and our desire to prevent Iran from progressing any further with their military nuclear program. It is natural to have disagreements. Israel is closer [to Iran] and more vulnerable. The U.S. is big, far away, and less vulnerable. Naturally we have diverging views on certain things. In the face of a threat like Iran’s nuclear armament, I believe that it is important that the international community set a clear red line. Iran has taken obvious steps in recent years and months toward developing nuclear weapons capability.”

Do you believe Obama when he says, “We will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons”?

“I’m certain that he means what he says, just as the Europeans mean it when they say it and the same way we mean it when we say it. But the question is how to achieve this in a practical fashion—that is what we discussed. This is the main issue affecting our future. Naturally, a prime minister should be looking out for Israel’s essential interests. I do so in conversations with world leaders and in public remarks.”

It appears as though you are currently in conflict with Obama. Is Israel in conflict with the U.S.?

“It is not a conflict. It is a question of emphasis on Israel’s interests, and that is the responsibility of the prime minister of Israel. I have been saying these things for 16 years.

“At first I was almost the only one warning against this danger, and then others joined me. I called for sanctions on Iran and I was nearly alone in that call, but then others joined me. I was the first one to demand red lines, and maybe I am alone at this time, but I believe that others will soon join me.

“A prime minister’s and a leader's duty is to insist on the things that are essential to Israel's security, even when it is not easy, and even when there is criticism, and even when there is no immediate agreement on everything.

“If, over the last 16 years, I had listened to the advice of all those people who told me that this or that is ‘unacceptable’ or that ‘now is not the right time’ or ‘wait until the circumstances shift in your favor,’ I don’t know if we would have made it this far. I was able to contribute to the establishment of a global coalition against Iran. We are encumbering Iran’s economy, but we have not yet reached the main objective: stopping Iran's nuclear program. And Iran is getting ever closer to achieving its own objective. That is why I am saying things in the most responsible, thought-out, measured way possible—to our American friends as well—that we have a common goal: stopping the Iranians.”

When you make remarks to the Americans in such a blunt way, doesn’t it cause damage?

“I’m not saying things in a blunt way, but in an honest way, just the facts. I can make nice and word things delicately, but our existence is at stake. This is our future. We’re talking about a historic junction that has profound meaning. These are not just words and I am not exaggerating. That is what I have done, and that is what I will continue to do.”

The U.S. is in the midst of an election year. There are allegations that you are intervening and impacting the elections.

“That is complete nonsense. The only thing guiding me is not the U.S. elections but the centrifuges in Iran. It is not my fault that the centrifuges aren’t more considerate of the Americans’ political timetable. If the Iranians were to hit the ‘pause’ button and stop enriching uranium and building a bomb until the end of the elections in the U.S.—then I could wait.

“But they are not waiting. They are progressing. The things that I am saying have to do with events in Iran, not events in the U.S. The desire to stop Iran is common to all Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike. There is no distinction in the desire to stop this thing. It is my duty as the prime minister of Israel, when I see Iran’s nuclear program barreling forward, to say the things that I think are necessary to ensure the future of the State of Israel. It has nothing to do with American politics.”

What needs to happen for Israel to shift from talk to action?

“I don’t think that there is any point in going into that.”

How long before Iran reaches the zone of immunity?

“Every day that goes by brings Iran closer to its goal.”

Is there a disagreement with the U.S. over that assessment?

“I don’t think that there are big gaps in our assessments of the point at which Iran will complete its preparations. The question is when action needs to be taken, not so much in terms of the date, but more in terms of the process: when Iran will reach a point beyond which it will be extremely difficult to stop. Obviously our answer to that question is different from that of the U.S. because there is a difference in our capabilities. But time is running out for the U.S. too.”

Is Israel facing Iran alone?

“I am doing everything in my power to turn everyone against Iran. We are safeguarding our ability to act on our own in the face of any threat to our security and our future. The entire world is besieging Iran, financially speaking, and we should encourage that.

“A large part of the world has enlisted to the cause and answered our call. There is an international framework to press Iran, but we still can't say that, despite all the real difficulties imposed on Iran’s economy, it is stopping Iranian aspirations. I see both sides of the equation, but I’m not satisfied with just one.”

Is Israel prepared for an attack on the homefront?

“We are living in the missile age, which we entered during the Gulf War. There has been a decades-long gap in preparedness. An entire generation has gone by without proper homefront preparations. I take this issue very seriously, and I hold meetings on homefront preparedness every other week. I am personally involved in the matter. In the same way that I was personally involved in building the fence in Sinai [along the Israeli-Egyptian border], which has stopped infiltrators, thus, here, we are also working methodically.

“We can’t protect every point in Israel, but we can protect most of it. One of the things that has made me very happy is the fact that the Iron Dome [missile interceptor system] has become operational. It was a decision I made during my term, and the results have been good.”

“But it is important to remember this: You can protect from missiles in one way or another, but there is one thing there is no protection from: the atom bomb. The only thing that can protect us is preventing it from becoming a reality in the hands of the enemy. And, of course, we have to clarify to anyone who ever considers attacking Israel with weapons of mass destruction that he does so at his own peril.”

It looks as though housing prices in Israel have begun climbing again, despite various government measures. Will there be additional measures to bring housing prices down?

“According to the data I have, housing prices have risen by 1.8 percent since the beginning of the year. That is far less than in previous years. Prices are too high, in my opinion, and we are working to increase the supply of apartments. The current supply stands at 80,000 units. That is why the sharp price hike has leveled out. But we want more. Opening up the main routes on the highways will help. What was once considered to be in the periphery will no longer be in the periphery. Using the freeway you can get [to central Israel] in a short time and you can afford a house with a yard. You have to leave Gush Dan [central Israel] and then you can see the revolution. Even inside Gush Dan you can see the revolution.”

You have been blamed for the collapsing communications market: for involvement, or inaction, in saving Channel 10 and the collapse of the Maariv newspaper.

“Funny that no such allegations were made when industrial plants were forced to close down. I don't think that we, as a government, can or should intervene in the communications market. If we do we will be accused of the opposite—people will say that we are controlling the media by providing assistance to this or that media outlet. There is a real problem in the market. It is simply too small to support the number of media outlets that exist. I hope that all the channels and newspapers find a way to survive, but the government can't do everything.”

When should we expect Israeli general elections?

“Sometime in 2013.”

Read the full interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the Israel Hayom website at http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=5813

An interview with Ayelet Shaked

With the run-up to the first-ever internal primaries for the Jewish Home Party (Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi) in full steam, one of the most hotly discussed issues is the candidacy of 36-year old Ayelet Shaked.

The co-founder and former chairman of the MyIsrael (Yisrael Sheli) national movement, the recipient of the 2012 Abramowitz Israeli Prize for Media Criticism and a close associate of Naftali Bennett – the two worked together in the office of Benjamin Netanyahu prior to the 2009 elections – Shaked is raising some eyebrows due to the fact that she, unlike Bennett, is a self-declared secularist.

Thus while Naftali Bennett is seen as taking on the old guard in his bid to become the new chairman of the Jewish Home Party, Ayelet Shaked is facing an equally difficult task in attempting to become the first secular member of Knesset for a party that was formerly known as the National Religious Party (Mafdal).  While no one doubts her strong pro-Israel credentials, not surprisingly the voices are divided within the national religious world regarding a secular candidate for a traditionally religious party.

After reading much about her in the Hebrew press, I decided to meet with her in a Tel Aviv café in order to get an up close impression of this up and coming star.

Yoel Meltzer (YM): You grew up in Northern Tel Aviv, not exactly the breeding ground for future right-wing stars.  This being the case, from where did you acquire your strong connection to many of the ideals of the religious Zionist world?

Ayelet Shaked (AS): I think originally a bit came from my home.  My mother was a teacher of Bible in Tel Aviv and my father was masoriti (traditional).  Every Saturday we went to synagogue and we made kiddush.  However, since the discussions at home tended to stay away from politics most of my political views I eventually developed myself.

Later on when I was in the army I served in the Golani and I became close friends with many religious Zionist soldiers.  This in turn strengthened my ideology.  I also spent part of my army time in Hebron and became friends with many people there, which also had an influence.  But overall most of my political views I just developed on my own.

YM: Was there any one person or a particular event that had a profound influence in shaping your world outlook and political views?

AS: Yes.  I remember when I was very young, perhaps 8-years old, I saw a debate between Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Shamir and I really liked Shamir.  So I think since then, even though I was just a child, I’ve considered myself right-wing.

YM: Before you announced your intention to run in the primaries of the Jewish Home party, did you expect the reaction your candidacy has triggered?

AS: I must admit most of the people are very warm and happy with my candidacy.  I receive many emails and messages in Facebook, people saying we support you and we’re very glad you’re with us.  They’re in favor of opening the divides and having real cooperation between different people in Israel.  I’ve also met many yeshiva students who have told me that their rabbis are very excited that I’m getting involved since they’ve been waiting for years for the party to stop being a closed one-sector party.  So overall I really believe that those who are opposed to my entering the party are a minority.

Having said that, I definitely expected there would be some opposition and I understand it.  I realize that my presence within the party makes some people uncomfortable.

YM: Have you been contacted by any of the rabbis or public leaders who are opposed to your candidacy on the grounds that you’re secular?

AS: No, none of them have contacted me directly.

YM: If one of them were to contact you, what would you say to him?

AS: First of all it’s his right and I respect that. Even though we may have different views we need to respect each other.  Nevertheless I would tell him that if we want to have a large party to the right of Netanyahu, one that is based on the Bible and Jewish values, then the party needs to be opened to secular and traditional Jews that identify with the values of the religious Zionist community.

I truly believe that if they open their heart and open their mind to cooperate with other people that share the same values, then we can have a big party.  Otherwise the party will continue with three mandates.

YM: Do you feel offended by their opposition or take it personal?

AS: No, this is politics.  I don’t take it personal.  As I told you I respect their view and it’s also a legitimate view.

YM: Given all of the above, why on earth are you getting involved davka in the Jewish Home Party?  Do you really need the headache?!

AS: I’m doing this because I believe in it.  I have many close friends who are religious Zionists and I think if we can be good friends, work together and serve in the army together, then there is no reason we should not be part of the same party.  Moreover, since we believe in the same values and hold similar opinions then I think we should go fight for them in the Knesset.

YM: It’s better to do this via the Jewish Home Party than via the Likud?

AS: It’s a dilemma.  I was a Likud member for many years.  The problem in the Likud is that every leader takes the Likud to the left.  It wasn’t easy for me to take this step.

YM: Okay, now that you’ve decided to go full steam ahead, what are the burning issues you’d like to address if and when you become a member of Knesset?

AS: The first item is to develop a strong Jewish identity in all of the Jews in Israel.  This needs to be part of the education system, not just in the religious schools but in the school of my son as well.  When Zevulun Hammer was the Minister of Education there was a specific department responsible for the Jewish identity in the schools. This needs to be reestablished.

I’m also already very involved, personally and via MyIsrael, in all the issues regarding the post-Zionist organizations and their attempt to change Israel from a Jewish democratic state to a “nation of all its citizens”.  So if I become a member of Knesset I want to be involved in hasbara (public diplomacy) in Israel and around the world in order to expose the intentions of some of the extreme left-wing organizations and stop their penetration into the country.  These organizations are involved in a wide range of anti-Israel activities such as the delegitimization of IDF soldiers, divestment of Israel around the world and aid for what they call African refugees even though most are in fact infiltrators.

Finally I’d like to encourage women to go out and work, to become involved in the business world, in public life or whatever they want.  Of course I’m only talking about women that want to do this.  I have friends who prefer to stay at home and raise their kids and I respect this.  But regarding those who want to work and have a career we need to find ways to enable this.

YM: Even if you should succeed in addressing these issues, what other areas of Israeli society need to be changed in order for Israel to become more in line with the type of country you’d like it to be?

AS: First of all I want to say that I believe Israel is a miracle and I think we’re a very healthy country.  We have a strong economy, a high level of mutual concern compared to other countries and overall there is a lot of good here.

The most important thing we need to do to make it even better is to reduce the socioeconomic gaps in the society.  This needs to be done through the education system so that a child in the periphery will have the same opportunities like a child in my Tel Aviv neighborhood.

YM: Let’s change the subject to Naftali Bennett.  After meeting a few years ago while working together in Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, when did the two of you decide to join forces in trying to make an impact in Israel?

AS: After both of us left Netanyahu’s office we tried to decide what is the best thing to do; to go back to the private sector or to remain in public life?  Personally I strongly admire the private sector and I told Naftali many times that if you can establish a big company that can create thousands of jobs, do it.  It’s one of the most important things in life to provide someone with a job.

For many months we continued debating this subject until Naftali decided that he wanted to devote his life to the people of Israel and that the best way to do this is through the public sector.  So he went to work with the Yesha Council and I returned to the private sector.

It was at this time, on the side from our new jobs, that we jointly created together the MyIsrael national movement. 

YM: What exactly is the MyIsrael movement?

AS: It’s a national movement of about 100,000 people that are mainly right-wing and share the same values and ideas.  There are so many people that want to be involved and give of themselves for various causes yet they don’t want to stop their lives.  So MyIsrael is a way, via the internet and Facebook, to activate these people for certain issues.  In many ways we’re like a large lobby group.  For instance we’ve pressured Knesset members to pass certain laws, we fought a campaign against Galei Tzahal (Israel Army Radio) and their predominately left-leaning agenda in order to have more balance in their programs and we stopped some boycotts of Israel.  Believe me, when 20,000 emails are sent to someone overseas who wants to boycott Israel he’s going to think twice.

YM: In addition to you and Naftali, who are the other members of your group that are trying to get in to the Jewish Home Party?

AS: First of all there is Rabbi Ronsky, the former chief rabbi of the IDF.  He actually hasn’t made up his mind if he wants to be a candidate but he’s very involved with us.  He shares the same views as us and believes it’s very important that religious and non-religious work together.  Naftali introduced him to me a few months ago and he’s actually the one who pushed me into this.  We’ve become very close and the three of us, Naftali, Rabbi Ronsky and myself, speak every day.

In addition there is Moti Yogev, the former Secretary General of Bnei Akiva, and Dr Yehuda David, the Israeli physician who fought for the truth in the Mohammed al-Dura story.

Of course there is also current MK Uri Orbach who was very instrumental in convincing Naftali to get involved and run for the chairman of the party.

YM: Regarding Rabbi Ronsky, is he a sort of spiritual advisor providing guidance to you and Naftali?

AS: He’s much more than just spiritual.  He’s working very hard, going to chugei bayit (parlor meetings), giving interviews and basically doing everything that I do.  Personally I really admire him.

YM: What does he have to say about all the controversy regarding your candidacy? Has he spoken to you about it?

AS: Sure, he’s spoken to me many times about the issue and he encouraged me to run in the primaries.  He’s so against the splitting up into separate sectors.

YM: What would happen if you receive a top spot in the primaries but Naftali loses in his bid to become the chairman of the party?  Do you think the party has a chance of making a real impact without Naftali as the leader?

AS: No, I don’t think so.  Without Naftali we’ll probably just get a few mandates.  Although personally I’ll still run it would be very sad if Naftali is not with us.

YM: On a technical note, what happens to the two candidates (out of a total of three – Naftali Bennett, Zevulun Orlev, Daniel Hershkowitz) who lose in the election for the party chairman?  Are they guaranteed a spot in the party or are they out of for good?

AS: They’re not guaranteed a spot but they can run in the list since the election for the head of the party is one week before the election for the rest of the list.  Therefore if someone wins by a big margin and there is no need for a second round, then the two that lose can run in the list with everyone else.  By the way, Orlev and Hershkowitz said that if they lose the election for the head of the party they’re not going to run in the list.

YM: I recently read that an internal committee of the Jewish Home Party decided to lower the amount of candidates that voters can choose in the primaries from five to three.  In comparison to the Likud primaries of 2008 where members were allowed to choose 12 candidates for a general list as well as a few more for regional spots and new immigrants, these numbers are ridiculously low.  They’re also lower than the 2008 Labor primaries where members chose between 5-8 candidates for a national list.

Why then, following the warmly received decision to finally open up the party to primaries, are they going in the opposite direction?  Do you think there are certain people that are trying to prevent your group from getting in?

AS: First of all I respect the tremendous effort of Rabbi Tropper to bring primaries to the party and I also respect the work of the committee.  However in this issue I think they made a mistake.  Although people were definitely pushing them, in the end it was their decision.  They said that it’s for the good of the party in that it will prevent the formation of internal groups.

Nevertheless, we asked for a revote of this decision since many voters are not happy with it.  Obviously most voters want to choose more than just three candidates.

YM: Let’s assume that everything goes as planned and one day Naftali becomes the Prime Minister of Israel.  If this were to happen, what would be your dream role?  Would you like to serve as his Foreign Minister?  Or perhaps Defense Minister or Finance Minister would suit you better?

AS: I think I’d like to be either Education Minister or Foreign Minister since both education and hasbara are close to my heart.  Then again, if Naftali becomes Prime Minister I think I can retire and enjoy life!

Yoel Meltzer is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem.  He can be contacted via http://yoelmeltzer.com.

No business like the news business: Aaron Sorkin on ‘Newsroom’

Aaron Sorkin, the playwright, television writer and Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Social Network,” is causing a stir with his new HBO series, “The Newsroom,” about the inside antics of a cable news show and its commentary on American journalism. Sorkin’s “The West Wing” and “Sports Night,” among others, have earned the veteran show creator a reputation for intense examinations of institutional milieus — government, sports and now the news industry. He’s also distinguished himself through his style of writing, famous for its prolix dialogue, withering wit and moral idealism, for which he ranks among the most literary of Hollywood writers. In an e-mail interview, Sorkin expounded on the journalism he trusts, how he copes with bad reviews and the unique rewards of having a daughter.

Read more at jewishjournal.com/hollywoodjew.

Seth Rogen waltzes to a dramatic beat in new movie [Q & A]

He’s better known for big studio comedies like “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”, but Seth Rogen strays from his beaten path when he stars in the low-budget comedy-drama “Take This Waltz.”

Directed by Canadian actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley, and opening in U.S. theaters on Friday, the movie sees Rogen starring opposite Michelle Williams, who is better known for dramatic roles in films like “Blue Valentine”.

Rogen plays a cookbook author with an alcoholic sister (Sarah Silverman) who doesn’t seem to notice that his wife (Williams) has fallen for the handsome artist (Luke Kirby) that lives across the street.

Rogen, 30, talked with Reuters about working with Williams, and his upcoming directorial debut in “The End of the World”.

Reuters: “Take This Waltz” is about a woman’s marriage failing because she’s in love with someone else. Not exactly a subject matter you’re associated with. How did this project come about?

Seth Rogen: “I’m not one of those actors where filmmakers that I admire ask me to be in their movies. I meet them at parties and they’re nice to me, but they never ask me to work with them. Sarah Polley is one of the first filmmakers that I’ve really liked that asked me.”

R: There is no trace here of the man-child roles you often play in your other movies. It’s probably your most serious role to date, wouldn’t you say?

S.R.: “It’s probably closer to what I am in real life. I think I’m one of those people that when fans meet, they’re often very disappointed because I’m kind of quiet and shy. I think they expect me to have one of those hats with two beer cans strapped to my head and strippers on either side of me. So it was nice to do something where I didn’t have to be really funny all the time.”

R: How did you enjoy working with Michelle Williams?

S.R.: “She was very impressive. A lot of our scenes were emotionally demanding. The emotional turmoil that actors put themselves through at the drop of a hat is not the type of stuff I normally do.”

R: We seem to know more about Michelle Williams’ character than yours. What’s the back story you gave him?

S.R.: “I think a lot of people aggressively stay stagnant, almost like a gauntlet that’s thrown down. For Lou, the test of the relationship is ‘Can we not change.’ He thinks if it’s strong enough to not change, that means it’s strong enough to last. But that’s not realistic or how real relationships are.”

R: You’re currently making your feature directorial debut with writing partner Evan Goldberg on the comedy “The End of the World” that you also star in. How do you like directing?

S.R.: “It was a little daunting because the movie itself is technically complicated. The story is something we’ve been working on for years and years. There have been several moments where I feel like, ‘I can’t believe we pulled this off!’ But those wonderful moments have been shattered by the stress of ‘We’re not going to finish what we need to shoot in time!’”

R: In that film, everybody plays a heightened version of themselves. You’ve got a lot of your friends in there like James Franco, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel. But also people like Rihanna and Emma Watson who seem unlikely to hang with your crowd in real life.

S.R.: “It’s James Franco’s party in the movie. And the truth is, sometimes you go to a party and you can’t believe who’s there…I’ve had random famous people show up at my parties where I’m like, ‘What the heck is this person doing here?’ That’s what we wanted to tap in to.”

R: How did you nab Rihanna?

S.R.: “I read in an interview once that she was a fan of some of our movies. When we were working on this film, we thought, ‘She seems not to hate us. She could be a good person to ask.’ We got her on the phone, explained it to her and she agreed to do it. She was really funny, she improvised and did everything we asked her to do. And she seemed to have a good time.”

R: You act, write, direct, produce and are considered to be on Hollywood’s A-list. Ever feel like you’re on top of the world?

S.R.: “As a Jewish person, you generally hate yourself, but there’s moments where I feel that way.”

Reporting by Zorianna Kit, editing by Jill Serjeant and Carol Bishopric

There’s more than one way to support the Jewish state

In the landscape of American Jewish organizations, The New Israel Fund (NIF) has long occupied a prominent place on the left side of the aisle. Back in 1979, almost three decades before the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street was established, when Peter Beinart was still in elementary school, NIF began supporting Israeli-based non-profits that advanced the Jewish and democratic identity of Israel.

In the years since, NIF has donated more than $200 million to civil- and human-rights organizations in Israel. Its current list of grantees includes groups advocating for women, Palestinian Israelis, Ethiopian-Jewish Israelis, and Reform and Conservative Jewish practice, to name a few. 

The Journal caught up with NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch, formerly the founding executive director of the Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance, to discuss changes he’s seen in Israel, how NIF is advancing its mission in the Jewish state and how he manages to stay optimistic about the future.

Jewish Journal: You lived in Israel in the 1990s; how has the country changed since then?
Daniel Sokatch: I went to Israel in 1994 to go to rabbinical school. I realized pretty quickly that what was exciting to me was less the rabbinate than it was Israel. I dropped out of rabbinical school and stayed in Israel for a year and a half, working and soaking up what was a completely golden age, and went back to the United States in September 1995, just about five weeks before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Today, [Israel is] a very different place in terms of the hopes and aspirations that people there feel are realistic. It’s a very different place in terms of the demography. The situation of the Arab-Israeli sector was quite different than what it is today. Many of the fractures and schisms that are so apparent in today’s Israeli society were less exacerbated then.

JJ: Benjamin Netanyahu, both in his time as finance minister and now as prime minister, seems to have really transformed the country.
DS: Netanyahu led a series of economic shifts that have transformed the country in ways that have resulted in great prosperity for some and — as we saw this summer, when almost half a million people took the streets — massive amounts of discord for many others. But it was a mélange of factors that caused this transformation, and it’s an ongoing transformation.

JJ: Your organization recently launched a new campaign with an ad in The New York Times focusing on extremism and the treatment of women in Israel. It was inspired by one NIF supporter’s trip to Iran, and his concern that there might be parallels between the situation of women in Iran and Israel. Did you worry about that comparison?
DS: The ad doesn’t mention Iran at all. Murray Koppelman — this is a pillar of the New York Jewish community [who traveled to Iran and pledged to match all contributions to NIF for the new campaign, up to $500,000] — wasn’t afraid Israel was turning into Iran. He worried, though, because he saw things that reminded him of developments in Israel that have been unsettling to him in recent years, like the segregation of buses, like the removal of images of women in the public sphere, like the attempted crackdown on human rights or civil rights organizations to do their jobs. These things disturbed him, and he came home and said, ‘I don’t want to see my beloved Israel go down that path.’ That’s what the campaign is about.

JJ: NIF will have a booth at this year’s Celebrate Israel festival in Los Angeles and representatives of the group will be marching in New York’s Celebrate Israel Parade, even as there have been some calls for NIF to be banned, calling the group anti-Israel. What’s it like to be at the center of that contention?
DS: These are charges made either by extremist right-wing organizations who have vowed to — to use their terminology — “delegitimize” any organization or any individual that doesn’t subscribe to their definition of what it means to be pro-Israel. But we don’t have anybody who gets to dictate what it means to be pro-Israel, and I’m deeply gratified by the response of the Jewish establishment of this country — for the most part — in refusing to blacklist organizations like NIF.

JJ: You brought up the Jewish establishment, so I have to ask you about Peter Beinart.
DS: I knew you were going to ask me about Peter Beinart.

JJ: Is there something that you usually say when people ask you about him?
DS: (Laughing) No, but I’ll say this. I think that our community prides itself on being a big tent. And lots of people say things and put forth ideas. If they do it with good intentions and civility and respect for the opinions of others, I think that we’re crazy not to encourage them.

JJ: How do you hold onto your idealism?
DS: One thing I picked up when I was in rabbinical school was the belief that there are two Jerusalems: Yerushalayim shel ma’alah and Yerushalayim shel mata — in the rabbinical tradition, a heavenly aspirational Jerusalem and a real, actual city where people live. One day, I was walking home and I looked up at the sky when I heard the roar of a jet. There was a big airplane, which flew from the east over Jerusalem, circled the city twice, and flew back to the east. This is 1994, when you can’t do that without violating some enemy country’s airspace.

When I got home, I learned it was King Hussein of Jordan in the plane, the flight was to signal the surprise signing of the peace accords between Israel and Jordan, and Rabin had been in the control tower at the airport talking to him. At that moment, I saw the coming together of the heavenly and the actual Jerusalems. I saw what’s possible, I tasted it — we all did. I just don’t think that’s dead or over; I just think it’s a long hard road to get back there.

Q&A with pastry chef Chris Hanmer

Award-winning pastry chef Chris Hanmer doesn’t let a little matzah meal scare him. Hanmer, who, in 2011, came in first in the second season of “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” has been pastry chef at catered Passover programs at Ritz-Carlton hotels in Lake Las Vegas, Nev., and Naples, Fla.

And after five years of serving up his signature Passover brownies, carrot cake and molten chocolate cakes, Hanmer sounds like a seasoned Jewish homemaker.

“I really enjoy doing it. It’s like a big sporting event. It only comes once a year, but you prepare for it and prepare for it, and at the end of it you’re really exhausted and you swear you’ll never do this again. And then another year comes, and you say, ‘I’m ready for it!’ ” said Hanmer, who is not Jewish.

He now runs his own company, The School of Pastry Design in Las Vegas, and consults with Mark David Catering in New York, which runs the Passover program at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples. He talked to The Journal about his Passover preparations:

Jewish Journal: I always thought chefs at hotels that host Passover programs must think we’re crazy. We come in saying, “We need many lavish desserts for a whole week, and you can’t use any flour and most of them have to be nondairy.”
Chris Hanmer: I think that’s where the challenge part comes in, and that’s something that draws my personality. I’m used to dealing with flour and butter and sugar and cream, and so when I first tried the pareve Passover items — well, it’s difficult. I knew that it was hard to make, but I also knew there should be a way to do this better.

JJ: What were some of the things that you came up with that worked?
CH: My approach is, what would I do if I had to make Passover for myself? I try to put myself in that situation with a lot of my clients, whether it’s for cupcakes or high-end bonbons or Passover. So I took a couple of months for research and development to figure out how to take my recipes and modify them for Passover, replacing flour with potato starch or matzah, or other things that are common in the Passover environment.

So, that was full of highs and lows. I would start something and think, “Oh, this is going to be so good,” and then I’d taste and it’s like, “Awww.” But with some small modifications I was able to come up with some great recipes.

In fact, some of them, in my opinion, are so good that my wife and I prefer them over the non-Passover equivalents, like my Passover brownies or carrot cake.

When I developed a recipe for carrot cake, I gave it to the supervising rabbi to taste — and he knows kosher-for-Passover desserts are difficult. The look on his face was like seeing your son or daughter eat chocolate for the first time.

JJ: Do you have rabbis standing over your shoulder as you are baking?
CH: Oh yeah, absolutely. We have a rabbi mashgiach in there the whole time. Even though I’m not Jewish and don’t have any Jewish heritage, I really have a fascination and tremendous respect for the tradition and the people. The rabbis have a very serious job, and I take it very seriously when I’m working in that environment, because it needs to be respected.

I have found that coming from a non-Passover, non-kosher cooking background, all you have to do with the rabbis is just ask. They always have a great attitude and are so humble, and say, “You know, Chris, we can’t do this, or we can do this,” and they always give me a really interesting explanation based on the law.

JJ: What sort of interesting things have you learned?
CH: I think one of the hardest things for non-kosher people like myself to grasp is that the new day starts at sundown. As chefs, we’re thinking it’s sundown but we’re going to keep producing and working, but on some days of Passover we can’t — we have to stop at sundown. You have to be really organized and really aware of what you’re doing.

But once you understand it, you see that it’s not a burden; it’s a way of life and it’s been going on for thousands of years. I really like it.

JJ: What do you substitute to make the desserts pareve?
CH: What I usually do is use some nondairy whipped topping, and I make a version of pastry cream. I came up with a recipe that uses nondairy creamer, eggs, potato starch and sugar. It has a much different mouth feel and flavor than a nondairy topping by itself.

JJ: What are some common dessert mistakes that home bakers make for Passover?
CH: If you’re doing a cookie or cake recipe with matzah cake meal, adding some water to the recipe will actually help a lot. Matzah meal is so dry, because it’s already been baked, so all of the moisture is out of it. By adding about 10 percent additional water, it helps the recipe rehydrate.

I also like to use fruit in fun ways, like making cobblers or apple crisp, or using fresh berries and cooking them with a little sugar and lemon zest and making a nice fruit topping for a Passover cake or pareve ice cream. That is something they do a lot in professional baking that the home baker doesn’t do.



1/3 cup almond flour
1/4 cup potato starch
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons margarine

Preheat oven to 330 F. 

Sift together the almond flour and potato starch and set aside.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

In a clean bowl in the stand mixer, whip the egg whites with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff and about double in volume.

Fold the whipped egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Mix only until about half the whites are incorporated.

Slowly fold in the sifted almond flour and potato starch until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. 

Place batter in two loaf pans that have been sprayed with nonstick spray.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set aside to cool.


1/2 teaspoon potato starch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 tablespoons margarine

Place the potato starch and sugar in a bowl and mix with a whisk. Add the eggs and mix well.

Warm the lemon juice in a pot on the stove. Pour 1/4 cup of the lemon juice into the egg mixture and mix well.

Pour the warm egg lemon juice mixture back into the pot with the remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice.

Whisk over medium heat until it thickens and just comes to a boil.

Remove from the heat and let cool for 3 minutes.

Whisk in the margarine one piece at a time, mixing very well. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic film, and place in the refrigerator.


1 pint fresh strawberries
1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Lemon zest

Clean and slice strawberries and sprinkle with sugar. Mix well and let them rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Slice each loaf into 1-inch slices. Place 1 slice on each of 8 dessert plates. Spoon some of the sliced strawberries on top of the cake. Spoon some of the lemon cream over the strawberries. Repeat with another slice of cake, some of the strawberries and some of the lemon cream. Top each with a little fresh lemon zest. 

Makes about 8 servings.

US Rep. Giffords says she feels “pretty good”

Speaking on camera for the first time since she was shot in the head in January, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords said she feels “pretty good,” in an excerpt of an ABC interview shown on Thursday.

Asked how she felt, Giffords answered, “Pretty good.” “It’s difficult,” she responded when journalist Diane Sawyer asked whether rehabilitation had been painful or hard.

Giffords spoke clearly and smiled broadly in the preview of a TV special to be broadcast on Monday.

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot at a public event for constituents in Tucson. Jared Lee Loughner has been charged in the shooting spree that killed six people and wounded 12.

Giffords has been in rehabilitation in Houston and had made few public appearances in the 10 months since she was wounded.

At a ceremony in Washington last month, Giffords awarded her husband, Navy Captain Mark Kelly, two medals to honor his 25 years of service with the Navy and NASA.

ABC said its special presentation will be broadcast in conjunction with the release on Nov. 15 of a memoir by the couple titled, “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.”

Reporting by JoAnne Allen; editing by Eric Beech

Madoff says he is happier in prison than free

Financial swindler Bernard Madoff said that he is happier in prison than he was on the outside because he no longer lives in fear of being arrested and knows he will die in prison, TV journalist Barbara Walters said on Thursday.

Walters, who spent two hours at the prison with Madoff two weeks ago, also told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program that Madoff said that while he had contemplated suicide during his early days behind bars, he lacked the courage and never thinks about killing himself now.

Madoff is serving a 150-year prison term for bilking investors out of billions of dollars in a decades-long Ponzi scheme that is considered the biggest financial fraud in U.S. history.

Madoff’s wife, Ruth, said in an interview to be aired on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program on Sunday that the couple actually tried to kill themselves by taking pills on Christmas Eve 2008 after the fraud was exposed.

“I don’t know whose idea it was, but we decided to kill ourselves because it was so horrendous what was happening,” Ruth Madoff said of the failed attempt.

Walters did not address the subject of suicide on Thursday. She said Madoff and his wife are now estranged.

The couple’s elder son, Mark, 46, hanged himself in his New York apartment on Dec. 11, the second anniversary of his father’s arrest. Mark and Andrew Madoff turned in their father to authorities a day after he confessed to them.

Walters said Madoff, 73, was distraught over his son’s suicide, and that his wife wanted to stop visiting him in prison after that and he agreed. He has not seen her since, Walters said.

“Ruth does not hate me. She has no one, and this is not fair to her,” Walters quoted Madoff as saying.

“He has terrible remorse, he says he knows that he ruined his family,” Walters said, adding that Madoff told her that with the help of therapy he does not think about what he has done, but “at night he says he has horrible nightmares.”

The interview, one of several involving the Madoff family to surface in the past week, was not filmed because cameras are not allowed in the North Carolina facility where Madoff is serving time.

Walters said Madoff speaks of being happier now because for the first time in 20 years he has no fear of being arrested.

“I feel safer here than outside,” Madoff told Walters.

“I have people to talk to, no decisions to make … now I have no fear because I’m no longer in control” and “know that I will die in prison,” she said he told her.

As for his crimes, Madoff said, “the average person thinks I robbed widows and orphans. I made wealthy people wealthier.”

Walters said Madoff told her, “every once in a while I find myself smiling, and I’m horrified.”

Mark Madoff’s widow Stephanie said in interviews ahead of the publication of her book that Madoff had boasted in a letter to her of being treated like a celebrity, and Walters corroborated this, saying that he told her the prisoners, “especially the younger ones,” treat him with respect.

Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Greg McCune

Shalit says in good health during interview on Egypt TV

Freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit said on Tuesday he was in good health and he hoped his release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons would lead to peace between the two peoples.

In an interview shortly after his release, Shalit, 25, looked tired and dazed, hesitating as he replied to questions from an Egyptian TV reporter.

Speaking through a translator, Shalit said he would be very happy if remaining Palestinians held in Israeli prisons were freed to return to their own families.

“Of course I miss my family very much. I also miss my friends,” he said. “I hope this deal will lead to peace between Palestinians and Israelis and that it will support cooperation between both sides.”

Reporting by Tamim Elyan and Marwa Awad

All the right ingredients

Israeli megastar Idan Raichel launched his music career as a keyboardist for various other Israeli artists, with the hope of one day producing his own albums. In his first attempt to do so, Raichel created a studio in his parents’ basement in Kfar Saba and began recording anonymous singers from very different cultural backgrounds, including Ethiopians, Arabs, South Africans and Yemenites. His multilingual music was unique, emotional, inspirational and, most important, relatable.

In November 2002, The Idan Raichel Project released its first single, “Bo’ee” (Come With Me), which quickly became a huge radio hit. A month later, the collaborative’s first album was released, captivating Israeli listeners and changing the face of the Israeli music industry.

Raichel, who writes, sings, plays the keyboard and produces on his albums, began performing in the United States and reaching out to American fans in 2005, with his first tour outside of Israel. After recording three top-selling albums, and performing throughout the United States, Mexico, Ethiopia, Europe and at the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Raichel sat down with TRIBE to talk about life as a musician, his relationship to his songs, his new project and — in his opinion — the two most significant minutes of the year.

TRIBE: How much of the year do you spend performing outside of Israel?

Raichel: We don’t have fixed tour dates. Sometimes we rest at home, travel, and record all in two weeks. We travel a lot, though, which only makes me appreciate the place I came from even more. Whenever we’re on tour, we know that our last destination will be home, which is actually the reason we decided to name our new album “Traveling Home.”

TRIBE: How does all this traveling affect establishing a life in Israel?

Raichel: It’s hard. All my relationships have to be long-distance ones, close to impossible.

TRIBE: What do you enjoy about singing abroad and, specifically, in the United States?

Raichel: When we perform in Israel, we usually play radio hits. In Israel, many look at our music as pop culture. It’s exciting to come here and meet a new crowd, a crowd of people not necessarily familiar with our music or with Israeli culture. Sometimes they are just random people who follow us through Facebook or who found our Web site. The fact that I can bring a taste of Israel to other countries is a great honor.

TRIBE: What is the most personal song you have ever written?

Raichel: All my songs are personal songs about a loss or absence. I tend not to explain the meaning of my songs because I fear that they will lose their meaning to the listeners. A woman once talked to me on the street and told me that the song “Im Telech” [If You’ll Leave] was played at her wedding as she walked down the aisle. During the same week, another woman told me that the same song was played at her father’s funeral. The same song could have different meanings to different people. Once I write a song on paper, it’s no longer mine. I believe in each person taking a song to his own place.

TRIBE: At a recent Q-and-A session at the West Hills Israeli Cultural Center, you spoke of a soldier’s family who put the lyrics of one of your songs on their son’s grave. How did that gesture make you feel?

Raichel: The song “Mikol Ha’ahavot” [Of All the Loves] speaks of someone who is gone but is still everywhere. There is a line in the song that says, “Will you remember them, will you know, you’re in all of them,” which is the line that the soldier’s family put on his grave. It was touching and only proved to me that once I put the song out there, it’s no longer mine. I’m just the tool that passes the message on for people to absorb and utilize.

TRIBE: You have said in interviews that, of all the holidays, you find the Israeli Memorial Day the most important. What is it about the IDF and its soldiers that you find so moving?

Raichel: I think that the 365 days in a year accumulate a certain meaning. At the end of the day, it’s the basic things in life that make it possible. It’s like a chef who cooks at a restaurant and has all the fancy ingredients in the world, but if he doesn’t have sugar, salt or pepper, he can’t cook anything at all. I feel that our army is a basic ingredient. On our memorial day, the 365 days of the Israeli existence in a year are reduced to only two minutes of a siren’s sound. I think that those two minutes truly reflect the Israeli way of life, the Israeli pride, our longing and sadness, our concern for and about the future, our patriotism and our mutual destiny. Those two minutes truly show what all Israelis have in common, if it’s our lives in the present, or the respect we have for our past. To me, those two minutes sharpen our minds and are the epitome of Israeli society.

TRIBE: Do you run your songs by anyone after you write them?

Raichel: One person who I sometimes ask for advice is my partner, Gilad Shmueli, who I produce all my albums with, but even though he sometimes gives me great pointers, we often disagree and I end up doing what I believe in. Either way, he’s my best professional mirror. I sometimes also like to play the new songs to my sister. She shows sensitivity to my work.

TRIBE: You have collaborated with dozens of artists throughout your career. With whom haven’t you worked and would like to in the future?

Raichel: I would be very happy to work with the Israel Philharmonic. They are one big and talented artist.

TRIBE: Do you have any aspirations to produce other artists in the future?

Raichel: I am actually currently working with a soul singer named India.Arie on a new album called “Open Doors.” I wrote the songs, and she’ll be singing them. It’s exciting stuff.

Idan Raichel is currently touring the United States with Grammy Award-winning American soul artist India.Arie and will perform at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex in Los Angeles on Oct. 13. For tickets, visit idanraichelproject.com/en/on-tour.13.