Peace Peace: A Prayer During War

Rachel is crying for her children

She refuses to be comforted

From beyond the grave she cries

Through the centuries

Her tears flow

Hagar cries too

From beyond the grave

Their tears intermingle

The tears of the mothers

Grieving over dead sons and daughters

Weeping over war

They try to shake us

Wake us

They see our promise

They prophesy our hope

From the place of eternity

Our mothers whisper 

Peace Peace

Shalom Salaam

Can you hear it?

Rabbi Naomi Levy is the founder and spiritual leader of the outreach congregation Nashuva and the author of To Begin Again (Knopf), Talking to God (Knopf) and Hope Will Find You (Harmony). 

Lincoln’s Party Parties

When Studio City entertainment lawyer Susan Rabin told her daughter that she planned to attend a convention for Jewish Republicans, her liberal offspring told her to have fun with “the other Jewish Republican.”

Little did she know….

Some 150 energetic, enthusiastic and mostly middle-age men and women gathered recently at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Newport Beach for the first Republican Jewish Coalition All-California Conference. Hailing from the state’s nine RJC chapters, they networked, knoshed and heard from Orange County Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), radio talk-show host Michael Medved and Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Knesset chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The party of Lincoln has indeed made some inroads with its strong support for Israel and an assertive foreign policy. For many at this November gathering, the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and the radical left’s strident rhetoric against Israel led them to do the formerly unthinkable.

Entertainment lawyer Rabin said she had been a lifelong liberal until Sept. 11. A former Mill Valley resident who once held a coffee fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Rabin said she felt shock and then revulsion as San Francisco Democrats suggested that America’s unstinting support for Israel was somehow responsible for the World Trade Center attacks. In other words, the United States and Israel — but not Al Qaeda — were to blame for the murders of 3,000 Americans.

Rabin became a Republican not long afterward. And in this roomful of fellow travelers, she could feel the love: “I feel not so strange and not so isolated.”

Same with Mark Gibson, who changed teams after witnessing Israel’s vulnerability up close and personal. A 48-year-old teacher, Gibson was at Hebrew University in 2002, when one of his colleagues was among those killed by a bomber. The bloody attack only reinforced Gibson’s support for the Jewish state.

Back home, though, his liberal friends blamed suicide bombing, which had nearly taken his life, on Israeli repression. That, coupled with President Bush’s stalwart support for Israel, led him to register Republican.

At brunch, the official fare was yogurt, fresh fruit and cereal, but speaker Wayne Allyn Root laid on the red meat. The author of the recently released “Millionaire Republican: Why Rich Republicans Get Rich — and How You Can Too!” (Tarcher) took both teachers’ unions and the poor of New Orleans to task. Leave it to Democrats, he said, to favor handouts and government policies that stifle individual initiative and the creation of wealth. Republicans, on the other hand, he continued, take risks, create jobs, get rich and fuel America’s booming entrepreneurial economy. Simply put: Republicans are winners; Democrats are losers.

“They are play-it-safers. They work for somebody else. They want a safe paycheck. They want a safe job,” he said, later adding that “if you have no hope at all and the flame has been extinguished, then you’re a Democrat.”

Root had hit a comfort zone with these political party animals, who greeted his remarks with loud applause.

Although they dressed down — mostly khakis and cotton shirts for the men; summer dresses and casual ensembles for the women — the luxury wristwatches (real ones, not knockoffs) suggested high-wage earners. No white wine in paper cups for this crowd.

The engaged, well-educated RJCers politely peppered speakers with incisive questions, which sometimes betrayed their distrust of the “liberal media” (especially the Los Angeles Times), Hollywood and big government.

One participant asked former “West Wing” writer Mark Goffman whether he thought ABC began airing “Commander in Chief,” a new drama starring actress Geena Davis as the president, to somehow benefit Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) presumed future presidential run. Goffman, the sole Republican writer on the “West Wing” staff during his tenure, smiled. He said Hollywood studios care much more about ratings than political statements.

Five years ago, the California RJC didn’t exist. Today, it has more than 5,000 members. The group’s success, fundraising ability and growing influence inspired the national RJC to open new branches in such battleground states as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, group leaders said.

“This is definitely a growing movement,” said Dr. Joel Geiderman, RJC California chairman, breaking into a wide grin. “We’re coming out of the phone booth and out of the closet, and this meeting is definitely testimony to that.”

A Los Angeles Times exit poll found that 20 percent of California Jews voted for Bush’s reelection in 2004, up from 15 percent four years earlier. Nationally, the Times said the president won at least 26 percent of the Jewish vote, up from 19 percent.

But that still leaves an awful lot of Jewish Democrats, and radio talk-show host Medved explained why. He believes many Jews are obsessed with seeing themselves as victims, despite their academic, economic and social successes. This mindset makes them perfect foot soldiers for the Democrats, “a party very much in tune with the sanctity of victimhood.”

The Jewish cult of victimization, he added, alienates young Jews by obscuring the religion’s beauty and defining Judaism as little more than a burden to bear. The tens of millions of dollars that go to the Anti-Defamation League to combat the exaggerated problem of American anti-Semitism could instead fund Jewish day schools or other worthy Jewish causes, Medved said.

Another speaker, Knesset member Steinitz, warned of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and an Egyptian “massive” military buildup that he said threatens Israel.

Perhaps no one has played a bigger role in fueling local Jewish Republican growth than Larry Greenfield, the recently promoted RJC California director. The indefatigable Berkeley-and-Georgetown law graduate has given more than 200 speeches at venues ranging from temples to country clubs to high schools to spread his almost messianic belief in the positive leadership of the Republican Party.

Greenfield said the Republican Party’s stalwart support for Israel, for promoting democracy abroad and for free markets have made it more attractive to Jews. Given the left’s increased anti-Semitism, he added, masked as anti-Zionism, Republicans should continue to pick up more and more Jewish voters.

“We want to be the party of reform, ideas and liberty,” he said.

The era of the monolithic Jewish voter has ended as historical ties to the New Deal agenda have faded over time, and Jews have grown more affluent and less unionized, said Joel Kotkin, senior fellow with the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“Many of the most articulate voices in the Republican Party are, in fact, Jewish, including Dennis Prager, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Medved and Max Boot,” said Kotkin, himself a moderate Democrat. “Once upon a time, a conservative Jewish intellectual was like finding a rabid capitalist in Stalinist Russia. Now, it’s become relatively common.”

Still, there are those thorny issues that make the Republican party a tough sell for many Jews: opposition to abortion and stem-cell research, efforts to weaken church/state separation and the conflict in Iraq.

In the view of Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, the Republican Party has moved “out into right field,” losing appeal not only among many Jews, but also other voters, as well. He cited the example of Bush’s sagging poll numbers and the defeat of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s November ballot initiatives.

Not to worry, Greenfield said.

“Tired leftist economic and foreign-policy programs have failed,” he said. “It’s a new day and a new Republican Party, which is warmly welcoming thoughtful Jewish support.”


Drama in Israel, High Stakes in the U.S.

Israeli politics is always a mix of high drama and low comedy, but the current fight within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s divided government is anything but entertaining for Jewish leaders here.

Israeli commentators have noted that it is a struggle for the soul of the Likud party. How that turns out will have consequences for the U.S.-Israel relationship and on Israel’s already-low standing around the world.

It will also have a major impact on an American Jewish community that has come together to support a beleaguered Israel, but which is unlikely to stay together to support settlers who want to remain in their Gaza and West Bank enclaves.

According to sources here, the pro-Israel lobby has sent an unambiguous message to Sharon and his warring government ministers: expect problems in U.S.-Israel relations if you can’t approve a comprehensive Gaza withdrawal plan.

The reasons aren’t hard to grasp.

President George W. Bush, initially cool to the plan, latched on to it last month as an alternative to the stalled Mideast “road map.” To help Sharon win the promised Likud referendum on the pullout, the president offered some dramatic concessions, including rejection of the Palestinian right of return and an acknowledgment that Israel can retain some West Bank land after a settlement with the Palestinians.

Bush paid a big diplomatic price for those concessions; European and Arab allies were incensed at just the moment when the administration was seeking their help in the Iraq tangle. Their anger intensified when Sharon lost the Likud referendum and began talking about a watered-down or phased plan, making President Bush look like the sucker of the decade.

The administration can’t afford a second loss. Now, officials here clearly expect Sharon to find a way to sell the plan to his government and start implementing it — pronto.

Bush’s need for a diplomatic victory will only increase as he holds a series of meetings here and abroad this month trying to enlist international cooperation in the effort to bring a semblance of stability to Iraq.

Officials here expect a full withdrawal, not a piecemeal or partial one, and they expect Israel to coordinate with the hated Palestinian Authority to prevent a Hamas takeover when Israeli troops and settlers evacuate Gaza.

Sharon has gotten that message; this week he is sending his foreign minister to Cairo to discuss the handover with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

With an election only five months away and both parties scrambling for Jewish support, the Bush administration has no intention of publicly squeezing Israel.

But the message is going out through diplomatic channels: after Nov. 2, there could be hell to pay if Sharon does not make good on his deal with Bush.

If Sharon loses the withdrawal fight to the well-organized settler minority, the role of the settlers in setting national policy will dramatically increase, with huge diplomatic consequences.

President Bush’s unusually strong affinity for Sharon has everything to do with the Israeli leader’s tough and uncompromising response to terrorism, nothing to do with his longtime advocacy of settlements, which this administration, like its predecessors, continues to regard as an impediment to any peace process.

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the House majority leader, may identify with Israeli settlers, but the core of Israel’s political support on Capitol Hill has little sympathy for Israel’s not-one-inch crowd.

Since Sept. 11, the American public has gained a better understanding of the problems Israel faces. But that new sympathy could evaporate if Sharon is defeated by a small band of settlers regarded here as ideological and religious zealots.

There are also potential communal consequences.

The Jewish community has long been divided over the best route to peace in the region, but it has mostly put those divisions on hold since the resumption of widespread Palestinian terrorism in 2000.

Sharon has been a divisive figure over his long career, but by and large American Jews have stood behind his government as it confronts terrorists and a Yasser Arafat that even avid doves concede is not a fit partner for peace.

But beneath today’s veneer of unity, the Jewish community is more divided than ever. An increasingly vocal minority, backed by powerful friends in the Christian community, reject any new territorial concessions. But a majority still support the concept of land for peace negotiations, although many remain skeptical about the current Palestinian leadership.

A failure by Sharon to put over the plan will bring those divisions back into the open and intensify them as American Jews choose up sides in the fight between settlers and mainstream Israel.

The groups that call the Gaza plan a “surrender” or “retreat” plan may be among the loudest in Jewish life today, but it’s the Jewish mainstream that Israel relies on as the foundation of its political support in this country.

That foundation, as well as relations with a sympathetic administration, is at risk as Sharon fights the most difficult battle in a life of difficult battles.

Just a Theory

In a sea of competitors, 17-year-old Ilya Gurevich of Israel is alone in the field of theoretical physics. All the other teenagers competing in the physics division at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair have entered projects in practical physics, Gurevich said, but he stuck with the theoretical.

"The world’s largest science fair," formerly known as the Westinghouse Competition, is taking place at multiple locations May 9-15, including the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Gurevich recently won first prize in the Intel Israel-Bloomfield Science Museum Young Scientists Competition and said he was "very surprised" when he won the award for his research on the behavior and influence of small disruptions in the uniformity of the universe.

"I know it was on a very high level, but it was not practical," said the high school senior, who has been taking courses at Ben-Gurion University, in Beersheva, for two years.

Practical or not, Israeli scientists have chosen Gurevich and Igor Kreimerman of the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem, winner of second prize in the Israel competition, to represent Israel in the 2004 Intel competition.

About 1,300 teenagers from 40 countries are competing in 15 categories for a total of $3 million in scholarships, internships, and travel and equipment grants from the Intel Foundation, public and private universities, and about 70 corporate, professional and government sponsors. The 1,200 judges include scientists, engineers and Nobel Prize laureates.

The three winners of the grand prize, the Intel Young Scientist Award, each will receive a $50,000 scholarship and an invitation to attend the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.

Gurevich said his project, called "Deviations From an Isotropic and Homogeneous Expansion of the Universe," defies simple explanation.

Essentially, he said, the project tries to preserve Einstein’s theories with regard to the expanding universe and its impact on cosmology.

Science is not about reading books, Gurevich said: "At some point you have to start working and thinking yourself."

Freedom Is at Root of Mideast Peace

I’m fond of saying my identity as a Jew formed well before
my identity as a Democrat. And I have always believed that a significant part
of my mission and role in Congress is to weigh in and provide leadership
on issues of critical concern to the Jewish community here and in Israel.

To a great extent, these issues are obvious — the
U.S.-Israel relationship, combating anti-Semitism, fighting off erosion in
First Amendment protections of religious exercise, scraping for resources and
laws that maximize the ability of Jews living under tyranny to immigrate to
Israel or the United States and ensuring the social safety net doesn’t forget
Jews in trouble.

But my Jewish identity colors how I view larger issues as
well….In so many ways my positions on issues, while not Jewish community
positions, are forged by my status as a Jew in a country that has allowed us to
thrive and prosper in so many ways.

As a 21-year veteran of the House International Relations
Committee, I have a front-row seat to the dramas played out in the Middle East.
Too many of the region’s autocrats use the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as an
excuse — as a pretext — for their refusal to make substantial reforms in their
own societies.

And for too long, I’m sad to say that the U.S. and Europe
have bought these sorry excuses. We’ve operated under the assumption that once
the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets worked out, peace will come to the
Middle East as part of a domino effect. But that’s not just wrong, it’s

….In the wake of Sept. 11, it’s clearer than ever that our
principles and values do matter. Our enemies are waging an existential struggle
against freedom, pluralism and modernity.

In 2002, a group of Arab intellectuals rocked the Mideast by
publishing a document that dramatically took stock of the state of the Arab
world. The U.N.’s Arab Development report was prepared by Arabs and partially
funded by the Arab League, so there was no way the region’s leaders could
whitewash its findings. Among the report’s conclusions were:


• That science and technology are comatose in the Arab


• That half of all Arab women are illiterate.


• Fewer than 2 percent of Arabs have Internet access.


• The entire gross domestic product in all Arab countries
combined in 1999 was less than that of Spain’s, which is a single, midsized
European country.


• Productivity is declining.


• Per capita income growth has shrunk over the past 20
years, while everywhere else, it’s been rising.


• And one of the most revealing indicators of the Arab
world’s stagnation is the fact that only 330 books are translated into Arabic
per year in the whole region. In an area encompassing 22 countries and 280
million people, fewer books have been translated in the past 1,000 years than
Israel has translated since last year’s Warschaw lecture!

To state my point in another way: Israel and America won’t
have stable, long-term, peaceful relations with the Palestinian Authority or
Egypt, for example, until they’re across the negotiating table from a truly
democratic Palestine or Egypt.

So … can America help to reform and democratize the Arab
world or to help those budding forces in the Middle East who understand that
imperative, without looking like imperialist colonizers? In light of everything
I’ve said, is there any reason for optimism?

The answer to these questions, I believe, is: maybe. But one
thing is for sure: We must at least try to help the region’s reformers
facilitate change.

….Back in the United States, I think American leaders have
gotten the message since Sept. 11 that the days of looking the other way, while
despotic regimes trample human rights and then gloss them over by feeding their
people a steady diet of anti-Israel and anti-Western hatred, are over.

Accordingly, there’s a new program at the State Department
called the Middle East Partnership Initiative [MEPI] that’s starting to see
positive results. MEPI’s director says that “across the region, internal voices
are beginning to speak up for change, political pluralism, the rule of law and
free speech in a manner that hasn’t been seen before.”

MEPI’s job description is to support economic, political and
educational goals in the region, as well as work on the empowerment of women.

This summer, President Bush is scheduled to make a
significant contribution to the cause by announcing a new Middle East
initiative at the June summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations. The
architects of the new U.S. policy say it aims to encourage democratic and
economic reform in Arab and Muslim countries. Sounds like something everyone
can agree on, right?

Wrong. Egypt — who receives $1 billion in annual U.S.
assistance — is spearheading a massive effort to undercut the plan….

In Paris, [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak played the
Israel card. He said that only an equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict would allow a strengthening of popular support for reforms in the Arab

Already, there are reports that the Bush administration is
backing down from the initiative. But we must carry on with it. We must not let
Mubarak and other leaders get away with this perennial excuse for delaying the
reforms their people deserve.

And let’s recognize that real peace is possible when you
reverse Mubarak’s rhetoric. Democratize the region, and you’ll solve the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict permanently. Not the other way around.

This lofty goal, of course, doesn’t mean we should abandon
the Israeli-Palestinian peace track. Of course not … but whether Israel can
find a measure of security unilaterally or in the framework of an agreement, I
say again that it would be only a short-term solution.

The only real guarantor for long-term peace and security for
Israel and America is freedom. Freedom from oppression for the peoples of the
Middle East. Freedom to elect their leaders. Freedom for women to do basic
things like drive and go to school. Freedom to access knowledge.

Passover is called ‘zman cheiruteinu,’ the ‘time of our
freedom,’ because it is the time when the Jewish people were freed from
Egyptian slavery. Perhaps this year, it’s time to begin to free the Egyptians,
so-to-speak, from slavery and grant them the freedom we as American Jews can
celebrate openly.

This Passover, I pray for the freedom of the whole Middle
East and the continued rebuilding of Jerusalem. Â

This is an excerpt of a speech delivered by Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) on March 28 at the Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture Series of the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life at USC. Â