Pop superstar Madonna kicked off a new world tour on Thursday wishing peace on the Middle East even as she showcased grim dance routines depicting violence and bloody gunmen among her more colorful numbers.
Madonna, 53, mixed hit songs over three decades in music with tunes from her recent album, “MDNA,” before a packed audience, and she took a sly dig at younger diva, Lady Gaga.
“She’s not me!” Madonna sang at the end of “Express Yourself,” which she had reworked to include a sampling of Lady Gaga’s recent “Born This Way.”
That song from Lady Gaga, who emerged on the pop music scene about four years ago and has enjoyed a huge following in recent years, has been cited by many music fans and critics as being very similar to Madonna’s late 1980s dance club smash.
Since Lady Gaga, 26, released “Born This Way,” fans and music lovers have speculated that a generational challenge was in the works between the two women and comedians have poked fun at any imagined rivalry between the two.
Despite occasional lighthearted touches such as a baton-twirling routine in cheerleader formation and a psychedelic homage to Indian philosophy, the dominant mood at Thursday’s concert in Tel Aviv seemed more grim with a stage shrouded in black and red and costumes that often appeared ominous.
“Like a Virgin,” a dance tune that helped propel Madonna to stardom as risqué pop ingénue in the 1980s, was performed as a mournful cabaret with violin accompaniment. At one point, the singer was trussed up and hoisted into the air by four male dancers, then lowered onto a platform as though into a volcano – a virgin sacrifice.
For “Gang Bang,” Madonna wrestled with armed intruders whom she then dispatched with a pistol – their “blood” spattering across an enormous video backdrop. In a routine for “Revolver”, she wielded a Kalashnikov rifle, used by many modern-day insurgents, while one of her dancers favored an Israeli Uzi.
The exertions never sapped her confident singing, though she did become somewhat breathless during remarks to the audience at Ramat Gan stadium on Tel Aviv’s outskirts.
“I chose to start my world tour in Israel for a very specific and important reason. As you know, the Middle East and all the conflicts that have been occurring here for thousands of years – they have to stop,” she said to cheers.
A devotee of Jewish mysticism, Madonna had dubbed the first leg of her 28-country “MDNA” tour the “Peace Concert” and distributed free tickets to some of the Palestinians who attended from the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Among them was a woman named Yasmine, who declined to give her last name in light of Palestinian calls to boycott the Madonna concert and other cultural events in Israel. She offered a mixed assessment of the show.
“I wasn’t a fan of the intro. It was too aggressive and massacre-like,” Yasmine said. “Her (Madonna’s) speech about peace and the mention of Palestine was heartfelt, though.”
Avihay Asseraf, an Israeli who dedicated a Facebook page to Madonna’s visit, was more sanguine about the darker displays.
“That’s how she chose to express herself this time,” he said. “Ultimately this is a show, a spectacle, and it’s all for fun.”
Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte
Pole dancing as a modern sport connects the world of dance—jazz, ballet and cabaret—with acrobatic exercise. The pole serves as the base to perform different acrobatic acts of varying levels of difficulty. Regular exercise clothes are worn, not the sexy revealing garb many imagine, with the stomach exposed in order to allow for friction with the pole and to prevent slipping.
The athletic benefits are abound—they include developing strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, and rhythm. Many women also report an improvement in their self-confidence, their physical feeling, and their femininity. In Israel, classes and private studios are taking the country by storm.
Elisa Palsakova, 26, opened her own private studio two years ago. She has been dancing and exercising since she was 5 years old—everything from acrobatics to ballet. In the last decade, she made aliyah from Moscow. She studied dance instruction and became certified as a personal trainer upon moving to Israel, and when she discovered pole dancing, she fell in love with it. She recently won first place in the International Pole Dance Fitness Association (IPDFA) competitions in Moscow and currently sits on panels of judges in competitions all over the word. She feels it is a great honor to sit amongst the world’s top athletes.
Another Israeli champion is Neta Lee Levy, 31, who won first place in the European championships in Holland. Levy has always participated in sports, and she currently studies at the Circus School in Israel, where she learned the trapeze. There, she began to teach herself pole dancing and developed her technique. Levy is the first person in Israel to perform in street festivals using a pole—as a performer, not a stripper. She opened a studio in Tel Aviv and describes the women who come there and exercise as women who are seeking to boost their self-confidence and sensuality.
The Combat Soldier
Alex Brodeski, 21, is a combat fitness instructor in the army who trains in Palsakova’s studio. “It is a physical activity that is different and challenging for the body using muscles that are not usually developed in other exercise classes,” he explains.
He says that the soldiers he trains know that he pole dances, and admits that he gets teased. “But they are jealous that I practice with girls and ask to come observe classes. I tell them that they can’t observe, they must participate, but they get cold feet.”
Boaz, 33, began training following his first visit to a strip club with his girlfriend. “I saw women dancing on poles and I was in shock at their acrobatic abilities. I wanted to learn the acrobatics. After three months of training, it improved my body image and self-image. My arm muscles are stronger and my stability improved. Yes, it is a sexy dance, but other forms of dance are sexy, too. I am not embarrassed by it.”
Bracha (name changed) usually wears a long skirt and a head covering and works in an ultra-Orthodox college. She is a religious woman, 53 years old, a wife and mother of three. But in the past year and a half, multiple times a week, she has been changing her conservative clothes into short exercise clothes. Along with her 17-year-old daughter Anat, she attends classes in Palsakova’s studio.
“When my daughter told me that she wants to learn pole dancing, I told her that she can only if I chaperone as her bodyguard because who knows who participates in such things. Once I entered the studio, I knew that I wanted to participate as well,” Bracha says.
In terms of dealing with revealing clothing, Bracha started with a t-shirt but says “it was difficult for me to do certain moves, so I started wearing a tank top and shorts.”
Bracha explains that it isn’t easy for her to pole dance with men in the room, but says she won’t quit for that reason. “If there are very sexy exercises, I do them minimally because I am here for the acrobatics and not the dance,” she says. Anat adds that they stand on opposite sides of the room from the men, and because the men are much older, it doesn’t bother her.
Bracha says her husband “understands that for us it is only a sport.”
“He is fine with it, but prefers that we keep it a secret from the community because we are religious,” she says.
“I beat him in hand wrestling, and we bought a pole for the house and he has already tried to swing on it,” Anat says of her father.
Bracha doesn’t tell most of her friends about her hobby “because I don’t want them to think bad things about me.” Anat says, “Some of my friends don’t talk to me anymore because of it, others are jealous but wouldn’t dare try, and others don’t even know.”
Bracha adds, “sometimes religious friends are surprised by my body so I tell them I simply ‘do sports’ without getting into detail.”
An Olympic sport?
Several organizations around the world are trying to recognize the sport, holding regional and worldwide competitions that judge the competitors on strength, flexibility and artistic expression. Points are given to competitors according to the level of difficulty, technique, choreography and stage presence. The smallest mistake in body movement may disqualify a competitor.
The British organization Vertical Dance even recently requested that the Olympic Committee recognize the sport as an official competing sport in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Whether or not their efforts will be successful remains to be seen, but for Israelis—regardless of background—pole dancing is in.
This article was translated by JointMedia News Service from the Hebrew edition of Israel Hayom.
Israeli authors and screenwriters are being featured at the 38th Book Fair of Buenos Aires.
The book fair, which runs through May 7, reportedly is the most visited book fair in the Spanish-speaking world; last year more than 1.25 million people attended.
Joseph Cedar, the Academy Award-nominated director and screenwriter, participated over the weekend in a panel with Argentinean Jewish filmmaker Daniel Burman, who received the Silver Bear Award at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival and will present his first book.
A special Israel Day will be held May 3 that will include a public interview with award-winning Israeli author David Grossman in the fair’s main hall.
At the Israeli stand, sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, visitors will be able to read a paragraph of a story from an Israeli author or poet that will be recorded on video. This collective production will be edited by the Film Research Center and posted on YouTube.
The Israeli stand also will screen Israeli movies. “A lot of people like the movies, so we try to show them also the writing side of the movies and the books behind the movies,” Daniel Gazit, the Israeli ambassador to Argentina, told JTA.
Romanian Norman Manea, who won the National Jewish Book Award in 1993; economist and author Bernardo Kliksberg; and Israeli poet Amir Or also will participate in the book fair.
American author Dave Eggers said he will not travel to Germany to accept a literary prize from the Gunter Grass Foundation.
Eggers said in a statement that the organizers should have postponed the award ceremony following the controversy over Grass’ recently published poem claiming that Israel is endangering world peace by threatening Iran.
“I felt it best if I did not attend in person,” Eggers said in a statement issued by his German publisher. “The issues raised in Grass’s recent poem are not issues I am prepared to speak about, and I would have been expected to comment on them repeatedly.”
Eggers was awarded the Albatross Prize, which includes a cash award worth about $56,000, for his 2009 novel “Zeitoun,” about a Syrian-American man’s experiences after Hurricane Katrina. Israeli author David Grossman is a past recipient of the prize.
Eggers had requested that the prize money be given to German organizations that work on interfaith dialogue, Haaretz reported.
Grass, a Nobel Prize-winning poet, was declared persona non grata and banned from ever entering Israel following the publication of his poem earlier this month in Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and other international papers.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted a German poet who wrote that Israel is a threat to world peace.
In a statement, Netanyahu condemned German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass for his “shameful moral equivalence,” the Times of Israel reported.
“Gunter Grass’s shamelful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel, says little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass,” Netanyahu said.
Grass, 84 and the winnter of the 1999 Nobel Prize in literature, published a poem Wednesday in which we writes that Israel is “endangering world peace” and criticizes the German government for its support of the Jewish state.
In 2006, Grass acknowledged that he had served in a division of the Waffen-SS.
On Thursday, Grass responded to criticism of his poem, telling a German television station that his critics had not bothered to look at the poem and were interested only in a campaign to ruin his reputation.
An Iranian soccer team canceled a game against a Serbian club because its coach is Israeli.
Avram Grant, who last month was named manager of the Partizan Belgrade soccer club, said in a statement on the team’s website that he had been told “unofficially” that Friday’s match against Sepahan Isfahan in Turkey had been canceled because he was Israeli, ESPN reported. Grant called the decision “shameful.”
The team reportedly had to switch its winter training camp from Dubai to Antalya, Turkey, because Grant is Israeli.
Grant was formerly the manager for British soccer clubs Chelsea, Portsmouth and West Ham United.
Like many 13-year-old boys, Koby Mandell appreciated a good joke.
It’s fitting, then, that the foundation started in his memory has become well known for its biannual comedy show—now in its 7th year—that tours Israel and raises roughly $70,000 for the foundation’s work.
This month’s “Comedy for Koby” shows featured a well-rounded lineup of American comedians with distinct styles of hilarity and material (motherhood, Obama, the Irish, Israeli absurdity), while still keeping the jokes PG-rated. Stops included Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Raanana, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in and Gush Etzion.
In May 2001, Koby and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were stoned to death by Arab terrorists in a cave near the Mandell family’s West Bank home of Tekoa. Out of the immense tragedy, his parents founded the Koby Mandell Foundation to help fellow Israelis cope with the profound grief of losing a loved one to terrorism. The foundation runs a 10-day camp (now in its 9th year) that meets once or twice annually for 7 to 18-year-olds who have lost a loved one; support groups for mothers and widows; and other activities for couples or families like hiking trips and healing workshops.
Koby was a fan of comedy and “liked to laugh,” his father, Rabbi Seth Mandell, tells JointMedia News Service.
“We always try in all of our programs to do it in a way that Koby would have liked,” Mandell says. “That was really the beginning of the camp… We wanted to do something that Koby would have enjoyed doing.”
Mandell and his wife Sherri have three other children—Daniel, 22, who recently finished his army service, Eliana, 20, who just completed her national service as well, and Gavi, 16, an 11th grader. The family made aliyah in 1996 from Maryland, where Mandell served as the University of Maryland’s campus Hillel rabbi from 1991-1996.
“When you undergo a tragedy like the loss of a child or loss of immediate family member to terror, you can’t remain the same,” says Sherri, author of The Blessing of a Broken Heart. “The question is will you use that crisis to change for the better or will you allow the crisis to make you become less of a person. And we have tried to have the tragedy motivate us to both become better in terms of our personal lives and to make the world a little bit better as well.”
From Dec. 6-13, comedians John Mulroony, Maryellen Hooper, Saleem Muhamad and Avi Liberman took the stage in honor of Koby. The Los Angeles-based Liberman, who teamed up with the Mandells in 2003, estimates that each show draws some 400 attendees.
Liberman, who was born in Nahariya but grew up in Houston, Texas, says the idea to bring his act to Israel stems from a trip he took during the second intifada. He felt a sad mood in the country and decided he could do something about it. He started performing with other American comedians in Israel to benefit charitable causes. Before joining the Mandells, Liberman raised funds for other groups, including the Crossroads Center in Jerusalem, which assists English-speaking youth battling addictions.
“It’s nice to be able to come here and do my job for people who really appreciate it,” Liberman says. “I think it seems like it matters a little bit more [in Israel].”
Liberman says another motive for his comedy tours is for artists to get to know Israel and leave with a positive impression so they “go back and talk about what a great country this is.” Every comedian he has brought has had a wonderful and memorable time, he says.
The Mandells never miss a performance of Comedy for Koby, and they even open the show with a couple of their own jokes. Still, Mandell says he comes to the shows with a heavy heart, sad that his son cannot enjoy the shows with them.
“It is extremely gratifying that people no longer only identity the Koby Mandell Foundation and the Mandell family with tragedy. We are now identified with comedy,” he says.
The money raised supports the foundation’s camp, which used to run four times a year but has had to cut back due to lack of funds. First and foremost, the camp offers the kids a fun experience, Mandell says, and second, provides a creative arts and nature therapy program that helps participants tap into their pain and bond with others going through similar experiences.
“Kids who feel isolated come to Camp Koby and don’t feel alone anymore,” Mandell says. “It creates an environment where the kids know they can speak,” he says.
The foundation’s support groups also benefit from Comedy for Koby. Every Wednesday for the past eight years, Sherri has participated in the support group for bereaved mothers in Jerusalem facilitated by a pastoral counselor and therapist/psychodrama counselor. The tight-knit group has roughly 30 participants.
Sherri recently started a spiritual support group for English speakers incorporating Jewish text and personal prayer, and a Hebrew-speaking group for widows meets in Haifa. She says the groups aim to help women find the tools not only to cope with loss, but also to use loss to become better human beings. Most of all, the group offers a safe and honest space for the women to discuss their pain.
“I think what happens is bereaved families go back to their normal lives, but they’re not normal,” Sherri says.
Time passes, and the families need to talk to people who have gone through the same experience, she adds. “You’re free of your pain in a way because it’s not just yours. It’s shared.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers inked a deal to perform in Israel a decade after the rock band canceled a performance at the last minute.
The band reportedly is set to perform in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park in September 2012 as part of a world tour to promote its 10th album. Ticket prices have been set at $105.
Red Hot Chili Peppers canceled a performance in Tel Aviv in 2001 due to the security situation.
The band’s first guitarist, Hillel Slovak, who died of a heroin overdose in 1988, was an Israeli who moved to the United States as a child.
Maccabi Tel Aviv sacked coach Motti Iwanir on Monday after he failed to improve the fortunes of Israel’s biggest club having been in the job for almost a year.
“In view of the run of recent bad results (owner) Mitch Goldhar has informed coach Iwanir that his contract with the club will be terminated,” Maccabi said in a statement on their website.
Maccabi are Israel’s richest club but Canadian owner Goldhar’s investment of some $35 million on players has failed to yield the desired results against major rivals under Iwanir.
The club’s 2-0 defeat by Hapoel Haifa on Sunday was a fifth consecutive outing without a league win. They lie ninth in the 16-team Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Iwanir, a former Israel under-21 coach and midfielder for Maccabi, was appointed in January.
Maccabi finished third in the league last season and qualified for the Europa League but have no chance of advancing from Group E as they are rooted firmly to the bottom with four defeats and a draw.
Experienced Yitzhak Shum, a former coach of Maccabi Haifa who also led Greece’s Panathinaikos to a league and cup double in 2004, has been mentioned by local media as a leading candidate to succeed Iwanir.
Editing by Sonia Oxley; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel Aviv’s recently expanded modern art museum, with its dazzling new building no less an attraction than the art showcased inside, has given a home to hundreds of displaced Israeli works and helped boost the city’s cultural scene.
The new wing, designed by Massachusetts architect Preston Scott Cohen, has doubled the size of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art by 19,000 square metres (200,000 square feet) and lured a growing number of art fans through its new, triangular concrete and glass complex since its Nov. 3 unveiling.
“There has never been an exhibit that fully reflected Israeli art, and now there is,” said the museum’s acting director Shuli Kislev. “Tel Aviv received a wonderful gift.”
The reason for the four-year, $50 million building project, she said, was to provide a space for the collection of Israeli art that was growing in the museum’s storage rooms.
Many of the newly displayed pieces include elements of Israeli society, from military conscription to the agricultural communes known as kibbutzim.
And alongside the locals, works by renown German artist Anselm Kieffer, which were inspired by Jewish faith and mysticism, make up a special exhibit for the new wing’s opening.
But perhaps as much a pull as the artwork is the building itself.
Individual, rectangular galleries are leveled around an 87-foot-tall, spiraling atrium known as the “lightfall”, where sunlight is reflected against angled walls from top to bottom. Visitors can see through the atrium to other floors and halls.
The museum is next door to Israel’s opera house and a short walk from both the Tel Aviv cinema and the national theatre—which reopened this month after years of renovation, adding another spark to the country’s cultural hub.
Israeli video artist Shah Marcus said the museum’s addition brings tremendous exposure for him and his peers.
A four-and-a-half minute video of him driving through his hometown of Petal Tikva, waving like a celebrity from a convertible to indifferent pedestrians, is on display in the new wing.
“A lot of curators and art dealers have come to the museum, saw my work here and took it all over the world,” he said. “It is very important for the Israeli art scene.” (Editing by Paul Casciato)
A group of high-profile Hollywood professionals was in Israel last week to learn more about the complicated challenges Israel faces.
The delegation met with Israeli and Palestinian policymakers and counterparts in the arts, business and cultural spheres.
A delegation from The Creative Coalition — a Los-Angeles-based organization that seeks to inform and engage members of the entertainment industry — included well-known actors, producers, directors and television, studio and publishing executives.
The visit was coordinated in conjunction with the American Israel Education Foundation, an independent, nonprofit charitable foundation affiliated with AIPAC.
Patricia Arquette, Matthew Modine, Alfre Woodard, Griffin Dunne, Joe Pantoliano, Rob Morrow and Stephen Baldwin were among the professionals who met with President Shimon Peres and representatives from the prime minister’s office (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not meet with the group because he was sitting shiva for his father-in-law).
Robin Bronk, CEO of the Coalition, told The Journal that its mission “is to educate, motivate and activate” the entertainment industry “on issues of social importance,” and that Israel was chosen “because it is a country that supports the arts and the efficacy of the arts in spectacular ways.”
Bronk said the art program at Kirshorit, a kibbutz in the Galilee that is home to dozens of Israeli adults with special needs, is a case in point.
“Kishorit uses art as a tool for teaching and socializing. Here was a specific example of how the arts can teach,” Bronk said.
The trip also included a visit to Hadassah Medical Center, where they were briefed on the latest advances in stem cell research; Sderot where, just a couple of weeks ago, rockets were falling; and to an immigrant absorption center just outside Jerusalem.
Bronk, who is Jewish and has visited Israel “many times,” said that “many of our members had never visited Israel.” Roughly a quarter of the mission participants were Jewish.
One of them was Richard Schiff (“The West Wing,” “Ray,” “Solitary Man”). During a Tel Aviv press conference — the mission’s only interaction with the media — Schiff called this, his first visit to Israel, “quite moving.”
“Everywhere we go here, I see there’s a mission that’s clearly related to the absolute necessity for security and survival that we forget about in the rest of the world. I’m grateful to witness it firsthand and bring those stories back to America,” Schiff said. Kaycee Stroh (“High School Musical”), said Israel was a lot calmer than anticipated, despite its security concerns.
“To the outside world, the ‘two-state issue’ makes you think that in the streets of Israel there would be conflict. I assumed people would spit on each other, and yet on the ground level I’m amazed at how respectful everyone is. I didn’t expect that.”
“This has been a remarkable learning experience,” said Andrea Bowen (“Desperate Housewives,” “Boston Public”). “I talked with friends and peers, and there’s a lack of knowledge about what it is really like over here.”
Bowen said she now feels a “responsibility” to go back and inform young Americans what Israel is like.
“I’m trying to be a sponge for information. I don’t want to leave,” she said.
Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad,” “Homicide: Life on the Streets”) said many in the group were “very intensely overwhelmed by this beautiful country and the tenacious, focused spirit of its people. I have never before seen people able to live in that kind of strange and difficult situation and call it normal, to move forward and teach their children how to love and not hate, and to remain hopeful there will be peace in this land.”
A Melbourne-based Israeli dance group refused to perform at a folk festival to protest the organizers’ decision to remove references to their being Israeli.
The Machol Israeli Dancing Club was scheduled to appear at the Multicultural Folk Dance Festival in Mansfield, northeast of Melbourne, on Sunday.
The festival included Aboriginal, Chinese, Irish, English, Lebanese, Armenian, Ukrainian and Hungarian folk dances.
But organizers removed the word “Israeli” and instead named the dancers as the Machol Group and described them as a Jewish dance group, a local Jewish website, J-Wire, reported.
The group, founded in 1993, refused to perform and has taken their complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission.
In their submission, they claim they were told that the organizer would not be held responsible for consequences if the words “Israel” or “Israeli” was used to describe the group.
The dance group has more than 200 members and stages dances four times a week.
The Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner is a place where conventional thinking about the liberal proclivities of American Jews goes to die. But never quite like Sunday night—when Tea Party darling and Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachman served as the opening act and Glenn Beck was swarmed like a rock star.
Beck, who was on hand to receive the ZOA’s Defender of Israel Award, made his way into the VIP reception at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan shortly after 5 p.m. and almost instantly was beset by a crush of admirers. He found himself wedged into a corner as a crowd of well-wishers surged forward to have their photographs taken with him. Bachmann and her fellow Republican congresswoman, Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, were there, too—but it was clear who the star was.
“Love, love, love, love, love,” Ros-Lehtinen said, extending her hand to Beck, who responded by clasping hers in both of his. All around her, an expanding mass of people pressed in closer, seemingly eager to express the same sentiment.
“I need everyone to back up please,” a photographer practically yelled as he tried to create a cordon around the VIPs to set up his shot. But despite help from Beck’s two bodyguards, an assistant, and assorted publicists and ZOA personnel, the crowd kept pushing ahead.
Crowd control proved to be a recurring problem at the dinner. After the appetizer was served, seemingly half the room converged on Beck and his wife, Tania, tying up the traffic flow in the center of the ballroom and rendering the area impassable. A succession of ZOA officials implored the crowd to sit down so servers could get dinner on the table, but with little effect.
Grabbing the microphone, ZOA President Morton Klein, raised his voice—the first of several times he would do that over the course of the evening—and commanded those standing around to “sit down—NOW!”
Even for a crowd that’s been known to get weak in the knees for foreign policy hawks—including Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.,), one-time Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer and leading Bush administration neocon John Bolton—the euphoria surrounding Beck’s appearance stood out. And even for a ZOA dinner, the night was unusually partisan: Of the five members of Congress in attendance, all were Republicans. Anthony Weiner had been a regular attendee in past years, as were fellow New York Democrats Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel. And though Klein announced that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would attend, New York’s senior senator was nowhere in evidence.
Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The Democratic officeholders didn’t seem to be missed. The polls could be right that nearly 80 percent of American Jews voted for Barack Obama and more than half believe Israel should dismantle at least some settlements as part of a final agreement with the Palestinians. But not in this room.
Bachmann’s cry of “not one inch” brought guests to their feet and prompted screams of “Bachmann for president.” In his remarks, Klein assailed the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee – “Yes, I name names”—for their opposition to a bill on foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations. The measure has been decried by liberals, centrists and even some conservatives, in Israel and abroad, as a grave threat to Israeli democracy.
And Ros-Lehtinen, in a freewheeling and often sarcastic speech, singled out two women in the audience from the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, sardonically identifying them as the obstacles to peace.
“They look harmless,” Ros-Lehtinen said, “but you never know.”
Bachmann began her talk, which sounded much like a campaign stump speech tailored to Jewish ears—well, certain Jewish ears—by invoking the line in Genesis promising that those who bless Israel will be blessed. It’s precisely that sort of religiously inflected politicking that gives many American Jews the willies. But the ZOA crowd is not one to get much exercised about the confluence of God and politics. A clear majority of men in the room wore yarmulkes and speakers repeatedly invoked God’s promise of Israel to the Jews.
After a taped message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went off with only a minor technical glitch, the emcee quipped, “I think that proves that God is on our side because the video actually worked.”
As for Beck, he is arguably the most polarizing media figure in Jewish life. Hundreds of liberal rabbis signed a letter in January asking that he be sanctioned for “completely unacceptable” use of the Holocaust and Nazi imagery. He has urged his listeners to quit their church or synagogue if “social justice” is part of its mission. And in a two-part series that accused left-wing financier and Jewish Holocaust survivor George Soros of collaborating with the Nazis, Beck flirted with what some critics saw as anti-Semitic conspiracies of Jewish control of media and finance.
Occasionally Beck has apologized—as he did after he compared Reform rabbis to Islamists—and then gone on to offend again.
It was in the wake of the Soros spat, when several Jewish groups lined up to express their outrage, that the ZOA bucked the trend. In a news release, Klein said that Beck’s comments were “essentially accurate” and that Soros “merits no defense or sympathy from Jewish leaders.”
“Glenn Beck got in touch with me, thanked me for writing this because no one else in the organized Jewish world was defending him, and he asked if we could get together,” Klein told JTA. “We got together, I asked him if he’d be our honoree, he began to almost cry. Tears welled up in his eyes.”
Asked about the discomfort some feel with Beck’s repeated use of Holocaust analogies, Klein, a child of survivors who was born in a German displaced persons camp, claimed ignorance, saying he didn’t watch Beck’s show often enough to have an opinion.
“I just don’t know,” he said.
That Beck, an unabashed crier, became misty at Klein’s offer is eminently believable. Beck appeared to choke back tears at least four times during his hourlong speech—and that was during his less emotional moments.
When he wasn’t battling the urge to cry, he was issuing a battle cry. With arms flailing wildly and face turning the color of the red caviar served in the VIP room, Beck portrayed the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people in apocalyptic terms—as the ultimate showdown between good and evil. Beck was the only speaker at the dinner whose voice reached a pitch more feverish than Klein’s.
Beck said he came to the ZOA as a brother. “It’s personal,” he said repeatedly.
And clearly he has not been chastened by the urgings of some Jewish groups to tread lightly with the Holocaust analogies. Again and again he invoked them, saying the world stood on a precipice like the one it faced in 1939—only this time it’s worse, as not only is the world ignoring rising evil, he said, it is actively helping it along.
“America is not a collective,” Beck thundered. “America is built on the individual. I am a man and I demand to be counted so others are not numbered again.”
The crowd went wild.
The Zionist Organization of America will honor Glenn Beck as a “defender of Israel.”
Beck on Sunday will receive the Dr. Miriam & Sheldon Adelson Defender of Israel Award, presented by Adelson, the casino magnate who is a major backer of the ZOA and other pro-Israel and conservative causes.
Beck, a talk show provocateur, has immersed himself in right-wing pro-Israel politics over the last year, headlining Christians United for Israel’s annual Washington summit and convening a rally in Jerusalem.
He also has stirred controversy by intimating, absent evidence, that liberal financier and Holocaust survivor George Soros collaborated with Nazis; likening Reform rabbis to Islamist extremists; and likening a range of political opponents to Nazis, fascists and communists.
Also to be honored at the dinner is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
The overly creased and still tender face of Shimon Peres looks like he has always been crying; he seems to carry centuries of Jewish suffering upon his strong shoulders. Still, there is some flicker of hope in the old man’s eyes; a stubbornness and a determination that his life’s work will mean something.
Peres wants what is best for Israel, is desperate to save it, perhaps even from itself. He speaks to reporters eagerly and is comfortable on the world stage, where he has spent almost seven decades, but on matters personal he is quiet. One senses a man concerned with his final legacy, and perhaps this is the genesis of his latest project, a book about his mentor, the founding father and future first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion.
Peres wrote “Ben-Gurion: A Political Life” (Schocken: $25.95), the nineteenth title in the Jewish Encounter series from Schocken and Nextbook Press, with the assistance of David Landau, the former editor of Haaretz. Landau conducted extensive interviews with Peres over two years, asking him probing questions about Ben-Gurion and the founding of Israel, and from the book we learn a great deal about Israel’s early years, but ironically we also seem to learn just as much about Peres.
Landau cleverly prints verbatim some of his interviews with Peres and presents them to be read in their entirety at the end of various chapters. These dialogues sometimes border on confrontational and allow us to hear for ourselves how Peres thinks. He seems, for the most part, a reasonable and practical man prone to compromise and negotiation. He is not a warrior like Sharon, or single-minded in his vision like Golda, or angry and self-righteous like Netanyahu. Rather, he seems Obama-like, a man who rejects ideological passion in favor of the bigger picture that is present at any given moment. Until very recently, this mentality has lost him favor among the Israeli public. Finally now, in his old age and in his role as President and elder statesman, his popularity has soared.
Twenty years ago, Avishai Margalit wrote in the New York Review of Books that Peres has often been perceived by the Israeli public as unreliable. Margalit wrote that the facts prove otherwise. He pointed out that during one of Peres’ terms as prime minister, he was able to eliminate the obscene inflation rate he inherited from the Shamir government. He was also able to withdraw the army from Lebanon. Peres was acknowledged with a Nobel Prize for his work on the 1994 Oslo Accords and is regarded as the key figure responsible for Israel’s achieving nuclear capability. During critical times in Israel’s fragile history, he was able to secure armaments for his country from France and South Africa. In spite of all of this, Margalit maintained, it did little to help his reputation, explaining that “reliability in Israel politics does not depend on a commitment to tell the truth and honor agreements. Reliability means having an aura of authenticity which has much to do with toughness of manner. Shamir and Rabin are perceived as authentic, while Peres is perceived as slick.”
Peres himself has acknowledged that he has often been misunderstood. He once explained to Benny Morris that leadership is fraught with complications, stating “I told you Prime Ministers are not divorced from reality. Life is full of contradictions. Most prime ministers don’t do what they promise to do. More than prime ministers direct reality, reality runs them. Whoever thought Sharon would dismantle settlements?” Peres is not an ideologue. One senses that had the Holocaust, and the Jewish persecution that preceded it, not ripped open his heart, he would have been satisfied to remain living in the city of his birth.
Shimon Peres was born Shimon Persky in 1923 in a small Jewish shtetl in Poland, 37 years after Ben-Gurion. He studied Hebrew and immigrated to Palestine when he was only 10. His father was a lumber merchant and his mother a librarian. He met his future wife on a kibbutz, and they would eventually raise three children. He has always claimed an affinity for the Bible that fuels his Jewish identity and reveals that his beloved grandfather Rabbi Zvi Meltzer studied Talmud with him when he was a young boy. His own father’s home was not observant. All of Peres’ relatives who remained in Poland perished under Nazi brutality, including his beloved grandfather, Rabbi Meltzer, who was burned alive in the town’s synagogue.
Ben-Gurion chose Peres to be his trusted aide when Peres was only 23. He was soon assigned to be the director general of the Defense Ministry, from 1952 to 1959. He was enamored with Ben-Gurion’s strength of character and his vision. Peres tells us that after Ben-Gurion returned from seeing one of the Nazi death camps, he had “a more thorough understanding of how the reaction of the rest of the world had contributed to the fate of Europe’s Jews. Not only had the Allies failed to save them, not only had they failed to bomb the death camps or the railway lines, but British warships had kept the gates of Palestine shut to any Jews who managed to escape from the European hell. His conclusion was stark and unequivocal. We must have our independent state at once.”
Peres was always devoted to Ben-Gurion’s vision of a secure and strong Jewish state. He respected Ben-Gurion’s ability to take decisive action and his bold decision to break with Chaim Weizmann of the World Zionist Congress, who was still advocating patience. Peres also agreed wholeheartedly with Ben-Gurion about the Soviet Union. Both men had flirted with romantic notions about Bolshevism, but these dreams were quickly extinguished when Ben-Gurion returned from a trip to the Soviet Union. Ben-Gurion was horrified by the inherent anti-Semitism there, and the Soviet complete lack of human rights for all of its citizens.
Peres was always mystified by certain parts of Ben-Gurion’s personality that seemed unreachable. He explains that his mentor did not believe in the rabbinate and viewed it as an archaic hierarchical structure, but loved Judaism as a faith. Ben-Gurion embraced the vision of the biblical prophets and saw the Hebrew language as a living reflection of his belief. Peres believes Ben-Gurion’s unique powers stemmed from his ability to distance himself from the perceptions of others, something one detects Peres still has difficulty doing.
Ben-Gurion’s early life was marred by tragedy. He was born David Gruen in 1886 in Plonsk, a town in north central Poland. His father was an unofficial attorney who stopped wearing the traditional Jewish garb and instead chose to dress in a modern frock coat and winged collar, which other attorneys wore at that time. His mother died in childbirth when he was barely 12; it was her eleventh pregnancy. By 14, he was studying Hebrew and convinced that Jews should one day have a territory of their own. The czarist regime made it difficult for him to gain acceptance into college for engineering, and, by 1906, the 20-year-old Ben-Gurion arrived in Jaffa with his first love, the daughter of a prominent Jewish scholar.
This is a wonderfully intimate and important book about the brave men and women who created Israel against all reasonable odds after the devastation of the Holocaust. A desperate euphoria in these young Zionists fueled their abundant energies, a sense of mission and rage, as well as a glimmer of hope that is described eloquently by Amos Elon, who wrote about them in 1995, claiming they “were of that species of revolutionaries who lived in their own world of radiant expectations. The leftists looked forward to a perfectly just society. The rightists postulated the rebirth of the so-called ‘Muscle Jew.’ All upheld the need for assimilation on a collective basis: to become like all other people and peoples. Assimilation, as they understood it, did not mean that one ceased to be oneself. They did not intend to slavishly abandon their historical or ethnic identity, but rather to shed only the uniquely religious identity Jews had insisted upon during the Middle Ages.”
Elaine Margolin is a frequent contributor of book reviews to The Jewish Journal and other publications.
Ariel Sharon was a figure of controversy throughout his long career in war, politics and diplomacy, but no one can deny that he looms large in the making of the Jewish state.
Sharon was hailed as “Arik, King of Israel” when he returned from battle in the Six-Day War, a kind of latter-day David. But some of his critics still recall his role in the events leading up to the mass killings of Palestinians by Christian-Lebanese Phalangists at Sabra and Shatila, while others are second-guessing his courageous decision to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. Today, because of the strokes he suffered in 2005, Sharon is no longer an active participant in debate or decision-making in Israel, but people all over the world still ask: “What would Arik do?”
“Over the course of nearly sixty years my father has been on the front line of all major national events in Israel,” his youngest son, Gilad Sharon, writes in “Sharon: The Life of a Leader” (HarperCollins, $29.95), a biography that is, at once, intimate and magisterial. “His fingerprints can be found all across the length and width of this country — in the form of over one hundred blooming settlements in the Galilee, the Golan Heights, Samaria, Judea, the Negev and the Arava.”
As part of a national book tour, Gilad Sharon will be in Los Angeles on Nov. 4 to participate in a public conversation with Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal, part of the annual Celebration of Jewish Books at American Jewish University. (For tickets and information, call (310) 440-1246.)
“Sharon” has been released simultaneously in Hebrew and in an English translation by Mitch Ginsburg. As we should expect from a biography written by its subject’s son, “Sharon” is sentimental rather than critical; indeed, Gilad opens the book with a touching account of the death of his father’s firstborn son, Gur, in a gun accident, an event that cast a long shadow over the life of his father and their family. “Even an early age, I had the feeling that I was supporting my father,” Gilad writes, “despite the objective fact that he was big and strong and I was small and young.”
Yet often this intimate relationship plays to the book’s advantage. When Gilad describes his father’s celebrated experiences in combat — the beginning of the Sharon legend — he is able to offer a wholly surprising insight: “During the Yom Kippur War,” he writes, “soldiers would cling to his shirt, needing to touch him amid the madness.” To be sure, Gilad offers a detailed account of his father’s high-profile experiences as prime minister of Israel, but he always includes a telling detail that an impartial biographer might never know: “ ‘If you’re invited to dinner with the queen, you’d better know your table manners,’ our parents would say.”
In a telephone interview, Gilad Sharon spoke from the family farm in Israel in advance of his visit to Los Angeles.
Jonathan Kirsch: I think the whole world will be interested in the very last pages of your book, where you describe how your father is today. Am I correct in my understanding that he is not in a coma?
Gilad Sharon: “Minimal consciousness” is the medical term for his condition. Unfortunately, I cannot talk to him the way I am talking to you right now. When he is asleep, he is asleep, and when he is awake, he opens his eyes. He moves fingers when I ask him to.
JK: If I asked you to single out the one thing your father will be remembered for — and the one thing for which he ought to be remembered — would they be the same thing? Is he misunderstood in any way?
GS: If you ask me why my father was controversial in the early years, I’d say he was so dominant that no one could stay indifferent toward him. His abilities, his achievements, the victories he led the [Israeli Defense Forces] to achieve — all of these put almost everyone else in the shade. As prime minister, however, he enjoyed love and support across political boundaries and all over the world. That’s what counts. Fighting terror is something he did since the end of the 1940s, but for me, the human side of him, which is less known, is the most important part the book. A warm and loving family man with a great sense of humor — these are the qualities that I most care about.
JK: You write that you prepared a position paper for your father on the question of “unilateral action,” which ultimately led to his decision to withdraw from Gaza. What was the extent of your role in that decision?
GS: It was clear that we had to destroy terror, or terror would destroy us. It was clear that the Palestinian Authority would do nothing. For instance, building the fence to prevent terrorists from coming from Judea and Samaria was also a unilateral step. No one ever put it as a policy. Coming up with an idea is a nice thing, but the ability to listen to people and to decide and then to execute, this is real leadership. I don’t see anyone else in those days, or even today, who would have been able to do it.
JK: Given the troubled state of affairs in Gaza, what is the verdict of history on the decision to withdraw from there?
GS: Some people used to say the results from Gaza brought rockets on Israel. That’s false. The first rocket was fired on April 16, 2001, more than four years before the withdrawal.
There were more rockets and mortars fired during the year before withdrawal than the two years after. There was, and is, a consensus that if we have a peace treaty with the Palestinians, we will not be in Gaza. The only question remaining was: Should we wait for the Palestinians or should we get out of Gaza now? When my father realized that there was not going to be a peace treaty with the Palestinians, and that we cannot count on them even if there were a treaty, he decided not to wait.
JK: Your father, it seems to me, had the stature that was required to lead Israel into a very tough decision. Do you think that the current prime minister — or any prospective prime minister — comes anywhere close to your father in terms of stature?
GS: In a moment of honesty, the current prime minister would admit that he still has a long way to go. That’s not a secret. And that’s what I think, too.
JK: Do you think that the Palestinians will be successful in achieving statehood without a peace treaty with Israel?
GS: The Palestinians declared statehood in 1988, and many countries recognize it. I don’t think that the Palestinian state is the big obstacle. The question is borders. Israel has lived without fixed borders, too, but we cannot accept the 1967 borders from which we were attacked with no provocation in the past. If the Palestinians had accepted the U.N. partition in 1947, they would now have a state as old as Israel is right now.
JK: There is one question that I guarantee you will hear on your book tour: What would your father make of President Barack Obama? Would he regard President Obama as a friend of Israel?
GS: The answer is, yes. The friendship between Israel and the United States is deep and is based on shared values of peace and justice. We are engaged in a mutual fight against fundamentalist Islamic terror. After the 9/11 attacks, the feeling of mutual destiny became even stronger. It goes well beyond the personal. Prime ministers and presidents come and go, but the ties remain. Of course, it is much better to have relationships like the one my father had with President Bush. They reached a high level of mutual understanding, and it helps a lot when you have someone whom you know and trust.
For more information about American Jewish University’s Festival of Jewish Books, please visit ” title=”jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve”>jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at email@example.com.
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 The Jewish Journal 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.
Jewish Journal: How much of the year do you spend performing outside of Israel?
Idan 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.”
JJ: How does all this traveling affect establishing a life in Israel?
IR: It’s hard. All my relationships have to be long-distance ones, close to impossible.
JJ: What do you enjoy about singing abroad and, specifically, in the United States?
IR: 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.
JJ: What is the most personal song you have ever written?
IR: 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.
JJ: 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?
IR: 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.
JJ: 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?
IR: 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.
JJ: Do you run your songs by anyone after you write them?
IR: 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.
JJ: You have collaborated with dozens of artists throughout your career. With whom haven’t you worked and would like to in the future?
IR: I would be very happy to work with the Israel Philharmonic. They are one big and talented artist.
JJ: Do you have any aspirations to produce other artists in the future?
IR: 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.
For her first visit to New York and the United States, Diana Golbi adopted the unofficial uniform of most city dwellers—head-to-toe black. Black shirt, black top and tight black jeans. Her long brown hair was straight and hung past her shoulders.
Pointing to her stiletto heels, which added at least four inches to her diminutive stature, she explained, “I’m in New York, so I have to be feminine.” She drew out the “f” sound as though she found the very concept of femininity distasteful. Or perhaps Golbi was merely playing with her English, a third language after her native tongues, Russian and Hebrew.
Golbi, 19, and the winner of the 2010 season of “Kochav Nolad”—the Israeli incarnation of “American Idol”—had just performed a short set of songs at City Winery on behalf of ELEM, a nonprofit organization that assists and rehabilitates “distressed youth” in Israel with programs ranging from counseling and social services to vocation and job training. She herself had benefited from the two-decades-old organization’s services as a teenager wandering the streets late at night in Holon.
Since winning the competition, the Russian-born Golbi has become something of an ambassador for ELEM, which runs programs in 28 cities across Israel. They include the night vans that she and her friends discovered driving around Holon, a low-income suburb of Tel Aviv.
Like many immigrants and children of immigrants, Golbi found it difficult to transition into the mainstream of Israeli society. The alienation and depression were exacerbated following the death of a friend, who died of a drug overdose. It was around this time that Golbi was introduced by some of her friends to ELEM and its night vans.
“I had a lot of friends who spoke constantly about ELEM, so I came there with my friends and saw how they deal with their problems,” she recalled. “I had my own problems, and I found people who I can trust and talk to.”
“Problems” was about as much as Golbi was willing to divulge. Asked for the specific nature of her issues, Golbi politely demurred, referring to it as “the past.”
It was an ELEM social worker who spotted her nascent artistic talent and helped get the young Golbi into a theater program. The rest is (televised) history.
Owing to her experience performing for an audience of thousands on live television week after week, Golbi despite her youth took the stage of her first U.S. show with such aplomb. She played the guitar only on her first song, relying on the backing of her band for the rest.
Golbi let her rasp-tinged rock vocals do all the work, especially on “Little Children” (“Yeladim Ketanim”), which she also performed during the singing competition. The composition, which is all inspirational power cords, is something of an anthem to children-centered nonprofits with its emphasis on the strength of the young.
Asked who are her favorite musical artists, she at first seemed annoyed.
“I hate that question,” Golbi said, but eventually answered if not with an artist at least with a genre. “Glam rock,” she said, “and old stuff.”
She acknowledged that her music style has shifted as she has gotten older. In high school with her former band, HaRusim (The Russians or The Ruined Ones).
“We did metal music and we were screaming all over the place,” she said.
If her City Winery set is any indication, Golbi has veered into a more commercial Top 40 pop/rock sound. That, too, is subject to change.
“I’m 19. When I’m 30 …,” she said, shrugging.
This sort of artistic flux is certainly understandable in one as young as Golbi. After all, if she were an American of the same age she’d be in college, changing her major for the umpteenth time.
Instead, Golbi is now serving in the Israeli military. In fact, she was on loan for the night; the Israeli army had given her special permission to travel to New York and perform at the gala.
Golbi ended her set with an English song, the endlessly covered “Hallelujah.” The Leonard Cohen song works in nearly any context—an animated feature film (“Shrek”), the “American Idol” stage or a room full of Jews who had just opened their checkbooks to help underserved and underprivileged Israeli youth.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will perform at the prestigious BBC Proms in London despite calls for a boycott of its performance.
The orchestra is scheduled to play Thursday night at the Royal Albert Hall. Audience members will have their bags searched in order to keep out political protesters, according to the Evening Standard.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign called on ticket holders not to attend the concert in protest of the orchestra’s support of the Israeli army. The organization objects to the Israeli Philharmonic’s performances at army bases.
The BBC refused to cancel the performance, saying the invitation to perform was “purely musical,” according to the London Jewish Chronicle.
Anti-Israel protesters said they would demonstrate outside the hall, while the Zionist Federation of the UK has planned a counter-demonstration, according to the newspaper.
The concert is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Israeli Philharmonic and conductor Zubin Mehta’s 50th year with the group.
After years of delays due to legal challenges and fundraising setbacks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center received permission on July 12 from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee to begin construction on the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. The ministry gave a green light to a revised design for the building, saying that because the building’s footprint would remain the same as an earlier plan, a new review process would not be necessary.
The new design, by Chyutin Architects, a local Israeli firm, replaces a previous plan by Los Angeles superstar Frank O. Gehry, who pulled out of the process when funding shortfalls forced the Wiesenthal Center to request a scaled-back version.
For years, Palestinian leaders had fought to halt the project, claiming that the site on which it is to be built is an ancient Muslim burial ground.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founder and dean, welcomed the decision, which he said will allow for construction to begin immediately.
“We have the full blessing and endorsement of the government of Israel, and the prime minister of Israel and the mayor of Jerusalem,” Hier said.
Groundbreaking for the museum officially kicked off in 2004, but construction was halted in 2006 when Arab leaders in Israel sued to stop work after bones were unearthed during excavation at the site. In 2008, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal Center could build on the site.
“The Supreme Court reviewed the Palestinian claims for three years and ruled unanimously that, for more than half a century, Muslims no longer considered that site to be part of the cemetery,” Hier said.
With the global economic downturn, the project was then reformulated. What had been a $250 million building designed by Gehry was reconceived as a $100 million project.
The question answered at the Knesset on July 12 was a technical one about the building’s footprint, according to Hier. The permit allows the Wiesenthal Center to build without restarting the planning process. “We are building on the same three-and-a-half acres,” Hier said.
Hier said that the center has raised $45 million, which will allow construction to begin by September. He said the building will take three years to complete.
In an early scene in “Miral,” the new film by artist-filmmaker Julian Schnabel opening March 25, a Palestinian activist named Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) comes across a ragtag group of about 50 children in Jerusalem’s Old City, many of them crying, trembling, dirty, barefoot, their hair matted and faces traumatized. The oldest is a girl of around 12, who explains that, the night before, the children had barely escaped a fiery rampage that destroyed their homes. They are alone, hungry and terrified.
It’s April 1948, before the establishment of the State of Israel, and the stunned Husseini, an educated woman from a prominent Jerusalem family, soon learns that the children are survivors of an attack on Deir Yassin by Jewish paramilitary groups. Her response is to found a school and orphanage for children displaced by the fighting, a place that, over the course of the film, grows to accommodate thousands of girls.
The movie goes on to tell the story of several generations of Palestinian women, notably Miral (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire”), who, in the late 1970s, arrives at the school after her mother, an alcoholic and victim of childhood sexual abuse, commits suicide. A decade later, the teenage Miral becomes radicalized while teaching in a refugee camp during the First Intifada; in one scene, she is arrested in the middle of the night for associating with activists, then brutally beaten while being interrogated in an Israeli prison.
In another sequence, a female terrorist attempts to place a bomb in an Israeli movie theater, while the rape scene from Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” plays on the screen. The sequence serves as a metaphor not only for the rape of Miral’s mother — which propels the woman’s suicide — but also for the protagonist’s perception of the plight of the Palestinian people, Schnabel, the film’s director, said.
“Miral” is essentially an art film based on an autobiographical novel by Schnabel’s girlfriend, the Palestinian-born, Italian TV journalist Rula Jebreal. Schnabel, 59, is among the most successful painters in the contemporary art world, and the most prominent artist ever to successfully segue into filmmaking. His “Before Night Falls” (2000) earned actor Javier Bardem an Academy Award nomination, while “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007), received four Oscar nods, including one for Schnabel in the directing category.
In 2007, Schnabel’s art was celebrated in an exhibition at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. “There were 40 paintings that I actually installed without building temporary walls, so you could just see modern paintings among the frescoes in these giant rooms,” he said.
He met Jebreal at the show’s opening, and initially assumed she was Indian — she in fact bears a striking resemblance to the Indian beauty Freida Pinto, who plays the lead in “Miral” — but was surprised to learn she was, in fact, Palestinian and an Israeli citizen.
Jebreal, in a separate interview, recalled their first encounter: “I don’t know if I would say he had a knee-jerk reaction, but his expression changed from smiling to almost a tension, like he had never seen a Palestinian before,” she said. “So I asked, ‘Are you scared or something?’ And he replied, ‘Should I be scared?’ — that is how we started talking.”
But the artist and writer clicked; and when she subsequently sent him her novel, “Miral,” he was moved and heartbroken by her story.
Sometime during the transformation of the memoir into the film, Schnabel left his second wife, the Spanish Basque actress and model Olatz López Garmendia, who appears as a physical therapist in “Diving Bell”; he and Jebreal now live together, and it seems that his passion for his film and its underlying issues is tied, at least in part, into his passion for Jebreal.
It is the star power of the backers of “Miral” that make its release an event worth noting. The other major player behind this historical drama is Harvey Weinstein, the brash chairman of the Weinstein Co., an inventor of modern independent cinema who last month triumphed at the Oscars with “The King’s Speech,” which swept the awards and won for best picture. Weinstein, who, like Schnabel, is Jewish, has acknowledged that “Miral” is “pro-Palestinian,” but has vociferously defended the picture from some prominent Jewish leaders who see it as anti-Israel.
In the weeks leading up to “Miral’s” release, some mainstream Jewish groups, such as the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned the drama as agitprop and, in particular, denounced its U.S. premiere at the United Nations earlier this month. “The film has a clear political message which portrays Israel in a highly negative light,” AJC executive director David Harris wrote in a letter to the U.N. “Permit me to ask why the President of the General Assembly would wish to associate himself … with such a blatantly one-sided event.”
In a telephone interview from New York last week, Schnabel said he understands why some Jews have condemned his movie — some without even having seen the film: “It comes out of fear,” he said. “The fear that the Holocaust occurred, that ‘we have been [decimated], and we don’t want it to happen again’; that ‘these people, the Palestinians, are against us having a State of Israel, and we must fight for that, no matter what happens.’ But I don’t believe that’s true. I believe a Jewish homeland in Israel is superimportant, and a great thing, but we must have empathy; we have to be sensitive. I don’t think it’s a very encouraging way to look at people, as ‘us and them.’ It isn’t us and them. We are all human beings. And what is good for the Palestinians is also good for the Israelis.”
Among complaints leveled against “Miral” is that it presents Israeli soldiers as one-dimensional villains – but Schnabel doesn’t perceive the filmmaker’s job as a political balancing act. “Just as if I were painting a portrait, I’m dealing with what is in the frame that is related to Rula, and to Miral’s point of view,” he said. “It’s not from my omniscient point of view of a 59-year-old Jewish guy who’s got all these different facts where I have to explain who attacked whom in the Six-Day War. It’s Miral’s family history as it was told to her, and as it was lived by her. And that’s the power of the story. I can’t do this inexhaustible summation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are just too many stories.”
Not all the filmmaker’s critics are Jewish. “Others have attacked me because the film isn’t pro-Palestinian enough,” Schnabel said. “I really can’t believe I’m even talking about this because ‘Miral’ is a movie about a girl and her family,” he added. “If the movie had been set in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t even be on the telephone today.”
Not that Schnabel is without his own opinion. “When I shot the movie and lived and worked in Israel and in Palestine, I was pretty ashamed of certain situations that I witnessed,” he said. “I felt it was like apartheid over there, and that’s very disappointing. There’s democracy for Jewish people in Israel, but I don’t think there’s democracy for Palestinian people. … When I see a kid with peyos and a yarmulke throwing a rock into a Palestinian home and screaming at them, that doesn’t seem to be the Jewish way to me.”
Julian Schnabel must have known that screening a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the United Nations General Assembly would be scene-stealing. To set the town talking, the event would unite all the trappings — provocative subject matter, prestigious venue, Hollywood glamour.
In fact, the March 14 screening of “Miral” in New York drew a crowd of movie stars, diplomats, artists and intellectuals — Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Ambassadors Jean Kennedy Smith and Qazi Shaukut Fareed, and Dan Rather, among them – raising the profile of an event that openly merged artistic prominence and political power. But when mixed, art and politics — while not exactly strange bedfellows — can stir into a complicated brew. And, sure enough, Schnabel’s screening spawned a flurry of protest from some of the most powerful and prominent voices in the Jewish establishment, who accused the film of being “one-sided” and “anti-Israel.”
The next day, a Los Angeles Times headline declared: “Screening of ‘Miral’ at the United Nations draws protests from Jewish groups.”
The wave of controversy that ensued called into question whether a high-profile film written by a Palestinian and sympathetic to “the other side” was simply too much for some Jews to handle. That the filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, is Jewish and presenting a perspective counter to the dominant Jewish paradigm was considered a tribal and national betrayal. That the film’s distributor, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is a New York Jew, and a vocal supporter of Israel, was even more unsettling. Haven’t the Jews and their State of Israel had it hard enough?
First to object was David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who, the night before the screening, sent out an open letter to United Nations General Assembly President Joseph Deiss. “The film has a clear political message which portrays Israel in a highly negative light,” Harris wrote. “Permit me to ask why the President of the General Assembly would wish to associate himself — and the prestige of his office — with such a blatantly one-sided event.”
Next, Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier sounded off: “Last night, when the General Assembly Hall was used for the first time to screen a pro-Palestinian film, marked another sad day in the 63-year-old history of the U.N.’s bias against the State of Israel,” he said in a widely released statement. “It’s bad enough that the 55 Moslem countries in the General Assembly have a virtual lock on the political resolutions there. Now the U.N. wants to extend that anti-Israel bias to the cultural and arts world as well.”
That the screening became cause for Jewish opprobrium seems to reflect deeper issues. Was this a protest of the film itself? Neither Harris nor Hier had yet seen it. Was it, rather, a legitimate complaint about bias against Israel at the world’s preeminent political assembly? Or was it, perhaps, a knee-jerk reaction from the old Jewish guard to anything sympathetic to the Palestinian perspective? Whatever the answers, the conversation surrounding “Miral” is raising serious and important questions about the Jewish response to Palestinian narratives — and, perhaps ironically, perhaps not — that’s exactly what the filmmakers want.
Rabbi Irwin Kula, one member of the post-screening panel discussion at the U.N., suggested that “Miral” offers an important opportunity to approach the conflict with new eyes.
“Everybody should go see it,” Kula, president of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said in a phone interview a few days later, from his New York office. “If you’re a Jew and anything about Israel and Palestinians touches you in any way, you should see this film.”
For Kula and the filmmakers, the hope is that the film will provide rare insight into the Palestinian point of view and inspire dialogue.
“After 63 years of conventional diplomacy, we are now further from a two-state solution than ever before,” Kula said. “We need new forms of peacemaking. Let’s recover personal, intimate human stories, which have been completely clouded out by the political and power narratives.”
Films like “Miral,” he said, offer alternatives to Jewish understanding of the conflict, humanizing individuals on the other side and offering openings for empathy. “Either we live in a moment of pikuach nefesh [“saving a life”], which makes marginalizing and vilifying those with whom one disagrees permissible, or [the reactions are a] projection of repressed, disassociated, split-off guilt about what is happening in Israel that is simply too painful to bear.”
If the early ire of mainstream Jewish groups is any indication, American Jews may not be ready to empathize with Palestinians. For older generations, the historic and seemingly endless suffering of Jews has given rise to the indelible notion that the world is against us. “We all construct narratives to help us get through life, so for a post-Holocaust generation to construct a narrative in which everyone is seen as a Nazi out to destroy us is not crazy,” Kula said. “What trauma does is close down the capacity to trust the other, and we have a traumatized group of senior leadership in American Jewish life.”
For some, that trauma is especially real at a place like the U.N., where an Arab bloc of 55 Muslim countries is outspokenly anti-Israel. The U.N. Human Rights Council, for example, has passed numerous resolutions condemning Israel, while countries with far worse human-rights track records, such as Sudan, get by relatively unscathed. So while the filmmakers saw the U.N. as a powerful forum for dialogue, Harris and Hier saw the potential for an echo chamber of diatribes. And while making movies is an art, and not meant to be objective or balanced, using the U.N. backdrop implies a certain seal of approval for a narrative that is discomfiting for many Jews.
“The moment I hear the words ‘U.N. General Assembly Hall’ — it stinks, because it’s never been open for Jews,” Hier said during a phone interview. “Where’s the film telling Israel’s story? Did they ever show ‘Exodus’ there?”
Israel suspended ties with the cultural body of the United Nations over its decision to classify the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as Palestinian.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is in charge of preserving historical sites, at the end of its biannual session last week adopted several proposals by Arab states classifying Jewish and Muslim holy sites. It classified Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as a mosque and ruled that the Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs was integral to the Palestinians.
“Israel rejects all five of UNESCO’s decisions and has no intention of cooperating with the organization,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon announced Wednesday evening in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the decision last week in a statement, saying that “The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd. If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage, then what is?
“It is regrettable,” the Israeli leader added, “that the organization established to promote historical heritage sites worldwide is trying for political reasons to detach the ties between the Jewish people and their heritage.”
In February, Netanyahu included both sites on the country’s new national heritage list and allocated money to refurbish them. The decision was condemned throughout the international community; UNESCO asked Israel to remove the sites from the list.
Israel’s consulate in San Francisco is co-sponsoring a month of events highlighting gay and lesbian culture.
This is the first time a foreign country has sponsored an LGBT—lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender—event in the United States. a consulate spokesman told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Through the end of April, Israeli films, concerts, dance performances, panel discussions and author appearances will focus on gay culture within Israel and the American Jewish community. Highlights include a screening of “Yossi and Jagger,” a 2002 Israeli film about the romance between two male IDF soldiers, and readings by Israeli novelist Yossi Avni-Levy, whose book, “Auntie Farhuma Wasn’t a Whore After All,” deals with a gay couple. Other participating institutions include the San Francisco JCC, local Jewish federations, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
From the birth of the Zionist movement more than a century ago through its 60 years as a Jewish state, Israel has come of age amid a vastly changing world: two world wars, the technological revolution and economic globalization with all its attendant challenges.
The creation of Israel is a paradigm for the way people without sovereignty embrace and transform their history through freedom. That ongoing struggle of humans trying to find their place in the universe unfolds over time, but it requires a place.
Israel also represents a unique laboratory — and not just for defining itself for its residents but also for addressing global crises. Every problem on this planet is refracted and amplified here: Having resettled and grown in the land, how can we conserve its environment? Can we halt our addiction to oil and achieve energy independence? If we level the field in information and technology, can we overcome the limitations of size and space and become a player on the global stage? If Israel can answer questions like these, it will achieve a secure position among nations and obtain its peace.
As President Shimon Peres said, the objective of this 60th anniversary year should be to bring Israel to the world and the world to Israel. Our experiment, through shifting events and the failures and challenges they bring, is one that results in the covenant renewed. And looking back through the decades from our founding, we can find four lessons that resonate globally. They also inform 21st century hopes for our survival, based on the merging of ancient truths with the ever-present task of national renewal. These are lessons that will sustain all global communities from the chaos of our times:
Lesson 1: Diasporas need homelands.
Today, the United Nations reports that more than 300 million people in this world live in Diaspora communities that struggle to maintain homeland ties. The Rwandans, the Armenians, the Guatemalans and, yes, the Palestinians long for their place among the nations. For many nations, Diaspora remittances are sometimes far greater than foreign direct investment, portfolio flows and foreign aid combined. The contributions of Israel’s Diaspora and its transformation through the creation of the State of Israel have been a lesson well studied by others.
Lesson 2: Nations need security.
Imminent threats, beginning before the Holocaust, informed not only the Zionist movement but also the Jewish concept of state defense. No nation can survive while its people live in exile.
The captive Hebrews in Babylon lamented, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” In revolting against its history, Israel rejected centuries of subjugation and developed a national defense based on the doctrine that homeland building can tolerate many risks for peace — but never the catastrophic risks that unite senseless hatred with regional imperialism.
This is what links the Eichman trial to Entebbe to Osirak to last fall’s strike against the Syrian reactor facility. Yet the world has seen genocide spread to Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The lesson of homeland security is ignored at great peril.
Lesson 3: Language and cultural revival are key.
Jewish cultural identity — expressed through art, music and, most important, through the revival of Hebrew from its strict liturgical usage to an official state language — has been key to our national renewal and rebirth. Where else in the world has a language no one spoke, but which was common to all, emerged as a national language?
Like archaeological discovery and conservation of cultural capital, the protection of language is essential for national cultures throughout the world. While not promoting linguistic exclusivity (Israel, after all, has three official languages), the protection of communal language promotes a multilingual access and a cultural infrastructure, encourages the safekeeping of minority languages and culture and their ultimate restoration as part of our international heritage.
Lesson 4: Unity exists in diversity.
From the microcosm of Israel’s rebirth as a modern nation, this is perhaps the most profound lesson for a global future. Israel’s Jewish-majority population can boast more than 120 nations of origin, along with significant local minorities of Palestinian, Druze and Bedouin Arabs. As a result, Israel is one of the most diverse countries in the world.
Integrating this pastiche into a democratic republic that protects and celebrates diversity through unity remains a remarkable achievement. It is also becoming a common challenge for nations around the world.
Absorption is the means to achieving true national self-interest. It puts the emphasis on integration, rather than on full assimilation and the triumphalism of a majority. In Israel, frankly, there is no majority — not Ashkenazim, not Sephardim, not political, not religious. It is our challenge to grow from the particular to the universal without comprising the richness and uniqueness of diversity.
Ultimately, these lessons underscore the celebration of Israel’s rebirth. Let us reaffirm our particular attributes as a nation by reaffirming our universal values. That was the lesson of the prophets.
These lessons and inspiration place Israel, a small country, on the global stage in a unique way. They offer enormous advantages in global trade and provide the basis for both military power and peace incentives. They provide the basic formula for an open society, global ties and national security. They enable Israel to renew and repair both itself and an endangered world in troubled times.
Glenn Yago is director of capital studies at the Milken Institute.
Fortunately I traveled to Paris before Pesach, because missing buttery croissants and oven-fresh French baguettes would have been ruinous to my experience. Indeed, France is most famous for its delicacies—wine, cheese, pastries, foie gras—but it is also home to a vibrant Jewish community; one that has prospered for the better part of 2,000 years, but currently suffers from a malaise of bad press.
Despite the historic turbulence of Jewish French life, current population statistics suggest there are between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews living in the region, the majority of whom reside in the cultural capital of Paris. The figure is surprising, considering frenzied media depictions of French anti-Semitism, recent waves of Jewish French immigration to Israel and also because the population was estimated at 300,000 prior to World War II, which suggests that, even though France is depicted as less than empathetic to the Jewish community, the Jewish population there has actually grown.
However, the aftermath of Nazi occupation in France left the country scarred, with a visibly guilty conscience, which I investigated during my stay in a 16th century walk-up on the Ile St. Louis.
In a bustling student cafe on Rue Saint-Guillaume just across from the elite French university Sciences Po, a young Parisian typed on his laptop before striking up conversation about the thesis he is writing on generational divides. He seemed well informed, so I asked, “Is it true that the French are hostile to their Jews?”
He laughed, and said that too many people argue politics about the Arab-Israeli conflict without knowing the history, essentially implying that if there’s hostility toward the Jews it’s related to Israel. But it also begged the question: Is argumentation or even Palestinian empathy what the world perceives as hostile to French Jews?
The following night, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai attended a screening of his new film, “Disengagement” at an artsy independent theater in Place Saint Germain. The film, a French-Israeli co-production (and a good sign of comity in the arts), depicts a woman’s search for the daughter she abandoned, set against the backdrop of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. The film was, in short, riveting; and the Q-&-A that followed revealed French cineastes. were provoked by its content.
Dressed in black with a white scarf draped around his neck, Gitai, 58, stood aloof at the front of the room, fielding question from critics and fans, brooding during one man’s rant about the film’s lack of a Palestinian portrayal.
“This is an Israeli story,” Gitai said, explaining that the conflict in the film was not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens they were ordered to remove from their homes; a conflict between secular Jews and religious Jews.
Scrubbing aside content and politics, there was still the idea that an Israeli filmmaker—telling an Israeli story—had been invited to screen his film at a distinguished arts venue, in a city ensconced in highbrow cultural snobbery. Perhaps more importantly, a famous and beautiful French actress (Juliette Binoche) figured prominently on the theater’s marquee, wrapped in an Israeli flag.
Whether fueled by guilt or regret or just plain reparation, Jewish culture is pervasive almost anywhere you go in Paris: There’s the sophisticated bookstore, Librairie Gallimard, which contains shelves full of books about the Holocaust, French resistance fighters and Nazi occupation, along with a special section devoted to Israeli literature; there’s the Holocaust Memorial on the Ile de la Cite, just behind the Notre Dame cathedral, certainly one of Paris’ most popular destinations; there’s the Jewish quarter, Rue de Rosiers, undeniably well situated in the trendy Le Marais, with some of the city’s best shopping, and near the historic Place des Vosges, an opulent 17th-century manse built for royalty.
So for the few-thousand French Jews who have made aliyah since 2004, there emerges new hope, like Gitai’s crosscultural storytelling or the Paris-born, Israeli-raised pop singer Yael Naim whose shows sung in Hebrew, French and English sell out among young, bourgeois Parisians.
In the song “Paris,” Naim’s enchanting ode to her beloved birthplace, she best captures the conflicting sentiments Jews feel for the City of Lights: I came here / A bit disenchanted / This beautiful illusion of mine / The country is so good to me here / So why do I cry and get upset?
Well, because it’s hard choosing between Paris and Israel. But still, it’s delightful to have that choice.
This is the second in a series of weekly columns celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary, leading up to Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, in May.
Where I was born. Where I ate my first Popsicle and used a proper toilet for the first time. Where some of my 18-year-old friends spend their nights in bunkers sleeping with their helmets on. Where security guards are the only jobs in surplus. Where deserts bloom and pioneer stories are sentimentalized. Where a thorny, sweet cactus is the symbol of the ideal Israeli. Where immigrating to Israel is called “ascending” and emigrating from Israel is called “descending.” Where my grandparents were not born, but where they were saved.
Where the year passes with the season of olives, of almonds, of dates. Where the transgressive pig or shrimp dish speaks defiantly from a Jerusalem menu. Where, despite substantial exception, secularism is the rule. Where wine is religiously sweet. Where “Arabic homes” is a positive real estate term with no sense of irony. Where there is endless material for dark humor. Where there are countless words for “to bother,” but no single one yet for “to pleasure.” Where laughter is the currency; jokes the religion. Where political parties multiply more quickly than do people. Where to become religious is described as “returning to an answer” and becoming secular “returning to a question.”
Where six citizens have won Nobel prizes in 50 years. Where the first one earned an Olympic gold in 2004 for sailing (an Israeli also won the bronze for judo). Where there is snow two hours north and hamsin (desert wind) two hours south. Where Moses never was allowed to walk, but whose streets we litter. Where the language in which Abraham spoke to Isaac before he was to sacrifice him has been resuscitated to include the words for “sweatshirt” and “schadenfreude” and “chemical warfare” and “press conference.” Where the muezzin chants, and the church bells sound and the shofars cry freely at the Wall. Where the shopkeepers bargain. Where the politicians bargain. Where there will one day be peace but never quiet.
Where I was born; where my insides refuse to abandon.
This piece is an excerpt from Alan Dershowitz’s book, “What Israel Means to Me” (Wiley, $15.95).
Natalie Portman is an actress who has starred in many films, including “Anywhere But Here,” “Where the Heart Is,” “Closer” and the “Star Wars” prequels. She made her Broadway debut playing the title role in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” She was born in Jerusalem, speaks fluent Hebrew, and graduated from Harvard University.
With white butcher paper stretching around the room, David Solomon hurriedly scrawls timelines with his thick black marker, delineating 250-year blocks of time.
“Dudes, don’t try this at home,” he jokes with the audience of mostly 20- and 30-something participants.
In the space of the next hour — plus an extra 10 to 15 minutes thrown in for good measure — Solomon outlines the 4,000 years of Jewish history, from 2000 B.C.E. to the present. Each white paper wall represents 1,000 years, and as Solomon moves from Abraham to the 12 tribes, Moses, the prophets, the First and Second Temples, the Babylonian exile and the “PR stunt” of Chanukah, he works the room, swiveling the audience in its seats as he races from one side of the room to another.
“There’s a purpose to the Jewish people besides handing down the recipe for gefilte fish,” he tells the rapt group. “You don’t have to be frum to believe that the Jewish people have a purpose in the world.”
Welcome to “The Whole of Jewish History in One Hour” and the Solomon agenda, if this charmingly disheveled teacher has one. The 45-year-old Aussie, who says he feels — and acts — much younger than he is, utterly believes in the absolute necessity for Jews to know and understand Jewish history. Dividing the Jewish history timeline into phases provides people with a framework, Solomon says, and shows them “how amazing our history is.”
Solomon will be one of dozens of teachers at LimmudLA Feb. 17-20 in Costa Mesa. The conference will feature a weekend packed with everything Jewish, from text studies to meditation minyans to arts performances. About 600 people are expected to attend the three-day President’s Day weekend event, the first time the worldwide phenomenon is hitting the West Coast.
“In One Hour,” as produced by Solomon and his wife, Marjorie, started out as something of a joke. At the end of 2004, the Solomons had returned to his native Perth after he had spent several years doing postgraduate research in Jewish mysticism at University College London. When Solomon was invited to address a conference of Jewish high school students, he somewhat flippantly came up with the idea of covering the whole of Jewish history in one hour. As the date neared, he found that his talk was being billed as such, and the idea caught on as a more permanent concept.
“It’s really just … a way of making sense of it all, so that people are able to contextualize and comprehend the history,” Solomon says.
“In One Hour” is designed for a wide range of people, Solomon says. Some participants may simply want a better understanding of the framework of Jewish history, others may have a more solid background but haven’t been able to envision the entire timeline.
During the talk, Solomon throws in Hebrew terms and names and does not translate. He sees the use of Hebrew as an important part of acculturating his audience to “speak about Jewish things in Jewish terms.”
“There may be a gap between who it was designed for and who turns up,” Solomon says. “It’s a talk that attempts to give meaning; you don’t have to believe in God.”
In some ways, Solomon’s “In One Hour” is the Jewish History 101 of the Taglit-Birthright Israel age. While successfully branding a new approach to a subject that may have faded in popularity, Solomon is very serious about his desire to use Jewish history as a method of propelling students toward more serious Jewish study.
He wants them to learn Hebrew and Jewish history as a “method of self empowerment,” because he believes that the Jewish people have “lost” their “perspective.” Looking back at Jewish history — the Golden Age of Spain lasted a mere 700 years –Solomon wants to show the Jewish community outside of Israel that nothing lasts forever.
Learning Hebrew is a crucial part of Solomon’s proposed framework. He sees the Hebrew language as the “gateway to Torah” and believes that Hebrew and living in Israel are the only ways to “authentically renew” Jewish spirituality.
Solomon himself took what he calls “a spiritual exile” from the Jewish world for some 10 years and now calls himself a secular Jew who keeps mitzvot (commandments). He grew up in a Sabbath-observant family in Perth, attending Jewish day school and then a Lubavitch-run college in Melbourne, followed by yeshiva in Israel. After living in London and Australia, he and his wife moved to Israel late last year after it became “increasingly apparent that we didn’t feel at home anywhere except Israel.”
Now living in Tel Aviv, the Solomons travel regularly, bringing “In One Hour” to communities in England, the United States and Australia. The format has evolved into an entire series, branching into other subjects, including Bible, philosophy, women in Jewish history and Hebrew, as well as an expanded, nine-session version of the history course.
“I’m not interested in hoisting my own petard,” says Solomon, as intense in conversation as he is in teaching. “There really isn’t a script to this. The narrative just comes out, and these,” he says, pointing at the time-lined walls, “are the headlines.”
For more information on LimmudLA, visit http://LimmudLA.org
When The Journal asked me to write a note about the murder of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, I initially declined. I did not feel I had anything insightful or original to add to the dozens of gloomy and desperate articles we have been receiving by Pakistanis and Western analysts in the wake of that horrible tragedy.
I have changed my mind, because the eloquent article in The Jewish Journal by Beirut-based journalist Rami Khouri, “Who Killed Benazir Bhutto?” (Jan. 4) has alerted me to a recurrent phenomenon that deserves our attention.
Khouri places Bhutto’s murder in the wider context of regionwide proliferation of political violence and puts the blame on the fact that “in the life of ordinary people in the vast region from North Africa and the Middle East to South Asia political violence has become an everyday fact of life.”
The essence of Khouri’s article shines through its concluding paragraphs: “They kill as they have been killed. Having been dehumanized in turn, they will embrace inhumanity and brutality.
“Who killed Benazir Bhutto? We all killed her, in East and West, Orient and Occident, North and South. We of the globalized beastly generation that transformed political violence from an occasional crime to an ideology and an addiction.”
My Western upbringing resonates strongly with Khouri’s dramatic ending: “We all killed her,” which I take to be a poetic call for self-examination and social action, urging each and every one of us to make a difference by cleaning our own mess. I am sure many in the Judeo-Christian tradition will echo this call with, “Indeed, let us work on ourselves first” — it is in the nature of our cultural reflex.
But my moral instinct tells me something totally different. It tells me that what the world needs during this state of social upheaval are distinctions, not generalizations, clarity, not equivocation. To say, “We are all guilty,” is paramount to saying, “No one is guilty,” like that bully who excuses himself with the rejoinder, “They all do it.”
Sweeping generalizations that spread guilt too broadly tend to obscure the anatomy of violence; they drive attention away from critical factors and pivotal players and hamper our ability to take corrective actions.
I became particularly sensitive to this logic of overgeneralization in the weeks following the murder of our son, Daniel, when jihadi Web sites began ranting: “What’s all the fuss about one Jewish journalist, when so many Muslims are being killed in Palestine and Afghanistan?”
It is pointless, of course, to explain to jihadis that terrorism earns its ominous and morally reprehensible character not through body count but through intent, i.e., the intent of the perpetrators to harm the innocent — jihadis refuse to get it.
One would expect, however, that modernity-minded thinkers should grasp this defining distinction and use it to tell a good guy from a bad one — they, too, refuse to get it. While every 12-year-old could tell who aims to minimize civilian casualties and who aims to maximize them, anti-American ideologues make believe they could not. They insist on regurgitating the body count argument and pretend they’ve never heard the word “intent.”
Time after time in my lectures before mixed Muslim-Jewish audiences, I get the question: “Isn’t the U.S. operation in Iraq a state-sponsored terrorism?” or “Isn’t Israeli targeted killing morally equivalent to Palestinian suicide bombing?” Even after admitting that Israel aims to minimize civilian casualties — it is, after all, bad for public opinion — the questioners refuse to accept the distinction.
Symmetry is so seductive, and the idea that every strife has two equivalent sides so deeply entrenched in our culture, that even well-meaning intellectuals fall into its trap.
Michael Winterbottom, for example, the director of the movie, “A Mighty Heart,” compared Daniel’s murder to the conditions in Guantanamo, and wrote: “There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence, and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this.”
Khouri is thus in good company when he falls into the trap of body count and states: “It makes little difference if this is the work of democratic or dictatorial leaders: Dead children and war-ravaged societies do not value such distinctions.”
What is dangerous in this tendency to generalize and symmetrize violent acts is that it actually helps spread the ideology of political violence, for it permits angry youngsters to reason thus: “All forms of violence are equally evil; therefore, as long as one persists, others should not be ruled out.” This is precisely the logic used by Mohammed Siddiqui Khan, one of the London suicide bombers, in his post-mortem videotape on Al Jazeera.
But no less dangerous is the destructive influence of ideologues who, armed with the halo of nonviolence advocacy, exploit the superficial to preach hatred and bigotry. Typical among them is Arun Gandhi, grandson of India’s legendary leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who just this month published an article on the Newsweek/Washington Post Web site titled, “Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence,” in which he states that “Israel and the Jews are the biggest players” in the creation of a “culture of violence that is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
Such reckless twistings of reality, soaked in apocalyptic pontification, spring abundantly from the cult of the superficial and its lazy logic of body count.
Saying, “We all killed Benazir Bhutto” means that violence is so hopelessly symmetric, chaotic and all-pervasive that we do not know where to begin our effort to contain it. But we do know where to begin, because some acts are violence-reducing, while others are violence-producing — the two are not equivalent, and we should obviously begin with the former.
For example, Israel’s military operations in Gaza are not equivalent to the firing of Qassam rockets into Sderot. The former will cease if the latter does but not the other way around. This causal asymmetry is so glaring, that only minds like Gandhi’s can mindlessly ignore.
We have a similar asymmetry in Iraq, where one side sees cessation of hostilities as an achievement, the other as defeat. In such cases, the asymmetries should be noted, analyzed and acted on, rather than dismissed with, “We all killed her?”