Tourists stand in front of a grafitti depicting U.S President Donald Trump on the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank town of Bethlehem August 4, 2017. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

Why we need more history lessons

In the cascade of one major news story after another, President Donald Trump has decided somewhat quietly to send his son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kusher, along with chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt, back to the Middle East to try to revive peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

While the chances of success are not high, this nonetheless is a salutary development on at least two scores: First, it reveals that the president has not given up all hope and does seem to regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as worth his attention; and second, in this conflict, stasis, or the perceived absence of diplomatic movement, often is a catalyst for violence.

And yet, there is a concerning element to this plan. Several weeks ago, in a talk with a group of congressional interns, Kushner reportedly said of diplomacy: “Everyone finds an issue … ‘You have to understand what they did then,’ and ‘You have to understand that they did this.’ But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on how do you come up with a conclusion to the situation.”

It is tempting to imagine that in a conflict weighed down by competing historical narratives, one can begin with a tabula rasa and then move on to a shared understanding of a peaceful future. I fear that this won’t work in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two sides cling tightly to their accounts of the past — and for understandable reasons. The Jewish/Zionist/Israeli story of liberation from exile and reclamation of the ancestral homeland contains a great deal of truth. But so does the Palestinian story of the flight from homeland to exile. In this sense, both historical accounts have a great deal of veracity, although they are mixed with myth and, often enough, denial of the legitimacy of the other side’s narrative.

Researchers have found that in post-conflict situations such as Northern Ireland and the Balkans, a key and difficult step toward reconciliation is to acknowledge the existence of multiple narratives and to work at all levels of society to educate toward an inclusive, rather than exclusive, view of the past. As I argue in a forthcoming book, “The Stakes of History,” history is not only not to be avoided in such settings, it can be an important tool of reconciliation between warring sides. Failing to acknowledge the history of the other will induce anger and indignation at every turn. And repressing difficult chapters from the past may be gratifying in the short term but ultimately will return with a vengeance, like a festering wound.

Recognizing the story of the other as part of the quest for diplomatic resolution is one sense in which history is important. There are other uses for history. The past, as the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin noted, is a huge repository of discarded, but interesting, ideas. The current state of affairs between Israelis and Palestinians is a stalemate. The long-regnant model of a two-state solution is increasingly undesirable to both sides; the alternative Israeli and Palestinian visions of a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean seem to be so divergent as to be unbridgeable. Returning to the dustbin of history can help to surface old ideas worth reconsidering in the present quagmire, even if only as interim solutions. These include, as Israeli historian Benny Morris explored in his book “One State, Two States,” confederated arrangements in which autonomous areas are joined to existing states or even a canton system that grants autonomy to different parts of the region according to ethnic, political or cultural cohesion.

There is a third way history can be of value — and this is of most direct value to Jared Kushner. American policy is far better off with a rich sense of history than an enfeebled one. Had military and political planners possessed a more refined sense of the history of ethnic and religious conflict in Iraq and the region, there might have been a greater sense of restraint before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 — and a more realistic awareness of the challenges of governing the country after it. By extension, it would seem responsible to take a deep dive into the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as into the attempts to solve it, before embarking on a new diplomatic initiative.

In fact, it might be worth reviving a proposal raised by two distinguished scholars in the waning months of the Barack Obama presidency. Political scientist Graham Allison and historian Niall Ferguson called in September 2016 for the creation of a Council of History Advisers to serve a function akin to the Council of Economic Advisers. The two proposed a number of ways in which history could be of great value to policymakers, recalling the valuable recourse to history made by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke in response to the 2008 economic crisis.

As in that case, so too in the present, we stand to benefit greatly from more rather than fewer history lessons.

DAVID N. MYERS is the president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History, as well as the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA. He is the author of “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford University Press).

Yigal Kipnis on Yom Kippur War’s lessons

Yigal Kipnis is an Israeli historian; since 1978 he has been a farmer and a resident of the Golan Heights. He teaches at the University of Haifa and researches the settlement geography and political history of Israel. Kipnis also served as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force for 31 years (26 of them in the IAF reserves). The following exchange focuses on his book, “1973: The Road to War,” which came out in Hebrew in late 2012. The book has received fantastic reviews in the Israeli press by various acclaimed critics and is scheduled to appear in English later this year.

Shmuel Rosner: Your book, and this is no big secret, was immediately embraced by the Israeli so-called “peace camp.” I always find it a little disturbing that history books become a political tool, but in today’s political environment this is probably unavoidable.

The conclusion drawn by many of your readers was this: Israel wasn’t vigorous enough in pursuing peace back in 1973, and the result was devastating. It should therefore be careful not to miss such opportunities today, and be more forthcoming in its conduct when negotiating with its neighbors. 

Is this your conclusion as well? Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of 1973?

Yigal Kipnis: Your question links the realm of my research — history — and the area you deal with: investigating and interpreting the present.

The book “1973, The Road to Waris entirely devoted to the events of 1973 (except for the Marwan story, which continues up to the present). As I wrote in my introduction, the findings relating to that year were that: “Decision makers in Israel had been mistaken in thinking that their military superiority and deterrence, along with the political support of the United States, would both prevent a political process which they did not want and uphold the favorable (to Israel) status quo. The Israeli prime minister and minister of defense did not comprehend that, in order to ensure Israeli security, military superiority was not enough; a peace agreement was also necessary.”

But I was careful to end the introduction with the following paragraph: “Despite the fact that the book discusses the events of 1973, the attention of many readers will be directed toward the present. History, as is well known, does not repeat itself, but it is important to be familiar with it, as such knowledge assists us in better evaluating current events.”

Nevertheless, many readers examined the book’s findings in accord with their own attitudes about the present-day political situation, a fact that you justifiably deplore. Members of the “peace camp” were indeed happy with these findings so that they could base their present positions on the lessons of 1973. Correspondingly, for the same reason, the “right-wing camp” found it difficult to accept the facts about 1973, some without even learning these facts. There were those who went further, ignoring the findings and viewing only the present, maintaining that Israel should not have considered coordination with the United States and should have launched a preventive attack. With regard to 1973, they are mistaken.

In this paragraph, I reply specifically to your question:

“The actions of the prime minister and the minister of defense that led to the Yom Kippur War evoke thoughts about the role of a national leader, about the relations between decision makers and evaluation bodies, about the price of silencing a mobilized or a paralyzed media, about the price of the ‘national euphoria’ that characterized Israeli society in the ‘euphoric period’ between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and, particularly, about the price of a sense that time is working in Israel’s favor.”

But the position that Israel should take at present must be investigated comprehensively considering the Zionist process and present realities, and not according to those of 1973.

I believe, and with no connection to the events of 1973, that Israeli peace agreements with the Arab states surrounding it were and have remained a strategic Israeli goal and thus, it had to act to achieve this goal and still should. These agreements must be based on the international border that defined, for the first and only time in history, the state entity of the land of Israel. This definition stemmed from a decision by the Israeli unity government in June 1967, nine days after the end of the Six-Day War. This decision also expressed how its ministers, both on the left and on the right, and including Menachem Begin, conceived of the way to turn the military achievement of the Six-Day War into a political achievement. This policy was implemented in the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. The withdrawal from Lebanon was based on this borderline, as were the negotiations with Syria, conducted by Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu in two terms of office, Barak and Olmert. The problem remaining is what happens within the international border of Israel — the west bank of the Jordan River. One state? Two states? If there are two states, how will we share the land?

In my opinion, without casting doubt on the historical connection of the Jewish nation to the entire land, realization of Zionist aspirations and ensuring the existence of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people requires us to reach an agreement with the Palestinian leadership, if only to ensure proper security and freedom of entry to places that will not remain under Israeli sovereignty. The outline of this agreement is well known. The problem is how to achieve it. In this context I expressed my opinion a few weeks ago in an op-ed article in Ha’aretz: “The Arab initiative for comprehensive peace with Israel is one of the important political achievements of Zionism. Its implementation is likely to lead to regional stability, which will enable Israel to direct its resources and its efforts to the areas of education, society and the economy. No Palestinian leader will be able to reject an agreement that has been accepted in this discussion channel, under the patronage of the Arab world, the United States and the European Community. This patronage will make it easier for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to compromise on issues that would have been difficult to agree on in direct negotiations between the sides. An Israeli leader who really aspires to peace and security must accept this initiative.”

In addition, I believe that the Israeli public will support a leader who adopts this policy. Not as a lesson drawn from the price we paid in the Yom Kippur War because the Israeli prime minister rejected a peace initiative from President Sadat, an initiative whose principles formed the basis of the treaty Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed six years later with Egypt, but as a vital interest of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people at present in the land of Israel.

For more of this exchange, read Rosner’s Domain at

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, please visit Rosner’s Domain at

Benzion Netanyahu: In life and death

Two momentous events occurred recently in the life of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last week, he dropped a bombshell on the Israeli public by forging, under the cloak of night, a coalition with Kadima, his party’s leading rival in the Knesset. This move, which forestalled early elections expected in September, demonstrated yet again Netanyahu’s formidable political skills, in this case by co-opting his most dangerous parliamentary foe.

The second event came a week earlier, on April 30, with the death at 102 of Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister’s father. Netanyahu père was an erudite scholar of Jewish history who exerted an outsized influence on his tight-knit family. The elder Netanyahu held to what the greatest of 20th century Jewish historians, Salo Baron, called the “lachrymose” — or tearful — conception of Jewish history. This view can be readily summarized in a line uttered by Benzion Netanyahu to David Remnick for a 1998 profile of Bibi in The New Yorker: “Jewish history is in large measure a history of holocausts.”

We might call this the Amalekite view of Jewish history, referring to the hated biblical foes of the Israelites whose existence — and even memory — should be blotted out (Exodus 17:14). The historian’s belief that the Jews have been subjected to constant genocidal threats did not lead him to a passive fatalism, as if there were nothing that the Jews could do in the face of Amalek. Rather, it inspired his own militant Zionism, which demanded a persistent willingness to wage war against one’s enemies.

Bibi Netanyahu dismisses talk of his father’s deep imprint on him as “psychobabble.” But it is hard to avoid seeing traces of the father’s vision of the past in his own thinking and policies. It is hard, for example, to disconnect his bellicose stance on Iran from his father’s Amalekite worldview. Netanyahu the son does not merely see Iran as a grave threat; he regards it as comparable to the most terrifying of Jewish persecutors, the Nazis — a point he made explicitly at the March 2012 AIPAC convention and during his recent Yom HaShoah remarks. There is a broader historical perspective that anchors this analogy. Like his father, the prime minister sees the long history of the Jews as marked by “powerlessness,” “utter defenselessness” and “the atrophy of Jewish resistance,” the antidote to which is the unapologetic and ever-ready assertion of Jewish force.

To be sure, Bibi Netanyahu is more than a mere replica of his father. Indeed, there is another facet to his personality alongside the Amalekite — that of the political pragmatist educated at MIT and trained in the art of deal making at the Boston Consulting Group. That is what makes him such an intriguing figure in the history of Israeli political life. Still, it is worth reflecting on the father, both because he deserves our attention in his own right and because of his strong cultural and historical transmission to his son.

Benzion Netanyahu was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1910 and emigrated to Palestine in 1920. While studying in Jerusalem, he became involved with the upstart Revisionist Zionists, who organized themselves in the mid 1920s as an alternative to the European-based World Zionist Organization, as well as to the Labor Zionists of David Ben-Gurion in Palestine. The goal of the Revisionists was not to build up the ancestral homeland through cooperative communities and an egalitarian spirit, but rather to insist on the creation of a political state to be located on both sides of the Jordan River. The fledgling movement’s charismatic prophet, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), was a brilliant Russian-Jewish journalist who laid out his distinctive political perspective in a 1923 essay titled “Iron Wall.” Jabotinsky was willing to accord full rights to Arabs in Palestine, but only as a function of Jewish beneficence, not as a result of power sharing or negotiation between equals.

Benzion Netanyahu was nurtured on the principles of Jabotinsky’s Revisionism. He also inherited the movement’s sense of persecution and marginalization within Jewish Palestine. Not only was the movement a minority party within Zionism, its militant stance toward both the local Arab population and British Mandatory authorities made its existence somewhat precarious. It is no surprise that Jabotinsky’s chief disciple, the future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, titled a history of the Revisionist paramilitary group Etse”l (National Military Organization), which he commanded, “In the Underground” (“Ba-mahteret”). Begin and his fellow Revisionists felt the need to hide in the underground, where they faced a multitude of enemies (Arab, British, even Jewish) while seeking to redeem the Jewish people through armed struggle.

Benzion Netanyahu deeply internalized this bunker mentality, bringing it with him from Palestine to the United States, where he moved in 1940, initially to serve as secretary to Jabotinsky (until his hero’s death later that year). For the next eight years, he ran the Revisionist-affiliated New Zionist Organization of America. Simultaneously, he undertook doctoral studies in Jewish history at Dropsie College in Philadelphia, earning his degree in 1947 with a dissertation on the great Iberian Jewish thinker and statesman, Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508).

This study, published as a book in 1953, launched Netanyahu’s career as a historian of Spanish Jewry. One might assume that his path into academia signaled his exit from the world of Zionist politics. Not so. Netanyahu’s historical views undergirded and were intricately entwined with his political outlook. Thus, he evinced considerable empathy for Abravanel, not only owing to his communal leadership but to his deep antipathy for the hostile Christian world that surrounded him. At the same time, he took Abravanel to task for his flights of messianic fancy, wondering what might have been had the Jewish leader instead “propagated a realistic course, a plan of regaining the Promised Land by settlement and colonization.” In other words, he held Abravanel, rather ahistorically, to the standards of 20th century Zionism.

Perhaps more significantly, Netanyahu began to develop in this book his iconoclastic, controversial and conspiratorial outlook on one of the most notorious institutions in the history of the West, the Inquisition. Netanyahu was continually drawn to the phenomenon of conversos, those Jews who had been forcibly converted in Spain beginning in 1391 and whose presence proved to be a major irritant to Spanish Old Christian society. Now that the stigma of Judaism had been removed, the conversos were free to gain entry to any and every position of power in Spain. Netanyahu, among other scholars, argued that the Inquisition was introduced between 1478 and 1481 in order to retard the advance of the “New Christians” into the heart of Spanish society. This, in itself, was not particularly original.

What did set Netanyahu apart from other scholars, however, was his claim that the Inquisition, which was not directed against Jews per se, but against perceived heretics among the conversos, engaged in wholesale and malicious fabrication. Its long recitation of the “Judaizing” crimes of the conversos — observance of the Sabbath, abstinence from pork, Torah study, etc. — was but a lie. Almost no converso, Netanyahu strenuously argued, continued to adhere to Jewish ritual practice; all had assimilated into Spanish society.

Netanyahu first detailed this assertion in “The Marranos of Spain” (1966), relying on contemporaneous Hebrew sources. At the end of that book, he posed a vexing question: If the conversos were not in fact engaged in secret Jewish practices, what then motivated the Inquisition to persecute them? It was this question that occupied his attention for 30 years — and that stood at the center of his monumental, nearly 1,400-page book, “The Origins of the Inquisition” (1995). Relying on Christian sources now, Netanyahu argued that the Inquisition was propelled into action not by religious zeal, but by a mix of socio-economic and racial factors. On one hand, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, sought to prevent the ascent of conversos into the uppermost echelons of the Spanish economy. On the other, the Spanish Inquisition was rooted in a pernicious racial enmity toward all those possessed of Jewish blood. Indicative of this enmity were the “purity of blood” statutes introduced in mid-15th century Spain to exclude New Christians from public office. Herein lay the true motivations of the Inquisition. And herein lay a stunning adumbration of modern, racial anti-Semitism, as it would take form in Nazism.

Others have noted this link between early modern Spanish and modern German racialism, most notably Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. But few scholars argued that there were virtually no secret Jews among the conversos and, therefore, that the Inquisition was founded on a vast lie. In fact, while Netanyahu canvassed a wide range of sources, he was frequently criticized for ignoring the veracity of the largest trove of documentary material relating to the conversos: the detailed accounts of Judaizing activity in Inquisitorial records themselves.

Benzion Netanyahu’s provocative methods and findings are inseparable from his deeply ingrained Amalekite worldview, according to which Jews face unrelenting hostility from the Gentile world — even when those Jews abandon their very adherence to Judaism. His perspective was nurtured not only in the archive, but also in the underground, where suspicion and paranoia tend to fester. And, via his powerful son, it is a perspective that will survive Professor Netanyahu’s death, informing Israeli political culture at a most crucial juncture.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and chairs the History Department at UCLA.

On the trail of the Maccabees

The heroes of Chanukah are no secret. The legendary Judah Maccabee and his warrior brothers defeated the Greek Hellenists in true Israelite fashion. Just as a young David slew Goliath, this tiny family-led army defeated a powerful military force. That much we know. But where in the world do we find a physical trace of these ancient warriors?

The mystery of the elusive trail of the Maccabim, as they are known in Hebrew, begins between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Near the entrance to Modi’in, one of Israel’s fastest-growing cities, elaborate Hasmonean graves are clearly marked with modern signage. Local legend suggests this is indeed the site of the ancient city of Modi’in, Maccabee headquarters during the time the Chanukah story took place. But is this, in fact, where the clan was laid to final rest 22 centuries ago?

Our search begins with the establishment of the modern city of Modi’in, which launched construction only in the 1990s. Next door, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach founded the collective settlement of Moshav Mevo Modi’im with a similar-sounding name more than 35 years ago. Developers unearthed thousands of relics after digging into two Modi’im sites. The first was Titora Hill, where archeologists discovered fascinating signs of ancient habitation, including remains of a large settlement. An elaborate tunnel system dating from the Bar Kokhba period and a crusader fortress also were unearthed. Today, the ruins stand as a green sanctuary in the middle of a burgeoning city.

The second major find came to light on the nearby road running from Modi’in to Latrun (between Shilat Junction and Mevo Modi’im), at the site called Um el-Umdan, Arabic for “mother of pillars.” During the construction of Route 2, excavations unveiled the oldest synagogue in all of Israel, decorated externally with pillars, which led to the locale’s moniker. Inside, archaeologists discovered beautiful frescoes. Other remarkable evidence includes a 25-room villa from the Hasmonean era and a Second Temple-era mikveh. In the second century C.E., following the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans razed this Jewish village.

The amazing discoveries at these sites derailed construction in the area and proponents proposed both as locations of the ancient village of Modi’in. But across the street from the aforementioned Um el-Umdan is perhaps the most remarkable discovery of all. On Highway 443, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, bilingual Hebrew and English signs point to “Maccabean Graves — Hashmonean Village.” Here, in a story that rings familiar for many sites in Israel, a group of Jewish schoolchildren and their Zionist teacher were seeking a connection with these strong Jewish heroes in 1907. They asked a local Arab shepherd if he knew where the Maccabim were buried. He led them to a site called Kubur al-Yahud, Arabic for “the graves of the Jews.” On Erev Chanukah, they lit the first candle of the holiday and danced at the cluster of monumental graves. This Chanukah tradition continues today. 

Experts doubt this is the authentic site of the Maccabee graves, but popular belief endures. A look at the ancient texts describing the events of Chanukah offers more hints of the real location. As it states in the Book of Maccabees I (13:25-30), Shimon, the sole survivor, buried his family. He also constructed a pyramid-like tombstone on each of the graves for his parents and four brothers as well as his own future final resting place.

“Shimon sent for the bones of his brother, Jonathan, and buried them in Modi’in, city of his forefathers.

“All of Israel eulogized him and mourned for him many days.

“Shimon erected over the tombs of his father and brothers a monument of stones, polished front and back, high enough to be seen from a distance.

“He set up seven pyramids facing one another for his father and his mother and his four brothers.

“For the pyramids he devised a setting of big columns, on which he carved suits of armor as a perpetual memorial, and next to the armor he placed carved ships, which could be seen by all who sailed the sea.

“This tomb which he built at Modi’in is there to the present day.”

It’s impossible to conclude the accuracy of the enduring folk legend around the location of the graves. But excavations dating from the 19th century suggest the traditional site misses the mark and that Midya, a nearby Arab village, more closely fits the ancient description instead. Meanwhile, the experts qualified to actually determine the veracity of the myth are archaeologists, who remain unwilling to excavate the graves due to the sensitivity of the religious community. With the popular fervor for strong Jewish heroes so attached to the current site, the mystery of the Maccabee graves is likely to endure.

For those interested in exploring more of Hasmonean lore, the beautiful botanical garden and biblical nature reserve at Neot Kedumim offer insight into daily Hasmonean life. Activities include crushing olives for oil with a massive stone mill, creating clay lamps, drawing water, milling flour and participating in biblical cooking classes.

Another wonderful excursion through time is available both above and underground at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and Davidson Center, where Maccabee-era houses, ritual baths, and galleries and multimedia presentations buttress the southern entrance to the Old City and Kotel area. Virtual panoramas, time lines and more are found on the park’s Web site.

For more information, visit Neot Kedumim ( and Jerusalem Archaeological Park and Davidson Center (

Rahm Emanuel is a fighting policy wonk with a Jewish soul

Political insight, killer in a fight, Yiddishkayt — it’s an inseparable package when it comes to Rahm Emanuel, say those who know President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be the next White House chief of staff.

Since his days as a fundraiser and then a “political adviser” — read: enforcer — for President Bill Clinton, Emanuel has earned notoriety as a no-holds-barred politico. Accept the good with the bad because it’s of a piece, said Steve Rabinowitz, who worked with Emanuel in the Clinton White House.

“He can be a ‘mamzer,’ but he’s our mamzer,” said Rabinowitz, using the Yiddish term for “bastard,” speaking both as a Democrat and a Jew. “Sometimes that’s what you need.”

The apocrypha is legendary, if somewhat hard to pin down: Jabbing a knife into a table screaming “Dead!” as colleagues shout out the names of political enemies, sending a dead fish to a rival, screaming at friends and enemies alike for no good reason.

Even his allies acknowledge that Emanuel, 48, can be on edge at times.

“He’s not running for Miss Congeniality, ever,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has known Emanuel since they worked at Illinois Public Action, a public interest group, in the early 1980s. “He is relentless; he doesn’t give up, but in a strategic way. He’s good at figuring out other people’s self-interest and negotiating in a way that comes out in his favor.”

Emanuel, an Illinois congressman who boasts strong ties to his local Jewish community and the Jewish state, also can be seen as embodying Obama’s stated commitment to Israeli security and diplomacy: During the first Iraq War, Emanuel flew to Israel as a volunteer to help maintain military vehicles. Two years later, he was an aide to Clinton, helping to push along the newly launched Oslo process.

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Ari, Rahm recalled, “beat the crap out of him” — not because of the bike, not to protect his brother, “but because of what he said about black kids.”

Rahm defended his brother in terms he might have applied to himself: “Where others see fierceness, I see loyalty. Where others see intensity, I see passion.”

In general, Emanuel is fiercely loyal to his family, and they were a consideration in his hesitation to take work he’s always dreamed of having — he waited two days to say yes. Obama, in his statement announcing the pick, recognized the pain it would cause Emanuel’s wife, Amy, and “their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah.”

Emanuel, born to an Israeli doctor who married a local woman after he moved to Chicago in the mid-1950s, speaks Hebrew and fondly recalls summering each year in Israel as a child — including just after the 1967 Six-Day War. He attends Anshe Sholom, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Chicago, and sends his children to Jewish day school.

His rabbi, Asher Lopatin, recalls Emanuel approaching him just before Rosh Hashanah this year, telling him that an effort to put together a bailout package for the hard-hit stock market before the holiday had failed and asking whether it was permissible to take conference calls on the holiday in order to salvage the bill.

“I asked, ‘Is it as serious as people say it is?'” the rabbi recalled. “He said, ‘Without this bill there could be a meltdown of the financial system.'”

Lopatin considered the effect such a failure would have on children and the poor.

“I felt it was a case of pikuach nefesh, the commandment that places the saving of life above all other commandments,” Lopatin said, and gave Emanuel the OK.

The somberness of the request couldn’t quell Emanuel’s acerbic wit. Lopatin recalled Emanuel’s teasing, wondering whether the status of the rabbi’s 401(k) investments wasn’t also behind the heksher.

“He kibitzed with me about that,” the rabbi said.

Emanuel repeated the story, to raucous laughter, in caucus meetings on the Hill — an example of how he will skid in the same sentence from Judaism to a liberal commitment to social reforms to hard-nosed politics, Schakowsky said.

“There’s barely a caucus meeting where he doesn’t make some reference to being Jewish, often in a humorous way,” she said.

But his Jewishness does more than inform his sense of humor, Emanuel’s rabbi said.

“He has a very deep commitment and feel for Yiddishkayt,” Lopatin said, “and it’s a Yiddishkayt that’s about tikkun olam, having a positive effect on the world.”

Ehud Olmert era comes to ignominious end

(JTA) – A day after Ehud Olmert formally submitted his resignation as prime minister, Israeli President Shimon Peres officially tapped his Kadima Party successor, Tzipi Livni, to form a new government.

Livni now has 42 days to put together a coalition government. Though Olmert still heads the interim government until Livni is sworn in, Sunday’s resignation effectively spelled the end of the Olmert era.

Before meeting with Peres on Sunday evening, Olmert informed his Cabinet of his intention to resign.

“I must say that this was not an easy or simple decision,” Olmert said. “I think that I have acted properly and responsibly, as I promised the Israeli public from the beginning.”

Olmert congratulated Livni and said he would help her form a coalition government, and the two shook hands.

It was an ignominious end to a premiership marked by multiple corruption scandals, a failed war in Lebanon and unfinished business on the Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian fronts.

At first an accidental prime minister following Ariel Sharon’s crippling stroke in early 2006, Olmert won his first election as Kadima leader a couple of months later under the banner of maintaining the path of unilateral disengagement Sharon had begun. Olmert would do in the West Bank what Sharon had done in Gaza: unilaterally extricate Israel from its adversaries, even if those adversaries were unready or unwilling to make peace.

But the shortcomings of Israel’s unilateral approach became evident early on in his premiership. The 2006 summer war with Hezbollah exposed the deficiencies of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000 under Ehud Barak, and the increasing rockets attacks from Gaza and Hamas’ takeover of the strip in June 2007 exposed the limitations of Sharon’s pullout.

The violence shattered Olmert’s plans for unilateral withdrawals in the West Bank.

Olmert adjusted his approach, but his responses to Israel’s challenges were seen as inadequate. The prime minister’s approval ratings plummeted as each crisis seemed to be shadowed by one corruption scandal or another.

After Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid in July 2006, the Olmert government launched a war to recover the two soldiers taken captive in the raid and neutralize the threat to Israel from Hezbollah. But the war failed to recover the soldiers or deliver a mortal blow to the Shi’ite terrorist group in Lebanon.

Rather, Hezbollah rallied as a political force in Lebanon after the war and became a veto-wielding presence in the Lebanon Cabinet. Hezbollah also rebuilt its forces and missile arsenal to three times its prewar size, according to Israeli estimates.

In Gaza, Olmert watched as Hamas routed the more moderate Fatah faction from power and took over the strip in June 2006. Hamas kept up daily barrages of Kassam rockets into southern Israel, and the Israeli army was unable to impose quiet.

Unwilling to risk the same approach in Gaza that had failed in 2006 in Lebanon, Olmert held off on ordering a major invasion of the strip.

The need to isolate Hezbollah, Hamas and especially their backer, Iran, drove Olmert to push harder for peace. It led to the re-launching last year of peace talks with the Palestinians at Annapolis, Md., and to this year’s renewed talks with Syria under Turkish auspices, but Olmert ended his abbreviated term with those major policy initiatives unfinished.

Now it will be up to Livni, who led the Olmert administration’s talks with the Palestinians, to see the process through—assuming she succeeds in assembling a governing coalition.

Israel’s next prime minister also will inherit an unsolved Iranian problem. Iran’s suspected march toward nuclear weapons has been Israel’s central foreign preoccupation during Olmert’s term, but Olmert did not manage to rally sufficient international pressure on the Islamic Republic to bring its uranium enrichment activities to a halt.

Throughout his 2 1/2-year term, Olmert was dogged by corruption allegations that cast a shadow over nearly everything he did.

Even his decision to re-launch the indirect peace talks with Syria and sign a cease-fire deal with Hamas in Gaza in June—finally bringing quiet to southern Israel, with the exception of the occasional violation—were viewed with suspicion by some who derided the moves as ploys to ensure his political survival.

The major corruption scandal that erupted in May, in which American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky said he gave Olmert $150,000 in cash over the course of the decade and a half before Olmert became prime minister, crippled Olmert’s ability to govern.

Calls for his resignation accelerated several weeks later with the revelation by police that Olmert was suspected of double-billing overseas trips to various Jewish charities.

Though he always denied any wrongdoing, Olmert acknowledged at the end of July that it had become impossible for him to continue as prime minister, and he announced that he would resign as soon as his party, Kadima, chose a new leader in September.

After Olmert handed his resignation letter to Peres on Sunday, the president offered a few solemn words.

“This is not an easy decision, and I am convinced that this is a difficult evening for him,” Peres said. “I wish to take this opportunity to thank the prime minister for his service to the people and the state over the course of many years of public activities—as the mayor of Jerusalem, as a minister in the government and as the prime minister of Israel.”

Ron Kampeas in Washington and Marcy Oster in Israel contributed to this report.

A self-proclaimed Zionist, Joe Biden is a friend of Israel

I returned from the Democratic National Convention in Denver with the announcement of Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, the memorable acceptance speech by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and the announcement of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

It was the most momentous week of this or, perhaps, any election cycle.

Yet with all the excitement, I must admit that it has left me disappointed with our level of political discourse — particularly in the Jewish community. When the Biden vice presidential nomination was announced on Aug. 23, Republican voices in the Jewish community called his selection by Obama “risky” and talked about his inconsistent support for Israel and his “wrong” views on Iran.

These people must be talking about a different Biden than the one I know.

I have known and worked closely with Biden for more than 36 years, and the caricature that is being painted of him by some who value partisanship over truth is truly astounding. Perhaps even more distressing than the attacks on a good friend of the Jewish community is the use of the U.S.-Israel relationship as a partisan wedge issue.

Biden publicly labels himself a Zionist. He has stated that “I do not accept the notion of linkage between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict,” according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “[Biden] has a sterling voting record on pro-Israel issues and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has helped shepherd through key pro-Israel legislation.”

He has worked cooperatively with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir. His knowledge of the wider Middle East, as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict, is unsurpassed by any other member of Congress.

Republicans have not let these facts get in the way. They use votes not related to Israel in an effort to besmirch Biden in the Jewish community. Supporters of Biden can readily go to the voting record files and show that he has a significantly higher percentage of pro-Israel votes than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

We, too, could take some obscure issues to try to argue that the GOP nominee is insufficiently pro-Israel. The fact of the matter is that McCain is pro-Israel. Obama is pro-Israel. Biden is pro-Israel. These attempts to use the U.S.-Israel relationship for partisan purposes distorts the truth and weakens the bipartisan consensus behind support for Israel in this country.

Moreover, it is not just Israel upon which we should judge Biden. Perhaps no politician in America, Jew or non-Jew, has a better rapport with Jewish leadership and Jewish audiences. He is a strong supporter of the separation of church and state, and he has opposed Republican attempts to return prayer to the public schools. Biden also has opposed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in the public schools and is pro-choice.

Biden’s profile in the Jewish community is starkly different from that of McCain’s nominee for vice president. Palin has no foreign policy experience and has never visited Israel. She is against a woman’s right to choose, even in cases of rape and incest. She favors teaching intelligent design in the public schools and believes climate change is not caused by human activity.

I have long believed that the game of trying to show that friends of Israel are really enemies is destructive to our community’s interest. But it really hits home when a close friend like Biden is vilified after all these years of friendship with our community. In these times, it seems that some people would charge Yitzhak Rabin with being anti-Israel if he ran for office as a Democrat.

It would be far healthier for American democracy, as well as for our community, if we would reject the use of Israel as a partisan issue and look at the policy areas where candidates from the two major parties truly do differ.

Michael Adler is the immediate past chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council and was the national finance chair of Sen. Joe Biden’s last presidential campaign.

Courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency

‘Meadow Soprano’ explores her Jewish spirit in Israel

Meadow Soprano, Jewish?

“Everyone assumes I’m Italian,” says Jamie Lynn Sigler, 26, with a sigh, pausing over her hummus lunch at the open-air market in Jaffa, one of the stops on her Birthright Israel tour. “Even kids on the trip keep asking, ‘Are you Jewish?'”

Sigler, who played the daughter of Mafia kingpin Tony Soprano on the acclaimed HBO show “The Sopranos,” grew up in a Jewish home in Jericho, N.Y., going to Hebrew school and having a bat mitzvah.

Her father’s family immigrated to America from Greece and Poland. Her mother, who is Puerto Rican, converted to Judaism.

But it was only during her recent visit to Israel that she said she felt a true spiritual and emotional connection to her roots.

“It’s one of the most beautiful, inspiring places I’ve ever been to,” Sigler said. “I now have a greater understanding and motivation about preserving my Jewishness.”

Among the highlights she noted were riding camels in the desert, dining on roast lamb in a Bedouin tent and exploring the back alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Sigler said she was especially moved during her visits to the Western Wall, where she was surprised by her tears, and to Yad Vashem, where the Holocaust and its history suddenly felt deeply personal.

“I started to think, ‘What if I was there, what if I had been ripped away from my family?'” she said.

Sigler said Israel had been a fairly abstract concept before the trip, with her images limited to the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict portrayed in the media.

On the Birthright trip, which brings Diaspora young people between 18 and 26 to Israel for free 10-day tours, her group was accompanied part of the time by a small group of Israeli soldiers.

Through them, Sigler said she heard about a much different life than the one she and her friends lead in America. She was taken by their sacrifices and the pride they have in their country and history.

“It’s so different but so inspiring to be part of that, I would want to move here and join the army, [too],” said Sigler, her face dominated by a pair of large designer sunglasses.

She bonded quickly with the other birthright participants; Sigler and her new friends kidded about returning to Israel together and renting apartments in the same building.

She compared these fast and seamless friendships to her experience with the cast and crew of “The Sopranos.”

“It’s a similar dynamic — people loving what they are doing,” she said.

Sigler acknowledged it’s been difficult realizing that the show, considered to be among the seminal works of television drama, is finally over after six seasons. She has plans to move to Los Angeles and continue her acting career.

So would Tony have allowed Meadow to come to Israel?

“Probably not,” she says.

Her friend, noting that Tony’s mob rivals were out to kill him by the end of the series, interjects: “What are you talking about? It’s probably safer for Meadow in Israel than near her father.”

Sigler laughs, saying that’s probably true.

LimmudLA: 4,000 years of Jewish history in one hour

David Solomon

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

The Bible for dummies — and experts

James L. Kugel figures his book will attract readers from diverse religious backgrounds, both those who are well-versed in the Bible and those who’ve never read the ancient text. He understands both audiences well.

He begins with a cautionary note to those of traditional faith — and he counts himself as part of this group — explaining that the book deals with modern biblical scholarship, including many ideas that contradict the accepted teachings of Judaism and Christianity.

In “How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now” (Free Press, $35) — which recently won the 2007 Jewish book of the year prize of the National Jewish Book Awards — Kugel’s interest is not only in what the text says, but in what a modern reader is to make of it.

Kugel’s approach is compelling and original: A professor emeritus at Harvard and professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, he looks in tandem at two different approaches to studying and understanding the Bible — those of the ancient interpreters and those of modern biblical scholars. The former was a largely anonymous group of scholars, living from 300 B.C.E. to 200 C.E., who set about explaining the meaning of the texts; their stories, prophecies and laws have been passed on for generations. As Kugel, who speaks 10 languages, explained, “For most of our history, what the Bible meant was what the ancient interpreters had said it meant.”

The latter, scholars at work for the last 150 years or so, integrate the work of archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and historians, trying to find the original meaning of these texts, before the ancient interpreters added their own meaning. They study the Bible the same way they would approach any literary text, and theorize that the texts are from different sources and by different authors.

The author of several books including “The God of Old” and “The Great Poems of the Bible,” Kugel spent 21 years at Harvard, where he taught one of the most popular courses: an introductory Bible class that enrolled more than 900 students each semester. This more than 800-page book has its basis in that course.

Kugel believes that the author of a work of scholarship should remain in the background, but he recognizes that readers will want to know who he is and where he stands. An Orthodox Jew, he says he sees the divine origins of the text, but has also devoted much of his life to studying and teaching modern biblical scholarship. Brutally honest throughout, he admits that certain aspects of his studies have been troubling to him over the years.

“If we adopt the modern scholars’ way of reading,” he writes, “in a very real sense the whole Bible will be undone — much of its ethical instruction, its basic commandments, prophetic visions, and heartfelt prayers will turn out to be something other than what they have always seemed; indeed, the divine inspiration of all of Scripture will be seen to be undermined. But surely we cannot simply hide our heads in the sand and pretend that modern scholarship does not exist.”

His advice to readers: “Keep your eye on the ancient interpreters.”

The ancient sages, scribes and teachers shared four assumptions: that the Bible was essentially a cryptic text and one thing could mean another; that the Bible was a book of lessons directed to readers in their own day; that the Bible contained no contradictions or mistakes; that the Bible was entirely a divinely given text. Modern scholars try to undo these assumptions.

Kugel writes with ease and wit; he’s at home in the world of serious scholarship and makes it accessible, as he leads the reader through the Bible. He also enjoys an occasional pop culture reference, like citing, in his chapter on Isaiah, Woody Allen’s cautionary reworking: “The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won’t get much sleep.”

Sandee Brawarsky is book critic for The Jewish Week.

Briefs: UC ‘study in Israel’ program draws Sacramento attention; Gold officially the man at the Fede

UC’s Study in Israel Program Enters Legislature

The effort to reinstate the University of California’s study in Israel program entered the state Legislature last week.

Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) introduced a resolution on Jan. 17 that urges the UC to adopt a policy similar to those at other universities, which allow study in countries under U.S. State Department travel warnings. Since the UC suspended its program in Israel in April 2002, during the Second Intifada, countless students have had to officially drop out of school and enroll directly in an Israeli university or through a third-party provider.

The move cost some students their financial aid and had to be made without the guarantee that credits earned during their semester or year abroad would be recognized by their UC campus. The same has been true for those wanting to study in the Philippines.

“The UC EAP policy does a disservice to interested students by judging potential programs without weighing the potential academic benefits against the potential nominal risks of traveling in a country subject to a less severe travel warning,” Migden, who is Jewish, wrote in SR 18.

Such resolutions have already been passed by the student bodies at Berkeley, Davis, San Diego and Los Angeles. In the meantime, UC Provost Wyatt R. “Rory” Hume has asked campus chancellors to at least simplify the process of studying in Israel or the Philippines by providing counselors to explain which courses would count for credit, allowing students to keep their university e-mail and facilitating re-enrollment without reapplying.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Riverside Jewish Family Service to Close

Jewish Family Services of the Inland Communities, the only Jewish agency in the city of Riverside not affiliated with a synagogue, is shutting its doors on Jan. 31.

“Because we don’t have a Jewish federation to fund us, we were unable to get that base amount of money,” said Ilene Stein, the group’s manager.

The office on 10th Street served nearly 100 clients from western Riverside and San Bernadino counties, offering services to Holocaust survivors, organizing grief and health workshops, visiting Jews in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes as well as providing gifts on Jewish holidays.

Stein said that the organization was dependent on grant money, and in the last two years its income dropped from $46,000 to $31,000.

“In the last four years, the grant cycles played against us,” she said.

Jewish Family Services of the Inland Communities was incorporated in 1995, and board president Margie Orland told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that some volunteers would continue to serve people on their own.

“There’s a lot of need in the community. We hope some of this continues, perhaps through the temples,” she said.

Jewish Family Service of the Desert, which receives steady funding of almost $1 million from the Jewish Federation of the Palm Springs/Desert Area, has yet to discuss the possibility of expanding into the area covered by JFS of the Inland Communities.

In the meantime, Stein says Riverside congregations are struggling, and she worries that unaffiliated and secular Jews in the area are losing a critical resource.

“Where the biggest hurt is going to be is looking for Jewish information,” Stein said. “It’s going to be hard for new people moving into the area.”

— Adam Wills, Senior Editor

New Federation Chair Shares Vision at Hebrew Union College

Stanley P. Gold took over lay leadership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on Jan. 1 with high hopes for a new future for the umbrella organization for L.A. Jewry.

“Have we made any progress?” he rhetorically asked about 30 students and faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) last week. “A little bit. I’ve been on the job two weeks.”

Gold’s talk, which focused on his vision for The Federation, was the first in a series of dean’s lunches. He began by telling the students why he took the volunteer job even after his wife and rabbi and friends and children counseled him otherwise.

“The one thing I am good at,” said Gold, who serves on the board of governors for HUC-JIR and is president of the private-equity firm Shamrock Holdings, “is I am a change agent.”

And certainly that is something The Federation could use. Jewish umbrella organizations across the country are suffering from decreasing involvement from younger Jews who no longer see the central model as integral to Jewish life. Locally, annual campaign revenues have been practically flat since the early 1990s (not including the $20 million Los Angeles raised in 2006 for the Israel Emergency Campaign).

“The Federation finds itself — and this is not a disparagement of past lay leaders or communal leaders — but it finds itself with a model and culture that was probably terrific 50 years ago, but society has moved on. Jewish life has changed,” Gold said. “It needs to change in order to accommodate.”

He had reiterated the three areas on which he has said he wants to direct The Federation’s focus: making Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles’ premiere Israel address; strengthening community relations, particularly with Latinos; and improving leadership and education programs. He also emphasized that The Federation needs to stop performing services “where we are sixth or seventh or eighth best. We don’t need to offer programs that other people in the community are doing better. We need to support them.”

Gold said he’s given himself six months to change The Federation’s culture and governance, and also said he expects to increase campaign revenues by at least 10 percent this year.

“Quite honestly, quietly we have an even bigger number in mind. But at least 10 percent,” Gold said. “And if we don’t achieve it, somebody ought to call us on the carpet about it. We ought to be held accountable.”

His first big test will be Feb. 10, when The Federation hosts its Super Sunday fundraiser.

Diaspora must face painful realities in Jerusalem’s future

The ’emotional approach’: Ofra Haza: Yerushalyim Shel Zahav

So in the end, it has come down to Jerusalem.

The Jewish community is now openly discussing whether Jerusalem should be on the negotiating table for a Palestinian-Israel peace agreement.

  • Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky was widely criticized in the Orthodox community and quietly supported elsewhere for even mildly raising the possibility of such a consideration. His modest proposal got headlines in the Los Angeles Times and triggered a nationwide discussion.
  • Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has written an open letter to Israel’s prime minister insisting that the views of the Diaspora be taken into consideration on the question of Jerusalem. He is confident that the Diaspora would support his view but insistent that the views of the Diaspora need not be taken into consideration on withdrawal from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the Golan Heights or even Gaza. Jerusalem is different he argues.
  • The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has reissued its resolution stating that Jerusalem is the “eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people.”
  • The Union of American Orthodox Jewish Congregations, which for a generation treated all criticism of the democratically elected government of the State of Israel as nearly traitorous, now calls for opposition to that very same democratically elected government on the issue of Jerusalem and presumably on the West Bank, as well.

The issue is far more emotional than it is rational.

I must confess that it would be easy to get carried away by my emotions. I lived in Jerusalem when it was divided, when a wall blocked Jaffa Street, when one needed to go up to Mount Zion to catch a glimpse of the Old City and when Jordan barred all Jews from visiting the Western Wall, then called the Wailing Wall. I remember the days when the only chance to see the Wall was to obtain false papers, indicating that you were not a Jew, to go through the Mandelbaum Gate to the Old City, then under Jordanian control.

I was in Jerusalem as a volunteer for the Six-Day War, when the city was reunited. I remember the excitement and the tears in the eyes of even the most hardened and cynical of Israelis when the 11 o’clock news began with the words:

“An IDF spokesman has informed us that the Old City is ours. I repeat, An IDF spokesman has told us the Old City is ours.”

No one heard the rest of the news, and no one who heard that news can ever forget where they were when they heard those magical words.

My role in the Six-Day War was comically nonheroic. I drove a garbage truck, replacing the ordinary sanitation workers who were called up for duty, as the entire male Israeli population 18-45 was mobilized for war. In that role, I literally participated in the reunification of Jerusalem by knocking down the Mandelbaum Gate and picking up the rubble of its destruction. Later that week, I helped clear the rubble around the Western Wall, as homes were demolished to clear the area for the influx of pilgrims.

And I was there on the first day of Shavuot when 100,000 Jews — young and old, religious and secular, caftan-clad men and miniskirted women — walked up to Mount Zion and walked down the Pope’s Path, which only had been built because Pope Paul VI would not enter Israel through a government-sanctioned border crossing, to enter the Old City for the very first time. We were exultant, hopeful, thankful.

As a religious Jew, I pray facing Jerusalem. I pray of being there next year at the end of the seder and at the very last moment of Yom Kippur. I sing of Jerusalem on Shabbat evenings and yearn for Jerusalem on Shabbat afternoons.

The attachment to Jerusalem is deep, profound and visceral. It touches my soul. It is part of my being. To be Jewish is to be attached to Jerusalem, the Jerusalem on high and the Jerusalem below.

But, let’s face it. If the future of the peace process — more correctly the divorce process — is going to be decided emotionally or religiously, it will never be decided; it can thus never be settled.

Settlement is in the interest of a Jewish state because without some form of national separation, a one-state solution is almost upon us, one in which Jews could soon be a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and a Jewish state or even a state of the Jews would be replaced by a state of its citizens.

It would be no small irony if the Orthodox Union, whose Zionist wing has long advocated “the Land of Israel for the people or Israel according to the Torah of Israel,” was the militant advocate for policies that led to the dissolution of the Jewish state. But religious zealotry has led to Jewish defeat in 70 and 135, and rabbinic Judaism was politically quietistic as an alternative to such policies. Jews are the descendants of Yochanan ben Zakkai not of Eliezer by Yair and those who committed suicide at Masada.

So let us face some painful realities.

With all due respect to the collective wisdom of our presidents and to the Israeli hasbara efforts that originated the phase, Jerusalem was not the eternal, invisible capital of the Jewish people. Nothing in history is eternal. By its very nature, history is temporal.

Jerusalem only became the capital during the time of David; Joshua had brought the ark to Shiloh. After he conquered Jerusalem, David brought the ark there from Kiryat Yearim. Jerusalem was one of two capitals during the period following King Solomon, when the Northern Kingdom seceded. The Babylonian Talmud is more authoritative for rabbinic Jews than the Palestinian Talmud, more central.

Jerusalem became the capital of the Jewish people when we were in exile, yearning for the elemental dignity that independence could provide and yearning for the majesty of an earthly city that could bear the weight of our aspirations.

There is nothing eternal or sacred about the political boundaries of Jerusalem. They have been adjusted time and again, even since 1967, as the politics of Israel had to absorb the changing demographic and political reality. The City of David is outside the current walled city.

People living in Jerusalem and people visiting Jerusalem know that it is a divided city. Teddy Kollek dreamed of a unified city of tolerance, pluralism and peace. He worked for it day and night, but despite his best efforts, such a city has not materialized. His successors barely tried. There are places one does not go; villages one does not visit. Israeli sovereignty has not made for unity.

With all due respect to my respected friend Lauder, the Diaspora is entitled to a voice but not a veto. Israelis pay taxes, serve in the army and the State of Israel is a democratic state that governs with the consent of its people. Israeli leaders will always pay attention to their supporters overseas, but they must act in the interests of the state as they perceive them.

There is no mechanism in the United States — and not in the entire Diaspora — for democratic consensus among the Jewish people. Lauder, whose service to the Jewish people is admirable, well knows that we live at a time when there is a major disconnect between Jewish organizations and the Jewish people.

Every piece of empirical research indicates that the institutions do not hold the allegiance of the younger generation, nor do they represent the views of the Jews in the United States who are far more dovish, peace oriented and in favor of territorial compromise, than the Jewish organizations that claim to represent them.

As to the debate over Jerusalem: It is too early.

Israel has made a decision on the West Bank; it has given up the illusion of the greater Israel — the complete Land of Israel, which has conveniently forgotten about the other side of the Jordan — understanding that it cannot absorb the large Arab population and still remain a Jewish state.

No one knows if there can be an agreement, and even if there is an agreement, whether it can be viable, adhered to by the Palestinians — or by the Israelis. No one knows what it will call for in terms of division — political or actual.

It is clear that Israelis will not give up access to the Western Wall or the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus, as was the case between 1949-1967, or to the many neighborhoods that have been developed to ring Jerusalem. But to take any discussion of Jerusalem off the table before one learns the details is to rule out the possibility of an agreement.

And to argue among ourselves about it before we know what is being offered — in return for what; with what guarantees; with what mechanisms for enforcement — is to conduct an inconsequential monologue. Only negotiations will reveal if there is anything to discuss. And they must proceed for the good for Israel, for the wellbeing of the Jewish people, for the peace of Jerusalem.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a professor of theology (adjunct) at American Jewish University.

The Bloods, the Crips and the rabbi

In 1970, Abraham David Cooper was arrested by Washington police during a sit-in across from the Soviet embassy and put behind bars in a jammed holding cell. The then-20-year old Yeshiva College student came away from the experience with two important observations that may have changed his life:

  • First, that he didn’t like being in jail.
  • Second, that the established Jewish organizations had been missing in action in what Cooper considered the defining Jewish struggle of the time.

In the intervening 37 years, Cooper has made a point of being present in many of the world’s hot spots, and, at the same time, managed to stay out of prison. And during roughly the same time span, he has played a key role in creating one of the most activist Jewish organizations in the world, working outside the boundaries of the traditional organized community structure.

Ordained as an Orthodox rabbi, Cooper’s formal title today is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC). That curious academic rank is a holdover from his initial work with the SWC-affiliated Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, but it hardly defines his role and influence on this Jewish institution whose mission is to promote understanding among the world’s people.

Cooper, 57, is, in most respects, the alter ego of Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and the 33-year-long relationship in which their interaction and division of labor are defined by a kind of shorthand telepathy, requiring no organizational chart or chain of command.

But if today the SWC is a worldwide presence — with seven offices at home and abroad, a landmark Museum of Tolerance, a reported 400,000 member families, high-profile donors and entr�(c)e to presidents and kings — a considerable share of the credit goes to Cooper.

While Hier is the ultimate decision maker and both men respond interchangeably, and instantly, to the endless real or perceived crises facing Israel and the Jewish people around the globe, Cooper does have specific areas of responsibility and expertise.

One is interfaith relations; another is the burgeoning area of cyberspace. Cooper testified before Congress as long as six years ago that the increasing sophistication of Internet propaganda by hate groups, white supremacists and Islamic extremists was exerting growing influence among younger people.

From his Pacific-oriented vantage point in Los Angeles, Cooper is the point man for relations with Japan, China and other Far Eastern nations, introducing Holocaust exhibits, exposing anti-Semitic literature, and establishing ties with political and religious leaders.

“Abe is the Wiesenthal Center’s ambassador to most of the world,” Hier said.

This “ambassador” also shows up in some unexpected places and situations.

Last year, for instance, Cooper was drafted as witness to a peace treaty signed by the so-called O.G.s (original gangster), the founding elders of the Bloods and the Crips, two of the most fearful rival gangs in South Los Angeles.

He was recruited for the assignment by Katy Haber, a London-born film producer, who has been working for many years with at-risk youth and the homeless in the African American community.

Haber had met Cooper while working as a docent at the Museum of Tolerance and had no doubt that he was the right man to win the confidence of the gang members.

“Who would be more appropriate than a man who works on conflict resolution with world leaders?” Haber asked rhetorically. “Besides, he is a man of deep intellect, extraordinary sensitivity, and one of the major humanitarians in our community.”

In the introductory meeting and after guiding the O.G.s through the Museum of Tolerance, Cooper complemented the broad lesson of mutual understanding with concrete specifics on community activism, finding jobs and how to deal with authorities.

Cooper said he has no particular formula or technique for bringing opposing sides to the table or bridging differences.

“Part of it is my background as a New Yorker, an American and a Jew, which has given me a certain quiet self-assurance,” he said. “Another part is the example set early on by my father.”

By way of contrast, Cooper was on the other side of the world last summer, on the Indonesian island of Bali. He was there as the organizer of the “Tolerance between Religions” conference, which brought together such unlikely participants as leading Muslim, Hindu and Jewish religious leaders, victims of the three faiths targeted by suicide bombers, and a Holocaust survivor.

In one speech, carried by Arab networks and worldwide, former president Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, upbraided Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his denial of the Holocaust.

Cooper’s organizing partner was C. Holland Taylor, CEO of the Libforall Foundation, which works with Muslim religious, educational, business and entertainment leaders to stem the spread of Islamic extremism.

After the Bali conference, Taylor and Cooper led a high-profile peace delegation from Indonesia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, on a weeklong mission to the Jewish state.

The experience impressed Taylor, who in a phone call from Indonesia described Cooper as “a brilliant strategist, who grasps immediately what can be done and who can juggle a dozen issues simultaneously.”

In the relationship between the Wiesenthal Center’s two top men, Cooper’s loyalty and admiration for Hier is unquestioned, but there is one easily noticed distinction between the two Orthodox rabbis.

As the Center’s clout has increased over the years, so has criticism of the institution within the general, and Orthodox, communities.

Complaints, mostly sotto voce, are aimed at the center’s alleged intrusions on the turfs of older community organizations, its political influence, the high salaries paid its top executives, violations of standards for nonprofit organizations, alarmist tactics and, in Israel, plans to build a $200 million Center for Human Dignity/Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem.

In practically all these criticisms, the target is Hier, who is sometimes described, in awe, fear or derision, as a “New York street fighter.” By contrast, Cooper gets off unscathed.

Big talkers

Who talks more, men or women?

If you think the answer is obvious, perhaps it’s because you’ve been conditioned by a society that stereotypes.

We’ve all heard the joke the best man cracks to his buddy the groom on his wedding day: “Remember, when you have a discussion with your wife always get the last two words in: ‘Yes, dear.'”

Very funny. But is it a fair stereotype?

When God split the Red Sea, Moses and the Jewish men broke into spontaneous song. A long song. A song that is 19 long verses in the Torah — I know, because we recite it every day in the prayers.

Afterward, the Torah records how Miriam gathered the women, along with musical instruments, and called out to the women: “Sing to God for He is truly exalted; having hurled horse and rider into the sea.” (Prayers would be a lot shorter if we used Miriam’s version.)

Why was Miriam, the woman, so terse in her song to God? Where is the trait of loquacity normally found in the fairer gender? Furthermore, does the terseness of her song mean that Miriam and the women were less grateful for the miracle of the Red Sea’s splitting than the men?

Curiously, Miriam here is identified as “Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron” (Exodus 15:20). Wasn’t she also Moses’ sister? And why identify her by a sibling in the first place? The Talmud explains that Miriam’s adventure in prophecy began when she was but a girl, even before Moses was born, when only she and Aaron were alive (hence, she was only “Aaron’s sister”).

Because of the terrible servitude in Egypt, Miriam’s father and the other community elders wanted to give up on having children. But Miriam insisted that the Jewish nation had to continue growing despite the oppressive servitude. She said, “I know prophetically that my mother will sire the redeemer of Israel!” And so it was with the birth of Moses.

Miriam (and, it would seem, the other women of the time) had a much farther reaching gaze of the unfolding of Jewish history than the men. The men were able to witness the miracle before them and provide an exciting play-by-play analysis of God’s ultimate and palpable victory over Egypt.

Miriam’s perspective, however, was to look at the totality of the Jewish experience. She viewed the splitting of the Red Sea as necessary, seminal and miraculous, but still, just one more step in bringing the Jewish people closer to their ultimate end as the Chosen People.

This is why her comments are so abbreviated. She knew that we as a people haven’t made it yet. We’ve been liberated, but we’re still without a Torah to guide us, and still without a homeland where we can build our families.

In looking at other biblical prophecies we find that women prophetesses were more into the bigger picture, the eschatology of the Jewish people. The World to Come, known as the “the bond of life” in scripture, was prophesied by Abigail (I Samuel 25:29). Resurrection and proper silent prayer were prophesied by Hannah (I Samuel 2:6). Reincarnation was prophesied by the Tekoan woman to King David (II Samuel 14:14).

This is also why the Talmud states that the women did not worship the Golden Calf. The men suffered from shortsightedness, so when it appeared that Moses was dead, they fell into despair and took up a foreign god. But the women could see the bigger picture, and knew that the future of the Jewish people was bigger than any one individual leader.

Sometimes, stereotypes are on target. I like the stereotype of the Jewish grandmother, sitting silently in her rocker, smiling wisely in reminiscence with the knowledge that the Jewish people are stronger and longer-lasting than any one episode that forebodes “the end” of our people.

Thanks, Bubbe.

N. Daniel Korobkin is rabbi of Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park, and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union’s West Coast region.

History surprises in new ’67 War documentary

Is there a middle-age Jew alive who doesn’t remember the euphoric days of June 1967, when the caricature of the cringing, defenseless Jew was destroyed forever, when every American Jew suddenly stood taller, when God finally rewarded His people for centuries of suffering, when Israel taught the Arabs a lesson they would never forget?

If the Americans or Russians had won such a war, they would have celebrated with a string of chest-thumping movies, with reckless John Wayne or his Russian counterpart leading his clean-cut soldiers to a glorious, permanent triumph.

Israelis made few such films, even in the immediate post-war months, and now a new documentary to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War conveys a sense of somber reflection, rather than patriotic elation.

“Six Days,” an Israeli-Canadian-French co-production directed by Israeli filmmaker Ilan Ziv, is subtitled, “June 1967: 40 Years, New Revelations.”

In fact, there are few startling surprises for anyone who has read any of the numerous post-mortems of the war.

What the film drives home are how vast are the miscalculations by fallible statesmen, how easy it is to arouse a people to a pitch of war fervor, and — as every dogface in the trenches instinctively knows — how laurel-wreathed generals, all “brilliant strategists,” fly by the seat of their pants most of the time.

Not to go overboard entirely, the opening strike by the Israeli air force, which gambled every available plane to wipe out the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian air forces, was a daring masterstroke.

Israeli troops on the ground fought bravely, intelligently and with high morale. And Israel’s political leaders, aided by considerable luck, avoided being crushed between American and Soviet Cold War confrontations.

The biggest loser was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who blindly believed his generals that they would “have lunch in Tel Aviv next week.”

Nasser, who saw himself as the imminent leader of one great pan-Arab nation, learned that once having roused the masses to a hysterical pitch, he could not reverse himself when he wanted.

The second loser, according to the documentary, was Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, a prudent, sensible politician, whose hope for a diplomatic solution was foiled by his own generals’ militancy, political pressures and the people’s demand for a muscular, charismatic leader like Moshe Dayan.

As in any war, the 1967 conflict easily lends itself to an endless game of “what if?” — with most of the questions aimed at the Arab side.

What if the Kremlin hadn’t convinced Nasser in mid-May of the fabrication that Israeli troops were massing at the Syrian border?

What if King Hussein of Jordan, blinded by Egyptian boasts of smashing victories, had heeded Israeli warnings to stay out of the war?

What if Nasser had not called off his planned first strike against Israel nine days before the Israelis struck first?

But there are plenty of what-ifs on the Israeli side.

What if Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin had listened to his mentor, David Ben-Gurion, who was adamantly opposed to Rabin’s pre-emptive war plans?

What if the Israeli Cabinet, which initially split evenly on whether to go to war, had tilted slightly the other way and avoided what no less a hawk than then-Gen. Ariel Sharon described subsequently as “a war of choice”?

And if you want to reverse the game, what if the Egyptian air force had struck first — would the Tel Aviv parks consecrated as future mass graves have been filled up with Israeli corpses?

Yet the sense of foreboding about the aftermath of the war, expressed by Ben-Gurion and which pervades much of the film, has been largely justified by events.

The film posits that the euphoria of the victory and the defeat of Nasser turned a mainly secular conflict into an intractable religious one and spawned a costly and divisive occupation.

Perhaps the bitterest postscript of the war comes from Yossi Sarid, a veteran left-wing politician who served in 1967 as political adviser to Eshkol.

One need not agree with his lacerating words, but they are worth hearing: “So, all right, Nasser made a mistake and Hussein made a mistake. So why do we have to fall into the trap of their mistake and turn our lives into an ongoing hell?

Forty years, 40 years, we have been living in an ongoing hell because of this cursed occupation.”

“Six Days” opens June 1 at Laemmle’s Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles (213) 617-0268).

Dig this! Herod’s tomb found after 3-decade hunt

Ruthlessly lavish in his lifetime and a villain of Jewish and Christian narratives alike, the biblical King Herod has captured the world’s imagination anew with the discovery of his tomb outside Jerusalem.

Hebrew University archeologists on May 8 announced the find of the first century B.C.E. monarch’s grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum at the Herodium ruins in the Judean Desert after more than three decades of digging.

“This is the only site that carries his name, and the site where he chose to be buried and to memorialize himself — all of this with the integration of a huge, unique palace at the fringe of the desert,” said professor Ehud Netzer, team leader. “Therefore, the unearthing of his tomb marks the climax of research at this site.”

No human remains were among the relics, possibly due to grave robbers or what the university described as “nationalist vandalism” in ancient Judea. It said the sarcophagus and mausoleum had suffered extensive damage, apparently by Jewish zealots who waged a revolt against Roman occupiers in 66-72 C.E.

“The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for as a ‘puppet ruler’ for the Romans,” the university said in a statement.

Herod, a convert to Judaism whom the Romans appointed king of Judea, was considered a great builder and administrator who dramatically expanded and renovated the Second Temple, refurbished the fortress at Masada, rebuilt water supplies for Jerusalem and built the cities of Caesarea and Herodium. He also is remembered as a ruthless ruler who did not hesitate to eliminate potential rivals, including one of his many wives and two of his children.

Herod’s outsized ego has an especially grim resonance for Christians: The New Testament records that upon hearing that a new messiah, or “King of the Jews,” would be born in Bethlehem, Herod ordered the slaughter of the town’s male children. Jesus survived, according to the Christian narrative, because his parents escaped to Egypt.

Herodium, which included a huge palace at the edge of the desert near Bethlehem, is where the king chose to be buried and memorialized.

Netzer, considered a world expert on Herodian architecture, began his search for Herod’s tomb more than three decades ago. After digging in various spots on Mount Herodium, Netzer said the team knew it was close to the tomb when they found the first pieces of a “monumental” sarcophagus made of hard limestone during excavations on the northeastern slope.

“There is only one or two of its kind found so far” in the country, Netzer said. “It’s not that every rich Jew or citizen of this time could afford it. It’s really a royal one.”

Netzer’s team of archeologists, Ya’akov Kalman, Roi Porath and local Bedouins, also unearthed part of a platform of dressed limestone — about 30-by-30 feet — that belonged to the mausoleum. Other “high-quality” artifacts found at the site included decorated urns similar to those found on burial monuments of the Nabatean culture.

No inscriptions have been found, but the team says circumstantial evidence — an account of Herod’s funeral at the site by the historian Josephus Flavius, the lucrative artifacts and remnants found and historical records indicating Herod’s decision to be buried there — points to this being the king’s burial site.

According to the archeologists, Herodium included a prefabricated “tomb estate” for the king, with a mikvah for ritual purification of the corpse. There also was a “monumental” flight of stairs — 20 feet wide — up which the bier was carried.

Josephus’ book, “The Jewish Wars,” describes the funeral at Herodium in detail. Herod’s son, Archelaus, Josephus wrote, “brought forth all the royal ornaments to accompany the procession in honor of the deceased. The bier was of solid gold, studded with precious stones and had a covering of purple, embroidered with various colors; on this lay the body enveloped in purple robe, a diadem encircling the head and surmounted by a crown of gold, the scepter beside his right hand.”

The find is one of the most important discoveries from the Second Temple period, said Oren Gutfeld, professor of classical archeology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology.
“Someone so famous, like Herod the Great, Herod the Builder, a dominant person in the history of Israel and who we know about so much from literary sources — from Josephus Flavius — and archaeological finds all over Israel and outside, it’s a diamond in the crown,” said Gutfeld, who had worked with Netzer at Herodium for three years and has seen the tomb remnants.

Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land and a specialist in inscription studies and Second Temple historiography, said Netzer should be congratulated for finding sarcophagus fragments, which indicate “a tomb of someone on the ground who was very rich, affluent, perhaps of great honor.”

But “we don’t know whether Archelaus or one of the other sons was buried there with him,” Pfann said. “We don’t know whether the fragments of the sarcophagus might be of someone else. All we know from history is that he is the only one mentioned as being buried there.”

Ze’ev Weiss, also an archeology professor at the Institute of Archeology, said it seems logical that the tomb belonged to Herod, based on the discovery of the podium and pieces of the sarcophagus, combined with accounts of the funeral taking place at Herodium.

However, the archeological team and other experts say much excavation work still remains to be done at the site.

“In my mind, as an archeologist, there is nothing 100 percent,” said Weiss, who worked with Netzer in the 1980s in the Herodium area. “We have to work; we have to prove it, but still, when we take all the details, I would say there is a high percentage that this is Herod’s tomb.”

Walking Through The Echoes of History

It was 5 a.m. and there we were, 39 tired teenagers trudging up Masada’s historic snake path.

From the bus windows, Masada did not look so formidable, just a normal midsized rock fortress. But once on the path, all we could see was the side of this steep mountain fortress, looming ominously, forever upward.

We were all 10th-graders at Milken Community High School, spending four months of the school year studying in Israel with the Tiferet Israel Fellowship. Like many of our trips, this one up Masada allowed us to walk the paths of history we had studied in the classroom.

The climb was quite hard. We stopped several times to catch our breath, close the gaps between the fast hikers and the slower hikers and take in the view. From halfway up Masada, we looked down to see the Dead Sea, and surrounding it, the brown, barren mountains of Jordan. I did not talk much on the hike up; I took in the view in silence.

Seven-hundred stairs, several inclines and an hour and half later, we reached the summit. After climbing the last stair, a great wave of relief and accomplishment overcame me. I found myself yelling, along with many others, phrases of accomplishment. By this point, the sun was partially out, but blocked by the clouds. We then rested for about 20 minutes while taking pictures and catching glimpses of the sun peeking out from behind the clouds.

Then we headed over to the beit midrash, the study and prayer hall used by the people of Masada, and learned about the history of Masada.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, approximately 1,000 zealots, mostly teenagers and 20-year-olds, fled to the fortress Masada. The zealots hated the Romans and everything that had to do with Rome. About 100 years prior to the zealots’ arrival, Herod, a governor of Jerusalem who had ties to Rome, had his summer home there. When the zealots arrived, they destroyed his palace, turned his bathhouses into mikvahs and built their own modest houses.

The Romans destroyed Jerusalem, then set their sights on Masada. After witnessing the Roman army killing approximately 1 million Jews, and destroying Jerusalem, the zealots believed themselves to be the last Jews alive. As such, they thought they could not lose to the Roman army.

For years, the zealots held off the Roman army — the strongest army in the world. But three years later, the Romans broke down the gates of Masada, and found all the zealots dead by suicide.

We returned to the beit midrash and learned about a gnizah, a document burial site, found on Masada. Because documents that have God’s name on them cannot be thrown away, they are buried in a gnizah. On top of all the papers in the Masada gnizah lay Ezekiel, chapter 37, a verse expressing hope that through God, one day, all of Israel will be reunited.

The person who left that verse there had an enormous amount of hope, something I have trouble trying to understand. That person thought himself to be among the last Jews in the world, and yet he had enough hope to leave that chapter there for future Jews to read.

Tuvia Aronson, a Milken teacher and dean of the Tiferet fellowship, then took on the role of Eleazar ben Ya’ir, the 19-year-old leader of the zealots. We became zealots and discussed our plans, on this the eve before the Roman onslaught. We decided to take our own lives and not give the Romans the satisfaction of killing us.

Aronson and Aubrey Isaacs, another teacher, led us to the south side of Masada. We were instructed to repeat this famous line: “Shenit Metzadah Lo Tipol! For a second time Masada will not fall!”

Isaacs said, “Shenit,” and we shouted it in response, a bit hesitantly, not sure what to expect. For a few seconds, dead silence puzzled us. But then a thunderous echo repeated our calls. We shouted, “Metzadah!” and we heard another, thunderous echo. And “Lo!” Then we yelled, “Tipol!” Finally we bellowed all together, “Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!” “This is called the ‘Echo of History,'” Tuvia told me.

At first I agreed. But then I realized that this was not a natural phenomenon; it was the zealots yelling back at us.

Daniel Ulman is a 10th-grader at Milken Community High School.

Men who rock Israel’s history appear locally

Can the history of a nation be told through its music? If that nation has only been around for about 60 years, it’s conceivable.

This month it’s possible to follow Israel’s history — or at least the zeitgeist of its people — in Los Angeles through three very different sounds of rock, via artists whose music represent very different Israeli eras.

There’s the folksy, jaunty old-time tunes of Danny Sanderson, Gidi Gov and friends singing their “best of” from the 1970s and ’80s on March 11 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

From the ’80s and ’90s, there’s troubadour and man of hope David Broza, flamenco-and salsa-influenced guitarist, performing with Badi Assad March 17 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

And finally, the boy/man who represents in song the post-Rabin “candlestick generation” — teenagers who stood vigil for months after Rabin’s assassination — Israel’s androgynous bad boy and first celebrity draft dodger, the soulful Aviv Geffen, alone on March 8 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre and with his indie band Blackfield on March 10 at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood.

“I remember you/I remember you from the supermarket … I remember you from third grade” doesn’t exactly sound like a national anthem, but the upbeat, humorous sounds of Kaveret — a top 1970s band that Sanderson and Gov formed in the Israeli army — and later Gazoz, which encapsulated a more innocent time for Israel. From the Beach Boys-like “Galshan” (“Just me and my surfboard”) to “Yoya,” a dance favorite at American religious celebrations (“I got a harsh sentence, condemned to death … hoping at least to change chairs because they say, ‘change of place brings you luck'”), Kaveret’s playful songs spoke of the small-town feel of Israel.

“It’s pure nostalgia,” said Sanderson of the upcoming three-week U.S tour. “I think the audience gives meaning where it wants — it can be very personal,” he added. “I see people stand when we’re playing songs, with tears in their eyes and it can be for different reasons.”

Sanderson, one of Israel’s top songwriters, who has composed music for many of the country’s musicians, doesn’t agree that the situation in Israel has changed since then. “Israel has always had problems. These are the same problems that haven’t been solved,” he said.
But these are not problems he or his bands of the past sang about.

Although Sanderson and Co. are all active in politics and speak out, their music isn’t political. They sing mostly about love. And friendship.

“I never heard the Eagles sing about politics,” he said.

Perhaps that’s what differentiates these musicians from some of the others who followed them (and even those who were of the same era).

David Broza, for example, who sings many different styles of folk-urban rock, plays in English, Spanish and Hebrew, with a variety of influences and themes, is best known for (and can’t escape) his ever-evolving anthem, “Yihiyeh Tov” (“Things Will Be Better”):
“Children put on wings and fly away to the army/and after two years they return without an answer/people live under stress looking for a reason to breathe/and between hatred and murder/they talk about peace.”

But Broza, a peace activist and the son of the founder of Neve Shalom, the only village where Arabs and Jews live together, is still hopeful:

“We will yet learn to live together, between the groves of olive trees/children live without fear, without borders, without bomb-shelters/on graves grass will grow, for peace and love, one hundred years of war/but we have not lost hope.”

The same cannot be said of the most famous singer of the next generation, nihilist and outspoken peace activist, Aviv Geffen. Although his song “The Hope” expresses similar sentiment (“We’ll bury the guns and not the children/so let’s try until things will be good “), his hopes, and that of the young generation of hopeful peaceniks, turned sour when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered at a peace rally in 1995. That night Geffen performed what was to become the anthem for Rabin, “Forever My Brother (Cry For You).”

Geffen hit the Israeli scene in 1990 and became known for Goth-like makeup, a Mick Jagger-like snarl and an often-discordant alternarock. He sang about love, betrayal, violence, peace, the army — which he publicly refused to enter — and became one of Israel’s youngest and most outspoken critics, or peace-pusher, depending on one’s perspective.

Although Geffen often sings about love, these are no jaunty love songs, but the searing pain of a rebel with a cause. His worldview tends toward meaninglessness (“There are no angels in heaven/just hell that makes you dream that there are angels in paradise/but there is no paradise and no heaven”) and melancholy (“We’re here and then we’re gone, Memento Mori/we are all alone/We’re all dying,” he sings in “Memento Mori,” the Latin phrase for “Remember that you will die”).

Geffen donated his time to Peace Now to sing an acoustic concert here.

“It’s hard to see the future, but I think that we, the artists, must come and stand strong, to play to show it’s really important. I hope our voice can be heard strong enough,” he said.

But Geffen is primarily touring America as part of his band Blackfield, an English band he formed with Steven Wilson of the band Porcupine Tree in 2000, in honor of their second eponymous album, “Blackfield II,” released this month. Although the band is named for the black fields remaining after war, Blackfield’s sound is more mellow — and melodious — than Geffen on his own. Blackfield has been likened to Pink Floyd — lush, liquid, lulling.

But Geffen’s wrist-slitting sentiment is often apparent in songs like “Pain” or “The Hole in Me” (self-explanatory). The band has received critical acclaim and is building a fan base — Geffen thinks they can become “bigger than Coldplay,” he brags. But without the context of Israeli politics and his solo cacophonous wail, it’s just music, not the voice of a generation.

But Geffen, who left Israel because he wanted to “sell more than 2 million copies” per album, believes that he can influence the world outside Israel.

Fated to Meddle

So like every other red-blooded, terrorist-hating American I know, I spent some of this weekend watching the premiere of the new season of “24.”

It’s a four-hour thrill ride — three hours and change with TiVo — and whenever the hero, Jack Bauer, appears, my eyes make like Velcro to the screen, and a geopolitical satori blossoms within me. I allow myself to feel, for those precious moments, something I so rarely feel these days: No matter what, we are going to kick their butts.

Then I read Michael Oren’s new book.

At 604 pages, “Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present” (Norton, 2007) will take you a bit more than four hours. But it is worth it — in fact, it’s a critical read for anyone who wants to understand how America can face the challenges arising from that region of the world.

The book is the first comprehensive history of American involvement in the Middle East. Its title gives the central thesis away: Our involvement has largely revolved around the quest for financial, military and diplomatic power, the impact of religion and the pull of fiction and fantasy (did I mention “24”?).

In other words, if your take on our role in the Middle East is limited to just oil, or just freedom and democracy, or just imperialism — Oren’s meticulously researched and grippingly narrated book will school you.

Take the first major foreign crisis our founders faced. “Prior to the revolution,” writes Oren, “the only major threat to America’s vital Mediterranean trade came from the Middle East. Styling themselves as mujahadeen warriors in an Islamic holy war, Arabic speaking pirates preyed on Western vessels, impounding their cargoes and enslaving their crews.”

After the revolution, the inevitable confrontation with these North African Barbary pirates led directly to the raising of the U.S. Navy, to the creation of the Constitution — a document that could secure the national unity necessary to fund and fight a foreign war — and thus to America’s first war on foreign soil — that soil being in the Mideast.

The alternative to war was to pay a $1 million tribute to the pasha of Tripoli, whose representative warned Thomas Jefferson in London, “It was … written in the Koran that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their [the Muslims’] authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find … and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

Oren uncovers the kinds of patterns that historians live to expose and the rest of us live to repeat. But he also provides examples where America acted benevolently, out of expanded self-interest. Following the Civil War, American expertise and largesse helped build the foundations of a modern army and a civil society in Egypt.

To read Arab propaganda today, you’d think America’s only Mideast offspring was the State of Israel. But Oren provides a fascinating account of how, following World War II, President Harry S. Truman provided crucial support for the independence of Libya, Syria and Iran.

Granted, the latter measures were designed in part to thwart Soviet power and ensure American oil supplies, but as Oren points out, “….The United States emerged from World War II as … an advocate for [Middle East] development and a defender of its freedom.”

These political developments interacted over the years with America’s deep religiosity, which held the Middle East as sacred soil. Americans were Zionists before Zionists existed.

In 1819, Protestant missionaries sailed from Boston determined to restore Palestine to the Jews. In the 1840s, one of their leaders was a Hebrew scholar at New York University named George Bush, forebear to two presidents. Later waves of American missionaries created institutions, including modern universities, that reshaped the Middle East.

And through it all, Oren argues, fiction and fantasy, from “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights” to “State of Siege” have shaped our perceptions (He neglects to mention “24,” a correction due for the next edition). Nineteenth- century travelers to the region took only one book as their literal guidebook: the Bible. In search of Abraham and King David, they were inevitably disappointed.

After Sept. 11, CNN analysts turned to spy novelist Tom Clancy for insights into Arab terrorism, an indication, to Oren, of “the degree to which fantasy and fact remained blurred in America’s Middle East perceptions.” The disappointment persists.

Oren, a Yale-trained historian who lives in Jerusalem, ends his book with Operation Iraqi Freedom — another George Bush, another confluence of power, faith and fantasy.

“The debate over the essential nature of the Middle East and its relations with the United States,” he writes, “shows no signs of waning.”

True. And that’s what makes this particular book such a crucial textbook for the next generation of policymakers. I called Oren at his home and asked him what the lesson for these people would be.”Nuance,” Oren said. “I keep coming back to that word. I hope they come to see that American involvement is far more nuanced than they may believe or have been led to believe.”

“On balance,” he said, “the good America has done in the Middle East has outweighed the damage it might have caused. The picture is far more multidimensional.”

An American-born Israeli, Oren is not a man without opinions, but his book lays out “the background and context” by which Americans can make their fateful decisions. “I was very careful not to be prescriptive,” he said.

Still, in reading the book, the lessons leap out. One is that America’s fate is strangely tied to the fate of the Middle East. Like it or not, that has been our lot since the founding. Another is that most of what Oren points to as our successes in the Middle East have to do with economic and political building and development, not war and confrontation (Oh, now he tells us).

Oren points out that the Civil War general, George B. McClellan, who made a post-bellum semiofficial trip up the Nile, wrote that education and widening exposure to the West could gradually transform the region.

Shoah Denial Conference: Damage Assessment

While world Jewry recovers from the shock of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust conference in Tehran, emotions are slowly giving way to analysis.

Why is Ahmadinejad pursuing this foolish crusade against the Holocaust? After all, even he must know that the Holocaust is one of the most documented events in human history and, hence, that denying its reality or even questioning its magnitude and significance is likely to end up in embarrassment. Why then is he so insistent?

The three main reasons analysts cite for Ahmadinejad’s obsession with the Holocaust are themselves questionable. We understand, of course, that by questioning the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad hopes to undermine what he believes was the main justification for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

We also accept Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria’s explanation that “Iran is seeking leadership in the Middle East, and what better way to do so than by appropriating the core grievance of the Sunni Arabs: Israel.”

Finally, Ahmadinejad clearly enjoys ridiculing what he sees as a European double-standard — criminalizing Holocaust deniers on the one hand and advocating free speech on the other.

But these reasons, if they are the real reasons, entail heavy risks for Ahmadinejad. First, a serious risk exists that driven by all the media attention, curious, bright youngsters in Iran and Arab countries will venture to dig into the vast evidence for the Holocaust and upon realizing its magnitude and veracity, begin to ask what other parts of history were purged from their state-controlled education.

Second, promoting the Palestinian cause through Holocaust denial tarnishes the former with all the absurdities of the latter, in much the same way that post-Sept. 11 conspiracy theories have discredited Muslims and weakened their claims.

Lastly, using Holocaust denial as an instrument for delegitimizing Israel may actually backfire. Columbia professor Joseph Massad argued (Al Ahram, 2004) that Arabs’ preoccupation with Holocaust denial creates the impression that the Holocaust, if it were true, suffices to justify the establishment of Israel. This, according to Massad, serves the Zionist agenda, hence, “All those in the Arab world who deny the Jewish Holocaust are in my opinion Zionists.”

My concerns lie elsewhere. I fear that as the buzz winds down and the dust settles, there will be only one thing remembered from the Holocaust Conference in Tehran: Israel and the Holocaust are one. That is, Israel owes its existence to one and only one factor: European guilt over the crime of the Holocaust. Once this is established, the next obvious question is: Why should the Palestinians pay for Europe’s crime?

We, of course, do not see things that way. For us, the State of Israel is the culmination of a long historical process of collective homecoming, not a rescue boat from the claws of Germany. While the Nazi genocide definitely accelerated that process, it did not initiate or redirect it.

The concepts of “Holy Land,” “Shivat Zion,” “Kibbutz Galuyot” — the ingathering of the exiles — three vital engines of Jewish history, are as old as Judaism itself. The majority of the 600,000 Jews who immigrated to Palestine prior to 1940 did not flee the Holocaust nor did the 580,000 Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries in the early 1950s.

Jews are generally aware of the immutable connection between Eretz Israel and Jewishness. We know deep down that Shimon Peres is not less indigenous to the Land of Canaan than, say, Mahmoud Abbas. Yet, we seem unwilling to openly assert it.

Take the movie, “Munich,” for example, written and produced by two educated Jewish artists. While a Palestinian terrorist in the movie is shown yearning for his father’s orchard, you will be wasting your time combing the script for a hint that Israeli society has any clue why they are in Israel and not, say, in Uganda. Tony Kushner knows why; he also knows that every Israeli knows why, yet he apparently did not feel comfortable enough to articulate it anywhere in his script.

I see a similar pattern in the criticism of the Holocaust Conference in Tehran. I hear tons of well-deserved condemnations of Ahmadinejad for orchestrating such an offensive conference but not one voice saying: Hey man! What a waste of time. We don’t need a Shoah to justify a Jewish state on that sliver of land. Our history was born there, and our collective consciousness has remained there.

The main danger that I see emerging from Ahmadinejad’s conference is that the international community, busy to rectify his misconceptions about the Holocaust, would ignore, and in fact mimic, his wanton disregard of the historical, national and religious ties that bind the Jewish people to their ancient land.

They ought to be reminded, and Ahmadinejad has given us a stage to do so.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation

Jimmy Carter Mideast book shows his anti-Israel bias

I like Jimmy Carter. I have known him since he began his run for president in early 1976. I worked hard for his election, and I have admired the work of the Carter Center throughout the
world. That’s why it troubles me so much that this decent man has written such an indecent book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His bias against Israel shows by his selection of the book’s title: “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” The suggestion that without peace Israel is an apartheid state analogous to South Africa is simply wrong. The basic evil of South African apartheid, against which I and so many other Jews fought, was the absolute control over a majority of blacks by a small minority of whites. It was the opposite of democracy.

In Israel majority rules; it is a vibrant, secular democracy, which has just recognized gay marriages performed abroad. Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court and get to vote for their representatives, many of whom strongly oppose Israeli policies.

Israel has repeatedly offered to end its occupation of areas it captured in a defensive war in exchange for peace and full recognition. The reality is that other Arab and Muslim nations do, in fact, practice apartheid.

In Jordan, no Jew can be a citizen or own land. The same is true in Saudi Arabia, which has separate roads for Muslims and non-Muslims. Even in the Palestinian Authority, the increasing influence of Hamas threatens to create Islamic hegemony over non-Muslims. Arab Christians are leaving in droves.

Why then would Jimmy Carter invoke the concept of apartheid in his attack on Israel? Even he acknowledges — though he buries this toward the end of his book — that what is going on in Israel today “is unlike that in South Africa — not racism but the acquisition of land.”

But Israel’s motive for holding on to this land is the prevention of terrorism. It has repeatedly offered to exchange land for peace and did so in Gaza and southern Lebanon, only to have the returned land used for terrorism, kidnappings and rocket launchings.

I don’t know why Carter, who is generally a careful man, allowed so many errors and omissions to blemish his book. Here are simply a few of the most egregious.

Carter emphasizes that “Christian and Muslim Arabs had continued to live in this same land since Roman times,” but he ignores the fact that Jews have lived in Hebron, Tsfat, Jerusalem and other cities for even longer. Nor does he discuss the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries since 1948.

Carter repeatedly claims that the Palestinians have long supported a two-state solution, and the Israelis have always opposed it. Yet he makes no mention of the fact that in 1938, the Peel Commission proposed a two-state solution with Israel receiving a mere sliver of its ancient homeland and the Palestinians receiving the bulk of the land. The Jews accepted, and the Palestinians rejected this proposal, because Arab leaders cared more about there being no Jewish state on Muslim holy land than about having a Palestinian state of their own.

He barely mentions Israel’s acceptance and the Palestinian rejection of the United Nation’s division of the mandate in 1948.

He claims that in 1967, Israel launched a preemptive attack against Jordan. The fact is that Jordan attacked Israel first, Israel tried desperately to persuade Jordan to remain out of the war and Israel counterattacked after the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem, firing missiles into the center of the city. Only then did Israel capture the West Bank, which it was willing to return in exchange for peace and recognition from Jordan.

Carter repeatedly mentions U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which called for return of captured territories in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries, but he ignores the fact that Israel accepted, and all the Arab nations and the Palestinians rejected this resolution. The Arabs met in Khartoum and issued their three famous “no’s”: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation,” but you wouldn’t know that from reading the history according to Carter.

Carter faults Israel for its “air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor” without mentioning that Iraq had threatened to attack Israel with nuclear weapons if it succeeded in building a bomb.

Carter faults Israel for its administration of Christian and Muslim religious sites, when, in fact, Israel is scrupulous about ensuring every religion the right to worship as they please — consistent, of course, with security needs. He fails to mention that between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Hashemites destroyed and desecrated Jewish religious sites and prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall. He also never mentions Egypt’s brutal occupation of Gaza between 1949 and 1967.

Carter blames Israel and exonerates Yasser Arafat for the Palestinian refusal to accept statehood on 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, pursuant to the Clinton-Barak offers of Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. He accepts the Palestinian revisionist history, rejects the eye-witness accounts of President Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross and ignores Saudi Prince Bandar’s accusation that Arafat’s rejection of the proposal was “a crime” and that Arafat’s account “was not truthful” — except, apparently, to Carter. The fact that Carter chooses to believe Arafat over Clinton speaks volumes.

Carter’s description of the recent Lebanon War is misleading. He begins by asserting that Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. “Captured” suggest a military apprehension subject to the usual prisoner of war status. The soldiers were kidnapped, and have not been heard from — not even a sign of life. The rocket attacks that preceded Israel’s invasion are largely ignored, as is the fact that Hezbollah fired its rockets from civilian population centers.

Carter gives virtually no credit to Israel’s superb legal system, falsely asserting (without any citation) that “confessions extracted through torture are admissible in Israeli courts,” that prisoners are “executed” and that the “accusers” act “as judges.” Even Israel’s most severe critics acknowledge the fairness of the Israeli Supreme Court, but not Carter.

Transcript of David Grossman’s speech at the Rabin memorial

… I am speaking here tonight as a person whose love for the land is overwhelming and complex, and yet it is unequivocal, and as one whose continuous covenant with the land has turned his personal calamity into a covenant of blood.

I am totally secular, and yet in my eyes the establishment and the very existence of the State of Israel is a miracle of sorts that happened to us as a nation — a political, national, human miracle.I do not forget this for a single moment. Even when many things in the reality of our lives enrage and depress me, even when the miracle is broken down to routine and wretchedness, to corruption and cynicism, even when reality seems like nothing but a poor parody of this miracle, I always remember. And with these feelings, I address you tonight.

‘ Behold land, for we hath squandered,’ wrote the poet Saul Tchernikovsky in Tel Aviv in 1938. He lamented the burial of our young again and again in the soil of the Land of Israel. The death of young people is a horrible, ghastly waste.

But no less dreadful is the sense that for many years, the State of Israel has been squandering not only the lives of its sons but also its miracle: That grand and rare opportunity that history bestowed upon it, the opportunity to establish here a state that is efficient, democratic, which abides by Jewish and universal values; a state that would be a national home and haven, but not only a haven, also a place that would offer a new meaning to Jewish existence; a state that holds as an integral and essential part of its Jewish identity and its Jewish ethos, the observance of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens.

… And I ask you: How could it be that a people with such powers of creativity, renewal and vivacity as ours, a people that knew how to rise from the ashes time and again, finds itself today, despite its great military might, at such a state of laxity and inanity, a state where it is the victim once more, but this time its own victim, of its anxieties, its shortsightedness.

… Mr. Prime Minister, I am not saying these words out of feelings of rage or revenge. I have waited long enough to avoid responding on impulse. You will not be able to dismiss my words tonight by saying a grieving man cannot be judged. Certainly I am grieving, but I am more pained than angry. This country and what you and your friends are doing to it pains me.

… The calamity that struck my family and myself with the falling of our son, Uri, does not grant me any additional rights in the public discourse, but I believe that the experience of facing death and the loss brings with it a sobriety and lucidity, at least regarding the distinction between the important and the unimportant, between the attainable and the unattainable.

Any reasonable person in Israel, and I will say in Palestine, too, knows exactly the outline of a possible solution to the conflict between the two peoples. Any reasonable person here and over there knows deep in their heart the difference between dreams and the heart’s desire, between what is possible and what is not possible by the conclusion of negotiations. Anyone who does not know, who refuses to acknowledge this, is already not a partner, be he Jew or Arab, is entrapped in his hermetic fanaticism, and is therefore not a partner.

Let us take a look at those who are meant to be our partners. The Palestinians have elected Hamas to lead them, Hamas who refuses to negotiate with us, refuses even to recognize us. What can be done in such a position? Keep strangling them more and more, keep mowing down hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are innocent civilians like us? Kill them and get killed for all eternity?

Turn to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, address them over the heads of Hamas, appeal to their moderates, those who like you and I oppose Hamas and its ways, turn to the Palestinian people, speak to their deep grief and wounds, acknowledge their ongoing suffering.

Nothing would be taken away from you or Israel’s standing in future negotiations. Our hearts will only open up to one another slightly, and this has a tremendous power, the power of a force majeur. The power of simple human compassion, particularly in this a state of deadlock and dread. Just once, look at them not through the sights of a gun, and not behind a closed roadblock. You will see there a people that is tortured no less than us. An oppressed, occupied people bereft of hope.

Certainly, the Palestinians are also to blame for the impasse, certainly they played their role in the failure of the peace process. But take a look at them from a different perspective, not only at the radicals in their midst, not only at those who share interests with our own radicals. Take a look at the overwhelming majority of this miserable people, whose fate is entangled with our own, whether we like it or not.

Go to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, do not search all the time for reasons for not to talk to them. You backed down on the unilateral convergence, and that’s a good thing, but do not leave a vacuum. It will be occupied instantly with violence, destruction. Talk to them, make them an offer their moderates can accept. They argue far more than we are shown in the media. Make them an offer so that they are forced to choose whether they accept it, or whether they prefer to remain hostage to fanatical Islam.

Approach them with the bravest and most serious plan Israel can offer. With the offer than any reasonable Palestinian and Israeli knows is the boundary of their refusal and our concession. There is no time. Should you delay, in a short while we will look back with longing at the amateur Palestinian terror. We will hit our heads and yell at our failure to exercise all of our mental flexibility, all of the Israeli ingenuity to uproot our enemies from their self-entrapment. We have no choice and they have no choice. And a peace of no choice should be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice. And those who believe we do have a choice, or that time is on our side do not comprehend the deeply dangerous processes already in motion.

What’s your Jewish I.Q.?

1. When was Judaism founded?
(a) 1000 C.E.
(b) 5000 B.C.E.
(c) 2000 B.C.E.
(d) 1000 B.C.E.

2. Who was the mother of Moses?

3. Who was born a Moabite, became a Jew and was the great-grandmother of King David?
(a) Rebekkah
(b) Deborah
(c) Lillith
(d) Ruth

4. Complete this line from Exodus 23:9: "You shall not oppress the _______ for you were _________ in the land of Egypt."

5. The Jews received the Torah at _____________ __________. God said there: "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a ________ __________." (Exodus 19:6)

6. The phrase "Chosen People" refers to:
(a) God chose the Jews to be persecuted.
(b) God entered into a covenant with the Jews.
(c) Only Jews are made in the image of God.

7. The First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. by which power?
(a) Macedonia
(b) Rome
(c) Assyria
(d) Babylonia

8. The tragic last stand of the Jews in their revolt against Rome took place at:
(a) Qumran
(b) Jerusalem
(c) Masada
(d) Hebron

9. The Spanish Jews who chose conversion between 1391-1492 and continued to practice Judaism in secret were called:
(a) Kabbalists
(b) Marranos
(c) Pietists
(d) Sephardim

10. The first Jewish community in North America was established in this settlement by 23 Dutch Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Brazil:
(a) New Amsterdam
(b) Newport
(c) Charleston
(d) Savannah

11. In 1807, __________ freed the Jews from their ghettos, granting them citizenship.

12. The main wave of 2 million Jewish immigrants entered the United States in which period?
(a) 1914-1933
(b) 1860-1870
(c) 1880-1914
(d) 1933-1945

13. What Jewish person won nine Olympic gold medals in swimming and is considered the greatest swimmer in the history of the sport?

14. TRUE OR FALSE? Historians cite three factors that distinguish the Holocaust from other genocides: its cruelty, its scale and its efficiency.

15. During the Holocaust, what three countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population?

16. "Hear O Israel the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One" is the first line of?:
(a) The Israeli National Anthem
(b) The Shemoneh Esrei
(c) The "Shema"

17. A mitzvah is:
(a) A prayer
(b) A commandment
(c) A sin

18. Where is it written:
(a)"We support the non-Jewish poor together with the Jewish poor, and we visit the non-Jewish sick alongside the Jewish sick, and we bury non-Jewish dead alongside Jewish dead, all for the sake of the ways of peace."
(b)"You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. I am the Lord."

19. Fill in: "On three things does the world stand: Torah, service to God, and acts of ____________" (Pirke Avot).

20. TRUE OR FALSE? The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel offers "Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel" the "full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."

Click here for the answers.

Test contributors include the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Outreach Institute, and The Journal editors.

Bittersweet symphonies: the Pearls struggle to find life after Daniel’s death

Eight days after Yom Kippur, Judea and Ruth Pearl will commemorate what would have been the 43rd birthday of their son, Daniel. As on every Oct. 10 for the last five years, it will be a day of intensely personal reflection and remembrance by the couple and their daughters, Tamara and Michelle, intensifying their emotions of the other 364 days.
By contrast, the date also will be marked by public worldwide concerts celebrating the life of Daniel Pearl, an accomplished violinist, equally passionate about the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass musical idioms.
As of a week ago, the master calendar showed 166 different performances scheduled in 24 countries — from China to El Salvador and Kenya to Egypt — on and around Oct. 10. It is expected that the numbers will reach last year’s record of 300 concerts in 41 countries.
Music was Daniel Pearl’s avocation, but journalism was his profession. In pursuit of a story on Al Qaeda’s financial ties, the then-38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped in early 2002 in Pakistan and beheaded by Islamic extremists.

The life and death of Daniel Pearl on HBO
It has a handsome, brilliant, fun-loving reporter, who kisses his beautiful, pregnant wife goodbye as he goes off to track down an Al Qaeda financial network in Pakistan. His nemesis is Omar Sheikh, a man not unlike Pearl in background — intelligent, well educated, but who has become a fanatical terrorist.
Sheikh lures Pearl into a trap, where kidnappers abduct The Wall Street Journal reporter and withhold news of him for almost a month, while Pearl’s parents and wife, and much of the rest of the world, hold their breath.
The Pakistani police search everywhere for Pearl, while the same country’s intelligence service apparently shields the terrorist. Finally, the kidnappers release a grisly video in which Pearl is decapitated by a sword.
No wonder four different film projects on the case have been announced, although only one is actually ready for prime time.
On Oct. 10, the day on which Pearl would have celebrated his 43rd birthday, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” a 90-minute documentary, which will be hard to beat for drama and intensity by subsequent movies.
The film was produced and directed by Ahmed A. Jamal, a Pakistani, and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, with the full cooperation of Pearl’s wife, Marianne, and his parents, UCLA professor Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl, both raised in Israel. It is narrated by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
What gives the film much of its emotional impact are lovely home videos of Pearl’s childhood in Encino, his passion for music, a makeshift seder conducted on a trans-Siberian railroad train, and the joyous wedding joining him to his Cuban Dutch wife.
The life of the secretive Omar Sheikh is, of necessity, less well documented, and at times the directors have to stretch quite a bit to force the two protagonists’ backgrounds into parallel lines.
There remain a number of yet unanswered questions, both in the film and in the actual investigations:

  • Did Pearl’s kidnappers sell him to an Arab gang that then murdered him?
  • What was the role of the Pakistani government?
  • Why has the death sentence, imposed on Sheikh by a Pakistani court in July 2002, never been carried out?

Until such questions are answered, the documentary serves as a riveting history of a case that has gripped the world’s attention.
“The Journalist and the Jihadi” airs at 8 p.m. on Oct. 10. It will be repeated on various dates in October on HBO and HBO2.

Check for details.
— TT

Yet the wake of this tragedy is an extraordinary story of renewal in itself. Ruth and Judea Pearl are both high-achieving professionals. He is an emeritus professor of computer science at UCLA and internationally recognized for his pioneer research on artificial intelligence. She is an electrical engineer and for years was a highly paid industry consultant. Although quieter than her more exuberant husband, in the immediate days after the tragedy, “she was the captain and ran a tight ship,” her daughter wrote.
Both parents cherish their privacy and still shudder each time an inquiring reporter thrusts a mike in their face and asks, “Well, and how did you feel when you first heard that your son had been murdered?”
But on the day before Rosh Hashanah this year, sitting in the living room of their pleasant Encino home, they agreed to talk openly about their agonizing experience and how they transformed their lives by transmuting private grief into public good.
The story begins on the morning of Jan. 23, 2002, an ordinary day when life seemed especially good for Daniel Pearl. He was a highly respected and popular foreign correspondent for a leading American daily, married to fellow journalist Marianne, and the couple were expecting their first child.
That evening, Daniel went to a restaurant in the Pakistani port city of Karachi to meet a supposed source who could provide a break for his investigative story on the financing of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
That was the last time his family saw Daniel, except for videos released by his shadowy captors, one showing the journalist in chains with an unknown hand pointing a gun at his head.
It was the beginning of 28 days of hope and despair for the Pearl parents, and their six new houseguests from the FBI.
Repeatedly during that period, the Pearls were informed their son was dead and his body had been found, and each time the report turned out to be wrong.
Throughout the ordeal, Daniel’s colleagues and editors at The Wall Street Journal were in touch with the parents, lending moral support and advice. One of the editors’ main concerns was that other media might leak the fact that both parents come from an Israeli background, thus increasing the threat to Daniel’s life.
Judea was born in suburban Tel Aviv in the fervently Orthodox enclave of B’nai Brak, co-founded by his grandfather, and he had served in the Israeli army.
Ruth was born in Baghdad, when one-quarter of the Iraqi capital’s population was Jewish, and emigrated with her parents to Israel in 1951. She and Judea met as college students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
In a rare display of professional solidarity in the competitive media, no one raised the Israeli angle until after Daniel’s death.
During the torturous waiting period, Barney Calame, a Wall Street Journal editor, phoned the Pearls daily with a situation report. “He was a slow, deliberate speaker and each time our hearts kept sinking until, at the end, he would report that there had been no new developments,” Judea recalled. “We finally taught him to open each conversation with the sentence, ‘I have no news.'”
In the last days before Daniel’s death, the Pearls were fairly hopeful.
“Danny was a careful professional, not a Don Quixote type, and he had always gotten himself out of any trouble before,” his mother said. “Besides, his goodness shone through, and we couldn’t believe that his kidnappers could live with him for weeks and not be affected by it.”
Adding to the hopefulness was the history of other journalists abducted in Parkistan previously, who had always been returned after a few days in exchange for enemy prisoners or ransom.
On the morning of Feb. 21, 2002, the last glimmer of hope was extinguished. “We were having breakfast when three FBI agents, two women and a man, walked in,” Ruth remembered. “One woman had tears in her eyes, and she asked me if I had anything cooking on the stove. Then she told us that she had bad news and that Danny had been killed.”
After the previous false alarms, the Pearls refused to believe the report. They phoned the American consul in Karachi, who confirmed that he had seen the gruesome video showing the decapitation of their son.
Pakistani police did not find Daniel’s mutilated body until May 16, and it took another three months until the remains were returned to the United States. Hours before the funeral, the FBI stopped the proceedings on the grounds that the agents needed four more days to perform an autopsy.
Finally, after the burial and the memorial service, the Pearls were left to ponder their loss and their future.
“I felt that my life was over,” Ruth said. “We would never again have a normal life. I still cannot comprehend it; I try not to comprehend it; there’s a mental mechanism blocking it.”Added Judea, “As human beings, we don’t have the software, the computational machinery, to comprehend the logical contradiction that such a beautiful person, who tried so hard to explain the Muslim world to the West, would be killed by people who elevated their grievance above all norms of civilization.”
But rather than the sad ending that might have happened, this is where the story takes a surprising turn. The Pearls faced three obvious options. One was to retreat into their private grief, another to resume their professional lives as best they could, and a third to do whatever they could to exact revenge on their son’s murderers.
They chose a fourth way. “We refused to accept the idea that Danny’s contributions to the world as a journalist, as a musician, as a gentle human being was ended forever,” Judea said.
“We decided on a different kind of defiance,” he added. “We would fight hatred with everything in our power, but we wouldn’t seek physical revenge — that’s what his murderers wanted.”
The parents found the vehicle to turn thoughts into action a few days later, as a steady stream of condolence cards, flowers and envelopes with $20 bills and other small donations arrived at the house.
“We didn’t know how to cope with all that,” said Ruth, so The Wall Street Journal arranged for a team of lawyers to advise the family.
The first decision was to set up a trust fund for Marianne and her soon-to-be-born son, Adam. As the discussions continued, all agreed that the most relevant way to honor Daniel’s life and death was to establish a foundation to perpetuate his work and ideals.
Exactly one week after the FBI agent reported Danny’s death, the legal papers establishing the Daniel Pearl Foundation were signed by Judea Pearl as president and Ruth Pearl as chief financial officer.

Three Generations of Pearls

Three Generations of Pearls. back row: Tosha Pearl (center) is flanked by her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and son, Judea, during a Tel Aviv family reunion. front row: Tamara Pearl and her brother, Daniel Pearl. Photo courtesy Ruth and Judea Pearl

“We wanted to fight the tsunami of hatred engulfing the world and we had a powerful weapon — the memory of Danny, respected by millions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and through the three fields in which he excelled, journalism, music and dialogue.”
Working with a miniscule staff and a $400,000 annual budget, raised mainly through small contributions (“We don’t get any celebrities,” Judea said), the foundation has transformed Daniel’s legacy and the parents’ vision into reality.
In journalism, reporters and editors from Muslim countries annually travel to the United States for six-month working fellowships on American newspapers, including The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
Through the Web-based World Youth News, students at 20,000 high schools in 109 countries develop professional skills, unbiased reporting and respect for cultural differences.
In music, World Music Days will be celebrated this year Oct. 6-15. Among the hundreds of performers and performances will be Sir Elton John, world premiere of Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations,” symphony orchestras in five different countries, neo-soul artist Nya Jade, Bo Diddley and Friends, Hollywood Interfaith Choir and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
Judea Pearl and professor Akbar Ahmed, a leading Islamic scholar from Pakistan, have engaged in dialogues before multiethnic audiences throughout the United States and in the British House of Lords.
“We have only two rules,” Pearl said. “No topic is taboo and both speakers and audience must maintain civilized tone.”
The foundation has promoted publication of books of Daniel’s own writings and about his beliefs. Among a number of projected films, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi” on Oct. 10.
Somewhat to their own surprise, Judea and Ruth have become accomplished and passionate public speakers and are constantly busy promoting and running the Daniel Pearl Foundation.They have also evolved into skillful interviewees, with Judea as the more animated and gesticulating responder, while Ruth is quieter on the surface and occasionally corrects her husband’s recollections.
But, Judea said, “I resist the idea that I’m doing all this for therapeutic reasons. If I didn’t believe that our work makes some difference, I would quit tomorrow.”Added Ruth, “Some days we are encouraged and on other days we are down. But we are doers and we don’t quit.”

Daniel Pearl

Enforce cease-fire terms for peaceful New Year

The Jewish people have a tradition of reflecting on the past as a tool to move forward. Never is this custom more significant than at the start of each New Year.

This Yom Kippur, we have a lot to bear in mind. At the end of summer a year ago, just before the beginning of 5766, Israel had faced what at the time seemed to be its most difficult summer with the disengagement from Gaza. A rift was created within Israeli society, one that the people of Israel were still dealing with until just before this summer began.

The thriving economy and booming tourist industry seemed a promising end to a trying year and hopeful beginning of the coming year. Unprecedented numbers of Hollywood celebrities were calling Tel Aviv their summer hotspot, and Israeli teens were trampling all over each other to buy tickets for some of the biggest acts in the world — performing in Israel.

School was out and summer camp was in. The pools had been properly chlorinated, and everyone was ready to show off their brand new bathing suits. For the kids all over Israel, this was the moment they’d been waiting for since September.

Following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in two terrorist attacks, which resulted in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25 as well as Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on July 12, Israel set aside its summer plans and prepared to face once again what we have faced so many times in the past — war.

By mid-July the residents of northern Israel were being bombarded on a daily basis by deadly Katyusha missiles fired by Hezbollah. Innocent civilians were being targeted and killed. Hezbollah was exhibiting a new ruthlessness, placing ball bearings in the missile heads with the sole purpose of inflicting maximum injury and suffering on anyone within its reach of one mile.

Northern Israel took a harsh beating, bustling Israeli landmark cities like Haifa, Tzfat, Nahariya, Kiriyat Shmona and Tiberias were nearly deserted. Buildings were destroyed, the lush green landscape was in flames, and many lives were lost. With more than a third of Israel’s population in the line of fire, residents either fled south or huddled together in bomb shelters, transforming the animated north into a ghost town.

By the time a cease-fire was reached, 160 Israelis had been killed by Hezbollah terrorists. More than 4,000 missiles landed in Israel during the war, hitting 6,000 homes, leaving 300,000 Israeli’s displaced and forcing more than a million to live in bomb shelters.
Had the United Nations implemented Security Council Resolution 1559, the war would probably have been averted. Now, with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, the international community has been given a second chance to make things right.

Resolution 1701 brought an end to the military struggle, but while the bombs have stopped falling and the focus is to regroup and rebuild northern Israel, we must remain cautious and guarded.

The clear agenda of the president of Iran, a fundamentalist regime that gives financial support and operational directives to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, has not changed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to sponsor terrorism and strives to achieve nuclear capabilities, while at the same time reiterating his call for the destruction of the Israel and denying the Holocaust.

Iran and Syria remain the driving force behind Hezbollah, a fact that strengthens the argument that the arms embargo addressed in Resolution 1701 must be enforced.
The culture of hatred that has grown strong in the unstable region surrounding Israel affects the Jewish people worldwide. Today, however, the Jewish people are stronger than they have ever been. That strength stems, among other things, from Eretz Israel, the one country in the world every Jew is free to call their home.

This summer, as Israel was under fire, the Jews of the world spoke together and stood together. It is well known that as Jews we band together in times of hardship. Never was that more true than during this past summer. Jews in Israel and around the world understood the stakes and made standing with Israel their first priority.

In accepting Resolution 1701, Israel has once again shown its commitment to peace by giving diplomacy a chance to succeed. It is now essential that this commitment to peace be echoed by the international community, starting first and foremost with the implementation of this important resolution.

As we continue the battle to free our abducted soldiers and secure our borders, Israel remains strong. Looking forward to a new year, we are strengthened by the lessons of our past. The Jewish people have overcome countless obstacles since the beginning of our history 5767 years ago, and we will continue to prevail against all odds and all enemies for a long time to come.

With this year ending and a new one beginning, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Jewish community for its undying support of Israel.

I pray that God continues to give us all the strength to face the many challenges that lie ahead.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, peaceful New Year and may all of your hearts’ desires be fulfilled.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The people of Israel will live for eternity.

Chag Samech, Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova.

Ehud Danoch is Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.

Media reporters meet community; Karnit Goldwasser appeals for help

A sold-out crowd of close to 450 men and women attended the Women’s Alliance for Israel Aug. 8 symposium on “Israel and the Media — How Fair the Coverage?” The event at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel included panelists Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project; David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times; Jay Sanderson, president of Jewish Television Network; and Bill Boyarsky, Pulitzer Prize winner, author and Jewish Journal contributing columnist.

For information about Women’s Alliance for Israel please call (310) 281-4711.

A Wife’s Plea

On Sept. 6, the American Jewish Congress (AJ Congress) sponsored an event at Sinai Temple in Westwood featuring Karnit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped Israeli soldier, Ehud Goldwasser. Along with her father, Omri Avni, Goldwasser spoke about the plight of her husband held captive in Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists since July 12.

“I am asking for help from anyone who has the key to show us that Udi is still alive,” Goldwasser said.

Both Goldwasser and Avni urged the audience of nearly 200 to pressure U.S. government officials and the International Red Cross to send on a letter sitting in the Red Cross office in Beirut from Karnit for Ehud. Following Goldwasser’s pleas for financial help to cover the costs of her travels across the United States and the world, Iranian Jewish businessman John Farahi pledged to pay for the expenses for the next six months. Goldwasser and her father have also visited Chicago, Miami, Houston and Washington, D.C., in order to raise awareness about her husband’s captivity (see story page 8).

Gary Ratner, executive director of AJ Congress, said his group would try to get Goldwasser another meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Appointment for Prager

President George Bush recently named radio host and Van Nuys resident Dennis Prager to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The council consists of 55 presidential appointees, in addition to 10 congressional representatives and three ex-officio members from the departments of Education, Interior and State. Prager will complete the remainder of a five-year term that expires in January 2011.

“Dennis Prager’s unique moral voice and dedication to the mission of Holocaust education and remembrance make him an ideal candidate to serve on the council, particularly today as we witness rising global anti-Semitism,” said council chairman Fred S. Zeidman. “I welcome the talent and enthusiasm he brings to the position and congratulate him on joining the council.”

Prager, host of the nationally syndicated “The Dennis Prager Show,” is a speaker, author and film producer. In 2003, Simon and Schuster reissued his work on the history of anti-Semitism, “Why the Jews,” written with co-author Joseph Telushkin. Deeply involved in interfaith dialog efforts, he is a frequent contributor to national publications and regularly offers commentary on many national TV outlets.

For more information, visit “>

An (Israeli-American) Voice in the Wilderness

Jonathan Tasini’s name, in Israel, would be pronounced more like Tazini. It’s related to a command in classical Hebrew that Moses uses with his people: Ha’azinu. That is: You should listen.

And at the very least, Tasini wants voters to get a chance to listen to him. He offers himself up as a new kind of Jewish American anti-war candidate for Congress, the only one who, as this summer’s news about the miseries of Iraq merged with that of the Lebanon blow-up, critically addressed both situations. He’s using his small corner of New York’s political stage to speak about these two wars of vital interest to Jews, even as it goes scarcely noticed that Tasini is the closest any candidate has come to being an Israeli American running for the U.S. Congress.

His full name is Jonathan Yoav Tasini, and he’s challenging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York’s Democratic primary on Sept. 12. He’s asked Clinton to debate him — an event that, following Ned Lamont’s win against Sen. Joe Lieberman, would likely be a national story — but so far she hasn’t accepted. Publications as different as The New York Times and the New York Post recently urged Clinton to engage the 49-year-old Tasini, the articulate former head of the National Writer’s Union, saying that a Tasini-Clinton match-up would give her a chance to clarify her muddled position on Iraq.

On Iraq, Tasini — along with a broad range of progressive positions — favors an immediate pullout. On Lebanon, as recent violence surged, he quickly echoed calls elsewhere for a cease-fire and joined in criticism of Israel’s bombing campaign in civilian areas. Tasini spurred a midsummer ripple of controversy with remarks that included his lament of Israel’s “many acts of brutality and violations of human rights.” He didn’t back down, reminding his critics that his comments did not stray from civil rights reports and charges by Israeli leftists.

Still, many people haven’t heard of Tasini, and the Jewish world has barely taken note. His Italian-sounding name stops even some supporters from realizing he’s Jewish, although he’s clear enough about it on his Web site, The New York media — including the Jewish press — have also not covered him with anywhere near the interest accorded Lamont, who bought his share of outsider glamour for $4 million.

Tasini’s raised about $200,000 so far, compared to Clinton’s $22 million. After a recent boomlet of press, he’s polling at 15 percent of New York Democrats. Few think he’ll win. But his positions on the Middle East distinguish him as part of a new generation of Democratic mavericks who reflect this country’s sense of political crisis over Iraq and a measure of disillusionment about Israel’s conduct in the Lebanon War. One could even call his campaign groundbreaking, given the freshness of his views and the novelty of his biography.

“I absolutely view him as an Israeli American,” said Joel Schalit, managing editor of Tikkun Magazine. “He certainly spent enough time in Israel and he certainly has enough connections there.”

Born in Houston, Tasini has two families: an American one from the marriage of his father, Betsalel Tasini, to a woman who lives now in Los Angeles, and an Israeli side, stemming from his father’s second marriage to a New Yorker who emigrated to Israel in 1968. Tasini, a UCLA graduate, lived with his father and stepmother in Israel for seven years and speaks fluent Hebrew.

I recently talked to Rita Tasini, the candidate’s stepmother, by phone as she sat in her home in Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv, a few days after a Hezbollah missile had fallen in Hadera, not far away.

“He has roots in Israel that are very, very deep,” she said of him. “He was here, not last year, but the year before. He was here for Pesach.”

Tasini, she said, “was left wing at 16. He was always left.”

And his support for a two-state solution for the Palestinians, his objections to the Jewish settlement movement reflected familial views.

“Jonathan’s father was against it,” said his stepmother, “and so was I; none of us believed that they should be living over there.”

Tasini’s late father, a computer scientist, was born in Palestine, and fought in the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state army, and its strike force, the Palmach, his widow told me. He lived for a time in the United States during his American-born son’s early years, then returned to Israel. Rita Tasini described how a teenaged Tasini, having joined his father, volunteered in a hospital, helping wounded Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War.

Yet Tasini told me it was the Vietnam War and the perspective of his father, the independence fighter, that largely shaped his anti-war views. “I remember very specifically watching the news of the Vietnam War and every week they’d have the body counts,” Tasini said, as we talked near his tiny office in New York’s West Village. “This one week, the number of Viet Cong killed were more than Americans and I said, ‘Good,’ and my father said, ‘Why is it good?’ I said, ‘It is better that more of them die than Americans,’ and my father said, ‘It is about much more than that.’ He said that no country wants to be occupied by another country, and liberation movements are very strong. My father was not a deep ideological left-winger, but it was based on his history of having fought against the British.

“Gandhi means a lot to me, Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” he added.
While he said he believes fighting is sometimes necessary, and firmly deplored Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the recent crisis, he questions why, given previous deals Israel made to release Palestinian prisoners for captives, it wasn’t done this time.

The openness of such skepticism may make Tasini seem foolishly bold (or boldly foolish) in the context of a New York political race. But it is of a piece with his controversial past as president of the National Writer’s Union, a time that included taking The New York Times to court to win payment to freelance writers for electronic reuse of their work. He won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But critics say he misapplied his chutzpah this summer in the middle of the fighting in Lebanon. In an interview with the political blog, Room 8, Tasini was asked whether he believed Israel was a terrorist state. He answered: “It is painful to say that, but when you fire missiles from sophisticated aircraft on unarmed civilians in Gaza, those are again, the definition to me of….” He paused, searching for the next words.

“Terrorism is a very heavily laden word. But to me, what the key thing is, what are you doing? Are your actions in violation of the international norms of the Geneva Convention, and so on? And I think it’s sad to say, but it’s clear, yeah.”

While he quickly stated, on his campaign Web site, that did not view Israel as a terrorist state, he held to his critical stance. The Clinton campaign denounced the remarks, and several Jewish organizations fired back. The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), a Jewish Democratic group in Washington, called the remarks “outrageous” and “downright offensive.”

I asked NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman what made the remarks so wrong — beyond the “terrorist” label, which was pushed at Tasini and about which he wavered — given that human rights groups have issued reports saying more or less the same things.(Amnesty International has just issued a report critical of the Israeli bombing of civilians during the Lebanon conflagration.) Forman said the comments were “inappropriate,” and then added: “Inappropriate may not be the most accurate statement. The accurate statement is ‘very much out of the mainstream for the American Jewish community.'”

Forman’s objection — he was one of those who said he could not remember another congressional candidate who had as full an Israeli background as Tasini — goes to the heart of what makes Tasini an interesting new presence.

Said Tikkun’s magazine’s Joel Schalit: “If Israel comes across as being more fallible, dysfunctional and morally-in-trouble than previously perceived, then American Jewish opinion is going to have some kind of crisis. I think it is about time that an Israeli American entered the process. His timing couldn’t be better.”

Tasini has a political example to aim for in Los Angeles.

“I thought he was courageous to be critical of the Israeli actions in Lebanon, given Hillary’s gestures to win out the Jewish vote,” said Marcy Winograd, a Jewish anti-war progressive who took 38 percent of the vote in her recent primary run against Jane Harmon in California’s 36th Congressional District.
Tasini called the West L.A. campaign “the model” for his.

Tasini pointed out that critics of the Zionist Left who live in Israel tend to feel stronger in their right to question policies there than American Jewish critics in this country because their devotion to the survival of the state stands beyond reproach.

“American Jews feel they are living here in comfort and protection,” he said, “and they don’t really know what is going on, and they can’t criticize Israel. I have never had that. I can say what I say with authority, and I say it because I have a stake there.”

But interesting positions alone won’t get him into the same room with Hillary Clinton. At campaign stops recently she has dodged reporters who more and more often ask whether she’ll debate Tasini. She would only tell a CBS reporter, “We’ll see how the campaign develops over the next weeks.”

Of course Moses, with whom Tasini shares a linguistic legacy, sometimes had problems getting people to listen. But even he didn’t face the mighty logic of American incumbency — that you can deny an under-funded opponent a chance to be heard, if you simply don’t respond.

Allan M. Jalon is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Final Reckoning — Israel’s Defeat

However hard Ehud Olmert tries to spin it, the U.N. ceasefire that began this week is a disaster for Israel and for the war on terrorism generally. With an unprecedented green light from Washington to do whatever necessary to uproot the Iranian front line against Israel, and with a level of national unity and willingness to sacrifice unseen here since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, our leaders squandered weeks restraining the army and fighting a pretend war.

Ehud Olmert
Only in the two days before the cease-fire was the army finally given the go-ahead to fight a real war.

But, by then, the U.N. resolution had codified the terms of Israel’s defeat. The resolution doesn’t require the immediate return of our kidnapped soldiers, but does urgently place the Shebaa Farms on the international agenda — as if the Lebanese jihadists fired some 4,000 rockets at the Israeli homefront over the fate of a bare mountain that the United Nations concluded in 1967 belonged not to Lebanon but Syria. Worst of all, it once again entrusts the security of Israel’s northern border to the inept UNIFIL.

As one outraged TV anchor put it, Israeli towns were exposed to the worst attacks since the nation’s founding, 1 million residents of the Galilee fled or sat in shelters for a month, more than 150 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed along with nearly 1,000 Lebanese — all in order to ensure the return of U.N. peacekeepers to southern Lebanon.

This is a nation whose heart has been broken: by our failure to uproot the jihadist threat, which will return for another and far more deadly round; by the economic devastation of the Galilee and of a neighboring land we didn’t want to attack; by the heroism of our soldiers and the hesitations of our politicians; by the young men buried and crippled in a war we prevented ourselves from winning; by foreign journalists who can’t tell the difference between good and evil; by European leaders who equate an army that tries to avoid civilian causalities with a terrorist group that revels in them; by a United Nations that questions Israel’s right to defend itself; and by growing voices on the left who question Israel’s right to exist at all.

At least some of the disasters of the past weeks were self-inflicted. We forfeited the public relations battle that was, in part, Israel’s to lose. How is it possible that we failed to explain the justness of a war fought against a genocidal enemy who attacked us across our U.N.-sanctioned international border?

It’s hard to remember now, but we began this war with the sympathy of a large part of the international community. Some Arab leaders, for the first time in the history of the Middle East conflict, actually blamed other Arabs for initiating hostilities with Israel.

That response came when Israel seemed determined to defeat Hezbollah, but, as the weeks dragged on and Hezbollah appeared to be winning, moderate Arabs adjusted accordingly. They didn’t switch sides because we were fighting too assertively but because we weren’t fighting assertively enough.

Even before the shooting stopped, the reckoning here had already begun. There are widespread expectations of dismissals for senior military commanders who — when finally given the chance to end the Hezbollah threat they had been warning about for almost 25 years — couldn’t implement a creative battle plan. But demands for accountability won’t be confined to the army alone.

Journalist Ari Shavit, who has taken on something of the role of Motti Ashkenazi — the reservist soldier who led the movement to bring down the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War — wrote a front-page article in Haaretz calling for Olmert’s resignation. And that is only the opening shot.

Even Maariv’s Ben Caspit, one of Israel’s most pro-Olmert journalists, published an imaginary Olmert speech of apology to the nation. A cartoon in Maariv showed Olmert as a boy playing with a yo-yo inscribed with ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES. None of Israel’s wars was ever fought with greater micromanagement by a government, and no government was ever less qualified to manage a war as this one.

Just as the post-Yom Kippur War period destroyed military and political careers and eventually led to the collapse of the Labor Party’s hegemony, so will the post-Lebanon period end careers and perhaps even the short-lived Kadima Party experiment.

A long list of reckonings awaits the Israeli public. There’s the scandal of the government’s abandonment of tens of thousands of poor Israelis who lacked the means to escape the north and were confined for weeks in public shelters, their needs largely tended to by volunteers.

There’s the growing bitterness between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, many of whom supported Hezbollah in a war most Jews saw as an existential attack on the state. And there’s the emergency need to resurrect the military reserves, which have been so neglected that a majority of men over 21 don’t even serve anymore and those that do tend to feel like suckers.

Still, in the Jewish calendar, the summer weeks after the fast of the Ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple, are a time of consolation. “Be consoled, be consoled, my people,” we read from the Torah on the Sabbath after the fast. And so we console ourselves with the substantial achievements of the people of Israel during this month of war.

First, our undiminished capacity for unity. My favorite symbol of that unity is the antiwar rapper, Muki, whose hit song during the era of Palestinian suicide bombings lamented the absence of justice for the Palestinians but who, this time, insisted that the army needs to “finish the job” against Hezbollah.

Second, our middle-class children, with their cell phones, iPods and pizza deliveries to their army bases. In intimate combat, they repeatedly bested Hezbollah fighters, even though the terrorists had the advantage of familiar terrain.

This generation has given us some of Israel’s most powerful images of heroism, like the soldier from a West Bank settlement and father of two young children who leaped onto a grenade to save his friends, shouting the Shema — the prayer of God’s oneness — just before the grenade exploded.

Along with the recriminations, there will be many medals of valor awarded in the coming weeks.

But the last month’s fighting is only one battle in the jihadist war against Israel’s homefront that began with the second intifada in September 2000. Israel won the first phase of that war, the four years of suicide bombings that lasted until 2004. Now, in the second phase, we’ve lost the battle against the rockets.

But the qualities this heartbreak has revealed — unity and sacrifice and faith in the justness of our cause — will ensure our eventual victory in the next, inevitable, bitter round. Such is the nature of consolation in Israel in the summer of 2006.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a foreign correspondent for The New Republic and senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Reprinted with permission of The New Republic.

Needed: Rational Discussion

When David Lauter, the deputy foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, began speaking to a crowd of about 400 at a Women’s Alliance for Israel program last
week, it was clear that most of the audience was out for his scalp, and not even the yarmulke he was wearing could save him.

Lauter was on a panel discussing news coverage of Israel’s battle against Hezbollah. I was also on the panel, seated next to Lauter, who is a friend and was a longtime colleague when I worked at the Times.

He is a highly intelligent, soft-spoken, logical man who thinks before he speaks. He is also an observant Jew.

That meant nothing to this crowd. Neither did his intelligence and logic. They booed when he tried to explain his paper’s coverage. When they weren’t booing, they talked among themselves, paying no attention to Lauter. To this bunch, the world outside their own community was a vast and hostile conspiracy against them and against Israel.

I’ve spoken to many groups all over Los Angeles during extremely volatile times. I’ve never seen such rudeness, narrow mindedness and just plain boorishness.

Nothing Lauter said warranted such a response. He told how the coverage began, with him and the foreign editor, Marjorie Miller, organizing the Times foreign correspondents the day the conflict began.

The regulars needed help. A couple of the correspondents were already arranging their transportation to Israel. Miller and Lauter dispatched more to deal with the unexpected story.

This crowd wasn’t interested in these details. Nor did they want to know of the courage of these correspondents, who willingly head into danger — and stay there. This crowd probably had no idea of how many correspondents have been killed in Iraq. These deaths are a clear warning that the same thing could happen to some of the reporters in Lebanon or Israel.

The questions were unrelentingly hostile. They weren’t questions, in fact. They were attacks. And when Lauter tried to answer them, there were more boos.
When he sat down, I told him that this bunch was out for blood. Later, he said felt there was a hard core of haters, “but I don’t think they were the majority.”

I don’t know about that. Hostility seemed to extend through the room, back to the far edges where my wife and cousin were seated.

And at the end of the program, Lauter announced to the crowd that he would stick around and answer more questions.

“Several people came up to me and said they appreciated my being there, but they said so quietly, not exposing themselves to the crowd,” Lauter told me later.
Not blessed with Lauter’s patience, I left angry and stayed mad all the next day.

In the first place, the Times’ coverage is excellent. It’s fair. The reporters and editors strive for balance in the writing and editing of stories and the placement of the stories and the powerful pictures.

This does not mean it is perfect. Putting out a daily paper is an imperfect business. Think about putting that thing together every day with deadlines. I did it for years, the last three as city editor of the Times. When I went home at night, I wondered how we did it. In the process, mistakes are made. Reporters get things wrong. Editors make bad choices. Journalists live — or should live — in constant awareness of their fallibility.

But the Women’s Alliance for Israel event illustrates a bigger issue that extends far beyond the reliability and honesty of the Times coverage: Why can’t we have a rational discussion of Israel and the war in Lebanon?

In my modest presentation — I thought it best to bore these people rather than anger them — I noted that never before in history was so much information available in so many forms of media.

In the morning, I read three papers called the Times — the Los Angeles, New York and Financial. When writing, I take breaks to read Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and the DEBKA Report, all from Israel, plus take a look at the Guardian to check out the anti-Israel thoughts of the British left wing. All that, plus my lifelong support of Israel, shapes my opinions.

With this information overload, sometimes it is hard for me to make up my mind. Sometimes, I actually have to think.

I would have enjoyed a rational discussion of the media, in general, and the Times, specifically. I have talked to many anti-Times audiences. People hear me out, argue and exchange ideas. They concede a point. I concede a point. We all leave the room better informed.

This group did not want to be better informed. They preferred to get their information from e-mails circulated by like-minded friends, interest groups and, of course, by watching Fox. Any mention of this network, by the way, got a lot of applause.

But as this war continues, we’ve got to reach out and talk to people who don’t agree with us. If we won’t listen to fellow Jews, particularly those as well informed as Lauter, how can we convince anyone of the rightness of our cause?

Bill Boyarsky’s monthly column on Jews and civic life returns this week. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at

Tallying Success and Failure

As a U.N.-brokered cease-fire takes effect after 33 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, criticism is growing of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s handling of the war.

Some politicians and opinion-makers are calling for his resignation. Israelis are also asking more searching questions: Did Israel win or lose the war? And what are the regional ramifications likely to be?

The strongest attack on Olmert came from the influential journalist Ari Shavit. In a front-page Op-Ed in Ha’aretz titled “Olmert Must Go,” Shavit wrote, “You cannot bury 120 Israelis, keep a million in shelters for a month, erode our deterrent power, bring the next war very close, and then say, ‘Oops, I made a mistake. That’s not what I meant. Pass me a cigar, please.'”

The main arguments Shavit and others make against Olmert are that his decision to go to war was made hastily and without considering all the possible consequences; that he was persuaded into believing that air power alone could do the job; that he was late in ordering the large-scale entry of land forces into Lebanon and left the home front exposed to rocket fire far longer than necessary; and that he did little to alleviate the suffering of people in the North, who were forced to spend more than a month in bomb shelters.

Olmert’s perceived blunders have given the Israeli right a new lease on life. They believe the war has dealt a lethal blow to Olmert’s plans for a major unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

Their argument is that both of Israel’s previous unilateral pullouts — from Lebanon in May 2000 and the Gaza Strip last summer — were perceived by Israel’s enemies as weakness and led to heavy rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from precisely those areas the Israel Defense Forces no longer controlled.

This pattern would be repeated with far worse consequences if Israel withdraws from the West Bank, the right-wingers say.

Some right-wingers believe that without its defining idea of unilateral withdrawal, Olmert’s Kadima Party may start to implode.

Likud Knesset member Yisrael Katz says he expects a sweeping shift in Israeli public opinion that could lead to a major shake-up in Parliament. To make the most of it, he’s urging the Likud to form a parliamentary bloc with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and to bring vote-catching outsiders like the former IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon — tipped as a possible candidate for defense minister — into the Likud.

Katz speaks about a possible reversal of the “big bang” in Israeli politics that led to the formation of Kadima last November and the Likud’s subsequent ouster from power.

“The Likud must take the lead in forming a strong, centrist Zionist alternative opposed to further unilateral moves,” Katz said.

Independent polls show that Olmert’s West Bank “realignment” plan is in trouble. Before the war, it had more than 60 percent support; now, according to a poll by the respected Dahaf Institute, 47 percent of Israelis are in favor and 47 percent against.

Moreover, other polls show that Olmert’s approval rating has plummeted from 75 percent at the start of war to under 50 percent. Worse: Less than 40 percent are satisfied with the way he handled the war, and some polls suggest that if elections were held today, Kadima would crash from 29 Knesset seats to around 16.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are two schools of thought in Israel on the probable regional fallout of the war. Pessimists maintain that the inconclusive fighting with Hezbollah has undermined Israeli deterrence and altered the regional balance of power in favor of Israel’s enemies in Iran and Syria, and that a wider outbreak of fighting is simply a matter of time.

In their view, Syria may be tempted into thinking that by following the Hezbollah model, it will be able to recapture the Golan Heights by force.
Optimists contend that the pounding taken by Hezbollah and Lebanon actually has enhanced Israel’s deterrent capacity, that the regional power balance has shifted in Israel’s favor and that it could create momentum for peace talks with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians.

What ends up happening could depend on the extent to which Hezbollah is able to rearm and whether Iran is able to produce a nuclear weapon. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, on which the cease-fire is based, calls for Hezbollah’s disarmament; Security Council Resolution 1696 urges Iran to stop enriching uranium by Aug. 31 or face possible sanctions.

So far, however, Hezbollah is refusing to hand over its weapons, and Iran’s leaders say they intend to go ahead with their nuclear program.

There are sharp differences of opinion among Israeli pundits over whether Israel won or lost. In a piece headlined “We did not win,” Yediot Achronot analyst Nahum Barnea writes: “Israel goes into the cease-fire bruised, divided and concerned. The question of what happened to Israel in this war deserves a searching debate. In this war Israel was battered, Lebanon was battered and Hezbollah was battered. We naturally focus on the blows we took. And they are not insubstantial. The number of dead, the paralysis of the home front, turning hundreds of thousands of Israelis into refugees, and perhaps the hardest blow of all: the realization that the IDF cannot meet our expectations.”

But on the same page, Barnea’s colleague Sever Plotsker takes a diametrically opposite view. Plotsker describes Resolution 1701 as a major political achievement for Israel, “perhaps one of the most important in its history. It can be summed up in a phrase: Israel and the world against the Hezbollah thugs.”
Winner or loser, it’s clear that Israel has been shaken, and there well could be a state commission of inquiry into the war and the way it was prosecuted, with tough questions for the political and military echelons.

If there is, Olmert — whose term of office began with such promise just more than 100 days ago — will be the main target.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.