Rare chance to see ancient biblical artifacts, documents


An exhibition of more than 200 of the world’s rarest biblical manuscripts is drawing big crowds to the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. 

The “Book of Books” exhibition will be housed at the museum through October. The museum, which contains a huge collection of artifacts produced in lands mentioned in the Bible, is across the street and just a couple hundred feet from the permanent Dead Sea Scrolls collection at the Israel Museum. Seen together, the two exhibitions provide a once-in-a-lifetime look at the holiest texts of Judaism and Christianity. 

Located on the lower level of the Bible Lands Museum, “Book of Books” explores the development of the Bible and the spread of Judaism and Christianity from the time of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago through the Middle Ages and the invention of movable type and printing. 

Bible Lands Museum, which is calling the exhibition that opened in October 2013 “historic” and “unprecedented,” features fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible — the Tanakh), the earliest New Testament scriptures, beautiful illuminated manuscripts, rare texts from the Cairo Genizah (a treasury of ancient Jewish texts discovered in an Egyptian synagogue) and original pages from a Gutenberg Bible. 

The artifacts that accompany the texts — ancient coins bearing religious symbols, incantation bowls — are reminders that text was just one way people expressed their religious beliefs and practices.  

The exhibition is being shown in a dimly lit but artfully designed hall to preserve the fragile, light-sensitive texts. Many have brilliantly colored illustrations and are in remarkably good condition. 

For lovers of rare religious books and manuscripts, entering the hall is the closest thing to paradise. Having the chance to see any one of these items would be a treat. Viewing them together is a rare opportunity. 

Most of the items on exhibit belong to a vast, 40,000-piece collection amassed by Steve Green, the devoutly Christian president of Hobby Lobby, the American crafts store chain founded by his father. He began collecting the biblical treasures just a few years ago and is in the process of building a 400,000-square-foot museum and institute in Washington, D.C., to permanently house the collection.  

Speaking at the opening, which was attended by the Green family, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau commented about the relationship between the Bible and the Jewish people. 

“The reason why we are here in this land is a result of the Book of Books, the Bible. The Bible is the identification document of the Jewish people. It is impossible not to feel emotion when viewing this exhibition, and when you read these texts you become connected to them.”

The exhibition traces the evolution of the Bible from its roots in the Judean Desert to Greece, Egypt, the rest of the Middle East and eventually Europe, and it reveals how the texts were adopted, edited and transformed not only by Christians but also Jews. In so doing, it calls attention to the Jewish roots of Christianity, the migration of Jews from the Land of Israel, and how a single “book” could have such a profound influence on the world and its religions — in an age before electricity, printing presses and the Internet.  

Given today’s globalization, it’s easy to forget that translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek, Aramaic, Coptic, Arabic, Latin, German, English and numerous other languages found in the exhibition was a massive undertaking. Canonized some time around the Second Temple period (70 C.E.), all biblical texts were painstakingly handwritten until Johannes Gutenberg invented his movable type printing press in the 1400s.  

The exhibition, which runs more or less chronologically, begins with an ancient inscription of the Shema prayer and ends with an actual demonstration of how books were printed on the Gutenberg printing press (one of the exhibition’s only facsimiles). 

Gutenberg Bible leaf, I Samuel (Latin); print and pigment on paper; Mainz, Germany, circa 1450. Photo by Ardon Bar-Hama

With a collection this rich, it is difficult to single out just a few of the best items, but it does include the works of two of Israel’s tiniest minorities: a Samaritan Pentateuch from the 12th to 13th centuries, and a Karaite Book of Prophets from the 11th to 12th centuries. 

Arguably the most unusual document is the Compilacion Historiae Totius Bible, a 14th century Latin chronicle of biblical history from Adam to Jesus that unfolds like a giant accordion. The document contains marvelous genealogical trees, and lists popes, emperors and kings.   

One particularly beautiful Jewish text is one of the earliest illuminated Scrolls of Esther. It was created by the Italian artist and scribe Moshe Pescarolo in 1615. All of the characters in the exquisitely illustrated Megillah are depicted in 17th century clothing. 

Other noteworthy items include “The Confessions of the Jews,” an anti-Semitic essay written in Latin in 1508 by a Jew who converted to Christianity; a public debate between a Christian and a Jew from 1529; and incantation bowls: vessels inscribed with spells that Jews in Iraq buried outside their homes to catch demons.  

Rachel Selby, a Jerusalem English teacher originally from England, called the exhibition inspiring. 

“Looking at the ancient parchments of Torah on the scroll from the 14th century, I was thrilled that my Hebrew school education from London in the 1970s allowed me to pick out the Hebrew phrases, read them and even understand what I read. It sent a shiver down my spine, actually.”

Yad Vashem hit with anti-Israel, anti-Semitic graffiti


Vandals spray painted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic graffiti at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

The slogans written in Hebrew, including “Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust,” “If Hitler did not exist, the Zionists would have invented him,” and “The war of the Zionist regime is not the war of the Jewish people,” were mostly found at the entrance to the museum and concentrated near the Warsaw Ghetto Square and the memorial to the deportees.

Police reportedly believe that haredi Jewish extremists, who are opposed to the state of Israel, believing that it should not be established until the arrival of the Messiah, are responsible for the crime, which occurred early Monday morning.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, who is a Holocaust survivor, called the vandalism a “blatant act of hatred of Israel and Zionism,” and said that it “crosses a red line.”

From the heights of Mount Scopus


This is exclusive to jewishjournal.com

Dr. Avraham Biran, director of Israel’s Department of Antiquities, received a call early on the second day of the war from the wife of Yigael Yadin, the former army chief of staff and Israel’s most eminent archaeologist. Since the start of the crisis Yadin had been serving as military advisor to Prime Minister Eshkol. With the army entering Jordanian Jerusalem, Yadin wanted Biran and two colleagues to check out the condition of the Rockefeller Museum and ensure that the museum’s collections were secured, particularly the Dead Sea Scrolls in its possession. The three men drove to Col. Gur’s headquarters and presented themselves to the brigade commander. Climbing onto a half-track with Col Gur and his staff, they crossed no-man’s-land and entered the museum from the rear.

Bullets whined through jagged windowpanes as the archaeologists walked through the galleries. It was two decades since access to the Rockefeller had been closed to Israelis. Exhibit cases had been smashed by ricocheting bullets and the floor was littered with glass. Battle-weary paratroopers sat or sprawled in the corridors. A dozing private opened an eye as the group approached and fixed it on Biran. “Hey, fellows,” he yelled, suddenly wide awake, “now we can get an explanation.” A score of bone-weary soldiers picked themselves off the floor and followed the archaeologists on one of the most unusual museum lecture tours ever given. Shots echoed through the galleries and glass display cases periodically shattered as Biran and his colleagues explained the significance of some of the finds.

The archaeologists noted that hardly anything had changed since they had last been there. Items marked “removed for repairs” on cards dated 1947 still had not been returned to the display cases. One of the few changes was the plastering over of Hebrew gallery signs chiseled into the walls; the equivalent signs in Arabic and English remained. Biran had hoped to make arrangements to protect the exhibits, but it was obvious that with a war going on around the museum this was impossible. Before leaving, he asked the soldiers to keep an eye on things and make sure nothing disappeared.

* * *

While the museum below was filling with soldiers, Captain Schwartzberg kept up his duel from the tower with the Arab positions on the Old City wall, sometimes assisted by one or two men. Machine-gun bullets poured into the tall arched windows and bazooka shells beat a tattoo against the walls outside. Schwartzberg’s legs and cheeks were bleeding from shrapnel. He sat on the floor firing through alternate windows, sometimes placing his helmet on a chair and shoving it with his foot in front of one window while he fired out the other. A young soldier with him had a flask of cognac, and periodically they would pause for a nip. Machine guns, ammunition boxes, and sandbags were passed up the winding steps by other soldiers, and the tower began to take on a cozy look.

Schwartzberg descended briefly with the keys he had taken from the guards in order to make sure no one was hiding in the basement rooms. He came across a strongroom containing the museum’s coin collection and remembered seeing it on exhibit when he was a boy. He did not come on the room where the museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls had been secured the eve of the war.

Most of the men dozed off on the floors, disregarding the whine of bullets and explosions. At one point the chandelier at the main entrance fell with a loud clatter. The men lying under smaller chandeliers in other rooms moved aside and resumed sleeping.

The 71st Battalion was bivouacked in Wadi Joz where the men were distributed among private homes. The Arab families living there were asked to assemble in one or two rooms and were left alone there. Some soldiers who attempted to converse with the occupants found older men willing to talk, occasionally in remembered Hebrew; but the young men were silent and sullen. The soldiers helped themselves to food and slept on beds when they could but avoided looting. (Second-line troops arriving later were to prove less scrupulous. There was, however, no instance of rape or sexual molestation.)

The troops had had nothing substantial to eat in two days, and commanders permitted them to break into groceries. (Journalists were to find shutters on jewelry shops and camera stores intact.) The most sought-after beverage was not spirits but Pepsi-Cola, which the Arab boycott had succeeded in banning from Israel and which most of the Israelis had never tasted.

Not all the Jordanian civilians accepted the Israeli occupation with resignation. Soldiers from the 71st were on a street in Wadi Joz when a man ran out of a house shouting in Arabic and firing a pistol at them. To Lieutenant Gad, he seemed old enough to be his father and for a fraction of a second he wondered if there was a way to stop him without shooting. The man fell in a burst of fire. He knew he was going to die, thought Gad, and knew what he was dying for.

* * *

Late Tuesday night Nasser, who had not until now informed Hussein of the destruction of the Egyptian air force, dropped his final veil in a message transmitted to the king. It was at last an abandonment of self-delusion and posturing.  “My dear brother, King Hussein. We find ourselves face to face with one of those critical moments that nations are sometimes called upon to endure. It demands courage beyond human capacity. We are fully aware of your difficult situation as at this moment our front is crumbling too. Yesterday our enemy’s air force inflicted a mortal blow on us. Since then our land army has been stripped of all air support and forced to withstand the power of superior forces. When the history books are written, your courage and tenacity will be remembered.”

* * *

Descending from the Mount of Olives, the two lead Israeli tanks reached the turnoff to Lion’s Gate. One continued past it and took a blocking position farther up the main road. The second tank halted and turned its gun toward the gate. The tank commander was Sergeant Ben-Gigi. To him had fallen the task of hammering open the gates of the Old City. The Moroccan-born tinsmith, whose workshop was within 200 yards of Jaffa Gate on the opposite side of the walled city, was unmoved by the occasion. He regarded the gate as simply another enemy strongpoint to be reduced, and he ordered his gunner, Moshe Haimovsky, to open fire.

An antiquated bus was parked at the side of the road, 50 yards from the gate. Haimovsky asked what to do about it. “Hit it,” said Ben-Gigi. Heavy fire was coming from the ramparts and Ben-Gigi thought that if the bus were set aflame the smoke might shield the paratroopers as they moved up the road. Haimovsky had collected seven shells on his lap for quick firing. He pumped two antitank shells into the bus with little visible effect. When he tried an explosive shell the bus caught fire. Black smoke poured out and the wind drove it back against the Jordanian positions on the gate as Ben-Gigi hoped.

Haimovsky, a school administrator, presumed he should try to open the gate. Magnified in his periscope, the gateway was seen to be closed by two tall metal-sheathed doors. The right door was partially blocked from view by the smoke. Haimovsky aimed for the upper hinge of the left door and fired. The top of the door canted backwards under the impact, permitting him to see through into the Old City itself. He was looking straight up the Via Dolorosa.

Meanwhile, Gur himself had joined the race for the gate, following the tanks down from the Mount of Olives in his half-track. Driving the vehicle was Sergeant Ben-Tsur, a bus driver in civilian life. The brigade commander ordered him to pass Ben-Gigi’s tank. Ben-Tsur swung around it and started up Lion’s Gate road. The gate was hidden by a thick column of smoke. The loaded half-track struggled up the incline, Ben-Tsur’s foot pressing the accelerator to the floor. He could feel the heat from the burning bus as they passed it. Suddenly, he was through the smoke. Just ahead loomed the gate. There were two huge doors, the left one hanging partially open. He steered for the center of the gate. The half-track slammed hard and the left door toppled backward, the right door swinging open. An Arab wearing a kheffiya jumped clear behind the gate, and a shower of small stones from the damaged arch fell into the half-track. They were inside the Old City.

Captain Zamush mounted the city wall alongside David’s Tower and encountered an armed Jordanian, who surrendered. The Jordanian was stunned. “Aren’t you from the Iraqi army?” he asked. Paratroopers who entered the Jordanian barracks found clothing neatly laid out for inspection on tightly made beds. A private named Yaacov found a large drum, which he hauled up the narrow stairway to the rampart on the city wall. The day before, his weapon had stopped a Jordanian bullet that would have hit him in the chest, and he sounded out his joy now with a vigorous beat.
In Israeli Jerusalem, from where the paratroopers could be seen moving along the ramparts, civilians began coming out of the old stone houses of Yemin Moshe and Mamilla and pouring into the streets. Others crowded balconies. Youngsters ran toward no-man’s-land, and civil defense wardens, fearful of mines, kept them back.. Above the shouts of the crowd could be heard the triumphant rat-tat-tat of the drum.

Many of those soldiers who had stood dry-eyed at the Western Wall shed tears now. Looking down at the cheering residents from the firing positions that had dominated them for years, the paratroopers had the feeling of deliverers. Lieutenant Yair could hear the Jerusalemites singing the Hatikva across no-man’s-land. Civilians approaching close to the wall called for a flag to be raised. Yair, who had remained near the Citadel, turned to Lieutenant Bitan, who had awakened him three weeks before at Kfar Blum with his mobilization order, and told him to raise a flag atop the minaret, known as David’s Tower, rising from the Citadel.

Bitan descended from the wall and raced up the graceful minaret’s spiral staircase. Climbing on a metal railing, he fixed the flag to the spire, teetering over a sheer drop as he did so. Of all the flags raised that day, none had a more dramatic impact than this, proclaiming to the Jews of Jerusalem that the Old City was taken.

Four Arab dignitaries strode across the Temple Mount to the knot of Israeli officers beside the Dome of the Rock. Governor Khatib asked in English whom they could speak to. Colonel Gur, who was kneeling over a map on the ground, rose and replied that he was in command. Khatib introduced himself and Gur shook his hand. Khatib declared that the Jordanian army had left the city. There would be no further organized resistance, he said. If no one resists, replied Gur, peace will descend on the city. Gur said his soldiers had strict instructions not to molest the population or destroy property. However, if shooting came from any house it would be destroyed.

The decision to abandon the Old City without a fight lost Jordan the last chance it had of salvaging something from the war. As the Americans would discover at Hue in Vietnam, a battle in an ancient, walled city is an excruciating business, even for modern armies with massive firepower. Israel would have felt far more constrained about using firepower in Jerusalem’s Old City than the Americans would feel in Hue. A few hundred Jordanian soldiers and hundreds of armed civilians with large stocks of ammunition would have been a formidable force in the maze of the Old City. The Jordanians could not win the battle but they could hope to hold out until the international community, particularly the Christian world, forced through a cease-fire on terms that would accommodate some of Jordan’s demands.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission by the author. The Kindle edition of “Battle for Jerusalem” can be ordered through amazon.com at a list price of $9.99.

Albert Einstein museum to be built in Jerusalem


Israel’s Cabinet unanimously approved the establishment of an Albert Einstein museum in Jerusalem.

The museum will be built on the campus of the Hebrew University, to which Einstein left his personal papers and the intellectual copyright to them. Einstein also left the university the right to use his image; the museum reportedly will be constructed in the shape of his head.

The government allocated about $260,000 for the initial planning phases of the museum celebrating the father of the theory of relativity.

“This is not just a tourist matter,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday after the vote. “This is an issue of the greatest value that will grant recognition to the sparks of genius that were hidden in our people and which broke through with Einstein.”

The decision came a week after the Limmud FSU conference in Princeton, N.J., emphasized the accomplishments of Einstein, who taught at Princeton University. More than 650 young Russian-American Jews from across the United States came together at the conference for a festival of Jewish learning.

Tel Aviv museum launches $60 million capital campaign


The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Beit Hatfutsot, is launching a $60 million capital campaign in New York to raise money for renovations and new exhibits and programming.

The “New Vision” campaign seeks to continue the transition of Beit Hatfutsot from the Museum of the Diaspora, which was founded in 1978 with donations from New Yorkers, into the Museum of the Jewish People. According to a statement, the revamped museum will contain an expanded archive, school and interactive exhibits.

In 2005 the Knesset passed the Beit Hatfutsot Law that redefined Beit Hatfutsot as “the national center for Jewish communities in Israel and around the world.”

The Nadav Foundation and the Israeli government have allocated nearly $27 million to fund the changes. A fundraising gala will be held Dec. 1 in New York.

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance wins Knesset approval to build


After years of delays due to legal challenges and fundraising setbacks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center received permission on July 12 from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee to begin construction on the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. The ministry gave a green light to a revised design for the building, saying that because the building’s footprint would remain the same as an earlier plan, a new review process would not be necessary.

The new design, by Chyutin Architects, a local Israeli firm, replaces a previous plan by Los Angeles superstar Frank O. Gehry, who pulled out of the process when funding shortfalls forced the Wiesenthal Center to request a scaled-back version.

For years, Palestinian leaders had fought to halt the project, claiming that the site on which it is to be built is an ancient Muslim burial ground.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founder and dean, welcomed the decision, which he said will allow for construction to begin immediately.

“We have the full blessing and endorsement of the government of Israel, and the prime minister of Israel and the mayor of Jerusalem,” Hier said.

Groundbreaking for the museum officially kicked off in 2004, but construction was halted in 2006 when Arab leaders in Israel sued to stop work after bones were unearthed during excavation at the site. In 2008, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal Center could build on the site.

“The Supreme Court reviewed the Palestinian claims for three years and ruled unanimously that, for more than half a century, Muslims no longer considered that site to be part of the cemetery,” Hier said.

With the global economic downturn, the project was then reformulated. What had been a $250 million building designed by Gehry was reconceived as a $100 million project.

The question answered at the Knesset on July 12 was a technical one about the building’s footprint, according to Hier. The permit allows the Wiesenthal Center to build without restarting the planning process. “We are building on the same three-and-a-half acres,” Hier said.

Hier said that the center has raised $45 million, which will allow construction to begin by September. He said the building will take three years to complete.

Fate of Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance rests with Israeli high court


Fate of Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Rests With Israeli High Court

Israel’s highest judicial and executive authorities both have weighed in on the protracted dispute surrounding construction of a $200 million Center of Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem.The ambitious Simon Wiesenthal Center project, designed by famed Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, has been stalled since February, when the Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction halting any construction work. The court acted on a petition by two Palestinian groups, which asserted that the planned museum would sit atop an ancient and sacred Muslim cemetery.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founding dean, and his lawyers in Jerusalem have argued that the site has been used as a parking lot and underground garage for decades and that Islamic courts had ruled that the onetime cemetery had thus lost its sacred character.

Hier said that he had offered a number of compromises to resolve the dispute, but that the Muslim plaintiffs were stalling and “trying to run out the clock.”

Attorney Durham Saif, representing the Palestinian side, said that in its most recent hearing in October, the court told the Wiesenthal Center to submit a redesign of the museum, so that construction would not damage the cemetery.

The next court hearing is scheduled Jan. 3, but in the meantime, Hier said, the delay has added more than $1 million to the cost of the project and has slowed down fundraising in the United States.

One bright spot for Hier was a rousing endorsement by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has been a strong supporter of the project since his days as mayor of Jerusalem. During a visit to the Wiesenthal Center last month, Olmert said that present Mideast tensions made the establishment of the museum more vital than ever.

“I knew from day one that what we really need in this part of the world is a concerted effort by a major organization that will be dedicated to one thing: to educate for human dignity, to educate for some kind of cooperation and understanding and compassion amongst all of us who are destined to share the Middle East,” Olmert said.

He added that “there is nothing that can stop the creation of the building and construction of this magnificent building, and I am impatiently looking forward to the inauguration and the completion of this world-class project in the city of Jerusalem.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

P.A. Prime Minister, Iranian President Meet, Vow to See Israel Eliminated

The Palestinian Authority prime minister and Iran’s president, in their first official meeting, vowed to see Israel eliminated. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, on his first foreign tour since his faction took power in March, met with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Qatar last weekend.

An Iranian news agency quoted Ahmadinejad, who has stepped up support for Hamas in a bid to offset a Western aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority, as saying that “there is no doubt the Palestinian nation and Muslims as a whole will emerge victorious.”

Ahmadinejad also predicted: “The continued commission of crimes by the Zionist regime will speed up the collapse of this fictitious regime.”

Haniyeh, whose Islamist faction is similarly sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction, thanked Ahmadinejad for Iran’s support.

“The Iranian nation’s brilliant stand in the rightful battles of the Palestinians encourages them and signifies their deep understanding of Islamic principles,” he was quoted as saying.

Israel Scales Back West Bank Actions

Israel ordered its forces to scale back operations in the West Bank. The order was given last weekend amid efforts by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to build on a truce declared last month in the Gaza Strip and which eventually may be extended to the West Bank.

While Israeli troops in the West Bank are continuing their arrest raids, 15 suspected terrorists were taken into custody Monday. Missions more likely to lead to violent confrontations are being limited. The army also is reviewing its tactic of besieging the homes of Palestinian terrorists until they surrender, because these tend to provoke gunfights.

However, military officials made clear that there would be no letup in operations against Palestinians believed to be about to carry out attacks against Israelis.

Israeli Official Favors Barghouti Release

An Israeli Cabinet minister said he would favor freeing Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti, 47, a Fatah lawmaker, was captured in the West Bank in 2002, tried and sentenced to five life prison terms for masterminding terrorist attacks that killed five people.

However, Israeli Environment Minister Gideon Ezra said Monday that releasing Barghouti, which successive Israeli governments have ruled out, would be worthwhile if it won the release of an Israeli soldier held captive in the Gaza Strip and led the Palestinian Authority to halt violence.

“Even the prime minister has talked about the need to release prisoners once Gilad Shalit is freed,” Ezra told Israel Radio, referring to the captured soldier. “It depends how big a deal we are talking about and what the other side promises in return.”

Barghouti is still popular and powerful behind bars, and some see him as a potential Palestinian leader who could undermine the rule of Hamas Islamists and broker a two-state peace deal with Israel.

Bolton Resigns U.N. Post

John Bolton, a staunch defender of Israel, resigned as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The White House said Monday that Bolton would step down once his recess appointment ends.

President Bush had given Bolton the position in August 2005, but his nomination was blocked in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The appointment will expire by early January, though Bolton may step down earlier.

Most major U.S. Jewish groups broke with tradition to endorse Bolton, who, in addition to his support of Israel, is a strong opponent of Iran’s nuclear drive.

Venezuela’s Chavez Wins Re-Election

Hugo Chavez, who has been accused of encouraging anti-Semitism, was re-elected president of Venezuela. Chavez’s victory was announced late Sunday night. He won at least 61 percent of the vote to challenger Manuel Rosales’ 38 percent.

With his victory, Chavez gains another six years in power to pursue his Socialist-inspired policies.

In August, he drew fire for saying that Israelis “are doing what Hitler did against the Jews,” and that Israel is carrying out “a new Holocaust” against the Palestinians.

Critics have cited Chavez’s support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who has denied the Holocaust and called for Israel’s destruction.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Briefs


Presbyterian Church Fixes Divestment Damage
Two years after it angered Jews by passing a resolution calling for divestment from Israel, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is trying to undo the damage.

At this year’s General Assembly in Birmingham, a church committee agreed Saturday night to ask the full assembly to replace its 2004 resolution calling for “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” with a policy of “corporate engagement” that would restrict investments in Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank to peaceful pursuits. The full assembly was to vote on the resolution Wednesday.

The committee overwhelmingly agreed to the motion after days of deliberation in which it held open hearings and heard dozens of proposals.

Although the resolution does not formally rescind divestment, most took it to mean that the drive toward divestment had been stopped, and that the call for “corporate engagement” shows a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution approved by the church’s peacemaking and international issues committee:

  • Calls on the church to restrict its investments that relate to Israel, Gaza, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank to peaceful pursuits;
  • Urges peaceful cooperation among Israelis, Americans and Palestinians, and Jews, Muslims and Christians;
  • Calls for dismantling Israel’s West Bank security barrier where it ventures beyond the pre-1967 boundary;
  • Aims to submit these proposals to U.S., Israeli and Palestinian politicians and religious leaders.

Klimt Paintings to Leave LACMA
Los Angeles’ loss is New York’s gain, with the sale by local resident Maria Altmann of an iconic Gustav Klimt painting to the Big Apple’s Neue Galerie, owned by Jewish cosmetics heir and philanthropist Ronald Lauder.

The gold-flecked 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Altmann’s aunt, was sold for a reported $135 million, the highest known price ever paid for a painting.

In addition to the portrait, four other Klimt paintings were recently returned to Altmann and her family by the Austrian government, after a seven-year legal and diplomatic battle waged by Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg.

The art works were seized from the Bloch-Bauer family by the Nazis, after their takeover of Austria in 1938.

Sale of the “Golden Adele” is a cultural blow for Los Angeles, and especially the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), which is currently exhibiting all five Klimt paintings.

LACMA tried hard to keep the collection intact and permanently on home grounds, but was unable to come up with the necessary funds.

Altmann, a lively 90-year-old Cheviot Hills resident, is now planning a trip to Europe with her grandchildren, but doesn’t plan to change her lifestyle.

“I’ll stay in the house where I’ve lived for 30 years, keep driving my ’92 Ford, and I don’t need any new clothing,” she told The Journal in an interview earlier this year.

Angelenos have one more week to view the Klimt collection at the LACMA exhibit, which closes June 30. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Ethiopian Immigration to Israel to Remain Flat?
An Israeli ministerial committee recommended that the government postpone a decision to double the number of Falash Mura allowed into Israel from Ethiopia. The Falash Mura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity and who are now returning to Judaism. The government decided several years ago to increase the number allowed into Israel each month, from 300 to 600. However, the decision was never implemented, and the committee said the move should be postponed further because of financial considerations. The recommendation comes as Israel’s High Court of Justice is set to hear a petition next week on the government’s failure to expedite the aliyah.

Reform Movement Center Opens in Jaffa
The Reform movement in Israel inaugurated a $12 million cultural center in Jaffa on Sunday. The facility, to be opened officially in October, will be called Mishkenot Daniel. The decision to put it in Jaffa was part of the movement’s efforts to reach out to middle- and working-class families in Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The inauguration coincided with the first annual convention of the Association of Reform Zionists in Israel to be held in the Jewish state. The center is to include a youth hostel, auditorium, classrooms and a synagogue. Some prominent American Jews have donated to its building, and Israeli Reform movement officials hope local Reform congregants will help raise additional funds for the complex.

Israel Expands Residency Law
Israel expanded a law granting residency to children of non-Jewish foreign workers. On Sunday, the Cabinet approved a proposal by Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On to ease the minimum age requirement for children whose parents work legally in Israel and who want to become citizens themselves. Previously, only children who were born in Israel or arrived before age 10 were eligible, but the bar has now been raised to 14. Other requirements for candidates are that they speak Hebrew and have lived in Israel for at least six years. After completing mandatory military service, they will become eligible for citizenship. The amendment was opposed by Cabinet ministers from the Shas Party, which said it would threaten Israel’s demographic balance. But Bar-On argued that it applied to only a few-hundred potential candidates.

Kosher Restaurant to Open in Turkey
Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that Silence Park, a new holiday resort to be launched in the city of Antalya next month, includes a glatt kosher restaurant, the first in Turkey. The restaurant will serve both meat and dairy meals, using both local fare and products imported from Israel. Antalya is especially popular with Israeli vacationers given its geographical proximity and cheap prices.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Community Briefs


Jewish Candidate Drops Out of Insurance Chief Race

One of two Jewish candidates seeking the Republican nomination for California insurance commissioner has pulled out of the race.

Dr. Phil Kurzner, a Westside urologist, told supporters at a Feb. 21 fundraiser that he is withdrawing from the commissioner’s race, according to Dr. Joel Strom, a Santa Monica dentist who served as Kurzner’s campaign chair. The event took place at the Regency Club in Westwood and was attended by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who had come to help raise funds for Kurzner.

The likely front-runner for the Republican spot in the June 6 primary is Steve Poizner, who is also Jewish. Poizner is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has made millions creating global positioning technology. Los Angeles businessman Gary Mendoza is the only other Republican in the race.

“The Republican establishment was lining up behind our opponent, Steve Poizner, and we felt that for the party and for party unity, we would withdraw from the race,” said Strom, former president of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Los Angeles.

In a campaign statement after Kurzner’s withdrawal, Poizner praised him, saying, “I am grateful that we will not have to face him in this primary.”

Strom said Kurzner’s campaign had raised more than $400,000 and Kurzner had made 200 campaign appearances over the past two years. At a Jan. 25 fundraiser at the Pacific Palisades home of former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, Kurzner told guests, “I’m not afraid to lose, and I’m not afraid to win.”

Poizner’s campaign funds are estimated to be at least $4.6 million, making him more financially potent than Kurzner might have been against Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic front-runner for insurance commissioner. John Garamendi, the current commissioner, is running for lieutenant governor this year.

“The larger purpose is to defeat Bustamante,” Strom said. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Two Officials Back Halted Jerusalem Museum Project

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has the full support of Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski to continue construction on its new Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem, despite Muslim concerns that the museum would be built atop a former Islamic cemetery, Gidi Schmerling, Jerusalem municipality spokesman, told The Jewish Journal Feb. 24.

Construction of the $200 million project was halted Feb. 15, when lawyers for two Muslim organizations sent a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The petition asserted that thousands of Muslims who died during the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries are buried at the site where the center is being built. They also argued that in the seventh century, associates of the Islamic prophet Mohammad were interred at the site.

Last week, the High Court appointed former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar as a mediator. Shamgar has a month to find a resolution.

Lupolianski, the spokesman said, recently sent a letter to the Wiesenthal Center applauding the building of the museum.

“For the past three decades, this land has been utilized as a public car park, and it is commendable that it will now serve as the site for this important museum,” the mayor wrote.

The office of acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also confirmed that Olmert has given his support for continued construction of the Wiesenthal museum at the current site. Olmert called the museum “an essential project for Jerusalem, a landmark that will change the face of Jerusalem forever.” — Yaakov Katz, Contributing Writer

 

Nation & World Briefs


Israeli Mystic Was 104, 106 or 112

To many Jews, he was the celebrity of the century, a mystic with mystique.

No one knows exactly the age of Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri, who died of pneumonia late last month. The official statements of the Israeli religious party Shas, for which he served as charismatic figurehead and sage, said he was 106 years old. But other accounts spoke of 104 or 112.

Neither was it precisely possible to quantify Kadouri’s contribution to the Orthodox canon. Unlike other leading rabbis, he left no great writings and never specialized in founding yeshivot.

Yet, close to a quarter-million mourners, including Israel’s chief rabbis and political notables, attended Kadouri’s funeral in Jerusalem on Sunday, Jan. 29, bringing the capital to a halt as his coffin was borne through the streets.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav eulogized him as “one of the outstanding leaders of the Jewish people in the past generations.”

Kadouri was the first name in kabbalah — a discipline which, almost by definition, fits those who seem more ethereal than others.

Well before the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles began recruiting superstars like Madonna, well before kabbalah was well known outside the secretive circles of Jewish mystics, Kadouri was studying it, prognosticating and even concocting his own talismans.

The Iraqi-born rabbi was an icon to Sephardic Jews, who attributed special powers to even the most mundane items — such as chairs and food — that he touched. Kadouri contributed to this image with a lifestyle at once virile and ascetic. A resident of Jerusalem’s impoverished Bukhari Quarter for most of his life, he chain-smoked cheap cigarettes with little apparent impact on his health, and was married twice — the second time when in his 90s, to a woman half his age.

Katsav called him “a symbol and example to all of the repudiation of materialism.”

His influence was important to the hordes of politicians who would seek Kadouri’s counsel, especially around election time. In 1996, Shas leader Aryeh Deri persuaded Kadouri to endorse the party, and it went on to major gains in the Knesset.

Kadouri’s support also helped Benjamin Netanyahu, a Shas ally, win the premiership in 1997.

“What interested him was that the religious parties would help the people of Israel and the Torah world,” Deri said.

Israel Continues PA Contacts

Israel’s acting prime minister said ties to the Palestinian Authority would continue as long as it is not led by Hamas. Ehud Olmert said the monthly transfers of taxes levied on behalf of the Palestinians by Israel would continue, but on a case-by-case basis, as long as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remains independent of Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that won parliamentary elections last month. Addressing a Tel Aviv economic conference, Olmert said that withholding the tax transfers, which he had considered, would only “play into the hands of the extremists.”

The Palestinians have several weeks to form a new Palestinian Authority government. Abbas has tried to assuage international concerns by proposing that he keep control of security forces even if Hamas ministers are appointed.

Gaza Farmers to Get Retraining

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem plans to retrain evacuated Gaza Strip settlement farmers. The university announced this week that around 100 farmers evacuated from Gaza would receive advanced training at its Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences. The government-funded studies begin March 5 and will last between six and 24 months. The project is intended to give the evacuees high-level professional training and help them return to work and re-establish farms.

Settlements Are Really Expensive

Settlements have cost Israelis more than $14 billion, not counting military expenditures, an independent Israeli study said. The study, released last Friday by the Research Institute for Economic and Social Affairs, also said the government spends twice as much on settlements as it does on local authorities inside Israel. The institute, funded by a German group that backs Israel-Arab dialogue, took 18 months to calculate the costs of four decades of settlement in areas claimed by the Palestinians. The government refused to provide assistance. There are about 250,000 settlers now living in the West Bank.

New Genealogical Center Opens

An institute devoted to Jewish genealogical research and study opened this week in Jerusalem. Described as the only one of its kind in the Jewish world, the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy at the Jewish National and University Library, is headed by Yosef Lamdan, a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican. According to Lamdan, the institute will focus on teaching, research and collaborative projects of practical benefit to family historians. Jewish genealogy has gained immense popularity across the Jewish world over the last two decades, and especially since the rise of the Internet.

Emma Thompson Backs Anne Frank Site

Actress Emma Thompson helped launch a new Web site connected to the Anne Frank museum. Thompson placed her name on a leaf at the Amsterdam museum last week. Visitors to the Web site www.annefranktree.com can attach a story or a poem about what Anne Frank means to them to a cyber “chestnut tree,” a replica of the tree that sat outside her attic.

Briefs courtesy Jewish telegraphic Agency.

 

Fine-Tuning


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s impending visit to Israel could be a win-win for the governor, the Los Angeles Jewish community and for Israel, but first some fine-tuning is in order.

As we reported last week, the governor is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem May 2 to participate in groundbreaking ceremonies there for the $150 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance.

But as soon as reports circulated that the visit was on, eyebrows started shooting skyward. By the middle of this week, it looked like the governor’s trip to the Land of Milk and Honey was going to include a side order of sour grapes.

Why, asked some local Jews, did such a high-profile visit seem to exclude representation of a wider swath of the California Jewish community? Why should one Jewish organization take up the bulk of the governor’s agenda? Why was a trip by a politician not organized first through the normal political channels?

"He’s not some star popping in to help out some friends," said one local activist, clearly disgruntled. "He’s the governor of the State of California visiting the State of Israel." (This trip is privately funded, and does not use taxpayers’ money.)

Some of the concerns found their way into a March 24 Los Angeles Times article about the trip. The story, with its implication that the trip was stepping on toes and upsetting protocol, infuriated some Wiesenthal Center supporters.

"I don’t get it," one of them told me. "Here this popular governor is going to Israel at a time when Israel really needs all the friends it can get, and people are turning it into an issue. I’ve had it with the Jews."

You know emotions are running hot when Museum of Tolerance supporters start getting anti-Semitic.

But, exasperated joking aside, the Jerusalem brouhaha does threaten to mar what can be a flat-out success for all parties. So far, the mess is hardly anything that the governor’s office can’t quickly clean up. One experienced local pol — not Jewish — observed the dust-up with dispassion: "Arnold has a mix of politically experienced and politically inexperienced people on his payroll," he said.

When it comes to little things like visits to foreign countries, experience helps.

Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, who initiated the Jerusalem museum project, said he just can’t comprehend some of the reports and rumors that are circulating about the visit.

Most disturbing is the idea that the visit is some kind of quid pro quo. In the heat of the bitter recall campaign that put Schwarzenegger in office, Hier reiterated the results of a Wiesenthal Center investigation that cleared the Austrian-born governor’s late father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, of involvement in any World War II-era war crimes.

If the trip is seen as payback, it demeans both the governor and the center. "Quid pro quo applies when you don’t know a person," Hier told me by phone. "I’ve known the governor for 20 years. He has had cocktail parties and parlor meetings for us. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to us and raised millions. He has participated in events of much less importance than [the groundbreaking], so it would be unusual if he didn’t participate in this."

Furthermore, Hier added, the center released all records it found pertaining to Schwarzenegger’s father to the media for public review.

The idea for trip is a year and a half old, Hier said. Schwarzenegger attended a parlor meeting in Miami for the Jerusalem museum long before his run for governor. At that meeting, Schwarzenegger promised to attend.

"He said, ‘You don’t have to tell me I’m going, I’m going,’" Hier said.

There has not been any indication that the recent State Department travel advisory against Israel and the prospect of violence in the wake of the assassination of Shiekh Ahmed Yassin will deter the governor. A spokesperson at the governor’s office said that trip was still in the planning stages, as are responses to security concerns.

"Everything is still being determined," the spokesperson said.

As to whether the Wiesenthal Center should have made sure to bring Israelis and local Jewish leaders in on the trip, Hier said he could only take responsibility for the part of the visit that concerned the groundbreaking ceremony and a Museum of Tolerance fundraising dinner that the governor was scheduled to attend. (The governor’s office would not confirm his attendance at the latter event.)

"I assume he has other components to his trip," Hier said. "We’ve always known he was going to do other things."

All official visits by governors include a meeting with the prime minister — true whether the governor is from California or Kansas — and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. (The Museum of Tolerance, which is being designed by Frank Gehry, will have no Holocaust-related exhibit.)

"My interest is that the governor is going to have an official, formal element to his visit to Israel," Israel Consul General Yuval Rotem said. The governor’s office said an itinerary is still in formation, and its release is two to three weeks off.

"Of course that should take place," said Hier, referring to a meeting between Schwarzenegger and the prime minister, "but I’m not involved in that."

Including other community leaders in the festivities surrounding the groundbreaking was not an option, Hier said. Invitees are people whom the center hopes will contribute toward the $200 million price tag of the museum and its endowment. So far, the center has raised $75 million for the project.

"On this occasion the shoe didn’t fit," Hier said. "We’re looking for prospects."

It’s no secret that a dram or two of bad blood has flowed between the Wiesenthal Center and some quarters of the community ever since Hier established the center and the museum here. As the center has become more of a presence in Jewish Los Angeles — many in the media see it as the major Jewish presence here — Hier and other Jewish leaders have worked to forge warmer bonds. Indeed, not everyone is ticked. "I think it’s fine," said Mel Levine, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of The Jewish Federation, regarding the trip. Levine, himself a former congressman, did not think a promise made as a private citizen should necessarily be negated once in public service.

"The governor, long before he was governor, was a supporter of the Museum of Tolerance here," he said, "and I believe it’s good whenever public officials go to Israel."

Officially, then, many community leaders are adopting a far-from-antagonistic approach to the visit. They want the governor, in the words of one activist, to see that "there’s more to the Jewish community than Marvin Hier," but they also don’t want to create any ill will so early in the administration. That makes sense. There are just too many important communal issues — poverty relief, medical funding, homeland security, to name a few — that rate higher on the agenda than this visit.

They also understand that, to borrow from the season we’re fast approaching, this governor is different from all other governors. "He doesn’t see himself as a politician," said the local pol, "and so far people don’t see him as one." Just as Schwarzenegger’s campaign circumvented normal channels of campaigning, so too his governance can bend the rules.

But as the governor moves forward, it must be with an understanding that as good a friend as he has in Hier, he has the potential to make many more in the Jewish community.

Community Briefs


No ‘Idol’ Chatter at Milken SpeechContest

Milken Community High School senior Nona Farahnik was named Milken Idol for her stirring pro-Israel speech in the school’s March 10 public speaking finals, with other competitors talking about bullies, cheating, the homeless and Special Olympics in the “American Idol”-inspired contest.

It was the Duke University-bound senior’s call for Zionist solidarity that captured the $500 first-place prize and the Milken Idol title. The contest combined the 800-student school’s contest theme of “Don’t stand idly by,” with judges and audience voting similar to Fox Broadcasting’s popular talent-search show.

“Show Israel that you care,” Farahnik told the 600 Milken students gathered in the school gym. “Israel is fighting a cold and calculating enemy — an enemy who has been trained to not think twice when blowing himself up in a family-filled restaurant, in a disco with dozens of dancing teenagers or on a bus of children on their way to school. Israel is fighting a sick, repulsive enemy and we must empower her to stop him.”

Upon winning, Farahnik, 18, said she would donate her $500 prize to the school’s fundraising efforts to buy bulletproof vests for Israel Defense Forces members.

The second-place $250 prize went to junior David Ashkenazi, who delivered a speech urging fellow students to “not stand idly by” and countenance cheating.

Tied for the $100 third-place prize were junior Matan Agam and freshman Peter Wasserman. Agam gave a highly personal speech about supporting the Special Olympics, which he participates in with his special-needs younger sister, Danielle. Wasserman’s encounter with the poor outside the Staples Center after a Lakers game prompted his speech prioritizing Southern California’s homeless over volatile issues abroad.

“Many times, these situations overshadow the problems that are in our own backyard,” said Wasserman, who told The Journal that he plans to give his prize money to a homeless shelter.

The $100 fifth-place prize went to freshman Lena August, who turned 15 the same day as the competition’s finals. She spoke about bullies, a common problem among students worldwide. August said victims of schoolyard taunts remember not only their tormentors, but also “they will remember all of the faces of the people standing there watching.”

The final round’s judges were Lowell Milken, Milken Family Foundation chairman and president; Nadia Fay, public speaking consultant; Rob Eshman, Jewish Journal editor-in-chief; and John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Public speaking consultant Richard Greene, father of Milken junior Chiara Greene, organized the competition. The finalists were selected from 600 Milken students and received coaching from Greene, author of “Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events” (Alpha Communications).

Greene said he wanted to give students tools for public speaking and enable them to offer persuasive arguments regarding Israel and other issues that affect Jewish life. The Milken competition was a pilot program for a national teenage speech program that Greene plans to launch later this year. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Schwarzenegger to Take Part in MuseumGroundbreaking

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will participate in groundbreaking ceremonies for the $150 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on May 2.

Schwarzenegger will speak at a gala dinner at the King David Hotel to be attended by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Cabinet ministers and other dignitaries.

Plans for the groundbreaking were confirmed Monday by Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who initiated the Jerusalem project.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger has been a friend and supporter of the Wiesenthal Center for 20 years, and we are proud that he will stand with us in Jerusalem,” Hier said.

It will be the first trip outside the country for the former body builder and movie action hero since assuming office. He will also discuss trade relations between California and Israel while in Tel Aviv.

The Jerusalem museum is being designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, who will participate in the groundbreaking. The museum is expected to be completed in three to three and a half years, Hier said.

It will rise in the center of western Jerusalem, on both sides of Hillel Street near Independence Park, and will include state-of-the-art multimedia exhibits, conference center, theater complex, library and atrium.

The museum’s 240,000 square feet of usable space will make it three times larger than the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. The Wiesenthal Center recently opened its New York Tolerance Center.

Supporters of the Jerusalem project, in particular former Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, believe that it will revive the center of Israel’s capital and boost tourism.

Concern had been expressed by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, that the new museum would duplicate its mission. However, Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, said in a statement last week that following discussions with the Wiesenthal Center, “We reached a mutual agreement that the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem will not address the Holocaust. Yad Vashem does not believe there is justification for another Holocaust center in Jerusalem.”

Hier confirmed that the museum will focus on intra-Jewish disputes, relations with other religions and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Deadline Nears on Filing of HolocaustClaims

A final alert to persons with claims against European insurance companies stemming from the Holocaust era has been issued by California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

The deadline for filing such claims has been extended to March 31, but only for survivors or victims’ families who requested a claim form before Dec. 31, 2003, from the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC).

In addition, the claim forms must be received by the ICHEIC offices in Holland or Washington, D.C., by March 31, warned Leslie Tick, Department of Insurance senior counsel, who joined Garamendi in a phone call to The Journal.

If the claim form is filed and received in time, however, backup documentation can be sent later. However, once the deadline has passed, claimants will have no recourse except for initiating private lawsuits.

Garamendi, a member of the ICHEIC board, has been highly critical of the organization and last fall joined survivors in calling for the removal of its chairman, Lawrence Eagleburger.

There has recently been some improvement in ICHEIC’s operation, Garamendi said, but the organization is still two years behind in processing claims.

Claim forms should be sent to:

ICHEIC

LHR/LGW/690547/001

Int. Business Reply Service

I.B.R.S./C.C.R.I. Numero 1746

1110 VG Schipol

Pays-Bas, Nederland

Claim forms sent to this address are supposed to be postage free but cannot be sent by certified mail.

An alternate address that accepts certified mail, is: ICHEIC, 1300 L St. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, D.C., 20005.

The following organizations will provide help in completing claim forms: California Department of Insurance, (800) 927-4357; Bet Tzedek, (323) 549-5883; ICHEIC, (800) 957-3203. — TT

ADL Assails Hate Crime Targeting CollegeProfessor

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has expressed outrage over a recent hate crime committed at Claremont McKenna College against a visiting professor converting to Judaism.

“Hate crimes tear at the very fabric of our society,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest region director, in a statement. “It is important and commendable for our law enforcement agencies to demonstrate their commitment to the safety of all citizens by their steadfast pursuit of these crimes.”

On March 9, the vehicle of professor Kerri Dunn was attacked by vandals as she spoke at a forum about racial intolerance. They smashed her windshield, slashed the tires and covered the car with anti-Semitic and anti-African American messages.

A couple days later, hundreds of students at Claremont Colleges rallied to protest the attacks. Administrators canceled classes.

College administrators have offered $10,000 for information about the perpetrators of the crime. Susskind, in her statement, applauded the university’s aggressive stance and the police for their efforts. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Councilman Offers Help in Keeping CenterOpen

Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti has offered his mediation services to keep the embattled Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center open.

Garcetti, who attended the JCC growing up and now represents the area, thinks the center is a valuable asset worth fighting for, said Glen Dake, the councilman’s legislative deputy.

“With L.A. growing, we need more of these facilities, not fewer of them,” Dake said. “That’s why he wants a strong, vibrant facility remaining there.”

Garcetti hopes to set up a meeting among officials from the Silverlake Independent JCC, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA).

Federation President John Fishel said last week that he was open to a three-party meeting to discuss center-related issues. Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA executive vice president, said she, too, was amenable to sitting down and working toward a viable solution.

“I appreciate [Garcetti’s] willingness to reach out and look for opportunities that may have not been discussed,” she said.

The JCCGLA, which oversees many of the city’s JCCs, has put the Silverlake center up for sale, partly to pay back its $2.2 million debt to The Federation. The Jewish philanthropic organization has a $550,000 lien on the property.

Officials at the JCCGLA said they have already received an offer for Silverlake, though they declined to reveal the amount.

Janie Schulman, Silverlake Independent president, said she felt optimistic about the outcome of any three-party meeting.

“I am confident that if we could get everyone sitting at the same table speaking openly and frankly, instead of pointing fingers and speaking past each other, that we might make some progress,” she said. — MB

Journalist Attacks Actions of Israel’s PoliticalFringes

Israeli journalist Yossi Klein HaLevi portrayed Jewish far-leftists and far-rightists as mutual failures for their respective attempts at peace with Palestinians and increased West Bank settlements, actions which have ushered Israel into what the author called, “the decade of sobriety.”

In his March 4 lecture to about 100 people at the UCLA Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center, the Jerusalem Post columnist assailed both of Israel’s political fringes.

“What applies to the anti-Zionist left applies to the super-Zionist right,” he said. “We live in a Jewish reality where there are very few moorings. We are a generation of chameleons; we’re almost a Purim generation in that sense. We’re all wearing masks.”

Far-right Jews, he said, smother themselves with the ancient history of Israel so much that they “are ready to commit any atrocity in defense of that story.”

Jews on the anti-Zionist far left, he said, have embraced, “the genocidal intentions of the PLO” and are ready to “violate the most basic self-understanding of the Jewish people, legitimizing those who are demonizing Israel.”

“Neither Jewish camp has the answer,” Klein HaLevi said. “We were a politically immature people that barricaded ourselves in our political certainties.”

The lecture, sponsored by UCLA’s Bruins for Israel student group and the Burkle Center for International Relations, was not a debate. But Olam magazine editor David Suissa gave a supportive response after Klein HaLevi spoke, asking Jews not to be so judgmental of each other.

“We have to transcend this energy that tries to make us judge,” Suissa said. “Judgment is easy. Curiosity is more difficult.”

Klein HaLevi’s perspective differed, saying that anti-Zionist Jewish academics such as MIT professor Noam Chomsky are as removed from Judaism as the late far-right extremist Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 killed 29 Muslims praying in Hebron.

“In the end, everyone is not my brother,” he said. “Noam Chomsky and Baruch Goldstein both have very dubious claims to being my brother.”

Klein HaLevi had one bit of advice for both far-right extremists, who accuse their enemies of being akin to Jewish collaborators in World War II, and far-left activists, who routinely use Nazi metaphors to describe Israeli countermeasures against Palestinian terrorists: “Holocaust talk is off limits; no Holocaust invoking in our mutual taunting, because when we get to that, we are in an abyss to which there is no return — the next logical step is civil war.” — DF

Solace in SoCal


Sergio Edelsztein said he would not have come from Israel to
a cultural exchange in New York. “Los Angeles is so much more open, and it’s
still about regular people — not so much of an establishment,” said the
director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv.

Edelsztein was one of seven Israeli artists, curators and
educators who came to Los Angeles Feb. 10-15 to view art and establish
professional dialogues, as part of The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles
Partnership. Participating local institutions included the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art (LACMA), the J. Paul Getty Museum, LACMA Gallery, Craft and Folk
Art Museum, Otis Art Institute and Inner-City Arts.

It may seem an auspicious time to bring Israeli artists over
to America, as Israel has been in a virtual state of war since the beginning of
the second intifada, and America is on the brink of war as well; but in a way,
the timing could not have been better to discover what role museums play amid
chaos.

“Where you’re heading now, we’ve been for years,” Edelsztein
told Angelenos about living with violence during a panel discussion at LACMA on
the impact of political turmoil on arts institutions. LACMA Lab Director Bob
Sain and others wanted to know how Israelis and their art were affected by the
situation?

“A lot of people are still doing personal art,” said Nili
Goren, curator of photography at the Tel Aviv Museum.

Yael Borovich, director and curator of education at the Tel
Aviv Museum of Art said that Israelis — artists and non-artists alike — make a
point to keep on with their normal lives. “We still go to the theater, we go to
museums, we go on living,” she said.

For some, the situation has had indirect influence their
exhibits. For example, Nitza Behroozi, curator for Judaica and folklore at the Eretz
Israel Museum exhibited a Hamsa exhibit shortly after the intifada started in
September 2000. Although the exhibit was planned way before the situation
erupted, she felt it still was positive, considering the tensions. “We wanted
to do something that was about what Jews and Muslims share. We share a lot.”

Similarly, American curators and educators are considering
holding exhibits that defuse the charged political atmosphere. Gabrielle
Tsabag, senior educator from the Skirball is considering doing exhibits on
Islam.

“The museum’s role is not just to be a showcase but to be
pertinent,” she said. Exhibits on Islam could “possibly be a way to empower the
moderate Muslin community in this country to feel they can come out and speak
out.”

War was hardly the only thing the Israeli and American
groups had in common; art discussions — on education, exhibit selection,
technical subjects such as preservation — peppered the frenzied week of
touring.

Fowler Museum curator Polly Roberts, led the group through
the “A Saint in the City” exhibit, teaching them about the secret Sufi wisdom
painted into Senegalese street murals.

At the home of Cliff and Mandy Einstein, Ohad Shaaltiel,
artist and Meyerhoff Education Center’s Workshop director in Tel Aviv, was
overjoyed at viewing an Ad Reinhardt painting: “Look at the brushstrokes. I can
see his later work in the brushstrokes,” he said.

In addition to viewing art, the Israelis found practical
lessons to take back home. Nachum Tevet, artist and director of the MFA Program
at Bezalel Academy of Art, fostered artist-in-residence programs. Edelsztein
discovered festivals and other venues for Israeli video artists. Behroozi
learned how textiles are preserved at the Gene Autry Museum of Western
Heritage.

The Los Angeles group began to establish professional
connection that would continue long after the trip ended. Bob Bates, who
founded Inner-City Arts, said that he is willing help the Israelis create
successful arts education programs for kids. “Please stay in touch,” he told
the group repeatedly.

But what the Angelenos might have learned the most from
their Israeli counterparts was how to continue working with art in an
atmosphere of fear, which is relatively new for Americans.

“Yihyeh tov,” Hebrew for “all will be well,” could have been
the motto throughout the week.

“When you come to the museum, you see we’ve always been
threatened, we’ve always struggled, and still look what we did anyway,”
Behroozi said. “So we should take strength from that.”

Community Briefs


Prime Minister ToutsMuseum

If there was any doubt that the Polish government is takingseriously plans to build a Museum of Polish Jewish History in Warsaw, they wereput to rest Feb. 5 in Beverly Hills.

That’s when Leszek Miller, prime minister of Poland, metwith about 100 area Jews to reaffirm his commitment to the long-plannedproject. “We want to reach beyond the image of Poland as a place of martyrdomfor the Jews,” said Miller in his brief prepared remarks. “The museum will be agreat educational project, and a symbol of our new approach to the history ofthe Jews.”

Miller’s appearance before the gathering of Jewish religiousand communal leaders, including Holocaust survivors and elected officials, wasorganized by the Consulate General of Poland in cooperation with the AmericanJewish Committee (AJCommittee). It took place during the first visit by aPolish prime minister to the West Coast, according to Consul General KrzysztofW. Kasprzyk.

Miller announced the establishment of the Museum of theHistory of the Polish Jews in Warsaw last January. The multimedia museum, to bedesigned by Frank Gehry, is to be completed in 2006.

Polish officials, who say that as many as 80 percent of Jewsacross the world can trace their roots back to Poland, hope the museum willspur Jewish tourism to their country. They are also hoping that Jewish donorsabroad will help fund some of the museum’s estimated $63 million cost.

Among other exhibits, the museum will recreate the homes andstreets representing 1,000 years of Jewish civilization in Poland. The Naziinvasion and deportation to death camps claimed the lives of the majority of Poland’s3.5 million Jewish population, which had been the largest in Europe.

Miller said the museum is part of an agenda ofreconciliation between Poland and world Jewry that includes the restitution forJewish property, restoration of Jewish cemeteries, commemoration of victims atdeath camps throughout Poland, and increasing ties between young Jews and Poles,and between Polish and Jewish entrepreneurs. The museum itself will demonstrate”how important a place was occupied by Jews in the history of Poland,” saidMiller.

AJCommittee Los Angeles chapter President Peter Weil saidMiller’s appearance, amidst high level visits with high-tech entrepreneurs anda previous state visit with President George W. Bush, was a clear indication ofthe value the Polish government places on its relations with world Jewry.

Along with Miller and the consul general, guests heardremarks from Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, AJCommittee’s West Coast regional director;County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Adrien Brody, star of “The Pianist,” andmuseum director Jerzy Halberstadt. 

For more information the Museum ofPolish Jewish History in Warsaw, go to www.jewishmuseum.org.pl . — Staff Report

 

Media “Blitz”New Israel Fund Cuts Back

The New Israel Fund will centralize and scale back its U.S.offices in the hopes of pumping $1 million more toward peace and social justiceefforts in Israel. The Washington-based group, which promotes peace and civilrights programs in Israel, will close regional offices in Los Angeles, Bostonand Chicago, and expand hubs in New York and San Francisco, the group announcedFeb. 6.

For the three-person Los Angeles staff who will soon faceunemployment as a result of consolidation, the recent news brings mixedreactions.

“I still strongly believe in the importance of theorganization and the value of its work in Israel, and I understand that theinternational board that made the decision took a lot of issues intoconsideration in reaching its conclusions,” said Los Angeles New Israel FundDirector David Moses. “At the same time, I’m deeply disappointed in the closingof this office. We’ve had 4 years of continuous growth and increased visibilityin the Los Angeles Jewish community and I’m very proud of what we’veaccomplished here.”

The move was aimed at lowering the group’s overhead andconsolidating operations, and should largely fund the additional $1 million for Israel, officials said. The fund said it has awarded $120 million to 700Israeli groups since 1979. — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Dead Sea Scrolls Visit Santa Ana


An Iron Age stone fragment that bears the first known reference outside the Bible to King David will be among the works shown in October during "The Holy Land: David Roberts, Dead Sea Scrolls, House of David Inscription" at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. It will be a first for a U.S. institution.

The broken monument, or stele, is known as the House of David Inscription and is one of the most important artifacts in Israel. The ninth century B.C.E. fragment is a source of continuing controversy because it provides historical corroboration of a figure that some biblical scholars had argued was a mere legend. After 25 year toiling over an excavation in Dan, an ancient city of upper Galilee, an Israeli archaeologist spotted the ancient writing on a reused building stone used in a foundation wall in 1993. Since the finding, some skeptics have claimed the inscription a forgery.

The basalt stone is engraved with 13 lines of square Aramaic letters, a Semitic language also known as Old Hebrew, that are clear and unmistakable. It refers to a "king of Israel" and a king of the House of David. Archaeologists surmise this probably was a victory stele erected to commemorate a military victory of the king of Damascus over these two ancient enemies.

"Exhibiting it will settle the debate for many doubting Thomases," said Eric M. Meyers, a professor of Judaic studies and a biblical archaeologist at Duke University, who is one of the speakers featured during the Bowers’ exhibit which begins Oct. 6 and runs through Jan. 9, 2002.

"The artifact has its own integrity," Meyers said, though translation of the broken inscription remains a subject of interpretation by scholars.

The relic, along with two of the better-known Dead Sea Scrolls and a portion of a collection of rare original lithographs of biblical landscapes sketched in 1838 by Scottish-born artist David Roberts, are on loan from the Israel Museum. "We decided to participate in this exhibition, as we participate in other projects, as we believe it is important to share our treasures," said Silvia Rozenberg, the Israel Museum’s chief curator of archaeology.

Ran Boynter, who organized the exhibit’s blend of antiquities with "modern" lithography, sought the artifacts to provide a historic anchor for what had been expected to be the exhibit’s primary focus: one of the world’s best-preserved sets of Roberts’ hand-tinted lithographs. (Unfortunately, only 50 of the collection’s 123 prints will be on display. The Bowers lacks adequate exhibition space to display them all.)

The collection in its entirety was first exhibited in 1996 by the Duke University Museum of Arts, which acquired the set from St. Luke’s Gallery in Washington, D.C. Since then, the exhibition has traveled to New York’s American Bible Society.

The Roberts’ scenes follow the biblical account of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. They include depictions of every important historical site along the route, from the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre to an overview of Jerusalem. Even the caves in Qumran, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, are depicted a full century before the ruins were excavated and the scrolls discovered there between 1947 and 1956. The scrolls were all determined to have been written from 200 B.C.E. to 68 C.E. by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that was at odds with the religious establishment in Jerusalem.

When published in 1840s London, Roberts’ illustrations of monuments, architecture and people of Egypt and the Holy Land were hugely popular. In its day, the work provided the public with its first glimpse of biblical scenes and places known in name only. Today, Roberts’ work is sought after by collectors and is widely sold throughout the Middle East. Its interpretive perspective, though, is somewhat controversial by contemporary standards. While Roberts could distill the majestic sweep of landscapes, he also reveals an Anglo-European bias by negatively depicting the indigent population of Jews and Arabs, Meyers said.

The Bowers Museum is at 2002 North Main St. in Santa Ana. Exhibit tickets are: $12 for adults; $9 for seniors 62+ and students; $7 for children 5-18; and free for children under 5. Call (877) 250-8999 for more information.

Timely Talk of History’s Attic


The timing could not have been better.

When the California Museum of Ancient Art scheduled its lecture series on "The Archaeology of Ancient Israel" to begin Monday, May 14, at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, it could not have known that Rabbi David Wolpe’s Passover sermon touching on doubts about the historical accuracy of the Exodus story would spark a wave of local interest in Biblical archaeology.

The four lectures in the upcoming series will cover topics such as "The Age of Solomon: Myth or History," "New Light on Israelite History From Ancient Inscriptions" and "An Israelite Tribe Beyond the Jordan: Recent Discoveries at Tell Umayri."

The museum, which has no religious affiliation, schedules two or three lecture series a year on topics ranging from biblical archaeology to the late Bronze Age. It maintains its large collection of artifacts in a warehouse but has no exhibition space and usually uses the Gallery Theater in Barnsdall Park for its events. However, to retain the renowned scholars scheduled to participate, this series had to be coordinated months ago, and the Gallery Theater was unavailable for the scheduled dates. Luckily, Piness Auditorium in the Wilshire Boulevard Temple was available.

According to Dr. Jerome Berman, executive director of the museum, the lectures are relevant beyond any local controversy, since scholars of history have recently garnered major media attention by questioning the Bible’s historical accuracy. The so-called "minimalists" or "revisionists" argue that biblical stories are primarily myths. The History Channel, the Learning Channel and even "Nightline" are producing segments on this topic. The theories also have political ramifications, as Palestinian activists cite the minimalists’ work to undermine Jewish claims on the Holy Land.

So the California Museum of Ancient Art organized these lectures to "help people understand what really happened, in the context of the Near East," Berman says. "The question is, what do we really know about ancient Israel outside of the Bible? Some of the lectures will show parallels with what we read in the Bible, and we see some discrepancies. Ultimately, we aim to understand the culture in which the Bible came into existence."

First up in the lecture series is Dr. William Dever, who will address the biblical minimalists’ arguments with recent findings that verify the existence of a united monarchy under King Solomon. In the second lecture, Dr. William Schniedewind will discuss some of the many inscriptions discovered in Israel that shed light on ancient Israelite history. Dr. Lawrence Geraty adds to the understanding of biblical-era Middle Eastern culture with his discussion of a settlement east of the Jordan River that bears telltale signs of Israelite settlement. Dr. John Monson delivers the final lecture, comparing Ain Dara temple in Syria with descriptions of King Solomon’s Temple.

The series is not meant to be an exhaustive overview of biblical archaeology but an introduction to some of the more interesting controversies and evidence relating to the Bible. As Berman says, "We’re trying to tell the story of the ancient world, to bring that world to life."

"The Archaeology of Ancient Israel," lecture series: $64 (series); $18 (individual lecture). Dr. William Dever lectures May 14; Dr. Schniedewind, May 21; Dr. Geraty, June 4; and Dr. Monson, June 11. Piness Auditorium, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. To register for the lectures or for more information, call (818) 762-5500.

Expedition Armageddon


Indiana Jones battled snakes, boulders and heathens during his archaeological quests, which sounds like great adventure to me. But I don’t recall the scene where he wakes before dawn to kneel in the dirt scraping with a dental pick for three hours. My hands are paralyzed in a claw. My knees are numb. My backside points up into the 21st century while my nose inhales the 5,000-year-old dust of Israel’s ancient past as I etch a bone from soil that last saw daylight during the early Bronze Age. That’s before the Bible. Before the great pyramids. Before most written language.

I’m in the temple precinct of Tel Megiddo, one of Israel’s most important and cryptic archaeological sites, digging gently in a 4-foot-deep pit shadowed by a Canaanite altar. By now I’m questioning my sanity for volunteering for three weeks on the Megiddo Expedition, a dig administered by Tel Aviv and Pennsylvania State universities.

I unearth a porous brown bone and accidentally knock a sliver off it. "Be careful," admonishes my pony-tailed pit supervisor, Andy Creekmore, a Penn State graduate. The trick is to match speed with diligence. "In other words, hurry up and go slow," he says. At this pace, I’ll never discover the Ark of the Covenant, even if it had ever been here.

Dates and facts are endlessly disputed in biblical archaeology, but the legends never change at Megiddo, which is listed in the Bible as one of King Solomon’s three fortified cities. Christians know it as Armageddon, where good and evil will clash in the Last Battle. "I personally hope I’m not here to see it," one fellow volunteer, Nicole Brown, a born-again Christian from Colorado, says as we wield our pickaxes side by side.

Days at Megiddo begin the same way. The alarm clock rings at 4:20 a.m. in the 8- by 12-foot dorm room I share with four other women. We tumble from our bunk beds, fumble into our work clothes, fill our water bottles, and stagger out into the dark to join the 100 or so other volunteers. Under the morning stars we hike in silence from the spartan kibbutz dorms through the grasses of the Jezreel Valley’s western edge. We are all ages, from a 70-plus retired businessman to one archaeologist’s 9-year-old daughter. We are teachers, a lawyer, two TV producers, artists and a housewife who divorced her husband and headed for the Holy Land, plus many history, archaeology and divinity students digging for credit.

We walk across land where powerful armies — Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian, Assyrian — battled to gain control of the walled city that guarded this strategic crossroads of the ancient world. Though Megiddo was abandoned more than 2,500 years ago, the memory of the carnage lives in the city’s legendary name.

The sky is graying as Israel Finkelstein, the 50-year-old head of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and one of the excavation’s co-directors, bounds up stairs cut in the side of the 100-foot mound. For clues to ancient Near East history, no other excavation competes, he says. Megiddo contains more than 22 layers of civilization, more than 5,000 years of construction and destruction. The elusive hot spot is the 10th-century b.c.e. layer, where Finkelstein is looking for clues to King Solomon’s rule.

By the end of our first week at Megiddo, volunteers report like old hands to their assigned squares grouped in grids throughout the excavation’s 15 acres. From my pit in the thin light before sunrise, I can see the sunflower fields and farmland of one of the few panoramas in Israel that looks as it might have in biblical times. Mount Carmel lies to north. Nazareth is to the east.

Our 8:30 a.m. breakfast in a grove below the city’s fortified gates signals the start of the tourist trickle. Preachers and tour guides expound. One Bible-gripping evangelist thunders: "Soon the forces of Gog and Magog will battle on the plains of Armageddon." He points toward us. "These archaeologists. They know."

Down in the pits, we laugh because we know how little archaeologists really know about Megiddo, despite four excavations since 1902. Every building, every stratum, every shard, ever date is disputed, Finkelstein says. Finds can take years to analyze, so on-site interpretations are few. Just after noon we trudge back to the kibbutz in searing heat as cicadas buzz at a high-tension-wire pitch. Lunch. Siesta. Then the 4 p.m. pottery washing to clean and catalog the day’s finds.

By my third week, I am writing postcards home: Dust. Heat. Scorpions. Like summer camp for convicts.

So why do people volunteer for this kind of hard labor year after year? "Archaeology is a sickness," explains Robert Deutsch, 48, a Tel Aviv archaeology Ph.D. student. "We pay to work in the heat and mud. It’s not normal, but I’m crazy about it."

The sickness takes hold when the earth yields up exotic artifacts and long-buried walls. It is contagious. One day I overhear Liam Gray, a Vanderbilt University grad student, on the dorm hall phone bragging with the joy of a Vegas winner. "Hey dad. I hit the jackpot," he crows long-distance. "Yeah. I found a Middle Bronze figurine." Meanwhile, Sam Jones, an ex-roofer who sold his Ford pick-up truck to pay for his trip, is ecstatic after finding a gold scarab.

But back in our square, scraping and whisking with dental tools and paintbrushes at last reveals nothing except a trove of cow, sheep and goat bones, the likely refuse of animal sacrifice. Dig leaders are thrilled: So many bones in the layer about 600 years below the Canaanite altar help prove the theory that once holy, a site remains holy, despite changes in religion and populations over millennia. Not quite the Ark, but we have been digging in search of the holy; our findings may help explain the origins of ancient Hebrew sacrifice.

I ask for transfer to an Iron Age square, where I get to help dig up 10-gallon storage pots smashed in an invasion or earthquake. While bones mystify me, the pots emerging from the ground tell a story: Mud bricks smashed on top of shards indicate the moment that a house collapsed. No book or tour guide’s fantastic tales, and there are plenty, can describe how the past feels when you are the first in millennia to touch it with your hands.

Later, I visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Wandering through the exhibits, I realize how the excavation has changed me. Once I loved museums. Now the windowless glass-and-marble structure feels like an orphanage. The restored pots, displayed in glass cases, look like lost children plucked from their crib in the earth. The display labels sound knowledgeable but dead. "Bronze Age. Possibly of Hebrew Origin. From Hazor." In the dirt, broken, the pots were alive.