Anat Kamm sues Haaretz newspaper for exposing her as source


Anat Kamm, the Israeli soldier who was jailed for turning classified Israeli military documents over to a reporter, is suing the Israeli daily Haaretz and journalist Uri Blau for revealing her identity.

Kamm filed a lawsuit Thursday with the Tel Aviv District Court, asking for $716,000 and lawyer's fees. She reportedly claims that Haaretz exposed her to Shin Bet scrutiny and criminal proceedings, and thus owes her the compensation.

She was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. An espionage charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain.

Arrested in late 2009 or early 2010, Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army in the Central Command. She gave the information to  Blau, a Haaretz reporter who wrote stories based on the information that was approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau's source.

Blau served a four-month suspended prison sentence, which he served through community service, for accepting the information,

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz. She has been in the Neve Tirzah women's prison since November 2011.

Lauder to acquire control of Israeli news Web site


Ronald Lauder is expected to acquire complete control of an Israeli news Web site and has plans to establish a new English-language Web site about Israel.

The American businessman and philanthropist’s company JCS, which operates Jerusalem Capital Studios, has finalized a deal to acquire Nana 10, Haaretz reported. Lauder currently owns 24 percent of Nana 10, which features news from Israel’s Channel 10 and reportedly is the fourth most popular Hebrew language Web site in Israel.

Haaretz also reported that Lauder, who is president of the World Jewish Congress, has plans to establish, with other American Jewish businesspeople, a new Web site in English to present Israel’s position to Jews around the world.

Journalist: Netanyahu told me Israel’s biggest enemies are N.Y. Times, Haaretz


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s two greatest enemies are The New York Times and Haaretz, the editor of The Jerusalem Post said in a speech.

Steve Linde, addressing a conference in Tel Aviv of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, said Wednesday that Netanyahu made the remark to him about the newspapers at a private meeting “a couple of weeks ago” at the prime minister’s office in Tel Aviv.

“He said, ‘You know, Steve, we have two main enemies,’ ” Linde said, according to a recording of the WIZO speech provided to JTA. “And I thought he was going to talk about, you know, Iran, maybe Hamas. He said, ‘It’s The New York Times and Haaretz.’ He said, ‘They set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning and base their news stories … on what they read in The New York Times and Haaretz.’ ”

Linde said he and other participants at the meeting asked Netanyahu whether he really thought that the media had that strong a role in shaping world opinion on Israel, and the prime minister replied, “Absolutely.”

The Prime Minister’s Office could not be reached immediately for comment.

High-tech poop, gender-separate beach


Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.

ID’ing dog poop goes high tech

Petach Tikvah dog owners better watch where their dogs leave their poop—it may be used as evidence against them.

A new law proposed by the City Council would allow city dog inspectors to test the DNA of dog excrement left in the streets and send a ticket to the animal’s owner.

A DNA database would be collected from the dogs’ saliva, likely collected when the pets come in for their yearly rabies shot, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Bibi’s new neighbor—Chabad

Chabad has moved into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem neighborhood.

Chabad of Rechavia, serving downtown Jerusalem, moved into a prime location in the Windmill of Rechavia building next to the Kings Hotel and across the street from the prime minister’s official residence.

The new Chabad house, in one of the capital’s most central and busiest locations, will serve Jerusalemites and tourists.

Record-setting stage career

Veteran Israeli actress Helen Meron has qualified for the Guinness World Record for “longest career as a theatrical actress.”

Meron, who at 87 is currently performing in a Cameri Theater play in Tel Aviv, first appeared on stage at the age of 4. She has been nicknamed the “first lady of Israeli theater.”

The Germany native came with her family to Palestine in 1933.

No sex on the beach

Just days after a photo shoot of hundreds of naked Israelis at the Dead Sea, a new gender-separate beach opened.

The $3.4 million project is meant to allow the religiously observant community to enjoy the Dead Sea’s salty waters, Israel Hayom reported. Project leaders have promised that entry to the beach, the first segregated by gender in the area, will be free and stay open all day.

The new beach was built on land owned by the Tamar Regional Council, which expressed its opposition to the Spencer Tunik photo shoot last month.

First female sapper on the job

The Israel Police graduated its first female sapper—Inbal Gawi, 26, graduated from the 10-month bomb disposal course last month and joined the force.

Gawi told Ynet that she decided to become a bomb disposal specialist because she wanted “to do something challenging and different,” as well as to blaze a trail for other women. She previously served as a combat soldier in the Israeli army.

She was trained to defuse bombs, and handle explosives and weapons.

Fountain pen, times four

A set of Israeli quadruplets had a bar mitzvah in Jerusalem.

Benzi, Yosef, Shlomo and Yishai Mizrachi celebrated their bar mitzvah last month with a service at the Western Wall and a huge party at a hall in Jerusalem.

About 500 guests attended the party, according to reports. The boys attend different schools, and each could invite 30 classmates and teachers to the bash, at which they performed religious songs together.

The brothers have seven other siblings, including a set of twins. Their mother told the Jewish Chronicle that she did not undergo any fertility treatments in order to conceive the boys.

Each boy received a set of four species for Sukkot in honor of their quadrupleness.

Salam alaikum: First Arabic cable channel to debut

Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council has granted a license to a group of investors to operate an Arabic-language cable and satellite channel.

The channel, which will be launched in January, will be free and available on local satellite and cable company menus. The Hala TV group, which received the license to operate the channel, has been working on pilot episodes of a children’s show, news programs and lifestyle shows.

Hala TV includes Arab and Jewish partners.

Two previous attempts to set up a permanent Arabic-language channel on Israeli TV fell through.

No Vacation


The Israeli woman in the hot tub was feeling terrible.

She saw me wearing a T-shirt with Hebrew writing, and I heard her speaking to her daughter inHebrew, so naturally, amid the hundreds of sunbathers crowding the pool area of the Squaw Valley Resort, we found each other.

“It feels good to find someone to talk to about it,” she said.

By “it” she meant the situation her parents and extended family, who live on a kibbutz in the middle of the country, are facing.

The snow-capped Sierras jutted into a deeply blue sky. The hot tub bubbled away.”Israelis don’t want to run away when there’s a war,” the woman explained. “We want to run home.”

The night before, a relative from a northern kibbutz had e-mailed her a slide show of the after-effects of a Hezbollah rocket attack, and she had stayed awake playing it over and over in her hotel room.

All around us kids splashed, adults sipped pastel-colored rum drinks, the sunlight bounced off distant glaciers — and the Israeli woman told me she couldn’t relax.

What a week to vacation.

My wife and kids and I drove up U.S. Highway 395, crossed the Monitor Pass through a remote and perfect alpine landscape. But I am a subscriber to Sirius satellite radio, so as we descended through Markleeville, population 52, we heard CNN’s report on Israel’s gathering momentum for a ground invasion of Lebanon.

There was no cell phone reception at our little rented cabin near the west shore of Lake Tahoe, no Internet hot spots. But DISH network saucers grew at the base of the tall pines like forest mushrooms. By day we joined vacationers in serious pursuit of escape — tubing down the Truckee River, leaping off the dock into the deep, cold lake. At night, we watched missiles rain down on northern Israel and air strikes in Beirut. I turned away from the TV after realizing I was spending more time with CNN correspondent John Roberts, “reporting from the Israel-Lebanon border” than I was with my kids.

But the news kept coming. After a day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, an idyllic spot where Isaiah W. Hellman built a fine mansion on a quiet stretch of beach, I logged on to my e-mail to find that a deranged man had shot his way into the Seattle Federation building, killing Pamela Waechter, 58, and wounding four others.

At the gym at Squaw Creek, two men argued over Israel’s new war.

“At least we’re out of this one,” said one.

“Are you kidding?” his friend countered.

On cue, images of demonstrators in the streets of Beirut filled the flat screen mounted to his Stairmaster. “We get blamed for everything Israel does.”It’s a truism that technology has shrunk the globe and brought the tribulations of distant lands to our doorstep, or to our vacations. As much as we try to pretend there’s a faraway “they” and a safe and sheltered “we,” there are precious few places left to hide for long.

That goes double, triple for Jews. History has shown that world events have a way of catching up to Jews to us quickly, sometimes brutally. Until they do, each one of us chooses our place on the sliding scale from they to we. We can luxuriate in selecting the extent of our identity, the depth of our involvement — until we can’t.

The we-ness of our world came home to me as we dropped our son off for a stay at Camp Tawonga, a venerable Jewish camp tucked into a Tuolumne River valley. I noticed the roster listed several campers from towns in northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona, Metulla.

Camp director Ann B. Gonski told me that, for several years now, Tawonga has hosted Israeli children and counselors from northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona is a sister city to San Francisco’s Jewish community. This year there are 34 Israelis at the camp, sponsored largely by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation.

For these kids, Gonski said, camp will be a special respite from the violence. In the past the rules were one phone call home per week per Israeli.”This year,” she said, “we’re open to a lot more communication”As for counselors, Gonski said the Americans have received special training to deal with their Israeli counterparts: “We’ve told them, remember that your colleagues are really stressed. Be there for them, they’re a long way from home.”

As for my wife, daughter and me, we drove home, straight into the brouhaha about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant. Now firmly ensconced behind my desk, I asked my friend Bryan, a television director, what accounted for the public silence from so many Hollywood Jews. Where was the sense of identity, of a communal fate that transcends business? Can’t they see a direct correction between those who hate Jews and those, like the Seattle shooter, who act on their hatred? Why don’t they choose to identify, like the people in Camp Tawonga, with a larger, communal need?

“Everybody has their head in the Garden of Finzi Contini and wants this all to go away,” Bryan said, citing the movie about Italian Jews oblivious to the impending Holocaust. “It’s actually the Garden of Malibu Contini — everybody’s playing tennis and golf and refusing to accept that hatred of this magnitude exists at the exclusive sushi table next to them.”

That is, until the vacation is over.

Nation-World Briefs


U.N. Asks Israel to Stop Making Nukes
A U.N. commission recommended that Israel refrain from manufacturing any more nuclear weapons as a step to a nuclear-free Middle East. The United Nation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by weapons inspector Hans Blix, released its 60 recommendations on Monday. Regarding the Middle East, Blix recommended that most nations commit to not possessing any nuclear weapons. However, with Israel he recommended only that it commit to not manufacturing any more weapons. Israel is highly unlikely to agree to dismantle the 200 warheads it is believed to possess as the region’s sole nuclear power. Israel’s agreement would be a start, Blix said.

State Dept. Blasts Israel for Human Trafficking
Israel is on a U.S. State Department watch list of nations that fail to effectively prevent human trafficking. Israel was classified as being on the Tier Two watch list in the report released Monday. Tier Three is the worst classification, reserved for countries that fail to comply with minimum U.S. standards. Israeli law enforcement has made strides in cracking down on sex trafficking, the report said, but the same was not true of labor trafficking and “the estimated thousands of victims of forced labor were not provided with protection.” It described fees demanded of laborers ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, “a practice that often leads to debt bondage and makes these workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Israel,” it said.

FDA Approves Israeli Parkinson’s Drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an Israeli drug that treats Parkinson’s, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled shaking and muscle stiffness. Marketed under the name Azilect, this is the first once-daily oral treatment for Parkinson’s to be distributed in the United States; it was developed by Technion professors Moussa Youdim and John Finberg and is being manufactured by Tel Aviv-based generic pharmaceutical giant Teva. The drug is expected to become available by prescription in the United States by July or August.

While not a cure, the drug slows the progression of the disease. Azilect works by blocking the breakdown of dopamine, which tells the body how and when to move.

Parkinson’s currently affects 1 million people in the United States.

“This is a welcome development for the more than 50,000 Americans who are each year diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ” said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Parkinson’s is a relentless disease with limited treatment options, and each new therapy is an important addition to the physicians’ treatment options.”

However, the FDA is warning that the drug could carry an increased risk of hypertensive crisis — a precursor to a stroke — if taken with tyramine-rich foods (cheese, chocolate, red wine), dietary supplements or cough/cold medicines. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Nazi Papers Declassified
The U.S. government declassified more than 8 million pages of files related to Nazi war crimes. The material including documents relating to the CIA’s employment of suspected Nazi war criminals after World War II. The members of the government’s Interagency Working Group said at a news conference Tuesday that the revelations pointed to the dangers of working with war criminals, as the United States did after World War II. Among other revelations, the papers show that former Nazis employed by the United States were more susceptible to recruitment as double agents by the Soviet Union. Additionally, the papers show that the United States had a strong lead on the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann in 1958, but did not pursue it because of fears that his capture would expose the Nazi past of high-ranking officials in the West German government, which was allied with the United States.

Trump Fires Jewish Contestant
An observant Jew failed in his bid to become Donald Trump’s next apprentice. Lee Bienstock was fired Monday on the season finale of “The Apprentice.” Bienstock and another Jewish contestant, New Jersey’s Dan Brody, observed Rosh Hashanah together early in the season missing the third episode’s task but only Bienstock, who grew up in the New York area, stayed in the show long enough to observe Yom Kippur, missing another task.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Critics Pound Paper Panning Israel Lobby


Two weeks after two prominent political science professors published a paper that they promised would expose the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, the collective reaction so far suggests they get a “D” for impact.

“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s John. F. Kennedy School of Government, has been the subject of numerous Op-Eds — which generally have discredited it — but has been all but ignored in the halls of Congress, its purported target.

Among other assertions, the paper suggests that the pro-Israel lobby (especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has helped make the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, steered the country into the Iraq war, silenced debate on campuses and in the media, cost the United States friends throughout the world and corrupted U.S. moral standing.

Walt and Mearsheimer portray as interchangeable the pro-Israel lobby and the neo-conservatives who have developed Bush’s foreign policy. Not surprisingly, this report got negative reviews from pro-Israel groups. The paper’s “disagreement is not with America’s pro-Israel lobby, but with the American people, who overwhelmingly support our relationship with Israel,” said an official with a pro-Israel lobbying organization in Washington.

The Anti-Defamation League called the paper “an amateurish and biased critique of Israel, American Jews and American policy.”

Especially outrageous, some said, are the paper’s insinuations that Jewish officials in government are somehow suspect.

“Not only are these charges wildly at variance with what I have personally witnessed in the Oval Office, but they also impugn the unstinting service to America’s national security by public figures like Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and many others,” David Gergen, Walt’s fellow academic at the Kennedy School and a veteran of four administrations, wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Daily News.

One of the few positive reviews came from white supremacist David Duke, who said the authors reiterate points he has been making for years.

The controversy passed almost unnoticed on Capitol Hill. A statement from Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) was typical of the few who bothered to pay attention to the paper, which Nadler called “little more than a repackaging of old conspiracy theories, historical revisionism and a distorted understanding of U.S. strategic interest.”

U.S. support of Israel was no mystery, Nadler said: “Israel is our only democratic and reliable ally in an extremely volatile and strategically important region. It is in our nation’s best interests to maintain that alliance.”

The authors said that they anticipated silence, arguing that the Israel lobby is “manipulating the media [because] an open debate might cause Americans to question the level of support that they currently provide.”

The problem with that theory is that some of the harshest criticism of the paper has come from individuals and groups who have long called for changes in how the United States deals with Israel.

“It was a lot of warmed-over arguments that have been tossed about for years, brought together in a rather unscholarly fashion and presented as a Harvard document, clearly not deserving of the title,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, a group that has argued for increased U.S. pressure on Israel to achieve a peace agreement.

In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt have quietly removed the imprimatur of the Harvard and Kennedy schools that originally appeared on the paper. Walt holds the Robert and Renee Belfer professorship at the Kennedy School, and the paper appalled Robert Belfer, a major donor to Jewish causes, according to a report in the New York Sun. The chair is the equivalent of an academic dean at the Kennedy School, one of the most influential foreign policy centers in the United States.

“It read more like an opinion piece than serious research, and even as opinion it was so overreaching in some of its claims,” Roth said. “It didn’t have a lot of utility.”

One of the harshest critics of the paper was Noam Chomsky, the political theorist who routinely excoriates the U.S.-Israel relationship. He ridiculed the paper’s central “wag the dog” thesis, that the United States has “been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state.”

Walt and Mearsheimer “have a highly selective use of evidence (and much of the evidence is assertion),” Chomsky wrote in an e-mail to followers.

One example, he says, is how the paper cites Israel’s arms sales to China as evidence that the Jewish state detracts from U.S. security interests.

“But they fail to mention that when the U.S. objected, Israel was compelled to back down: under Clinton in 2000, and again in 2005, in this case with the Washington neo-con regime going out of its way to humiliate Israel,” Chomsky noted.

One of the paper’s more curious conclusions is that “what sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness. But there is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway U.S. policy toward Israel.”

If so, it begs the question of why Walt and Mearsheimer set out to write the paper. Mearsheimer did not return a call for comment.

In other areas, the paper gets facts wrong, for example when it says Israel wanted to sell its Lavie fighter aircraft to the United States, when it was strictly a domestic project.

According to the writers, “pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element.”

Off the record, Jewish officials here reverse that equation, saying their support for the Iraq war was necessary in order to curry favor with a White House that was hell-bent on war. In fact, the adventure unsettled many Israeli and Jewish officials because of concerns that the principal beneficiary would be Iran.

“That really jumped out at me,” Roth said. “Among nasty neighbors, Iran was clearly the greater threat.”

Jewish groups and individuals at first were reluctant to react to a paper they saw as impugning their patriotism, but in time they could not resist. Detailed debunkings of Walt and Mearsheimer have proliferated.

Some of these, notably by fellow Harvard professors Ruth Wisse and Alan Dershowitz, have likened the writers to Duke — a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan — and other anti-Semites.

For some Jews, however, the criticism proved that despite the paper’s flaws, it correctly identified a symptom afflicting discussion of Israel: a tendency to dismiss all criticism as anti-Semitism.

“Even if the paper is as bad as its critics say, that does not obviate the need to respond to the points it makes,” said Eric Alterman, a media critic for The Nation. “So far, most of what I am seeing is mere character assassination of exactly the kind I, also, experience whenever I take up the issue. This leads me to conclude the point of most — but not all — of the criticism is to shut down debate because AIPAC partisans are wary of seeing their arguments and tactics subjected to scrutiny of any kind.”

Letters


Jack Abramoff

David Klinghoffer’s entreaty and Jack Abramoff’s wounded feelings ring hollow for the same reason: each expects that the fact that Abramoff used purloined funds to better the Jewish community should somehow mitigate the harm that Abramoff has caused (“Sympathy for the Devil?” Jan. 27).

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. One cannot give tzedakah with stolen funds. The very word “tzedakah” has as it’s root the word “tzedek,” which, of course, means “justice.”

There is no justice in stealing from one to give to another, particularly where, as here, there were accolades showered upon Abramoff for his “gifts.” One of the senses of tzedakah is that of giving of yourself from your own resources; Abramoff did neither.

My greater compassion is reserved for Abramoff’s victims: the clients from whom he stole the money, his grieving father who has lost a son, his family who has lost a husband, father and putative provider. Abramoff will have room and board at the taxpayers’ expense; his family will, potentially, have nothing.

To Klinghoffer and Abramoff I would point out that nobody wants to cut off Abramoff’s head; he has already done that.

E. Hil Margolin
Carmel

Jews are not attacking or abandoning Abramoff because he’s Jewish — they’re embarrassed and outraged that he’s trying to wrap himself in the glory and good name of Judaism. “God sent me 1,000 hints that He didn’t want me to keep doing what I was doing.” Jewish or not Jewish, you shouldn’t need God to send you “hints” when we have things called laws.

Jeremy Sunderland
West Hills

Positive News

I have been meaning to write to you about your “Mensches” article (Jan. 6) since the week it appeared. I have saved that issue as it is so full of positive news about the happenings in L.A. with people and their behavior and actions.

I was hoping to suggest that since you obviously can’t put more than 10 people in at a time, wouldn’t it be fabulous to put this article and types like it in the paper quarterly? We always have a plethora of bad news, why not balance it out more with this type of journalism?

I think it’s so sad that the only feedback you received after this article was printed is how you might have conjugated the word mensches wrong. I want to thank you for doing this article and bringing these people to light. May it make us all think about what the rest of us can do to help and improve our lives and those around us.

Dena Schechter
Los Angeles

Proselytizing

The Journal’s coverage of the bonding of 1,100 Messianic Jews for Jesus and Christian Zionists at The Church on the Way should come as no surprise (“Messianics Gather for National Meeting,” Jan. 27). Jews for Judaism has warned Jewish leaders and Israeli officials that working with evangelicals is a double-edged sword and that The Church on the Way is a Trojan horse.

The Church on the Way has an ongoing messianic outreach and religious services designed to attract Jews. We know of dozens of Jewish families who were devastated after their children were converted to evangelical Christianity by representatives of this megachurch.

Christian support for Israel is a blessing. However, unfortunately, some members of our community deny or choose to ignore the threat that evangelicals pose to Jewish spiritual survival. The essence of the term evangelical is to proselytize.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Jews for Judaism

Misleading Essay

Although I am hardly in the habit of penning letters in support of Bibi Netanyahu, I feel compelled to respond to Harvard student Shira Kaplan’s heartfelt but misleading essay on Hamas and Israel (“Give Peace a Shot,” Feb. 3).

Assuming the role of a modern-day prophetess, Kaplan boldly predicts that if the right-wing Likud leader is returned to office, “like in Netanyahu’s previous term in office, buses will be blowing up in the center of Tel Aviv.”

I served as an American diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in the mid-1990s, when buses were in fact blowing up in the city and would like to set the record straight for those like Kaplan who may have forgotten the recent chronology of terror in Israel.

According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 141 Israelis were killed by terrorists from September 1993 (the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn) to November 1995, when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

During Netanyahu’s three years in power, a comparatively low number of 51 Israelis were killed by terrorists, who perpetrated two attacks, inter alia, in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market (16 and five victims, respectively). However, there were no bus bombings in Israel during Netanyahu’s rule.

I am neither Jewish nor Israeli and would never presume to tell Israelis for whom they should vote. However, I do hope that they go to the polls in March armed with both hope and information. Whatever other sins Netanyahu may have committed as prime minister, he cannot in fairness be charged with provoking terrorist bus bombings.

Mark Paredes
Los Angeles

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

Nation and World Briefs


Israel Exits Gaza Strip

A blazing orange sun set over the Mediterranean as Israeli soldiers lowered the country’s flag at the army’s Gaza headquarters, signifying the end of an era in this sandy strip of land.

Sunday’s brief ceremony, attended by top military officials and the parents of soldiers killed defending Israeli settlements in Gaza, marked the end of 38 years of Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip, a period that saw the creation — and most recently the destruction — of Jewish settlements and some of the bloodiest fighting between Israel and the Palestinians.

The three highest-ranking army commanders overseeing Gaza — the army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz; the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel; and the head of the Gaza Command, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, faced an honor guard of soldiers and saluted them.

Together they sang Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” and spoke of their hopes for a better future.

“Thirty-eight years are coming to a close. The army is leaving the Gaza Strip,” Kochavi said. “We leave with our heads held high. The gate that is closing after us is also a gate that is opening. We hope it will be a gate of peace and quiet, a gate of hope and goodwill.”

But there were reminders of the difficulties ahead.

A ceremony scheduled for earlier Sunday was canceled after the Palestinian Authority boycotted the event. That came after the Israeli Cabinet reversed a decision and voted 14-2 not to raze 25 abandoned synagogues in Gaza. Palestinian officials reportedly were upset that the decision put them in the position of having to destroy the synagogues or protect them.

On Monday, Palestinian rioters torched several of the synagogues. The Palestinian Authority said it was powerless to stop the desecration by mobs that rushed into the settlements after Israeli forces left.

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas tried to play down the sight, televised internationally, by noting that Israel had removed all ritual items from the synagogues before withdrawing. But Israeli officials suggest the violence and vandalism do not bode well for future relations.

Settlement Building to Continue

Ariel Sharon said Israel will continue to build in West Bank settlement blocs despite any U.S. objections.

“The major blocs will stay as part of Israel,” the Israeli prime minister told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday. “Yes, we have small-scale construction within the lines.”

While President Bush has said Israel can expect to keep West Bank settlement blocs under a final peace accord with the Palestinians, the U.S.-led peace “road map” calls for their expansion to be halted.

Asked about potential American reaction to the construction, Sharon said: “I don’t think they will be too happy, but they are the major blocs, and we must build. We don’t have an agreement with the United States about this, but these areas are going to be part of Israel.”

Egypt Takes Over Gaza Border

Egyptian troops began deploying along the Gaza Strip’s southern border. Around 200 border police fanned out along the Egyptian side of the frontier last Friday, with another 550 expected to be posted there this week. Israel is handing over security control of the Gaza-Egypt border to Cairo as part of its pullout from the Gaza Strip. Egypt has pledged to fight arms smuggling from the Sinai to Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

New Orleans Synagogue OK

A historic synagogue in New Orleans suffered internal damage due to Hurricane Katrina, but its exterior is unscathed. Rabbi Andrew Busch of the Touro Synagogue said that a local police officer with ties to congregants was able to verify the building’s condition. Synagogue leaders hope to return soon to the shul to safeguard Torahs and other items; much of the staff is using temporary space in Congregation Beth Israel in Houston. The synagogue may be the oldest Jewish house of worship in America outside of the 13 original colonies.

Rabbi and Storm Shelter Nixed

A synagogue in Louisiana is shutting down its shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina and has put its rabbi on administrative leave, JTA has learned. Rabbi Barry Weinstein was asked to take paid leave from Congregation B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge for an unspecified period. He had led the effort to house dozens of evacuees who fled their Gulf Coast homes in the wake of Katrina.

Synagogue officials say the decision about the rabbi was related to a private matter, not directly to the shelter issue. They said even though the shelter would close, the synagogue would continue to house medical personnel helping with rescue efforts.

Some of the rabbi’s supporters charged that a few influential members of the community who are opposed to using the synagogue as a shelter had pressured the temple’s officers to act. The supporters expressed outrage that the shelter was closing down and that the rabbi has been barred from the synagogue.

Russian City Gets New JCC

Jews in St. Petersburg, Russia, marked the dedication of a new Jewish community center. Yesod, a modern stone-and-glass building situated in downtown St. Petersburg, is a project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The center, dedicated last Friday, will house Jewish organizations that until now have rented office space in various parts of the city. The center will house the offices of the Hesed Avraham welfare center, the Adain Lo educational network, Hillel and the Petersburg Institute of Jewish Studies. It also will contain a large auditorium for conferences and cultural performances, a Jewish library, a winter garden and a fitness center. The entire space will be wheelchair accessible.

General in the Sights

A retired Israeli army general narrowly avoided facing war-crimes charges in Britain. Doron Almog, a former commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, flew to London to vacation with his wife Sunday but, after receiving a warning from the Israel Embassy, decided not to leave the El Al plane and flew back home within hours.

According to Israeli officials, British authorities let it be known that a pro-Palestinian lobby in Birmingham planned to seek Almog’s detention and trial on charges of war crimes in Gaza. “This is reason for concern, as the Palestinian community can put out arrest warrants for any Israeli officer who served in the fight against terror,” Almog told Israel Army Radio on Monday. In 2002, Shaul Mofaz, then Israel’s military chief of staff, cut short a trip to Britain after being threatened with similar charges.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jewish Terrorist Suspect Dies

An alleged Jewish terrorist died after hanging himself in Israeli police custody. Eliran Golan, who was facing charges of trying to bomb Israeli Arab targets in the northern city of Haifa, hanged himself in his jail cell last month and succumbed to his injuries in a hospital late last week. A former Israeli soldier who prosecutors said supplied Golan with explosives for a series of racist attacks in Haifa has been jailed for four years.

Brits May Change Holocaust Day

Britain may reportedly change its Holocaust remembrance day to a broader event commemorating other genocides. The Sunday Times of London reported that advisers to Prime Minister Tony Blair were recommending that the Jan. 27 annual remembrance be replaced by a day that would include recognition of Muslim deaths in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Chechnya and Bosnia, so that Muslim extremists couldn’t exploit an impression that Jewish lives are considered more valuable than Muslim lives.

“The message of the Holocaust was ‘Never again,’ and for that message to have practical effect on the world community it has to be inclusive. We can never have double standards in terms of human life,” said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Jewish leaders are opposing the proposal.

Arafat Death Mystery

The cause of Yasser Arafat’s death is still unclear, despite the release of his hospital reports. Having obtained records from the French hospital where the Palestinian leader died last November, Ha’aretz quoted Israeli experts on Thursday as saying Arafat’s symptoms were consistent with advanced AIDS or the effects of a poison such as ricin. French and Palestinian Authority officials have said there was no evidence of either cause in Arafat’s death. The New York Times, which also had access to the hospital records, quoted its own independent experts as saying Arafat died of internal bleeding caused by an unknown ailment, and called AIDS or poison highly unlikely.

Google to Open in Israel

Google is planning to open up an office in Israel. The Internet search engine will open the office in Tel Aviv as part of its global expansion program, the Jerusalem Post reported. It is not known when the office will open, but presumably the curious will soon be able to find out by Googling.

 

News Service Shows Israel’s Other Side


 

Bemoaning the way Israel is portrayed in the news is something of a favorite pastime for many American Jews. But rather than complain that Israel is depicted unfairly in its conflict with the Palestinians, two Silicon Valley executives are taking a different approach.

Eric Benhamou, chairman of 3Com, and Zvi Alon, founder of Netvision, wanted to get the focus off violence altogether and show Americans that there is much more to Israel beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Four years ago, they launched Israel21c, a nonprofit news feature service that covers human interest stories in Israel and pitches them to the media.

Take, for example, the group’s Sept. 19 story on a video game originally used to train Israeli fighter pilots that now is being used to coach college basketball players. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in approximately 170 newspapers, according to Larry Weinberg, the group’s executive vice president and its only full-time staffer in North America.

“Israel, among the nations, is still fighting to justify its existence,” Weinberg said.

Stories about Israeli medical breakthroughs or social welfare projects help demonstrate Israel’s value to the world. It’s a “way of increasing knowledge of Israel that increases respect of Israel,” Weinberg said.

“In the end, public opinion will lead policy,” he added with the conviction of someone who worked in New York City politics on the staffs of three different mayors.

Israel21c is seeking to expand its market. The group recently hired Rubenstein Public Relations, a high-profile Manhattan firm, to bring its message to those between 16 and 25.

“Most young, non-Jewish Americans have almost no knowledge of Israel beyond the conflict they’ve seen in the news for four years,” the group said in a news release.

By pitching stories about Israeli fashion, music and sports to media outlets geared to youth, Israel21c hopes to build identification between U.S. and Israeli youth. Weinberg added that the push will aid pro-Israel efforts on campus, which have seen heated debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the intifada began more than four years ago.

Israel21c’s initiative comes after a report last year showed Jewish organizations were using outdated approaches that failed to interest young U.S. Jews to advocate for Israel. The report, “Israel in the Age of Eminem,” was based on research by pollster Frank Luntz, who found that Jewish groups face a “communications crisis” and were failing to attract the 80 percent of young Jews whose interest in Judaism or Zionism is only marginal.

Israel21c is not the only group to tackle Israeli hasbarah, a Hebrew term for advocacy. Israel has consulates throughout the world devoted to polishing the image of the Jewish state, although many say Israel’s efforts to make its case are inept, and private groups have sprung up since the intifada began, too.

According to Weinberg, the Israeli government is becoming more media savvy, realizing that “public relations and communications are as important tools in a war as soldiers, tanks and courage.” But Weinberg said his group can supplement the official efforts. Israel21c’s stories are used on the Web sites of more than 60 North American Jewish federations each week and are picked up by Israeli consulates and hundreds of Jewish organizations.

While government communications efforts focus on crisis management, Israel21c offers lighter fare, with a positive bent that often hits home. One recent example was an idea from Israel21c that resulted in Time magazine running an article about Israeli medical technology that can eliminate the use of needles, delivering medicine through the pores of the skin.

Anyone who has ever been to the doctor and suffered through a flu shot can relate to an Israel story like that — which is precisely what the founders of Israel21c had in mind.

 

An Act Of Kindness Ends In Murder


It was an act of kindness reciprocated with murder.

Crane mechanic Moshe Hendler, 29, was on his way to wash up after a long day of work at the Ashdod port on Sunday when, along with a group of fellow workers, he ran into a young man asking for water.

They passed him a jug. An instant later, the man turned himself into a human bomb, taking the lives of Hendler and several others. Hendler’s father, Avraham, who works at the port, rushed to his son, who was sprawled lifeless on the ground.

Hendler — the father of a 6-month-old daughter — was buried Monday. He was one of 10 Israelis killed in a double suicide bombing Sunday at the industrial port on Israel’s southern coast.

Mazal Marciano, 30, was sitting in her office when the explosion went off, killing her instantly. Marciano worked as the marketing manager for the Nehemia Lahovitz meat products company.

Gal Lahovitz, who owns the company, said one of the suicide bombers blew himself up outside the trailer office where Marciano was working. She was the mother of two young sons, ages 2 and 5.

Although Ashdod largely has been free of violence during the three-and-a-half-year-old Palestinian intifada, Marciano’s relatives said they knew they probably would be hit by terror one day.

“We knew this round of terror attacks would reach us, too, and every time we saw pictures of terror attacks on television, we felt it would happen to us one day,” one of Marciano’s brothers said in the newspaper, Ha’aretz.

As after every attack, photos of the bombing victims were splashed across the front pages of Israel’s newspapers, and it was lead story on television broadcasts early in the week.

Among the dead was Avi Avraham, 33, who recently had been hired as a crane electrician at the port and who was married four months ago. His wife, Ettie, 27, rushed to the scene of the attack but was kept away by police barricades. Meanwhile, she kept calling his cell phone, but no one answered.

At the same time, the family of Zion Dahan, 30, frantically searched the hospitals. The search lasted until the family heard the news that Dahan was on the victims’ list.

Six months ago, Dahan had had a close brush with death when a cable came loose and hit him in the face, relatives said. This time, he found himself in the path of Palestinian terrorists, and he was not fortunate enough to escape.

After the bombing, some Israeli authorities suggested that the attack on the industrial port, where toxic chemicals are stored, may have been an attempted megaterrorist strike. They said the bombers may have intended to detonate themselves next to the port’s bromine tanks to release a cloud of poisonous gas into the surrounding area that potentially could have killed thousands.

Palestinian groups said they indeed had hoped to carry out a massive attack.

Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade jointly claimed responsibility for the attack, which was perpetrated by two 18-year-olds from the Gaza Strip. It was the first attack since the intifada began that was committed by Palestinians from Gaza, which is surrounded by an electronic fence.

Palestinians said Monday that the terrorists entered Israel by tunneling under the fence.

Morris Tuval, 30, who was a neighbor and former classmate of Marciano, also was killed in the attack. Filling in for a co-worker who could not make his shift, Tuval had just returned from an afternoon out with his friends, the well-known Israeli soccer players from the Ashdod team, Chaim and David Revivo. The three were childhood friends.

After lunch, David Revivo went to soccer practice, which is where he heard the two explosions.

“I can’t stop crying,” said Revivo, who described Tuval as “one of the greatest guys in the world.”

Also killed in Sunday’s attack were Gil Abutbul, 31; Dan Asulin, 51; Ophir Damari, 31; Avi Suissa, 55; and Pinchas Avraham Zilberman, 46.

Mourning


On a white brick ledge in his Chatsworth backyard, Avi Hen’s fancy barbecue — once the symbol of his family’s happiness — now sits abandoned. Avi sometimes wanders over to it and remembers the days when he would host 30 people for a party.

The house would fill with friends; his daughter, Victoria (Vicky), would invite her buddies, and his son Nimrod’s girlfriends would yell, "Nim, I love you," from the red Ford Mustang the teen had refurbished so enthusiastically.

After a party, the immediate family — Avi, Rachel and their children, Vicky, Udi and Nimrod — would sit around till the wee hours, talking about everything.

"Friday night near the pool — those were the special times," Avi says. "We would sit and talk, pour out our hearts, discuss problems, give advice until 2 or 3 in the morning. The kids’ friends would call and ask them to go out, and they would say, ‘No, today is our day with our parents.’"

But then came July 4, 2002. Avi was at the market shopping for meat when Rachel called him to tell him about the attack at Los Angeles International Airport. That day the Hens learned about the death of their 25-year-old daughter (and Ya’acov Aminov, 46, the father of six, also a San Fernando Valley resident).

Then just four months after the airport slayings, 18-year-old Nimrod got into a car accident; although he only suffered broken legs, he lapsed into a coma on the operating table. Ten days later, he died.

In the blink of an eye, the happy family of five was decimated. For them, the Fourth of July — America’s most important and joyous holiday — today serves only as an unbearable marker for their agonizing losses.

"We have not used the barbecue since then, because on that November afternoon, four months after we lost Vicky, we lit it up and decided to make a barbecue," Avi says. "And then Nimrod was killed in a car accident."

"I haven’t even come near the barbecue since then. I don’t clean it," Avi says. "We don’t do holidays. We don’t do Shabbats. We didn’t even do a Pesach seder this year. I wanted to crawl under a rock until Pesach was over."

The Hens’ move to the United States in 1990 began as an adventure. They lived in Rishon Lezion, in central Israel, where Avi was a member of the Egged bus company, one of the hardest union jobs to obtain.

"In the beginning we didn’t have a specific goal," Avi says. "We came for a vacation to find some peace — for a year or so, no more — and we got stuck. We got stuck on the American atmosphere and the financial ease."

The family first moved to Granada Hills, and Avi opened a car upholstery business, later moving into auto parts instead. The children attended school, learned English and made friends.

"We didn’t get rich, but we lived well," Avi says. "We bought a nice house, the children adapted. Nimrod grew up as an American in every way, and soon the rest of us were captured by the magic."

"In hindsight, do I regret that we came?" the father says, sighing. "After all we went through, it’s hard to answer that. Who could even guess? Everything looked rosy then."

"Actually, in the beginning, I was against leaving Israel," he says, explaining that his family is 12th-generation Israeli and it’s looked down upon to leave the country. But his wife wanted to stay in the United States, so they held a family meeting.

"The kids didn’t want to hear about going back," Avi says. "We made dozens of friends, many of them Israelis. We had parties and simchas [celebrations] three times a week. The economic opportunities were much better. Our hearts were in Israel with the rest of the family, but the fact is our physical existence was easy."

Nimrod, the youngest, was a creative kid, the wild type who wanted to try it all. Girls followed him around, and he was always busy with projects — building model cars, fixing computers, raising pets in his room.

Vicky, the oldest, was the responsible one.

"She was the glue of the house, the cornerstone," Rachel explains. "She was the children’s second mother and my rock. We would go shopping together, see movies together."

"She would drive me to wherever I wanted to go, because I didn’t drive," Rachel says. "She was my right hand. She was the light that shined in when the door opened."

In the mid-1990s, the Hens bought a house in Chatsworth with a pool and a garden. Vicky, through Hilltop, a staffing agency, began working at the El Al counter at Los Angeles International. At the end of 1996, she left, looking for something else with easier hours.

Meanwhile, her marriage went on the rocks. "She married a guy she really loved, but it didn’t work out," Avi says. "Despite everything that happened between them, I’m sure that if Vicky had just one minute to think before she closed her eyes, in that minute she thought about him."

Vicky and her husband divorced at the end of 2001.

"Vicky was very depressed," Rachel says. "In the beginning she stayed home a lot. Later, she began to go out and to try to live her life again. She very much wanted to find a new family. That’s how she ended up back at the El Al counter — much to my regret."

It was in April 2002 when Vicky returned to work at El Al, again through Hilltop, but with better conditions. Her contact with people — especially Israelis — restored her cheerfulness, and she started dating someone new.

"On July 3, the day before the fatal attack, she came home very late," her mother recalls. "She called me and said, ‘Mom, I finished my shift, and I’m on the way home; I have no uniform shirts for tomorrow, and I also need money for gas.’ I told her, ‘No problem.’ I ironed her shirt, and I put money on her bed. She came home at 10:30 and was really tired."

Avi and Rachel were sitting with a friend, and Vicky joined them, asking, "What are we doing tomorrow on the Fourth of July?" her mother recalls.

Her father replied that they would make a big barbecue at home, adding, "We won’t go to the parks, because I’m afraid for you. There are [terrorist] alerts, and it’s going to be dangerous outside tomorrow."

Avi says that his daughter was not supposed to work on July 4, but she was called to the airport because they were short staffed.

Avi asked her, "Didn’t we agree that the Fourth of July was dangerous; that we’re staying home?"

Vicky told him, ‘What can I do, abba? They need backup. And besides, who would mess with El Al? Who would dare come near us?"

"So that was that," Avi says. "What can you do?"

They agreed to meet back at the house for a barbecue after work.

"She left at 6:15 in the morning, earlier than usual," Avi says. "And she didn’t come back."

"The last time I saw her was late the night before," her mother remembers. "She was wearing pajamas and made herself some popcorn and went upstairs to watch a video in her room. When she left in the morning, I was still sleeping. I missed her."

July 4, 2002, was Hesham Mohammed Hadayet’s 41st birthday. Los Angeles International was bustling with travelers. Vicky was working at the El Al counter in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, handling passengers bound for Israel.

At about 11:30 a.m., the Egyptian-born Hadayet parked his Mercedes-Benz in the lot across from the El Al terminal. Hadayet, a limousine driver who immigrated to the United States in 1992, wore a black jacket and carried two guns (a 45 mm and 8 mm), extra ammunition clips and a knife.

Carrying no suitcase or briefcase, Hadayet walked straight into the Tom Bradley Terminal, went past the El Al ropes and waited in the check-in line. No one stopped him for questioning.

When he was a few feet from the ticket counter, he opened fire. An unarmed Israeli security officer jumped Hadayet, but was unable to subdue him. Hadayet continued shooting.

Aryeh Golan, a 51-year-old passenger, joined the guard in the struggle, and the two of them took Hadayet down. Then Haim Sapir, an armed El Al guard, jumped in and fired several shots at the attacker. Hadayet had a knife in his other hand, and stabbed Sapir three times before he was killed.

Vicky and Aminov were killed in the spray of bullets. Seven others — including the guard and some passengers — were injured.

Meanwhile, at the Hen home, weekend preparations were underway.

"It was Thursday, and I was starting to cook for Shabbat," Rachel says. "Vicky had asked me to make knaidlach soup. The television was on, and there was breaking news. I wasn’t really watching, but I heard, ‘the El Al counter.’"

"I immediately called Vicky’s cell phone — Vicky never refuses to take my call. Worst case, if she’s busy, she answers, ‘Mom, I’m in the middle of something, I’ll call you back.’"

"But there was no answer," Rachel says. "On TV, they said there were injuries, but they hadn’t said anything yet about people being killed. I started to worry. I told Avi to come home."

Avi had gone to the market to buy meat at about 11 a.m. He was standing in line with a full cart when his wife called.

"She says, ‘Avi, there was an attack at the El Al counter in Los Angeles, and Vicky is not answering her phone,’" Avi says. "I told her, ‘Don’t worry, I’m coming home.’"

Avi abandoned the cart and rushed home. He kept trying to reach his daughter on her cell phone, but each time he got her voice mail.

"I came home and Rachel said to me that she thinks she saw Vicky on a stretcher on the news," Avi recalls. "She said, ‘I think I recognize her hair.’"

"I told her, ‘You’re just imagining things. Don’t even think like that. It’s crazy over there; everyone went outside, and Vicky probably left her cell phone in the office.’ I didn’t even believe myself at that moment. I wanted to, though," Avi says.

"But the minutes passed," he continues, "and we didn’t hear anything from her. It dawned on me that something wasn’t right, and I started to pray that if she were hurt, that she’d be among the wounded."

At about noon, a doctor from UCLA called.

"He says, ‘Who am I talking to?’" Avi recalls. "And I immediately started to yell, ‘What happened to my daughter?’ And he says, ‘I can’t tell you anything on the telephone. I want you to come here with your whole family.’ At that moment, I understood that Vicky was gone, and I started to yell and cry."

"Nimrod took the phone from me and asked the doctor what happened to his sister," Avi says. "The doctor told him, ‘Your sister didn’t make it.’"

"When Nimrod threw himself on the floor, I understood that it was over," Avi says. "Nimrod took the keys to the car and said, ‘I’m going to the hospital.’ And I screamed, ‘Don’t go! Don’t go! Wait for us!’ But he didn’t listen and drove there, and in the hospital parking lot, he drove into a wall. We didn’t want to drive in that kind of condition, so we waited for a friend to take us."

At the hospital, the family received the news of Vicky’s death. FBI agents swarmed into the medical center and started asking questions.

Despite the fact that the deadly shooting appeared to be a terrorist attack, the FBI looked into other angles.

"They asked us a lot of questions about Vicky’s ex-husband — apparently they’d heard that Vicky had been married and that she’d had problems," Avi recalls. "I was in shock. The thought that they believed he could be involved shocked me."

"We sat on the side and cried, and then they started to ask Nimrod all kinds of questions, and it was awful," he says.

Immediately after the attack, Israeli officials — including Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, Interior Minister Shimon Peres and Los Angeles Consul General Yuval Rotem — called the deadly shooting a terrorist act. However, the FBI held out, looking into other possibilities, such as a work conflict (Hadayet drove limousines to the airport), or a lone hate crime not connected to terrorism, or the possibility that the Egyptian immigrant simply went berserk.

At the beginning of the investigation, the FBI learned that the Egyptian government had accused Hadayet of belonging to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyyah, a fundamentalist Islamic group, that he hated Jews and that he had cleared out his bank account and sent his family back to Egypt before the attack. However, the agency still did not call the shooting a terrorist attack.

According to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reports, Hadayet applied for political asylum in the United States in 1992 but was denied a green card in 1995. However, he obtained a green card two years later, when his wife won an INS lottery.

It took the FBI nine months to conclude the LAX shooting was a terrorist attack. The delay angered the family.

"It was beyond a shadow of a doubt," Avi says. "The man wasn’t a lunatic, and the facts quickly proved this. A crazy man can’t get into the airport and walk by 3,000 people, wait in line and open fire on only Israelis. This was premeditated."

"The first week after Vicky died, we were in shock," Avi says. "When we started to absorb her death, it was very, very difficult. We were in a deep depression, and Rachel even required psychological care."

"I tried to hold it together, because I had another two kids at home," he says. "Because for my whole life, I had showed them the way. So I didn’t want them to see me in a situation where I was losing it."

Avi says that he wasn’t thinking straight at the time, that he had all these questions buzzing around in his head.

"How could it be that of the thousands of people in the terminal, it’s just our daughter who got killed? Why didn’t I stop her from going to work on the Fourth of July? Why didn’t I warn her?" Avi recalls.

"But I quickly came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t blame myself, because I am not to blame. I don’t think that I could have prevented her from going to work. I’ve done everything I could to make sure that my children would have it good," he says. "And I decided that I’m not going to focus on my own guilt. I started to look for fault outside, and I said, ‘There will come a day that we get up from shloshim [the thirty days of mourning], and we’ll think about all of this.’"

But destiny didn’t give them much time to think. Four months after Vicky was killed, the family was having their first barbecue when a neighbor knocked on their door and asked, "Does your son have a red Mustang?" Rachel said yes, and the neighbor said, "He got into an accident near Rite Aid, [a few blocks from the house], but don’t worry, he’s OK."

"I immediately took the car and went there with a friend," Avi says. "When I got there, Nimrod was on a stretcher. I asked the policeman to let me and Rachel talk to him. I said to him, ‘Please let us. We just lost a daughter a few months ago.’"

"We went up to Nimrod, and he started to cry, saying, ‘Daddy, daddy, I’m sorry,’ because this wasn’t the first time he got into an accident," Avi says. "I said to him, ‘What are you sorry about? Everything’s OK.’ He was very frightened, because he respected us, and he was afraid of upsetting us after what happened to Vicky."

According to the accident report, Nimrod was trying to avoid a car and struck a parked vehicle and then a fire hydrant. He broke both his legs.

"We sat with him for about five hours in the emergency room and talked about all sorts of things," Avi says. "He was tired and drugged from all the medicine, and he was cold."

"I told him not to worry, that he would be all right and that we would take him home soon and take care of him," Avi says. "I said the whole time, ‘It will be OK. It will be OK. It will be OK.’"

Five hours later, they transported the injured son to a different hospital, where the family was covered by insurance for the surgery. The surgeon told them that Nimrod had to undergo an operation on his legs, that they would put braces on, and he would have to use a wheelchair for a few months.

"But I still remember this until today," Avi says. "The doctor said, ‘Within a half a year, he can be a football player.’"

Nimrod was moved to the operating room at 1 a.m., and the Hens were told to return at 7 a.m.

"Before the operation, I pleaded with the doctor," Avi says. "I told him, ‘I lost my daughter, please watch over my son.’ He said to me, ‘Go home, it will be OK.’"

The Hens returned at 6:30 a.m.

"Suddenly, the doctor walked through the doors, all sweaty, saying he was having a problem with my son’s eyes," Avi says. "His eyes are like glass, they aren’t reacting," the doctor said.

A specialist was called in. Nimrod was suffering from fat embolism syndrome, which affected his brain. The syndrome often occurs following trauma and fractures.

"That was it — Nimrod’s brain had died," Avi says.

Nimrod was on life support for 10 days. "We were with him every day, and we didn’t want to take him off life support."

"In my heart, I knew I was talking to a dead person, but I was hoping for a miracle," he says. "Each day, I prayed and prayed. But to no avail."

A week after the accident, when it appeared that Nimrod was brain dead, the hospital wanted to take him off life support, but didn’t because the Hens opposed the action. Ten days after the accident, the hospital called the family and notified them that Nimrod had died.

"That was our most difficult blow," Avi says, sighing. "We had already made peace with the first one. We’d hoped that Vicky’s death — even with all the pain, sadness and loss — would save others’ lives and cause security procedures to improve. But with Nimrod, we can’t accept this."

"There is no reason for him to be gone," Avi muses. "There was no justifiable reason that he would be gone. We sat and talked with Nimrod, talked for hours, and everything was OK with him. This cannot be."

Rachel says that after her son’s death, she went back to work.

"It’s only at work that I can stop thinking a little bit," she explains. "The minute I come home, it’s unbearable. I can’t look at the parking spot where his car stood or go on the streets I used to go with him. When I hear the name Mason Street, where the accident was, I feel like I’m dying."

"I talk to their pictures, and I imagine how Nimrod used to fly inside with his graceful legs, laughing as he entered," she says. "I hear him say, ‘Ema, abba, what presents did you bring me?’"

These days, the Hens’ backyard pool is surrounded by a fence; errant leaves and dirt float on the water.

"A week before Nimrod was killed, he started his latest project, to fix the pool," Avi says. "Now it’s staying that way, so I put up the fence. That way no one will fall in by accident."

Yet a larger question looms: should they sell the house?

"This is the children’s home; this is the house they grew up in," Avi says. "How can we continue to live here, when every knock on the door makes us jump? It’s impossible to live here."

"Wherever you go, the children are there. Everything is the children’s," he explains. "Whatever you do you feel like you are here with the children. And, on the other hand, this is our memorial."

Pointing to his daughter’s bed, he says, "Here on this bed, Vicky put a tray of popcorn and would sit and watch videos." Then gesturing to the closet, he adds, "Nimrod would store his model cars here. It’s a commemoration."

Rachel sighs, saying, "God gave me everything: a wonderful husband, three wonderful children. What more could I ask for? I had everything. And then He took everything from me. Why?"

"I don’t know how to answer this question," she says. "I searched for answers. Where it went wrong, I don’t know. It’s beyond me."

"I grew up in a religious home, and today I still follow tradition and try to find strength in the Torah and the rabbis," Rachel continues. "They brought me many books about reincarnation, wandering souls. I don’t find anything to calm me."

"I’m not saying I’m a complete atheist. And I’m also not saying I’ll become religious again. I am just trying to understand why am I being punished?" she says. "I only hope that my remaining son, Udi, will fulfill everything I ever wanted. I want to connect to him; I want him to tell me what pains him. But he is introverted and closed."

Udi, 23, sits on the side quietly as his parents speak. He clearly carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"I don’t believe in God anymore — I don’t believe in anything," Udi says. "Once, I believed. But that’s when I had a brother and sister."

When the days of mourning came to an end, Rachel and Avi were left with a long list of unanswered questions and legal battles. A suit has been filed against the city of Los Angeles, according to attorney Richard I. Fine, who is representing the Hen and Aminov families. The Hens are also contemplating a suit against the hospital in their son’s death.

"I don’t know what I want to do anymore — to sue the hospital or not to sue them," Avi admits. "Either way, I will continue to fight, to bring the truth to light. I will fight until my last breath. I get up in the morning for nothing, and I go to sleep for nothing."

"I see images inside my head all the time," he says. "People pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘You’re a strong man, you’re a strong man,’ but I don’t know what a strong man is. Perhaps because I have a war, I can hold it together, because I know that I need to fight. But if I didn’t have to fight, I would have collapsed long ago."

"Rabbis come here; they tell me stories: They tell me that souls meet up above, and that Vicky, who was very tied to Nimrod, wanted to get him out away from the evil in this world because she believes that it’s better there," Avi says. "But I can’t accept this. I lost my children; that’s a fact. The rest doesn’t matter. My world is over."

Wiping tears from his eyes, Avi tells Rachel to stop crying, and lifts his head, saying, "On the other hand, I still have a wife and son and parents who I have to stay sane for. The easiest thing in the world would have been for me to not get out of bed until they carried me out in a stretcher, but life is stronger than death. I still have my family to take care of. I’m not looking for a medal, but I’m living up to my responsibilities."

"I built this family," Avi emphasizes, "and I don’t want to be the one to take it apart."


Avner Hofstein is the West Coast correspondent for Yediot Aharonot, the Israeli daily.

No One Spared


Last Friday on the way to work from Pisgat Ze’ev, my home neighborhood in Jerusalem, I noticed an armed guard standing by bus stop Number 6. At last, I said to myself, people can board a bus in Jerusalem with a sense of security. Two days later, a suicide bomber managed to board bus Number 6, killing seven and wounding 20.

Within a 48-hour span beginning March 17, 12 Israelis were murdered in three suicide attacks, and dozens were wounded. Terrorism was back on the scene, a sad reminder that its apparent absence in recent months was only an illusion born of the army’s success in preventing attacks.

The thing about terror attacks is that you don’t really grasp the horror unless you have witnessed one or until you hear the stories of the victims’ families. This makes the tragedies more real.

Pisgat Ze’ev borders a number of Arab neighborhoods. Most of its residents are new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, young couples who can’t afford to buy apartments closer to downtown Jerusalem. The terrorist who murdered the passengers on bus Number 6 aimed to hit the poorest of them all, those who can’t afford a private car, those who get up early in the morning to make a decent living.

Yitzhak Moyal, 63, was on his way to the distribution center at the central post office. His wife, Rina, recalled that before going to sleep Saturday night, they discussed the latest news: the murder of Gadi Levy, 31, and his pregnant wife, Dina, 37, of Kiryat Arba by a suicide bomber in Hebron.

"He was not afraid of anything," Moyal said of her husband, who had immigrated to Israel from Morocco in 1960 with his nine brothers and sisters. "He was a strong believer that whatever will be will be."

Moyal left six children and 12 grandchildren.

Some observers noted that given the terrorists’ propensity to blow up buses because of the high number of casualties, the price of attacks is being paid by a particular socioeconomic sector that can’t afford other means of transportation.

One bereaved Israeli said this became acutely clear to him during a recent visit to his son’s grave, which is located in a section of the Haifa cemetery for victims of terrorist attacks.

"I looked around me, and what did I see? Graves of new immigrants, children and soldiers," said Yossi Mendelevitch, whose son, Yuval, 13, was killed in a bus bombing in Haifa earlier this year.

But the terrorists don’t distinguish by age or race; they murder Arabs, too.

One of the victims was Ghaleb Tawil, 42, a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp, located within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. Tawil was on his way to work at the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem.

Though he had experience as a construction worker, Tawi preferred to work as a cleaning man at the hospital. It made it easier to be close to his 12-year-old daughter, who was often hospitalized due to leukemia.

"Many nights he wouldn’t come home, in order to sleep by her," a family member said.

Tawil left two wives and nine children.

"The suicide bomber was a merciless killer," one wife said. "Who will feed the orphans now?"

In Monday’s bombing in Afula, the terrorist — believed to be a woman — arrived at the shopping mall shortly after 5 p.m. She ascended the steps and approached Kiril Sheremenko, the guard at the entrance. Sheremenko, 23, whisked the woman with a magnometer that started whistling loudly.

He signaled to Hadar Gitlin, a female guard standing behind him, to help him search the woman. But the woman then detonated her bomb, killing Sheremenko on his first day at work — in his first hour.

"He replaced me a quarter of an hour before the attack," said his colleague, Oleg Pohovitz.

The third victim was a customer, Avi Zarihan, 36. Gitlin, 20, was seriously wounded.

Gitlin had lost her job at the shopping center three days earlier, after she failed to identify a suspect in a drill in which a person carrying explosives entered the center. On Monday, her employers gave her another chance, and she was beside herself with joy.

She was not supposed to be on guard duty at 5 p.m. but had volunteered to stay longer to replace a colleague who had not shown up for work. An hour later, she was in the hospital fighting for her life.

Gitlin’s parents, who had heard on the radio that a female guard had been killed, were sure Gitlin had died in the blast. Only later in the evening did they learn that she had survived.

"She’s in bad condition," Gitlin’s father said, "but at least I still have a daughter."

Israel Mourns


Even for Israelis hardened by years of dealing with
Palestinian terrorism, the death of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon came as a
difficult blow.

The weather itself seemed to reflect the national mood: A
thick, mustard-colored fog blanketed Israel on Sunday afternoon, a day after
Ramon and six other NASA astronauts were killed when the space shuttle Columbia
broke into pieces as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Even in a nation used to trauma, the Columbia tragedy hit
especially close to home, said Naomi Baum, a psychologist at the Israel Center
for the Treatment of Psychotrauma.

“We identified with Ramon and his family, because we learned
so much about them in the past four years, and especially in the past two
weeks,” Baum said. “It hurt so much, because we developed an intimacy with him
and his family.”

“In many ways, the shuttle disaster and the loss of Ramon,
someone who represented so much of what was good about Israel, served to dredge
up a lot of the other trauma Israelis have gone through in the past few years,”
she added.

Ramon was Israel’s very own “right stuff” — Alan Shepard,
John Glenn and Yitzhak Rabin rolled into one. He was, many Israelis felt, the
best of the best: professional, brash, modest, handsome — and proud to be an
Israeli and a Jew.

“We felt he was our messenger to the great wide world,” Baum
said, “and now feel like a true friend and leader is lost.”

By Sunday, the hero’s welcome that Israel had planned for
its first astronaut had given way to mourning.

“Even for the world champions in watching disasters unfold
on television, this event was not quite like anything we know,” one commentator
wrote in the Ma’ariv newspaper.

Flags flew at half-staff and schools held special assemblies
to remember the 48-year-old Ramon. A memorial ceremony was held for the
astronaut at his former high school in Beersheba. Among those attending were
Ramon’s former classmates.

“Ilan was a hero, and yesterday afternoon he became a
legend,” former classmate Reuven Segev told current students at Mekif Gimel High
School.

At Tel Aviv’s prestigious Herzliya Gymnasium, more than
1,000 teenagers attended a memorial service for Ramon. A hush fell over the
schoolyard as a student began to read from a poem Ramon’s wife, Rona, had sent
him while in orbit. The poem read:

“The last of my days is perhaps nigh/ Near is the day of
tears of separation/ But I will wait for thee till my life is extinguished, as
Rachel awaited her beloved.”

The students were captivated by the words, the drama and a
numbing pain with which they could all identify. The chatter picked up again,
until a husky voiced youth on stage began to sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national
anthem.

“Maybe we are cursed,” Eyal Oren, a 17-year-old student,
said afterward. “We can’t catch a break. Even the easy things are hard.”

Amid the tragedy, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed that Israel’s
space aspirations were not over, saying, “The day will come when we will launch
more Israeli astronauts into space. I am sure that each and every one of them
will carry in his heart the memory of Ilan Ramon, a pioneer in Israeli space
travel.”

Speaking at the start of Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Sharon
also said the deaths of the Columbia astronauts Saturday morning were not in
vain. He extended condolences to the United States and the families of the
other six Columbia crew members.

Memorial books were opened for Ramon in Israeli consulates
around the world, an honor generally reserved only for heads of state.

After the Columbia disaster, President Bush phoned Sharon to
express condolences over the loss of Ramon, the father of four and a former air
force fighter pilot. Other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir
Putin and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, also expressed their
condolences to Sharon.

In Iraq, however, some felt the tragedy was divine justice.
Iraq’s official newspaper noted that one of the astronauts killed was a
“Zionist,” who had flown in Israel’s 1981 raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at
Osirak.

Car mechanic Mohammed Jaber Tamini in Iraq told news
agencies that Ramon’s death was retribution for his role in that raid. “Israel
launched an aggression on us when it raided our nuclear reactor without any
reason,” Tamini said. “Now time has come, and God has retaliated to their
aggression.”

The Jerusalem Post quoted some Palestinians offering similar
viewpoints.

Security for the mission had been extremely tight, as officials
feared that terrorists might target the shuttle, because an Israeli was on
board. But officials were quick to rule out the possibility of terrorism in
Saturday’s tragedy.

Ramon’s participation in the 16-day scientific research
mission had been a boost for Israel’s national morale, which has been battered
by two years of Palestinian terrorism and a floundering economy.

“Ilan Ramon took the country to new heights,” said former
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who was instrumental in arranging Ramon’s participation.

The launch was significant not just for Israel’s space
program but because the presence of Ramon, the child of a Holocaust survivor,
symbolized the Jewish people’s perseverance. Though secular, Ramon requested
kosher meals for the flight and took aboard a variety of ritual and symbolic
objects.

Among the items Ramon took into space was a tiny Torah
scroll that a 13-year-old boy received in Bergen-Belsen from the rabbi of
Amsterdam in order to study for his bar mitzvah. The boy, Yehoyahin Yosef, survived
the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel and went on to become a professor of
planetary physics — and was the person who oversaw the Israeli experiment on
board the shuttle to check the impact of dust on climate conditions.

Following the Columbia loss, the front pages of Israel’s
dailies had pictures of Ramon, looking straight at the camera, his hand raised
in a salute — or was it a farewell?

“Shards of the Dream” was the headline appearing in the
Israeli daily, Ma’ariv. The paper ran a full-page photo of burning debris from
Columbia streaming down to Earth. “Crying for Israel,” was Yediot Achronot’s
headline.

Ha’aretz commentator Ari Shavit described the pride Israelis
felt in sending “one of our own” into space, and the hope it gave the nation
that it could somehow “defy the gravity of its fate.” But he added, “That hope
keeps shattering.”

In an interview with Ma’ariv last month, Ramon minimized
fears about his safety, saying, “The chances an accident would happen in space
are very small. As far as safety is concerned, I’m not concerned at all.”

“In NASA, safety takes precedence over everything else,” he
added. “The shuttle has backup upon backup upon backup.”

Along with Ramon, the Columbia — which was on its 28th
mission — carried commander Rick Husband; pilot Willie McCool; mission
specialists Dave Brown, Laurel Clark and Kalpana Chawla; and payload commander
Mike Anderson.

When news of the disaster broke Saturday, members of Ramon’s
family, who were waiting at Cape Canaveral, were taken to a private location by
NASA officials. Members of the family who were still in Israel were flown to
the United States Saturday night.

Prior to their departure, they expressed disbelief over the
disaster. In an interview earlier Saturday, Ramon’s father, Eliezer Wolferman,
said he had exchanged e-mails with his son, and had last spoken to him via
video conferencing when he was still in Houston.

“It was very emotional,” Wolferman said. “Our family saw
him, and the children asked their dad to do somersaults in the air.”

Last Friday, Ramon sent his final e-mail to his wife. “Even
though everything here is amazing, I cannot wait until I can see you,” he
wrote, according to the Israeli daily, Yediot Achronot. “A big hug for you and
kisses to the kids.”

Rona Ramon told reporters Sunday outside her home in Houston
that her husband enjoyed every moment he was up in space. “He was with the
people he loved and in the place that he enjoyed so much,” she said.

She added that during the entire mission, she had no sense
of foreboding.

“The only thing that tears me apart now is that during the
liftoff, when we were all high, my youngest daughter yelled out, ‘I lost my
daddy.’ Apparently she was right.”

The Israel Defense Forces have set up an
e-mail address for the public to send condolence messages to Ramon’s family at
ilanfamily@mail.idf.il

. p>

Thin Blue Media Line


Felice and Michael Friedson call their news production company The Media Line, Ltd. (TML), but a limited media line is exactly what they are trying to get around. Dedicated to an accurate portrayal of Israel in the news, the Friedsons work to provide both sides of the story.

In early February, TML opened its own broadcast studio in Jerusalem after years of broadcasting from makeshift quarters in a hotel lobby. Now the nonprofit company has a home for its multiple projects, a list of journalistic endeavors that keeps expanding.

Since the late 1980s, the Friedsons have produced a radio talk show concerning Israel and the Middle East, first broadcasting in South Florida and later in Israel. TML also serves as liaison to foreign journalists, giving reporters background and access to informed sources who can present a clear picture of Israeli political reality.

Their Web site provides updated news and other resources for journalists and others who need accurate information. In addition, they produce news stories and interviews for television, which they distribute directly to local stations, bypassing networks and aiming directly for “America’s Heartland.”

“We’re not saying, ‘It’s not fair.’ What we’re doing is filling in the gaps,” says Michael Friedson, who serves as director of media services (Felice Friedson is president-CEO). “The media problem is not one of commission of evil against Israel. It’s a matter of omission. We have to get information to people who aren’t necessarily looking for it,” he says. That often includes the journalists assigned to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those journalists are often hesitant to trust or even contact official Israeli sources, according to Michael Friedson, but TML can often put them in touch with accurate, informed sources. “We’re Americans,” he says, and by remaining unbiased in their news presentation, TML gains the trust of journalists looking for stories.

“I can’t say it enough — we don’t play games with the news. We are a professional media organization. We meet and exceed all journalistic standards,” he says.

TML staff includes David Zev Harris, a Jerusalem Post correspondant and former BBC reporter, and Michael Widlanski, senior analyst of Arab language media and a former reporter for The New York Times.

Some of the people who are not necessarily looking for Israeli news are the Evangelical Christians who are some of TML’s most regular audience. In 2001, when the Friedsons attended the National Religious Broadcasting Convention, they became the first Jewish media group to do so, and are now broadcasting to Christian media outlets across the U.S. They have worked with Pat Robertson and produced news segments for “The 700 Club.”

“We wish the Jewish community would be as unconditionally supportive as the Christians have been,” says Felice Friedson.

Some of the stories TML covers hit members of its staff too close to home. “When attacks occur in Israel, people don’t hear about the wounded. They hear numbers. They hear deaths, and so-and-so was ‘lightly wounded.’ Lightly wounded can mean someone lost an eye or a limb,” says Felice Friedson.

When a suicide bomber attacked a cafe one block away from their new studio, TML filmed the devastation, not just the bloodstains and debris. Those images were beamed to thousands of homes through local U.S. news programs.

The message of unbiased news from Israel is simple, according to TML. “Israel can stand on its own, even with its flaws,” says Felice Friedson. “Report the events, and report the context, too.”

For more information about The Media Line, Ltd., visit
www.themedialine.org  or call (858) 523-0927.

Letter from Israel:On the Road


As you might imagine, living in Israel right now feels schizophrenic. We continue with our regular lives — going to work, eating dinner, shopping, praying, catching a movie — and meanwhile, not far away, our soldiers are at war. The newspapers appear, the soccer games go on, people chat over coffee in the cafes, and the war goes on and threatens to get bigger. The most abnormal thing about it may be that one begins to accept it as normal.

For me, the psychic effect from this low-intensity war expresses itself as a kind of obsession with the matsav, the situation. I wait for the news, talk politics too much or pointedly avoid political conversation. I sometimes feel during the day like someone driving with the emergency brake partly engaged — something is pulling at me all the time.

At the same time, a sign of the insanity is precisely that so many of us are able to compartmentalize that we’re at war. I rationalize that a shooting on the road I never drive has nothing to do with my safety; I lock the threat of violence away in a corner of my mind. But my wife and many others, probably more sanely, are unable to escape the pressure — they’re scared all the time, worried for friends and family, angry at the Palestinians, angry at our own government, gloomy with what the future possibilities are.

During the past month, four Jews have been murdered on the road between Kiryat Arba and Jerusalem. That’s the second half of our regular route from the small village we live in, an hour south of the capital. Now we call that road “the short way,” as opposed to “the long way,” which is inside the Green Line and takes more than two hours. Sometimes we go one way, sometimes the other, depending on whim, how much time we have, how lucky we feel.

A week ago, a motorist was “moderately” wounded in the leg only three miles north of us, near the next Jewish town, on a peaceful stretch of road we believed completely safe. Is it an obvious mistake to drive in the Territories, even in a rural area close to the Green Line? But the same things happen on roads inside the Green Line, so maybe it’s nothing special, just another shiny fact about the situation to file away and hope to forget while going about ordinary life. Schizophrenic, indeed.

The government of Israel suffers its own kind of schizophrenia. My favorite detail in the news today is that the charedi parties, including Shas, are refusing to enter into a government coalition unless the prime minister-elect guarantees that yeshiva students won’t be drafted. Is it crazy or merely very tasteless, while your country is at war, to be wangling military exemptions for your own children at the expense of forming a government to deal with the crisis? I guess they’re compartmentalizing, too.

Last night, my wife invited some friends from Jerusalem to spend Shabbat with us. The other wife refused. She said it wasn’t because of either danger or the long drive around, but — well, she didn’t want to go into it. That means she won’t come because we live a kilometer on the “wrong” side of the Green Line. If, huffily ideological, she’s decided the war is our fault or that she compromises herself by visiting us — well, schizophrenia comes in many forms.

She, who won’t visit us in the Judean hills, lives, like many of our left-wing Jerusalem friends, in Baka, a lovely neighborhood with narrow side-streets and beautiful old Arab houses facing onto gardens. Jews live in those lovely houses now. During the War of Independence, the Jews, albeit for good strategic reasons, drove the Arab residents out. My village, on the other hand, stands on land that wasn’t taken away from anyone.

It’s hard to put all the pieces together. Some Jews in Jerusalem won’t go beyond the Green Line. Some Jews in Tel Aviv don’t want to go to Jerusalem. And a lot of Jews in America won’t go to Israel at all.

When there’s violence or threat in Israel, the tour guides tell me, American Jews cancel their trips, while American Christians keep coming. It’s not so surprising, perhaps. To many Christians, after all, Israel is much more important than it is to a lot of Jews, and their support is unwavering.

Of course, a percentage of them have their own agenda — hurrying the Second Coming and, for some, the conversion of the Jews. I don’t mind that, really. The Jews won’t convert, and the Messiah, when he comes, will turn out to be the Messiah of everyone. Meanwhile, they care deeply about Israel; they want it to prosper and be strong. And they see that biblical prophecies about the ingathering of the exiles and the restoration of the Jewish commonwealth are, after all, coming true.

Maybe not enough Jews believe that any more to keep them coming to the Jewish homeland or keep them committed to strengthening it. In the 1980s (according to an article in Israel Studies, a journal put out by the Ben-Gurion Research Center in the Negev), the United Jewish Appeal in America refused to allocate funds for projects outside the Green Line; around the same time, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities in Denver paired 40 churches with “settlements,” for both fundraising and moral support.

If the war doesn’t do it, that’s the kind of detail that can drive a person nuts.


David Margolis, a novelist and journalist, made aliyah
from Los Angeles in 1994. He can be reached at dm@davidmargolis.com.

Power, Politics And People


Along with news of its editor’s death, the YiddishForward of May 15 carried front-page reports about India’s nucleartests, the U.S.-Israeli diplomatic crisis, the naming of a specialprosecutor to probe the secretary of labor, and Israel’s new militarychief of staff.

It was vintage Forward. As it has for 101 years,the legendary Yiddish journal still covers world affairs andWashington politics as readily as it reports on Israel oranti-Semitism. Unlike any other Jewish newspaper outside Israel, theForward tries to be a window for its readers, not just on the Jewishworld, but on the world.

That’s because the Forward always had twoidentities: Jewish newspaper and newspaper for Jews. It assumed itsreaders’ interests included Jewish affairs, but weren’t restricted tothem. Expansive, eclectic, grounded in core beliefs but never limitedby them, the Forward’s Jewishness was a perspective broad enough toinclude all of human endeavor.

It was the same way with Mordechai Strigler, theForward’s editor from 1987 until he died May 10. Born in Poland in1921, he seemed to embody nearly every contradictory trend in20th-century Jewish life: raised in a chassidic family, ordained in amisnagedyeshiva, he fought with the Polish partisans, organized classes forchildren at Buchenwald, then became a leading figure in the postwarworlds of Yiddish belles lettres and Labor Zionist politics.

During a half-century in journalism he producedtens of thousands of articles, essays and dozens of books oneverything from economics to rabbinic theology. Besides the Forward,he was for 42 years editor of a rival publication, the Labor Zionistweekly Der Yiddisher Kemfer (The Jewish Militant).

His legacy is unmatched. As an editor, especiallyat the Kemfer, he published some of the most important postwarYiddish writing by the likes of Chaim Grade and Jacob Glatstein. As awriter he was peerless in drawing on the lost Jewish world of Europeto illuminate the new. He wrote about everything under the sun,sometimes using three pseudonyms in one issue. David Ben-Gurion, it’ssaid, would not begin world Labor Zionist meetings until he knewStrigler was seated.

“He will not have been the last editor of theYiddish Forward, as he had feared,” vowed Samuel Norich, theForward’s general manager, speaking at Strigler’s funeral. “But nonethat follow him will know the world that he knew, none will invoke itas he could and did, helping us to understand our days as hedid.”

Alas, if only he had helped us understand.Strigler’s tragedy is that he did not. He never reached the mass ofAmerican Jews, because he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — write theirlanguage. He was, to the end, a Yiddish writer. He wrote about thenew Jewish world, but not to it.

“Language is the heart of writing,” one colleagueexplained. “Yiddish was his language.” But that’s not the wholestory. Strigler never had his works translated. He had littleinterest in younger Yiddishists. Young journalists who worked nearhim at the English-language spinoffs of the Kemfer and Forward (thiswriter worked at both) all say they never really knew him. It was asif he could not let himself speak to the new world, because he couldnot bear to let go of the old one.

One journalist wrote that Strigler’s dual Forward-Kemfer editorship was like editing both the New York Times and theNew York Review of Books. That understates the feat. The Forward, theAmerican socialist voice founded in 1897, and the Kemfer, the LaborZionist organ founded in 1916, represented bitterly opposing wings ofthe Jewish labor movement. For a Zionist theoretician to head theForward, tribune of Yiddish diasporism, would have been inconceivablea few years earlier. By 1987, when Strigler took over, there were fewchoices left.

Once there were a dozen Yiddish dailies in NewYork alone. The Forward, the biggest, had a daily circulation ofnearly a quarter-million in the 1920s. Circulation is now around7,000. It went weekly in 1983.

Over 200,000 Americans still claim Yiddish astheir first language, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. But no morethan a fraction knew of Strigler. The vast majority, demographerssay, belong to the separatist world of Yiddish-speaking chassidim.They support a lively crop of Yiddish weeklies in Brooklyn andelsewhere, combined circulation nearly 100,000. Most have no use forthe secularist Forward. As for the Forward’s readers, they producedchildren and grandchildren who speak no Yiddish.

That the Forward lasted this long is due largelyto good fortune. The Forward Association, the paper’s publisher, alsoowns a radio station, WEVD (named for socialist icon Eugene V. Debs).Once billed as the all- Yiddish “station that speaks your language,”it now broadcasts mainstream but lucrative talk shows. InEnglish.

Boosting WEVD’s income are proceeds from the late-’80s sale of its FM band for an estimated $30 million. Besidesfinancing the Forward’s admired but money- losing English and Russianeditions, the radio dollars guarantee the Yiddish Forward can keeppublishing even after the last reader has departed, so long asthere’s someone to edit it.

And indeed, Strigler’s successor has already beennamed: Ukrainian-born Boris Sandler, 48. Once a Jewish activist inKishinev, Sandler entered Yiddish journalism at the Moscow-based DiYiddishe Gass, successor to the party mouthpiece Sovetish Heimland.He moved to Israel in 1992, pursuing research and authoring severalYiddish novels. He came to New York in January as the Forward’scultural editor.

Sandler plans to encourage other Baby BoomerYiddishists to see the Forward as their literary home. He’s been intouch with young writers in America, Europe and Israel who haveagreed to write for him.

But his Forward will have to move away from itsold newspapering ways. New readers will hear about India’s bombs fromthe New York Times or CNN. The Forward will become, like other Jewishjournals — like most Jewish communal life — a refuge where Jewsturn to explore their Jewish side. The organic, all-embracing cultureof modern European Jewry is gone. Gone.

Strigler fought mightily to preserve a murderedculture. His tragedy is that he could not win. Our tragedy is that hehad no strength left to teach the rest of us.

“Strigler was the last of his world,” saysSandler. “He was a child of European Jewry who knew how to sing andweep with European Jewry, and he was the last of them.”

J.J. Goldberg is the author of “Jewish Power:Inside the Amercan Jewish Establishment.” He writes regularly for TheJewish Journal.

 

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