A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran to continue missile program, calls Trump ‘featherbrained’


Iran has vowed to continue its missile program and called President Trump “featherbrained” in light of his recent actions toward Iran.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued a statement that read, “Iran’s ballistic missile program will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach towards this revolutionary organization.”

On October 13, Trump announced that he was going to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and that his Treasury Department would slap the IRGC with sanctions for involvement in terror activity, although he did not explicitly designate them as a terror organization.

The IRGC denounced the sanctions in the statement.

“Imposing cruel sanctions against the Guards and hostile approach of the rogue and brute president [Trump] shows the failure of America and the Zionist regime’s wicked policies in the region,” the statement read.

The IRGC also called Trump “featherbrained.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently tweeted, “Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC; standing firm with those who defend us & the region against aggression & terror.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised Zarif in a video, telling the Iranian foreign minister to “delete your account.”

“I’m sure that ordinary Iranian mothers and fathers wouldn’t have blown up a Jewish community center in Argentina filled with little children, because that’s what the Revolutionary Guard did,” said Netanyahu. “I’m sure that ordinary Iranians want to live in peace and don’t want their government to shoot students in the streets, hang gays in cranes, torture journalists in prison.”

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, recently warned of Iran’s “repeated ballistic missile launches.”

“When a rogue regime starts down the path of ballistic missiles, it tells us that we will soon have another North Korea on our hands,” said Haley.

Palestinian students stand in front of a mural depicting late Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in Gaza City October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Palestinian Authority Colombia mission quotes Arafat in calling for the destruction of Israel


The Palestinian Authority mission in Colombia called for the destruction of Israel in a tweet on Thursday that has been deleted.

The tweet, written in Spanish, is a quote from Yasser Arafat that states, “Our goal is the end of Israel, and there can be no compromises or mediations…. We don’t want peace. We want WAR and victory.”

Here is a screenshot of the tweet:

Israel’s Foreign Ministry denounced the tweet, describing Arafat’s legacy as “death, hatred and disgust.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on it as well:

The Palestinian Authority has yet to offer any sort of statement in light of the deleted tweet. The Israeli ambassador to Colombia alerted law enforcement in the area about the tweet.

The tweet comes as Hamas, an organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews, could potentially join the Palestinian Authority as part of a unity government. Israel has listed a set of conditions that Hamas must abide by in order for it to negotiate with such a unity government, but Hamas has rejected those conditions.

Yasser Arafat is considered to be “the Father of Modern Terrorism”, as his record includes orchestrating the Achille Lauro bombing in 1985, waging intifadas against Israel and introducing the idea of using commercial airplanes as a weapon, which al-Qaeda later used in the 9/11 terror attacks. Arafat also declared in 1996, “We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilled to redeem our land!”

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza. Suhaib Salem/ Reuters

Hamas reaffirms goal to destroy Israel


Hamas is rejecting the notion that they need to recognize Israel’s right to exist and disarm their military as they’re in the process of potentially forming a Palestinian unity government.

Israel and the United States have demanded that Hamas renounce violence and respect Israel’s existence if they do form a unity government with the Palestinian Authority. Hamas leader Yehia Sinwar has rejected such demands, declaring in Gaza: “The time in which Hamas discusses the issue of recognizing Israel is over. The discussion now is about ‘when to wipe out Israel.”

Sinwar also scoffed at the request for Hamas to disarm its 25,000-member military.

“Nobody in the world can take away our weapons,” said Sinwar. “Not one minute in the day or night passes without our forces accumulating them. We are freedom fighters and revolutionaries for the sake of our people’s freedom.”

Sinwar was responding to Jason Greenblatt, the White House Middle East peace envoy, who announced in a statement on Thursday, “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements.”

Israel has issued a list of preconditions that Hamas would have to agree to in order for the Jewish state to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government, including ending their ties with Iran and returning dead Israelis to Israel.

Hamas and Fatah, two rival Palestinian factions, recently reached a reconciliation agreement in Cairo and will begin negotiations to form a unity government in November. The Palestinian Authority responded to Israel’s set of demands by stating that they will continue “to move forward with the reconciliation efforts.”

Hamas’ charter explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews. They have attacked Israel repeatedly and were accused by Amnesty International of abducting, torturing and executing Palestinians during the 2014 Hamas-Israel conflict.

Hometalk founder Yaron Ben-Shaul.

Israel’s Hometalk Nails Down Top Spot in DIY Marketplace


Israel has a well-deserved reputation as a leader in developing deep technologies: cybersecurity, laser-operated sensors for self-driving cars, silicon chips and personal drones. More surprising to some, the “startup nation” also is the location for the world’s largest do-it-yourself (DIY) website.

With more than 13 million members, Hometalk has quietly become the Pinterest of the DIY home improvement space — a site where you can scroll through ideas, tutorials and content from other users.

You can learn how to reupholster a chair, fix an outdoor walkway with sinking stones, or plant a rooftop container garden. There are projects for members of all skill levels, from serious DIYers to those just dabbling in arts-and-crafts projects.

Hometalk members ask questions of others on the site or search for tutorials — written and video — all for free. There are more than 100,000 DIY projects made by Hometalk users on the site and another 1,000 videos, adding up to 1.2 billion video views in the past year, said Hometalk’s director of business development, Moe Mernick.

“Our user community includes some phenomenal talent,” Mernick said. “We’re just a platform for them to disseminate that content.”

Its numbers should only increase in the coming months as Hometalk brings its DIY videos to the brand-new Facebook Watch, the social media giant’s foray into original programming a la Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

Hometalk happened almost by accident. Founder and CEO Yaron Ben-Shaul owned Networx, a successful lead-generation business for home contractors. He started Hometalk in 2011 as a way for contractors to generate more engagement — and new customers — by posting pictures and videos of their work.

But the contractors weren’t interested. Instead, it was the homeowners who jumped in. Hometalk now receives 23 million unique visitors a month, with 80 percent of its members English-speaking.

Hometalk has been solely supported by advertising, and now serves about 1 billion ad impressions a month, Mernick said.

But that’s about to change. Hometalk is angling to become an A-to-Z e-commerce conduit, enabling members to buy all the supplies and tools they need to undertake a particular project via links provided next to the tutorials. Hometalk will get a cut of each sale.

Another option for monetizing the business is monthly subscription kits.

There are more than 100,000 DIY projects made by Hometalk users on the site.

“This is a very hot trend,” Mernick said. “It’s where you pay $10 a month or $19 a month and receive a box at your doorstep with everything you need to produce a DIY product.”

Hometalk’s monthly boxes won’t be random. Users can sign up for specific categories.

Hometalk has a staff of 70 with offices in Jerusalem and New York — all without outside investment. “We first want to validate the business we’re in and prove that it works,” Mernick explained. “We’re not against raising money. We just don’t want to raise money prematurely.”

The Hometalk team comprises a diverse only-in-Israel kind of staff. “We have team members from nine countries, many new immigrants, secular, ultra-Orthodox, more women than men,” Mernick said.

The company sometimes is compared with Houzz, another home-centric Internet business with Israeli roots, but Mernick said the two companies are very different.

“We’re huge fans of theirs, but Houzz is an upper-end marketplace for furniture,” he said. They show you what you can buy. Hometalk shows you what you can make.”

And at the end of the day, that’s where Hometalk’s passion lies: helping people improve their lives via the power of DIY.

“Since I started using Waze, I have totally lost my sense of direction,” Hometalk CEO Ben-Shaul said. “People are quickly losing the capabilities to work with their hands. We are passionate about empowering people to embrace DIY because we’ve seen them regain confidence and know-how, not to mention how it impacts their financial stability. These benefits extend far beyond DIY.” 

Avi Gabbai, the new leader of Israel's centre-left Labour party, delivers his victory speech after winning the Labour party primary runoff, at an event in Tel Aviv, Israel July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli politics updates: Centrism and Leftism


A

In the first half of this week, Israel was abuzz over statements made by the relatively new leader of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay. Speculating about his imaginary coalition, following an imaginary election, followed by his imaginary victory, Gabbay said that he will not be partnering with the Arab party to support his coalition. Speculating about an imaginary peace process, and the imaginary agreement with an imaginary partner, Gabbay also said that he would like the settlers not to be evacuated — but rather stay where they are.

Nothing of this has any immediate consequence on any reality we are all familiar with — and the fact is that what politicians say today they can easily change tomorrow (see Ariel Sharon’s evacuation of Gaza). Still, Gabbay is clearly trying a political maneuver. He is trying to get rid of the Labor’s leftist image. He is trying to move to the center and steal votes from Lapid’s Yesh Atid (and possibly also from the softer right-wing parties).

Will he succeed? It is too early to tell. Will he be able to convince his party to go along with such a strategy? The answer is yes — if it shows signs of working. If not, his party rivals will gladly use these statements to behead him (politically speaking). One thing seems clear: Gabbay, like every opposition leader of every opposition party in the world (Democrats, you too), faces a choice — does he try to build on the anger of the left, on its hatred of Bibi, and create a stark difference between his ideology and the one of the ruling coalition; or does he move to the center in the hope of attracting centrists and even some disillusioned rightists, with the assumption that the left will have no choice anyway but to support him?

Gabbay chose the center. Maybe because he is more comfortable there (he joined the political arena as a soft right-winger), maybe because he believes that is the better strategy. His voters now must decide whether they accept his choice. For some of them, it is clearly difficult.

B

The second half of the week was dedicated to Meretz, the party to the left of Labor. In Meretz, there is an internal battle that’s been going on for a while. A lot of it is about control of the party and personal animosities, but there is also an interesting question that the party must decide: Should it open itself to primaries, or remain a party controlled by a much smaller group of party activists?

Party leader Zehava Galon made a surprise move yesterday by resigning from the Knesset. She is the one fighting for having an open primary, as she made clear when explaining her resignation:

“I believe that I must invest all my energy in the struggle to increase our power as a party and political bloc, by opening the ranks to new audiences,” she wrote in a long Facebook post. “Meretz cannot exist as a closed club that ignores you — its voters and supporters — and blocks additional forces from taking part in our struggle to inject new blood on the left.”

Is she right to make such a demand? There are two aspects to this question: the value-based and the political. Those who believe that having open primaries is the more moral system (more democratic, less back-room deals) will support Galon. Those who think that primaries are the system with less value (lesser Knesset Members, more populist party) will not. Then there is the political question: could open primaries attract more members and voters to the party? And what if the result of open primaries is a less attractive list of candidates?

Her resignation from the Knesset was surprising, and it seems to reveal a level of desperation on Galon’s part — she might understand that this is a battle for her political future. But by doing something as dramatic as this, Galon forces the question of primary or no primary on her party in a way that is going to change the party no matter what. Either Galon wins, and the party goes to primaries, or she loses and the party replaces its leader, which would also send a clear message to the voters: Meretz is not going to become more democratic internally.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel lists conditions to negotiate with Fatah-Hamas unity government


Israel has made it clear it will not negotiate with any unity government between Fatah and Hamas unless a set of conditions are met.

In a Facebook post on the Israeli prime minister’s Facebook page, the Israeli government stated that they would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless Hamas disarms, ceases their terrorist activity, ends relations with Iran and return the bodies of dead Israelis to Israel.

The Israeli government also demands that the Palestinian Authority cracks down on “Hamas terror infrastructures in Judea and Samaria” and “exercise full security control in Gaza” as well as be the channel of any humanitarian aid toward Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are in negotiations to form a unity government after signing a reconciliation agreement in Cairo, Egypt. The Palestinian Authority is urging Hamas to disarm, but Hamas thus far has been reluctant to cease their attacks on Israel.

“There are no secret clauses in the reconciliation understanding, and what the occupation published on the resistance halting in the West Bank is not true,” Hamas spokesman Husam Bradran told a Palestinian news outlet. “The position to choose resistance is not connected to any person or entity, but rather it is the position of the entire Palestinian people to decide. The natural situation is that when there is an occupation, there will be a resistance to confront it.”

Hamas has been designated by the United States’ State Department as a terrorist organization. They came to power after winning Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, resulting in a civil war in Gaza that ended with Hamas seizing control of the region. Hamas and Fatah have had prior unity agreements before that did little to ease tensions between the two groups.

Smartphone apps can help with everything from putting on tefillin correctly to finding a minyan to locating a kosher restaurant. Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Focus on Israel: The ABCs of educational apps


Whether you want to teach your kindergartner the alef-bet or have your high-schooler brush up on ancient history, there’s a plethora of smartphone and tablet apps available for students of all ages and abilities who are interested in Israel. All apps can be downloaded from either iTunes or Google Play.

Eye On Israel

Before your high-schooler spends a semester abroad in Jerusalem, have her brush up on her Old City history and geography with EYE ON ISRAEL. The free app enables users to search for important historic, cultural and religious sites by map or drop-down menu, while also providing real-time information on the area. The app for iOS and Android devices also includes other features, including a timeline and general history of Jerusalem.

 

Birds of Israel

Spending school breaks in Israel can be fun and educational with BIRDS OF
ISRAEL
. Nature-loving teens can use the free app for iOS devices to identify more than 529 species of Israeli birds during hikes and walks around town. Detailed descriptions of each bird accompany colorful photos that make avian identification easy.

 

Kids Puzzles In Hebrew: First Words

 

Intended for children ages 3 to 8, KIDS PUZZLES IN HEBREW: FIRST
WORDS
($1.99) for iOS devices is a collection of 48 puzzles to help nonnative speakers learn basic Hebrew words while also exercising their spatial recognition and matching skills. The beautiful illustrations and professional voice-over will help keep your child engaged while learning proper pronunciation of new vocabulary.

 

HebrewVision: To Count

 

Kids of all ages can benefit from learning numbers and basic mathematics in HEBREWVISION: TO COUNT ($1.99). Besides teaching users how to pronounce and write numbers, the app for iOS and Android devices also teaches practical application of numbers, such as counting and telling time in Hebrew. The app uses a combination of interactive animations, touch-based narration and video demonstrations.

 

Hebrew Bubble Bath

 

With more than 600 words and phrases, HEBREW BUBBLE BATH is perfect for language-learners of all ages. The free app for iOS and Android devices uses a variety of games — aural and visual — in 63 categories with multiple levels in each to help your child hone language skills before the next family trip to Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 30. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Netanyahu to Iran’s foreign minister: ‘Delete your account’


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a simple message for Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Monday: “Delete your account.”

Netanyahu was responding to a tweet from Zarif stating that “Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]; standing firm with those who defend us & the region against aggression & terror.” The Israeli prime minister pointed out the tweet’s irony given that “the regime bans them from using Twitter.”

“Apparently, I have a higher opinion of the Iranian people than their leaders,” said Netanyahu in a video.

Netanyahu proceeded to highlight some of the heinous actions committed by the IRGC and Iranian regime.

“I’m sure that ordinary Iranian mothers and fathers wouldn’t have blown up a Jewish community center in Argentina filled with little children, because that’s what the Revolutionary Guard did,” said Netanyahu, referencing the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’ AIMA Jewish community center. “I’m sure that ordinary Iranians want to live in peace and don’t want their government to shoot students in the streets, hang gays in cranes, torture journalists in prison.”

Netanyahu then declared that “one day the Iranian people will be free” and concluded the video by telling Zarif: “Delete your account.”

The full video can be seen below, via the Times of Israel:

On Friday, President Trump slapped the IRGC with sanctions for being complicit in terrorism, although he didn’t’ specifically label them as a terrorist organization.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth holds a toy gun near a man holding a chicken during the Kaparot ritual, where white chickens are slaughtered as a symbolic gesture of atonement, ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Why Hasn’t Israel Had Mass Shootings?


Rob Portnoe, a Jewish educator from Minneapolis, is visiting family in Israel. He thinks it’s his 10th visit, and one of his sons served as an infantry soldier in the Israeli army. He is accustomed to seeing guns in Israel, from those toted by soldiers on leave to those carried by security guards. But, he says, the gun culture in Israel is different than in the United States.

“Israelis view guns as a necessity while Americans see them as a right,” Portnoe said. “There is a sense in Israel that if people didn’t feel they needed those guns, they wouldn’t carry them. In the U.S., people feel entitled to carry a gun.”

“Israelis view guns as a necessity while Americans see them as a right. There is a sense in Israel that if people didn’t feel they needed those guns, they wouldn’t carry them. In the U.S., people feel entitled to carry a gun.” – Rob Portnoe, a frequent American visitor to Israel.

Israel has compulsory military service and many citizens continue to do reserve duty well into adulthood. They are trained to view guns as potentially dangerous and are drilled in their safety.

What is regarded in Israel as a mass shooting occurs when a gunman kills at least four people, and outside of terrorist attacks, this has happened only once in recent years. In 2013, a disaffected man killed four Israelis in a bank in the southern town of Beersheva before committing suicide when police arrived.

In the U.S. during the same period, there have been some 1,500 mass shootings, which killed more than 1,700 people and wounded 6,000 more, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The Congressional Research Service estimates Americans own more than 300 million guns.

Israel limits the approval of gun permits, with 40 percent of applications denied. Permits are granted only if the government believes the person in question has a specific need for a gun — for example, if an individual lives in the West Bank, where there have been many Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. Permits must be renewed yearly, and every six years, gun owners must undergo a psychological evaluation.

Gun owners in Israel are allowed to own only one handgun and 50 rounds of ammunition. Supporters of these restrictive laws say they are the reason Israel has not been plagued by mass shootings.

Robby Berman, the head of an organ donation society in Israel, applied for a gun permit in 1991 when he was living in Jerusalem’s Old City. His application was approved, and he purchased a pistol and went to a shooting range, where he learned to use the gun.

Several years later, he says, he went through a period of depression and began seeing a therapist. She insisted that he give up the gun, fearing he could harm himself, and he agreed.

“Two years ago, when all of the stabbing attacks happened in Jerusalem, I wished I had the gun,” Berman said. “So I started carrying a switchblade and Mace with me. Once at a mall in Jerusalem, the knife set off the metal detector at the entrance. When I asked the security guard if he wanted me to leave it with him while I shopped, he said, ‘No, everyone here has a knife. Go ahead.’ ”

The Israeli army has grown increasingly concerned about guns being used by soldiers to commit suicide. About 15 soldiers each year do so with military-issued guns. The army recently changed its regulations, with soldiers going home on extended leave told to leave their weapons on base rather than bring them home with them.

Some in Israel, however, believe the country should be more like the U.S. when it comes to owning guns.

“The right to defend oneself and carry a gun is a basic human right, not a right that the government gives you,” said Moshe Feiglin, a former Israeli parliamentarian who recently formed his own political party called Zehut. “I am not talking about an AK-47 or an M-16 but a pistol for self-defense.”

As a first step, he said, anyone who has served in the Israeli army and knows how to use a gun should be given a gun permit automatically. He said that in the 1990s, Jerusalem made a mistake by allowing Palestinian policemen to carry AK-47s, and these guns have been used to kill many Israelis in the years since then.

In the U.S., the cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Washington and Detroit are responsible for 25 percent of gun deaths, and all four have restrictive gun laws. Accordingly, Feiglin says the idea that more restrictive gun laws will protect people is a fallacy. By contrast, he says that if more people in Las Vegas were trained to use guns properly, perhaps they could have stopped the recent mass shooting earlier.

Barak "Doveleh" Moskowitz

Riding on the Right Side of the Law


On the road to the hard-knock Israeli town of Ramla, between the small town of Kfar Chabad and the smaller moshav of Beit Dagan, there’s a bar where bikers come and park their hogs.

It’s called Bonnie Design, and it’s equal parts watering hole, social club and shrine to all things Harley-Davidson. It’s here that Barak “Doveleh” Moskowitz, a hardcore member of the Israeli motorcycle gang Zion Riders, parks his custom bike each day. (A friend gave Moskowitz the nickname “Doveleh,” Hebrew for “Little Bear,” and it stuck.)

He doesn’t come to drink, although he’s always happy to join his friends at the bar. Moskowitz says he has been sober since 1991, when at the age of 26, he joined Narcotics Anonymous, embraced its 12-step program and gave up the drugs, booze and petty theft that had marked his previous decade.

He doesn’t really come to chat, either, although Moskowitz is laid back and generally loves to talk.

For Moskowitz, the real reason to come to Bonnie Design is the dog that lives along the way.

“I have one dog and two cats at home,” Moskowitz said, “but I also have a dog near Ramla. He’s been tied up his whole life. He’s a big dog — very nasty. He’s chained up in a field. So every day I bring him food.”

Moskowitz is a study in contradictions: a tatted-up, road-hardened biker who greets friends with a grin and double kisses on the cheek; an ex-con who cuddles up at night with a rescue pup and who spends hours each day at a trendy vegetarian cafe in the heart of posh Tel Aviv.

Moskowitz has a name for the dog in the field: “Gingy,” because of his reddish fur. He would love to take home the animal, he said, but unlike Moskowitz, Gingy can’t be tamed.

“He’s a murderer,” he said. “He would kill anyone. He would kill my dog and my cats, but with me, and only me, he is OK. I understand him and he understands me, too.”

Moskowitz was born not far from Gingy’s field, in the Israeli town of Ness Ziona. He first tasted crime as a teenager, stealing cars and motorcycles with packs of friends who would hang out and cause trouble along Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.

A few years later, while completing his mandatory three years in the Israel Defense Forces, he was stationed in a jeep with three other men at the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria. It was Oct. 6, 1973, and his commander wanted to make an omelet on the jeep’s hot plate. He ordered Moskowitz — the youngest and lowest ranking among the quartet — to head over to the unit’s makeshift kitchen tent to grab some olive oil.

A few seconds after Moskowitz scrambled out of the vehicle, a Syrian strike took out the jeep. Moskowitz survived, but the guilt shattered him.

“Three people died in one place, but I didn’t. For sure it was luck,” he said. “And that’s where it all started. I started taking opium, and then I started to live on the street.”

For years, Moskowitz was caught up in a cycle of crime and punishment. He served multiple stints in prison for theft. He lived illegally as a squatter.

He had a son while in prison, and before Moskowitz got out, his wife took the child and left. He says he held the baby once, when the boy was 8 months old. He says he hasn’t seen the child since.

The suffering, he said, “got too much,” and in 1991 he bade crime, drugs and alcohol goodbye. He started to earn a legal living by buying and reselling vintage items and antiques. Today, his closest and most genuine family, he said, is the Zion Riders, Israel’s answer to the Hell’s Angels.

He is a fixture at Cafe Xoho, the vegetarian Tel Aviv cafe popular among olim, Anglos and the gluten-free, raw-food and vegan set. He loves it there, he said, and this past summer he rode his Harley down to the Negev desert to attend the wedding of the cafe’s owner.

Last year, knowing he could never bring Gingy home with him, Moskowitz  rescued a black Labrador puppy named Sunny. He can’t bring Sunny on his bike with him, but in a few months, he said, he is going to purchase a motor home to drive around the country. Sunny will travel with him, wherever he goes.

These days, Moskowitz is recovering from gastric bypass surgery, which he had because of developing diabetes, and he is meeting weekly with his 12-step group to offer support and to help him stay clean.

“We sit and we talk about everything,” he said. “People like me, we are many thousands in Israel.” 


Debra Kamin, an American journalist living in Tel Aviv, is a regular contributor to The New York Times Travel section, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Time magazine, Town & Country and Variety.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Ohio legislators put forward bill condemning the BDS movement


A group of legislators in the Ohio House of Representatives are looking to pass a bill condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that undermines the nation of Israel.

The bill, House Concurrent Resolution 10, voices the House’s support for Israel as “the greatest friend and ally of the United States in the Middle East” and warns of anti-Semitism increasing around the globe. The bill also states that the goal of BDS is for Israel to cease to exist and that the movement has “increased animosity and intimidation against Jewish students” on college campuses.

“The members of the General Assembly condemn the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and its activities in Ohio for legitimizing anti-Semitism and for seeking to undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, which they are fulfilling in the State of Israel,” the bill reads.

The bill also encourages college campuses to shield Jewish students from “anti-Semitic actions and intimidation” and to ensure that free speech is protected on campus.

Rep. Andrew Thompson (R-Marietta), a supporter of the bill, told reporters in front of the Ohio Statehouse that BDS focuses on “wiping Israel off the map.”

“If we don’t stand strongly and firmly against that, if we do not insist that our campuses protect the rights of Jewish students and allies of Israel, we could potentially face much darker outcomes,” said Thompson.

Back in December, Ohio became the 14th state in the country to prevent the state government from granting contracts to companies that boycott Israel. There was also an effort to get Ohio State University to divest from companies that do business with Israel, but that effort was shot down in March.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has described BDS as engaging in “the demonization and delegitimization of Israel” and is inherently anti-Semitic.

“Many individuals involved in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state,” the ADL states on its website. “Often time, BDS campaigns give rise to tensions in communities – particularly on college campuses – that can result in harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters, including overt anti-Semitic expression and acts.  This dynamic can create an environment in which anti-Semitism can be express more freely.”

A 2016 Brandeis University study found that the BDS movement was a key factor behind an increase in anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses that year. The amount of BDS activity on college campuses declined in 2017, but their campaigns have become “more sophisticated and aggressive,” according to Israel on Campus Coalition.

Peres’ Memoir Also Tells the Story of Israel


Shimon Peres, one of the early and enduring leaders of the State of Israel, calls to us from the grave in his posthumously published memoir and manifesto, “No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel” (Custom House). His book is a timely reminder that Zionism calls for a strong back, a willingness to sacrifice and a generous heart, all of which Peres possessed.

Born in Poland in 1923, he made aliyah when he was 11 years old, joined the Haganah when it still was an underground army, served in 12 Israeli government cabinets, and held the offices of both prime minister and president of Israel. 

“Your father is like the wind,” his wife told their children, who contribute a foreword to the book. “You will never be able to stop him or hold him back.” 

His remarkable story starts when he first arrived in what he calls Mandatory Palestine in 1934. “We weren’t just living on the frontier of Jewish history,” he writes. “We were shaping it with our hands. With every seed we planted and every crop we harvested, we were extending the reach of our dreams.”

Even then, as a teenager working in the fields of an agricultural school called the Beth Shemen Youth Village, Peres was drawn to politics, a career for which he seemed to be destined: “I was blessed with an unusually deep baritone voice, one that lent my words the aura of authority, even when it hadn’t been earned.”

Soon enough, Peres was chosen by David Ben-Gurion, along with another promising young man named Moshe Dayan, to play a leadership role in Mapai, the progressive Zionist party that Ben-Gurion headed. From that day, Peres would go from strength to strength, but he always displayed the poise and restraint for which he came to be famous: “Ben-Gurion had shown me that listening is not just a key element of good leadership, it is the key, the means to unlock doors that have been slammed shut by bitter dispute.”

Peres, the man who signed the Oslo Accord on behalf of Israel, acknowledges the irony that characterizes his career. “For the past forty years I have been known as one of Israel’s most vocal doves, as a man singularly focused on peace,” he writes. “But the first two decades of my career were spent not in pursuit of peace but in preparation of war.” He was responsible for stockpiling smuggled arms in advance of the War of Independence: “I learned everything from the defects inherent in a particular type of rifle, to the fuel supply needed to carry a warship across the Atlantic.”

By the way, Peres celebrates Al Schwimmer, one of the American pilots who traveled from Los Angeles to serve with the Israeli air force during the War of Independence. “[O]f all the characters I worked with during those years, none was more fascinating, more boisterous, or more singularly invaluable than [Schwimmer].”   

Peres reveals that Schwimmer built the first aircraft for El Al at a secret workshop in Southern California and remained a key man in the Israeli aircraft industry, sometimes ferrying new planes to Israel on the treacherous polar route.

Most consequential of all is Peres’ account of the Israeli nuclear program, which began in 1956 and eventually elevated the infant state into a nuclear power. He recalls what he told John F. Kennedy when the president asked him about Israel’s nuclear capabilities: “Mr. President, I can tell you most clearly that we shall not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region,” Peres said. That deeply enigmatic sentence turned out to be a key element of Israel’s policy of deterrence: “For nearly fifty years, nuclear ambiguity has been Israel’s official position.”

Peres was a man of big ideas and big accomplishments, but what I admire most about “No Room for Small Dreams” is his ability to use his own life story as a biography of the Jewish state. I learned more than I previously knew about Peres, but I also felt that I was glimpsing the history of Israel through the eyes of one of its founding fathers and ultimate insiders.


JONATHAN KIRSCH, author and publishing attorney, is the Jewish Journal’s book editor.

Saturdays Without Dora


I’m sitting on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport. It’s been too many years since I’ve been home for what I’m afraid is a last goodbye to my beloved Aunt Dora, a woman whose influence on me in the kitchen, and in life, has been so profound that a world without her seems unfathomable. A phone call a few days prior from my cousin brought me to Israel from Uganda, where I work as the head chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala. After packing so quickly that I managed to forget one shoe out of each pair, I rushed straight from work to Entebbe Airport (yes, that Entebbe). 

As always, my heart had pounded to the beat of the clapping passengers as the plane touched down in Israel. I usually laugh and clap along, but this time I’m expecting my cousins to pick me up and take me straight to the hospital, and my intuition tells me the trip will be no clapping matter.

My bag takes forever to exit the plane, so I have time to be struck by how familiar the smells are, how there is no place like Israel, no place that touches me the same way, smells the same way, for better and for worse. 

My suitcase finally plops onto the conveyer belt and I grab it with impatient sabra hands to take the ever-familiar walk on shaky knees to arrivals. I see my Aunt Viola first and know immediately that my intuition didn’t fail me. I am too late. Dora passed away while I was en route, some hours prior, quietly and peacefully, following a devastating year of being confined to a wheelchair after losing the use of her arms and legs.

For the MVP of cooking in our large Bulgarian family in Israel, that chair must have felt like a prison. Being unable to cook for her grandchildren was a fate perhaps worse than death. So much so that she was gifted by my cousin with a cooking companion in the form of a caregiver named Alice. As I was to learn from my cousin, Alice’s job consisted mostly of wheeling Dora around the neighborhood supermarkets, picking out the best meat and produce, and then monitoring Alice’s hand-washing habits as she ordered her around her kitchen to re-create our family specialties to distribute to her granddaughters.

Dora came to Israel in 1948 at the age of 12 as part of a group of Zionist youth in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Like many of the intensely patriotic youth who went to Israel from that part of the world, Dora tried to create the happy childhood she never had through food and the recipes of her native Bulgaria. She was my mother’s “Gisa,” the Hebrew word for sister-in-law, and my father’s brother’s wife. She taught my mother and me through extension to cook. My mother, a Romanian Jew, was the first daughter-in-law on that side of the family who did not have Bulgarian roots, something I suspect was lamented on my father’s side until she showed promise as a fantastic cook, despite being Ashkenazi (gasp)! 

That was all thanks to Dora, who at all times of the day and night could be counted on to answer the phone after my young parents snatched me away from her (her words) and immigrated to America. Those phone calls from my mother to Dora, back in the days when you had to order a call through an international operator and wait impatiently for them to ring you back, were my mother’s lifeline. Much of my youth was spent waiting for Dora’s input so that my mother could re-create some Bulgarian soul food from my father’s childhood that had been passed onto Dora from his mother. 

In later years, when I had my own kitchen, it was me making those calls to Dora. When I opened my first restaurant, Dora’s techniques and kitchen hacks provided me with both an excuse to talk to her on an almost daily basis and a set of kitchen principles that have yet to fail me. I’m sure many of her recipes separated me from the rest of the pack by virtue of the originality of the Sephardic-Israeli kitchen that shows up so often on my menus. After I opened my second restaurant and then started working for the American embassy, these weekly phone calls persisted. Every Saturday, almost without exception, and particularly when I had a large catering event, I would call Dora and ask her for ideas and advice.

Many times during the shivah, in my Aunt Dora’s kitchen, we would look in the freezer where there were packed boxes of food, everything labeled and orderly, just waiting for her heating instructions. Never again would we annoy her by not bringing back the Tupperware containers so she could fill them up again. We knew that, even though we had watched her make some of our family-memory foods many times, in this freezer was the last real taste of her.

I’m back in Uganda now, cooking for this High Holy Days season in my own kitchen just like Dora would have. I’m starting to roast and peel the red peppers and eggplants the way she taught me. I’ve fallen in love with a preparation from her daughter Orly, who, like me, inherited Dora’s love of the kitchen. It’s something Orly would whip together for me after the long, hard days of the shivah, even though as the griever, she wasn’t supposed to cook, but she, like me, cooks for relief from stress and grief.

This knockout dish encompasses all the best of Dora’s kitchen and Orly’s more modern Mediterranean one, using fresh vegetables, vibrant colors and balanced flavors that develop inside your mouth with every new bite. Savory, warm, roasted and peeled eggplant and red peppers alongside freshly grated tomato drizzled with raw tahini is pure Dora-inspired food. Orly adds freshly picked chopped mint and parsley, a clove of chopped garlic, coarse sea salt, pepper and chopped fresh chili with a splash of silan (date honey) and a cascade of pomegranate seeds. 

In addition to all of the above, I add a few Kalamata olives, an unashamed glug of extra-virgin olive oil and maybe some hard-boiled eggs. Then, because I usually am out of silan and can’t get it here in Uganda, I re-create the flavor profile with a sweet hit of balsamic reduction. Unfortunately, it’s not pomegranate season here, and pomegranates make this dish perfect for Sukkot.

When you’re in the kitchen, picture my Aunt Dora and I wishing you heartfelt good fortune and, in her words, “as many blessings as there are seeds in a pomegranate.” 


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 6. Photo by Gali Tibbon/Reuters

Can the U.S. Congress Still Influence Israeli Policy?


Last week, a group of U.S. senators sent a stern letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter was signed by seven U.S. senators, among them Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We fear actions like the conversion bill and the suspension of the Kotel agreement will strain the unique relationship between our two nations,” the senators warned, “particularly if the majority of American Jews see the movements to which they are committed denied equal rights in Israel.”

What was Netanyahu’s reaction? He politely ignored it. The conversion bill was shelved by Netanyahu months ago, and the Kotel agreement is unlikely to materialize.

How times have changed.

Seven years ago, in 2010, U.S. senators seemed to have more leverage over Israel. Back then, another piece of Israeli legislation — the conversion bill initiated by Knesset member David Rotem — irked Jewish Americans. They pressured the government and then used their ultimate weapon: members of Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) drafted a letter to Netanyahu. Fellow Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Carl Levin of Michigan joined him. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) phoned the prime minister. The impact of their actions was clear: Netanyahu shelved the bill, never to be resurrected.

But now there is silence. Strange silence. The letters are similar; the argument similar; the prime minister is the same prime minister; all the U.S. legislators involved, still, are Jewish; and all are Democrats. And yet, we see no sign that Israel is about to change its policy. We see no sign that Netanyahu is feeling pressured by the letter.

Why? There are many reasons, but I’d like to address the reasons on the U.S. side. And they begin with the fact that the Democratic Party is not the same party it used to be. Senators such as Al Franken of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii do not carry the weight of a Lautenberg and a Levin. The current government of Israel does not see them as pillars of U.S.-Israel relations. It does not see how ignoring their letter is going to hurt Israel. What will they do? an Israeli senior official (who actually favors the Kotel agreement) asked me, sarcastically, “Will they vote for the Iran deal?”

The Jews of America might not realize it yet, but their tools for swaying Israel are not as compelling as they used to be. The recent senators’ letter, once the biggest stick over Israel’s head, only exposed that reality and made it public. Highly liberal Democratic senators, such as the ones who signed the letter, will not do the trick. The Democratic Party in general — being out of power and moving leftward — is less of a tool of pressure. And most Jews do not have allies other than liberal Jewish senators on these Israeli state-religion issues.

But something more significant has changed between 2010 and today. It is the U.S. — the great ally, the most important friend — that has lost some of its leverage over Israel. This should not come as a surprise. A U.S. that is less interested in world leadership; less involved in Middle East affairs; less dependable as a defender of Israel’s interests and security; more willing to let others, such as the Russians, call the shots; that was governed by a lead-from-behind President Barack Obama; and is now governed by a lead-by-Twitter President Donald Trump; will inescapably lose some of its leverage over Israel.

Usually, when we think about U.S. leverage over Israel, we think about the peace process (and how Obama failed to force concessions on Netanyahu), or about Iran (how Obama failed to deter Netanyahu from speaking before Congress, yet deterred him from attacking Iran). But U.S. leverage is also about the ability of U.S. Jews to make Israel accept their priorities and accommodate their wishes. It is about the usefulness of letters from senators concerning matters of lesser importance, such as the Kotel agreement.

In 2010, a letter proved to be useful. In 2017, another letter proved to be meaningless.

As I Lay Dying


When my friend and I sat under a canopy of Jerusalem pines, she asked me the time. Never did I dream that 30 minutes later she would be dead. I had never contemplated that someone would try to brutally murder me. Who does? At only 46 years old, I had never given death a thought.

The half hour leading up to Kristine Luken’s execution (and the attempt on my life) was a madness so debilitating that even the moments necessary for preparing myself for death were strangled by the dread of the manner of it.

On my knees bound, gagged and held captive by moral depravity in the Jerusalem Forest seven years ago, I looked up to heaven and moments later felt the serrated machete tear my flesh. Simultaneously, I witnessed the unthinkable: an innocent woman murdered before my eyes by two immoral, nefarious, hateful psychopaths who murdered with such obscene banality that they could hold a machete in one hand and a Marlboro in the other.

Let me tell you what I did and didn’t think, what I saw and didn’t see during that eternal moment that, unlike other events, cannot be routinely processed like other memories.

When the Angel of Death was beckoning, it never crossed my mind that I had not bought a house or gotten married or had kids or held a high-class career or made a bunch of money. Not for a fleeting moment was I regretful that I had always and only “excelled at average,” and bumbled through life not knowing what I really wanted to do until I was approaching 40.

In some respects, the prospect of death was disappointingly underwhelming. I envy those with near-death experiences who see a light, who see God, who have their lives flash before them, and who feel warm and peaceful. Concerning the mysteries of the World to Come, I had only a dull sense that the Master of the Universe was inherently good and raging at the evil of Adam.

But neither my lack of personal career and family aspirations, nor thoughts of God, was what for the most part occupied my mind.

What did was this:

I was thinking of the people I loved. The grief that I would never see them again was so searing that it competed with the machete ripping my skin. Never again would I embrace them or even hear their voices. I had not made the most of every moment. It was too late to correct anything I had said, or left unsaid. Gone forever were the opportunities to correct the moments when I did not extend kindness, sacrifice my time and think of those I loved before myself. I am often emotionally lazy in relationships; my being right had frequently superseded being kind.

After the attack by the Palestinian terrorists — now jailed in Israel — hundreds of Jews, Arabs and Christians sent me letters, for which I shall be forever grateful. People had taken the time to go out, choose a card, write their good wishes, go to the post office, wait in line and send it off. I had no idea how strengthening such kindness would prove to be, and I suspect neither did they.

In my experience, time does not heal. Time does not lead me to an upward turn, a working through, and finally, acceptance and hope. Unable to cry at the evil done to me, for the past few years I was truly worried that I was becoming a psychopath. Then I grew to understand that time does not heal, and evil does not make me cry. It is kindness that makes me weep.

I swear by the wisdom of the Talmud that says, “He who is merciful to the wicked, will be wicked to the merciful.” Raging at those who murder and maim is one thing, but being unkind toward those in our own communities and families because of political differences is a tragedy. I recognize that sometimes it is impossible to reconcile personal differences. However, the arena in which we conduct those differences can still be one of dignity, self-restraint and kindness.

Trust me, no matter how convinced and passionate you or I may be about our political persuasions, it is good to remember that our opinions are never worth more than our friends and families with whom we may disagree.

I learned that as I lay dying.


KAY WILSON is a British-born Israeli tour guide, cartoonist, musician, educator and survivor of a brutal 2010 Palestinian terrorist attack. 

People take part in the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Toward a Radical Middle


I never thought I’d be writing a column for a publication that had the word “Jewish” in its name. Trained as a reporter, I moved fairly quickly into the realm of opinion journalism, mostly at The New Republic. Owned by Marty Peretz at the time, the magazine often covered Israel, but my deeply personal relationship to Judaism was never a part of my writing or professional identity.

That changed abruptly in June 2014 when the Gaza War broke out. I had been pushed to have a “social media presence” to help promote a book on design. Facebook seemed the least objectionable option, so I had built up a mélange of artist and designer friends. Much to my shock, many of those friends — smart, sophisticated people — took Hamas’ side in the conflict. And then they began to spread lies about Israel.

For the first time in my life I went from being a private Jew to a public Jew.

Even before I began, this caused problems. A friend of nearly 25 years said to me: “If you’re going to defend Israel publicly, I’m not sure we can still be friends.” And so began a rather rude awakening about where Israel stood in elite, leftist circles. When I started to defend Israel, to provide facts, the spouses of two of my closest friends blocked me. Two close friends took me out for dinner for an intervention — they thought something must be horribly wrong in my personal life for me to oppose leftist doctrine so blatantly.

I quickly learned that the banning of free speech didn’t involve just Israel. One wasn’t allowed to criticize President Barack Obama — not a word or you would be called racist. Strange ideas had pervaded the discussion: Truth and reality apparently no longer existed. Identity politics reigned, and if you were at the top of the Victim Olympics — the Arab/Muslim world — criticism was verboten.

Jews, of course, were at the bottom. Why? Because, to the left, we were “white colonialists” who were — worst sin of all — successful. Despite the expulsions, pogroms, the Holocaust. Despite the fact that our grandparents had arrived in this country with nothing, did menial work and never complained (OK, they complained, but not publicly). Despite the fact that we aren’t white.

Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz also had a problem with what the left had become. He had dared to denounce terrorism, to link it to a radical, politicized version of Islam — and leftists went nuts. Nawaz coined the term “regressive left” to describe the illiberal takeover of the left, the slow chipping away of every liberal value.

I eagerly awaited the 2016 election. I saw it as a moment that would begin to turn around things, to bring the left back to its senses. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Donald Trump — inexperienced, impetuous, a bull in a china shop — was elected. There was little self-reflection on the left as to its part in his election. And then the Trump right began to mirror the left: hyperpartisan, unable to criticize Trump, demanding adherence to a very specific agenda — or you would be publicly shamed.

How do we get out of this mess? For one, we need to return to real — classical — liberalism. But what does that mean?

The easiest way to describe real liberalism is that there are certain principles — freedom of speech; freedom of religion; a dedication to liberty, justice and individuality — that are nonnegotiable.

But — and here’s a very big but: Liberalism allows for policy differences. You and I don’t have to agree on immigration, tax reform, even abortion — but our arguments must be rooted in liberal principles. Freedom of speech, for instance, involves defending the right of others to express their opinions, even if we disagree with them.

But No. 2: Politics need not color our culture or our lives. You can watch a movie or see an art show and — get this — just enjoy them, even if they have no connection whatsoever to social concerns.

Finally, But No. 3: Along with rights come responsibilities. There is a set of values attached to liberalism, what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the content of your character.”

Because of how skewed the political spectrum is, classical liberalism now sits in the center. That’s OK. It is precisely this ideology that can create common ground between the right and the left and nurture a saner society.

Call it the rebellion of the radical middle.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and curator. Author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday), her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Bumping Into Voices


Because this is my first issue as editor-in-chief, I’d like to give you a mini tour of what you’re about to see. One of the joys of being a journalist is that we’re always bumping into interesting voices, and this Sukkot issue reflects many of the voices and stories I bump into in the course of hanging out in our community.

The voice in this week’s cover story is that of my friend Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, who shares his personal take on the unusual holiday of Sukkot. Daniel and I share a love for coffee and books. We’re both Sephardic Jews attached to our Sephardic customs but also fascinated by the diversity of the Jewish tradition. His story gives you an inkling of this diversity. And right after his Sukkot story, you’ll get a sneak peek at the magical sukkah of local philanthropists Dina and Fred Leeds, who take the mitzvah of welcoming guests quite seriously.

In anticipation of my new role, I’ve been on the lookout for fresh new voices. Last year, I hosted New York author Karen Lehrman Bloch at my house for Shabbat. Karen, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times and The New Republic, has the voice of the classic liberal who understands the value of meeting in the center, or, as she puts it in her debut column, in the “radical middle.”

Over a shakshuka breakfast at Pico Café, I asked my friend Salvador Litvak, the filmmaker who has built a large following as the “Accidental Talmudist,” if he’d want to contribute something “talmudic” for this issue. His piece, “War at the Book Club,” does just that — examining how we can disagree without animosity.

Kay Wilson is a writer, cartoonist and musician who lives in Jerusalem. We were introduced recently by a mutual friend. Several years ago, Kay survived a horrific stabbing attack at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. I asked Kay if she felt comfortable enough to share thoughts that have come out of that horror. Her piece, “As I Lay Dying,” speaks to life’s deepest lessons.

I came across Alicia Jo Rabins on Facebook and was intrigued by her lyrical prose. Alicia is a writer, musician and Torah teacher based in Portland, Ore. Her piece, “The Sukkah as Spiritual Medicine,” is a poetic meditation connecting the sukkah to the human body.

My friend Aomar Boum is a Muslim associate professor at UCLA who’s a regular guest at our Shabbat table. He’s an expert on the Jews of Morocco, where I was born. My mother’s cuisine reminds him of his mother’s cuisine. I asked Aomar if he’d write something explaining his fascination for studying Jews. “I’m an academic writer,” he replied. “Will that work for your readers?” I told him to write from the heart, and he did.

I met the head of Chabad of Puerto Rico, Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, about 15 years ago on my way to a Caribbean cruise with my family. Two weeks ago, as Hurricane Maria tore into the island, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I tried reaching him several times. When I finally did (thank you, WhatsApp), we spoke about the disaster, but also about a little miracle: How Zarchi and his wife found a way to hold Rosh Hashanah services and serve holiday meals after hundreds of gallons of water had flooded their shul. Reporter Kelly Hartog has the story.

Another voice I bumped into on Facebook is that of Israeli-born Yamit Behar Wood, the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda. Yamit writes about food, but also about the cultures that surround food. Her first story is about her late Aunt Dora, her culinary mentor.

Right after Yom Kippur, we got the sad news of the passing of television personality Monty Hall. Monty was a friend of the Journal and of charitable organizations everywhere, as well as a storyteller extraordinaire. We pay tribute to this local hero in this issue.

On the day we went to press — as we were putting the finishing touches to the paper — we got news of the tragic massacre in Las Vegas. In addition to our last-minute coverage, we have a poem reflecting on the tragedy by Hannah Arin, a millennial writer who will be a regular contributor.

One of the looming political issues today is whether President Donald Trump will decertify the Iran nuclear deal as the Oct. 15 deadline approaches. Larry Greenfield, who served as executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and Dalia Dassa Kaye, a senior political scientist at the nonpartisan Rand Corp., debate the merits of both sides.

Steven Spielberg opens his own heart in “Spielberg,” the first feature-length documentary of his life, premiering Oct. 7. Our contributing writer Gerri Miller shares a few interesting anecdotes from the film, including the fact that Spielberg’s parents’ divorce influenced “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

We also have book reviews about two great Jews this week. The Journal’s book editor,  Jonathan Kirsch, writes that “the late Shimon Peres calls to us from the grave” in his posthumously published memoir, “No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel.” Monica Osborne weighs in on William Kolbrener’s “The Last Rabbi: Joseph Soloveitchik and Talmudic Tradition,” a complex take on a complex man.

From Israel, our senior political editor, Shmuel Rosner, shares his latest insights on what’s going on in Israel as part of his expanded “Rosner’s Domain” page. We’re also adding a column titled “Humans of Israel,” where American expat writer Debra Kamin will profile Israelis of all stripes. Her first piece is on winemaker-philosopher Yonatan Koren, who runs an organic winery in western Galilee.

Closer to home, contributing writer Rebbecca Spence writes about three Jewish women who are leading the way in the legal cannabis trade, while Roberto Loiderman writes about a new recording of “Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom,” a musical-theatrical show that celebrates Ladino culture.

Reporting on the holiest day of the year, Senior Writer Eitan Arom covers an emotional episode at Temple Israel of Hollywood that resulted from its senior rabbi’s discussion of politics at Kol Nidre.

On a lighter note, we’re adding little “spice boxes” throughout the paper with things such as humor and big questions to ponder for dinner conversation.

As I begin my new journey, one of my aims will be to look for voices that try to open minds rather than change them. I want to provoke thought, not anger; curiosity, not cynicism; fascination, not smugness.

I want to touch every member of our incredibly diverse community. I won’t always succeed. Some voices you will like more than others. Some voices will return, others won’t. It’s a journey we will take together.

What I can tell you is that everything I do will come from the deep love I have for this community — and for all the interesting voices and stories I keep bumping into that I can’t wait to share with you.

Chag sameach.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Las Vegas Metro Police and medical workers stage in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

Israelis missing in wake of Las Vegas attack accounted for


The Israelis considered as missing in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Las Vegas have been located and none were injured.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel on Tuesday morning that Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, Avner Saban, and other embassy staff had reached out to Israelis living in Las Vegas and that all were accounted for following the Sunday.

Saban had traveled to Las Vegas to oversee efforts to reach the 18 Israelis unaccounted for and considered missing by the Foreign Ministry following the attack on a country music festival that killed at least 58 and injured more than 500.

Some 7,000 Israelis live in Las Vegas, Saban told the Israeli news website Walla.

Also Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement of solidarity with the United States.

“Las Vegas and the American people experienced a day of horror; the hearts of the people of Israel go out to the scores of innocent people murdered in cold blood,” he said. “Our hearts go out also to the hundreds who are wounded; we pray for their speedy recovery. The people of Israel stand with the people of America this time and anytime, but especially in this time. We will overcome, together.”

President Reuven Rivlin in a letter to President Donald Trump expressed condolences to the families of the dead and wished for the recovery of the injured.

“We stand with you as you mourn the terrible loss of life and injury following this senseless attack on people who had merely gathered together to listen to music,” Rivlin wrote.

Tel Aviv City Hall lit up its rectangular-shaped building in the shape of an American flag using red, white and blue lights.

[WATCH] That time Tom Petty hung out with an Orthodox rock band in Israel


Musician Tom Petty died at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital last night, October 3, after suffering cardiac arrest. The rock star just wrapped up a big tour, which ended on September 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, marking the 30th anniversary since he visited Israel for a “Temple in Flames Tour.”

From the vaults: September 1987, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers toured Israel with Bob Dylan, performing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A film crew followed Petty around and chronicled the experience for MTV‘s Musical Passport series, Rock Israel.

“We’re really just whirl-winding through here, so it would be hard to say I have any impression of the people,” he said during a private interview, probably backstage between shows.

On the tourbus, Petty pointed out the window. “What’s that?” he asked as they passed an ancient site. “Well, it ain’t Mulholland Drive,” one of his bandmates responded.

“I haven’t heard any Israeli Rock and Roll, though it must exist,” he confessed. And he soon found out, it does a la Orthodox rock band, Diaspora Yeshiva Band. “I think anyone should be able to pick up an instrument and jump around,” Petty said smiling.

While sightseeing in Jerusalem, Diaspora Yeshiva Band’s frontman Avraham Rosenblum, points out the Mosque of Umar. “That’s considered the holiest place to Jews because there’s a rock directly underneath that and that rock is considered the foundations to the universe. Some of our famous rabbis said the process of music also began here,” Rosenblum said.

To which Petty responded, “That’s pretty wild, right?”

A sign painted on a wall in Bethlehem calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

New Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions effort against Israel


The UN Human Rights Commissioner has started sending letters to 150 companies in Israel and around the world, warning them that they will be put on a blacklist for doing business in Jewish communities in the West Bank, east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

[This article originally appeared on themedialine.org]

According to Israeli press reports, the proposed list includes large American companies such as Coca-Cola, Caterpillar, Priceline.com, and Trip Advisor. According to Israel Television’s Channel 2, Israeli companies targeted include pharmaceutical giant Teva, Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim as well as the national water company Mekorot.

The exact details of the letter and which other companies have been advised are murky.

When contacted by The Media Line, an Israeli government spokesman refused to comment on the issue.

Israeli analysts said the move is part of a concerted Palestinian effort to pressure Israel in diplomatic venues to end its expansion of Jewish settlements, a goal that seems unlikely. The report of the blacklist comes as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while headlining a celebration marking 50 years of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, affirmed that “there will be no more uprooting of settlements in the Land of Israel.”

Some Israeli observers said the UN Human Rights Commission, headed by Jordanian Zeid Ra’ad Al Husseini, continues to pursue an anti-Israel policy.

“Nothing coming out of the Human Rights Commission is serious and Al Husseini is known to be completely and utterly hostile to Israel,” Alan Baker, an expert in international law and a former Israeli ambassador to Canada, told The Media Line. “They can send out whatever they want and they can adopt whatever resolutions they want but it doesn’t mean anything will come of it. This is part of the political action by an organization that has no credibility and no power.”

But the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying that a number of companies that received the letter told the Human Rights Commissioner that they do not intend to renew contracts or sign new ones in Israel.

The list is part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which pursues a policy of placing economic pressure on Israel to stop expanding Jewish settlements. The letter circulated apparently includes companies active in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, and the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered from Syria in 1967 and later annexed as well.

“After decades of Palestinian dispossession and Israeli military occupation and apartheid, the United Nations has taken its first concrete, practical steps to secure accountability for ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement said in a statement. “The Palestinians warmly welcome this step.”

Praise also came from senior Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi. “Israel’s illegal settlement policies and practices are a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and in direct contravention of international law,” Ashrawi said in a statement. “Such a development is an indication of the United Nations attempt to curb Israeli violations and to begin a process of legal accountability for those who are complicit in illegal settlements.”

According to Israeli statistics, 380,000 Israelis live in Jewish communities located in the West Bank, and another 200,000 live in east Jerusalem. Palestinians say that all of these areas must be part of a future Palestinian state, although in the past officials have reportedly accepted the principle of land swaps in the event of any comprehensive peace deal with Israel.

It is not likely that Israeli companies on the list will make any policy changes in response to the letter, if and when it becomes public. Israeli companies for the most part do not distinguish between their operations on either side of the 1967 borders. Banks have branches both inside Israel and in the West Bank, and Israel’s national bus company runs buses there as well.

While all the details remain unknown, some Israelis believe there could be negative ramifications.

“This is a major political and economic battleground and the results are unclear,” Gerald Steinberg, the President of NGO Monitor, told The Media Line. “It is not a trivial issue, but it is also not the end of the world.”

Israeli media reported that U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the Human Rights Commission if the list of companies is publicized.

The reports of the boycott list come the day after Interpol voted to admit the Palestinians as a member state, a move Jerusalem opposes and tried hard to prevent. It is part of an ongoing Palestinian strategy focused on achieving diplomatic gains through international forums as opposed negotiating the terms for the creation of an independent state through bilateral talks with Israel.

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Sept. 18. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

After Trump’s third meeting with Netanyahu, experts perplexed with approach


Even back in 2004, when Donald Trump was the host of the reality television show The Apprentice, the real estate developer expressed supreme confidence in his ability to solve the decades long Israeli-Arab conflict. Trump told former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry that year: “It would take me two weeks to get an agreement.”

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Nonetheless, in the over 34 weeks since Trump has taken office and after his third round of meetings last week at the United Nations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the peace process remains stagnant.  This week, with Israeli and Palestinian officials trading insults after Ramallah successfully joined Interpol on Wednesday and a Palestinian terrorist killing three Israeli security officials at a West Bank crossing this week, analysts note that the Trump administration-led process appears unable to sustain positive momentum.

Michael Koplow, Policy Director at the Israel Policy Forum, criticized Trump’s refusal to endorse the two state solution while meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. “To continue to be coy about it and not utter the phrase two state solution and act is if there is some sort of magical answer that nobody else has ever discovered is ridiculous,” he told Jewish Insider.

“I don’t exactly know right now what the strategy is from the US,” said Grant Rumley, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and co-author of a recent biography on Abbas. Rumley added that without a framework going forward, the Palestinians are concerned that they would take unpopular domestic steps such as cutting the payments to families of terrorists and “follow the Trump team to something that ended up as a status quo quasi- agreement, leaving them in the cold.”

Into the 10th month of the Trump presidency, the administration has still declined to outline any concrete proposal towards relaunching talks. “There is a good chance that it (peace) can happen. The Israelis would like to see it. And I think the Palestinians would like to see it and I can tell you that Trump administration would like to see it,” the President declared on September 18.

For all the attention on the Trump administration, David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute expressed skepticism about the attitudes towards peace in Jerusalem and Ramallah. “I do not think both the Israelis and Palestinians have the requisite domestic political will to do anything that is politically hard for them. It is hard to imagine a breakthrough at this time.” Makovsky cited the inability for the PA to curb incitement along with the Israeli cabinet freeze of a proposal to expand housing units in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya as signs that Jerusalem and Ramallah remain unable to take the steps necessary towards peace.

In a September 19th speech to international donors, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt highlighted how the current US approach “departs from some of the usual orthodoxy” while emphasizing collaborative wastewater projects and economic assistance. Noting the economic challenges in Ramallah, Greenblatt added, “The PA is still dependent on international donors and is unable to afford important services which Israel is willing to provide – so I encourage all of us to work with the parties, in a coordinated manner, to reduce fiscal losses and ensure that the PA collects the taxes it is owed.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, explained that without a “top-down component” addressing core political issues including Jerusalem, borders and refugees, then the infrastructure projects “will become conflict management tactics rather than conflict resolution tactics.”

In contrast to the friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, many supporters of Israel appreciate the warmer approach taken by the Trump White House towards the Jewish state. Trump made a point during his UN meeting not to publicly criticize Netanyahu’s government and Greenblatt has repeatedly thanked the Israelis for taking steps that improve the West Bank economy.

Yet, some worry that the bear hug towards Israel could impair the U.S. ability to serve as a fair broker. In a recent interview, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman departed with longstanding State Department policy by referring to the “Alleged Occupation.” Palestinians were also disappointed when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vowed to block any Palestinian from serving in senior UN role as a way to counter UN bias against Israel. “You also at some point cross a line from being tilted to the Israeli side and going full blown of being Israel’s advocate against the Palestinians,” Koplow said.

“We know from a very long and unfortunately sad experience that the absence of a serious process will over time result in pressures building up that contribute to the resumption of violence,” Kurtzer concluded.

President Donald Trump in Indianapolis on Sept. 27. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump facing increased pressure from lawmakers to abide by Iran nuclear deal


Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.

“If we violate a U.N. resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”

Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.

He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.

Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.

“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”

Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by Oct. 15.

Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.

“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.

Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.

Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among U.S. allies to end the deal.

“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.

Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.

The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”

And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.

Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.

“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.

Trump derided the deal last week during the U.N. General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.

This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.

“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”

Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

‘Transparent’ finds new conflicts on trip to Israel


Over the course of its four seasons, “Transparent” has been creating groundbreaking conversation about gender identity, telling the story of a family in which one parent is going through gender transition. It’s also become known as one of the “Jewiest” shows on TV, pushing deeper into issues of secular Jewish identity and introducing many to epigenetics, the idea that trauma — in many Jewish cases, Holocaust suffering — is hereditary, passed down from the generation that experienced it, to echo in future generations.

These conversations are complicated, and with the fourth season now available on Amazon Prime, “Transparent” adds another controversial topic: the Israel-Palestine conflict. (The following includes spoilers from Season Four.)

Throughout the series, the Pfeffermans have struggled with boundaries, definitions and fluidities; characters push against and dismantle binaries, rejecting constructs like “black/white” or “male/female” in favor of multiplicity and expanded perspectives. In Season One, Mort Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) transitioned to become Maura, a decision that reshapes the family journey moving forward.In the new season, Maura is invited to speak at a conference in Israel and makes a discovery that further impacts the definition of family. The Pfefferman children — Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) — struggle with nonconforming identities and relationships.

The tour bus full of Pfeffermans shleps with it the traditional baggage of old and new American-Jewish perspectives on Israel: An older generation argues for Israel’s position as a safe home for Jews after pogroms and the Holocaust but is unable to see any nuance to the current conflict and is unwilling to criticize the Israeli government. The young see the black and white of suffering and inequality, whether it’s a stark imbalance of Western Wall plaza space for women or oppression of Palestinians.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian storyline, the Palestinian narrative gets the most visibility. In Ramallah, the youngest Pfefferman, Ali, hears stories from her activist friends and the Palestinians who live there, of Israelis blackmailing Palestinians and exploiting their vulnerabilities, such as sexual orientation, to recruit them as informants, and that some of them can’t visit Jerusalem without permits. She asks if checkpoints are “along the border” and is quickly corrected that “there is no actual internationally recognized border, just one big, ugly wall and hundreds of checkpoints all over the place.” It’s life on the ground for the Palestinians and their activist friends, without any larger context: There’s no acknowledgment of why the wall is there, and the one person who says, “Not every Israeli is here to get rid of Palestinians” is all but drowned out as others talk over her.

Responding to her family saying that Israel was created to be a safe place for Jews post-persecution, Ali says, “We do not need to make the Palestinians unsafe just so the Jews can be safe.” But there’s no discussion of the reason for the existence of the divider and the outcome, that it is believed to have increased security for Israel by severely curtailing suicide bombings (although violence continues, as this week’s shooting in the West Bank demonstrates).

Ali always has been the millennial searcher, looking for truth, equality, love and acceptance. Her sense of right and wrong is only partly innate, and ignited and amplified by the people she meets and loves. But it would have been even more interesting if she had to navigate conflicting narratives, each of which was making compelling — and passionate — points and presented by people with whom she shares a peer-level respect and an emotional connection.

These scenes paint an unbridgeable gap: The previous generation is living in the past, unable to step away from its narrative to see any negative outcome, and the younger generation is passionate about Palestinian rights as part of an overall quest for justice but divorced from the region’s history as context. Each perspective sees no other choice; each perspective has its valid points and its blindnesses, all forged in history and emotion, with no room for nuance or compassion.

In real life in the modern American-Jewish community, when it comes to “the conflict,” there are extreme positions that mirror the extremes in the Pfefferman clan. But those of us who don’t adhere to edges or subscribe to extremes are, perhaps, more silent because we’re seeing both sides but don’t have answers, and perhaps more disturbingly, don’t have any confidence that either side is willing to listen.

Throughout, the Pfeffermans’ visit to Israel is underscored by the songs of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a soundtrack both geographically appropriate and subversive as a score for a Jewish family’s tour of the Holy Land. For example, take “Everything’s Alright.” Its lyrics — “Try not to get worried/try not to turn on to/problems that upset you, oh/don’t you know/everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine” — indicate a kind of wishful thinking. “Close your eyes/close your eyes/and relax/think of nothing tonight” may be a good, in-the-moment coping strategy for a fictional, rock ’n’ roll opera Jesus, but it doesn’t solve systemic problems, whether they are Pfefferman family conflicts or regional ones.

Much has been written about the unlikability and selfishness of these characters. “Transparent” is intentionally disruptive and seems built to make the characters, and viewers by extension, uncomfortable, making it a perfect tonal match for the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which self-interest is a necessary guiding principle and discomfort reigns as conversational default.

If there’s one thing we should be learning from the Pfeffermans, it is perhaps that pushing against social limits and rejecting binary definitions, even — or especially — in a conflict as emotional and deeply rooted as the one in the Middle East, reveals the space between extremes. It is there, not at one pole or another, that we can do our individual work in discovering identity and exercise our sense of nuance and compassion.

Orit in front of a Munich victory arch.

VIDEO: What happens when I enter an AfD victory party at a Munich beer hall?


People know me as a fearless fighter for the Jewish people and Israel. I entered Gaza in August 2005 when it was a restricted military zone to write about and fight with the Jewish residents of Gush Katif who eventually lost their homes to the IDF. I’ve organized countless pro-Israel events in Los Angeles. I even challenged the Jewish establishment when it wanted to prevent anti-jihad activist Pamela Geller from speaking at the Jewish Federation building in Los Angeles. I recently moved to Berlin where I’m writing about German-Israel relations, often confronting Germans about anti-Israel sentiment and their Nazi past.

So, it was not out of character for me to enter an AfD victory party on the eve of elections, at a Munich beer hall no less, and find Nazis to expose and challenge. After all, the AfD is widely considered the neo-Nazi party. Take a walk inside with me into the lion’s den…(YouTube video comes with English subtitles; click on bottom right of video. For the German subtitles, go to Die Achse Des Guten, here.)

Orit Arfa is a journalist and author. Her second novel, Underskin, is a sexy German-Israeli love story. Her website is: www.oritarfa.com.

Conan O’Brien speaking with Israeli soldiers. Screenshot from YouTube

Conan and ‘Transparent’ give Israel the normalcy it craves


“It looks just like L.A.”

A character in the Amazon series “Transparent” says this as she gets her first glimpse of Tel Aviv, and if you work for the Israeli government, or any of a number of pro-Israel groups, you probably couldn’t be happier.

Even if the show will go on to acknowledge the political and human rights mess of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and don’t worry, it will), such glimpses of an extremely appealing and otherwise normal Israel have the feel of “mission accomplished.”

The start of the fall TV season has been very good to Israel. Anxious about the BDS movement and other efforts to delegitimize Israel, its boosters were treated to a season-long arc on “Transparent” largely set in Israel, as well as an hourlong “Conan In Israel” special on TBS. “Transparent” used Israel as background and counterpoint to its usual explorations of identity, sexuality and family dysfunction, while Conan O’Brien used his charming “idiot abroad” shtick to poke gentle fun at Jews, Palestinians and mostly himself.

Yet both shows appeared to have emerged from an earlier, less complicated era when Israel was largely seen as a regional good guy and the Palestinians as an uncomfortable but ultimately solvable nuisance if only haters on both sides would let go of their broyges.

I say that realizing that “Transparent” acknowledged  the complexities and contradictions of the conflict in ways likely to anger the right. As Season 4 begins, Maura Pfefferman, the transgender matriarch of the show’s distinctly Jewish and proudly secular central family, is invited to Israel to deliver a lecture on gender and the Cold War. (All 10 episodes of “Transparent” are available on Amazon.) Pfefferman’s youngest daughter, Ali (short for Alexandra), asks to go along, having been humiliated by a former lover in a poem published in The New Yorker. She wants to go for “the history and the suffering and the bloodshed — all that real stuff.”

A scene from the fourth season of  “Transparent” featuring Jeffrey Tambor, left, and Gabi Hoffmann in Israel. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Ali, a grad student, is the most “woke” of the three grown Pfefferman children, and unsurprisingly it is through her perspective that the show relates the Palestinian experience. A feminist activist scoops her up in front of the Tel Aviv Hilton (having declined to spend money in Israel in deference to the boycott), and brings her to meet a Palestinian friend at a hip cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Ali is amazed by the normalcy of life in the “Ramallah bubble,” although her companions remind her about the checkpoints and promise to “catch [her] up” on life under occupation.

Next stop is a nearby farm, where attractive young Palestinians (and at least one pro-Palestinian Jew) share their experiences. A gay man explains that he was jailed in Israel (he doesn’t say why) and that his jailers threatened to out him to his family. A Canadian-Palestinian says that Jews in the Diaspora have more claims to citizenship in the land than the Arabs who actually live there. Another says, “We can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t go to the next city.”

The episode, tellingly, is titled “Pinkwashing Machine,” an allusion to the charge that Israel asserts its positive gay rights agenda to distract from its oppression of the Palestinians.

You can almost hear the clacking of the keyboards as Jewish organizations work on their news releases refuting the Palestinians’ claims, but the scene is oddly nonconfrontational for a show that is so, well, transparent in its left-wing politics. Set outdoors around a table groaning with Palestinian food (maqluba, yum), the scene is right out of a commercial for a California wine or Olive Garden. The viewer is left wondering how bad their lives can be if they live like this. Although a wide-eyed Ali seems converted to the Palestinian cause by all she sees and hears, loyal “Transparent” watchers are by now used to her various intellectual enthusiasms, which she tends to pick up and discard as easily as her ever-changing hairstyles.

In a later episode, the Pfeffermans will debate the conflict during a bus ride to Jerusalem, but the dialogue again seems carefully, and blandly, balanced. Ali scoffs when an Israeli says there never was a Palestinian people; her mom, Shelly, counters that the Holocaust made the Jewish state a necessity. Ali reminds her family of the displaced Palestinians. Maura says there were Jews in the Holy Land well before there was an Israel.

In the end, you are left with the message that “it’s complicated,” and the family goes on to enjoy a raucous morning in the Old City. On a visit to the Western Wall — “Jesus Christ, it’s like an Orthodox Jewish Disneyland!” says one of the Pfefferman kids, not inaccurately — an androgynous-looking Ali sneaks into the men’s section. Shocking? Iconoclastic? Maybe. But considering the broad American Jewish consensus in support of pluralistic prayer at the Wall, hardly transgressive. Ultimately, “Transparent” plays it safe, assuaging Israel’s critics with a nod toward the Palestinian reality and soothing the pro-Israel crowd with a portrait of a cool, bourgeois Israel that feels like home even to Diaspora Jews as disaffected as the Pfeffermans.

Conan O’Brien filming a scene for his Israel special with Rabbi Dov Halbertal at the Tel Baruch Central synagogue in Tel Aviv. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Conan also acknowledged the Palestinians in his special, although here, too, the balance was with the Israel as the most ardent Israel booster would like it to be seen. He visits the Aida refugee camp for a sober although hardly enlightening conversation with a few of its residents. But this is Conan, and he’d rather amuse than enlighten. The brief segment includes a number of complaints about the security wall and Israel’s military, after which Conan is careful to remind viewers, “To be fair, we did not have a conversation with people who dispute these views.”

Instead, the unmistakably Irish-Catholic talk-show host jokes with handsome young men and woman on a Tel Aviv boulevard, jams with an Elvis impersonator at the beach, visits the Waze headquarters for a view of “startup nation” and trains with the IDF. He even gets face time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an indicator, perhaps, of how seriously Israel takes the notion of hasbara — public diplomacy, as it were — and how grateful it was that Conan turned over an hour of prime time and a pervasive social media campaign to presenting Israel at its best.

It’s impossible not to enjoy Conan’s man-on-the-street bits, and he does the important work of humanizing both Jews and Palestinians, itself an accomplishment and a contribution in a region too often portrayed as a war zone. Pro-Palestinian social media, however, didn’t seem pleased with his visit, mocking him as naive and ensorcelled by the Israeli side.

But at least he went to Aida and Bethlehem, just as “Transparent” took its cast beyond the Green Line. Maybe it is impossible to capture Israelis and Palestinians in all their complexity — activists on both sides certainly don’t make it easy.

The problem in fully understanding the conflict is that the people who seem to care the most about the issue have almost no interest in hearing the other side or having them heard. That goes for Jews as well as Arabs. So both sides attack the media and other observers for trying to get a complete, nuanced picture. And the gun-shy media, when they are not taking sides, either over-correct or play it safe.

Still, given the choice between a portrait of the region that displays its antagonists as “normal” versus one that demonizes either side, I’ll take normal any day.


Andrew Silow-Carroll is JTA’s editor in chief.

Israeli security at the scene where a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on israelis at the Har Adar settlement on Sept. 26. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Three Israeli security officers killed in attack by Palestinian gunman


A Border Police officer and two Israeli security guards were killed and another man seriously injured in a terror attack at the entrance to a settlement near Jerusalem.

The shooting took place Tuesday morning as the security officers were opening the back entrance of the Har Adar settlement to Palestinian workers.

Israeli police identified the injured man as the community security officer for Har Adar.

The gunman, identified by the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, as Nimr Mahmoud Ahmed Jamal, 37, was shot and killed by security forces, Ynet reported.

Jamal, a father of four, had a permit to work in Har Adar. It is the second time since October 2015 that a Palestinian with an Israeli-issued work permit has committed a terrorist act.

According to the Israel Security Agency, Jamal has significant personal and family problems. His wife fled to Jordan several weeks ago, reportedly due to domestic violence, leaving him with their children.

At the start of a regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting that convened hours after the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the home of the terrorist would be demolished. He also announced that the all work permits for members of his extended family have been revoked.

“This murderous attack is the result of, among other things, systematic incitement by the Palestinian Authority and other elements, and I expect Abu Mazen to condemn it and not attempt to justify it,” Netanyahu said, using the nom de guerre of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.

The prime minister also expressed condolences to the families of the victims and wishes for the recovery of the injured security officer.

Jamal was from the neighboring village of Beit Surik, which was placed under closure after the attack.

The Fatah movement led by Abbas did not immediately comment on the attack. The terrorist Hamas movement praised the shooting, calling it “a new chapter in the Jerusalem Intifada, and is a confirmation from the uprising youth that the fighting will continue until the complete freedom of the people and the land.”

“Once again Jerusalem proves that it is at the heart of the conflict with the occupation, and that there is no way to get it out of the equation of the conflict,” the statement also said.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman posted a statement on his Twitter account and in Hebrew on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

“Once again, Israelis confront the cruel and evil brutality of unprovoked terrorism,” he wrote. “We pray for the victims at Har Adar and their families.”

A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran claims successful test of missile capable of reaching Israel


Iran announced that it successfully tested a new medium-range missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf.

The announcement was made Saturday by Iran’s defense minister, Amir Hatami.

“As long as some speak in the language of threats, the strengthening of the country’s defense capabilities will continue and Iran will not seek permission from any country for producing various kinds of missile,” he said in a statement Saturday.

The missile, dubbed Khoramshahr, reportedly has a range of 1,250 miles and can carry multiple warheads.

Footage of the missile test, including from a camera mounted on the missile, was shown on Iranian state television, though it did not say when the test took place.

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called the missile test “a provocation to the United States and its allies, including Israel,” as well as “further proof of Iran’s ambition to become a global power that threatens not only the Middle East, but all the countries of the free world.”

“Imagine what would happen if Iran would obtain nuclear weapons, which is where she is headed. We cannot let this happen,” Liberman said in the statement, which he posted on his Facebook page.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to renegotiate or to dump the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement between world powers and the Islamic Republic, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Following Iran’s announcement of the missile test, Trump on Saturday tweeted disparagingly of the deal.

“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!” he wrote.

Oct. 15 is the next deadline for Trump to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal, which the president must do every six months under U.S. law.

During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the altering or scrapping of the deal.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump at he White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

White House explains redirected funds to Palestinians


A White House official confirmed Jewish Insider’s report on Wednesday that the Trump administration had quietly transferred an additional $20 million to Palestinian wastewater programs after the funds were frozen from an Egyptian economic aid package. “The State Department came to us and said they had identified this particular piece of money and these were, if I recall, FY2016 (Fiscal Year) funds that disappear at the end of September,” the White House official told Jewish Insider last week.

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

However, the Trump administration source objected to an assertion made by a Congressional aide that the Trump administration was rushing to move the funds to West Bank water programs before the Taylor Force Act could be passed. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taylor Force Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would cut off all U.S. economic aid that “directly benefits” the P.A. until they cease payments to families of terrorists. “There was a particular window for this so that the money would be used. TFA (Taylor Force Act) would have no impact on this even if they passed it tomorrow. There wasn’t an ‘oh my gosh, let’s get this money before Taylor Force passes,’” the White House official added.

The official said that there were numerous Palestinian projects that the U.S. would like to support. “But when you have terrorists stabbing American citizens in the back and tax paying dollars used to support these people, the President said very clearly to President Abbas in both Washington and Bethlehem in May, this is intolerable to us,” the source emphasized.

On a separate note, the White House official declined to opine regarding an announcement from Hamas last week that the U.S. designated terror group would dissolve the Gaza administrative committee and move towards a unity government. “Our feeling is very much wait and see. There have been lots of attempts at this before,” the White House official noted. “We appreciate the Egyptians (mediation) efforts to try and come to some resolution to do this.”

After Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections, the Islamist party joined with Fatah to form a national unity government in March 2007. The Bush Administration condemned this Palestinian government and refused to provide it with any assistance. This policy lasted until June 2007 when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the unity government following Hamas’ military coup in Gaza. Given the longstanding US policy of boycotting Hamas, any openness by the Trump administration towards the Islamist group playing some sort of internationally recognized political role is considered noteworthy.

Abbas rebuked U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during his September 20 speech at the U.N. General Assembly for referring to the “alleged occupation” of Palestinian territories. When asked if the White House agrees with Friedman regarding the “alleged occupation” or the State Department that quickly clarified its decades old policy of calling the West Bank “occupied territory,” the White House official responded, “That’s simply not my question to answer. I am going to let David (Friedman) speak to that. It wasn’t my call. My personal views aren’t really relevant. That was his statement so I would refer that to him.”

Despite some reports that the U.S. is planning a regional summit with Israel and Arab Gulf states to accelerate the peace process, the Trump administration official noted that no such meeting is currently in the works.

The White House official declined to elaborate on the timetable when the U.S. plans to present Israelis and Palestinians with its peace plan or if there have been any concrete advancements towards peace during talks with Netanyahu or Abbas.

Asked what options the administration was considering, in light of the President’s unwillingness to exclusively back a two state solution,  the White House official explained, “It goes back to the other question. The President said one state or two states: it’s for the two parties to agree on. It’s not for us to say: here are your options.”

Lavishing praise on Netanyahu’s UN address, the White House source explained, “It was a very strong speech. Obviously, the President appreciated the strong expression of support. It doesn’t make us unhappy to have the Prime Minister of Israel very pleased with President Trump’s speech and perhaps the Venezuelans, Iranians and North Koreans less so. It draws a very clear contrast between the leaders of other countries. I thought the very positive message this year about what Israel offers the world was extremely valuable.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations on Sept. 20. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Iran’s president says security for Israel is ‘not possible,’ pleads for nuclear deal


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran delivered to the United Nations an extended plea to preserve the Iran nuclear deal while saying it was “not possible” to guarantee Israel security as long as it “usurped” Palestinian lands.

Rouhani, speaking Wednesday, derided the tough talk about his country delivered a day earlier by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of this year’s General Assembly in New York. His Twitter feed posted the lines as he spoke.

“Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the U.S. president against the Iranian nation,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Zionist regime not committed to any international instrument or safeguard has the audacity to preach to peaceful nations.”

Trump and Netanyahu in their speeches both cast Iran as a rogue nation and said the 2015 nuclear deal trading sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program was an “embarrassment.” Trump hinted there would a change in U.S. posture toward the deal, and Netanyahu said it should either be amended or canceled outright.

Rouhani, whose government still fends off criticism from Iranian hardliners opposed to the plan, cast it as a template for international peace deals.

“It belongs to the international community in its entirety and not only one or two countries,” he said of the deal otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The JCPOA can be a new model for global interactions.” Iran, he said, would “not be the first” to violate the deal.

Rouhani insisted that missile testing was “only for deterrence.” Trump and Netanyahu have said that Iran’s missile advances and its military adventurism are also reasons to re-examine the Iran deal.

The Iranian leader called for peaceful coexistence, but appeared to extend his invitation to everyone but Israel.

“It is not possible for a rogue and racist regime to trample upon the most basic rights of the Palestinians, and be usurpers of this land and enjoy security,” he said.

Rouhani’s predecessors and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said they regard the entirety of Israel as illegitimate. Rouhani has not made his views clear.

He twice mentioned ancient Iranian gestures of friendship toward the Jews as exemplars of the current regime’s alleged commitment to diversity.

“We are the same people who rescued the Jews from Babylonian servility,” he said, referring to the Jewish communities established in Persia after they wer expelled by the Babylonians from Judea in the sixth century BCE. “Historically backing the oppressed, Iran upholds the right of the Palestinian people as it did those of the Jewish people centuries ago.”

An Israeli rescue team working near the site of an earthquake south of Mexico City on Sept. 20. Photo courtesy of Zaka

Israel to send search-and-rescue team to Mexico in wake of severe earthquake


Israel will send a search and rescue team to Mexico in the wake of a severe earthquake — the second to hit the North American nation in two weeks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the operation and said it would leave for Mexico as soon as possible, his office said Wednesday morning in a statement.

More than 200 people have been killed in the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck central Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, rocking the capital of Mexico City and causing hundreds of buildings to collapse.

In addition, a delegation of 50 Israeli soldiers is scheduled to leave for Mexico City on Wednesday afternoon to assist in relief efforts.

Volunteers from Israel’s Zaka search-and-rescue organization arrived in Mexico in the hours following the quake and are helping local rescue forces, the organization said in a statement. In addition, engineers have been sent to local synagogues to make sure that they can safely accommodate Rosh Hashanah services, according to Zaka.

On the same date in 1985, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake centered on Mexico City left 10,000 people dead and another 30,000 injured.

Tuesday’s quake comes two weeks after at least 96 people died in an 8.1 magnitude quake that struck off the southern Pacific coast of Mexico on Sept. 7. The Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas were hardest hit.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is also responding, supporting the search, rescue and emergency aid efforts of CADENA, its Mexican Jewish humanitarian partner. The response focuses on immediate rescue and relief including digging people out of the rubble, emergency psychology services and medical aid, according to JDC.

The JDC has also opened a mailbox for donations.

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