Israeli woman in N.Y. Times breast cancer photo speaks out


An unnamed Israeli woman pictured in a controversial photo on the front page of The New York Times last Wednesday spoke out in response to critics of the paper’s choice of images.

An image of the woman’s upper body — including an incision scar, a portion of her aureola and a Star of David tattoo — was featured as the lead photo in the paper that day to illustrate a story about breast cancer screening in Israel.

In describing her decision to remain anonymous, the woman wrote, “The cancer I fought this past year is a part of me, but it’s not who I am.” But the photo, which some critics called inappropriate, was “artistic,” she said, a depiction of her struggle with breast cancer.

Some readers took offense at what they said was a shocking and sensationalistic image, citing the partial nudity. And some were upset by the prominent display of the Star of David tattoo on her shoulder. (Under traditional Jewish law, tattoos are prohibited.)

But for this Israeli woman, whose family, she says, includes Holocaust survivors, the tattoo is an expression of her Jewish and Israeli pride.

“When I was 17, I went with my high school on a trip to the concentration camps in Poland,” she wrote. “It was a very emotional and difficult trip, and when I returned to Israel I was so proud that I am Jewish and Israeli that I wanted the whole world to know.”

After the New York Times photo, that desire is certainly closer to coming true.

Bar Refaeli comes on to Simon Cowell in ‘X Factor Israel’ promo


The Israeli version of “The X Factor” isn’t airing until after the high holidays, but this teaser is sure to get Israelis psyched for their very own edition of the American hit show.

The promo features host Bar Refaeli racing through the desert to an American-style diner, where she meets up with a digitally manipulated Simon Cowell.

The Israeli supermodel uses tarot cards to seductively introduce him to the four judges. There’s Ivri Lider, “the clever one,” Shiri Maimon, “the diamond,” Rami Fortis, “the crazy one,” and Moshe Peretz, “the prince.”

Then, just when you think Refaeli is going to kiss the British bad boy, she grabs his car keys and zooms off, “hence getting his approval to get behind the wheel of the car for his show’s debut in the Holy Land,” The Hollywood Reporter so insightfully noted.

It’s all very hot and heavy, uh, except for the gum smacking waitress.

Ban Ki-Moon in Jerusalem


The first feature I ever filed for JTA, way back in 2006, was about the cautious optimism greeting the announcement that a soft-spoken career diplomat would replace Kofi Annan at the United Nations.

At the time, no one outside the rarefied halls of the UN had ever heard of Ban Ki-moon, who had risen, quickly and inoffensively, through the ranks of the South Korean foreign ministry, becoming minister in 2004. The skinny on him then was that he was not someone who would court a high public profile or shake things up too much. He would not be nearly as prominent as Annan, whose profile owed as much to his almost regal refinement as to his marrying into diplomatic royalty.

So I was a bit surprised to see headlines late last week that Ban, in an appearance in Jerusalem, had acknowledged the UN was biased against Israel. The first report I came across had no direct quote from Ban on the subject, so I asked JTA’s Ben Sales to see if he could find the quote, which he did.

Here’s the report, from the Times of Israel:

“Unfortunately, because of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, Israel’s been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias — and sometimes even discrimination,” Ban told the group, YNet reported. He was responding to a student who claimed Israelis felt their country was discriminated against at the UN.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Ban said, adding that Israel should be treated equal to all the other 192 member states.

The quote itself makes no mention of the UN, which gives Ban an escape hatch if anyone tries to make hay of this. But we can probably assume if he was responding to a question about Israel’s treatment at the UN, that’s what he meant. He also attributes the problem to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is of course debatable at best, though it’s probably safe to say that if the conflict were resolved, it would be harder for Israel’s critics to manipulate UN machinery to Israel’s detriment. He also uses that maddeningly anodyne formulation beloved by diplomats who have no intention of doing anything about a problem they call “unfortunate.”

Still, it’s something for the UN chief to suggest that an organization whose principal power is the perception that its actions represent the collective will of the nations of the world is not treating one of those nations fairly. Though in fairness, Kofi Annan said much the same thing in 2006, in the final months of his tenure. He also told the UN to its face — not a friendly audience in Israel.

Whether Ban can or will do anything about it is more than doubtful, it’s practically impossible. Israel’s treatment at the UN is almost entirely a function of the bureaucracy’s susceptibility to states who are intent on keeping the focus squarely on the Jewish state — and away from their own records.

Ban could draw attention to this habit, of course, though he’d probably be wise not to. He owes his job to those same states. But perhaps with just three years left in his ten-year tenure, and no more elections to win, his tongue is feeling a little looser.

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back


As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

Israelis possibly targeted by bomb-makers in Cyprus


Cypriot authorities discovered a small amount of explosives that may have been intended for use against Israeli targets. 

A Cypriot tabloid, Alithia, reported on Thursday that agents of Cypriot security services had discovered 100 grams of explosives at the port in Limassol, which were intended to target cruise ships carrying Israelis. The explosives, according to the report, came in the form of a pink powder.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an expert on terrorism with ties to the Cypriot government told JTA that “unless there are other packages,” the small amount found could suggest the charge was meant to target one person in a car bomb or other small explosives devices.   

“The find may not be linked to Israelis at all, but a way for the police to send a message that they know about a pending hit,” the source said.

Last month, Israel asked security forces around the world, including in Cyprus and Greece, to increase protection for Israeli tourists ahead of the High Holy Days.

In July, Cypriot police arrested a Swedish passport-holder of Lebanese descent who was allegedly tracking the movement of Israeli tourists on the island.

As protests rage over anti-Muslim movie, the cast claims it was misled by script


Protests over an anti-Muslim film continued outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, while in Yemen security guards fired at demonstrators who stormed the U.S. Embassy gates.

On Thursday in Yemen, the protesters tore down the American flag and burned it, according to reports. The protests in Cairo continued late Wednesday, a day after protesters climbed the embassy walls and tore down and tried to torch the American flag.

Security reportedly was increased at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the globe in the aftermath of the violence allegedly incited by the film “Innocence of Muslims.”

The two-hour film, which attacks the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was seen as leading to the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. diplomats in a rocket attack on Tuesday at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The protests were sparked by the translation into Arabic of a trailer for the movie.

In a statement sent to CNN, the 80 members of the cast and crew said they were “grossly misled” about the film, which they believed was a historical movie about life in the Arabian Desert.

“We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved,” the statement said according to CNN. “We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

Anti-Muslim dialogue was dubbed in after the filming, an unnamed actress, who also said there was no Muhammad character in the script, told CNN.

The actress said she spoke to the director Wednesday and “He said he wrote the script because he wants the Muslims to quit killing,” CNN reported. The director reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that “Islam is a cancer.”

Media outlets, including JTA, had reported that a man calling himself Sam Bacile, who said he was the film's director and producer, claimed that he was an Israeli American real estate developer. But a consultant to the film, Steve Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that the film's director is not Israeli and that the name is a pseudonym.

Bacile told the Associated Press that he went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

Klein told Goldberg that some 15 people were associated with the making of the film, all American citizens and most evangelicals.

Klein was called an “extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said he is “Secretary and Founder” of Courageous Christians United, a group that protests outside of mosques and abortion clinics.

A high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA Wednesday that extensive inquiries among Hollywood insiders and members of the local Israeli community failed to turn up a single person who knew a Sam Bacile.

The Israeli government in Jerusalem could not turn up any citizenship records under that name, while California officials reported that no real estate license had ever been issued to a Sam Bacile.

Media bloggers and columnists are questioning why Bacile would claim that the $5 million film was paid for by “100 Jewish donors,” calling it a set-up. Blogger Edward Blackthorn (www.publici.com) raised some basic questions as to why $5 million was needed for a film described as “unprofessional” by the Hollywood Reporter, and expressed doubt that any producer could find 100 financial backers for such a dubious enterprise.

Israel trip helps Polish Jews in Jewish rediscovery


After Jerzy heard about frequent vandalism at an old Jewish cemetery in his home city of Gdansk, Poland, he decided to visit the graveyard.

It had fallen into such disrepair that “people would go there to drink beer,” said Jerzy, who gave only his middle name due to fears of anti-Semitism. 

He made a few trips to the cemetery, meeting a member of the local Jewish community who invited him to come to Friday night services and Shabbat dinner. 

“I liked Jews all my life,” said Jerzy, 32, who although not raised Jewish had worn a Star of David as a child. “It was the opposite of all of Poland.” Around Gdansk, he said, he sometimes sees graffiti of a Jewish star hanging from a gallows. 

As he learned more about Poland’s Jews, Jerzy began to research his own family history. He traveled to his father’s birthplace near Lublin to find his father’s birth certificate; soon afterward, he learned that his father and his maternal grandfather were Jewish.

Three years later, Jerzy — whose arms are covered in tattoos — has across the back of his neck a huge Hebrew tattoo that reads “Shema Yisrael.” He is converting to Judaism to gain recognition from traditional denominations.

Jerzy was one of 19 participants to travel to Israel last month on a trip for Poles with newly discovered Jewish roots. The trip, according to Shavei Israel, the group that organized it, aims to teach participants about Judaism and to involve them more in Jewish life and support of Israel.

“The Jewish people are a small people, and there are these communities out there that were once a part of us,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel. “When someone discovers or rediscovers their Jewish roots, it makes them more sympathetic to Israel and Jewish causes, so it’s something we stand to benefit from [regarding] diplomacy and hasbarah,” Israeli public relations.

Based in Israel, Shavei Israel also runs programs for those with Jewish roots in Spain, Portugal, India and Russia.

The two-week August trip took participants throughout Israel. They traveled through Jerusalem, to northern Israel and also to West Bank settlements such as Hebron and Mitzpeh Yericho, where they spent Shabbat. Freund said that the visits to settlements do not indicate that the trip takes political positions.

“We stay completely away from political messaging,” Freund said. “There is no political agenda here. The agenda is to give them an opportunity to see the land of Israel and visit important historical sites.”

The group also visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, to gain an Israeli perspective on a tragedy also etched deep in Polish national memory.

Trip leaders did not discuss politics, participants said. Several said that their favorite part of the journey was the feeling of being in a Jewish society where they were free to wear kippot on the street and to try out their Hebrew. 

After doing advanced coursework in Jewish studies, Gosia Tichoruk, 35, learned two years ago that her maternal great-grandmother was Jewish — and therefore that she, her mother and her grandmother were as well, according to Jewish law. In Israel, “The first thing that struck me was you’re walking down the beach, and you have Jews all around you,” she said. “It’s this safety you have, people greeting you with ‘Shavuah tov’ and ‘Shabbat shalom.’ “

Like a few of the participants, Tichoruk has started keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and learning Hebrew. She said Jewish life is sparse in her hometown of Poznan, but cities such as Krakow and Warsaw have more Jewish resources.

The Krakow Jewish Community Center has been a boon to Jedrek Pitorak, 23, who goes there for Shabbat dinners, holiday celebrations and Hebrew classes. Pitorak, who has known he is Jewish his entire life, was one of the group’s most experienced Israel tourists. Unlike many who were first-time visitors, he came here in 2009 on Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sponsors free trips to Israel for young adults.

Pitorak is heartened by “how many small children we see here. It’s a bright sign.” Although he’s involved in the contemporary Polish Jewish community, he does not think his homeland will become a center of Jewish life, as it was before almost all of its Jews perished in the Holocaust. Approximately 4,000 registered Jews currently live in Poland, although community leaders suspect that tens of thousands of Poles may not have identified as Jewish.

“There are many old people and the community is not growing,” Pitorak said of Krakow’s Jews. “If you come to the JCC, you see more volunteers and sociologists than real Jews.”

Participants said that they enjoyed Israel’s religious options, historical sites, beaches and food. But one of the features of Israeli life that Pitorak likes best may surprise Israelis and American tourists alike. He appreciates “how polite the drivers are to each other and the pedestrians.”

Families of Burgas victims attend memorial ceremony, visit attack site


The families of the Israelis killed in a terror attack at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, attended a ceremony for the victims.

The memorial was held Tuesday at the Great Synagogue in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The families of the five victims of the July 18 attack visited the site of the suicide bombing a day earlier.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said after the ceremony that he has set a deadline of Sept. 15 for a public report on the investigation into the attack, according to the Focus News Agency.

“Israel and Bulgaria will not calm down and hold our peace until all people involved in the terror attack in Burgas are punished,” said Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, said at the ceremony. “We will pursue them [the perpetrators] with all the strength we have and we will not give up until we get even with them. We will do it without wondering and without batting an eyelid, just like we have always done.”

Bulgaria’s minister of economy, energy and tourism, Delyan Dobrev, met with the families on Monday at the airport.

“The security measures that were taken for the tourists in Bulgaria will not be just temporary but will remain for good,” he said according to Focus. “In cooperation with the Israeli services, we analyzed the security at key places in Bulgaria and we will apply even more measures to guarantee the enhanced security.”

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Fear and Daniel Gordis


For reasons I can’t quite understand, many leaders in the pro-Israel community continue to insist that the young generation of American Jews has abandoned Israel.

That’s just not true. 

“Ours is the first generation in which the centrality of Zion in Jewish dreams is beginning to fade,” Rabbi Daniel Gordis wrote in this week’s Tablet, an online Jewish magazine. “It is fading rapidly, and we know why. … [A] younger generation for whom war is anathema and occupation is morally unbearable has begun to drift away. …Young Jews today, discouraged by Israeli policies that they cannot abide, either explicitly or tacitly join those who condemn the Jewish State.”

Cut to:

John F. Kennedy International Airport, Aug. 14. Amid the bustling crowd, one group of 15 men and women, ages 18 to 22, all clad in dark green T-shirts, stands out. Although they shout to one another in English, their T-shirts have just Hebrew writing: “Olim Tzahal” — Israeli Army Immigrants.

They are on their way to join the Israel Defense Forces.

This year, a record group of 127 men and women flew on the Soldier Aliyah flight sponsored by the Israeli immigration group Nefesh b’Nefesh. Thirty-two of these young volunteers are from the greater Los Angeles area. They were joining an increasing number of young Angelenos who choose to enlist in the IDF.

I know a lot of these kids. Ezra, the Milken student who lives down the block and used to carpool with my son — soon he’ll be driving a tank. Alexi Rosenfeld, who just graduated from Milken, snapped the “class picture” of the group at JFK Airport and sent it to me with a note, “Hi Rob, As you may remember I have decided to join the IDF and will be postponing my photography career (unless the IDF sends me back!).” The daughter of a friend who is participating in secret training maneuvers in the Negev. The son of another friend, who just completed parachute training.

But this is just a small group, right? Anecdotal evidence is hardly proof that the rest of American Jewish youth isn’t drifting away. 

Except it just isn’t.

Gordis writes: “A recent study asked American Jews if the destruction of Israel would be a personal tragedy for them. … Amazingly, 50 percent of those 35 years old and younger said that Israel’s destruction would not be a personal tragedy.”

Amazingly! Amazingly, Gordis considers a study conducted in 2006 to be “recent.” And amazingly he neglects to mention a truly recent study that completely contradicts his point. In May 2012, Steven M. Cohen, who conducted the 2006 survey, completed a new study that found “Non-Orthodox younger Jews, ages 35 and under, are substantially more attached to Israel than those ages 35-44.”

That’s right: There is no evidence Israel is losing the next generation of American Jews. In fact, the opposite is true.

This proves a couple of things: 

1. Never ask a young person if the loss of anything would be a “personal tragedy,” unless you’re talking about his immediate family member or his fake I.D.

2. In the pro-Israel community, bad news travels fast, good news takes the 405 at rush hour.

Trading on the “next generation” fear is a useful device for Jewish leaders across the political spectrum. Peter Beinart got a whole book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” out of it. 

“For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at the door,” Beinart famously and hyperbolically wrote, “and now, to their horror, they are finding many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

Except, of course, they haven’t.

Gordis, senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award for “Saving Israel.” Get it? “Saving Israel,” “The Crisis of Zionism” — though Beinart and Gordis disagree publicly, and stridently, on Israeli policies, they have a kind of Mutual B.S. Pact, bonded together in their common fear mongering. 

So why? Why do we insist on looking at the dark side? The thing we most repress comes to define us, Carl Jung once said. If the Jewish people’s shadow is fear, is it surprising that Israel adopted as its national anthem, Hatikvah, “The Hope?”

We want hope, but we can’t quite embrace it. And when good news comes, when our hopes are realized, we continue to live in its opposite. 

In the case of Israel, I believe that’s because the truth is just a bit messier than Gordis and many in the pro-Israel community would have it. The point of Gordis’ (truly) recent essay is that American Jewry depends on Israel for its very survival.

“This is the point that today’s younger generation of American Jews simply do not understand,” he writes. “American Jewish life as it now exists would not survive the loss of Israel.” 

Hard to argue with a sentence that includes the phrase “as it now exists.” Because it’s impossible to imagine a world without Israel in which Israel’s largest protector and supporter, the United States of America, would turn its back on its ally, or not have the power to protect it. In that scenario, the loss of Israel might be just one of a host of American Jewish worries.

But dangling visions of post-nuclear Armageddon before us is just Gordis’ way of trying to tell us how much Israel strengthens American Jewish identity.

“Jews today no longer think of themselves as a tiptoeing people,” he writes. “Without the State of Israel, the self-confidence and sense of belonging that American Jews now take for granted would quickly disappear.”

Again, after the Apocalypse I’m not sure our biggest worry will be our depleted self-confidence, but so be it. 

Where Gordis, and to a lesser extent Beinart, misread or misrepresent young American Jews is in not defining more carefully the word, “Israel.”

The American Jewish romance with Israel, like America’s relationship with Israel more generally, changed dramatically after the Six-Day War in 1967. What had been a largely supportive community turned overnight into a passionate, proud and activist one. After that war, romance turned into love.

The reasons for this are integral to understanding the truly recent statistics.

In 1967, Israel fought and won a defensive war against daunting odds. Israel was restrained until it couldn’t be, tough and brilliant when it had to be and united as much as it ever would be. The Six-Day War burned an ideal of Israel deep into the American, and American Jewish, psyche.

In the 45 years since, the closer Israel comes to achieving that ideal, the more American Jews are drawn to it. The farther it drifts, the farther their affections do as well.

So when Gordis writes that it is Israel that has stiffened American Jewry’s spine, he is only half right. It is a certain kind of Israel — that state that strives toward its ideal state — that resonates, and will always resonate, with American Jewish youth.

There is no blank check of American Jewish love for Israel, but there is a lot of money, a ton of money, in the account. The idea that support for Israel has ever been completely independent of its actions is ahistorical, and doesn’t apply to any Jewish group — Orthodox, right, left, secular.

The bottom line is this: If we who love Israel worry about quality, the quantity will take care of itself.

You can—you should—follow Rob Eshman on Twitter @foodaism.

Where are the Munich elegies?


This year, Tisha b’Av marks not only the destruction of both Temples, but with the opening ceremony of the London Olympics just a night earlier, the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.

On this day of mourning and fasting, which begins at sundown on Saturday, how can we remember the tragedy of the 1972 Summer Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered?

The International Olympic Committee has rejected a call for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony in memory of those killed, announcing instead a tribute in Munich and holding a ceremony on Monday at the Olympic Village with remarks by the IOC’s chief, Jacques Rogge.

Even in 1972, I was already having trouble remembering.

Returning to UCLA my sophomore year, just weeks after the tragedy, I remember being pushed by more serious minds into working on an issue of the school’s Jewish student newspaper, Ha’Am, which at its center had a spread titled “Post Olympic Outpour.” At first I resisted, thinking “Why do I need to go through the pain all over again?”

Now, 40 years later, I wonder how many of us are still resisting that pain.

Traditionally on Tisha b’Av, we remember our tragedies by sitting on low seats or the floor, lowering the lights and chanting in a mournful trope the book of Eicha (Lamentations). In many communities, elegies called kinot are chanted as well that commemorate such tragic events as the public burning of the Torah in Paris, the massacre of German Jews during the first Crusades, the Ten Martyrs (which you may recall from the Yom Kippur Martyrology service), the York massacre and, more recently, the Holocaust.

In 2012, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, writing in Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union, described the emotional impact of the kinot.

“All the kinot, regardless of who the author may be, express strong feelings of loss, grief and despair,” he wrote. “On Tishah B’Av day, the reader must come away from a reading of the poems with similar feelings.”

Weinreb went on to say that after studying the kinot texts over a course of months, he found himself “spiritually exhausted by the process,” holding on to “those few phrases of hope with which almost all the kinot conclude.”

It is from the intent of the kinot that I think we can find an inspiration for a different form of Munich elegy.

A formal kinah commemorating the Munich 11 has yet to enter the liturgy—if someone has written one please email me—but other forms, though not formal kinot, can help us process our feelings of loss and despair. For example, the personal tragic stories told through films can touch us, moving us toward memory.

In England on Tisha b’Av, the New London Synagogue about 10 miles from the Olympic Village will be showing the Academy Award-winning documentary “One Day in September.” Released in 1999, it’s a film that, while making points about the Palestinian terrorists and botched German police work, mourns the victims by recounting the story of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer and his wife, Ankie.

Another film that like an elegy re-enacts the tragedy, Spielberg’s 2005 “Munich”—it also has a fictionalized account of Israel’s response—will be shown at Temple Concord in Syracuse, N.Y.

The audience for these two films, sitting in a darkened setting, drawn together to listen and watch the story being retold, will be reminded of a different Jewish theme internalized when we hear the kinot chanted—we do not remember and mourn alone.

For most of us, writing a kinah would be a challenge, but adding a line to a petition asking for a moment of silence presented by Ankie Spitzer might be a way to get in the spirit of it. When I read the comments on the petition site, they seemed to form a kind of people’s elegy of prayer, memory and anger:

“I was there, I felt it, I cried for it, I still pray for all them,” Johanna Bronsztein wrote.

“We must never forget and forever respect,” Brenda Rezak wrote.

Jeri Roth adds, “If these people had been any other nationality, we wouldn’t have to ask for a moment of silence.”

Yet for many of us, home on Sunday, watching the Summer Olympics’ events on TV— archery, fencing, weightlifting—in our own darkened rooms, it’s all too easy to forget.

With so much Olympic pageantry and competition, with the promise of gold, silver and bronze to divert me, I will need my own kinah to pull me back to a zone of “Never forget”—a simple list to remember what happened 40 summers ago. Sometime that day, resistance gone, I will try to touch again the loss I felt in 1972.

I will read the names:

Moshe Weinberg, wrestling coach
Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman and David Berger, weightlifters
Yakov Springer, weightlifting judge
Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, wrestlers
Yossef Gutfreund, wrestling referee
Kehat Shorr, shooting coach
Andrei Spitzer, fencing coach
Amitzur Shapira, track coach

Will this simple act also allow me to dream that a tragedy like this will not be repeated? That is my hope.

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.

Strangers to hate crimes, Bulgarian Jews reeling from Burgas bombing


Until this week, leaders of Bulgaria’s small, generally placid Jewish community said felt untouched by hate crimes or terrorism.

But after Wednesday’s apparent suicide bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Black Sea city of Borgas, Jews in the country are speaking of a basic change in their sense of security.

“We used to convene without a shred of fear in the Jewish community’s buildings,” said Kamen Petrov, vice president of Maccabi Bulgaria. “I guess we had been unprepared. Things will have to change from now on. We thought something like this could not happen in Bulgaria.”

Wednesday’s explosion outside Sarafovo Airport in Burgas killed six Israeli tourists, a Bulgarian bus driver and the suspected suicide bomber. More than 30 Israelis were injured. The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Israel.

Maxim Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, said that three years ago the community had drafted emergency plans to respond to potential terror attacks.
“We discussed such scenarios. But we see that it’s one thing to discuss them, and it’s another to see the scenario happening before your eyes,” he told JTA. Bevenisti said security measures will now be tightened. “The situation needs to be improved,” he said.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said Wednesday that at a meeting a month ago, with representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service did not warn Bulgarian officials of the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Bulgaria’s Jewish community had increased its security arrangements in February, following warnings from the local Israeli Embassy, according to Martin Levi, vice chairman of the Jewish community in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Among other measures, security at the entrances to the community building in Sofia and other Jewish institutions were tightened. Bulgarian authorities had been made aware of the warnings, he said.

That came in the wake of the discovery by Bulgarian authorities of a bomb on a charter bus for Israelis that was heading to a Bulgarian ski resort from the Turkish border.

“We took the alerts seriously and upped security, but the Bulgarian authorities were dismissive,” Levi said. “Some argued Bulgaria was immune because it had such excellent relations and cultural attachment to Muslim populations. I am deeply disappointed in how the authorities handled this.”

He learned of the attack while in Hungary, where he is helping instructors run a summer camp for some 260 Jewish children from the Balkans. Next week, a summer camp for Bulgarian Jewish children will open in Bulgaria.

The camp has taken additional precautions as well, he said, without offering details.

“We want to beef up security without causing panic,” Levi said. “We try to tell the children as little as possible about the attack and continue with our program. We don’t want this to become ‘the summer camp of the terrorist attack.’”

The flow of Israeli tourists into Bulgaria picked up in 2009, following the deterioration in Israel’s relation’s with Turkey. Bulgaria’s minister of tourism was quoted as saying that nearly 150,000 Israelis were expected to visit Bulgaria this year. Some 20 percent of standing reservations from Israel have been canceled since the attack.

Tania Reytan, a sociologist at the University of Sofia who is Jewish and promotes interfaith dialogue, said she has limited faith in the effectiveness of additional security measures in the long run.

“The biggest security gap is in the extremist’s mind,” she said. “We need to reach out more to the other communities and explain who we are and what our values are.”

Though Bulgaria has a pro-Israel foreign policy, she said, “Israel is always mentioned in a negative context in Bulgaria.” The terrorists picked Bulgaria, she said, “because they sought for the weakest link in the European Union, and they found it.”

Some observers are worried that the attack could have negative repercussions for the generally positive relations between Bulgarians Jews and Muslims. Approximately 8 percent of Bulgaria’s 7 million people are Muslim, the vast majority of them ethnic Turks.

Bulgaria has an estimated 3,500 to 5,700 Jews.

Relations between Jews and Muslims in Bulgaria have historically been “peaceful and friendly,” said Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria.

On Thursday, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four and seven days. “We cannot exclude the possibility that he had logistical support on Bulgarian territory,” the minister said. He declined to elaborate.

Nitzan Nuriel, former head of Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau, speculated that the suicide bomber might have been homegrown – either recruited locally or having crossed over from Turkey.

Representatives of Bulgaria’s Muslim community issued strong condemnations of the attack, as did representatives of various other ethnic and religious groups and associations.

“We refuse to believe that the bomber is a Bulgarian Muslim. We don’t believe that any of them could undertake such action,” said Ahmed Ahmedov, spokesman for the chief Bulgarian mufti.

Mufti Mustafa Alsih Hadzhi, in an official statement to the Bulgarian media, denounced Wednesday’s attack as a “barbarian act” and expressed condolences with the families of the victims. Ahmedov said that the attack should not be interpreted as a religious act, but as some kind of “economic provocation” aimed at crippling the local tourist business.
Despite the attack, some Israelis seem undeterred from coming to Bulgaria.

Rabbi Yossi Halperin of Varna – a city situated about 50 miles north of Burgas and where flights to and from Burgas were rerouted after the attack – said he found “a good number of recent arrivals” from Israel when he went to Varna’s airport “to help people through all the confusion.”

Svetlana Guineva reported for this story from Sofia, Bulgaria; Cnaan Liphshiz reported from The Hague, and Dianna Cahn contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.

Jewish organizations raising funds to help victims of the attack in Bulgaria


Jewish organizations are reaching out to help the victims of Wednesday’s terror attack by a suicide bomber in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and a bus driver and wounded more than 30 others. To help, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Orthodox Union all are soliciting funds to aid the wounded and the families of those killed.

“It’s very important symbolically for the people of Israel to know and to feel that Jewish organizations around the world are stepping up and thinking of them and participating in this,” said David Siegel, the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The deadly attack took place aboard a bus filled with Israeli tourists in the international airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, a popular tourist destination for Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has named the Iranian terrorist organization of Hezbollah as responsible for the attack.

Of the five Israelis who were killed, two of them were fathers in their 20s with young children. Three people were critically injured, and at least 30 were injured to various degrees, according to Siegel.

The Israeli government has programs to help victims of terrorist attacks and their families, including paying for medical care, disability costs, trauma care and other expenses – but it cannot cover everything, Siegel said. Therefore, organizations are helping to “address supplemental needs not covered by Israeli government bodies,” according to an announcement Thursday from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Donations to help the victims can be made via the Web sites of the L.A. Federation, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Orthodox Union. Building up a contribution made by the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel is raising funds via its Fund for the Victims of Terror program. Since its founding in 2002, the Fund for the Victims of Terror program has provided financial assistance to Israeli victims of rocket attacks from Gaza.

What Israeli government can provide victims is determined on a case-by-case basis, Siegel said. Non-governmental funding, however, can be used for everything from education costs for families where the primary breadwinner was killed, to burial costs and long-term medical care, according to Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The L.A. Federation promises to donate “100 percent of collected donations” and “absorb all administrative costs,” according to a statement released today.

“Whatever we can do to make a difference, that’s the approach we are taking,” Sanderson said, adding that the Jewish Agency for Israel will take the lead on administering the funds raised to the victims and their families.

To donate, visit:

Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari rips up, throws out New Testament


Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben Ari ripped up a copy of the New Testament and threw it in the garbage.

Ben Ari, of the National Union Party, had his legislative aide, Itamar Ben Gvir, photograph his destruction and released the photo Tuesday to the Israeli daily Maariv.

Lawmakers had received in their Knesset mailboxes copies of the new edition of the New Testament released by the Bible Society in Israel, which distributes Christian books in the country, Ynet reported. Some returned it to the society and others quietly disposed of it.

“Sending the book to lawmakers is a provocation. There is no doubt that this book and all it represents belongs in the garbage can of history,” Ben Ari said, adding that it “galvanized the murder of millions of Jews” throughout history, including during the Spanish Inquisition.

Government spokesman Mark Regev told Ynet that “We totally deplore this behavior and condemn it outright. This action stands in complete contrast to our values and our traditions. Israel is a tolerant society, but we have zero tolerance for this despicable and hateful act.”

Court rules Judaism, not place of birth, is grounds for Israeli citizenship


The Haifa District Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal submitted by Professor Uzzi Ornan, who sought to compel Israel’s Interior Ministry to recognize his citizenship based on the fact that he was born in Israel, rather than on the grounds that he was Jewish.

Ornan, a linguist and member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, who is also the founder of the League against Religious Coercion in Israel, petitioned the Interior Ministry in 2010 to recognize him as an Israeli, not on grounds of being Jewish but because he was born in Israel.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Daniel Fisch said that it was without a doubt that the petitioner, Prof Uzzi Ornan, was born to a Jewish mother, and was therefore Jewish, which the law of return states as the source of his citizenship.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Arab Israeli bound over on murder charges in Michigan


An Arab-Israeli suspect in a series of killings and attacks in three U.S. states has been bound over for three murder trials in Michigan.

A Michigan judge on Tuesday ordered Elias Abuelazam, 33, a Christian Arab from Ramla, to be tried in a Flint courtroom for a third murder.

In addition to the three murder charges, Abuelazam also is facing six assault with intent to murder charges in the Flint area, as well as attempted murder charges in Toledo, Ohio. He is a suspect as well in several attacks in Leesburg, Va.

Abuelazam, who lived in the United States for several years as a child and reportedly was living legally in the United States on a green card obtained when he married a U.S. citizen, was arrested Aug. 1 in Atlanta after boarding a flight to Israel.

Nearly all of the attacks, which include at least a dozen non-fatal stabbings and five deaths, involved dark-skinned victims, either black or Latin American.

Defense lawyers reportedly are considering an insanity defense.

Iran downgrades tomb of Esther and Mordechai


Iranian authorities have downgraded the status of the tomb of Esther and Mordechai, while an official state news agency has publicized the Purim story as a Jewish massacre of Iranians.

Officials recently removed the sign that identified the mausoleum of the biblical figures in the central Iranian city of Hamadan as an official pilgrimage site. The removal of the sign signifies that its status has been downgraded, according to reports.

The actions come about two weeks after a group of about 250 militant students surrounded the tomb and threatened to tear it down. Their threats were in response to alleged Israeli excavations under the Al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The biblical Queen Esther was the second wife of Persian King Ahasuerus, identified as Xerxes I; Mordechai was her uncle, who also raised her.

The Iranian state news agency Fars has been reporting that Esther and Mordechai were responsible for the massacre of more than 75,000 Iranians, an event recorded in the Book of Esther, which is read on the Jewish festival of Purim.

The reports, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center citing Fars, also call the tomb an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty; report that its name must be wiped away in order to teach Iranian children to “beware of the crimes of the Jews”; call for the shrine’s return to the Iranian people; and say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious endowments authority.

In a letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Director-General Irina Bokova, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, urged UNESCO to “call upon the Iranian authorities to take appropriate measures to terminate this campaign of racism and desecration.”

“It is perhaps time for UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to establish instruments for the universal protection of holy sites,” Samuels concluded.

Hamas leader: Holocaust a ‘lie’


A top Hamas leader called the Holocaust a “lie.”

“The lie according to which they were a victim of a holocaust and the (Jewish) people are a victim—this lie has crumbled with the holocaust of Beit Hanun, the holocaust of Al-Fakhura and the other countless holocausts … committed by the Zionist enemy,” AFP, the French news agency, quoted Mahmoud Zahar as saying on Thursday.

Zahar was listing incidents during the Gaza War two years ago and marking the second anniversary of the landing of an Israeli shell near Al-Fakhura, a school run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Hamas has said that 43 people, all but one of them civilians, were killed in the incident; Israel’s army has concluded that 12 people, nine of them combatants, were killed, and that its troops were returning fire.

Rethink probe of groups, AJC urges Knesset


The American Jewish Committee called on Israel’s Knesset to reconsider its decision to form a parliamentary committee to investigate Israeli groups critical of the country’s military.

“The Knesset’s action today contravenes the democratic principles that are Israel’s greatest strength,” AJC Executive Director David Harris said in a statement released Wednesday. “Israel’s vibrant democracy not only can survive criticism, but it also thrives and is improved by it.”

The initiative, proposed by the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, passed Wednesday by a vote of 47 to 16.

The committee will be charged with determining if the groups are funded by foreign countries or by other groups with links to terrorism.

State Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled in the summer that organizations cannot be investigated for criticizing the Israel Defense Forces activities.

Israeli human rights groups have criticized the initiative.

AJC called on the Knesset to seek other means to address concerns about the role of funding in political and civic activity.

“The selective targeting of groups critical of the IDF runs counter to Israel’s legal and political tradition, and does no service to the one state that is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East,” Harris said.

He recommended a debate on whether to require groups across the political spectrum to make full disclosure of the sources of their revenue.

Meanwhile, Im Tirtzu, an Israeli group that has depicted the New Israel Fund and its affiliates as anti-Israel for its criticism of the country’s policies, issued a statement praising the Knesset for passing the bill.

“Israeli citizens have the right to know the causes and real interests that aim at delegitimizing Israel,” the organization said in a statement.

Safed rabbi refuses police summons over anti-Arab letter


The Chief Rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, said he would refuse to respond to a police summons for questioning on suspicion of incitement to racism.

Eliyahu reportedly did not present himself to Jerusalem police on Sunday, as ordered, over a letter signed by nearly 50 municipal rabbis calling on the Jewish public not to rent or sell homes to non-Jews, specifically Arabs.

The official reason given for not answering the summons was time restrictions, the Jerusalem Post reported. But Eliyahu reportedly said, according to the Jerusalem Post that he “asked whether David Grossman, Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni, who demonstrated against Jewish presence in the Shimon Hatzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood, were also summoned for questioning. Were there summonses for the heads of the Jewish National Fund, whose constitution prohibits selling apartments to non- Jews? If not, double standards are being applied here, and I don’t intend on playing into the hands of a legal system that acts in a non-egalitarian manner.”

Meanwhile, a letter from Israeli intellectuals, politicians and artists released over the weekend calls on the government to fire the rabbis who signed the original letter.

“There is an immediate need to fire these rabbis, who are inciting and threatening to turn Judaism into racism, and see to it that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” the intellectuals’ letter read. “There are only two options: a proper, equal, free and normal country or a violent, racist dictatorship that will destroy Israel. Those who choose the first option must act immediately.”

Presidents Conference’s Hoenlein, Assad meet in Damascus


Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Hoenlein said the meeting Monday was at the invitation of Syria and not, as had been reported originally by the Israeli media, at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I went to Damascus on an important humanitarian issue to the Jewish people,” Hoenlein told Haaretz. “Netanyahu did not ask anything from me, and any attempt to link me to the diplomatic process with Syrian is manipulation.”

He would not elaborate on his mission other than to say it involved the restoration of synagogues and was “for the good of the Jewish people.”

Hoenlein did not return JTA’s request for comment.

The Presidents Conference is the foreign policy umbrella for U.S. Jewish groups.

Netanyahu has refused to renew talks with Syria where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who had indicated that a comprehensive peace would include Israel’s return of the Golan Heights.

In U.S., Israeli expats turn to growing number of Israeli rabbis


Itzik Abu-Hatzera rarely attended synagogue in his native Haifa when he lived in Israel.

But last December his family was among those of nearly 200 other Israelis in South Florida at a Chanukah party sponsored by the Chabad Israeli Center in Boca Raton.

“In Israel you don’t need it, Jews are all around you,” says Abu-Hatzera, who moved here 10 years ago.

Like Abu-Hatzera, the rabbi of the Chabad center, Naftali Hertzel, is Israeli. At the Chabad he runs with his wife, Henya, Hebrew is the lingua franca. That, rather than the specific religious components of the evening, was why Abu-Hatzera and his family came here rather than to one of many similar Chanukah events organized by American Jews in this heavily Jewish area.

“It’s the Hebrew, the culture, everything,” says Abu-Hatzera, a 35-year-old father of two.

Waving his arm at the loudspeaker blasting Israeli pop music and the buffet table laden with falafel and sufganiyot—Israeli jelly doughnuts—he says, “It’s what I belong to.”

About140,000 Israelis live in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, though Jewish and Israeli sources say the number actually is closer to 500,000. Whatever the exact figure, many if not most of the Israeli expatriates in America are secular, like approximately 80 percent of Israeli Jews.

While few of the Israelis in this country went to shul in Israel or consider themselves religious, now that they are far from home some have begun attending services and making sure their children receive some kind of formal Jewish education.

Some say they are doing it for themselves, to feel closer to what they left behind. Some are doing it for their children, so they will grow up with a sense of Jewish identity.

Whatever the reason, the phenomenon seems to be growing. In recent years a number of Israeli rabbis have set up shop in the United States to minister to Israelis in their own language.

It’s easier to bring Judaism to Israelis when they’re outside the Jewish state, says Rabbi Menachem Landa, an Israeli-born Chabad emissary who runs the 4-year-old Chabad Israeli Center in Palo Alto, Calif.

“They’re more open, they’re looking for friends and to deepen their Jewish identity,” he says.

Some two dozen Israeli Chabad rabbis are gearing their outreach work to Israelis in the United States. Most of the rabbis arrived here within the past five to seven years, according to Landa, and are located in areas with large Hebrew-speaking populations such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta. They support each other through informal networks, including special programming during the annual Chabad emissary conference in Brooklyn, N.Y., every fall.

It’s not just Chabad. The Shehebar Sephardic Center, which has ordained 150 Sephardic rabbis at its Jerusalem yeshiva, has sent 10 of its graduates to pulpits in the United States, most within the past five years. They work among the Hebrew-speaking Sephardic populations in Florida, Texas and Los Angeles, as well as along the Eastern seaboard.

Many Israeli-born Chasidic rabbis also are serving various Chasidic communities in North America. But it’s the Israeli Chabad and Sephardic rabbis, along with individual non-chasidic Israeli rabbis, who represent a new phenomenon: Israeli rabbis in the United States reaching out to largely non-observant fellow expats.

“Our main job is outreach, to instill an awareness of Judaism, tradition and culture in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people,” says Rabbi Sam Kassin, founder and dean of the Shehebar Sephardic Center, one of the few institutions that trains rabbis in the Sephardic tradition. “We feel that the best rabbi to address the needs of Israelis is someone who knows the language and understands their cultural needs. That’s why we place Israeli-born rabbis, who also speak some English, in Israeli neighborhoods in the U.S.”

Yoav Kiesler, who moved from Israel to the San Francisco Bay Area 13 years ago, began studying Jewish texts with Landa five years ago.

“I clicked with him, even though he’s from Bnei Brak and I served in the Israel Defense Forces,” said Kiesler, who lives in San Rafael, just north of San Francisco. Bnei Brak is a heavily Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv.

“You’d think we have little in common,” Kiesler said. “But I felt we shared the same background. When someone speaks the same language, things flow much easier.”

Eyal Shemesh, the Los Angeles-based publisher of We in America, a Hebrew-language magazine catering to Israelis in Southern California, left Israel for the United States 25 years ago, right after his military service.

He says the American Israeli community is mixed, comprised of newcomers, temporary residents and long-timers like his family. Shemesh and his Israeli wife have been here for decades and have U.S.-born children that move between both cultures.

Shemesh says even so-called secular Israelis like him attend Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah services in America, and need the Jewish community to say Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, as well as for other lifecycle events.

If there is no Israeli congregation, he says, local Israeli Jews will go to “an American synagogue,” but that’s not their first choice.

On the High Holidays, the Shemesh family joins many other local Israelis in a rented hall for services run by Rabbi Rafael Gaye, an Israeli rabbi who is the spiritual leader of Shuva Israel, a Sephardic congregation in nearby Tarzana, Calif.

“We’re secular, but we still respect the traditions,” Shemesh said. “And sometimes the synagogue is part of meeting each other, a social center.”

Children are a big impetus for both Israeli and American Jews. Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Sholom, a large Conservative synagogue in Encino, Calif., notes that the Israelis who move to America as adults have grown up in a predominantly Jewish culture and have absorbed more of the religion than they realize. They come here, don’t join a synagogue and are shocked when their children don’t have a strong Jewish identity.

“There’s a rude awakening when they realize their kids aren’t growing up Jewish,” Feinstein says. “I’ve had some difficult conversations with parents.”

Professor Steven Gold of Michigan State University, author of the 2002 book “The Israeli Diaspora,” says two groups of Israelis are living in the United States, with different preferences.

There is the more educated, professional Israeli, often Ashkenazi, who is secular in Israel and feels more comfortable in a liberal, American synagogue.

“They realize if they don’t do anything their kids won’t have a Jewish identity living in the United States, so they join a Reform, Reconstructionist, even a Conservative synagogue where the family can sit together,” Gold says. “It’s more compatible with their lifestyle.”

Then there are the more traditional Israelis, often Sephardim, “who want to maintain their traditions and feel more comfortable in an Israeli setting,” Gold says. “It’s a class and an ethnic divide.”

Feinstein says it doesn’t matter which synagogue Israeli Jews choose, as long as they go somewhere.

“I’m delighted that Israelis are affiliating anyplace,” Feinstein says. “Whether they affiliate with Hebrew-speaking or English-speaking congregations isn’t as important as the fact they’re coming to America and living as Jews and raising their kids as Jews.”

The Eulogizer: Bible scholar, businessman-FBI informant, online journalism pioneer


The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories, and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at {encode=”eulogizer@jta.org” title=”eulogizer@jta.org”}. Read previous columns here.

Noted Israeli Bible scholar

Professor Shemaryahu Talmon, a Holocaust survivor who became a noted Israeli Bible scholar with a worldwide reputation, died Dec. 15 at 90.

Talmon, a native of Germany, was the sole member of his family to survive the Shoah. Following World War II, he became head of the education system in the Jewish refugee camps in Cyprus before coming to Israel.

Talmon’s achievements included the prestigious Israel Prize in Bible study. His research combined text criticism and the place of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Jewish canon. His work revealed a deep sensitivity for the Bible’s literary character and the social reality reflected in it.

He said people today must deal with the Bible in our own time, that Israeli society was an integral part of an extensive cultural network in the Near East, and that Jewish beliefs were influenced by its neighbors.

Talmon was the Judah L. Magnes emeritus professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and he taught and held positions elsewhere in Israel, Europe and the United States. He published scores of academic papers. Talmon also participated in Christian-Jewish dialogue among biblical scholars and was a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, to which he donated a collection of 10,000 volumes in the areas of Bible studies.

The Eulogizer was surprised to find no obituaries of Talmon in any major media, Hebrew or English.

California businessman who helped in FBI sting

Marvin Levin, a real estate developer who wore a wire in his cowboy boots during a major FBI anti-corruption sting of California’s state government in the 1980s, died Nov. 19 at 76.

In the wake of the FBI investigation, several lawmakers, state leaders, legislative staffers and a lobbyist were charged, and the hard feelings have yet to subside. Some of the reader comments (later removed) on a newspaper article recounting Levin’s life and death were scorching.

Levin was an invaluable informant in the sting, which ended in 1988 when investigators raided offices in the state Capitol. Levin’s boot-borne tape recorder had taped dozens of meetings with politicians and legislative staffers. The sheriff and undersheriff of Yolo County, California, also were convicted after they attempted to extort money from Levin for a re-election campaign.

Levin told The Los Angeles Times in 1988 that he was motivated to end Sacramento corruption because he had experienced it firsthand and “somebody had to.” All he received for his efforts were $1,800 to cover expenses, including a paint job for his 1978 Buick and the cowboy boots purchased at the behest of the FBI because they didn’t think he was “flashy enough.” But the activity cost him dearly; his wife said he had three heart attacks.

Levin was one of three children of Jewish refugees from Russia. His father was a storekeeper. He moved to Florida nine years ago.

Online journalism pioneer, website builder

Mary Jane “M.J.” Bear, a journalist and Internet pioneer who built websites around the world, died Dec. 17 at 48.

Bear, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, worked for TV and radio stations. At National Public Radio she became a vice president. She also worked for Online, Radio Free Europe in Prague and Microsoft, in Vienna, Austria. She launched websites for Microsoft in Greece, Poland, Israel and Turkey, as well as TV programming in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.

During her illness from leukemia, Bear created a website on Caring Bridge, which provides free and private websites “that connect people experiencing a significant health challenge to family and friends.” The site is now filled with touching tributes from friends and family.

Bear took an active role in Jewish communities in every city in which she lived, and was a founding board member of the Online News Association, which is establishing an endowment fund in her name for young journalists.

While your neighbor bleeds: Parashat Shemot-Vaera (Exodus 1:1-9:35)


At the beginning of Shemot, when Jacob’s offspring were enslaved, oppressed and abused, where were the people who dared to speak truth to power? Where were theconsumers who demanded that Egyptian products be free from slave labor?

Alas, the world didn’t work that way then. Few stood up against the mighty overlords. We praise the exceptions, like midwives Shifrah and Puah, who defy Pharaoh’s deadly order (Exodus 1:15-21). Fewer still spoke out about how Egypt’s products were made; most Egyptians did not think twice about the morality of slave or child labor. Few if any cared about how much Egypt’s military-industrial complex profited from slavery, even though this cheap source of income fed the fires of Pharaoh’s ever-expanding conquests.

Well, that is until Moses, Aaron and Miriam came onto the scene. Slowly but surely, employing ever-changing strategies, these Israelite leaders displayed God’s moral power at its height. And the world was changed forever.

Lo ta’amod al dam rei-acha — don’t stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds (Leviticus 19:16).

When oppression’s long arm reached the Israelites, did anyone pause to remember all those who died? Seventy B’nei Yisrael (children of Israel) entered Egypt (Exodus 1:5). The post-exodus shekel census counts 603,550 men of fighting age (Exodus 38:26). If we posit a similar number (600,000) of same-aged women, and include at least two children per family (1.2 million) and we add in men and women who were too old or infirm to be of fighting age (200,000), we may infer that roughly 2.5 million people exited Egypt in the Exodus.

The Torah’s own narrative leads us to marvel at this exponential population explosion; Midrash Exodus Rabba suggests it required a miraculous set of sextuplets for every pregnancy. Yet we forget that for each generation miraculously born during the Israelites’ 430 years in Egypt (Exodus 12:40-41), previous generations were decimated. How many Israelites lost their lives in slave labor, from abuse by taskmasters, while supporting the army, or from shortened life spans attributable directly to their status as the invisible many? Who mourns them? We might pause to pay tribute to all the lives lost. We might pledge lo ta’amod, that we will not stand by while others bleed.

As this secular year rolls into the next, we will be besieged by Top 10 lists. Top 10 Movies. Top 10 Electronic Gadgets. Top 10 Most Newsworthy Events. Will anyone compile a list of the Top 10 Conflicts Most Likely to Become the Next Genocide?

Although it won’t appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, Jewish World Watch (JWW) did compile such a list. JWW reviewed and collected material from an array of human rights reports and news sources, creating a genocide risk assessment that placed Congo among the ignominious top 10. The atrocities in Congo just keep escalating; like during Egyptian slavery, the violence and death are almost incomprehensible. Yet according to JWW and the aid agency International Rescue Committee:

• 5.4 million civilians have been killed by war-related violence, hunger and disease since 1998;
• up to 45,000 continue to die each month;
• 2 million have been internally displaced;
• 900,000 civilians have been newly displaced just since January 2009;
• hundreds of thousands of women and girls have reportedly been raped.

Congo is one country where our voices can be heard. We are unwitting participants in this war, implicated by the phones in our pockets and computers on our desks. The armed groups perpetrating the rapes and violence are funded by an estimated $144 million annual trade in tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. These minerals go directly into the components of electronic products that we use every day, from our iPods to our BlackBerrys.

How do we — children and grandchildren of the post-Holocaust generation, descendants of Egyptian slaves — respond to this conflict? Rabbi Harold Schulweis teaches, “To be Jewish is to care for the world. Torah does not say ‘love thy Jewish neighbor’; it says ‘love thy neighbor.’ ” Similarly, Torah does not allow us to stand idly by while our non-Jewish neighbor bleeds, because we are commanded to stand up whenever any neighbor bleeds.

The 21 largest electronics companies are poised to accept a campaign committing them to source their minerals to the mine of origin. JWW is part of a coalition of stakeholders influencing and directing the Conflict-Free Minerals designation and the international oversight process. Our community must demand an end to the use of “conflict minerals.”

Lo ta’amod al dam rei-acha — don’t stand idly by while our neighbors bleed.

How will you answer your descendants? Take a moment to remember the generations of Israelites who died in the service of Pharaoh’s bloody war machine. Then be like Shifrah and Puah, the two Egyptian midwives who refused to stand idly by. Go to jewishworldwatch.org to take the Conflict-Free Minerals Pledge.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is the spiritual leader at Congregation Or Ami, a Reform synagogue in Calabasas. He blogs at rabbipaul.blogspot.com.

Jewish teens arrested for attacks on Arabs


Israeli police have arrested nine Jewish teens suspected in a series of attacks on Arabs.

The seven minors, including a 14-year-old girl, and two young men have been arrested over the last two weeks, police announced Tuesday after a gag order on the case was lifted.

The Jewish teens reportedly had the girl seduce the Arabs and lead them to various meeting places, including Independence Park, where they would attack them with stones, glass bottles and pepper spray. Several of the Arabs required hospitalization.

The suspects confessed to police that their acts were nationalistically motivated, according to reports. They are under house arrest; more arrests are expected.

Meanwhile, about 200 residents of the coastal city of Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, protested Monday night against renting apartments to Arabs and against relationships between the town’s Jewish women and Arab men under the banner “Keeping Bat Yam Jewish.”

Most of the protesters were young and religious, Haaretz reported. The chief rabbi of Bat Yam two weeks ago signed his name to a rabbinic ruling forbidding Jews from renting to Arabs.

Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahyani condemned the demonstration. A counter protest was mounted.

Conservative responsa approves selling, renting to non-Jews


Up to 50 Conservative rabbis signed on to a religious responsa that says it is permissible to rent or sell homes to non-Jews in Israel.

The statement, issued Monday, counters a rabbinic ruling signed by about 50 Israeli municipal rabbis that prohibits the same.

Written by Schechter Institute President Rabbi David Golinkin, it examines the issue from biblical sources to modern opinions.

It concluded: “(A)ccording to Jewish law, it is perfectly permissible to sell or rent houses to non-Jews in the Land of Israel for all of the reasons cited.

“Finally, if we are concerned that certain areas of the country such as the Galilee need more Jews, we must achieve that by Zionist education, not by discrimination. If there is concern that blocks of apartments are being bought up by Iran and Saudi Arabia, then the government of Israel must deal with this national problem.”

Heritage site renovations approved


An Israeli government committee approved the $25 million renovation of 16 national heritage projects and sites.

The Ministerial Committee on the National Heritage, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Tuesday approved the renovation of the sites—among the 150 sites and initiatives included in the “Plan for Renovating and Strengthening National Heritage Sites and Assets” approved in February—at a cost of $25 million. The plan caused some controversy when two West Bank biblical sites, Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs, were added to the list.

Included on the list of the approved renovations is Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.

The committee meeting Tuesday was held at the Ben Tzvi Institute in Jerusalem, home to the wooden cabin used by the second president of the State of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, another site on the list.

“The heritage project is one that we owe ourselves, our children and future generations,” Netanyahu said.

Greece-Israel relations soar as ties with Turkey fade


Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Arye Mekel, was on the phone with a journalist earlier this month when the call came in that Israel’s Carmel region was up in flames. The Israeli prime minister needed to speak urgently with his Greek counterpart.

Mekel quickly located Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Poland, where he was meeting with the Polish president. But a Papandreou aide told Mekel the meeting could not be interrupted.

“Tell him Bibi Netanyahu wants to speak with him urgently,” Mekel pressed, using the Israeli prime minister’s nickname.

A few moments later Papandreou was on the phone. In just hours, five Greek firefighting planes were in the skies along with a cargo plane loaded with spare parts, mechanics and pilots. Benjamin Netanyahu greeted them at the airport.

The quick response by Greece was a sign of the increasingly close relations between two Mediterranean countries that until 18 years ago did not even have diplomatic ties.

Papandreou visited Israel in July, and the following month Netanyahu made the first-ever trip by an Israeli prime minister to Greece. In October, the two countries held joint military exercises. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations recently announced that Greece would be the site of its annual leadership mission in February.

“Greece and Israel have opened a new chapter in their ties,” Mekel said. “Our two governments have taken a mutual decision to develop multifaceted cooperation in the fields of politics, security, the economy and culture.”

The subtext behind the sudden flurry of activity between Greece and Israel is the crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey, Greece’s chief rival. Those ties, already on the skids, took a nosedive after the flotilla incident of May 31, when nine Turkish nationals were killed in a clash with Israeli commandos aboard a ship trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

After the incident, Turkey canceled joint military exercises with the Israelis and withdrew its ambassador to Israel.

With Israeli Air Force pilots no longer able to train in Turkish airspace, and the Turkish market for Israeli military hardware and other exports at risk, Israel turned to Greece.

Conditions appear ripe for a boost to Greek-Israeli relations. For Israel, nearby Greece would seem to be a natural ally in a Mediterranean region dominated by Islamic countries.

For Greece, which is in the midst of a severe financial crisis, friendship with Israel is seen as a great asset, particularly due to Israel’s perceived closeness to the administration in Washington. By the same count, Papandreou hopes Greece’s closeness with Israel will convince Diaspora Jews to invest in Greece and support Greece in international disputes.

This wouldn’t be too different from the approach Israel and American Jewish organizations took vis-a-vis Turkey until recently—for example, opposing efforts to have the Turkish massacres of Armenians officially labeled as a genocide.

Greece also seeks an expanded role as a mediator in Middle East peacemaking—a role that until recently was occupied by Turkey.

“Greece could contribute in a positive way,” said the country’s foreign minister, Dimitris Droutsas.

By capitalizing on its close ties with the Arab world, Greece could be a source of trustworthiness, confidence and objectivity for both sides, he said.

For the time being, trade and tourism between Greece and Israel are growing. Approximately 250,000 Israeli tourists will have visited Greece in 2010, a 200 percent increase over last year, and bilateral trade stands at approximately $140 million, according to Mekel.

“Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement,” Mekel said. “Last week, a delegation from Israel came to Greece to present proposals to the Greek government for 13 large-scale joint projects in fields like tourism, agriculture, renewable energy sources, water and waste management, space technology and investments.”

The American Jewish organizational world already appears to be on board.

Aside from the Presidents Conference mission, Jewish organizations lined up behind a U.S. congressional resolution on Oct. 1 asking Turkey to respect the cultural heritage and the religious sites of the Greek Cypriots in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. Turkey invaded the Greek-speaking island in 1974 and retains control of its north. Israeli tourism to the Greek-speaking southern part of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island nation, is robust.

It’s all a major turnabout for two countries that until two decades ago didn’t really get along. In the 1980s, Greece was widely considered the most hostile country to Israel in Europe. Andreas Papandreou, the father of Greece’s current leader, was prime minister, and he pursued a policy of cozying up to Arab regimes. Greek officials recognized the PLO in 1981, and it wasn’t until Andreas Papandreou left office that Israel and Greece established formal diplomatic ties, in 1992.

Droutsas says Greece and Israel were never in conflict, but he acknowledges that government-to-government ties lagged far behind “true relations between the two peoples.” He said, “This gap must be closed and we are determined to strengthen and to deepen these relations at a fast pace.”

They’re catching up fast. Just three weeks after Papandreou visited Israel in July—the first visit since Greek’s then-premier, Constantine Mitsotakis, visited Israel in May 1992 when his country first recognized the Jewish state—Netanyahu spent a few days in Greece. The two prime ministers, both of whom speak flawless English from time spent living in the United States, appeared to be hitting it off as old friends, even cruising the Greek islands together.

Since then the official visits have been fast and furious. Droutsas, Greek Minister of State Haris Pamboukis and Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos all visited Israel. On the Israeli side, the director of political and military affairs at the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad; Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, and minister without portfolio Benny Begin all have gone to Greece.

One area where Israel doesn’t have too many friends here is in the media. Influenced by 40 years of cultivation by pro-Arab and anti-Israel politicians, the Greek media have a mostly unfavorable view of Israel.

But that also has started to change. Mekel, a former journalist who appears frequently on Greek media, says there has been more positive coverage recently of Israel.

The improvement in Greece-Israel ties obviously has been welcomed by this country’s small Jewish community of about 5,000.

“There is no doubt that the improvement of the relations between the two countries makes us feel much more at ease,” said Beny Albala, head of the Athens Jewish community. “We hope that these relations will continue for a long time for the benefit of both countries and our community.”

Jewish officials meet with Italian leaders, pope


World Jewish Congress officials met with Pope Benedict XVI and separately with senior Italian officials, praising Italy for its support of Israel.

WJC President Ronald Lauder told Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in their meeting Friday that the Jewish world “deeply appreciates” its “important and well-established friendship with the Italian government” and also appreciates “Italian attention to the safety of the people of Israel.”  Italy, Lauder later said, “has a key role in advancing the peace process in the Middle East.”

During the meeting, Frattini, who on a visit to Israel last month referred to Italy as Israel’s “best friend” in Europe, awarded Lauder the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.

The WJC delegation also had an audience at the Vatican on Friday with the pope and senior Vatican officials involved in interfaith relations. According to Vatican Radio, the WJC group “thanked the Pope for his commitment to dialogue with Jews,” and discussed aspects of the situation in the Middle East.

In a related development, the Vatican released a statement Friday describing a “good and open atmosphere” in Thursday’s latest round of talks aimed at finalizing bilateral economic relations between Israel and the Holy See. The talks, held in Jerusalem, started with mention of the telegram the pope sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing his “prayers and solidarity” with victims of the recent forest fire and his appreciation of the “selfless dedication” of those involved in the rescue operation.

The Eulogizer: World War II pilot, basketball writer, Carmel fire victim


The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories, and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at {encode=”eulogizer@jta.org” title=”eulogizer@jta.org”}.

Decorated Czech World War Two pilot who flew for RAF
Jan Wiener
, a decorated veteran of a Czech bombing unit attached to the RAF during World War II, died in Prague on November 24 at 90.

Wiener, a native of Hamburg, fled Hitler’s Germany for Prague, but had to escape again after the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. He made it to Britain after racing through Yugoslavia and Italy, and joined the Royal Air Force’s No. 311 Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron.

A Prague newspaper offered the most detailed account of Wiener’s early life and flight, including a dramatic retelling of how Wiener’s parents committed suicide rather than risk capture: “The father swept the pawns from the (chess)board and told his son: ‘Tonight I am going to kill myself. … Tomorrow they will be here. They will shave our heads. We will stand naked in front of them. They will humiliate us and in the end they will kill us. So I want to use my only freedom—to choose the way I die.’ That evening, Jan was summoned to the master bedroom, where Julius and Margaret Wiener lay dressed in their Sunday best. ‘We have already taken the pills,’ father told son. ‘Let’s hold hands.’”

Wiener’s life was celebrated in two films, including “Fighter,” an award-winning documentary by Amir Bar-Lev that featured the intense emotions released as Wiener and a companion retraced his journey across Europe.

Sportswriter who covered the Philadelphia 76ers
Phil Jasner
, a longtime newspaperman who covered the Philadelphia 76ers for the “Philadelphia Daily News” since 1981, died December 3 at age 68.

Friend and collaegue Rich Hoffmann described Jasner as “an old-fashioned reporter who grew to be the most important basketball voice in a basketball city, known for both his fairness and his decency.” Hoffmann said Jasner not only had phone numbers for the famous, such as Wilt Chamberlain, he also had “the phone number of the guy who would get you to the guy you needed. He kept all of them in a stack of index cards held together by a rubber band.”

The team Jasner covered remembered him fondly: “He loved to talk about basketball, off the record, just talk hoops. How many guys who had Stage 4 cancer would continue on like he did? He just loved it. He loved basketball. It was his outlet. We argued sometimes, had great debates. But he was fair and he was a character. Philadelphia basketball people are interesting people, and he was one of them,” said Sixers General Manager Ed Stefanski.

Jasner is in five halls of fame: the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (http://www.phillyjewishsports.com/inductions/463.html), Overbrook High School Hall of Fame, Temple University School of Communications and Theater’s Hall of Fame, and Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

Rabbi who taught in Winnipeg, Denver in Israeli forest fire
Another of the many victims of the Carmel forest fire was Rabbi Uriel Malka, an Israeli Prison Service trainee chaplain, who had worked at Orthodox day schools in Winnipeg and Denver.

Columnist Rabbi Levi Brackman described Malka as “a Torah scholar and the epitome of a guy who would not sweat the small stuff. He somehow always saw the positive in every situation.”

Here’s a short video of Malka blowing shofar this past Rosh Hashana.

Malka, who died on the doomed bus of Prison Service cadets, said in a final SMS message: “I am on my way to rescue Jews. We’ll be in touch.” A memorial website for Malka, a native of Yavneh, Israel, already filled with tributes, photographs, videos, and more, can be found here (http://uriel-malka.com/en/).

Protesters rally against rabbinic ruling


Protesters rallied in Jerusalem against a rabbis’ ban on renting apartments to Arabs.

About 150 demonstrators took up positions Wednesday night across from the Great Synagogue to protest the rabbinic ruling, which was issued Tuesday by dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis.

“Racism is blasphemy” and “Rabbis’ letter—public blasphemy” read the signs carried by some of the protesters.

“You who have put your name on this letter, and all your supporters, you the leaders of nationalist, fundamentalist religious movements, you cannot claim that you would remain silent if the same were done to our Jewish brethren,” former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg said at the rally, Ynet reported. “This is not a religious issue, this is an issue of humanity; no man should be allowed to speak in this way.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the rabbis’ ruling. Israeli civil rights organizations and Knesset members criticized the ruling and called for the rabbis who signed to be fired from their jobs. Municipal chief rabbis’ salaries are paid by the state.