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.”

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.

Jews, Arabs, dolphins

Negative stereotypes can be numbing. One that has dulled our senses for years is that Jews and Arabs can’t get along. Many of us simply take it for granted. Read regularly, and you might even conclude that Israel’s Arab population is living miserably under an apartheid-like regime.

I certainly understand how reporters are wired to focus on the negative, and that good news is not really news. Reading about Israeli Arabs who might be happy under Israel’s democracy and who suffer little or no discrimination is not newsworthy. Abuse of human rights, however, is newsworthy — and that’s a good thing, because awareness is what forces a society to improve itself.

At the same time, though, reading only negative stuff can become exhausting and demoralizing.

Maybe that’s why it was so refreshing to sit with 250 people the other night at Laemmle’s Music Hall theater in Beverly Hills to watch the Israeli documentary film “Dolphin Boy.” The film was presented by The Jewish Journal’s Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and its executive director, Hilary Helstein, as a preview to our annual festival, which kicks off on May 3.

“Dolphin Boy” tells the true story of an Israeli Arab boy who disconnects from humanity after suffering a vicious beating. The boy, Morad, was assaulted not by Israeli soldiers, but by his neighbors in his Israeli Arab village, who misinterpreted a text message Morad sent to the sister of one of the neighbors.

The beating was so traumatic that when we first see Morad, in a doctor’s office, he is zombie-like and cannot utter a word. His doctor, an Israeli Jew who is a world-
renowned expert on post-trauma care, develops a deep personal and professional attachment to the boy. Over several months, the doctor tries every treatment in the book to get Morad to speak and express himself, but nothing works.

Finally, before committing the boy to a mental institution, the doctor recommends a radical treatment: dolphin therapy (with the state picking up the costs). Meanwhile, one of the endearing stars of the film, Morad’s father, decides to leave his job and accompany his son to the dolphin reef in Eilat, where Jews — and loving dolphins — will help Morad undergo a miraculous three-year process of recovery.

The film challenges more than one stereotype. Of course, there’s the one that Jews and Arabs don’t get along. Even if that is true in many cases, in this story, all you see are Jews and Arabs treating one another like human beings.

There’s also the stereotype that Arabs live for revenge and justice. In fact, early in the film, Morad’s father is tempted to take revenge against the Arab neighbors who attacked his son. Some friends even suggest it. But in a defining scene, with a few friends playing the drums around a campfire, the father gets up, starts to dance and decides that he will devote every ounce of his being to saving his son, because, as he says, “His blood runs through my veins.”

You can’t be human and not be moved by these expressions of love — the love of a father for his son, the love of a doctor for his patient, the love of workers in a dolphin lagoon for a traumatized boy they help bring back to life.

It is this very celebration of life — symbolized by the playful and loyal dolphins — that slowly coaxes Morad back to humanity. How ironic that it takes loving animals to help him regain his trust in humans.

As I reflected on the film, I found myself wishing it would play on Al Jazeera and be seen by millions across the Middle East. That deeply divided part of the world could use an innocent reminder that the truest label we all share is our humanity. Beyond Arab and Jew, man and woman, Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, we are all part of the same species, sharing primal needs — like our craving for love — that transcend all differences.

“We didn’t really focus on the idea of Jew and Arab when we shot the film,” Dani Menkin, the co-director and producer of the film, told me during the panel discussion I moderated after the screening. “We shot a story of humans interacting with each other. We weren’t thinking of giving a special message. It was just an amazing story that I fell in love with.”

We’ve seen many Israeli films over the years that play to the negative stereotype of the big, bad Israel as the oppressor of Arabs. This stereotype is reinforced by the endless string of news stories describing discrimination against Israeli Arabs and examples of mutual animosity between the groups.

But lost in this big picture are the many little stories of Jews and Arabs peacefully co-existing and treating one another like human beings.

We can only be grateful for films like “Dolphin Boy,” which come along once in awhile to crack our cynicism and remind us that beneath the heavy noise of darkness lies the silent whisper of hope.

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

Tunisia condemns Israeli assistance offer to its Jews

Tunisia’s government condemned an Israeli government decision to offer extra financial assistance to Tunisian Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel.

The approval of the new program amounts to interference in Tunisia’s domestic affairs and “an attempt by Israel to tarnish the post-revolutionary image of Tunisia,” Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.

Under the plan approved at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Tunisian immigrants will receive special financial assistance of more than $9,000 in addition to the usual aid provided to new immigrants.

“We know that there is real distress among the Jews of Tunisia, many of whom would like to immigrate to Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the meeting. “We will increase the absorption basket in order to allow them to do so.

“Israel is the state of the Jews. It worries about Jews wherever they are—those who are here and those who would like to come here.”

Minister Sofa Landver said, “The Government of Israel must see to the needs of new immigrants who arrive here hastily from Tunisia, without sufficient advance preparation like other immigrants. This proposal, which was formulated along with the Jewish Agency, is designed to ease, and answer, the difficulties for the families that, given the sensitive situation, decided to come here.”

About 1,500 Jews are living in Tunisia. Some 1,100 live in Djerba, with the rest in the capital city of Tunis.

Ten Tunisian Jews made aliyah to Israel with the help of the Jewish Agency in late January amid political upheaval and violence that led to the overthrow of Tunisian President Zein el-Abbadin Bin Ali.

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.

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.”

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.”

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=”” title=””}.

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 (, 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 (

Op-Ed: Response to fire illuminates challenges for Israel

One of the reactions of Israelis to the fact that their government called on the international community for assistance to combat the Carmel Forest fire is a sense of shame. After all, Israel is a leader in the high-tech world and an innovator in dealing with crisis situations. Now Israel had to admit that it wasn’t capable of dealing with the blaze alone.

More than that, for some in Israel there is a reluctance to admit that Israel is not isolated, that not everyone is against Israel. The willingness of nations and peoples to rush to Israel’s side, including the Turks and the Palestinians, challenged this assumption.

I remember when Yitzhak Rabin took over as prime minister in 1993, his inaugural address to the Knesset took a different tack than the norm. He spoke to the idea that Israelis need to get beyond the way of thinking that assumed that everyone was against them. He argued that this was neither accurate nor productive, as it led to distorted policies.

Rabin in some quarters was hailed for his comments; in others he was condemned.

Which brings us to our own times: Where do things stand and how does the response to the fire illuminate matters?

I would argue that there are two parallel tracks, both of which need to be understood, taken seriously and factored in to policymaking.

On the one hand is the dangerous process of delegitimization campaigns against Israel. These campaigns are picking up momentum around the world. Boycotts of Israel by trade unions, universities and entertainers seem to pop up almost on a daily basis. Israeli officials refrain from visiting certain countries lest they be arrested on war criminal charges. The U.N.’s Goldstone Report questions Israel’s right to self-defense.

Israel is compared to the South African apartheid regime or to the Nazis. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can openly call for Israel’s disappearance without any repercussions. And the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva focuses most of its attention and resolutions on condemning alleged Israeli violations of human rights.

In other words, there are grounds for concluding that the world has turned against Israel in ways that even suggest a heavy dose of anti-Semitism within it. It is no longer the individual Jew who is the target of anti-Semitism, some argue, but the collective Jew through the assault on the Jewish state. And it is argued, with some reason, that it is not particular Israeli policies but Israel’s very existence that is the problem for many of its critics.

The picture, however, is more complicated, and the response of many nations to Israel’s plea for help this week is the tip of the iceberg. It is obvious that not only does Israel have a special relationship with the United States, but it has excellent bilateral relations with states throughout the globe, including some that routinely vote against Israel at the United Nations.

Moreover, even in the Arab world things are not simple.

It is true that what we all want, an acceptance by Arab leaders of the legitimacy of the Jewish state in the Middle East, has not been achieved. Having said that, on practical grounds there has been progress over the years in the acceptance of the reality that Israel is here to stay. Indeed, that notion is so strong in the Arab world that Ahmadinejad feels it necessary to harp on the idea that Israel will disappear in an effort to get the Arabs to turn back the clock to a time when they not only rejected Israel’s legitimacy but envisioned ways to achieve Israel’s demise.

Arab acceptance of the reality of Israel is not insignificant because it then forces an answer to the question of how one deals with an entity that’s here to stay. Anwar Sadat’s answer after the Yom Kippur war was to make peace.

We see these changes as well in the WikiLeaks documents: Arab leaders such as the king of Saudi Arabia and the crown prince of Bahrain focusing on the Iranian threat and understanding the common interest that Israel and the moderate Arabs have in containing Iran.

And now comes the Carmel fire. The fact that both Turkey and the Palestinian Authority provided assistance to Israel is not insignificant. It obviously does not negate the problematic aspects of Turkish and Palestinian policies toward Israel. But it should alert Israeli leaders to openings, to shades of gray, to possibilities that things don’t always have to remain the same, to the idea that resentment can also be overcome.

The great challenge for supporters of Israel in the period ahead is not to lose sight of either of the two tracks. There are immense dangers to Israel up ahead, as reflected in the delegitimization efforts, and we must do our all to combat them. But there are opportunities as well, and the mark of leadership is to explore them and seed them while never ignoring the landmines that lie beside them.

(Abraham H. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. His latest book is “Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype,” Palgrave Macmillan, November 2010).

Amar calls on Netanyahu to quash military conversion bill

Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he will no longer be responsible for any state conversions if the Knesset passes a bill requiring the recognition of all military conversions.

In a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, Amar called on the prime minister to prevent the bill from passing, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Amar has charged a committee to look into legal and halachic issues surrounding the military conversions. He asked Netanyahu to allow the committee to conclude its work before allowing the legislation to go forward.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” Amar’s letter reportedly said. “This is to inform you, that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to take care of all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”

The haredi Orthodox Shas Party also called on Netanyahu to quash the bill, telling him Tuesday that it is a breach of coalition agreements with Shas, Ynet reported,

The bill to protect Israeli soldiers who have converted to Judaism through military conversion courts from having their conversions annulled was approved Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs. It would force all state agencies, including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars to accept the converts as Jews.

In September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court, during a court hearing to address the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage, that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

Poll: More than half of Jewish Israelis want Arabs to leave

Some 53 percent of Israel’s Jewish population believes that the state can encourage Arabs to leave the country, a new poll found.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2010 poll released Tuesday also found that 86 percent of the Jewish public, constituting 76 percent of the total public, believes that critical decisions for the state should be made by the Jewish majority.

In addition, 43 percent of the general Israeli public believes that it is equally important for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic country, while 31 percent believe the Jewish component is more important and 20 percent say the democratic element is more important.

Some 51 percent of the general public approves of equal rights between Jews and Arabs, according to the poll, which also found that the more Orthodox the group the greater the opposition to equal rights between Jews and Arabs.

The poll also found that 46 percent of the Jewish public is bothered by Arabs, 39 percent by foreign workers, 23 percent by haredi Orthodox Jews and 10 percent by non-Sabbath observers.

The six researchers who conducted the annual study compiled its answers from public opinion polls that questioned more than 1,203 people. It was presented Tuesday to Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman and High Court Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch.

State Dept. awards $770,000 to push diversity in Israel

The U.S. State Department has given $770,000 in grants to Merchavim, an Israeli NGO promoting diversity and shared citizenship in Israel.

Most of the grant, some $750,000, will go to expand the collaboration between Merchavim and the American nonprofit Sesame Workshop, producer of “Sesame Street,” to continue to produce Israel’s version of the show, “Rechov Sumsum,” which features Israeli Jews and Arabs. The grant will help develop content in Hebrew and Arabic for use by 1,200 kindergarten teachers from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Another $20,000 will go to help Merchavim develop a training manual for its Kulanana initiative.

Kulanana is a consortium of NGO, government, business and philanthropic partners that are trying to build an inclusive Israeli society by targeting primarily the 16- to 29 year-old demographic across the country’s five deepest divides: Jews and Arabs; immigrant and veteran Israelis; rich and poor; and internal divides both within the Jewish and Arab communities.

Kulanana is working to promote initiatives along three major themes—citizenship, diversity and fairness.

Through the looking glass with Friends of Sabeel

Covering a meeting of Friends of Sabeel is a strange experience. “Strange” as in walking through the looking glass and encountering a reverse universe on the other side.

While we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence, they are mourning six decades of the nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

Where we see resolute defenders of the Jewish people, they see cruel persecutors of a downtrodden minority.

We quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his support of Israel and friendship for the Jewish people. They cite him as saying that the oppressed must take their rights back from the oppressor.

A recent meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena was hosted by the Southern California chapter of Friends of Sabeel, which supports the work and aims of the Nazareth-based Sabeel movement and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

According to the organization’s brochure, “Sabeel is an Arabic word which means ‘the way’ and recalls the Christians of first-century Palestine, who were called ‘the people of the way.'”

Founded by Palestinian Christian church leaders 18 years ago, Sabeel draws its support from predominantly Protestant churches and their congregants in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and Scandinavian countries.

Sabeel is hardly a mass movement. According to Darrel Meyers, a retired Van Nuys Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Southern California chapter, there are no dues-paying members, but about 300 names on his mailing list in Los Angeles and San Diego.

About 75 people, predominantly white and middle-aged Christians, with a smattering of Jews, attended the meeting in Pasadena.

Sabeel’s influence, however, seems to exceed its small number, partly through cooperation with some 50 like-minded organizations listed in its brochure, and partly through its persistent push for boycotts and divestment measures against Israel by mainline churches.

The primary speakers were two Jewish women, who addressed the audience with the passion and conviction of those who first had to throw off the shackles of ancestral beliefs before discovering the truth through long, painful struggle.

Judging from audience questions and suggestions, the speakers were preaching to the choir. As in most ideology-based groups, there seemed to be a considerable gap between the rather moderately phrased goals of the mission statement and the more militant attitudes of its followers.

Officially, Sabeel describes itself as a nonviolent “international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, who seek a just peace based on two states — Palestine and Israel, as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions.”

However, the two speakers, both self-avowed “anti-Zionists,” moved well beyond the two-state solution to advocate a single “democratic” country of Arabs and Jews, which would welcome back all “Palestinian refugees” who wish to return.

Anna Baltzer, the first speaker, is an animated, 28-year old woman, author of “Witness in Palestine — A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories,” and granddaughter of a refugee from the Holocaust.

She noted that American Christians may fear that their criticism of Israel would be labeled as anti-Semitism and urged her listeners to define themselves not as pro-Palestinian, but as pro-human rights.

In a mighty semantic leap, she told her Christian listeners that “Jesus lived under Roman occupation and now Palestinians still live under occupation.”

The second speaker, Marcy Winograd, is a public school teacher and co-founder of L.A. Jews for Peace, which claims a server list of about 100 names.

She explained her advocacy for a single Arab-Jewish state by saying, “We are not talking about ‘destroying’ Israel, but about a transformation to a one-state solution.”

Among Winograd’s targets is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, and she urged pressure on school boards to stop transporting students there on educational trips.

She claimed that the museum’s Holocaust exhibits are used for pro-Israel lobbying and demanded exhibit space for the Palestinian nakba.

The windup speaker was the Rev. Monica Styron, a Presbyterian minister from Sonoma, who announced plans for the upcoming seventh International Sabeel Conference, from Nov. 12 to 19, in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramle and Nazareth, with side trips to “decimated Arab villages.”

The theme of the conference is “Beyond Remembrance: Facing Challenges of the Future Sixty Years After the Nakba,” and Styron promised dialogues with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Audience comments and suggestions were perhaps more revealing than the speeches, including the following sampling:

  • Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Holy Land, on the model of post-apartheid South Africa.
  • Bring empty suitcases to work in support of an alleged plan by Palestinians in Lebanon to march on the Israeli border carrying suitcases.
  • “Israel and the Zionists don’t care what we say here. But they scream if we can apply political and economic pressure.”
  • “Tell the Israelis to choose peace over war and light over power.”
  • “I’m Jewish and have been an anti-Zionist for 40 years. There is increasing anti-Zionism in the Jewish community, especially in Southern California … Jewish youth, in particular, is open to enlightenment.”

The only exception to the litany of anti-Israel charges came from an elderly gentleman, born in Korea, who suggested that if people wanted to see what a real occupation was all about they should try living under Japanese domination.

When the man was gently upbraided for his heresy, he responded plaintively, “But I like the Jewish people.”

After the meeting, Baltzer, the initial speaker, sat down for a brief interview. On her business card, she lists herself as a “Teacher, Writer, Activist,” and her resume includes graduation from Columbia University, linguistic research in Turkey as a Fulbright Fellow and the Web site

An intelligent, outgoing young woman, she said she had evolved over the past five years from protesting the “occupation” to anti-Zionism, shocked by Israeli human-rights violations.

She is busy as a full-time speaker at churches and on college campuses, and her May 1-14 calendar listed 13 speaking engagements, from Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert to UCLA. Being Jewish is a definite advantage in her line of work, Baltzer said, making her a much more credible anti-Zionist than Palestinian speakers.

She has experienced little harassment for her controversial views, she said, though plenty of “offensive” e-mail, while mainstream Jews tend to label her as “naïve” or “brainwashed.”

At least while speaking to a Jewish reporter, she allowed that she could understand the “other” point of view, such as the Israeli fear of terrorism.

For expressing such soft-hearted sentiments, she said, “I have received criticism from the left.”

Sabra love

I’ve been considering giving up on Israeli men, at least the purebred Israeli men, the sabras. What’s painful is that I say this as someone who has made my home in Jerusalem, and I am hesitant to make harsh generalizations about Israeli bachelors, especially as Israel celebrates its 60th. It makes me feel like the biblical spies who returned to Moses whining about the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, my 10-odd years of living here have led me to think that I’m not compatible with a good majority of secular Israeli men.

When I first landed in this country as a wide-eyed, optimistic Zionist, Israeli men captured my fascination — and I’ll admit — my early 20s lust. They were the “New Jews” who had cast off the spiritual and physical shackles of exile to invent a self-sufficient Jewish culture in the land of Israel.

Almost anything they did seemed to me to embody deep Jewish meaning — whether they worked as engineers, manual laborers, farmers, actors or restaurateurs. I saw them as Zionists simply because they were making a living here, however mundane their jobs.

I needed only look at the Israeli studs to feel turned on, both spiritually and physically, which may explain why early on I had far more short-term, heated romances with sabras than serious relationships. Compared to their American Jewish counterparts, Israelis exuded a physical vitality and sexiness, enhanced by their years in army, where they developed hard abs and chiseled arms.

But as time wore on, I discovered the layered character of my fascination with Israeli men wasn’t mutual.

“Why did you come here?” they’d often ask on our first date in complete bewilderment. Or they’d try to pick me up with the line, “Can you teach me English?” with an unstated hope that they might marry me for a green card.

These de facto Zionist pioneers have become, like the state they live in, mere pragmatists, preoccupied with basic survival.

They channel any sense of Jewish obligation into their Israel Defense Forces service. When that’s done, they travel to Thailand or India for a year to satisfy their wanderlust, enroll in university to study a practical major (I’ve dated quite a few computer programmers), invest their savings in a down payment for an apartment, get married, have children, etc. Their lives are like target practice — get the degree, get the job, get the girl.

Even the questions Israeli men ask me on JDate chats are matter-of-fact: What do you do? Where do you live? Who do you live with? Do you rent or own? I rarely am asked intelligent questions about my thoughts, my values, my unconventional Zionist dreams.

I thought I’d get more engaging conversation from a producer for an Israeli news show who I met at a bar last month. Finally, maybe an Israeli man with whom I could discuss Israeli politics, religion, God. Over candlelight and wine the night after we met, I started telling him about my aliyah experience and the novel I’m writing about the disengagement.

“What else?” he responded with no real interest.

I felt like answering: You are sitting across from an American Jewish Israeli woman who left her family to live in the conflicted land you research, and that’s all you have to ask? After a few awkward silences, he found the icebreaker: “Wanna come to my place?”

So if not sabras, who should I date? There are always fellow immigrants, but most of the time they remind me of the dorky American Jewish men I longed to escape — uncomfortable with their bodies, secluded in an Anglo community, disconnected from mainstream Israeli society.

The real catches here are the mixed-breed men born to at least one American parent. They usually inherit an American mentality, a sense of Zionist purpose and fluent English from their ex-pat parent, while being completely immersed in Israeli culture. Unfortunately, the ones I know are all taken.

What about Israelis who veer off the practical course to study political science, philosophy or the arts?

Usually they exhibit passion for Israel. Too bad it’s negative.

I’ve met quite a few hot settlers who bear a rare mix of manliness, patriotism and Jewish sensitivity — but maybe too much Jewish sensitivity. They only date women who keep Shabbat, if they’re not already married by age 25.

So, does that leave me only with non-Jews? About two years ago, I went out with a non-Jew in Los Angeles. Over a date consisting of a two-course dinner (more than many Israeli men offer), we had great discussions about the nature of Israel’s Jewish democracy.

More recently, I went out with a Danish student living in Israel. He was so blond I had to wear sunglasses. We, too, couldn’t stop talking about the problems and triumphs of this country. Ultimately, though, we weren’t compatible.

Lately, I find myself on the lookout for non-Israelis when I go out. A few weeks ago, my Tel Aviv friend, Anat, and I had a wonderful time getting “picked up” by two Swedes who were on a study trip to Israel. One was a tall, strapping dirty blond, and the other a four-eyed, genteel brunette. I said hello, and 10 seconds later they were handing us beers.

We took them to a dance club, and we talked for two hours in the “make-out” lounge without making out. They engaged us with questions about Israel and our life here without the expectation of sex that often underlies my dates with Israelis.

Israeli men, at least the good-looking ones, rarely buy girls drinks. I don’t think they like to spend their hard-earned money on an unsure thing. Or maybe, underneath their hard exterior, they’re afraid of rejection.

Still, even as I question Israeli men as relationship prospects, I can’t shake off my admiration for them. After all, they are the Jewish men who put their lives on the line for me, for all Israeli citizens and for Jewish people all over the world.

I remind myself that in between their reserve duty, they are just trying to make the most of their lives here, even as they are building this country to ensure that I can remain here to live the Zionist dream they don’t seem too interested in.

So I’ll try not to give up so soon.

Orit was a contestant in a Valentines Day beauty pagaent in Jerusalem.

How to answer the most common anti-Israel charges

Some charges criticizing Israel are distortions and slanted, based on faulty information and half-truths, animus, and even classic anti-Semitism.
However, the situation and history are complex, and unfortunately, Israel is not perfect.

Here are some answers in a nutshell:

The establishment of the Jewish state violated the right of Palestinian Arabs to self-determination

In 1947, the United Nations had offered self-determination to both Arabs and Jews in western Palestine, and both had been offered their own separate state. Palestinian Arabs could have created their own state in the portion allotted to them under partition at any time. The Arabs unanimously rejected this offer, and the partition boundaries were erased by the Arab invasion in 1948. It was the Arab states — not the Jews — who destroyed the proposed Arab Palestine as they sought to grab all the territory for themselves. Part of what was designated as Arab Palestine was seized by Transjordan in the east (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and by Egypt on the southwest coast (Gaza). Israeli forces captured western Galilee, which had been used as a base by Arab irregulars. Ironically, in 1947, the only group in the area supporting a separate Arab/Palestinian state was the State of Israel.

Israel expelled the Palestinians in 1948 and has consistently taken over Palestinian land

From the Israeli left to the right, there is agreement about mass expulsion, that many were, in fact, forced to leave. The only question is what proportion of the 700,000 Palestinians who left in 1947-48 were forcibly expelled, and what proportion left voluntarily. About 300,000 were likely forcibly expelled by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 100,000 to 200,000 left because they were “encouraged” by rumors, bombing of empty buildings by the IDF or frightened that Israeli atrocities like the Deir Yassin massacre would be repeated.

There’s no doubt that David Ben-Gurion and others were very concerned about the large number of Palestinians in the land, and talked openly of “transfer,” going back to the 1930s (in 1936 Jews were only 28 percent of the total population). There’s also no doubt that once Palestinians started leaving, the political and military leaders of the Yishuv were eager to “facilitate the situation.” The debate was over Tokhnit Dalet (Plan D), the military plan that called for expulsions near or behind enemy lines, in hostile villages, etc.

Historian Benny Morris argues that the evidence doesn’t show an intentional program designed ahead of time, but rather a spontaneous response to military conditions by low-level commanders in the field. Others argue (using Morris’ own evidence) that documents clearly show a plan for mass expulsions from above, that is, that Tokhnit Dalet was the realization of the “transfer impulse” under the cover of military language.

Still other scholars take a middle position, arguing that Tokhnit Dalet was originally intended as a purely military and small-scale operation, but that once Palestinians were “encouraged” to leave and the IDF had attained military superiority, the understanding became that the long-term interests of the state would be served by having as few Palestinians as possible. So the argument goes, military commanders were given a “wink and nudge” to expel and Tokhnit Dalet served as an appropriate cover/rationale.

Most of the area of Israel was once Arab owned

According to British government statistics, prior to the establishment of the state, 8.6 percent of the land area now known as Israel was owned by Jews; 3.3 percent by Arabs who remained there; 16.5 percent by Arabs who left the country. More than 70 percent of the land was owned by the British government. Under international law, ownership passed to Israel once it was established and approved as a member nation by the United Nations in 1948. The public lands included most of the Negev — half of Palestine’s post-1922 total area. (Source: Survey of Palestine, 1946, British Mandate Government).

Arabs formed a majority of the population in Palestine, and the Zionists were colonialists from Europe who had no claim to or right to the land of Israel

Jews have had a continuous emotional, religious and historic connection to the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

At the time of the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution, the Arabs did have a majority in western Palestine as a whole. But the Jews were in a majority in the area allotted to them by the U.N. Partition Resolution (a very small but contiguous area mostly along the coast and in parts of the Galilee — much smaller than the borders after the 1948 war).

Israel humiliated Palestinians during the second intifada (2001-2005) and continue to treat them inhumanely

It is true that Palestinians felt humiliated by the series of checkpoints and searches throughout the West Bank. However, to cite the feelings of humiliation, as legitimate as they are, out of context belies the greater truth. Israelis have had good reason to fear their Palestinian neighbors because of the relentless terrorism, bombings of public buses, restaurants, university cafeterias, kibbutzim, children’s houses and the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians. Israel’s series of checkpoints and searches, while at times excessive, are done not to intimidate or humiliate but for security. The erection of the security fence roughly the length of the Green Line was hotly debated in Israel until it became clear to the government that political considerations aside, the fence was a security necessity. It has proven successful in drastically reducing infiltration of Palestinian terrorists. Even Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) acknowledges the importance of the fence as a security measure.

Israel’s settlements are illegal

Technically, they are not illegal because there has been no peace agreement delineating borders between Israel and the Arab nations. Consequently, Jews have the right to live anywhere they wish. However, from a political point of view, many believe that many of these settlements are obstacles to peace. Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised to remove the vast majority of these settlements subsequent to undertaking the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel in 2005.

Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression

Undeniably, Palestinians are victims — but of whom? For decades the despotic Arab nations used the Palestinians for their own purposes and kept them in squalor in refugee camps. They are also victims of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat’s well-documented corruption and inability to take the final step to make peace with the Jewish state. They are now victims of Palestinian terrorist movements (e.g., Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, etc.) that have refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel and therefore to compromise over land. The Palestinians are victims of retaliatory raids by the Israeli military against terrorist leaders who deliberately operate out of civilian areas and draw fire from Israel.

Jewish life in the City of Lights

Fortunately I traveled to Paris before Pesach, because missing buttery croissants and oven-fresh French baguettes would have been ruinous to my experience. Indeed, France is most famous for its delicacies — wine, cheese, pastries, foie gras — but it is also home to a vibrant Jewish community; one that has prospered for the better part of 2,000 years, but currently suffers from a malaise of bad press.

Despite the historic turbulence of Jewish French life, current population statistics suggest there are between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews living in the region, the majority of whom reside in the cultural capital of Paris. The figure is surprising, considering frenzied media depictions of French anti-Semitism, recent waves of Jewish French immigration to Israel and also because the population was estimated at 300,000 prior to World War II, which suggests that, even though France is depicted as less than empathetic to the Jewish community, the Jewish population there has actually grown.

However, the aftermath of Nazi occupation in France left the country scarred, with a visibly guilty conscience, which I investigated during my stay in a 16th century walk-up on the Ile St. Louis.

In a bustling student cafe on Rue Saint-Guillaume just across from the elite French university Sciences Po, a young Parisian typed on his laptop before striking up conversation about the thesis he is writing on generational divides. He seemed well informed, so I asked, “Is it true that the French are hostile to their Jews?”

He laughed, and said that too many people argue politics about the Arab-Israeli conflict without knowing the history, essentially implying that if there’s hostility toward the Jews it’s related to Israel. But it also begged the question: Is argumentation or even Palestinian empathy what the world perceives as hostile to French Jews?

The following night, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai attended a screening of his new film, “Disengagement” at an artsy independent theater in Place Saint Germain. The film, a French-Israeli co-production (and a good sign of comity in the arts), depicts a woman’s search for the daughter she abandoned, set against the backdrop of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. The film was, in short, riveting; and the Q-&-A that followed revealed French cineastes. were provoked by its content.

Dressed in black with a white scarf draped around his neck, Gitai, 58, stood aloof at the front of the room, fielding question from critics and fans, brooding during one man’s rant about the film’s lack of a Palestinian portrayal.

“This is an Israeli story,” Gitai said, explaining that the conflict in the film was not between Palestinians and Israelis, but between Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens they were ordered to remove from their homes; a conflict between secular Jews and religious Jews.

Scrubbing aside content and politics, there was still the idea that an Israeli filmmaker — telling an Israeli story — had been invited to screen his film at a distinguished arts venue, in a city ensconced in highbrow cultural snobbery. Perhaps more importantly, a famous and beautiful French actress (Juliette Binoche) figured prominently on the theater’s marquee, wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Whether fueled by guilt or regret or just plain reparation, Jewish culture is pervasive almost anywhere you go in Paris: There’s the sophisticated bookstore, Librairie Gallimard, which contains shelves full of books about the Holocaust, French resistance fighters and Nazi occupation, along with a special section devoted to Israeli literature; there’s the Holocaust Memorial on the Ile de la Cite, just behind the Notre Dame cathedral, certainly one of Paris’ most popular destinations; there’s the Jewish quarter, Rue de Rosiers, undeniably well situated in the trendy Le Marais, with some of the city’s best shopping, and near the historic Place des Vosges, an opulent 17th-century manse built for royalty.

So for the few-thousand French Jews who have made aliyah since 2004, there emerges new hope, like Gitai’s crosscultural storytelling or the Paris-born, Israeli-raised pop singer Yael Naim whose shows sung in Hebrew, French and English sell out among young, bourgeois Parisians.

In the song “Paris,” Naim’s enchanting ode to her beloved birthplace, she best captures the conflicting sentiments Jews feel for the City of Lights: I came here / A bit disenchanted / This beautiful illusion of mine / The country is so good to me here / So why do I cry and get upset?

Well, because it’s hard choosing between Paris and Israel. But still, it’s delightful to have that choice.

Briefs: They’re Jews first and Israelis second; Pope to soap offending trope

Israelis Identify by Faith, Then Flag

Israelis are three times more likely to identify primarily as Jews than as Israelis, a poll found. According to a survey in Monday’s Yediot Achronot, 40 percent of Israelis said they identify “first and foremost” as Jews, while 13 percent identify primarily as Israelis. Most Israelis, 45 percent, identified primarily as human beings, with the rest undecided on how to identify themselves. The poll had 500 respondents and a 4.2 percent margin of error. It was not clear if the respondents represented a cross-section of Israel’s entire population, 20 percent of whom are Arabs, or just the Jewish majority.

Stars to Celebrate Israel’s Birthday

Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg are among Jewish celebrities expected to attend Israel’s 60th Independence Day events. The famed musical diva and Hollywood director are among those invited to a May 13 conference in Jerusalem being organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres in honor of the Jewish state’s 60th birthday, Ma’ariv reported Monday. Streisand will entertain by singing “Avinu Malkeinu,” a Peres favorite. Among foreign statesmen expected to attend the events are President Bush and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Canada Removes Israel, U.S. From Watch List

Canada removed Israel and the United States from a list of countries suspected of using torture. Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said Saturday that an internal government torture watch list naming Israel and the United States had been amended to omit them. Bernier noted that Israel and the United States are among Canada’s “closest allies.” The watch list, which had been compiled as part of training for Canadian diplomats, was accidentally leaked to the press. It mentioned methods known widely as “torture light” — sleep deprivation, forced nudity, isolation and blindfolding. Human rights groups denounced Bernier’s turnabout, saying designation states that sanction torture should not depend on whether they are political allies. Israel and the United States admit that their security services use vigorous interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists but deny this amounts to torture.

Israeli Spy Satellite Launched

After months of delays, the TECSAR satellite was launched into space Monday from a site in India. The TECSAR features an all-weather, day-or-night radar imaging system that will significantly improve Israel’s ability to monitor Iran and other Middle East foes. Two Israeli-made Ofek satellites, with conventional optical camera, already are in orbit. Israel is among a handful of countries that manufactures and deploys its own satellites.

Olmert Praises Aid to Sderot

Aid extended to Sderot by the Israeli military has improved conditions for the rocket-rattled town, Ehud Olmert said. The Israeli prime minister, who made an unannounced visit to Sderot last Thursday after the military’s Southern Command was ordered to deploy personnel in the town to reinforce buildings against rocket salvos from the nearby Gaza Strip and help with routine affairs, said the measure has shown some success.

“I found a different atmosphere both in Sderot and its outlying communities. I found impressive determination, fortitude, fewer complaints but not less pain and concern, and great appreciation for the activity being carried on there,” Olmert told his Cabinet in broadcast remarks Sunday.

Last week saw a surge in rocket fire by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Israeli forces pressed attacks in Gaza. The Jewish Agency for Israel announced Sunday it has begun providing emergency relief grants of around $1,000 for Sderot residents who are injured, or whose homes are damaged, by rockets. A total of $300,000 was last month earmarked for Sderot out of the Jewish Agency’s Victims of Terror Fund, which is underwritten by the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod.

Pope to Change Liturgy Offensive to Jews

Pope Benedict XVI reportedly has decided to change part of the Good Friday liturgy that is offensive to Jews. The decision was reported by Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican expert of the Italian daily “Il Giornale.” The change would affect the Missal of 1962, which the pope brought back into use. The prayer is not used in most churches, but certain congregations continue to use the old rite on Good Friday.

The prayer, which refers to the blindness of the Jews in refusing Jesus as the messiah, is part of a series of prayers for non-Christians. The prayer reads: “Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you do not refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.”

A reference to “perfidious Jews” was dropped in 1959. When Pope Benedict brought back the prayer, the chief rabbis of Israel expressed concern, as did the ADL.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Diaspora must face painful realities in Jerusalem’s future

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

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

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

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

The issue is far more emotional than it is rational.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us face some painful realities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline: Jewish life in Poland from 1098

Recently released color footage of the Warsaw Ghetto.WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGES

1098: Information on Jews in Poland begins to appear in Polish chronicles

1241: A new era of colonization in Poland begins and Jewish immigrants are sought

1264: Polish Prince Boleslaus issues the Statute of Kalisz, the General Charter of Jewish Liberties in Poland

Early 1300s: Fewer than 1,000 Jews in Poland

1407: Jews in Krakow are attacked by mobs

Late 1400s: More than 60 Jewish communities are known in Poland; population is thought to be 20,000 to 30,000

1515: Rabbi Shalom Shachna founds Poland’s first yeshiva in Lublin

1525-1572: Rabbi Moses Ben Israel Isserles lives in Krakow, where he founds a yeshiva and writes a commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law

1573: Confederation of Warsaw of 1573 guarantees religious tolerance in Poland

1500s and early 1600s: Some Jews expelled from Spain move to Poland; Jewish social, cultural and economic life flourishes; population estimated at 80,000 to 100,000

1648-49: Chmielnicki revolt and massacre brings 30 years of bloodshed and suffering to Jews in Poland; golden age in Poland ends

1700-1760: Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Ba’al Shem Tov, founds modern Chasidism

1764: Jewish population about 750,000; worldwide Jewish population estimated at 1.2 million

1772: Partitions of Poland begin between Russia, Prussia and Austria

1791 -Russian government restricts Jews to the Settlement of Pale, which includes lands formerly in Poland

1800s: Tremendous growth of Jewish population (in 1781, 3,600 Jews in Warsaw or 4.5 percent of population; in 1897, 219,000 Jews in Warsaw or 33.9 percent of population)

1862: Jews are given equal rights

1897: 1.3 million Jews in Poland

Early 1900s: On eve of World War I, strained relations between Poles and Jews, with decline of influence of Jewish assimilationists and rise in Jewish nationalism

1918: Major pogrom in Lvov, part of general reign of terror against the Jews

Post-World War I: Poland becomes sovereign state

1921: Jewish population 2,989,000, making up 10.5 percent or more of Polish population

1930: Rabbi Meir Shapiro founds Hachmei Yeshiva in Lublin; it is destroyed by the Nazis and its synagogue reopens in 2007

Late 1930s: Rise of Hitler in Germany and new round of pogroms in Poland

1939: Jewish population more than 3.3 million, with almost 400,000 in Warsaw, or one-third of the city’s total population

Sept. 1, 1939: Invasion of Poland and outbreak of World War II

April-May 1943: Warsaw Ghetto uprising

June 1945: About 50,000 Jews survive in Poland, an additional 100,000 return from the camps and another 200,000 return from the Soviet Union

1944-1950: Mass emigration of Jews from Poland continues to deplete population, leaving about 57,000

1946: Post-war pogrom in Kilce, killing 37 and injuring more than 80

By 1950: Stalinization of Poland instigates anti-Semitism

1956: Wladyslaw Gromulka comes to power; new wave of anti-Semitism results in some 30,000 to 40,000 Jews leaving country

1968: After Six-Day War, a major outburst of anti-Semitism ensues, with more Jews allowed to immigrate to Israel

1970s and 1980s: About 6,000 Jews live in Poland

2007: Jewish population 5,000 according to official counts but estimated at 30,000 or more by Jewish leaders

Dancing to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut at the Izzak Synagogue in Krakow

Texas rabbi Neil Katz talks about his second tour of Poland

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition, Volume 16. Steinlauf, Michael C., “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust,” Syracuse University Press, 1997. Maciej Kozlowski, a historian and ambassador-at-large for Polish-Jewish relations for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Darfur becomes part of Israeli vocabulary

When 18-year-olds Seraphya Berrin from New York, and Arielle Perlow from Melbourne, Australia, arrived in Israel last fall after spending a week in Poland as part of their B’nei Akiva year abroad program, they were inspired to take action on the world’s current genocide, taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“The trip [to Poland] made me realize that we would be negligent as Jews to our promise of ‘never again’ if we didn’t stand up and do something about it.”

Since February 2003, half a million Sudanese civilians from the Darfur region have been killed by the Khartoum government of Sudan, via proxy Arab terrorists called Janjaweed, as well as by air attacks by the Sudanese army acting in response to rebel attacks on military installations. Journalists have been arrested, the U.N. envoy was forced to leave the country, and Sudanese civilians have been subjected to brutalities including gang rapes and the burning down of homes and religious buildings. More than 3 million have been forced to flee.

Initially, the pair intended to volunteer for existing Israeli efforts; they were shocked to discover that there weren’t any. Just three days after their arrival, on Sept. 17, tens of thousands of people in more than 30 countries around the world were gearing up for Global Day for Darfur, an international rally meant to apply pressure on governments to force the U.N. Security Council to protect the Sudanese civilians. Israel was not on the list.

So, Berrin and Perlow, along with a group of friends from various yeshivas and seminaries across Israel, decided to take matters into their own hands. They planned a last-minute solidarity event, which took place in conjunction with the global efforts, on King George Street in Jerusalem, attracting the participation of some 150 supporters.

Berrin said that during the rally several Israelis approached him to ask, “Who is Darfur?”

“Israelis are rightly so engrossed in their country’s own problems,” Berrin said. “But I believe very strongly that just because we have our own problems at home, that doesn’t mean we can’t help people outside of Israel.”

“I think it’s important for us to keep our domestic home secure, but as Jews it’s important for us to be involved in more global issues,” adds Rachel Kupferman, 18, a student at Yeshiva University in New York, who like Berrin and Perlow is currently on a year program in Israel.

As foreigners in Israel, Berrin said Diaspora Jews like the three of them can play a key role in turning Israel onto global issues.

“In general people from the West are in a special position to do something very positive for Israel,” he said. “We can import some of our positive values and awareness. In this case, we want the average Israeli to know what’s going on in Darfur and to care about it.”

In addition to supporting the citizens of Darfur, the rally’s purpose was to raise awareness in Israel and to encourage activism among Israelis.

“The more people talk about this humanitarian crisis, the faster it will be resolved. As soon as the oppressors don’t think it is in their best interest to continue, they will stop.” Berrin said.

Kupferman is a child of Holocaust survivors, which makes the situation in Darfur resonate all the more vividly for her. “We are not defending the Sudanese government,” she said. “We are defending those who are being persecuted by the Sudanese government.”

Following the success of the rally, the initiators have taken the momentum and founded a full-fledged advocacy group called Hatzilu et Amei Darfur (HAED), which translates to “Save the Nations of Darfur.” It has representatives in yeshivas, seminaries, universities, high schools and youth movements across Israel, and a mailing list of about 400 people that each day rises by 15 to 20 new e-mails, about 75 percent of them in Hebrew.

“Relative to how long we have been up and running, I think we have had a huge impact on the Israeli public,” Kupferman said. “I think we are really making a difference.”

HAED held its second rally in November at Zion Square in Jerusalem, this time attracting some 600-700 people. Speakers included Rabbi Yehuda Gilad of Ma’aleh Gilboa, professor Elihu Richter of Hebrew University and Holocaust researcher Elana Yael.

“All different kinds of Israelis came out — charedi, secular, activists from the right and left wings,” Berrin said. “The turnout really represented the rainbow of Israeli society.”

The group’s efforts did not go unnoticed, particularly not by Eytan Schwartz, winner of the 2004 Israeli reality show “The Ambassador,” and like-minded activist for the citizens of Darfur.

“Seeing these young kids from foreign countries put together this fantastic demonstration was really inspiring,” said Schwartz, who appears on morning shows on Israel’s Channel 2, and who is currently working on his master’s in Middle Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University. “What I was touched by most is that you never see Orthodox people at human rights demonstrations; at least not in Israel. This was an amazingly powerful message.”

While HAED was gathering steam, so, too, were Schwartz’s efforts to establish a coalition of about 10 different organizations in Israel, all dedicated to helping the refugees of Darfur, dubbed the Committee for the Advancement of Refugees of Darfur (CARD).

But unlike HAED, which is aiming to end the genocide, CARD’s primary focus is the Sudanese refugees in Israel. Over the last two years, some 250 refugees from Darfur and southern Sudan have made their way to Israel. When they first started arriving, they were temporarily detained according to Israel’s Law of Entry, since Israel does not grant refugee status to nationals of enemy states. However, the Sudanese nationals were eligible for judicial review, and after a period of months in the Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle, the refugees were released and found their way to kibbutzim and moshavim.

“Unlike HAED, we don’t have our sights set on solving the issues in Sudan; we just want to help the refugees who are in Israel right now,” Schwartz said, adding that their objectives are to raise Israel’s media awareness, fundraise, and find volunteers to make sure the refugees’ immediate needs are looked after.

“We cannot reject these people just because of their nationality,” he said.

“They have escaped genocide and we should be embracing them.”

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.


Workers’ Comp Woes

I am appalled by Jill Stewart’s self serving and misleading missives about the so-called reform (in reality, deform) of workers’ compensation (“It’s Time to Heal Worker’s Comp,” May 6).

During the past approximately 25 years I have been representing injured workers. I am proud to say I am an Orthodox Jew and a registered Republican. As you can imagine, I am not a starry-eyed liberal and I certainly do not support the very rare and sometimes understandable (but not excusable) desire to take advantage of the system. But, the new regulations and legislation violate the very spirit and substance of the workers’ compensation system, which is to adequately compensate those who put their life and limb at risk working for others. As an Orthodox Jew, I have felt comfortable seeking compensation for my laboring clients, especially as such compensation does not differ radically from the damages available to an injured worker under traditional Jewish law. As a good American, follower of halacha and an employer myself, I recognize we all have a duty to go as far as possible to aid and make whole those who are truly injured through no fault of their own, but this is exactly what the new laws do not do.

Any fair-minded insurance defense attorney will admit that the new laws are shamefully and extremely draconian. Every attorney who represents injured workers already has several horrible-but-true tales of what has happened to their clients over the past few months. I hope the many Democrat legislators who signed on to this plan did not realize the actual impact of what they were creating in this monstrous Senate bill by giving the benefit of doubt to the governor. No one can honestly tell you that there has never been fraud and abuse in the system, but it has not been endemic or systemic either. Let politicians and insurers chase the treatment mills and other scavengers away by enforcing the law as it stood, but the solution is not starvation wages and denial of bare minimum medical treatment for injured workers.

Jeffrey Nurik

Cover Girl

Is The Jewish Journal so starstruck that the best you could do for a cover story the week of Yom HaAtzmaut was an article including a profile of a “beautiful young” Israeli expat actress who has fulfilled her life’s ambition by standing on a soundstage with Scarlett Johansson (“Shalom Hollywood,” May 13)? I wish her all the best in her endeavors — but I may be old fashioned. I would have preferred a cover story for Israeli Independence Day following up on some ex-Angelenos pursuing the Zionist dream by making aliyah.

Aaron Davidson
Los Angeles

Reform’s Rep

My first visit to a Reform congregation was truly exciting (“Reform’s Reforms,” May 20). Although some of the ritual and prayers were foreign to me, the majority of the readings were in English and relevant to the issues that I face in the modern world. The sermon called upon us as individuals to make a difference in the world. This was a call to action, not a request for belief!

I am 62-years-old and preparing for my bar mitzvah 13 years after my conversion. I struggle with Hebrew. I am more comfortable worshipping in English. I am a Reform Jew. I do not consider Reform Judaism to be less religious than traditional Judaism. In fact, I assert the opposite. Traditional ritual and following a faith-based list of rules has the very real danger of seeming religious without challenging the worshipers to truly search their hearts and their minds for ways to repair our world. Judaism is an action religion. We are challenged to do. We are challenged to repair the world. We are challenged to be better than we are. We are not challenged to accept kashrut, tefillin, tzeniut or tzitzit.

Robert Ingrum

As a freelance book editor who has worked with the Reform movement and continues to do so, I read with great interest Micha Odenheimer’s cover story. To the many noteworthy facets of change that the article reported, let me add one more: the publication three months ago of a revised edition of its bestselling Torah with commentary. Of the new edition’s many features, three in particular manifest that Reform Jews study Torah more seriously than before:

1. It provides a Hebrew text that is among the most historically accurate and visually precise ever published.

2. It places the translation right next to the Hebrew original, paragraph by paragraph, so that the translation better serves as a stepping-stone to the real text.

3. It is backed by more than 350 pages of online documentation that list and explain changes made to the Hebrew text and to the translation (relative to the first edition), because the publisher believes that its readers care about those details.

Such changes are achieved only with a considerable investment of time and expense.

This and other recent publications of the URJ Press ( speak volumes about the direction of the Reform movement.

David E. S. Stein
Redondo Beach

Honorary Jew

There is a factual error in Tom Tugend’s piece “Stamp of Approval.” Yip Harburg, the prolific lyricist of such Ammerican pop standards as “Over the Rainbow,” was not, in fact, Jewish (“Stamp of Approval,” May 20). His co-writer, composer Harold Arlen, who created the gorgeous melody for “Over the Rainbow,” was very Jewish (his father was the venerated cantor Samuel Arlen). The talented Harburg joked about feeling like an honorary Jew in that he worked with various Jewish composers of the golden era of American song, and because his name sounded Jewish — but he was Christian.

Jacqueline Bassan
“From Shul To Cool: The Romantic Jewish Roots of American Popular Music”

Healing Workers’ Comp

Jill Stewart is well-known for her anti-worker and anti-workers’ comp sentiments. She has repeatedly misstated the facts and attacked the wrong parties (“It’s Time to Heal Worker’s Comp,” May 6). She continues to have a distorted view of what is going on in workers’ comp. We did not get reform of the workers’ compensation systems — we got an outright assault, a mutilation of injured workers’ rights. How dare she attack the one group of people who have fought long and hard to protect the injured workers’ of this state, the lawyers who represent them?

Stewart claims that the money spent on workers’ comp went to the middlemen, like lawyers who were milking the system. Wrong again, Ms. Stewart. Nothing could be further from the truth. No. 1, the insurance company does not pay the attorney fees. Attorneys only get 15 percent attorney fees, paid by the injured workers from their award or settlement. Compare that to all other areas of law where fees are much more substantial. The insurance companies, who padded Gov. Schwarzegger’s with exorbitant amount of money, got the reforms they wanted. How’s that for taking special interest money and the governor doing favors for those who did? Now the insurance companies are laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of the injured worker. Employer rates have not dropped as promised and, as her article states, permanent disability benefits are now the bottom in the nation. That is not something this state should be proud of.

Injured workers’ rights to medical control have been taken away. Do we take that away from any other segment of society? No. Injured workers’ rights to obtain treatment that is necessary has been taken away. We have limited their benefits while they cannot work and reduced their compensation for permanent disabilities. We have taken away their right to be retrained if they cannot return to their usual and customary work as a result of their permanent injuries. This is a travesty, Ms. Stewart. You should be ashamed of yourself for distorting the truth. Try living in the shoes of an injured worker.

I am outraged by what the governor has done to hurt the working men and women of this state and I am outraged by the special interest money he has taken from the insurance companies. The injured workers of this state deserve better.

Susan Fields

In response to Jill Stewart’s scathing attack on attorneys representing workers, it revealed more about her ignorance of the subject matter than anything else. Senate Bill 899 is the most vicious attack on the basic rights of the injured worker in California history. Instead of focusing on the rights of injured workers, she goes off on a tirade against their attorneys who instead of “milking the system” earn a mere 15 percent fee. The recent Rand Study confirms that benefits paid to injured workers are woefully inadequate. The new legislation even cuts that amount by at least 50 percent. As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I can tell you unequivocally that the California applicant attorneys are the most dedicated group of lawyers on behalf of their clients that I have ever had the pleasure to associate with. Of all the reasons for the workers compensation crisis, Stewart is misinformed in blaming the attorneys. She should do more research before she spouts off about a subject of which she certainly has little knowledge.

Ronald M. Canter
Los Angeles

I read with dismay another of Jill Stewart’s articles about workers’ compensation. I can only say, “Jill, you’ve got it wrong.” She falsely hints that the truly injured will be helped by the Schwarzenegger sellout of injured workers. Nothing is further from the truth. Under the new AMA guides, the near dead, such as Terri Schiavo in her final days, would only be considered 90 percent disabled according to one of the editors of the AMA Guides.

Stewart has declined an invitation to meet with injured workers or an attorney representing them to hear directly from them how the changes have hurt truly injured people.

She needs to expand her sources beyond the Chamber of Commerce.

Robert Blum
El Dorado Hills

Battle of Faith

James D. Besser’s article shows a moral blindness to seven glaring realities (“The Faith Wars Heat Up, ” May 20):

1) For the past 37 years, the forces of political correctness have poisoned, corrupted and degraded every institution of American life.

2) Those who are “faith revolutionaries” are average, decent people who were not very political. They were focused on raising their families, making a living and supporting their houses of worship. Pushed too far, they are angry and radicalized.

3) There are serious changes in American Jewry. A decade ago, you could not find enough Jewish Republicans for a living room meeting. Today, they are packing large auditoriums to capacity.

4) During the days of Harry Truman, Democrats represented “average Joes” who played softball at the public park while the Republicans represented those who played golf and tennis at posh country clubs. Today, the opposite is true.

5) Too many Jews, including numerous rabbis, are lukewarm Zionists. The Christian right loves Israel unconditionally.

6) Bigotry against Jews and Christians is socially acceptable. Islam is sacrosanct!

7) The real dangerous hate mongers, whom we need to fear, are on the left — not the right!

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys


A Miracle Worker

Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez are twins who were born conjoined at the cranium. Headline-makers since arriving at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital in Westwood, the twins were separated in a nearly 23-hour surgery on Aug. 6.

“This single case has captured the global community in a unique way,” Israeli-born neurosurgeon Dr. Itzhak Fried said.

Fried is co-director of the Seizure Disorder Center at UCLA Medical Center and heads the Neurobiology of Human Memory Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science. The Tel Aviv native came to America in 1972 to pursue his medical education. His Polish father trained as a Reform rabbi in 1930s Breslau — an outspoken Jew who stirred the pot in Nazi Germany.

“He was arrested by the Gestapo for Zionist activities,” Field said. “He got out of Germany just before 1939.”

Field, his wife and three children divide their time between living on the Westside and in Tel Aviv, where Field created an epilepsy program.

“My work is to set up things there that will improve medical technology in Israel,” said Field, whose passion is researching the central nervous system.

As of Aug. 26, both Marias remain in serious condition with stable vital signs. “There’s a very good likelihood” that they will lead normal, healthy lives, Field said.

“We’re dealing with very young patients. The brain has flexibility at this age,” he told The Journal. “They both tolerated the procedure reasonably well. The team has been cautiously optimistic from the start.”

Field is quick to credit his team of neurosurgeon and plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses. “The work is really a teamwork,” Field said. “It’s the experience of many people pulling together.”

To donate to the twins’ funds, contact Robyn Puntch at (310) 794-5143 or .

Terrorists in Old City

Since the intifada began two years ago, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert had boasted that Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem had opted to stay out of the violence for fear of losing Israeli social service benefits.

With the recent arrest of an East Jerusalem terrorist cell deemed responsible for several recent attacks — including the July 31 bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria that killed nine people — Israelis have been asking: Arabs in East Jerusalem, too?

The discovery of the cell nearly coincided with a survey by the prestigious Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies that reported alarming figures concerning the standard of living in Jerusalem’s Old City and raised questions about 35 years of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem.

Unlike Israeli Arabs, most Arab residents of East Jerusalem who came under Israeli rule following the 1967 Six-Day War do not carry Israeli citizenship. They are not entitled to Israeli passports, are not entitled to vote and cannot be elected to national bodies. They are eligible to vote in municipal elections, though most of them choose — with help from Palestinian groups — not to, so as not to legitimize Israeli rule in the city.

Still, they do have Israeli identity cards, which allow them free movement throughout Israel and relatively free movement in and out of the West Bank — freedom that the terrorist gang allegedly put to bloody use.

Most important, Arabs in East Jerusalem are entitled to the range of social benefits available to all Israelis, such as national health insurance, unemployment payments, minimum wage benefits, child allowances and other social security benefits.

It was access to such services that Olmert figured would deter residents of East Jerusalem from joining the Palestinian campaign of terror — a calculation that authorities now say was tragically wrong.

True, the level of terrorism emanating from East Jerusalem has been low, in comparison with terrorism from the adjacent West Bank. Far fewer Israelis and tourists visit the Old City today than in past years, and very few hostile acts have been carried out against them.

But the hatred is still there.

The merchants in front of their empty souvenir stalls on David Street look at the few Israelis who dare to enter the Old City walls — mostly religious Jews on their way to the Western Wall or other sites in the Jewish Quarter — with sad and angry eyes.

"Why don’t you understand? We don’t want you here," said tour guide Ali Jadda, who spent 17 years in Israeli jails for throwing a grenade in the western part of the city, wounding nine Israelis. "You are welcome as tourists, but as occupiers, you are not wanted here."

That is the story in a nutshell: Many Jerusalem Arabs see the Jews as occupiers.

In Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Arab soldiers forced the Jews from the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, ending a presence dating back centuries. In the ensuing 20 years of Jordanian occupation, evidence of Jewish history was systematically destroyed.

In 1967, Israel, after being attacked by Jordan, conquered the Jewish Quarter and the other parts of East Jerusalem. The conquered parts were annexed to Israel, but — fearful of changing the country’s demographic balance — the inhabitants were not offered citizenship.

Thus, just as the Arabs do not want the Jews in Jerusalem, many would say that the Israeli authorities do not regard the city’s 220,000 Arabs as equal partners.

The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies report showed the poor living conditions in the Old City. With some 280 people per acre, it is one of the most crowded places on earth. The population has grown rapidly since the unification of the city in 1967, due both to natural growth and the illegal immigration of Arabs from the West Bank who wanted to enjoy Israeli social service benefits.

Israeli authorities could not cope with the phenomenon: They lacked the space, budget and tools to provide the Arab population with modern housing inside the Old City walls.

Providing alternative housing would be too costly — and would go against the Palestinians’ nationalist credo. The result: burgeoning illegal construction, with rooms crowding on top of each other and basements turned into living quarters. Some 25 percent of the apartments in the Muslim Quarter have no shower, and a number of families often will share the same toilet.

Some Jewish families also are moving into the Muslim Quarter, living in homes purchased from Arab owners in roundabout ways. Under the guidance of the Ateret Cohanim settlers’ organization, these Jews hope one day to outnumber Arabs in the Old City.

The Jewish families live under heavy protection: Surveillance cameras transmit images of people approaching the Jewish residences to Old City police headquarters, and armed guards respond to knocks on the doors.

Some 6,000 families, or about 35,000 people, live in the Old City. Of these, 68 percent are Muslims; 24 percent, Christians; and 8 percent, Jews.

Umm Raed, who lives in a shabby apartment in the Old City and suffers from diabetes, receives a regular unemployment allowance from the Israeli government. That’s enough of an incentive to make sure none of her nine children join Hamas.

But, given the heavily politicized atmosphere and the incitement by Palestinian Authority agents, economic incentives aren’t enough to win Israel much loyalty from Jerusalem’s Arabs.

Hawks like Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau and his deputy, Gideon Ezra, say the cell’s capture shows that anti-Israel feelings are endemic in the Palestinian population, regardless of their social and economic condition. The fact that the cell members received Israeli social benefits and worked in Israel proves it is not poverty that causes terrorism, they say.

Some are looking beyond last week’s news to possible political solutions. The Jerusalem Institute study offers at eight alternative solutions to the conflict.

Ruth Lapidot, a law professor who chaired the report team, prefers one of them: Both Israel and the Palestinians relinquish sovereignty claims in the Old City and try to reach a functional agreement on running the holy area.

Israel has been open to various compromise proposals, but the Palestinian Authority insists on full sovereignty over all Arab neighborhoods and denies that the Jews have any connection to the Temple Mount, the Old City’s crown jewel and the holiest site in Judaism.

The Basketball Diaries

Two standout Jewish hoop stars headlining the Pac-10 basketball tournament? It’s all part of March Madness. David Bluthenthal, USC’s 22-year-old small forward, and Amit Tamir, UC Berkeley’s 22-year-old forward/center, each look to lead their team to the conference title at the March 7-9 tournament at Staples Center.

Tamir, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman, is thrilled about the tournament, the first held since 1990. "I’m excited to compete in L.A. I’m going to have fun and enjoy my first college tournament," said Tamir, whose team entered the Pac-10 tournament ranked second.

The Jerusalem native earned Pac-10 Player of the Week and ESPN National Player of the Week honors (Feb. 11) for his performance against the University of Oregon. He posted a Cal freshman record 39 points, shooting 14-of-19 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from three-point range and 6-of-8 from the line. Tamir clinched Cal’s first five double-overtime points, leading the Golden Bears to their eventual 107-103 victory. He also snagged five boards.

Tamir recognizes that his exceptional play means more than just a phenomenal night on the court. "I got a lot of attention after Oregon and I know that made Jews, especially Israelis, proud. There’s something nice about being an Israeli ambassador of college ball," Tamir said.

Tamir almost missed his NCAA opportunity. While serving three years in the Israeli army, he earned a spot on the Israeli League’s Hapoel Jerusalem. Tamir said he wasn’t paid by Hapoel, but he did play with a professional on his team. This NCAA amateurism rule violation jeopardized Tamir’s eligibility. But Cal coach Ben Braun successfully fought to reduce Tamir’s potential seasonlong suspension to eight games.

Braun, who is also Jewish, discovered Tamir while coaching a youth team in Israel. The coach and player attended High Holy Day services together at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. "It was important to me to celebrate the holidays, and meant a lot to share them with Coach Braun," Tamir said. "It’s great playing under a Jewish coach because there’s so much he can relate to. We share a heritage, traditions and holidays."

Braun is not the only Golden Bear who puts this Israeli import at ease. Berkeley coeds make an extra effort to embrace Tamir.

"Students on campus come up and talk in Hebrew or just let me know they share Judaism with me. It’s made me feel at home," said Tamir, who played for the Israeli National under-18 and under-22 teams and led his 1997 ORT High School team to the Jerusalem city title.

Tamir’s teammates also contributed to his smooth continental transition. "Whenever there’s violence in Israel, the guys on the team want to know if it’s near my home, if my family is OK. It’s really nice, and I feel like I can help them understand what’s going on over there," Tamir said.

Tamir left more than heated conflict behind. His father, Asher, an electrician; his mother, Shula, a homemaker; older sisters, Rozit and Gal, and 11-year-old brother, Daniel, all remain in Jerusalem. "I miss my family and friends. And the food: the hummus, mmm, and, oh, the bourekes. My mom’s cooking especially," said Tamir, who does not keep kosher. "She’s a great cook," added the dutiful son, who claims he was overweight until age 15.

Tamir, who grew up watching televised Israeli League and NBA games with his father, aspires to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. "It’s always been a dream of mine, and I think it would bring a lot of pride to Israel and the Jewish people," Tamir said.

Bluthenthal has similar NBA dreams. "I’ve wanted the NBA since I was 5, and am excited to have been invited to draft camps. After the season, all my efforts will go toward it. But now, I’m focused on the team and our tournament success," said Bluthenthal, a senior whose Trojans entered this weekend’s tournament ranked third. "We’ve got a great team and a shot at winning the title," added the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Los Angeles native.

The lifelong Lakers fan will enjoy his hometown advantage. "We don’t have to travel, and our L.A. fans will be there to support us," said Bluthenthal, who attended both Venice and Westchester highs.

A talented three-point shooter and aggressive rebounder, Bluthenthal got his career third Pac-10 Conference Player of the Week nod (Feb. 18) for his Arizona series performance. He came off the bench against Arizona State and earned his third double-double of the season, posting 21 points and 10 rebounds. In an upset victory over the Arizona Wildcats, he seized nine rebounds and collected a career high 31 points, making 7-of-12 from three-point range.

After an up-and-down season, the history major credits his success against Arizona, ASU and Stanford (22 points) on his strong mental attitude and work ethic. "I haven’t had the best season, but I stay positive and practice a lot," said Bluthenthal, who hits the gym by 7 a.m. daily and takes 500-700 shots before class. "I love shooting, so practice comes easily to me. And I think it’s paid off," added Bluthenthal, who recently became the 26th USC player to earn 1,000 career points.

Bluthenthal admits it’s difficult to fit Judaism into his current schedule. "I’ve gone to services a few times, but there’s not really time between school and basketball. But I’ve been thinking about going more after the season’s over," he said.

He is, however, a proud Maccabiah Games participant. He played at the 1996 New Jersey games, earned bronze at the 1997 Israeli games and gold at the Pan-American Maccabiah Games in Mexico City. "My Israel trip was an amazing experience. I played with great older players, saw incredible sites and learned about the heritage and history," said Bluthenthal, who withdrew from the 2001 games due to an injury.

This preseason Wooden Award candidate, who holds the Trojan record for most game rebounds (28), has become a Jewish phenomenon. "I receive a lot of attention for being a Jewish basketball player. I was fortunate to be born with my height and a love for the game. If my success — getting to play college ball — inspires other Jewish athletes, then that’s great," Bluthenthal said. "I’m happy to be some sort of role model to young Jewish players," he added, blushing almost as much as he does when asked about a girlfriend.

Raised in Marina del Rey, Bluthenthal wanted to stay in Los Angeles for college, the weather and his family. His father Ralph, a retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Department officer; younger sister, Evelyn, who plays volleyball for Venice High School and the 2001 Maccabiah Team, and two older siblings live in Los Angeles.

Though Bluthenthal’s great-great-great-grandfather, Wilshire Boulevard Temple past president Isaias Hellman, was one of three original USC land donors, Bluthenthal once dreamed of playing for UCLA. "The Bruins have a great basketball tradition. But now I’m glad I went to ‘SC, where we started a new tradition," he said proudly. Last year, USC went to the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time since 1954. Bluthenthal earned East Region All-NCAA Tournament Team honors.

"Because this is my senior year, I want us to win the Pac-10 Tournament and go even further than last year in the NCAA Tournament," Bluthenthal said.

Jewish basketball fans everywhere hope to see both Bluthenthal and Tamir achieve their hoop dreams.

Caught in the Cross- fire

During the first weeks following the terror attacks on New York and Washington, Israel’s Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem instructed officials charged with explaining Israel’s position to avoid, when possible, interviews and media queries. Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s consul for communications and public affairs in Los Angeles, recalls a prevailing sense within the diplomatic community that no matter how sympathetic they were to America’s plight or how good their terrorism expertise, Israelis should realize this was not their fight.

"The concern seemed to be that if we assumed a high profile, we might find ourselves blamed, somehow, for attracting terrorism to these shores," Shahar told The Journal.

Less than a month later, even as Israel is rocked by a political assassination of a top Cabinet minister, charges of Israeli culpability have become commonplace not only in Osama bin Laden’s videotaped pronouncements, but at barber shops and beauty parlors, bingo halls and bowling alleys, and wherever else Americans regularly convene and commiserate.

Media pundits have outdone themselves in accounting for Al Qaeda’s motives, its inherent nihilism, its intent to reverse the current world order. Americans have heard them repeatedly explain bin Laden’s animus in terms of the "infidel presence" in Saudi Arabia, and the continued Western sanctions against Iraq. Bin Laden-watchers like Abdel-Bari Atwan of the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi have stressed that opposition to Zionism and support for Palestinian rights remain a sideshow of a sideshow, not the causative force claimed in bin Laden’s most recent video.

But for a growing number of Americans, blaming Israel is easier than wrestling with the more arcane or esoteric sources of Islamic discontent cited recently by specialists. A refrain of anti-Israel statements has become common on American talk radio, as it has been in Europe for years. For example, the French Foreign Ministry cites "excessive support for the Jewish State" as a root cause of all Mideast terrorism. This week, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called on TV Asahi, a leading Japanese TV network, to immediately remove Koji Kawamura as an "expert commentator" from its programming after he alleged on air that the "common threat liking the targets of anthrax attacks was the they were Jews."

Among Americans, 58 percent said that U.S. support for Israel was a key motive behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a Pew Research Center poll done for Newsweek. And 46 percent of respondents agreed that it might 0be time to reconsider America’s traditional support for the Jewish State. Yet despite these findings, nine out of 10 Americans support the campaign in Afghanistan, while 81 percent would like to see the president move into Iraq to clean up the mess left a decade earlier by his father. And nearly three out of every four Americans asked say they’d like to see terrorists pursued as far afield as the Sudan or the Philippines.

"Sure, it looks a little nuts at first," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "We’re one month out from an event that was bigger than Pearl Harbor, and the parameters of this war are no more clear than during the first few days. We don’t have Osama yet, but you do have incidents of anthrax, and things are clearly going to get worse before they get better. We are beginning to understand that this is a war without borders, waged against an enemy without soldiers. No one expects immediate closure. But people want the terrorism to stop.

"On the other hand, people are telling themselves, "’Gee, if only the Israelis would just cut a deal with the Palestinians, maybe the rest will fall into place.’ After all, Sharon started talking about the need for a Palestinian state even before Bush or [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld. OK, given the absence of a language of compromise elsewhere in the Islamic world, it’s probably not going to work. But maybe this looks like a quick fix to a situation where none is in sight."

Commenting this week in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, the Anti-Defamation League’s National Director Abraham Foxman explains the persistence of the "Blame Israel" factor in more historical terms. Assorted voices within the American community initially blamed Jews for the Second World War, Israel for the 1973 oil embargo, and both for the Gulf War, Foxman said. Blatant and not-so-blatant anti-Semitism was always available to provide support for these contentions. Yet when push came to shove, most Americans respectively identified Hitler, OPEC and Saddam Hussein as the true source of each conflict. And according to most indications, Foxman said Americans were now training their gun sights on bin Laden, the Taliban and radical Islam.

Still, some recent developments continue to concern Foxman. "[The situation] is more serious today," he said. "Both because we’re talking about terror attacks on U.S. soil and because Israel and Jews are facing direct blame for them."

The question now may not be whether America has the frame of mind to respond effectively to the situation, but whether Israel has internalized the extent to which its greatest ally now finds itself transformed.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s lamentable speech of two weeks ago, which The New York Times’ Tom Friedman characterized as "stupid and offensive," suggests that in this regard at least, the Jewish State remains dangerously clueless. Sharon had warned Bush, "Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense." Linking the president to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938, Sharon said, " Israel will not be another Czechoslovakia."

Todd Morgan, chairman of the board at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, says, "I understand Sharon’s aggravation. I think he misspoke. He admits it and wants to change that. It is an inappropriate time for the United States to push Israel hard when terrorism still exists there. It seems hypocritical to talk down on terrorism, yet open the door for a Palestine state. Washington is getting pressure from the Arab states to reduce their strong commitment to Israel."

Yet, Morgan maintains: "These events could have a positive impetus for Israel and the Palestinians to have peace. So maybe now terrorism will stop, and they will make it to the peace table. If that’s what it takes to get to the peace table, God bless."

In Jerusalem over the holidays, Cooper expressed dismay upon learning that the Foreign Ministry was closed even during Sukkot, and that no one showed up for work even on the intermediary days when work was permissible, despite the fact that "there was a war going on." The only consolation, he told The Journal, "is that despite the continued existence of a National Unity government, created so that Israelis might speak to the world with one voice, very little of any coherence is coming out of Jerusalem."

One member of Israel’s Cabinet recognized the need for hasbara, or spin. Shortly after the attacks, Natan Sharansky’s Yisrael B’Aliya party announced the launch of the Israeli Citizens’ Information Council (ICIC), self-described in a press release as a "grass-roots hasbara network providing Israeli-speaking citizens with English-speaking backgrounds a platform through which they can actively participate in Israeli information and promotion effort."

Sharansky, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of housing, said the group was necessary to explain Israel’s position, especially in light of the Sept. 11 attacks. "Officials representing the government can only do so much. It’s the power of the people in their everyday interactions with colleagues, families and communities abroad, which ICIC is harnessing," he added.

In the United States, meanwhile, Israeli officials seem to have given up entirely on exercising a meaningful impact on American public opinion. During a recent visit here intended to help bolster American Jewish leaders faced with hasbara problems of their own, Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation Roni Milo called upon the American Jewish community to spread the message that Israel is not the cause of terror attacks against America.

"People must understand what we are going through," he declared somewhat plaintively.

What he did not explain was how anyone could hope to do so when one day the Israeli prime minister calls Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat "our bin Laden," and the next day sends his son, Omri, for negotiations. If Israel’s official spokespeople don’t know how to put the correct spin on these mixed messages, then how can Americans Jews even begin to neutralize statements that cast the president of the United States — a man now fully engaged in routing out terror on a planetary scale — as the next Neville Chamberlain?

Here in Los Angeles, attempts to enlist prominent American Jews as Israeli spinmeisters have failed miserably, much to the mounting frustration of Israel’s Consul General, Yuval Rotem.

"Do you know how many times we tried to put a workshop or symposium or rally in UCLA during the last year?" Rotem says. "How many times we were turned down by different activists who are supposed to mobilize Jewish students during this time of deep crisis? Do you know how many rallies there were on the other side? Or demonstrations in front of my consulate in the last year? How many times do you think Jews wanted to stand one hour in one weekend during the last year?

"Nada. Nicht. Nothing doing."

Elsewhere in the community, there seems to be a mounting recognition that however dramatic the sea change in perceptions throughout America, those intent on getting Israel’s message out will have to go back to the basics.

"I think the hasbara effort could be vastly improved," says John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation. "There needs to be a greater sophistication of how messages are formulated, and almost what I’ve referred to others as deconstructing what the other side is saying in today’s battle for the hearts and mind of the public. We need to begin, in a nondefensive way, to put across the facts in a meaningful and dispassionate way, and to create a sense that this is not solely a geopolitical struggle, with serious defense and security overtones, but has impacts on flesh and blood people."

"It’s a sad truth," comments Rabbi Mark Diamond, the vice president of the Los Angeles Board of Rabbis, "that people like short, simple messages when, in terms of this conflict, there aren’t any. But what really amazes me is how here, of all places, we’re still so media unsavvy. The Palestinians hold a rally, and no one strays from message, which is that the Palestinians are being murdered by a vastly better-armed opponent. We hold a rally, a small group of people who make their way to the forefront, and, when they hear something they don’t like, chant ‘No justice, no peace.’ Meanwhile, our own supporters are screaming and yelling whenever they see Shimon Peres on the screen.

"Obviously something is very wrong with this picture. Our message is neither clear nor simple nor unified."

Time to Survive

Either the authoritarians of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority have the power to direct, control, intercept and stymie Arab terrorist attacks against Israel, or they do not. If this year’s proliferation of Arab mass murder has been within the Palestinian Authority’s power to control, then those events confirm that the Palestinian Authority has no right to exist as a polity. On the other hand, if the Palestinian Authority cannot control the anti-Israel terror emanating from within its borders, then it also has no right to exist as a polity.

And if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not finally launch a full-scale defensive operation formulated to eradicate the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim, Force 17 and the whole bunch of them — and to re-take the areas of Judea and Samaria that now are occupied by the Palestinian Authority — then Sharon’s unity government also enjoys no further right to exist.

The first — and possibly only — reason for government is to provide security and protection, internally through the police and externally through armed forces. A government that will not do everything possible to protect, because of secondary sociological considerations, has no right to exist.

The recent bombings at the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium and the Jerusalem Sbarro restaurant arise from a failure by the Israeli government to protect and secure the society that seated it.

The Sharon-Peres policy that begrudgingly accepts a daily torrent of murder in cold blood — whether at the pizza place, the Laundromat, the disco, on the roadway, at the fruit market or at nature sites — is repugnant to the essence of government. If Israel continues its restraint from utterly eradicating the Palestinian Authority — eviscerating Arafat’s entire political infrastructure, including, but not limited to, the parliament building; all television, radio and publishing sites; Palestinian Authority police stations; Arafat’s airport; and the obliteration of Orient House in East Jerusalem — the Zionist hope will have been reduced to a society of Jews living in a bulletproof bubble: riding in bulletproof buses, dwelling in bulletproof living rooms and dressing in bulletproof clothes.

Israel could not continue indefinitely enjoying the luck of bus drivers and pedestrians spotting one bomb package after another, without some Arab cutthroat getting through. Israel must oust Arafat’s entity from further occupying Judea and Samaria because, although the situation has deteriorated to nightly gunfire into suburban Gilo and mortars across borders, it will get worse.

The Ehud Barak years have taught that there can be no Israeli coexistence with those devoted to her obliteration, and Arafat made clear to Barak and President Clinton that no deal can be signed if it contemplates a Jewish State after the ink dries. From its stationery to its Web sites to its every symbol of authority, the map of Arafat’s Palestine is the same as the map of Israel.

I have had three daughters in Israel this summer on three different summer programs. On the day of the Jerusalem bombing, one of them was six blocks from the epicenter, heard the loudest explosion in her life, and felt the earth shake as it never had in two decades of California quakes.

A bomb at King George Street and Jaffa Road at noon is like a lunch explosion at 42nd Street and Broadway. Everyone is nearby. And that is a parent’s nightmare.

Sharon apparently regards the many civilian Jewish victims of the carnage as necessary casualties that a general must accept as part of a long-term battle plan.

But this general’s holding position is not working, and civilian casualties on the home front are not an acceptable sacrifice for the goodwill of Europe that will not be forthcoming anyway.

If he acts now to eradicate the Palestinian Authority, the two-month wait since the Dolphinarium bombing can have some retroactive justification, if only to have offered a nation time to accept that it is at war despite its heroic efforts to compromise everything for peace.

World Briefs

Palestinians Fired at U.N. Official

Forensic evidence released this week proved that shots fired last November at a convoy carrying the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, came from a rifle used by Palestinian forces and from an area under Palestinian control. Palestinian officials claimed at the time that Israeli settlers had fired at her, and her silence in the face of the accusations generally was seen as an indication that Robinson agreed with the Palestinian view.

Bereaved Mother Gives Birth

The mother of Shalhevet Pass, the 10-month-old Israeli infant killed by Palestinian sniper fire in Hebron four months ago, has given birth to a girl.

Document Suggests Land Transfer

Israel’s Foreign Ministry leaked a document that suggests offering large amounts of land to the Palestinians as a way of inducing Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to return to negotiations.

The document reflected what are viewed as the large differences between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on how to deal with 10 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Judge OKs Lawsuit Against P.A.

A U.S. judge ruled that a $250 million lawsuit filed against the Palestinian Authority can proceed. The lawsuit, brought by relatives of a Jewish couple killed in a 1996 terrorist attack, could be brought under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991, the judge said.

The lawsuit claims Palestinian officials were responsible for the drive-by shooting of Yaron and Efrat Ungar because the officials allowed Hamas to operate training facilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and encouraged terrorism in the region.

Swiss Bank Account Deadline Next Week

Holocaust survivors or their heirs who believe they have valid claims for dormant Swiss bank accounts dating back to the Holocaust era have until next week to file claims. Further information and claims forms are available at

Canadian Solidarity to Israel

Backed by a $1 million donation from a philanthropist, a group called Israel Solidarity International is offering discounted trips to Israel so that Canadian Jews can make solidarity visits. According to a report in the Canadian Jewish News, participants are being asked to pay about $600 to join the first mission, which departs for Israel on Aug. 20

Upset over U.K.’s Farrakhan decision

Lawyers for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan have succeeded in overturning a 15-year-old ban on his visiting Britain. Jewish groups had been instrumental in getting Farrakhan barred from the United Kingdom in 1986 on the grounds that his presence could stir up racial tension. Jewish leaders reacted with dismay after the High Court in London struck down the ban Tuesday.

Austria: Payouts May Begin Soon

Austria’s chancellor said the nation’s $450-million compensation fund for Nazi-era slave laborers could begin making payments by the end of the month. The July 26 announcement came after a U.S. judge said she would dismiss claims in lawsuits against the Austrian government and Austrian companies.

Rabbis Want Energy Meditation

More than 500 rabbis have written the members of the U.S. House of Representatives to call for moral reflection on the country’s energy policy. The letter, sponsored by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, follows President Bush’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, the only international framework to address climate change.

Battler for Nazi Reparations Dies

Hugo Princz, a U.S. citizen who survived the Holocaust and won reparations from Germany after a 40-year battle, died Sunday of cancer at 78.

Princz lived in Slovakia in 1942, when the Germans sent him and other Jews to concentration camps, and he spent 38 months in seven Nazi camps. The Germans denied Princz’s 1955 request for reparations because he was neither a German citizen nor a refugee. Princz was one of 11 U.S. citizens to settle with Germany for $2.1 million in 1995.