Opinion: Don’t set back reproductive rights for Israeli women

In 1979, I moved from the United States to Israel, where I discovered that unlike in America, reproductive choice in Israel was by and large not an issue—not religiously, politically or socially.

As the director of the Israel Office for the U.S.-based National Council of Jewish Women for the past 17 years, I was always grateful and surprised that with all the problems regarding women’s rights in Israel, the consensus on abortion was to leave well enough alone.

I’m hoping that is not about to change.

At the moment, birth control and abortion services are not only legal but, in most cases, abortion is covered by health plans with a small copay. Women serving in the Israeli army are entitled to free birth control and abortions. But last month, Nissim Zeev, a member of the Israeli Knesset from the Shas party (the Sephardic religious party) submitted legislation seeking to limit abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy.

Zeev claims that since technology now allows life outside the womb at 22 weeks, pregnancy termination after that is tantamount to “murder”—a word he actually used. He went on to argue that women are encouraged to end their pregnancies for social reasons, and they later regret their abortions and suffer depression because of them.

In effect, Zeev is following in the footsteps of the former chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who two years ago attacked the official committees that by law approve abortions. Eliyahu charged that “a million children have been cut down alive since the state [of Israel] was created.”

Luckily, the government opposes Zeev’s proposal. Most political analysts agree it was merely a ploy to draw attention away from issues such as drafting haredi Orthodox men into the Israeli army and ending gender segregation, both of which have roiled the waters between the haredi Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society.

In Israel, all requests for a government-subsidized abortion through one’s health plan are reviewed by a committee that includes a family doctor, a gynecologist and a social worker. Knesset member Zahava Galon, who heads the left-of-center Meretz party, has drafted bills several times to eliminate all such committees—an idea the government also opposes and habitually keeps bottled up in committee.

Galon describes attitudes toward abortion as ranging from “indifference, to resistance, to a desire to control the right of a woman and her wish to decide her reproductive rights.” These attitudes, she says, “allow the state to continue to define the decision-making process on the termination of pregnancy.”

Such views are also contested in the United States, where despite President Obama’s support for abortion rights, congressional opponents succeeded in severely limiting government-funded abortions covered by the new national health reform law. Since the 2010 election, states have enacted a record number of laws intended to restrict or even eliminate access to abortion.

While I appreciate Galon’s desire to make abortion even more accessible to all woman in Israel by doing away with the committee that reviews requests for a government-subsidized abortion, it is still the case that with committee approval, every Israeli’s health plan covers abortion for most women between the ages of 18 and 42 for a small copay, and for free for women outside that age range. That is a stark contrast to the situation in the United States.

Israeli law, which incorporates halachah, or Jewish law, makes abortion legal and justified in most cases. The U.S. pro-choice camp would love to have such liberal laws on the books.

When I made aliyah, it seemed birth control and abortion rights were a done deal in the United States. I hope that remains the case despite ongoing attacks there. And for Israel, my wish is that Zeev and his allies find something else to oppose and leave women’s reproductive rights at least as strong as they were when I arrived here more than three decades ago.

Shari Eshet is director of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Israel office.

Come dive with me — Israeli skydivers training in SoCal

You do it … you can never go back,” Israeli Sharon Har-noy said recently of her passion for the sport of skydiving. She and teammate Adi Freid met with a reporter during a break from training at Perris Valley Skydiving, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Har-noy and Freid make up the only all-female Israeli skydive team in the advanced category, which includes just six teams. They came to Perris to prepare for their nationals, set for April 2007, and hopefully the world competition in Australia to follow. Their U.S. training tour, sponsored by Israeli American Dr. Avraham Kadar and his company, BrainPOP.com, included stops at Skydive Cross Keys in New Jersey, Skydive Arizona Eloy, as well as Perris, before they returned to Israel Oct. 19.

The team’s home drop zone, Paradive, at Habonim Beach, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, is only open four days a week, and it lacks the opportunities available in the United States. At Perris, they trained seven days a week on faster planes that could carry more people, and they utilized a wind tunnel that simulated skydiving. The teammates said that during one week of training at Perris, they got in 70 jumps and made progress that would have taken them at least three months in Israel.

In Israel, the pair train on the weekends. During the week, Freid is a senior psychology major at Tel Aviv University and Har-noy produces animated films for BrainPOP.com, an education service.

The pair, both now 24, met about 3 1/2 years ago at Paradive and became quick friends. They had both done diving before — Har-noy took her first jump at the drop zone after high school and continued on weekend breaks from the army, while Freid’s first skydiving experience was in New Zealand, during her post-military travels in 2002.

“Two girls in the drop zone, we had to get together and start jumping,” Freid said.

About a year ago, while on a trip to Perris, they met manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, a world champion diver who is also Jewish, suggested they team up and start competing.

“To be a good skydiver you have to jump with someone good, and if there is no good people in the drop zone, then nobody can get ahead,” Har-noy said.

Among those helping them prepare is coach David Gershfeld.

“They have that finesse that … drive and energy … to get better and actively progress,” Gershfeld said.

Freid and Har-noy say the sport is safe, more so, they argue, than driving a car.And while Paradive closed for a month during the recent war, both women say they didn’t feel threatened.

“Maybe it’s easier to skydive in Israel because you are used to being afraid, or used to being in dangerous situations. Skydiving really isn’t that dangerous,” Freid said.

— Sara Bakhshian, Contributing Writer

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 www.ijwo.org.
— 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.

Eran Plays With Hot Topics in ‘Sandbox’

“God’s Sandbox,” the latest Israeli film to tackle women’s issues, depends in large part on the mystery and romance of the desert for its effect. This is evident from its very first moments, when a car, driving slowly along a winding desert road, stops at what appears to be no particular point, and lets out a passenger: a middle-aged woman wearing a sensible straw hat to protect herself from the scorching heat, lugging a bulky suitcase. Liz (Razia Israeli), a sensible-looking author, has arrived in this remote Sinai outpost to locate her wayward daughter, Rachel (Orly Perel), who has fled the comforts of home for the pleasures of the desert.

Summoning all her powers of persuasion, Liz begs Rachel to return, but the younger woman is adamant that this Bedouin beachfront encampment, which seems to be stocked with an array of other dropouts, is her new home. Mustafa (Sami Samir), who does double duty as the local cafe’s proprietor and Rachel’s boyfriend, senses the tension cutting through the air, and offers to while away the time by telling the women “a love story from the desert,” and proceeds to narrate a tale of the passionate romance between Nagim (Juliano Merr), a sheik’s son and free spirit Leila (Meital Duan). Desperately attracted to the non-Bedouin roustabout, Nagim begs his father for permission to marry her, but his father refuses and the lovers are cast out, forced to fend for themselves in the unforgiving desert.

“God’s Sandbox” toggles between past and present, between the story and its telling, and — in so doing — offers an unusual mix of romance and drama, social critique and passionate love story. The story is also about the Israeli generation gap: The battle between Liz and Rachel is left mostly unsketched, but from its vague outlines, it is clear that Rachel has rejected Israeli society in its entirety, embracing another culture in the hopes of cleansing herself of its impurities. Working from a script by Yoav and Hanita Halevy, director Doron Eran piles on a full plate of burning social issues, adding Jewish-Arab relations and female-genital mutilation to the pile.

Yes, female-genital mutilation; as in another recent film, Ousmane Semb?ne’s “Moolaadé,” “God’s Sandbox” embroils itself in the thorny debate over certain native cultures’ practice of removing young women’s clitorises. Leila, journeying with Nagim to see his uncle in the hopes of finding shelter, witnesses a barbaric scene out of a nightmare: a young woman crying wordlessly and hideously, like a wounded animal. Leila asks another bystander why this woman is crying, and the response she receives is a finger silently pointing between her legs. Simultaneously entranced and horrified, Leila watches as a gathering of female elders washes the prone woman’s body as she jerks and cries, her eyes wide open in terror. An older woman wields her scalpel, its metal point glinting in the faint light, and when knife touches body, the “patient” lets loose a horrific, unearthly scream.

An onlooker remarks, “Purification is a precious thing to a man,” and those words end up ringing true for Leila in unexpected ways.

In fact, the Hebrew title of the film translates as “purification,” and in addition to its most obvious resonance there lurks a possible explanation of Rachel’s rebellious hostility. “God’s Sandbox” emphasizes the quasi-mystical properties of desert life, choosing to take place in a never-specified Neverland removed from daily socio-political care, but Liz and Rachel are very clearly marked as Israelis. Rachel is a sister to the Israelis who choose to drop out from the pressures of life in the Holy Land, whether permanently or just for a few years. In rejecting her mother’s entreaties, she is also rejecting the call of her homeland to return to its constricting embrace.

“God’s Sandbox” craftily lays out the power relationships between characters through the use of different languages: English is the language of shared discourse, but mother and daughter speak Hebrew among themselves, being that Hebrew is the language of exclusionary intimacy. Meanwhile, Rachel and Mustafa occasionally speak Arabic to each other, an expression of their own bond, and of Rachel’s petulant dismissal of her mother’s claims to her.

“God’s Sandbox” ultimately tries to bring together its two story lines, but their union is awkward at best. Still, though the variegated topics it tackles make for an odd coupling, there are moments of genuine power here, as well. Claudio Steinberg’s photography is lovely to look at, lending the film’s desert landscapes a grandeur that renders it a down-home version of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

The film opens July 29 in L.A. For more information, visit

Like a Jew in a Bagel Store

I’m no longer a virgin. To Israel, that is. This single babe just returned from her maiden voyage to the land of milk and honey. And all I can say is — there were a lot of honeys. Jewish men everywhere.

In the restaurants, on the streets, in the shops — I didn’t know where to flirt first. Forget a kid in a candy store, I was like a Jew in a bagel store. I’ll take a dozen — hot ones if you have them. Israel is a single Jewish girl’s fantasy.

Take one of my Tel Aviv adventures. I was downing a Maccabee Beer in a disco on the pier when it hit me: Every guy in this club is Jewish — they’re all fair game. The cute guy in the corner, the tall guy drinking Goldstar, the fine guy who asked me to dance and the young guy who could not ask at all. Every man here has a "for sale" sign. This must be what the rest of the world feels like — everyone they meet is a potential mate.

In Los Angeles, it’s all about the Jew-crew prescreen for me. When I get to a bar, first thing I do is a lap. OK, first thing I do is a shot. Second thing I do is a lap. Once I locate the hot guys, the real fun begins. Will the real Slim Schwartzie please stand up? OK, it’s not that bad. But without a secret password or members-only handshake, I have to do some fast detective work to uncover the boys’ roots. I open with subtle overtures like, "Where’d you go to school? When’d you graduate? When was your bar mitzvah?" Sometimes I slip in the, "Hi, my name’s Carin. What’s your last name?" or the ever-popular "Can I buy you a drink? Are you circumcised?" We even turn it into a drinking game, "Name That Jew." Every time you correctly ID a Jew in a bar, you pound a beer.

Some guys pass the Tribe test, but in a room of 100 random American men, statistics say I’ve narrowed my options to 2.2 of them. One of them is probably hitting on the 21-year-old blonde who’s up for a WB pilot and the other is usually a band geek without an instrument.

By dating only Jews, I really limit my pool. We’re not talking Olympic-size pool or even kiddie pool. Picture the small plastic pool you can purchase at Toys R Us. No — picture a bathtub. That’s my sample size.

So why put myself through that? Why restrict myself to .02 percent of the single men in the world? I haven’t always. In college I dated and fell love with an incredible Catholic guy. I told myself we’d work the religion thing out, we could compromise. But eventually I realized I didn’t want to compromise. Not about this. Judaism is an essential part of my life, it’s Carin to the core. I’d be lying to myself if I said it wasn’t. So now I only pick up Jews. Cuz’ you never know when that flirt’s gonna lead to a date, and that date to a relationship and that relationship to a puffy white dress and a drunken wedding hora. So for me it’s Heeb or nothing.

It’d be easier if I went outside the Jewish circle. I’d meet more men, I’d go on more dates, I could be married by now. But not under a chuppah. And there’s the snag. Dancing in that Tel Aviv club, I realized what it feels like to have my choice of any man at the bar. It feels amazing — I love the multiple choice. But more importantly, I realized what it feels to be in a bar packed with fellow Jews. The connection I felt to the people in the room — these were my peeps. And my future husband, he’s gonna be one of us. While dating only Jews limits my choices, it’s the only choice for me. Which is why I loved Israel’s all-you-can-date buffet. I was dancing on a platform in that Tel Aviv club when my friend, Amy, introduced us.

"Carin, this is Eli."

I owe Amy big time. In the movie of his life, Eli was hot enough to play himself. He had a cocky smile and a tight little Israeli boot-camp bootie. I didn’t have to hunt for the hecksher before we started kissing. In Israel, you know the guys are kosher.

If only it were that easy in Los Angeles. I’m back in Hollywood and trawling the scene for Jewish men. It’s frustrating, looking for mensch in a haystack. I miss my Israeli all-access pass. When a date goes poorly in Los Angeles, we say there’s always more fish in the sea. But in Israel, there’s a whole sea of Jewish fish waiting to be caught.

Carin Davis is a freelance writer and
can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Women Directors ‘Reflect’ on Israeli Life

After Keren Margalit’s boyfriend died in an army-related accident a decade ago, she envisioned the drama that would become "All I’ve Got," the opening-night film of the 2003 Israel Film Festival. The story revolves around a young woman who loses her boyfriend in a grisly car wreck; 50 years later, she must choose between accompanying her first love or her husband into the afterlife.

"In the first years after you lose someone, you’re just struggling to feel better," Margalit, 32, said of the film’s genesis. "Then you continue your life, you marry and have children, but at one point you wonder, ‘What if some day the one I loved knocked on my door?’ Actually it’s a common experience in Israel because everyone knows someone who went to the army and died young."

Margalit’s intense but intimate work is typical of the eight movies by female directors that make up a quarter of the festival’s films, according to program director Paul Fagen. They include Dina Zvi-Riklis’ Cyrano-like "The Postwoman" and Hadar Friedlich’s "Slaves of the Lord," about an Orthodox girl’s descent into madness.

The films indicate the progress women have made — spurred by the establishment of a second Israeli TV channel — in a field long dominated by male directors such as Amos Gitai.

In fact, Channel Two’s pioneering "Reflections of Women" program — a series of four made-for-TV movies, all of which will screen during the festival — gave Margalit the chance to direct her debut feature, "All I’ve Got." "Reflections" provided a similar break for esteemed documentarian Dalia Mevorach of "1,000 Calories."

Speaking by phone from Tel Aviv, the jovial Mevorach said she was drawn to Nava Semel’s comic script about three best friends at a health spa because, "My life is a continued diet, a big struggle. Israeli women are nervous about the political situation, so we are going to the refrigerator."

The 47-year-old director said she made the severely overweight character, Avigail (Esthie Zakheim), the heroine to combat lingering Israeli myths about female body image. Apparently the strategy worked.

"Esthie was in the mall recently and women kept coming up to her and saying, ‘You are like a queen,’" Mevorach added. "They see the message as, ‘I’m fat and I’m still beautiful.’"

Your Letters 01/19/00 – 01-26/00

Ehud Barak

After seven years of Israel making heroic concessions in return for terrorism, genocidal hatred and official calls for Israel’s destruction, Rob Eshman still supports Barak’s efforts at the negotiating table (“Men and Martyrs,” Jan. 12). In my view, that’s dignified and I respect his right to express it. Yet, he could not tolerate Rabbi Marvin Hier’s opposing view, going so far as to lecture him for “not lauding” Prime Minister Barak.

Once again, we see that fanaticism and intolerance thrive on both the left and the right. Indeed, when it comes to smugness, we truly are one people.

David Suissa, Founder and Editor OLAM Magazine

Hard-hitting editorial; not enough of those. The Jew who rides in a bus that is blown up, who gets shot at, stoned, goes to funerals of loved ones cut down in their prime, that Jew will determine the future of Israel, not Ronald Lauder, Marvin Hier or any of the high-profile Diaspora Jews. I, for one, feel somewhat inert when the subject of Israel’s survival comes up; ashamed at times of hiding behind my Diaspora status and therefore giving up the right to criticize Israeli policies. When Israel is concerned, I trust and hope I know my place and limitations. I wish more of our Jewish leaders would feel the same way.

Maurice Kornberg, Los Angeles

Rob Eshman is way off the mark. Ehud Barak will, in all likelihood, be remembered as the worst prime minister Israel has ever had. Barak, along with many on the left, manipulates democracy to further his own aims. The majority of Israelis want to send him home since he has brought war to our doorstep by an abysmal lack of understanding of the current appeasement process. He has also zigged and zagged on virtually every issue he’s had to deal with in the last year and a half.

Israelis are desperate for quality leadership. After Barak, just about anyone would be an improvement. We certainly deserve better and, as those who care about Israel, so do you.

Eve Harow, Efrat, Israel

Ehud Barak has not been abandoned because he sought to make peace with the Arabs, it’s because he refuses to deal with the reality that is now facing the Israeli people. That reality is a “peace partner” who doesn’t want peace, an Arab population that prefers to continue its current intifada instead of negotiate, and whose only future negotiation goals are total annexation of Jerusalem and an intent to flood Israel with millions of so-called Palestinian refugees who will destroy the country from within.

In addition, knowing that he doesn’t have the support of the Israeli people, having resigned from the position of prime minister for personal political gain, Barak then sought to write in granite concessions that will jeopardize Israel’s physical existence, as well as give up the symbols of its 3,000-year history. He did all of this in a desperate bid to hold onto his political power.

American Jews have not only the right but the obligation to stand up and support the Jewish people in its effort to hold on to Jerusalem and its very right to exist as a nation. Ron Lauder is a genuine hero — being one of the few American Jews willing to take a stand for Jerusalem. Instead of vilifying him, you should give him a hero’s welcome.

Batya Ben Ze’ev, Efrat, Israel


Rob Eshman states that “the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) — hardly the vanguard of left-wing activism — has come out against Ashcroft’s nomination” (“Ashcroft or Not,” Jan. 5). While NCJW does indeed oppose the Ashcroft nomination, we disagree with Eshman’s characterization of our organization as one that is “hardly the vanguard of left-wing activism.”

NCJW has long been a socially progressive organization. Our national resolutions state that we will work to advocate the well- being and status of women, children and families, as well as ensuring individual and civil rights, particularly “the protection of every female’s right to reproductive choice, including safe and legal abortion, and the elimination of obstacles that limit reproductive freedom.” We have worked tirelessly in support of a wide range of progressive issues, including the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, FDA approval of RU-486 and the Million Mom March.

NCJW/LA has worked for over 90 years in Los Angeles, advocating on issues that are of concern to the progressive community. We look forward to continuing to vigorously pursue an agenda that, in the words of our mission statement, “ensures individual rights and freedoms for all.”

Debra Gendel, Co-President, NCJW/LA

Jill Levin, Co-President, NCJW/LA

Arab Americans

Your article on Arab Americans was one of the most interesting pieces to appear in The Jewish Journal in recent years (“Stepping Out,” Jan. 12).

Other than the vague remark “We criticize Saddam Hussein,” the article does not identify any Arab American groups that publicly challenge Arab governments on issues such as free and democratic elections, human rights abuses and financial transactions transparency. For example, is there an Arab American group monitoring Palestinian compliance with the Oslo agreement?

This sort of internal but public dissent has long existed within the Jewish community; your same issue started off with letters about the murder of Binyamin Kahane and ended with an article by Amos Oz. Perhaps the absence of this dissent contributes to negative perceptions of Arab Americans. It may also make expectations of coalition building unrealistic.

David Weissman,Marina del Rey

Palestinian Unrest

Fredelle Speigel’s hypothesis that Palestinian acts of violence and terror are only in response to their fear of cultural destruction is both absurd and unfounded (“Emotional Barriers,” Jan. 5). Speigel fails to provide evidence of any threat to Palestinian culture that has occurred thus far that might somehow warrant the violence the world has witnessed in recent months.

Speigel’s true position is made clear when she downplays the role of Israel to Judaism while making it absolutely essential to the Palestinians.

I sincerely doubt that Palestinian/Arab publications are concerned with justifying Israeli actions.

Alain M. R’bibo, Sherman Oaks


I want to commend you on the refreshing experience you provided me through the new Jewish Journal. Some time ago, I stopped reading it regularly. But now that you brought it both a new look and a new approach, I feel differently about the paper.

The Journal now appears to be directed to the community, rather than at the community. Keep up the good work.

Rabbi Baruch Cohon, Los Angeles

Teresa Strasser

I travel out of town every few months and return to piles of mail, including each week’s Jewish Journal. The first articles I look for in each of the back issues are Teresa Strasser’s.

I appreciate Strasser’s column and eagerly look forward to coming home and catching up with someone who writes to me as a friend.

Linda Shure, via e-mail


The figure of “1,756 Israeli soldiers who died to capture the Old City” was taken from Howard Sachar’s “A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time” and represents the total casualties, dead and wounded (“Men and Martyrs,” Jan. 12).

Loren Basch was the director of The Jewish Federation’s United Jewish Fund, not its president. Also, Carol Stulberg’s name was misspelled (“Linking to the Past,” Jan. 12).

Kat Cressida is the voice of Dee Dee, not Dexter (“Following Her ‘Dreams,'” Jan. 12).

Your Letters – January 12-18,2001

Bush Cabinet

The National Council of Jewish Women is not the only Jewish organization opposed to the nomination of Sen. John Ashcroft for U.S. attorney general (“Ashcroft or Not,” Jan. 5). The Progressive Jewish Alliance opposes Ashcroft’s nomination as well, and we are not alone. We are a part of broad-based, national coalition opposing the nomination comprised of groups concerned with civil rights, gun control, labor, environmental issues and reproductive freedom. Ashcroft’s hard-line views on a host of issues are out of step with the beliefs of a majority of American Jews, and a majority of Americans in general.

Daniel Sokatch, Executive DirectorProgressive Jewish Alliance

I would be more sympathetic to the complaint being aired about the lack of Jews in the new Cabinet were it not for the fact that many of the aggrieved have been ardent supporters of affirmative action and “diversity.” Unfortunately for those in our community who want institutions which, as the fashionable phrase goes, “look like America,” we constitute only 2 percent of the American population.

The necessary logic of ethnic and racial proportional representation would yield a Jewish Cabinet member every 20 or 30 years or so. Perhaps the most honest response to concerns about the lack of a Jewish presence in the Cabinet would be some soul-searching by those who have embraced a policy which would make that inevitable.

Henry D. Fetter, Los Angeles

Binyamin Kahane

In the early-morning hours of Dec. 31, the lives of Binyamin Kahane and his wife Talia were snuffed out by a radical Palestinian faction that ambushed them on a road near the Jewish settlement of Ofra.

Are we angered at the Arabs who committed this dastardly and cowardly deed? Absolutely. Do we want to see a day when Jews can once again live as a truly free and safe people in their own country? That’s obvious. But who should our anger and rage be directed at?

We can point our fingers in indignation and rage at the government of Israel, at the “peacemaker” Barak who created this climate where Arabs can get away with murder and do so freely and openly. Let’s be livid at a Knesset that allows an Ahmed Tibi to take the pulpit and call for the annihilation of the Jewish state. Let us rail against the flagrant obsequiousness of a government of Jews that knuckles under to those in Washington who relentlessly pressure us to relinquish God-given Jewish land to the Arabs.

Fern Sidman, National Director (1983-1985)The Jewish Defense League

I found the reaction of The Jewish Journal in regard to the horrific destruction of the Binyamin Kahane family unfortunately predictable. Not enough people loved the Kahane family. This G-d-fearing family indeed held radical positions in regard to what they thought best for the Jewish nation. It has weathered much opposition and tragedy. Popular or not, everyone must admit that all their lives were sacrificed for the Nation of Israel – the Jewish people – you and me. For a major voice in a major Jewish city to have not even one kind word or condolence in regard to this national tragedy is shameful.

Levi Garbose, Los Angeles

Shame, shame unJewish Journal. You have hit a new low. Your terse reporting on the tragic deaths of Binyamin and Talia Kahane have done the Los Angeles Times proud. The brutal killing of the Kahanes received far less coverage – one sentence? – than your emotional description of the “terrified Arabs” and the march outside Barak’s residence. How calm do you think the Kahanes and five of their six children, aged 2 months to 10 years, felt being riddled by bullets? What about the six children – if all survive, that is – who were orphaned? Where is your outrage? An Arab child’s orphaning or death in similar circumstances would have brought an outcry from every Jewish liberal and a fund would have been set up. Am I missing something?

The use of “fanatic,” “radical” and “extremist” to describe those truly concerned with Israel’s survival is grossly misguided. Equally misguided is Shin Bet concentrating its efforts on the realistic and rational right instead of the real terrorists, the Palestinians. Expert Prof. Ehud Sprinzak is quoted as saying that “they believe that striking a gentile constitutes a holy act. ” I challenge anyone to attribute that statement to Rabbi Meir Kahane or Rabbi Binyamin Kahane. Los Angeles Times beware. Eric Silver is providing you with stiff competition.

Frederica Barlaz, Los Angeles

Editor’s Note: The Jewish Journal devoted two pages to the Kahane murder, plus additional reporting in another story. You can read our coverage at www.jewishjournal.com. Click the archive file for 01.05.01.


The Muslim position on the Temple Mount is a declaration that Judaism is dead. The Muslims know that the Jewish people and nation are incomplete without Jerusalem and don’t want to give up the city because to do so threatens the legitimacy of their religion. They know that as long as they hold Jerusalem, Judaism cannot fully reconstitute. If the Jewish people compromise on the Temple Mount, it is a declaration that the Jewish people concede that Judaism is dead.

Alan Goldberg,West Hills

The word “terrorist” seems invariably linked with “Arab” and just as invariably ends the discussion instead of properly beginning it. Why are the Palestinians always the terrorists? Since Israel was founded on terrorist acts, wouldn’t one have to apply the label “terrorist” to us Jews? Or is it that death by terrorism is somehow worse than death by Israeli rifle? Both end a life.

Perhaps one of your readers can enlighten this misguided Jew as to why Palestinians are condemned as “terrorists” but Israel isn’t.

David Schreiber, Los Angeles

Michael Levin

Michael Levin’s essay (“Evil,” Jan. 5) was thought-provoking; however, I disagree with his statement, “Either God is everything or God is nothing.”

While God may have been everything to our ancient, tribal forefathers, he may be to us a voice within our “collective unconscious” inspiring, informing and strengthening us to do what is just and loving when we make hard choices. As a Jewish woman of 2001, I believe there is a vast holiness between all and nothing.

Lynn Schubert, Hermosa Beach

Joseph Farah

Rob Eshman’s editorial is too sweeping a condemnation of Joseph Farah (“Junk Mail,” Dec. 15). What is Eshman really objecting to? Farah’s now-famous editorial about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or his friends’ and relatives’ enthusiastic reception of the piece? Junk mail? Hardly.

Most agree that the substance of Farah’s article is factual, whatever his motivation. As a result of the editorial, Farah has been made a guest columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

I hope Eshman one day writes an editorial so enlightening and informative that it, too, rapidly wings around the globe, including a stop in my e-mail. I won’t consider it junk mail.

Howard Rubenstein, El Cajon


In the Jan. 5 Circuit, the caption provided to The Journal mistakenly identified Chuck and Betty Wilson as Chuck and Betty White.

ERA –Israeli Style

The Knesset has passed a landmark law granting equal rights to women in every sphere of Israeli life — after the bill’s sponsor gave up her committee seat to a male colleague.

Along with granting women equality in the workplace, the military and in other spheres of society, the new law also lays out the rights of women over their bodies and protects women from violence and sexual exploitation.

The legislation passed Wednesday is an amendment to a law passed in 1951 that set out in general terms the principle of equality in Israeli society.

After adamantly opposing the bill for a year, the fervently Orthodox Shas Party withdrew its threat to sabotage the legislation after Knesset member Yael Dayan, the bill’s chief sponsor, gave up her place on the influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to a Shas legislator.

“For two years I have been trying to get this law through,” Dayan was quoted as saying. “I spoke for an entire year with rabbis. They demanded revisions. Shas officials told me all the time, ‘It will never be passed.’

“If I knew it was possible to resolve the matter this way, I would have done it a long time ago.”

The bill was slated to be brought before the Knesset last month, on International Women’s Day.

But, at the urging of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Dayan pulled the bill from the agenda at the last minute after Shas threatened to turn the vote into a no-confidence motion in the government.

Barak came to the Knesset to participate in Wednesday’s 49-2 vote.

The bill was backed by all the parties in the Knesset, with the exception of the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) bloc.

Knesset member Moshe Gafni, a member of UTJ, said the concept of equal rights for the sexes is inherently wrong.

“There are certain roles for a woman and for a man,” Gafni said. “There is also concern the Supreme Court can take this declaration and use it in a manner that goes against the outlook of the majority of the residents of the country.”

Dayan said the “deal” that removed the final obstacle to the bill’s passage was launched in a casual conversation in the Knesset corridors in which she joked that she was ready to do anything, even give up her position on the committee.

Shas, however, denied any agreement had been reached.

Shas legislator Yair Peretz, who is to assume Dayan’s seat on the committee, said Dayan had asked that Shas withdraw its threat to submit a no-confidence motion if the legislation were presented for a vote.

“I consulted with the rabbis and told her we won’t oppose” the bill, Peretz said.

Israeli Vice

The young Lithuanian woman in the prison libraryhas the narrow chest, hunched shoulders and wary eyes of someone whohas known poverty and is not sure where the next blow is coming from.She talks to reporters to convince herself that she was not aprostitute, not one by choice anyway.

Her first name, which is all she will tell, isGiedre. She is 19, with lank, sandy hair, pale freckles on palecheeks, stone-washed blue jeans and a black boucle zip-up jacket.Giedre is one of 39 illegal immigrants from the old Soviet Unionawaiting deportation in Neve Tirtza women’s prison near Ben-GurionAirport. Almost all of them, according to the governor, Betty Lahat,worked in Israeli brothels.

The prisoners are the tip of a multimillion-dollarracket, which recruits hundreds of women a year in Eastern Europe forwhat the Israel Women’s Network brands “a modern slave trade.”Criminologists estimate that about 2,000 women from Russia, Lithuaniaand Ukraine are currently working in Israel’s sex industry. Manyarrive by sea, on tourist visas or cruise ships from Cyprus. Some aregenuine tourists who are kidnapped by local gangsters.

The women are bought and sold by pimps andtraffickers for prices up to $20,000. Some were promised jobs asnannies, waitresses or dancers. One woman, arrested last month inHaifa, confessed that she was a doctor who couldn’t make a living inher profession back home.

Giedre, who has a Jewish father and a Christianmother, says that she came to Israel to stay with an aunt. After afamily quarrel, she moved into a cheap hotel in Herzliya, near TelAviv. One night she returned from a disco to find her room ransacked,her bag, passport and money gone.

When she went downstairs to report the theft, shewas lured outside by a Russian girl who had befriended her. Two burlymen grabbed her and bundled her into a windowless van. She was keptfor three days in a locked room of a two-story house withoutfood.

“On the third night, I was desperate,” she says.”I tried to break out. I shouted for help. But it was no use. Twomen, who spoke Russian with a Georgian accent, carted me off to amassage parlor. When I refused to work there, they beat me up. Theyraped me, punched my body, slapped my face. Finally, I agreed to workfor them.”

Giedre was put in a room with another girl. Shehad sex with six clients a day, half an hour each. The two girlsslept and worked in the same room. There were five other girls in thebrothel. Some told Giedre that they had 15 to 20 men a day, for whichthey were paid $1,000 a month.

The Lithuanian teen-ager worked for a week butdidn’t wait for a paycheck. Before dawn one day, she climbed out ofan upstairs laundry room and fled barefoot down a rope of sheets.After finding her way back to her aunt’s, she was arrested foroverstaying her visa. When she can produce the money for a ticket,she will be put on the next plane out.

Another prisoner, who calls herself Russita,admits that she was a prostitute in Lithuania. Mafia agents broughther to Israel on forged papers with tales of rich pickings. One agenttook her passport on arrival. One pimp sold her to another, who madeher strip so that he could see what he was buying.

“When I asked what I’d be paid,” she says, “hetold me I’d have to pay back his investment first, then I would get$100 a month. Before then, I was sold on to a third pimp, who put mein a massage parlor, where I received up to 30 men a day. They paidhim 150 shekels [about $42] each.”

Russita was arrested during a police raid.Prostitution is not a crime in Israel, but she will be expelledbecause she has no papers. Like most of the Neve Tirtza girls, shearrived at the prison without money. The Lithuanian Consulate willprobably pay for her ticket home.

According to a 30-page report published at thebeginning of this year by the campaigning Israel Women’s Network,most pimps are Israeli citizens, either native-born or Russianimmigrants. Police raid brothels from time to time, but the networkfound that pimps were prosecuted only in the most extreme cases. Eventhen, they usually receive light sentences. “The pimps go free,” saysEfraim Ehrlich, head of the Tel Aviv vice squad. “The women go toprison.”

And, like Giedre, Russita and many Natashas, theywait to go home with nothing to show for their trip to the PromisedLand.