An undated portrait of Asher Arom, taken in Lizhensk, Poland. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

My ancestor vanished in the Holocaust; 80 years later, I went looking for him


“I need to speak with you.”

Meylakh Sheykhet was a vision from the past. I had no idea who he was when he tapped me on the shoulder in the lobby of the Hotel Dnister in Lviv, Ukraine.

Tall and bearded, with sunken eyes, he cut a jarring figure in his ultra-Orthodox garb. Around us, a conference on Jewish life was in full swing. Meylakh had overheard me saying I was an intern with The Jerusalem Post. He wanted to tell me about the deteriorating state of Jewish sites in the city — and his fight to preserve them.

Meylakh’s work is motivated by an enduring respect, a fascination even, with the dead; they are never far from his mind. Meylakh fights long odds to save Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, to uncover and preserve the burial sites of sages and to stave off destruction when developers encroach on houses of prayer or their ruins. He sleeps little and makes plenty of enemies. We sat down together in the hotel lobby, and he began to talk, quickly and frantically.

To this day, I don’t know whether to thank Meylakh or to curse him. His tap on the shoulder launched an investigation into my roots that spanned two years, three continents and five generations.

As it turned out, my trip to Lviv had brought me within 100 miles of where many of my ancestors had lived and died, just across the border in Poland. Soon after, I found myself awake at odd hours, clicking frantically from link to link as I fell deeper and deeper down digital rabbit holes on websites dedicated to Jewish genealogy.

Names and dates began to harbor an outsized significance. I found myself assaulted by a confounding rush of details, illuminating and otherwise. One figure kept emerging out of that chaos, over and over again, capturing my imagination and curiosity. It was my great-grandfather, a holy man from a rabbinical lineage who made Torah his day and night’s labor. Before long, he was the centerpiece of my frenetic journey of discovery.

I knew then I had to take my search offline. I reached out to relatives whose identities I’d learned on the internet. I pestered my dad with questions. I devoured books on life in the shtetl and on the great Chasidic dynasties of Europe.

Months into my search, I came across my first authentic relic: the calligraphic handwriting of my great-grandfather, poetic Hebrew sentences intertwined with Torah verses in letters he’d written to family in Palestine. My eyes widened. The letters were an unbearably human fragment of a vanished and tragic past. He signed with the same Hebrew spelling as my father, Asher Arom, only adding a shin, vuv, bet afterward for shochet u’bodek, ritual slaughterer. Looking at those letters, I knew I had to go back to Eastern Europe.

As Jews, we’re told that between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God writes and seals the fate of each living soul. So it stands to reason that in September 1939, He was busy plotting against my forebears in Europe.

At the dawn of the Jewish year 5700, one small town in Poland became the crime scene where the Creator carried out His conspiracy against my great-grandfather’s family, with the Nazis as instruments. I suppose you could say I went there to collect evidence to put Him on trial.

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Asher Arom in Lizhensk, Poland, in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

My trip came less then two years after I first visited Eastern Europe. After two weeks of traveling with my father in Israel, I took a flight from Ben Gurion Airport to Lviv. From there, a bus took me through a foggy February morning and across the Polish border. Every once in a while, the bus swerved into an improbable clearing in the dark woods to pick up someone. My fellow passengers looked to be straight from central casting. The fat matron in the checkered frock, the cadaverous woman with suspicious eyes, the tall man reeking of cigarettes, with a pockmarked face and a jagged scar from the corner of his lip to his ear — these people all looked like they belonged here. The 22-year-old Jewish boy from Beverly Hills did not.

The bus dropped me off in Przemysl (pronounced PSHEH-meh-sheel), an old Polish city of about 65,000 on the San River, where unimaginative Soviet-era buildings fill spaces left by long-gone synagogues and study halls. The bus pulled up just outside the perimeter of the former ghetto where Asher likely was murdered.

When my guide, Maciej, met me in front of my hotel, he admitted he had been expecting a man twice my age. And indeed, the people I’ve met since who tend to take these forays into pre-Holocaust nostalgia are a generation or two my senior. But to see the degradation and neglect of Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe is to understand that time is of the essence.

My great-grandfather’s legacy is no exception to the corrosive effect of the years. He was born in Przemysl, across the river from the Jewish quarter in a neighborhood called Zasanie, where his father, Gedalia, had been the head of a yeshiva.

Today, the synagogue in Zasanie stands abandoned and deteriorating behind barbed wire. The inn where Gedalia raised a large flock of children was long ago replaced by a blocky apartment complex, painted in primary colors. The Jewish cemetery, just down the highway from the city, has been covered for eight decades with fallen leaves and broken branches, leaving an overgrown warren of blank monuments, the inscriptions worn away by time. The only trace of my ancestors here is some cursive script in a yellowing Austrian record book in the florescent-lit reading room of the Przemysl National Archive.

Shortly after Maciej and I met, we drove 76 kilometers north through heath and woods to Lizhensk, the shtetl where my great-grandfather lived most of his life, now a drab industrial town of 15,000. A relative of mine had marked Asher’s home in red pen on a hand-drawn map of the pre-war town. We parked nearby, in an open-air lot the map indicated had once been the heart of the Jewish quarter.

A drizzle was falling as we plodded down a muddy slope toward the spot indicated on the map. There, on an unpaved path beneath a slate-gray sky was the low shack Asher had built, abandoned and ill-treated by time, its wood planks bent by years, wintery vines bursting through the eaves.

Lizhensk is best known within Poland for the brewery that took its name. To Chasidic Jews, though, Lizhensk is synonymous with Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, a founding father of Chasidism and the town’s most famous resident, Jewish or otherwise.

Chasidim maintain an active relationship with the dead. At midnight on the death anniversary of a great rabbi — and few are greater than Elimelech — it’s said that the souls of the departed descend to their gravesites and carry the prayers of the living up to heaven. Before World War II, Elimelech’s yarzheit drew crowds from across Europe to worship in the cave-like mausoleum where his remains lie.

The Nazis redrew the geography of Lizhensk’s onetime Jewish quarter, erasing the Street of Synagogues from the map. Now, a large, open-air parking lot stands in its place, ringed by a dreary neighborhood with a proliferation of seedy casinos and 24-hour bars. The cemetery is equally unrecognizable. Bulldozed by the Germans, the monuments dragged away as paving stones, it sat empty and ignored for decades. When Jews began to return in the 1980s — survivors and their families as well as Chasidic pilgrims — they dragged what tombstones they could find back to the graveyard, lining them up in arbitrary rows. Year after year, the crowds worshiping at the sage’s gravesite grew.

These days, in late February or early March, according to the fluctuations of the Jewish calendar, the streets fill with Jews in black hats and headscarves, from Brooklyn, Israel and beyond, in anticipation of the 21st of Adar. By the time I learned about the yarzheit, my picture of Eastern European Jewry was colored by its disappearance: magnificent synagogues reduced to rubble and cemeteries knocked over and built upon. Eastern Europe, to me, meant dead Jews. Somehow, I thought seeing some live ones there would be a comfort.

For these Jews, death was a part of life, the sadness married to their joy. It was something less than final.

When I arrived, on the last day of February 2016, the city was awash with pilgrims, their tour buses parked up the street from the cemetery. A series of white pavilions had been set up at the cemetery to accommodate thousands, from those hauling cauldrons for kosher stews to opportunistic salesmen hawking Jewish books from folding tables. A public address system had been set up in one of the tents to blast klezmer music. A pair of Chasidim with a microphone manned the PA system through the night, calling passersby to come “have a l’chaim!” with a swallow of schnapps or whiskey. Gaggles of local reporters had come to observe the oddity; one of the more savvy taxi drivers had posted the word monit, Hebrew for taxi, on his driver’s side windows.

On the site where Rabbi Elimelech is presumed to rest in the rebuilt cemetery, a white concrete structure, a mausoleum, of sorts. was built to accommodate prayers. Inside, a monument enclosed in a metal trellis was piled high with scribbled notes of supplication. Even some non-Jews see the site as holy: While I watched the room fill with Chasidim swaying in prayer, a Polish man with graying hair and far-off eyes entered and bared his head — an odd custom under the circumstances — then fell to his knees, clasping his hands together in silent benediction.

Over time, the town has developed an infrastructure to accommodate the annual influx. The building that had housed the mikveh, or ritual bath, somehow withstood World War II; afterward, a group of Chasidim acquired it and added a second story to form the Hachnasat Orachim of Lizhensk, a guesthouse for pilgrims. Worshipers now could find accommodations and a prayer hall — even a functioning mikveh. Soon, the pilgrimage outgrew that long, low barrack of a building, and just up the hill, a planned extension, a massive A-frame structure covered in Hebrew banners, was nearly complete. Between the two buildings was Asher’s home.

As I walked up, rabid barking erupted behind me. I wheeled around to face the largest German shepherd I’ve ever seen, howling at me murderously from behind a chain-link fence. I resisted a momentary urge to run: German shepherds always have conjured images of Nazi attack dogs for me. Instead, I scowled at the beast and turned back to the house, trying to ignore its bloodthirsty snarls.

In pictures I’d seen of the house, it was far from luxurious, but it was the type of place where you’d expect a penurious rabbi in a Polish backwater to live. At least, it looked habitable. On Google Maps street view, in a picture taken in 2012, a sedan is parked expectantly in the driveway. Seeing the place as it now was came as a gut punch.

The blemish on the doorpost where the mezuzah had once been was the only sign of its onetime inhabitants. The windows had been spray-painted white from the inside — for what reason, I can’t fathom, other than to rob descendants of the satisfaction of peering in. The place looked as if a strong gust of wind might take it down.

Eitan Arom at the abandoned shack built by his great-grandfather. Photo by Eitan Arom

Eitan Arom at the abandoned shack built by his great-grandfather. Photo by Eitan Arom

I wanted to see inside but quickly ruled out the idea of climbing through the loft window, which was missing its frame and panes. Instead, I took to the square below to see if I could learn who had the key. One by one, I sidled up to strangers who were milling about in the drizzle. My reluctant informants didn’t seem to know what to make of me. With a camera around my neck and a yarmulke pinned uneasily to my head as a form of self-identification, I fit in with neither the Chasidim nor the Poles. I managed to win some goodwill by pointing to the tumbledown shack up the hill and saying it once belonged to my great-grandfather. Soon enough, I learned the shack was now owned by the same Chasidim who operated the guesthouse. A less welcome revelation: Before long, they planned to tear it down to build more lodgings for travelers. Pilgrim after pilgrim told me to look for someone named Simha.

Simha Krakovski is a wiry man with a scraggly white beard who directs the guesthouse. I cornered him outside an upstairs prayer hall. As we spoke, sweaty yeshiva students with sparse beards and red faces crowded around to see why Krakovski — clearly a busy man at this time of year — was talking to the only non-Chasidic person in the building. As we spoke, some scholar of great importance swept by with a crowd of hangers-on, pressing us against a wall.

To see the degradation and neglect of Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe is to understand that time is of the essence.

Krakovski indulged me briefly with the story of his early days in Lizhensk, some 25 years ago. “I first came to pray, and when I wanted to use the bathroom, there was no bathroom,” he told me in Hebrew. “I had to pay a gentile woman a dollar to use hers, and it stank.”

I told him who I was and about my ancestor. He told me, yes, they’d acquired the house and were planning to knock it down to expand the accommodations — a dining room, lodgings, he couldn’t be sure, exactly. I asked if the new complex had a name, and why not name it after this pious man, this ghost of mine? He made it clear naming rights could be had — for a price. Come find him tomorrow, he said, and we could talk.

After he left, the young men closed ranks around me, questioning me in English and Hebrew. Did I have money? What did my father do? Is he rich? Suddenly, I felt the flush that was reddening their faces. I was too hot in my wool coat. I stepped outside and back into the drizzle.

Somehow, I’d thought being among these Chasidim would make me feel better about the state of affairs, the vanishing traces of Jewish Europe, the decay and neglect. It didn’t. It made me feel more alone, more abandoned, orphaned by history.

Chasidim pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, in 2016. Photo by Eitan Arom

Chasidim pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, in 2016. Photo by Eitan Arom

I never found Simha Krakovski again. But the next day, I was back inside the guest house, in the office of Krakovski’s colleague, Menashe Lifshitz, a Chasid from B’nai Brak, in Israel. He told me how they’d bought the shack some years back from a Polish woman who lived there, paying her what he assured me was three times the fair price.

When the guesthouse was established, he said, many of the surrounding houses still bore outlines on the doorposts where their onetime inhabitants had fixed mezuzahs. As people got the money to fix up their homes, most were painted over. The blemish where Asher had nailed his mezuzah into the threshold was the last one that remained.

Somehow, I’d thought being among these Chasidim would make me feel better about the state of affairs, the vanishing traces of Jewish Europe, the decay and neglect. It didn’t.

Lifshitz worked out of a small, cluttered office with a twin bed and a small desk on the second story of the former mikveh building. The entirety of the window in the office faces the southeastern wall of my great-grandfather’s home. Before the second story was added, Asher would have had an unobstructed view of the cemetery. He would have been able to watch as the candles burned in Rabbi Elimelech’s tomb through the night.

I asked if I could see the inside of the house. Any other time of year, Lifshitz assured me, it could be arranged. With the pilgrimage in full swing, it would be difficult. He couldn’t be too sure where the key was.

The mikveh building where Menashe Lifshitz kept his office plays a significant part in the story I’ve learned about my great-grandfather.

As it goes, when the Cossacks came during World War I, most of Asher’s family fled. Asher stayed behind so nobody with a chicken or livestock would go hungry for lack of a slaughterer to prepare it. One day, as he was walking outside, a group of Cossacks spotted him and followed. He led them to the mikveh and jumped into the depths, hiding beneath the sacred waters, where he was spared.

But his luck would run out before long. When murderers again came to his town, their fury would be greater and more destructive than the town had ever seen.

The Nazis entered Lizhensk during Rosh Hashanah 1939. On Sukkot, they rounded up the Jews in the market square. A persistent downpour soaked the crowd. The frightened townsfolk were uncertain what fate awaited them — death or deportation, bullets or banishment. Panic ruled.

And Asher was missing.

My understanding of these events is informed entirely by the adolescent memories of his granddaughter, Leah Braude. Leah’s, father, Chaskel Nissenbaum, was a slaughterer and Asher’s student. Later, when Nissenbaum traveled to Germany to ply his trade, returning only for holidays, Asher became something of a father figure to his young granddaughter.

After the war, Leah set down some of her memories from that time in what became the Lizhensk Yizkor Book, a collection of remembrances published in Israel and dedicated to the town’s martyrs. In one of the passages, she described her grandfather, who had “a smile that imparted pleasantness whenever I desired a smile.” This is the last living account of my great-grandfather — but the rest of the Yizkor Book provides a colorful recollection of a vanished world.

The last time Shabbat candles glowed in the windows of Asher’s home, it was earlier in 1939 and the forests surrounding the town were alive with the spirits of the Chasidic imagination.

The cave of Elimelech was just beyond where the town met the woods. The sage’s tomb commanded a view of the Jewish quarter, a slope of wooden homes leading up to Ulica Boznica, the Street of Synagogues.

Lizhensk was a town of a typical European mold: Sledding and ice skating in winter, and sweltering summers. Leading off the market square, where Jewish tradesmen and businessmen mixed with their Polish and Ukrainian counterparts, the synagogue street formed the heart of the Jewish quarter.

Here, Jewish homes abutted schoolrooms and yeshivas, synagogues and study halls. On Shabbat eve, the sexton would knock with his wooden hammer and call, “Jews, Jews, to the synagogue!” as the smell of fried onions and kugels filled the air.

Before the war, Jews and gentiles mixed for good and ill. The Lizhensker Jews were not spared their share of anti-Semitism; Jewish schoolchildren were regularly beaten to cries of “dirty Jew!” Sometimes, one of the nastier teachers would even join in. In spite of all that, here and there friendships grew. Gentiles dropped in on Jewish households for the lighting of Shabbat candles.

What made Lizhensk different from other shtetls, though, was the great rabbi who took its name, and who, more than a century after his death, drew mourners from across the continent to his grave. The custodians of his earthly remains, the Jews of Lizhensk, tended to be an industrious and religious lot, if poor; Asher Arom no doubt fit that mold.

Leah, barely a teenager when war separated her from her beloved Chasid, with his snowy sidecurls and white beard down to his chest, recalled in the Yizkor Book his deep devotion and fervent prayer: “My grandfather made his nights like his days, and studied Torah. His tune in the nights is woven in the depths of my dreams and adds to their sweetness.”

Shortly before death came to the rest of Lizhensk, it visited the home of the ritual slaughterer.

“May the One who consoles Zion and builds Jerusalem offer us a double portion of consolation,” Asher wrote to his son Shmuel in Palestine on the Tuesday after the reading of Parashat Bamidbar in May 1938  — he made a practice of marking the date by the Torah reading. His letters are nearly eight decades years old, but the grief they convey seems fresh, even raw.

Leah’s account had led me to her daughter, Sima Braude Marberg, a kindly woman and a distant cousin of mine who teaches tai chi in the courtyard of her apartment building on a tree-lined street in of Haifa. When I visited, she produced a binder full of old letters in plastic protectors, some of them written in Asher’s practiced, looping script.

The tales from the deathbeds of great Chasidic sages often recount a transformation as their souls hover between this world and the next. These were the terms in which Asher described the death of his wife, born Chaia Rachel Brand, my great-grandmother: “On the seventh day of the month of Iyar” — April 26, 1939 — “early in the morning at 2 a.m., her soul began slipping away from her body until she passed away at 9:30 in the morning,” he wrote to his son in Palestine. “The house was full of men and women.”

The death left her husband disconsolate.

“Rachel, the mainstay of the house, how were you taken to be buried in the ground — where finally your bones could find a resting place — but leave us to our moaning and sorrow?” he wrote. “Who will mend our broken hearts that have been torn asunder and broken into pieces?”

He delivered a eulogy. “By dint of her wisdom she was the principal force, the one who always could advise the proper path, for me and for all those who turned to her for direction,” he told those assembled. “I continued, as is my wont, to expound midrashim and Biblical verses in my eulogy, and the entire congregation broke out in tears, sobbing.”

The author’s great-grandmother Chaia Rachel Arom, with her grandchildren (from left) Simcha, Sarah and Leah Nissenbaum, and her son Mordechai. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

The author’s great-grandmother Chaia Rachel Arom, with her grandchildren (from left) Simcha, Sarah and Leah Nissenbaum, and her son Mordechai. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

The community took Chaia Rachel to be buried, and then Asher led evening prayers. Afterward, he wrote, “I was overcome by a terrible burning sensation. The doctor was called, and I was carried to my bed, where I lay without feeling.”

It must have seemed the world was ending. Two of his sons had earlier abandoned Poland for Mandatory Palestine. Now their mother was gone. Bedridden, Asher was found to have a high fever. Death must have seemed near for him, too. But a week later, after the shiva had ended, he recovered, physically if not emotionally: “I now feel well and have returned to work,” he wrote.

“I ask of you to recite Kaddish throughout the entire year, every day without fail,” he bid his son. “And if there is someone with you in your kibbutz who can study mishnayot [talmudic tractates] with you — even just a few mishnayot — then you can say Kaddish afterward in memory of, and for the benefit of the soul of the righteous woman, Chaia Rachel bas Luria Simcha, of blessed memory. And in this merit you and your offspring be successful. May you find material success and enjoy long lives, and raise your son to every good end. Your father, signing with tears.”

The end for the Lizhensk Jews came quickly, before the townsfolk knew it.

In the martyrs’ book and in video interviews with the USC Shoah Foundation, survivors recount with bitter embarrassment a period of obliviousness, of false security, as the forces of destruction massed just beyond the town’s border. Few had radios in their homes, so a doctor who lived in the market square would place his receiver by a window and raise the volume so people could listen in the street below. One survivor, then a girl of 10, remembered standing in the square and hearing Edward Rydz-Smigły, the marshal of Poland’s armed forces, declaring, “We won’t give away even a button — nothing!” Soon, he had given away everything.

The invasion of Poland began on Sept. 1, 1939. By Sept. 3, German bombs had destroyed the railroad tracks in Lizhensk, the only link between the town and the outside world. When crews came to repair their tracks, aerial machine gun fire chased them off.

Jews left the city in droves, only to return hours or days later after finding the surrounding country in a similar state of pandemonium. Those who returned on Rosh Hashanah eve found German troops in town. The Nazis turned the holiday into a carnival of mockery, cutting beards off of men and forcing them to march in circles around a tree.

The Germans were in the mood for arson when they came to Asher Arom’s house on the second night of Rosh Hashanah. Earlier that night, soldiers had barged into the synagogues, demanding volunteers for work. In a surprising act of mercy, they allowed the congregants to evacuate the synagogues, but their intentions were clear. They brought kerosene and kindling. Then they set the buildings ablaze.

The main concern for many of these Jews, it turned out, was not preserving their property or protecting their families, but finding a place to finish praying. With the ashes of the holy places still choking the air, “it was told to them that grandfather had made his house open for the needs of prayer,” Leah recalled in the Yizkor Book.

Some two dozen Jews gathered at the ritual slaughterer’s home. The Nazis quickly learned what was going on. They chased away the prayer quorum but locked my great-grandfather inside. Soon, they returned with bundles of straw and rags soaked in kerosene. Leah’s sister Sarah, then a girl of 16, begged for her grandfather’s life, weeping. The Germans ignored her, intent on burning the 72-year-old alive. Only when a gentile woman who lived next door joined in Sarah’s protest did the Nazis relent.

“She was afraid her home would catch fire, as well,” Leah wrote. “The Germans returned the key to my sister and removed the flammable material from around the house, and grandfather was again saved from certain death.”

On Yom Kippur, we are taught, the ink is still wet in the Book of Life. Even the hosts of heaven shrink in terror as the Creator ponders fates: “The Angels of heaven are dismayed and seized by fear,” the prayer goes. “The great shofar is sounded, and a still, small voice is heard.” Was anyone fool enough, or fervent enough, to blow the shofar in Lizhensk that year? Did anybody hear the still, small voice?

By the Day of Atonement in 1939, the Jews of Lizhensk were afraid to walk in the streets for the harassment it undoubtedly would bring. Those still inclined to pray mostly stayed home and found a quiet corner to do so.

For the Chasidim of Lizhensk, the world to come must have seemed nearer than ever. Yet they were not ill-prepared to meet their end. For these Jews, death was a part of life, the sadness married to their joy. It was something less than final. When sickness or disasters struck, the Lizhenskers would climb the hill of the cemetery to ask the dead to intercede on their behalf. Orphaned brides and grooms would go there to invite their deceased parents to celebrate their wedding. The place abounded with legend.

It was to those old stones that Asher Arom would retire when he could wrest a moment from the demands of work, family and study.

“He would spend hour after hour there cleaning the gravestones and making the inscriptions clearer,” his granddaughter Leah wrote. “When the Messiah comes, each minute will be precious and holy, and it would be a shame if time would be wasted on clarifying the blurred inscriptions.”

Sometimes, he brought Leah to weed the grass around the graves. Once, he explained to her why he did it: “Death is nothing but the natural continuation of life,” he said. “And if we love a life of cleanliness and being cared for, we must give this also to the dead. We must look after the gravestones, just as we look after our home.”

The bitter irony is that his body most likely went up in smoke or was tossed in a mass, unmarked grave.

The circumstances of 1939 gave new meaning to the Yamin Noraim, the Days of Awe — more literally, the days of terror between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “We sat with closed doors and shut windows,” survivor Shaul Spatz recalled in the Yizkor Book. “The silence outside was only interrupted by the occasional thumps of the boots of the German soldiers.”

Soon it was time to erect their sukkot, but the familiar sounds of hammers hitting nails were absent. “That year, all Jewish homes remained exposed without sukkot attached to their walls,” he wrote. “In the Jewish street, fear walks. Apprehension replaced the joy of the holiday.”

You can’t read the vanished inscription on a rain-beaten tombstone. No number of seasons and no amount of research will bring it back.

Then, the rumors of a roundup came true: The next morning, the Jews were to report to the market square.

“I don’t remember which one of our neighbors told us that we had to leave the house,” Spatz wrote. “We fearfully gathered a few of our belongings.”

Hundreds of Jews already had assembled when Spatz arrived. “It was raining,” he recalled. “Our bundles were wet and their weight increased by the moment.”

Death was the punishment for absence, and yet there was no trace of Asher.

Leah had arrived at the square with her parents and sister. Her mother, Gittel, must have been frantic: Simcha, Gittel’s only son, was away at yeshiva in Lublin. Later, Leah’s daughter Sima told me, Gittel had risked a summary execution and snuck back across the San River to see if her boy had come home to find his family, but there was no trace of him, either.

Tension mounted. Anxiety and anguish boiled like puddles in a hard rain. And still Asher was missing.

“We were unable to search for him without being shot,” his granddaughter wrote. “At the last moment, as we organized into rows for the gloomy march, he appeared next to us, calm and filled with family warmth. He was wearing his clean Sabbath clothing, and had his tallis and tefillin bag with him.”

His family scolded him, but, “He smiled and mocked us: What is all the confusion? For it is impossible to believe these murderers. However, perhaps they indeed intend to kill us. Therefore, I went to the mikveh to purify myself, and now I am ready and prepared if it is the will of our Creator, the Creator of the world who determines the fate of man.”

The march began, 2 1/2 miles to the banks of the San River. “The Jews traveled with their heads down, their eyes toward the ground, as if they were guilty of some terrible deed,” another survivor wrote in the Yizkor Book.

When they got there, the Germans unrolled a sheet and commanded the Jews to drop any valuables onto it, on penalty of death. To show they were serious, they shot one of the Jews on the spot. But when the Jews then were ordered across a makeshift bridge, suddenly they were alone; the opposite bank was Soviet territory. Two years before the Wannsee Conference and the decision to implement the Final Solution, the Nazis seemed content with banishment. “So ceased to be one Jewish community in the first days of the war,” Spatz wrote.

Leah and her family headed east, surviving deportation to Siberia and eventually making their way to Israel. But Asher seemed to resign himself to his doom.

The conclusion of his granddaughter’s recollection is as terse as the rest of it is reverent: “When we crossed the San, we continued to wander in the direction of Przemysl. Grandfather was a native of Przemysl, and he decided to remain there until the storm would pass. After we took leave of him, we never met again. He succumbed to the murderous Nazis.”

Was he murdered when the Germans rounded up and killed the entire Jewish population of Zasanie in June 1942? Was he sent to Belzec some two months later along with 12,500 Jewish residents of Przemysl? Or would he have lived to the very end and been one of the 1,000 murdered behind the Judenrat building, during the final liquidation of Przemysl’s Jews, when the shooting went on for six hours?

What became of Asher Arom remains an intractable and deeply frustrating mystery to me. The only evidence of his death is a small, yellowing scrap of paper on which his son Shmuel, my grandfather, scribbled a contradictory series of Hebrew and Gregorian dates, recorded, probably, from phone calls from family and former neighbors after the war.

But how he died doesn’t interest me quite so much as how he lived. I’m still waiting to stumble on the single detail that will bring events from Lizhensk back to life for me, even just momentarily, in a brilliant flash of transplanted memory. I didn’t find it in Poland. Most of my time in Lizhensk was spent ambling from spot to spot, possessed by a sense of detachment, the drizzle dampening my mood. Even the beards and shawls and the prayerful wailing through the night failed to conjure anything profound.

There’s a disconnect I can’t get past. The removal is too great, the violence too jarring, the years too many. Sitting in the main square in Lizhensk, brooding over a notebook and trying to figure out how to feel, it didn’t really land that this was the same square where the Jews had gathered on Sukkot, where Leah had fretted over her grandfather. Would that it had, I might have decided to hike from Lizhensk to the river, following in the path of my ancestor, letting March showers stand in for fall rain. I didn’t. I’m not sure what I would have gained from it.

My ghosts have become better defined since I went looking for them, but they remain no less puzzling, no less tiresome and my relationship with them no less one-sided. They remain ghosts, dead things, dust and forgotten secrets. You can’t read the vanished inscription on a rain-beaten tombstone. No number of seasons and no amount of research will bring it back.

To those planning a foray into their family history  by buying a plane ticket to Poland, my advice is: You might want to reconsider. You will find no answers there. Seeing will bring you no more comfort than knowing. Only emptiness and grief remain for the likes of me, and faint traces of a bitter past. Soon, those too will be gone.

President Donald Trump in West Palm Beach, Fla., on April 6. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Has Trump split the Jewish community? Hardly.


Every four years, in an attempt to maximize their share of the “Jewish vote,” the major political parties include language in their national platforms expressing support for Israel as America’s truest ally and only democracy in the Middle East. Often that expression contains a pledge to move the U.S embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The belief that the political and even national allegiance of many Jewish Americans is driven by devotion to Israel extends beyond party politicians to a sizable share of the U.S. public. A 2016 survey conducted by the Marttila Strategies polling firm indicates that although anti-Semitism has declined significantly in the United States over the past half-century,  since at least the mid-1960s, about a third of Americans have believed the anti-Semitic dual loyalty canard  that Jews are “more loyal to Israel than to America.”

To what extent do psychological ties to Israel actually shape the political beliefs and behavior of American Jews? If they do not motivate the Jewish community as much as is often believed, then what does?

Undeniably, a large majority of Jewish Americans have an affinity for Israel. A 2013 Pew Research survey indicated that an overwhelming (87%) said that “caring about Israel” is an important part of being Jewish.  On a more demanding measure of affiliation, about 7 in 10 Jewish Americans (69%) said they are at least somewhat “emotionally attached” to Israel.

But, that’s not the whole story. In spite of their psychological connection to Israel, most Jews ´placed greater importance on other “Jewish” values—remembering the Holocaust (73%), leading an ethical and moral life (69%), working for justice and equality (56%), and being intellectually curious (49%)—than they did on caring about Israel (43%). Beyond this, when asked if being “strongly critical of Israel” is compatible with being Jewish, a large majority (89%) said that it is.

Moreover, to borrow from Borscht Belt comics’ assertions that “where there are two Jews, there are three opinions,” Jewish Americans are not of one mind about Israel. While it is true that a sizable majority have at least some emotional connection to Israel, the extent of that link varies by denomination, generation, and political party identification.  The ties are strongest among the Orthodox, those 50 years old and above, and those who identify as Republicans. This split in the opinions of Jewish Americans toward Israel and other matters runs throughout the Pew study.

If allegiance to Israel and support of its current policies is not the primary determinant of the political beliefs and behavior of Jewish Americans, what is? Pew’s research suggests the crucial factors are the very things that shape the opinions and votes of most other Americans—their party identifications, their opinions on current political issues, and their perceptions of major political figures. Pew sums those up by saying that “Jews are among the most liberal and Democratic groups in the population.”

A large majority of Jewish Americans (70%) identified with or leaned to the Democratic DEM REPUBParty; this when 49% of the U.S general public claimed a Democratic attachment. More remarkable, nearly half of Jewish Americans (49%) said they were liberal and just 19% called themselves conservative. This was almost reverse the numbers for  the general public, within which 38% said they were conservative and 19% liberal.

To confirm the trend, millenial Jews (18-29 year olds) were the most Democratic, liberal, and pro-Obama age cohort that Pew sampled. They are also the least emotionally connected to Israel and the most critical of its policies. Interestingly, Jewish millennials are as likely to have been to Israel as any other generation of Jews; suggesting that it isn’t simply indifference or ignorance that account for their disconnect from the Jewish state. Undoubtedly, the vigorous embrace of the unpopular Trump by Netanyahu compounded by Bibi’s public disdain for the ever-popular Obama may, inadvertently, be undoing the hard work that Birthright Israel undertakes when it provides free trips to Israel for the young.

These liberal and Democratic identifications were reflected in the opinions of Jewish Americans of all ages on major issues.   A huge majority (82%) said that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” A majority (54%) also preferred “a bigger government that provides more services” rather than a “smaller government that provides fewer services (38%). A majority of U.S. Jews approved of Barack Obama’s job performance (65%) at a point in his administration when 50% of the general public did.

Despite the assertions of Jewish conservatives and many Jewish organizations today, the positive perceptions of Obama carried over to his policies toward Israel and Iran even when those organizations and the Israeli government were highly critical of those actions. With the exception of the Orthodox, Jewish support for the president’s policies crossed all demographic and denominational lines. It also substantially exceeded that within the U.S. general public.

The liberal and Democratic proclivities of Jewish Americans continued in 2016 when a large majority  (71%) voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016; only 23% voted for Donald Trump. The Jewish vote for Clinton was similar to what it had been for other Democrats since 1968 and may have exceeded that for Barack Obama in 2012.

The attitudes of Jews toward Donald Trump have not improved since his election. A March 2017 Gallup survey indicated that Trump’s job approval as president was only 31% among Jewish Americans, 11 percentage points below that of the electorate overall.

The data are clear.   Jews remain disproportionately Democratic and highly negative about Trump. This makes it even more surprising that a number of important Jewish organizations remain reluctant to criticize the president. . Their likely rationale is that Trump will be supportive of Israel and that little good would be served by alienating a potential friend of that country, especially in light of Trump’s campaign promises to revoke the nuclear limitation treaty with Iran and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

But these leaders and organizations run the serious risk of misunderstanding and, indeed, alienating their own Jewish base on the unlikely chance (already disproven in large measure) that Trump will honor his hyperbolic campaign promises in his presidential policies. Given the high stakes, the low probability of success, and the president’s erratic behavior and elusive beliefs, it is a gamble better not taken.

*Mike Hais is an expert in market research having served for more than 22 years at Frank N. Magid Associates. He has a doctorate in political science specializing in American politics and political behavior. He is co-author with Morley Winograd of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, Millennial Majority: How a New Coalition Is Remaking American Politics, and Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America. This op/ed was written in association with Community Advocates, Inc.

 

Police at the scene where a young British woman was killed in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on April 14. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

British woman in her 20s killed in Jerusalem stabbing attack; Palestinian man held


A British woman in her 20s studying in Israel was stabbed to death in Jerusalem allegedly by a Palestinian.

The woman, named by Israel’s envoy to the United Kingdom as Hannah Bladon, died following the Friday attack. She had been taken to the hospital in critical condition after suffering multiple stab wounds aboard the city’s light rail, Israel Radio reported. Police said she was attacked by a 57-year-old man from eastern Jerusalem’s Ras al Amud neighborhood.

Yoram Halevi, commander of the Jerusalem District of the Israel Police, told the radio station that the suspect is mentally ill and has a criminal record for domestic violence. He was apprehended at the scene.

“We know he recently tried to commit suicide,” Halevi said.

Israel’s envoy to the U.K., Marg Regev, condemned the attack on Twitter.

My thoughts are with the family and friends of UK student Hannah Bladon, who was murdered in a senseless act of terror in Jerusalem today.

Following the attack, police increased security in and around the light rail, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld wrote on Twitter.

jThe victim is a citizen of the United Kingdom studying in Israel, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The number of recorded terrorist attacks by Palestinians on Israelis increased last month by 15 percent from the previous month to 119 incidents, the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, said in its monthly report published earlier this week. No one was killed; six were injured.

The 20 attacks recorded in Jerusalem in March constitute a 30 percent increase over the 14 there in February.

Richard Gere in New York on March 3, 2015. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Richard Gere: ‘The occupation is destroying everyone’


Richard Gere’s recent visit to Israel left him with a less-than-rosy picture of the political situation there.

“As we all knew, the occupation is destroying everyone,” Gere said, following a visit to the Jewish state to promote his latest movie, “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.”

In the film, which is directed by Israeli Joseph Cedar, Gere plays a Jewish fixer who befriends an up-and-coming Israeli politician.

The 67-year-old actor, who is a practicing Buddhist, lamented the impact of the occupation on both Palestinians and Israelis in an interview with The Associated Press published Thursday.

“The Palestinians are becoming more depressed and desperate and with that desperation, most likely, there’s going to be more violence. Because they have no other way of expressing themselves,” Gere said.

“On the Israeli side, you see what’s happening to these young soldiers, and they’re doing things that they don’t want to do, they’re seeing things that they shouldn’t see. And the violence that’s coming from the Israeli side is something that’s destroying Jewish soul – which is by nature incredibly compassionate and forgiving and nurturing,” he continued. “So I see both sides, both cultures, being destroyed in this process. And I don’t see leaders on either side who are speaking the will and the needs of their people.”

Gere also had some harsh criticism for President Donald Trump, slamming him for talk about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv nd for choosing David Friedman — a supporter of Israeli settlements who has expressed doubts about the two-state-solution — to serve as envoy to the Jewish state.

“He’s winging it in a completely incompetent way from the beginning,” Gere said of Trump’s Israel policy.

This isn’t the first time Gere has slammed Israeli policies. In a recent Haaretz interview, the actor said “[t]here’s no defense of this occupation.”

“Settlements are such an absurd provocation and, certainly in the international sense, completely illegal — and they are certainly not part of the program of someone who wants a genuine peace process,” Gere told Haaretz.

Watch excerpts from Gere’s interview with The Associated Press below:

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, left, shaking hands with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in New York, March 2017. The WJC’s CEO, Robert Singer, is in the background. Photo courtesy of WJC.

UN secretary-general reaffirms ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his recognition of ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem during a meeting with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

A statement Wednesday by the WJC said Lauder and Guterres met earlier in the week in New York, and that Guterres repeated comments he had made to Israeli radio in which he noted the existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

Palestinians in recent decades have sought to undercut overwhelming archaeological and historical evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in the city.

The WJC statement said that Guterres would do what he could to stem anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations and its affiliates. Guterres said he could not keep the U.N. Human Rights Council from passing anti-Israel resolutions.

The statement noted Guterres’ role last week in getting the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia to remove from its website a report accusing Israel of apartheid.

“There is a breath of fresh air coming from the United Nations,” Lauder was quoted as saying in the statement. “A long overdue breath of fresh air.”

Guterres’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Israeli security forces on the scene where a Palestinian man stabbed two Israeli Border Police officers in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 13. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

2 Israeli police officers stabbed in Jerusalem, Palestinian assailant shot dead


A Palestinian man who allegedly stabbed two Israeli Border Police officers in Jerusalem reportedly was shot and killed by another officer.

The stabbing took place overnight Sunday at the officers’ post in the Old City near the Lions’ Gate. The officers were taken to a Jerusalem hospital with moderate injuries.

The Palestinian Maan news agency identified the assailant as Ibrahim Mahmoud Matar, 25, of eastern Jerusalem.

According to the Israel police, police took Matar into the post to be searched after he was stopped at the Lions’ Gate before entering the Old City. Police said he then took out the knife and attacked the officers. Palestinian witnesses told Maan that Matar was carrying a stick and was taken out of the post by a police officer and shot at point blank range.

Early Sunday morning, police raided Matar’s home in the Jabal al-Mukabar neighborhood, arresting four members of his family, identified by Maan as his parents, brother and uncle. A flag featuring the logo of the Hamas terrorist group was removed from the home, according to The Times of Israel.

Jerusalem is under increased security Sunday and Monday due to the Purim holiday, which is observed a day later than in the rest of Israel.

Program promises Shabbat of lifetime


The vast majority of tourists who visit Jerusalem go to the Old City and, depending on their interests and beliefs, make a point of seeing archaeological sites, eating in the Mahane Yehuda Market or visiting the Israel Museum.

What few get to experience is an authentic Shabbat meal in the home of a Jewish family.

Six years ago, Michelle Cohen and her husband, Nati, a young Jerusalem couple, decided to offer Shabbat dinners to groups and individuals seeking a genuine Shabbat dinner experience.

Sensing a business opportunity as well as a way to share the best of Israel with tourists, they launched Shabbat of a Lifetime, a company that Cohen said has grown to more than 70 host families that have offered a Shabbat dinner experience to more than 30,000 visitors from 100 countries.

For a fee that Cohen says is roughly equivalent to the cost of a Friday night dinner in a hotel restaurant, hosts offer Shabbat dinner (including ones customized for a variety of dietary needs, like allergies) tailored to overseas guests. Rituals are explained and questions encouraged.

The goal, Cohen said, “is to create positive encounters between them and Israelis. The tourists have a positive experience and return home as [goodwill] ambassadors.”

Cohen said she and her husband got the idea for Shabbat of a Lifetime after spending six months in India.

“During our time in India, we realized that the most meaningful part was meeting the local people and learning about their culture. There are maybe 2 million non-Jewish tourists who come to Israel every year, and we asked whether they are getting the opportunity to meet local Israelis in their homes. The answer was no.”

About 95 percent of guests come as part of a tour group, while the rest book directly via the company’s website (shabbatofalifetime.com). Ninety-nine percent are non-Jewish tourists or Jewish tourists who are not religiously observant.

“Let’s say you’re part of a group of 15 Chinese businessmen [who are] in Israel to understand how to invest in Israel. One part of your trip will be to join a Jewish family at a Shabbat meal to learn about Jewish culture and Shabbat traditions. Or, let’s say you’re an unaffiliated Jewish family who [is] in Israel to celebrate a daughter’s bat mitzvah. Rather than spend Friday night in a hotel, you can join an Israeli family.”

Some of the tourists hosted by Shabbat of a Lifetime are in Israel on dual-narrative tours that offer visitors the opportunity to spend time with Israelis and Palestinians.

“In the morning, they visit Palestinian farmers, and on Friday night, they’re sitting with a Jewish family in Jerusalem and having chicken soup. We’ve hosted a group of African pastors, students on university programs and Jewish women looking to strengthen their Jewish identity” and who had rarely or never experienced Shabbat before visiting Israel, Cohen said.

While the tourists learn about Israeli culture and food, “it’s eye-opening for the host, as well,” Cohen said. “We’ll have encounters between German tourists and a religious family, for example, and we have many, many groups from China.”

From her observations, Cohen said, Chinese tourists “tend to be very interested in the entrepreneurial mind of Jews and Israelis. They want to know what it is about these traditions that create the foundation for Israeli innovation.”

All families that host meals for Shabbat of a Lifetime observe Shabbat, “but there is a whole range of backgrounds and communities they identify with,” Cohen said. Families also must have the capacity to host a group of 14. One family can host 50.

“We prepare the host family about what it will entail to host, say, 30 Southern Baptists,” Cohen said. Although the food is important, so too is an understanding of their guests’ unique backgrounds.

“Our purpose is to facilitate genuine encounters,” not formal, stiff, overly polite dinners, Cohen said.

Yehoshua Looks and his wife, Debbie, have hosted more than 150 Shabbat of a Lifetime meals during the past four years. “We host up to 36 people and it sometimes ends up being a couple more,” he said, laughing. “We turn over our living room-dining space to Shabbat of a Lifetime. They provide the food, the tablecloths, the chairs. We like to serve on actual china, which goes into the dishwasher.”

Looks said his family became religiously observant long ago, “and part of our process was being involved in a very warm community in St. Louis.”

Even back then, Looks, an Orthodox rabbi, said, “we’d set a couple of extra place settings,” in anticipation of guests at the Shabbat dinner table. “We created a family dynamic of having an open home and welcoming people from all types of backgrounds.”

At Friday night dinner, Looks and his wife explain the reason Jews sing “Shalom Aleichem” and “Eshet Chayil,” and bless their children before reciting blessings over the wine and challah. 

“With some groups, the reaction is more cultural, for others, it’s more spiritual,” he said. “We get a lot of Christian evangelicals who are fascinated by the idea of Shabbat.”

Regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds, Looks said, his guests seem to enjoy discussing the Sabbath.

“We live in a world where we’ve lost the experience of rest. I’m 60-something and grew up in a world where, on Sundays, the stores were closed. There was more time and space for family bonding.”

Looks likes to tell his guests that Shabbat is his time to disconnect. “I share with all the groups that my favorite Friday afternoon activity is to unplug my internet, close down the routers. I even challenge some of our guests to try to shut off their cellphones for 24 hours.”

Looks hopes his guests — who include many secular Jews from abroad — come away with the sense that Shabbat “isn’t about what you can’t do but instead [is] a time to open ourselves up and connect on a more spiritual level to our families, our communities and to God.”

Although hosting week after week can be tiring, Looks said the “incredible warmth” his guests bring has enriched him and his family beyond measure.

“After living in Israel for 20 years, it’s easy to become a little complacent about Israel,” Looks admitted. 

“To hear stories from people who see Israel with fresh eyes invigorates us. It makes us excited about living in Israel all over again.”

From left: Orna Banai, Sharon Elimelech, Evelin Hagoel, Einat Sarouf and Yafit Asulin co-star in “The Women’s Balcony.” Photos courtesy of IMDb.com.

Israeli comedy probes religious and gender conflicts


The Bukharim Quarter of Jerusalem, the locale for the movie “The Women’s Balcony,” was settled by Jews from Central Asia in the 1870s and ’80s.

Their synagogue was the center of their spiritual and communal life, and they and their descendants took their religion seriously, though not rigidly, making allowances for human weaknesses and personal quirks.

During the past 30 or so years, the once tolerant and easy-going neighborhood — like other parts of Jerusalem — has been changed by an influx of ultra-Orthodox Charedim, and in the Israeli film, we sense the beginning of the transition.

The demographic transformation of Israel’s capital is a weighty topic, but the message is conveyed with a great deal of humor, leavened by the always-popular topic of the war between the genders.

As the film opens, neighbors are hurrying along the cobble-stoned streets to join in a bar mitzvah celebration, with the women and their husbands carrying pots of home-cooked food — no catering at a fancy hotel in those rugged times three decades ago.

At the synagogue, the men sit downstairs, stealing occasional glances at the women up in the balcony, who enthusiastically throw candy as the bar mitzvah boy approaches the bimah.

Precisely at this happy moment, the balcony collapses, seriously injuring the rabbi’s wife and putting the rabbi himself and the building out of commission for the time being.

In these dire straits, the young charismatic Rabbi David (Aviv Alush) appears as a savior, offering the congregation temporary quarters and himself as the interim spiritual leader. But soon the congregation learns that the new rabbi’s service comes at a price. He preaches that the crashed balcony was God’s punishment for the immodest garments worn by the women and urges the men to buy scarves to cover the hair of their wives and daughters.

Tension rises when Rabbi David, who also has put himself in charge of repairing the synagogue, decides to dispense with the balcony altogether and exiles the women to a shuttered ante room, out of sight of the men.

When the women protest and go about raising their own money for a new balcony, Rabbi David underhandedly diverts the money for the purchase of new Torah scrolls. The docile men heed the rabbi’s edicts, but the women, led by the formidable Etti (Evelin Hagoel), organize a resistance movement.

They take a leaf from the women in Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” who ended the endless war between Athens and Sparta by denying sex to their husbands and lovers until the men agreed to stop fighting. Though the concept of a sex strike is “not something one can say out loud in a religious community,” Emil Ben-Shimon, the film’s director, observed in a phone interview, the women achieved the same result by moving out of their houses.

Forced to choose between their wives and the unbending rabbi, the men folk finally grow a spine and bid farewell to Rabbi David.

Ben-Shimon, 41, has had a successful 15-year career in Israeli television as writer and director, but always dreamed of making a feature movie. Finally, he asked his ex-wife, Shlomit Nehama, to write the screenplay and set about finding the right neighborhood to re-create the Bukharim enclave of 30 years ago.

Ben-Shimon, who lives in Jaffa, said, “I was shocked to see that about 90 percent of the residents of the old Bukharim neighborhood were now Charedim and there were separate sidewalks for men and women. … People looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”

The director noted that “The Women’s Balcony” was last year’s biggest box-office hit in Israel and that “audiences loved it.” However, there was no feedback from the Charedi community “since its members usually don’t go to movies. … Their rabbis won’t let them,” Ben-Shimon said.

It took the director about three years to complete the film and he has started work on his next project, which probably will be set in Jaffa.

“The Women’s Balcony” opens March 3 at Laemmle’s Royal in West Los Angeles and the Town Center in Encino. 

Scarlet Michaelson in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Scarlet Michaelson.

Meant2Be: A different kind of love


raised my cup of wine as the rabbi recited Kiddush in a space that was filled with young adults. My plan had been to stay in Jerusalem for five months, but this was my sixth.  

The city had compelled me to stay. The sounds of Hebrew and Arabic, both familiar and mysterious, were a musical mingling of speech and prayer. The scent of Middle Eastern delicacies wafted through the air. I lived close to train tracks, but the train no longer ran. Its tracks were paved over into a walking path, and on that summer’s evening, I saw my name etched into that path, urging me to stay even longer.

A California native, I had moved back home after attending college. My sister was a full-time student immersed in her studies; my father had begun a separate chapter in life with his new wife and daughter; and I was engaged in a frustrating job search.

Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I shuttled her to appointments, picked up her medications, did grocery shopping and laundry, and sat with her so she wouldn’t be alone.

I knew she had a life-threatening condition, but I didn’t believe she would die. She made improvements, then worsened, then recovered again. I was convinced that the radiation and radioactive iodine treatments would work. That somehow the tumors in her head and spine would shrink and disappear.

Toward the end, a medical professional told me how sick she was. I still couldn’t believe it. My mom had never believed it either. It wasn’t like a Hallmark movie, where we held hands and cried. We fought until the end, which is why the end was so devastating. I couldn’t imagine a future without her. My mom had always loved me warmly and wholeheartedly. Now that she was gone, where would I find love?

After my mother’s death, my father and his new family moved across the country. Staggered, I turned to my sister. Born several years apart, we’d lived separate lives. She was precocious, whereas I was the more obedient daughter, the overly responsible sibling. I assumed that, despite our differences, we would be there for each other now. Instead, she informed me that she wanted her space. I had to move on.

I found a room in an apartment. My new roommate was Israeli and had been living in the States for years. I got to know his friends, most of whom were Israeli ex-pats. They hung out in groups, speaking Hebrew and sharing stories. The language, which I’d learned in elementary school, came back to me.

Finally, I went to visit Israel. It was my first time traveling alone. I stayed in hostels in Jerusalem, and rented a room in Tel Aviv. I had an amazing time navigating around in Hebrew and English, meeting people, and falling in love with a place I’d only heard about.

When I went back to the States, I moved to be near my mother’s mother. I loved being with my grandmother. She was sweet and funny; we cheered each other up and found joy in small things together. But my grandmother’s health was failing, and after a short time, she, too, passed away.

Her death brought back the broken feeling I had after my mother’s death. I moved again, wanting to be near relatives, but couldn’t integrate into their nuclear families. I didn’t feel like I belonged.

And so I returned to Israel — this time it was work-related. I discovered people who took Jewish learning seriously and saw that I could study to enhance my life. The idea appealed to me so much that, after going back to the States and working overtime for six months, I put my belongings in storage and returned to Israel to learn.

During this time, I realized that Judaism is more than a religion — it is a way to live. I met people who were different from my secular Israeli roommate and his friends, people who observed Shabbat, ate strictly kosher and prayed every day. Many of them were progressive and open-minded. I didn’t know religious people could be that way.

I quickly took on the practice of Shabbat. Without television, the internet or shopping, my new community and I were present for each other. Keeping kosher was relatively easy for me, because I had been a vegetarian since college. And I found myself enjoying prayer — connecting with something greater than myself, an eternal something that also connected me with my mother and grandmother. When I prayed, I felt embraced by love.

My year in Jerusalem changed me. There, among the olive trees and pale limestone, I felt whole again. Jerusalem, the holy city, gave me a sense of being part of a type of family that I had never known. This family was not biological. Instead, its members connected by practicing ancient traditions in a modern world. This family had faith and hope in the future.

Finally, so did I.

Scarlet Michaelson is a writer living in Pico-Robertson.

Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship inyour life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.

Courtesy of Pexels.

Letters to the editor


Thanks … but No Thanks?

Thank you, Rob Eshman, for writing what is in so many of our hearts (“Thank You, Obama,” Jan. 20). Well done, but missing one paragraph:

Thank you, Obama, for selecting Joe and Jill Biden, also fine people, who set the bar as high as you and Michelle did as examples for our nation and our youth.  

Again, Rob, a fine and important column.

Pam Pacht via email

I thank you for your “Thank You, Obama” column, and sadly say thank you to the departed Mr. and Mrs. Obama, who graced us with intelligence, wit, kindness and style. Which makes it even more difficult to face our current president, who lacks exactly those qualities.

Rick Edelstein, Los Angeles

Rob Eshman’s column overlooks many of the highly problematic issues of Obama’s presidency. To say that, “In my lifetime, there has never been an administration so free from personal and professional moral stain,” is to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, to say the least.

Obama can be credited with deporting more immigrants than any of his recent predecessors, expanding military operations in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, and granting more powers to the executive branch, which makes the Trump administration so frightening.

Aaron L. White, Los Angeles

For too many years, the Jewish Journal has been, thanks to Rob Eshman, a Democrat Party publishing organ. Naively, I always thought that the Journal’s mission was to represent all of Los Angeles’ Jewish community’s schools of thought and politics. Marginalizing readers who are not “left of center” will ultimately guarantee the demise of this publication. It is high time for the board to choose a nonpartisan editor with an inclusive world view. Let Eshman embark on his anti-Trump campaign elsewhere.

Ron Rutberg via email  

Rob Eshman should be ashamed of himself and resign as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal.

Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 3,000 years, since King David moved it from Hebron (where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried) to Jerusalem.

It has been our capital long before Berlin, London, Moscow or Washington, D.C.

Why are you so fearful about establishing its rightful position among the nations of the world?

What can the Arabs do to us that they haven’t already tried? What can the world do to us that Hitler hasn’t already done?

Eshman: Resign.

Betzalel “Bitzy” N. Eichenbaum, Encino

Eshman’s expressions of gratitude have almost brought tears to my eyes but vomit to my mouth.

Keep up the good work, Rob. Your popularity is soaring in Gaza, Jenin and Ramallah.

Giorgio Berrin, Lake Balboa  

It’s hard to believe that a publisher could write such gratuitous fantasies about the Obama administration’s past achievements. There is no doubt that many readers would find this article offensive and misleading. Eshman’s blind admiration of Obama’s “accomplishments” is biased, one-sided, politically wrong and far from Jewish interests.

Fortunately, in the same edition, the Jewish Journal had a sense of balance by publishing the excellent opinion piece by contributor Larry Greenfield (“A Legacy of O,” Jan. 20) describing the true Obama disasters.

I urge all readers to read his op-ed.

Alex Chazanas via email 

This has been such an ugly campaign that it’s no wonder the ugliness continues. Larry Greenfield’s piece on the Obama years surpasses even the alt-right distortions. I was shocked to read this in the Jewish Journal. 

Theresa McGowan, Santa Monica

Opposing Trump

David Suissa (“When Values Divide Us,” Dec. 23) draws a false comparison between those who hate Obama and those who oppose Trump. While I can’t speak for his Shabbat guests, Trump’s ubiquitous lying, hateful speech and winks to racists must be opposed. Yes, Mr. Suissa, these violate Jewish values. The hatred of Obama is, at best, partisan politics and, at worst, latent racism.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, Washington, D.C.

An Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv on Jan. 24. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

More than symbolism involved with moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem


The location of the United States Embassy in Israel has been an issue of controversy for decades, but it is newly on the front burner. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a persistent Donald Trump campaign promise, one of its strongest advocates is U.S. ambassador to Israel nominee David Friedman, and Israeli officials called on Trump to relocate the embassy in their messages of congratulations on his election.

Like so many other variables in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this one boils down to whether you feel more strongly about principles or outcomes. Unlike other areas of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, this is one where the smart solution is one against which I instinctively recoil.

The historical reason for the embassy being located in Tel Aviv is because the international community views the overall status of Jerusalem as being subject to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is not an issue in which the U.S. is an outlier in any way — while there were a small number of primarily Latin American countries that located their embassies in Jerusalem in the past, there have been no embassies in Jerusalem for more than a decade.

Aside from the American position that the status of Jerusalem should not be prejudged, there is a daily and ongoing practical reason for having the embassy in Tel Aviv. American regional allies are adamant that locating the embassy in Jerusalem would be a literally explosive issue, and indeed Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have on national security grounds waived the requirement in the Jerusalem Embassy Act that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. It is taken as an article of faith that moving the embassy will create protests not only in Israel but against American embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and subject American diplomats and soldiers to the threat of violence.

The argument for moving the embassy to Jerusalem relies on a basic notion of fairness. Israel defines its capital as Jerusalem, and yet it is the only country in the world whose capital — determined by its own democratically elected and sovereign government — is not accepted by the rest of the international community. Despite the fact that Jerusalem does indeed represent a complex problem whose ultimate settlement must be resolved through negotiations, this is a red herring. Israel’s capital is in West Jerusalem, the newer section of the city that was built by Jewish residents of Palestine and was part of Israel from the very beginning. Its status is not and never has been disputed, was not and is not subject to any past or future negotiations, and is not the part of the city that is viewed by some as being more appropriately internationalized. Many Israelis and American Jews view the refusal to locate the American embassy in West Jerusalem as an unfair double standard and believe the Palestinian and larger Arab red line over moving the embassy to be evidence that the issue is acceptance of Israel in any borders rather than a stand against Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Many people and organizations on both sides of this issue feel very strongly about it, as evidenced by the flood of statements and commentary on it since Trump’s election. Similar to the debate over the president using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” it is an example of the divide over whether powerful symbolism should take precedence over more easily measurable consequences, and as with that debate, there are legitimate arguments for both. Irrespective of where one falls out, I wish that those on opposite sides of this divide would recognize that it is not a cut-and-dried debate.

To keep the embassy where it is does not constitute a purely neutral move. Israelis rightly feel that it signals an unwillingness to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, the return to which was the object of centuries of Jewish longing. An American embassy in West Jerusalem does not prejudice the status of the Old City or negate the eminently reasonable desire of Palestinians to have their future capital in East Jerusalem. Keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv grants a hecklers’ veto to those whose real problem is with any Israeli presence in Jerusalem and who aim to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. As with the Temple Mount status quo, having the world’s diplomatic corps to Israel live and work in Tel Aviv is a painful concession, even if it is one that ultimately is wise for security purposes.

To move the embassy is an ideological move completely devoid of any practical considerations. It doesn’t mean that it is ultimately the wrong policy to adopt, but it is highly misleading to pretend that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the clear “pro-Israel” move and that keeping it in Tel Aviv is a sign of less than full support for Israel. Moving the embassy will not necessarily result in chaos and riots in Jerusalem itself, but there is no question it will result in chaos and riots somewhere, whether in other spots in Israel, the West Bank, Muslim-majority countries, or at American and Israeli embassies around the world. Is making a completely symbolic statement of moving the embassy worth even one American, Israeli, or Palestinian life? Is it worth even one dollar of property damage? Is it worth the Palestine Liberation Organization following through on its threat to withdraw its recognition of Israel, or halt the security cooperation that is preventing mass terrorism and rockets from the West Bank? The idea that the American embassy can be moved in a cost-free manner is laughable.

The embassy issue is hard. Do not use it as a litmus test for what is right or wrong, what is supportive of Israel or not, what should be done or should not be done. Above all, do not turn it into such a sacred cow that keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv will automatically result in a 50 percent cut to American embassy security worldwide, as the absolutely insane bill introduced in the Senate last week will do. Policies have consequences, and moving the American embassy or keeping it where it is involves a lot more than whether diplomats will have to order new business cards. We are entering an era where every policy is in danger of being reduced to a mere rhetorical argument; do not give in to that temptation with regard to this one.


MICHAEL J. KOPLOW is the Israel Policy Forum’s policy director, based in Washington, D.C. Reach him at mkoplow@ipforum.org.

Obama told Trump that embassy move to Jerusalem could be ‘explosive’


President Barack Obama said he told his successor Donald Trump that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could be “explosive.”

“Obviously it’s a volatile environment when sudden unilateral moves are made that speak to the core issues or sensitivities of either side. That can be explosive,” Obama said Wednesday at his final news conference when asked if he consulted with Trump about moving the embassy from Tel Aviv.

Obama said his administration’s message to the Trump transition team was “pay attention to this, this is volatile stuff, people feel deeply and passionately about this.”

Obama said he understands that it is important to give a new president a wide berth on policy issues.

“I think it is right and appropriate for a new president to test old assumptions and re-examine the old ways of doing things, but if you’re going to make big shifts in policy … you want to be intentional about it, you don’t want to be off the cuff when it comes to an issue this volatile,” the outgoing U.S. leader said.

Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, his longtime lawyer David Friedman, has said he favors moving the embassy. Trump campaigned saying he would move the embassy, but his transition team has declined to offer a timeline for the action.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995, but successive presidents have exercised a waiver that allows them to delay the move for national security reasons.

At the news conference, Obama again defended his decision last month to allow a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion. It was the first time Obama had allowed a resolution that Israel opposed.

Obama noted that his own attempts to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians had ended in failure, and said that settlement expansion was eroding the prospect of a two-state solution.

“It was important for us to send a signal that this moment may be passing,” the president said. “Hopefully that creates a debate inside Israeli and Palestinian communities that won’t immediately result in peace but will at least lead to a more sober assessment.”

Trump tells Israeli reporter in Washington he will move embassy to Jerusalem


President-elect Donald Trump told an Israeli reporter that he will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump made the remarks at an event Tuesday evening in Washington, the Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported on Thursday.

Israel Hayom reporter Boaz Bismuth, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Mauritania for four years until 2008, attended the event sponsored by Trump’s close associate, chairman of the 58th Presidential Inauguration Committee Thomas J. Barrack Jr., for current diplomats serving in the United States.

Bismuth reported that during a conversation with Trump, he asked the president elect if he remembered telling him in a previous interview that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

He reported that Trump replied: “Of course I remember what I told you about Jerusalem. Of course I didn’t forget. And you know I’m not a person who breaks promises.”

Asked about current events in Israel, Trump replied: “I can’t wait to start working with Israel. This weekend, relations between us officially begin.”

Israel Hayom is a free Hebrew-language daily newspaper owned by Republican donor and billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

During the campaign, Trump said he would move the embassy, but his transition team has declined to offer a timeline for the action.

Trump’s choice for secretary of defense said at confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate on Thursday that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.

“The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that’s where all their government people are,” James Mattis, a retired four-star general, told the senators in response to questions about policy on Israel.

David Friedman, Trump’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel, said in the announcement of his nomination that he hoped to work from a Jerusalem embassy.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995 and mandated the move to Jerusalem, but successive U.S. presidents have exercised a waiver in the law that allows them to delay the move for national security reasons. U.S. security and diplomatic officials say that moving the embassy would stir anti-American violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

2 soldiers killed in Jerusalem truck-ramming attack are US citizens


Two of the four Israeli soldiers killed in the truck-ramming attack in eastern Jerusalem were American citizens.

The soldiers were buried Monday in separate cemeteries a day after the attack on the promenade in the Arnon Hatnatziv neighborhood.

Erez Orbach, 20, of Alon Shvut in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem was an American citizen, Haaretz reported, citing a U.S. Embassy official. He holds U.S. citizenship through his mother, according to the newspaper, citing a family member. Orbach was the oldest of six brothers.

Shira Tzur, 20, of Haifa, had American-born parents, according to Haaretz, which cited a soldier in her unit.

The others killed were Yael Yekutiel of Givatayim and Shir Hajaj, 22, of Maale Adumim.

The soldiers were on an educational trip along with several other groups. They had just gotten off a bus in the promenade when the driver of the truck, a resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, drove into them, reversing back over the bodies after he had hit them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited some of the injured soldiers on Monday morning. One reportedly remains in a life-threatening condition, breathing with the help of a respirator and facing more surgery.

UN Security Council condemns deadly truck-ramming attack on Israeli soldiers


The United Nations Security Council condemned the truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem that left four Israeli soldiers dead.

The statement tweeted late Sunday night by Sweden’s mission to the United Nations “condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack” in the eastern part of the city on Sunday and expressed condolences to the families of the victims and the government of Israel. Sweden holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month.

“The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security,” the statement said, and that the council finds any acts of terrorism “criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation.”

The statement “reaffirmed the need for all states to combat by all means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”

The soldiers were killed and at least 15 were injured when the driver of a large truck, a resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, drove into a group of soldiers who had just exited a bus on the promenade in the Arnon Hatnatziv neighborhood, which marks the border between the eastern and western halves of Jerusalem.  The driver then reversed back over the bodies after he had hit them before being shot by a civilian tour guide and at least two soldiers.

The Security Council late last month passed a resolution by a vote of 14-0, with the Unites States abstaining, condemning Israeli settlements, calling them illegal and an obstacle to achieving peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

Israel again faces world’s rejection of settlements


Ahead of the unknowns a Donald Trump administration will bring to American Middle East policy, President Barack Obama’s administration allowed a bracing reminder on Dec. 23 that the international community does not recognize the validity of Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The U.S. abstention on the U.N. Security Council vote was hardly unprecedented, but neither was it entirely consistent with recent U.S. policy. The Obama administration did not quite endorse Resolution 2334, but its abstention ensured the resolution, reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in lands captured by Israel in 1967, would be adopted. As one of the five permanent members of the 15-member council, the U.S. could have exercised its veto power. Instead, the resolution passed, 14-0.

For 24 years, the United States under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama insulated Israel from an international community that, since 1967, has sought to exact consequences for its continued presence in disputed lands. After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, those three administrations considered the isolation of the Jewish state at the United Nations to be counterproductive to encouraging Israel to take bold steps for peace.

By 2004, George W. Bush had effectively recognized the large settlement blocs bordering 1967 Israel as “realities on the ground” and suggested that the Palestinians would be compensated for the territory with land swaps. Obama’s apparent message to the world is that incentives did not work in slowing settlement expansion. The carrot having wilted, the president reintroduced the stick.

Obama administration officials have said plainly that the expansion of settlements absent a peace process led to the decision to abstain. Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in her explanation of the abstention, listed the considerations that made the administration hesitate to allow the resolution — chief among them the historic anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and Palestinian intransigence. But she also noted that since the Oslo Accords, the settler population has increased by 355,000.

As much as the language in the resolution has stirred cries of “unprecedented” in Israel and in some pro-Israel precincts in the United States, it is broadly consistent with resolutions that the United States allowed from 1967 at least through the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency in January 1981.

The recent U.N. resolution reaffirmed “that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity,” and constituted a “flagrant violation” of international law. Resolution 465, passed in March 1980 under Carter with a U.S. vote in favor, determined that “all measures” that would change the physical or demographic character of the occupied lands, including Jerusalem, “have no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It further called on countries to “distinguish” between Israel and the West Bank.

Under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the council did not explicitly reject settlements as illegal, but referred to earlier resolutions that did so while continuing to assail the occupation as untenable. 

The practical consequences of the resolution passed Dec. 23 seem limited. If there was an unprecedented element to the affair, it was in the response by Israel’s leadership and some in the American pro-Israel community. 

“The Obama administration carried out a disgraceful and anti-Israel trap at the United Nations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the lighting of the first Chanukah candle.

Statements by mainstream pro-Israel groups were relatively temperate — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee called the abstention “particularly regrettable.” On the right, the responses were more unleashed.

“Obama’s an anti-Semitic Israel-hater sympathizing with radical Islamic terrorists,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, in his first-ever tweet.

Netanyahu and his ambassador to Washington, D.C., Ron Dermer, said they were counting on the Trump administration to reverse course. Dermer said in multiple interviews he had evidence that the Obama administration did not simply abstain but colluded in framing the resolution, an accusation strongly denied by administration officials.

Israel is now looking ahead to a new American order. At the Chanukah ceremony, Netanyahu spoke of “our friends in the incoming administration” — David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador designate, is an active supporter of the settlement movement.

Will Trump usher in that era? His pronouncements after the resolution were relentlessly critical, promising in one tweet that “things will be different” at the U.N. after he assumes the presidency, and lamenting in another that the council’s action “will make it much harder to negotiate peace.” 

In total, the statements appeared to regret the passage of the resolution — but stopped well short of pledging to reverse its effects.

GOP senators introduce bill forcing president’s hand on moving embassy to Jerusalem


Three Republican senators have introduced a bill that would force the president to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The bill introduced Tuesday by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ted Cruz of Texas would remove the presidential waiver from the 1995 law passed by Congress recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and mandating the move from Tel Aviv.

Successive presidents have exercised the waiver every six months, most recently President Barack Obama in December. They cite national security reasons over concerns that a move would lead to Islamist and Arab nationalist attacks on Americans and their allies in the region.

The bill would slash in half the funds that Congress disburses to the State Department for building, securing and maintaining embassies until the embassy opens in Jerusalem.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, but his transition team said declaring a timeline for a move would be inappropriate until Trump becomes president on Jan. 20.

Rubio and Cruz lost to Trump in the Republican presidential primaries.

Trump nominates David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, where he will ‘work from Jerusalem’


President-elect Donald Trump is nominating a top Jewish surrogate, David Friedman, to be ambassador to Israel, with a statement saying Friedman will serve from Jerusalem and describing the city as “Israel’s eternal capital.’

Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has for years worked for Trump and his real estate development business, was with Jason Greenblatt, another Trump lawyer, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, one of his main emissaries to the Jewish community. Friedman this week briefed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on what to expect from a Trump presidency.

The Trump transition team’s statement said Friedman – who like the incumbent ambassador, Dan Shapiro, speaks Hebrew – intends “to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995 and mandated the move to Jerusalem, but successive presidents have exercised a waiver in the law, citing national security interests. U.S. security officials believe that moving the embassy to Jerusalem, a city holy to Christians and Muslims as well as Jews and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital, would precipitate anti-American violence in the region and beyond.

In what has become a feature of transition statements, the release included a dig at the outgoing Obama administration.

“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m President,” Trump said in the statement. “As the United States’ Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries.”

President Barack Obama increased U.S.-Israel defense and intelligence sharing, but challenged the practice of his two immediate predecessors – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – of keeping diplomatic agreements behind closed doors. Early in his administration, Obama told Jewish leaders the policy of “no daylight” had not advanced peace in the region.

Report: Trump transition team checking possible locations for Jerusalem embassy


The transition team for President-elect Donald Trump is already checking into possible locations in Jerusalem for the U.S. Embassy, according to an Israeli news channel.

Channel 2 reported Monday night that officials from Israel’s Foreign Ministry had begun checking into possible sites on behalf of the Trump team. The news came hours after Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt during his show that moving the embassy was a “big priority” for Trump.

“It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for,” Conway said. “It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the sound bites.”

Foreign Ministry officials last week reportedly met with officials from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to discuss the availability of the Diplomat Hotel in the Talpiot neighborhood, a privately owned building that is home to 500 elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, according to Channel 2. The building reportedly will not be available until 2020, however.

Some political and security officials in Israel are expressing concern over Trump’s expected move to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem because of the expected response of the Arab world, Channel 2 reported. The report also said the action is being undertaken without coordination with the current administration of the U.S. State Department, which does not agree with the move.

Maen Rashid Areikat, the chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United States, told The Wall Street Journal that the Palestinians hope the incoming Trump administration will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. He said moving the embassy would make it more difficult to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We expect the incoming administration and the president-elect to understand the sensitivity of the issue of Jerusalem and to understand that Jerusalem hasn’t been recognized by any administration, Republican or Democrat, as the capital,” he told the Journal.

On Tuesday at a news conference in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a Trump decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would be “great.”

Congress passed a law mandating the move in 1995 that included a presidential waiver that lapses every six months. Each president since then has exercised the waiver, with President Barack Obama doing so as recently as last week, less than two months before he leaves office.

The waiver requires that the president assess that moving the embassy would pose a national security risk to the United States. U.S. administrations for decades have said that such a move would precipitate anti-American violence in Muslim lands.

Jerusalem mayor sees a bright future for city in the Trump era


It’s been nearly 50 years since Israel captured eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. For the past eight years, Nir Barkat has been this city’s mayor.

On Sunday evening, six months ahead of the “united Jerusalem” jubilee, Barkat received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, where he gave the keynote speech. A staunch advocate of Israeli control over all of Jerusalem, he thanked President-elect Donald Trump for his “commitment to strengthen our city by moving the U.S. Embassy home, to Jerusalem, the united and eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Late last month, Barkat sat down with JTA in his Jerusalem office to discuss in more depth his vision for the city. Having made a fortune as a high-tech entrepreneur, he easily slipped into industry jargon, speaking of the need to increase Jerusalem’s “market share” of the hearts of Diaspora Jews. He also said that all its residents were his “children.”

Barkat made clear that he sees Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel and should not be part of negotiations with the Palestinians, and expressed confidence that Trump – with whose Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, he is friendly – shares his vision.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JTA: What does it mean for you to receive this honorary degree?

Barkat: For me, it’s recognition of the changes happening in the city of Jerusalem. The honorary degree is being received on behalf of the residents of Jerusalem. I feel very proud that indeed Jerusalem is going in the right direction, but there is lots of work still to do. Toward its jubilee next year, I think it sharpens the fact that we all need to do everything we can to improve the city year after year.

JTA: What are the positive changes you see in Jerusalem?

Barkat: Jerusalem is going through economic growth, fast economic growth, and a cultural renaissance. Practically in almost every parameter we look, this city is making progress relative to years before and relative to its peer group. I think Jerusalem is fulfilling a very important role in the world of how do you make so many different people work in one city, in one inclusive economy, with democratic values.

JTA: Jerusalem also faces problems. Palestinian terrorism surged here earlier this year, and it is still the poorest city in Israel. How do you deal with problems like that on the municipal level?

Barkat: With respect to the round of violence we had, you have to understand that today Jerusalem is 10 times safer than New York. When you look at, for example, the murder rate for crime and terror together, your chances of getting killed in the streets of New York are 10 times higher than the city of Jerusalem. I settle for being one of the safest cities in the world, focusing on economic growth and making the city tick better, work better.

We have a lot of poor people, but this city is moving year after year as a better place to live. And the more we develop our economy and education system and infrastructure, that will naturally reflect on having a better future.

JTA: As the mayor of Jerusalem, why is it important for you to reach out to the Diaspora?

Barkat: For thousands of years, every Pesach [Passover] and every wedding and practically every major occasion, the longing for returning and building and connecting to Jerusalem is in our prayers and it’s in our hearts. Everyone is a shareholder in the city of Jerusalem. It’s the capital of the Jewish people forever, and I think developing that relationship, increasing that market share of people’s hearts, is in the mutual benefit of the city and the Jewish people around the world. And my role as mayor is to expand that relationship and bonding.

JTA: Why must Israel retain control of all of Jerusalem when the Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their capital?

Barkat: There’s a very famous phrase in the Bible that Jerusalem makes all peoples friends. Jerusalem had and has and will always have a special role of including people. God forbid, if you divide Jerusalem it will never function. It’s one economy. It’s one vision. It will never ever function as a divided city, as it did not function for 2,000 years.

Since the reunification of the city of Jerusalem, we’re working very hard to catch up with neglect and investments. There’s lots of work to do, but the philosophy is only one, and by the way, there’s no split city in the world that ever functioned. So Jerusalem is off the table, off the negotiation table, and our goal is to make it better for all residents of the city — Muslims, Christians and Jews. They’re all my children. I need and I do take care of all of them in order to improve quality of life for all.

JTA: Do you think President-elect Donald Trump shares your vision of Jerusalem?

Barkat: It seems that the vision and the understanding of the Trump administration is more aligned with the understanding of myself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The statements that have been said support that feeling that indeed it’s going to be different. The prior administration had different thoughts as to the future of the city of Jerusalem and other elements, and hopefully that change will indeed be executed. I have good reasons to believe that’s going to be the case.

JTA: Would you like to see Trump move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as he promised during his campaign?

Barkat: Not only I, not only Israelis, I also think the majority of Americans would like to see the embassy moved. It’s a statement of understanding the role and the importance of Jerusalem for the Jewish people. It was disappointing that it did not happen so far, but it’s better late than never.

JTA: Do you expect to be freer to build your vision of a united Jerusalem with Trump in the White House?

Barkat: With the prior administration, every once in a while, we heard the sort of statement like: Freeze building in Jerusalem. So I asked the administration: Freeze what exactly? Freeze everything? Or God forbid, do you mean that I have to ask somebody if he’s Jewish or Muslim or Christian before I as mayor of Jerusalem give him a license? It’s against the American Constitution.

When we plan Jerusalem and develop it, our master plan that we share with people shows and demonstrates that we indeed are honest and fair and enable all growth — of Muslims, Christians and Jews in the city of Jerusalem — on an equal basis. I believe and hope that the new administration understands that very, very well and will let us build Jerusalem for the benefit of all residents.

Obama renews waiver delaying Jerusalem Embassy relocation


This article originally appeared on “>position paper on Israel, released six days before the election, Trump’s advisors suggested that even before negotiations take place between the two sides, “the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”

But in an “>interview with Jewish Insider, former ADL national director Abe Foxman suggested that the Trump administration should “move the process gradually rather than as a dramatic act.”

Liberal wailing over the Western Wall


Liberal Jews (mostly American or American-born) have been escalating their protests against Israel’s unequal treatment of non-Orthodox worship at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They want the architecture of the Kotel (the site’s Hebrew name) to greatly expand a marginal section where heterodox, egalitarian worship has been permitted. Israel’s more traditional sector has fiercely defended the holiness of the site from those who want both styles of worship equally validated.

But other than monthly worship services doubling as political demonstrations, liberal Jews don’t pray much at the Kotel. The designated Robinson’s Arch area has only attracted a trickle of non-Orthodox Jews, and the typical Kotel tourist has encountered the site with all its historic traditions – as is appropriate. But the protesters are now essentially demanding the Kotel they rarely attend resemble their own synagogues they rarely attend.

And that’s not fair.

The conflict is a flashpoint between Americans affiliated with the liberal Reform and Conservative movements and Israelis who – while mostly secular – tend to cede religious matters to the Orthodox. The non-Orthodox religious presence in Israel – as elsewhere outside North America – is slight. When non-observant Jews in the other continents pray or celebrate a lifecycle event, they generally choose Orthodox rites. (That’s my own approach.) In 2016, the heterodox movements are an overwhelmingly American phenomenon.

Thousands of Orthodox worshippers flood the site for prayer services three times a day, every day. At certain holidays, the crush of Orthodox Jews can top 10,000. Yet the sporadic Reform and Conservative participants, many of them tourists, want one-third of the refurbished Wall area to follow their rules. Perhaps if they started attending at a third or even a tenth the Orthodox rate, there would be something to talk about.

A thought experiment:

Many small Jewish communities in North America have but one congregation. Let’s say ten Orthodox families move to Butte, Montana and began attending Congregation B’nai Israel (Reform), or arrive in Waterlook Iowa and join Sons of Jacob (Conservative). What else could they do, with no other choice of house of worship?

Soon, they demand changes. Fire the woman rabbi and hire a man, they said. Construct a mechitza (divider) to separate worshippers by gender. All future minyanim (prayer quorums) should count only men.

The minority of observant Jews in those congregations would be showing real chutzpah to expect the larger congregation to adapt. Unless the Orthodox membership began to dominate numerically, change would be inappropriate.

The sole fact Reform and Conservative Jews exist, praying rarely (if at all) at both the Kotel and their own synagogues, does not give them a claim on a site that has never operated with their customs. If they want a say in its governance, let them show up – and not once a month or on tourist missions.

But the Kotel is our heritage, too, non-Orthodox Jews retort. Well, guess what? Orthodox Jewish prayer (also known as Jewish prayer) is another part of your heritage. And Reform and Conservative Judaism don’t forbid participation in services that strictly follow Jewish law.

At heart, the Kotel controversy is about Jewish identity. Liberal Jews want Israel – and Orthodox Jews everywhere – to declare them equally Jewish. Regarding personal status, that’s true – the majority of Reform and Conservative Jews (the ones with Jewish mothers) are 100 percent Jewish. But regarding practices that diverge from normative Jewish law, not every custom a set of Jews observes is a Jewish custom. The Jewish people have a set of obligations known as halacha (Jewish law) not subject to tinkering by those who don’t respect it.

Many of the same American Jews who trumpet Israel’s democracy when discussing the Middle East conflict quickly turn anti-democratic when discussing Kotel governance. Sometimes, they even threaten to stop supporting Israel altogether if the country doesn’t kowtow to their tantrum over a site they rarely visit.

Worshippers at the Kotel deserve the loudest voice in determining the site’s future, with Israeli citizens also contributing to the discussion. American Jews don’t even belong at the table, although the moment they commit to living in Israel they deserve equal input.

The timing of this latest push couldn’t be worse for Israel, which is fighting a resolution by a United Nations agency whitewashing the Jewish historical claim to the Western Wall. Israel would be foolish if, while highlighting millennia of prayers at the Kotel that follow Jewish tradition, it introduces prayers at the Kotel that don’t follow Jewish tradition.

As Israel defends the Kotel’s very Jewishness, liberal Jews who demand space at the Wall to, well, not pray seem petty and selfish. Their demands should be rejected.


David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Inside the minds of young Americans in Israel who chose Trump, Clinton or neither


Trump, Clinton or neither? The stakes and passions ran high for 200 young American Israelis who gathered Tuesday in Jerusalem at an election viewing party organized by Masa Israel. As a significant segment of the hundreds of thousands of American voters living in Israel—many of them dual citizens—the young voters had much to say about this year’s relatively polarizing candidates and what it was like to be in Israel during this groundbreaking election.

At the election viewing party in Tel Aviv, Masa — an initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government which hosts what it calls “immersive, international experiences” for Jews ages 18-30 — polled the Masa fellows and alumni on their preferences between the two major candidates. A large majority, 70 percent, favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with many citing her experience and inclusive leadership as her biggest strengths.

Julie Duitch, who is originally from New Jersey, is interning for Signals Analytics as part of the Israel Experience Career Israel program. She maintained that Clinton was a much more qualified presidential candidate.

“The values that Trump has do not align with where America needs to be going, and Hillary has been providing so much for the United States in all of her past positions. She is much more ready to represent our country throughout the world,” said Duitch.

Josh Linden, who teaches English in Petach Tikvah as part of Masa’s Israel Teaching Fellows program, said he liked what Clinton stands for — namely, the way in which she brings people and countries together through her leadership style. “Clinton is all about moving forward and extending our hand to the rest of the world,” he said.

Among those who favored Clinton, many cited negative perceptions of president-elect Donald Trump as the main reason for their preference for his opponent. Na’ama Goldfill, who is originally from Los Angeles and is now interning for Career Israel at a preschool for children with autism, viewed Trump as a scary candidate with respect to his prioritization of white male voters over the electorate’s other races and genders.

“Despite the fact that I don’t agree with all of Hillary Clinton’s policies, I think she’s a more qualified candidate overall,” Goldfill said. Linden, similarly, said Trump’s “us versus them” rhetoric makes him uncomfortable. Trump’s policy on marriage equality is especially concerning for Linden, who is gay.

Some American-Israeli voters preferred Trump as a means to shake up the establishment and to influence the U.S. Supreme Court. Gabby Shuster, who is originally from Milwaukee and now works as a project manager for an Israeli overseas events company, said she voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court’s transitional period during the next presidential administration, including the need to fill the former seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“There will be maybe four Supreme Court appointments, which means instead of a 50/50 court left and right it will be a very clear majority left-wing,” said Shuster. “For me that’s a very significant power shift that is generational.” She reasoned that while a Trump presidential term would last four years, the Supreme Court seats are lifetime appointments that affect “everything in America.”

A select few of the American Israelis in attendance chose not to vote as a conscious decision and due to their lack of faith in the democratic process. Amy Albertson, who is originally from Sacramento, California, and now works as a creative content manager for Masa in Jerusalem, said she registered to vote long before the deadline. Yet she ultimately decided not to vote because she felt this election did not offer candidates who embodied the American democracy in which she strongly believes.

“I want to know that whatever bad result comes out, I don’t have blood on my hands and I didn’t contribute to this mess,” Albertson said.

Spencer Tracy, a freelance journalist from Michigan who now lives in Tel Aviv, said that while everyone around him said he had a moral obligation to vote, he chose not to cast a ballot because of his perceptions on the deterioration of American Democracy.

“It doesn’t matter who wins or loses because money is in charge no matter what…the government is run by money. The two-party system is really a one party system. Whatever minor policies they are working on are superficial,” said Tracy.

Many at the Masa event noted the significant interest that Israelis exhibited in the U.S. election, and some hypothesized which candidate might be “better for Israel.” Julie Duitch argued that Clinton would represent the interests of minorities—including Israel as a minority in the Middle East. Josh Linden was surprised by how many Trump supporters there were in Israel, but said he ultimately understood that phenomenon.

“They want something that is more American and less this vague sense of cultural identity — which is what I think is great about America — but they want something more concrete,” he said. “People here in Israel seem to think that Trump’s foreign policy is more in line with what Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname) wants and more pro-Israel than I think it actually is.”

Overall, many of the American Israelis expressed their relief that the election was coming to a close, while exhibiting a hint of skepticism about the future. Spencer Tracy said he has had enough of the election because it pervaded nearly everything aspect of life. He called Clinton “the better person” who would keep the world turning, but was curious what would happen with a Trump victory.

“I know it’s not going to happen,” he quipped — though he was wrong. “But if Trump wins, then I’d like to see what happens.”

Ian Kaneshiro, who is originally from Los Angeles and works in Tel Aviv as a digital advertiser, hoped that above all else, “Americans can pull together as one and unite under whichever president is elected….We need to work together regardless of who we voted for in this election.”


Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.

Terrorist attacks doubled in Jerusalem in September, Israel says


Terrorist attacks in Jerusalem doubled last month compared to August, according to Israel’s security agency, the Shin Bet.

There were 26 attacks in the capital in September, compared to 13 in August, the Shin Bet wrote in its monthly report for September published this week. The number of attacks perpetrated against Israelis in the West Bank remained unchanged at 78.

With the increase in Jerusalem, the total number of attacks against Israelis in September rose to 109, constituting a 17 percent increase over the 93 attacks recorded in August. The August figure was the lowest monthly tally recorded since March 2015 and the first dip since then below the 100-incident mark.

Ten Israelis were wounded in the September attacks, compared to seven in August. September saw no Israeli fatalities from attacks.

More than half of the attacks in September involved the hurling of firebombs.

Despite the increase in attacks in Jerusalem, the September tally was 47 percent lower than the average number of attacks carried out there per month since September 2015.

According to the Palestinian Maan news agency, a total of 274 individuals died during the wave of unrest starting from Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30 of this year, including 235 Palestinians, many of whom were killed while perpetrating attacks. During that period, attacks caused the death of 34 Israelis and five foreign nationals — two Americans, one Eritrean, one Sudanese, and one Jordanian.

On Thursday, Israeli troops in the West Bank shot dead a Palestinian teenager who hurled rocks at a patrol, the Israel Defense Forces said. The incident occurred in the Beit Ummar area near the city of Hebron, a flashpoint for terrorist attacks. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the slain Palestinian as 15-year-old Khaled Bahar.

Earlier that day, a Palestinian man died from injuries he sustained in 2007 in clashes with Israeli troops, Maan reported. The Makassed hospital announced the death of Mahmoud Jawda, who had been treated at the Jerusalem medical center ever since he was shot multiple times by Israeli troops in Ramallah.

UNESCO and the culture of denial


The resolution by the executive board of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) last week to remove any reference to a Jewish link to the Temple Mount while condemning Israeli behavior in the Old City of Jerusalem is disturbing on various levels.  

First, it fortifies the impression that a body supposedly devoted to the noble goals of cultural preservation and educational advancement is simply a tool of political propaganda. Moreover, it reveals that those responsible have a profoundly deficient sense of history. The fact that the resolution mustered only a minority of those countries eligible to vote (the vote was 24-6, with 26 abstaining) offers little succor.  Somewhat more consoling was the reaction of UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, who hastened to affirm the historical connections of Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam, to the holy site by noting: “The Al Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit — or Temple Mount — whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives revered by Christians.”

The UNESCO decision was symbolic and likely will have few real policy ramifications. But it taps into a destructive culture of historical denial that widens the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians. Denial of the other’s history is not unique to this conflict; it has been a regrettably common practice in troubled spots such as Northern Ireland, India-Pakistan and the Balkans, among other sites. It can have a toxic effect, deepening enmity, disdain and resistance to the very humanity of the other side.  

Sadly, the Palestinians are quite accomplished in the game of historical denial. No less a figure than Yasser Arafat startled his audience at the Camp David summit in 2000, including then-President Bill Clinton, by alleging that the First Temple was built by Solomon in Nablus, not Jerusalem. But classical Islamic sources, as David Barnett has shown in a 2011 study, do make reference to a bayt al-maqdis, the Arabic cognate for the “beit ha-mikdash” or Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.  

Meanwhile, in 2010, an official in the Information Ministry of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Mutawakil Taha, issued a report stating that the Western Wall was Muslim property and had no religious significance for Jews. More recently, there has been an uptick in denialism in Palestinian religious and political circles.  The current Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs, Yusuf Ida’is, has frequently declared that the Temple Mount belongs exclusively to Muslims — and that assertions of a Jewish connection are falsifications. In similar fashion, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, a frequent denier, delivered an address in May 2016 that sought to dismiss “the Jews’ claims in the land of Palestine,” particularly in Jerusalem and around the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, this kind of historical rubbish is proclaimed on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and not on the fringes of Palestinian society, but at the center.

And yet, part of what makes the practice of historical denial so pernicious is that it invites and often requires historical denial from the other side. In their struggle to assert control over the land, Israeli Jews and supporters of Israel have also engaged in forms of erasure, including the denial of a link by Palestinians to Palestine.  

The holy bible of this argument is Joan Peters’ 1984 book, “From Time Immemorial,” in which the American author argued that Arabs were not indigenous to the land but were relatively late arrivals to Palestine. She refers, for example, to the “sparse Arab population” of Palestine around the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, an assertion that flies in the face of almost all other data, including those of two of the leading Jewish demographers of the 20th century, Arthur Ruppin and Roberto Bachi. 

Peters’ book was initially greeted with a good deal of praise in the United States, winning a National Jewish Book Award in 1985. Upon closer inspection, the book’s flaws were exposed, owing, in no small part, to a review in The New York Review of Books by the renowned Israeli scholar of Palestine Yehoshua Porath, who pointed out that “a large majority of Muslim Arabs inhabited the land” well before the British Mandate. Even the reliably conservative scholar Daniel Pipes characterized the book as “appallingly crafted.”

Rather than die a quick death, the Peters thesis has been championed ever since by various pro-Israel activists, perhaps no more prominently than by former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, who parlays the denial of the Palestinians’ historical roots into a new demographic claim that there are at least a million fewer of them in the West Bank than any other accepted source estimates.  This virtual depopulation has been greeted enthusiastically by Israeli Ministers Naftali Bennett and Tzipi Hotovely, who use Ettinger’s numbers to lay permanent claim to the occupied territories.  

In his review of Peters, Porath analyzes “the two contrasting mythologies that the Arabs and the Jews have developed to explain their situations.” History is often summoned to celebrate the virtue of one side’s rights entirely at the expense of another’s. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are all-too-willing participants in the game of historical denial. But the Israelis and their friends can play it, too. And now UNESCO reveals its appetite for this perverse blood sport. Rather than perpetuate imbalanced and inaccurate myths, it could have insisted on the presentation of both Israeli and Palestinian narratives regarding Jerusalem. While hardly a guarantee of success, such a dual narrative approach compels each side to acknowledge and confront the other’s past, which is a necessary, if long, step toward recognizing your enemy’s humanity. 


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

Teenage daughter of Jerusalem light rail attacker released from detention


The teenage daughter of the eastern Jerusalem gunman who killed two Israelis in a shooting spree in an attack on a light rail stop was released by Israeli security forces.

Eiman Abu Sbeih, 14, was released on Sunday, a week after the attack, by Israeli security forces, on condition that she stay away from Jerusalem for two months, not give interviews and not post on social media, Ynetreported. Her family also was fined about $650. Her 18-year-old brother was arrested over the weekend and her twin brother also remains in custody, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

The teen was arrested on Monday, hours after a video of the teen  praising her father, Misbah Abu Sbeih, 39, of the Silwan neighborhood, went viral on Facebook.

“We deem my father as martyr,” Eiman said in the video, according to Maan. “We hope he will plead for us before God on judgment day. … I am proud of what my father did.

“We’re very happy and proud of our father,” she also said. “My father is a great man. Our relationship, as father and daughter, was excellent.”

Abu Sbeih shot and killed at least one person at the Ammunition Hill light rail station in northern Jerusalem, then continued shooting as police pursued him on Oct. 9. Officers ultimately shot and killed the assailant, who had been expected to report to an Israeli prison at the time of the attack to serve a four-month sentence for assaulting a police officer in 2013.

The Hamas terror organization in Gaza claimed Abu Sbeih as one of its operatives and praised his “operation.”

Israel suspending ties with UNESCO following vote that denies Jewish connection to Jerusalem


Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would suspend its cooperation with UNESCO because of the U.N. agency’s decision to ignore Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Bennett’s statement on Friday followed passionate condemnations by Israel as well as international Jewish groups and communities of a vote the previous day in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Through a majority of 24 to 6 votes, the board passed a preliminary version of a resolution that calls several sites holy to Judaism only by their Islamic names without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English. The sites include the Temple Mount, referred to as Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif.

Israeli officials will neither meet UNESCO representatives nor engage in cooperation in international conferences or professional cooperation with the organization, Bennett said in a statement that followed the outpouring of condemnations – including by a U.S. official who called the vote “one-sided and unhelpful.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the move by UNESCO a “one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city” and “further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias” at the United Nations.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy adviser, Laura Rosenberer, condemned the resolution.

“It’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount,” she said.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, on Friday issued a statement that was deemed critical of the vote. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”

Bennett in his statement said of the UNESCO countries, “Your decision denies history and encourages terror. Those who give prizes to the supporters of Jihad in Jerusalem the same week that two Jews are murdered in the city could God forbid encourage more victims.”

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia voted against the resolution and 26 countries abstained. Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO called the voting an improvement to previous votes by the U.N. agency, saying Western countries had supported previous measures with similar language on Jerusalem. Russia and China were among those that backed the resolution.

“This vote was certainly unpleasant, but I’m very pleased with the result,” Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen told Army Radio Friday morning. “Our goal was to bring back France and our friends in Europe to not support the Palestinian resolution.”

He noted that Sweden, whose government is a harsh critic of Israel and the only EU Cabinet member that recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a state, also sat out the vote, as did India, which historically has supported anti-Israel resolutions in U.N. forums.

France and Sweden both abstained from Thursday’s vote after supporting a UNESCO resolution in April that also ignored the site’s Jewish ties. The April vote saw 33 votes in favor, 6 against and 17 abstentions.

Classified as pertaining to “Occupied Palestine,” the UNESCO resolution passed Thursday was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. While it affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it contains two references to Judaism: One in describing holy sites in Hebron and the other in decrying “the enforced creation of a new Jewish prayer platform south of the Mughrabi Ascent in Al-Buraq Plaza.”

The so-called al-Buraq Plaza is better known as the Western Wall Plaza – possibly Judaism’s holiest site. The use of the Arabic-language name is a recent development lifted from Hamas literature, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Trump, Clinton condemn Jerusalem terrorist attack


Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump condemned a terrorist shooting attack in Jerusalem that killed two people.

“The Palestinian terror attack today reminds the world of the grievous perils facing Israeli citizens,” Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said in a social media posting Sunday. “We must work to defeat terror once and for all. I wish everyone in Israel and the Jewish community around the world a meaningful Yom Kippur and peace.”

Clinton’s statement hours earlier on Twitter was signed with an “H,” a sign that the Democratic presidential nominee composed it personally: “I strongly condemn today’s attack in Jerusalem and my prayers go to the victims’ families. The terrorists must be brought to justice.”

 

Earlier, the Obama administration’s State Department condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms.”

The Palestinian assailant, a resident of eastern Jerusalem, killed two people and wounded six at a light rail station. He was shot and killed by police.

Netanyahu sues to keep his dirty laundry private


 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has filed an appeal to keep the details of the amount of money his official residence spent on laundry from being made public.

The laundry request is part of a larger request by the Movement for Freedom of Information for details of all state-paid expenses for the family’s  private home in Caesarea and official residence in Jerusalem for 2014.

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in a Jerusalem court, names Anat Revivo, who oversees compliance with the Freedom of Information law at the Prime Minister’s Office, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who supported Revivo’s decision to release the laundry expenses as part of the 2014 expenditures.

It calls the information about the Netanyahus’ laundry “private.”

In recent years, the Israeli media have focused on the Netanyahus’ expenditures while in office, including food and entertaining, which some have charged is excessive.

Israel’s ‘Shabbat war’ heats up, with Jerusalem feeling the squeeze


On the first Friday evening that Jerusalem restaurant Azza 40 opened without a kosher license, allowing it to serve customers on the Jewish sabbath, crowds of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested outside, threatening to smash windows and burn the place down.

“It was crazy,” said Reut Cohen, 29, the restaurant's owner and head chef, recalling the events of September 2014. “The police came, the street was blocked, there were religious people yelling, swearing, even spitting at us.”

It was just one of many protests, most of them peaceful, that ultra-Orthodox groups have mounted against cafes, restaurants and cinemas that open on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day. Several have been led by Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor, Yitzhak Pindrus.

Azza 40 is still going strong, with Friday nights and Saturdays the busiest days of the week, despite occasional disruptions. But the pressure on businesses not to open between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday has increased, fuelling tension between the growing Orthodox community and those who feel religious strictures are impinging on their freedom.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of the potential fallout of what's been dubbed by local media the “Shabbat war” came this month in Tel Aviv, a city normally known for its secularism.

Work on a new railway station and track maintenance had to be suspended on a Saturday after complaints from religious parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

It was a desecration of the holy day, said the chief rabbinate, which had largely ignored such work in the past but had been facing pressure in ultra-Orthodox newspapers and on social media to demand it stop.

“Shabbat is not open to negotiation and haggling, and there's no place to compromise its sanctity,” said the chief rabbis in a statement explaining their position.

As a result, work was moved that weekend to Sunday, the start of Israel's week, causing traffic meltdown as the main Tel Aviv highway was partially shut down. Special buses – ironically organised on a Saturday – were laid on. 

The dispute caused turmoil in Netanyahu's cabinet, with the transport minister, who supported Saturday work, on the firing line. He kept his job, and construction was quietly resumed a week later, including on Saturdays, a sign neither Netanyahu nor his ultra-Orthodox partners wanted the coalition derailed.

But while Tel Aviv was briefly shaken by the debacle, the sharp end of Shabbat tension remains Jerusalem, where the ultra-Orthodox make up a third of the population, an increase of five percentage points over the last decade, and religion is never far from any issue.

 

“IT'S A DESERT”

This week, Jerusalem's municipality charged eight grocery store owners with violating bylaws that prevent businesses in the city center from opening on Shabbat. The increasing sway of the ultra-Orthodox in the city, in numbers and politically, means the municipality is under constant pressure to clamp down.

The results are uneven: One cinema chain closes on Shabbat, another stays open, despite protests. In some cases, businesses have found convoluted solutions to allow restaurants in the centre to operate on the holy day, when tourists are often at a loss to find anywhere to eat. 

Last year, Cafe Landwer, a chain of around 60 coffee shops, opened a site in Independence Park, an attractive green space close to the Old City, across from the U.S. Consulate.

It wanted to operate on Friday evenings and Saturdays to cater to tourists and secular customers. But an ultra-Orthodox group opposed the move and threatened to withdraw the kosher certification granted to Landwer Coffee, a separate company owned by the same family, if it didn't change policy.

Cafe Landwer franchised the restaurant and its name has changed to Alma Cafe, although the menus still say Cafe Landwer. There are occasional protests by the ultra-Orthodox, but it stays open on Shabbat, its busiest day of the week.

“It's one of the few places in the centre of Jerusalem that is open on Saturdays, so everyone comes here,” said manager Karina Topaz, 23. “When we first opened, a few people came and yelled at us, but now it's okay.”

In nearby German Colony, a wealthy neighbourhood of old stone houses, there is no such permissiveness. Whereas ten years ago there were two or three cafes on its tree-lined main street that operated on Shabbat, now there are none.

“At the weekend, it's like a desert. It's dead,” said Orly Turgeman, 35, who manages a small hotel in the neighbourhood.

“You have the feeling there's nothing left in Jerusalem. There's not the environment of an open, pluralistic city.”

The ultra-Orthodox population, with its dress code of black hats and coats, has a birthrate more than twice the national average, making it Israel's fastest growing group.

German Colony has become more religious over the years, with its many elderly, Orthodox residents keen to maintain the traditional calm of Shabbat. The same is true of Kiryat Shmuel, the neighbourhood where Azza 40 is located.

“I am very much not in favour of restaurants opening on Shabbat,” said Rabbi Meir Schlesinger, whose home and synagogue are around the corner from Azza 40. “It disturbs the Shabbat atmosphere of the place, besides being against Jewish law.”

Reut Cohen, the owner, is unfazed. She now offers pork and shellfish on the menu – both distinctly non-kosher – and is determined to stand up for secular principles.

“It's critical for our business, the neighbourhood, the city and the country,” she said. “If the religious don't want to come, that's fine, but they have to live and let live.”