The left (still) is not our friend


Many progressive Jews are shocked that Black Lives Matter (BLM), a movement they support, has turned out to be virulently anti-Israel — to the extent that in its new platform, it charges Israel with “genocide” against Palestinians. Their response calls to mind an event of nearly 50 years ago. 

In 1970, the most famous American classical musician of the 20th century — Leonard Bernstein, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic and a major composer (“West Side Story,” operas, etc.) — along with other men of the left, both black and Jewish, threw what probably became the most notorious private fundraiser in American history at his Manhattan penthouse.

The honored guests were the Black Panthers, an America-hating, police-hating radical Black group, a sort-of predecessor to BLM. In the words of liberal writer Adam Gopnik in the latest issue of The New Yorker, the Panthers were “mindlessly cruel, misogynistic gangsters, capable of acts of torture and murder … ”

Here is how Panther leader “Field Marshall” Don Cox began the evening: 

“We call [the police] pigs. … We recognize that this country is the most oppressive country in the world, maybe in the history of the world. The pigs have the weapons and they are ready to use them on the people. … They are ready to commit genocide against those who stand up against them.”

Bernstein did not express a word of protest, let alone end the fundraiser, after hearing police labeled “pigs” and America labeled “the most oppressive country in the world.” In fact, Bernstein (who, to make the parallels even sharper, was very pro-Israel) pledged his entire fee for conducting the opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” to the Panthers. Four other prominent Jews — film director Otto Preminger, lyricist Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof”), lyricist and composer Burton Lane (“Finian’s Rainbow”) and renowned art dealer Richard Feigen — then made their pledges.

Prior to the Bernstein event, another Jew in the arts, film director and producer Sidney Lumet, also threw a party for the Black Panthers at his home. 

As New York Magazine reported:

“Ray ‘Masai’ Hewitt, the Panthers’ Minister of Education and member of the Central Committee … laid it on the line. … If buildings were burned and other violence ensued, that was only part of the struggle that the power structure had forced the oppressed minorities into.”

No country in history has treated its Jewish citizens as well as the United States has, yet left-wing Jews have supported almost every left-wing group that depicts America as an oppressor (and as war-mongering, imperialist, systemically racist, etc.).

But this love for the left has never been reciprocated. The left (not traditional liberals, it must be noted) has been Jew-hating (and later, Israel-hating) throughout its history.

Jews adored Karl Marx for well over a century, but that grandson of two Orthodox rabbis wrote one of the most influential anti-Semitic books of the 19th century (“On the Jewish Question”).

Shortly before he died last year, Robert Wistrich, the head of Hebrew University’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, wrote a devastating book on left-wing anti-Semitism (“From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel”).

And one of America’s most prominent liberals, professor Alan Dershowitz, has just written an article titled “Are Jews Who Refuse to Renounce Israel Being Excluded From ‘Progressive’ Groups?”

Professor Dershowitz’s answer is, of course, yes. The “progressive groups” cited in the Dershowitz article have contempt for America — and America-hatred and Israel-hatred always go together.

“Last year,” Dershowitz wrote, “Rabbi Susan Talve, a longtime activist on race issues in the St. Louis area, was told that her advocacy for Israel was incompatible with the objectives of Black Lives Matter: ‘Solidarity from Ferguson to Palestine has become a central tenet of the movement’ she was informed, because ‘Israeli and U.S. state oppression are deeply interconnected.’ 

“Similarly,” Dershowitz noted, “a student who attended a Black Lives Matter rally at Northwestern University last year was told, ‘you support Israel, so you cannot also support us.’ ”

Dershowitz then lists other major left-wing groups that are anti-Israel: 

“MoveOn, CodePink, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter [have] become openly opposed to the nation state of the Jewish people.”

And all these groups are supported by left-wing Jews.

Apparently, these Jews do not know a basic truth of history: An individual or group’s attitude toward Jews — and, today, the Jewish state — is one of the most accurate indicators of its morality.

When a group libels Israel with the charge of genocide, that group is by definition immoral. It is in the same moral category as those medieval Christians who came up with the infamous Blood Libel — the charge that Jews slaughter Christian children to use their blood to bake matzo. The only difference is that there were no Jews then who supported those Christians.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Hebrew word of the week: Yehudi


How did we get from Yehudi to Jew? Originally, the word referred to a member of the tribe of Judah; later, someone from the kingdom of Judah, but in the late books of the Bible, the word takes on the meaning of Jew as we use it today (in Esther 2:5: Mordecai is called ish
yehudi,
“a Jew”; 8:17: yehudim, “Jews,” and mityahadim, “Gentiles professing to be Jews, becoming Jews, probably undergoing a circumcision”).

In European languages, there is the Greek-Latin Ioudaios (h omitted); English first kept the d, Iudea, and later influenced by (ancient) French so that Juiu became Jew (m.); Juiue (f.) became the modern French Juive (f.), derived from Juif (m.); but the d is retained in German, Jude, in Yiddish, Yid, and in Spanish, Judio.

Older English also used Jewess (f.); modern Hebrew: yehudiyyah, “Jewish woman” (noun); yehudit, “Jewish” (f. adj. and proper name, Judith); and idit (תידיא),“Yiddish.” 

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

‘Last Witness’ of Treblinka keeps camp’s memory alive in film, art


Samuel Willenberg, the last known living survivor of the notorious Nazi extermination camp Treblinka is nearing the end of a life's mission to tell of the horrors that he saw there.

Now 92, his remarkable story, featured in a documentary film produced by Miami public TV channel WLRN, is spurring efforts to fulfill that mission by building an educational museum at the camp's site in a remote pine forest in eastern Poland.

“Treblinka's Last Witness,” airing on Tuesday, tells the story of how Willenberg, a Polish Jew, became a forced laborer at Treblinka where his two sisters were among the 900,000 Jews sent to their deaths. He later escaped during a camp revolt, one of barely 100 Jews to survive the place.

A history professor he met in the camp told him: “You're not like other Jews, you have blonde hair, you know how to survive,” Willenberg recalled in an interview during a visit to Miami for a premiere of the film last week before a packed audience, many of them relatives of Holocaust victims.

“You have to run away from this,” the professor told him. “It will be your mission to tell people about what happened here.”

Willenberg, who after World War Two moved to Israel, married and worked for 40 years as a civil servant, has dedicated his retirement to memorializing what happened by creating a series of 15 haunting bronze sculptures, each capturing a scene from the camp, as well as leading educational visits there.

On Tuesday Willenberg will also be a guest of honor alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the opening of the main exhibition at Warsaw's newly built Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a project that sets out to recall not just how Jews in Poland died, but how they lived.

Of Poland's pre-war population of 3.5 million Jews, only a few tens of thousands remain, their place in the nation's history and culture having been largely eradicated.

Only recently has Poland started to re-connect with its role in history as a home for 1,000 years to one of the world's biggest Jewish communities.

LARGELY UNTOUCHED

Polish Jews have also played a major role in American history, with an estimated 80 percent of U.S. Jews able to trace their roots back to ancestors in Poland.

Unlike other Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald, where efforts have been made to educate visitors, the Treblinka site has been left largely untouched after the Nazis demolished it near the end of the war in a desperate effort to cover up their deeds.

All that exists there today are some railroad ties leading up to the remains of a station platform set among large stones.

“It's a very moving place, but there's nothing to tell the story,” said the film's British-born director, Alan Tomlinson.

“I have heard a lot of stories in my career, but no-one has ever told me a story like Samuel's,” Tomlinson, 66, told the audience at the premiere. “And Samuel is such a great story-teller,” he added, crediting Willenberg's lucid passion and vivid memory with providing the film's powerful impact.

Experts say that much more could be done at the current site to help visitors understand the monstrosity of Treblinka. Historians have called it the Nazis' most efficient death camp which, operating like a factory assembly-line, they killed almost 1 million people in barely 13 months in 1942-1943.

“It's an intuitive, emotional understanding that concentrates beautifully the sense of loss, but it's wordless and doesn't articulate what was lost there,” said Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum.

“You experience the presence of absence and the absence of presence,” he added. “Treblinka is a place where a crime is not manifest.”

Berenbaum said an anonymous donor has already committed $1 million to the museum project. During his Miami visit Willenberg met with a number of wealthy Polish immigrants who pledged to see the museum built.

“Thanks to Samuel's extraordinary persistence, the project now has real life,” said Tomlinson.

After the film airs on Oct. 28 on WLRN in south Florida, it will be distributed nationally through the PBS network.

Writing by David Adams; Editing by Eric Walsh

A rare and peaceful ‘Eid Kippur’ in Israel


This year, for the first time since 1981, the Jews’ biggest fast overlapped with one of Islam’s biggest feasts.

The two holy days, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Eid ul-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice, or Eid for short), have polar-opposite energy levels: Eid is about abundance and is celebrated by Muslim Palestinians with a flurry of barbecues, mini Ferris-wheel rides, family reunions and shopping trips.

Jewish Israelis observing Yom Kippur, in contrast, sink into such a deep state of prayer and repentance that even the secular among them don’t dare start an engine or crank a stereo. For one day each year, the Israeli airport shuts down and the nation’s streets empty out; even police vehicles turn off their sirens. 

So, while the world marveled over “Eid Kippur,” as it came to be called, the holiday overlap set off warning bells for leaders of mixed Arab-Jewish towns in Israel.

“All of us were expecting clashes — a very black situation,” said Raies Abu Seif, a 43-year-old criminal attorney and community leader in the central Arab-Jewish city of Ramle.

Conflict wounds were fresh. A devastating 50-day war between Israel and Gaza had ended only one month before, ripping hundreds of families apart. And soon after, just days before the holidays, Israeli and Palestinian heads of state voiced new extremes at the United Nations General Assembly: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the war a “genocide,” while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Gaza’s government to ISIS.

Perhaps to compensate — and to avoid violent riots like the ones that hit the northern town of Acre on Yom Kippur 2008 — Jewish and Muslim leaders across Israel launched a vigorous campaign urging tolerance on Eid Kippur.

Palestinian children in Jerusalem’s Old City wait in line for their turn on a mini Ferris wheel set up for the Eid holiday.

On Oct. 2, Israel’s newly anointed President Reuven Rivlin met with Muslim leaders on neutral territory — the majority Christian town of Kafr Yassif. 

“As with any meeting of worlds, the coincidence of these holidays this year has all the ingredients to be a source of friction, just as it offers every reason to be used as an opportunity to repair and make a fresh start,” Rivlin said.

And a few miles away in Acre, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the local sheikh was telling a room full of junior-high school students: “We have a life and a future, but sometimes there is a small minority that waits for the moment to wreck it all. Don’t let them. Don’t let anyone from the Jewish side or the Arab side dirty the beautiful picture of Acre.”

These pleas from the top were apparently heeded on Eid Kippur, when, according to Muslim and Jewish residents who spoke to the Journal, a tragic and tense summer gave way to a remarkably peaceful fall holiday.

Ramle attorney Abu Seif guessed that perhaps the hype was so intense that everyone overcorrected. 

“After a situation of big anxiety — many talks, many meetings, publications on Facebook and all the media asking, ‘How will we overcome this day?’ — it was actually very quiet. I was very surprised,” he said.

In fact, said Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi, “It was better than most days.”

According to Mayor Lavi, the city received zero complaints on Oct. 4 from city residents. From his own home, too, the mayor said he heard “nothing — not a thing. The city was absolutely quiet during Yom Kippur.”

In Ramle, an interfaith council made up of more than 40 community leaders met for several Eid Kippur-themed meetings in the weeks before the big day. 

During these talks, the council’s Muslim members ended up making some key concessions: For the first time ever, three of Ramle’s main streets would be blocked off from traffic, and mosques would be required to turn down their loudspeakers.

Abu Seif also said he knew of many Muslim citizens who made the personal choice to walk, instead of drive, to the mosque for morning prayers. Others, he said, postponed the sacrifice of the lamb — normally performed on the first day of Eid — to the second day.

Some younger Muslim residents were somewhat frustrated about the dampened festivities, Abu Seif said. “Today the younger people have more awareness about their identity, and about their Eid” than on the last holiday overlap circa 1981, he told the Journal. “They know more about their rights.”

But in the end, he said, “They know this happens only once in about 33 years. And they know the importance of Yom Kippur, because their families are living here many, many years.”

According to Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, in all the mixed Arab-Jewish towns across Israel where police deployed extra forces, the only incident on Oct. 4 was a local brawl in Haifa. (“But not necessarily because of the holiday,” he added.)

In Jaffa — the old Arab port town annexed into Tel Aviv in 1948 — a car full of young men sped down a main street on in the afternoon of Oct. 4, music blaring from its open windows. The Orthodox Jews whose prayers drifted from a nearby synagogue, though, didn’t seem to mind. Just a few buildings down, a stream of secular young Israeli Jews ran through the alcohol stock of a corner shop owned by an Israeli-Arab who had doubled his prices for Eid Kippur.

“Eid Kippur: One set of Jaffa neighbors blasting Israeli pop, another has Cheb Khaled on repeat,” journalist Gregg Carlstrom tweeted. “Coexistence through bad music.”

One hour east, within the stone confines of Jerusalem’s historic Old City — where deeply religious residents are packed tightly into four quarters, divided by faith — the day went just as smoothly, Jewish and Muslims residents later told the Journal.

“We stayed on our side, and they stayed on theirs,” said Muslim teenager Basel Jaber. An Ethiopian-Israeli security guard standing near the Western Wall, who did not wish to give his name, confirmed as much.

A couple of days later, on Oct. 6, across the Old City near the exit to the world-famous Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, an elderly man from Gaza with tears in his eyes said he and his wife had just prayed at the golden monument for the first time since they were teenagers. 

“It’s so beautiful,” he said. “I wish my sons and daughters could be here.”

The 75-year-old, who didn’t want to give his name for fear that Israel might deny him a permit to visit the mosque next year, was one of around 1,500 Gaza citizens over the age of 60 allowed into Jerusalem and the West Bank over the three days of Eid. 

On Oct. 6 in Jerusalem, a Muslim woman shopped for Eid ul-Adha while a group of Jewish women carried home palm fronds for the upcoming Sukkot holiday.

This flow of visitors reportedly marks Israel’s most significant ease of its blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Thousands of West Bank residents also were allowed to visit friends and family in Israel during the Eid holiday. One of them, Hamud Abdalla, a 20-something Palestinian tour guide from Bethlehem, said he was granted a three-day pass into Israel with only four days notice. (He said he’d applied for a pass before but wasn’t approved.)

On his first day in Israel, Abdalla took a one-hour shared taxi ride west to Tel Aviv and saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in his life.

“Oh wow, it was so amazing,” he said of the sea. And of the many Jewish people he met at the beach, he said: “They were very open-minded. Everywhere you go, you see happy people. 

Abdalla guessed this ease of restrictions also helped feed the Yom Kippur calm.

Abu Seif, the attorney from Ramle, agreed. “If you release things and people have more movement, there will be more understanding,” he said. “The people will be more at ease, not feeling anger and hatred. Because the more you put people under pressure, the more you find them frustrated, conflicted.”

Understanding the Holocaust: ‘Why the Germans? Why the Jews?’


The Jew-haters among us, as recent headlines out of France and Belgium have reminded us, reach without interruption all the way back to antiquity. Still, the worst-case scenario of genocide in general and the mass murder of Jews in particular is what happened during the Shoah. And still the reason Nazi Germany tried to exterminate the Jews of Europe (and nearly succeeded in doing so) remains one of the afflicting questions of Jewish history.

A whole literature has accumulated since the end of World War II in the effort to answer the question bluntly posed in the title “Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust,” a 2011 book by German journalist and historian Götz Aly (” target=”_blank”>Basic Books) and historian Alon Confino in “A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination From Persecution to Genocide” (

Six million reasons I don’t like the new Holocaust book


I admit it. I dropped the ball on the story about the new remember-the-Holocaust-by-printing-the-word-Jew-six-million-times book. I saw it sitting in a veteran Jewish journalist’s office a week ago, but forgot to bring it up to my fellow JTA editors.

And then I look at the front page of the Times on Sunday and there it is.

The truth is, when I first looked through it, I couldn’t get past wondering about the copy editor. Did he/she have the easiest or hardest job in the world?

But thinking about it more later, the project rubbed me the wrong way. And my uneasiness only increased after reading the author — maybe creator is the better word — explain the project to the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren.

“When you look at this at a distance, you can’t tell whether it’s upside down or right side up, you can’t tell what’s here; it looks like a pattern,” said Phil Chernofsky, the author, though that term may be something of a stretch. “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims: These are not individuals, these are not people, these are just a mass we have to exterminate.

“Now get closer, put on your reading glasses, and pick a ‘Jew,’ ” Mr. Chernofsky continued. “That Jew could be you. Next to him is your brother. Oh, look, your uncles and aunts and cousins and your whole extended family. A row, a line, those are your classmates. Now you get lost in a kind of meditative state where you look at one word, ‘Jew,’ you look at one Jew, you focus on it and then your mind starts to go because who is he, where did he live, what did he want to do when he grew up?”

I have no major quibble with seeing this book as a testament to how Nazis looked at the Jews. But for the same reason that it might work on that level, it strikes me as a terrible form of memorialization, especially since most of Hitler’s Jewish victims are not nameless.

Rudoren’s story went right to my next thought — Yad Vashem and it database of victims:

While many Jewish leaders in the United States have embraced the book, some Holocaust educators consider it a gimmick. It takes the opposite tack of a multimillion-dollar effort over many years by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum here, that has so far documented the identities of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These fill the monumental “Book of Names,” 6 1/2 feet tall and 46 feet in circumference, which was unveiled last summer at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“We have no doubt that this is the right way to deal with the issue,” said Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem’s director. “We understand that human life, human beings, individuals are at the center of our research and education. This is the reason we are investing so much in trying to retrieve every single human being, his name, and details about his life.”

Clearly this project works for some folks. According to the Times, the ADL’s Abe Foxman lined up a few donors to buy 3,000 copies to send around.

“When he brought me this book I said, ‘Wow, wow, it makes it so real,’” Foxman reportedly said. “It’s haunting.” (OK, I’m a little hurt about not being on Abe’s comp list, but I promise that has nothing to do with this post.)

But still, I just don’t see it. The Nazis may have indeed murdered our people en masse, but that’s no reason for us to play along. We have 4.3 million actual names. I’d rather see them put in a book and have people ruminate on that.

Santa, the Easter bunny and raising a Jewish child


Last spring, I found myself averting my eyes when my 4-year-old mentioned something about the Easter bunny in front of my dad.

We were at my parents’ home in Michigan for Passover and my son said, “When I get back to Brooklyn, the Easter bunny is going to bring me a basket!”

I didn’t want to see the look on my dad’s face or hear him mutter under his breath.

Although my son is being raised as a Jew, he celebrates Christmas and Easter with his non-Jewish father, my ex. I know it bothers my dad to hear his grandson talk about these Christian icons. It bothers me, too.

During our four-year courtship prior to becoming engaged, my then-boyfriend and I came to an agreement about the religious upbringing of our future children. After taking two classes on Jewish culture and an interfaith couple’s workshop at the JCC, we agreed that our children would be raised according to Jewish tradition but could celebrate Christian holidays — in a secular way — with their non-Jewish grandparents. But after my husband and I separated and eventually divorced, some of the prenuptial agreements we made surrounding our interfaith family were no longer heeded.

Before our separation, my husband had begrudgingly agreed not to have a Christmas tree in our home. But since our separation, he has had a tree every winter. That means Santa doesn’t just bring gifts to my son’s grandparents’ homes in Seattle, but to his father’s home in Brooklyn, too.

I understand and respect that it is my ex’s right to observe his family’s traditions. I know he wants to share the holiday experiences he loved as a kid with our son, and that includes having the decorations and believing in the harmless characters associated with the holidays. But I struggle with it nonetheless.

Our son attends a Jewish preschool and has all kinds of children in his class – some with two Jewish parents, some from interfaith homes and others who are not Jewish at all. He already knows that families have their own ways of observing the holidays, and that you can be Jewish and still celebrate non-Jewish holidays with some of your family and friends.

Last December he rambled on and on about what Santa was going to bring him for Christmas. I was tempted to remind him that he is Jewish and explain that Jews don’t believe in Santa. But I went along with it because I didn’t want to burst his Christmas bubble.

Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to accept that our child won’t be raised according to the terms that my ex-husband and I had agreed upon before we married. And somehow I feel threatened that inserting these Christian traditions into my son’s home life will dilute his Jewish identity, even though I know a Christmas elf can’t come and stomp out thousands of years of Jewish tradition.

When April came around and my son informed me, “If I’m a good boy, the Easter bunny will bring me a basket of treats!” I decided not just to corroborate the Easter bunny’s existence but use him as a disciplinary tactic.

When my son began misbehaving, I said, “If you don’t act nicely, the Easter bunny may not bring you a basket!” But the tack didn’t feel right either.

Recently, I have been wondering whether my son could really understand what a character is. When we were watching “Shrek,” I decided to ask him.

“Is Shrek real?”

“No, Mommy!” he answered with an eye roll. “Shrek is a character!”

“Oh! Like Santa Claus?” I asked.

“No, Mommy! Santa Claus is real!”

“How do you know he’s real?” I said.

“Because he brings me presents!”

Do I break it to him that a fat bearded man will not actually squeeze himself through a chimney (especially considering there are very few chimneys in Brooklyn apartments)? Or do I let him figure it out when he gets a bit older, like he probably would if he were raised by two Christian parents?

And come spring, do I tell him that no giant Harvey-sized rabbit is going to show up with a basket full of treats, but that his grandmother will carefully pick out the treats in Seattle, put them in a priority mailbox and ship them to Brooklyn?

For the time being, I figure I’ll leave it alone, and age will take care of it.

I believe we will provide our son with a strong enough Jewish identity that these Christmas and Easter icons will not threaten his understanding of who he is. But ask me again later this month. I may change my mind.

(Annette Powers is a marketing and communications professional. In her free time, she writes about a variety of topics from co-parenting to Yom Kippur to compulsive texting.)

Survey: Israelis in the U.S. become more like American Jews


The longer Israelis live in the United States, the less critical of Israel they are likely to be, a new survey suggests.

The Internet-based survey of nearly 1,600 people divided respondents into two groups: those living in the United States for less than 10 years, and those living in the country for more than 10 years. Whereas 64 percent of the under-10-years group strongly agreed that when Israel is criticized they feel the need to defend it and show its positive side, the figure was 75 percent among the over-10-years group.

When asked if they were to talk about Israel to an American non-Jew, 67 percent of the under-10-years group said they would say positive things about Israel compared to 78 percent of the over-10-years group.

Though unscientific because all the respondents came from the lists of various Israel-related organizations in the United States, the results nevertheless suggest that Israelis’ political views become more like those of American Jews the longer they reside in the United States.

The survey was commissioned by the Israeli American Council and carried out by the Israeli firm Midgam, which asked respondents to complete an Internet questionnaire.

The survey found that the longer Israelis live in the United States, the more likely they are to be interested in Israel’s internal politics, believe that American Jews strengthen Israel, say that American Jews should publicly support Israel and take a candidate’s attitude toward Israel into consideration when voting.

Israelis living in the United States for more than a decade are nearly twice as likely as the under-10-years group to marry out of the faith (8 percent versus 4 percent), and their children are twice as likely to intermarry (17 percent versus 8 percent), according to the survey.

The survey also showed slight increases in synagogue attendance and day school enrollment among those in the United States for more than 10 years.

Thanksgivukkah, Emma Lazarus & the Maccabees: Embracing our dual identity


There is something much deeper to “Thanksgivukkah” than sweet potato latkes. It is an opportunity to celebrate the blessing of our dual identity as Americans and Jews.

In 1883, the Jewish-Sephardic-American poet Emma Lazarus was invited to write a poem for a literary auction whose proceeds would go towards building a pedestal for what came to be known as “The Statue of Liberty.” Lazarus’ entry, titled The New Colossus, was eventually (in 1903) inscribed on a bronze tablet inside the Statue of Liberty for all to read. Its message about America, written by a Jew, captures the essence of what it means to be an American Jew:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Recasting the classical Greek Colossus (a representation of the pagan sun god) as “The Mother of Exiles,” Emma Lazarus turned the Statue of Liberty into an American version of a Jewish-Biblical matriarch standing at the door of her home, welcoming all those who yearn for freedom and shelter. No longer interested in the “storied pomp” of ancient empires, this matriarch seeks to house and assist the world’s “tired and poor” who “yearn to breathe free.” Replacing the Greek sun god – the conqueror of the world – Lazarus’ “Mother of Exiles” is now the nurturing and comforting symbol that welcomes newcomers to a new and unique world: the world of American democracy.

It is not by chance that an American Jew of Sephardic background would author a poem invoking the motifs of “exile and homecoming.” Well versed in her people’s long history of exile and persecution, Emma Lazarus fully understood what a privilege it is for Jews to live in the United States, the safe haven where they enjoy the blessings of American democracy. Lazarus expressed this in another powerful poem she wrote titled “1492”:

Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”

For Emma Lazarus – an American Jew of Sephardic descent — the “two-faced year” of 1492 held a double-edged irony. In 1492, after a long, bloody and brutal inquisition, the Spanish Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain, “when Spain cast forth with flaming sword the children of the prophets of the Lord.” In that same year – 1492 — Christopher Columbus discovered America (and later, in 1654, the first Jews to come to America were Spanish & Portugese Sephardic Jews, Emma Lazarus’s own direct ancestors).  In this poem, Lazarus also evokes the motif of America as a safe place of refuge – “Ho, all who weary, enter here.” This theme resonated deeply with Emma Lazarus, a descendant of a weary and persecuted Jewish people who found a safe haven of freedom and protection in America. So, too, it should resonate with all American Jews, on Thanksgiving, and every day of our blessed lives in this great country.

Over 2500 years ago, facing persecution and oppression, a small band of freedom fighters overcame all the odds against them and defeated an army much more powerful than them. They stood up to injustice and were willing to fight for the freedom and independence of their people. In his moving description of the story of Judah and the Maccabees, Rabbi J.H. Hertz wrote: “There is nothing finer in the whole history of heroism, or more soul-stirring in the annals of religion, than the account of this handful of Jewish warriors who were prepared to live or die nobly, in order that the light of revealed truth and righteousness be not extinguished in a heathen world.”

The torch of the Maccabees continues to shine brightly today. In Israel – a country founded on the same principles of freedom and democracy as those of America – the modern-day Maccabees of the Israel Defense Forces are taught a powerful ethic during their basic training: Only those who know how to defend their freedom are worthy of it.

The modern State of Israel also serves as a safe haven of freedom and democracy. Much, much smaller than the United States, and lacking an impressive “Lady of Liberty” welcoming new immigrants, the State of Israel has certainly done its lion’s share of absorbing “the tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” From Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab lands, to the Prisoners of Zion from the former Soviet Union and the Ethiopian Falash Mura, Israel – the tiny Jewish haven of freedom and democracy in the Middle East – has continued to cry out: “Ho, all who weary, enter here!”

American Jews have often felt conflicted by their so-called “dual identity.” On this Thanksgivukkah – a convergence of an American holiday giving thanks for America, and a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom – I have never felt so proud of being an American Jew.


Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the Director at the Sephardic Educational Center.

Conservative Judaism reborn — in Germany


Of late, it’s been depressing to be a Conservative Jew. News of demographic and organizational challenges have fed a frenzy of articles delighting in our imminent demise. Many of the criticisms of Conservative Judaism are rooted in serious and valid concerns. Many of them are criticisms that I’ve made myself for two decades now. But the glee with which some challenging statistics and personal complaints have been proclaimed, while examples of Conservative vitality are ignored or underreported, need some correction.

Two years ago, I received a call from a professor, Rabbi Walter Homolka of the University of Potsdam — Potsdam is the capitol of the State of Brandenburg, near Berlin — informing me that his university, one of the major public centers of learning in central Europe, was interested in creating a new rabbinical school to train Conservative/Masorti rabbis to serve the growing communities of Europe. Yes, you heard me right: Both the Progressive communities and the Masorti (Conservative) communities of Europe are growing. But their future growth is limited by the lack of educated leadership who can speak to them in authentically Jewish ways yet also share their embrace of modernity as contemporary Europeans. They need rabbis who share their worldview, engagement and values.

I flew to Germany a year and a half ago, accompanied by the chair of the board of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, Melissa Held Bordy, and we conducted intensive conversations with the university about the Ziegler School joining with the University of Potsdam, which would be responsible for the academic part of the education while Ziegler would supervise the religious standards and denominational training for this new generation of leaders.

It would be as though UCLA or USC had offered to fund and maintain a rabbinical school as an expression of its core mission in the heart of its own campus!

Last week, those conversations were rewarded. After a beautiful Shabbat in an egalitarian, intimate and moving service led by Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, a woman of vast learning and great warmth, at the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue (the beautiful gold-domed building recognized as a living symbol of German Jewry), we launched the new rabbinical school: the Zacharias Frankel College. Already we have extraordinary young Europeans applying for our new program.

In an auditorium of this venerable building, hundreds of people — Jews and non-Jews from Germany and all over Europe, educators and academics from the great centers of learning, and members of the German federal and state governments — came together. We spoke of the great Jewish achievements of the past, and of the devastation of the Nazi regime, never to be forgotten. We affirmed that this open, vibrant approach to Jewish life retains the power to restore Jewish vitality across Europe and has much to teach non-Jewish Europeans, too.

Two days later, we gathered on the campus of the University of Potsdam and launched a one-of-a-kind institution, the School of Jewish Theology, which will teach Jewish religious texts and thought in the context of a modern Western university — not huddled in its own seminary or yeshiva, but out in the very apex of public learning. This school will house the two rabbinical programs: Abraham Geiger College (training Reform rabbis) and Zacharias Frankel College (training Masorti/Conservative rabbis). It will also serve hundreds of students, Jewish and non-Jewish, who want to benefit from a rigorous engagement with Jewish texts and study.

This double educational miracle embodies the best of Conservative/Masorti vitality — a joyous affirmation that one can be fully Jewish and fully modern, educated in the best of Western scholarship as a way of enhancing the depths of Torah learning, mitzvah observance and robust spirit. 

In fact, there is considerable vitality that Conservative Judaism demonstrates every day, in its hundreds of congregations, day schools, camps Ramah, rabbinical schools, vibrant youth groups and introduction to Judaism programs. That very vitality, coupled with our tradition of intellectual honesty and Jewish passion, is what will save us. 

The evening of the dedication, I gave a short speech, surrounded by German parliamentarians and government ministers, university presidents, ambassadors from several European countries, bishops and imams and rabbis.

I pointed out that after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, it took 70 years before Jews began to return to our ancestral home to rebuild what was to become the Second Temple. It took 70 years of mourning, grief and exile before we could begin the work of return.  

It is now approximately 70 years after the Shoah, I said, and the work begins. This time the Federal Republic of Germany, with its magnificent educational system, is the ally of the Jewish people.

The vital response to the modern age — a response that embraces the values of democracy and freedom, that relishes the openness of deep engagement with every branch of human learning, and affirms that Judaism authentically grows to integrate the best insights and new knowledge while retaining faith in sacred learning and passionate observance — this cluster of values has animated Conservative Judaism for hundreds of years, leaving a record of great scholars, great communities and great creativity.

Our task is now to mobilize those considerable strengths and to honestly face the unique challenges of our own time. Based on what I see every day at the Ziegler School — our brilliant faculty, talented lay leadership and our equally magnificent students, and based on the redemptive affirmation I witnessed in Germany, I want to share this news from the rooftops:

We’re not dead yet.


Rabbi Dr Bradley Shavit Artson (bradartson.com) holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He is also dean of the Zacharias Frankel College in Potsdam, Germany, ordaining rabbis for the European Union.

On Emil Jacoby’s 90th birthday, a tribute to a life well lived


In late March 1945, a young Czech Jew hiding in Budapest organized a Passover service for escapees from the Nazis and for those working in the rescue efforts. Most of the people who gathered that day had worked and lived together in hiding. When a stranger appeared, the young Czech organizer decided to honor him by asking that he recite the haftarah, a chapter that told the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones.

As this young Czech listened to the man chant, he was taken by the sense that the ancient words were speaking directly to him. And it was in that moment that he decided to dedicate his life to making dry bones live again, to ensuring the continuation and renewal of the Jewish people. He promised himself that, if he survived, his job would be to help transmit the tradition, to help his community remain Jewish and to attempt to inspire others also to serve klal Yisra’el.

Thus began the career of Emil Jacoby, a career that lasted well over half a century and that has touched the lives of thousands of children and families in Los Angeles.

Many articles could be written about Emil Jacoby. Between the two of us, one could describe what it is like to be his son and to learn so many life lessons from him. One could write about Emil Jacoby, the mentor, supervisor, colleague and friend. We choose to focus on him as a model and inspiration. 

We will call him by a name that neither of us often use, but by which many of his closest friends and relatives have known him: Uzi. Short for Uziel (God is my strength), it is the name he acquired as a Zionist activist during and immediately after World War II.

Love what you live. Love what you do.

Throughout his career, Uzi was motivated by the experiences of his youth, which instilled in him a love of Judaism and a respect for community. Uzi’s mother lived by the principle of hiddur mitzvah, delighting in each mitzvah; she brought beauty and the joy of living into the family’s home and taught her family to appreciate the value of Jewish life. Indeed, hiddur mitzvah is an apt description of the experience that anyone fortunate enough to grow up in Uzi’s home, to go with him to Camp Ramah or join him at his synagogue, Adat Ari El, would have encountered.

Keep an open mind. Respect differences. Respect the past. Honor the present.

Uzi’s father was the secretary of the entire kehillah (congregation) of his hometown of Cop, in Czechoslovakia, trusted by the entire community — from Chasidim to liberal Jews. This is where Uzi learned the value of the klal, of the totality of the Jewish community, above and beyond any differences among individuals.  

Perhaps more than any other quality, respect for pluralism and diversity characterized Uzi’s tenure as a leader for decades at BJE: Builders of Jewish Education. This respect, in turn, was complemented by an insistence on open-mindedness, a value Uzi internalized in his teen years, when his studies included both classical Jewish texts and the insights of Haskalah (enlightenment). After enrolling first in a traditional yeshiva, Uzi later transferred to the Hebrew Gymnasium, a Jewish school that included secular subjects — Latin and English — alongside Jewish history, Hebrew literature and Tanach. The Gymnasium’s expanded curriculum offered the foundation for the greatest joys of his intellectual life. His teachers there were powerful role models of Jewish commitment, leadership and caring, the model for what Uzi would become for hundreds of his own students in Los Angeles.

Don’t just survive. Rescue. Build.

After the liberation, Uzi used his background and skills to create educational programs needed for the young Jews returning from concentration camps and years of hiding. In the years immediately following the end of the war, he trained counselors and teachers, published books, organized a regional school and conducted summer camps. This experience strengthened his resolve to continue to serve as a Jewish educator.  

In about 1950, Uzi immigrated to New York, where he was a teacher, even as he also studied to advance his own formal education. He was also reunited with his fiancée, Erika, who had come to the United States via Cuba — but that’s another story.

By the time Uzi arrived in Los Angeles, in 1953, he’d had abundant training and experience, and he set out to develop one of the premier Conservative congregational schools in the United States. From 1953 until 1976, under his leadership, the school at Adat Ari El (then known as Valley Jewish Community Center) grew from 200 students to 1,500, and it earned a well-deserved reputation for excellence. At the heart of this success was Uzi’s effectiveness in nurturing other educators and developing an esprit de corps among his staff. Well before the notion of “family education” entered the lexicon of Jewish education, Uzi implemented a vast array of family and intergenerational programs.

Even as he built a model school, Uzi took on two other assignments of critical importance to Jewish education. First, he became director of education at Camp Ramah in California, where he helped build a camp program that nurtured an entire generation of rabbinic and lay leadership. At the same time, he was appointed to the faculty of Jewish education at the University of Judaism (now known as American Jewish University). There, through the 1960s and ’70s, he raised up a cadre of educators who continue to serve with distinction in communities throughout North America.

In 1976, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE) turned to Uzi to serve as its associate director. In that capacity, he called upon all of his remarkable skills and experiences in providing educational support to a community network of more than 150 schools serving 30,000 students. By 1982, his vast knowledge and unique background, his ability to work with professional colleagues and lay leaders, and his intimate familiarity with the Los Angeles Jewish community made him the appropriate choice for appointment as executive director of the Los Angeles BJE.

During a decade of service as CEO of the second-largest BJE in the nation, Uzi built a harmonious and productive community of educators, spanning all school types and ideologies. He mentored dozens of emerging Jewish educational leaders. He fostered outstanding inter-agency cooperation, and developed an active and supportive board of directors. 

In 1993, after 40 years of educational leadership in Los Angeles, Uzi turned his prodigious energy to an ambitious BJE initiative: the development and implementation of an accreditation process for all school types — including early childhood centers, day schools/yeshivot and congregational (part-time) religious schools.

Characteristically, Uzi worked skillfully in partnership with school-based educators, consultants from outside school systems, accreditation commissions and colleagues to devise approaches to self-study and external review that would help L.A. schools think about desired outcomes and strategies for getting “from here to there.” BJE’s school accreditation program — which Uzi coordinated for 15 years — became a national model. It helped schools reimagine curriculum and instruction to more effectively meet learners’ needs.

In 2008, Uzi and his wife, Erika, joined 136 L.A. teens, as well as staff and other survivors, on the BJE March of the Living. They shared with the high school seniors their experiences of adolescence and young adulthood — telling them of a very different reality. Erika, a survivor of Auschwitz, marked her 80th birthday by returning to that location, recounting there what it was like to be a 16-year-old in the death camp. Uzi shared the experiences of those outside the camps who were active with rescue efforts.

Uzi continued to serve until he finally retired at age 85 from his professional work at BJE. His leadership continues today to inform BJE’s mission, and to impact the lives of children and families of multiple generations. Uzi has surely helped bring renewed vitality — fulfilling Ezekiel’s vision — to Jewish life worldwide in the generations after the Holocaust. 

As he turns 90 this week, on Nov. 30, his family, friends, admirers, students and younger colleagues join together in saying: Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu — how happy and fortunate are we to benefit from the wisdom and inspiration of Dr. Emil “Uzi” Jacoby, a model Jewish educator.


Jonathan Jacoby is senior vice president of Programs for Jewish Life at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Dr. Gil Graff is executive director of BJE: Builders of Jewish Education.

Tigers summon the tribe, swap Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler


Detroit is bringing in the Jews.

A couple of weeks after hiring Brad Ausmus as manager, the Tigers on Wednesday traded for Ian Kinsler, previously of the Texas Rangers, to play second base. The cost for the Jewish infielder, a three-time American League All-Star: mega-salaried first baseman Prince Fielder and a cool $30 million. Lucky the bankrupt city doesn’t have to ante up.

Kinsler, 31, brings a sound bat and glove to help Ausmus, who managed the Israeli squad that came up short in its bid for the World Baseball Classic, in his MLB debut. The eight-year veteran averages 24 home runs and 82 runs batted in a season and has a lifetime batting average of .273. Last season he batted .277 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs.

Ausmus and now Kinsler are part of an organization that had probably the greatest Jewish hitter in history (take that Ryan Braun): Hank Greenberg, a one-time MVP who famously skipped a Yom Kippur game in 1934 despite the pennant implications for the Tigers.

And you thought the Cleveland Indians were the Tribe.

Watch: Mila Kunis, James Franco, and Zach Braff in ‘Tar’ trailer


And now for your viewing pleasure, the trailer for the indie film “Tar,” or as we like to call it, a film featuring a supremely high ratio of Jews.

There’s the sexy Mila Kunis, the highly roast-able James Franco, and the quintessential Kickstartering Jersey boy next door, Zach Braff. On the highbrow end of the spectrum, the film tells the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C.K. Williams, author of “Jew on Bridge.”

“Tar,” which also stars Jessica Chastain and Bruce Campbell, was written and directed by 12 New York University film students and premiered last year at the Rome Film Festival.

Paris Jew’s reburial in Israel ends legal battle


A Jewish celebrity art dealer who died in 1870 in France was reburied in Israel after his body was exhumed from his Paris grave due to property laws.

The funeral for Jacob Giacomo Tedesco on Sunday in Beit Shemesh marked the end of a seven-year legal fight led by his relatives to receive his remains for reburial. Authorities exhumed his body under a French law that allows graves to be emptied 99 years after a burial.

Tedesco’s great-great-granddaughter discovered in 2006 that his remains had been exhumed from his grave in the Montpar­nasse Cemetery and placed at the Pere Lachaise depository.

“I found it had simply disappeared,” Debby Lifchitz, an Orthodox Jewish woman from Israel, was quoted as telling the Le Figaro newspaper of Tedesco’s grave.

The family then launched the legal battle to have his remains transferred to Israel, “where he would have an eternal resting place,” she was quoted as saying.

Tedesco, the owner of a major art gallery, also opened the first kosher butcher shop in Paris, founded an Orthodox synagogue and built a ritual bath that remained active until World War II.

Orthodox Jewish laws dictate Jewish graves be left undisturbed, except for unusual cases.

In 2011, France passed a law that allows authorities to cremate human remains they exhumed — a practice that also goes against Jewish customs.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, who attended Tedesco’s funeral in Israel, told the Israeli news site Ynet that the French laws on cremation and exhumation should be changed, as they “threaten to desecrate the dignity of the dead.”

Breslow’s bad night, and a save for a Cardinal with a Jew-y name


The St. Louis Cardinals tied up the World Series with Thursday night’s 4-2 win over Boston. The save went to Trevor Rosenthal.

Regrettably, unlike A.M., Lefty, Hannah and the NFL’s Mike Rosenthal, the Cardinals’ Rosenthal is not a Jew. But the reliever is sometimes mistaken for one, as ESPN reported earlier this year:

…he has to deal with the occasional mis-impression about his religious identification. Contrary to what numerous fans and bloggers might think, he is not Jewish.

“Every once in a while, someone will ask me about it,” Rosenthal says. “My dad is an attorney, and he gets invited to bar mitzvahs all the time.”

That means the tribe is left with Craig Breslow, the Yale-educated Red Sox relief pitcher (whom JTA profiled earlier this week). Alas, Breslow had a really rough night, with an unfortunate throwing error that gave the Cardinals the lead.

Watch the footage here.

Goy until proven Jewish


“Who is a Jew?” is a uniquely Jewish question. It is a question that epitomizes the Jewish people and culture. It is a philosophical question that embodies the history of Jewish debate. It is a question of belonging that symbolizes Jews as a minority. It seems like a theoretical question, until your Judaism is in doubt. The question “Are you a Jew?” is a much more personal question and it is a question that many more Jews are being asked. In Israel, American Jews who made Aliyah or are living in Israel are finding that the burden of proof for proving Jewishness is getting increasingly heavy.

When it came time for Julia to get married, she was prepared to fight to prove her Jewish identity. She had moved to Israel three years prior, from the East Coast of the United States, and had gotten used to things always being harder in Israel. But she was not prepared for what she would face.

As someone who keeps a kosher home, doesn’t drive on Shabbat, and considers herself religious, it was important to Julia to have an Orthodox wedding with the Israeli Rabbinate. She is proud of her Jewish heritage, which she can trace back to her great, great grandfather who was an Orthodox Rabbi. However, she knew that her heritage would be hard to prove because of a gap in documents. The gap is a result of her great grandmother and great grandfather being institutionalized, which was the regrettable practice at the time for people born deaf. Being institutionalized, her great grandparents did not form a connection with Judaism, which meant that they did not leave a paper trail, such as a Ketuba or tombstone, for Julia to prove her Jewishness decades later.

Knowing that as an American Jew the Rabbinate would scrutinize her files, she went to the Rabbinate armed with pictures of her great, great grandparents’ tombstones, her parent’s Ketuba from a Reform Rabbi, her Bat Mitzvah certificate, letters testifying to her Jewish identity from two people in her community, and a letter from her Rabbi from the Conservative movement. However, all of this proof was not enough for the Rabbinate and she was refused approval of her Jewish identity.

Speaking of the letter from her Conservative Rabbi, Julia said, “The Rabbi who knows me the most is from a Conservative synagogue. So, I thought it was better to get a letter from someone who really knew me, which was obviously a mistake. It is better for (the Rabbinate) to get a letter from a Rabbi who they know but doesn’t know me whatsoever,” Julia said, still distraught about the treatment she received.

The refusal by the Israeli Rabbinate to accept a letter from a conservative rabbi doesn’t only hurt Julia, but it impacts the entire Conservative movement. Conservative Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California and co-founder of ShefaNetwork and KeshetRabbis said, “For me as a Rabbi to be so marginalized by the religious authorities of my own sacred home demonstrates that the Jewish exile hasn’t ended yet and that the perpetrators of Jewish exile today are largely Jews. The State has only begun to acknowledge the corrupt form of Judaism that has reigned in the State of Israel and that it is going to take a lot more work to end the exile being perpetrated by Jews at Jews. Secular politicians have an obligation to the global Jewish people that they are beginning to acknowledge.”

After a long and painful process, and only about three weeks before the wedding, Julia finally did receive approval to get married in Israel. However, the process has left her with a deep scar. “It was equally frustrating and offensive to my identity. My whole family is Jewish. I have never once in my life doubted my Jewish identity. It was so shameful. It really made me feel ashamed. This is so not Jewish.”

Julia probably does not take any solace in the fact that she is not alone in this struggle. There is a systematic and epidemic distrust from the Israeli Rabbinate towards American Jews and Rabbis from non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

Morgan, just like Julia, is a Jewish American immigrant to Israel who got engaged to an Israeli. While Morgan was opening up her marriage file at the New York Rabbinate so she could get married in Israel, her fiancé simultaneously went to his local Rabbinate in Northern Israel. They both faced obstacles related to Morgan being able to prove that she is Jewish.

In New York, Morgan was dealing with a variety of obstacles – from the Israeli Rabbis not understanding that religion isn’t listed on a driver’s license to them not appreciating the fact that Morgan’s mother, who grew up in the projects of New York had faced a lot of anti-Semitism growing up and was more focused on surviving than finding a kosher grocer. While Morgan and her extended family members were being interrogated by the Beit Din in New York, a Rabbi in Israel explained to her fiancé that Morgan’s parents are the equivalent of goyim because they were married by a Reform Rabbi in Los Angeles and affiliate with the Reform Jewish movement.

Speaking about the refusal of the Israeli Rabbinate to accept Reform Judaism as a legitimate form of the religion, Reform Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, Senior Rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, California and recently named among the “Top 50 Influential Rabbis in America” by Newsweek stated, “I have little doubt that the rabbinical authorities who impugn the status of Reform and Conservative Rabbis, their congregations, and those who convert to Judaism within them, have gladly accepted financial assistance offered to Israel by those very same Jews and given countless sermons about the importance of unity among the Jewish people.  This makes these Rabbis, in a word, hypocrites.”

The Rabbi who called Morgan’s family goyim explained to her fiancé that she would need to provide documents that show her Jewish heritage for the past three generations. When her fiancé asked this Rabbi how the Rabbinate knew that he was Jewish, since his father had been born on the way to Israel from Yemen without any documentation, the Rabbi refused to give a reason.

Morgan says that one of the toughest parts of this process was that the Rabbinate approached the issue from the “assumption that we aren’t Jewish. They were asking questions to try to trap us, which is so insulting. I was so disgusted. This whole process for the privilege to be married in Israel made me feel as if I didn’t even want to come here anymore. How dare you question my mother and me like we are not Jews! It is a scourge on Israel what they are doing to people, to olim (immigrants), to people who served in the army. It all just disgusts me.”

The entire process to prove that she was Jewish enough to get married in Israel took Morgan approximately a year. After eventually getting a letter through a connection, Morgan can now joke about the experience. “I was making a good six figures in New York, and I’m coming here. Who else but a Jew would do this?”

The Israeli Rabbinate’s refusal to accept letters testifying to an American Jewish immigrant’s Jewish identity from Reform, Conservative, and even some streams of Orthodox Rabbis as sufficient proof is a growing trend and one that is well-known among the immigrant community in Israel, but not well known among American Jews.

“I think Israel’s religious decisions are under the radar for most of the young American Jewish population because most of the young American Jewish population is already distanced from Israel for other reasons,” explained Rabbi Creditor. “We can’t afford to continue distancing these young Jews for both political and religious reasons. It probably is a good thing that young Jews don’t know about those things yet. But as soon as they find out it is an absolute barrier to any sense of connectivity with the State of Israel.”

In recent years, there has been more coverage related to isolated incidents of the Israeli Rabbinate denying Reform and Conservative converts the right to get married, but these are reported as issues that mainly impact converts and their descendents. However, these stories show that converts are simply the canary in the coal mine. When the Israeli Rabbinate refuses to recognize conversions of Reform, Conservative, or other streams of Judaism, it is not a directed offense against converts; it is an affront against American Judaism as a whole. It is an assault against the legitimacy of the leaders, the Rabbis, and the members of one of the strongest Jewish communities in the world.

It is an issue that impacts many, if not most American Jews. According to the 2000-2001National Jewish Population Survey, in the United States there are 1.3 million Jews in Conservative household and 1.7 million in Reform households. This means that, just like Julia and Morgan, more than three million American Jews could face obstacles proving their Jewish identity and potentially be denied the right to get married in Israel. But surprisingly, the American Jewish community, one of the strongest supporters of Israel, is not demanding that Israel reciprocate that support.

Rabbi Creditor explains that being critical of Israel can by synonymous with being a Zionist. “It is absolutely essential that American Jews be engaged in Israel’s safety and life. What makes anybody an authentic Zionist is that they love their Jewish people, they love their Jewish family. And we are free thinkers. We should continue to be free thinkers who love our family. I raise my voice loudly, to demand of my homeland that it treat me like family. And in return, I model that kind of respect and love through everything that I do. My commitment to Israel is what gives me the right to demand of Israel that it treats me with respect.”

Jessica Fishman moved to Israel from the US in 2003 and writes the Aliyah Survival Blog, an irreverent portrayal of life as an immigrant in Israel. Her new book, Chutzpah and High Heels: The Search for Love and Identity in the Holy Land, will be published soon.

Judea Pearl reaches out to young Jews


“I look at young Jewish boys as the army of the future, the elite force of the army of decency.”

With these strong words, Judea Pearl — activist, scholar and father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl — used an Oct. 17 lecture to a group of Millennials to emphasize how important it is that proud Jews be a force of good in the world.

“This is what I feel about them, and that is what I want them to feel about themselves,” Pearl said.

He appeared before a group of about 30 people as part of an event organized by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) regional chapter of ACCESS, the young professionals initiative of the global Jewish advocacy organization that trains professionals in their 20s and 30s to represent AJC on the local, national and international levels. 

It took place in the Encino home of philanthropists Richard and Marcia Volpert, and drew ACCESS members who work in law, medicine, government relations and other fields. It was open to the public, but offered at a discount to ACCESS members. 

The talk on young American Jewry could be considered commentary on the recent and much-publicized study by the Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” Released last month, the report showed Jewish affiliation, particularly among young Jews, on the decline.

Without mentioning the study by name, Pearl, a UCLA professor emeritus and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, suggested that the way one achieves Jewish pride is by absorbing the history of the Jewish people and by placing Israel at the center of identity.

“By saying we are proud of the story, we are building the future together in the same shape, same mold,” he said during remarks that lasted about one hour and included a
Q-and-A.

Cole Ettman, one of the evening’s attendees, agreed that the history of the Jewish people — which spans thousands of years, from times living in disparate tribes to modern society with Jews acting as leaders in art, science, business and technology — can be an effective bait to grab the attention of the unaffiliated.

An ACCESS member who works as chief operating officer of the law firm Levine and Blit, Ettman used his soapbox during the Q-and-A to suggest that Pearl’s philosophy should be embraced by larger outreach efforts. While other organizations may promote Judaism by getting young Jews to wrap tefillin or keep Shabbat, identifying with the Jewish story is what’s essential, he suggested.

“You’ve got the right path, and it is enough,” Ettman said.

Pearl’s appearance followed a brief rendition of Bach’s “Sonata No. 1 in G Minor,” performed by 20-year-old violinist Stephen Tavani — the event doubled as one of the many concerts taking place worldwide this month as part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days. 

An initiative of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, World Music Days is an international network of live music performances during the month of Daniel Pearl’s birthday. This is the 12th consecutive year of concerts to honor Pearl and his love of music.

Founded by Daniel Pearl’s family and friends, the Daniel Pearl Foundation is a nonprofit that works for peace by supporting programs and fellowships around music, journalism and cross-cultural dialogue.

Pope warns of anti-Semitism as Rome commemorates Holocaust victims


Pope Francis urged vigilance against any resurgence of anti-Semitism ahead of the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Rome’s Jews to Auschwitz.

Pope Francis made the warning Friday during a meeting at the Vatican with Italian Jewish leaders, including Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome.

Commemoration of the 1943 deportation, he said, “will also be an occasion to recall the importance of remaining vigilant in order that we do not regress, under any pretext, to any forms of intolerance and anti-Semitism, in Rome and in the rest of the world.”

More than 1,000 Roman Jews were deported by Nazi occupiers on Oct. 16, 1943; only 16 survived.

Noting that Jews had lived in Rome for more than 2,000 years, the pope said that this history “as we well know” was “often marred by misunderstandings and real injustice.” However, he added, “by now this history includes, with the help of God, many decades of the development of friendly and brotherly relations.”

Francis also indirectly responded to criticism of wartime Pope Pius XII by noting that many Catholic religious institutions helped save Jews during the Holocaust. Critics say Pius turned a blind eye to the persecution of Jews during the Shoah.

The pope said he hoped to contribute “to that nearness and friendship” in the way that he had with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, where he had been cardinal.

He added, “It is a contradiction for a Christian to be anti-Semitic. His roots are in part Jewish. A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic! May anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and the life of every man and woman!”

Francis also paid tribute to Christians who aided Jews during the Holocaust. “We know that many religious institutions, monasteries and indeed the Papal Basilicas, in accordance with the wishes of the Pope, opened their doors to provide a fraternal welcome, and that Christians offered the assistance, great or small, that they were able to give.”

Crisis and opportunity — Reflections on the Pew report


Full disclosure: I have been thinking about the results of the Pew report for more than a decade. I understand that Pew didn’t release its results until last week, but these statistics and trends have been obvious to some in the Jewish community for a very long time. Four years ago, I made a major life change and became the president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles because of the revelations now appearing in the Pew report. It is what drives our board, our staff and me every day, and it is what has motivated our Federation’s major reimagination and transformation. It is at the core of our mission and our work.

Over the past week, there has been a great deal of reaction to the study’s findings, ranging from defensiveness to rejection with a smattering of thoughtful responses. The truth is that we can no longer afford to look the other way.  We must take a communal approach to building a Jewish community that will not just sustain but will flourish.

I love Judaism, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.  I strongly believe that being Jewish adds immeasurable value to me, my family and our world.

We have a crisis. The numbers and the trending in the Pew report speak out loud and clear. Our crisis is not in the Middle East. It is in America. It is a crisis based on our success. We have truly succeeded in becoming American and in assimilating into this great country. 

The resulting loss of engagement, however, impacts every Jew and every Jewish institution.

But this crisis also offers us an extraordinary opportunity.

What got us here won’t get us there

Marshall Goldsmith, one of America’s preeminent executive coaches, wrote an insightful best-selling book titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” The book’s central tenet provides us with a solid piece of Torah.

We, as a people, have built great synagogues and great organizations. We have created enviable Jewish communities across the Diaspora.

It is clear that what we have built did get us here, but it is now equally clear that if we want to ensure a vibrant Jewish future, that infrastructure may not get us there.

I say this with caution. This is not a time for a knee-jerk reaction, and there are no “innovative” quick fixes. This is a time to take a break from our preoccupation with our history to take a long, proactive look at the future, the future we want for the next generations. They are the loudest voices in the study. These voices demand to be in our communal conversations.

We need to learn from Apple

Steve Jobs and his crew understood almost from the beginning that once a consumer is introduced to the power of technology, he or she would be hooked. Once hooked, it was up to Apple to continue to deepen the relationship between the consumer and that technology by listening to the consumer and being ahead of the competition in introducing both new products and new applications.

We need to see Judaism like new and evolving technology, and we need to be more like Apple. We need to create a two-way conversation with our consumers, and we need to reimagine our product line.

This analogy speaks directly to our Millennials and the generations to come.

There is another central change we need to make. We have promoted “episodic” Judaism based on lifecycle milestones and communal events. Our institutions have promoted powerful programs like PJ Library, Taglit Birthright and Jewish preschool.  Our Federation supports these important, highly successful programs. But what this study says loud and clear is that “episodic” Judaism is not enough.

We need to create a Jewish journey for every Jew, a journey that each Jew helps to create. Think of the iPod. Millions and millions of people use the same device to listen to their music but with customized play lists. They listen to their iPods alone, or they plug them into speakers and play for their friends in a communal experience.

We need to embrace our young people, not blame them

Our young people are redefining their Judaism. We need to be an active part of that redefinition process. It is up to the Jewish community to reach out, engage and embrace them. 

At the Federation, we are committed to not just engaging our young people, but engaging them in our reimagination and our transformation. They are not the problem. They are a part of the solution.

Many of our organizations have built models based on philanthropy first. We need to move away from “pay-to-play” Judaism. If young people are meaningfully engaged, they will become philanthropists. But we are pushing too many of them away by expecting them to give before they connect.

The challenge

Our future demands our attention. We need a strong, communal approach to build a rich, vibrant Jewish future. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has made the commitment to this process. Will you join us?


Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

‘Gravity’ and the Pew study


I have one big answer to the depressing findings of the Pew poll, but you’re not going to like it.

The Pew Research Center’s landmark new survey of American Jews came out last week, and the American Jewish community reacted about the way Sandra Bullock does when her tether snaps in “Gravity.” Except our “Oy vey!” probably could have been heard in space.

The bottom line of the study: Jews are becoming less … and less … and less Jewish. We are drifting away from religion like, well, Bullock from that space station. 

The long-awaited Pew study, initiated with admirable foresight by Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Daily Forward, found that only 32 percent of these Jews say their Jewishness is a matter of religion. Fifty years ago, that number was close to 70 percent.

“That is a big and significant number,” said Greg Smith, the Pew’s director of U.S. religion surveys, in a statement accompanying the report. “The generational pattern suggests that it’s growing, and that’s very important, because the data show that Jews of no religion are much less connected to the Jewish community, are much less engaged and involved in Jewish organizations and are much less likely to be raising their children Jewish as compared to Jews who describe themselves as Jews by religion.”

We all know many Jews who are bagels-and-lox, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” types — what you might call Brunch Davidians. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But Jewish law and practice is the scaffold on which Jewish culture and identity are built. Without Judaism, Jewishness disappears.

To add to the worries, the Pew study found that 71 percent of younger, [non-Orthodox Jews] are marrying out. Before 1970, the number of Jews with a non-Jewish spouse was only 17 percent. Intermarried Jews, Pew found, like Jews of no religion, are much less likely to be raising their children in the Jewish faith.

So, does this mean there won’t be any Judaism in the future? The short answer is: That’s up to us. 

There are three things we can, and must, do to stop the handwringing and reverse these trends.

First, we need to be very clear in our hearts why this matters. Each one of us who expresses concern has to be able to answer, clearly, this question: “So what?”

Now don’t skip ahead. Stay with that question. Why do you care that young American Jews are less and less Jewish, and if trends continue, their children and grandchildren will be even less so, or not at all? What is it that makes this religion, this culture, worth continuing? Funny how none of the discussions of the Pew study start with that question — because its answer is key to the solution.

Second, we must improve the experience of liberal Judaism. Not all synagogue services are boring, obscure and infantilizing, but too many are. Congregations that have innovated in their use of liturgy and music have been more successful in drawing people in than those that have not. This year, jewishjournal.com livecast the Kol Nidre service of Nashuva, the outreach congregation founded by my wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy. At least 60,000 people around the world watched all or part of the service, and judging by their comments, the experience was anything but boring. When you rebuild it, they will come.

That leads me to my one, big suggestion: conversion.

When I made this argument in the past, people looked at me like I was saying we should establish a Jewish state in Uganda. True, we have not been, for historical reasons, a proselytizing faith, but it’s time to rise above our history.

According to the Pew poll, 2 percent of Jews said they had formally converted to Judaism, 1 percent claimed to have informally. That’s 100,000 people. Say we double it. Triple it — or even add a zero. 

Can we?

Of course. We have the money and expertise to fund a creative and consistent marketing campaign aimed at conversion. Web sites and social media offer a low barrier to entry. Virtual engagement would be reinforced by actual outreach and education on the local level.

 This isn’t brain surgery — it’s branding, marketing and education. These are three things Jews happen to excel at. Jewish marketing ingenuity brought the world Polo, GAP and Levi’s. Jews turned pomegranates and hummus from foods to phenomena. Hey, three Jews — Plouffe, Axelrod and Emanuel — even sold America on electing a black president. We can sell the world anything. Why not Judaism?

If we don’t invite the rest of the world to experience the beauty, meaning and connectedness of Jewish life, we will never truly flourish. 

“Jews are losing such an opportunity to enrich their lives,” Rabbi Harold Schulweis once told me. “Converts are the most articulate and dedicated Jews I have met in a long time.”

The stories told by Jews-by-Choice reaffirm the opportunity to reach more like them.

“Judaism,” one once told me, “is the best-kept secret in the world.”

Meaning, connectedness, community and beauty — these are the essence of Jewish life, and they are what so many people long for. 

My suggestion: Put Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Lynda Resnick, Axelrod, et al. in a room and have them come up with a marketing plan for the world’s best-kept secret. Put Judaism out there, and just watch people gravitate toward it. 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Women of the Wall agrees to pray in egalitarian space, with conditions


Women of the Wall agreed in principle to pray in a new egalitarian space adjacent to the Western Wall Plaza, provided the space meets several conditions regarding design and management.

Until those conditions are met, Women of the Wall said in a statement Monday that it will continue praying at the women’s section of the Western Wall, as the group has for 25 years.

Before now, though, the group had said a new egalitarian section of the wall would not be “relevant” to its needs.

Monday’s policy change brings Women of the Wall in line with other non-Orthodox groups in Israel, such as the Conservative and Reform movements, which saw the new section as an answer to their requests for pluralism at the holy site. Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Conservative movement in Israel, called the change “a very positive step.”

The egalitarian section, to be located in an area adjacent to the plaza known as Robinson’s Arch, was first proposed in April as part of a plan by Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky to resolve religious conflict at the wall. Sharansky, along with Knesset Cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, is due to release the full plan in the coming weeks.

Women of the Wall meets at the beginning of each Jewish month for a women’s service at the Western Wall. Its chairwoman, Anat Hoffman, told JTA that the policy change will give Women of the Wall more influence over how the new section is designed.

“For an organization that’s always been small and very dedicated, we are now going to become players at the political table, which means we’ll have to compromise on our demands,” she said. “Pure ideology does not reality make.”

The group’s new policy, however, will not lead to a change on the ground in the near future. In order to pray in the new section, Women of the Wall is demanding that the section be equal to the existing plaza in size, topography, budget and facilities. In addition, the group is demanding a unified entrance and a shared plaza between all of the wall’s sections.

Women of the Wall also is demanding that a body of Jewish leaders, with equal women’s representation, runs the new section. The existing plaza is managed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a haredi Orthodox organization.

Some of the changes may be difficult to implement. Altering the topography of the plaza would require approval from the Islamic Wakf, the body that controls the Temple Mount and historically has been resistant to any such changes. Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett had a temporary platform erected at Robinson’s Arch in August, but Women of the Wall said it does not meet their needs.

Until Monday, Women of the Wall seemed defiant in its commitment to keep praying in the women’s section. The group scored a legal victory in court this year that allowed its members to pray without fear of arrest, but members have faced ongoing opposition and harassment from traditionalist opponents.

The group’s most recent service, on Friday, was the calmest in months, but the women still encountered opponents screaming and, according to some reports, spitting as they prayed.

“We had a choice,” Hoffman told JTA — “to continue being marginalized and insist that we pray at the women’s section, or to say here’s how we envision the Western Wall, open to all and friendly and clean.”

Engagement trends are negative, but Jewish funders see validation in Pew study


If you’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish identity building, what do you do when a survey comes along showing that the number of U.S. Jews engaging with Jewish life and religion is plummeting?

That’s the question facing major funders of American Jewish life following the release last week of the Pew Research Center’s survey on U.S. Jews.

The study — the first comprehensive portrait of American Jewry in more than a decade — showed that nearly one-third of Jews under age 32 do not identify as Jewish by religion, that American Jews are intermarrying at a rate of 58 percent (71 percent if the Orthodox are excluded) and that most intermarried Jews are not raising their kids as Jews.

For many of the Jewish world’s biggest funders, the answer to this question is clear: Stay the course.

“We’ve known about these issues and many of us have been working in our own ways to address them,” said Sandy Cardin, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which with more than $2 billion in assets is one of the Jewish world’s largest foundations focused on bolstering Jewish identity and community among young people.

“We haven’t done it yet, and by no means is success assured, but I do think as a community we have identified significant ways to address these challenges,” he told JTA. “It’s too soon, I think, to see the immediate impact of what many of us in the community have been doing over the past five to 10 years.”

The logic to this approach is relatively straightforward: The findings in the Pew survey mostly upheld the assumptions upon which major givers in Jewish life already have been operating. In their view, the survey validates their own philanthropic priorities — even if they disagree about what to prioritize.

“This new study reinforces the idea that we need an energizing nucleus which is literate in Hebrew, and which is engaged in intensive and immersive education and committed to Jewish life and Jewish institutions,” said Yossi Prager, executive director in North America of Avi Chai, a major investor in Jewish education.

Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, drew a different conclusion: “Those that were investing heavily in Jewish culture and alternative venues for Jewish identity were right,” he said.

“Given that a lot of Jews define themselves as secular or atheist, it’s critically important that while investing in traditional venues in Jewish life, it’s important to explore and find and foster venues for encouraging Jewish identity through non-traditional ways — through culture, through arts,” Spokoiny said. “I think that’s a key message.”

Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund, said the study demonstrates a remarkable failure to achieve many of the central goals adopted by the Jewish community in the wake of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, which showed what many considered alarmingly high assimilation rates.

“As a community, we made a decision a couple of decades ago to focus on Jewish continuity and Jewish identity, and we don’t seem to have moved the needle by even one degree,” Charendoff told JTA. “I would love to tell you I think it’s a wakeup call, but I don’t think anyone’s waking up.”

Jewish foundations need to get on the same page to develop a comprehensive strategy to begin to reverse the negative trends, he said.

“Donors by and large are focused on particular efforts and not focused on the field as a whole,” Charendoff said. “There needs to be more coordination, more resources. We’re only going to have that impact if there’s alignment and not 10,000 people doing God’s work but without regard to what their neighbors are doing.”

Whether the Pew study will prompt a systemic response, or even an attempt at one by Jewish funders, remains to be seen.

Next month, the Jewish Federations of North America will convene its annual General Assembly, which draws fundraisers and leaders from federations throughout the United States. Jerry Silverman, the umbrella group’s CEO, told JTA that this year’s confab is not the place for beginning a communitywide conversation about the Pew study results.

This year’s G.A. will be held in Jerusalem and focus on the Israel-Diaspora relationship. The Pew study will not be on the agenda, he said.

“You really need to bring together thinkers and thought leaders who can really think this through. I don’t think that’s the G.A. population,” Silverman said. “That’s not the forum to think this through.”

Chip Edelsberg, the executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which has awarded about $280 million in grants for Jewish education and engagement since 2006, said his foundation needs more time to delve into the Pew data to figure out what changes are necessary, if any, to their strategies for engaging young American Jews.

“It will certainly animate our discussions and have a bearing on the foundation’s decision making, because it is actually good data,” he said.

Michael Steinhardt, the mega-philanthropist behind Birthright Israel, Hebrew-language charter schools and a host of other Jewish community programs, said the results of Pew are hardly news: Separate community studies over the last few years have made the trends clear.

“We should not need the Pew study to give us a reality check,” he said. “The question is what to do about it.”

Steinhardt says he isn’t optimistic that the Jewish community will respond effectively.

“Nothing’s a galvanizing event for the Jewish community,” he said. “I don’t see the community thoughtfully dealing with it.”

Calendar: October 5-11


SAT | OCT 5

YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI

Shalom Hartman fellow Yossi Klein Halevi serves as Beth Jacob Congregation’s Shabbat scholar in residence. Author of the new book “Like Dreamers,” which explores the story of the soldiers who reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation, Klein Halevi will give the Shabbat morning drash and speak during a community lunch-and-learn as well as during a Melava Malka at a private residence. Thu. 9 a.m. (services), 11 a.m. (lunch), 8:30 p.m. (Melava Malka). RSVP required for lunch-and-learn: $35 (adults), $25 (children). Beth Jacob, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911. bethjacob.org.

“GARY BASEMAN: MYTHICAL HOMELAND”

The door is always open. Even if you missed Gary Baseman’s retrospective at the Skirball earlier this year, you’re still in luck. The painter, illustrator, performance artist, toy designer and TV/movie producer brings an extension of that retrospective to Venice. With a playful and dark aesthetic, Baseman pays homage to his family and creates wonder for his viewers. Through Dec. 14. Sat. 7-9 p.m. (opening reception). Free. Shulamit Gallery, 17 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 281-0961. shulamitgallery.com


SUN | OCT 6

THE CAPITOL STEPS

Aggravated with Congress? Well, laugh at its expense! This improv troupe has been mocking our elected officials for more than 25 years, and they know what they’re talking about — they’ve all been staffers for the politicians they satirize. With 30 albums to their name and past venues like NBC, CBS and NPR, the group has a handle on clever comedy. There will be song parodies, costumed skits and some good old-fashioned stand-up. Sun. 4 p.m. $45. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1547. aju.edu.


MON | OCT 7

“FROM SCRATCH: INSIDE THE FOOD NETWORK”

A book launch party has never tasted so good — and so informative. Join Mozza’s Nancy Silverton, Midtown Lunch’s Zach Brooks and pastrami scholar Lara Rabinovitch as they discuss New York Times’ Allen Salkin’s new book. A panel discussion on the history of the Food Network and the Hollywoodization of cuisine includes Susan Feniger, Bruce Seidel and Karen Katz. Sat. 7 p.m. Free. The Border Grill, 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown. RSVP to lara@lararabinovitch.com.


THU | OCT 10

MARTY SKLAR

Once upon a time, a 19-year-old started as a member of Disney’s creative team. And then he worked happily ever after. Come listen to highlights from five decades of magic-making in Sklar’s new memoir “Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms.” Serving as Walt Disney’s right-hand man, and eventually becoming the creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, Sklar will guide attendees through the reality behind the whimsy. A Q-and-A and book signing follow the program. Thu. 8 p.m. Free (reservations recommended). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

THE IDAN RAICHEL PROJECT

Do yourself a favor and join the more than half-million people who have listened to Raichel’s music. The Israeli singer-songwriter has transformed the idea of music as a universal language into something tangible. Singing in Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic, Amharic and Swahili, Raichel truly blends and binds nations and peoples. Named Musical Group of the Decade in Israel in 2010, The Project promises to deliver. Thu. 8 p.m. $30-$75, $15 (UCLA Students). Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

LONG BEACH JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

It’s four days of the best Jewish-themed films from around the world! Opening night kicks off with a reception and screening of “Hava Nagila (The Movie).” Other films include the documentaries “The Flat” and “God’s Fiddler,” indie comedy “Putzel” and World War II drama “Süskind.” Through Oct. 13. Thu. 6:30 p.m. (reception), 7:30 p.m. (screening). $10. Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601, ext. 1021. alpertjcc.org/filmfest.


FRI | OCT 11

“EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH”

It is a rare revival of a groundbreaking collaboration. Philip Glass and Robert Wilson joined forces in 1976 to create one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century. Unconventional, non-narrative and fully visual with the help of choreography by Lucinda Childs, it will help viewers understand that knowing what you’re looking at isn’t as important as simply taking a look. Through Oct. 13. Fri. 6:30 p.m. $83-$312. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown. (213) 972-8001. laopera.com.

“SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES”

Alexis Rodriguez Fish finds her life to be a little bit of a disaster after the recent death of her cheating husband, so she decides to spend some time with her zany Latino-Jewish family. With an overbearing mother, encouraging father and quirky sister, Alex re-engages with her roots in an effort to grow. Writer/director Nicole Gomez Fisher creates a relatable and poignant visit home for all of us. The screening is part of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. Fri. 7 p.m. $13. TCL Chinese Theatres, 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 446-2770. sleepingwiththefishes.eventbrite.com.

A Sunday call on same-sex marriage


I was talking with a young woman last Sunday afternoon. She had called me because she read the column I wrote here last month, about Sinai Temple’s decision to perform same-sex weddings. She said she’s gay and came out to her family a year ago. They’re Iranian Jews who care a great deal about the judgment of their friends and relatives. They’ve given her untold amounts of grief for the shame they think she’s brought on them. They tell her she’s ruined the family name, made her sisters and female cousins unmarriageable, bitten the many hands — the grandparents’, the aunts’ and uncles’, the friends of friends’ — that have reached out to save her from her own foolishness. 

I’m neither the village elder nor the town psychologist. I listened to this woman’s story because she sounded sincere and spent and terribly, tragically sad. Like so many traditional Jews who still live under the illusion that they can re-create, in Los Angeles, the suffocating, male-dominated, vicious-aunt-and-mother-in-law-operated households of the old ghetto, her family had raised her to be seen and not heard, obey but not think, get married and have children, and live happily ever after no matter how she really felt. She had done all that, even married, up to her mid-20s. In the last year she divorced her husband, came out first to her family and then in a public way, and was abandoned and denounced by the older members of her extended family. 

I’ve never met this woman, but I know her well. She’s the Ashkenazi girls I meet at USC, who tell me they’ve had to break a dozen taboos just to avoid being married right after high school. She’s the Iranian girls I hear about who might have two doctorates and a silver star for community service, but whose families are ashamed of them because they remain, in their early 30s, still unmarried. It’s true that coming out, especially for a woman, is a much more drastic, even shocking, step than choosing school over marriage, but at their core the two are really not that different: a 1,000-year-old taboo; a trembling, terrified individual mustering the courage to cross a barrier; a family that wants the best for its children, that believes it knows best. 

Forget the wicked witch of an aunt who takes advantage of a family crisis to vomit her own, bottled-up grief and insecurity on a helpless niece, the washout uncle who has no power in his own house and decides to be king in someone else’s. Forget the friends who suddenly crawl out of the bushes to warn of the seven plagues. The parents of these defiant girls, I know, love their children as much any of us. What they do, right or wrong, is what they believe is right. 

Often, they’re right; sometimes, they’re not. 

I said this to the young woman on the phone last Sunday — that as parents, we fail not as much in our love as in our wisdom. “You can judge a man by what he does,” a character in a novel once said, “or you can judge him by what he would have done had he been aware of all his options.” So often, I told this woman, I’ve erred with my own children because I didn’t know better. Then, as now, I wished for nothing more than a voice that would save me from my own, so-called, wisdom. 

Maybe, I said, your parents don’t know there are other respectable, happy families in their community who have accepted and even embraced their children’s homosexuality. Maybe they don’t realize that the world is infinitely bigger than the few dozen self-appointed “leaders” they think they should follow. 

I received a great many e-mails and Facebook messages in response to the article about same-sex marriage. A few Ashkenazi readers warned me of heavenly wrath and earthly pestilence. One Iranian man complained that the Conservative movement is responsible for the fact that his daughter has gone to college and, as a result, remains unmarried in her 20s. Another berated me for calling some Orthodox Jews intolerant, then went on to say that the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements were all “European garbage.” There’s only one kind of “real” Judaism, he said, and that’s what he practices. But by far the great majority of writers expressed support and appreciation for Rabbi Wolpe’s decision to perform gay weddings at Sinai Temple. And by far the great majority of these writers were Iranian Jews who were glad to see their point of view reflected in the article. One woman stopped me on the street to say how proud she is that her daughter is involved in her school’s gay-straight alliance. A man wrote to say he attends an Orthodox shul, but that if his own children turn out to be gay, he would want to have a place like Sinai for his whole family to attend. 

Maybe, I told the woman on Sunday, your parents would act differently if they were aware of other possibilities. 

No one has asked me for advice here; even if they had, I doubt I’m qualified to offer it. But just in case my Sunday caller’s parents find themselves in the same dark valley where I often reside, in case they, like me, long for some hitherto hidden pathway to make itself visible, I thought I’d offer these small bits of truth: 

• Your daughter is not as small or large as her sexual orientation. She has a thousand other emotional and intellectual facets and capabilities. She’s the same child you deemed worthy of your love and protection before she, or you, knew she was gay. She is more precious, more important to you than all the wagging tongues and trigger-happy fingers who’ve suddenly decided that their own limited lives would improve if only someone else’s child would be banned by Rabbi Wolpe from marrying in Sinai Temple. For every one of those soap-box preachers in this town, there are dozens of intelligent, educated, wise men and women who accept and embrace your daughter and support her quest for personal fulfillment. 

You are not as small or large as your daughter’s sexual orientation. Even the town lunatics who try to cow you into “controlling” your children because they’re afraid of losing what little control they have over their own wives and daughters know this. They realize, even if you don’t, that the era of collective shame and inherited guilt, of an entire family being blamed for one member’s deeds or misdeed, has long passed. 

Finally, 

• There was an age in which most Jewish parents would rather see their daughter dead than divorced. The fear then — public embarrassment, social isolation, loss of status for the family and eternal misery for the divorced woman — was remarkably similar to the fear now. But times have changed for divorcees and, believe it or not, at least in California, for gay women and their families. 

It’s not easy to stand back and watch while one’s children make choices that we believe are wrong. The key is to remember that not everything we know is right. Outside the shtetls and the ghettos and the limited minds of big-mouth crusaders, there’s often more than one possibility.


Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in the Journal.

A Jew and a Muslim? L.A.-based NewGround wants to show we can all get along


Most Jews and Muslims rarely talk — really talk — to one another. This is as true in the United States as elsewhere, a stark reality despite our nation’s vast diversity and the ability of so many different peoples to coexist. It is true also in Los Angeles, a city of strong ethnic identities, long drives and even longer cultural memories. 

Indeed, even here, the few encounters among Muslims and Jews often feel like head-on collisions: Protests and counter-protests — many triggered by events in and around Israel — are usually the most visible interactions, but they’re hardly the only instances of tension. 

Some recent examples: In June 2012, Pamela Geller, a New York-based Jewish blogger and co-founder of Stop the Islamization of America, an organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was barred at the last minute from speaking inside the headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — but not before local Muslim groups reportedly threatened to protest outside the Wilshire Boulevard building. 

In 2010, 11 Muslim students repeatedly heckled and interrupted Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren while he was speaking at UC Irvine, until the students were finally removed from the room. They were arrested, cited for disturbing a public event, and, the following year, 10 were convicted in a jury trial and sentenced to perform community service. 

Also in 2010, young supporters of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, who attended a fundraiser at the Shangri La Hotel in Santa Monica, sued the hotel owner for violating their civil rights and allegedly saying, “I don’t want … any Jews in my pool.”  In 2012 a jury awarded damages to the FIDF plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the incident.

In 2006, leaders of the city’s most prominent Jewish organizations opposed giving a Los Angeles County humanitarian award to Dr. Maher Hathout, who is among the local Muslim community’s most respected leaders, on grounds that he had once maligned Israel as a “racist, apartheid state.”

And each spring, the debate over what constitutes free speech at California universities is reignited on every campus that holds a so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” or considers a resolution to boycott companies doing business in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Although students are the ones speaking out on campuses — on both sides — often they are being coached and encouraged by much larger Jewish and Muslim organizations.

Within the Jewish community, even the simple act of acknowledging the shared humanity of Muslims and Jews can be perilous. In 2012, when the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip escalated into battle, Rabbi Sharon Brous, spiritual leader of IKAR, expressed sympathy for both Israelis and Palestinians in a message to her congregants and was immediately, fiercely and publicly attacked for doing so by Rabbi Daniel Gordis of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Gordis argued that when Israel is at war, Jews should express support only for the Jewish state. Hardliners in the Muslim community similarly silence moderate voices on their side, as well. 

And yet, as in Israel, Jews and Muslims in Southern California often live, if not side by side, then just down the road from one another. So it is not surprising that those few who attempt to cross the chasm separating these faiths and peoples often find that Muslims and Jews share not just the same neighborhoods, but many of the same values.

Enter NewGround, an L.A. group that has made its mission to bridge the gap. For the past five years, this emerging organization has been housed at the epicenter of the city — in Los Angeles City Hall — where it has been creating encounters among young Muslims and Jews. Its tactic is to prioritize conversation over solutions, active listening over public statements, allowing for honest exchange instead of superficial agreement. 

NewGround already has forged deep relationships within its ever-expanding, carefully nurtured community of Muslims and Jews. And while differing views may continue to persist, NewGround’s training allows participants to acknowledge the conflict taking place half a world away without letting it limit all discussions here. 

“NewGround was founded precisely to overcome the tendency for international conflict to disrupt relationships locally,” Rabbi Sarah Bassin, the group’s executive director, said. “We treat conflict as an inherent part of this relationship, as it is part of all relationships.”

Each year, NewGround trains a group of fellows from the Jewish and Muslim communities who spend months together before beginning to talk about hot-button topics like Zionism or the movement known as BDS, which seeks to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. Those topics are raised during the second of two weekend retreats, toward the end of the 10-month program, by which time the fellows have learned crucial new communication skills and covered the (not entirely safe) subject of religion. The delay can, at least initially, be frustrating for those who came to the program specifically to talk to their counterparts about Israel. 

“I didn’t trust the process; I thought it was a waste of time,” Eliana Kaya, a fellow from NewGround’s third cohort in 2010, said in an interview. She is now executive coordinator at reGeneration, a nonprofit that supports the progressive Waldorf method of education for Israelis and Palestinians. “I would go up [to the leaders] at the end of every session and say, ‘Yala, when are we going to get to the real stuff?’ ” 

Shukry Cattan, a member of the most recent fellowship class, also wondered about the program’s structure. “There was all this buildup, and, for me, I kept thinking, ‘OK, what is this? Why are we waiting to the end?’ ” said Cattan, who is of Palestinian descent. “I thought the conversation was going to happen sooner.”

But Kaya, a practicing Jew, and Cattan, the son of a Christian mother and a Muslim father, both came to see the value of having relationships with the other members of their cohort in place before beginning such a difficult conversation. 

“When it actually did happen, I understood the process,” Cattan said. “Having built that relationship with people and having seen each other — not even as Jews and Muslims — but people who have lives and stories to share, hearing people’s perspectives and each other’s very difficult experiences with the conflict — you couldn’t just walk away and dismiss that person’s story because you knew that person.”

Already, more than 100 Jewish and Muslim professionals, most in their 20s and 30s, have graduated from NewGround’s yearlong, intensive and innovative fellowship program, which teaches communication skills, builds friendships and gives members of each faith a window into the beliefs, practices and politics of the other. For its efforts, NewGround has received accolades and awards from the Jewish, Muslim and interfaith communities, and groups in other American cities have begun attempts to adapt the NewGround model for their own Muslim and Jewish communities. 

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nears its Aug. 7 close, the world is closely watching the first meetings between Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators in more than two years. Yet regardless of what happens on the international stage, there’s also hope in what’s happening on the ground here in Los Angeles, where NewGround is building a foundation for open, ongoing communication between adversaries. 

The members of NewGround’s 2013 young professionals fellowship cohort pose for a picture after receiving their certificates of recognition and appreciation from the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. Photo by http://cbacarellaphoto.com/

There are precedents, to be sure. In the 1990s, leaders of L.A.’s Muslim and Jewish communities met regularly under an umbrella known as the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue. Since 2006, a group of progressive Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith leaders have convened under the aegis of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative, for meetings and events. 

NewGround is itself the outgrowth of a partnership formed in the post-9/11 early 2000s between two L.A.-based nonprofits, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), whose leaders first hoped to convene other Jewish and Muslim leaders, but had little success. Rather than turn away in failure, they turned to younger Jews and Muslims — tomorrow’s leaders.

Confronting bigotry in all its forms: When is the word ‘Jew’ an offensive stereotype?


An elected official in a small Florida town last week used the word “jew” as a verb to mean cheap or stingy. This set off a minor controversy which I'll report below. This hardly rises to the level of outrage triggered (pun intended) by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in another Florida town, 330 miles away, but it does raise the broader question of how our society deals with persistent and ugly stereotypes. And under what circumstances those stereotypes can explode into discrimination and even violence and murder.

Last week, the Apalachicola Times, a small weekly, published a story about the Franklin County Board of Commissioners meeting. It appeared to be a routine meeting, dealing with the mundane civic housekeeping activities of a rural government. Much of the story involved the commissioners' decision to hire a new superintendent of roads and a dispute among the commissioners over what salary to pay the person who was chosen for the position, a man who had worked for the county for 26 years.

During that discussion, Cheryl Sanders, the elected chairwoman of board, said that they were “not to be up here jewing over somebody's pay.” (You can see Sanders' comment on this video of the meeting at 14:36 of Part 6 of the videotape).

The local newspaper simply reported her statement without comment. It printed the word “jewing” as a verb, in the lower case.

Then a respected media watchdog blogger, Jim Romenesko, picked up the story and wrote that Sanders, who apparently had received some criticisms of her use of the word “jew” in that context, had apologized for using the comment. She told Romenesko that she had apologized to people who were offended by her remark via email. But she refused to show Romenesko a copy of the email.

Sanders told Romenesko over the phone: “I am not anti-Semitic and there was no malice toward anyone.” She added that “this has been blown out of proportion” and that county residents who questioned her use of the expression “have accepted my apology.” She hung up when Romenesko asked if she would forward the apology email she claimed to have sent.

In a follow-up blog, Romenesko quoted the paper's city editor, whose byline appeared on the story, as saying that he had no problem with the word “jew” as a verb. Romenesko mentioned that the editor, David Adlerstein, is Jewish, and quoted him.

“I have heard the expression on more than one occasion around these parts in my dozen years at the paper,” Adlerstein wrote Romenesko in an email. “It doesn't offend me, unless it's used to describe someone who cheats you. But haggling and dickering? To me, it's a proud trait of my tribe, and it's a solid cut above cold-hearted stiffing someone with a pious grin. But that's me.”

It appeared that, in his comments to Romenesko, Adlerstein had unwittingly dug himself into a hole, appearing to defend an anti-semitic statement by a local official. The fact that he is Jewish may have compounded the controversy.

So I called Adlerstein to get his version of these events. He told me that he is a “proud Jew.” “I'm the son of Hersch L. Adlerstein. He worked his entire life for the Anti Defamation League,” an organization devoted to identifying and opposing anti-semitism. The elder Adlerstein “fought all his life against anti-semitism,” his son said. The younger Adlerstein attended Brandeis University, a secular institution with strong Jewish roots and ties.

The 56-year old journalist told me that he has been editor of the Apalachicola Times for 12 years and that he loves living in the small community. He's known Cheryl Sanders the entire time. “She's a good lady,” he said.

Adlerstein acknowledged that the word “jew” can be a “rude, crude term” when used as a verb to connote someone who is cheap or is prone to cheat. “She knew what it meant,” Adlerstein said. When Sanders used the word at the county commission meeting, she was criticizing several of her fellow commissioners for being stingy. He insists that Sanders “wasn't referring to Jews. She wasn't slurring the Jewish people.”

Alderstein said that as a journalist, he wanted to quote Sanders accurately, without editorializing. In quoting her, he put the word “jew” in lower case because she was using it as a verb, not a noun. “I handled it carefully,” Alderstein told me.

Today, the Jewish Forward, a widely-read and respected newspaper, ran a story about the Florida incident, without a byline, taken from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The headline over the story read: “Florida Official Sorry for Using 'Jew-ing'”.

Despite the headline, the article provided no evidence of an apology. It relied entirely on Romenesko's blog which, as I noted earlier, could not confirm that Cheryl Sanders had, in fact, apologized to anyone.

After the Forward story appeared, however, Sanders did apologize. Alderstein told me today that at the Franklin County commissioners meeting this morning (Tuesday), Sanders opened the meeting with a formal apology. He said he intended to include her apology in his story that will appear in the paper that comes out Thursday. The video of today's meeting will be available later today or tomorrow on the Forgotten Coast TV website.

What lessons can we learn – about bigotry, insensitivity, hatred, and journalism – from this incident?

According to a bio on the internet, Cheryl Sanders grew up in Carabelle, Florida in Franklin County, located in the state's panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico. The county has slightly more than 11,000 people.

Unlike some other parts of Florida, Franklin County is not a major center of Jewish life. One report about the American Jewish population lists all the places in the U.S. with at least 100 Jews. Franklin County, Florida is not among them.

Alderstein told me that he estimates there are no more than 50 Jews in Franklin County and that there is no synagogue or Jewish organization. He mentioned that Danny Itzkovitz, who owns a popular restaurant in town, is Jewish.

But Alderstein said that people in Franklin County have little direct experience with Jews, and aren't familiar with Jewish holidays or Jewish rituals. If you look at the videotape of the July 2 county board of commissioners meetings, you'll see it began with a Christian prayer.

Cheryl Sanders is part of that culture. According to internet sources, she was born and raised in Franklin County, which gave 65% of its vote to Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. She graduated from Carrabelle High School in 1973 and attended Lively Vocational Technical School in Tallahassee. Sanders, whom Alderstein told me is a “conservative Democrat,” was elected to the Franklin County Board of County Commissioners in 1998 and was re-elected in 2002 and 2006. She was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the Northwest Florida Transportation Corridor Authority in 2005 to represent Franklin County. She is also on the boards of the Small County Coalition, the Florida Association of Counties, and the Alligator Point Taxpayers Association.

Caught like a deer in the headlights over her offensive remark,  Sanders is unlikely to use the word “jew” as a verb in public again. Of course I have no idea what she is saying in private to her friends about being embroiled in this mini-controversy. Does she realize that using the word “jew” as she did is offensive? Does she realize that it connotes a hateful stereotype about an entire group of people?

Cheryl Sanders told Romenesko : “I am not anti-Semitic and there was no malice toward anyone.”

She is probably telling the truth. As Alderstein noted in his interview with me, Sanders' use of the word “jew” was anti-semitic, but she may not personally be anti-semitic.

Is that a difference without a distinction?

Like most people of my generation, I grew up using the word “gyp” to mean “cheat” or “be cheap.” I frequently used the phrase “I got gyped” when I thought I was being cheated. At the time I didn't even realize that the word referred to gypsies and that it was a stereotype of an entire group. When someone point this out to me, I realized that it was offensive. I stopped using it. And when someone else uses it – usually unthinkingly and without malice — I point out its offensive connotation.

Likewise, I have heard other people use the word “jew” to mean cheap, stingy, and cheater, but I don't think they realized it was a slur and a stereotype until I point it out to them.

About 35 years ago, I was visiting a friend in a small rural town in Wisconsin. We visited her neighbor, a dairy farmer. In the nearby field, a bull and a cow were having sex. The farmer remarked: “You can't separate them any more than you can separate a city Jew from his money.” I pointed out that those words were offensive stereotypes about Jews. He honestly had no idea what I was talking about. He thought there was nothing offensive about this because he figured it was an accurate statement. He used it like he would use “knee high to a grasshopper” or some other cliché. I don't know if my attempt to educate him made any difference in terms of what he thought about Jews or about whether he'd continue to use the words.

I had no direct experience with gypsies, so when I used the word “gyp” it was something I'd picked up in the general culture, not something I knew first-hand. Similarly, the Wisconsin farmer I encountered 35 years ago had probably never met a Jew before. He got his stereotype about Jews from the broader culture.

But such stereotypes have a life of their own once they are deeply ingrained into our heads. Stereotypes are, according to the dictionary, “a standardized mental picture” that “represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.” Stereotypes are typically images that we take for granted, so that we don't think they are offensive.

Stereotypes are harmful not only because they demean an entire group, but also because they can lead people to translate their mental prejudices into hateful behavior and various forms of institutional discrimination.

Stereotypes shape how we treat people individually, whom we seek out as friends, where we decide to live (or not live), how we vote, how we decide on guilt or innocence as members of a jury. Stereotypes also influence who gets hired and promoted, whether banks provide mortgage loans to certain groups or in certain neighborhoods, whether people participate in a lynch mob or whether people speak out against genocide in their own societies or someplace else.

So once we become aware that we hold these bigoted images in our heads, we should stop using the words associated with them and point out their offensive character when others use them.

There are virulent bigots who use offensive words — about Jews, blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, gays, and other groups — consciously and with intended malice. They are easy to spot. They wear their bigotry proudly.

Some of them use hatred and prejudice to stir people up, in mass movements and in elections. Father Charles Coughlin, the Depression era “radio priest,” used anti-Semitism to whip up hatred and gain a large following. George Wallace used overt racism get elected Alabama Governor on a platform of resisting integration. George H. W. Bush used a slightly more subtle form of racism with his “Willie Horton” television commercials during his election campaign. Newt Gingrich was consciously using racist stereotypes when he referred to Obama as the “food stamp president” and then said “I'm prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” He knew exactly what he was saying. As I reported at the time in a Huffington Post column, he was using an ugly racist stereotype to win votes.

But not everyone who uses stereotypes is a hater or a manipulator, because some do so unwittingly and unthinkingly. That doesn't make it acceptable. It opens up the possibility that once we recognize these stereotypes, we can change our attitudes. There are many examples of people acknowledging and then overcoming their own prejudices. One of my favorites is depicted in Lillian Smith's 1949 book Killers of the Dream, which describes her confrontation with her own racism, the product of growing up white in the South.

Racial profiling is a form of stereotyping. Trayvon Martin was a victim of George Zimmerman's stereotype about young black males. Zimmerman isn't alone in carrying that racist stereotype in his head. Unfortunately, he was also carrying a gun with him. The combination of his stereotype and his gun became lethal.

The two recent examples of bigotry in Florida — George Zimmerman's racism and Cheryl Sanders' use of an anti-Semitic stereotype — are not the same. But they are both rooted in ugly and persistent hatreds that, if not challenged, can fester and explode into violence.


Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Jews should get offended by Palestinian insult


If there’s one thing the Palestinians are great at, it’s saying no. For years now, many peace-loving Jewish heads have been bruised from banging against the brick wall of Palestinian rejectionism.

Well, these Jews and others will now have another wall they can bang their heads against: the Western Wall. 

In case you missed it, the Palestinian Authority announced last week that they are adamantly opposed to Natan Sharansky’s plan to build an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel. Specifically, they will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount — which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza — in order to expand the area for an egalitarian service.

As Jonathan Tobin writes in Commentary, “The motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already gone on record as denying a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and, in a conference in Ramallah this week covered by JPost, he pointedly excluded the Jews when he said:

“The responsibility for defending and restoring Jerusalem and purifying its holy sites is not that of the Palestinians alone, but the entire Arab, Islamic and Christian nation.”

Where does this chutzpah come from?

If you ask me, I think it’s been nourished by the fact that Jews rarely get offended by Palestinian insults that touch the core of our identity.

What does Israel do when its so-called “moderate peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas publicly and brazenly denies any Jewish connection to Jerusalem? Instead of acting insulted, we prefer to act like stoic Zionists.

Given that Israel has let such insults and lies slide by for so long, is it any wonder that the Palestinians are now acting as if the whole Kotel area rightfully belongs to them?

Ever since Israel’s birth 65 years ago, way before any occupation, Israel has been putting up the two fingers of peace and getting a Palestinian middle finger in return.

Those insults haven’t just been about the four times Palestinians have said NO to having their own state — in 1948 with the United Nations partition plan and three times since. It’s more than that.

These rejections are symptoms of something deeper: a contempt for Jews, especially successful Jews who have their own state and claim a deep and historical connection to the Holy Land.

Having failed to express its own contempt for libelous insults, Israel has allowed the emotional narrative to slip away. It’s gotten so bad that there was hardly a peep in the Jewish world last week when Israel received the latest Palestinian middle finger denying the plan to make the Kotel more egalitarian. 

As Evelyn Gordon wrote in the Commentary blog, this might turn out to be a “teachable moment” for liberal American Jewry, who might now better understand that “dealing with the Palestinians isn’t quite so simple as they seem to think it is.”

I would go a step further. I would call this an “offendable” moment, a moment when Jewish groups the world over ought to draw a big, fat, red line and say loudly and clearly: “We are deeply offended that the Palestinian Authority is denying the 3,000-year Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and adamantly opposing our noble effort to add egalitarian prayer at our holiest site.”

Every Jewish group, including J Street, Peace Now and the Zionist Organization of America, should sign that statement. We might have honest disagreements about other areas, but all Jews should unite around this issue.

Jews are extraordinarily good at being offended by other Jews, but when it comes to responding to Arab insults, we clam up. Maybe we feel it’s just not “practical” to get too emotional in public.

But here’s the point — acting insulted when you feel insulted helps your case by making you look more real and more human. The Palestinians learned that lesson a long time ago.

In communication theory, one of the first things you learn is that people react more to emotion than to reason. And if there’s something Jews can get emotional about, it is certainly Jerusalem and the Kotel.

Whether or not the Palestinian objection can kill Sharansky’s plan (and the jury is still out on this), if a Palestinian leader has the chutzpah to tell the world that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem, we have every right to be deeply insulted and to call him on it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not only the right, but the obligation, to deliver this message to his Palestinian counterpart: “Jerusalem runs through the blood and bone marrow of the Jewish people. It has been that way for more than 3,000 years. When you say that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem, you know it is a lie. But for us it is more than a lie. It is an insult of the highest order and we kindly request an apology.”

That sounds pretty reasonable to me.


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

Parade, day of unity mark Lag B’Omer


Two major community events marked the relatively minor holiday of Lag B’Omer on April 28, bringing some bombast — and thousands of people — to local celebrations.

In Pico-Robertson, Pico Boulevard was transformed into a pedestrian’s paradise for Jews from across Southern California while Thousand Oaks welcomed people for a Jewish Day of Unity.

“The Great Parade” on Pico restricted the road to foot, bike and (lots of) stroller traffic between Doheny Drive and Livonia Avenue, organized by Rabbi Chaim Cunin’s Chabad of California along with more than a dozen other Chabads, the Jewish Journal and its parent company, TRIBE Media Corp.

Festivities kicked off at 10:30 a.m. with musical performances by Israeli artist and former “Les Misérables” Broadway performer Dudu Fisher, Sam Glaser, shofar musical artist David Zasloff and the Cheder Menachem Boys Choir.

Until late evening, Pico became a Jewish summer carnival, with families streaming in and out and clowns dancing in the streets. The sound of games filled the air, along with the smell of kosher eats. 

Jonathan Abesera, who rode with two of his children on the Chabad SOLA (South La Cienega) parade float, said it felt like putting on a huge Jewish party in the center of Los Angeles.

“Look at this. It’s beautiful to see how we closed off the street,” Abesera said. “All the other people who are not even involved, who are not even Jewish — how impressed they are.” 

The parade, which resembled a slice of kosher Mardi Gras in Pico-Robertson, featured bagpipes, 9/11 tribute cars, “Trinidad drummers” and even the inauguration of the world’s first “Mitzvah Cable Car,” a restored San Francisco cable car purchased by the Chabad of San Francisco and trucked into Los Angeles the night before the festival.

In Thousand Oaks, Chabad leaders from the Conejo Valley and Ventura County focused on ways to get the larger Jewish community to celebrate the holiday together.

“Two months ago, some of the Chabad centers around the Conejo Valley and Ventura County got to talking and discussed how in the past we all did our own events for Lag B’Omer in local parks,” explained Rabbi Dov Muchnik, who with his wife Racheli, serves as co-director of the Chabad of Oxnard. “However, because the theme of Lag B’Omer is Jewish unity, we realized this was the perfect occasion for all of our communities to get together.

The result was the first Jewish Day of Unity, held at Thousand Oaks High School, where people gathered to commemorate the 33rd day after Passover, which some say marks the end of an ancient plague and the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

“This event is not specifically Chabad,” said Devorah Heidingsfeld, an event organizer and co-director of Chabad of Moorpark. “Instead, we removed all the labels and made it just about Jews as a greater extended family.”

The Day of Unity, whose highlights included performances by the band Moshav and Chazzan Pablo Duek of Temple Etz Chaim, offered everything from a children’s choir and orchestra to fire jugglers. There was other typical festival fare, too: rides, food and vendors for products and services ranging from self-defense classes to international tour organizers. 

Sylvia Wildfire, a Conejo resident since 1997, said the event made her proud to be part of the area’s Jewish community.

“The one thing I love is looking around and seeing so many people here,” she said. “This is amazing, to see different branches of the community coming out, supporting each other and interacting.”

Event co-organizer Auna Simon engaged children in arts and crafts, designing cards for Israeli soldiers to show their support for their efforts on behalf of protecting Israel.  

As 5-year-old Michael Beck put his finishing touches on his portrait of an Israeli soldier, his mother, Miri Beck, said, “It is amazing to see so many people coming together to relax and enjoy the day as well as connect.”

Suckers at the Casbah


Apparently, there are smart people out there who still believe it’s up to Israel to revive the dead Middle East peace process.

Just last week, over 100 prominent American Jews released a letter, sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take “concrete steps” to entice the Palestinians back to the peace table.

Hmm, haven’t we seen this movie a few too many times?

Somehow, I doubt that any of these prominent Jews would negotiate against themselves for years to buy a house from an owner who didn’t want to sell — let alone negotiate.

But what makes their approach especially ill-advised is that in the case of negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace, they mixed up the owner and the buyer.

The party who owns peace is the party who can deliver peace, and that’s Israel. The Palestinian Authority can neither promise nor deliver peace. That’s because they have zero authority over Hamas, the terror entity in Gaza that rules over half of the Palestinian population and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Evidently, that inconvenient detail hasn’t stopped the IPF signatories from urging Israel to “do more” to buy a meeting with the non-owners of peace.

This reflexive focus on Israel is not new — it’s been going on since the Oslo days. Ironically, all it’s done is create an opposite reflex on the Palestinian side — to dig in their heels and increase their animosity.

Emboldened by all the pressure on Israel, the Palestinians pile on new demands, malign the Jewish state at every turn and even threaten to take their “peace partners” to international criminal courts.

The IPF says on its Web site that its goal is to “promote pragmatic strategies for achieving regional peace.” Well, here’s a good topic for their next policy conference: “Is pressuring Israel the most pragmatic strategy for achieving regional peace?”

They might want to invite President Obama to that conference so he can remind them what he said recently in Ramallah: No preconditions should be expected of the Israelis for the Palestinians to return to the peace table.

It took Obama four years to understand that it’s not “pragmatic” to pressure the side that is already willing to sit down and negotiate. But now that there’s renewed pressure on Israel to take “concrete steps,” we’re right back where we started.

The Palestinians, right on cue, have promptly piled on new demands: The release of terrorist prisoners, transfer of parts of Area C in the West Bank to their control, and, get this, a map with final borders — all before any peace talks can maybe resume.

In other words, the more pressure on Israel to make friendly gestures, the more the Palestinians get nasty and raise the ante. Sound familiar?

It’s as if the Palestinians are saying, “Give us everything we ask for, and maybe, maybe, we’ll come talk to you, even though we can’t deliver peace.”

It should be obvious by now that the Palestinians are playing everyone like a fiddle, and the IPF reflex chorus who are urging Israel to make more gestures are playing right into their hands, like suckers at the Casbah. 

In case you were wondering, this is not about getting American Jews to shut up — not even Mashiach can do that. Jews in America have every right to speak up and pressure Israel whenever they feel like it, and many of them do.

But in Judaism, there’s something more important than rights — there’s obligation.

You may believe, in fact, that it’s an obligation for pro-Israel Jews to pressure Israel to take more risks for peace, but if you believe that, then why stop there?

Why is it not an obligation for pro-Israel Jews to lobby for at least equal pressure on the Palestinians who have refused for years to come to the peace table?

Why is it not an obligation for pro-Israel Jews to expose the glorifying of terrorism and Jew-hatred in Palestinian society, the Hamas charter calling for Israel’s destruction and the history of Palestinian rejection to Israeli peace offers?  

And while we’re at it, why is it not an obligation for pro-Israel groups like J Street to lobby against the vicious and libelous global campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state? Isn’t that “pro-Israel” enough?

Where is the letter campaign from those prominent, Israel-loving IPF signatories pressuring the United Nations to stop its blatant discrimination against Israel?

And where is their campaign pressuring Israel’s Arab neighbors to stop the demonizing of Jews and using Israel as a scapegoat for their self-inflicted misery?

For many peace-loving American Jews today, being “pro-Israel” essentially means “pressuring Israel and no one else.”

Beyond the fact that that approach has been a disaster for peace, it’s hardly a secret that Israel is already under enormous pressure from a hostile world. It boggles the mind how smart and savvy pro-Israel Jews can conclude that what Israel and the peace process need more than anything right now is … more pressure on Israel.

Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself, but from its enemies. Instead of getting more pressure to make peace, Israel needs help exposing the Jew-haters of the world who are the real obstacles to peace.

Just because we have the right to pressure Israel about peace doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Yom HaShoah: An eternal nation, bound together by our faith


A few months after my bar mitzvah, my father disappeared.

We didn’t know what had happened to him.

In our apartment in Budapest, there was a couch under the window and I would stand on it day after day looking into the street, watching, waiting for my father to appear.

In a way, I waited for almost 50 years.

In all that time, I never forgot him.

Even in my dreams.

As I slept, I would feel him bending over me.

And I would wake relieved that he was there … and then confused that he wasn’t.

I had this dream on and off for almost 50 years.

It was only when my family found out what happened to him that the dreams stopped.

Once I knew what happened, I wanted to do something.

I wanted to honor his memory. 

But mostly, I wanted to stand in the place where he perished to see if I could feel him.

So here I am, with all of you in Birkenau.

I know he was also here, under this same sky.

Just like almost half a million Hungarian Jews, he came to this place in a wagon, and almost immediately after arriving, disappeared as smoke into this sky

I was 13 when I lost my father and now I am 82 and, you know, I still miss him.

To the young people here today, I want to say that your mother and father always matter — even when you get to my age.

And honoring your parents matters very much while they are alive — and when they are no longer with us.

I still feel the loss of my father, but there is something I have gained.

You see, there were things about him that i did not know. 

I knew he was a good man, a good father, a religious Jew who believed in God.

He worked as a travelling salesman and he was modest.

I never realized that he had strength — the spiritual strength — to take on the brutal guards here in Birkenau.

No matter how hard they hit him, he protected the sanctity of his tallit and tefillin.

They could break his body but they could not break his spirit.

The tallit and tefillin were part of him, part of his personal relationship with god and he was ready to die for them.

And he did.

He did so in front of others who knew what was in his little bag and who tried to stop him from protecting it.

In front of all his people, he fought for his faith with a spiritual courage I never knew he had.

You see, my father was an ordinary man.

But in extra-ordinary times, people do extra-ordinary things, if they have it in them in the first place — well,  he certainly did.

Hugo’s legacy lives on in four generations. Besides me,  three grandsons and a great-granddaughter represent them here today.

Also here today are two people who are important to my father’s story.

Allan Lowy, who you just saw on the film, is the son of Meyer Lowy who witnessed what happened to my father and told us about it.

Meyer Lowy was not a relative but grew close to my father on this journey and lived to tell the story.

And Dr. Roland Huser, from Germany, is also here with us.

We found the wagon at his museum and he gave it to us to restore and place it here in Birkenau.

Three years ago when the wagon was brought here, I had the privilege to place my own tallis and tefillin in the wagon, to replace those torn from my father’s hands.

For me, this helps to heal the brokenness of the past.

Some two centuries ago, Rabbi Nachman of Breslev taught, “If you believe the world can be broken, then know that it can also be fixed.”

Fixing means understanding what happened, healing the pain, and building a better future.

The Nazi’s wanted not only to destroy the physical presence of the Jewish people, but to wipe us out spiritually as well, and leave no trace.

But look at us here today.

Perhaps all those Hungarian Jews, including my father, who disappeared into this sky are looking down on us today.

They see how young, how strong, and how full of promise you are.

They see how the plan to break and crush us, has made us stronger.

Throughout history, others have tried to destroy us as a nation but none have succeeded.

We are an eternal nation, bound together by our faith.

Am yisroel chai!


Frank Lowy, co-founder of the Westfield group, delivered this speech at the March of the Living ceremony held April 8, 2013 in Auschwitz, Poland.  The ceremony honored his father, Hugo Lowy, who was murdered in the concentration camp.  The speech followed a six minute film entitled, “Spiritual Resistance” which tells the story of Hugo Lowy. The video begins at 1:11.