Imagining a seder in my home a century ago

With 30-minute seders, food drives for the hungry and boxes of perfectly baked matzah, we like to think that in 2015 we have finally achieved a modern, socially relevant and easy-to-observe Passover. But in Los Angeles, if we were to travel back 100 years to 1915, in any way-back conveyance of your choosing, we would see that our approach to Passover is really not so new. In fact, many of the current trends in holiday observance were already very much in place in the City of Angels of that time.

I live in a house a few miles west of downtown that has remained largely unchanged since it was built in 1916, so atmospherically, at least, it is not hard for me to imagine what the first night of Passover might have been like back then. A guest sitting down to a seder in our dining room sees that the walls are wainscoted with oak paneling, the lighting dim and the door to the adjacent kitchen swinging. During the seder, one can catch a glimpse of oneself drinking wine or eating maror in a built-in-mirrored sideboard.

Today, to prepare for the seder, we shop at Ralphs, Pavilions and Western Kosher, but recently, while bringing up our Passover dishes from the basement, I wondered where, in 1915, would I have shopped, and at the end of the holiday, where would I go to Yizkor services? What might have been my social concerns? And, most critically, if I ran out of matzah farfel, how close would I have been from a Jewish neighbor from whom I could borrow?

In the “History of the Jews of Los Angeles,” authors Max Vorspan and Lloyd P. Gartner estimate that in 1900, some 2,500 Jews lived in L.A. — out of a population of 102,000 — with one-third living downtown. By 1914, they estimate that a growing Jewish population — between 18,000 and 20,000 in 1918 — included “prosperous and acculturated Jews” who were settling westward, in such areas as Wilshire, West Adams and Hollywood.

Replica of the wooden cigar-style box in which Manischewitz matzahs were sold. Photo by Edmon J. Rodman

Growing with the Jewish population was the circulation of the B’nai B’rith Messenger (1897-1995), a Jewish weekly named for the city’s prominent Reform temple (in 1933, Congregation B’nai Brith was renamed Wilshire Boulevard Temple). In its pages for March and April 1915, I found most of the Passover provisions I would need for pantry and soul.

Among pages that featured an ad for Hellman Commercial Trust and Savings Bank, and a notice that Dr. Hecht (a reference to the synagogue’s Rabbi Sigmund Hecht) would be giving a sermon titled “The Hope of Nations” at Congregation B’nai B’rith on the first day of Passover, I found a display ad for the Palace Market at 622 S. Broadway. “Now on hand” were “Kosher Goods for the Passover,” including “Matzos, Matzo Meal, Cake Flour,” as well as a full line of “kosher sausage, smoked meats and delicatessen.”

But would it be the same bread of affliction that we have all come to adore?

Before the introduction of mass production methods, according to historian Jonathan D. Sarna, “most matzah had been round, irregular or oval-shaped.” Changing tradition in 1912, the Manischewitz Co. began to advertise its product, kneaded, rolled, stretched, perforated and cut by machine, as “Manischewitz’s Square Matzoths.”

What a relief. Although not any better for a sandwich than today’s product, at least it would be familiar.

For new yontif clothes, I found an ad for Harris & Frank, 437 S. Spring St. Previously called the London Clothing Co., the name changed when founder Leopold Harris took in his son-in-law, Herman W. Frank, as a general manager and partner. Although known for its dapper menswear, the ad promoted a “special purchase” of women’s dresses representing “the keenest of new styles” at $15.

The week before Passover, an appeal by the “Passover Supply Society” was published that, with only a change in diction, could have appeared in a Jewish paper 100 years later. Citing unemployment and high cost of living, the society sought by soliciting “our more fortunate coreligionists,” to “help worthy poor families and individuals in properly observing the approaching Feast of Passover.”

Along with Passover food, new duds and a start on helping at least a few who were in need, I also needed an era-appropriate haggadah.

At the suggestion of Kevin Proffitt, senior archivist at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, I searched for the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis, founded in 1889) haggadah that had come out as a section in 1892 in the Union Prayer Book. By 1903, according to Proffitt, more than 300 congregations, “not all aligned with the Reform Movement, used the prayer book and over 100,000 copies had been sold,” he wrote in an email.

Finding the book at Los Angeles’ Hebrew Union College library, I turned to the “Domestic Service for the Eve of Passover.” Mostly in English, and using a dialogue format where the leader reads longer passages, and the youngest at the table responds with a line or two, the text seemed quite modern in its approach to participation. At only 30 pages, it also looked to be a forerunner of several contemporary haggadot designed for seders lasting 30 or 60 minutes.

I did wonder, however, about later having to shake the matzah crumbs out of my siddur.

From left: Opening page from the CCAR haggadah and illustration of the Four Sons from the 1910 Hebrew Publishing haggadah. Photos courtesy of the Frances-Henry Library at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College

Another haggadah, in a more familiar booklet style that would have been available at the time, was the “Form of Service for the Two First Nights of the Feast of Passover,” published in 1910 by Hebrew Publishing. With the entire text in Hebrew and English, and with illustrations, it was more to my liking, although the first of the Four Questions translated as, “Wherefore is this night distinguished from all other nights,” quickly alerted me to its vintage.

For Passover recipes, the San Francisco branch of the Council of Jewish Women offered an entire chapter in its “Council Cook Book” (1908-09) devoted to Passover dishes, including “Matzo Kloess,” (kloess is German for boiled or steamed dumpling) for soup, as well as recipes for sponge, date and chocolate matzah cakes.

As to where we might daven in 1915, two locations were possibilities.

In 1909, Congregation Sinai (which later became Sinai Temple) had dedicated its first house of worship. Designed in classic Greek revival style by architect Samuel Tilden Norton, according to “Sinai Temple: A Centennial History,” by Florie Brizel, it featured a pipe organ in the choir loft above the main pulpit; a “serious departure” for the time, as playing music, in traditional quarters, is considered a form of work. Because kashrut was observed, the temple also had two kitchens.

Located at 12th and Valencia streets (today, the same building has become the Pico Union Project), it was a couple of miles from where my house would be built in 1916, just a short yellow streetcar ride away. The congregation’s leader at that time, Rabbi Isidore Meyers, wrote Brizel, was a “brilliant, witty, clever and very independent-minded theologian.” 

Because it was a Conservative temple, I could sit next to my wife. If I were to nod off during one of the rabbi’s brilliant sermons, she could nudge me awake.

My other choice would have been Congregation B’nai B’rith. Founded in 1862, in 1915 it occupied an onion-domed Victorian structure downtown at Ninth and Hope. Looking through its yearbook for 1915-16, I found that “Strangers in the city are always heartily welcome to our weekly services,” and that Rabbi Hecht was available for consultation in his study “every afternoon (except Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) between 1:30 and 3:30.”

There was also a temple sewing circle that with the “hum of busy machines” turned out “work for the benefit of the needy.”

Two years before the United States entered the “Great War,” the yearbook also counseled that “Jewish Relief work undertaken in this country for the relief of the Jews in the war zones” had “thus far been woefully inadequate.”

Looking through the congregation directory, among the historically notable families are the Lazards, Meybergs, Newmarks, Nortons, Edelmans and Kremers, but I also found many potential neighbors living on my street, as well as on those adjacent. 

It was comforting to know that if I ever ran low on matzah, or wanted to chat over a bowl of matzah kloess soup, other landsmen would be just a few blocks away.

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at

Lacking long-term plans, many U.S. Jewish cemeteries in neglect

For years, the historic Jewish cemetery was so overgrown with weeds, plagued by toppled headstones, and littered with fallen branches, beer cans and snack-food wrappers that at least a quarter of its graves were impossible to reach.

Even now, after a $140,000 cleanup and improved maintenance procedures, the 35,000-grave cemetery relies on the generosity of a non-Jewish volunteer to repair its tombstones, fences and mausoleums.

The cemetery isn’t in Eastern Europe. It’s the Bayside Cemetery in the Queens borough of New York City, and it’s among countless Jewish cemeteries across the country in varying states of disrepair. Some 40 to 50 of them are in the New York area alone.

There are a plethora of reasons for Jewish cemeteries’ troubles. Many are owned by synagogues, associations or burial societies that no longer exist or are on their last legs. Once a cemetery stops bringing in revenues – i.e. fresh graves — the operating budget dries up unless sufficient money has been set aside for the long term. At Bayside, annual cemetery upkeep costs $90,000.

“Based on current practices, substantially all Jewish cemeteries will be unable to pay for their upkeep within 25 to 50 years after their last grave is sold,” said Gary Katz, president of New York’s Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries, a group founded in 2007 and funded largely by UJA-Federation of New York.

[Related: Restoring Mount Zion Cemetery]

While most nonprofit cemeteries are required to put aside a certain percentage of their revenues into endowment funds for the future — ranging from 10 percent to 40 percent, depending on the state — most experts say that amount is not enough to ensure a cemetery will remain financially viable. Furthermore, many Jewish cemeteries are registered as religious organizations and wholly exempt from state regulations. At such cemeteries, plot owners have no way of knowing whether the family plot will be maintained two or three generations on.

Mark Stempa, who according to tax filings earned more than $500,000 in 2012 running two large nonprofit Jewish cemeteries in Queens — Mount Zion and Mount Carmel — and is a paid board member of a third, says his cemeteries are approaching capacity and already relying on investment income to cover operations.

“We conservatively invest, and hopefully that income generated from the trust funds is going to care for the cemetery in the future,” he told JTA. But, Stempa acknowledged, “What’s going to happen in 100 years, I really don’t know.”

By the time a cemetery is full, it should have 20 times its annual operating expenses in an endowment, says Stan Kaplan, chairman of the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America and executive director of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts. But few do, he says.

“As the community changes, we’ll have more defaults,” Kaplan said.

In city after city, local Jewish communities – often, as in Bayside’s case, the local federation – are having to step in and put up money to save Jewish burial grounds.

“If the cemetery doesn’t have enough money and its owners abandon it, whose responsibility will it be to take care of it?” asked David Zinner, executive director of Kavod v’Nichum, a national organization that provides training to Jewish burial societies.

A number of communities are trying to ensure that their Jewish cemeteries are cared for in perpetuity by reshaping the way their cemeteries operate. The focus is on collaboration and long-term financial planning.

The Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati was established as a nonprofit in 2004 by pooling the endowments of struggling and financially viable cemeteries and raising $6 million. The organization now runs most of the Cincinnati area’s Jewish cemeteries.

“We were very fortunate to have the Jewish foundation willing to put up a lot of money to make this happen,” said David Hoguet, executive director of the organization. “If money were available in other cities, you’d see more of this happening.”

The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, created in 1984, now manages 108 cemeteries. It originally took over only insolvent cemeteries, but later absorbed several healthy and operational ones as well. It has raised $10 million to endow its operations — one-fourth of what is needed to cover its annual expenses in perpetuity.

A cemetery association launched in 2004 by the Jewish federation in New Haven, Conn., has taken ownership of eight cemeteries and created a centralized maintenance system that other Jewish cemeteries pay to use.

But cemetery collectives are the exception rather than the rule. Most Jewish communities don’t have any central association to deal with cemeteries, and those that do often have minimal funding or limited purviews. It’s also hard to get operational and financially healthy cemeteries that might be able to subsidize the care of other cemeteries to come under a communal umbrella.

Zinner says Jewish communities need to face the challenges of cemetery maintenance collectively – and ahead of time.

“Don’t wait until there’s a disaster,” he said. “Every Jewish cemetery should have a representative of the Jewish community at large on its board.”

USC-Shoah head named to genocide education chair

As the executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education, Stephen Smith is known for his work preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

Now, the USC adjunct professor of religion is being given a platform to promote education about crimes against humanity on an even broader level. On Sept. 24, Smith was named the inaugural holder of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) chair on genocide education. It was established in partnership by USC and UNESCO to promote research, training, information and documentation on genocide education and encourage collaboration among internationally recognized researchers and educators.

“I am a firm believer that education is the bedrock of our efforts to prevent genocide,” Smith said in a statement. “Through this partnership, USC and UNESCO are joining forces to develop the research networks and education programs essential to understand and limit genocide in future generations.”

Praising Smith’s and the Shoah Foundation’s awareness-building efforts, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement that she expects Smith to thrive as the program’s chair.

 “We anticipate that this new chair, placed under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Smith, will contribute to increased international cooperation on these matters by connecting with UNESCO’s network of university chairs and by supporting the activities of the organization in issues pertaining to the history of the Holocaust, genocide and to human rights,” she said.

Smith’s appointment is part of the UNITWIN (University Twinning and Network Scheme)/UNESCO Chairs Programme, which “enables chairs to serve as bridge builders between academia, civil society, local communities, research and policy-making,” according to a USC press release.

Established nearly 20 years ago, the USC Institute maintains an archive of nearly 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses from 57 countries and in 33 languages. Its collection also includes testimonies from eyewitnesses to genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia and Armenia.

Los Angeles history: Jewish dreamers, schemers of the San Fernando Valley

Have you ever been lost on Ventura Boulevard, a street that’s long on history? One night, I found myself west of the 405 Freeway, searching for the street on which to turn left to pick up my teenage son and realized I’d totally lost my bearings.

Separated from the San Fernando Valley by a range of mountains and life choices, I don’t come here often. A couple of Jewish weddings at the Sportsmen’s Lodge, visits to Valley Beth Shalom for our son’s Hebrew High School graduation, a family wedding at the L.A. Equestrian Center, and beyond that, for this Mid-City dweller, it’s the great ek velt (boondocks).

Trying to reset my compass as the storefronts rushed by, I searched for landmarks: a kosher restaurant, a synagogue, a large clock with Hebrew numbers. I remembered that I was supposed to turn left at a deli.

Demographically speaking, I knew where I was. Years earlier, I had edited a Los Angeles Jewish population survey. On a graph, a dense swarm of blue dots marked the area of Encino through which I was driving. Each dot represented a Jewish household, and each household represented a story of Jewish migration.

Some had moved there from Boyle Heights and the Adams District in the postwar boom years of the early 1950s. Others, since the 1980s, had moved from the city’s metro region looking for what they described in the survey as a “better area.”

But long before that, in the closing years of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century — a time not counted in any survey — Jews also migrated to the San Fernando Valley, not so much because it was better, but because it was bigger and open, and they came to build dreams.

A few blocks later I found Jerry’s Deli and made my turn. But instead of heading up the street to get my son, I was drawn by the light of the deli case in the window and turned into the parking lot.

The case was jammed with stuffed cabbage, kugel and pickled tomatoes. But then I saw the pumpernickel. “An East Coast baker must have migrated to the Valley,” I remember thinking.

As I was discovering, the Valley was built on stories of Jewish migration, with even the wheat grown to make bread figuring prominently in its history.

Isaac Lankershim —yes, the boulevard is named after him — is introduced by the online Jewish Museum of the American West as both “Creator of the San Fernando Valley Breadbasket and Enigma.”

In the 1850s, Lankershim, who moved to the United States from Bavaria, made a name for himself in San Francisco, where he was known as the “Wheat King.”

In the late 1860s, Lankershim moved to Los Angeles, where, according to David Epstein, the co-publisher of Western State Jewish History (which created the online museum), Lankershim became associated with Harris Newmark and other Jewish businessmen. “The Jewish community thought of him as an idiosyncratic Jew,” said Epstein, who pointed out that though Lankershim had converted to the Baptist faith before moving to Los Angeles, “He thought Jewish,” Epstein said.

According to the museum, “In 1869, Lankershim and investors from San Francisco purchased 60,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley for $115,000, forming the San Fernando Valley Farm Homestead Association.” 

The ranch consisted of what we know today as Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Encino, Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys and North Hollywood. It stretched from Roscoe Boulevard down to the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, and from the Calabasas Hills to the western city limits of Burbank.

At first, Lankershim used the land to raise sheep, but after a drop in prices, he turned to farming wheat. Following a few seasons of drought, he harvested a crop so large that he had to build a wagon road to carry it to the pier in Santa Monica. The current 405 follows some of that same path.

In the following decades, Jewish dreamers and schemers began to subdivide Lankershim’s map.

In 1923, Victor Girard Kleinberger, a former imitation-Persian-carpet salesman, founded the town of Girard, which in the 1940s would change its name to Woodland Hills.

The Los Angeles Times has called him “a land huckster with big dreams.” But, Betty Bowler, the historian for the Woodland Hills Country Club, which she said was founded by Girard in 1925, prefers to think of him “as a dreamer.” 

“We have Jewish weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs here,” she added.

In 1899, Girard — who had dropped his last name — moved to Los Angeles. According to Kevin Roderick’s book “The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb,” the young real-estate tycoon started Girard on 2,000 hilly acres. His plan was to subdivide and sell tiny lots — 25 feet wide, just large enough to build a cabin.

To attract prospects to the part of the West Valley that had no street cars and was accessible only via a Sepulveda Pass much steeper and serpentine than it is today, Girard booked “sucker buses,” to bring them to his development.

Wanting to create the illusion of an up-and-coming city, according to the Times, Girard erected false storefronts. On the corner of what is now Topanga Canyon and Ventura boulevards, Girard built a “Turkish city” — an assortment of minarets and gates.

In 1929, the stock market crash, as well as reports that he had double-sold some of the parcels, spurred Girard to leave, along with some of his town’s residents.

As to his legacy, in Woodland Hills today, many of the more than 100,000 eucalyptus, pepper and other trees Girard planted on the hillsides can still be seen along Canoga Avenue, south of Ventura.

Some of Girard’s original cabins still exist, though many have been modified. “I feel like I’m on vacation every day living here,” said Heide Bowen, who has rented one of the original cabins for the last six years. “It’s tiny, cozy and has a fireplace,” she added.

In the 1930s, another Jew, movie star Francis Lederer, would also leave his mark in the San Fernando Valley by building a mission-style home on a 300-acre ranch in what is today West Hills.

After a successful acting career in Europe on both stage and screen, Lederer came to America in 1932 to be on Broadway. Seeing what was happening in Europe, he decided to stay.

“The grim events in Germany are a lesson to the whole Jewish race,” Lederer said in 1934, as reported by JTA.

The handsome matinee idol, memorialized by a star on Hollywood Boulevard, played the lead in such films as “The Gay Deception” and “One Rainy Afternoon,” eventually appearing as the lead in “The Return of Dracula” in 1958. Also that year, he played Otto Frank in a theatrical production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” on a U.S. tour.

Lederer’s Spanish Revival home, built with the help of John R. Litke of natural stone and meant to look old, sits on a hilltop on Sherman Way. In 1978, the house was declared a Los Angeles landmark. A nearby mission-style stable, also built by Lederer, was also declared a landmark and today is an event site, known as the Hidden Chateau and Gardens.

Lederer’s house is now on the market, and, according to real estate agent Sarah Cartell, the Lederers used to “shoot up fireworks to let the neighbors know when cocktail hour had started,” she said.

Jill Milligan, the proprietor of the Gardens, who knew Marion Lederer, Francis’ third and last wife, said, “Marion would have liked to have the property seen as a tribute to Francis, who has had such a legacy in the West Valley.

“For many years, Francis was an honorary mayor of Canoga Park,” she added about the movie star who died in 2000 at the age of 100. 

Dan Brin, president of the West Hills Neighborhood Council and former editor of the now-late Jewish newspaper The Heritage, added of the home: “I’m very much in favor of somebody stepping forward and making it possible for the entire community to enjoy this resource.”

Back at the deli, where this journey through San Fernando Valley Jewish history began, I bought a loaf of bread and drove up the hill to retrieve my son. Taking the same route as Lankershim’s wheat to get home, we headed through the Sepulveda Pass. 

Yigal Kipnis on Yom Kippur War’s lessons

Yigal Kipnis is an Israeli historian; since 1978 he has been a farmer and a resident of the Golan Heights. He teaches at the University of Haifa and researches the settlement geography and political history of Israel. Kipnis also served as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force for 31 years (26 of them in the IAF reserves). The following exchange focuses on his book, “1973: The Road to War,” which came out in Hebrew in late 2012. The book has received fantastic reviews in the Israeli press by various acclaimed critics and is scheduled to appear in English later this year.

Shmuel Rosner: Your book, and this is no big secret, was immediately embraced by the Israeli so-called “peace camp.” I always find it a little disturbing that history books become a political tool, but in today’s political environment this is probably unavoidable.

The conclusion drawn by many of your readers was this: Israel wasn’t vigorous enough in pursuing peace back in 1973, and the result was devastating. It should therefore be careful not to miss such opportunities today, and be more forthcoming in its conduct when negotiating with its neighbors. 

Is this your conclusion as well? Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of 1973?

Yigal Kipnis: Your question links the realm of my research — history — and the area you deal with: investigating and interpreting the present.

The book “1973, The Road to Waris entirely devoted to the events of 1973 (except for the Marwan story, which continues up to the present). As I wrote in my introduction, the findings relating to that year were that: “Decision makers in Israel had been mistaken in thinking that their military superiority and deterrence, along with the political support of the United States, would both prevent a political process which they did not want and uphold the favorable (to Israel) status quo. The Israeli prime minister and minister of defense did not comprehend that, in order to ensure Israeli security, military superiority was not enough; a peace agreement was also necessary.”

But I was careful to end the introduction with the following paragraph: “Despite the fact that the book discusses the events of 1973, the attention of many readers will be directed toward the present. History, as is well known, does not repeat itself, but it is important to be familiar with it, as such knowledge assists us in better evaluating current events.”

Nevertheless, many readers examined the book’s findings in accord with their own attitudes about the present-day political situation, a fact that you justifiably deplore. Members of the “peace camp” were indeed happy with these findings so that they could base their present positions on the lessons of 1973. Correspondingly, for the same reason, the “right-wing camp” found it difficult to accept the facts about 1973, some without even learning these facts. There were those who went further, ignoring the findings and viewing only the present, maintaining that Israel should not have considered coordination with the United States and should have launched a preventive attack. With regard to 1973, they are mistaken.

In this paragraph, I reply specifically to your question:

“The actions of the prime minister and the minister of defense that led to the Yom Kippur War evoke thoughts about the role of a national leader, about the relations between decision makers and evaluation bodies, about the price of silencing a mobilized or a paralyzed media, about the price of the ‘national euphoria’ that characterized Israeli society in the ‘euphoric period’ between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and, particularly, about the price of a sense that time is working in Israel’s favor.”

But the position that Israel should take at present must be investigated comprehensively considering the Zionist process and present realities, and not according to those of 1973.

I believe, and with no connection to the events of 1973, that Israeli peace agreements with the Arab states surrounding it were and have remained a strategic Israeli goal and thus, it had to act to achieve this goal and still should. These agreements must be based on the international border that defined, for the first and only time in history, the state entity of the land of Israel. This definition stemmed from a decision by the Israeli unity government in June 1967, nine days after the end of the Six-Day War. This decision also expressed how its ministers, both on the left and on the right, and including Menachem Begin, conceived of the way to turn the military achievement of the Six-Day War into a political achievement. This policy was implemented in the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. The withdrawal from Lebanon was based on this borderline, as were the negotiations with Syria, conducted by Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu in two terms of office, Barak and Olmert. The problem remaining is what happens within the international border of Israel — the west bank of the Jordan River. One state? Two states? If there are two states, how will we share the land?

In my opinion, without casting doubt on the historical connection of the Jewish nation to the entire land, realization of Zionist aspirations and ensuring the existence of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people requires us to reach an agreement with the Palestinian leadership, if only to ensure proper security and freedom of entry to places that will not remain under Israeli sovereignty. The outline of this agreement is well known. The problem is how to achieve it. In this context I expressed my opinion a few weeks ago in an op-ed article in Ha’aretz: “The Arab initiative for comprehensive peace with Israel is one of the important political achievements of Zionism. Its implementation is likely to lead to regional stability, which will enable Israel to direct its resources and its efforts to the areas of education, society and the economy. No Palestinian leader will be able to reject an agreement that has been accepted in this discussion channel, under the patronage of the Arab world, the United States and the European Community. This patronage will make it easier for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to compromise on issues that would have been difficult to agree on in direct negotiations between the sides. An Israeli leader who really aspires to peace and security must accept this initiative.”

In addition, I believe that the Israeli public will support a leader who adopts this policy. Not as a lesson drawn from the price we paid in the Yom Kippur War because the Israeli prime minister rejected a peace initiative from President Sadat, an initiative whose principles formed the basis of the treaty Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed six years later with Egypt, but as a vital interest of the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people at present in the land of Israel.

For more of this exchange, read Rosner’s Domain at

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, please visit Rosner’s Domain at

Reza Aslan on Jesus, the Jew

Reza Aslan, an author and scholar of religion, has established himself as a familiar face and voice on American television, the go-to guy for commentary on the Islamic world, and he embodies all the right stuff: youthful good looks, depth of knowledge and the kind of media savvy that enables him to answer even the most nuanced questions in measured sound bites. So it was no surprise when Aslan showed up on Fox News last month to talk about his new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” (Random House, $27).

But the Fox interviewer, Lauren Green, was apparently unaware that Aslan does not suffer fools gladly.

“You’re a Muslim,” the network’s religion specialist said at the start of her very first question. “So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

“To be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, with fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origin of Christianity for two decades, who happens to be a Muslim,” Aslan admonished his inquisitor. “Anyone who thinks this book is an attack on Christianity hasn’t read it yet.” When Green pressed the point, Aslan deftly schooled her on the Islamophobia that suffused her questions: “I think it is a little strange that, rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.”