Obama meets with Jewish leaders to prepare for Israel trip

In a private White House meeting, President Barack Obama told a diverse group of Jewish leaders  that he “was not going to deliver a grand peace plan” during his upcoming two-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In  what one participant called “an honest and substantive exchange” concerning the President’s upcoming trip, the President told some 20 Jewish leaders at the Thursday morning, March 7 meeting that it would be “premature” to present such a plan. Sources at the meeting asked that their names not be used because participants were told the meeting was to be strictly off-the-record.

“I assume this is not a shy group,” the President reportedly said in opening the discussion in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

The participants mostly represented major Jewish and Israel-advocacy organizations. Among those present were Alan Solow, Lee Rosenberg and Michael Kassen of Aipac, Barry Curtiss-Lusher of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the Amertican Jewish Committee,  Jerry Silverman of Jewish Federations of North America, Rabbi David Ellenson, Janice Weinman, Hadassah, Nancy Kaufman, National Conference of Jewish Women, Lori Weinstein, Jewish Women International,  Steve Gutow, JCPA, Alan Dershowitz, former Cong. Robert Wexler, Dan Mariaschin, B'nai B'rith, Steve Rabinowitz, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street; Debra DeLee president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now; businessman and philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder; attorney and author Alan M. Dershowitz; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wisenthal Center, former U.S. Congressman Mel Levine, Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld, the Orthodox Union's Nathan Diamant and National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) Chair Marc R. Stanley.

Presidential aides Tony Blanken, Valerie Jaret and Ben Rhodes also attended the meeting.

The President “wanted to seek input from a diverse group of leadership,” one participant said.

According to another, the President said he recognized “the region was in turmoil as a whole.”  Obama said he would take the opportunity of the trip to “connect directly to Israeli people.”

The President told the group he plans to visit places of importance to Jewish people.  Afterwards, some in the group speculated this could mean a presidential side trip to Masada.

“We assume he didn't mean Hebron,” said a source.

The approximately two-hour meeting began at 11 a.m. with the participants sitting around a large, oval table under a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt.  The President first spent five minutes giving an “overview of his thinking” about the trip, then primarily listened as the participants offered their suggestions and insights on a wide range of topics.

While a second source declined to go into specifics, the topics included the Iranian nuclear threat and the Middle East peace process.

“People suggested he say certain things,” said a source. “One person thought he should toughen his rhetoric and become more clear on Iran.  He really pushed back against that. He said he needs to leave room for diplomatic resolution. He said he was not going to do 'extra chest beating' just so people think he's tough.”

“He said Iran needs to be able to climb down without humilaiation.”

While participants touched briefly on the situation in Syria and Turkey, much of the discussion centered on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

“He did say that part of Israel's security in the long term was wrapped up in Israeli Palestinian peace,” a source said.  “He will probably suggest a framework, but not a plan.”

The President also reportedly added, “it's not enough to want peace, what are you going to do for peace?”   

The trip later this month trip will be the President’s first visit to Israel since taking the office in 2008.   The two-day trip will include a two-hour visit to Ramallah, the capital of the PA-controlled West Bank.

The visit comes on the heels of an Israeli election whose results are still unclear.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to form a government.

“The President was sensitive to that,” said a participant.  “But there will be a government by the time he arrives. There will be a Knesset.  Shimon Peres will be President.”

Formal invitations for the meeting went out Monday, and full details of the session remain confidential.

“The President wanted to emphasize the friendship that exists between the United States and Israel,” said a source, “and his desire to uphold that.”

“It was a very diverse group of people,” another source said.   “People from the right, people from Peace Now. Everyone got to say their little piece.  There was no unified message at all.”


Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

L.A. gets ready to be the center of Jewish universe

In just three weeks, more than 3,000 leaders of the international Jewish community, including the prime minister of Israel, are coming to Los Angeles.

What, you hadn’t heard?

This season’s best-kept secret among L.A. Jews seems to be that the 75th annual General Assembly (GA) of the United Jewish Communities is being held in Los Angeles — the first time in 26 years this city will host one of the largest annual gatherings of Jews in North America.

“This is a great opportunity for Los Angeles to participate in this national convention, where we don’t always have a critical mass participating,” said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “More importantly, we have some extraordinarily talented Jewish human resources and some extraordinarily creative programming in L.A., and this will be an opportunity for us to highlight those individuals and programs.”

But while some locals have already signed up, and hundreds have volunteered, a mention of the GA is more likely to elicit a blank stare than an excited nod in most Jewish circles.

“Never heard of it,” said Marlene Kahan, a teacher who lives in Beverlywood. “But it sounds interesting. I’d love to read about it and find out what happens there.”

The GA is one of the largest Jewish events on the North American calendar (the Reform movement’s biennial conference surpasses the GA, with about 5,000 attendees), with thousands of lay and professional leaders from hundreds of communities gathering to explore the state of the Jewish world, and to set a vision for the year to come.

The United Jewish Communities represents 155 Federations and 400 independent communities, and the four-day conference, Nov. 12-15 at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown, brings together Federation machers as well as other organizations and activists from around the world. Anyone who wants to be a player in the Jewish community is at the GA.

The powerful bloc of participants attracts an impressive roster of leaders, scholars and experts to run daily plenaries and a menu of hundreds of sessions on topics from global anti-Zionism to new trends in Jewish education to savvy solicitation techniques.

Anyone can register as a delegate. Southern Californians are offered a local’s discounted rate of $275 (non-residents pay $525), and people who have volunteered to help out for a few hours can attend the conference on that day (volunteer slots have been filled). All events — including a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Monday, Nov. 13 — are open to registered delegates and volunteers only.

But word has been slow to trickle out to the far-flung L.A. Jewish community.

While a call for volunteers went out to synagogues and organizations months ago, full-page ads have only shown up in the last few weeks, and the UJC Web site didn’t post program details — such as speakers and session topics — until early October.
There are currently 425 local delegates signed up, along with about 300 to 400 student delegates, some of them at Southern Californian schools, signed up through Hillel. About 750 Angelenos have also volunteered to staff the convention, which is estimated to attract 3,000 delegates and an additional 1,000 exhibitors, organizers and staff, according to Judy Fischer, who is the Los Angeles Federation staff GA director. Fischer is working with lay host community chair Terri Smooke to organize the event.

Organizers admit publicity has been slow because the program was revamped following the war in Israel.

“The focus was transformed in light of what happened over the summer, and particularly in light of the implications of the war for Israel and for the Jewish people in our communities and across the world,” said Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Chicago Federation, and head of programming for the GA. “There is a strong sense of connection with Israel, and recognition that as much as this means as a single war, it wasn’t just that. It has a deeper meaning.”

The theme chosen over the summer was “On the Frontlines Together: One People, One Destiny,” meant to encompass the war’s implications regarding the Israel-Diaspora connection, global Jewish security, Israel’s identity, its military, its leadership and how that reverberates out to Jewish communities across the world.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to deliver the keynote on Tuesday evening (though in the past prime ministers have often ended up canceling or speaking through video feed). A record four Knesset ministers are also scheduled to address the group, including foreign minister Tzipi Livni, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s ministers of education and tourism.

During and following the war, federations from across the country funneled $330 million dollars to Israel through UJC.
“In some ways this was kind of a breakthrough in the recognition of the centrality and significance of the UJC Federation system,” Kotzin said. “The prime minister wants to be able to come and participate to express his appreciation and to advance ties between Israel and the North American Jewish Community. The GA exists at a moment where we can really keep up with what is going on and move things forward.”

Other speakers include Canadian Parliament Member Dr. Irwin Cotler; Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levi.

A plenary on “The Jewish Future” will feature a panel with Norman Cohen, provost of the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Insitiute of Religion; Arnie Eisen, chancellor-elect at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of the Orthodox Yeshiva University.

But all other conference-wide sessions will focus on Israel, as will more than half of the smaller sessions.
It is a shift that not everyone is thrilled with.

“As someone who lives in Israel and is a Zionist, I think it is unfortunate and actually speaks to the lack of an overarching vision for the future of the Jewish people,” said Yossi Abramowitz, founder of Jewish Family and Life, who now blogs daily at peoplehood.org.

Abramowitz has attended around 20 GAs, and moved to Israel this summer.

The Circuit

Hope and Faith

Childrens Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) honored L.A. resident Doron Kochavi, for his participation in the Bristol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope across America, headed by Lance Armstrong.

Patients in the Childrens Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at CHLA sent off Kochavi with well wishes as he left to join a team of 24 cancer survivors, advocates, caregivers, physicians and researchers selected to ride 3,300 miles from San Diego to Washington, D.C.

The team of avid cyclists began their trip Sept. 29 — to share their experiences and inspire those they met along the way to learn more about cancer research.

Seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong led the team at the kickoff in San Diego and into Washington, D.C., as well as during other points along the route.

Kochavi’s son, Ari, is alive today because of the treatment for a brain tumor he received at CHLA. When asked about the significance of the holidays and what is he reflecting on Kochavi said prior to leaving, “The Jewish holiday is for laymen. It is a message of hope. You hope that the new year will bring all the good you hope for … health, family, a good life…. This year I will spend the new year on the road. I have the opportunity to send a message of hope across the country. We will be riding everywhere … there will be no religious boundaries and touch everyone north to south … rich to poor….. I get the chance to talk to millions of people through television, newspapers, etc. and deliver a message of hope for tomorrow.”

For more information, visit www.tourofhope.org.

Simply Remarkable

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles will award four new Jewish day school scholarships as a tribute to Mark Lainer, its chair from 2001 through 2004. The Mark Lainer Scholarships will provide assistance during the 2005 academic year to a deserving student with financial need at four local Jewish educational institutions where Lainer has played major leadership roles. These include Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West and New Community Jewish High School, along with one recipient selected by the Bureau of Jewish Education.

The Foundation announced the scholarships at a gala dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on Sept. 22 saluting Lainer’s dedication to The Foundation and the community.

“Mark’s energy and commitment are exemplary,” said foundation President and CEO Marvin I. Schotland. “We’re proud to honor him for both his outstanding guidance as immediate past chair of the foundation and for his passionate, dedicated service to the entire community.”

A leader in philanthropy and education, Lainer was also founding president of the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School and has played important leadership roles in the Bureau of Jewish Education, The Jewish Federation, University of Judaism, Valley Beth Shalom, United Jewish Communities, Jewish Education Service of North America and The Jewish Journal.


Sol Bojarsky

Sol Bojarsky passed away peacefully at home on June 27. A native of Los Angeles, born in Boyle Heights, Oct. 1, 1919, bar mitzvah at the Breed Street Shul, Bojarsky was a graduate of Hollywood High School and UCLA. From a pioneer L.A. Zionist family, Sol was a prominent insurance agent in the L.A. Jewish community for over 50 years, having taken over the business started by his mother Rose. He was an early and dedicated Jewish community leader, honored by the Jewish Centers Association and Jewish National Fund, as well as The Jewish Federation Insurance Division.

He served on the board of Brandeis-Bardin Institute for over four decades, as well as a leader of Temple of Israel of Hollywood for an equal amount of time. He was a proud community leader, a gentleman known for his big smile, love of life and warm heart. He will be profoundly missed.

He is survived by his wife, Celina; daughter, Donna (Jonathan); grandson, Joshua; and brother, Eli Boyer.

Evangelicals Are Not Our ‘Natural Allies’

A few years ago, a few moderate American Jewish leaders tried to allay Jewish fears that the Christian right was a threat.

American Jews had it wrong, they said — former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk really were quite nice, even open-minded fellows and strongly pro-Israel to boot. They were our friends.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) publicly praised Reed’s pro-Israel stance and invited Christian conservatives to ADL banquets. Christians, in turn, organized nationwide prayer vigils and lobbying campaigns to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s vision of a greater Israel.

Basking in the glow of this newfound friendship, Reed proclaimed that the Jewish-Christian alliance for Israel was as important as the black-Jewish coalition for civil rights in the 1960s.

Then, a Hollywood film star produced, directed and bankrolled a cinematic portrayal of Jesus’ final hours that depicted Jews as Jesus’ killers, promoting an age-old anti-Semitic theme. Fearing that the film would stoke new anti-Semitism, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman pleaded that Gibson alter the film, the pope disavow it and the Christian evangelicals that had become Foxman’s allies sermonize against it — to no avail.

Foxman should have seen it coming.

For all their talk of loving Jews and Israel, conservative Christians’ No. 1 priority always has been to expand their influence and numbers at home and abroad.

Several years ago, I interviewed dozens of Christian activists for a book I was writing about a campaign against gay rights that bitterly divided many Oregon communities, where I was living at the time.

When I disclosed my Jewishness to the evangelicals I met in the course of my research, they responded with boundless curiosity and kindness. A few asked if they could accompany me to synagogue, professing their great affection for the Jewish people. Several spoke excitedly of their trips to Israel or their desire to visit there.

I found it all disarming and even a little flattering.

But then the invitations to attend their churches arrived, along with offers to pray for me. I declined them graciously and heard little else until my book, a critical but empathetic account of conservative Christian activists, was published.

The messages then began to get meaner and were often tinged with anti-Semitism.

“How could a Jew possibly write an unbiased account?” one asked.

Another told me to “go back to New York, where you belong.”

Today, some of those activists have gone on to mobilize support for Israel, working to insure that the Holy Land stays in Jewish hands so that “saved Christians” like themselves can enjoy their final rapture out of harm’s way.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, these Christians have felt further justified for their alliance with Israel by the conviction that Judeo-Christian culture must protect itself against the followers of Mohammed, in preparation for the coming “clash of civilizations.”

My travels in evangelical America tell me that despite the claims of Jewish conservatives, and even moderate leaders like Foxman, conservative Christians are not our “natural allies.” In fact, most American Jews find themselves deeply at odds with the Christian right over a host of issues.

Witness the overwhelming support that the American Jewish community has given to the issue of gay marriage. In Massachusetts, a near unanimity of Jewish communal leaders support gay marital rights, and opinion polls nationally show Jews to be the most solidly in favor of gay marriage of any religious group.

Christian conservatives, needless to say, are champing at the bit to make gay marriage the next major battle in the “culture war.”

Even when it comes to Israel, evangelicals are out of step with American Jews and Israelis — most of whom would agree to trade land for peace if a viable peace plan were proposed. Evangelicals, by contrast, support the maximalist ideology of the most fundamentalist Jewish settlers, who view territorial concessions as suicidal.

The Jewish-Christian alliance was based on the idea that Israel needs as many friends as it can get. But it needs good friends — friends who believe in the importance of a democratic Jewish homeland, not those whose support for Israel is based on inflexible theological explanations for Israel’s right to exist.

The rift over “The Passion” should be a wake-up call to American Jewish leaders: The Jewish-Christian evangelical honeymoon is over. It may even be time to file for divorce.

Arlene Stein is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and the author of “The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle Over Sex, Faith, and
Civil Rights.”

World Briefs

Palestinian Leader in Israeli Court

Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti was charged with murder Wednesday in a Tel Aviv court. The indictment sheet described the West Bank chief of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement as an “arch-terrorist whose hands are bloodied by dozens of terrorist actions.”

After shouting the “uprising will be victorious” as he was led into court, Barghouti later said during the hearing that he was a peaceful man, “trying to do everything for peace between the two peoples. I believe the best solution is two states for two peoples.” Barghouti was arrested in mid-April during an Israeli anti-terror operation in the West Bank. Meanwhile, A senior Hamas member was killed in an Israeli military operationwednesday near Nablus. Nasser Jerar helped recruit suicide bombers and had planned a major terror attack to bring down a high-rise building in Israel, Israeli officials said.

Cabinet Approves Security Fence

Israel’s Security Cabinet on Wednesday approved part of the route of a planned fence separating Israel from the West Bank. At the recommendation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the route of the nearly 70-mile section will place several Jewish settlements including Elkana, Alfei Menashe and Shaked on the “Israel side” of the barrier. The section is expected to be completed within a year. Sharon promised to convene the Cabinet next week to discuss construction of a security barrier around Jerusalem, Israel Radio reported.

According to the report, Cabinet Minister Dan Meridor was the sole minister to vote against the barrier, saying the route should also have encompassed Jewish settlement enclaves that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak envisioned being annexed to Israel under a future political agreement with the Palestinians.

Fatah Focuses on West Bank and Gaza

The Fatah movement has decided to halt attacks inside Israel, a political leader of the group said Tuesday. West Bank Fatah leader Hussein Sheik said he expected the group’s military wing, the Al-Aksa Brigade, to adopt the decision, despite a leaflet issued to the contrary, Israel Radio reported. Sheik said the Fatah leadership instead plans to focus its struggle in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, a Hamas leader said the organization would continue attacks inside Israel.

Meanwhile, the Hebrew University attack claimed its ninth victim, Revital Barashi, who died Monday night of head injuries. Barashi, 30, was a university employee.

Prague Synagogue Threatened by

Volunteers from Prague’s Jewish community are working frantically to erect barriers around key Jewish sites Tuesday as the city prepares for its worst flooding in more than a century. The Old-New Synagogue and the Jewish Town Hall are among buildings threatened as the Vltava River is expected to burst its banks and engulf parts of the Old Town. Torah scrolls and religious artifacts have been removed from synagogues and taken to secure sites.

Bush Blocks Portion of Aid to

President Bush is blocking a portion of a spending bill that includes $200 million in aid to Israel. The $5.1 billion recently approved by Congress as part of a supplemental appropriations bill for combating terrorism also includes $50 million in aid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Officials say the president’s decision is unrelated to the Middle East spending, but because of concerns regarding congressional overspending.

Official: Arafat Assets Worth $1.3

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has assets estimated at $1.3 billion, according to the head of Israeli military intelligence. Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi made the comment during an appearance before a Knesset committee. He also said Arafat is facing growing dissatisfaction among the Palestinian populace, but that the Palestinian leader is still the person who “pulls the strings” in the Palestinian Authority, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Statement: Don’t Target Jews for

Jewish and Catholic officials issued a joint statement affirming that Jews should not be targeted for conversion. “While the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God,” the statement says. “Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom.”

The statement was issued by the National Council of Synagogues and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Haifa Mayor Seeks Labor Leadership

Haifa’s mayor announced he will seek the leadership of Israel’s Labor Party. Amram Mitzna is a former general who supports dismantling some Jewish settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. Announcing his candidacy at a news conference Tuesday, Mitzna said he supports an immediate and unconditional resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians, regardless of who their leader is.

Weekend polls suggested that Mitzna would easily defeat the two other candidates to lead Labor, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and legislator Haim Ramon, in party primaries scheduled for Nov. 19.

In a bid to block Mitzna, Ben-Eliezer on Monday asked Ramon to drop out of the race and join him. Ramon refused. Israel’s next national elections are scheduled for October 2003, but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he may seek early elections.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Zayde Mitzvah

Every Bar Mitzvah is special, but Al Greenberg’s was special.

As his son Ken said at the ceremony, “Usually at a Bar Mitzvah, we pass our traditions down from the older generation to the younger. But at Gateways Beit T’Shuvah, we do things a little differently.”
On Sat., Dec. 9, in front of friends, family and the addiction recovery center’s residents, 75-year-old Al was called to the Torah.

It started less than a year ago with a bagel delivery. Greenberg had retired from his successful tire business, and he wanted to give back to the community. Through the Marina del Rey B’nai B’rith lodge he had co-founded, he brought a truckload of bagels to the Venice Boulevard addiction recovery center. While there he learned that one of the residents was the son of an old friend. The boy he had once known was now a young man and a recovering addict.

Never a religious person, Greenberg became interested in the work Beit T’Shuvah did, especially the Jewish spiritual component. Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Beit T’Shuvah’s spiritual leader, put Greenberg in touch with Mark Rotenberg, an addiction counselor at the facility with an Orthodox background. The two men began studying Torah together. Eight months later, Rotenberg and Rabbi Borowitz stood on the bimah listening to Greenberg’s Bar Mitzvah speech.

“I was always proud to be Jewish because of what other Jews had done to make me look good,” said Greenberg, who grew up in Los Angeles. “Plus, I met my wife in B’nai B’rith.”

Religion never appealed to Al until he found Gateways. “I became an addict to this place,” he punned, hugging Rotenberg. “I used to be Jewish in my head. Then I was Jewish in my hands. Now, I’m Jewish in my heart, because of some of these crazy people here.”

Ball Mitzvah

Last week, Brandon Kaplan cashed in on a family Bar Mitzvah tradition when he brought a baseball worth $1,800 to the Union Bank of California branch in Encino. In 1976, Brandon’s father, Jerry, received $1,800 for his Bar Mitzvah from his father, but the check was written on a football. This year, the elder Kaplan continued the theme by writing Brandon’s Bar Mitzvah check on a baseball.

“Brandon thought it was a really great idea because he is a big baseball fan,” said Jerry Kaplan. “This will be one of the Bar Mitzvah gifts he will never forget.”

Bat Mitzvah

The photos above show 27 women from Los Angeles and Long Beach in the final stages of preparing for an important milestone in their lives: their Bat Mitzvah ceremony.

Sponsored by Hadassah of Southern California and guided by five able local teachers, the women of diverse ages and backgrounds worked hard to prepare themselves for a special Havdalah service, which was held Saturday, Dec.16, at Adat Ari El in North Hollywood. Co-chairs of the B’not Mitzvah class of 2000 were Bobby Klubeck, Ruth Seeman and Lisa Blank. Rabbi Sally Olins and Cantor Maurice Glick led the service, and Judith Raphael, one of the children saved from the Holocaust by Hadassah’s founder, Henrietta Szold, read a commentary on her life and Torah.

The ceremony. which was open to the public, was followed immediately by a kiddush and later by a dinner for invited guests, with entertainment by Cindy Paley.

A new class will be forming soon for the 2001 Bat Mitzvah Program.

For more information, contact Nasrim Rashti at the Hadassah Southern California office: (310) 470-3200.

Defusing Tension

While violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians have captured the headlines in recent weeks, Jewish and Arab leaders in major American cities are working quietly to forestall confrontations between their communities.

Their efforts are marked by some common guidelines.

Don’t try to solve – or even discuss – the basic issues roiling the Middle East. Acknowledge deeply felt differences and go on from there. Condemn any act of violence by their co-religionists in the United States. Build on the trust established in previous years in joint battles against discrimination.

In Jewish communities, the efforts are spearheaded by both mainstream and liberal organizations and are most fully developed in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, cities with the largest Arab and Muslim populations.

“We started establishing contacts with the Arab community after the signing of the Oslo accords seven years ago,” says Allan Gale, assistant director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The area holds some 200,000 Arab Americans, twice the number of Jewish residents.

“We have worked on such issues as discriminatory immigration laws, racial stereotyping and ethnic profiling at airports.

“We’ve had some incidents and some vociferous Arab spokesmen, but on the whole relations are good,” add Gale. “The Arab community here is reticent to act in an unlawful manner.”

In Los Angeles, some 10 Jews and five Arabs met Oct. 17 in the sukkah of one participant. Although all were aware of the Mideast tensions, the meeting had been scheduled some time ago as one in a series of monthly meetings by the “Dialogue Group.”

The group was established more than a year ago, when representatives of the two communities signed a code of ethics in a public ceremony.

“We try to keep open our lines of communications open and learn about each other’s culture and faith,” says Elaine Albert, the urban affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The lines of communication do not include anything as dramatic as secure hotlines or red phones in case of threatening confrontations, “but we are constantly in touch with each other via e-mail or phone,” says Albert.

Jewish membership in the dialogue group include the mainstream Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, represented by Albert, and individual members of the Orthodox and Reform communities. Not surprisingly, the group has a strong liberal representation.

One member is attorney Gideon Kracov of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), who says, “We have a joint interest in dealing with hate crimes and maintaining an attitude of mutual respect.”

Douglas Mirell, the PJA president, observes that “we’re in a period when it’s easy to be carried away by emotions and to say things that we may come to regret later. We need to curtail the level of rhetoric here and the level of violence in the Mideast.”

Another liberal activist is Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of University Synagogue in Brentwood, who says, “We will experience more difficult times, but I’m optimistic that we can maintain a relationship of trust and respect with the Arab-American community.”

A leading Arab voice within the dialogue group and on the Los Angeles scene is Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.

Al-Marayati tends to attract controversy. A year ago, his appointment to the National Commissions on Terrorism was rescinded under pressure from mainline national Jewish organizations, which described him as an apologist for terrorists.

Many Los Angeles Jews who have worked with al-Marayati took issue with this description, and his organization strongly condemned the recent destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus by rampaging Palestinians.

“Our dialogue with the Jewish community is working,” says al- Marayati. “We are both free communities, and if we can’t talk to each other, how can you expect Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other? At all times, we must show zero tolerance for violence and hate crimes.”

Phone calls to other leading Arab organizations in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Arab-American Institute, went unanswered.

Al-Marayati said that the lack of response did not indicate a reluctance to talk to the Jewish press, but simply that for the past few weeks, Arab spokesmen have been inundated by media calls. “I only get to answer one in 10 requests,” he said.

In New York, Michael S. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, is one of the key figures in the “Coalition of Concerned Arab-Christians, Jews and Muslim New Yorkers.”The coalition will meet next Monday and recently released a statement, noting, “Although the tensions that currently exist in the Middle East can intensify emotions here in New York, we can not allow these events to divide our city.”

In addition, “isolated incidents must not be used as an excuse for scapegoating or reason to condemn entire communities,” the statement noted, adding,” By working cooperatively, this coalition can serve as a model for our children and a shining beacon guiding other groups toward resolving their differences.”

Under Attack

As leaders of the world community try to bring the Middle East back from the brink of war, Prime Minister Ehud Barak is facing a mounting political challenge to get tougher with the Arabs both inside and outside Israel.

Despite the intermittent violence that continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it was the deadly Arab-on-Jew and Jew-on-Arab violence within the country that sent shock waves through Israelis as they tuned in to the news after Yom Kippur ended Monday night.

The Cabinet, in emergency session through much of Monday night, issued a somber statement deploring the violence involving the state’s majority Jewish and minority Arab populations.

Barak told the nation at dawn Tuesday that each citizen, Jew and Arab alike, shared responsibility for preserving the delicate Jewish-Arab relationship built up painstakingly over the five decades of the state’s existence.

One of the dangers posed by the street battles is that they may quickly become part of the political contest between Israel’s political right and left. This despite the ongoing rhetoric from both sides calling for unity at this time of national emergency.

The death toll among Israeli Arabs since the unrest began in late September rose to at least 13 over Yom Kippur with the shooting in Nazareth of two Arab men on the eve of the solemn holiday.

Three others were seriously wounded by gunshots fired in the city that has Israel’s largest Arab population.
Israeli Arab leaders blamed police for the shootings, but police said the fatal shots were most likely fired by civilians.

It soon became clear, however, that the violence in Nazareth was not an isolated incident. Instead, it was the worst of a series of events that had Arabs attacking Jewish cars and property and Jewish vigilantes attacking Arabs and Arab property around the country.

One day after Palestinian mobs destroyed the Jewish holy site of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, Jewish mobs attacked an old mosque in downtown Tiberias.

The violence continued with arson attacks on synagogues in Jaffa and Ramla and Jewish looting of Arab shops in Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre and other towns.

Israel’s Army Radio said the scenes of violence Monday night looked like “civil war.”

Sunday night’s rioting in Nazareth was apparently begun by Jewish youths marching toward an Arab residential area, but this is still being disputed.

Given the lack of media coverage, apparently due to Yom Kippur, the exact order of events remains unclear. The lack of clarity has reinforced the Israeli Arab leadership’s demands for a state inquiry into what happened.

While these leaders have stopped short of calling for a general strike, they want to know who is responsible for the mounting number of deaths among Israeli Arabs since turmoil engulfed the region late last month.
Even within Barak’s own coalition, there has been increasingly strident criticism against the police for acting too forcefully against Israeli Arab rioters.

And the violence within Israel’s borders has become the subject of debate among the nation’s politicians.
Salient among the voices calling for unity was that of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Silent through the previous week of crisis, he went on the air Monday night to “offer my support to the prime minister.”

Netanyahu pointedly refused to be drawn into any criticism of Barak’s performance, either on the home front or when dealing with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s measured tone contrasted with the sharp criticism of the prime minister expressed the next day by the leader of the Likud opposition, Ariel Sharon.

On Tuesday, Sharon accused Barak of vacillating when it came to diplomatic efforts and displaying a lack of resolve in military matters.

Some observers put these different stances down to a rivalry within the Likud Party.

They note that, despite all the talk of unity and a unity government, Barak is plainly hesitant to take Sharon into his government. He is, no doubt, at least partly concerned about the effect such a move would have within the Arab world and the wider international community.

In addition, Justice Minister Yossi Beilin is leading a group within Barak’s Labor Party that publicly opposes the idea of Sharon serving as a senior minister in a unity government.

At least to some extent, this group shares the broad international judgment that Sharon’s high-profile visit to the Temple Mount on Sept. 28 was a reckless act that triggered the subsequent crisis.

For his part, Sharon, who has repeatedly denied that his visit there was intended as a provocation, has been stridently defending Alec Ron, the commander of the northern district of Israel’s police force.

Ron has been criticized by the Israeli Arab community and by the left of the political spectrum for his handling of the confrontations involving the Arab community.

Barak, however, said that Ron was acting under orders and that the entire police force deserved the nation’s support at this difficult time.

But the sense of unease over the police force’s performance has been spreading in coalition circles.
Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg called Tuesday for new orders to be issued to the police to prevent them from making an immediate use of firepower.

Barak is, meanwhile, being attacked for several other decisions he has made during the ongoing crisis.
The premier on Tuesday rejected criticism of his decision to extend the 48-hour period he gave the Palestinians to end the rioting.

The premier said his initial ultimatum to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to end the rioting by Monday night had prompted a wave of intervention by world leaders, and these efforts must now be given time to bear fruit.

Barak’s standing has also suffered in the wake of the Israeli army’s sudden withdrawal from Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus on Saturday and the Palestinian mob’s subsequent destruction of the Jewish holy site.
The Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) withdrawal came just one day after Barak said that to leave under pressure of violent action would be “to create a precedent” and therefore the army would not abandon the site.

The premier has also been weakened by Saturday’s kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah gunmen. The IDF failed to stop the kidnappers from advancing north, and efforts to rescue the kidnapped soldiers have since shifted to the diplomatic front.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was in the region this week, seeking to mediate the release of the prisoners.

The kidnapping affects Barak’s leadership because as minister of defense, he carries ultimate responsibility for what was apparently a serious lapse of judgment on the part of local IDF commanders.

The incident also cast a pall over what Barak has projected as his most notable success since he assumed office: the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon last May.

Rallies for Israel

West Valley Jewish Community Center
Thurs., Oct. 12, 7 p.m., 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills
Sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other organizations. For information, call (323) 761-8075 or (818) 464-3210

Federal Building
Sun., Oct. 15, 11 a.m., Wilshire Blvd. and Veteran Ave.
Sponsored by the Council of Israel Organizations and others. For information, call (818) 757-0123.

Sinai Temple
Mon., Oct. 16, 7 p.m., 10400 Wilshire Blvd. Sponsored by the Federation and other organizations. For information call, (323) 761-8075.

The Man in the Middle

Rabbi Michael Melchior of Jerusalem has one heck of a job ahead of him.

Newly appointed to Ehud Barak’s Cabinet, he’s got the unenviable assignment of trying to make Jews get along with each other. His official title, minister for social and world Jewish affairs, says it all. “Social” implies healing divisions in Israel, particularly secular versus religious. The other part is about closing the gap between Israelis and Diaspora — particularly American — Jews. No small task.

Melchior believes that it’s urgent. A Danish-born Jerusalemite who served until recently as chief rabbi of Norway (he quit after entering the new Knesset in May), he’s convinced that Israel and the Diaspora are fast drifting apart. “It endangers the concept of a Jewish people,” he said in an interview in Jerusalem.

But unlike most leaders who fear for the Jewish future, Melchior doesn’t blame everything on assimilated American Jews. Israelis, he says, are also losing their sense of connection to a larger Jewish people. “It’s less and less a part of the Israeli identity, which is a tragedy,” he says. To reconnect, Israel must rekindle its self-awareness as a Jewish society. That’s why the two halves of his job — social and world Jewish — go together.

On paper, Melchior is in a perfect position to get things rolling. As czar of Israel-Diaspora relations, his duties will cover every aspect of Israel’s complex relationship with world Jewry: Jewish education, pro-Israel activism, the “Who is a Jew?” flap, Holocaust restitution, plus the increasingly urgent re-examination of what Israelis and Diaspora Jews actually mean to each other these days. As a liberal Orthodox rabbi with good ties to Reform and Conservative leaders, he can speak to all sides.

But that’s on paper. In practice, he’ll have to fight for every inch of his would-be empire. Most of it is already spoken for. Israel never had a Cabinet-rank minister for Diaspora affairs before. Over time, the field has been parceled out among other agencies, from the Foreign Ministry to the prime minister’s adviser on Diaspora affairs to the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, plus dozens of smaller bodies. None of these will gladly submit to a new czar.

In fact, many of the key players in Israel-Diaspora cooperation are angling furiously these days to expand their reach. And a host of new players wants to break in. The result is something of a land-rush atmosphere in the once-sleepy field of Israel-Diaspora relations in Jerusalem.

Signs of change are everywhere.

* The Foreign Ministry’s World Jewish Affairs department has doubled its staff size in recent months, and just received its first-ever operating budget for outreach programs.

* Jerusalem’s most prestigious think tank, the Van Leer Institute, which for decades focused solely on Israeli affairs, has launched not one but two new task forces in the last year to rethink Israel-Diaspora relations.

* Several of Israel’s most ambitious politicians, including Labor’s Yossi Beilin and Avraham Burg and Likud’s Meir Sheetrit, have made relations with the Diaspora a vital part of their political agendas, staking political capital on it in a way that previous generations of Israeli politicians wouldn’t have dreamed of.

* Israel appears ready for the first time to spend its taxpayers’ dollars on an educational program for Diaspora youth, the audacious “Birthright Israel.” The $100 million allocation, OK’d last year by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and tentatively reaffirmed by Barak, is unprecedented. Up to now, the money always flowed the other way.

All that scrambling has to be good news for American Jews. Five years ago, Diaspora Jewry barely merited a yawn among Israel’s movers and shakers, except at times of disaster. Now Diaspora concerns may finally get the hearing they deserve in Jerusalem. Eventually, it could translate into more resources for Jewish educators, more accountability for Jewish philanthropists, more recognition for Diaspora forms of Judaism.

For Minister Melchior, though, the jostling poses no small challenge. To succeed, he’s got to win cooperation from the people whose work he’s supposed to oversee. As a minister without portfolio, he isn’t actually anyone’s boss. His only power is persuasion.

Barak’s aides don’t agree on what Melchior’s job should consist of. They tend to view Diaspora-related business in three main categories: “Who is a Jew?” and related Jewish identity issues; Holocaust restitution; and political relations with pro-Israel lobbyists. Melchior expects to take over all of it. Barak’s aides want to let him have about half.

They’re happy to give him the “Who is a Jew?” file, if only to get that headache off Barak’s desk. If he manages to generate a broader dialogue on Jewish peoplehood, nobody will object.

They have no intention of giving up the oversight of American Jewish lobbyists. They consider it a sensitive aspect of their overall diplomatic strategy. They’re fighting among themselves for control of it.

Holocaust restitution is more complicated. Israel’s share has been handled up to now by a Knesset committee, the Jewish Agency and the prime minister’s adviser on Diaspora affairs. The adviser, Bobby Brown, is a Netanyahu holdover, kept on partly because he knows the Holocaust issue cold. He’s developed a good working relationship with Melchior, who emerges well positioned to take the lead.

It’s less clear how the Jewish Agency will fit in. The huge social-service agency has been the main voice of Israeli Jewry on this and other Jewish issues for years. It won’t take kindly to being upstaged. It doesn’t help that the agency is headed by a Likudnik, Salai Meridor. He’ll be under pressure from his party to keep the heat on Barak’s people.

The Jewish Agency may become a headache for Melchior in a broader sense. Israeli law defines the agency as the official liaison between Diaspora Jewry and the Jewish state. It’s been on the ropes for a decade, widely viewed as hidebound and obsolete. Still, it won’t sit still as a government minister emerges to usurp its Israel-Diaspora liaison role.

In all this back-room maneuvering, the biggest unknown is Melchior himself. His potential rivals, in government and outside, count on his public image as a slightly bewildered scholar, more versed in Talmud than turf wars.

Those who know him say that’s a mistake. Melchior is smart and very patient, they say. He was the political brains behind the Meimad party, which he helped form in 1988 and eventually rode into the current Knesset. He will wait out his rivals, build a network of American and European Jewish leaders who back him, and, in the end, he’ll be the last one standing.

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.

Preparing for the Worst

Mark Levin knows about as much as anybody about Jews in the former Soviet Union. But sitting in his office during a recent chat with reporters, he admitted he had no easy answers to the toughest question of all: When should Jewish leaders push the panic button and do everything possible to convince Russian Jews to get out while the getting is good?

The issue took on more overtones of urgency this week with a new wave of bombings in Moscow and growing U.S.-Russia strains over the NATO air war in Kosovo; the prospect that U.S. and Russian forces could clash over enforcement of an embargo on Serbia added to the sense of crisis.

“The political, economic and social conditions continue to deteriorate,” Levin, executive director of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, said. “We do not believe we’ve reached the stage of mass exodus. But that doesn’t lessen our concern or our preparation for all possible scenarios.”

He conceded that the point at which Jewish leaders should actively promote a massive rescue effort is a blurry one, and cautioned against statements that could lead to panic among an aging, anxious Russian Jewish population.

But Jewish leaders across the spectrum are acutely aware that there is a danger they could wait too long in urging Russian Jews to head for the lifeboats.

The situation in Moscow grows more chaotic by the day. The economy continues its free-fall; big loans from the International Monetary Fund may stave off disaster for a few more months, but there is no longer much hope of serious economic reform by the battered, besieged government of President Boris Yeltsin.

Nationalists and retread Communists continue to infiltrate the political mainstream, capitalizing on the spreading economic misery and on Russia’s demise as a world power.

The extremists are poised to improve their position in the 1999 parliamentary elections. Predictions are risky, but it is not inconceivable that they could produce a candidate capable of replacing the retiring Yeltsin in 2000.

Bigotry and scapegoating are on the rise, with prominent officials openly voicing a conspiracy-minded anti-Semitism that echoes down the corridors of Russian history.

And U.S.-Russian relations are in a tailspin, pushed over the brink by Moscow’s support for the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the rise of an ominous new anti-Western sentiment.

The new diplomatic strains have significantly reduced the ability of officials here to use their diplomatic leverage to protect minorities in Russia, especially the Jews. Many Russian Jews are making preliminary inquiries about emigrating, but few have done more than that.

So what are the options for Jewish leaders here?

Levin points to the most obvious: continuing to work with U.S. officials to keep the human-rights agenda a part of the U.S.-Russia diplomatic mix. Soviet Jewry groups have been surprisingly successful in that effort, but it will be significantly harder as U.S.-Russia relations erode.

Jewish leaders can make sure the refugee infrastructure is in place in case widespread, rapid emigration becomes necessary. That’s one reason Jewish groups have been so determined to preserve refugee slots that, in recent years, have not been in high demand. That could change overnight if the anti-Semitic talk in Russia produces anti-Semitic action; having extra slots available could save lives.

Leaders here can work to make sure that Russian Jews do not lose the automatic presumption of refugee status, a policy legacy of the refusenik era.

Death of a Patriarch

Tom Bradley was buried Monday, hailed as Los Angeles’ longtime mayor, statesman, leader and friend. His is a grand biography; a son of Texas sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, Bradley broke down ethnic and class barriers and forged a new multiracial political base that re-created this capital city of the Pacific Rim.

For the Jewish community, his is the death of a patriarch. By the time his 20-year term as mayor ended in 1993, the vaunted black/Jewish coalition that brought him to City Hall was already falling into disrepair, as both blacks and Jews struggled to mediate the city’s complex ethnic realities. When Bradley this week was extolled as a “Moses who could not bring his children into the Promised Land,” many in our own community knew what was meant.

As I sat with the well-dressed, respectful crowd that sweltered in bright sunlight outside the First AME Church, only the vestiges of that historic coalition remained. When Tom Bradley was hailed as a bridge-builder, no one mentioned the bridge extending from black Leimert Park to Jewish Fairfax and Westwood. Those seeking “closure” will be meeting in our own community to mourn the Tom Bradley we knew.

How shall we mourn him? Together, blacks and Jews came to power, but what have we learned? The obituaries have been kind, stressing, as they should, Bradley’s idealistic beginnings. Our own community’s great founding fathers and mothers — Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Ed Sanders, Richard Giesberg, Roz Wyman, Maury Weiner, Fran Savitch, Valerie Fields, Bruce Corwin — figure prominently in that triumph. Many of them were with Bradley even during his first try at City Council, in 1961, a recall bid against Sam Yorty-appointee Joseph Hollingsworth for the 10th District seat. Those early days and their alliances foreshadowed Bradley’s 1969 mayoral defeat followed by victory in 1973.

Yet, in the mayoral war stories, retold often this week, I learned something new. True, Jewish leaders recognized a winner in Bradley, a man who could forge a more progressive Los Angeles. But I hadn’t known that, in order to get him into power, they had to change not only the minds of bigots in the larger non-Jewish community but those of their fellow Jews as well.

When Bradley lost to Yorty in 1969, it was in part because Jewish voters stayed away. A last-minute mailer from the Yorty forces, circulated on Fairfax Avenue, linked Bradley, a moderate in style and political philosophy, with black militants.

“There was nothing we could do. The community didn’t know him,” says Ed Sanders. In the ensuing four years, Jewish leaders made sure that such scare tactics could never work again. “Bradley went to a lot of bar mitzvahs,” Sanders tells me. “In 1973, he was a stranger no more.”

This explains a lot, including why Jewish voters stayed with Bradley for so long, after every other group was drifting away. In his definitive study, “Politics in Black and White,” Raphael J. Sonenshein shows that, in 1985, Bradley would have beaten favorite son Zev Yaroslavsky in Zev’s his own 5th District. Which is why Zev did not run.

“I would have stayed with Bradley against King David,” says Bruce Corwin, Bradley’s first fire commission president and, today, a strong Yaroslavsky backer. The Jewish community was loyal to Tom Bradley, perhaps ashamed by its first failure of nerve. Once its heart is opened, it does not easily close.

Sadly, I was there for one closing. By the time I came to this paper, Louis Farrakhan’s 1985 Los Angeles appearance had already done its damage. While not the most difficult moment of Bradley’s years — certainly the 1992 Rodney King riots would be — it was a huge debacle for black/Jewish relations. Bradley, a UCLA graduate always as comfortable among Jews as among his own people, was caught between the two. Black church and civic leaders, for whom Farrakhan represented a crisis in leadership, urged the mayor not to condemn the Nation of Islam leader until after he had spoken. Jewish leaders demanded that the mayor come out strongly against anti-Semitism.

“Black leadership didn’t understand how terrified we were,” says Richard Giesberg. “They thought we were white people, with the world on a string.” So began an era of distrust among longtime friends.

Why talk of the Farrakhan incident now? Like the 1969 Yorty-Bradley race, Farrakhan offers lessons from hindsight. Jewish leaders this week were candid in their self-questioning: Despite Farrakhan’s potent and terrifying rhetoric, were they wrong to lean on a friend in this manner? What are the obligations of coalition partners? And, today, with as many as five Jews expected to run for mayor — including Councilwoman Laura Chick, Recreation and Parks Commission President Steven Soboroff and, perhaps, Supervisor Yaroslavsky himself — on what basis will strong coalitions with Latino and Asian communities be forged? Do we understand them even as we ask them to understand us?

The glory of Tom Bradley is the easy part of his legacy. The pain must be dealt with too.

We buried a statesman, this week, a man, a leader and a friend.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.com

Torah Portion


Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)


Parashat Chuka (Numbers 19:1-22:1)


Parashat Korach (Numbers 16-18)


Parashat Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41)


Parashat Behaalotecha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)


Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)


Parashat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)


Parashat Behar-Behukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)


Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21-24)


Acahre-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27)


Parashat Tazria-Mezorah (Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59)



The Right Leader for the Right Time

By Rabbi Elazar R. Muskin

People often complain that if we only had leaders like those in past generations, we would not have the problems we face today. It seems to be a chronic malady that we never are satisfied with the leaders of our own time. Yet, an old Jewish adage states, “each generation receives the leader it deserves.” In truth, nowhere is this fact so apparent as in this week’s Torah reading.

Few biblical stories are as sad as the account in this week’s parasha, which describes how Moses could not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (27:12). Yet, in the midst of this traumatic moment, Moses showed the measure of his greatness. The parasha relates how, instead of bemoaning his own fate, Moses concentrates on appointing a successor (27:15-23). Our own Sages in the Midrash suggest that this is the highest form of altruism, stating: “This tells us the praise of the righteous. When they are ready to part from this world, they put aside their own needs and concern themselves with the needs of the community.”

Although our Sages praise Moses, his successor, Joshua, does not seem to fare as well. The Talmud, in Baba Batra 75A, remarks, “The Elders of that generation said: The countenance of Moses was like that of the sun; the countenance of Joshua like that of the moon. Alas, for such shame!”

Rashi, the classical commentator, in interpreting this Talmudic passage, explains that the Elders were depressed and frustrated because they realized that Moses could never be replaced. No matter how great Joshua was, he simply was not another Moses, and, thus, the level of Jewish leadership must decline like the moon in comparison to the sun.

The 19th century of Musar (Jewish ethics) offers an even more critical interpretation, suggesting that Joshua could have truly replaced Moses, but he never rose to the challenge, remaining like the moon, never as brilliant as the sun.

Not all commentaries, however, agree with this critique. Instead, some of the greatest commentators suggest that the Talmudic passage should be read not as a negative assessment of Joshua but as an indictment of the Elders. The “shame” and “reproach” refers to the fact that the Elders did not give Joshua an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership qualities. As is often the case, the Elders of a generation find it too difficult to encourage a younger leader, feeling that the new leader is not worthy of their support. True, the Elders missed Moses, but Joshua deserved their help, and this they tragically were unable to offer.

Moreover, the Elders did not assess the situation properly. As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, they needed a commander equipped with the ability to communicate with the masses. Under these circumstances, Joshua, not Moses, was the better leader.

The 19th-century biblical commentator, the Malbim, remarks that Joshua’s charisma, his warm, congenial and dynamic personality, provided leadership that everyone could identify with, whereas Moses possessed an aloof personality that only the intellectual elite could approach.

The Hatam Sofer, another 19th-century commentator, reinforces this idea when he interprets the expression in the Talmudic passage, “the Elders of that generation,” as referring to a few special leaders who learnt directly from Moses and had a personal relationship with him. The masses, however, were awed by Moses and turned instead to his pupil, Joshua, for advice and guidance.

All too often, we are critical of leaders, comparing them to a glorious past, and we see only deficiencies. Yet we must remember that each generation receives the leadership it needs. Joshua was not a failure at all, but the Elders of his generation judged him harshly and incorrectly because they wanted another Moses. Israel, however, did not need another Moses. Rather, it needed Joshua. And in God’s infinite wisdom, Israel received exactly what Israel desperately required.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.