How Mark Zuckerberg embraced his Judaism


Mark Zuckerberg delivering a commencement speech at Harvard University in which he quoted the Mi Shebeirach prayer on May 25. Photo Paul Marotta/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg wrote last December on Facebook that for him, “religion is very important.” Looks like he meant it.

The Facebook co-founder has been invoking Judaism a lot lately. In May, he quoted a Jewish prayer at Harvard’s commencement. Two weeks ago he posted a picture of his daughter with a family kiddush cup. And on Saturday night, he posted a public apology at the end of Yom Kippur.

It’s quite a transformation for a public figure who once defined himself as an atheist.

Although he was a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi before he dropped out of Harvard, Zuckerberg didn’t discuss his Judaism much before 2015. Replying to a comment last year, Zuckerberg wrote that he “went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”

Zuckerberg’s recent string of Jewish affirmations began nearly two years ago following then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Being raised as a Jew, Zuckerberg wrote, made him sensitive to attacks on all minorities.

“After the Paris attacks and hate this week, I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others,” Zuckerberg wrote, referring to that year’s terror attack in the French capital. “As a Jew, my parents taught me that we must stand up against attacks on all communities. Even if an attack isn’t against you today, in time attacks on freedom for anyone will hurt everyone.”

Zuckerberg invoked his Judaism again after the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

“It’s a disgrace that we still need to say that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are wrong — as if this is somehow not obvious,” he wrote.

But judging from his Facebook profile (and in his case, shouldn’t we?), Zuckerberg has reconnected with his Judaism not just as a national figure but as a person and a father. His post featuring a collage of a kiddush cup, Shabbat candlesticks and homemade challah waxed about passing the cup from generation to generation.

“For shabbat tonight, we gave Max a kiddush cup that has been in our family for almost 100 years,” he wrote, referring to his eldest daughter. “Her great-great-grandfather Max got it after our family immigrated here and it has been passed down through our family ever since.”

For shabbat tonight, we gave Max a kiddush cup that has been in our family for almost 100 years. Her…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, September 15, 2017

At the Harvard commencement, Zuckerberg told graduates that he sings an adaptation of the Mi Shebeirach — the traditional Jewish prayer for the sick — when he tucks her in at night.

“And it goes, ‘May the source of strength, who’s blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,” he told the graduates in May, quoting a version of the prayer by the late Jewish songwriter Debbie Friedman and lyricist Rabbi Drorah Setel. “I hope you find the courage to make your life a blessing.”

While the mogul’s newfound piety may be attracting attention, he is doing what any young Jewish parent might, said Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, director of CLAL-the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Plenty of Jews lose interest in their religion, then reconnect to it after having kids.

“There are a million people in his age cohort who are deeply proud of being Jewish and are trying to figure out what it means,” Hirschfield said. “You marry and partner and have a family, and it’s not surprising that the questions of ‘How do I have a more meaningful life and build a better future’ become more important and powerful and imminent.”

InterfaithFamily.com was especially pleased that Zuckerberg, whose wife, Priscilla Chan, is not Jewish, has posted about his family’s Jewish rituals.

“The fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year,” wrote Ed Case, founder of InterfaithFamily.com. “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.”

Zuckerberg got Jewishly personal again when he asked for forgiveness at the end of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance. His critics might say he has a lot to atone for.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook was accused of allowing Russian hackers to post thousands of ads influencing the election. And users also were allowed to target ads based on phrases like “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews.” (Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who also is Jewish, said the company would address the problem.)

“For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better,” he wrote Saturday night. “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better.”

Tonight concludes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews when we reflect on the past year and ask forgiveness…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Saturday, September 30, 2017

It isn’t the first time that Zuckerberg has encountered trouble because of the content published on his site. In 2015, some 20,000 Israelis filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook for ignoring incitement to terrorism on the network and enabling terrorists to find sympathizers. The case was dismissed this year.

While Zuckerberg may not have always talked publicly about his Judaism, he has surrounded himself with people who do. His college roommate moved to Israel and became a Conservative rabbi. Sandberg has spoken frequently about how Jewish rituals helped her cope following her husband’s untimely death in 2015. And his sister, Randi, is open about her Jewish observances. She says her family unplugs for a “digital Shabbat” each weekend, and sang “Jerusalem of Gold,” a classic Israeli song, at the Davos World Economic Forum.

Davos also occasioned the first JTA clip about Zuckerberg, published in 2008. While he attended the forum that year, Israel’s delegation invited him to visit the country.

He has yet to accept. But after giving his daughter a kiddush cup and atoning on Yom Kippur, maybe this is the year.

Las Vegas Jewish community rallies to help in aftermath of shooting


A makeshift memorial is seen next to the site of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Oct. 3. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Two Las Vegas synagogue held special evening prayers and a GoFundMe page raised over $50,000 for an injured Jewish woman as the city’s Jewish community rallied to help in the aftermath of the mass shooting on the Strip.

Chabad Rabbi Mendy Harlig, a chaplain with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, told the Chabad.org website that he spent time on Monday at a local hospital with the husband and mother-in-law of Natalie Grumet, a Jewish California resident who was injured in the shooting, The Times of Israel reported.

The GoFundMe page established to help Grumet return to California for further treatment had surpassed its $50,000 goal by Tuesday.

Samantha Arjune, daughter of the recently retired superintendent of the Ramaz Jewish day school in New York City, also was injured in the attack. On Monday, she underwent surgery on her leg; Arjune is not in a life-threatening situation.

The two women were among the more than 500 injured in the attack by a lone gunman shooting Sunday night at a concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. At least 58 were killed.

Harlig said he spent Sunday night at the scene of the attack offering support to police officers in dealing with the horrors they witnessed and the following day at hospitals providing support to victims and their families. He also worked with Israel’s consul general to help find Israelis visiting or living in Las Vegas who had been unaccounted for; they have all been found and none were injured.

Temple Sinai in Las Vegas on Monday evening held a special service to help the community come to grips with the attack. More than 100 members, young and old, attended the service, the Forward reported. Synagogue members said they planned to visit the injured and their families at local hospitals.

Midbar Kodesh Temple also held special evening prayers and a nighttime vigil.

Todd Polikoff, president and CEO of Jewish Nevada, the state’s Jewish community federation, told The Times of Israel that his staff had been bringing supplies to the blood service sites and sending food to the trauma center.

“Once the physical wounds heal, there are going to be a lot of people who need a lot of care dealing with this in a mental way,” he said. “There were 22,000 people there. We know there were a number of members of Jewish community who were there who got out unscathed physically. But know they’re going to need help.”

A post on the Jewish Nevada Facebook page from Monday said, “As the sun rises on Las Vegas today, we will be a changed city. What will not change is our compassion for one another, our ability to embrace millions of visitors every year, and our resilience in the face of challenging circumstances. This is the greatness that we know persists, in spite of the tragedy that we saw this evening.

“We must now turn to our attention those friends, family, and strangers who are in the most need. They are the ones who will need to see and experience all of the greatness that we embody in our community. Now, more than ever, we need to remind our fellow community members, the rest of the country, and the world that we are #VegasStrong.”

We are incredibly saddened by the violence and loss of life tonight on the Strip. We are also very thankful for the men…

Posted by Jewish Nevada on Monday, October 2, 2017

Jewish and Israeli communities respond to Las Vegas attack with aid, call for action


Las Vegas Metro Police officers after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

UPDATE 10:21 A.M. OCT. 4: The five missing Israelis mentioned below in the story “are safe and accounted for,” Anna Rubin, director of media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, told the Journal.

The Oct. 1 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, which left at least 59 people dead and 527 wounded, was “obviously not just about the Jewish community,” Jewish Federation of Las Vegas President and CEO Todd Polikoff said hours after the attack.

The Federation, nevertheless, was committed to assisting those affected by what many are calling the deadliest shooting in modern American history, he said.

“I don’t think there is any part of this community that is not feeling the impact of these events. We’re constantly looking at how we can help the whole community, Jewish and non-Jewish, and deal with what transpired,” Polikoff said in a phone interview the day after the shooting.

Those efforts have been multi-faceted.

“Right now it’s information-gathering. We’re trying to reach out to members of the community, various synagogues and anyone in our base to let us know that everyone is safe that they know of and if they’re not, what’s the situation.”

He added that as of that morning he did not know if anyone in the Jewish community had been injured or killed, but there were 22,000 people at the concert, “and we know members of the Jewish community go to these festivals,” he said.

Rabbi Levi Harlig of Chabad of Southern Nevada said he had spent time with the family of one Jewish victim at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where 14 patients had died as late Oct. 2. The Route 91 Harvest music festival began Sept. 29 and concluded on Oct. 1.

He said he visited the hospital after hearing about a Jewish woman from Orange County whose husband had dropped her off at the concert, where she was shot in the neck.

“Thank God [her injury] does not seem to be life threatening,” Harlig told the Journal.

There are an estimated 70,000 Jewish people living in Nevada, with the majority residing in Las Vegas, according to Polikoff.

The Federation leader said the organization has been in contact with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

“We’re trying to work with Metro as best as we can,” Polikoff said. “They have a hotline for people who are looking for family members; we’re trying to drive people to the blood services in town because blood services are greatly needed and we’re trying to be a community partner the best we can.”

The authorities said the gunman, Stephen Paddock, fired his weapon from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, overlooking the concert, during the performance of headliner Jason Aldean. Paddock began firing at the crowd gathered at the Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds at 10:08 p.m., the authorities said.

The rapid gunfire sent concertgoers running for their lives while others crouched on the ground and held each other.

As the shooting continued for several minutes, a SWAT team closed in on the shooter’s location. The Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the police department, said Paddock committed suicide after SWAT pinned him down. ISIS – or Islamic State – claimed responsibility for the attack. Law enforcement, however, said the shooter acted alone.

Polikoff said he was asleep when his Apple Watch buzzed at 1 a.m. with a news notification about the incident. He thought it was his watch alerting him to wake up, as it does every morning at 5 a.m. for the gym. The news – that 20 people had been killed – stunned him. By the time he got in his car to drive to work, the number had risen to more than 50.

Various members of the Federation staff left the office to donate blood and found long lines, “100 people deep,” he said.

Noa Peri-Jensch, regional director of the Israeli American Council in Las Vegas, said her organization was encouraging people to assist those donating blood.

“The blood centers are packed with donors, so we have decided that instead of blood, we should assist those who are standing in lines to donate blood,” she said. “Members of the Israeli community went out in a big truck to hand out water and food to those in line at the blood centers.”

Anna Rubin, director of media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, which serves the entire region of the southwest United States, including Nevada, told the Journal on Oct. 2 that five Israelis were unaccounted for in the wake of the attack.

“We are monitoring the situation,” Rubin said, explaining that the consulate was notified by the missing individuals’ families. Additional information on the missing Israelis, whose parents are in Israel, was not immediately available. 

Julie Martinez, a mother of two girls, has lived in Las Vegas for eight years. The daughter of an Israeli mother and an American father, Martinez was supposed to go to the concert with a friend but changed her mind at the last minute. Her friend, however, attended.

“My friend went there with her four-year-old daughter. She called me crying and in shock after she ran from the concert area to the Tropicana hotel,” Martinez said. “That’s how I found out what had happened. They stayed there for five hours until the police let them go back home. The streets were completely empty. No one was allowed to leave. Many people who attended the concert ran as well to the Tropicana. People gave them drinks and helped them out. Every body was so helpful, she told me.”

In the aftermath of the shooting, Jewish organizations including the Union of Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Los Angeles social justice-oriented congregation IKAR renewed a call for the enactment of tighter gun control legislation.

“There is so much we don’t know yet about this shooting. What does seem clear is that the gunman used at least one fully automatic assault weapon among the 17 other weapons, including rifles with scopes, that police found in his hotel room. These are weapons of war, easily accessible in America,” IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous said on Oct. 2 in a statement titled “Enough With Your Thoughts and Prayers. People are Dying.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt echoed Brous’ call for gun control.

“We firmly believe that one way to limit the power of extremists and reduce violence in our communities is to enact tough, effective gun violence prevention measures,” Greenblatt said.

Polikoff, meanwhile, said at this early juncture, he did not want to focus on the politics of the situation.

“One thing I’m not listening to is anyone who wants to turn this into any sort of political commentary. I don’t think this is the time or place [to say] ‘This wouldn’t have happened if so and so were in office.’ “ he said. “We have to worry about the people who were hurt and the families who lost loved ones at this time. I will let everyone else discuss the politics of what they want to discuss. I will focus on people who need help.”

Harlig, the Chabad rabbi, said the shooting shook him up.

“You hear stories about New York, Florida, overseas, and all of a sudden this is our hometown, so it is frightening, but I think the holiday of our rejoicing is coming up, Sukkot, so we will have a double amount of strength to counter the darkness,” he said.   

Harlig expressed confidence that life in Vegas will soon – perhaps too quickly – return to normal.

“Unfortunately people get caught up with the excitement and the glamour here and are quick to forget. It might take a day or two but I think it will go back to normal,” he said. “Let’s wait for the dust to settle.”

Ayala Or-El, contributing writer, contributed to this report

Swedish Jews celebrate Yom Kippur under heavy security as neo-Nazis march in major city


The far-right Nordic Resistance Movement marches in Gothenburg, Sweden, on September 30, 2017. Photo by Fredrik Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images

Jews in the Swedish city of Gothenburg expressed relief on Monday after a neo-Nazi march on Yom Kippur bypassed the city’s main synagogue and the community received hundreds of messages of support from groups and individuals.

On Saturday, 30 members of the far-right nationalist Nordic Resistance Movement, or NRM, were arrested when they did not follow their assigned route, clashed with counterprotesters and tried to walk toward the Scandinavia Book Fair, the largest literary festival in Scandinavia. Among those arrested was the group’s leader, Simon Lindberg.

Jews had worried about harassment and vandalism during the march, which was rerouted after appeals by the Jewish community that it not pass the synagogue on Judaism’s holiest day. Police presence around the synagogue was heavy, with cars patrolling the area as well as a helicopter and a boat in a nearby canal. The synagogue also provided additional security.

Despite this, Yom Kippur services went on as usual and had a large turnout, community chairman Allan Stutzinsky told JTA.

The Gothenburg community, which is typically under tight security and has approximately 1,000 official members, feared not only the neo-Nazi marchers but potential left-wing counterprotesters, Stutzinsky told JTA earlier this month. People affiliated with the NRM were responsible for anti-Semitic threats that led to the shuttering in April of the Jewish community center in Umea, a city in northeastern Sweden, according to Stutzinsky.

Jews in Gothenburg had worried that the synagogue would be vandalized with swastikas over the weekend, Stutzinsky said. Instead they woke up on Sunday to find that people had drawn hearts with chalk around the building in support.

Amid wide media coverage of the march, the community received hundreds of messages of support from groups and individuals. Stutzinsky, who earlier this month compared present-day anti-Semitism to that in pre-World War II Europe, praised the response.

“The threats exist, but they don’t dominate society. Civil society in Sweden stood up for us in a way that the civil society in Germany didn’t do in the ’30s. We have received a lot of support,” he told JTA.

Last month, the Jewish community appealed a police decision to allow the NRM to march along a route that would have taken them only about 200 yards from the city’s main synagogue on the Jewish holiday. The neo-Nazis had originally wanted to march on the main streets of Gothenburg, but the police offered the alternate route near the synagogue.

After appeals by the Jewish community, as well as several other groups in Sweden, an administrative court in Gothenburg rerouted the protest. The Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress also urged the Swedish government to ensure the Jewish community’s safety.

Still, the fact that the march took place was worrying, Stutzinsky said.

“We have people who openly follow Nazism and who publicly show that they are Nazis and that they have that agenda,” he said of the marchers.

Aron Verstandig, chairman of The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, said Monday that the incident represented a larger trend of the rise of the far right, citing recent demonstrations across Sweden. On Thursday, Verstandig spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven about the march. Lofven denouncedthe rise of neo-Nazi groups and said the government needed take action to combat such organizations.

Though the far right is worrying, the largest threat to the community comes from Islamist terrorism, said Verstandig, who also serves as chairman of the Jewish community in Stockholm. He cited recent terror attacks against Jewish institutions across Europe, including in 2015 on a synagogue in nearby Copenhagen that left one dead.

The community isn’t going anywhere, but the various security threats take a toll, he told JTA. The synagogue in Stockholm uses more than a fifth of the money it raises from membership dues to pay for security, in addition to members volunteering to patrol the synagogue.

“There is always something you need to consider,” Verstandig said. “If you go to the kosher grocery store in Stockholm and want to buy some ground meat, that meat is more expensive because there has to be security. It affects everything. If you want to go to a Shabbat dinner, we have to spend money on security. It makes it harder.”

After Las Vegas shooting, rabbi uses High Holy Days poem to protest gun violence


Concertgoers taking cover at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip following a mass shooting attack on Oct. 1. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

In the wake of the shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas that left at least 58 people dead, a New Jersey rabbi has used a Jewish poem as a vehicle to argue against gun violence.

Those who attended synagogue during the recent High Holy Days likely chanted or read the “Unetanah Tokef,” which describes how God decides at the beginning of each Jewish New Year who will live and who will die.

“On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed/ And on Yom Kippur it is sealed/ How many shall pass away and how many shall be born/ Who shall live and who shall die/ Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not/ Who shall perish by water and who by fire,” reads the most recognizable part of the poem, which goes on to list different ways people can die.

The version by Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El, in the central New Jersey town of Westfield, substitutes gun models and makes for the causes of death: “who by full automatic fire, and who by semi auto; who by AR, and who by AK; who by pistol and who by revolver.”

But unlike the “Unetanah Tokef,” in which the reader is comforted to know that “repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree,” Sagal ends by saying that those actions “will do absolutely nothing to avert the decree, nothing, for our politicians are too frightened.”

Read Sagal’s poem here:

Unetaneh Tokef for AmericaToday it is written, today it is sealed in the United States of America-Who shall die, and…

Posted by Douglas Sagal on Monday, October 2, 2017

Enough with your thoughts and prayers. People are dying.


FBI agents ride an armored vehicle to a staging area on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 2. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

As of the most recent count, 58 people were senselessly murdered in Las Vegas last night, and more than 500 wounded. Another horrific mass shooting tragedy on American soil. This is a sad day for our country—and I am heartbroken for the many families whose lives have been irrevocably upended by this act of terror. But for all of those thinking and praying for the souls of the dead and their bereaved families, think and pray on this: we, as a nation, have once again failed to protect our citizens from preventable tragedy.

There is so much we don’t yet know about this shooting. What does seem clear is that the gunman used at least one fully automatic assault weapon and had ten rifles in his hotel room. These are weapons of war, easily accessible in America. There have been 1,400 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, and yet we have failed to think or pray up a way to pass legislation that would change this reality. And even worse, after highly publicized mass shootings, there tends to be a loosening of gun laws. Right now, Congress is considering legislation that would make it easier to obtain silencers. Just imagine the increased scope of the carnage last night had the shooter possessed a silencer. It is criminal that Congress has failed to act in the face of the epidemic of mass shootings over the past many years; it is obscene that they are considering legislation that will exacerbate the problem.

This is not rocket science. A ban on weapons designed for battlefield use and a ban on high capacity magazines. Universal background checks for all gun buyers. Expanded mental health treatment. Restricted gun sales to anyone with a history of violence—especially a history of domestic violence—or mental illness. The overwhelming majority of Americans support these measures. So what exactly are we waiting for? Maybe we should pray on it?

Charles Clymer wrote this morning: “Being in this country, right now, is living in a terrible lottery. At anytime, at any place—a church, a school, a concert, at work, on a random street—we are at risk of being in a massacre. And our Congress continues to do nothing. They have failed us.”

One of these days, our nation will hit a tipping point. I dread the calamity that finally awakens us to the need to extricate our political system from the craven grip of the NRA and take real action to protect people from weapons of war. In the meantime, shame on us for not mustering the political will and the moral outrage to effectively address this crisis. Shame on us for letting our elected officials off the hook.

The news cycle will move on from this in a couple of days. It always does. And the only ones left to dwell in the tragedy will be those who lost loved ones or whose lives are forever altered by injury and trauma.

I am a person of faith, someone with a real prayer life. But I also know the limits of prayer: we cannot pray our way out of this endless loop of devastation and distraction. The only way out is collective spiritual and political action. That means saying NO to the diversionary tactics, NO to the empty excuses, NO to the bald-faced lies that will inevitably follow on the heels of this tragedy, as they always do. We have to use our voices, our resources, our connections, whatever public platform and political capital we have to call out the insanity of easy access to deadly weapons. This will not end until we end it.


Enough with your thoughts and prayers. TAKE ACTION: Call your members of congress.
Tell your House Member to oppose the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act) which would deregulate gun silencers.
Tell your Senators to oppose Senate Bill 446, the concealed carry reciprocity bill.
Learn more here: https://everytown.org/act/
Find your rep here: https://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep


Sharon Brous is senior rabbi and founder of IKAR.

Jewish groups in aftermath of Las Vegas attack call for tougher gun control laws


Las Vegas Metro Police and medical workers stage in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1. Photo by Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

Jewish groups responded to the mass shooting in Las Vegas by condemning the violence and calling for gun control legislation.

At least 58 people are dead and more than 500 wounded in the attack at a country music festival outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Strip late Sunday night. It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Reform movement were among the groups that called for tougher gun control laws in the attack’s aftermath.

“While we are still learning details and do not know the impetus for the killings, one thing is clear: the threat of mass violence against innocent civilians in America has not abated. This threat must be taken seriously,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. He called for the enactment of “tough, effective gun violence prevention measures.”

Greenblatt said its Center on Extremism is investigating the background and activity of shooter Stephen Paddock and whether he may have ties to extremists or was motivated by any extremist ideology.

B’nai B’rith International said it is “well past time for meaningful, bipartisan gun violence legislation in this country.” It also said: “Though information about the shooter and his arsenal is still being uncovered, we have long held there is no acceptable, reasonable need for civilians to have access to large rounds of ammunition.”

“B’nai B’rith stands in solidarity with the Las Vegas community and with all those impacted by gun violence around the nation,” the statement also said.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy Kaufman in a statement called for Congress to act to “stem the tide of this senseless violence before yesterday’s tragedy becomes just another record to be broken.”

“Federal lawmakers must act now to restrict access to automatic weapons, reject the current bill before Congress that would make it easier to buy silencers, and instead focus on how to make our communities and our country safer. NCJW expects nothing less from our elected officials,” the statement also said.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the mass shooting cannot be termed a random act of violence.

“Even before all the facts are known we know this: rather than revere gun rights our country must finally revere human life,” he said.

“We mourn those callously slaughtered in Las Vegas and pray for the wounded. But our prayers must be followed by action, long overdue limits to the easy access to fire arms.”

The Jewish Federations of North America in its statement called on people wherever they are to donate blood.

“These attacks are just the latest instances of senseless violence that terrorizes innocent people everywhere and must come to an end,” the group said.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, also called the attack “senseless.”

“On behalf of world Jewry, I condemn this horrific criminal act,” he said in a statement.

David Bernstein, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that while authorities have not determined whether the shooting was an act of terror, “there is no question that it has terrorized and traumatized hundreds of innocent people.”

Cheryl Fishbein, the JCPA’s chair, added: “It is imperative that we come together to address the underlying causes in the days ahead.”

There are over 70,000 Jews and at least 19 synagogues in Las Vegas, according to the JewishVegas.com website.

Episode 58 – The man who slept in Hitler’s room and infiltrated guarded refugee camps


When people talk to journalists, they tend to be extra careful as to what comes out of their mouths. It takes a whole new level of journalism to penetrate into the depths of the soul of a person – you have to smoothen your way in, create intimacy, have a drink or two together, and then, and only then – maybe you’ll get a glimpse into the what someone really thinks.

Tuvia Tenenbom has made this practice an art. Tuvia was born as Charedi in Israel to a German speaking family, but eventually moved to the States where he founded the Jewish Theater of New York, which is currently the only English speaking Jewish theater at the Big Apple. He wrote 16 plays for that theater.

As a columnist, Tuvia’s essays were published in the most highly esteemed papers out there, including a column in De Zeit, Germany’s leading newspaper.

In recent years Tenenbom has devoted his time to write books. His very unique genre is a non-fiction, journalistic, humoristic, books which describe the journeys that Tuvia embarks on – “I sleep in Hitler’s Room”, his debut book, depicts his journey throughout Germany, talking to Germans, sometimes pretending to be a German himself, hiding his Jewish identity.

In the book “Catch the Jew” Tuvia pretends yet again he’s a German journalist, thus infiltrating the highest ranks of Palestinian regime in the Territories, to find out what the Palestinians really think about Israel and the Jews.

His third book, “The Lies They Tell”, described a painful journey throughout the United Stated, when Tuvia goes to places in America, so deprived of government or God, that no one knew still exist.

Tuvia’s upcoming book will unfold his adventures at the refugee camps in Europe.
2NJB is thrilled to have Tuvia Tenenbom with us.

Tuvia’s books on Amazon

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Monty Hall, philanthropist and host of ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ dies at 96


Monty Hall. Photo from Wikipedia

Television icon and philanthropist Monty Hall died on Sept. 30 at the age of 96.

For decades, Hall lived a double life: ebullient game show host and celebrity to millions by day, and, when not on camera, indefatigable fundraiser and philanthropist for Jewish and other causes.

Renowned for co-creating and hosting “Let’s Make a Deal,” Hall was equally if not more proud of raising, by some estimates, more than $1 billion for charity.

[FROM OUR ARCHIVE: Monty Hall’s best deal]

Monte Halparin was born Aug. 25, 1921 in Winnipeg, Canada, the son of Rose and Maurice. His Orthodox Jewish family was in the kosher meat business, and Hall grew up delivering orders on his bicycle. His mother, Rose, was a schoolteacher, performer and Hadassah regional president who Hall once called a “combination of Golda Meir and [Yiddish actress] Molly Picon.”

The family struggled and lived in close quarters. Hall couldn’t afford to stay in college, so he dropped out. Fortunately, a Jewish businessman and friend of the family, Max Freed, altered the trajectory of Hall’s life. When Hall was 19, Freed, 10 years Hall’s senior, offered to pay for Hall’s college education, but with three conditions: His grades had to be B-plus or higher, he had to report regularly to Freed on his progress, and, most importantly, he had to promise that one day he would do the same to a kid who needed help.

Hall seized the opportunity. He re-enrolled at the University of Manitoba, frequently checking in with Freed to inform him of his grades. In 1945, he earned his degree.

While in college, Hall performed in musical theater productions and worked an evening job as a radio disc jockey. After graduating, he moved to Toronto, where he worked at a radio station. There, his boss told him to shorten his name from Halparin to Hall. Restless and looking for bigger opportunities, Hall moved to New York in 1955 and transitioned to television. Five years later, he moved to Hollywood.

While in Hollywood, his big break was co-creating with Stefan Hatos “Let’s Make a Deal,” a game show inspired by the Frank Stockton short story “The Lady, or The Tiger?” in which a man’s choices result either in love or death. “Let’s Make a Deal” debuted on NBC in late-1963 on NBC’s daytime lineup. It aired until 1968 before moving to ABC, where it ran until 1976.

The show became one of the most successful in television history. Hall, for his part, hosted 4,700 episodes of the show.

Part of the appeal of “Let’s Make a Deal” was having audience members who dressed up in costumes in hopes of being picked by Hall to appear on the show.

Additionally, the show’s legacy was its inclusiveness, Hall said.

“ ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ was the first television show that used Black people, brown people, yellow people, old people, fat people, skinny people, because we felt this was a cross section of America,” Hall told the Archive of American Television in a 2002 interview.

Among Hall’s other claims to fame, “Let’s Make a Deal” gave rise to a classic probability puzzle. After a contestant has chosen one door, and then the host offers him the opportunity to change his mind and choose another, should he? Would changing his mind put the odds of a better prize in his favor? Hall himself once said that in “The Monty Hall Problem,” as it came to be called, the contestant’s choice matters less than the way the host manipulates the player.

Hall and his late wife, Marilyn, who died in June, raised three children: Richard, a television producer; actress Joanna Gleason; and Sharon, also a television producer. The couple were married for nearly 70 years. The Halls met in Canada, wed in 1947 and moved to New York together, before finally settling in Beverly Hills. Marilyn Hall was as an actress, writer, producer and philanthropist.

“My parents kept show business as far away from our house as possible,” Gleason once told the magazine Playbill. “It was a very normal upbringing. It just happened to be that at certain times of the day, you’d turn on the TV and there’d be my father.”

In 2013, Hall was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 40th Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1973.

Hall had a lifelong commitment to Judaism. He was a longtime friend of the late Rabbi Jacob Pressman of Temple Beth Am, where the family belonged. In 2005, Hall had his second bar mitzvah at Temple Shalom for the Arts — today known as Temple of the Arts. In later years, he attended IKAR.   

Hall credited his commitment to Judaism and his mother, Rose, for his devotion to charitable giving. In fact, he spent much of his life raising money for charity. Causes he supported included the children’s charity Variety International, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Israel Tennis Centers. Additionally, he was a regular presence on the gala circuit, emceeing events benefiting Hadassah, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Jewish Home for the Aging (now the Los Angeles Jewish Home), among countless others. 

In a 2014 Jewish Journal video series titled “Mondays With Monty,” Hall recounted an exchange with his father, who’d stopped going to synagogue. His father told him he expressed his religion through his devotion to his family. Hall said he couldn’t argue with that. In fact, in the 2002 interview with the Archive of American Television, he said he wanted to be remembered for being someone who did his best for his family.

Hall more than lived up to his promise to Max Freed to help others in need, becoming a major fundraiser for countless charities.

“I’d like to be remembered as somebody who cared, who cared for other people, who did his best, who did his best for his family, for his friends, for the community, for the country and continued to do it,” he said. “I think what you do with your life is your epitaph.”

Hall is survived by his children, Joanna Gleason (Chris Sarandon), Richard Hall and Sharon Hall (Todd Ellis Kessler); and grandchildren Aaron David Gleason, Mikka Tokuda-Hall, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Jack Kessler and Levi Kessler.

The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 3 at Hillside Memorial Park. Shivah will be cut short because of Sukkot, so please send your condolences to the family at ataida@ikar-la.org.

The family has asked that contributions in Hall’s memory be made to IKAR, AJWS and LAJH.


Monty Hall spoke to the Jewish Journal about his bar mitzvah:

This Yom Kippur, a synagogue will read the book of Jonah under a whale skeleton


This skeleton of a 46-foot sperm whale hangs at the Whaling Museum in Nantucket, a resort island that was once a hub of the whaling industry. Photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association

One of the more colorful portions of the daylong Yom Kippur liturgy is the reading of the book of Jonah, an enigmatic narrative of a reluctant prophet, an indignant God and a giant fish.

But because of the service’s timing, relatively few people are around to hear it. So one rabbi is spicing up the reading by holding it under a 46-foot skeleton of a sperm whale.

The reading Saturday afternoon will take place at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, located on the Massachusetts resort island. A hub of the whaling industry in the 1800s, Nantucket was immortalized in Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby-Dick” as the starting point for Ishmael’s journey.

“I read it [Jonah] as allegory, but the idea that it could happen captures the imagination more when you see maybe [the whale] is big enough that it could happen,” said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor of Congregation Shirat HaYam (Hebrew for “Song of the Sea”) in Nantucket. “We feel very comfortable going into the sea, but our biblical antecedents had a great fear. They would see great large fish and that would spark the imagination. I felt this would be the ideal place to talk about it.”

The short book is read in its entirety during the day’s afternoon service, coming after the exhausting Musaf service and before the climactic, closing Neilah service. The story is gripping: A man runs away from God, gets thrown off a ship and finds himself living in the belly of an enormous fish for three days. Jonah eventually (spoiler alert!) makes it to the sinful city of Nineveh, where he attempts to save the residents from the wrath of God.

Nantucket has remained connected to its maritime heritage even after the whaling industry faded. Many of the island’s large houses belonged to sea captains and ship owners. The island has hosted dramatic readings of “Moby-Dick,” and some of Nantucket’s wealthy vacationers moor yachts at the dock. The museum chronicles the island’s history and its whaling past. The giant skeleton, taken from a beached whale, is its crown jewel.

Shirat HaYam also hopes to pay homage to Nantucket’s heritage. Following a traditional Hebrew chanting at synagogue, an English reading will take place under the whale, and Bretton-Granatoor will give a lecture about how Jewish sages have viewed sea creatures throughout history.

As the Days of Awe draw to a close, Bretton-Granatoor hopes the reading will instill a biblical sense of awe into his congregants.

“The idea that I can take a biblical book and make it feel real, make it feel tangible, is very exciting,” he said. “The idea that something we read about now is tangible — here’s a whale above us — imagine what the writers of the Bible thought about if they ever saw something this size.”

When Jewish justices got the Supreme Court to shut down on Yom Kippur


Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer listening to President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 28, 2014. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Since 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court has not held public sessions on Yom Kippur. Since the court opens its term on the first Monday in October, it is not unusual for the Jewish Day of Atonement to arrive just as the court begins its public work.

How the Supreme Court came to observe the Jewish High Holy Day is a story about religious diversity on the court, the quiet perseverance of two justices and an unexpected illness.

In an impromptu appearance at a synagogue here last week on Rosh Hashanah, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recounted how she and fellow Jewish Justice Stephen Breyer approached Chief Justice William Rehnquist and explained that Jewish lawyers who had been “practicing their arguments for weeks” should not be required to choose between religious observance and representing their clients before the court. According to Ginsburg, Rehnquist agreed.

But Ginsburg was being respectful of the memory of Rehnquist – cognoscenti have slightly less gracious memories of his role in the change.

There were no Jewish justices on the Supreme Court in the almost quarter century between the resignation of Abe Fortas on May 15, 1969, and Ginsburg’s swearing-in on Aug. 10, 1993. (Breyer joined the court on Aug. 3, 1994.) I appeared before the court as private counsel a number of times between 1971 and 1994, and the Supreme Court clerk was always accommodating to Jewish religious observance. Cases in which I was scheduled to argue orally were scheduled for dates that would not conflict with Jewish holidays.

In 1994, I was scheduled for two appearances during a Supreme Court session in March that included Passover. At my request, the arguments were scheduled so as not to conflict with the first and last two days of the holiday.

A lawyer asking for an argument to be rescheduled was one thing; a Supreme Court justice sitting out an argument was quite another.

Yom Kippur in 1993 and 1994 came in September, so there was no religious conflict during Ginsburg’s first two years and Breyer’s freshman year on the court. But in 1995, Yom Kippur was on Oct. 4 – a Wednesday on which the court was scheduled to hear oral argument. No counsels apparently had requested that their cases be rescheduled. Although the court’s Hearing Calendar had arguments scheduled for that date, they were abruptly postponed. The court took the day off on Yom Kippur, as it has done ever since.

Those of us who followed the court closely and were battling for recognition of Jewish religious rights were curious as to how this happened. The story – as I heard it at the time from a knowledgeable source – did not portray Rehnquist as cordially accommodating to Jewish religious observance.

The account I heard then was that Ginsburg and Breyer had approached Rehnquist after oral arguments were scheduled for that Oct. 4. The two Jewish members asked the chief justice to be respectful of their religious identity and postpone the arguments scheduled for Yom Kippur.

Rehnquist, however, had not accommodated Jewish observance in a 1986 case in which I had argued on behalf of an Orthodox Jewish Air Force psychologist who wanted to wear a yarmulke with his military uniform. Rehnquist had written the Supreme Court’s majority 5-to-4 opinion rejecting the First Amendment claim.

Before she was nominated to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals — along with Antonin Scalia and Kenneth Starr, judges at the time — had voted in favor of the psychologist’s motion to rehear the lower court’s rejection of the yarmulke request. (Following the high court’s rejection, Congress would enact a law, still in effect, that grants military personnel in uniform a statutory right to wear a neat and conservative religious article of clothing.)

In 1995, according to the version of the story I heard, Rehnquist turned down the request of Ginsburg and Breyer to reschedule the court date to accommodate Yom Kippur. He told them that they could, if they chose, absent themselves on Yom Kippur and still vote, pursuant to the court’s practice, after listening to the audio tapes of the oral arguments.

Soon thereafter, however, Rehnquist found that he, too, would be unable to sit with the court on Oct. 4 because his painful back condition required medical treatment on that day.

According to my sources, this gave the two Jewish justices an unexpected opportunity. They approached John Paul Stevens, the most senior justice who would be presiding if Rehnquist were absent. They pointed out to Stevens that if the two of them were not on the bench on Oct. 4, only six justices would sit to hear oral arguments on that day. Although that number is technically a Supreme Court quorum and the absent justices could vote after listening to audio tapes, Stevens agreed that the optics of such a diminished panel would be less than ideal. Stevens then postponed the Yom Kippur session, and the practice stuck.

This year’s Yom Kippur falls on Friday night and Saturday morning, Sept. 29-30, and the court won’t convene until Monday, Oct. 2.

But thanks to Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Stevens, the next time a public session falls on Yom Kippur, a sign of respect for Jewish observance will again prevail.


Nathan Lewin is a Washington lawyer who has argued 28 cases before the Supreme Court and is on the adjunct faculty of Columbia Law School.

Step into the shoes of Yonah this Yom Kippur


Ari Schwarzberg

One of the first Jewish ideas I can recall from my youth is that resting somewhere inside us, we each have a yetzer hara and a yetzer tov, an evil and good inclination. These figurative angels and demons account for our inner voices that compel us to be both our best and our worst each day of our lives. As we mature and grow older, we hope that we’ll be more angelic than demonic, but it’s  hard to imagine being able to simply hit the delete button on our dark side. Our “good” and “bad” sides constantly battle for proprietorship of our soul and much of our religious work is to redeem ourselves from the immoral thoughts and actions embedded in our genetic code.

This is all well and good. We know that we’re not meant to be perfect and that there’s work to be done.

But what do we do when our demons burden us? How do we respond when doubts or skepticism shake up our faith or when religious leadership and community fall short of our expectations? What about when the world we inhabit is tormented by one natural disaster after the next, leaving innocent people dead and homeless and cities ravaged and torn up? These are difficult questions for everyone, but for the believers out there, these can be testy times.

Surely, living a religious life requires the capacity to hold multiple feelings and ideas simultaneously: we believe and we question, we love and we hate, we’re both contemporary and ancient;. Judaism, in particular, has never been a simple person’s game. I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself, however, in saying that this year’s Yamim Noraim proved a bit more complicated than usual. A time where I usually find my spiritual burners to be revving, this year my theological demons wouldn’t stay under lock and key.

Despite the challenges, I was still deeply moved by the soaring tefillot of Rosh Hashana.  I felt the religious intensity in the air, and I loved being a part of my community. But, as Yom Kippur begins, my inner voices are asking questions about a world that seems more unjust than just and more merciless than merciful – these are crippling ruminations that I’d prefer go into hibernation this time of year. The last thing we want on Yom Kippur is swirling thoughts in our head that might pollute the holy work of the day.

Or is it?

What if we were to bring our most real and honest selves into shul this Yom Kippur and engage God not only with belief and faith, but also with the rawness of our vexations and difficulties that comprise an inextricable part of any religious consciousness?

If you’re not yet convinced, look no further than the curious selection of Sefer Yonah as the haftora for Minha on Yom Kippur afternoon. Often bestowed upon an honorable member of the community, rabbis and scholars have long wondered how a story about a rebellious prophet figures into the Yom Kippur liturgy. In short, the prophet Jonah begins his book by rejecting God’s request, and ends the story as a reluctant messenger of God, who despite fulfilling God’s demand does so God’s demand does so unwillingly, even angrily.

As dusk settles on Yom Kippur day, the image of Yonah provides a strange way to usher in the climactic moments of Ne’eila. Why are we bringing reluctance, rebellion, and anger into a day designated as kulo l’Hashem, a day steeped in holiness and enveloped by godliness?

But perhaps that’s it. Yonah’s role on Yom Kippur instructs us that a relationship with God isn’t always one of simple faith and submission. Sometimes, there are moments of clarity and purpose that bring us close to our Maker, and other times we are lost and troubled, feeling like God’s presence is anything but near.

For most of Yom Kippur we spend the day knocking on heaven’s door, a 25-hour existence that does its best to transcend the human realm. But then there’s about a ten-minute window late in the afternoon when we’re invited into the world of a troubled prophet who finds an unjust world intolerable. Yonah doesn’t mince words: in the final chapter he twice exclaims to God that “it is better for me to die than to live.” Even at the close of the story, after God does His best to show Yonah His ways, we are left wondering about Yonah’s reaction. The story closes on a cliffhanger with the reader unsure whether Yonah remains recalcitrant or is finally convinced of God’s preeminence.

The linchpin, however, is that despite all this Yonah is and remains a prophet. While many other prophets prove their prophetic worth by unquestionably heeding God’s demands, Yonah’s prophetic qualities are best understood in the inverse. Yonah’s constitution as a navi b’yisrael (a prophet of Israel) directly emerges from his boldness. Though he could have checked out or remained silent, Yonah demands a world that is better, his moral clarity ultimately furnishing an activism that could just as easily have faded into apathy. Rather than remaining asleep in the hold of a ship, Yonah brings his frustrations into a conversation with God. In fact, the climactic moment of the story occurs when Yonah channels His accusations into an actual tefillah:

וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֶליְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּה יְהוָה הֲלוֹאזֶה דְבָרִי עַדהֱיוֹתִי עַלאַדְמָתִיעַלכֵּן קִדַּמְתִּי, לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה:  כִּי יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי אַתָּה אֵלחַנּוּן וְרַחוּם, אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַבחֶסֶד, וְנִחָם עַלהָרָעָה.

He prayed to the LORD, saying, “O LORD! Isn’t this just what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled beforehand to Tarshish. For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.

This is the prayer par excellence of our tradition, the 13 attributes of God, a refrain we’ve been saying for weeks now and that we’ll say throughout Yom Kippur. Yet, Yonah inverts this tefillah, accusing God of being overly merciful at the expense of truth and justice (notice how אמת is glaringly absent in Yonah’s prayer). The point being that although Yonah vehemently disagrees with God, his consternation becomes a vehicle for tefillah, an instrument for a more honest and vulnerable communion with God.

Of course, God is right and Yonah is wrong. Our ability and need to question God is not a comment on His perfection. Still, this short story is retold on Yom Kippur as a reminder that a real relationship with God is not always harmonious.The prophet Jonah models the capaciousness, the ability to both believe and question, that any meaningful relationship demands. We both relate to Yonah’s firm declaration in Chapter One that “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land (1:9),” while also sympathizing with Yonah’s disposition as described by the narrator: “This displeased Jonah greatly, and he was grieved.” Religious life is neither linear nor one-dimensional.

So, I invite you all to give it a shot. If you’re feeling troubled or frustrated with the world, if things haven’t been going the way you’d imagine them, step into the shoes of Yonah, and bring your complete self into your service of God this Yom Kippur. For such is the way of prophets.

Wishing you a G’mar Chatimah Tova.

 

 

Keeping the Faith


I am a regular temple goer throughout the year, but there is something about the high holidays that brings me peace I don’t know how to properly articulate. I love my faith and could listen to my Rabbi give a sermon all day, every day, but there is nothing better than Kol Nidre with Rabbi Naomi Levy.  It is a moving service and I feel like I am in the presence of God on this particular day. Perhaps it is because I am surrounded by such a large group and we are all in prayer together, or maybe it is just because my heart is completely open on this day. Open to joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache. It is a day that matters to me.

I am going into Kol Nidre this year with both relief and fear. Relief to unload the weight of so many things on my soul, and fear about what my life will look like without so many burdens pent up inside me. After a year with so many unanswered questions and trials and tribulations, I have no expectations, but real hope when I go to Kol Nidre services. I simply want to be free. Free of my demons, of which there are many, and free of the busyness in my mind that prevents me from sleeping. I want my choices to be unaffected by cancer, and I want my future to become clear. No guarantees, just clarity after foggy days.

I am not the type of person who looks for guarantees in life. Things happen, both good and bad, and I am a roll with the punches kind of girl. I will think about the last year, thank God for holding my hand through all of it, and pray for the strength to be always be brave, even when I don’t think I can. I shall search for forgiveness, knowing it will come. I shall search for clarity, knowing it will come. I shall ask for sleep, knowing it will find me. I shall envision all of our names being inscribed in the book of life, and I will focus on keeping the faith.

 

 

Spending Yom Kippur in a beer garden


GatherDC is hosting a Yom Kippur event at the Sauf Haus Bier Hall & Garten in Washington. Photo courtesy of Sauf Haus Bier Hall & Garten

On Saturday, when Jews around the world will fast and gather in synagogues to pray on Yom Kippur, some young Jews will be coming together in the U.S. capital at a more unconventional venue: a beer garden.

Aaron Potek, the 31-year-old rabbi for GatherDC, a nondenominational group that does outreach to young Jewish professionals, is hoping to reach young Jews who otherwise would not attend synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

“They are people who would not be going to a service otherwise,” said Potek, who was ordained by the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City. “Some will be fasting, some won’t be fasting. Some are coming from absolutely no [Jewish] background, some are coming from more of a background but have been alienated by more traditional approaches.”

The event is not a prayer service and thus will not feature many of the traditional Yom Kippur routines. Instead, from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., an expected 120 participants will come to the Sauf Haus Bier Hall & Garden on Dupont Circle to hear lectures, study Jewish texts, meditate and participate in discussions. Leading the event alongside Potek is Sarah Hurwitz, who worked as a speechwriter for President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

And though it takes place at a beer garden, the bar will be closed and no food or drinks will be served. Those who do bring food will be asked to eat it inconspicuously.

“I don’t care if you’re fasting or not, I still would like you to try to connect to the day of Yom Kippur,” Potek told JTA on Wednesday. “That’s not a statement about Jewish law, that’s not a statement about what the Torah says about fasting, that’s just living in the reality, and saying there are people who don’t fast and who don’t connect to fasting.”

Potek says he hopes to attend religious services on Saturday, but likely will end up praying on his own in between the beer garden event and preparing food for homeless people at another GatherDC event.

Rabbi Aaron Potek hopes to attract young Jews who otherwise would not be attending Yom Kippur programming at an event hosted at a beer garden. (Bruce Powell)

The setting led to some minor controversy.

“Having an event in a beer garden — the implication is that food and beverages will be served — on Yom Kippur is highly inappropriate and crosses the line of acceptability. To me, this is a mockery of our traditions,” Harris Cohen, the vice president of the D.C. Orthodox synagogue Ohev Sholom, told Religion News Service.

Cohen later reiterated his view, writing on Facebook that though he had been made aware that no food or drinks would be served, he still thought the choice of venue “highly inappropriate.”

Rabbi Ari Hart, who like Potek is a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, initially criticized the event on Facebook, saying the beer garden venue “runs against both the spirit and the law of Yom Kippur.”

However, after being informed by JTA that there would be no food or drinks served at the gathering, he apologized for his initial criticism and gave Potek his blessing.

“It’s just a space,” Hart wrote in an updated status. “A controversial, unconventional space? Sure. Would I feel comfortable? Probably not. Does that matter? Definitely not. Would hundreds of Jews who would feel uncomfortable in my shul, or any shul, feel comfortable there? Definitely yes.”

Potek considered a few venues prior to settling on the beer garden. Price and capacity ended up being the determining factors, he said.

“We wanted it to not be in a synagogue. We wanted it to be in a popular, centrally located area, something that people associated with their regular life,” he said.

Despite the kerfuffle, Potek is looking forward to the event.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that questions of denominational lines have distracted from what I’m ultimately trying to do, which is help people talk about the meaning of Yom Kippur and the meaning of their lives.”

RECIPES: A Sukkot menu that celebrates the land’s fall harvest


Holiday Pumpkin Soup. Photos by Cyndi Bemel

The harvest festival of Sukkot is a great time to be home for the holidays.

The most obvious reason is that the main symbol of the festival is the sukkah, the decorated outdoor booth that provides families a wonderful opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to share a snack or come together for a meal.

In the spirit of the holiday, dishes should include seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with several kinds of grains, as a reminder of the fall harvest. 

This year, our family and friends will enjoy interesting foods from a menu that is healthful and low in fat, and much of it can be prepared in advance.

Begin with a hearty Holiday Pumpkin Soup, which can double as a great addition to your Thanksgiving dinner. Garnish with a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds that add a crunchy texture, and serve with grain-rich bread made from whole-wheat flour and cornmeal.

Another Sukkot culinary custom is to serve foods filled with rice or other grains. Kreplach, blintzes, cabbage, squash, and other vegetables are perfect examples. But, red bell peppers stuffed with rice and fruit, and baked until tender, are my favorite.

For dessert, lemon-flavored treats always are welcome and refreshing, since lemons are in the same citrus family as the etrog, or citron, one of the four species used ritually during Sukkot. (The other three species are the palm, willow and myrtle.) The lemon cake recipe below uses generous quantities of fresh lemon juice and grated rind for some extra zest. 

HOLIDAY PUMPKIN SOUP

3 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
6 cups vegetable broth or pareve chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

In a heavy saucepan, heat butter; add onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add apple and pumpkin, and sauté 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Add thyme and 5 cups broth. Bring to boil or until soup thickens.

With a slotted spoon, transfer all of pumpkin mixture to a food processor and process slowly, adding remaining 1 cup of broth until pureed.

Return pureed mixture to saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until soup thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into heated soup bowls and sprinkle with parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Makes about 7 cups.

HARVEST CORN BREAD

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

In the large bowl of a mixer, combine flour, salt, baking powder, 1 cup yellow cornmeal and sugar. Blend well. In a separate bowl, combine milk, oil and egg. Pour into flour mixture, beating until dry ingredients are moist.

Brush an 8-inch-square baking dish with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pour in batter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until wood toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on rack and cut into squares.

Makes about 16 squares.

RICE AND FRUIT STUFFED RED BELL PEPPERS

Quick Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
8 large, sweet red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups uncooked, long-grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup sliced dried prunes
1/3 cup sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups vegetable stock, chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Quick Tomato Sauce; set aside.

Cut off stem ends of peppers (1/2 inch from top), and remove the seeds and inner white ribs. Blanch and invert to drain while preparing filling.

Rinse and soak rice in hot water, covered, for 30 minutes; then drain.

Heat oil in skillet and sauté onion until tender. Add prunes, apricots, parsley, cinnamon, turmeric, stock and drained rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stuff peppers with rice mixture and cover with stem ends of peppers. Cover and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until tender, basting occasionally.

Makes 8 servings.

QUICK TOMATO SAUCE

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
Salt to taste

In a large pot, combine tomato sauce, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, raisins and salt to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Cover and set aside. 

Makes about 3 cups.

Sukkot Lemon Cake

SUKKOT LEMON CAKE

6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.

In another bowl, beat egg yolks until very thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in remaining 1 cup of sugar until mixture is smooth. Combine flour and salt and blend into egg-yolks mixture, alternately with lemon juice. Fold in lemon zest. Using a wire whisk or a rubber spatula, fold yolk mixture gently into egg-white mixture. 

Pour batter into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, until cake springs back with finger. Invert on wire rack and cool completely. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Coroner contradicts Trump, Otto Warmbier’s parents on torture claim


Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang on March 16, 2015. Photo by Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images

An Ohio coroner said that a post-mortem examination of Otto Warmbier, the Jewish-American college student who died after being imprisoned in North Korea, did not show any obvious signs of torture.

The Wednesday statement contradicted President Donald Trump and Warmbier’s parents, who claimed the 22-year-old was tortured by North Korea. Trump said Warmbier “was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”

Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, the Hamilton County coroner, painted a different picture.

“I felt very comfortable that there wasn’t any evidence of trauma” to the teeth or jawbone, Sammarco said Wednesday, according to CNN. “We were surprised at [the parents’] statement.”

Warmbier’s father, Fred, said Tuesday that his son’s “bottom teeth look like they had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged them.”

The parents opposed doing an autopsy on their son, so the coroner’s report and Sammarco’s statement were based on an external examination.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, which has denied torturing Warmbier, shot back at Trump, calling the president an “old lunatic” in a Thursday statement, BBC reported.

Warmbier died in the United States in June, days after after being sent back here in a coma. In 2016, North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster while on a student tour there. North Korea released Warmbier, saying his health had deteriorated after a bout of botulism. Warmbier’s doctors in the U.S. said he suffered extensive brain damage.

Prior to Warmbier’s death, JTA reported that he had been active in the Hillel at the University of Virginia. Following his death, it was revealed that his family hid their son’s Jewishness from the public as negotiations for his release took place.

A family spokesman, Mickey Bergman, told The Times of Israel that the family chose not to disclose Warmbier’s Jewish background as negotiations went forward so as not to embarrass North Korea, which had announced that Warmbier stole the poster on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

DIY: Dried fruit garlands for the sukkah


Photos by Jonathan Fong

With the holiday of Sukkot just around the corner, it’s not too early to start thinking of creative ways to decorate the sukkah.

Here’s a festive idea that celebrates the harvest with garlands of dried citrus fruits. The mix of oranges, lemons and limes creates a colorful medley, and the fruit slices filter sunlight like stained glass. You even can use the dried fruit after Sukkot for home décor throughout the autumn season.

What you’ll need:

Oranges
Lemons
Limes
Knife
Paper towels
Baking sheet
Parchment paper
Nail
String

1. Thinly slice the oranges, lemons and limes. (If you prefer, you can use only one type of fruit.) The slices should be no more than a quarter-inch thick. The thinner the slices, the faster they will dry.

Step 1

 

2. Pat the fruit slices dry with paper towels. Soaking up as much juice as possible with the paper towels will reduce drying time in the oven.

Step 2

 

3. Heat the oven to 200 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the fruit slices in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Step 3

 

4. After an hour, flip over the fruit slices so they can dehydrate evenly. Return to the oven and dry for another hour. Check the fruit every hour and flip the slices each time. It will take two to four hours to dry the fruit, depending on the thickness.

Step 4

 

5. Poke two holes with a nail near the top of every fruit slice, about a half-inch apart. The fruit still will be flexible, so you can move the nail around to expand the holes to fit your string.

Step 5

 

6. Slide string through the holes to make your garland. If you have a problem with insects in your yard, you can spray the garland with a clear varnish before hanging.

Step 6

 


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Moving & Shaking: Helgard and Irwin Field receive lifetime achievement award, JVSLA holds fundraiser at wax museum


From left: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson, L.A. Federation Lifetime Achievement Award honorees Helgard and Irwin Field, and Federation Board Chair Julie Platt attend the 2017 Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award dinner. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles honored Helgard and Irwin Field with the 2017 Jewish Community Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 17 at the Beverly Hilton, “in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the Jewish community and generous support of our life changing work,” the event program said.

Irwin Field, raised in a Zionist and charitable household, served as Federation’s campaign chair in 1973 and 1974, as its president in 1995 and 1996, and in other leadership positions. He also served as publisher of the Jewish Journal from 2003-2011.

Helgard Field, raised in Germany, has been involved with numerous organizations, including the Women’s Zionist Organization, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Museum.

The Fields have four children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Speakers at the event included Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe — who discussed how counseling the Helgards following the death of their son, Edward, was among the most profound spiritual experiences of his life — and Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson.

The event featured cocktails, dinner and musical entertainment from the Jewish vocal ensemble Guys and Meidels.

The more than 450 attendees included Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Federation Board Chair Julie Platt, Adat Shalom Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Federation Executive Vice President Andrew Cushnir, Sinai Temple Rabbi Erez Sherman, and Leon Janks, a managing partner at Green Hasson Janks.

The event raised more than $1 million for Federation’s Special Needs Engagement Fund, which will increase access to Federation programs for Jewish children and teenagers with special needs.


From left: Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVSLA) board member Matt Winnick; JVLSA CEO Alan Levey and his wife, Deborah; JVSLA President Harris Smith; JVSLA fall fundraiser co-chairs Adam Abramowitz, Heidi Levyn and Steve Seigel; and JVSLA client Rasika Flores pose with a wax version of Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Terminator” at the JVSLA fall fundraiser at Madame Tussauds Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles

 

Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVSLA) held its fall fundraiser, “An Evening at Madame Tussauds,” at the famous wax museum in Hollywood on Sept. 16.

The costume-optional “party with a purpose” drew more than 200 guests, who snapped photographs with the museum’s wax celebrities and mingled while enjoying food, drink and dance until midnight.

The event raised nearly $100,000 to benefit JVSLA programs for veterans and at-risk youths in foster care and on court-ordered juvenile probation.

JVSLA is a nonprofit, nonsectarian agency dedicated to empowering people to overcome barriers and achieve sustainable employment.

“This was absolutely a first-of-its-kind event for JVS and the beginning of an entirely new approach to our annual fundraiser,” JVSLA Board President Harris Smith said. “We wanted to create both a memorable experience for our longtime donors and an opportunity to engage a new circle of supporters. In addition to a great evening, our guests had a chance to learn firsthand about the life-changing impact of our work in the lives of veterans and youth through the very moving stories of our former clients, Alex and Rasika.”

Alex was former JVSLA Veterans First program client Alex Tapanya, who was stationed at the Pentagon on 9/11 and set up a triage unit to handle injuries. When he was discharged from the military, his work experience didn’t translate to the private sector, forcing him to take whatever job he could get. He then was referred to JVSLA, and the organization made it possible for him to become certified in cyber security. JVSLA also paid to train his wife, also a veteran, in data analytics.

“For both of us, JVS Veterans First was the linchpin not only for funding but for the compassion and support and understanding of our fellow veterans,” Tapanya said. “The program has made a world of difference to our family, and we are deeply grateful.”

The “Rasika” referred to by Smith is Rasika Flores, a former JVSLA Youth Program client who grew up in an unstable, homeless family and dropped out of high school to take care of her siblings.

“Not only did JVS hire me, but they pushed me to want more from myself,” Flores said at the event. “I enrolled in Santa Monica College … something no one in my family has ever done.  With the help of JVS and all of you here tonight, I started to become greater than my sufferings.”

The event’s co-chairs were Adam Abramowitz, managing director at Intrepid Investment Bankers; Jason Kravitz, director of national sales at Mortgage Capital Associates; Heidi Levyn, a client partner at Facebook; Steve Seigel, president of Silversheet; and Aaron Suzar, managing director at L&S Advisors.

  Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer


The Sulamot Klezmer Band from Israel performs at Shelters for Israel’s 69th anniversary luncheon at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Shelters for Israel

 

Shelters for Israel celebrated its 69th anniversary with a luncheon on Sept. 10 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Drawing about 225 people, the event benefited Sulamot–Music for Social Change, an education program for at-risk children and a collaboration between the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), Tel Aviv University and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“We chose Sulamot because we were impressed with their model — in partnership with the IPO, the IDF and Tel Aviv University — to reach out to thousands of disadvantaged, at-risk children throughout Israel and provide musical instruments and instruction to them,” Shelters for Israel President Myra Gabbay said.

Shelters for Israel, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, was founded in 1948 by a group of female Hungarian Holocaust survivors who moved to the United States following World War II. Aware of a housing shortage in Israel due to an influx of immigrants, they used money from a regular card game to create a loan fund for the new arrivals to the fledging Jewish state.

To date, the volunteer-led organization has sponsored more than 50 capital projects in Israel serving the elderly, Negev and the Galilee communities, disadvantaged youth and others. Among its current projects is a three-year program in Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev, where the city has committed to match the organization’s funding and build a music school for graduates of the Sulamot program.

Participants in the the event included David Jackson, Shelters for Israel co-president; Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, director of the Orthodox Union’s West Coast region; Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler and Beverly Hills High School 2016 graduate Lauren Aviram.

The highlight of the luncheon was when the Sulamot Klezmer Band from Israel performed klezmer and classic Jewish and Israeli music, Gabbay said. “It was special to dance with the survivors and subsequent generations to the music of these exceptional young people.”


American Friends of Hebrew University Humanitarian Torch of Learning Award honorees Renae Jacobs-Anson (left) and Helen Jacobs-Lepor. Photo courtesy of American Friends of Hebrew University

American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU) honored Renae Jacobs-Anson and Helen Jacobs-Lepor, prominent civic and Jewish communal leaders, at its annual AFHU Bel Air Affaire on Sept. 16 at the home of Brindell Gottlieb.

The honorees received the AFHU Humanitarian Torch of Learning Award for being “dedicated supporters of Israel and members of AFHU’s national and western region boards,” an AFHU statement said.

Jacobs-Anson, an actor and singer, and Jacobs-Lepor, vice president of business development for US Medical Innovations, have co-chaired the annual event for nine consecutive years.

Additional chairs of the event included Glaser Weil lawyer Patricia Glaser, AFHU western region board vice chair; Glaser’s husband, Sam Mudie; and May Ziman and her husband, Richard, AFHU western region board chair. Hebrew University President and professor Asher Cohen also attended.

The gala raised more than $1 million to support scholarships for Hebrew University students.

AFHU, a nonprofit, raises funds and awareness for Hebrew University, a leading academic institution and research facility in Jerusalem. The university has four main campuses — the Mount Scopus campus for humanities and social sciences, the Edmond J. Safra campus for exact sciences, the Ein Karem Campus for medical sciences and the Rehovot campus.


USC graduate student Sydney Siegel is paired with Shauna Esfandi, who has cerebral palsy, at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles’ eighth annual Walk4FriendshipLA. Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle of Los Angeles

 

The eighth annual Walk4FriendshipLA, a 2-kilometer walkathon benefiting Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, was held Sept. 17 at Shalhevet High School. 

The gathering is the biggest annual community awareness program and fundraiser for the Chabad-affiliated organization serving Jewish children with special needs.

Friendship Circle Development Director Gail Rollman said this year’s event was a success, raising $220,000 for social, recreational and educational programs.

“It was a thrill to see close to 800 people in pink T-shirts that said ‘Step up for Friendship’ walk in support of our Jewish children who have special needs,” she told the Journal.

Rollman and her husband, Fred, were top walkers, raising nearly $23,000 for the organization through their participation in the event. Other top walkers included Yonatan Mark, Alana Bess, Jonah Weiss and Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, Friendship Circle of L.A.’s executive director.

The opening ceremony featured a performance by Broken Chains, an Alice and Nahum Lainer School teen band led by Friendship Circle volunteer Zev Gaslin.

Volunteers included Sydney Siegel, a USC graduate student paired with Shauna Esfandi, a child with cerebral palsy.

“I absolutely loved meeting Shauna,” Siegel said. “That is certainly an interaction I will never forget.”

The walk began at 2:45 p.m. and took participants on a route that passed the Petersen Automotive Museum at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The walk was followed by a family festival that featured Rosh Hashanah crafts, a photo booth, carnival activities, a barbecue, shofar demonstrations, a live DJ and more.

Established 15 years ago, Friendship Cricle operates 25 programs for Jewish children with special needs with the help of 500 teen volunteers.


Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

In Mexico City, this Jewish NGO is the go-to agency for earthquake relief


Rescuers from the Mexican-Jewish aid agency Cadena inspecting damage in Mexico City following a 7.1 magnitude earthquake on Sept. 19. Photo by ourtesy of Cadena

I was on the 11th floor of an office building here when the ground started moving. There had been a mock evacuation that same day in remembrance of the 1985 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people, but this was no drill.

According to protocol, everyone ran toward the building’s columns — structurally the safest place to be in an earthquake. I closed my eyes as the rumbling worsened, focusing on my breath and hugging the concrete structure as ceiling lamps came down, breaking the long wooden tables. Through the window, I saw clouds of dust billowing behind the skyline.

The 7.1 magnitude quake on Sept. 19 toppled 38 buildings in Mexico City and killed over 300 people nationwide. Two buildings collapsed next to my apartment in the Condesa neighborhood, and many more in Roma — both historical centers of Mexican-Jewish life. Although most Mexico City Jews moved to the city’s outskirts following the aftermath of the ’85 temblor, which destroyed both areas, the neighborhood is still home to five synagogues, a Jewish archival center, a kindergarten and a Holocaust museum.

I realized an hour later that my house was uninhabitable — windows busted, cracks across the walls, bathroom tiles scattered on the ground — and I joined an exodus of thousands of walkers (the highways needed to be cleared for emergency vehicles) as we made our way out of the disaster zone.

I stayed at my parents’ place, returning to the neighborhood two days later. The roads had been blocked by the army and marines. The parks were turned into supply centers, with thousands of volunteers making human chains and trying to help out those stuck in the rubble.

Half a block from the Alianza Nidjel Israel synagogue on Acapulco Street, whose structure was severely affected by the quake, Cadena, a Mexican-Jewish NGO specializing in humanitarian aid, set up shop. A line of about 20 people was standing waiting to be registered as volunteers, and many more were running around fetching what was needed and loading it on trucks.

During its 12 years of existence, this small organization (only 10 people work full-time) has helped over half a million people in Mexico, Haiti, Turkey, Chile, Guatemala, Ecuador, Belize and Costa Rica. Through partnerships with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, IsraAID, local Jewish communities and other humanitarian organizations, Cadena has been able to operate nimbly and at incredible speed, mobilizing the human resources of the Jewish world to get to the most impenetrable disasters zones in record time.

In Condesa, Cadena repurposed the parking lot of a residential building near the synagogue as a warehouse for donated goods essential to the rescue operations in Mexico City and beyond. When I got there, the donations had been meticulously categorized into types of aid (“medicine,” “axes,” etc.) and there was a constant influx of trucks and vans — including police and army vehicles — coming to stock up on supplies. Some supplies were destined for the nearby states of Morelos and Puebla. Others, such as insulin packages, were sent via bicycle to help the victims of a building that had collapsed nearby.

By the time the latest earthquake struck, Cadena already was performing activities on the ground in the aftermath of a quake on Sept. 7 — the strongest one in a century. It had ravaged the south of Mexico, and Cadena was assisting those affected in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

On Sept. 19, the organization deployed its Go Team, which specializes in rescuing victims from toppled structures, in the nation’s capital. In coordination with the 70 Israeli soldiers who arrived to help in the relief efforts and the Mexican army, team members visited the devastated zones.

“We are the only organization with special equipment that detects heartbeats,” Benjamin Laniado, CEO of Cadena, explained to me over the phone. “Thanks to this device we managed to rescue 25 people from underneath the rubble.”

Cadena is a Mexican-Jewish NGO specializing in humanitarian aid. (Courtesy of Cadena)

At the Condesa center, Miriam Kajomovitz, a fundraiser for the organization, had been working nonstop coordinating the delivery of the supplies even though she had been evacuated from her house after a building collapsed next to hers.

“We need hands,” she told me the day I visited as we approached the eve of Rosh Hashanah. “People are going to go home for their meals and leave us.”

The worry proved unfounded — many of the volunteers decided to forego the celebrations and continue to help out.

In a country where suspicion of government runs high, Cadena has positioned itself as an effective humanitarian alternative. Lately, the Mexican press has been running articles about the illicit use of relief funds for electioneering purposes in the state of Oaxaca. Public intellectuals like the Jewish writer Sabina Berman lambasted government-run relief efforts as inefficient and overly centralized. In the town of Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Cadena provided relief before any government help had arrived, according to The New York Times.

“We wanted to donate to a transparent, credible organization that was not affiliated with any political party,” said Raul Cardos, CEO of a communications firm that designed a mock Airbnb platform called Arriba Méxicoto raise funds for the victims. “When we tell people that the funds go to Cadena, they are more willing to help out.”

Clara Zabludovsky, a Mexican Jew who lives in London, found out about the destruction as her plane touched down in San Francisco. She has since raised over 17,000 British pounds ($23,000) toward a GoFundMe goal of 18,000 pounds , a lucky Jewish number — all of which will go to the NGO.

Now that a week has passed since the temblor, people who live in Condesa and Roma are coming to terms with the loss. The immediate urgency has receded, and questions about long-term damage to buildings are taking center stage. The continuing gentrification of what an American magazine recently called “Mexico City’s reigning axis of cool” is now in question.

On Sunday, Cadena shut down its emergency supply center in Condesa. In its week of operation, the center managed to send out 347 shipments to cover the needs of rescue workers in Mexico.

It’s not enough. The NGO is now organizing an international campaign to build temporary housing for those who lost their homes in Oaxaca and Chiapas. Cadena will be setting up tents with kitchen utensils, hygiene kits, water filters, beds and portable, ecological kitchens.

“There are thousands of people living in the streets, and it’s raining and cold,” Laniado, who is traveling to the state, told me. “The government reconstruction program takes too long, and in the meantime, people have nowhere to sleep.”

As for my building, it has been severely damaged. Specialists say it will take at least five months for it to be safe enough to withstand the next earthquake. I’m not taking the risk. For an unforeseeable time, I will be staying in my childhood home.

Gay parent sues Pressman Academy for discrimination


gay man is suing Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, claiming the Conservative Jewish day school discriminated against his 8-year-old daughter because of his sexual orientation.

The suit refers to the man only as “John Doe,” a single, Israeli-born man whose two daughters, referred to as “Jane Doe 1” and “Jane Doe 2,” were enrolled at Pressman Academy until the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Filed Sept. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court, it alleges that Pressman teachers and administrators “failed to address the bullying that Jane Doe 1 was subjected to because she has no mother.” It says a teacher at the school insisted on “informing everyone in the class that Jane Doe 1 was different,” even after the student asked her not to. The suit alleges civil rights violations, fraudulent business practices and infliction of emotional distress, asking for an unspecified amount in damages.

The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Adam Wasserman, the attorney for the plaintiff, declined to comment on the case.

Erica Rothblum, head of school at Pressman Academy, said in an emailed statement to the Journal, “While we cannot comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, it is important that everyone know that we are a school committed to the physical and emotional safety of our students.”

She added, “We are a community that embraces diversity, and we remain an inclusive community for LGBTQ students and families. Our commitment includes a life skills class in our middle school that explicitly teaches about sexuality and identity, as well as an active partnership with Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.”

The 47-page complaint alleges that Pressman Academy, a preschool through eighth-grade day school operated by Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard, engaged in false advertising by selling itself as a “warm embracing community” that “balances a rigorous academic education with social, emotional and spiritual learning.” It claims other students teased Jane Doe 1 by calling her an orphan, pushing a chair into her, circulating rumors about her and, at one point, putting thorns on her pillow.

“The inaction by the faculty and staff at Pressman sent a direct message to the students that tortured, taunted, physically, and verbally abused Jane Doe 1, ‘that this behavior is acceptable at Pressman,’ ” the suit alleges.

After a school therapist learned Jane Doe 1 and her younger sister were the daughters of a single gay man, “everything began to get progressively worse,” according to the suit. Allegedly, a teacher announced to a third-grade class that “Jane Doe 1’s family is different,” and Jane Doe 1 was discouraged from attending a Mother’s Day event.

As a result of this treatment, the suit claims, “Jane Doe 1 became severely depressed and talked to her tutor about wanting to kill herself; she isolated herself socially and would not play with other children at recess because they picked on her; she would lock herself in rooms because she felt safer alone than with other students, staff, and teachers.”

Eventually, according to the suit, a Pressman Academy counselor told John Doe it would be better if he withdrew his daughter and sent her to a local Reform day school.

At the advice of a third-party therapist, John Doe withdrew his daughters from Pressman Academy, according to the suit. Jane Doe 1 had attended the school for six years.

In her statement, Rothblum, the head of school, painted a very different picture from the one in the complaint, describing the school as a place where “everyone should feel safe and comfortable to tell a teacher, counselor or administrator” if they encounter bullying. “Those adults will then take prompt and effective action,” she wrote.

She added, “Pressman Academy is a community of support and engagement, and we are invested in the well-being of our children and our families.”

WATCH: David Frum and Peter Beinart on the challenges in Trump’s America


 

 

Survivors Lya Frank and Elly Rubin: Former hidden children ‘have a story to tell’


Elly Rubin (left) and Lya Frank. Photo by David Miller

On the evening of April 18, 1943, as Lya and Elly Meijers were being bundled up by their parents, they were told, “You’re going away for a few days.”

The day before, the girls had celebrated their shared birthday — Lya had turned 7 and Elly 4 — and now, with only a valise each and no further explanation, they were placed on the backs of bicycles belonging to non-Jewish friends, Wilhelmina and Jan van Hilten, whom the girls called Tante (Aunt) Wil and Oom (Uncle) Jan. As they rode away from their home in Utrecht, the Netherlands, Lya and Elly had no idea they soon would be separated from each other for more than two years.

They also never would see their parents again, and their only indirect communication would come 50 years later, when someone unexpectedly forwarded a postcard their father had thrown from a train on his way to a transit camp in the Netherlands, after he and their mother had been captured. It was written in pencil, dated May 1944 and addressed to a neighbor in Utrecht.

After the war, Lya and Elly were encouraged not to speak about their past. Later, as former hidden children who hadn’t experienced the horrors of roundups, ghettos or camps, they thought their stories weren’t consequential.

But faced with some personal crises in 1993, Lya began to acknowledge her long-buried anguish of having been separated from her sister and of emerging from World War II to discover that her parents and extended family — except for an uncle, aunt and cousin — had been annihilated by the Nazis. Soon after, she began sharing her story publicly. For the past five years, Elly tentatively has followed suit.

“We do have something to say. We do have a story,” Lya said. “It may not be Auschwitz,” (“Thank God,” Elly interjected) “but we have different issues.”

Lya and Elly were born in Utrecht, a city in the central Netherlands, to Lion Mauritz, known as Leo, and Renee Meijers.

Leo worked for the Hamburger Lead and Zinc manufacturing company as the equivalent of a chief financial officer. The family lived comfortably, often surrounded by friends and family. “I have memories of a happy childhood,” Lya said.

After Germany invaded and occupied the Netherlands in May 1940, anti-Jewish measures were implemented, though Lya and Elly’s parents mostly sheltered them from details of the increasingly perilous situation. By April 1943, they were living in permanent hiding places.

Lya, who kept her name, which, like her appearance, was not identifiably Jewish, was placed with the Broers family in Amersfoort, about 15 miles northeast of Utrecht. She was instructed to tell people, if asked, she was from Rotterdam, which had been heavily bombed, and didn’t know her parents’ fate.

Hugo Broers was an ophthalmologist with an office on the first floor of their spacious house. His wife, Kathy, worked with him. They had two daughters, Pauline, then 6, and Francine, 4. “I was treated as one of the girls,” Lya said.

The first night, when Hugo and Kathy entered Lya’s large bedroom to say goodnight, Lya burst into tears. “I don’t want to sleep alone,” she told them. The parents moved her into their girls’ bedroom the following night.

Sometime later, a new housekeeper cornered Lya, interrogating her. “What kind of parents do you have? They don’t write. They don’t see you,” she said. Lya remained outwardly calm. “I don’t know. I’m from Rotterdam,” she answered.

That night, Lya recounted the incident to her foster parents. “We’re really proud that you stuck to your story,” they told her, rewarding her with a scarce piece of candy and firing the housekeeper.

Elly doesn’t recall being taken to her foster families in 1943. “But I remember the families,” she said.

She first was placed on a farm in Baambrugge, about 18 miles north of Utrecht, with Wijntje and Jacobus Griffioen and their six children. But after six months, because the house was close to the road and because Elly’s darker hair and complexion made her conspicuous, she was moved to the farm of Wijntje’s sister and brother-in-law, Cornelia and Jan van der Lee.

At the time, the van der Lees had six children. They were not well-to-do, but, Elly said. “They were rich in religion and family life.” Elly attended their Dutch Reform church and was part of the family. “I was loved until [they] died,” she said. Jan van der Lee died in 1968; his wife, who was known as Cor, died in 2006.

On May 5, 1945, the area was liberated. “The [Dutch] flags went out and people were celebrating,” Lya said. Allied tanks and jeeps rolled in, and the children were allowed on the street, where soldiers distributed chocolate and white bread.

A couple of months later, Lya was visited by her Uncle Lex, their birth father’s brother, who had been in hiding himself and who had learned the girls’ locations, most likely through the van Hiltens. He reunited Lya with Elly, whom she didn’t recognize but by day’s end didn’t want to leave, in fear of being separated again. The foster parents agreed that Lya should stay with Elly while Lex and his wife, who had two daughters of their own, searched for housing.

One day, Cor van der Lee called Lya and Elly into the front room, which was used only on Sundays and holidays. “I have to tell you, Mommy and Daddy have gone to heaven,” she told the girls. Lya immediately burst into tears. “That couldn’t be,” she said. “They loved us.”

In November 1945, the girls moved to Amsterdam with their Uncle Lex and his family. They lived in a large house and attended the Rosh Pina Jewish school. “We had a good family life,” Lya said.

But when the Hungarian Revolution broke out in 1956, Lex announced, “We’re not staying here to go through this again.” They arrived in the United States as immigrants a year later.

The family first lived in Glendale, where Lya and Elly worked in banking. Eighteen months later, they moved to Los Angeles.

Lya married Henk Frank in December 1959. Their daughter, Terry, was born in August 1962. Elly and Coleman Rubin married in December 1962. Their two children are Mark, born in August 1964, and Sharon, born in April 1966. Coleman died in 2004 and Henk in 2014. Lya has two grandchildren and Elly has nine.

Over the years, Lya and Elly learned that their parents — along with two uncles, an aunt, their grandmother and a cousin — had been hidden by two brothers in Brummen, a village in central Netherlands, which was their father’s birthplace. There, one brother’s step-daughter, who was having a relationship with a German officer, divulged their hiding places and got paid for the information. “For a small amount of money, they annihilated our whole family,” Lya said.

Lya and Elly also learned that as the bus carrying the captured family members pulled away from Brummen, their mother was shouting, “I want my children. I want my children.”

The family was taken to the Westerbork transit camp and then to Auschwitz, where only a cousin survived.

The van Hiltens, Broers, Griffioens and van der Lees all have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Lya and Elly have remained close to the families, visiting through the years. “I loved these families. I still do,” Elly said.

Lya and Elly said they feel fortunate to have each other, each other’s families and their hiding families.

“You know what?” Lya repeated. “We do have a story to tell.”

Bustop was where Conservative Jews got on board


Bobbi Fiedler

The roots of modern Jewish conservative politics in Los Angeles were planted in the San Fernando Valley suburbs by Arnold L. Steinberg, a perceptive campaign consultant, and the candidate he helped make a star, Bobbi Fiedler.

Steinberg tells the stories of his many campaigns in a new, insightful memoir, “Whiplash.” For those of you who are like me, obsessive followers of political news and history, “Whiplash” is an invaluable journey through conservative Republican politics, especially relevant now with Republicans in control of Congress and the presidency.

Steinberg, whom I have known for years, is more conservative than I am, by far. For example, I found it annoying when he referred to the public schools he’d attended — John Burroughs Middle School and Fairfax High — as “government schools,” making them sound like second-rate detention facilities. Come on, Steinberg! They were good enough to get you into UCLA, then on to a successful career as one of the first consultants to use advanced statistics to shape a political campaign.

To me, the most interesting and significant part of the book is the story of how Fiedler ran for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board in 1977.

Fiedler was a leader of a group of mothers, many of them Jewish, at Lanai Road Elementary School in Encino. A court had ruled that LAUSD was segregated. It ordered the district to be desegregated, which meant that large numbers of students of all races would be bused across town and put together in schools that had been long segregated by neighborhoods. The plan exacerbated Los Angeles’ race problems.

Fiedler organized a group known as Bustop, which fought the court order and became a powerful political force in the city. At the time, I was covering the desegregation story for the Los Angeles Times and got to know Fiedler and some of the other Lanai Road school mothers

Steinberg, then a young political consultant, didn’t see busing as his battle. He was single. “But I had cousins of modest means who wanted their children close to home,” he wrote. “This mandatory busing seemed preposterous.” Steinberg, not limited by a false sense of modesty, said, “I decided in 1977 to take over the Los Angeles school board by electing a majority opposed to forced busing.” That’s when he met Fiedler.

There were Jewish Republicans at the time but not many. A notable one was Taft Schreiber, a power in the entertainment industry who had been close to Ronald Reagan since the former governor and future president’s show business days. Most Jews were liberal and supporters of the African-American mayor, Tom Bradley, and the Westside-San Fernando Valley political operation headed by Howard Berman and Henry Waxman. But the prospect of busing angered liberals. That was clear to me when I interviewed Jewish Bustop activists, who included a substantial number of Democrats.

Steinberg saw Fiedler as a winner for a school board seat. He wrote, “Bobbi, intuitively bright and very strategic, was determined; she managed her husband’s pharmacy business. She did not have Republican roots, and was hardly a movement conservative. Like many of her Jewish contemporaries, she had backed the civil rights movement. But she opposed the forced busing of her two small children.”

With Steinberg and communications chief Paul Clarke, who later married Fiedler, calling the shots, Fiedler won, and the board’s pro-busing majority was beaten. Presiding over the board as president was Roberta Weintraub, another San Fernando Valley anti-busing leader. “We did it,” Weintraub said after the vote.

Fiedler, by then a Republican, went on to defeat a highly favored incumbent Democratic congressman and served three terms in the U.S. House.

Fiedler’s victories did not signal a Jewish conservative tidal wave. Jews continue to vote solidly Democratic in Los Angeles and elsewhere. But what Fiedler and Steinberg had tapped was an undercurrent of discontent with the Jewish establishment, a constant Steinberg theme. He wrote, “I occasionally found myself as the token conservative on an election panel that ranged from the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council … to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee … [and] at an AJC reception a very wealthy Jewish philanthropist might agree with my sentiments but would ask if I would keep the conversation with him ‘confidential. ’ ”

Steinberg sounds as if he took it personally, as I would have. It was as if the rich man was ashamed to be caught talking to anti-busing advocate Steinberg.

Part of the grass roots’ anger could be traced to its opposition to the school board and its desegregation plan. And part was working-class and middle-class resentment of the establishment leaders who tended to support the plan.

Steinberg’s roots are in the Jewish working class. “During World War II, my father left New York for Los Angeles where he used his savings to buy a small market at the corner of 59th Street and Central Avenue,” Steinberg recalled.  “He and my mother worked six full days a week.”

His extended family was similarly situated. 

“Generally,” he wrote, “my relatives and their families were not into amusement parks and expensive outings — just a whole large extended family gathering nearly every Sunday in the public park. … These picnics helped me understand how people from modest circumstances can have a sense of community and have fun.”

When Bobbi Fiedler appeared on the scene, her critics, including the Jewish establishment, first tried to dismiss her as an inconsequential Valley housewife and then a bigot. Steinberg saw her as someone who could connect with people like him and his family.

The busing plan collapsed in 1981, killed by an appellate court decision, a unanimous school board vote and persistent opposition by white parents who began pulling their children from public schools.

The impact of the campaign lingers. Echoes of it could be seen in the anti-establishment aspects of President Donald Trump’s election campaign.

“Trump did not stir the expected scare among Jewish voters,” Shmuel Rosner wrote in the Jewish Journal after the election. “The share of the Democratic vote among Jews continues the slow yet steady decline from the early ’90s to today: 80 percent, 78 percent, 79 percent, 74 percent, 74 percent, 70 percent, 70 percent.”

Forty years ago, this would have been considered impossible. Then came Bustop, the empowerment of San Fernando Valley Jewish parents and the rise of conservative Jewish grass-roots political influence.


BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Trump facing increased pressure from lawmakers to abide by Iran nuclear deal


President Donald Trump in Indianapolis on Sept. 27. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.

“If we violate a U.N. resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”

Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.

He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.

Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.

“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”

Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by Oct. 15.

Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.

“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.

Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.

Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among U.S. allies to end the deal.

“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.

Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.

The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”

And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.

Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.

“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.

Trump derided the deal last week during the U.N. General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.

This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.

“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”

‘Transparent’ finds new conflicts on trip to Israel


Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

Over the course of its four seasons, “Transparent” has been creating groundbreaking conversation about gender identity, telling the story of a family in which one parent is going through gender transition. It’s also become known as one of the “Jewiest” shows on TV, pushing deeper into issues of secular Jewish identity and introducing many to epigenetics, the idea that trauma — in many Jewish cases, Holocaust suffering — is hereditary, passed down from the generation that experienced it, to echo in future generations.

These conversations are complicated, and with the fourth season now available on Amazon Prime, “Transparent” adds another controversial topic: the Israel-Palestine conflict. (The following includes spoilers from Season Four.)

Throughout the series, the Pfeffermans have struggled with boundaries, definitions and fluidities; characters push against and dismantle binaries, rejecting constructs like “black/white” or “male/female” in favor of multiplicity and expanded perspectives. In Season One, Mort Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) transitioned to become Maura, a decision that reshapes the family journey moving forward.In the new season, Maura is invited to speak at a conference in Israel and makes a discovery that further impacts the definition of family. The Pfefferman children — Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) — struggle with nonconforming identities and relationships.

The tour bus full of Pfeffermans shleps with it the traditional baggage of old and new American-Jewish perspectives on Israel: An older generation argues for Israel’s position as a safe home for Jews after pogroms and the Holocaust but is unable to see any nuance to the current conflict and is unwilling to criticize the Israeli government. The young see the black and white of suffering and inequality, whether it’s a stark imbalance of Western Wall plaza space for women or oppression of Palestinians.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian storyline, the Palestinian narrative gets the most visibility. In Ramallah, the youngest Pfefferman, Ali, hears stories from her activist friends and the Palestinians who live there, of Israelis blackmailing Palestinians and exploiting their vulnerabilities, such as sexual orientation, to recruit them as informants, and that some of them can’t visit Jerusalem without permits. She asks if checkpoints are “along the border” and is quickly corrected that “there is no actual internationally recognized border, just one big, ugly wall and hundreds of checkpoints all over the place.” It’s life on the ground for the Palestinians and their activist friends, without any larger context: There’s no acknowledgment of why the wall is there, and the one person who says, “Not every Israeli is here to get rid of Palestinians” is all but drowned out as others talk over her.

Responding to her family saying that Israel was created to be a safe place for Jews post-persecution, Ali says, “We do not need to make the Palestinians unsafe just so the Jews can be safe.” But there’s no discussion of the reason for the existence of the divider and the outcome, that it is believed to have increased security for Israel by severely curtailing suicide bombings (although violence continues, as this week’s shooting in the West Bank demonstrates).

Ali always has been the millennial searcher, looking for truth, equality, love and acceptance. Her sense of right and wrong is only partly innate, and ignited and amplified by the people she meets and loves. But it would have been even more interesting if she had to navigate conflicting narratives, each of which was making compelling — and passionate — points and presented by people with whom she shares a peer-level respect and an emotional connection.

These scenes paint an unbridgeable gap: The previous generation is living in the past, unable to step away from its narrative to see any negative outcome, and the younger generation is passionate about Palestinian rights as part of an overall quest for justice but divorced from the region’s history as context. Each perspective sees no other choice; each perspective has its valid points and its blindnesses, all forged in history and emotion, with no room for nuance or compassion.

In real life in the modern American-Jewish community, when it comes to “the conflict,” there are extreme positions that mirror the extremes in the Pfefferman clan. But those of us who don’t adhere to edges or subscribe to extremes are, perhaps, more silent because we’re seeing both sides but don’t have answers, and perhaps more disturbingly, don’t have any confidence that either side is willing to listen.

Throughout, the Pfeffermans’ visit to Israel is underscored by the songs of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a soundtrack both geographically appropriate and subversive as a score for a Jewish family’s tour of the Holy Land. For example, take “Everything’s Alright.” Its lyrics — “Try not to get worried/try not to turn on to/problems that upset you, oh/don’t you know/everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine” — indicate a kind of wishful thinking. “Close your eyes/close your eyes/and relax/think of nothing tonight” may be a good, in-the-moment coping strategy for a fictional, rock ’n’ roll opera Jesus, but it doesn’t solve systemic problems, whether they are Pfefferman family conflicts or regional ones.

Much has been written about the unlikability and selfishness of these characters. “Transparent” is intentionally disruptive and seems built to make the characters, and viewers by extension, uncomfortable, making it a perfect tonal match for the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which self-interest is a necessary guiding principle and discomfort reigns as conversational default.

If there’s one thing we should be learning from the Pfeffermans, it is perhaps that pushing against social limits and rejecting binary definitions, even — or especially — in a conflict as emotional and deeply rooted as the one in the Middle East, reveals the space between extremes. It is there, not at one pole or another, that we can do our individual work in discovering identity and exercise our sense of nuance and compassion.

Disenfranchised Grief at Yizkor by Karen B. Kaplan


Memorial candles

[Ed. Note: I chose to publish this entry in the blog for the week leading up to Yom Kippur because the Yizkor (Memorial) service on Yom Kippur is so often a major focus in many communities. This article speaks to how memory may be fraught, and not always what we might picture. — JB]

Whether it is Yizkor or just an ordinary service, the prayers before reciting the Kaddish can make some grievers feel even more rotten instead of better. What if a mother or father was not particularly one for whom “we recall the joy of their companionship”? What if “their memory” does not exactly bring “strength and blessing?” I remember in rabbinic school wrestling with the meaning of the Fifth Commandment for those who have or did have abusive parents. How can one be good to oneself, which is a mitzvah, yet  honor such a parent?

For grievers of such parents, the idea of grieving feels paradoxical. It seems straightforward enough and certainly painful enough to grieve a parent whose memories of their goodness sustains you. But a neglectful or downright hurtful mother or father elicits enough loads of guilt and anger to go round. And sadness is more about the protection or help or advice or love that parent did not provide; about the parent you never had. Thus, condolences and standard prayers before the Kaddish hardly bring comfort. Instead they are a jarring reminder of how your parent shortchanged you.

The definition a health professional gives to grieving is “reaction to the loss.” That is a broad enough definition to cover all situations. Still, how to start going about it is much more puzzling to a mourner of troubled parents. What does it mean to sit shiva for such a parent? What does it mean to recite the Kaddish for them? To me, the prepositon “for” suggests doing a ritual or prayer as an act of goodness, appreciation and love. And of course we use the expression “grieving for” so-and-so.

It seems odd to say under such circumstances, that “I am grieving for my mother.” I think part of successful grieving is portraying the process to oneself as honestly and accurately as possible. Otherwise you will hinder  the purpose of grieving in the first place, which is to allow all the feelings, great and small, peaceful and turbulent, joyful and gloomy, an open path for release. Somehow saying “grieving for” sounds like the tears are ready to roll at almost any provocation and that you miss them if not for how they were at the time of their passing, then at least for how they were in better days.

I think honesty in how we use language is one step in figuring out and expressing how we really feel, which is what healthy grieving is all about. As a symbolic baby step towards this goal, I am inventing a new expression for those who did not have parents who could be caring and be there for you:

“I am grieving against my mother.”

Methinks I have found a solution for us unconventional grievers. Let me know if the sentence below helps to express to yourself how you really feel about that louse. Does saying it this way give you permission to stop censoring those less socially acceptable emotions?

“I am grieving against my father.”

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died  (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. She has also recently published a collection of science fiction stories, Curiosity Seekers (Createspace Independent Publishing, 2017). She has submitted multiple entries published in Expired And Inspired.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting roughly in January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Daily Kickoff: What Sen. Bob Menendez’s trial has to do with ‘tzimmes’ stew | Mike Doran on JCPOA | Gloria Allred’s Crusade | BDay: Walter P. Stern


Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on March 15. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

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PROFILE: “Gloria Allred’s Crusade: The attorney takes on Bill Cosby, rape law, and Donald Trump” by Jia Tolentino: “She was born Gloria Rachel Bloom on July 3, 1941, to two doting Jewish parents, Morris and Stella. Stella was English; she and Morris had met, Gloria says they told her, “in Baltimore, on a streetcar named desire.” Both left school after the eighth grade. Morris worked six days a week as a door-to-door salesman, hawking Fuller brushes and photographic enlargements, and the family (Gloria was the only child) lived in a row house in southwest Philly. They didn’t attend synagogue together—Morris was too busy, and Stella explored many religious ideas, going to a church one week and an Ethical Culture meeting the next—but Gloria went there for Sunday school, and was confirmed.”

“Allred was approached years ago by people who wanted her to run for a seat in the California State Senate; she didn’t seriously consider it, she told me. She isn’t particularly religious, but she believes in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, that it is the job of individuals to repair the world. “Each one of us has the responsibility of turning a negative experience into a positive experience,” she had told me the previous week, in Los Angeles. “Maybe that’s why these bad things happened. Maybe that’s the purpose—if there is a purpose, and I don’t know that there is. But a human being likes to think there is.” [NewYorker]

TZIMMES, THE TALK OF THE SEN. MENENDEZ TRIAL — by Matt Friedman: “Earlier, before the trial broke for Rosh Hashanah last Wednesday, Judge William H. Walls compared his decision on permitting certain evidence to a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish stew with “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.” [Abbe] Lowell told Walls that the stew was called tzimmes, that it’s traditionally served on Rosh Hashanah and that he would bring some to share with the court. Lowell on Monday made good on that promise, bringing containers full of tzimmes for Walls and even the prosecution. “This is a new meaning of serving the government,” Lowell said as he handed some to prosecutors.” [Politico

“Walls, who had previously said he has to watch his sodium intake, asked whether it was a salty dish. Lowell assured him it was “sugary.” “Sweet as in sweet New Year,” Lowell said.” [NJ Advance]

Hollywood talent manager Scooter Braun posted on Instagram: “L’shana tova. Have a happy new year. For a split second I almost didn’t share this message because of all the hate I see online for my heritage and culture. But no. I’m a proud Jew so happy new year. And if you are a proud Christian or Muslim be proud. If you are who you are, whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation, or you just like being different… Be you. Never be afraid to express it and embrace others for being exactly who they are. This year may we all be better TOGETHER. So once again…. l’shana tova and happy new year. Much love.” [Instagram] • From last week: “Scooter Braun on philanthropy, working with Kanye and trying times with Justin Bieber” [CBSNews]

BREAKING OVERNIGHT: “Palestinian kills 3 Israelis in settlement near Jerusalem” by Aron Heller: “A Palestinian gunman on Tuesday killed three Israeli security men and critically wounded a fourth outside a West Bank settlement before being shot dead, in one of the deadliest attacks of a two-year spate of violence. Israeli officials said the attacker was a 37-year-old father of four, with a valid work permit in Israel and a troubled personal life who appeared to have acted alone. The attack comes at a tense period amid the Jewish high holidays and is likely to complicate the mediation efforts of U.S. peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, who just arrived in the region for meetings with Israeli and Palestinians leaders.” [AP]

Greenblatt tweets: “My family & I are horrified by the attack in Har Adar. Shame on Hamas & others who praised the attack. All must stand against terror! We pray for the victims of today’s attack at Har Adar, and their loved ones as well.” [Twitter]

KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The tragic news of the Har Adar terror attack took over the agenda of the weekly cabinet meeting, which was postponed from Sunday and convened this morning. The traditional wave of political reactions and calls for punitive measures focused this time on revoking work permits for Palestinians, as the terrorist who stabbed the three Border Policeman to death had a permanent work permit. Economy Minister Eli Cohen said that all work permits should be suspended until after the holiday season, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said the attack will have “grave consequences on employing Palestinians and easing movement restrictions.”

Netanyahu, in his opening statements, stopped short of announcing any collective punishment for now, announcing three immediate steps in response to the attack: demolishing the terrorist’s house, imposing a curfew on his village, and revoking entry permits from his family. Netanyahu also pointed a finger at Palestinian incitement and demanded Abu Mazen “condemn the attack and not justify it,” a talking point echoed by all of his cabinet ministers, with some saying the attack is proof there is “no partner” on the Palestinian side. Deputy FM Tzipi Hotevely said the attack is a “message” for the US administration, just as Jason Greenblatt arrives in Israel for another round of peace talks, and the attack is likely to complicate his already complicated mission. Several right-wing ministers and MKs stressed that in the midst of terror, there is no room for economic gestures and initiatives for the Palestinians, and others – Like Bayit Yehudi’s Uri Ariel – demanded settlement construction as a suitable reaction. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

UN Mideast envoy says Israel ignoring UNSC resolution — by Edith Lederer: “Israel is not complying with a UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to all settlement activity and instead is continuing to expand settlements, making a two-state solution “increasingly unattainable,” the UN envoy for the Mideast said Monday. Nickolay Mladenov told the council that in the three months since June 20 Israel’s settlement activity “continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.” [AP

DRIVING THE CONVO: “How Trump Can Improve the Iran Deal” by Mark Dubowitz and David Albright: “We propose the president “fix” U.S. policy by making it clear he does not accept the Iran deal’s dangerous flaws. He should insist on conditions making permanent the current restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and the testing of advanced centrifuges and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, as well as the buying and transferring of conventional weaponry. He must insist on unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors to Iranian military sites.” [WSJ]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Hudson Institute fellows Michael Doran and Peter Rough, along with Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution discussed President Trump’s policy on Iran in a panel “The Trump Administration and the Middle East: What Should America Do Next?” hosted by the Hudson Institute and moderated by the think tank’s Senior Fellow Lee Smith.

Highlights — Doran: “As much as I abhor the JCPOA, I don’t think that trashing it at this moment is the priority. The priority is Syria and breaking up this (Iranian) beltway. If we are not going to compete with the Iranians in Syria, we are not going to roll back the JCPOA. There has to be a paradigm shift in Washington about competing with the Iranians in the region.”

Doran on Syria ceasefire: “We should use our own considerable air defense assets to send a message to tell the Iranians and the Russians that if they violate that (Syrian) belt, they’ll be in trouble. Eastern Syria should be American dominated territory… We should adopt the Israeli red lines as our own and send a message to the Russians that we are with the Israelis. That increases their deterrence and empowers the Israelis.”

O’Hanlon on Egypt: “President Sisi is [Hosni] Mubarak on steroids… I don’t think we should be giving Egypt the same amount of aid as in better days — not that there were such incredibly better days. I would be giving half as much aid these days.” [Video

“Europeans say Trump can win on Iran without ripping up nuclear deal” by Laura Rozen: “In a sense, this administration has changed the climate on Iran,” British Ambassador Kim Darroch said at a panel of four European ambassadors at the Atlantic Council. “It is succeeding. … But let’s keep the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action].” Darroch said he has noticed an intensification of contacts over the past couple of months between the Europeans and experts within the US administration on how to increase the pressure on Iran… Whether or not Trump certifies next month is “basically a domestic issue,” French Ambassador Gerard Araud said. “What matters will be the consequences. We are not going to criticize the president for certification or decertification. That is your problem.” [Al-Monitor; NYTimes]  

“Iran’s supposed missile launch was fake, US officials say” by Lucas Tomlinson: “The video released by the Iranians was more than seven months old – dating back to a failed launch in late January, which resulted in the missile exploding shortly after liftoff, according to two U.S. officials. President Trump had originally responded to the reported launch in a late-Saturday tweet, saying, “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel… Not much of an agreement we have!”” [FoxNews

ON THE HILL — House committee to vote Thursday on Hezbollah sanctions bill — by Aaron Magid: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s bill — introduced by the Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) —  further restricts Hezbollah’s ability to fundraise and recruit along with cracking down on foreign states that do business with the Lebanese terror group, including Iran. Additionally, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will also markup a bill on Thursday that condemns Hezbollah for its usage of civilian shields during warfare while imposing sanctions on individuals who are involved in this practice. [JewishInsider]

JARED INSIDER: “How Jared Kushner Is Dismantling a Family Empire” by Rich Cohen: “His future seemed certain. But, as Kushner’s great-grandparents would’ve said, kicking it in the shtetl, Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht. Man plans, God laughs… Jared Kushner is six feet three and thin—rangy if you like him, reedy if you don’t. He has dark eyes and brown hair, a broad smile, and a facial expression, captured in newspapers, that goes from surprised to amused to flat. Something about him remains opaque, unknowable. Something held in reserve.” [VanityFair]

“Jared Kushner’s lawyer, fooled by ’email prankster,’ offers window into private email controversy” by Natasha Bertrand: “Top Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell engaged in an email exchange with a prankster posing as client Jared Kushner on Monday, at one point telling the prankster that he needed “to see all emails” sent and received from a private email account the president’s son-in-law had set up in December… On Monday, the prankster wrote to Lowell from the email address “kushner.jared@mail.com” asking what he should do with “some correspondence on my private email … featuring adult content… Lowell replied: “Don’t delete. Don’t send to anyone.  Let’s chat in a bit.” [BusinessInsider]

“At Least 6 White House Advisers Used Private Email Accounts” by Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman: “Other advisers, including Gary D. Cohn and Stephen Miller, sent or received at least a few emails on personal accounts, officials said. Ivanka Trump… used a private account when she acted as an unpaid adviser in the first months of the administration, Newsweek reported Monday. Administration officials acknowledged that she also occasionally did so when she formally became a White House adviser… Most of Mr. Trump’s aides used popular commercial email services like Gmail. [jared] Kushner created a domain, IJKFamily.com, in December to host his family’s personal email. That domain was hosted by GoDaddy on a server in Arizona, records show.” [NYTimes; Newsweek]

HAPPENING TODAY: “Trump Dinner at NYC’s Le Cirque Seeks Up to $250,000 Per Couple” by Zachary Mider and Jennifer Jacobs: “Some of the biggest names in U.S. finance and real estate are expected to gather at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant on Tuesday as President Donald Trump raises money for the Republican National Committee… Many of the anticipated attendees, such as the executives Howard Lorber and Steve Witkoff, come from New York real-estate circles where the president’s career began.” [Bloomberg]  

SPOTTED in Playbook: “Michael Flynn last night having dinner at Char Bar, the kosher restaurant in Foggy Bottom. Asked what his mood was these days, he replied: “My mood is good. Very good.” [Politico]

“Anthony Weiner sentenced to 21 months in federal prison” by Matt Zapotosky: “Disgraced former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner, whose exchange of illicit messages with a teenager wound up playing a role in the 2016 presidential election, was sentenced Monday to 21 months in prison… The penalty marks a stunning downfall for the New York Democrat whose propensity for sending lewd photos to women repeatedly derailed his career in politics, and — in a roundabout way — might also have affected Hillary Clinton’s bid to become president… Weiner is scheduled to report to prison on Nov. 6, prosecutors said.” [WashPost

** Good Tuesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: From Bistricer to Rockpoint: The new Starrett City deal is a far cry from what might have been [RealDeal] • Wells Fargo Bank provides apartment construction loan for Sole Mia in North Miami by Soffer and LeFrak [Bizjournals] • Inside the $524 Million Bucks Arena & Entertainment Mecca [MilwaukeeMag

HOLLYWOOD: “Can a Hollywood Celebrity Find the Truth About Trump and Russia?” by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “[Rob] Reiner is trying to break through to Trump voters over Russia’s unprecedented meddling in the 2016 election. His new project is The Committee to Investigate Russia, a website gathering news and information on the various Russia inquiries that he hopes will help spur a 9/11-type, bipartisan commission that will bring everything together in a definitive report and make concrete recommendations. On its board are former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, prominent Never Trumpers David Frum, the Atlantic senior editor… So far, Reiner says, he has donated about $100,000 of his own money, and sits on its board of advisers. He says he and his wife will “probably put more in as is needed.”” [Politico]

“The Abbie Hoffman of the Right: Donald Trump” by David Brooks: “In the late 1960s along came a group of provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the rest of the counterculture to upend the Protestant establishment. People like Hoffman were buffoons, but also masters of political theater…  America is seeing nearly as much cultural conflict as it did in the late 1960s. It’s quite possible that after four years of this Trump will have effectively destroyed the prevailing culture. The reign of the meritocratic establishment will be just as over as the reign of the Protestant establishment now is.” [NYTimes]  

“‘We Believe Deeply In Lox And Bagels’: What It Means To Be A Secular Jew” by Michel Martin: “Bob Garfield, co-host of WNYC’s On The Media… on what it means to be a secular Jew: “There’s this bizarre, sometimes hostile ambivalence about the religion and the culture from which we spring. You know, it’s a big part of the American-Jewish community. The best way I can put it to you is this, Michel: We don’t read much Torah, but we’ve read every word Philip Roth ever wrote. We don’t necessarily even believe in God, but we believe deeply in lox and bagels. So we, on one hand, are not really participants in the spiritual part of the religion, but we’re as Jewish as can be.””[WAMU

SPORTS BLINK: “Hank Greenberg: Caught Between Baseball And His Religion” by Noam Hassenfeld: “Let’s be real clear,” Aviva [Kepmner] says. “Hank Greenberg did not play on Yom Kippur in ’34, as Hitler was rising in Europe, and that’s what made it even more powerful. And after what happened in Charlottesville, I hope some more Jewish baseball players don’t play on Yom Kippur.” [WBUR

BIRTHDAYS: Vice Chairman and a Director of Capital International, Inc. and long-time Board Chair of the Hudson Institute, Walter Phillips Stern turns 89… Stage, film and television actor, he is best known as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” appearing in Dos Equis beer commercials (2006-2016), Jonathan Goldsmith turns 79… Escondido, California resident, Edward Karesky turns 70… CEO of Israel Longhorn Project, dedicated to bringing Texas Longhorn Cattle home to Israel, Robin Rosenblatt turns 69… Five Towns (NY) resident, Barry Mandel turns 69… Former chairman and CEO of the French engineering conglomerate Alstom, he is the son of Holocaust survivors, Patrick Kron turns 64… Senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton during his second term and co-author of a New York Times best-seller on the future of politics in the United States, Doug Sosnik turns 61… Teaneck-resident with a Jersey City dental practice, Paul Lustiger, DDS turns 61… Historian, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Kagan turns 59… Chief of Staff to Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Mark Isakowitz turns 51… Head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets men’s basketball team, he was the 2017 ACC Coach of the Year, Josh Pastner turns 40… Former Communications Director for NY Governor Paterson, Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Jane Harman, she now heads a NYC based PR firm whose past clients have included Jared and Ivanka, Risa Beth Heller tuns 38… NYC-based senior editor of global digital video programming at Bloomberg LP, Henry Seltzer turns 32 (h/t Playbook)…

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Trump: Otto Warmbier ‘was tortured beyond belief by North Korea’


Otto Warmbier confessing to stealing a political poster in North Korea on Feb. 29, 2016. Screenshot from YouTube

President Donald Trump said that Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died earlier this year after being imprisoned in North Korea, had been “tortured beyond belief.”

Trump’s comment on Tuesday followed an interview with Warmbier’s parents on “Fox & Friends” in which they described their son’s condition when he was released in June.

“Otto had a shaved head, he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, he was staring blankly into space, jerking violently,” Fred Warmbier said in the interview. “He was blind. He was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him, it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

On Twitter, Trump called the interview “great” and made the claim about North Korea torturing Warmbier, 22.

Warmbier died in the United States in June, days after after being sent back here in a coma. In 2016, North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster while on a student tour there. North Korea released Warmbier, saying his health had deteriorated after a bout of botulism. Warmbier’s doctors in the U.S. said he suffered extensive brain damage.

Prior to Warmbier’s death, JTA reported that he had been active in the Hillel at the University of Virginia. Following his death, it was revealed that his family hid their son’s Jewishness from the public as negotiations for his release took place.

A family spokesman, Mickey Bergman, told The Times of Israel that the family chose not to disclose Warmbier’s Jewish background as negotiations went forward so as not to embarrass North Korea, which had announced that Warmbier stole the poster on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

What you need to know about the far-right Alternative for Germany party


Alice Weidel, a co-head of the far right Alternative for Germany party, seen in Berlin after Germany’s elections on Sept. 25. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel clinched her fourth term and her center-right Christian Democratic Union party maintained its parliamentary majority in the German national elections on Sunday.

The victory, however, was hardly a landslide: With some 6 million votes, the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, finished in third place, securing 94 seats in the national parliament, the Bundestag, which now has 709 seats in all.

With a platform focused on Islam and migration, and rhetoric tinged with Nazi tropes, the AfD garnered 12.6 percent of the vote — nearly three times better than in 2013.

The unprecedented showing for a far-right party in postwar Germany alarmed Jewish and Muslim leaders.

“A party that tolerates right-wing extremist ideas in its ranks has managed not only to win seats in almost all our state parliaments, but also in the Bundestag,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement.

Schuster expressed the urgent wish that German democratic leaders “reveal the true face of the AfD, and expose its empty, populist promises.”

Here is a look at the AfD: its history, its leaders and backers, and where the party stands on key issues.

When was the AfD founded, and why?

Riding a wave of popular resentment against German bailouts of bankrupt European Union member states, the party was launched in April 2013. The AfD has since developed into an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and euro-skeptical party.

The party gained popularity primarily for its attacks on Merkel’s liberal policy toward refugees — since 2015, Germany has opened its doors to more than 1.5 million, mostly Muslims — and xenophobic and nationalistic campaign platforms. Akin to President Donald Trump’s “America First” position and the U.K.’s rejection of the European Union, the AfD promotes a “pro-Germany” stance, even going so far as to urge citizens to have more babies “made in Germany.”

Who are the party’s leaders?

The party has a moderate and a far-right fraction. Heading the latter is Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old attorney and journalist who left the conservative Christian Democrats after 40 years to co-found the AfD. His “moderate” counterpart is Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old economist.

Gauland recently said Germans “don’t have to be held accountable anymore for those 12 years [of the Nazi regime]. They don’t affect our identity today any longer. And we’re not afraid to say so.”

Germans, he added, “have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.”

Are AfD politicians anti-Semitic?

Right-extremist parties in Germany have learned over the years how to avoid pitfalls: They don’t deny the Holocaust, which is illegal. But they might say it wasn’t as bad as Jews make it out to be, or that the firebombing of Dresden was worse.

Recently, Bjorn Hocke, the AfD party leader in the eastern German state of Thuringia, caused a stir when he said that too much attention to the Holocaust was making German history “appalling and laughable.” He called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” and has recommended a radical departure from “these stupid politics of coming to grips with the past.”

Hocke said “we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance.”

A party candidate in the western state of Saarland, Rudolf Muller, is under investigation for allegedly selling Nazi paraphernalia in his antiques store.

Concerning their attitudes toward Jews, “many AfD members do share anti-Semitic ideas,” Jan Riebe, who has researched anti-Semitism within AfD for the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

While the party itself may not be anti-Semitic, many members “believe that Jews are the masterminds of all evil,” Riebe said. “So, in that sense, anti-Semitism does play an essential role in the AfD.”

Riebe added that a former member of the AfD in the Weserbergland region, Gunnar Baumgart, once wrote that Zyklon B, the poison used in the gas chambers, “was used to protect lives and that not a single Jew was killed by it.”

Dirk Hoffmann, a party executive in Saxony-Anhalt, equated Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories with the Holocaust.

Wolfgang Gedeon, an AfD legislator in Baden-Württemberg, has been accused of spreading anti-Jewish propaganda, among other things by reviving debate about the infamous anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

“The AfD instrumentalizes Judaism and Jewish people, but has no interest in a real Jewish life in Germany,” Sigmount Konigsberg, who handles issues related to anti-Semitism for Berlin’s Jewish community, wrote in a commentary for Germany’s Jewish weekly, the Juedische Allgemeine.

AfD also wants to ban kosher slaughter in Germany, as well as the import and sale of kosher meat, in line with its opposition to halal, or Islamic ritual  slaughter.

“This puts them squarely in the camp of [Hitler’s] National Socialist party, which banned kosher slaughter as early as April 1933,” Konigsberg wrote.

Furthermore, he wrote, “if Holocaust remembrance is termed a ‘Cult of Guilt’ and AfD chairman Gauland is proud of the Wehrmacht, then we can all put two and two together and understand the consequences.”

Some observers have noted that other parties have their share of anti-Semites as well and should be scrutinized in that area as much if not more than the AfD. In particular, they say, left-leaning parties are far more likely to be anti-Zionist and supportive of boycott movements against Israel than are parties on the right.

An AfD poster in Berlin, Sept. 26, 2017. (Steffi Loos/AFP/Getty Images)

Who are some of the party’s legislators? 

Among those expected to take seats in the Bundestag are:

* Martin Hohmann, former member of the Christian Democratic Union, who in 2003 referred to Jews as a “nation of perpetrators.”

* Siegbert Droese, a nationalist who last year raised eyebrows when it turned out that one of his cars bore the license number AH 1818 – the initials of Adolf Hitler in letters and numerals.

* Wilhelm von Gottberg, who in a 2001 essay quoted Italian Holocaust deniers and commented, “We have nothing to add here.”

* Detlev Spangenberg, a former informant for the East German state security apparatus, is a German nationalist who reportedly wants to see the country’s 1937 borders restored.

What about the AfD’s views on Israel?

Though the AfD decided not to include a discussion about Israel in its party platform, reportedly because of concern by some party leaders about Israeli “war crimes,” there has been a generally supportive attitude toward the Jewish state.

Observers say there are two reasons for this: Israel is seen as a bulwark against radical Islam, and support for Israel is used as an alibi against charges of anti-Semitism.

But only one day after Sunday’s elections, Gauland triggered a debate about whether Israel’s right to exist should really be a German “reason of state” – referring to Merkel’s 2008 declaration of solidarity in the Knesset.

“Of course we stand with Israel,” the co-party leader emphasized at a news conference, while questioning whether the viability of the Jewish state should be high on Germany’s agenda. But if that would mean “that we are really prepared to sacrifice our lives for the State of Israel,” he said, “I don’t feel that way.”

Meanwhile, the AfD head in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Marcus Pretzell, told the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that he would not support any change in the status of Germany’s support for Israel, which he termed Germany’s only reliable partner in the Middle East.

In Israel, reactions to the AfD’s success were mixed: While some Israeli politicians look to Europe’s populist parties for support in fighting radical Islam, others have called the AfD’s evident appeal to right-wing extremists and racists a warning signal for Israel and Jews.

Who supports the party?

The largest base of support comes from Germany’s eastern states, where it received more than 20 percent of the vote. Nationwide, the AfD has some 23,000 members. By contrast, Merkel’s Christian Democrats have more than 400,000.

Jewish supporters of the AfD may not be many or vociferous, but some — like the Berlin-based artist Pavel Feinstein — have openly declared that the AfD is “the only party that will stop this invasion” of Islamist extremists.

“You don’t have to marry” the AfD, Feinstein told JTA in an interview last year.

Some observers say the AfD has drawn voters from across the political spectrum — including those who never voted — and liken its success to the approval for Brexit in the U.K. and the election of Trump in the United States. This phenomenon has been described as a “radicalization of the center,” though it remains to be seen whether the AfD’s strong showing will lead Germany’s mainstream parties to whistle a more populist tune.

Conan and ‘Transparent’ give Israel the normalcy it craves


Conan O’Brien speaking with Israeli soldiers. Screenshot from YouTube

“It looks just like L.A.”

A character in the Amazon series “Transparent” says this as she gets her first glimpse of Tel Aviv, and if you work for the Israeli government, or any of a number of pro-Israel groups, you probably couldn’t be happier.

Even if the show will go on to acknowledge the political and human rights mess of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and don’t worry, it will), such glimpses of an extremely appealing and otherwise normal Israel have the feel of “mission accomplished.”

The start of the fall TV season has been very good to Israel. Anxious about the BDS movement and other efforts to delegitimize Israel, its boosters were treated to a season-long arc on “Transparent” largely set in Israel, as well as an hourlong “Conan In Israel” special on TBS. “Transparent” used Israel as background and counterpoint to its usual explorations of identity, sexuality and family dysfunction, while Conan O’Brien used his charming “idiot abroad” shtick to poke gentle fun at Jews, Palestinians and mostly himself.

Yet both shows appeared to have emerged from an earlier, less complicated era when Israel was largely seen as a regional good guy and the Palestinians as an uncomfortable but ultimately solvable nuisance if only haters on both sides would let go of their broyges.

I say that realizing that “Transparent” acknowledged  the complexities and contradictions of the conflict in ways likely to anger the right. As Season 4 begins, Maura Pfefferman, the transgender matriarch of the show’s distinctly Jewish and proudly secular central family, is invited to Israel to deliver a lecture on gender and the Cold War. (All 10 episodes of “Transparent” are available on Amazon.) Pfefferman’s youngest daughter, Ali (short for Alexandra), asks to go along, having been humiliated by a former lover in a poem published in The New Yorker. She wants to go for “the history and the suffering and the bloodshed — all that real stuff.”

A scene from the fourth season of  “Transparent” featuring Jeffrey Tambor, left, and Gabi Hoffmann in Israel. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Ali, a grad student, is the most “woke” of the three grown Pfefferman children, and unsurprisingly it is through her perspective that the show relates the Palestinian experience. A feminist activist scoops her up in front of the Tel Aviv Hilton (having declined to spend money in Israel in deference to the boycott), and brings her to meet a Palestinian friend at a hip cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Ali is amazed by the normalcy of life in the “Ramallah bubble,” although her companions remind her about the checkpoints and promise to “catch [her] up” on life under occupation.

Next stop is a nearby farm, where attractive young Palestinians (and at least one pro-Palestinian Jew) share their experiences. A gay man explains that he was jailed in Israel (he doesn’t say why) and that his jailers threatened to out him to his family. A Canadian-Palestinian says that Jews in the Diaspora have more claims to citizenship in the land than the Arabs who actually live there. Another says, “We can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t go to the next city.”

The episode, tellingly, is titled “Pinkwashing Machine,” an allusion to the charge that Israel asserts its positive gay rights agenda to distract from its oppression of the Palestinians.

You can almost hear the clacking of the keyboards as Jewish organizations work on their news releases refuting the Palestinians’ claims, but the scene is oddly nonconfrontational for a show that is so, well, transparent in its left-wing politics. Set outdoors around a table groaning with Palestinian food (maqluba, yum), the scene is right out of a commercial for a California wine or Olive Garden. The viewer is left wondering how bad their lives can be if they live like this. Although a wide-eyed Ali seems converted to the Palestinian cause by all she sees and hears, loyal “Transparent” watchers are by now used to her various intellectual enthusiasms, which she tends to pick up and discard as easily as her ever-changing hairstyles.

In a later episode, the Pfeffermans will debate the conflict during a bus ride to Jerusalem, but the dialogue again seems carefully, and blandly, balanced. Ali scoffs when an Israeli says there never was a Palestinian people; her mom, Shelly, counters that the Holocaust made the Jewish state a necessity. Ali reminds her family of the displaced Palestinians. Maura says there were Jews in the Holy Land well before there was an Israel.

In the end, you are left with the message that “it’s complicated,” and the family goes on to enjoy a raucous morning in the Old City. On a visit to the Western Wall — “Jesus Christ, it’s like an Orthodox Jewish Disneyland!” says one of the Pfefferman kids, not inaccurately — an androgynous-looking Ali sneaks into the men’s section. Shocking? Iconoclastic? Maybe. But considering the broad American Jewish consensus in support of pluralistic prayer at the Wall, hardly transgressive. Ultimately, “Transparent” plays it safe, assuaging Israel’s critics with a nod toward the Palestinian reality and soothing the pro-Israel crowd with a portrait of a cool, bourgeois Israel that feels like home even to Diaspora Jews as disaffected as the Pfeffermans.

Conan O’Brien filming a scene for his Israel special with Rabbi Dov Halbertal at the Tel Baruch Central synagogue in Tel Aviv. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Conan also acknowledged the Palestinians in his special, although here, too, the balance was with the Israel as the most ardent Israel booster would like it to be seen. He visits the Aida refugee camp for a sober although hardly enlightening conversation with a few of its residents. But this is Conan, and he’d rather amuse than enlighten. The brief segment includes a number of complaints about the security wall and Israel’s military, after which Conan is careful to remind viewers, “To be fair, we did not have a conversation with people who dispute these views.”

Instead, the unmistakably Irish-Catholic talk-show host jokes with handsome young men and woman on a Tel Aviv boulevard, jams with an Elvis impersonator at the beach, visits the Waze headquarters for a view of “startup nation” and trains with the IDF. He even gets face time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an indicator, perhaps, of how seriously Israel takes the notion of hasbara — public diplomacy, as it were — and how grateful it was that Conan turned over an hour of prime time and a pervasive social media campaign to presenting Israel at its best.

It’s impossible not to enjoy Conan’s man-on-the-street bits, and he does the important work of humanizing both Jews and Palestinians, itself an accomplishment and a contribution in a region too often portrayed as a war zone. Pro-Palestinian social media, however, didn’t seem pleased with his visit, mocking him as naive and ensorcelled by the Israeli side.

But at least he went to Aida and Bethlehem, just as “Transparent” took its cast beyond the Green Line. Maybe it is impossible to capture Israelis and Palestinians in all their complexity — activists on both sides certainly don’t make it easy.

The problem in fully understanding the conflict is that the people who seem to care the most about the issue have almost no interest in hearing the other side or having them heard. That goes for Jews as well as Arabs. So both sides attack the media and other observers for trying to get a complete, nuanced picture. And the gun-shy media, when they are not taking sides, either over-correct or play it safe.

Still, given the choice between a portrait of the region that displays its antagonists as “normal” versus one that demonizes either side, I’ll take normal any day.


Andrew Silow-Carroll is JTA’s editor in chief.

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