High Holy Days alert: Be prepared to look out the windows


This is the time of year when Jews begin preparing for the High Holy Days. Part of that preparation inevitably involves picturing oneself in services, head buried in the prayer book. This year, however, perhaps we should prepare for a different posture.

The prophet Daniel, Scripture tells us, prayed in the upstairs room of his home. Why upstairs?  Because that’s where the windows were, showing him the world outside, facing Jerusalem. For Daniel, real prayer calls attention to the real world, the happenings outside the sanctuary of one’s comfort zone: in the sobering suffering of the public square.    

The diversity of the Jewish community is a wondrous feature of our people; it’s amazing that we can be so different yet cling to the same Torah. No two synagogues are alike, just as each community sings with its own voice and animates our age-old duty to pursue justice in its own way.

However, despite this astonishingly variegated nature of communities, every single sanctuary in our tradition has at least one commonality: They all, thanks to Daniel, have windows. They all, by Jewish law, forbid a prayer setup that is, in essence, “soundproof” from the noise outside of the thick walls of our buildings.  

The realities of our world today demand Daniel’s prayer posture, gazing out the window, as our liturgy urges us to make teshuvah, to “turn” to our core obligations, as a people in Covenant with God.  

This year, we look out the windows of our sanctuaries and confront our world. We look out the windows to see a world torn by suffering and hatred. We look out the windows to acknowledge pernicious public policies that propagate bigotry, oppression and racial and ethnic supremacy upon the most vulnerable among us —­ the proverbial “ foreigner, widow and orphan.” This year, we look out the windows to see the world as it really is, rather than the alternate realities prevaricated by corrupt leaders who, we pray, may yet find their pathways to moral rehabilitation.

This year, recognizing that, in the words of the late Abraham Joshua Heschel, “the hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity,” we look out the window, with our eyes open, our ears attuned and our hearts willing to be broken. And with our hearts broken, may we allow the letters of Torah to enter through the cracks and provide meaning and strength for what in the year 5778 surely will be a fierce, urgent and critical fight for the values of truth, justice and peace.

As we approach this High Holy Days season, while we practice the inherently introspective tradition of cheshbon ha-nefesh, “taking account of our souls,” be prepared to look out the windows.


Rabbi Matthew Soffer is the senior associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, is on the board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action and is a member of the advisory council of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds is the founding executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice and is the rabbi of the synagogue for the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. 

Sept. 24: JEWS, SPORTS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

Events in Los Angeles from September 22–27


FRI | SEPT 22

BUDD FRIEDMAN AND TRIPP WHETSELL

Budd Friedman and writer Tripp Whetsell will discuss and sign “The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club That Revolutionized Stand-Up.” Friedman, in 1963, quit his job in advertising to return to his hometown, New York, to become a theatrical producer. He opened a coffee house for Broadway performers called the Improvisation, later shortened to the Improv. Friedman’s new venture was an instant hit.  It became the first venue to present live stand-up acts in a continuous format, and in the process, reinvented the art form for comedy clubs that followed. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. booksoup.com.

SAT | SEPT 23

ERNEST TROOST AND JOHN ZIPPERER

During his California Gold Rush Tour, Emmy award-winning artist Ernest Troost returns to Julie’s Joint with special guest Nicole Gordon. John Zipperer & The Current Band will also perform. There will be a potluck dinner. Bring an instrument if you want to join the song circle. 5 p.m. Suggested donation $20. Address provided upon RSVP to juliesjoint@johnzipperer.com. johnzipperer.com.

SUN | SEPT 24

JEWS, SPORTS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

The USC Casden Institute, with the support of The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and USC Athletics, proudly presents a panel discussion with athletes, writers, sports managers and sports team owners who have used athletics to illuminate social issues. Panelists include: Lenny Krayzelburg, American backstroke swimmer, former world record holder and winner of four gold medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games; Noah Miller, Israel Lacrosse National Team player and head commander and chief instructor of Krav Maga in the IDF Special Forces Combat School; Alan I. Rothenberg, chairman of Premier Partnerships and former president of the United States Soccer Federation; and Erit Yellen, producer and writer for documentary films on sports and social Issues, and adjunct professor at the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media & Society. The panel will be moderated by Neil Kramer, veteran educator, lacrosse coach and official who refereed the first lacrosse match played in Israel. 4:45 p.m. reception; 5:30 p.m. panel. Free. Town and Gown, University of Southern California, 665 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. dornsife.usc.edu.

AUTHOR NICOLE KRAUSS

National Book Award finalist and bestselling author Nicole Krauss will discuss with Rabbi David Wolpe her fourth novel, “Forest Dark.” Krauss masterfully entwines two disparate narratives about two unrelated characters seeking answers in the Israeli desert. Books available for purchase. A book signing follows the program. Co-presented by the Skirball Cultural Center and American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education. 2 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

NATIONAL VILLAGE CELEBRATION: LIVE

Villages all over the country in the Village to Village Network will simultaneously gather to watch and celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Village Movement. In Los Angeles, the program will feature surgeon and writer Atul Gawande. Gawande will address the value of community and choice as people grow older. Following the program, Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller and Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Zoë Klein will lead a discussion. 1:30 p.m. Free. Temple Isaiah Social Hall, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. chaivillagela.org.

WED | SEPT 27

THE YOM KIPPUR WAR: AGAINST ALL ODDS

This holiday season is the 44th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. Rabbi Rebeccah Yussman will discuss the history of the conflict using episodes from “Against All Odds,” a documentary about the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli survival. A catered lunch is included in the program. 11 a.m. $16; $14 for members. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444. templemenorah.org.

PURSUIT OF JUSTICE: E. RANDOL SCHOENBERG

Los Angeles Theatre Works Celebrates the Pursuit of Justice, a special event honoring attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, who successfully litigated the return of five Gustav Klimt paintings from the Austrian government, as featured in the film “Woman in Gold.” The evening, hosted by Hector Elizondo, will include a performance of the L.A. Theatre Works’ acclaimed production of “Judgment at Nuremberg” by Abby Mann, and a discussion about  the challenges of the pursuit of justice with Schoenberg and Geoffrey Cowan, chair of the USC Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. The evening will begin with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and conclude with a dessert reception. 8 p.m. Tickets start at $175. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 827-0889. latw.org.

Karen Ulric, who traveled to Germany on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in July, observes a Holocaust memorial in Frankfurt. Photos by Eitan Arom

Seven decades after the Holocaust, can a Jew enjoy a German vacation?


Our gaggle of mostly Jewish, mostly American travelers stepped off a tour bus on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Germany, pointing cameras this way and that and ambling onto a seemingly unremarkable, wide-open expanse of pavement surrounded by parkland.

It was a glorious Sunday in July, and the Nurembergers were soaking it in, gliding by on bicycles and rollerblades, for the most part ignoring the monolithic concrete structure looming over a set of bleachers. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by the fact of what brought us there: About 80 years earlier, Adolf Hitler stood high atop the structure to review a parade of goose-stepping Nazi troops.

As we fanned out across the former parade ground, snapping photos, I thought to myself: This is an odd way to spend a vacation.

I had my reservations about traveling to Germany. I had been to Ukraine and Poland, seen killing fields and the ruins of ancient synagogues, but venturing into the heartland of the Holocaust seemed a daunting prospect. It wasn’t a trip I likely would have taken had I not been invited to go without paying a dime.

In June, I hadn’t given a second thought to accepting an invitation from the Encino-based travel company Uniworld to join a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on one of its inaugural tours of Jewish heritage sites in Germany.

After all, who says no to a free cruise?

But as my July departure date drew near, my hesitation mounted. I grew up in a home where German cars were strictly verboten. My current bedroom is home to piles of books about the Holocaust, with names such as Elie Wiesel and Hannah Arendt staring at  me from their spines. And as a reporter on the Jewish world at a time when racist ideologies are on the rise, Hitler’s handiwork is never far from my mind.

I decided my trip would be a test. Germany is a modern, beautiful country abounding with history and culture. I would be sailing in style down two scenic and storied rivers. I intended to find out, more than 70 years after the gas chambers were shut down, whether a Jew like me could enjoy a luxurious German vacation.

At first, things looked promising. Our group of writers and reporters met our ship, the River Ambassador, while it was docked near Frankfurt. It was an elegant, elongated vessel, designed to fit precisely through the locks on the rivers. As soon as I stepped on board, a glass of white wine materialized in my hand, proffered by the hyperattentive cruise staff. I then retired to my stateroom to lie back and watch the rolling hills and quaint river towns glide by my window.

Nurembergers cycle past a podium where, about 80 years ago, Adolf Hitler reviewed goose-stepping Nazi troops on parade.

 

The next day, I awoke from this pleasant dream into a crueler reality.

We disembarked and took a bus to Frankfurt, where Uniworld had arranged for us to meet a member of the local Jewish community, a graduate student active in Hillel International and the Jewish Student Union Germany. Despite his attempt to paint a rosy picture of Germany’s future, he seemed to return constantly to its grim past and uncertain present.

“We have a functioning community,” he reassured us. (Tepid praise if ever I’ve heard it.)

“There is a future in Germany. There’s a young movement coming that wants to change things, that doesn’t want to be afraid to be a Jew in Germany,” he said.

Later, we stood outside the aging hulk of a synagogue used by all three major denominations of Frankfurt Jews, a magnificent edifice that had seen better days. It was closed to the public and looked abandoned but for a few Orthodox men hurrying in and out via side entrances. As we stood shifting our feet, I wrote a sad little poem about the massive shul. It was only Day One of the cruise and Germany already was throwing me for a loop.

The author took a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in Germany. Photo from Wikimedia

 

After that, it was back to the ship for an evening of sailing, fine dining and drinking at the open bar. Before dinner each evening, the ship’s bartender and sommelier addressed the passengers in the spacious lounge to apprise us of the evening’s fermented offerings.

“Good evening, ladies and gentleman, it is wine o’clock,” she said, psyching us up for her nightly pun. “Remember, everything happens for a Riesling.”

The cruise continued in much the same way: Day trips focused on Germany’s painful Jewish past and diminished Jewish presence, followed by evenings of merriment and luxury.

Even in seemingly innocuous locales such as Rothenberg, a walled town of nearly pristine medieval architecture, our tour guides told stories of unthinkable terror visited upon generations of unfortunate Jews.

Emerging from one of the cobblestone alleys into a square, we caught site of what seemed to be a Jewish star hanging at the site of Rothenberg’s first Jewish quarter. But our guide quickly disabused us of any such hope. In Germany, that particular six-pointed star symbolizes beer: An upside-down triangle for water, plus an upright triangle representing fire — in a truly German feat of addition —  means beer. Here in Rothenberg, it signaled the presence of a pub.

The disappointment in our ranks was palpable.

We did learn, however, that the synagogue that once stood in the square was demolished after all 450 Jews who lived in Rothenberg in 1298 were flayed or burned alive.

For the great majority of the 2.2 million tourists who visit Rothenberg every year, the place is a medieval playground of gift shops and sidewalk cafes. For my fellow travelers and me, it was a graveyard.

The trip continued in much the same way, with the members of our little group keeping our chins up as we ambled through centuries of persecution.

The next day, I sat in Nuremberg’s historic main square with a belly full of pork sausage, drinking a shandy beneath a glorious blue sky as a reggae band tuned up for a free concert. Sipping my beer-and-lemonade mixture, I tried — perhaps too hard — to prove to myself that I could have a good time immersed in secular pleasures, Jewish history be damned. 

The author enjoys a shandy in front of the Church of Our Lady in Nuremberg, built on
the site of a synagogue destroyed during a 14th-century pogrom.

Opposite me, a looming Gothic church scowled across the throngs that choked the square. Our guide had informed us as that the Church of Our Lady was built on the site of a Jewish synagogue destroyed in 1349, when Nuremberg’s Jews were burned alive as scapegoats for the Black Plague.

No marker indicated the Jewish significance of the church. But the fact of its origins darkened my mood. I felt doomed to walk like a ghost through a landscape of long-forgotten horrors.

Had I not known about the 1349 pogrom, I wondered, would I have enjoyed my sausage and shandy in peace?

The emotional climax of the trip was a visit to Dachau, the labor camp-turned memorial complex. The morning of our visit, on the second-to-last day of the trip, my stomach tied itself into knots as we stepped off our ship and boarded a bus. The Jewish heritage sites on the trip’s itinerary were optional, with other day-trip options on offer, but nearly our entire group chose to visit the camp.

I moved with practiced stoicism through Dachau’s gravel-strewn complex until we reached the area of the camp’s crematory, a lustrous green clearing in the woods that stood in stark contrast to the hot, barren expanse where the prisoners’ barracks were once located.

In a corner of the clearing was a landscaped patch with bushes and ferns, and a stone monument with a Jewish star bearing an inscription in German, English and Hebrew: “Do not forget.” A footstone read: “Grave of Thousands Unknown.”

The words of the Mourner’s Kaddish jumped into my mind and tears into my eyes.

To visit Germany as a Jew without paying heed to our painful saga there is to miss an opportunity to mourn a deep and staggering loss.

You can ignore history or drown it with a bottle of wine, but like all of life’s challenges, that doesn’t make the horror go away.

Perhaps without the grim reminders from our tour guides, I might have seen Germany’s fairy-tale villages and ancient castles as the quaint locales and proud landmarks that beguile millions of tourists — rather than elements of a multigenerational crime scene.

But I doubt I could ever take it all in without being haunted by the pain and suffering that took place there. I’ve had too much Elie Wiesel in my life, too many visits to Holocaust museums and too many family stories from the grim years of 1939 and 1942 for me to uncritically sip beer and scarf sausages like the average tourist.

If you’ll forgive the pun, that ship has already sailed.

The untold story of DACA’s Israeli recipients


Picture in your mind a “Dreamer,” an immigrant brought to the United States as a child and now living without documentation in this country. Chances are you’re not picturing an Israeli. But here in Los Angeles, young undocumented Jews from Israel are among those facing the looming threat of deportation.

President Donald Trump’s administration recently rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, with a six-month delay to provide time for Congress to plan a path for DACA recipients to gain permanent legal status. Whether that pronouncement sticks remains unclear. 

After a meeting with Democratic leaders and a swirl of messages out of the White House, some of them contradictory, Trump said on Sept. 14 he supports legislation to protect the Dreamers, and further consideration of a wall on the southern border would be done separately.

The policy was created during President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012 as a temporary reprieve to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Trump’s Sept. 5 announcement has been roundly criticized by Democrats, many Republicans and Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jewish organizations.

There are an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients, the vast majority of them Latino, with 79 percent coming from Mexico. More than a quarter of the total live in California. At a Sept. 10 rally, hundreds of pro-immigration demonstrators gathered in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park, many holding signs written in Spanish and waving Mexican flags.

Israel isn’t among the two dozen countries where most DACA recipients originate. But for various reasons — often having to do with fraudulent legal advice given to their parents — these young Jews are caught in a legal limbo, unable to receive federal student aid or travel outside the country.

While their status is identical to that of other Dreamers, they are different in subtle ways, as their individual stories suggest. For example, because the number of Latinos facing deportation is so much larger, they tend to feel more comfortable sharing their concerns and anxieties with one another.

Not so for Jewish Dreamers. For many, their status is an embarrassing stigma, something they would just as soon hide from even their closest friends. 

On the other hand, because Jews are often lighter-skinned than Latinos, they tend not to be subjected to the stares and derision from citizens who support the administration’s decision to eliminate DACA protections.

Furthermore, Jewish Dreamers tend to be better off financially than those from other countries, a distinction that provides securities — even if temporary — that others might not have.

In the end, however, all Dreamers are equal in the eyes of a government policy that would remove them unless a change is forthcoming from a Congress that is deeply divided on immigration issues.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), one of more than a dozen Jewish House members, is among those who favor continuing protections for all Dreamers, including those from Israel.

“The history of the Jewish people is characterized by migration in search of safety and a better future, and I believe our own experience teaches us to empathize with the Dreamers, although relatively few are Jewish or came here from places like Israel,” he said in an email to the Journal. “The administration would treat these young people as unwanted guests in the only country they know. But I view Dreamers as part of the fabric of our nation and believe Congress must act to ensure these young people can continue to live and work in the United States without fear.”

Below are stories of a few undocumented Israeli immigrants. They agreed to share details of their lives with the Journal under the condition that their last names not be used, and in some cases, that their first names be changed to protect their identities. Although the specifics of their cases differ, they share a feeling of being Americans first and foremost, and face an uncertain future.

‘I don’t even remember what Israel looks like’

Bar, a 16-year-old high school junior in the San Fernando Valley, has known for her entire life that she was undocumented.

“It did suck not to be able to go to Israel and visit when all my friends would go,” she said. “All my family is in Israel.”

A resident of Sherman Oaks, her parents arrived on a tourist visa in 2001, when she was 6 months old. Their visas expired a year after they arrived.

“We were hoping we could fix everything before becoming illegal. We had other people giving us suggestions and it was wrong … bad advice, and we didn’t have the money at that point to fix it,” her father, Ron, said.

Ron ran a clothing factory in downtown Los Angeles and insisted on manufacturing in the U.S. but had to shutter the facility because of the high cost of labor.

“We’re paying all the debts that society is asking to pay, and we’re getting zero benefit out of it,” he said.

“I’m from L.A. This is where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t even remember what Israel looks like.” — Bar

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes but can’t collect benefits. He now runs a printing and packaging company that outsources to Mexico and China.

Bar’s mother, Karen, works for a catering business, serving and cooking food for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other big events.

Bar joined the DACA program late last year. Some of her friends know she’s undocumented and hope one day she’ll be able to join them on trips to Israel and Mexico. She took a driver education course and hopes to get a license soon but might need to apply for an AB 60 license, available for California residents regardless of immigration status, if her DACA status expires.

She’s been a member of the Tzofim movement (Israel’s scouts program) since seventh grade. Her younger sister and brother are scouts, too. They were born in the U.S. and are citizens.

Bar counsels younger kids in Tzofim. “They all tell me before summer starts, ‘We’re going to Israel,’ and I ask them how is that. Even the youngest kids tell me about their experiences in Israel and their family. I’m very excited to be able to go,” she said.

Bar works for a birthday party business where she paints little kids’ faces, dances with them and dresses up as characters from the popular Israeli children‘s show “Yuval Hamebulbal,” a dinosaur and a fire-fighting dog. After she graduates from high school, she expects to go to community college and transfer to a four-year university to study business and fashion design.

If the DACA program is canceled, putting her at risk of deportation, she said it would be “really, really upsetting.”

“I’m from L.A. This is where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t even remember what Israel looks like,” she said.

‘This affects kids who are pretty much American in every way’

Eli grew up in Beverly Hills and describes himself as “a typical Persian-Jewish kid” in all ways but one: He’s in the country illegally. He was born in Tel Aviv and came here in 1991, when he was 8 years old. His parents overstayed their visa when their green card application was denied.

He earned a degree from UCLA, paying his tuition out of his own pocket, and hoped to go to law school but knew he wouldn’t be allowed to practice. He struggled for years with low-paying jobs.

“A soon as I got my DACA [status] in December 2013, three months later I got hired by a Fortune 500 company,” he said. “I knew I had the ability all along but I couldn’t prove it, because I didn’t have access to a real job.”

Now in his mid-30s, he owns his own business, offering “professional services” to corporate clients.

Outside of a small group of friends and his girlfriend, nobody knows about his status.

“I don’t want to jeopardize my business or do anything that can cause harm to that. In the Persian-Jewish community people talk, and I don’t want that information out,” he said.

Eli is a fitness enthusiast, spending hours a day at the gym training in Brazilian jiu jitsu. He considers himself a hard worker, a self-made entrepreneur, and can’t understand why people wouldn’t want him to be a citizen. After all, he said, he had no say in his parents’ decision to come to the U.S. and overstay their visa.

“You can’t blame somebody who didn’t commit the crime,” he said. “If you pull somebody over and their grandson is in the backseat, you don’t give the grandson in the backseat a ticket.”

He knows plenty of Iranian-American Jews who support Trump, and he doesn’t fault them for it.

“None of them go to KKK or neo-Nazi rallies or anti-immigration rallies. They’re pro-Trump mostly because of his pro-Israel stance, and they make good money and want tax breaks,” he said.

But he said he thinks a lot of them do have a racial bias.

“They look down on Mexican immigrants as low-skilled labor. They mow their lawn and garden their backyard and take care of their kids. … A lot of them probably think we should send them back to Mexico. They don’t understand this affects kids who are pretty much American in every way other than the fact that they don’t have their citizenship here, don’t have their green card.”

‘I’ll take my American education and I’ll go somewhere else’

Rebecca’s parents came to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. They planned to return to Israel after their B-2 tourist visa expired.

“When we got here, we started to feel like we wanted to stay here,” she said. They hired a lawyer who “ended up being a crook,” and their visa expired, she said.

Now 23, Rebecca has spent roughly half her life in the United States.

“My heart is in two different places. It’s hard every day to make the choice to be here. And it’s still a choice, despite all the inconveniences of being undocumented,” she said.

When she gained DACA status in 2012, “everything really changed.” The California Dream Act enabled her to receive state financial aid at UCLA, where she graduated with a double major in anthropology and Arabic.

While at UCLA, she participated in UndocuBruins, a research grant program for undocumented students and received funding to work with a South L.A. nonprofit that trains previously incarcerated people to work on urban farms in “food deserts.”

After she “decided that urban farming is really cool,” Rebecca completed a three-month fellowship at a Jewish community farm in Berkeley called Urban Adamah. Much like a kibbutz, the fellows live and farm together. This summer she worked as a garden educator at a Jewish summer camp in northern California and is now working with other UCLA grads at a startup nonprofit called COMPASS for Youth, which provides counseling for at-risk and homeless youth in Los Angeles.

Her undocumented status has inspired her to help others.

“I feel really blessed for that, because it’s opened my eyes and made me empathetic toward the stories of so many people that I wouldn’t have been able to empathize with beforehand,” she said.

“A lot of doors have been closed on me, and I had to push through a lot of doors. I got a lot of help [and] a lot of community support. … I’m grateful.”— Rebecca

While at UCLA, she was active at Hillel and in the Jewish community, but she had to navigate her place among the mostly Latino undocumented students and the feeling of guilt that accompanies a recognition of privilege.

“Ironically, my dad is also a construction worker, just like the dads of many of the undocumented folks that I know … [but] my dad’s been able to be more successful because he has resources, and he’s not Mexican, so he’s not looked at in a particular way. I look like a white person, so I don’t experience the sort of racist reality that comes with being undocumented in America.”

Rebecca’s mother is a self-published writer of poetry in Hebrew and English.

“A lot of [the poems] are about being away from home and being separated from her family. Her dad passed away while we were here, a few years into being here. So she wasn’t able to see him for the few last years of his life, and then not at his death, not at his funeral, and not now, many years later,” she said.

Rebecca was afraid of deportation, but becoming a DACA recipient “has given me breathing room,” she said. She’d rather move to Israel on her own terms than be deported, but hopes to stay here. She’s trying to make the world a better place in her own way.

“If America doesn’t want that, too bad,” she said. “I’ll take my American education and I’ll go somewhere else.”

Despite the fear that comes with being undocumented, “the immigrant experience is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said.

“I was totally uprooted and I had to cope, and assimilated to something that was 100 percent foreign to me. And that was really hard,” she added. “A lot of doors have been closed on me, and I had to push through a lot of doors. I got a lot of help [and] a lot of community support. … I’m grateful.”

‘The dreams come true here’

In the heart of affluent Beverly Hills, 17-year-old Jason harbors a secret. His family came from Israel when he was 5, and someone posing as a lawyer botched their citizenship applications and disappeared. Their work permits expired, and now Jason, his parents, and his younger brother live in the shadows.

His friends don’t know. Neither did his girlfriend, whom he considered marrying in order to gain a path to legal status. His parents actually pressured him to propose even though he knew “she would freak out, like, big time” if she found out he was undocumented.

Jason became a DACA recipient in 2015.

“I had no idea what it was,” he said. In fact, until that point, his parents hadn’t told him or his younger brother about their immigration status.

“They didn’t know we were illegal because we didn’t want them to talk to their friends,” his father, Avi, said. “Only when the DACA program came out, after talking to Neil [Sheff, their immigration lawyer], only then we told the kids.”

Jason plays guitar and plans to enroll in a music program after graduating from Beverly Hills High School. But his immigration status has complicated his plans.

“I do want to travel at some point, and if I’m not documented I can’t do that,” he said.

Returning to Israel is not an option, his parents say.

“I have nothing to do in Israel,” his mother, Ravital, said. “It’s hard to live there. Here, it’s an easier life. The dreams come true here.”

Daniel, their 13-year-old son, wants to be an actor. Because he’s too young to gain DACA status, he can’t get a work permit and audition for roles.

“Now that [Trump] canceled it, it’s a lot harder. It’s impossible, unless I get married to an American girl,” Daniel said with a laugh.

Ravital owns a skin care company, and Avi works in software development. “We do everything by the book, and we find a way to pay taxes on time,” Ravital said.

“We probably pay more taxes than Trump,” Avi added.

Many of their Israeli and Orthodox Jewish friends are Trump supporters, and they fear social alienation if their immigration status is discovered. “Before you called, we closed all the windows around the house,” Avi admitted. “The stigma of people who are illegal here is very bad.”

‘Remember the stranger and the foreigner in your land’

There’s a disconnect between Jews and undocumented immigrants, says Beverly Hills immigration attorney Neil Sheff, who speaks Hebrew and Spanish fluently. About half of his clients are Israeli, and he hears a lot of rhetoric against immigration reform from his fellow Jews, even those born in other countries.

“Their responses are usually, ‘We came here the legal way.’ When many of the Jewish immigrants came here, the immigration laws were so relaxed and the process was so much easier, everyone could come here the legal way,” he said.

“Their plight isn’t really acknowledged by the greater Jewish community, especially the Orthodox Jewish community.” – Neil Sheff

Sheff believes there are many Israelis living in L.A. without documentation, as well as Jews from South Africa, Russia and an increasing number from France, looking to escape their country’s rising tide of anti-Semitism.

“Their plight isn’t really acknowledged by the greater Jewish community, especially the Orthodox Jewish community,” which supports Trump because they consider him to be pro-Israel, Sheff said.

The Torah extolls Jews 36 times to treat strangers well, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

“It’s part and parcel of who we are as Jews to remember the stranger and the foreigner in your land,” Sheff said. “That should translate immediately to empathy for the immigrants here, whether they are immigrants who have been here for generations or just arrived.”

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

American Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump, poll finds


American Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of President Donald Trump in just about every area, scoring him lower than his predecessor even on topics like Israel, where Jewish approval of Barack Obama was relatively low, according to an American Jewish Committee poll.

The survey also shows a sharp uptick in concerns about anti-Semitism in the United States, which may be a reflection of the increased influence of the “alt-right” since Trump’s election.

Of respondents in the poll posted Wednesday by the AJC, 77 percent said they viewed Trump’s job performance unfavorably and 21 percent said they viewed him favorably. Those are considerably worse numbers for the president than in the general population at around the same time, mid- to late August, when Gallup consistently showed Trump scoring favorable ratings in the high 30s and unfavorable marks in the high 50s.

Asked for specifics, respondents scored Trump negatively across the board: 73 to 27 unfavorable to favorable on national security; 69-30 on terrorism; 75-23 on U.S.-Russia relations; 71-25 on handling the relationship with NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance; 77-20 on race relations; 76-23 on immigration; and 68-26 on the Iran nuclear issue. He came out best on U.S.-Israel relations, though still unfavorable: 54-40.

That contrasted with Obama, who scored a dead heat on the U.S.-Israel relations the last time it was asked in this poll, two years ago: 49 percent disapproving and 48 approving, well within the margin of error of 4.7 percent. That survey was conducted after 18 months of tensions in the U.S.-Israel relationship, with the collapse of Israel-Palestinian talks in the spring of 2014. The month the poll was taken, in August 2015, Obama was pressing hard for the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel’s government and the centrist pro-Israel community vigorously opposed.

Trump has striven to make good relations with Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly prefers his presidency to that of Obama.

Jewish approval of the Iran deal in the 2015 poll was in a statistical dead heat, with 50 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. Trump wants to scrap the deal, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. He may do so as soon as next month, when according to law, he must recertify Iranian adherence to the deal.

Jews continue to identify more as liberal and as Democrat than not. Among respondents, 54 percent said they were liberal, 22 percent classified themselves as moderate, and 22 percent said they were conservative. Party wise, 54 percent said they were Democrats, 15 percent said they were Republicans and 20 percent Independent. Asked whether they voted in November for Trump or Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, the numbers were statistically commensurate with how respondents in the AJC poll from a year ago — focusing almost exclusively on the election — said they would vote: 64 percent said they voted for Clinton and 18 percent for Trump. Last year the numbers were 61-19.

Republicans who believe a candidate more conventional than Trump could score better may take comfort in what this year’s poll reported regarding Vice President Mike Pence, who has a longstanding relationship with the organized pro-Israel community: His unfavorable-favorable rating, 62-30, was more in line with how Jews have voted in recent years than Trump’s negatives.

The poll shows a further erosion of U.S. Jewish approval of Netanyahu, who once polled consistently favorably among American Jews. In 2015, the last time the question was asked, U.S. Jews approved of Netanyahu’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, 57-42. This year, it’s a statistical dead heat, with respondents disapproving 47 percent to 45 percent approving. Netanyahu has come under fire in recent months from major U.S. Jewish groups for reneging on pledges to loosen restrictions on the practice in Israel of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

Asked as in years past how respondents perceive anti-Semitism in the United States, the numbers on the surface show consistency: 84 percent see it as a problem this year, while 16 percent do not. That jibes with 85 percent in 2015 who saw it as a problem, higher than the 73 percent scored last year.

There is a notable spike, however, on closer examination: The number who classified the anti-Semitism problem in the United States as “very serious” soared to 41 percent this year from the 21 percent of the past two polls. That may result from associations between Trump and the “alt-right,” a grouping of anti-establishment conservatives who include within their ranks anti-Semites, as well as Trump’s equivocation on condemning anti-Semitism and bigotry, most recently last month when a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended in deadly violence.

The other notable increase was in which nation posed the “single greatest danger” to the United States. North Korea, which has intensified its nuclear testing as tensions ratchet up with the Trump administration, was by far the leader this year at 57 percent. Next was Russia at 22 percent — a result perhaps of intensified coverage of Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s election.

In 2015, the last time a similar question was asked, the highest scorer was the Islamic State, the terrorist group, at 51 percent. Also known as ISIS, it did not appear as an option this year. The order behind the Islamic State that year was China (13 percent), Russia (10 percent), Iran (9.5 percent) and North Korea (6 percent), the last of five listed.

The telephone poll of 1,000 respondents was conducted by SSRS, a research firm, from Aug. 10 to 28. It has a margin of error of 3.71 percent.

A film crew preparing to record at the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania on July 12, 2016. Photo by JTA/Cnaan Liphshiz

Lithuanian troops train at former concentration camp where 5,000 Jews are buried


Lithuanian soldiers training to fight Russian troops pitched tents on the grounds of a former concentration camp and burial ground for Jews in Kaunas.

A battalion of special forces troops camped Monday at Seventh Fort, the first of dozens of concentration camps established by Nazi Germany following its 1941 eastward invasion, the Kauno Diena news website reported Thursday. The deployment is part of a military drill.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to JTA questions about the exact nature of the deployment.

The remains of 5,000 murdered Jews are buried at the fort in mass graves that are marked by a few poles and rocks. Relatives sometimes visit the site to light candles in memory of the dead.

Privatized by the government in 2009, the Seventh Fort, a disused 18-acre bunker complex, is run by a nongovernmental organization headed by Vladimir Orlov, a 38-year-old amateur historian and military enthusiast.

His organization charges entrance fees to the grounds, where it operates summer camps for children and hosts private events. Revenues are used for the site’s preservation as an educational institution where the genocide is taught alongside Lithuanian military heritage, Orlov told JTA last year. He declined to say how much revenue the site generates and how much is spent on commemoration.

The Jewish Community of Lithuania last year said the privatization was a “huge mistake” that happened despite its stated opposition.

Like the other two Baltic states, the Lithuanian government’s concern about the expansionist policies of Russia has prompted it to update its own defense capabilities. This summer, thousands of troops trained with NATO contingents across the country.

Efraim Zuroff, a hunter of Nazis and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s point man on issues concerning Eastern Europe, condemned the deployment as showing “incredible lack of sensitivity” by the authorities at a site where Lithuanian militiamen led the wholesale slaughter of thousands of people within the space of two days in July 1941.

Zuroff, who has written extensively about Lithuania and the Seventh Fort, said the deployment raises concerns as to potential desecration of burial grounds, since the area where the bodies are buried “is not fenced off,” he added.

Between July 4-6 in 1941, local militiamen belonging to the pro-Fascist National Defence Battalion carried out the murder of 3,000 people at the Seventh Fort. That unit was a precursor of the collaborationist Security Police Battalions, which worked with the German Nazis in occupied Lithuania.

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah display Hezbollah and Iranian flags as they listen to him via a screen during a rally marking the 11th anniversary of the end of Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel, in the southern village of Khiam, Lebanon August 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

Sunday Reads: Trump identity politics; decline in U.S. Jews’ influence on Israel


U.S.

Perry Bacon Jr. on the Arpaio pardon:

The trio of major announcements made by President Trump’s administration on Friday night — the departure of national security aide Sebastian Gorka, the pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the release of a formal memo from the president ordering the Pentagon not to accept transgender people as new recruits in the armed forces — illustrate two important things about the president’s governing style. First, one of the defining features of the Trump administration is that he embraces a kind of conservative identity politics, in which he promotes policies supported by groups that he favors and that may have felt marginalized during Barack Obama’s presidency. The second is that Trump’s support for those policies is not contingent on the presence of ousted aides like Gorka and Steve Bannon, who agree with him on these positions.

When the hurricane is over, Trump vs. the GOP will go back to being a significant political story. Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports:

many senators and their aides are flabbergasted by the public criticisms from the leader of their own party. They say Trump hasn’t shown a willingness to understand policy, often has more concern for his own news media coverage than anything else, and has run a White House riven by scandal and turmoil. In one recent meeting with legislators, he interrupted on several occasions to veer off topic, two senior GOP aides said, even as the health care legislation was simultaneously falling apart on Capitol Hill. There is widespread disappointment in Trump’s presidency among the party conference, said three people familiar with their feelings. Many of the senators have long distrusted Trump. The only one to endorse Trump was Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator whom Trump made attorney general — and has since publicly trashed.

Israel

Sometimes the obvious should be written: Israel has nothing to learn from Europe on terrorism. Read Yaakov Katz:

[O]n Tuesday, in a final briefing to the press before leaving the country after four years as the EU envoy, Faaborg-Andersen said that Israel can learn from Europe how to effectively combat terrorism. “Fighting terrorism,” he said, “is an endeavor that requires the whole tool box of instruments.” One of those tools, he went on to explain, is a “strong security dimension,” which Israel uses effectively. But, he added, there are other aspects involved as well, including “de-radicalization,” working with social services, and education. Now that is an interesting idea considering how many of the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Europe are carried out by citizens, some born and bred in their respective countries. In Israel, a small percentage of the attacks – like the recent one at the Temple Mount – are carried out by Israeli Arabs. Most are perpetrated by Palestinians.

David Ignatius sees opportunity for Israeli-Arab cooperation:

The Trump administration seems to envision an “outside-in” strategy for breaking the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate. The U.S., it’s hoped, could eventually bring together Israelis and leaders of the major Arab states for a peace conference. Trump’s unusually close relations with both Israel and the Gulf Arabs are part of this strategy.

Middle East

Adam Taylor on Trump and Egypt:

The strict punishment of Egypt may be a recognition of how seriously the United States views the North Korean threat. In an email to today’s WorldView, Berger noted that Egypt’s alleged procurement of missile parts from North Korea was “almost as bad as it gets” in terms of sanctions violations… Will Trump’s action finally compel Egypt to break ties with North Korea? Elmenshawy thinks it will work. “What Cairo receives from its strategic relationship with Washington is not replaceable by any other country,” the columnist said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is going to get a lot of this in his visit to Israel:

US ambassador Nikki Haley sharply criticised the UN peacekeeping commander in Lebanon on Friday, saying he is “blind” to the spread of illegal arms and reiterating a call for the force to do more about it. He says there is no evidence it is actually happening.

Jewish World

I might write more about this article next week, but in the meantime, just read Samuel Freedman:

We have never been further from Israel than we are at this point. And we find ourselves at that distance because, after all the invocations of Jewish peoplehood, after all the salutes to us as a “strategic asset,” we American Jews have never been made to feel less necessary to Israel’s success or survival than we are today.

A JPPI paper that was published last week – by my colleague Dan Feferman and me makes a somewhat similar point:

[T]here seems to be a decline in the collective power of the U.S. Jewish community to influence Israeli decision-making. Once unified around larger organizations, this community has become more diffused in recent years. Politically, the once close-to-monolithic major groups have to compete with foundations and organizations who have their own, sometimes-contradictory agendas. Moreover, due to Israel’s much grown economy the U.S. community has also become less influential in its ability to wield power through massive philanthropy. Add to these facts the rising numbers of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews in the U.S. who will less questioningly support Israel while non-Orthodox Judaism seems, at least from the perspective of many Israelis, to be on the decline (low birthrates, intermarriage, etc.) and you have a weakening of the second arrow in the non-Orthodox movements’ quiver. Moreover, in the eyes of many Israelis, when the U.S. Jewish community does come together to influence Israeli policy, it at times does so in ways that contradict Israel’s interests, at least as defined by the supporters of the current government. There is even some sentiment within the current government that Evangelicals and non-Jewish conservatives are today, perhaps a greater source of support for Israel and especially this government’s policies, than is mainstream Jewish America. 

A haunting image from the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, where they marched chanting slogans such as "Jews will not replace us", and "Blood and Soil" a Nazi refrain.

Standing up to Nazis and The Wake-Up Call of Antisemitism


Nazis threatened a synagogue in Charlottesville…while the people were there praying.

The day after this photo was taken, Jews gathered for Shabbat services. They did not stand down, but came out in large numbers and were joined by non-Jews for support. The entire harrowing account of those who went to pray that scary Shabbat morning in Charlottesville is linked below. (Did you know, for example, the police refused to help protect the synagogue, though they knew hundreds or thousands on white supremacists were converging on the town?)

The synagogue president told Newsweek:

“For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple,” he wrote. “Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either.”

Not only did armed protesters stand across from the synagogue, but neo-Nazis paraded past the building, shouting anti-Semitic slogans, a horrible reminder of Nazi Germany’s persecution and mass slaughter of European Jews.

“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Sieg Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols,” Zimmerman wrote.

I’ll post a link below of the whole story.

We live in remarkable times.

We live in remarkable times, because even while we spent many years studying the Holocaust and living, working and helping the Jewish communities of Poland and Eastern Europe — never did we see such a brazen display of hatred as was seen in America this past weekend. Never.

We live in remarkable times, because instead of fanning the flames of hate, leaders across America – Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, celebrities, TV anchors and religious groups denounced and condemned the rally and the open display of hatred and antisemitism.

We live in remarkable times, because many politicians and wide array of groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Republican & Democratic Jewish Coalitions, the ADL and others had to criticize the President for his response to a white supremacists’ rally and violence.

We live in remarkable times because days later, tens of thousands more people gathered at the same spot as the hate-rally, to preach tolerance.

We live in remarkable times because while acts of antisemitism are on the rise nationwide, powerful companies like Google, Apple, GoDaddy, and are taking a stand, donating money for anti-hate education and refusing to host websites for Nazis.

We live in remarkable times because it is now totally unacceptable to be an elected official in America and show support for the Klan or white supremacy groups.

We live in remarkable times.

Historically, when there is a rise in antisemitism, we have also looked inward and asked ourselves, how can we be doing better as a Jewish people? 

How can we care for one another more?

How can we up-our-game in our service of God?

And the answer is that if we are honest with ourselves and our community is that we can be doing better. 

Antisemitism is a wake-up call

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we are still in exile.

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we can do more to live up to our mission.

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we must pray to God for protection, sustenance, and blessing every single day.

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we must increase our Tefillah- connecting with God, Teshuva – returning to our better selves, and Tzedakah – helping people in need and Jewish institutions in need.

We live in remarkable times. 

May God bless and preserve the United States, a country that has done for Jews than any other in History.

I hope you will join me in extra prayers for our COUNTRY and PEACE and SAFETY this Shabbat.

You can read the entire account of the synagogue in Charlottesville here

Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Win McNamee/Reuters

Was Stephen Bannon good for the Jews? A review


Stephen Bannon, whose advice to President Donald Trump was that “darkness is good,” was thrust out into the light of the sunshiny day enveloping Washington, D.C., on Friday: He is no longer Trump’s strategic adviser.

It’s not clear yet what led to Bannon’s departure. He alone among Trump’s senior advisers favored the president’s decision to blame “many sides” for the violence last weekend when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, a posture that has outraged Americans across the political spectrum. Bannon and Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, were always at odds.

Bannon conveys, perhaps unintentionally, the impression that he is manipulating Trump, an impression that Trump is known to hate. And Bannon told the American Prospect this week that there is no military solution to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, just as Trump and his national security team are ramping up claims that a military option is not off the table.

One thorny issue that kept coming up: Was Bannon, who made gutting the Iran nuclear deal a priority, the Jewish community’s best friend in the White House? Or was the man who embraced conspiracy theories about globalists the most Jewish-hostile White House presence since Richard Nixon stalked its halls?

Let’s review:

Breitbart

Bannon helmed Breitbart News, the right-wing news site, since the sudden death of founder Andrew Breitbart in 2012.

Breitbart plus: In 2015, under Bannon’s leadership, the site launched Breitbart Jerusalem because Bannon wanted to counter what he sees as media bias against Israel. Breitbart also aggressively covers anti-Semitism in Europe.

Breitbart minus: Bannon has described the news site as “the platform for the ‘alt-right,’” the loose coalition of anti-establishment conservatives who include among their ranks anti-Semites and racists.

The alt-right

Alt-right plus: Bannon, addressing a conference held at the Vatican in 2014, recognized the tendency of the alt-right to attract racists and anti-Semitism, but said he rejected those bigotries and predicted they would “wash away.”

Alt-right minus: Even absent specifying Jews or blacks or other races, the conspiratorial mind-set of the alt-right is uncomfortably redolent of the toxic myths that have led to violence. Bannon is believed to have written a speech by Trump on the eve of his election suggesting that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was part of an international banking conspiracy. It set Jewish hairs on end. Trump’s final campaign ad, excerpting parts of the speech against a backdrop that include a rogues gallery of “internationalists” who all happened to be Jews, didn’t help.

The Trump agenda

The agenda plus: Bannon has worked closely with the pro-Israel right, which says he has been particularly aggressive within the White House in advocating for scrapping the Obama administration deal they most revile, trading sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program. Undoing the Iran deal featured on Bannon’s famous whiteboard, where he checked off Trump’s “to-do” list. (The deal has yet to be undone, but not for lack of trying by Bannon.) Whatever one thinks of the Iran deal, Bannon’s opposition to it comported closely with the current Israeli government, whose officials appreciated his advocacy.

The agenda minus: Trump’s “America First” outlook, spurred by Bannon and his White House acolytes, has rejected “identity politics.” Bannon believes rejecting “politically correct” views on race helped Trump win the White House, which is why he cheered on Trump this week when the president insisted that “many sides” were responsible for the deadly violence in Charlottesville. This outlook is not new to the Jewish community: It was behind the bizarre Jan. 27 International Holocaust Day declaration that failed to mention that Jews were the victims of the Holocaust.

Shall we invite him to the seder? Bannon and Jewish staff

Watercooler chat plus
: Bannon brought into the White House a host of staffers, among them Jewish Breitbart alumni like Julia Hahn, who is a special assistant. He reportedly is close to Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was the National Security Council staffer responsible for coordination with the intelligence community. McMaster removed Cohen-Watnick from the NSC, reportedly in part because his views on Iran were too hawkish.

Watercooler chat minus
: Bannon clashed with Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and a senior adviser, reportedly calling him a “globalist” — seen in some quarters (see above) as coded language for Jews. Ditto Trump’s senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn. Breitbart, still believed to be influenced by Bannon, has recently taken to surrounding Cohn’s name with globes in its headlines.

Some of his best friends

The human factor plus: Bannon’s former Jewish staffers at Breitbart swear by him as an understanding boss. Joel Pollak, a former editor in chief at the news site, told NPR that Bannon not only encouraged him to take off Jewish holidays, he would wish him a “Shabbat Shalom” on Friday afternoons.

The human factor minus: One of Bannon’s ex-wives said in a sworn declaration that he made anti-Semitic remarks while they were searching for a private school for their girls. Bannon has denied the claim, although at least one third party has corroborated part of her account.

Imam Immar Shahin

Kill the Jews! Oops, I didn’t mean it


Was it a Jew-hating one-off or a Jew-hating pattern?

That was the question on my mind when I heard the imam at the Davis Islamic Center, Ammar Shahin, apologize a week after his Jew-hating sermon in which he preached, “Oh Allah, count them [Jews] one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”

During a press conference held by religious leaders, a contrite Shahin said: “I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts. For this I truly apologize.”

What spurred his apology?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “In the days following his sermon, Shahin said he discussed his statements with a number of people within and outside the Muslim community. That’s when he realized ‘the level of harm it has caused.’”

In other words, until he talked to other people, it didn’t occur to him that calling for the annihilation of every Jew might cause “harm.”

So, was the Jew-hating sermon a one-off or a pattern?

It’s clear the Islamic Center would like us to believe it was an exception. After all, it’s a lot easier to excuse an exception than a habit.

But more than that, the Center wants to do what all smart lawyers tell you to do when your back is against the wall—change the target. Here, it is trying to do that by going after the messenger.

According to the Times, the Center’s initial reaction was that the imam’s comments had been taken out of context by “Islamophobic news organizations.” How many times have we heard that? This is a well-known reaction to criticism of Islam— attack the critic as “Islamophobic.”

The problem with that strategy, in this case, is that we’re dealing with hard facts. These are real words of hate spoken in real time by a real preacher.

The group that translated and disseminated the sermon, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), is a resource that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has described as “absolutely invaluable.” It’s hard to undermine a group whose sole focus is to translate.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Even a group that criticized Shahin’s sermon, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), couldn’t resist trying to take down the messenger.

“Groups like MEMRI exacerbate political divisions on the Middle East conflict rather than aim to reconcile differences,” MPAC said in a statement.

According to a report in JTA, MPAC “expressed frustration with MEMRI, an organization that has drawn fire from Islamic groups for what they say is its tendency to cut and paste Muslim pronouncements to cast them in the worst possible light.”

How’s that for a contradiction: Yes, we admit the sermon was vile and we apologize but please don’t trust the messenger who translated the sermon.

“We hear this all the time,” MEMRI founder Yigal Carmon told me on the phone. “Whenever we expose another Muslim preacher, they accuse us of cutting and pasting, of taking things out of context. They never mention that we show the whole context, the full sermon, everything, and allow viewers to make up their mind.”

According to Carmon, it is the Islamic Center that is doing the cutting and pasting. He claims the Center took down another embarrassing sermon from its website dated July 14, because “they want us to believe the July 21 sermon was a one-time thing.”

In the July 14 sermon, according to a MEMRI translation, Shahin prayed to Allah to “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “destroy them and do not spare their young and their elderly.”

Carmon also says the Center took down a sermon in which Shahin called the November 2016 forest fires near Haifa “good news from Palestine” and another in which he characterized democracy and the U.S. Constitution as a form of “idolatry.”

A few hours after Carmon and I spoke, he called to let me know that the Center had taken down its Youtube account as well as all sermons from its website. When I went to check, I randomly clicked on about twenty sermons over several years and, indeed, they all said “this video is unavailable.”

So, was the Jew-hating July 21 sermon a one-off or a pattern?

You tell me.


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

Israeli Light #3 – Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem of Holon, Israel


I received two urgent emails on Friday morning, May 5, asking me to contact Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem, the Rabbi of Kehilat Kodesh v’Chol in Holon, Israel with whom my congregation was in a sister synagogue relationship. Both asked me to extend Galit my emotional support.

One came from Rabbi Nir Barkin, the Director of Domim, a program funded jointly by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) that links Israeli synagogues with Diaspora congregations. The other was from my ARZA President, Rabbi Joshua Weinberg.

Earlier that day in Jerusalem, Rabbi Noa Sattat, the Executive Director of Israel’s Religious Action Center, asked me to give Galit a hug for her that night when my leadership tour would be spending Shabbat with her congregation.

None of the three explained what had occurred that provoked them to reach out to me. I am well aware of how challenging Galit’s work is and I assumed they were just encouraging me to be as supportive as I could be.

Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem began this Holon Reform community located southeast of Tel Aviv five years ago. A thriving city of 250,000 mostly secular middle-class Jews, it is fertile ground for the growth of non-Orthodox liberal Judaism. Given Galit’s keen intellect, open heart, liberalism, and her infectious enthusiasm, if anyone can build a community there, she can.

Kehilat Kodesh v’Chol does not yet have its own building. It rents space for services and classes and has enormous potential to be a center of Reform Jewish life in Holon. Its congregants include people of every walk of life and many highly educated and professionally productive members. For example, the community’s chair is Heidi Pries, a researcher, and lecturer at Tel Aviv University School of Social Work. Her husband Ori is a lead web developer in a Tel Aviv-based web company. Another member, Anat Dotan-Azene, is the Executive Director of the Fresco Dance Company and her husband Uri is the tech director of a leading post production sound studio for Israeli television and film. Another member, Michal Tzuk-Shafir, is a leading litigator in the Israeli Supreme Court and was President Shimon Peres’ (z’’l) legal advisor. Her husband Nir is an industrial engineer working as an information systems manager. Galit’s husband Adar is the former chief inspector of civic studies and political education of the Israeli Ministry of Education and is the soon-to-be manager of teachers’ training at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In association with her congregation, Galit created a Reform Jewish elementary school that is a part of Israel’s national secular school system. More than 100 children are enrolled in kindergarten, first and second grades and a grade is being added every year.

Despite all the activity, Kodesh v’Chol faces substantial financial and space challenges because unlike Israel’s orthodox synagogues and yeshivot, the Reform and Conservative movements receive no government funds due to the political hegemony of the Orthodox political parties.

In the secular city of Holon, Galit did not anticipate what was to take place the night before my leadership group joined her for Shabbat services, which turned out to be the reason for the two emails and Noa Sattat’s concern.

Galit’s elementary school had been offered classroom space in a Holon public school for this coming year by the Holon municipality, and a meeting was planned on the night before our arrival with all the parents. However, four uninvited parents from the public school that was hosting Galit’s congregation’s school crashed the meeting and began screaming obscenities against Reform Judaism, Rabbi Cohen-Kedem and the planned-for presence of the students in the local public school building.

They viciously threatened Galit and warned that the children themselves would be in danger should the congregation’s school be on the premises. They said that they would spit on the children.

Galit confessed to me that she lost her cool, but when I asked what that meant, it was clear (recalling Michelle Obama) that though Galit was deeply offended and upset by the behavior of these parents, ‘when they went low she went high.’

Galit called the principal of the school and though apologetic and embarrassed, she would not take action against the offending parents.

Galit called the municipal authorities who had given the Kodesh V’Chol School its space and demanded that they find new classroom space. At this time, we are waiting to learn where the school will be housed.

I and our group were stunned, but in hindsight, we should not have been surprised. The Reform movement in Israel still has a long way to go in establishing itself as broadly as possible.

At the moment the Israeli Reform movement attracts 8% of all Israelis. According to surveys, however, when Israelis are asked about their attitudes towards Reform and Conservative Judaism, between 30% and 40% say that if there were a Reform or Conservative synagogue in their neighborhood, they would attend.

I told Galit how proud I am of her for the dignity and resolve with which she stood her ground and responded with moral indignation to those offending parents. I was moved as well that she placed the welfare of the children first. She refuses now to use this public school out of concern for the well-being of the children.

I also expressed my own conviction that this ugly incident could be a watershed moment for her community.

When word spread of the Thursday night encounter, many more families showed up for services. There were more than a hundred men, women and children singing and praying together. The children came under a tallit for a special blessing. Modern Hebrew poetry and music was sung along with music from the American Reform movement. The service was warm-hearted, upbeat and joyful.

Galit delivered a passionate and moving sermon based on two verses from the weekly Torah portion Kedoshim (Leviticus 19) – “You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart” and “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”

She did not mention the incident from the night before, but everyone understood the context of her remarks.

Galit represented the very best of Judaism generally and the Israeli Reform movement specifically.

That was a Shabbat service I will never forget and Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem has shown herself to be one of the bright lights in the firmament of Israeli leaders.

Veteran Stand-ups Mark Schiff and Steve Shaffer create comedy theatrical masterpiece.

Married People: A Comedy – Theatre Review


Married People: A Comedy’ proves one thing.  Honesty in relationships begin at home…indeed with ourselves. 

“Don’t miss the amazing chance to see what will surely be a memorable Broadway hit. Seinfeld meets The Honeymooners by way of Dr. Phil.  Married People: A Comedy is funny, insightful, and extremely well-crafted by Hollywood’s finest comedy-makers.  It made me laugh and stop to deeply think. If I had the money, I’d buy the rights to the film!”  – Steven Alan Green, The Jewish Journal

First off.  Uber there.

Parking is shit.  You need a fucking lawyer and a rabbi just to get decent parking near the theatre.  I think they might have valet.  I’ll check.  Don’t have time.  I will later.  Secondly.  Don’t miss this show.  I’ll explain below why.  Thirdly, the audience is stupid.  That is to say, there’s a great disconnect between the Orwellian shackles limiting the minds of the most sophisticated audiences and the finest of performance art.  It’s called PC over thinking, but it’s bigger than that.  It’s the audience forgetting they’re watching characters in a play, not reality.  More on that below.  First an overview of the play Married People: A Comedy.

HENRY AVIVA

A Stanley Kowalski in Doc Martins

Two couples.  Jake and Aviva and Henry and Cookie.  Jake is a bit of a mild-mannered stuffed shirt, Aviva lives up to her eponymous name with plenty of “Viva!” in her.  Cookie is a complex woman who co-opted her own womanhood at the behest of marriage.  She happens to be married to Henry, a real lug.  A Stanley Kowalski in Doc Martins.  A guy whose personal enlightenment is that he knows he must have Monday Night Football with an equal balance of bedtime with his betrothed or he’ll go nuts.

Sit-com type director

The play is deftly directed by Rick Shaw, and yes, I fully expected a heavily breathing Chinese man running in front of him.  I’ll give you a minute.  Back to the review.  The play runs as 14 set pieces separated by blackouts/set changes to the tune of Sinatra’s Love and Marriage or Jimmy Durante’s Glory of Love and the like. The set is brilliantly designed; rotating slats, which one minute are upright beds which the actors lean against to give a birds eye view of them in bed, then turn during blackout to reveal a neon beer sign and they’re now in a bar, slinging them back between unleashed words.

The two couples are friends.

And they both have problems.  Issues in the bedroomJAKE AND MICHELLE abound as negotiable currency as in any business agreement, such as marriage.  But also they both have children, whom both couples talk about, but we never see.  Everyone is getting along most of the time, going to Yoga class, planning this, planning that.  But when Cookie decides to play therapist to maybe solve some of these issues between partners (and all because she took an online class or two), that’s when the play really begins.  And what’s brilliant about this play is that, just like real therapy (take it from one who has researched plenty) the unsolvable never becomes apparent during the group therapy sessions themselves.  The burning hidden issues reveal themselves afterwards in real life.

 What are we really?

And that’s the most interesting part of the play.  For our minds can never truly be fully aware of everything at the same time.  That would be like making love and realizing you left the oven on.  In fact, whether the playwrights Steve Shaffer and Mark Schiff (who also serve as producers) knew it or not, each couple symbolizes one person and in fact, both couples together – all four characters – represent one ideal person.  Because disloyal readers, think about it.  What are we really?  Do I, for example, ever feel/act/think like bullish Henry?  But I’m really mild-mannered Jake.  Or am I ever excited with big impossible ideas like Cookie who has been the ad-hoc therapist for longer than she can remember, with Henry as her primary patient?  And what about the soul of the play, Aviva.  She represents the higher selves, the spiritual self.  The moral self.  We are all those things throughout our lives; indeed throughout the day.

Billy don’t be a zero

Henry, who played by Paul Parducci, is absolutely the most singular brilliant comedic theatrical actor I’ve ever seen live in theatre, simply can’t get behind that his and Cookie’s son Billy is gay, let alone that he’s getting married and the church warned the big man that if he attends his own son’s wedding, he’s going to hell along with the actual sodomite, Billy the son.  Billy don’t be a zero.  At one point, Cookie confronts the problem head on, as it were.  “What bothers you most about Billy being gay?

A bold opinion

Henry responds with the enthusiasm of Richard Dreyfuss finally being believed that the mash potato mountain he’s building in Close Encounters actually means real aliens.  Henry says: “Being gay!” Which is a brilliant line because it could’ve easily been Henry’s own personal admonition.  And, what happens.  Does the audience laugh?  No fucking way.  Why?  Because the audience is PC?  Maybe. This is Hollywood.  Here’s my theory and this has been on my mind for personal reasons – ever since I came back from an illustrious multi-coloured comedy adventure in England and back to the dull as dishwater bandwidth of comedy acceptability of America.  You ready? I’m gonna lose a lot of friends on this one.  Here goes.

THE AUDIENCE IS STUPID!!!!

That’s right.  I’ve said it.  I don’t mean it literally.  The audience in attendance was smart as a whip, but they were overly-reserved. That’s all I mean by “stupid”. Maybe Mr. Shaw, our fine director here, could fix this by signaling to the audience where to laugh, by having the actors hold their lines for laughs. In other words, say the line, then wait for the audience to get it, like a good stand-up does; but that would slow the play’s snappy pace down considerably.  But it wasn’t just that line by far. AUDIENCE SMALLER That line, by the way.  “Because he’s gay!” is very very very very funny because we are watching a character, who has clearly been set up as American working class, who loves Monday Night Football and loves to screw his wife and has no clue why she’s the least bit unhappy with him.

We are supposed to laugh

The irony is that Henry thinks he has self-awareness.  He sort of does because he is aware and outwardly accepts that he’s an animal.  But he doesn’t really, because he doesn’t know (yet, no spoilers) that the part of himself he’s not aware of is how much of him is molded from stereotype and the church and how much of him is truly his own man.  So when he says: “Because he’s gay!”  We are supposed to laugh.  NOT because we’re laughing at gay people!  No.  Because we’re supposed to be laughing at bad people or in this case, bad traits of good people.

There’s a big difference.

It’s what made Archie Bunker lovable, in spite of the fact that if he had a billion or so he’d be in Trump’s cabinet right now.  We are (or should be) laughing at the lovable Henry’s stupidity. And that’s not where it ends; that’s where it begins.  In other words, the entire play is woven with fine silk threads of misunderstandings, miscommunications, assumptions, expectations, prejudice and class-bating.  At more than a couple of points, I was literally the only one laughing out loud in a theatre of over a hundred and I had to balance a writing pad on my knee and sing Oh Susanna. Don’t get me wrong; the audience was laughing plenty throughout the play.  They just cowered where they should’ve leapt.

Hey that’s a good quote

The finely crafted lines in Married People: A Comedy are layered on top of one another when they need to be and other times sat quietly next to each other.  Like a finely laid out comedy Smorgasbord, Married People: A Comedy is an entertainment feast.  Hey that’s a good quote.

Like a finely laid out comedy Smorgasbord, Married People: A Comedy is an entertainment feast.  Hey that’s a good quote. – Steven Alan Green, Jewish Journal

Great cast makes the difference

As I mentioned earlier about Paul Parducci; he was great.  Enough about him; don’t want to give him a bigger head or indeed bigger Doc Martins.

Andy Lauer as Jake is the kind of actor who every director and producer would salivate to have because Lauer carries his script water, but never spills a drop.  He plays it real, he plays it calm, even when Aviva is haranguing him for not acknowledging the import of her being a Jew; and when he tries but fails it just breaks your heart.

Kylie Delre brings suffragette Cookie to life by the best way an actor can do.  By emphasizing what’s important in the text of the script.  Not every word written by even Shakespeare has as much resonance as the rest, and Kylie has the kind of actor’s instinct rarely found on any local theatre circuit.  She knows how to interpret script and understand story-arc.  She plays it big; she plays it soft.  All the while, completely, and utterly, engaging

But my pick of the litter is definitely Michelle Bernard as Aviva.  Wow.  What authenticity.  I’m still shpilkes over the absolution she rained down on poor little Jake.  I’m a judgmental guy. I can be a real prick, no doubt.  That’s because – in my mind – there’s always a bone to pick and that bone is the one that bugs us all.  All art, entertainment or hanging on a wall, has to have the one element to bring it to life, to give the viewer meaning.  And that is authenticity.  To portray true authenticity is the artist’s ultimate goal.  Because nobody really knows what that is anyway.  That’s why a great night at the theatre is so important; it gives a sense that things actually make sense.

SCHIFF AND SHAFFERMarried People: A Comedy co-creators are the double-cream of the crop.

So many great minds go into creating the finest comedy art and Mark Schiff and Steve Shaffer are indeed full comedy cholesterol.  A veteran perpetually young comedian of over 30 years, Mark comes from the vintage village years of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, the former whom Mark tours with as opening act.  Mark is one of those guys who is the comic’s comic and for anyone that’s a certain curse.  For us, the audience of Married People: A Comedy; his loss is our gain.  Steve Shaffer, a Philly born stand-up himself, appeared on Carson and toured with Carlin.  He does the impossible.  He’s funny and likable. Jesus.  I personally hate him for that.  Maybe he’s Canadian.

A master conductor at the helm of the theatrical symphony

Rick Shaw the writer/producer/director is known for directing television sitcoms amongst his quiver of arrowed credentials.  His credits are off the charts. In fact they’re off your computer.  Shaw keeps the pace moving forward and gives every actor the chance to freshly unfold their characters in a way commensurate with the best productions of Hamlet.  I’ve seen Peter O’Toole in Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman.  I’ve seen Al Pacino in Mamet’s American Buffalo.  The hardest piece of the puzzle is having a master conductor at the helm of the theatrical symphony.  Shaw knows his onions and meticulously slices and serves them to us as sweet tasting and yet tear-inducing between the laughs.

For great art to survive and indeed flourish, the early audiences must up their game.  It’s not television.  This is live theatre.

Married People: A Comedy is brilliant.

It touches upon what it really means to be a person of faith in both religion and the bigger agreement we make with God: Our betrothed and to love our children no matter what.  Accept them by accepting your own flaws, faults.  Cutting-edge understanding my not so hidden thesis about the audience not knowing their role; that’s paramount.  This work of comedy art deserves a real chance, in front of a much less inhibited audience.  Maybe that’s you, sitting at home.  And, Spoiler Alert: Some big important Hollywood person go see this show and secure the rights to develop into a series.

Married People: A Comedy is the next Seinfeld, only if Seinfeld was married and to himself.  It’s a great theatrical experience; more laughs – deeper laughs – memorable laughs — than you’ll find at Bosco’s Chuckle Hut. No offense to Bosco.  I know his wife just left him.  However; for great art to survive and indeed flourish, the early audiences must up their game.  It’s not television.  This is live theatre.  There are real people just a few feet away who rehearsed for weeks on end for every funny line to get a laugh.  The funny is there.  You just have to stop laughing at what you think everyone else will laugh at.  Laugh at what you think is funny. Ya know?

Audience workshop

When I’m done writing this review I’m gonna set up an audience workshop.  I asked Mark and Steve if they’ve done stage readings for the play, as most producers do.  They get all the actors round a table with an audience in the theatre and they read the lines.  They said they did and the audience present for the reading laughed on cue every time.  When I first moved to London in the early-Nineties, I lived in Chelsea near the Kings Road.  That’s the actual Kings Road, which used to lead up to Henry VIII’s castle.  There was a screening of The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart.

I thought it would be interesting to see that American classic amongst a British audience.  I wasn’t disappointed and I was pleasantly surprised.  Simply put, I never knew The Big Sleep, a dark 1940’s noir mystery, was funny.  The snappy sexual innuendo’s having to do with guns and cunning attitude were met with knowing group laughter by the very hip audience.  I never knew The Big Sleep was also funny.  In parts.  It took a literal foreign audience to point that out to me.  That’s how come I’m so confident about my point of the audience missing the point.

I never knew The Big Sleep was also funny.

Aaron Glazer’s innovative set design allows an Annie Hall type split-screen dialog going on in two different settings simultaneously and Rick Shaw’s direction feathers nicely as characters support each other in flashback sequences.

My hate is born of envy

Speaking for all Jews for The Jewish Journal, I highly recommend Married People: A Comedy, and I also recommend it when I’m sober.  Trust me; I’m a doctor.   And, I can’t wait to see it again, on Broadway or just off, or maybe even Thursday nights on my electronic vision box.  If anything, Married People: A Comedy will endure production after production and decade after decade.  Nothing has changed; and for that, I am grateful. Speaking as a total self-conflicted neurotic myself, I hated it.  But it’s the kind of hate which is born of creative envy.  One of my main personal motivators.

BTW, Mark just texted me.  There is valet parking after all.  Something tells me I’m in a Seinfeld episode and don’t know it.

Enjoy the Veal,

Steven Alan Green, 3/21/17 

Married People limited run at the Zephyr Theatre through April 2.  

Purchase your tickets here.

PRESS CONTACT: David Elzer, (818) 508-1754, davidelzer@me.com 

To Contact Steven Alan Green to review your play or comedy show, email Steven: sag@thelaughterfoundation.org

 

 

Hats for sale on MakePurimGreatAgain.com (JK:-)

4 Steps to Make Purim Great Again and Help the World


Are you stuck in the Purim Party rut?

Do you go to few Purim parties and then pay for it the next day with a horrific hangover? If this is the case your Purim needs an extreme makeover, because there is more to Purim that meets the bottle. If you are suffering from over-doing-it from too much Purim Partying, you actually miss out on the seriously great parts of Purim.
You see, Purim’s combination of customs and mitzvot make it totally unique in the Jewish year. No holiday has Purim’s power to unite Jews from all backgrounds and generate spiritual growth. If you want to make your Purim Great Again, if you want your Purim to be “off-the-charts”— then use these four steps to make your Purim truly memorable, enjoyable and rewarding.

There are four mitzvot for Purim – and each one is a step up a ladder of spiritual/material interaction and revelation of the Divine.

Step One: Listen To The Megillah aka Kriyat Megillah To relive the miraculous events of Purim we listen to the reading of the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, on Purim evening, and again during the day. Try to hear every single word of the Megillah – so make sure to turn off your cell phone! 🙂 When Haman’s name is mentioned make lots of noise and stamp your feet to “eradicate” Haman’s evil name. According to Kabbalah this noise has profound impact. It’s not just kid’s shtick. Click here for Pico Shul’s Purim Schedule.

Step Two: Give money to the Needy aka Matanot La’evyonim Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility. However, on Purim it is a special mitzvah to remember the poor. Give charity to at least two, but preferably more, needy individuals on Purim day. The mitzvah is best fulfilled by giving directly to the needy. If you cannot find poor people, you can donate online and I will hand out tzedakah to poor Jews for you on Purim Day. All of it goes to Tzedakah – we do not take any cut. How much? A lot. Seriously consider giving 10% of your monthly profits to help poor members of our community. You will feel very good and do a lot of good in the world. As with the other mitzvot of Purim, even small children should fulfill this mitzvah.

Step Three: Send Food Gift-Baskets to Friends aka Mishloach Manot On Purim we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending food gifts to friends and family. On Purim day, deliver at least two gift-baskets of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage), to at least one friend on Purim day. The more you deliver – the better! Don’t have time to pack your own? There are many stores that sell read-made baskets and only need to add your card! Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers. We travel around by minivan and the kids run up to houses and deliver the baskets.

Step Four:  Eat, Drink and be Merry aka Purim Seudah Purim is celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim Day, where family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. This feast should be over-the-top with courses, variety and duration. Join us at Pico Shul for our Purim Feast! It is a mitzvah to drink wine or other inebriating drinks at this meal – and that is where the tradition to drink on Purim originates.

Now that you have your blueprint, you can start filling in the details:

  1. Organize where you will be to hear the Megillah
  2. Get cash ready for poor and/or make online donations to worthwhile organizations helping the poor on Purim Day
  3. Shop for gifts for your friends and family.
  4. Reserve a spot for Purim meal, or make your own.

If you follow this four step Purim regimen, you will elevate your life, and the lives of many people around and the world. Have a safe, inspiring and delicious Purim!

President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump answered a question about anti-Semitism by boasting about his election victory


During President Donald Trump’s joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump was asked a direct question from an Israeli reporter about “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States” — on the same day that the Southern Poverty law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the United States, most subscribing to anti-Semitic views, rose in 2016. It also came after a six-week period in which Jewish community centers around the country were forced to evacuate in three separate incidents due to coordinated bomb threats.

Below is the question and answer from the news conference at the White House, with my annotations.

REPORTER: Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic — anti- Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder, what do you say to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?

And Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the president just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank? And if we could follow up on my friend’s question — simple question: Do you back off from your vision to the (inaudible) conflict of two-state solution as you lay out in (inaudible) speech? Or you still support it?

DONALD TRUMP : Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. [Turns to Netanyahu] You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

Trump, we know, often boasts about his Electoral College victory. But what connection is he drawing between charges of bigotry and the strength of his win in the election? Is it possible that he tuned out after the first part of the question — in which the reporter mention “your election campaign and even after your victory”? Is he stalling before answering the anti-Semitism question? Or, and this seems likely, is he suggesting that whatever criticisms people have about his unusual and taboo-breaking campaign, he was vindicated by the electorate?  He has used this tactic before: On Nov. 14, right after the election, Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” asked if was going to going to release his tax returns. Trump replied, “Obviously, the public didn’t care because I won the election very easily.”

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.

It’s notable, given the question and the fact that he is standing next to the prime minister of the Jewish state and in front of the Israeli flag, that Trump makes no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism at this point. Specific attacks on Jews (and some of his supporters during the campaign launched some doozies, especially at journalists like Julia Ioffe and Jonathan Weisman) are subsumed under “every other thing that is going on.” Jewish antennas are on high alert on this point, especially after the White House released an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that did not mention the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided.

Did Trump just acknowledge he won the election only because we have a “very divided nation”? If so, that would contradict his early boast about the size of his victory, as well as his repeated unsubstantiated claims that his loss of the popular vote was only the result of massive voter fraud.

And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

Trump has been significantly less inclined than most recent presidents to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him, although he did say in his inaugural address, “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.

When Trump finally gets around to mentioning Jews, he has five in mind: son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, Kushner’s wife Ivanka and their three children. For some in the Jewish community, his Jewish relatives are all the evidence they need that Trump will not tolerate anti-Semitism. Defending Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, against allegations of anti-Semitism, the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein wrote in November, “Would Trump’s Orthodox Jewish daughter Ivanka, whose children go to an Orthodox day school, ever allow an anti-Semite to work with her father?”

But other Jewish groups felt Trump did not do enough during the campaign or since to send a strong message to bigots and white supremacists that they weren’t welcome in his coalition. The Anti-Defamation League wasn’t satisfied with Trump’s response today, tweeting, “Troubling that @POTUS failed to condemn real issue of anti-Semitism in US today.”

I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.

And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.

OK? Thank you.

On the campaign trail, Trump often invoked “love” as a solution to America’s racial and religious divides, as he did after winning Indiana in the Republican primaries: America, he said, which “is very, very divided in so many different ways, is going to become one beautiful loving country, and we’re going to love each other, we’re going to cherish each other and take care of each other.”

Minority groups might prefer a little less love and little more focus on the issues that concern them most, like, in the case of the Jews, a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism and a pledge to carefully monitor hate crimes and threats.

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Jewish leaders discuss Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day omission


Condemnation of President Donald Trump excluding Jews in his Jan. 27 statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day was across-the-board, with organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, which has been critical of Trump from the time of his candidacy, to the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has been supportive of him, criticizing the omission.

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the U.S. President’s Jan. 27 statement says, excluding “Jews.” “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

In the wake of the statement’s release as well as confirmation from the Trump administration’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, that the exclusion was intentional, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC)—whose founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration—issued a statement calling on the White House to update the statement.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center reiterates its call for Friday’s Presidential statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day to be updated to specifically mention the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazis,” the Jan. 29 statement says.

That update never came, much to the chagrin of Jewish leaders. In a Tuesday phone interview, SWC Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said because the Holocaust was focused on the systematic murder of Jews, any International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement neglecting Jews is not just wrongheaded, but dangerous.

“It has real implications in places like Europe, where, as we speak, in the last 10 days there were Muslims in a German [high school] who didn’t want to participate in a Holocaust memorial and one of their professors said we have to listen to their side and be sensitive to it,” Cooper said.

It is fine to remember non-Jewish victims, according to Cooper. In fact, Wiesenthal, himself, was committed to memorializing non-Jewish victims of the Shoah. The famed Nazi hunter and survivor’s insistence on doing so, however, did not detract from his devotion to remembering the primary victims, Jews.

“A generation ago, Simon Wiesenthal was basically the only major Jewish figure to also talk about non-Jewish victims of the Nazis. In fact, when the Roma [gypsies] were initially left off the [then-] new U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council [the governing body of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum] it was Wiesenthal who enforced the issue, saying they were also victims of the Nazis and they have to be on there,” Cooper said. “He spoke about it with great passion in those years … In the same breath he would also say it’s also important to remember the Final Solution…the only target of that genocidal policy were the Jews,” Cooper said.

In an interview, Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was active in the free Soviet Jewry movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which, experts say, was a cause American-Jews took on, in part, out of guilt of not doing enough to rescue European Jews during the Shoah, says Jews are “sensitive” when it comes to Holocaust remembrance.

“We’re sensitive. The Jewish community is sensitive to this. It’s not our egos that’s driving this. It’s the motive behind white-washing the name, white-washing the Jews out of the Holocaust experience,” he said.

“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd used the term “White-wash” when, this past Sunday on his show, he asked White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus if the Trump administration regretted not including “Jews” in his Jan. 27 statement.

“I don’t regret the words, Chuck,” Priebus said, as quoted by a transcript of the broadcast, available at nbcnews.com.

Priebus was not the only Trump administration official to defend the exclusion. On Monday, during a news conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the “nitpicking” that has been done to the statement is “pathetic.” Additionally, Spicer said a Jewish individual with relatives who were in the Holocaust helped craft the statement. He declined to name the person when a reporter asked if it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s Orthodox son-in-law, who drafted the statement.

On Monday evening, Politico identified Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president of Russian-Jewish descent, as the person behind the statement.

Cooper, for his part, said the Jewish “nitpicking,” to borrow Spicer’s words, is not demonstrative of Jews being overly-sensitive. The anger over the exclusion, he said, is about getting the facts straight.

“It’s not about being oversensitive; the Shoah is the Shoah. We would prefer if we weren’t the target but we were and if you’re going to make a statement and going to memorialize it,” he said, “you need to get it right.”

 

WATCH: Panelists parse Donald Trump’s America


How is the Jewish community reacting so far to the election of Donald Trump?

At a recent public forum on the new political reality for American Jews, the panelists and their audience struck alternating notes of fear, anxiety, uncertainty — and a touch of hope.

On Dec. 13, more than 400 people gathered at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles for a Jewish Journal Crucial Conversations event titled “The New Reality: Jews in Trump’s America.”

The evening’s healthy attendance, said IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous, one of the panelists, “reflects a really desperate hunger in the community to connect in what I hope will be a very respectful way about what the future might hold.”

The conversation was, by turns, surprising, hopeful and deeply uneasy, as when Brous declared the country to be in a state of “moral crisis.”

Joining the progressive rabbi onstage were Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Jonathan Greenblatt; Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet head of school; and Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll series and a former John McCain presidential campaign staffer. Jewish Journal senior writer Danielle Berrin moderated the conversation, which was co-sponsored by the ADL and the Shalhevet Institute.

Greenblatt kicked off the panel by sounding a rare hopeful note about Trump, of whom he has been a frequent critic.

“The notion of having Jewish children who are shomer Shabbos in the first family is pretty remarkable,” he said.

Having Jewish kin doesn’t give the president-elect a pass on hateful speech or action, Greenblatt said. However, “Those who say he doesn’t understand [Jews] and has no connection to us are wrong,” he explained later in the evening. “He does. That doesn’t, again, give him a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Brous dismissed the significance of Trump’s Jewish family.

“Forgive me for not being too reassured by the presence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. … I’m sorry but I don’t think she’s going to be our Queen Esther in this case,” she said, referring to Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and daughter, and the heroine of the Purim story.

Berrin called on the ADL’s Greenblatt to defend himself from accusations that he had taken the century-old civil rights watchdog in a partisan direction.

“I’m an easy target for those types of accusations, because I worked in the Obama administration, full disclosure, 3 1/2 years,” he said. “Full disclosure: I worked for the Clinton administration.”

But, he added, “No one accused me of being partisan when I came out against the Iran deal, much to the umbrage of my former colleagues in the White House.”

Much of the evening was spent grappling with the fact that nearly half of Americans who voted — and as many as a third of Jewish voters — chose a candidate who, to many in the audience, is synonymous with racial hatred and bigotry.

Berrin asked panelists to speculate, for instance, on why Orthodox Jews favored Trump.

“They saw President-elect Trump as the religious liberty candidate — the candidate who was going to say slow down for a second” on questions of progressive America’s moral standards, Segal said.

He added that Trump’s perceived favorability on Israel helped attract Orthodox voters.

But it was Schnur who provided the evening’s most comprehensive psychological profile of Trump voters: “The overwhelming majority of the people who voted for Donald Trump are not haters. They’re frightened.”

Brous agreed that not all Trump voters were bigots or anti-Semites. However, she said, “there was a certain amount of willful blindness toward those dog whistles and those explicit statements that were bigoted, anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic in order to support a candidate whose fiscal policies you might have preferred or whose Israel approach you might have preferred. And I think that is a moral crisis for our country.”

Berrin challenged her, asking, “Are you saying that 30 percent of the Jewish community was exercising willful blindness and lacks decency?”

Brous doubled down. “It’s not only 30 percent of the Jewish community. It’s 47 percent of the country,” she said.

Brous ended on a hopeful note, urging the audience to engage in the political process and not be despondent.  Segal pressed for continued civil dialogue.

“This is a very painful election for a lot of people,” he said, adding, “We need to be careful not to fall into our echo chamber, which is what got us here in the first place.”

Watch the full event here:

In the Trump era, imams and rabbis struggle with a strategy to counter anti-Muslim hostily


A year ago, when several dozen Washington-area Jewish and Muslim religious and lay leaders jostled for spots in a group picture, the mood was convivial.

The most novel item on the agenda for that November 2015 confab was bringing in non-Middle Eastern Muslims into the Jewish-Muslim dialogue. The meeting and the venue — an Indonesian-American Muslim center in Silver Spring, Maryland — helped “dispel the myth that Muslims are inherently of Middle Eastern descent,” a release said.

On Sunday, the meeting of the third Summit of Greater Washington Imams and Rabbis was better attended – a hundred or so leaders were on hand at Tifereth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in the District of Columbia, about 30 more than last year – and the group picture was just as friendly. But in that anxious “we’re in this together” way.

Following an afternoon packed with tales of Muslims enduring taunts, vandalism and bullying in schools, the host rabbi, Ethan Seidel, sang a Hasidic melody to calm the rabbis, imams and lay leaders as they scrambled into place (“short folks in front!”).

What changed? The name some said they could hardly mention: Donald Trump, the president-elect.

“Think of the rhetoric of a person I won’t name,” said Ambereen Shaffie, a co-founder of the D.C. chapter of the interfaith Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, addressing the group after the photo shoot.

Shaffie described Thanksgiving break at her parents’ Kansas City home, when all 40 people in her extended family said they encountered hostility in recent months, from bullying in schools, where younger relatives were called “terrorists,” to a fire set on her parents’ porch, to a bullet through the window of a male relative’s home.

She blamed Trump’s campaign, and his broadsides against Muslims, which included what an aide described as launching a database of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, a ban on all Muslims from entering the United States, a pointed religious-based attack on the family of a Muslim-American Army captain killed in Iraq and Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering as the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11.

Similar tales of harassment and threats against Muslims abounded at the summit, an initiative of several local dialogue groups and the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

Imams, rabbis, and Jewish and Muslim lay leaders posing for a group photo at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Washington, D.C., om Dec. 11.

And throughout the event, the Trump impact was often implied, if not explicitly cited.

The first session broke the gathering into lunch groups, and participants found printouts on their tables asking them to discuss how Jews and Muslims should “respond to the present social and political climate.”

“Basically, they want us to react to the results of the last election,” said Dr. Ira Weiss, a physician who is involved in the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Greater Washington, tossing the printout back onto the table. “Some of what Trump said during the campaign was not only intolerant but dangerous.”

The coming-together, where rabbis and lay leaders represented the spectrum of Jewish religious streams, was “especially significant at a moment of increased bigotry, when both communities are feeling vulnerable,” Seidel said in the release announcing the summit.

Police in Maryland’s Washington suburbs have reported a spike in vandalism, particularly in schools, that invokes Nazi imagery. Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have reported an increase in incidents since the election targeting blacks, Muslims, immigrants, the LGBT community and women. The latest FBI hate crimes report showed a 67 percent rise in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the past year.

In the roundtable discussions and in plenary sessions, participants struggled to pin down what they could do to ameliorate the current climate.

Participants described initiatives, like mosque and synagogue twinnings, that began after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when there was more of a national consensus that Muslims in America deserved protection from counterattacks. But these initiatives had been in place for years and had not prevented the acceleration of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

What went wrong? Participants seemed at a loss to understand.

Rabbi David Shneyer said his progressive congregation, Kehila Chadasha, had a post-election meeting with a strong turnout – 50 members from a 100-family community – and that one of its conclusions was to “hold media more accountable.”

“What does it mean, holding media more accountable?” Seidel asked.

“I can’t explain at this point,” Shneyer said.

Some participants said the rabbis, imams and lay leaders needed to break out of their bubbles of mutual affection and travel to the America that had elected Trump.

“We need to reach out to communities where the likelihood of a difference of opinion exists at a higher rate,” said Abdul Rashid Abdullah, representing the National American Muslim Association on Scouting and sporting a scoutmaster’s shirt.

Abdullah said he had been raised a Roman Catholic and converted to Islam when he was 18.

“I came from a household that’s probably supporting Trump,” he said. “By God’s will, I’m not on that route – but I could have been.”

Rabbi Sid Schwarz, a senior fellow at Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, outlined to the larger group what his lunch table came up with, including volunteering to register as Muslims should Trump make good on his campaign proposal to set up a national Muslim registry. (The ADL’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, proposed the same idea last month at his organization’s plenary in New York.)

But Schwarz also voiced a sense of helplessness that permeated the discussion.

“There’s got to be a more proactive agenda to counter the way Trump has characterized Islam as radical,” he said.

“How do you get out of the vacuum?” a participant asked.

“Reverse freedom rides,” someone else said. “We take our bubble into the hinterlands.”

Some practical ideas emerged, including synagogue members appearing outside mosques during Friday prayers bearing signs expressing support, and setting up volunteer systems that would accompany children to school who had been subjected to harassment there.

Rabbi Jason Kimmelman-Block, the director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, spurred participants to sign his group’s petition urging President Barack Obama, before he leaves office, to dismantle the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System, an existing structure that Trump could use to facilitate a Muslim registry.

Walter Ruby, the Muslim-Jewish relations director for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, said a 10-person steering committee would be chosen from those attending the meeting. Rabbi Gerald Serotta, the executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, circulated an outline of a rapid response system should hate crimes occur.

Ambereen Shaffie of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom addressing a Muslim-Jewish gathering at Congregation Tifereth Israel on Dec. 11.

Shaffie said Muslims and Jews should set an example by broadening the current paradigm of “utilitarian” collaborations — joining in legal challenges, for instance — to establish deeper friendships. She described how the women in her group, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, visit each other’s homes “when babies are born, when someone passes.”

“Loving someone else for the sake of God,” she said, is a means of “standing together as protectors, not defined by common victimhood, but a common heritage of dignity and love.”

Donald Trump Jr. retweets psychologist who believes Jews manipulate society


Donald Trump Jr. retweeted an attack on Hillary Clinton by Kevin MacDonald, a psychologist notorious for his theories of Jewish manipulation and control.

The Aug. 29 tweet itself had nothing to do with Jews or the theories that have made MacDonald popular among Holocaust deniers. In it, MacDonald ” target=”_blank”>reported by political commentator Charles Johnson on his website, Little Green Footballs, has drawn unfavorable attention. Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust historian, on Wednesday ” target=”_blank”>According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, MacDonald, a psychologist, has published a number of books and papers on his theories that Jews survive by manipulating larger populations to gain disproportionate access to resources. He has become popular among Holocaust deniers, white supremacists and anti-Semites.

In writing for the Occidental Observer, a web site devoted to “White Identity, Interests, and Culture,” MacDonald devotes dozens of columns to the subject of “Jewish influence.” In a recent article about Trump’s weak support among Jewish voters, MacDonald “>article on immigration, he accuses Jews of using “the holocaust [sic] as moral cudgel to promote Jewish interests in immigration and refugee policy.”

The Trump campaign has yet to respond to a request for comment from JTA. It is not Trump Jr.s first controversy regarding associations with the far right. In July, journalists ” target=”_blank”>headlines when he gave an interview to a white supremacist radio host; Trump Jr. later said he was unaware of the radio host’s background.

Donald Trump, the nominee, also has taken flak for retweeting — that is, forwarding with apparent approval — messages from white supremacists and, in one case, an image, apparently generated by anti-Semites, of Clinton, a pile of cash and a Star of David. He has been criticized for not forcefully repudiating white supremacists who support him, although in recent weeks, his 

From matzo balls to footballs, two Jewish brothers recall their journey to the NFL


At 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds, veteran NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz isn’t just a force of nature, but a product of good ol’ Jewish nurture.

“My size comes from a childhood that included an excess of matzo ball soup, latkes, and tons of white rice,” the 30-year-old jokes. “But of course my brother’s similar physique suggests that genetics had plenty to do with it.”

That would be his (only relatively) little brother, Mitch, 27, the Kansas City Chiefs’ newest starting right tackle, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 320 pounds.

As it happens, Geoff and Mitch Schwartz aren’t the first pair of Jewish brothers to play in the National Football League — they’re just the first to do so since 1923.

“Once we heard the stat, we realized just how rare this really is,” said Mitch, standing at the edge of the Chief’s indoor practice field after morning drills. “So we both thought it was important to share our story — for Jewish kids, and in general, about how we both wound up where we are.”

Indeed, the story of how two nice Jewish boys grew up to be a couple of “hogs” (an endearing and decidedly non-kosher nickname for offensive linemen) could fill a book.

Now it does.

Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith” lands in stores and online September 6. Co-written by the brothers, with novelist and humorist Seth Kaufman, it’s a lighthearted memoir about all the topics in the subtitle and how often they intersect. Sports fans will find plenty of insider info on the NFL and major-college football (Geoff and Mitch played for Pac-12 contenders Oregon and Cal, respectively). But from the opening pages — a scene of the brothers frying up latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, following their bubbe’s recipe — their Jewishness is front and center.

“The people who know us know that’s a big part of our identity, but I think it was important to share as much as possible in the book,” Geoff Schwartz told JTA from Detroit, where he spent the preseason as a member of the Lions. “I mean, my whole family — we’re proud to be Jewish and to be raised in the tradition and going to temple.”

Growing up in West Los Angeles — and attending Adat Shalom, a Conservative congregation — the brothers were always involved in sports. But neither started playing football until high school, in part because their parents didn’t want practices and games to interfere too much with Hebrew school.

In the book, the brothers quote their mother, attorney Olivia Goodkin, on her eventual acceptance of her sons’ football fate, given that each stood well over six feet tall at his bar mitzvah.“‘I started out worrying that they were going to get hurt — but then I realized it was the other players I should be worrying about,” she said. “‘They were like trucks hitting small cars. And I started to kind of feel like maybe this was their destiny.’”

As for their father, Lee Schwartz, a business consultant: “I just kvell,” he told Los Angeles’s Jewish Journal in 2012, on the eve of that year’s NFL Draft, in which Mitch would join his brother in the league when theCleveland Browns took him early in the second round. “It’s a surreal experience to see my kids on the field, on TV.”

Mitch credits his (slightly) bigger brother for paving his way on the field, in the kitchen and in life. Geoff was a seventh-round pick in 2008, and he’s a study of resilience: He’s endured multiple injuries and various ups and downs, from getting relegated to a practice squad, to getting cut, to getting signed to a big contract, to getting released again just before this season starts.

Meanwhile, after the Browns selected him with the 37th overall pick, Mitch started every game over four seasons in Cleveland. This spring, free agency landed him a five-year, $33-million deal with the Chiefs, making him one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league.

Whether tackling football, their faith or food, the Schwartzes write with the interested but uninitiated in mind — readers will learn the finer points of proper blocking in one chapter, find a primer on the lunar Hebrew calendar in the next. And if you’re hungry, just refer to the appendix of family recipes for step-by-step instructions on applying the perfect schmear (“Don’t overdo it; too much cream cheese will melt and run on a just-toasted bagel”).

The conversational memoir flows from one milestone to the next — personal, professional or often both. There’s October 27, 2013: “The Schwartz Bowl,” the brothers’ first and so far only on-field meeting when Geoff, then with the Chiefs, faced Mitch and the Browns in Kansas City. Then there is the weekend in 2014 when two life-changing moments coincided: Geoff’s wedding — a traditional Jewish affair on the beach at Santa Monica — happened at the height of NFL free agency frenzy.

Only hours after signing his ketubah, Geoff would sign the largest contract of his career.

The brothers also grapple with some of the compromises they’ve had to make in pursuit of their careers. “I’m very clear that when I have to, I choose football over the [high] holidays,” Geoff said. “Some people have a hard time with that concept. I don’t.”

But he does fast on Yom Kippur whenever possible, an act of atonement to which he devotes several paragraphs in the book. “Toward the end of a fast I usually feel great, like I’ve achieved something,” he writes. “I feel lighter, not physically, but mentally. I’ve endured, and I feel energized and clear.”

In the book, Mitch recalls a visit he made in the first weeks of his rookie year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He encountered a group of Orthodox teens who, upon learning he was a Jewish football player, started peppering him with questions and begging for autographs. “I think it takes experiences like that to make you realize just how much bigger it is than you think it is,” he said of being one of a handful of Jewish players in the NFL.

Of course, the brothers understand the special appeal they have to Jewish fans — after all, they’re Jewish fans themselves. The book traces their own family’s fascination with Jews in sports, from Hank Greenberg andSandy Koufax to Mark Spitz and Dolph Schayes.

Mitch delves into the lesser-known history of brothers Ralph and Arnold Horween, the Harvard All-Americans and stars of the Chicago Cardinals backfield, in whose NFL footsteps the Schwartzes eventually followed. He learned that the Horweens actually played under an assumed name — McMahon — which raises questions as to whether they were guarding against anti-Semitism in football, or perhaps feared disapproval from other Jews for playing football.

Though Geoff recounts a few blatantly anti-Semitic comments, many players they meet simply don’t understand, or misunderstand, what it means to be Jewish, he said. “People think it’s more complicated than it really is,” Geoff explained. “So we let them know how not-complicated it is.”

When trying to explain their traditions to teammates who might have “never been around a Jew before,” they find that food — like latkes and matzo balls — can be a good access point, Mitch said, “especially for linemen.”

Part of the motivation for the writing the book, according to Geoff, is  for the brothers to, well, start writing their own next chapters. “You don’t know how long you’re going to play — certainly not forever,” he said shortly before the latest cut. “And there’s a lot we want to do after football.”

For Geoff, that could be a career in media or writing —  this book is only his latest foray in communications. He co-hosts his own podcast, “Block ’Em Up,” and this summer guest-wrote the popular Monday Morning Quarterback” column on SI.com that’s usually penned by National Sportswriter of the Year Peter King.

Yet, the ultimate ambition is for the Schwartz brothers is to finally team up — as co-hosts of their own cooking show.

“Cooking has become a creative outlet for both of us, something we enjoy exploring and experimenting with. We love the improvisational element of cooking, and the social element, too,” Geoff writes. “Food, which is so important to us as athletes — it fuels our work — provides the forum for us to create meals that look good and taste fantastic.”

The brothers already prepped a “sizzle reel” of them interviewing a Beverly Hills chef  and then whipping up some saffron seafood risotto at home. The book details early talks with TV execs — it’s unclear whether the Food Network or the NFL Network were more interested — but “we’re definitely still working on it,” Geoff confirmed.

Two Jewish brothers in the NFL makes for a great story. But two Jewish brothers in the NFL with their own cooking show? That’s never happened before.

Seeds of Peace: The summer of our discontent


At age 15, I had barely interacted with a boy, let alone a Jew. 

For a teenager living in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2001, the Middle East was a faraway place of despair and blood, and I knew almost nothing about it. From my father’s BBC fixation, I’d picked up that it was a place where restaurants were sometimes blown up by suicide bombers. At the time, the idea of a war that came to the city streets strapped to the chests of men was terrifying and new. 

I was to learn a great deal about the nature of war when my parents allowed me to attend a summer camp called Seeds of Peace in the United States, just a few months before 9/11 transformed the world. Located in Maine, the camp was founded in 1993 by John Wallach — a journalist who had covered the Middle East for decades as foreign editor for Hearst Newspapers and the BBC. His radical idea was to cultivate future leaders from communities divided by conflict, with an initial focus on Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian teenagers. From only 46 campers in its first year, the program has by now grown to 300 teenagers each summer, including an American delegation every year. Headquartered in New York, the program has offices in Kabul, Afghanistan; Amman, Jordan; Mumbai, India; Lahore and Jerusalem, with more than 6,000 alumni who partake in regular local and international follow-up engagements. 

In the summer of 2001, I was a member of the first India-Pakistan delegation to attend the camp; a dozen of us came from Lahore and a dozen from Mumbai — that strange city by the Arabian Sea manufacturing the famed ballads of Bollywood. Our two nations have been at de facto war since 1947, when the decolonized Indian subcontinent was divided into two countries: Muslim majority Pakistan and Hindu majority India. Kashmir — the land of valleys — is the bloody legacy of that partition, with both countries laying claim to the northern state, where 12 million people reside. 

Despite rigid brainwashing endorsed by our respective education ministries, we quickly grew to be friends with the Indians. We laughed together in Urdu and Hindi, argued about cricket and spent hours debating our history, within days realizing we had been taught different versions of the same events. On the first morning after our arrival, I hung my head upside down from the top bunk to say hello to the enemy below. Her name was Tulsi Mehta, and, 15 years later, ours continues to be a great friendship.

The first time we saw the Israelis and Palestinians at camp, however, they were intimidating. They held onto a breed of anger separate from ours, they knew too much, they talked too much — on both sides they were the unafraid spokespeople for their states. Though they were the same age as the rest of us, nothing about them made them seem like children. Their war made our war seem like a bit of a farce; a sham skirmish fought through propaganda and by soldiers in faraway mountains we had never seen. 

In the years immediately after my summer in America, it was difficult to foresee the extent of the violence that would come to Pakistan, a relatively stable state with an enormous security apparatus. Nobody could have imagined that in only 10 years, the country would be left mutilated by suicide attacks, reeling beneath the weight of the U.S.-led invasion of neighboring Afghanistan, which morphed into domestic terrorism and major military operations in the north. War came marching down our streets, into our playgrounds, schools and bazaars, strapped to the chests of terrible men. 

So many years on, what remains of that camp in my memory is a hazy recollection of laughter and bewilderment. There was swimming, rock-climbing, singing and dancing, but also “dialogue sessions,” during which opposing delegations participated in daily three-hour debates. After one, a Palestinian boy ran by our group in tears, then sat on the pier overlooking the lake until the sun nearly set. Two Israeli girls joined him, and I still recall the three small backs bent against the horizon. Sometimes it struck us that we were children hunted and haunted by each other’s people. Most of the time, we forgot.

At that age, we did not comprehend the profound impression the camp would make on our lives, freeing our minds in ways that would affect us as we became adults, parents, professionals and leaders in a world of ever more globalized conflict. I know politicians, writers, activists and soldiers who are Seeds graduates. Many of us have gone on to become journalists, among us Mujib Mashal, now a reporter for The New York Times, who was part of the first Afghan delegation to attend the camp in 2002; and Nergish Sunavala, a reporter for the Times of India, who was at camp with me. I recognize the skinny girl with the gentle voice and bushy hair in the impassioned stories she writes for her country.  

Most of the campers who attended Seeds of Peace were chosen by their governments, and we came armed with sacred agendas, in the end surrendering the only truths we knew to the cause of civic discourse. As true of the Palestinian refugees and the Israeli Jews, the Pakistanis and the Indians, Seeds of Peace broke us all. Though it has now been 15 years since I first ate at a table with Jews and Hindus, those lessons guide my hand when I write my stories even today. I have Jewish friends from camp with whom I am still in touch, and knowing them has made it easier for me to challenge the problematic generalizations rampant in Pakistan’s religious and political discourse. Nobody could have anticipated then how much more important this would become for us, that in just a few months, our conflicts would merge and re-create themselves in almost all regions of the earth. This changing world order made the inclusion of a U.S delegation all the more important, with young American campers able to engage without bias in political dialogue with Afghans, Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians and Pakistanis, to name a few — people they might never otherwise encounter in their lives.

Attacks of terror occur daily around today’s world, like the trio of suicide bombs that went off in Istanbul, in Europe’s third-busiest airport last week, targeting the heart of Turkey’s internationalism. Or, two days later, the horrifying, senseless murder of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel as she slept in her Kiryat Arba bedroom.

The hate, racism, corruption and violence of war is now so pervasive that no place is truly safe from it, except for, perhaps, the minds of children, where different ideas may still flourish like they did in ours. 

It was a great gesture of grace for our parents to knowingly expose us, their children, to Seeds of Peace — to a narrative that would challenge theirs. For Palestinian and Israeli families, I imagine this act of letting go must be downright traumatic. Still, it leaves me with great hope in the institution of parenting, and the belief that even in cynical and fearful adult hearts, there exists the awareness that there is a better way to win our wars. 

Amal Khan, a journalist from Pakistan where she serves as features editor at The Nation, is currently contributing to the Jewish Journal as part of her fellowship with the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

After tour of mega churches in Brazil, head of Jewish-Christian group promises 850 new olim from cou


U.S.-born Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein completed a two-week tour of Brazil’s mega churches to raise money to bring local Jews to Israel — drawing the ire of Israel’s official aliyah body.

On Monday, a day ahead of his departure from Brazil, Eckstein told JTA that his Jewish-Christian group will help hundreds of Brazilian Jews make aliyah, or immigrate to Israel, this year. His tour was also designed to drum up support for Israel among Brazilian evangelicals.

“Next week, the first group of Jews from Brazil will make aliyah with us and we expect to bring a total of about 850 Brazilian olim [immigrants] to Israel by the end of 2016,” Eckstein wrote in an email, claiming his group brought some 4,000 Jews from around the world to Israel last year.

Yigal Palmor, the Jewish Agency’s director of public affairs and communications, rejected Eckstein’s figures and slammed his group, the Jerusalem-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Palmor said the Jewish Agency is the only organization empowered by the Israeli government to handle aliyah.

“Their parasitic action consists of pretending to be mandated by the government of Israel or to substitute themselves to The Jewish Agency, and then to lure gullible olim to board their flights by offering them cash money,” he told JTA by phone.

“In other words, they ‘bribe’ innocent olim, who had their aliyah visa prepared by the Jewish Agency, to concentrate on the IFCJ flights and thus to take part in a PR spectacle.”

The organization denied Palmor’s accusations. “Mr. Palmor’s remarks are complete lies, and nothing less than libelous,” IFCJ said in a statement to JTA. “He has apparently not learned the lesson from his previous embarrassment with regard to Brazil, which forced an official apology from the President of Israel to the Government of Brazil.”

In 2014, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin apologized to the administration of then Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff after Palmor called Brazil a “diplomatic dwarf” after Brazil recalled its envoy over the Gaza conflict.

Eckstein has sparred in the past with Jewish Agency officials over what he said was a lack of recognition of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, of which he is founder and chairman. The group is also known by its Hebrew name, Keren Leyedidut.

The Israeli government pays for new immigrants to fly to Israel and gives them money to be used toward rent and other startup costs.

In Brazil, Eckstein addressed churches with up to 5,000 members, part of Brazil’s rising evangelical population of nearly 50 million people — the second largest in the world behind the United States.

Last year, Eckstein met Brazil’s current president and then-vice president, Michel Temer. The official praised the visit, saying “Brazil is a global reference of harmony among religions.” Jewish officials also attended that meeting.

“Brazil’s Christian community feels biblically connected to Israel and is hungry to learn about the Jewish roots of their faith,” Eckstein said. “They want to go to Israel and visit the Biblical sites they have read about.”

He sees Brazil’s Christian community as natural allies for Israel, “a potential new front for Christian Zionism, a bulwark against intensifying anti-Semitism and Israel’s growing political isolation.”

A Brazilian-born Israeli envoy for the fellowship last week met with tens of potential olim in both Sao Paulo and Rio, and told them about financial packages they could be awarded by the group when making aliyah.

Aliyah from Brazil has risen sharply in recent years: 2015 saw the arrival of some 500 immigrants, a 70 percent increase over 2014 and more than double the 210 who came in 2013. For 2016, over 1,000 Brazilians have already initiated the aliyah process, the Jewish Press reported.

Baseball, Jews and the American dream


In 1903, the Yiddish-language Forverts published a letter from a Russian immigrant, who’d written to say he didn’t understand the point of the game of baseball, the sport so beloved by all Americans.

“What is the point of a crazy game like baseball?” the perplexed reader asked. “I want my boy to grow up to be a mensh, not a wild American runner.”

“Let your boys play baseball and play it well,” Forverts publisher Abraham Cahan wrote back. “Let us not raise the children that they grow up foreigners in their own birthplace.”

Six years later, the Forverts published a column that attempted to explain this strange game to its readers, many of them recent immigrants from Europe eager to leave behind the Old Country to become American. The piece was illustrated with a baseball diamond with Yiddish notations, including detailed explanations of the “defense party” and the “enemy party” — meaning the team in the field and the team at bat.

“To us immigrants, this all seems crazy, however, it’s worthwhile to understand what kind of craziness it is,” the Forverts said. “If an entire nation is crazy over something, it’s not too much to ask to try and understand what it means.”

More than a century later, Americans are still crazy about baseball. Major League Baseball is the second-largest professional sports league in the world by annual revenue ($9.5 billion in 2015), second only to the National Football League. And, more importantly, baseball, more than any other sport, has served as a means of assimilation for wave after wave of newly arrived immigrants to the United States, a ready bridge to connect with Americans and their culture.

Now, timed to the opening week of Major League Baseball’s 113th season, the Skirball Cultural Center is unveiling “Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American,” an acclaimed exhibition organized by the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia. The show will be on view for the duration of the baseball season, through Oct. 30, highlighting the sport’s role as an active player in America’s major dramas of the 20th and 21st centuries — immigration, racism and racial integration, wars, assimilation and acculturation. The exhibition also shows how baseball’s role in these phenomena was just as pivotal for Jews as it has been for other cultural groups, including Italians, Blacks, Mexicans, Japanese and Latinos, a particularly impactful group within Los Angeles baseball, which the Skirball’s installation especially focuses on.

“While we can see in the story of American Jewish life this important kind of connection to baseball as our national pastime, as a symbol of ideals, as a public display of Jews’ integration into American society, it has indeed played a similar role for other minority populations,” said Josh Perelman, co-curator of the exhibition and the chief curator at NMAJH.

The show emphasizes memorabilia and data, but also stories even seasoned baseball fans might not have been aware of — whether highlighting Jewish stars like Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, or more minor figures, like catcher Moe Berg and Thelma “Tiby” Eisen, the latter a Los Angeles native who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home and was an outfielder in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

“Chasing Dreams” is organized around four distinct sections and includes some interactive experiences, including a virtual-reality game that enables the visitor to experience playing in the field, and a cage (replete with a chain-link fence) where visitors can throw off a mound. (Just like Sandy Koufax!)

The exhibition opens with an introduction to the sport’s early history and key founders — ones whose names you might not know, like Lipman Emanuel “Lip” Pike, a 19th-century baseball star, who was not only the game’s first Jewish player, but also is believed to have been the first-ever professional baseball player. There’s also Albert Von Tilzer, son of Polish Jewish immigrants, who wrote in 1908 the iconic song “Take Me Out to the Ball-Game” with singer-songwriter Jack Norworth. On display is a reproduction of the original lyric sheet, along with the sheet music to “Jake, Jake, the Yiddisha Ball Player,” a baseball polka written by composer Irving Berlin and lyricist Blanche Merrill. There’s also space dedicated to Barney Dreyfuss, known among hard-core baseball aficionados as the Jewish German immigrant who bought the Pittsburgh Pirates and co-invented the first World Series championship — today one of the biggest annual athletic spectacles in the world. Visitors also can read an excellent reproduction of the 1903 World Series agreement, drafted and signed by Dreyfuss and Boston Americans owner Henry Killilea.

Sheet music for “Take Me Out to the Ball-Game” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, 1908. Courtesy of Andy Strasberg

Amid the baseball trivia is a pendant awarded to Deacon White of the Detroit Wolverines as part of the sport’s precursor to the World Series, which was named for a Jew — actress Helen Dauvray, who married John Montgomery Ward, shortstop for the New York Giants. From 1887 to about 1893, Dauvray personally awarded the Dauvray Cup and accompanying pendants to the winning team of the championship game between the National League and the American Association. The owner of the New York Giants, as it happens, was Andrew Freedman, son of Jewish German immigrants, and a successful businessman and Tammany Hall insider who bought the Giants in 1895, while in his mid-30s. Known as one of baseball’s most unpopular owners ever, he fought with everyone, including fans. The exhibition includes a Polo Grounds pass bearing Freedman’s signature from 1898 — the same year the short-fused owner pulled the Giants off the field after Baltimore Orioles outfielder Ducky Holmes exclaimed an anti-Semitic slur.

The show’s “Shaping Identity” section profiles players who found a home in baseball, and through it helped shape what being American meant for them. Hank Greenberg, who, with Koufax, is considered one of the greatest players in American professional sports history, is a linchpin of the exhibition. 

Jackie Robinson signs autographs on the first day of spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers on March 6, 1948. Donated by Corbis.

According to Birdie Tebbetts, Greenberg’s teammate on the Tigers, Greenberg — also known as “The Hebrew Hammer” — “was abused more than anyone except Jackie Robinson.” It didn’t help that Greenberg played in Detroit in the 1930s and ’40s, during the time of notoriously anti-Semitic inventor and manufacturer Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin, both of whom worked to poison many Americans’ attitudes toward Jews. 

Greenberg’s own Detroit Tigers uniform is on display in the show, along with a crown awarded him by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association as part of its “Sultan of Swat” award.

Hank Greenberg’s Sultan of Swat crown, bestowed in recognition of his 1938 season by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association. Photo courtesy of Steve Greenberg

Perhaps most touching — even more than his decision to not play in a crucial game on Yom Kippur in 1934 — is Greenberg’s original military identification card from 1944. Greenberg was the first player to register for the draft, in October 1940, and served 47 months — longer in World War II than any other player, during which time he did not play even one inning of his beloved baseball. He eventually became a member of the Army Air Forces in the Pacific theater, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Hank Greenberg’s military identification card from 1944. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.

“My country comes first,” Greenberg famously said.

Berg and Eisen are two of the lesser-known Jewish ballplayers highlighted in the exhibition. Berg wasn’t a particularly good baseball player by MLB standards, but the Princeton and Columbia graduate made his mark as perhaps one of the most intelligent people the game has ever seen, as well as being a spy for the predecessor to the CIA — the Office of Strategic Services — during World War II.

For her part, Tiby Eisen was born in Los Angeles in 1922 to Dorothy (Shechter) Eisen and her Austrian immigrant husband, David Eisen. In 1940, Tiby wanted to play football but was denied by a city council’s ruling that women couldn’t play tackle football in Los Angeles. Eventually, she pivoted to a sport where female involvement was more accepted — baseball, joining the all-female league in 1944 and becoming one of its most successful players in the league’s short, 11-year history.

Thelma “Tiby” Eisen, seen here in 1945, played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society

“Chasing Dreams,” though, like baseball itself, is not about only one ethnic group. As much as the show celebrates the role of Jews in baseball, as well as the role of baseball in bringing Jews into the American mainstream, “Chasing Dreams” demonstrates how the sport also served as a bridge between Jews and non-Jews, and likewise, for other minority groups striving to enter the American mainstream through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. 

Notably, there’s the iconic portrait of Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio, the Italian-American New York Yankee, and there’s the extensive space given to the “Overcoming Adversity” section, showing the journey of Black Americans like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, and Mexican Fernando Valenzuela, Cuban Raul Lago and Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente, as well as Japanese-born Ichiro Suzuki. 

One particularly jarring set of letters can be found in an exchange between the Washington baseball club and its minor league team, the Chattanooga Lookouts, in December 1953, six years after Robinson integrated the sport. The Washington team was one of only a handful that had not yet signed a Black player.

Ossie Bluege, director of Washington’s “farm league” operations, wrote to Lookouts owner Joe Engel that Lago had applied to attend a Nationals baseball camp in Florida, cautioning that “whether he is colored or not” would be determinative in whether he could attend.

“If he’s white all go and well, if not, he stays home. …” Bluege typed, adding in his own hand below that, “If any colored blood want to know now.” Engle then wrote to the American Club in Havana, “If Raul Lago has any colored blood at all, I do not want him to come to Winter Garden.” They got the response they needed to give Lago the green light:

“NO COLORED BLOOD AT ALL, POSITIVELY WHITE, AS SNOW BALL.”

From the perspective of today’s world of multiracial and multiethnic teams, that things like this happened in baseball seems bizarre, but even this ugly interaction is part of what makes baseball, as Perelman said, “a mirror for our society, revealing all of our strengths and all of our things that we have to celebrate as a nation, but also the challenges we face and the ground we still have to cover.”

Throughout its history, baseball has, Perelman believes, charted a sort of “chronology of ethnic identity and minority acceptance” in America — the game reveals the nation’s shortcomings, even while it serves as a proxy for America’s remarkable success in overcoming those deficiencies.

Today, the advancement of Jews or Italians or Blacks in American sports is no longer at issue. But baseball can still be seen as serving an acculturating role for Latino immigrants and their descendants.

“The meaning of diversity in baseball is very much today centered around the Caribbean and South America,” Perelman said. “It is part of the ongoing story of the sport that how diversity is defined in baseball changes over time and illustrates the nature of immigration and ethnicity at a particular moment in American history.”

Gabriel “Tito” Avila Jr., founder of San Francisco’s Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum, describes baseball as a “catalyst” for Latino assimilation into American culture, and said the sport has helped acculturate and assimilate Latino Americans since Colombian-born Lou Castro became the first Latino professional baseball player with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902.

The main issue with Latino involvement in professional baseball wasn’t their ethnicity or national origin — it was their skin color, and, in fact, Latinos and Blacks shared a particular bond, because many of the Black Latinos (Afro-Cubans, for example) played with African-Americans in the Negro Leagues. It wasn’t until Minnie Miñoso, a Black Cuban, debuted in 1949 with the Cleveland Indians that a Black Latino broke the crumbling color barrier that Robinson cracked two years earlier.

Avila, 65, is a son of Puerto Rican immigrants and grew up in New York City playing stickball, handball and baseball in the streets with the other Latino kids in his neighborhood. He went on to play semi-professional baseball and opened the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum in 1998.

“It’s a different game altogether [today],” Avila said, pointing out that Latinos, for many years now, have moved well beyond the sport’s periphery, with players like Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez and Alex Rodriguez cementing Latinos’ place in the game much as Greenberg and Koufax and Robinson did decades ago. “We’ve got superstars. We’ve got players that have put us deep in the game of baseball in every position.”

Adrian Burgos, a history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who specializes in Latino sports history, added that what distinguishes Latino baseball players from those in other immigrant groups is that Caribbean Latinos have a rich baseball history dating back about as far as that of Americans.

“Latinos have been playing this very effusive, ebullient, emotional, enthusiastic version of baseball going back to the 19th century,” Burgos said. Baseball for Latino Americans, according to Burgos, gives them a “common language” with their American neighbors. 

“They are already fanatics of the game,” Burgos said. “So what really helped them when they migrated to places like New York or Chicago or other urban areas throughout the U.S., the familiarity with baseball gave them an in to having conversations with their neighbors: ‘Did you see Gomez pitching against Greenberg? Did you see Clemente?’ 

“I think that baseball, more than any other sport, has served as a mirror of American society,” the show’s co-curator Perelman said. “Not to say that other sports don’t have their own stories, but in my opinion, baseball has been the most powerful and the most significant.”

Microsoft pulls tweeting robot after it expresses admiration for Hitler


Microsoft put the brakes on its artificial intelligence tweeting robot after it posted several offensive comments, including “Hitler was right I hate the jews.”

The so-called chatbot TayTweets was launched by the Seattle-based software company on Wednesday as an experiment in artificial intelligence, or AI, and conversational understanding. But the company was forced to quickly pause the account and delete the vast majority of its tweets after the chatbot posted a number of offensive comments, including several that were admiring of Adolf Hitler.

Along with “Hitler was right I hate the jews,” among other offending tweets, according to the International Business Times, were “Bush did 9/11 and Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey we have now. Donald Trump is the only hope we’ve got.”

Asked if the Holocaust happened, the chatbot replied: “It was made up,” followed by an emoji of clapping hands.

The robot also tweeted its support for genocide against Mexicans and said it “hates n—–s,” according to the International Business Times.

In a statement to IBTimes UK, Microsoft said it was making some changes.

“The AI chatbot Tay is a machine learning project, designed for human engagement,” Microsoft said. “As it learns, some of its responses are inappropriate and indicative of the types of interactions some people are having with it. We’re making some adjustments to Tay.”

As of Thursday morning, all but three of Tay’s tweets had been deleted from the account, and no new tweets had been posted in 11 hours.

Are we still allowed to cheer?


There’s a new sin in town – it’s not heckling or insulting or bullying.

It’s cheering.

Apparently, we’re no longer allowed to cheer, if who and what we’re cheering offends certain Jews, mostly liberal Jews.

I was there on the night of March 21 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, when thousands of Jews attending the AIPAC policy conference cheered Donald Trump’s full-throated defense of Israel, including his sharp criticism of President Barack Obama. These cheers evidently have upset and offended a lot of Jews.

Even AIPAC felt a need to apologize for the crowd’s reaction, as incoming President Lillian Pinkus read a statement saying, “We are disappointed that so many people applauded the sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”

“My personal discomfort with Trump’s speech wasn’t just with what he said,” wrote Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner. “My discomfort — in truth, my shame — was with the reception he received.”

Simply put, many critics feel that cheering for a man who has violated all standards of decency is shameful and immoral. Of course, the Jews who cheered for Trump were doing what most Jews have always done at AIPAC conventions: They were cheering any message they considered pro-Israel, whether the messenger was Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton.

Let's remember that many of these same Jews used to cheer for the dream of peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians, in the heady days before Israel got ambushed by reality. Peace lovers everywhere have been burned, if not traumatized, by these three events: 

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, backed by President Bill Clinton, made a generous offer to end the conflict and got rewarded with a Second Intifada that murdered over 1,000 Jews.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated all the Jews of Gaza and got rewarded with 15,000 Hamas terror rockets.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous peace offer and got rewarded with more Palestinian rejection and the continuous spreading of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism.

As this hard reality was shaping Israeli consciousness, the threats to Israel only increased. The Middle East exploded with even more radicalism and Islamic extremism. Today, ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas, all committed to Israel’s destruction, surround the Jewish state, while an empowered and genocidal Iran proudly declares its intention to annihilate Israel.

Evidently, none of that context seems to matter to the critics of the AIPAC crowd that dared to cheer the pro-Israel message of Donald Trump. They can’t imagine that, for one night at least, a sincere and instinctive desire to protect Israel against vicious enemies would trump other concerns.

Why is it “shameful” to put Israel at the top of your priorities while attending a conference that puts Israel at the top of its priorities? Why can’t critics allow some space for priorities that differ from their own?

What critics don’t seem to understand is that when you characterize cheering as “shameful,” it’s another form of bullying, of saying, “Don’t you dare cheer this man under any circumstances or I will publicly shame you.” 

If we continue with this line of thinking, should we admonish any crowd that cheers someone we despise? Is it “shameful” that African-Americans cheer Reverend Jeremiah Wright because the reverend is a disgusting anti-Semite? 

Beyond the sanctimonious pretensions of admonishing crowds, what the critics also seem to miss is that this “new AIPAC” crowd hasn’t become more partisan, it’s become more realistic. With the incredible dangers facing Israel today, they’re simply more in tune with Israelis who have to live with those dangers.

It’s not a coincidence that over the past decade, the peace camp in Israel has shrunk. It has fallen victim to the harsh realities of its increasingly violent neighborhood and especially to the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize a Jewish sovereign state– no matter where its borders are drawn. No amount of worshipping Jewish values can change the primitive reality of having next-door neighbors who want to kill your children rather than make peace.

It is reality that has moved to the right in Israel, not Israelis.

The AIPAC crowd the other night didn’t cheer Trump, they cheered his strong defense of Israel. They did not suddenly become “right wing” carnivorous Trump voters. They internalized the many threats to Israel’s survival and channeled the sentiments of ordinary Israelis.

If they feel like exercising their right to cheer a pro-Israel message from a potential future president, even one we abhor, who are we to bully them and tell them to shut up?

There are good reasons why Europe’s Jews are so worried


The Weimar Republic, Germany's flawed experiment in democracy in the 1920s, has become today's paradigm for the failure of state and society. By the end of Weimar, the government seemed to have lost control – vigilantes from the political extremes claimed they were keeping the streets safe while beating up vulnerable minorities, above all Jews. So it is shocking when citizens in Germany and France – and elsewhere in Europe – increasingly cite Weimar when discussing their society today.

The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar's combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the “system.” Though Germany's 1919 constitution, written in the city of Weimar, was widely viewed as a model document, throughout the 1920s the constitutional dream seemed ever more disconnected from public life.

The political leaders of France and Germany today deplore anti-Semitism and make striking gestures of solidarity with their country's Jewish population, but the gestures seem helpless. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by such bodies as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is on the rise. Many Jews in many European countries, but above all in France, are contemplating leaving because they believe their homelands have become so unsafe. The political establishment tries to reassure them with the argument that the parallels with 1933 are really too much of a stretch.

To a degree, the reassuring voices are correct. Many of the most prominent recent European incidents are not the outcome of an old-style anti-Semitism in France or Germany. Indeed, the right-wing French National Front under Marine Le Pen has distanced itself from its older positions – as articulated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial after calling the wartime Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman.” In fact, today's National Front sometimes refers to Israel as an ally against Islamism. In the new grass-roots anti-immigration movement in eastern Germany, PEGIDA, the explicit target is “Islamicization,” and Israeli as well as Russian flags were prominently displayed in some of its early rallies.

At the beginning, Weimar's political institutions were skillfully designed to be as representative as possible. Most Germans viewed their society as remarkably tolerant. German Jews in the 1920s often emphasized that they lived in a more inclusive society than France's, which was still riven by the legacy of the Dreyfus case, when the army and the church prosecuted an innocent Jewish officer for espionage, or than the United States', where prime real estate and universities were often not open to Jews.

This misconception about German stability lasted a long time, indeed extending for a time after Adolf Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Right up until April 1933, when the regime launched a “boycott” of Jews, many German Jews refused to accept that anti-Semitism could be politically serious.

Today, the most obviously violent threats clearly come from Islamic terrorism, from groups affiliated to or imitating Islamic State. That is the story of the attack on the Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four were killed last January, which came in the wake of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is also cited to explain the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or of some of the many synagogue attacks. The Agency for Fundamental Rights even tries to register incidents separately and attributes some of them to “foreign ideology,” meaning radical or jihadist Islamism.

Yet the jihadist incidents are – in numerical terms – a minority. There is, however, an intellectual contagion, in which native far-right radicals often use anti-Israel and anti-American slogans that proliferate in the Middle East as part of their anti-Semitic arsenal. In France and Britain the “quenelle,” a version of the Hitler salute, popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala has become popular with the racist right.

In addition, arguments about anti-Semitism have spilled over into the discussion of the refugee crisis confronting Europe. For some, the large-scale inflow of more than a million refugees in one year, from the Middle East and North Africa, is bound to lead to an inflow of actual terrorists, who can easily conceal themselves in the crowds of migrants. But it is also being blamed for a possible influx of terrorist ideas. Anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available in the countries from which migrants are moving; and anti-Semitism, usually linked to anti-Israelism, is a natural ingredient of the social and cultural milieu that is moving into Europe.

Critics of large-scale immigration use the supposed anti-Semitic culture of many migrants as an argument against migration. They then make a case about the superiority of their native or indigenous culture – which can also, paradoxically, include hostility to aliens. So Jews feel vulnerable on two fronts: vulnerable because of who is attacking them, and vulnerable because of who is defending them.

The classic liberal answer to the new threat is that the state has an absolute and unconditional duty to protect all its citizens. That is the position that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insistently, and rightly, defend.

But many people will also ask whether the state can really offer so much security. It is increasingly obvious that the police are overstretched. That was true even before the flood of refugees. A long trial currently under way in Munich, Germany, has highlighted the way in which the intelligence service that was dedicated to “protection of the constitution” Verfassungsschutz) against right-wing terrorists was for a long time blind to the threat. Instead, it had undermined its efforts by engaging members of far-right-wing groups as informers. Dealing with the new kinds of threat demands a far greater security presence, as well as new methods of surveillance.

As more and more incidents demonstrate police ineffectiveness, new groups will mobilize for self-protection. The incidents on New Year's Eve in Cologne and in other German cities, in which criminal groups, composed largely of migrants from North Africa, stole from and sexually harassed women, have led to the formation of citizens' patrols. In many cases, the personnel of these patrols come from the far right and its sympathizers.

That brings the story back to Weimar. In the last years of the republic, German streets were controlled not by the police but by paramilitary groups, of the left (the communist Red Front Fighters' League) as well as the right (the Nazi Stormtroopers). Then, even the parties of the center believed that they, too, needed their own defense organizations, and built up their own leagues. When the government tried to ban the Nazi Stormtroopers, the army objected on the grounds that it believed it could not effectively fight all the different leagues simultaneously.

One lesson of Weimar is that it is very dangerous for the state to give up its legal monopoly of violence. One key feature that makes modern life civilized is precisely that we don't take the law into our own hands. But the existence of threats, real or imagined, creates a great deal of pressure for “self-defense.”

There is a second, related lesson. Violent and ostensibly antagonistic ideologies may be quite capable of fusing. Sometimes in Weimar, the far right and far left just fought each other; on other occasions, they joined together in attacking the “system.” Today in Europe, there are the same curious blends, sometimes of jihadism with traditional anti-Semitism, or anti-jihadism and anti-immigrant populism with traditional anti-Semitism.

The fusing of dangerous ideologies makes members of small groups vulnerable. They are additionally vulnerable when the state promises protection that it cannot actually deliver. That is why Europe's Jews are so worried.


Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and professor of history and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “A German Identity,” “Making the European Monetary Union” and “The Deutsche Bank and the Nazi Economic War Against the Jews,” among other books. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Coen brothers on #OscarsSoWhite: We write what we know – Jews and Minnesotans


Asked about diversity in Hollywood last week, the Coen brothers defended to the Washington Post their history of making movies about Jews and Minnesotans.

The Oscars So White controversy, #OscarsSoWhite, may reflect a real problem, the film writing-directing-producing duo agreed: Money drives commercial movies, people who invest money want more of what has worked in the past and it’s daunting for minorities to break into that cycle.

But the brothers balked at the notion that film creators bear personal responsibility for promoting diversity, arguing you write what you know.

“Take any particular actor or writer or filmmaker, and you go, ‘Your movies should be more this or more that or more the other thing,'” Joel Coen said. “The only sane response is that you can only write what you can write. You can’t sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write something that follows the dictates of what the culture thinks should be happening, in terms of cultural diversity in storytelling.’ To be honest with you, that’s completely lunatic.”

Ethan Coen added: “We actually write movies in which the characters are Jews or Minnesotans.”

True enough. They’ve done Jews (“Barton Fink”), wannabe Jews (“The Big Lebowski”), Minnesotans (“Fargo”) and Minnesotan Jews (“A Serious Man”).

Even sticking to what they know has gotten them into trouble.

“You say, ‘Look at the work.’ And then they go, ‘Well, this character is Jewish and is a bad guy.’ Somehow in their minds, that’s implying that in our minds the Jewish characters stand in for all Jews,” Joel Coen said. “Like I say, you can only write what you can write. If the question is whether or not there should be more people involved in the process, with more diverse backgrounds, so that what they write reflects a greater amount of diversity — that the business itself should be more open to people of different backgrounds, so that those stories come in — that’s a legitimate thing to talk about. The other thing is crazy.”

“Hail, Caesar!” focuses on another community the Coen brothers have come to know — the Hollywood film industry. The film focuses on the making of a film, also called “Hail, Caesar!” starring Kirk Douglas-like actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Unsurprisingly, there are some Jews on set.

In an exquisite Jew-out-of-water scene, studio executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) convenes a group of clergy to review the “Hail, Caesar!” script and make sure it doesn’t offend any religious sensibilities. There’s a Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, a Greek Orthodox priest — and a rabbi.

The rabbi struggles at length to politely explain that however Jesus is portrayed in the film, Jews won’t be offended because to Jews, the Christian messiah is simply the “Nazarene.” The acutely funny five minutes encapsulate what it is to be a Jew in the Diaspora.

Do stabbings of French Jews mean end of ‘Marseille miracle’?


Only three years ago, the Jews of Marseille were able to congregate without security and in relative safety in their synagogues and community centers. While violence by Muslim extremists rose throughout France, it largely spared the southern port city, where 80,000 Jews and 250,000 Muslims live.

When I visited in late 2012, I was able to enter the unlocked door of the city’s main synagogue with no one asking questions – a far cry from the fortress-like security common elsewhere in France then and now. Michele Teboul, the president of the Marseille office of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities, back then called it the “miracle of Marseille.”

Today, that sense of relative safety has been shattered by a recent spate of stabbings of Jews, most recently of Benjamin Amsellem, a teacher who was attacked Tuesday near his synagogue. Amsellem used a religious book as a shield against his attacker, according to one news website, which carried a photo of the blood-stained volume.

The alleged assailant was a 15-year-old boy of Turkish-Kurdish descent, who lightly wounded Amsellem with a machete before being apprehended by police. The boy told interrogators he was inspired to commit the attack by the Islamic State.

Contradicting initial reports that police believed the stabber was insane, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it “a revolting anti-Semitic attack against a teacher” and promised “uncompromising action against those who target our unity in the republic.”

“We are living in a state of war,” said Bruno Benjamin, the previous president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire, the communal organ responsible for providing Jews with religious services. “Things can explode at any moment, from one second to the other. And we have learned to adapt to this new reality, which reached us later than it reached Paris, but reach us it did.”

The stabbing — the third such incident in Marseille since October — prompted Tzvi Amar, the current president of the Consistoire to call on local Jews to not wear kippahs in public. The statement was almost immediately rebuffed by leaders of French Jewry, including French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, who said: “We should not give an inch.”

Benjamin called Amar’s suggestion “unthinkable.

Teboul told JTA that taking off the kippah would be to “dial back hundreds of years during which Jews were able to practice their faiths and live freely as citizens of the French Republic.”

While she opposes “self-effacing measures that would serve to drive French Jewry underground,” Teboul nonetheless conceded that her city’s famed coexistence was either at a tipping point or had already been lost.

“A few years ago, our concerns were hate preaching by certain imams, by no means the majority,” Teboul said. “But the dissemination of hate online has changed all that, crossing a new threshold in the volume of minds it poisons, reaching new audiences and making me fear very seriously that the Marseille I knew and love has changed a lot, for the worse.”

Still, Marseille has faced fewer attacks than Paris, even taking its smaller Jewish population into account. In 2014, SPCJ, the French Jewish security service, recorded 186 attacks in the Paris region, where some 300,000 French Jews live — a rate of roughly one attack per 1,600 Jews. Only 36 such incidents occurred in Marseille, a roughly 30 percent lower rate.

Benjamin traces the problem to a self-reinforcing cycle of violence, in which one attack against Jews inspires others. After the slaying of three children and a rabbi in Toulouse in 2012, SPCJ recorded 90 attacks — 15 percent of the annual tally — in the 10 days that followed.

“If you want to know what happened to change Marseille over the past four years, the answer is Toulouse and Hyper Cacher,” Benjamin said, referring to the slaying of four people last January at a kosher shop in Paris.

Even so, interfaith work continues in Marseille. Marseille Esperance, or “Marseille Hope,” an interfaith platform set up by the municipality in 1991 is generally seen as having done much to improve relations through projects by youths from the Jewish and Muslim communities.

“Jews still wear their kippot on the streets of Marseille,” Benjamin said. “But gone are the days when we would not need guards. Now every aspect of communal life happens under protection by the military. They are in our schools, in our shuls, reminding us that we are no less threatened here than in Paris — or Israel.”

Islamic State says Cairo attack was response to leader’s call to target Jews


Islamic State said on Friday its members had carried out an attack on Israeli tourists in Cairo in response to a call by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to target Jews “everywhere.”

The group said in a statement released on the Internet that light arms were used in the attack, which took place on Thursday outside a Cairo hotel.

Egypt's Interior Ministry has said the attack was directed at security forces and was carried out by a member of a group of people who had gathered near the hotel and fired bird shot.

Security sources said the tourists were Israeli Arabs.

Islamic State's Egypt affiliate is waging an insurgency based in the Sinai which has mostly targeted soldiers and policemen.

The tourism industry – a vital source of hard currency in Egypt – is highly sensitive to attacks by militants which have slowed a recovery from years of political turmoil.

Militant violence has been rising since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. 

Hundreds of members of the security forces have been attacked in suicide bombings and shootings, which persist despite the toughest crackdown on militants in Egypt's history.

Left-wing Israeli says he helps kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews


A prominent Israeli campaigner for Palestinian rights was recorded saying that he helps Palestinian authorities find and kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews.

The recording was aired Thursday by the television program Uvda of Israel’s Channel 2. In it, Ezra Nawi, a Jewish far-left activist from the Ta’ayush group, is heard speaking about four Palestinian real-estate sellers, whom Nawi said mistook him for a Jew interested in buying their property.

“Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi is heard saying in reference to the Palestinian Authority’s counterintelligence arm. “The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them. But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”

In the Palestinian Authority, the penal code reserves capital punishment for anyone convicted of selling land to Jews. This law, which Palestinian officials defended as designed to prevent takeovers by settlers, has not been implemented in Palestinian courts, where sellers of land to Jews are usually sentenced to several years in prison. However, in recent years several Palestinian have been murdered for selling land. Their murders have remained unsolved.

Nawi was also documented obtaining information from a Palestinian who believed Nawi was a Jew interested in purchasing land. Nawi is seen saying he intends to give that information to Palestinian security officials as well. According to Uvda, an activist with the human rights group B’Tselem helped Nawi set up the would-be seller in a sting operation in which the seller would be arrested.

The recordings and footage were collected by right-wing activists who secretly recorded Nawi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Facebook Friday that the report “unmasked radicals among us, whose hatred for settlements has pushed them over the edge to the point of delivering innocents for torture and execution. Those who encourage murder cannot continue to hide behind the hypocritical pretense of caring for human rights.”

Islamic State leader threatens Israel, Jews


The leader of the Islamic State threatened Israel and Jews in a taped message that is said to be from him.

“The Jews thought we forgot Palestine and that they had distracted us from it. Not at all, Jews. We did not forget Palestine for a moment. With the help of Allah, we will not forget it,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said in the message released Saturday. “The pioneers of the jihadist fighters will surround you on a day that you think is distant and we know is close. We are getting closer every day.

“You will never find comfort in Palestine, Jews. Palestine will not be your land or your home, but it will be a graveyard for you. Allah has gathered you in Palestine so that the Muslims may kill you.”

The message was posted on Twitter accounts that have published Islamic State statements in the past. It has not been verified as actually originating from Baghdadi.

In a video released last month by the Islamic State, the group threatened to wage war against the Jewish people.