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.

You are an Islamophobe


Most thoughtful people recognize that the world is a complicated place. And most also understand that serious and stubborn problems are complex and not easy to solve. One of the most frightening and stubborn problems we face today is the terrible violence and suffering that we observe in the Middle East and North Africa, and which is being exported increasingly to many other parts of the world.

Why is it, then, that so many thoughtful people conclude that the root cause of this suffering is simply and entirely the religion of Islam? The horrific behaviors of some Muslims we observe today are hardly different from those of some Christians in other times. Think of the Crusades and the Inquisition, for starters. But most people do not assume that Christianity is inherently a violent and bloody religion.

There is a reason for our hyperbolic reflex. Violence perpetrated by Muslims triggers deep-seated anxiety about Islam borne of many centuries of cultural baggage. We are all Islamophobes. We come by it naturally.

Islamophobia has been deeply embedded in Western culture from nearly as far back as the birth of Islam in the seventh century. Here is why that happened (in a moment I’ll explain how it happened).

Monotheism engenders a religious perspective that assumes, logically, that because there is one God, there can be only one real Truth. Why would an all-knowing and all-loving God give different and contradictory revelations to different peoples? If different revelations appear to be inconsistent or contradictory, it seems impossible that they could have come from the same divine source. And they certainly can’t all be true. The logical religious response to this unimaginable situation is to conclude that only one can be correct. But then how does one determine which is the correct one?

That problem has never proven very difficult to solve. For most people, the answer is simple: ours is correct. All others are false.

1700 years ago and long before Islam came on the scene, Jews and Christians disagreed fiercely over this problem of conflicting revelations. Which of their communities was in possession of the real Truth? The argument remain unresolved for centuries; meanwhile both were persecuted severely by the pagan Roman Empire, which didn’t appreciate that believers in these religions refused to make offerings to the gods on behalf of the emperor.

Christianity finally won the competition when it became the state church of the Roman Empire in the year 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica. The change was drastic and very swift, and Christians at the time could still remember family members being torn by beasts at the “spectacles” in the Roman arenas simply for being Christian. The change from being a despised religion to becoming a beloved religion seemed miraculous. How could it be that within a generation, Christianity transitioned from a reviled religion to the official religion of the most powerful entity on earth?

Theologians and Church leaders at the time drew their own eminently logical conclusion: sic deus vult– “so God wills.” To the Church, history proved theology. The fact of Christian ascendency and domination proved that the Christian understanding of truth was the real Truth.

That perspective was a wonderfully satisfying way to see the world, and it was a successful worldview for some centuries.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, another group of monotheists emerged onto the scene. They came from the parched desert sands of Arabia in the seventh century and quickly became not only a successful competing religion, but also creators of a brilliant and expansive civilization. This new historical reality seemed to disprove the earlier Christian theology of supremacy. How could it be possible, Christians asked, that such an uncivilized people could become so powerful, so successful?

The Muslims, meanwhile, like monotheist believers before them, naturally assumed that their vision of truth was the real Truth. And given their amazing successes, they quickly came to the same conclusion that Christians had assumed for their triumph centuries earlier. The victory of Islam is the will of God. History proves theology.

The extraordinary success of Islam was a crushing blow to Christianity and the Church needed to find an explanation.

Various rationalizations were soon put forward to account for the extraordinary success of Islam. One of the earliest was penned by St. Theophanes, an eighth century Byzantine monk and chronicler who wrote that Muhammad was a clever and ruthless epileptic. In order to protect himself from ridicule when he fell into seizures, Muhammad invented the story that he went into trances in order to receive messages from a divine being.

Since Theophanes in the eighth century theologians and historians have come up with many scenarios to explain away the success of Islam, including the myth that the revelations Muhammad had received were not from God but from Satan. These and many other hurtful allegations have been circulating for centuries in traditional media ranging from Church histories to theological tracts, legends and folklore, art and music. The constant reinforcement of such falsehoods embeds them within the cultural assumptions of a civilization.  When they persist for long enough they seem conventional, natural “facts” of life.

And this explains how fear and anxiety about Islam became a part of Western culture.  When stories are told and retold countless times, they become part of the fabric of a civilization. They become, in effect an accepted fact.

The Chanson de Rolande is a classic example. It is a song and poem depicting the treacherous Muslim massacre of Charlemagne’s army when it had let down its guard after having accepted an offer for peace. The Song of Roland is the oldest work of French literature and became a template for the development of European literature in general. As it turns out, however, it wasn’t Muslims who caused the massacre, but a band of rebellious Basques. But no matter. Through countless stories, songs, turns of phrases and other means, the message of Muslim treachery became a basic part of European cultural assumption for centuries.

We Americans absorbed the bias through our cultural identity as an extension of European civilization. We come by it naturally, of course, but we have added to it as well. Our most obvious contribution has been through the movies.

Nobody in Hollywood sat down in the 1920s or 30s and planned to make Arabs or Muslims into villains. Their presumed villainy is simply an extension of cultural stereotypes. The first portrayal of an Arab hijacker in film, for example, was not about Entebbe in the 1970s, but a 1936 movie called The Black Coin in which an Arab threatens to blow up an airliner. And the 1920s Rudolph Valentino movies The Sheik (1921) and The Son of the Sheik (1929) already depict Arab Muslims as thieves and murderers.

So don’t be surprised at your Islamophobia. I have it too. It is passed on to us, as it were, with our mothers’ milk. But now that we recognize it, we need to think about how it affects our thinking about important issues.

As thoughtful people, most of us feel badly for those suffering in portions of the Muslim world, and we rightly fear the violence emanating from it as well. If we want to put an end to it we need to act effectively, and acting effectively requires smart analysis and good decision making. Attributing the problems simplistically to Islam is natural because of our cultural baggage, and it may be personally reassuring because it absolves us of all (even indirect) responsibility.

But that approach is doomed to failure because it does not explain what is driving the rage that fuels the violence. And it results in the demonization of an entire community. Succumbing to Islamophobia will not solve problems. It will only exacerbate them.


Reuven Firestone is Regenstein Professor of Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College, and author of Who Are the Real Chosen People? 

Vatican: Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews


The Vatican says the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity.

Instead, the Catholic Church must work with Jews and Jewish institutions to further dialogue and mutually understand and fight anti-Semitism, according to the Vatican, which pledged “to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies.”

The statements came in a major document released Thursday by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration promulgated in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council that opened the door to formal Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

The new document, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” discussed at length how Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Because of this, it said, the Church is “obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views.”

It added, “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

Goals in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, according to the document, include “joint engagement throughout the world for justice, peace, conservation of creation, and reconciliation” in a way that would make the religious contribute toward world peace. “Religious freedom guaranteed by civil authority is the prerequisite for such dialogue and peace,” it said.

“In Jewish-Christian dialogue the situation of Christian communities in the state of Israel is of great relevance, since there — as nowhere else in the world — a Christian minority faces a Jewish majority,” the document said. “Peace in the Holy Land — lacking and constantly prayed for — plays a major role in dialogue between Jews and Christians.”

Among other goals, the document said, were “jointly combating all manifestations of racial discrimination against Jews and all forms of anti-Semitism, which have certainly not yet been eradicated and re-emerge in different ways in various contexts.” It particularly stressed the need for “unceasing vigilance and sensitivity in the social sphere” and called for tangible joint Jewish-Catholic cooperation, such as in charitable activity to help “the poor, disadvantaged and sick.”

Welcome the refugees


In the 1940s, politicians and the State Department saw the war ravaging Europe and said only Christians could enter this country as refugees, and only a select few at that. No Jews welcome here. A favorite argument for turning away Jews fleeing Europe was that they somehow had been infiltrated by Nazis.

With ISIS on the rampage and war devastating Syria, among other places, many politicians today are singing a similar tune. Only a select few refugees can come in, and they must all be Christians, say Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.

“No Muslims welcome here” is the theme frequently invoked in the name of national security.

No Syrian refugees in my state, said 26 governors — all but one Republicans — who refuse to admit any Syrian refugees, whatever god they worship. That includes Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Rick Scott, whose states have some of the country’s largest populations of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Christie said not even “orphans under the age of 5 should be admitted.” Taking care of them would be too much of a burden, he complained.

Jewish-American leaders are struggling with the question of refugees. Many organizations have been raising money for humanitarian groups, particularly in Jordan, helping Syrian refugees, reports New York-based The Jewish Week, but when it comes to admitting them to this country, they urge caution.

Rabbi Mark Dratch of the Orthodox movement’s Rabbinical Council of America told The Jewish Week that Muslim countries should be pressured to take greater numbers. He’s right. Jordan and Turkey are overwhelmed with refugees, but the others could and should do a lot more.

But that does not mean our own doors should be slammed in their face, and Jewish leaders, more than most, should know that.

HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is virtually alone among Jewish organizations supporting President Barack Obama’s decision to admit 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that although Israel has treated some 1,000 wounded Syrians, it will not take in any Syrian refugees because the country is “too small.” Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog disagrees. “Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven.”

Some Republicans who aspire to be the leader of the free world sound like bigoted xenophobes. Most conspicuous are ones whose own parents were refugees from brutal dictatorships or are married to immigrants.

Their rationale is that some jihadi terrorists may sneak in with the refugees (one apparently who did was among those in the French attacks on Nov. 13), so all refugees should be banned. 

Critics like to point to the 9/11 hijackers to justify anti-immigration attitudes. Sen. Marco Rubio, who favored immigration reform before he was against it, said “some” of the hijackers “had overstayed [their] student visas.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said all 19 were here on expired student visas.

Neither presidential wannabe did his homework. All 19 had entered the country legally; only one on a student visa, which he did not overstay, and the others on tourist or business visas, according to Factcheck.org.

The only Jew running for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), pledged to stand against Islamophobia and racism and backed Obama’s decision to admit some 10,000 refugees. So have his two Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, both of whom suggested raising the number to 65,000.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said, “We can protect our safety and our humanitarian values,” and we shouldn’t “slam the door on them.”

But that’s exactly what Republicans want to do.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would shut down the government in order to keep them out. Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee have written to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding he block all funding for Syrian refugee resettlement.

Donald Trump, warning that Syrian refugees could be ISIS’ “Trojan horse,” said if he were president, he’d consider closing American mosques that have radical clerics and limiting civil liberties for all Americans.

Sen. Cruz (R-Texas), the son of a Cuban immigrant, said we should permit only Christian refugees because, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”

Has no one told Ted or Jeb about Dylann Roof, who killed nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C.; neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Cross, who got the death penalty last week for killing three people in 2014 in Kansas who he thought were Jews; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; or the Unabomber?

Or about those law-abiding folks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, the Army of God and the Phineas Priesthood?

And what about the mass murderers responsible for shootings at Newtown, Conn.; Virginia Tech; Aurora, Colo.; Centennial, Colo.; and Roseburg, Ore., to name only a few?

Ted and Jeb, there wasn’t a foreigner among them. No Muslims, as far as I could learn. All Christians.

Obama said, “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion. That’s not who we are.” He may not, but many of those who want his job do, and that should scare a Jewish community that remembers — or should — what it’s like to be shut out when the alternative is discrimination and maybe death. 

Douglas Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist; Washington, D.C., lobbyist; and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

More than four decades on, Jewish dialogue with Orthodox Christians still fragile


For two days, 38 leading Jewish and Orthodox Christian clerics and scholars sat in a hotel outside the Greek capital for a rare dialogue on relations between the two ancient faiths.

The talks, held last month, were only the eighth round since formal interfaith dialogue between Jews and Orthodox Christians began in 1972, and on the surface there was a warm and friendly rapport between the religious leaders as they discussed shared histories, ate together and attended a classical music concert.

But in a sign that the dialogue remains delicate, only in the last 15 minutes of the two-day session did anyone dare to broach the historic tensions between the two religions and possible steps to address them.

Deciding to finally address the “elephant in the room” in his closing remarks, the head of the Jewish delegation, Rabbi David Rosen, called for the Orthodox Christian leaders to issue a statement on the status of the Jewish people.

“A doctrinal repudiation that the Jewish people had been rejected by God could have enormous consequences,” said Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.

Rosen’s request was met with silence, raised eyebrows and the occasional shake of the head by the Christian delegates. In concluding remarks, the head of the Orthodox delegation, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, did not directly address the Jewish request, speaking only about the need for greater people-to-people contacts and his desire to include youth in the next round of talks.

What Rosen and several other Jewish participants were calling for was a grand gesture similar to the Catholic Church’s Nostra Aetate, the historic document rejecting the charge of collective Jewish guilt for the killing of Jesus. That document, which had its 50th anniversary marked last month, went a long way toward paving the way for improved Jewish-Catholic relations, and the Jewish participants in the Athens dialogue were hoping for something similar from their Orthodox interlocutors.

Jewish and Orthodox Christian clerics and scholars posing with the Israeli ambassador to Greece, Irit Ben-Abba, at an interfaith dialogue commemorating 25 years of formal relations between Israel and Greece. (Embassy of Israel in Athens)Jewish and Orthodox Christian clerics and scholars posing with the Israeli ambassador to Greece, Irit Ben-Abba, at an interfaith dialogue commemorating 25 years of formal relations between Israel and Greece. Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Israel in Athens/JTA

Rosen was careful to note that unlike the Catholic Church, Orthodox churches do not have a hierarchy with a single leader like the pope, and that “there had never been an institutional charge of deicide against the Jews from the Orthodox Church.” Nevertheless, Rosen said that such a statement from Orthodox leaders would go a long way toward eliminating “traditional prejudice” toward Jews.

The talks were part of a series of events commemorating 25 years of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Greece. The Orthodox Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest stream in Christianity, mainly centered in Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East.

Rosen said the cautious nature of the Jewish request is indicative of some of the difficulties faced in the dialogue.

“I would say that the Orthodox world is less self assured than the Catholic Church,” he said. “Most Orthodox churches have in some way been victims to someone at some time.”

Rosen added, “The challenge is to find a way to be diplomatic, respectful and still be critical.”

Perhaps the most significant sign of lingering sensitivities was the failure to directly address anti-Semitism in many Orthodox Christian countries — particularly in Greece, which has the highest level of anti-Semitic attitudes found in Europe, according to a recent Anti-Defamation League survey. The issue of anti-Jewish sentiment didn’t even make it on the agenda.

The Orthodox church has a mixed history of dealing with anti-Semitism in Greece. Its official position calls for coexistence among all faiths, and a few church leaders were instrumental in saving Jews during the Holocaust. But some senior leaders continue to preach anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, most prominently in 2010, when Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus told a Greek TV station that Jews orchestrated the Holocaust and accused “world Zionism of a conspiracy to enslave Greece and the Orthodox Church.”

“Some Greeks have prejudices, and there are some cases of specific persons who express their personal opinions, which you find in every religion,” said a representative of the Church of Greece who took part in the dialogue, yet requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the church’s behalf. “These do not represent the positions of the church.”

The representative added that the church believes “it is very important to engage and learn about other religions.” Yet a week after the conference, Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of the Church of Greece, dismissed calls for religious studies classes at Greek schools to focus on other religions apart from Orthodox Christianity.

Despite the underlying tensions, many participants thought that the mere existence of the talks was a positive achievement, even if there were no concrete developments. Most Orthodox leaders have limited interactions with Jews, despite the fact that Jews have lived in Orthodox countries for centuries and the faiths have daily contacts in Israel, said Bishop Jovan of Slavonia.

“Generally there is not a lot of knowledge on both sides about the other side,” the bishop said.

Jovan himself is very familiar with Jews, having worked eight years as a researcher at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust museum, while writing a book about the Holocaust in the former Yugoslavia. He also earned Israeli paratrooper wings in joint exercises while serving as a chaplain in the Serbian military. But he concedes that many of his colleagues do not have a similar level of personal knowledge.

And so the talks, which focused on varied themes, including “images of the other in Hellenistic and Judaic traditions” and common Diaspora experiences, still serve an important role in building relationships and changing attitudes.

“These meetings give a common language and dialogue for learning about each other,” Jovan said. “Ultimately, are we being human to each other or not is the meaning of our two ancient peoples.”

And the effects can spread beyond the confines of a Greek hotel, Rosen agreed.

“It is important because these religious leaders are multiplicators,” he said. “They take the message here and spread it to their peoples.”

 

No, there are still two pro-Israel parties


Last week, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) head Matthew Brooks told The Hill, “We as a Jewish community have to take a long, hard step back and acknowledge the reality … that today there is one pro-Israel party and that is the Republican Party.”

What a boneheaded thing to say – both because it isn’t true, and because it’s a sure-fire way to hurt Israel. 

(Full disclosure: I’m a proud RJC member.)

Let’s look at some of the ways we know the Democrats continue to support Israel:

• In a survey last December (https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/15/widening-democratic-party-divisions-on-the-israeli-palestinian-issue/), nearly three times as many Democrats said they want US policy to lean toward Israel than those who want the country to support the Palestinians.

• CNN found that Democrats were more likely to feel that Israel’s actions in Gaza last summer were justified than unjustified.

• In fact, 40 out of 55 Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted for a resolution offering strong support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas. None of the rest voted against. 

• There are many powerful voices within the Democratic Party taking Israel’s side even on hot-button and mostly partisan issues, such as the four Senators who voted against the Iran nuclear deal. One of them is widely expected to lead the entire Democratic caucus after next year’s election – Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

• All of the Democratic presidential candidates are on the record supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and defend itself against attack. Each has visited Israel at least three times.

Granted, a lot of those numbers are better, even much better, when the statistics regarding Republican Party are examined. But the question is not which party is best for Israel. Brooks says the GOP is the only pro-Israel party, and his claim is plainly not true.

In fact, at least some of the Democratic drift from Israel can be fairly laid at our own party’s feet. Every time we have treated support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative policies as a litmus test for supporting Israel as a whole, it was entirely predictable that support for Israel among liberals would diminish. In the last few years, our party (mostly with an eye on pro-Israel Evangelicals) has sought to make Israel a partisan issue, such as when it invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in a manner disrespectful to Democrats.

I would of course love all my fellow Jews to vote Republican (you should hear my conversations at various Shabbat tables and family events). But within today’s Jewish community, proclaiming the GOP the only pro-Israel Party is more likely to hurt Israel than to hurt the Democrats. The “social justice” mantra and irrational phobia about conservative Christians entrenched among American Jews means that given the choice, liberal Jewish Democrats will turn against a Likud-led Israel much more quickly than against a Clinton- and Obama-led Democratic Party.

Worse than being unwise, though, the triumphalist language is completely unnecessary. 

Let’s say Israel, God forbid, once again had to enter Gaza to stop rocket attacks, and prominent Democrats began to press Israel to withdraw. The RJC should put aside partisanship and say something like this:

“The Republican Jewish Coalition wishes to express its concern about the voices in the Democratic Party urging Israel to put the lives of its citizens in danger. We are glad to be allied with the seven Democratic Senators and 38 Democratic Congressmen who are on record against this move, and we encourage other Democrats to return to their party’s historic roots in supporting the only democracy in the Middle East, which is one of America’s greatest friends anywhere.”

Even if someday Democratic support for Israel really does dry up, Republicans still mustn’t trumpet that change, because Israel needs support from both parties. The fact is, sometimes the Democrats do control one or more branches of government, and when that happens, Israel supporters need to find an open door and a willingness to listen.

Certainly, if Matthew Brooks and the rest of the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition are more interested in GOP electoral success than the safety of Israel, they can continue declaring themselves the only pro-Israel party. But doing so shows American Jewry that they put political self-interest over defending Israel – which couldn’t be more off-message.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Most religious Zionists want Arabs out of Israel, study finds


During the previous wave of terror in Israel, 11 months ago, Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett said in a speech, “99.9 percent of Arab-Israelis are loyal to the State of Israel, and there’s a very small minority that acts against it.”

Apparently, his religious Zionist constituency disagrees.

A new poll by the Miskar agency, which surveys Israel’s religious Zionist population, found high levels of antagonism and mistrust toward Arab-Israelis. Contrary to polls of Arab-Israelis themselves, most religious Zionists believe that Arab-Israelis are hostile to Israel. A large majority see Arab-Israelis as a threat and would like to see the government push them to leave the country.

“The religious Zionist sector takes very extreme and unequivocal positions in terms of Israeli Arabs’ loyalty to the state, their posing an immediate and long-term security danger, and the need, therefore, for declarations of loyalty and a prepared plan for [population] transfer,” the poll’s analysis section read.

The pollsters surveyed 480 religious Zionists — defined by Jewish observance level and self-identification. The margin of error was 4.5 percent. Here’s a closer look at some of the major findings.

Religious Zionists view Arab-Israelis as an existential threat to the country. Four-fifths of religious Zionists believe Muslim Arab-Israelis are hostile to Israel and its Jewish citizens. Nearly 70 percent believe they pose a short-term existential threat to Israel, and 84 percent believe they pose a long-term existential threat. Less than one-fifth believe Arab-Israelis oppose violence and want to integrate into Israeli society.

These findings contradict the stated feelings of Arab-Israelis. According to a 2014 Israel Democracy Institutepoll, nearly 60 percent of Arab-Israelis “feel part of the State of Israel and its problems.” Nearly two-thirds feel proud to be an Israeli. Forty percent say integrating Jews and Arabs should be Israel’s top priority.

Most religious Zionists want Arab-Israelis to leave. A majority of religious Zionists support reopening a public discussion about the forced transfer of Arab-Israelis from the state. Three-quarters want the government to prepare a practical plan to encourage Muslim Arab-Israelis to emigrate. And should Arab Muslims stay in Israel, two-thirds of religious Zionists believe they should have to swear a loyalty oath to the state.

Most religious Zionists boycott Arab businesses. Seventy percent of religious Zionists support a boycott of Arab businesses. Less than 38 percent believe economic cooperation between Arab and Jewish Israelis is important.

Religious Zionists don’t believe Israel is racist toward Arabs. Only one-third of religious Zionists believe Arab-Israelis face significant racism. Only 17 percent believe Arab Muslims have difficulty integrating because of discrimination. And only 30 percent believe Arab-Israeli communities suffer from a lack of government investment, despite research showing that Israeli Jews receive greater government investment per capita than Arabs.

According to theIsrael Democracy Institute poll, a majority of Arabs-Israelis do feel discriminated against.

Nine more Jewish symbols UNESCO should claim for other religions


On Monday, news broke that UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, is to vote on a Palestinian-backed proposal declaring the Western Wall a Muslim site.

The last remnant of the long-destroyed Jewish Temple, the Western Wall is hands-down Judaism’s holiest site and arguably the most famous site in Israel. It’s adjacent to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — once the site of the Temple and now of al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam (after Mecca and Medina).

Jews are barred from praying on the mount by both secular and religious Israeli decree. But rumors among Palestinians that Israel was plotting to change this “status quo” sparked the current surge of violence in the country, despite the assurances of Israeli leaders that nothing was changing.

While Muslim and Arab leaders have long claimed Jews have no religious claim to the Temple Mount — even questioning the historic existence of the Temple — this is the first time they have gone so far as to claim the Western Wall itself.

But why stop with the Western Wall? Here are some other Jewish things UNESCO might want to consider claiming for other religions.

1. Hanukkah: It’s coming up, so if UNESCO acts quickly, Muslims could be enjoying eight nights of candle-lighting, latke-eating and gift-giving in time in no time. Maybe it can’t compete with Christmas, but it’s definitely more fun than Ramadan.

2. The Bible: Christians might enjoy this wealth of texts  — oh wait, they already do and call it the Old Testament!

3. Challah: These braided loaves are beautiful and delicious, but they’re also kind of fattening. We’ll let the Christians have them, so long as they promise to pronounce the guttural “ch” sound.

4. Bernie Sanders: OK, we were kind of excited about the possibility of him being the first Jewish president of the United States (even if no one thinks he will actually be elected). But Buddhists have never had a president either, and Sanders’ Vermont is chock-full of Buddhist-themed yoga retreats, so they can have him.

5. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: How many Supreme Court justices do the Jewish people really need? Let a Hindu have a chance to try on those nifty black robes and interpret the laws of the land.

6. Kippahs: These head coverings, also known as yarmulkes, make a great crocheting project, but they can be annoying the way they’re always falling off unless attached with bobby pins. Since the pope already wears a hat that looks like one, we hereby donate the kippah to the Catholics.

7. Yiddish: It’s expressive and colorful, but let’s face it: Outside the haredi Orthodox community, most Jews know only a handful of words in this linguistic blend of German and Hebrew. So, we won’t kvetch too much if UNESCO wants to donate it to the Protestants of the world.

8. The Star of David: It’s symmetrical and looks nice on a necklace or Israeli flag, but we’ll let the Taoists have it if they’re willing to give us the Yin-and-Yang symbol in exchange.

9. Natalie Portman: She’s gorgeous, talented and smart, and was born in Israel (which many people believe is really Palestine). Like most Muslims, she is critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just throw a hijab on her, and she’s Islam-ready.

The New York Times’ ‘Big Lie’ about the Temple Mount


Last week, I opened The New York Times to Rick Gladstone’s article, “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place,” happy that the newspaper of record would explain to its audience the historical context of this embattled piece of real estate.

As I read on, I was horrified.

“The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone,” Gladstone reported.

The article received an avalanche of comment from scholars and lay readers, Jews and Christians, who well understood that beneath this article was an attempt to problematize the very existence of the Jewish temples on Mount Zion.

While it is true that the temple shrine has not been found, the entire platform of the Temple Mount was built by Herod and his successors and are part of the temple complex — visible to the eye and described in detail by the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and others. The attempt to throw doubt on this is obfuscating, taking advantage for political or religious benefit of the appropriate willingness of historians to question sources.

While this is quite disheartening, what is most disturbing about this article is that The New York Times gave voice to yet another Big Lie about Jews and Judaism. Joining claims of deicide and ritual murder, which are broadly believed in the Islamic world, Muslim commentators in recent years have purveyed the belief that there never was a Jewish temple on the Haram al-Sharif.

“They claim that 2,000 years ago they had a temple,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has written. “I challenge the claim that this is so.”

Palestinians have much to gain in claiming that there was no Jewish temple. If there was no temple on Mount Zion, then Jews have no claim on that hill, nor to the land of Zion and Jerusalem. Hence, no Zionism.

The Big Lie that there was never a Jewish temple is thus a cipher for discrediting and undercutting the entire Jewish claim to the Holy Land — the very claim that, in fact, makes this particular land holy.

What Palestinians stand to lose by purveying this untruth, however, is the trust of those, like me, who are willing to listen carefully to legitimate claims and to act on them. The claim that there was never a temple is offensive and in no way furthers Palestinian national aspirations.

The claim that there is no “Palestinian people” is similarly offensive to Palestinians. But while that claim has mostly disappeared among Jews and Israelis, the Big Lie that Jews are foreign to the Holy Land, and that the temple never existed, is alive and well.

What disturbs me most is that The New York Times totally missed this complicated history and unintentionally gave the Big Lie a voice on its pages, as if it is equal to actual historical fact.

The Times deserves credit for (somewhat) correcting the article online, but what about the millions who read only the paper version?

Steven Fine is the Pinkhos Churgin professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and director of the university’s Center for Israel Studies and the Arch of Titus Project.

Did Jewish visitors to Temple Mount spark current tensions?


A leading Sephardic rabbi who advises the haredi Orthodox Shas party criticized Jews who have been visiting the Temple Mount, saying they “sparked all the current tumult.”

Rabbi Shimon Baadani, a member of Shas’ Council of Torah Sages, said Thursday on a Shas radio program,according to Haaretz: “Do not provoke the nations, even if we are in control here, there is a halakha. I don’t know on whose authority they permit themselves to provoke and cause an armed struggle like is happening now … they are forbidden.”

Israel’s chief rabbis first ruled in 1967, after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, that halakha, or Jewish law, forbids Jews from visiting the Temple Mount to prevent them from inadvertently stepping over the “Holy of Holies,” where the Ark of the Covenant was said to be stored in the First Temple.

The rabbis reaffirmed the prohibition in 2013. In addition, Israeli law bars Jews from praying at the site, which is administered by the Muslim Waqf.

However, a number of Orthodox Jews, among them Rabbi Yehuda Glick, have questioned the ruling and advocated for Jews to have the right to pray on the mount. Such activists have visited the Temple Mount, the site of frequent tensions between Jews and Palestinians, more frequently in recent years.

In his remarks Thursday, Ba’adani said that saving life trumps any mitzvah, and thus asked, “Why enter the Temple Mount?”

On Thursday, in an effort to calm tensions there, Netanyahu ordered members of his cabinet and members of the Knesset, including Arabs, not to enter the Temple Mount.

Should Europe take in a million Muslim refugees?


Should Europe take in about a million Syrian and other Muslim refugees? Should America take in tens of thousands? 

In a recent column in the British newspaper The Guardian, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the distinguished former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, argued passionately in favor of Europe doing so, comparing the situation to that of Europe’s Jews before and during the Holocaust:

“One of the dark moments in that history occurred in July 1938, when representatives of 32 countries gathered in the French spa town of Evian to discuss the humanitarian disaster that everyone knew was about to overtake the Jews of Europe wherever Hitler’s Germany held sway. Jews were desperate to leave. … Yet country after country shut its doors. Nation after nation in effect said it wasn’t their problem.”

It is emotionally difficult to differ with this argument. How can the argument not tug at the heart and conscience of anyone, especially a Jew? 

Little seems more obviously moral than to allow these benighted Syrians, Iraqis and others to flee from hell into what is comparatively heaven. And, as a Jew, one is particularly sensitive to any parallels to the Holocaust. Looking at photos and videos of families trying to escape Syria, where two monsters — the Assad regime and the Islamic State — are devouring each other, along with hundreds of thousands of civilians, how can a Jew not think back to a time when Jews sought to escape the Nazi monster devouring them?

How, then, does an ethical person — Jew or non-Jew — deal with the emotionally powerful Holocaust argument?

Here are some ways:

First, every Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe — man, woman, child, baby — was targeted for death. The Syrian nation is not targeted for extermination. The only such targets in the Middle East — aside from the Jews of Israel — are Christians and Yazidis, every one of whom should most definitely be allowed into Europe and the United States. 

Second, the majority of the Jews of Germany and many other European countries were assimilated citizens of their respective countries, who — more importantly — thoroughly embraced Western culture and values. In contrast, many of the Muslims of the Middle East — and the largely Muslim population (from non-Arab countries) already in Europe — hold values that are not merely different from, but opposed to, those of Europe. 

Third, it is not as if Europe has no experience with large numbers of Muslim immigrants. And the experience has been largely negative. Most European countries are bad at assimilating people from other cultures, especially from Muslim cultures. And large numbers of religious Muslims from Muslim cultures are bad at assimilating into non-Muslim cultures. Many Muslim immigrants in the U.K., France and Sweden live in Muslim ghettos.

Fourth, and of particular importance, children of the immigrants — the ones born and raised in European countries — are usually the most radical and anti-Western. Many of the children of these immigrants will not remember Bashar Assad or ISIS, but they will resent their likely inferior socioeconomic status and lack of full integration into European society. Some of them will then undoubtedly cause havoc in Europe.

It is worth recalling that the 9/11 terror attack on America was planned by young Muslim immigrants living in Germany. Muhammad Atta (the leader), Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad Jarrah, Said Bahaji and Marwan al-Shehhi had lived in Germany for between five and eight years, respectively. And Bahaji was born in Germany. 

Fifth — and of particular interest to Jews — just about all Syrian and other Middle East Muslims seek Israel’s destruction. Why would any decent person, let alone any Jew who cares about the Jews of Europe and Israel’s survival, want to import into Europe hundreds of thousands of people carrying the world’s greatest hatred?

And if one denies that these Syrians and other Middle East Muslims seek Israel’s annihilation, why not argue that Israel offer to take in its proportional share of Syrians? Israel, after all, is richer than some European countries and one doesn’t have to cross a sea to get from Syria to Israel.

Sixth, on what moral basis can the European Union object to bringing in the million and a half mostly non-Muslim Nigerians who have fled their homes because of Boko Haram terror and the Islamist government war in that country? 

Seventh, the economic growth and unemployment rates of the EU countries — Germany included — are not robust enough to handle a vast number of destitute newcomers. And as the British writer Janet Daley pointed out in The Telegraph, what about “the pressures on their hospitals and GPs’ surgeries, and of shortages of housing and school places …”?

Eighth, it is as certain as night follows day that the Islamic State and other terror groups will place terrorists among the refugees coming into Europe.

Ninth, as a result of all of these factors, some European countries will be threatened by far-right political movements that will arise in opposition to the threat to their national identity, values and economy.

So, then, why does any European leader assume that things will turn out better with a million or more new Muslim immigrants from the Middle East? Or assume that the number will stop at 800,000? 

Europe means well in taking in a million refugees from the Middle East. But when good intentions trump experience and wisdom, you’re asking for trouble — in this case, civilization-threatening trouble. 

None of this means Europe and America should do nothing. Indeed, it was precisely Europe and America doing nothing about Assad that helped to create this horror. The West should supply the good guys in the Muslim Middle East — the Kurds — with the military hardware they need. And we should spend — and demand rich Arab states spend — upward of a billion dollars to help feed and clothe Syrians who flee to neighboring countries. One day, after all, the Syrian civil war will end, and they can again be financially aided to return home. Then real good will be done. And Europe will be spared the choice of Islamization or civil war.

Finally, as always, some will label this outlook racist. But that would be a libel designed to avoid confronting the real issue — values, not race. America welcomed — and was right in welcoming — the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people and other Vietnamese escaping communist totalitarianism. Ultimately, America took in well over 1 million Vietnamese — people of another race. Why? Because the Vietnamese refugees share our values. Too many Syrians and others from the Arab world do not. That, not race, is all this is about. 

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com