As London prices climb, Manchester beckons Jews from far and near


When Yitzchak Horwitz’s family opened one of the first Jewish businesses in this leafy suburb of Manchester — a bookstore that also sold Judaica items — it served a small Jewish community that had only recently moved there from the downtown area.

“The center was run-down after the war, living conditions deteriorated, we had to get out,” said Horwitz, a man in his 80s who runs and owns the Judaica World store that his family opened here in 1960. “A few Jewish families, a small synagogue and that was pretty much it.”

Nevertheless, Horwitz stuck it out. And half a century later, his business is among dozens of Jewish shops servicing thousands of people from the Jewish community of the Manchester area, some 200 miles north of London. Now this community is among the fastest growing in Western Europe, providing Horwitz income from selling Jewish and Hebrew holy books, textbooks and stationery.

At a time when many Jewish communities outside London are dwindling, the one in the Manchester area is growing almost beyond its own capacity due to the high birthrate of its haredi Orthodox nucleus and an influx of Jewish newcomers. The latter is drawn here by the excellent infrastructure for observant Jews and a cost of living that is roughly half that of pricey London.

“People in London seem to think they earn loads more money,” said Selena Myers, a Liverpool-born observant Jewish in her 20s who works at a local Jewish newspaper. Four years ago she moved from London to Manchester, where she lives with her husband. “In fact, the cost of living is maybe three times higher than in Manchester,” whereas the salaries are not. London, she said, “doesn’t make financial sense.”

London is the world’s most expensive city in which to live and work, according to a study published in March by the Savills international real-estate agency. Accommodation for the average Londoner – calculated as a total of housing and office rental costs – comes to $105,000 a year, putting London ahead of New York ($103,000) and Hong Kong ($96,800).

A view of Manchester’s Victoria train station. (Wikimedia Commons)

Not only is renting in Manchester half the cost of what it is in London, but the average price of a home in the greater Manchester area is $144,000 – a full fifth of the average price in London.

Cost of living is especially important for Orthodox families with many children, like that of Simon Rudich, a Rome-born property investor and lawyer who has raised eight children in Manchester with his British wife.

“If you want to live in England as an observant Jew, which I do, then you have two main options: London or Manchester,” said Rudich. “But you only have one sensible option, which is the one I took.”

The only downside to living in Manchester, he said, “is living without sunshine.” Manchester gets 256 rainy days annually and 34 inches of precipitation – respectively 30 and 21 percent more than London.

When the sun does shine, however, Prestwich is bustling with activity by Jews of all denominations. It has five kosher supermarkets near its center. One features a sushi bar where customers line up for freshly prepared glatt kosher rolls.

There are clothing shops catering to the modest standards of observant women, several kosher butchers, a vegetable shop with exotic produce like gooseberries and mangos from Israel, and a French-style kosher patisserie.

According to a 2011 census by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, greater Manchester in the previous decade saw a 15 percent growth in its Jewish population, to 25,013. Conversely, the city of Manchester itself lost 463 Jews. It is home to Britain’s second largest Jewish population after London, where most of the country’s 250,000 Jews live.

In Manchester, as elsewhere in Western Europe, Jewish families that once lived in middle- and working-class areas of the city have moved into the suburbs, partly to improve their quality of life. Another reason for moving has been the arrival of poorer African and Arab immigrants to neighborhoods that often saw an uptick in crime and, more recently, anti-Semitic harassment.

“I chose Manchester because I’m from South Africa,” said Dianna Schwartz, an observant mother of four. She immigrated five years ago to Prestwich from Cape Town because of what she described as “a deteriorating security situation after 1994,” the year apartheid ended.

“I can’t live in a London apartment, I need space and green. That’s how I grew up,” she said. “But getting that in a part of London that is near a proper Jewish school is just impossible for us.”

Manchester’s Jewish influx has left its 12 or so Jewish schools and kindergartens in need of more space and staff, which has helped generate work, particularly for women.

“When I first moved here, people immediately assumed I was a teacher,” said Myers, the newspaper office worker. “They’d ask me straight away where I teach.”

While Manchester remains significantly cheaper than London, the influx is nonetheless driving up prices and creating a housing shortage in the city’s heavily Jewish areas.

“You’re already seeing new Jewish presence in areas around Prestwich, which used to have no Jews in the past,” Myers said.

Manchester is not the only affordable city in northern Britain with an active Jewish community; Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol all have them. Yet Manchester emerged as the largest because it retained an observant and haredi nucleus, which over time produced community institutions that cemented it as the epicenter of Jewish life outside London, according to Rabbi Hillel Royde of the Manchester Beth Din, or rabbinical court.

Thus Manchester is the only city in northern England with a large haredi school. Myers and her siblings attended school in Manchester for that reason even when they were living in Liverpool, she said.

British lawmaker Luciana Berger meeting members of the Jewish Representative Council of the Manchester area, May 8, 2016. (Courtesy of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region)

This inbound traffic is “creating some problems that are nice to have, but they are nonetheless problems,” Royde said.

His rabbinical court is one of the community’s main tools for solving those problems. Established in 1902, when heavy industry attracted thousands of Jewish immigrants from Europe to the area, the court served 30 butcher shops, supervising ritual slaughter across the region.

Over time it has taken over kashrut supervision for the large food producers in the Manchester area, including the cereal giant Kellogg’s. Supervision fees from such companies are invested back into the community and used to open new schools and fund projects that make Manchester even more attractive for observant Jews — like setting up eruvs, symbolic boundaries that allow observant Jews to carry objects on Shabbat.

In 2014, the Manchester suburbs became the site of Britain’s largest eruv, a 13-mile perimeter that includes Prestwich, Crumpsall and Higher Broughton. Without an eruv, haredi families with children would effectively go into weekend curfews. But setting them up is an expensive and complex process that requires city permits and installing braces, strings and poles to discreetly cordon off the area. Work is ongoing on another eruv in the Manchester suburb of Hale.

These improvements have made life easier for thousands of haredi Jews and are attracting thousands more. And that is changing the nature of a community that, according to Myers, is losing its middle ground.

“Nowadays it’s either you’re very observant or almost not at all,” she said. “It didn’t used to be like that.”

Don’t whitewash Charleston’s troubled racial history


A prominent Jewish Charlestonian’s inspiring response to the massacre last week at the Emanuel AME Church has circulated widely in recent days. Robert N. Rosen’s essay points to the best traditions of life in the city: tolerance, an attentiveness to history, and a powerful sense of place and community.

But Rosen has also whitewashed the city’s history. His account lacks critical context when it comes to Charleston’s Jews and is rose-tinted when it comes to race. The city has changed dramatically in recent decades, but it all too often remains willfully ignorant of the long reach of the past into the present.

Yes, Charlestonians are outraged by this terrible event. But by pointing only to the best traditions of the city, and claiming that these alone represent its values, Rosen deludes himself about both the past and the present. Charleston’s troublesome history did not end abruptly with the Civil War or the civil rights era. Charlestonians have not “lived together in peace for 150 years since the Civil War,” as Rosen suggests. Has he forgotten the terrorism that sunk Reconstruction? The indignities and injustices of Jim Crow? The inequalities of the present? Or even the killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot by a white policeman in April of this year?

Nor is the fact that Charleston avoided the bloody showdowns of Birmingham or Selma in Alabama necessarily a mark of success. Insidious alternatives to formal segregation allowed South Carolina to effectively keep key elements of the system in place while appearing to follow the law. The legacy of those measures, which speaks today most clearly through the number of private schools in the city and the weaknesses of the public education system, has ensured that inequality and separation outlasted the civil rights era. In the long run, Charleston might have done better with more confrontation, not less.

The city’s record when it comes to addressing its past is spotty. Public memorials to slavery are hard to find, while statues glorifying the Confederacy and the opulent mansions of the antebellum era are conspicuous and celebrated. The city continues to honor John C. Calhoun, the intellectual and political heavyweight responsible for giving new ideological life to the slave system before the Civil War. Calhoun’s statue anchors Marion Square, which sits close to the Emanuel AME Church and serves as the crossroads of the city.

In the early 2000s, the owners of Marion Square beat back a proposal to erect a monument to Denmark Vesey, who was accused of plotting a slave uprising in 1822 and was one of 35 men hung. His church was Emanuel AME, and the building was burned down in retribution. The monument was ultimately built in a park far from the center of town.

Today, Marion Square has no monument to those who were enslaved, but it is home to a large public memorial to the Holocaust that sits near the massive Calhoun statue. When the sun is high in the late afternoon, the statue casts its shadow toward the memorial. This grand irony bespeaks the strange history of Jews and race in the city.

Jews were welcome at the founding of the colony, but Catholics were not. Before the Civil War, Jews were accepted into white society in large measure because the enslaved population outnumbered a paranoid white populace that wanted strength in numbers.

Jews in Charleston today remember the unusual extent of their integration in the city, but not the other half of the equation. The present-day economic and social success of Charleston’s Jews is inextricably linked with this past exclusion of others.

If Rosen’s essay is representative, local Jews also have misremembered their mixed record when it came to civil rights. Burton Padoll, who served as rabbi of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in the 1960s, resigned under pressure from prominent members of his congregation in large part because of his activism on behalf of African-American equality.

This is not to say that the history of Charleston’s Jews is unremittingly negative on matters of race — far from it. But the role of race in forging the city and shaping the experience of its Jews cannot be wished away. Sure, we should celebrate that Charleston is so attentive to memorializing the Holocaust, but we should also think carefully about why the city is comfortable mourning a cataclysm that occurred in Europe but not a sordid history closer to home.

Only by recognizing our troublesome past, and our place in it, can we think clearly about real change in the present. We in Charleston should all aspire to create the kind of society Rosen imagines for us. But if we shear our city from its past, we’re never going to get there.

Khojaly: Fighting for justice for innocent victims of a massacre


On January 28, addressing the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Reuven Rivlin of Israel said: “On this day we must ask ourselves honestly, is our struggle, the struggle of this Assembly, against genocide, effective enough? Was it effective enough then in Bosnia? Was it effective in preventing the killing in Khojaly?​… Are we shedding too many tears, and taking too little action?”

A similar question could be posed to the leaders of the U.S Congress. Will this Congress get more actively engaged in supporting the growing number of civilian populations that are being impacted by painful conflicts in various corners of the world like Iraq, Nigeria and Syria among others? Will they non­selectively condemn these and similar atrocities and do more to stop them? Congressional leaders have a unique position to engage the world's attention in so many ways. But treating equally all atrocities, past and present, no matter where they take place and who the culprits are, is an important prerequisite for preventing the future tragedies.

The town of Khojaly that President Rivlin referred to might sound unfamiliar to some. But Khojaly was the scene of one of the most horrific tragedies in modern European history.

Twenty-­three years ago, I watched in horror as TV screens in Azerbaijan showed the aftermath of a brutal event: dead women, children and elderly, mutilated bodies, frozen corpses scattered across the ground. This shocking footage was taken at the site of the Khojaly massacre. 613 Azerbaijani civilians, including up to 300 children, women and elderly, were ruthlessly murdered.

The massacre took place on Feb. 26, 1992 when Azerbaijani civilians, attempting to evacuate the town of Khojaly in freezing cold after coming under attack, were gunned down by Armenian troops as they fled towards the safety of Azerbaijani lines. This brutal attack was not simply an accident of battle, it was part of Armenia's deliberate policy of terror to intimidate others into fleeing the region, allowing Armenia's army to occupy Nagorno­Karabakh and other regions of Azerbaijan. This was ethnic cleansing, pure and simple.

This policy of terror was acknowledged by the very men in charge of it. Serj Sargsyan, then one of the most senior Armenian military commanders and now the country's president, told the British journalist Tom de Waal in 2000 that “Before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against thecivilian population. We needed to put a stop to all that. And that's what happened.”​The international human­rights group Human Rights Watch called Khojaly the “largest massacre in the conflict”​.

Ever since, Azerbaijan has worked for the Khojaly massacre to be recognized by the international community. And the world has responded: countries from Mexico to Peru and from Bosnia­Herzegovina to Colombia, as well as over a fifteen U.S. states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and others ­ have all passed relevant resolutions condemning the Khojaly massacre and its brutality.

More than two decades after Khojaly, Armenia's illegal occupation of 20% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory still continues, and nearly a million Azerbaijani refugees remain uprooted.

This illegal occupation has not brought any benefits to Armenia – on the contrary, it has only weakened the country. Its economy is quickly plummeting, and its population is dwindling.

By contrast, Azerbaijan has become the world’s fastest growing economy of the last decade. The country is also a vital strategic partner for the U.S., especially in the areas of the fight against terrorism and global energy security.

Azerbaijan is looking towards the future. But it can never forget the Khojaly tragedy. The perpetrators of this terrible act, not only remain at large: many of them hold office and are feted as 'war heroes' in Armenia, while justice for the victims of the massacre remains uncertain at best.

Azerbaijan will continue its struggle to remember the victims of Khojaly. And we would like to see the U.S. Congress join this struggle for justice for those who died in Khojaly. A Congressional recognition of the Khojaly massacre would be the first step in the right direction. It is important, for the sake of the future generations, to make sure that such examples of callous human cruelty do not occur again.

Based in Los Angeles, Nasimi Aghayev is Azerbaijan’s Consul General to the Western United States

Rivlin attends ceremony marking Arab-Israeli massacre and calls for ‘repair’


Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited the Israeli-Arab village of Kfar Kassem and attended a memorial ceremony marking the 1956 massacre that killed 47 town residents.

Rivlin on Sunday became the first sitting Israeli president to participate in the annual ceremony.

“We must look straight at what happened in the Kfar Kassem massacre and teach all the future generations about it,” Rivlin said during the ceremony. “A serious crime was committed here and needs to be repaired.”

Rivlin said that the Arab sector in Israel “has suffered from years of discrimination” and that “many Arabs in Israel are faced with racism from Jews.”

At the same time, he called on the Arab-Israeli community “to act responsibly and denounce violence and terrorism.”

Rivlin asserted that: “The Arab population will always be part of the flesh and blood of the state of Israel.”

He promised that no one would be “pushed out” of the country, but at the same time stated that “the Arab population of Israel must be brought to internalize and accept that State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. As long as there exists any aspiration to eradicate the Jews from this land, there will be no chance of building a true partnership. Along with this, the Jewish public must understand, that the ambition of so many, to live alongside a Zionist Arab minority, which proudly sings the Hatikvah (national anthem), will not and cannot be realized.”

The ceremony was held at the local community center and was attended by members of the municipal council, representatives of the families of those killed and injured in the massacre, community leaders, and students from Kafr Kassem and the neighboring Jewish community of Rosh Haayin.

Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2007 apologized for the massacre during a visit to the village for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in December.

The massacre occurred on Oct. 29, 1956 on the first day of the war in the Sinai. A curfew had been imposed on the village, but the town’s residents were not aware of the curfew. They were shot and killed by Israeli troops as they returned home from work.

Eight of the soldiers were found guilty and sentenced to prison.

 

The last generation


All my adult life, I have felt a burden to live more than one life. I am a child of survivors and a mourner of many who did not survive. In 1944, my grandparents and more than 700 others were murdered in a little-known massacre in Kremnicka, Slovakia. This, after Max and Alzbeta escaped the town in which they prospered for many years and hid in caves like animals to avoid capture. They had already lost three of their children in Auschwitz and lost track of the other three, one of whom was my father. They were betrayed, arrested and, on one cold foggy night, they were dragged from jail to a forest, where they were shot in the head by drunken Slovaks from the local town. They fell into their shallow tank-trench graves along with hundreds of other Jews, including 211 women and 58 children.

I am also a child of the ’60s, and in my soul I carry many natural and acquired beliefs from both my own religion and other Western and Eastern thought that enlightened us in those decades of abandon and experimentation. I respect the Christian concept of turning the other cheek, and Buddha’s teachings about surrendering oneself; I believe in karma and trying to live from my higher chakras. I try to be generous in my heart when it comes to forgiveness, and I am no stranger to prayer and other spiritual practice.

And yet, when I think of my grandparents on that cold night facing the last seconds of their shattered lives — all their dreams broken, their children murdered and lost, I am no longer a man who believes in anything, not even God himself. Those who exterminated our grandparents, uncles and siblings have left many of us with a crippling and burning fury in our hearts and minds. I am incapable of finding any religion or spiritual guidance that could budge me away from the pain and anger I feel when I think of the base, inhuman acts that have been perpetrated upon my people, my family. So, I have carried this wild, injured, vengeful animal inside of me for many years. This beast that was born of the terrors of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau and the thousands of other killing fields where my relatives suffered and died, has destroyed many of the more tender sides of me, but it has also kept me steadfast, and it has also given me the will to remember. It awakens inside me and wants me to make others remember that not so long ago there were acts committed that cannot and should not be excused or forgotten, or even forgiven. I am not alone in carrying this beast inside me. But now, in my early 60s, I am reminded that I am part of a dying breed. Many of our parents have died and those who remain are old and the only few eyewitnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust. And we, the children of survivors, are the last generation to have witnessed and heard their stories and felt their pain directly.

Generations ahead face the unique and difficult task of educating their children to remember and to tell this story of millions of unthinkably cruel acts, a story of incomprehensible brutality of man to man. No amount of archived testimony will replace a sense of outrage and indignation in one human heart. The beast may die with my generation, but the rage must be saved and even nurtured in our children’s hearts and minds when they are old enough to know. Because only by remembering, understanding and feeling the magnitude of such terror can we succeed in our efforts to prevent it from happening again.

I have tried to live as much as I could to fulfill not only my dreams but those of my grandparents and my uncles and aunts who could not fulfill theirs. I have preserved my heritage for me and for them. I have taught my children the unbearable truth for me and for them; and I write these words for me and for them. Their lives were very much like ours here, today. They were not any more deserving of hatred, persecution and killing than we are — but they are more deserving of our compassion and our effort to remember them because they were innocent victims whose lives were cut short with such shocking disgrace. Even if they were strangers, my heart would bleed for them. But these were my own flesh and blood and that of my children and their children and all the generations after them. 

George Kalmar, born in Slovakia, is a local sculptor and writer and founder of IES, an organization promoting US colleges worldwide. You can contact him at kalmarworks@yahoo.com.

Sixty-five found executed in Syria’s Aleppo, activists say


At least 65 people were found shot dead with their hands bound in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Tuesday in a “new massacre” in the near two-year revolt against President Bashar Assad, activists said.

Opposition campaigners blamed the government but it was impossible to confirm who was responsible. Assad's forces and rebels have been battling in Syria's commercial hub since July and both have been accused of carrying out summary executions.

More than 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian war, the longest and deadliest of the revolts that began throughout the Arab world two years ago.

The U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday the fighting had forced more than 700,000 people to flee. World powers fear the conflict could increasingly envelop Syria's neighbors including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, further destabilizing an already explosive region.

Opposition activists posted a video of a man filming at least 51 muddied male bodies alongside what they said was the Queiq River in Aleppo's rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood.

The bodies had bullet wounds in their heads and some of the victims appeared to be young, possibly teenagers, dressed in jeans, shirts and trainers.

Aleppo-based opposition activists who asked not to be named for security reasons blamed pro-Assad militia fighters.

They said the men had been executed and dumped in the river before floating downstream into the rebel area. State media did not mention the incident.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which says it provides objective information about casualties on both sides of Syria's war from a network of monitors, said the footage was evidence of a new massacre and the death toll could rise as high as 80.

“They were killed only because they are Muslims,” said a bearded man in another video said to have been filmed in central Bustan al-Qasr after the bodies were removed from the river. A pickup truck with a pile of corpses was parked behind him.

STALEMATE

It is hard for Reuters to verify such reports from inside Syria because of restrictions on independent media.

Rebels are stuck in a stalemate with government forces in Aleppo – Syria's most populous city which is divided roughly in half between the two sides.

The revolt started as a peaceful protest movement against more than four decades of rule by Assad and his family, but turned into an armed rebellion after a government crackdown.

About 712,000 Syrian refugees have registered in other countries in the region or are awaiting processing as of Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency Said on Tuesday.

“We have seen an unrelenting flow of refugees across all borders. We are running double shifts to register people,” Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Reuters in Geneva.

On Monday, the United Nations warned it would not be able to help millions of Syrians affected by the fighting without more money and appealed for donations at an aid conference this week in Kuwait to meet its $1.5 billion target.

Speaking ahead of that conference, Kuwait's foreign minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah said on Tuesday there was concern Syria could turn into a failed state and put the entire region at risk.

Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières said the bulk of the current aid was going to government-controlled areas and called on donors in Kuwait to make sure they were even-handed.

MISSILES

In the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, insurgents including al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters captured a security agency after days of heavy fighting, according to an activist video issued on Tuesday.

Some of the fighters were shown carrying a black flag with the Islamic declaration of faith and the name of the al-Nusra Front, which has ties to al Qaeda in neighboring Iraq.

The war has become heavily sectarian, with rebels who mostly come from the Sunni Muslim majority fighting an army whose top generals are mostly from Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Assad has framed the revolt as a foreign-backed conspiracy and blames the West and Sunni Gulf states.

Fighting also took place in the northern town of Ras al-Ain, on the border with Turkey, between rebels and Kurdish militants, the Observatory said.

In Turkey, a second pair of Patriot missile batteries being sent by NATO countries are now operational, a German security official said on Tuesday.

The United States, Germany and the Netherlands each committed to sending two batteries and up to 400 soldiers to operate them after Ankara asked for help to bolster its air defenses against possible missile attack from Syria.

Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Kuwait, Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Israel to plant more than 3,000 trees to memorialize Newtown victims


More than 2,000 people have donated funds to plant a grove of more than 3,000 trees in Israel in memory of the victims of the Newtown shooting.

Hadassah has raised more than $61,000 toward the planting of trees honoring the 26 victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The trees will be part of the Beersheva River Park, a 1,700-acre water, environmental and commercial area being constructed by the Jewish National Fund in Israel’s desert city.

The idea for the Newtown grove grew from a request made by Veronique Pozner, whose son, Noah, was the only Jewish victim of the shooting at the Connecticut school. Pozner said memorial contributions could be directed toward the planting of trees in Israel.

The president of Hadassah, Marcie Natan, said her organization decided quickly that it wanted to honor all the victims of the massacre, not just Noah.

“Everybody was so affected by the massacre and wanted to do something to express their solidarity with the families,” Natan told JTA. “Each of us have had the experience of non-Jews who have found it very meaningful when a tree is planted in the Holy Land. We felt no one would be offended by this and we thought it would be a very appropriate way to honor the memory of the victims.”

The trees will be planted in a section of the park that Hadassah already had committed to populating with trees. At $18 per tree, the gifts in memory of the Newtown victims thus far are enough to cover more than 3,300 trees.

Jewish parent power tools can help kids cope with the tragedy at Sandy Hook and beyond


There’s been a lot of talk in the news about what to say to children about the massacre at Sandy Hook.  A steady stream of experts attempting to provide some sort of parental protocol for addressing this unimaginable tragedy with our kids: Find out what our child knows before divulging too many details. Limit our kids’ exposure to scary news reports. Reassure them that they are safe and that the adults in their lives know how to keep them from harm’s way. But even the best advice seems to fall short in this case as it’s ultimately impossible for anyone – our children or ourselves – to make sense of that which doesn’t. 

Thankfully, our rich Jewish tradition offers a unique set of resources to help us find our way over this most daunting of parental hurdles.  The following Jewish Parent Power Tools – when embraced for all their worth – can help our children cope with the harsh realities of Sandy Hook while gearing them with strength, courage and compassion for the uncertain road ahead.

The Shema.  “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The Shema is considered the most important prayer in the Jewish religion as it perfectly and succinctly reaffirms of our faith and connection with God twice a day. The news out of Newtown that our kids might have seen on the TV, Internet, and social media can make their world feel frightening and out of control.  By saying the Shema, this sense of powerless is replaced by spirituality and belief in a higher power that will help guide and sustain them through good times and bad.

The Haggadah.  The word haggadah means a storytelling.  Sharing tales of overcoming hardship is part of our religion by design.  The Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL) at Emory University has shown this premise on a more scientific level.  A long-term study by MARIAL’s found that children whose parents told family stories at the dinner table had significantly better coping skills than those whose parents did not.  From Passover to Purim and everything in between, our Jewish narrative reassures our children of the power of perseverance and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World).  Senseless acts of violence like that which occurred in Newtown confirm that our world is indeed in need of repair.  Joining forces with our children to pick up litter in a park, volunteer in a soup kitchen, or doing other acts of Tikkun Olam can feel like our own little triumph over evil – a tiny step toward restoring that which was broken and tilting the balance scales toward good.

Tzedakah and Gemilut Chasadim (Acts of Loving Kindness).   There’s no doubt that the school shootings in Newtown shake us to the core.  But rather than focusing on the horror of what’s transpired, we should encourage our children (and ourselves) to channel our energies into feeling compassion for the families that were affected by this tragedies. Collecting Tzedakah or making cards for the students at Sandy Hook school can help facilitate this cognitive shift from fear to a much healthier compassion.

Jewish Courage.  There is a beautiful Hebrew song based on the sage words of Rav Nachman of Breslov. Kol ha-olam kulo gesher tzar m’od v’ha-ikkar lo l’fahed klal.  The world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to fear. “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the overcoming of fear,” writes Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World.  This is not to suggest that we encourage our kids to throw caution to the wind altogether.  They should, of course, be sensible and vigilant. But then it’s time to move forward: Skipping into their classrooms, laughing with friends on the schoolyard, walking that inevitably narrow bridge with a zest for life and faith in the world’s ultimate goodness.  Enjoy the journey together.


Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?” (Random House). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Parents, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Huffington Post and the Jerusalem Post. Her four children give her an endless supply of parenting fodder.

White House readies gun-control plan as more children laid to rest


The White House revealed the first steps of a gun-control plan on Wednesday as the United States grieved for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in another wave of funerals.

President Barack Obama's initiative addressed national outrage over the shootings in Connecticut, which prompted longtime gun-rights supporters to reconsider their positions and a major private equity to put its gunmaking business up for sale.

The funerals scheduled for Wednesday included those of four children, a teacher and the principal of the school stormed by 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza on Friday. After killing his mother at home, Lanza drove to the school and used a semi-automatic assault rifle to kill 20 children and six women.

Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to craft policies to reduce gun violence. Specific steps Biden recommends will be unveiled in Obama's State of the Union address, which is typically given towards the end of January, bu t Obama indicated some priorities.

“We're going to need making access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun,” Obama told reporters.

He said he hoped the powerful gun-industry lobby, the National Rifle Association, would reflect on the tragedy as it anticipates Biden's recommendations.

“The vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war,” Obama said.

Biden's leadership of the task force was applauded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time gun control advocate, who urged immediate steps such as appointing a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a federal crackdown on illegal gun purchases, and the lifting a federal gag order that keeps the public in the dark about gun traffickers.

“The task force must move quickly with its work, as 34 Americans will be murdered with guns every day that passes without common sense reforms to our laws,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

The massacre of so many children in Connecticut, all of whom were just 6 or 7 years old, shocked the United States and the world and renewed debate over gun control in a nation where the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution and fiercely defended by many.

Around the globe, newspaper editorials from the Philippines to South Africa urged U.S. gun-control efforts and said they were long overdue.

“It takes no great deductive genius to understand the link: a violent individual with a gun will be more able to kill, and can kill more people, than a violent individual without a gun. Elsewhere in the world, tighter gun laws have been shown to save lives,” said an editorial in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu.

After the shooting spree at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, Lanza killed himself.

The family of the school's slain principal, Dawn Hochsprung, invited mourners to visit at a local funeral home on Wednesday afternoon, though her burial was due to be private at an undisclosed time.

Another of the teachers, Victoria Soto, was among those to be buried on Wednesday.

At the funeral of Daniel Barden, 7, a bagpipe played “America the Beautiful” as hundreds of police officers and firefighters, some from New York City and distant towns, lined the driveway outside the service. The little boy loved his family, riding waves at the beach, playing drums, foosball, reading, and making s'mores around a bonfire at his grandfather's house, said an obituary in the Newtown Bee newspaper.

Funerals also were scheduled for Charlotte Bacon and Caroline Previdi, both 6, and Chase Kowalski, 7.

Across the nation, Americans joined Newtown's grieving, one woman traveling from Iowa to bake and deliver apple pies to residents, another woman from outside Albany, New York, posting daily to Facebook the latest of 26 watercolor flower paintings she is creating, each with a different victim's name.

“I wanted to memorialize the victims,” said artist Pamela Hollinde, 60, of Delmar, New York, who also substitute teaches at an elementary school. “In a way, it's therapy for me too. I'm having a difficult time. Our students are our kids too.”

While most students in Newtown were back at school on Wednesday, the surviving children from Sandy Hook Elementary stayed home as school authorities made plans to relocate to a different location – the unused Chalk Hill School in nearby Monroe – when classes resume in January after the winter break.

The impact of the shooting was felt in the business world on Tuesday when private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it would sell its investment in the company that makes the AR-15-type Bushmaster rifle that was used by Lanza.

The NRA gun lobby broke its silence on Tuesday for the first time since the shootings, saying it was “prepared to offer meaningful contributions” to prevent such massacres. A news conference was called for Friday.

The massacre prompted some Republican lawmakers to open the door to a national debate about gun control, a small sign of easing in Washington's entrenched reluctance to seriously consider new federal restrictions.

Sandy Hook: Despair gives way to hope


At first it is an anguish so deep that it destroys faith in life. We are witnesses to pain and loss so immense that to yearn for a resting place, to find anything good or hopeful or healing, feels like a betrayal. In the face of such tragedy, do we seek out sparks of hope because we are healers or deniers?

Still, we are heirs to the 23rd Psalm, the legacy King David has left for those in the grip of darkness: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The word we must cling to, the most beautiful word in the Psalmist’s lexicon, is “walk.” We cannot stay in shadows. There cannot be a permanent place of despair. We walk. We find ourselves, as a Newtown father said in the wake of the president’s address, “halfway between grief and hope.”  

The discussion following the massacre — of guns, mental illness, security — all of it is part of the basic human impulse to find a solution, to ensure that this will not recur, to confine the darkness within a frame of light. There is no end to evil. But more, there is no end to the human impulse to raise and save. We do not fully understand, can never fully understand. Instead of acceptance, emptiness, anger and fists that we futilely shake at the sky. Yet the Rabbis tell us (Aichah Rabbah, Petichta 24) that when the Temple was destroyed, God wept. We weep for the parents, the children, the nation. But as Jews, we affirm the faith that we do not weep alone.

At first Newtown funeral, Noah Pozner remembered as loving ‘little man’


It was a eulogy for a life that had only just begun.

In a small Jewish chapel in Fairfield, Conn., Veronique Pozner remembered her son Noah as a rambunctious, video-game-loving “little man,” a boy with a perpetual smile and twinkly blue eyes who dreamed of becoming a doctor, a soldier and manager of a factory that makes tacos — his favorite food.

Noah Samuel Pozner, 6, was the youngest victim of the massacre last week at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He was laid to rest on Dec. 17, his miniature wooden casket set beneath the podium where his mother stood.

“The sky is crying,” Veronique said.

So were hundreds more, mourners who lined the walls of the chapel in this coastal city for one of two funerals held on Monday — the first of 26 that would be carried out over the coming days. Among the mourners were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen.-elect Chris Murphy and Connecticut’s Gov. Dannel Malloy, who personally delivered the awful news to parents last week after the shooting. Malloy spent much of the service with his eyes cast down and hands clenched under his chin.

With abundant tears and a gathering resolve, the eulogizers offered tributes to a loving boy whose death, they said, should inspire the living to acts of love and compassion. 

“Noah, you will not pass through this way again,” Veronique said. “I can only believe that you were planted on earth to bloom in heaven. Take flight, my boy. Soar. You now have the wings you always wanted. Go to that peaceful valley that we will all one day come to know.”

Days after one of the deadliest mass killings in American history, one that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults in a suburban school, a sense of shock is still palpable on the leafy streets of southwest Connecticut. In Newtown and surrounding communities, schools were on lockdown as children returned to class on Monday.

In nearby Ridgefield, Chana Deitsch, the local Chabad emissary, had the uncomfortable task of telling her children the news and comforting the mothers who come to her weekly Mommy and Me program on Monday. Her husband, Rabbi Sholom Deitsch, had an even grimmer obligation. After news of the shooting broke on Dec. 14, he hurried to the old fire station in Newtown, where the families of the fallen were informed by the governor that their children were never coming home.

“It was a horrifying scene, watching how the parents were hearing what was going on,” Deitsch said.

At one point, Malloy, spotting Deitsch in the scrum, recalled that Friday was the sixth day of Chanukah. “It’s supposed to be a brighter day,” Deitsch recalled the governor saying.

On Monday, residents here and around the country were still groping for answers and pledging to do something — anything — to stem what seems like a rising tide of gun violence.

But in remembering Noah Pozner, speakers steered clear of the swirling political debate about gun control, enjoining mourners only to live better lives in memory of the fallen.

“Let us not be lost in sorrow,” said Noah’s brother, Michael. “Let us remember the beauty, laughter, smiles and happiness little Noah brought us. Let us live our lives as healthily, righteously and happily as we can. Let’s do it for our little man, who would have wanted that.”

Rabbi Shaul Praver, the leader of Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, who has been cast into the national spotlight since the killings, presided over Noah’s funeral. On Dec. 16, he chanted the El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish mourner’s prayer, at a nationally televised memorial service attended by President Barack Obama. At the funeral, he said that the secret of Jewish survival was to meet tragedy with resolve.

“We can, and we will, thrive in honor of Noah Pozner,” Praver said on Monday. “Let us all make that vow, that we will thrive. We will do something extra in our life, in this world, while we’re here, in his honor. And we can expect the light found in this tremendous sorrow can change the world.”

At the close of the funeral, Praver asked whether any teachers from Sandy Hook were present, and a number of hands were raised. Six educators lost their lives in an attempt to confront the gunman, and their sacrifice has been widely praised.

“There is something in Hebrew called a kiddush ha-Shem, a sanctification of God’s name,” Praver told them. “And we have done that.”

Newtown temple opens fund for family of Noah Pozner


Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, was remembered at his funeral as a child who liked to explore how things worked mechanically.

Monday afternoon's funeral for Noah, a Jewish boy who turned 6 in late November, was the first among the 26 victims of Friday's massacre at the school in Newtown, Conn. The Associated Press reported on memories of Noah's inquisitiveness about things mechanical.

Teddy bears and a bouquet of white flowers accented by a single red rose were placed at the base of a maple tree outside the Abraham L. Green and Son Funeral Home in Fairfield, Conn., Fox News reported.

In advance of the funeral, the family's synagogue began collecting money for the Pozners.

[Related: Funerals begin for Newtown victims as schools confront tragedy]

Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, Conn., posted a notice on its website announcing that it was accepting money to help support the Pozners “during this terrible time.” It also recommended two charities for the other victims: United Way of Western Connecticut and Everribbon.com.

Among the messages of condolence pouring in for the victims of the school shooting were letters from Israeli leaders.

“On behalf of the people of Israel, as friends and as parents, we stand with you today in contemplation and grief over the atrocious, incomprehensible massacre of 20 children and six adults — educators — at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Israeli President Shimon Peres wrote to President Obama. “No experience with death can be likened to that of a parents’ loss of their child. No crime is more heinous than the killing of a child.”

Twenty children and six school employees were killed when Adam Lanza, 20, forced his way into the school building and opened fire. Lanza killed himself at the school.

Prior to the school shootings, Lanza, who had attended the Sandy Hook school, killed his mother, Nancy, in the Newtown home they shared.

Sandy Hook: Beyond gun control


When something happens that overwhelms our emotions — as when a shooter murders 20 schoolchildren in cold blood — we get dizzy and out of balance. The shock and horror are too much to take.

So we look for something we can hold on to — something that will stabilize us and channel our grief, rage and horror into a concrete, actionable place.

For many of us, that something is gun control.

Ever since last Friday's murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the primal scream of “We need tougher gun control laws!” has been heard throughout much of the blogosphere, social networks and mainstream media.

If it weren't so easy to obtain lethal weapons, the argument goes, it wouldn't be so easy to commit these horrific crimes.

This is a powerful argument, so powerful that it can blind us to a deeper argument- that mass violence is often due to severe mental health issues, and until we address this deeper problem, gun control and law enforcement can only do so much.

In a seminal study published in 2000 by The New York Times that examined 100 rampage attacks over 50 years, the authors noted that, “We have overlooked a critical issue, which is that at least half of the killers showed signs of serious mental health problems.”

The study adds: “Society has turned to law enforcement to resolve the rampage killings that have become almost a staple of the nightly news. There has been an increasing call for greater security in schools and in the workplace. But a closer look shows that these cases may have more to do with society's lack of knowledge of mental health issues, rather than a lack of security.

“In case after case, family members, teachers and mental health professionals missed or dismissed signs of deterioration.”

The Times found “much evidence of mental illness in its subjects. More than half had histories of serious mental health problems — either a hospitalization, a prescription for psychiatric drugs, a suicide attempt or evidence of psychosis.”

An examination by the progressive magazine Mother Jones, reported in a piece last month titled “Mass Shootings: Maybe What We Need Is a Better Mental Health Policy,” showed similar results. They analyzed 61 mass shootings over the past 30 years and found that “acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them” and that in the majority of cases, the killers “displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.”

Does this mean that more sensible gun control laws shouldn't play a role? No, they should, but they must be part of a larger solution. Let’s not fool ourselves: People intent on killing have this nasty habit of disregarding laws. The Sandy Hook killer tried to buy a rifle a few days before his murders and was denied. That didn't stop him.

The point is, we can’t stop at gun control, because the deeper and most thorny issue is mental health.

We need a national debate on whether potential killers with severe mental health issues can be stopped before they commit their crimes. This is a complicated and delicate question that touches on things like civil liberties and patient rights.

As a starting point, we can go back to a finding in The Times report: “In case after case, family members, teachers and mental health professionals missed or dismissed signs of deterioration.”

It wouldn’t hurt to start paying more attention to these signs of deterioration, and approach the problem of mass violence as a national public health concern — which it is.

It's not a coincidence that the invitation I received last Saturday for a Vigil for Action in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre came from the Department of Public Health at UCLA, and was co-sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition, an organization that advocates for seeing violence as a public health concern.

There's growing evidence that the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza, had serious mental health issues and signs of deterioration. Did any family members, teachers or mental health professionals notice these signs, and if so, could they have taken more safety precautions without violating Lanza’s rights?

What should they have done to protect Lanza against himself and the world against Lanza?

These questions must be asked.

It’s in our interest to treat mass violence as a public health concern, but we must do so with extreme care and sensitivity, not least for the sake of the millions of people with mental health issues who have no violent tendencies.

In the long run, while this delicate approach is not as clear-cut as crying out for tougher gun laws, it may save even more lives.

Sandy Hook, Sandy and the politics of learned helplessness


“We have got to get Michelle to make this her priority.”

It was my friend Judith, a wise woman, a mother and grandmother, on the phone from across the country, the evening of the day of the Newtown massacre, trying to figure out how to enlist the first lady in a campaign against gun violence.

From the email Judith wrote her: “Unless from the top with unyielding outrage we rein in and destroy the gun lobby – unless we stigmatize the NRA as we stigmatized the Ku Klux Klan – we will be robbed of any claim we have to our children's and grandchildren's respect.”

She was calling to get my help to get Michelle Obama's attention. I was appalled by how effortlessly cynical was the response that came out of my mouth.

This one is different, I said. That's what everyone is saying, and it's true. Mowing down first-graders with a ” target=”_hplink”>Associated Press-Gfk poll was released; it found that 4 out of 5 Americans say global warming will be a serious U.S. problem unless action is taken to reduce it. “Belief and worry about climate change,” said the AP, “are inching up among Americans in general, but concern is growing faster among people who don't often trust scientists on the environment. In follow-up interviews, some of those doubters said they believe their own eyes as they've watched thermometers rise, New York City subway tunnels flood, polar ice melt and Midwestern farm fields dry up.”

” target=”_hplink”>350.org will continue to gain traction on college campuses. I have no doubt that the more stories about climate change that Americans hear and see, the more they will demand action from their representatives.

But as things stand, it is virtually inconceivable to me that our lawmakers will rise to the challenge. The petroleum industry swings as big a bat in Washington as the gun lobby. Even if the president has the second-term courage to propose it, our corrupt campaign finance system won't make an enlightened exception for a cap-and-trade bill. The fear of losing a race exceeds the fear of losing a planet.

Are special interests invincible? No, and each counter-example is a ray of hope, something we could all use this season. Last August, in the heat of the campaign, President Obama courageously doubled ” target=”_hplink”>it was called “a blow to the credibility and power of the nation's gun lobby,” proof that the “NRA is no longer bullet proof.” Still, I can't help noting that the CAFE standards were raised by executive action, and didn't require the assent of the Tea Party Congress. Or that the 1994 assault weapons ban was able to pass the House (by a razor-thin margin of 216 votes) because the NRA suffered 38 Republican defections, led by GOP leader Bob Michel of Illinois, who arguably was able to reverse his previous opposition to the ban because he – like several NRA-friendly Democrats who also voted for it – was about to retire from Congress. That fall, when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House, the narrative was born, and persists to this day, that bucking the NRA is political suicide.

This time around, I'd love my pessimism to be proven wrong. I'd be thrilled if Michelle Obama were the answer. I'd be grateful to rekindle my confidence in democracy. Learned helplessness is the status quo's most pernicious enabler, and I welcome any ladder out of this pit. But whether it's guns or climate change, poverty or plutocracy, war or water: whatever problem most troubles any of us, I'm convinced that the way forward requires a transformational solution to the power of money and fear to determine our national fate.


Marty Kaplan is the ” target=”_hplink”> USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Sandy Hook: The cultural phenomenon behind mass shootings


It has been 13 years since the murders at Columbine High School, when two teenagers killed 13 people and wounded 21 others.  Since that time, ABC reports, there have been 31 school shootings.   In the wake of the Columbine calamity, law enforcement doctrine changed dramatically: Formerly, first responders would stop to give aid and comfort to the wounded; now they bypass the wounded, heading straight towards the perpetrator(s).

“Senseless” seems to be the most frequently used word to describe the awful events at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, and senseless it surely was.  Still, we hunger for explanation.  What can it be that possesses a man to gun down little children, each child shot multiple times?  What can we do to protect against such insanity?

Guns, we hear repeatedly, don’t kill people; people kill people.  But the weapon of choice for people bent on killing people is a gun.  Guns are used in more than two-thirds of the murders in this country.  A simple thought exercise: Absent guns, would the number of murders go up or go down?  Knives, hands and blunt instruments are inherently less lethal, more intimate and, perhaps most important, more time-consuming.

Some statistics: US homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that are 19.5 times higher. For 15-year olds to 24-year olds, firearm homicide rates in the United States are 42.7 times higher than in the other countries. For US males, firearm homicide rates are 22.0 times higher, and for US females, firearm homicide rates are 11.4 times higher. The US firearm suicide rates are 5.8 times higher than in the other countries, though overall suicide rates are 30 percent lower.  US unintentional firearm deaths are 5.2 times higher than in the other countries. Among the 23 countries of the OECD, 80 percent of all firearm deaths occur in the United States, 86 percent of women killed by firearms are US women, and 87 percent of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms are US children.

Yet the easy availability of guns in America is not the whole story. True, the rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than in similar high-income countries in the world, and true also that 45 percent of Americans say they have a gun in their homes, also a rate not approached in comparable countries.  But these figures reflect a cultural difference at least as much as they signify inadequate gun control legislation and enforcement.  Consider, for example, that in Israel, where young men and women – soldiers – move about openly with semi-automatic weapons, there has never been a mass murder.  In fact, picking up an armed hitch-hiker there is perfectly routine.  Hence it is reasonable to suppose that we are dealing here with a cultural phenomenon and not merely with lax gun controls.  As New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in the aftermath, this “only happens in America.”

But identifying that cultural phenomenon is a challenge we have not yet met.  Is violence promoted by what we see on television and in movies and video games?  The same video games are available in Israel.  Is it that our sense of social solidarity is wanting?  But explain how a more pervasive sense of social solidarity might have inhibited the deranged Adam Lanza, the slaughterer of Newtown (who used his mother’s legally purchased guns, and shot his mother in the face multiple times).  Or James Holmes, who killed 12 people and wounded 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  Or Jared Loughner, who murdered six people and gravely wounded then-Representative Gaby Giffords in Tucson and twelve others.  Or Seung-Hui Choi, who murdered 32 people and wounded 24 more at Virginia Tech.  And so on, and so on, and so on.

What rivets our attention and magnifies our sadness in the case of Newtown is, obviously, the tender age of the victim children.  It is that which renders the event utterly inexplicable.  We may more or less understand the aggrieved employee who opens fire in his place of work or even the perpetrator of lethal domestic violence.  But here, no such understanding is available.  No comprehensible end justifies such evil means.  Nor can we readily suppose that a less porous mental health system might earlier have identified Adam Lanza as a prospective killer.

Is there, then, nothing we can do?  Unfortunately, many of the things we can do are either trivial or distasteful.  We can amplify security systems, rendering access to schools more difficult.  But Lanza, so far as we know, shot his way into Sandy Hook.  We can, and should, ban assault weapons, bearing in mind that there is already a vast supply of them.  Perhaps we can somehow forbid the NRA from contributing to political campaigns, freedom of speech requirements notwithstanding.

There is no panacea.   At the same time, there is no 2nd Amendment right to bear any kind of arms or use any kind of ammunition.  It is time and then some for all three branches of government to reflect that in their policies and their judgments.  It is already too late for the 20 children of Newtown; it is not too late for what will otherwise be the next grotesque tragedy.

Jewish 6-year-old youngest of Newtown shooting victims


A Jewish child was identified as the youngest of the 26 victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn.

First grade student Noah Pozner, the youngest of the victims murdered on Friday, had just turned 6 years old Nov. 20; he will be laid to rest on Sunday.

Israeli news site Ynet reported that Pozner's twin sister is also a student at Sandy Hook but survived the shooting.

Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown told NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon that he spent Friday — which he termed “the day from Hell” — consoling Pozner's mother, who is a member of the synagogue.

“I told the mother that was grieving that I personally believe in the eternity of the soul, and I believe that she will see her son again,” Praver said. “Other than that theological comment, the rest of it was getting her to think about taking a breath and not trying to plan the rest of her life out right now, because she says, 'What am I going to do without my baby?'”

Praver was among the clergy, social workers and psychologists who arrived at a firehouse near the school where many of the victims and their families congregated after the shooting. On Saturday morning, Adath Israel held a community prayer service.

In response to the question of why such tragedies hapen, Praver replied: “I don't know the answer to that. I never try to present a theological answer to that. I think what's more important is to have compassion, humanity and hold someone's hand and hug them and cry with them.”

Praver, who ended his NPR interview with a plea for listeners to pray for the families affected, also said that another friend of the congregation was killed.

Jewish glory, frustration mark London Games


The London Olympics may have “lit up the world,” as organizing committee head Sebastian Coe put it, but for Jews the 2 1/2 weeks offered healthy doses of frustration and glory.

On the plus side, new medalists such as America’s Aly Raisman gained the spotlight with her grace, which included a floor routine to “Hava Nagila” en route to a U.S. women’s team gold in gymnastics. She followed that with an individual gold for floor exercise and a bronze on the balance beam.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Jo Aleh brought home a gold for Kiwi fans in the women’s 470 regatta and Australian kayaker Jessica Fox won a silver medal in the slalom K1. They joined in their glory with previous medalists such as U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak, who helped his relay team win a silver in the 4×100-meter freestyle in what was likely the last of his four Olympics.

Yet the game’s opening ceremony ended hopes that the International Olympic Committee would officially recognize with a moment of silence the 11 Israeli athletes murdered 40 years ago at the Munich Games by Palestinian terrorists. An international campaign for a moment of silence had the support of President Obama and numerous other world leaders.

And Israel’s athletes—for the first time in 24 years—went home without a single medal, which has prompted conversation about the country’s lack of commitment to Olympics excellence. Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team made it to the finals, but on Sunday it finished last among the eight teams in the all-around group competition.

Two Israeli citizens, however, are coming home with some Olympic glory. David Blatt, an American-Israeli, coached Russia’s bronze-winning men’s basketball team and Aleh will soon make a family visit to the Jewish state.

Blatt, the coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, has helped rebuild the Russian national squad since being brought in as head coach in 2006, Sports Illustrated reported. He took the team to a 2007 European Championship.

He played for Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabiah Games. Following the Maccabiah Games, Blatt played for several Israeli teams until he was injured in 1993 and took up coaching.

The disappointment in Israel over the lack of a national delegation medal may be behind what Yuli Edelstein, minister of Diaspora affairs, told Raisman last week as she accepted his invitation for the Raisman family to be his guests in Israel.

“Making your first visit to Israel is not only important because it is the homeland of the Jewish people, but also because you can contribute from your experience to the young generation of Israeli athletes,” Edelstein said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Beating her to the Jewish state, however, will be Aleh. After a parade back home to celebrate New Zealand’s success at the London Games, she reportedly is heading to Israel for the bat mitzvah of her half-sister.

The greatest disappointment of the Games for many Jews, however, was the failure of the international campaign to have the Munich 11 remembered. It included a petition launched by the Rockland JCC in suburban New York that garnered nearly 111,000 names, a private meeting with two Munich 11 widows and IOC President Jacques Rogge, and the backing of President Obama and political leaders from Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

One widow of the Munich 11 had biting words for Rogge when he attended the London Jewish community’s memorial for the murdered athletes and coaches.

“Shame on you, IOC,” said Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who died in the attack. “You have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You discriminate against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.”

Meanwhile, the Arab-Israeli conflict was felt when the Lebanese judo team refused to even practice in a gymnasium next to the Israelis. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Also, Iranian judoka Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the Games, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. The report speculated that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

Editorial Cartoon: Obvious politics — Minute of silence


Opinion: Munich’s indelible stains


Under the headline “Indelible Stains,” the Los Angeles Times listed “10 Olympic controversies that forever leave their mark on the Summer Games.”

Subsequently, the Times published (a part of) my letter written in response to the egregious omission from their article:

Unfortunately, the most important controversy in the history of the games was left off the Times’ list: the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972 by Palestinian terrorists. 

Maybe the controversy was that the Olympics did not have adequate security; or that the German government refused assistance from the Israeli government, who, unfortunately, had years of experience in such situations; or that the Olympics were not suspended out of respect to the great loss of life; or that 10 Arab countries protested lowering their flags half mast and immediately raised their flags following the memorial; or that the German government released the three remaining terrorists (in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa airliner), who returned to heroes welcomes in their home countries.

Or maybe another controversy is that the Indelible Stains of Blood was actually left off the LA Times’ list.

The Times placed it on their website; not in print.  Interestingly, they omitted what I considered the most important line in the letter: the last.

People question why so many Jews today are obsessed with keeping alive the memory of the 11 murdered Israelis. 

Unfortunately, in today’s world, 11 people mass murdered is a relatively benign number.  Almost daily we read about suicide bombers who murder 20, 30, 45, 200.  Not to mention the thousands wiped out in Syria and more than 300,000 slaughtered in the Sudan.  Just last week, in our own back yard, 12 people were murdered while attending a midnight movie.  That’s one more than Munich.

So why should the Olympics and the world pause, even for one moment, to honor the memory of 11 murdered Israeli athletes?  Why not give silence to all victims of murder?

Because it’s different.  Because context is everything.  Because it was on the heels of the Holocaust, in the exact place where the idea of eradicating an entire people began; an idea which led to more than 6 million people stripped of their dignity, tortured, and systematically exterminated: men, women, and children.

There were not just eleven people murdered in the Munich Olympics during those horrific events, frozen in time while the world witnessed.  Those 11 athletes represented a country, a religion, a people.  Every Jew lost a brother that day.

When a U.S. embassy is attacked, America is attacked.  The 11 Israeli Olympians were not just individuals; they were Israel.  Then, once again, as Israel was attacked, the world did nothing but watch, as if it was another televised sporting event.  And it continues today while the International Olympic Committee refuses to honor their memory 40 years later.

Israel has moved into the 21st century.  Israeli children are taught about the Holocaust, yet they understand today’s realities.  They are no longer crippled by the past, rather they celebrate Israel’s Nobel Laureates in science, medical and technological breakthroughs, and the humanitarian efforts that are transforming the world.

Certain images create nations.  Unfortunately, those images are not always beautiful.  The assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Pearl Harbor, the Twin Towers.

As a Jewish nation, we can no longer stay paralyzed by our past, but we must never forget it.  We must remember the “indelible stains” of our history, from the destruction of the First and Second Temples to the heroism at Masada and Entebbe.  And we must honor with a moment of silence those who perished in the Holocaust, and our relatives lost in Munich in 1972.

Jack Saltzberg is executive director of Friends of Sheba Medical Center. He can be reached at jack@saltzberg.org.

 

Munich widows call for own moment of silence at opening ceremonies


Widows of Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics are asking the crowd at the opening ceremonies of the London Games to stand for a minute of silence, regardless of whether the International Olympic Committee recognizes it.

“He told us that when he heard the explosions in the Olympic village, he debated whether to continue in the Games or go home, and decided not to let terror win,” Ilana Romano, wife of Yossef Romano, a weightlifter who was murdered in the 1972 attack, said at a news conference. “Jacques Rogge, you have let terror win today.”

Rogge is the president of the IOC, which repeatedly has refused to hold a moment of silence at Friday’s opening ceremonies in memory of the 11 murdered athletes and coaches.

The movement to hold a moment of silence at the Olympics has gathered steam after beginning as an online petition two years ago. International politicians and public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have called for an official moment of silence.

Rogge held a moment of silence for the murdered athletes at a small ceremony in the Olympic Village on Monday.

L.A.’s little-known plaque and grove of trees honor ‘Munich 11’


In the summer of 1984, when Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, then-Mayor Tom Bradley and the local organizers of the Olympic Games unveiled a large bronze plaque honoring the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. The Israeli Olympic delegation was present for the unveiling, as were Jewish community leaders, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, at the time an L.A. City Councilman, remembers the ceremony and what stands out most, he said in a recent interview, was that it took place at Los Angeles City Hall.

“It was a big ceremony, and I kept asking myself, ‘Why is it here?’ ” Yaroslavsky recalled. “Why isn’t it at the Coliseum?” he said, referring to the venue where the games were taking place.

“The International Olympic Committee [IOC] said no, we couldn’t do it there, at the games,” said Federal Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who served as secretary of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Instead, the plaque was hung temporarily at City Hall, then was reinstalled at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s Court of Honor after the games ended,  Reinhardt said. It continues to hang there today, alongside other commemorative plaques.

Reinhardt said he was surprised in 1984 when the IOC refused all requests to officially commemorate during the games here the 11 Israelis killed in 1972. No IOC officials attended the Los Angeles City Hall ceremony.

So when Reinhardt heard of the IOC’s refusal to commemorate the athletes with a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympic Games, set to begin in London on July 27, he said it “sounded just like the old days, all over again.”

This year’s push to commemorate the Israeli athletes has been more concerted and more public than ever before. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition asking the IOC to hold a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies to mark the 40th anniversary of the killings. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney both endorsed the call, and NBC sports anchor Bob Costas told The Hollywood Reporter that if the IOC does not observe a minute of silence, he will dedicate a minute of silence himself, on the air.

Nevertheless, IOC President Jacques Rogge refused the request, telling the Associated Press that “the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

Instead, Rogge said the IOC will honor the athletes elsewhere and at other times, including at a reception in London on Aug. 6, during the games, and again at a ceremony on Sept. 5, the actual date of the anniversary, at the military airfield in Germany where they were killed.

In addition, at a ceremony in London on July 23, Rogge held an impromptu moment of silence in what he called “the first time [that the slain athletes were memorialized] in an Olympic Village.”

That the IOC is participating in any remembrance of the Israeli athletes, who have come to be known as “The Munich 11,” could be seen as progress, given the IOC’s earlier refusals to participate in commemorations such as the 1984 Los Angeles one.

However, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the Israeli athletes killed in Munich and the leaders of the campaign for the opening ceremony minute of silence, reportedly were outraged by Rogge’s action.

“This is not the right solution, to hold some ceremony in front of 30 or 40 people,” Spitzer told the Jerusalem Post on July 23. “We asked for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, not for someone to mumble something in front of a few dozen people.”

The L.A. City Hall ceremony wasn’t the only way the Israeli athletes were remembered in Los Angeles in 1984, though. On June 24, about a month before those games began, a copse of 11 purple-leaf plum trees was planted at the top of a hill in Pan Pacific Park, in the heavily Jewish Fairfax District.

According to Laura Bauernfeind, principal forester for the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks, trees are often planted in city parks in memory or in honor of people. “What’s unique about the grove in Pan Pacific Park,” she said, “is that it has a plaque.”

“These trees stand as a memorial to the eleven athletes who were murdered during the XXth Olympiad,” reads the plaque, which was dedicated by the Los Angeles chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

Only nine trees stand on that hill today, and they appear to have been all but forgotten by the Jewish community. Little is known about the circumstances surrounding their planting; a representative from the JNF couldn’t uncover any records relating to the memorial grove, and Sanford Deutsch, who was president of the local JNF chapter when they were planted recently told The Journal in an interview that he didn’t remember the ceremony that took place almost 30 years ago.

These days, the grove looks a bit scruffy. The trees all appear to lean uphill at an acute angle, giving them a slightly cockeyed look. Two have no leaves at all, and five appear to have been replanted very recently. Of those, four are buttressed by wooden posts. 

Those posts ensure no lawnmower or young child will accidentally bump up against a tree (which could damage the underdeveloped roots), and are evidence of their care by the Department of Recreation and Parks. The department oversees between 850,000 and 1 million trees in the 16,000 acres of parkland in the city of Los Angeles.

“We think groves like this are important,” said Leon Boroditsky, whose official title with the department is “tree surgeon.” “And we want to maintain them to the best of our ability. But our staffing is really low.”

Budget constraints notwithstanding, Boroditsky, with help from volunteers from the nonprofit association TreePeople, oversaw the replanting of one of the trees in the grove just last April. Boroditsky said he plans to replant the two missing trees in the fall, when the weather is more conducive to growth.

“Being a tree in a park is a difficult life,” Boroditsky said, “Not as difficult as a street tree, but it definitely has its challenges, with kids and dogs and soccer players.”

Where are the Munich elegies?


This year, Tisha b’Av marks not only the destruction of both Temples, but with the opening ceremony of the London Olympics just a night earlier, the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.

On this day of mourning and fasting, which begins at sundown on Saturday, how can we remember the tragedy of the 1972 Summer Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered?

The International Olympic Committee has rejected a call for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony in memory of those killed, announcing instead a tribute in Munich and holding a ceremony on Monday at the Olympic Village with remarks by the IOC’s chief, Jacques Rogge.

Even in 1972, I was already having trouble remembering.

Returning to UCLA my sophomore year, just weeks after the tragedy, I remember being pushed by more serious minds into working on an issue of the school’s Jewish student newspaper, Ha’Am, which at its center had a spread titled “Post Olympic Outpour.” At first I resisted, thinking “Why do I need to go through the pain all over again?”

Now, 40 years later, I wonder how many of us are still resisting that pain.

Traditionally on Tisha b’Av, we remember our tragedies by sitting on low seats or the floor, lowering the lights and chanting in a mournful trope the book of Eicha (Lamentations). In many communities, elegies called kinot are chanted as well that commemorate such tragic events as the public burning of the Torah in Paris, the massacre of German Jews during the first Crusades, the Ten Martyrs (which you may recall from the Yom Kippur Martyrology service), the York massacre and, more recently, the Holocaust.

In 2012, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, writing in Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union, described the emotional impact of the kinot.

“All the kinot, regardless of who the author may be, express strong feelings of loss, grief and despair,” he wrote. “On Tishah B’Av day, the reader must come away from a reading of the poems with similar feelings.”

Weinreb went on to say that after studying the kinot texts over a course of months, he found himself “spiritually exhausted by the process,” holding on to “those few phrases of hope with which almost all the kinot conclude.”

It is from the intent of the kinot that I think we can find an inspiration for a different form of Munich elegy.

A formal kinah commemorating the Munich 11 has yet to enter the liturgy—if someone has written one please email me—but other forms, though not formal kinot, can help us process our feelings of loss and despair. For example, the personal tragic stories told through films can touch us, moving us toward memory.

In England on Tisha b’Av, the New London Synagogue about 10 miles from the Olympic Village will be showing the Academy Award-winning documentary “One Day in September.” Released in 1999, it’s a film that, while making points about the Palestinian terrorists and botched German police work, mourns the victims by recounting the story of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer and his wife, Ankie.

Another film that like an elegy re-enacts the tragedy, Spielberg’s 2005 “Munich”—it also has a fictionalized account of Israel’s response—will be shown at Temple Concord in Syracuse, N.Y.

The audience for these two films, sitting in a darkened setting, drawn together to listen and watch the story being retold, will be reminded of a different Jewish theme internalized when we hear the kinot chanted—we do not remember and mourn alone.

For most of us, writing a kinah would be a challenge, but adding a line to a petition asking for a moment of silence presented by Ankie Spitzer might be a way to get in the spirit of it. When I read the comments on the petition site, they seemed to form a kind of people’s elegy of prayer, memory and anger:

“I was there, I felt it, I cried for it, I still pray for all them,” Johanna Bronsztein wrote.

“We must never forget and forever respect,” Brenda Rezak wrote.

Jeri Roth adds, “If these people had been any other nationality, we wouldn’t have to ask for a moment of silence.”

Yet for many of us, home on Sunday, watching the Summer Olympics’ events on TV— archery, fencing, weightlifting—in our own darkened rooms, it’s all too easy to forget.

With so much Olympic pageantry and competition, with the promise of gold, silver and bronze to divert me, I will need my own kinah to pull me back to a zone of “Never forget”—a simple list to remember what happened 40 summers ago. Sometime that day, resistance gone, I will try to touch again the loss I felt in 1972.

I will read the names:

Moshe Weinberg, wrestling coach
Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman and David Berger, weightlifters
Yakov Springer, weightlifting judge
Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, wrestlers
Yossef Gutfreund, wrestling referee
Kehat Shorr, shooting coach
Andrei Spitzer, fencing coach
Amitzur Shapira, track coach

Will this simple act also allow me to dream that a tragedy like this will not be repeated? That is my hope.

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.

As London’s Jews prepare for Olympics, Munich 11 on their minds


For the British Jewish community, the most memorable moment of the London Olympics may be a somber one.

On Aug. 6, several hundred people are expected to attend a commemoration for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

“From conversations across the community, the key thing people are engaged in around the Olympics is that they want to see a commemoration of Munich,” said Peter Mason, director of the London Jewish Forum.

While a ceremony organized by the Israelis and the local community takes place during every Olympic Games, this one marks the 40th anniversary of the massacre. The International Olympics Committee continues to reject international calls for a minute of silence during the opening ceremony on July 27.

But the community also has made a point of joining the general air of celebration sweeping London in the run-up to the Games. In the past year, nearly every Jewish school, youth group and charity has run Olympics-related activities. And during the Olympics, London’s Jews will welcome thousands of Jewish visitors with social events, synagogue services, guides to Jewish London and, in the Olympic Village, pastoral care.

The welcoming efforts are being coordinated by the Jewish Committee for the London Games, which was established by the London Jewish Forum and several other community organizations.

For one of the organizations, Maccabi GB, which runs sports programming for the Jewish community, the Olympics has been “a springboard to get people involved. At every opportunity we’ve linked to the Olympics,” said project manager Jessica Overlander-Kaye.

Maccabi GB worked with more than 15 Jewish organizations on more than 30 events, ranging from talks about the roles of Jews in sport to Olympics-themed sports days in Jewish schools, and liaising with students who want to write good luck cards to the Israeli delegation. An annual community Fun Run was expanded this year to reach 2,000 people, including British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

For Overlander-Kaye, become involved in Olympics-themed activities through Jewish groups is “about being part of something smaller and bigger at the same time. It’s an opportunity to be part of the Olympics while connecting to the Jewish community. Viewed backwards, it reflects very well on our community, on our mentality about working from the grass roots, that we encourage people to get active and engaged. We make it easy for people.”

She is particularly proud of the work that Maccabi did this year in encouraging people with disabilities to become involved in sports. In June, the group held an event that saw the able-bodied and non-able-bodied play sports together.

“We linked it to the Paralympics,” she said of the international games held for disabled athletes after each summer Olympics. “The Israeli delegation will have a strong Paralympic team, and this makes sports accessible” to disabled people.

Other groups have focused on educational events. For example, the London Jewish School of Jewish Studies, which runs adult education classes, is offering sessions on whether the Olympian ideal is Jewish and “Who really won on Chanukah?,” while the United Jewish Israel Appeal has developed six workshops, including ones on the Munich massacre and Jewish ideas on strength that have been taken up by youth groups and schools.

The closest many community members will get to the Games will be on July 25, when the Olympic torch, which has been touring across the United Kingdom, will be carried through the heavily Jewish North-West London.

“Hopefully the community will have a good showing,” Mason said. “There is a genuine building of excitement.”

During the Games themselves, the community will open its doors to tourists, from abroad and from elsewhere in the UK, who wish to experience Jewish London. A website was set up by the Jewish Volunteering Network under the auspices of the Jewish Committee for the London Games that lists all major attractions, including kosher restaurants, synagogues and Jewish landmarks. It also has a section on the history of London’s Jews and a calendar of Jewish events connected to the Games.

Some 10,000 people already have visited the website since its launch in January, according to Es Rosen, the website manager and JVN regional development manager.

“We have no idea how many people we can expect, but when people go to an international city they often seek out Jewish tourist sites,” Rosen said. “The Olympics have tremendous potential for Jewish London.”

As the Olympic Village is situated in East London, the relatively small community there has taken on the role of catering to the Jewish needs of the Olympic teams.

Four local rabbis from across the denominational spectrum will join 186 other chaplains serving the athletes, delegation members, staff and volunteers. Rabbi Richard Jacobi of the Woodford Liberal Synagogue says he will be available for those looking “for a sympathetic ear from their own faith, or from faith in general,” in case of stress, a personal emergency or any other need. The pastoral team also is part of the contingency plans in case of a large-scale incident.

“Personally this is a once-in-a-life opportunity to be involved in something that presents London and British Jewry in the best possible light,” Jacobi said. “Many people think that London is dominated by anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and that is not the case. There is a degree of background radiation, but it certainly does not influence people’s lives on a daily basis. People enjoy being Jewish in London.”

Nevertheless, he adds, “The 40th anniversary of the Munich tragedy is also at the back of my mind. If anything were to happen, being part of the response feels very important to me rabbinically and personally.”

Many of his congregants are volunteering in the Olympic Village or as “hosts” posted at strategic points in London to help tourists. Like many other local synagogues, his shul will host two Shabbat services particularly aimed at visitors, and in the Olympic Village Orthodox and non-Orthodox services aim to alternate.

Finally, the East London communities plan to hold their own events commemorating the Munich massacre. One ceremony will be on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av, on July 28, and a religious service at Waltham Forest Hebrew Congregation will be in September. Jacobi says these events would have taken place even had the IOC agreed to hold a minute of silence.

“In the midst of everything else, a minute isn’t particularly long to appreciate what these events meant,” he said. “It is important that everyone had the opportunity to come together as a group, learn more about it and associate more with it.

“We think people—mainly Jewish but also others—feel it should be remembered. It’s part of Jewish and Olympic history.”

Syria storms out of U.N. rights meeting


Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva stormed out of the U.N. Human Rights Council Tuesday after demanding angrily that countries stop “inciting sectarianism and providing arms” to opposition forces in his country.

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui said sanctions were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel and then abruptly left the Geneva forum’s emergency debate called at the request of Gulf countries and Turkey, and backed by the West.

“We reaffirm to all those alleged friends of the Syrian people that the simple step to immediately help the Syrian people is to stop inciting sectarianism, providing arms and weapons and funding and putting the Syrian people one against the other,” he said.

“Unjust and unilateral sanctions imposed by some countries on the Syrian people are preventing access to medicines, to fuel in all forms as well as electricity, and are also impeding bank transfers to buy these materials.”

The European Union imposed sanctions on seven Syrian cabinet ministers Tuesday for their role in a bloody crackdown on dissent, a move aimed at forcing President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

“As we speak, the ruthless campaign of repression against the civilian population of Syria is going on. Women, men and children are being killed, massively, indiscriminately, by their own state security forces,” Portugal’s foreign minister Paulo Sacadura Cabral Portas told the talks on behalf of the EU.

The main U.N. human rights body had been expected to condemn Syria Tuesday for using heavy weapons on residential areas and persecuting opponents, its fourth rebuke to Assad in an 11-month uprising.

But after hours of debate, it decided to put off action until Thursday on a draft resolution presented by Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with backing from Western powers including the United States and European Union (EU).

Earlier, Khabbaz Hamoui said some powers wished to use the session to politicize human rights with “slander and libel” against his country so as to “fuel flames of terrorism.”

“The Syrian ambassador’s comments (in his speech to the Council) were borderline out of touch with reality,” U.S. human rights ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters.

They were as “delusional” as his government’s holding of a referendum at a time when it was wreaking violence on its own people, she said.

U.S. SLAMS “BRUTAL CAMPAIGN”

During the debate, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that only the Syrian people could decide their country’s political future.

“The important thing today is that we give a chance to the Syrians themselves to overcome this crisis,” he said.

“Today it is clear aims to instill democracy through force are doomed to disaster and achieve the opposite. What is important today is that we do not allow for a full scale civil war in Syria.”

Human Rights Watch called for both Russia and China to join in condemning Syria’s abuses. “Russia and China must stop providing the Syrian government with diplomatic coverage and join the rest of the world in clearly condemning the violations,” the New York-based group said in a statement.

Esther Brimmer, U.S. assistant secretary of state, said that

“Assad and his criminal cohort are waging a brutal campaign of slaughter, bombardment, torture and arrest that has already murdered thousands of women, men and children.”

“Bashar al-Assad must go, and there must be a Syrian-led democratic political transition that meets the long-suppressed aspirations of the Syrian people,” she said.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was appalled at the rapidly deteriorating rights and humanitarian situation in Syria and the shelling of Homs.

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, reiterated that Syria should be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The 47-member forum, which has no legal force, looked set to adopt a resolution condemning Syria’s “continued widespread and systematic violations,” including the killing and persecution of protesters, diplomats said.

The draft resolution deplores “the use of heavy artillery and tanks to attack residential areas … that have led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians.”

“There will be a wide majority of states in favor. It will pass easily,” an Arab diplomat told Reuters before the meeting.

“We should expect Russia, Cuba and Ecuador to vote against it. On China, is not clear,” he said.

Israel’s diplomat Walid Abu-Haya told the talks: “Bashar al-Assad is systematically murdering civilians. His forces are shelling their towns and villages and are raping and torturing people with impunity. He has no moral authority to govern.”

Additional reporting by Caroline Copley and Robert Evans; Editing by Maria Golovnina

Ukraine marks Babi Yar massacre anniversary


Ukraine marked the 70th anniversary of the massacre at Babi Yar, one of the deadliest of the Holocaust.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman presided over Monday’s ceremony at the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev. Some 33,771 Jews were murdered there on the last two days of September in 1941.

Hundreds of descendants of the victims, as well as survivors, participated in the ceremony.

“It is difficult to fully comprehend the events that occurred in Babi Yar. It is difficult to find the words to express all the depth of our condolences and sorrow,” Yanukovych said at the ceremony, according to a speech released to the French news agency AFP before the event. “More and more, time is increasing our distance from these horrible events. But the memory is alive.”

The Jews had assembled at the Babi Yar ravine in 1941, shortly after the Nazi forces pushed the Soviet authorities out of Kiev, because they believed they were being resettled.

Between September 1941 and 1943, some 150,000 people were executed by Nazi troops in wooded areas on the outskirts of Kiev. Most were Jews, but the total also included ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and Roma, or gypsies.

The Norway massacre and the anti-Zionist smear


In the aftermath of Anders Breivik’s terrorist rampage in Norway, a “blame the Jews” theme has emerged: assertions that Breivik was driven by fanatical devotion to Israel. Mostly, complaints about the media’s failure to identify Breivik as a Zionist zealot have been confined to fringe blogs on the left and the right—but they have also cropped up in more mainstream venues, such as the blog of prominent pundit Andrew Sullivan. Daily Beast columnist Michelle Goldberg has pointed to the Oslo killer as evidence of a convergence between right-wing Zionism and European fascism, united by hatred against Muslims.

The recent phenomenon of far-right nationalists latching on to Jewish and Zionist causes in presumed anti-Muslim solidarity is real and troubling (especially given some of these nationalist groups’ anti-Semitic roots). But the trope of Breivik as a Zionist soldier is a gross distortion that plays into the campaign to delegitimize and vilify Israel.

The apparent proof of Breivik’s alleged Zionist obsession is that his 1,500-page manifesto, “A European Declaration of Independence,” has 359 mentions of Israel and 324 mentions of Jews. That sounds like a lot until you realize the “declaration” is nearly 780,000 words.

The document, which Breivik distributed online before his killing spree, covers many subjects, including the evil of women’s liberation (with 200 references to feminism and feminists). But it has one central focus: Islam and the Muslim menace. The words “Islam,” “Islamic” and “Islamist” combined appear 3,360 times; the word “Muslim,” 3,632 times.

Virtually all of Breivik’s other ideas stem from this obsession: Feminism is bad because it saps Western civilization’s (and its men’s) ability to resist Islam; Israel is good because it is an ally in this struggle.

Moreover, Breivik’s “Zionism” coexists with a virulent selective anti-Semitism—one that sees Jews as likely carriers of cosmopolitan, nontraditional values and targets liberal Jews for special loathing. In his discussion of Nazism, Breivik agrees that most German and European Jews in the 1930s were “disloyal”—“similar to the liberal Jews today.” Hitler’s error, he believes, was to lump the “good” Jews with the “bad,” instead of rewarding the former with a Jewish homeland in a Muslim-free Palestine.

At present, Breivik estimates that about three-quarters of European and American Jews, and about half of Israeli Jews, “support multiculturalism”; he urges fellow nationalists to “embrace the remaining loyal Jews as brothers rather than repeating the mistake of” the Nazis. What to do with today’s “disloyal” Jews, he does not say.

Anti-Defamation League director Abraham H. Foxman has written that Breivik’s professed pro-Zionism is a reminder to “be wary of those whose love for the Jewish people is born out of hatred of Muslims or Arabs.”

There’s no shortage of such false friends these days. In England, the once-rabidly anti-Jewish British National Party, led by an unrepentant Holocaust denier, has recast itself in an anti-Muslim, Zionist-friendly image. The English Defense League, whose “protests” include such tactics as yelling “Muslim scum” at women in headscarves and invading Asian-owned shops, has also taken part in pro-Zionist demonstrations. (England’s premier Jewish group, the Board of Jewish Deputies, has firmly rejected such “support.”) Ironically, the EDL’s main American champion, Muslim-baiting blogger Pamela Geller, has recently voiced alarm over the growth of anti-Semitism in the group’s ranks.

Meanwhile, in the anti-Israel camp, quite a few would gladly tar all Zionist views with anti-Muslim hate. Loonwatch.com, an anti-Islamophobia website which has run intelligent rebuttals of extreme anti-Islam propaganda, has also posted items that portray such extremism as virtually part and parcel of Zionism.

Sometimes, such links are concocted. Last October, England’s Jewish Chronicle ran an Internet poll on whether rabbis should work with the EDL. (The answer was a resounding no.) Anti-Zionist blogger Terry Greenstein and York Palestine Solidarity Campaign Chairman Terry Gallogly were caught bragging online about trying to rig the poll for the EDL in order to embarrass the Zionists.

Yes, some Zionists have made statements about Muslims that amount to bigotry, or at least to offensive generalizations. Disturbingly, comments defending Breivik’s views have cropped up on Israeli online forums. Such ugly sentiments may be explained in the context of ethnic and religious tensions in Israel, but they cannot be condoned—any more than anti-Semitism among Arabs and Muslims can be excused by resentment of Israeli policies.

Therein lies the rub: Talk of Zionism and Islamophobia inevitably raises the specter of the far more violent, vastly more rampant Jew-bashing rhetoric in the much of the Arab and Muslim media today. Unfortunately, not many prominent Muslims have condemned this hate speech, and some Western leftists have excused Muslim anti-Semitism as a reaction to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Israel’s supporters should avoid dubious alliances that deepen Jewish-Muslim polarization. Critics of anti-Muslim bigotry should clean house.

A longer version of this column appeared on RealClearPolitics.com, August 4, 2011

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe. She is the author of “Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood.” This article first appeared on Real Clear Politics.  Reprinted with permission.

Documentary recalls the horrors of Ma’alot school massacre


Ma’alot-Tarshiha is a quiet Jewish-Arab city in the Galilee within walking distance of Israel’s border with Lebanon. But 37 years ago, it was the scene of a horrific attack by Palestinian terrorists who took more than 100 students hostage in a school building, killing 22 and gravely wounding 68.

On May 9, the eve of Israel Independence Day, a new documentary about what is known as the Ma’alot Massacre will have its world premiere in a one-night-only screening in 250 theaters nationwide.

The mass screening of “Their Eyes Were Dry,” by 24-year-old Los Angeles filmmaker Brandon Assanti, is as much a tale of one young man’s commitment to telling this heart-wrenching story as it is testimony to the pain and suffering of the survivors who for decades kept their memories to themselves.

“Up until now, in fact, I had to keep inside what had happened and begin my life over again, as if this never happened,” says Tzipi Maimon-Bokris, one of a half-dozen now middle-aged survivors of the school massacre who agreed to tell their stories on camera for the first time.

The bare bones of the story: In the early-morning hours of May 15, 1974, three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical anti-Israel group, snuck across the border from Lebanon. Dressed as Israeli soldiers, they made their way to Ma’alot, where they killed three members of the Cohen family—apparently chosen at random—before entering an elementary school that was hosting more than 100 teenagers and teachers from a religious school in Safed for the night.

The terrorists held 115 hostages, including 105 students, and threatened to kill them if Israel did not release 23 prisoners being held on terror charges. For more than 12 grueling hours the young Israelis huddled in a booby-trapped classroom, abandoned by their teachers, until the terrorists turned on them with guns and grenades during a bloody rescue effort by the military.

The world reacted in horror to the targeting of children in the name of politics.

“Their Eyes Were Dry” tells the story as no one has told it before.

“As far as I know, it’s the first full-length film about Ma’alot,” said Marina Rozhansky, communications director for the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, which has lent its name to the screenings.

Assanti spent five years on the project, his first full-length film. His parents are co-producers.

He was 18 when he met Shlomo Bohbut, then the mayor of Ma’alot and a cousin of his father’s, at a family dinner in Los Angeles. Captivated by the story Bohbut told, and inspired by the fact that the oldest of the teen hostages were a year younger than he was at the time, Assanti spent a year researching the incident.

“There was very little material available,” he told JTA in a phone interview from his L.A. home.

At 19, Assanti took his camera to Israel over spring break and summer vacation to track down survivors willing to share their memories. He doesn’t speak Hebrew, so he traveled with a translator and his Moroccan-born father, who spent a few childhood years in Ma’alot. Most of the interviews are conducted in Hebrew, with English subtitles. Assanti also has produced a Hebrew-only version hoping to distribute the film in Israel.

For the next 2 1/2 years he edited at night and did his college work during the day, managing to graduate from Loyola Marymount College with a degree in finance, albeit somewhat behind schedule.

“I put everything on hold for this,” he said.

Assanti steps back and lets those who suffered through the horrible day unwind the story, hour by hour. Their almost dispassionate retelling, born of years of submerging painful memories, is interspersed with stunning archival footage but no narration. Assanti says he wanted his subjects to tell the story themselves, without outside commentary. The powerful technique works to his advantage.

Inured as people may be now to children being murdered in wars and terrorist attacks, it’s rare that one has the opportunity to go inside an actual hostage situation and view it through the eyes of the children suffering through it. That’s what Assanti and his subjects give us, and it is strong medicine indeed.

Yishy Maimon, the former mayor of Safed, was 17 at the time, and he describes standing by an open window in the classroom about to jump to safety when he remembered his younger brother, Shimon, was still being held. How could he go home and face his parents having left his brother behind?

Maimon-Bokris, who was famously photographed being carried to safety in her brother’s arms, recalls the terrorist leader telling the children that they were “all going home now” before spraying them with gunfire and hurling a grenade at them.

“Throughout the day we tried to persuade them not to kill us,” she relates in the film. “One said, soon you’ll be soldiers—we have to stop you now.”

Major Gen. (Res.) Amiram Levin, who commanded the rescue operation, relates the conflict that raged that day between Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who urged decisive military action, and Chief of Staff Moshe Gur, who favored caution.

When he finally reached the classroom and saw the carnage—flesh clinging to the walls, headless bodies swimming in pools of blood—Levin’s heart broke.

“The whole operation took 30, 35 seconds,” he tells the camera. “If we’d been able to do it in 10, how many more could we have saved?”

The Ma’alot Massacre has become an iconic part of Israeli history. But by focusing on the personal stories of the children themselves, Assanti tries to universalize the horror. The politics fade into the background as the minutes tick by.

“Just watching the news about the Fogel family, it’s so obvious why this film is so important,” says Assanti, referring to last month’s murder of five members of a West Bank Jewish family by Palestinian terrorists. “Terrorism is still prevalent, and children are still targeted, still caught in the crosshairs of politics between countries. That should never happen.”

The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles is working with Jewish Life Television and StandWithUs to promote the May 9 screenings, which are being presented by NCM Fathom and The Machine Management in 250 participating theaters nationwide through NCM’s Digital Broadcast Network. The screenings are billed as “An Evening of Reflection and Song” and will include a pre-recorded musical performance by the Cantors’ Assembly featuring the acclaimed Cantor Alberto Mizrahi.

Tickets and theater locations are available online.

Graphic photos chronicle Babi Yar massacre


A graphic photo exhibit chronicling the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babi Yar is on display at a meeting against anti-Semitism in Canada.

The Interparliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, being held in Ottawa through Tuesday, is focusing on such issues as anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of intolerance.

The Ukrainian delegation to the conference, headed by Jewish lawmaker Oleksandr Feldman, created the exhibit “to remind the worldwide participants that words and ideologies have consequences, and in the case of the Holocaust resulted in the murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children in Europe,” Feldman said.

Babi Yar, a ravine in Ukraine just outside Kiev, will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the mass murder, in which 150,000 Jews were slaughtered over a three-day period, next year.

Feldman is creating a museum to record details of the massacre, and one of its central goals will be to locate and identify tens of unmarked mass graves from the Nazi era in Ukraine and Germany.

Among those participating in the second gathering of the Interparliamentary Coalition is Hannah Rosenthal, the top U.S. official monitoring and combating anti-Semitism.

The first gathering of the group, last year in London, resulted in the “London Declaration,” signed by lawmakers from around the world who pledged to “affirm democratic and human values, build societies based on respect and citizenship, and combat any manifestations of anti-Semitism and discrimination.”

American to plead guilty to Mumbai charges


An American citizen of Pakistani origin reportedly has agreed to plead guilty to charges against him in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

David Headly, 49, is scheduled to appear Thursday in a federal court in Chicago to change his plea from not guilty, according to news reports, citing a federal court notice.

Headly was arrested last October in Chicago as he attempted to flee to Pakistan.

Charges against Headly include the murder of Americans, providing material support to a terror group, and conspiracy to murder and maim people in foreign countries.

The November 2008 attacks on several locations in Mumbai, India, killed 166 people, including six at the Mumbai Chabad House.

Indian security sources believe Headley cased the Chabad center, known as the Nariman House, for the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is believed to be responsible for the attacks.

Indian investigators found that Headley visited all 10 Mumbai locations that were attacked.

Them vs. Us


Was it Mort Sahl who said, “Just because I’m a paranoid, doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get me”?

In this week’s parsha, the narrative begins with the drama of Yaakov and his tender flock — two wives, two quasi-wives, 11 sons, a daughter — preparing to meet with an oncoming army, imposingly headed by his anything-but-fraternal “twin” brother, Esav. Yaakov fears the worst, and even as he prays to Hashem for protection and sends gifts to appease Esav, he prepares for war. The brothers meet ultimately, and Esav “ran to greet him, and hugged him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Genesis 33:4).

Rashi, the paramount medieval commentator, notes the two midrashic traditions that discuss what actually happened during “The Kiss.” Because the Torah text is unusually punctuated, with six extraneous dots marking the word va-yishakehu (“and he kissed him”), the rabbis analyzed what happened.

One midrashic opinion is that the kiss was insincere — that Esav actually tried to bite Yaakov’s throat out after deceptively inducing his brother to relax his defenses. The other opinion is that after 20 years driven by relentless hate, Esav laid eyes on his brother, and it all came to him at once: He is my brother, for God’s sake, my brother. And he kissed him with all his love.

For many, that midrashic discussion historically has served as the narrative’s denouement and the ultimate launching pad for distrusting non-Jews, all of them. According to the opinion that Esav tried to bite the neck, not to kiss it, that animus reflects an immutable law of nature, comparable to gravity, only with metaphor attached: “It is a known law that Esav hates Yaakov.”

Metaphorically interpreted: All non-Jews are out to get us.

I was taught that law as a child being schooled in Brooklyn. They all are out to get us.

As for the second interpretation, which bears equal weight in the original midrashic discussion — that Esav kissed his brother lovingly — well, it never was taught to us as kids. We did not even have to know it for the test. I only discovered it years later, when on my initiative I looked at the original source discussion.

Certainly, ours is a history of being targeted by “them” for no reason other than our being “us.” The Christian, en route to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel Muslim Saracens, stopped along watering holes throughout Europe to massacre whole Jewish bystander communities.

Three centuries later, as a bubonic plague took hold throughout Europe, insane justification somehow was found to murder one-third of our people. Three centuries later, Bogdan Chmielnitzki and the Cossack massacres. Three centuries later, Hitler, the Nazis and their European confederates. Not to mention the Inquisition in Spain, the expulsions from lands as gentle as France and England, the persecutions of Mashad, the mellahs of Morocco and the ghettos of Italy and the June 1941 Iraqi Shavuot pogrom after the fall of the Golden Square.

So many times we got caught in the crossfire of other people, insane and crazy with one or another agenda of hate, who stopped by along the way to target us, too. As recently as Mumbai, where goons and thugs fighting over the Pakistan-India Kashmir dispute chose to perpetrate horrific evils against targeted Jewish bystanders while on a murder spree, we have been caught or targeted in their crossfire.

It is easy to see how persuasive the “known law of nature” seems to be: They all are out to get us. Just look at history. All of them are out to get us.

Only, that is not all of our history. From Righteous Gentiles who genuinely risked and sometimes gave their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust to centuries and millennia of next door neighbors who lent us milk or sugar or watered our plants and picked up our mail (yes, an anachronism) when we went on vacation, to non-Jewish employers who hired us and non-Jewish teachers who helped us learn to read and to count, a second law also exists: No, they are not all out to get us.

And despite this country’s shameful moments — Peter Stuyvesant’s governance, Ulysses Grant’s General Order No. 11, the Leo Frank lynching, the 1928 Massena Blood Libel, the years of Father Coughlin and Henry Ford and the 1991 Crown Heights Riots — we have flourished and built Torah institutions, gained huge support for Israel, including financial and military backing and the right to hold dual citizenship with her, and have been able to play a role in every aspect of this land’s culture and enterprise and civilization. We assuredly owe it to our kids to teach them that, no, all of them are not out to get us.

And because the playing field at this time and place in our history is essentially level, it is incumbent on us to conduct our affairs honestly and ethically and to expect and demand the same from those business enterprises that operate in our community or — even if they are out in the sticks of the Corn Belt — that operate to serve our community.

Rabbi Dov Fischer is adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School and is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, a Modern Orthodox shul in Irvine. His Web site is www.rabbidov.com.