Video: Do You Think Science and Religion Can Coexist?

SoulPancake, a popular YouTube channel, recently asked me to participate in a discussion with other faith leaders about the environment. That was something I could not pass up.

The interviewer is Zach Anner, a self-proclaimed “climate change idiot” who is on a mission to, “find out what the hell climate change is and what people across America are doing (or not doing) about it!”

In this Earth Your While adventure, Zach talks with a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Reverend about their religion’s perspective on caring for the environment.

Cryptic first Strauss-Kahn tweet ignites imaginations

If you were a disgraced politician accused of pimping and rape in a trial that revealed your fondness for anal sex and orgies with young women, what would be your first message to the world after your acquittal?

For Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former finance minister of France and ex-managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the answer turns out to be: “Hello Twitter! Jack is Back.”

Strauss-Kahn, whom a French court acquitted on June 12 of allegations that he knowingly hired the services of hookers, left that enigmatic message on Twitter on June 21, when he joined the social network. He has not tweeted since, though he has amassed 44,000 followers in the space of three days.

The cryptic message “lit a fire under the imaginations” of many, according to an article in Le Point, a French weekly. The article sought to connect the tweet to the trial, which many found interesting not because of what Strauss-Kahn, or “DSK” as he is known in France, said he didn’t do, but because of what he said he did do – namely having rough anal sex with women half his age.

While he denied knowing his sexual partners were prostitutes, he did not dispute sodomizing several of them at after-hours sex parties in hotels as of 2010 – one year before French prosecutors heard his name while investigating a prostitution network in Lille, northern France.

During the trial, Jade, a prostitute who was sexually abused as a child, described the atmosphere at a Paris hotel orgy where she pleasured DSK. “No one asked me my name, there was just a hand on my head to fellate him,” she said. DSK subjected her to anal penetration against her wishes on a different occasion, she said, adding: “I didn’t have time to say no.”

DSK described the orgies as relief from his stressful work. He told the judge he knew neither that Jade was a hooker nor that she felt he had forced himself on her. He apologized for causing her any discomfort or pain against her will. But accounts of his calculated love of debauchery left many wondering as to the sincerity of his regret, or whether he viewed his sex partners as anything more than sex dolls with a pulse.

Once a promising Socialist Party candidate for the French presidency – many French Jews hoped he would become the first member of the tribe to hold the post — DSK arguably has paid dearly for his double life. His political career ruined and his name synonymous with shameless exploitation of the poor, his ex-wife (Jewish) television presenter Anne Sinclair left him in 2013.

Still, some were inclined to believe his expressions of regret in court came from the heart – an impression strengthened by DSK’s insistence that he truly believed the young women he penetrated were just looking for a good time, and his out-of-court settlement with a chamber maid from a New York hotel who accused him of rape. U.S. prosecutors cleared him of the rape and related charges in 2011.

Lingering doubts were likely not allayed by the triumphant tone of DSK’s latest tweet, according to Le Point, which offered several interpretations of the text to its readers.

“Jack is Back is what the prostitutes and police officers of Whitechapel used to say regularly in 1888,” the paper read, in a clear reference to Jack the Ripper — the uncaught slayer of several prostitutes in London.

South African minister Ebrahim Ebrahim ‘discouraging’ Israel visits

South Africa’s deputy international relations minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, is “discouraging” his countrymen from visiting Israel.

“Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel” unless the visit is associated with the peace process, he said, according to a report Sunday in the City Press.

Ebrahim denied the call was a step toward a complete boycott of Israel. South Africa’s department of trade and industry indicated recently its intention to introduce legislation that would require all goods from the West Bank to be labeled as such.

Last week, a planned trip to Israel by KwaZulu-Natal province mayors and officials was called off due to pressure from the local pro-Palestinian lobby.

Ebrahim told the City Press that South Africa should “scale down” its economic ties with Israel, but said he did not advocate a complete breakdown of relations. The country has formal diplomatic ties with Israel.

Describing the South African government’s record on international human rights as being “highly selective,” the South Africa Israel Public Affairs Committee’s David Hersch said in response that the country has “obviously abandoned its ludicrous claims to becoming involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.”

“It can no longer pretend to being an ‘honest broker,’ ” Hersch said, “and is using the Israel-Palestine issue to pander to Muslim voters, particularly in the Cape Province and Cape Town, which are governed most successfully by the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA).”

Syrian minister says gov’t will not use chemical weapons on rebels

Syria will only use its chemical weapons on threats from outside of the country, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Monday that the country’s chemical weapons are being guarded by the military, and that they would not be used against the rebels, nor could they fall into the wrong hands, according to reports.

Makdissi’s news conference was carried live on Syrian state television.

U.S. Pentagon officials discussed during meetings last week with Israeli defense officials whether Israel could destroy Syrian chemical weapons facilities in the event of the collapse of the Syrian government, The New York Times reported

During a briefing on the Golan Heights late last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel is concerned about chemical weapons scattered throughout Syria falling into the wrong hands, and said that Israel is monitoring that possibility.

“We obviously are not the only player in the region that is anxious; anxious about the fact that an anarchic situation will bring about the transfer of sensitive systems into the wrong hands,” Barak said. “There is no small amount of chemical weapons dispersed all around the country, and there is a lot of weaponry in the hands of the civilians.”

Israeli official woos expats — you <I>can</I> go home again

The message from the high Israeli official addressing more than 100 Israeli expatriates at Stephen S. Wise Temple was simple and direct.

“We want you to come back.”

Catchy slogans are one thing, translating them into reality is vastly more complex, Zeev Boim admitted.

Boim is Israel’s minister of immigration absorption, and he was in Los Angeles with a backup team of government and private industry representatives as part of a concerted campaign that touched down in seven U.S. and Canadian cities.

In the early decades of the Jewish state, Israelis abandoning the homeland were scorned as weaklings, traitors and “yordim,” those “going down” from the peaks of Israel to the depth of the Diaspora.

Ostracism didn’t work in stemming the outflow, and for some time the Israeli government has been wooing, rather than denigrating, the growing number of Israelis abroad. Boim’s North American tour, toward the end of last year, represented Israel’s strongest signal yet of its earnest intent to welcome its departed sons and daughters back into the family fold.

For any campaign, it is useful to know the size of your target audience, but pinning down the number of Israeli expatriates in any given country or city is the despair of demographers. Do you count only native Israelis or include those who, for example, went from Russia to Israel, became citizens but then moved on to Europe or the United States? And what about the American-born children and grandchildren of Israelis?

During an interview at the Israeli consulate, Boim offered a relatively straightforward criterion: All holders of Israeli passports, including those with dual citizenship, are considered Israelis.

Boim, who should know, estimated that there are 700,000 to 1 million Israeli expats in the world, of whom some 600,000 are in North America, including 150,000 to 200,000 in the Los Angeles area. Some local Israelis maintain there are as many as 300,000 of their compatriots in Los Angeles, which would represent more than half of all Jews here.

More realistically, Boim’s ministry has given out considerably lower figures than the boss, and local demographer Bruce Phillips of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) insisted that the count is completely out of line, with only 26,000 Israelis in the Los Angeles area.

Whatever the number, Boim argued that the key to luring back expats lies in providing decent jobs, and that Israel’s strong economy, especially in the high-tech sector, is in a position to offer such employment.

In each of the cities Boim visited and after his pep talk, seriously interested expats could talk to specialists from his ministry and private industry about jobs, establishing businesses, housing, government assistance and liaison with local Israeli consulates.

Although the expats, classified as “returning residents,” would not receive as much government aid as new immigrants, Boim held out inducements in the form of tax relief, cutting bureaucratic red tape and even deferment from mandatory military service. Additional sweeteners are reserved for those willing to settle in the underpopulated Galilee and Negev regions.

The “come back home” push aims for long-range, not immediate, results, Boim said. He cited the return of some 6,000 expats in 2005 as a promising sign. On the flip side, however, around 8,000 to 9,000 Israelis left for overseas residence during the same year.

A large majority of those attending the Los Angeles meeting with Boim came on a look-see basis, but about 10 percent stayed to talk about the nuts and bolts of returning home.

Among them was Angie Geffen, the American-born daughter of Israeli parents, who traveled from Scottsdale, Ariz., with her husband, Amir, an Israeli electrical engineer.

Contacted a week after the meeting, she was bubbling over with enthusiasm, praising the excellent organization and helpfulness of Boim’s support staff. She said the meeting had saved her weeks of research.

“We’ll move in a couple of months,” she said confidently.

During a follow-up call two months later, Geffen had come down from her high. She complained about protracted disputes with Israeli housing authorities about obtaining land and shelter for her and 32 other families in a Galilee community.

She, her husband and their young son still hope to leave for Israel before Passover, “but we will have to rethink our finances,” she said.

Another participant was “Ehud,” a 31-year-old teacher at a Jewish day school here, who left Israel as a child and asked that his real name not be used. Ehud said he was impressed by Boim’s talk but not by a 10-minute follow-up interview with one of the minister’s assistants.

“When I talked about available job opportunities in Israel, I was told, ‘We’ll try to find you something when you get there,'” Ehud said. When he pressed the matter, the interviewer told him, “We don’t start the process until you get there.”

Ehud still wants to marry and start a family in Israel, but he might first visit on his own to check out the job situation.

What keeps Israelis in the Diaspora, and what draws them back home? The individual answers and motivations differ, but talks with expats yield some common themes: The big draw in coming to the United States is almost always economic opportunity. The big pull to return is the sense of social intimacy and togetherness few expats can find elsewhere, and the worry that their children and grandchildren will lose their feeling of Israeli connectedness.

Ravit Markus is an independent producer who dreamed of going to Hollywood while a film student at Tel Aviv University.

Since arriving here more than two years ago, she has produced some well-received documentaries, most recently, “Yiddish Theater: A Love Story,” in collaboration with fellow expat, director Dan Katzir, and she is now turning her hand to a romantic comedy.

Now in her late 20s, Markus considers herself quite typical of the local expats, both in their ambitions and conflicts.

New faces and new places for Consuls General of Israel

A new Israeli consul general, Yaakov (Jacob) Dayan, will arrive in Los Angeles in November to succeed Ehud Danoch as his country’s top diplomat in Southern California, five southwestern states and Hawaii.

At the same time, it was announced in Jerusalem that two Los Angeles alumni of the Israeli foreign service will assume high-ranking posts this summer.

Former Consul General Yuval Rotem has been named ambassador to Australia, and his former deputy, Zvi Vapni, ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines.

Dayan, 40, has served as chief of staff to both former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and present Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and most recently headed a study on possible diplomatic approaches to Syria.

He accompanied Shalom on two trips to Los Angeles in recent years and said he was looking forward to a longer stay in the city, together with his wife, Galit, and their three children.

“Los Angeles and this region are very important to Israel, so I take this as a huge challenge, but I know I will be working with a wonderful team at the consulate,” Dayan said in a phone call from Jerusalem.

For Rotem, a popular figure during his five-year tenure in Los Angeles, the new appointment comes after a difficult two years in Israel, during which he was largely sidelined from active involvement in the Foreign Ministry.

Part of the reason was that Rotem, whose foreign service career had risen unusually fast, had to compete with other senior officials for the most desirable appointments and had a hard time finding the right slot, knowledgeable sources explained. During last year’s conflict in Lebanon, he served as head of a liaison unit with United Nations and Lebanese officials, which, among other tasks, provided relief for the local population.

Rotem’s new duties will take him to all parts of Australia and New Zealand, as well as Papua New Guinea and the Fiji Islands, Rotem said in a phone call from Jerusalem. Accompanying him will be his wife, Miri, and the two youngest of their children. His oldest son will be performing his military service.

Vapni’s territory in the Philippines will cover 7,000 islands, and include a Jewish community of about 250 people, “quite a change from 500,000 in Los Angeles,” he noted.

Currently on special assignment in Ireland, Vapni was in charge of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Israel, among other assignments. Joining him in Manila will be his wife, Limor, and their two young children.

The new diplomatic appointments partially represent routine reassignments, but also reflect a professional boost for career diplomats, following protracted labor negotiations within the Foreign Ministry and the appointment of Livni a year ago.

Up to last year, the government was able to make 11 “political” foreign service appointments, generally to the most prestigious jobs abroad. Now that number has been reduced to two, most likely for ambassadors to the United Nations and Washington, D.C.

Both the outgoing ambassador to the Philippines and the current consul general in Los Angeles were political appointments and are being replaced by career diplomats.

The Los Angeles post is considered one of the top assignments in the Israeli foreign service. Although the consul general here doesn’t deal with relations between Israel and other nations, he (there has never been a female consul general in Los Angeles) plays a crucial role from the Israeli perspective.

“We see Los Angeles as one of the five most important assignments in the world,” said Ido Aharoni, Livni’s media adviser.

“The city’s importance lies in its economic strength, the size and influence of the Jewish community, political clout, ethnic and religious diversity — and, of course, Hollywood,” Aharoni said in a phone interview.

“We have sent some of our best people to L.A.,” he added. “Ehud Danoch has been doing an excellent job and Yaakov Dayan is a terrific diplomat.”

Aharoni served in Los Angeles as consul for public affairs from 1994 to 1998. His wife, Julie, the mother of their three children, is the granddaughter of Lou Boyar, who was a legendary mover and shaker in the Los Angeles business and Jewish communities.

He endowed the Mae Boyar High School in Jerusalem in honor of his wife, and, to round the circle, Julie Aharoni is now a teacher at the school.

As Israel’s top representative in this region, the consul general has always exerted a strong symbolic influence in the Los Angeles Jewish community, and his actual impact has varied according to his own priorities and changing circumstances.

Some of the earlier diplomats focused on the top Jewish leadership, encouraging philanthropic, business and tourism ties with Israel.

Rotem had a special interest in the city’s diversity, establishing close ties with the Latino, African American and Christian communities.

Danoch, who will conclude his three-year term toward the end of 2007, has been particularly successful in enlisting Hollywood talent to visit Israel and supporting its cause in the media.

Arab’s nomination to Israel’s Cabinet stirs up simmering controversy

The naming of the first Arab minister to the Israeli Cabinet was billed as an event underscoring hope of securing racial harmony in the Jewish state, though it may long remain mired in regional conflict.

But the nomination of Raleb Majadele instead has merely served to uncover Israel’s often messy personality politics and the latent racism of some of its citizens.

Majadele, a veteran Laborite, was chosen last week by the party’s leader, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, for the science, culture and sport portfolio. He is to replace Ophir Pines-Paz, who bolted in November to protest Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s inclusion of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party alongside Labor in the governing coalition.

Peretz was quoted as telling Majadele that in government, he would “help improve relations between the various sectors of Israeli society” — a reference to Jewish-Arab ties strained by the Palestinian intifada and allegations of institutional discrimination.

Seemingly the nomination was a brazen bit of inverse race-baiting by the dovish Peretz: Pines-Paz left because of what he perceived as Yisrael Beiteinu’s anti-Arab platform, only to have his place taken by an Arab.

Asked how he would deal with sitting in government with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has proposed ceding Israeli Arab areas to a future Palestinian state and ousting Arab lawmakers from the Knesset, Majadele said, “It won’t be simple.”

But he added, “I think that my appointment strengthens the Israeli government and constitutes a step in the right direction toward the Arab public.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised Majadele’s nomination. But its ratification, which was expected to take place at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, was postponed for a week.

The prime minister told his Kadima faction that the appointment of an Arab minister “is a significant act whose time has come.”

“But the move must be made while keeping in mind the big picture of vacancies in the Cabinet and the demands of Labor and Yisrael Beiteinu,” Olmert said.

Israeli media quoted Olmert confidantes as accusing Peretz of failing to consult with the prime minister before putting Majadele’s name forward. Sources close to the defense minister charged Olmert with delaying the appointment in order to help Ehud Barak, whom Olmert is said to prefer for Labor leader, gather support ahead of that party’s May primary.

Condemnation of Majadele’s appointment was quick to come from both Jews and Arabs.

Esterina Tartman, a senior Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker, accused Peretz in a radio interview of threatening the Jewish character of Israel by encouraging “assimilation.”

She was further quoted by Israeli media as calling Majadele’s nomination a “blight” on Zionism — language that drew censure from across Israel’s political spectrum.

Some Israeli Arabs, meanwhile, accused Peretz of an attempt at tokenism and patronage.
“In the existing situation, the ability of an Arab minister who is a member of a Jewish-Zionist party to influence the condition of the Arab population and central issues, such as the Palestinian question, appears to be nil,” said Asad Ghanem, a Haifa University professor who recently helped put together a manifesto arguing that Israel’s Jewish character was inconsistent with full civic participation for its Arab minority.

“I think that Majadele, as an Arab minister, won’t even work as a fig leaf,” Ghanem said.

Others saw an even more partisan ploy by Peretz, whose standing in Labor has been at a nadir since the summer war in Lebanon, the failings of which are blamed by many Israelis on the militarily untested defense minister.

Enlisting the support of Labor’s sizable Arab electorate could help Peretz fend off challenges in the primary by Barak, a former Israeli prime minister and military chief, and Ami Ayalon, a former Navy admiral and Shin Bet director.

“This appointment is exclusively for the purpose of the primary and is characteristic of a confused government that is only dealing with its survival,” said Pines-Paz, another contender in the Labor race.

Unlike Tartman, Lieberman said he had no problem with an Arab joining the Cabinet, but he echoed the charges against Peretz.

“The problem here is in the timing and the fact that a minister in the State of Israel is using the tools at his disposal wrongfully in order to promote himself politically,” Lieberman said.

Majadele, a 53-year-old father of four from Baka al-Garbiya, would not be the first non-Jew to serve as an Israeli Cabinet minister. Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, appointed Salah Tarif, a Druse, to his Cabinet. Tarif stepped down in 2002 amid corruption charges.

Noteworthy sessions and events at the G.A.

10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tour of the Skirball Cultural Center
Note: Tour leaves from Westin Bonaventure and returns to the L.A. Convention Center.

2:30 p.m.
Opening Plenary: “One People, One Destiny, One Great Day in November”
Greetings: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Keynote Speaker: Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “We Are Not Alone: Allies in Making the Case for Israel”
Speakers: Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., and former executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission; Randy Neal, California regional director, Christians United for Israel; and Nancy Coonis, superintendent of Secondary Schools for the L.A. Archdiocese

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Jewish Learning: Activism and Social Justice”
Speaker: Rabbi Miriyam Glazer of the University of Judaism

8:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m.
Plenary: “The Jewish Future: Where We Are as a People”
Moderator: Dr. Beryl Geber, associate executive vice president of policy development, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los AngelesSpeakers: Rabbi Norman Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University in New York

10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Plenary: “Emerging Global Realities and the Challenge of Radical Islam”
Speakers: Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” and “American Vertigo: Traveling in the Footsteps of Tocqueville”

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Media Lessons Learned From the War”

Speakers: Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media and public affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker staff writer and author, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide;” and Irit Atsmon, former Deputy IDF spokesman

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism”
Moderator: Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Speakers: Steven Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project; Aviva Raz-Shechter, director, Department of Anti-Semitism & Holocaust Issues, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Charles Small, director, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, Yale University

3:45 p.m.-5 p.m.
Plenary: “Challenges of the Jewish People at the Beginning of the 21st Century”
Speaker: Likud Chairman and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dr. Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP

8:15 p.m.- 10 p.m.
Event: “A Once in a Lifetime Evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall”

Background: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music will co-host a concert of Jewish music at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program will include selections by Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill. Performers include Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, an 85-member chorus and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Gerard Schwarz.

8:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
Plenary: “Challenges and Opportunities: Israel 2006”
Moderator: Judge Ellen M. Heller, president, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Speakers: Israel Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Israel Education Minister Yuli Tamir
Special Guest: Moshe Oofnik, Sesame Street Workshop

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Understanding Islam: Current Trends”
Speakers: Menahem Milson, professor of Arabic studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and chairman of The Middle East Media Research Institute; Norman Stillman, professor and chair of Judaic history, University of Oklahoma; Irshad Manji, author, “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Working to Save Darfur”
Speakers: John Fishel, president, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, co-founder, Jewish World Watch; and Ruth Messinger, president/executive director, American Jewish World Service

4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Plenary: “The New Frontlines: Facing the Future Together”
Keynote Speaker: Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

8:30 a.m.-Noon
Meeting: “Translating the GA Into Action: Open Board of Trustees & Delegate Assembly Forum”
Goal: Coming up with an action plan based on issues addressed at GA.

Trouble Mars Pope’s Trip to Auschwitz

Eleven years ago, at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, misunderstandings between Poles and Jews ran so deep that even a rabbi’s desire to say the Mourner’s Kaddish reportedly disturbed some Polish politicians.

In fact, there were so many debates over the tenor of the event that two separate ceremonies were held: one for Jews, the other arranged by the Polish government.

At last Sunday’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI, not only was Kaddish recited, but a whole new Catholic sensitivity to Jews was on display — even as Poland struggles to battle xenophobia and anti-Semitism, sometimes from Catholic sources.

When meeting former inmate Henrik Mandelbaum, who was forced to burn the bodies of his fellow Jews in the Birkenau crematoria, the normally reserved Benedict kissed him on both cheeks.

Poland’s chief rabbi, U.S.-born Michael Schudrich, said Kaddish in the presence of the pope and the country’s top elected leaders, and recalled those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the gas chambers.

Forced in his native Germany to join the Hitler Youth as a teen, Benedict said: “The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth.”

But Schudrich noted that the pope “stopped short of decrying anti-Semitism, and although his visit was a wonderful gesture to us all, not mentioning anti-Semitism was a glaring omission.”

The chief rabbi’s sentiments were echoed by a number of Jewish observers, including Auschwitz survivor Kalman Sultanik and Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

The pope’s visit came at a time when Polish-Jewish relations are soaring. The country has the largest number of and best-attended Jewish festivals in Europe, countless Catholic-Jewish initiatives and massive government financial support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, expected to open in Warsaw in 2009.

However, the specter of anti-Semitism has not been erased in the country that was home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities before World War II.

Less than one month ago, an extreme-right Catholic party whose politicians have a long history of anti-Jewish and anti-gay positions joined the coalition government at the request of Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz.

The League of Polish Families is presided over by Roman Giertych, the country’s new minister of education. Giertych is formerly head of the All-Polish Youth, whose members have been photographed giving the Nazi salute, according to media reports. The league has its roots in the National Democratic movement, which advocated violence against Jews in the 1930s and was led by Giertych’s grandfather.

In dozens of interviews, Jews and non-Jews said they worry that Giertych’s rise had empowered the small segment of Polish society that is intolerant and xenophobic.

Several high-profile acts of anti-Semitism leading up to the pope’s visit upset Poland’s Jewish community, estimated at up to 10,000 in a country of 38 million.

Schudrich was, for the first time in his 15 years in the country, assaulted Saturday coming out of synagogue, when a man hit him in the face and attacked him with pepper spray, shouting, “Poland is for Poles.”

The previous Shabbat, some young men shouted anti-Semitic slogans at the rabbi and other worshippers.

Schudrich connected the ascension of Giertych and the league, which garnered 8 percent of the vote in the 2005 parliamentary elections, with these events and other recent incidents, including anti-Jewish threats sent by text message to Jewish student leaders and the stabbing of an anti-fascist by skinheads in Warsaw.

“There is a price to letting in extreme rightists into the government. It empowers xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic members of society,” Schudrich said.


After the Ashes


On a rabbinic mission to Israel in 1998, Natan Sharansky, then Israel’s minister of industry and trade, addressed our group.

Sharansky recounted to us how he was invited to visit Russia a year after his election to the Knesset. It was the first time in history that a past prisoner of the Russian government returned as a leader in the free world. Sharansky told of other unique aspects of his trip.

“I was the first state guest who insisted not on going to the Russian Ballet,” he said. “But rather I wanted to visit the former KGB prison where I was incarcerated.”

The Russians were baffled by this unusual request. It actually took a good deal of time for Moscow to agree, and the trip was delayed until consent was granted. The Russians meticulously prepared for the visit.

Sharansky said, “It was so clean that it almost looked like the Ballet Theater. Of course they cleaned it up in my honor, and I thanked them for their kindness.”

As Sharansky and his wife, Avital, toured the prison, he asked his hosts, “Please show me the punishment cell.”

The officials didn’t know what to do. They were not prepared for this request, and obviously it wasn’t on the official itinerary. Furthermore, they wanted to deny that there was such a room.

“They showed me a regular cell and said it was the punishment cell,” he said. “I told them that if there is one thing they cannot deceive me about, it is Russian prisons.

“So they finally consented and showed me a punishment cell that was empty. I then asked to be left alone with my wife for 15 minutes.”

When the Sharanskys reappeared, the journalists asked why he insisted on such a visit. They wanted to know if this was an act of masochism.

“‘On the contrary, it was the most inspiring moment of my life,'” Sharansky responded. “‘When I was a prisoner of the Soviet Union, my jailers tortured and taunted me and told me that world Jewry had betrayed me and that I would never leave the prison alive.’

“Today, the KGB does not exist, the Soviet Union does not exist, and 1 million Jews have left the punishment cell called the Soviet Union. This is what I went back to see. This is what I am thankful for.”

Sharansky’s attitude is as old as the Bible. This week’s Torah portion began with a description of the olah, the obligatory burnt offering that was brought twice a day — morning and afternoon — to the Holy Temple.

Strangely, the description starts with four verses devoted to the laws about removing the ashes of the sacrifice that was consumed throughout the previous night. Only with verse five do we find the laws pertaining to the sacrifice itself.

Rabbi Chayim ben Attar, the 18th-century Moroccan kabbalist and commentator, suggested that this order was replete with a moral message. In his biblical commentary, the Or HaChayim, he argued that it depicted Jewish history in which suffering seems to dominate, but in the end victory will reign.

“This is the teaching of the burnt offering: It is the burnt offering on the firewood….”

Our history has been “the offering on the firewood,” that consumed so many Jews, he notes in Or HaChayim. When one reads Jewish history it appears like a gigantic furnace devouring so many of our people.

The fire of anti-Semitism burned throughout a long, dark night that seems to have no end. The Torah, however, tells us that this is not our destiny; rather, “the Kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning … you shall not extinguish it.”

We, the generation after the Holocaust, the generation of the establishment of the State of Israel, the generation of the freedom of Soviet Jewry and the generation of the ingathering of Ethiopian Jewry, know the truth of this message.

Jewish history is not only fire and ashes; it is the promise of a glorious destiny. Our job is to make that destiny happen sooner rather than later.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.


Estranged Bedfellows

Only in Israel would a government minister refrain from singing the national anthem.

Saleh Tarif, the first Arab appointed to the Cabinet in Israel’s history, refused to sing "Hatikvah" during an event at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds at the end of an intensive week of struggle within Israel’s Labor Party over whether to join the national unity government.

Standing among his proud, singing friends in the Labor Party, Tarif kept his mouth shut.

"Do you really think I could stand there and sing, ‘So long as still within our breasts the Jewish heart beats true?’" Tarif asked during an interview. "It is the Jewish anthem; it is not the anthem of the non-Jewish citizens of Israel."

It took the Arab citizens of Israel almost 53 years before they could finally have their own person in the Cabinet — even though they are 18 percent of the population. It was an impressive political achievement, but it could not have come at a more tense moment between Israel and its Arab citizens.

During the past five months, relations between the Jewish State and its Arab minority reached an all-time low, as Israeli Arabs rioted in solidarity with the first days of the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and police killed 13 Arabs in ensuing clashes.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was one of the first to phone his congratulations to the newly elected minister in Tarif’s Galilee village of Julis. Tarif will be a minister without portfolio, responsible for Arab affairs.

But many among Israel’s Arab population doubt whether Tarif really represents them.

Tarif, 47, is a member of the Druse community, a secretive religious sect derived from Islam. Some 100,000 Druse live in 18 villages in the Carmel, Galilee and Golan.

Like their 300,000 brethren in neighboring countries, the Druse are ethnically Arabs. However, most of the Druse in Israel allied themselves with the Jewish State as early as Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. They perform compulsory military service, just like Israeli Jews.

Throughout the years, the Druse have emphasized their unique identity, disassociating themselves from the Muslims and Christians among Israel’s million-strong Arab population.

But Tarif, after Labor’s Central Committee elected him as minister, is emphasizing his Arab ethnicity rather than his Druse religion.

"I was well aware of the fact that many among Labor’s leaders treated the Druse and Arab members of the party rather as a decoration than as real colleagues," Tarif said the day after he was elected, "and I thought it was time to test our grass-roots support."

The Central Committee "did not support me because I am an Arab," Tarif said. "They elected me as an Israeli, because they thought I was fit for the job."

Tarif is married and the father of four. He advanced to the rank of major in the Israel Defense Force and went straight from military service to being elected mayor of his village.

As nephew of the late Sheik Amin Tarif, the legendary spiritual leader of the Druse, Tarif quickly climbed up the Labor Party ladder and became a Knesset member in 1991.

He was elected to prestigious Knesset committees such as the Security, Foreign Affairs, Interior and House committees. His Hebrew is impeccable.

In recent years, Tarif has worked on developing relations with leaders of the Palestinian Authority. "I definitely intend to serve as the mouthpiece of the Arabs of Israel," Tarif said. "It is high time that someone speaks for them along the Cabinet table."

After demanding for years that an Arab be named to the Cabinet, many Israeli Arabs distanced themselves from Tarif. "He does not represent us, but rather Sharon and his government," said Mohammed Barakeh, a Knesset member from the Communist Hadash Party.

"Tarif’s election is a personal achievement," said Knesset Member Talab a-Sana of the United Arab List. "But it is more a dirty trick of the Labor Party, which tried to cover its sins toward the Arab population by electing a minister without portfolio."

Dr. Nazir Yunis, a heart surgeon at the Hillel Yaffe Hospital in Hadera and a disenchanted political activist, said he could think of many others who could better represent Israeli Arabs. "Tarif is a compromise, and not necessarily the best compromise," Yunis said.

On second thought, Yunis added, "Perhaps there is no other way. Perhaps we need to settle for a Druse minister before we get a real Arab one."

Tarif conceded that it was "not easy" for him to join a government that is considered "rightist." However, he promised that he would fight for his views and would not adjust his positions to please his new boss.

Embracing Diaspora

The old-time Zionist religion had it that the only good Diaspora Jew was the one who made aliyah and settled in the ancestral land.

Now, after decades of inner-focused effort to build up the new land and survive, the Jewish state is rediscovering its distant relatives and, what’s more, is ready to accept them, on their own terms, as equals.

Stretching out a hand to the brethren abroad has become a sudden Israeli cottage industry. For the first time, a cabinet minister for “World Jewish Affairs” has been appointed. Senior politicians and think tanks vie to come up with imaginative plans to redefine relations between the world’s two largest Jewish communities in Israel and the United States.

In a reversal of fortunes, Israel is putting up $100 million to support an educational program for Diaspora youth through the “Birthright Israel” program.

Not least, Israel’s foreign ministry has made a major commitment in staff and money for new outreach programs, most notably the Young Jewish Leadership Diplomatic Seminar.

The inaugural run of the 25-day summer seminar has concluded and the newly coined “diplomats,” most in their twenties and hailing from 18 countries, have returned from Israel to their hometowns.

Among the 34 participants were two young professional women from Los Angeles, who came home with a new appreciation and knowledge of Israel — both its strengths and its unresolved problems.

Neither Lauren Rutkin, 29, or Marjan Keypour, 28, arrived at the seminar as novices. Both had visited Israel twice before, and their jobs — Rutkin as associate director of the local AIPAC office, and Keypour as a staff member of the Anti-Defamation League’s community services department — inevitably have a Zionist component.

In that sense, they differ from most of their American peers, to whom the Jewish state is “not central, not terribly important,” said Rutkin.

Even for vacation trips, noted Keypour, most American twentysomethings “want a paradise atmosphere, not the war zone depicted on their television.”

But even for the relatively knowledgeable participants from Los Angeles, the daily dawn-to-dusk sessions were intensive learning experiences.

They heard, and questioned, an array of experts on Israel’s foreign relations, the peace process, the country’s Arabs, Hebrew poetry, movies, theater, economics, media, jurisprudence, academic life, environment, urban sprawl, religion and more.

“There was no sugar coating of existing problems,” said Rutkin, and Keypour agreed that “they presented the facts and allowed us to draw our own conclusions.”

The two women did encounter the old-line Zionist perspective in the person of the formidable President Ezer Weizman, and felt some resentment at his insistence that Jewish life in the Diaspora was meaningless.

As often happens in such settings, the two Angelenas learned as much about differing Jewish viewpoints from their fellow participants from different countries as from the lecturers.

“I found out that such terms as ‘Conservative’ or ‘Reform’ Judaism mean different things in different countries,” said Keypour. “Religious pluralism was the number one topic of debate.”

What both women missed were personal contacts with Israelis of their own age, and Keypour added that the program was a mite too cerebral.

Future participants, particularly if first-time visitors to Israel, “should experience the country also on a more spiritual and emotional level… to smell the flowers and touch the stones of the Western Wall,” Keypour said.

But overall, Rutkin said, she returned feeling “more connected with Israel and the Jewish people, and energized in my commitment.”

She will apply her experiences to encourage the next generation of young leaders to spend time in Israel, starting with her three sisters. On a personal note, she has decided to celebrate a belated bat mitzvah in November.

Keypour, who arrived in this country 11 years ago from Iran, said she would focus her efforts on the young people in her own community, whose indifferent attitudes toward Israel mirrors those of other young Jews in Los Angeles. She also plans to talk to the Sinai Temple New Leadership, on whose board she serves.

Arthur Lenk, consul for communications and public affairs at the local Israel consulate-general, sees the seminar as a partial antidote to young American Jews, who view Israel as “just another country. “

“On our side, it has become clear that Israel does not solely exist for its own citizens, but has no less a responsibility for Jews everywhere,” said Lenk, who himself made aliyah from the United States.

“It’s part of Israel’s maturation process that we can say, sure we want you to settle here, but if you don’t come, that doesn’t make you any less of a Jew,” he observed.

Lenk, who interviewed 15 applicants for this year’s pilot program said that the feedback had been positive enough to plan for a similar seminar next summer.

Renewal and Restraint

Renewal and Restraint

By Edward Sanders

I went to Israel last month as someone who is a supporter of the peace process; as someone who believes in exchange of land for peace; as someone who is dedicated to peace with security for Israel; and as someone disturbed by the construction at Har Homa and the opening of the Hasmonean tunnel. Over the course of many years, I have supported Israel’s peace movement and have worked to promote a just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

When Binyamin Netanyahu was elected by the Israeli people as their prime minister last May, I was disappointed. I did not think that he would, or could, effectively continue the peace process that was initiated by former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. I have been concerned about the proposed law of conversion, and now there is the additional problem of a politically wounded prime minister.

When I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office last month, I related to him all of my concerns. Subsequently, after seeing the situation on the ground and being among the people of Israel, I found that my long-standing emotional commitment to Israel was reinvigorated, and I once again clearly understood the centrality of Jerusalem.

For Israel and the Jewish people, there has never been a capital other than Jerusalem over the course of the last 3,000 years. Jerusalem is mentioned 657 times in the Hebrew Bible (though not once in the Koran) and has been, and continues to be, the focus of Jewish prayer and thought. Although Jerusalem is revered by other faiths, its centrality to Judaism and to the Jewish people is unique. Even to secular Jews, Jerusalem has a mystical power that unites the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.

In contrast to all of Jerusalem’s previous rulers (the Jordanians, the British and the Turks, in this century), Israel has maintained unprecedented safeguards for religious freedom within the city. Since Israel reunited the city in 1967, hundreds of thousands of Moslems and Christians — many from countries that remain in a state of war with Israel — have come to Jerusalem to visit their holy places.

When the city was last under Arab rule, from 1948 to 1967, non-Moslem holy places and observances were, at best, restricted and, at worst, desecrated. Christian schools were forced to include Moslem teachings, and the Christian population dropped by nearly 60 percent. Jewish synagogues and cemeteries (that were not outright destroyed) were converted into latrines and chicken coops, and access was denied to the Western Wall and all other Jewish sites.

These are the memories that Israel has of the last time Jerusalem was divided. Israeli negotiators bring this painful chapter of the city’s history with them during every negotiating session with their Palestinian partners. Israel ensures the religious and cultural rights of any and all who want to visit the Holy City. However, the issue of sovereignty is not open for debate.

While Israel has made certain commitments to the Palestinians through the accords that it has signed, none of these commitments has even mentioned Jerusalem. Israel does not have, and never had, any intention of dividing or sharing its eternal capital. For this reason, the status of the city was consciously omitted from all signed agreements. Any building that will take place in the Har Homa neighborhood of East Jerusalem, or anywhere else in the city, does not violate the accords.

When I visited Jerusalem, I saw a vibrant, growing city, whose residents, both Jewish and Arab, need additional housing. Israel’s plan to build for Jews in Har Homa and for Arabs in 10 Arab neighborhoods should be taken at face value. There is no reason an international crisis needs to erupt every time a Jerusalemite requires a bigger apartment. And such construction is certainly no justification for the terrorism that occurred when a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered three young women and injured scores of others at a Tel Aviv outdoor cafe. Israel cannot be expected to negotiate under the gun.

It is absolutely clear that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people want peace with security, and no one with whom I talked can conceive of a divided Jerusalem.

I pray that the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis comes to a just and peaceful resolution. But the division of Jerusalem is something that the overwhelming majority of Israelis will never accept. On this issue, there is unity. For peace to succeed, a creative solution will need to be implemented that satisfies Palestinian needs while the city remains under Israel’s sovereignty.

I also came home with the firm conviction, now reinforced by the political turmoil in Israel, that this is neither the time nor the occasion for the American friends of Israel to urge the Clinton administration to do any more than energetically play its historic role as an honest broker. Any other course of conduct can backfire and further harm the already fragile course of peace. This is no time to pile on.

Edward Sanders is a former president of the Jewish Federation Council for Greater Los Angeles and former senior adviser to President Carter on the Middle East.

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