Muslims at a prayer service celebrating Eid-al-Fitr in Stamford, Conn., on June 25. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

American Muslims intermarry way less and are far more religious than American Jews


Since it came out in 2013, the “Pew study” — a landmark survey of American Jewish demographics, beliefs and practices — has been at the center of American Jewish scrutiny and handwringing.

Now it’s American Muslims’ turn.

On Wednesday, the Pew Research Center released a survey of American Muslims focusing not only on numbers and their way of life, but also on how the community has responded to the election of President Donald Trump.

Comparing the two studies shows a Muslim sector in America that is more religious, growing faster and feels more embattled than American Jews. But both groups voted for Hillary Clinton.

Here’s how the Jews and Muslims of the United States stack up.

There are more Jews than Muslims in America, but the Muslim population is growing faster.

Pew found that there are about 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, a little more than 1 percent of the population. U.S. Jews, by contrast, stand at 6.3 million — around 2 percent of all Americans.

But Muslims, Pew found, skew younger and have higher birth rates. More than a third of U.S. Muslims are under 30, only 14 percent are over 55 and their birth rate is 2.4, slightly higher than the national average. Most American Jews are over 50 and their birth rate is 1.9. While the median age of U.S. Muslims is 35, the median age of U.S. Jews is 50. Americans in general have a median age of 47.

These numbers explain why a 2015 Pew study found that by 2050, American Muslims will outnumber American Jews. While the Jewish population is expected to stagnate at about 5.4 million, Pew predicts that in a little more than three decades, there will be 8 million Muslims in America.

The respective studies also included some data unique to each religion. While there are sharp internal divides between Shia and Sunni Muslims, Pew did not address the question of “who is a Muslim” as it did with Jewish Americans.

The study reported demographic data that may contradict popular American stereotypes of Muslims. Only 14 percent of Muslim immigrants are from the Middle East, while one-fifth are from South Asia. And the plurality of American Muslims — four in 10 — are white.

Only 13 percent of American Muslims are intermarried.

When Pew released its study of the Jews in 2013, American Jewish leaders began fretting about an intermarriage rate of 58 percent since 2000 — and they haven’t stopped. By that measure, American Muslim leaders can rest easy.

Unlike the majority of American Jews, only 13 percent of American Muslims are intermarried. And the number has declined in recent years: In 2011, the number was 16 percent. The numbers are so low that the word “intermarriage” doesn’t even appear in the survey.

But another statistic shows that American Muslims may be following their Jewish neighbors. Among Muslims born in the U.S., the intermarriage rate is nearly 20 percent.

Most Jews say they don’t face discrimination. Most Muslims say they do.

Another reason for the difference in intermarriage rates could be the discrimination that Jews and Muslims each face in America. Jews, who are more likely to marry outside their group, are also more accepted in America than Muslims.

In an age when Trump the candidate called for a ban on Muslim immigration, the Muslim study focused heavily on Muslim feelings of discrimination and belonging in America. Questions were asked about Islamophobia, anti-Muslim violence, the president, terrorism, extremism and how Muslims feel about being Muslim and American.

In brief, the study found that nearly half of Muslims have faced discrimination in the past year, and 75 percent feel Muslims face a great deal discrimination in America. But nine in 10 feel proud to be American. Three-quarters of American Muslims say violence against civilians can never be justified, as opposed to 59 percent of Americans in general.

In 2013, most Jews said that Jews do not face a lot of discrimination in America, and only 15 percent personally faced discrimination in the year before the survey.

But Pew’s Jewish study was published three years before the spike in anti-Semitism that accompanied the 2016 election. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League published in April revealed starkly different numbers, showing that most Americans were concerned about violence against Jews.

Jews graduate college at higher rates than Muslims and earn more.

The graduation rates and household incomes of American Muslims track with the rest of the country. Like Americans in general, 31 percent of Muslim Americans have graduated college. And a quarter of Muslim Americans earn more than $100,000, similar to the national average. But 40 percent of Muslim households earn less than $30,000 — eight points higher than Americans in general.

Nearly six in 10 American Jews, meanwhile, have graduated college. And 42 percent have household incomes higher than $100,000, while only 20 percent earn less than $30,000.

Muslims are far more religious than Jews, but both say social justice is central.

American Jews and Muslims are particularly different when it comes to religion. While nearly two-thirds of American Muslims say religion is very important to them, only a quarter of Jews do. A third of Jews believe in God, compared to 85 percent of Muslims who said belief in God is essential to being a Muslim. Nearly six in 10 American Muslims say following the Quran is essential to being a Muslim, compared to less than a quarter of American Jews who say the same about Jewish law.

Four in 10 American Muslims attend mosque at least once a week and eight in 10 observe the monthlong fast of Ramadan. By contrast, two-thirds of American Jews attend synagogue less than once a month and only about half fasted on Yom Kippur.

But there are some commonalities, too. Nearly all American Jews and Muslims say they are proud to be Jewish and Muslim, respectively. And both groups prioritize social justice. Solid majorities of Jews (60 percent) and Muslims (69 percent) see “working for justice and equality” as an essential part of their religious identity.

Jews are more liberal than Muslims, but a higher percentage voted for Trump.

American Muslims responded to Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail by voting for Clinton. Nearly 80 percent of American Muslims voted for the Democrat, while only 8 percent backed Trump. By contrast, Clinton earned 70 percent of the Jewish vote, with Trump garnering 25 percent.

But proportionally more American Jews identify as liberal than do American Muslims. While nearly half of American Jews call themselves liberal, only 30 percent of American Muslims do — close to the national average.

But Muslims are trending liberal on at least one issue: A majority believe homosexuality should be accepted in society, compared to just 27 percent who felt that way a decade ago. Four-fifths of American Jews agree.

Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Jewish groups criticize Supreme Court decision to allow parts of Trump’s travel ban


The Jewish resettlement agency HIAS and the Anti-Defamation League decried the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to be enforced.

On Monday, the court said it would hear the appeals of two cases that had resulted from the travel ban, which aimed to keep  the citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days.

The high court agreed to stay parts of rulings that had blocked the ban from being enforced. The partial stay means that foreigners with no U.S. ties could be prohibited from entering the country, but those with ties such as through business or personal relationship would remain unaffected, The New York Times reported. Those who had been to the country previously also could enter.

HIAS — formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — is among the plaintiffs suing Trump in one of the cases the Supreme Court agreed to take on. It called the announcement “mixed news” in a statement, praising it for limiting some of the executive order’s reach but criticizing the court for partially allowing the executive order to be enforced.

“HIAS welcomes the ruling as an affirmation that the president does not have unfettered unchecked authority to bar refugees from the United States without evidence to justify such action,” said the group’s CEO and president, Mark Hetfield. “We also welcome the ruling as confirmation that there are limits to the president’s ability to bar non-citizens from the United States based on unsubstantiated presumptions relating only to their nation of birth.”

Hetfield criticized the fact that those without such ties could now be barred from entering the United States.

“We are very disappointed, however, that others will be arbitrarily excluded,” Hetfield said. “Certainly in the case of refugees, this order will have a tragic toll on those who have fled for their lives and played by our rules to find refuge in the United States.”

HIAS was founded in the 1880s as a resource for newly arrived Jewish immigrants.

The Anti-Defamation League, along with its criticism, also praised the court for limiting the scope of the order.

“We were pleased that the court appropriately recognized that there are limitations on the president’s authority when it comes to immigration generally,” its national director and CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement. “But the court’s failure to recognize the plight of the world’s most endangered refugees – those fleeing countries where their lives are in imminent danger – is profoundly disappointing,”

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action sharply criticized the stay that would allow parts of the ban to be enforced, calling it “a deeply harmful decision.”

“At a minimum, because of the court’s decision today, we will be betraying a fundamental American and Jewish value by turning away countless individuals who are seeking a better life in our nation, some of them fleeing life-threatening violence,” the group’s CEO, Stosh Cotler, said in a statement.

DC Jewish community to hold vigil for Muslim teen killed in attack


The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington will hold a vigil in memory of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl killed after leaving her mosque with friends in northern Virginia.

“Now it is time for us to express our deepest sympathy and stand with our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community as we all come to terms with this tragic event,” the JCRC said in a statement Monday.

The vigil will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Virginia.

The JCRC “has enjoyed a decades-long relationship with the ADAMS Center, working hand-in-hand to promote interfaith understanding and combat bigotry against any faith or ethnicity,” the release said.

ADAMS is the acronym for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the mosque that Hassanen had worshipped at in suburban Washington, D.C., in the pre-dawn hours Sunday before heading to a restaurant with friends for breakfast. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan.

Police in Fairfax County do not believe bias was involved in the killing, describing it instead as a road rage incident. Police allege that Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, got into an argument with a teen in the group as the friends returned to the mosque, drove his car over a curb, chased the group and used a baseball bat to hit Hassanen in a parking lot nearby. Torres has been charged with one count of second-degree murder.

The Washington Post quoted family members as saying they remain convinced it was a hate crime against Muslims.

The attack has garnered international attention because of a proliferation in recent weeks of reports of attacks targeting Muslims. The Anti-Defamation League called on police to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

The Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem. Photo via WikiCommons

The problem with Jerusalem


In 1967, when Israeli paratroopers stormed the Old City of Jerusalem and commander Mordechai “Motta” Gur proclaimed, “Har HaBayit BeYadeinu (the Temple Mount is in our hands!)” — the Six-Day War had reached its historic and emotional climax.

“The events of 1967 did for Judaism what 1948 did for Jewish nationalism,” B’nai David-Judea Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky said during the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Six-Day War conference.

The reunification of Jerusalem and the assertion of Jewish religious primacy there “returned Judaism to the stage of world history,” he said.

For the first time in two decades, the Jews had regained access to their holiest sites — including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall — and brought a “reunified” Jerusalem under their control for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

But a Jewish-controlled Jerusalem came with a price: East Jerusalem, the location of the holy sites, was an Arab-majority neighborhood. And the Temple Mount — where Jews believe the world began, where the first human was created, and where Abraham bound his son Isaac — also happens to be one of Islam’s holiest sites.

Known in Arabic as Haram esh-Sharif, the Temple Mount is home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is the place Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on the Night Journey. It is considered the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.

While Jews have made the Western Wall the focus of their prayer life, the Temple Mount remains the most contested holy site in the world. And yet, it is only one aspect of a larger quarrel over Jerusalem, in which Christians also have a stake: Jesus Christ arrived in Jerusalem to preach his message to the masses, and, according to Christianity, was crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven from there.

Throughout history, the “City of Peace” also has seen violent discord. Even as Jerusalem remains under Israeli control, efforts to discount one another’s claims to the city persist.

Before the anniversary of reunification, I asked Israeli tour guide Michael Bauer why Jerusalem remains a quandary. He identified several areas that explain, at least in part, the gaps separating the aspirations of each faith tradition and the reality of political Jerusalem.

Knowledge: Both within Israel and the Palestinian territories, there is a concerted effort to teach identity-building, nationalistic versions of history that do not leave room for learning about other faiths or alternative perspectives.

“I’m shocked when I see kids finishing high school and they literally don’t know anything about Christianity, which is, in a way, part of our history and part of our surroundings,” Bauer said. “I also teach the Palestinian narrative in a pre-army program, and if I don’t do that, no one does it. I’m always shocked at the lack of knowledge.”

The same is true of Palestinians: Most are not taught about Jewish religious and historical claims to the land, leaving both sides mostly ignorant of the other’s place there.

Emotion: “Jerusalem is where all the emotions are,” Bauer said. “For things to get better in Jerusalem, things need to be solved around Jerusalem.”

After 1967, Bauer pointed out, Arab Muslims were humiliated at losing control of Jerusalem, a defeat made worse by the fact that they had to pass through Israeli security checkpoints to visit their holy sites. Until their dignity is restored through political compromise, Jerusalem remains a proxy for conflict.

History versus faith: “When you walk in Jerusalem, you’re looking at stories which for one person is history and for another is faith,” Bauer said. “If I say the words ‘Jesus,’ and ‘resurrected,’ one person in front of me has heard not only a fact but maybe one of the most important facts of his life, because to believe in resurrection is a fact that defines his Christianity. But for a Jew or Muslim, they’ve heard something that they think is just not true.”

Historical and spiritual claims are equally fraught in a place that encompasses both.

Human frailty: “Religion is not the problem in Jerusalem. The problem is people,” Bauer said. “They don’t know how to get along with ‘the other’ too well. And in Jerusalem, there are a lot of ‘others’ in one small place. As long as people do not know how to live with someone different, Jerusalem will be challenged.”

This pretty much explains why we need religion in the first place.

But let’s face it: Except for periodic skirmishes and flare-ups, and the intrareligious conflicts that plague all three faiths’ holy sites, Jerusalem has been in pretty good hands since ’67.

“Most days, it works,” Bauer said. “It depends what you want to focus on. You can choose to see a reality that is very conflicted. Or you can take another look, walk the same route in a different mood, and you will see coexistence.”

A historian, Bauer prefers to look at the precedents of the past rather than predict the future.

“Through everything that has happened over 3,000 years, there were eras of stability,” he said. “Last year was terrible in Jerusalem; there were stabbings all the time and al-Aqsa was a horrible place to visit. There were kids and women yelling at every Jew that went up there, singing songs, ‘With blood we will redeem Palestine.’ But it’s not happening there now. It’s a different Jerusalem from last year. It’s like a roller coaster. Things get better and then they get worse again.”


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In Israel, Trump reinforces the Wall


Let the record show: On May 23, 2017, the president of the United States updated his Twitter header to display a photograph of himself standing at the Western Wall. Not saluting an American flag, not kissing a Latino baby or speaking at a Midwest rally or shaking a veteran’s hand, but communing with Judaism’s holiest site.

I have nothing cynical to say about it. For a man whose self-worth is in direct proportion to the size of his Twitter following (30.2 million), and who likely checks his feed more often than his briefing papers (OK, that was a little cynical), this means something.

The most powerful person in the world is demonstrating the power of that place. President Donald Trump is linking the sovereignty of the Western Wall to the State of Israel, despite the demurrals and hedging of his advisers and representatives. Tel Aviv may be one of the most dynamic, creative and delicious cities on earth, but only a fool, or the former head of a large oil company, would say, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did, that it is the “home of Judaism.”

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which must be solved sooner rather than later in a just way for both sides, is not going to be solved by ignoring or minimizing the narratives each side claims as its own.

In their justified desire for a homeland, Palestinians have sought to deny the primacy of Jerusalem in the Jewish narrative. This week, one prominent Palestinian activist wrote that the holiness of the Western Wall is a post-1967 development, not an age-old tradition. When I read that I laughed and looked up at my study wall, at a photo taken in the late 1800s of Jewish men and women packed up against the ancient stones, in prayer.

In defense of their rights to Jerusalem, many Jews have negated the Muslim claim on the city. There seems to be an online cottage industry in this, in fact. Don’t fall for it. Do your own research. Jerusalem is a holy place in Islam — that big gold-domed atop the Temple Mount might be your first clue.

Jerusalem has been wracked by a long history of dumping on other people’s history. And I mean this literally. To assert their own primacy over the holy city, the Byzantine rulers turned the Jew’s Temple Mount into the city dump. In the “Encyclopedia of Religion,” professor Reuven Firestone relates the legend that it was the Muslim caliph Umar who, after vanquishing the Christians, ascended to the desecrated area, rolled up the sleeves of his robe and began cleaning up the soiled Muslim and Jewish holy place himself.

The caliph then built the Dome of the Rock, not as a mosque, Firestone writes, “but rather as a monument celebrating the presence and success of a new faith.”

We are just about a week away from the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, when the Israelis ascended to the Dome, captured East Jerusalem and united the city.

That moment when Israeli soldiers gathered where Trump stood this week, and wept and prayed that the Wall was back in Jewish hands, remains the iconic image of the war, the Jewish Iwo Jima. The emotion, the sacrifice, the sense of historical and religious destiny has affixed in Jewish minds the idea that from that moment on, all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel.

Har HaBayit b’yadenu,” Lt. Gen. Motta Gur proclaimed as his troops captured the Old City, the most famous single sentence of that war. “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

But the irony of Trump’s visit is that if the president gets his way, the grip will have to be loosened. For years, Jews and the groups that pander to them have proclaimed intractable sovereignty over every square inch of the city. “Jerusalem will never be divided,” has been the go-to applause line for every Jewish or Israeli speaker — despite the reality that the city even now is pretty much divided.

The truth is every serious final status solution ever put forth by an Israeli prime minister, and any agreement that would ever be agreed to by the Palestinians, would include some shared sovereignty over Jerusalem. What’s the alternative — constant fighting? You can’t pray for the peace of Jerusalem and want to see it, like Aleppo or Damascus, reduced to pieces.

I don’t know how serious Trump is about making what he calls “the ultimate deal.” He has a short attention span, a disdain for details and a lot of ’splaining to do back in Washington. But this week, he leveraged Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to crack open negotiations, demonstrated the kind of support for the Israelis they need to feel secure, and showed the proper respect to the Palestinians.

A dear friend and die hard Israeli leftist  I know e-mailed me as Trump departed for the Vatican.

“The bastard gave a fantastic speech that was even given compliments by Barak Ravid from Ha’aretz,” he wrote, citing the left-leaning columnist. “He’s going about this whole Middle East thing in a completely opposite manner than Obama, and it may be that he is hitting the spot. Oy vey….”

If Trump continues on this path, and doesn’t shy away from confronting each side with the truths the other holds dear, the president might just have a prayer.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Guess what? The world needs Israel


Since its inception, Israel has been a country under siege. When it’s not attacked by terrorist forces, it’s attacked by diplomatic ones. Over the past few decades, it has been condemned mainly for its failure to make peace with the Palestinians. This conflict has dominated global consciousness like no other. Throughout the Middle East, it has been used by dictators to divert attention away from the oppression of their people.

President Donald Trump’s eagerness to make the “ultimate deal,” which he reiterated during his visit to Israel, only continues the obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether we like it or not, it is the conflict, as much as anything, that has shaped Israel’s narrative throughout much of the world.

And yet, despite all that, something is changing. New winds are blowing. Slowly, quietly, a parallel narrative about Israel is beginning to emerge. And since the conflict with the Palestinians is so intractable, my sense is that this new narrative will play an increasingly greater role in shaping Israel’s future.

In essence, more and more countries are looking at Israel and saying: “Politics or no politics, these guys can help us. They’re doing things no one else is doing. They seem to have a pulse on this crazy and fast-changing new world we’re in.”

If your country, for example, has a problem with cybersecurity that can endanger your infrastructure, and you hear that Israel has unique technology that can fix the problem, are you going to pass on that solution because the Palestinian conflict is unresolved?

Similarly, if your people are running out of drinking water and you need Israel’s cutting-edge desalination technology, or if your country is under threat from Islamic terrorists and you know that Israelis have the most expertise in that area, will you let the Palestinian conflict get in the way of your core interests?

Giant nations like India and China, as well as emerging nations on the African continent, are not waiting for a peace breakthrough before engaging with Israel. Why should they? Doing business with Israel is in their interest. It boosts their economies. It strengthens their countries.

The same thing has been happening in Israel’s own backyard. In a 2012 report titled, “The Badly Kept Secret of Israel’s Trade Throughout the Muslim World,” Haaretz detailed Israel’s low-key but growing engagement with its Arab and Muslim neighbors, including the export of medical, agricultural and water technologies to the Gulf states.

In terms of security, Sunni-dominated countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states need Israel’s military might to fend off their sworn enemy, the predatory Iranian Shia regime. There’s a reason the Gulf states compiled a proposal to take “unprecedented steps toward normalization with Israel,” as reported last week in the Wall Street Journal.

They need Israel.

Sure, they had to throw in the obligatory statements about Israel making gestures to the Palestinians. But don’t kid yourself– these requests have softened with the years. They’re a sign of the shifting tides. These Arab countries are feeling vulnerable and they need help, even from Israel. Drumming up hatred for the Jewish state because of the Palestinian problem is not as good for business as it used to be.

None of this means that Israel shouldn’t make every effort to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians, regardless of the odds. A solution is strongly in Israel’s interest. And in global diplomacy, optics matter and effort counts, even if it ends in failure.

Drumming up hatred for the Jewish state because of the Palestinian problem is not as good for business as it used to be.

To its credit, though, Israel has never let the failure of peace and the presence of war demoralize the nation. While much of the world condemned the country, and hostile neighbors launched attacks, Israel kept right on innovating to meet the challenges of the modern world. Instead of being paralyzed by a siege mentality, the little Jewish state pushed relentlessly to build a thriving nation, with all of its flaws and imperfections.

And now, suddenly it seems, this tiny nation is in big demand. From medical breakthroughs to green technology to cybersecurity to digital innovation to water conservation to food security, Israel is at the forefront of creating solutions for the new century.

This is not Start-Up Nation as a tool for better hasbara, or positive propaganda. This is Start-Up Nation as a tool to better the world.

It must make Palestinian leaders sick to see the hated Zionist state start to thrive on a global scale. Maybe they were hoping that by refusing all peace offers, glorifying terror and attacking Israel’s legitimacy, they would make Israel implode. The opposite happened.

We can only hope that, one day, they too will realize that building hatred for the Jewish state is bad for peace and bad for business.

 

Imam: Peace in the Middle East must begin in the United States


 

Imam Abdullah Antepli is the Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs, Duke University/Adjunct Faculty of Islamic Studies. In that capacity, his life’s work is bridging gaps between Muslims and other religious communities, including Jews. It’s no small accomplishment that he has become an eminent voice and authority, given that he calls himself, “a recovering anti-Semite.” 

He was a recent guest of the Jewish Journal staff, and shared his views of the current state of affairs between Muslims and Jews, what it was, what it is and what he and millions of Muslims and Jews around the world hope it can become.

For more information on Shalom Hartman’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, click here.

Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. Photo from Wikipedia

Who killed the Armenians?


The Journal’s editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman, recently wrote a column under the headline “Morgenthau’s Children,” about the film “The Promise,” whose subject is the Armenian genocide, and he addressed the subject of genocide in general. It was important to remind — or inform — people about the lesser-known genocides of the 20th century and the present century.

He noted the following genocides:

  • The Armenian genocide
  • “Those in Syria in Iraq”
  • The ISIS extermination of the Yazidis
  • “The failed state of Somalia”
  • The Myanmar government’s “persecution, deportation and starvation” of the Rohingya

But there is a word missing from all the genocides mentioned in Rob’s column.

That word is “Muslim.”

Every one of the genocides listed — with the exception of Myanmar (formerly Burma), where the victims are Muslims — was, or is being, committed by Muslims.

I don’t believe Rob intentionally omitted the fact that the perpetrators of all but one of the annihilations was/is Muslim. The fact is that with all the attention paid to the Armenian genocide, one always hears that the Armenians were mass murdered by the “Ottoman Empire” or the “Ottoman Turks” or the “Turkish regime” — but they are never identified as Muslims.

Rob rightly suggested that readers go to GenocideWatch.com for more information.

I took his advice, and here are headlines I saw on the site’s front page:

“Holocaust museum condemns ‘torture and killing of gay men’ in Chechnya”

“Violent Mortality in the Darfur Genocide”

“Syria: ‘Glimmers of humanity’ overshadowed by brutality of attacks on civilians”

“How Germany used Islam during World War I”

(Other headlines included news about Brazil, Auschwitz, Rwanda and Cambodia.)

Again, almost all genocide discussion was about Islam.

One of the least truthful major statements in the history of the modern American presidency was that of President George W. Bush, when he famously declared after 9/11 that “Islam is a religion of peace.”

I understand why Bush felt he had to say and keep repeating that line. But there is no excuse for all the academics and journalists who say it. Islam was a religion of war and violence from its inception, when Muslims forcibly converted surrounding tribes and then all of North Africa to Islam.

Muslims perpetrated the greatest slaughter of one group in history — the slaughter of about 80 million Hindus during the thousand-year history of Muslim rule in India. They even boasted about this slaughter by naming a large area of present-day of Afghanistan “Hindu Kush,” which means “Hindu-Slaughter.”

If Islam is to be reformed, as it needs to be, that reformation most likely will originate with Muslim Americans.

Jihad, or “holy war” — meaning the forcible conversion of non-Muslims to Islam — is part of the very fabric of Islam. The greatest Arab writer, and one of the world’s greatest writers, Ibn Khaldun, wrote in his seminal work, the “Muqaddima” (“Introduction to History”), that what distinguishes Islam from all other religions is its doctrine of jihad.

“In the Muslim community,” he writes, “the holy war is religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.”

Nor was there a “Golden Age” of Muslim tolerance in Andalusia (Muslim Spain). Jews and Christians often were persecuted terribly there. They just weren’t killed in large numbers. Read the recently published “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise” by Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University.

I note this not to incite resentment against fellow Americans of the Muslim faith. I regard them as precisely that: fellow Americans of the Muslim faith, deserving of the same respectful behavior that any other American deserves. More than that: If Islam is to be reformed, as it needs to be, that reformation most likely will originate with Muslim Americans.

The reasons it is vital to note that Islam is not simply “a religion of peace” are:

• To understand what the West is dealing with when it takes in additional millions of Muslims, especially from the Middle East, where Islam is most violent.

• To understand how much the left — most perniciously in Western universities — lies about Islam, or refuses to confront its negative aspects (while dwelling inordinately on the faults of Christianity).

• To understand why peace with Palestinians is unlikely. Palestinian society is first and foremost a Muslim society. That is why it honors suicide terrorists as the finest examples of the Palestinian people. The Arab and Palestinian conflict with Israel has always been caused by Islamic beliefs, not by a dispute over land.

• To understand why people whose hearts break for Syrian children nevertheless oppose bringing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into America and Europe. One is importing a vast number of people, many of whom share few values with Western civilization, and who are the products of contemporary Arab culture, the most Jew-hating culture outside of Iran.

• And because truth matters.

So, to return to the beginning, Rob Eshman is right to remind us to remember the Armenian genocide. We also need to remember who perpetrated it.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Episode 36: Mai Shbeta, the Jewish-Israeli-Muslim-Palestinian peace activist


She’s a sort of “peace incarnate.” A representation of what comes of abandoning hate and sectarianism for love and unity. Mai Shbeta is the daughter of a Jewish mother and Muslim father. According to Jewish religious law, she’s a Jew. According to Islam, she’s a Muslim. However, often the members of both faiths choose to see her as an outside – they see the differences rather than the similarities.

This reality has driven Mai Shbeta to spend her time working diligently towards peace. She’s presented at the World Economic forum in Davos in 2011 and, recently completing a law degree at the Bar Ilan University, she has her eyes set on the advancement of Human Rights. Mai joins 2NJB today to talk about her life and career.

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Los Angeles Police Department official arrested Wilshire Boulevard Temple Rabbi Susan Goldberg for failure to comply with a police officer outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. Photo by Ryan Torok

L.A. rabbis arrested at ICE protest


Several area rabbis were among more than 30 protesters arrested April 13 in downtown Los Angeles for an act of civil disobedience to call attention to the treatment of undocumented immigrants.

The group was taken away after blocking a driveway to the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Los Angeles, booked at Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) headquarters and released by mid-afternoon.

Bend the Arc Rabbi-in-Residence Aryeh Cohen said the act of civil disobedience demonstrated a refusal to accept Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) treatment of undocumented immigrants.

“What it says to ICE, the institution, is that we are intending to put our bodies in between them and … deportations and detentions of people who have been in this country for a long time,” Cohen said in a phone interview. “I think what it said to LAPD is our fight is not with them but with ICE.”

The protest, which began around 10 a.m. several blocks away, brought together Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith leaders and community members who chanted, “Exodus from detention!” as they marched toward the Detention Center, from where vans leave to round up immigrants. The center, itself, is a federal jail downtown that holds individuals for immigration-related crimes, among other offenses.

Participants in the protest, which came on the third day of Passover, drew parallells between the Israelites’ Exodus story from bondage to liberation and the plight of undocumented immigrants who live in fear of being detained.

“I’m standing with my brothers and sisters in faith … on behalf of the undocumented and the refugee and immigrant communities that are being targeted now. Especially now during Passover, it is time we remember our own liberation,” Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, told the Journal, as she was locking arms with Wilshire Boulevard Temple Rabbi Susan Goldberg, before their arrest.

Approximately 200 members of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) and other faith-based social organizations turned out.

Among those arrested were Bassin, Goldberg, Cohen; Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director emeritus at Hillel at UCLA; and Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of religious life at USC.

Goldberg said the purpose of blocking the entrance to the detention center was to prevent ICE vehicles from doing roundups.

“We’re making sure that ICE vans don’t have the ability to leave and round people up and deport them during this week of Passover,” she said.

Locking arms with Shakeel Syed, executive director at Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, Seidler-Feller said lessons gleaned from Passover obligate him to stand up for undocumented immigrants.

“At Passover we understand we are all strangers and citizens of the world together,” he said.

Syed, who is Muslim, echoed the importance of interfaith unity in the face of injustice.

“Today, I am a full human being standing in solidarity with all my Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said.

From left: Rabbi Chaim Siedler-Feller, Shaklee Syed and Rabbi Jonathan Klein lock arms outside the Metropolitan Detention Center. Photo by Ryan Torok

From left: Rabbi Chaim Siedler-Feller, Shaklee Syed and Rabbi Jonathan Klein lock arms outside the Metropolitan Detention Center. Photo by Ryan Torok

 

Police charged those arrested with willfully disobeying a police officer.

Bassin said she was released shortly after her arrest. The police treated her professionally, she said, adding that the charge is equivalent to a traffic violation.

The event kicked off with people congregating in the historic La Placita Church near Olvera Street, where Cohen expressed his frustration with the Donald Trump administration’s treatment of undocumented immigrants.

“We are here to say this as loud as we can,” Cohen said, addressing packed pews inside the church. “We will not abide by this anymore.”

As they proceeded, protestors stopped at the Federal Building, which conducts immigration processing, at 300 N. Los Angeles St., and chanted, “Not one more deportation!” Officials from the Department of Homeland Security stood at the entrance to the building.

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills addressed protestors during an action expressing opposition to the treatment of undocumented citizens. Photo by Ryan Torok

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills addressed protestors during an action expressing opposition to the treatment of undocumented citizens. Photo by Ryan Torok

 

Two officers, who declined to be identified, said they did not know beforehand the interfaith group would be showing up.

“Passover is the ultimate Jewish story of liberation,” David Bocarsly, a 26-year-old USC graduate student in public policy, said as the group marched on to the MDC. “The reason we retell is we don’t forget. This is a holiday not just for Jews but for all people.

“Passover is the story of God’s social justice work,” Bocarsly added. He, too, was arrested.

The group arrived outside the detention center just after 11 a.m. and formed a circle around a seder table set up in the middle of the closed-down street. Matzo, grape juice and bitter herbs sat on the table.

Holding up a piece of broken matzo, Seidler-Feller said it symbolized families broken apart by the country’s immigration policy.

Clergy, community members and others formed a circle in the middle of Aliso street outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in protest of the treatment of undocumented citizens. Photo by Ryan Torok

Clergy, community members and others formed a circle in the middle of Aliso street outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in protest of the treatment of undocumented citizens. Photo by Ryan Torok

 

“This is a broken matzo,” he said. “It’s broken families, broken hearts, broken people.”

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of CLUE, held up bitter herbs “to call out the bitterness of ICE sweeps, of fathers detained in front of their children, of the bitterness of imprisonment for no crime,” he said.

Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, held up a cup of grape juice.

“We set aside a cup for Elijah, and open the door to announce the coming of redemption,” Geller said. “We fill this cup from our own cups to remind us that bringing to redemption to our world is up to us all.” She was not arrested.

Rabbi Danny Mehlman, spiritual leader of Ner Tamid of Downey and a chaplain at North Kern State Prison, stood in the group watching the seder. He was born in Argentina and lived in Israel for 13 years before coming to the United States with the American-born wife he’d recently married. He said when he became a citizen, the pathway to citizenship was much easier. This was before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he acknowledged, but he said he wanted to see a return to a more sensible naturalization process for the undocumented.

“There hasn’t been a change in immigration law, which is necessary,” he said, wearing a tie that was decorated like a matzo, “the tie of affliction,” said Mehlman, who did not partake in any civil disobedience because of his role as a prison chaplain.

Mehlman said he hoped the the event raised awareness about the challenges facing the undocumented community.

“One of the points of the seder is to increase awareness,” he said. “Indifference is the enemy of awareness, of action, and that’s what’s needed.”

Not Iranian


You would think I’d be used to it by now.

In the 1980s, at a dinner party at the home of a Muslim Iranian friend, an older woman sitting next to me panics when she realizes I’m Jewish. Quickly, she gathers her coat around her and hugs herself tight to create as much space between us as she can. Later, the host explains that the old woman still believes what she was taught as a child in Iran — that Jews are najis (ritually impure) and will contaminate anything they touch.

In the 1990s, at a book talk in Portland, I’m confronted by an angry group of nearly 100 Muslim Iranian men and women who demand to know why I feel the need to write about the persecution of Jews in Iran under Shia Islam. The evening  ends  when one woman — a dentist — asserts without irony that it is indeed true that Jews are najis. It also is true, she goes on to say, that Jews have little tails hidden by their clothes. Everyone hears her, but not a single person in the room steps in to correct her.

These are not everyday occurrences. For every bigoted Muslim Iranian I know, I’ve also known a dozen civil, enlightened and cultured ones. Many of them, in fact, are more accepting of Jews than Jews are of them.

They’re not everyday occurrences, and yet, when they happen, they all but take my breath away.

In the 2000s, I’m in the studios of a Persian-language radio station in Los Angeles. As I wait for one program to end and my interview to begin, I hear an angry caller yell at the host that he should not refer to Iranian Jews as “Iranian.” “Those people are not and have never been Iranians. They were subversives we let live in our country.” The caller is somewhere in the United States. After he signs off, a second caller, then a third echo his sentiments.

Last week, I happened upon a Facebook conversation among a few Iranian Muslims about Iranian Jews. The subject is “Iranians who attended the AIPAC conference,” and how “these are the same people who voted for Donald Trump.” This, we all know and understand, means something like, “Iranian Jews all support Israel and would like to bomb and obliterate Iran, and that’s why they voted for Trump.”

In response to the post, people have made comments such as, “Those people are not Iranians; they’re Israelis disguised as Iranian” or “Those are Israelis who speak Farsi.”

The most vocal of the anti-Zionists in this conversation has been firing off pictures that depict Jews as little devils sitting on piles of money, and worse, for years.

Iranian Jews have been in Iran, and before it in Persia, since before Persia itself. They were brought in as slaves by Nebuchadnezzar, from Palestine, after he destroyed the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. They were there for 12 centuries before the Arabs conquered the country and forcefully converted most of the population to Islam. And they’ve been there since. And still, we were — are — told we’re not “real” Iranians.

I write that this is anti-Semitic talk wrapped in anti-Israel lingo. I say that support for Israel as a nation, or for Zionism as an idea, does not make a person subversive. This, in turn, unleashes a torrent of comments about the evils of Zionism, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and how it is I, and other Zionists, who should apologize to the world, and not the other way around. In short order, I’m told by my fellow Iranian Americans that “most Jews are self-hating”; that Jews “should go back to Germany, yallah”; that “Jews should go to Africa, where their ancestry started”; that “hell hath no fury like that of Iranians who are blinded by the Zionist dream”; and that “Israel should be established in the United States” so that the “Middle East will again be peaceful.”

Anti-Zionism by Iranian Muslims, in short, is not the same as anti-Semitism.

Well, maybe.

Except, you see, Israel as a country is 69 years old; Jews have been persecuted in Iran, called “not Iranian,” accused of sedition, declared untouchable, since Iran became Shia 700 years ago.

And there’s also this: The most vocal of the anti-Zionists in this conversation has been firing off pictures that depict Jews as little devils sitting on piles of money, and worse, for years. From what I can tell, she still has hundreds of Iranian Facebook friends. In fact, when I raise this person’s past online activities, only 1 out of nearly 50 Iranians engaged in the conversation steps up to say, “This is wrong.”

Now, I don’t believe that being opposed to Israel’s settlement policy or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, or being sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people, is tantamount to anti-Semitism. By that measure, I imagine half of the Jews in the world — I among them — would be anti-Semitic. But I do wonder, when it comes to Muslims in Iran and abroad, how they distinguish between the suffering of the Palestinian people and that of, say, the half-million Muslim civilians in Syria since 2011, or 1 million in Iraq since 2003, another 1 million in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s — where is their outrage at these and countless other Muslim-on-Muslim, Shia-on-Sunni, Arab-on-Arab or Arab-on-Iranian atrocities? Why do they call for boycotting Israel but oppose sanctions on Iran?

Most of the Muslims I know are too civil, enlightened and cultured to be consciously anti-Semitic. I’m not being coy when I say that I truly do not understand the double standard these tolerant Muslims apply to the Arab-Israeli issue as opposed to all other Muslim-related tragedies. But I will say this, because I think it bears thinking about: None of us, Jews, Muslims or others, is free of prejudice.

Often, the racism is so old and deeply engrained that we truly don’t recognize it for what it is. I wish these enlightened Muslims would consider this possibility. Because, let me tell you, it doesn’t get any easier, doesn’t hurt any less to be told, by your own people, that you’re not one of them.


GINA NAHAI’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Jared Kushner at a congressional listening session with Republican lawmakers at the White House on Feb. 16. Photo by Ron Sachs/Pool/Getty Images

Jared Kushner met secretly with US Muslims prior to Trump’s inauguration


Jared Kushner had a friendly but secret meeting with Muslim Americans prior to the inauguration of his father-in-law, Donald Trump, but contacts diminished after the president banned entry to refugees and to travelers from seven Muslim majority countries.

“We thought discussing our nation’s founding values and freedom for Americans of all faiths was the responsible thing to do before Mr. Trump came to power,” Farhana Khera, the director of Muslim Advocates and one of five Muslim leaders at the meeting, told BuzzFeed, which on Tuesday broke the story of the early January get-together.

“It soon became clear, however, that unless Trump makes drastic changes and shows he’s committed to being a president for all Americans, engagement is not an effective tool at this stage,” Khera said.

In addition to the travel ban, which Trump put in place a week into his presidency but has been stayed by the courts, tensions between the Trump administration and Muslims were exacerbated by a visit to the White House by Brigitte Gabriel, who leads a group that has been described as Islamaphobic.

Kushner asked those in attendance for suggestions on smoothing relations between his father-in-law and Muslims, and even sought recommendations for a liaison to the Muslim community. (Trump has not named a liaison, nor has he named one to the Jewish community.)

BuzzFeed said that Kushner, who is Jewish and is an unpaid adviser tasked with an array of assignments, including advancing Middle East peace, remains the conduit for Muslim contacts with the administration. However, the online news site said that relations with the community have been consigned to a “severely restricted” backchannel.

President Donald Trump. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

‘He’s not all bad’: A Democrat defends Trump


Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, I’ve been trying to decipher the indecipherable psyche of The Trump Voter.

I want to understand how a person of conscience could have voted for him and how such a person would defend the actions of his office. 

So I did a little research project by calling my Uncle Rich, a 76-year-old cardiologist and Trump supporter. As far as I know, he’s sane, rational and verifiably humane since he’s spent the last 47 years saving people’s lives.

Uncle Rich and I have been arguing about politics since I was 15. Last week, he emailed me an article about Trump doubling down against anti-Israel bias at the United Nations under the subject line: “He’s not all bad.” I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath and invited him to argue with me a little more — if not for the sake of heaven, then at least for the sake of my column.

First, I asked why on earth he’s a Republican.

“I am a registered Democrat and have been since I was 21,” he declared.

“I have voted both ways. I’m a great believer that America comes first and the parties come second. So, I’m open-minded to any candidate — Republican, Democrat, Black, white, Jewish, woman, etc.”

I asked him to describe his paramount political values, but he said they change with each election cycle. In 2016, his top concerns were: terrorism, the economy and health care.

“In the beginning, I was a little bit ambivalent about [Trump],” he admitted. “But as time went on, I began to see that he was serious. And he was willing to step out of an unbelievably successful business and into a job that I don’t know if I envy. I began to say, ‘Wow.’

“I felt this was a man who really recognized the problem of terrorism. I liked that he was vigorous and emphatic on the necessity of vetting people, particularly from certain areas. You know, profiling is a term I think gets a bum rap.”

This is only one area where Uncle Rich and I part ways. To me, profiling is a form of legalized discrimination that contributes in no small part to the mass incarceration of people of color and the poor.

“I profile in medicine,” he said. “If I see a person of a certain background, I’ll order certain tests based on their background. To say there aren’t certain groups of people who are more likely to be terrorists, that’s foolish. We need to be exquisitely careful in order to avoid a situation of tremendous, tremendous terror …

“As far as [economics], the man is a financial success.”

Never mind his bankruptcies? Or his record of failing to pay employees what he owed them?

“I’m a businessman myself. When I started in medicine, we were told not to be businessmen. We were told, ‘You’re a doctor, and you’ll work for oranges and grapefruits,’ which I would have. We were discouraged from negotiating with a hospital, for example. ‘Just take the job.’ [Trump] is a negotiator, and I became a negotiator.”

If Trump was such a negotiating wizard, I asked, what about his signature failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare?

“Health care is an extremely complicated issue. At the end of the day, I think Republicans and Democrats want the same things: quality care, access and preventative medicine. Obamacare had great ideas — who could argue with what I just said? The problem is cost. This is a business problem.”

I argue it’s also a moral problem. Part of the reason the legislation failed is because its underlining interests were providing tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating vital health care services for the nation’s most vulnerable: the old and the poor.

“I don’t think Mr. Trump wants a program where someone who is 64 can afford health care and someone who is 65 can’t. What makes America great is that we have the ability to create a system with some equality. Certainly, you’re going to have concierge medicine the way you can have a Mercedes or you can have a Chevy — but a Chevy is a good car!”

Then why don’t more rich people drive Chevys?

Still, I countered, the Great Negotiator failed to unify his party and pass his first major piece of legislation.

“You want to feel good about the fact that you were right? Come on! He’s been in office for three months. If you tell me three years from now that he’s failed in all his legislation, I’ll say, ‘You know, you’re right, I made a mistake.’ But not three months in.”

Well, what about Trump’s Russia ties? Should he get a pass on that, too?

“I’m not bothered yet because I come from a school of medicine where you have to deal with results. If we find out that Trump did things undercover with the Russians, then I’m gonna be upset about it. But I’m not gonna get caught up in the rumor mill. This stuff is still unsettled.”

It’s clear that where I see moral and legal transgression, my uncle sees a man who hasn’t yet hit his stride. Surely, though, he wouldn’t defend the terrible things Trump has said maligning women, immigrants and Muslims.

“He’s sometimes quick to speak,” Uncle Rich allowed. “He’s a hand-to-mouth guy, and sometimes what he says doesn’t go completely to his brain.

“What I was thinking when that was going on was: If we lived in a dictatorship, I would have been much more worried about Donald Trump than I am in the system we are in, which is a checks-and-balances system. Because a man who sometimes speaks like that may try to act like that.” 

Finally, Uncle Rich, we agree.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

A headstone, pushed off its base by vandals, lays on the ground near a smashed tomb in the Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Stop celebrating Muslim decency: Being congratulated for basic civility is no compliment


Since the recent wave of anti-Semitic bomb threats, vandalism, and cemetery desecrations, journalistic and social media have vocally celebrated condemnations, fund-raising, and volunteer efforts by Muslim groups in an attempt to bolster interfaith cooperation and rehabilitate the reputation of the Islamic community precisely when its very welcome in America is being questioned like never before.

But nobody deserves congratulations for basic decency. Condemning bomb threats and making donations to repair damage from bias crimes is something good people of all backgrounds do. Liberal hoopla over proper Muslim responses to anti-Semitism is no more than a religious riff on the soft bigotry of low expectations. When Muslims go to extraordinary lengths to show they embrace their Jewish neighbors – and they sometimes do – public praise is appropriate. But headlines about Islamic press releases condemning cemetery vandalism send the opposite message – that in normal circumstances Muslims are callous and heartless.

 Imagine these headlines:

• Asian Driver Arrives At Work Without Incident

• Jamaican Musician Passes Drug Test

• Black Man Marries His Children’s Mother

While those headlines aim to challenge nasty stereotypes, they actually reinforce their legitimacy.

News stories about broad community efforts to help besieged Jews that contain a sentence “Even the local Muslim community turned out in force” are entirely appropriate. But special congratulations when Muslims act like, well, people are not compliments.

I know how it feels to have my own group celebrated for simple propriety.

As a Zionist, I am perpetually annoyed by hasbara (roughly, propaganda) that celebrates Israeli actions that are only minimally admirable – like an Israeli soldier who shares her sandwich with a starving Palestinian child or an Tel Aviv hospital that provides an impoverished dying Arab woman with free medical care. Yes, I understand that these examples are intended to debunk the idea that Israelis are not decent (although I have yet to see anti-Israel discourse accusing Israelis of withholding sandwiches from orphans). But the very act of highlighting basic decency legitimizes the slander, which is particularly offensive given the many good Israeli actions that are far from just minimally proper.

The people spotlighting Muslim attempts to repair desecrated cemeteries may think they’re rebutting negative stereotypes. But they aren’t. Sorry to say it, but Americans who fear or hate Muslims don’t do so because they think Muslims tolerate vandalism. They do so because they think Muslims tolerate terrorism. These stories will not dent that perception.

Americans are rightly proud of the way its citizens of many groups came together to help one group among them recover in a time of distress – and Muslims should be part of that celebration. But breathless reports that American Muslims aren’t jackasses after all help nobody – including American Muslims.

David Benkof is a columnist for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and Muckrack.com/DavidBenkof, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

President Donald Trump on Feb. 28. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters

There is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism


The actual percentage is yet to be exactly known, but it is already clear that a serious number of the major anti-Semitic incidents taking place — such as defacing Jewish graves, painting swastikas on Jewish students’ dorm room doors, and calling in bomb threats to Jewish institutions — are being perpetrated by leftists who wish to perpetuate the belief that Donald Trump’s election victory has unleashed a national wave of anti-Semitism.

The same seems to hold true for post-Trump anti-Muslim and anti-Black incidents.

I could cite dozens of examples. Here are a few:

Last week, it was reported that a Black, left-wing journalist was arrested for phoning in bomb threats to the ADL and half a dozen other Jewish institutions.

On Feb. 27, the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined: “Racist graffiti found at Lakeville South High School.”

The article began: “Swastikas, racial epithets and other racist graffiti were found etched on bathroom stalls at Lakeville South High School on Monday.”

It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a non-white student: “A ‘non-Caucasian’ Minnesota high school student has been disciplined after it was determined he was responsible for racist and antisemitic graffiti found in a school bathroom. The scribblings included a picture of a lynching, the phrase ‘Hail the Ku Klux Klan,’ the ‘N’ word, and a swastika” (The College Fix, March 2).

On March 1, the Toronto Sun headlined: “Bomb threats targeting Muslims close Concordia buildings.”

The article continued: “ … a group threatened to detonate ‘small artisanal explosive devices’ once a day until Friday in order to injure Muslim students. The group, which described itself as a chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada, or C4, complained about Muslim prayer services on campus.”

The next day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported: “The man charged in connection with Wednesday’s bomb threats at Concordia University, Hisham Saadi, was a PhD student in economics there. … Saadi is of Lebanese origin.”

The College Fix, which accumulates data on these hoaxes, reported that “At Massachusetts’ Williams College, two students admitted to trashing the school’s Griffin Hall with a ‘red wood-stain substance resembling blood’ and spelled out ‘AMKKK KILL.’ ” The college newspaper, The Williams Record, later reported that the two students did it “to bring attention to the potential impact of the presidential election on campus.”

At Bowling Green State University on the day after the election, a Black student alleged three white males clad in ‘Trump’ shirts called her a racial slur and threw rocks at her. ABC News reported shortly thereafter that the police concluded she made up the story.

MSNBC posted a tweet that contained what appeared to be a video of a female Muslim student beating up a ‘racist’ male pupil at Washburn High School. “Don’t mess with Somali girls in Minnesota,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell announced. “The dude tried to knock her hijab (headgar) [sic] off, she gave him a hard lesson.”

The video, titled “Welcome to Washburn,” went viral after it was posted to Facebook, with more than 6.5 million views, more than 161,000 shares and more than 29,000 comments.

But the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared the footage a “hoax” and a “play fight” intended as a joke. And school staff confirmed the alleged incident never happened.

Another anti-Muslim incident that was widely reported was proven to be a hoax. A female Muslim student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette alleged that right after the election, two white men, one of whom was wearing a Trump cap, attacked her and stole her wallet and the hijab she was wearing. Her story prompted the ACLU of Louisiana to issue a statement denouncing both the incident and Donald Trump; the FBI launched an investigation; and the story was covered by The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN.

The Muslim student later admitted to police that she made up the whole story.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a San Francisco man who raised a Nazi flag on the roof of his home right after the election was a left-wing Trump-hater.

There are so many examples of hoaxes perpetrated by Black, Muslim and white leftists that they could fill this issue of the Jewish Journal.

The entire notion of a Trump-inspired crime wave is fake news spread by the mainstream media. For more examples, see “There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave In ‘Trump’s America.’ ”

Donald Trump is no more anti-Semitic than the columnists of this newspaper. Nor is Breitbart.com anti-Semitic. And there is no wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism in America.

This is only one more example of left-wing hysteria — like heterosexual AIDS in America; the “rape culture” on campuses; the alleged crisis of racist cops wantonly killing innocent Blacks; and global warming threatening life on earth.

Jews who think there is such a wave do so because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it. In other words, a lot of Jews want to believe that Jews are hated in America more than ever. Yet another way in which leftism has poisoned Jewish life.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

A headstone, pushed off its base by vandals, lays on the ground near a smashed tomb in the Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Muslim veterans offer to guard Jewish sites across US


Following the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the vandalism of two Jewish cemeteries, some Muslims on Twitter are offering to help guard Jewish sites.

The tweeters, including some veterans, said they would volunteer to protect JCCs, cemeteries and synagogues, the Huffington Post first reported.

This latest show of solidarity comes after an online fundraising campaign started by two Muslims — and touted by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling — raised more than $150,000 to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis last week. Some 170 gravestones were toppled at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, Missouri.

One of the founders of the campaign, Linda Sarsour, is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and a harsh critic of Israel.

On Monday, a Muslim man who started an online fundraising campaign for a Florida mosque damaged in an arson attempt said that many of the donors to the campaign, which raised $60,000, were Jewish.

“I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause. There are sums of 18, 36, 72.00 dollars etc. then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Gold-stein, Rubin, Fisher…. Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called ‘Chai’. It wishes the recipient a long life,” Adeel Karim, a member of the Islamic Society of New Tampa wrote Monday in a Facebook post. “The Jewish faith has shown up in force to support our New Tampa Islamic community. I’m floored.”

Over the past two months, nearly 90 bomb threats have been called into 72 Jewish institutions in 30 states and one Canadian province. A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was also vandalized.

President Donald Trump condemned the anti-Semitic threats on Tuesday night in his first speech to a joint session of Congress.

People take part in an "I am Muslim Too" rally in Times Square on Feb. 19. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

What America needs: Thousands of Jew-haters


One would think that before admitting tens, let alone hundreds, of thousands of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Americans might look at what bringing in millions of Muslims has done for Europe. One would also assume that American Jews would want to know how this surge in MENA Muslims has affected Jews in European countries.

But one would be wrong.

Such an approach would be rational. But for most people, the rational has no chance against the emotional.

A thousand rabbis signed a petition to bring large numbers of MENA Muslims into the United States; and virtually all Jewish organizations outside of the Zionist Organization of America (and some within Orthodoxy) have condemned the Donald Trump administration for enacting a temporary halt in accepting travelers and refugees from seven (of the world’s more than 50) Muslim-majority countries that currently have hostile, dysfunctional or nonexistent governments, for the purpose of creating a more thorough screening process.

Do these rabbis and lay leaders know what is happening in Europe?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know what it feels like to be a Jew in formerly tolerant Sweden?

Last year, the Jerusalem Post published an article about a Jewish couple who had lived in Sweden since the middle of World War II. They were Danish Jews who, as children, were smuggled into Sweden. Their gratitude to Sweden (and, of course, Denmark) has been immense.

But they have now left the homeland that saved them to live in Spain. The city in which they lived, Malmo, has become so saturated with Jew-hatred that they can no longer live there. It was caused by, in the words of the husband, Dan, “the adverse effects of accepting half-a-million immigrants from the Middle East, who plainly weren’t interested in adopting Sweden’s values and Swedish culture.”

He added that “the politicians, the media, the intellectuals … they all played their parts in pandering to this dangerous ideology and, sadly, it’s changing the fabric of Swedish society irreversibly.”

The Jerusalem Post continued: “Karla [the wife], who’d sat passively, occasionally nodding in agreement at Dan’s analysis, then interrupted, saying, ‘If you disagree with the establishment, you’re immediately called a racist or fascist.’ ” (Sound familiar?)

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the anti-Semitism in Malmo is so dangerous that the Danish-Jewish star of a very popular Scandinavian TV show left the show.

“Anti-semitism,” the Telegraph reports, “has become so bad in Malmo, the Swedish city where the hit television drama ‘The Bridge’ is set, that it contributed to actor Kim Bodnia’s decision to quit the show.

“Jewish people in Malmo,” the Telegraph report continued, “have long complained of growing harassment in the city, where 43 percent of the population have a non-Swedish background, with Iraqis, Lebanese and stateless Palestinians some of the largest groups. The Jewish community centre in the city is heavily fortified, with security doors and bollards on the outside pavement to prevent car bombs.”

Do American-Jewish leaders know that, for the first time since the end of World War II, the Jews of France fear to walk in public wearing a kippah or a Star of David necklace? If the rabbis and Jewish lay leaders know this, what do they assume — that Catholic or secular French anti-Semitism has dramatically spiked? Or would they acknowledge that this is a result of Muslim anti-Semitism in France?

Do these rabbis and other Jewish leaders know how much the presence of large numbers of Muslims in Europe has contributed to Israel-hatred in many European countries — especially on campuses? If they don’t, all they need to do is examine the situation on American campuses, where many Jewish students feel more uncomfortable than at any time in American history — all because of the left and Muslim student activists.

An article on the Huffington Post, presumably another racist and xenophobic website, reports:

“Migrants streaming into Europe from the Middle East are bringing with them virulent anti-Semitism which is erupting from Scandinavia to France to Germany. …

“While all of the incoming refugees and migrants, fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim lands, may not hold anti-Jewish views, an extremely large number do — simply as a result of being raised in places where anti-Jewish vitriol is poured out in TV, newspapers, schools and mosques. …

“ ‘There is no future for Jews in Europe,’ said the chief Rabbi of Brussels. … ”

So how is one to explain the widespread American-Jewish support for bringing in a massive number of people, many of whom will bring in anti-Jew, anti-Israel and anti-West values?

First, they are staggeringly naïve, believing, for example, that marching with signs at airports that read, “We love Muslims” will change those Muslims who hate Jews into Muslims who love Jews.

Second, never underestimate the power of feeling good about yourself for the left; that is, after all, where the self-esteem movement originated. And it feels very good for these Jews to be able to say, “Look, world — you abandoned us in the 1930s, but we’re better than you.”

And third, when American Jews abandoned liberalism for leftism, they became less Jewish, less Zionist, and more foolish.

Just ask the Jews of Sweden and France.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers


I stood beside my partner Dave outside my family’s house and rang the doorbell to the tune of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.” It was the first night of Hanukkah but unlike previous family celebrations, the current political climate had indisputably altered our family dynamic. My mother is a holocaust survivor; my dad fought in the Israeli Army. This past June my brother and his now fiance, Kristine, survived a terrorist attack at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Our Jewish identities have been challenged, threatened, and compromised time and time again. As we lit the Menorah, we stood in silence unable to even make eye contact. The flicker of the candles illuminated my family in a way that made them look like strangers. This Hanukkah, it felt like we had enough oil to keep the flames of fear burning for years to come.

During World War II, my grandparents were captured and taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. While there, my grandmother gave birth and shortly thereafter, a camp guard ripped the child out of her arms and threw it into a fire. That act snatched away the small embers of hope that still remained in my grandparents.

After years of struggling against Nazis, starvation, and typhus epidemics, my grandmother became pregnant once again. She bore the pregnancy while bearing witness to the deaths of tens of thousands around her. For the child, they remained in the camp even after it’s liberation. In September of 1945, my grandmother finally gave birth on soil drenched with death: that brave baby girl would become my mother. When my mother’s parents emigrated to the United States in the late 40s, they did so in search of a better life. They arrived as refugees to the warm embrace of Lady Liberty who helped breathe new life into a future they didn’t feel worthy of.

My father was born in communist-ruled Romania but emigrated to Israel with his family soon after. As a child, he worked on a kibbutz before enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces at the age of 18. While in the army, he was taught of the evil and terror that awaited him in neighboring countries. He fought in the Six-Day War, a battle that pitted Israel against all of its neighbors and saw things that, even now, has only hinted at. He saved every penny that he ever made and as soon as he finished his service, he traveled to all the lands that he had only read about in books. After growing up in two different countries that had built fences around the possibilities of his future, he broke out and became a citizen of the world. He slept in airports, on park benches, and in bus stations, navigating through each country by talking to locals and following their lead. He’d fly multiple trips on the Concord, go to multiple Olympic ceremonies, and he even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Any country my dad was taught to hate, he would visit. He visited the pyramids in Egypt, played chess in Aleppo, and taught English to school kids in Indonesia. Over his lifetime, he’d go on to fill up more than a dozen passports. In January, my dad boarded a plane and made his way to another historic event: the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.

I have spent the majority of my life marinating in the fear of terrorism. My nightmares began at the age of 10 after Columbine and continued with 9/11, until any place I had ever held sacred was eventually connected to an attack, from movie theatres to concert venues. On a Tuesday morning in September, I watched a cloud of smoke trail over New York City: the North Tower was burning. At 12, I didn’t process what I was watching. It wasn’t until I sat in a stunned world history classroom, watching the towers fall, that I understood. The innocence of our childhood crumbled along with the towers that day. I sat in half empty classes because parents were afraid to send their kids to school. I walked home that day with my best friend since the 5th grade, Nadia. She is Muslim. As a kid, I would tell her about this dreaded day called Yom Kippur in which I had to fast for the entire day. She would immediately counter with this dreaded month called Ramadan in which she had to fast for an entire month. We talked to each other about everything, but that afternoon we walked home in silence. It was hard for me to understand how and when things would get better.

Later that year, we walked to meet her mom at the Starbucks in our neighborhood. Her mom was always at that Starbucks. Before we left, Nadia’s mom gave each of the baristas a Christmas gift with an accompanying card; she left another stack of gifts for the employees that weren’t working that shift. There was Santa Claus, Hanukkah Harry, and then there was Nadia’s mom. For her gift giving wasn’t part of an act or a tradition, it was love in it’s purest form. I saw firsthand what it meant to invest in your community. Nadia and her mom didn’t teach me what it meant to be Muslim: they taught me what it meant to be human, to care, to grieve, to love and to hope.

On June 28th, 2016, my brother Adam and his girlfriend Kristine were at the Atatürk Airport in Turkey when terrorists launched an attack that would go on to kill 45 people and injure hundreds more. My personal world and the world at large felt like they were crumbling, and I began to retreat within myself, terrified of the unknown. I obsessively sifted through Reddit threads that showed security cam footage of the gunmen storming the terminal and loops of the bombs going off. Initially, I was consumed by my fear of the men that had executed the attack, but then slowly my focus drifted to the quiet moments before the chaos. The man leisurely pulling his bag behind him, the girl pushing her friend through the terminal on a luggage cart, the family embracing their son as he turns to catch his flight. Each moment was interrupted by the sound of gunfire and the wave of fire that swept through the terminal. What were the last words that they said to one another? Did they know that they were loved? What dreams were they robbed of? I wrote a piece entitled “Three Little Dots” about the storm of dread and anxiety that had infiltrated my body as my brother texted me during the attack.

Then I got the letters. Their origins were diverse: Germany, Pakistan, Egypt, and even Turkey. But their message was the same: hope. For the first time in my life, it felt like I was seeing the world through my father’s eyes. I finally had a face and a story to put to the countries I had only read about on breaking news chyrons. As the messages continued to come, Adam called to inform us that he and Kristine would be continuing their trip through Europe. I sent my brother screencaps of the messages that I’d receive and hoped he had a chance to breathe it all in. “The world is with you!” I said.

Our families begged them to cut their trip short, but my dad was the lone voice that implored them to continue on. I asked him why. “If they come home now, they may never leave again,” he said. He was right. In the heat of our panic, we had succumbed to our own fears and instincts to retreat from danger.

Our family felt the ripples of the terrorist attack long after Adam and Kristine arrived home. Each of us used the proximity of the event to reaffirm our own skewed perspectives of the world. Many family members now had a direct confirmation of their worst fears–that the headlines would feature names they’d recognize and love. That fear had seeped into the foundation of our family. For the world, and for my family, the question now is, “Where do we go from here?”

When my dad returned home from the inauguration, we greeted each other in silence. That void peaked on the evening of Shabbat when the news broke of the executive order that banned refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This executive order hit close to home as both my mother and father immigrated to America fleeing the hardships and tragedy and now immigrants were being denied that same opportunity. As my dad and I sat in silence, he spoke then I spoke. Not in extremities but of vulnerabilities, we spoke of our fears and for the first time in more than a year we spoke to each other, not over each other.

The following Sunday morning in January, my brother and I drove with my dad on the 405 and we talked politics. My dad has made this journey many times before so we followed behind him as he led the way to the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX. When we arrived, there were already thousands of protesters outside of the baggage claim area. Seven months after the terrorist attack at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport terminal, I found myself standing beside my brother hours after an executive order was issued by the president of the United States targeting refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations. We saw families consoling each other waiting to hear from loved ones that had been detained. Our family’s story was born out of persecution, loss, and heartache so the pain on display at the airport was familiar. As my dad looked on, my brother and I stood holding a sign together. “Two Jewish Brothers Standing with Our Muslim Brothers.” We stood in that terminal bearing witness to the pain that our country could inflict at the stroke of a pen. As we stood there, a Palestinian couple in their early 30s came up to my brother and I. They had tears in their eyes and without saying a word, opened their arms wide to give us a hug. We held onto one another in silence, and I could hear their faint whimpers. The mom gestured down to her daughter who couldn’t have been older than 4. “Look at their sign.” The little girl looked up at the sign and sounded out the words. “They’re here with you!” Her dad said. The girl smiled at me. I saw my mom’s reflection in her eyes.


Noah Reich is a freelance writer by day, a reader by night and a humanitarian at heart.
Rabbi Naomi Levy

Jews against the Muslim Ban


Last Friday night, my rabbi got all political on me.

It came as something of a shock. I know Rabbi Naomi Levy really well — we’ve been married 25 years. During that time, I’ve heard Naomi give at least 1,000 sermons. Not one took an overt stand on a hot political issue or candidate. She would call for understanding between Israel and her neighbors, for instance, but the words “two-state solution” never escaped her lips.

It’s not that she hasn’t always had passionate and astute political opinions. I know. We talk.

But inside the sanctuary, her focus always has been on helping people grow spiritually, to find their life path through faith, tradition, learning and community. When she calls for social action, it is of the nonpartisan sort: feed the homeless, plant trees, engage with other faith communities. Her sermons move people to tears, laughter and introspection, not to petitions.

“That’s what people come to shul for,” she always told me. “That’s who I am.”

She also understood that politics could easily divide a congregation, or alienate some members. Both when she was the senior rabbi at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, and after she founded Nashuva, an outreach congregation based in Brentwood, she wanted everyone to feel welcome and accepted. If people wanted a pundit, they could watch cable.

So imagine my surprise this past Friday night:  The usual standing-room-only crowd, some 400 people, packed inside Brentwood Presbyterian Church, where Nashuva holds its services. Naomi began her sermon as she often does, with something true, funny and personal.

“I’m a neurotic Jew from Brooklyn,” she said. “I’m scared of so many things. I’m scared of heights. I’m scared of snakes. After my bout with skin cancer, I’m scared of the sun.” Then she asked, “But you know what I’m not scared of?”

Voices from the congregation responded, “No, what?”

Muslims,” she said. “I’m not scared of Muslims.”

There was a momentary pause.  We didn’t see it coming.  It took a split second to clock the punch. The rabbi was speaking out, loud and proud.

And all at once, applause. A loud, long spontaneous ovation.


Listen to Rabbi Naomi Levy’s sermon:


Naomi went on to hammer away at President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, and all refugees from Syria. She spoke of her own mother, Ruth, who arrived from Poland at age 6. The rest of Ruth’s large extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins — all were murdered in the Holocaust.

Naomi urged her congregation to fight the ban and to oppose the administration’s efforts to demonize Muslims. When she finished, the applause went on for a while. One couple did get up and walk out — maybe they had to use the restroom?

Why now? I asked Naomi. Why is this issue the first one you chose for making a strong political stance?

“I had no choice,” she said. “Welcoming the stranger is at the core of what it is to be Jewish.”

Of course, I agree. As an American, I know our country’s success is tied directly to immigration. As a Jew, I know how our country’s open doors literally saved our lives. And I know how many more Jews would be alive today — helping make America even greater — if the voices of fear and hate hadn’t all but closed the door to Jewish immigration after 1924. Those same forces tried to shut out Iranian Jews in 1979, and Soviet Jews in 1989, but thankfully they failed.

There is something in this immigration ban that is particularly noxious and motivating. It’s why Jewish organizations ranging from Yeshiva University to the Reform movement have taken stands. Why leaders who don’t ordinarily bring politics to the pulpit, like Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein and Stephen Wise Temple’s Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, have spoken out.  Why many disparate parts of a very diverse, fractured community are fighting it together.

That unity makes the silence of some leaders and institutions even more apparent.

Without naming names, it’s all too clear that many rabbis and leaders who deeply oppose the cruel, hateful and self-defeating order cannot publicly say so, for fear of alienating some supporters. Some worry it will tear congregations or boards apart along partisan lines. Or, they worry about upsetting large donors.

I don’t envy any rabbi or community leader this choice. There are costs to speaking out, and those of us who don’t have to pay shouldn’t be so quick to expect others to foot the bill. Their silence in any case should not be an excuse for our inaction.

At the same time, there is a cost to not taking a public stand. How dare we do any less than we would want others to do for us? History will record who stood by and let the doors slam shut, and who, even if they failed, tried to jam them back open.

I’m proud of my rabbi, my wife. I hope to be proud of us all.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Thousands gathered to protest at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 29. Photo by Eitan Arom

When an executive order prompts civil disorder


Shortly before Shabbat fell on Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively slammed the door on refugees seeking entry to the United States — at least for now.

Shock and dismay had been building in the Jewish community since a draft of the order was leaked days beforehand, and on Jan. 28, those sentiments exploded onto Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s cellphone in the form of concerned messages from her congregants at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“When Shabbat ended last night, my phone was blowing up — emails, photos,” she said Jan. 29 as a crowd milled past her at the arrivals gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). “For Jews, there’s a clear line that’s been crossed.”

The airport protest came as a grass-roots reflection of simmering anger in the organized Jewish community. The days before the executive order saw statements from Jewish organizations ranging from the Orthodox Union to the Anti-Defamation League expressing their ire, and in some cases promising to fight the administration.

At LAX, where a number of travelers had been detained because of the order, thousands poured through terminals and onto the curbs the afternoon of Jan. 29. Police cut off traffic through much of the airport and largely gave protesters the run of Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Many protesters were Jews from congregations across the city, and even on signs held aloft by non-Jews, a certain Jewish influence could be detected in references to 1930s Germany and proclamations of “Never again.”

“Our country once made the mistake of shutting its doors to nearly 1,000 refugees on the S.S. St. Louis — people died as a result,” said Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue, reached by phone shortly after the order was signed. “We don’t want to see that happen again.”

To be sure, there are plenty of Jews who support the ban or parts of it and others who dispute analogies to the Holocaust. “Analogy to 1930s Jews is recklessly false,” a statement from Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), declared the day before the order was signed.

But some community members who voiced their support for Trump’s order did so at their own peril, including Simon Etehad, a personal injury lawyer in Beverly Hills, who was born in Iran and fled the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

img_4102“You have no idea how many friends I lost on Facebook because of my opinion … but I believe that he’s doing a wonderful job,” he said.

“Even if I would have been personally affected by this ban, I would still support it,” he wrote in a follow-up email. “Because I am not willing to endanger the life of a single U.S. citizen so that my family members might have an easier travel experience in the next 90 days!”

The people who showed up Jan. 29 at LAX didn’t quite see it that way.

“There are a lot of Jews here — a lot,” Goldberg said from the airport, joined by her three children and her husband, who translated as she spoke in sign language, since she’d lost her voice.

‘Let them in!’

As weary travelers emerged to boisterously chanting crowds, Adam and Noah Reich held a sign reading, “Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers.” While they spoke with a reporter, a short woman with olive skin, a total stranger, walked up and hugged both of them. That type of thing had been going on all afternoon.

“Maybe like, a dozen so far,” Noah said. “We’ve been here for a couple hours and people just come up to us.”

“The collective power of everyone here is saying, ‘You’re not alone; we’re all here for you,’ ” Adam said. “And I think that’s a powerful thing.”

Emerging from the crowd, Jesse Gabriel, an attorney and executive board member at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, put his hand on Noah’s shoulder.

Kol ha-kavod,” he told the pair, using a Hebrew expression for “Well done!”

Gabriel was one of dozens of attorneys swarming the terminal, many with signs reading “lawyer” and announcing their foreign language proficiencies, hoping to be of help to stranded travelers or those recently released by Immigration and Customs officers.

“When you have individuals whose rights need to be protected, that’s when lawyers need to step in,” Gabriel said.

In fact, there was little work for the attorneys at the terminal, since those detained were stranded elsewhere, in the bowels of LAX, incommunicado. The crowds were chanting, “Let them in!” but lawyers were struggling even to make contact with those stranded.

“Our understanding is that there are a number of people with legal travel documents who are being detained in customs and border patrol, in custody,” said immigration attorney Michael Hagerty.

Hagerty was serving as ad hoc media liaison to a group of attorneys at the airport (as announced by a cardboard sign reading “media liaison”). Among his charges were representatives from legal aid clinic Public Counsel and the local American Civil Liberties Union. But information about those in limbo -— even a basic head count — proved difficult to come by.

“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know exactly what their legal status is on an individual basis, but in all likelihood, they are legal permanent residents, they are refugees with legal refugee travel documents, people with student visas,” Hagerty said.

As he spoke, wayfarers cut through surging crowds, pushing carts and lugging suitcases. For those just arriving, it must have presented an overwhelming scene: shouts of “USA!” from flamboyantly dressed protesters, their signs decorated with images ranging from the Statue of Liberty to Trump with a Hitler mustache, and outside, drums banging out an incessant beat.

Marchers mobbed the sidewalk on both the upper and lower levels, along with the international terminal itself. The crowd lined the curb, waving signs at passing cars, and some took to the upper levels of parking garages across the street to look down over the scene.

Some travelers decided to join the protest, including Zoe Lister-Jones, a filmmaker who had just stepped off the plane after screening her new comedy, “Band Aid,” at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

“I’ve been witnessing the injustices occurring from Park City and I came straight from the arrivals terminal to protest,” she said. “As a Jew, I think it’s part of our bloodline to stand up to injustice and resist fascism.”

Mollie Goldberg from Los Angeles

Across Airport Way from the mass of protesters stood Michael Chusid, a kind of greeter. The tall, bearded, middle-aged Encino man held a sign that read “Welcome” in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

“My grandparents came from Lithuania and Ukraine,” Chusid said. “My grandfather was the only one to survive from his whole family. The only thing that is left in Lithuania is tombstones.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said as he teared up.

Clergy respond

News of the order quickly raised a chorus of rabbis in opposition.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, for instance, a consortium of Reform clergy, has been abuzz with outrage at the new policy, Feinstein said.

“We know full well when people come after minorities, they don’t stop with one,” he told the Journal. “History shows this to be the canary in the mine.”

At the airport, the crowd included enough rabbis to start a seminary.

“This country is an expression of the best of what the world has to offer,” Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen Wise Temple said at LAX. “And to be that, it has to be open to immigrants. It has to reflect the values that we hold dear as Jews.”

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica stood alone on the sidewalk outside the terminal wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl, having been unable to locate his congregants in the chaos.

“I wanted people to know that the Jewish people feel a chill up our spine because this is happening,” he said.

Leading up to the refugee order, HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, recruited more than 1,700 rabbis across the denominational spectrum to sign a statement welcoming refugees to the United States. They included Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am, Stan Levy of B’nai Horin, and Yoshi Zweiback of Stephen Wise Temple, as well as Feinstein and Stern.

Reached by phone Jan. 27, shortly after Trump signed the order, Kligfeld noted that the Exodus story obliges Jews “to advocate for our country to continue to have its arms and heart open to the bedraggled and impoverished and persecuted.” But he sounded a note of sympathy with community members who want to protect the nation’s ports of entry.

“I find myself in a centrist place on this issue,” he continued. “I’m proud of our country’s history regarding Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. I think we also live in a scary world.”

Representing the nation’s Orthodox rabbinate, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America reaffirmed a joint statement issued in December 2015 blasting the idea of a Muslim ban. Taken together with reproving statements from the Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative movements, the Orthodox groups’ opposition brings every major strain of American Judaism into alignment against the immigration measures.

Struggling over security, Holocaust memory

The Orthodox rabbi’s statement fell far short of other proclamations by large Jewish organizations, some of which promised an outright battle with the administration.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonpartisan group that was critical of candidate Trump, found fighting words: “ADL relentlessly will fight this policy in the weeks and months to come,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, responding ahead of time to a leaked draft. “Our history and heritage compel us to take a stand.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris also reached for Jewish heritage to motivate his opposition.

“We are all related to those fortunate enough to have been admitted to this country — in my case, my mother, father, wife, and daughters-in-law,” he said in a statement. “And we believe that other deserving individuals merit the same opportunities to be considered for permanent entry.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center protested the idea of a nationality-based ban in a statement the day of the order while steering clear of Holocaust imagery. But the same day, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it criticized Trump for not mentioning Jews in a statement about the Holocaust — a week after the Wiesenthal Center’s founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, offered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration.

Among the leaders of large Jewish institutions, ZOA’s Klein offered a rare note of support for Trump’s measures, saying in the statement his group “is appalled that left-wing Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Reform Movement are ‘strongly condemning’ this draft Executive Order.”

He took umbrage with comparisons to Jewish refugees.

“No Jewish immigrants flew airplanes into buildings, or massacred scores of innocent people at a holiday party or nightclub or marathon or drive trucks into innocent citizens,” Klein said in the statement.

Though unusual within the Jewish establishment, Klein’s thesis found support in some pockets of the community, including some who are recent immigrants themselves.

“It is simply disgraceful to compare Trump to Hitler or his actions to those of the Nazi era,” Etehad wrote in the email.

Eugene Levin, president of Panorama Media Group, which operates a radio
station and two Russian-language  weekly newspapers in Los Angeles, said he supports Trump’s ban on immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries because there is no way of doing a thorough background check and knowing if someone is not a disguised terrorist.

“Many individuals with questionable backgrounds from the Soviet Union moved here as refugees. Think about [the] Tsarnaev brothers, who were able to immigrate here as refugees,” he said, referring to the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“I believe what Trump did was a necessary step,” he added.

Muslims “are against the Jewish people,” said Roman Finarovsky, who grew up in Ukraine at a time when going to a synagogue could result in losing one’s job if caught by the KGB.

img_4085But some saw in the struggle of Soviet Jews cause to oppose the ban. Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was an activist in the free Soviet Jewry movement as a student at UCLA. While several members of the Russian Jewish community expressed support for the ban, Yaroslavsky strongly denounced it.

“I find it to be abhorrent and contrary to every fiber of my being as a human rights activist, as an activist for Soviet Jewry in earlier years, as a civil libertarian, which I am,” Yaroslavsky said of the executive order in a phone interview. “This is un-American, literally un-American.”

Galvanizing young Jews

Shay Roman, 27, stood with two friends at LAX, all three wearing T-shirts from the group IfNotNow, a network of Millennial Jews that protests the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza.

“I’m here especially as a Jew,” Roman said. “I feel it’s so important to show support for other communities, especially the refugee community.”

“Our generation is absolutely not apathetic,” one of his companions, Jonah Breslau, 25, added. “We’re a group of young Jews and our core values are about freedom and dignity for all people — Israeli and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims.”

Danit Osborn, 22, cited her background as both Jewish and Cambodian as part of her reason for being there. She said she wasn’t sure the protest would accomplish any specific policy reform.

“I’m not sure we’re gonna change Donald Trump,” she said. “But I have to be here for my mother and I have to be here for my father.”

Olga Grigoryants, Ryan Torok, Danielle Berrin and Rob Eshman contributed to this report.

Photo by Rob Eshman

Trump’s anti-American immigration ban


The most astonishing moment for me at last Sunday’s protest against President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees came when I was standing by the arrivals area at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.

Suddenly a cheer cut through the din of chants.  A mob of photographers pushed past me to take pictures of someone walking up the exit ramp. This being LA, I was sure George Clooney had just arrived.

I elbowed my way through the crowd, and saw the source of all the excitement.  It was a stout old Muslim woman. Her head and much of her face was wrapped in a thick black hijab.  She was schlepping up the ramp, alone.

A swarm of cameras flashed in her eyes.  The crowd chanted, “Salaam aleikum!  Saleaam aleikum!”   There was applause and whistling and clapping.

The excitement bewildered her.  The photos I snapped show something close to panic in her eyes. A middle-aged Jewish woman I recognized burst through the mob and practically jumped on the older lady, stroked at her arms and said, “Salaam Aleikum ShukranSalaam Aleikum Shukran!

I couldn’t imagine what she made of the mob, the noise, the strange woman who blurted “Hello thank you! Hello thank you!”

Her family rushed to greet her. The old woman gave a get me the hell out of here look, and they spirited her away.

That’s Donald Trump for you, I thought.   The Executive Order Trump signed was so ill-conceived, slapdash, illegal, pandering, and un-American, only he could turn an innocent Muslim bubbie into an unwitting Rosa Parks.

There is something funny about the unsuspecting grandmother turned hero, or it would be funny if the actual consequences of the Muslim ban weren’t so devastating to people, to our democracy and to the actual fight against Islamic extremism that it was purportedly designed to help.

By now we have all read the stories of citizens and green card holders deprived of their rights, of chaos and confusion, of ISIS’s using the ban for recruitment, of cooperative Muslim countries being insulted, of the hypocrisy of leaving out countries that breed actual radical Muslim terrorists, like, say, America, and of the fact that countries  in which Trump does business are excluded from the ban.

In this week’s Jewish Journal, you can read even more stories of Jewish refugees whose American success stories grew from their ability to enter the United States when their lives depended on it.  They fled Nazi Germany (like the grandparents of Jared Kushner). Or they fled  Eastern Europe (like the ancestors of young Stephen Miller, who helped write the ban), or they escaped Iran.  Because politicians and people spoke up loudly to shout down the voices of xenophobia and ignorance, America opened her doors to them.

But this time, the xenophobes are in charge.

Their apologists point out that the executive orders call for only a  temporary ban at best, though a full ban on people fleeing Syria.  The masses that gathered at LA and airports around the country know better.  They get that the Syrian refugees are the German Jews of 1930, or the Persian Jews of 1979, or the Eastern European Jews fleeing the Czar or the USSR.  The hijab is the streimmel. The beard is the payes. What was foreign and threatening to Americans then is just as scary to them now.

That’s why, in frightening times, our safest bet is to rely on our deepest values.  The crowd at LAX understood that, even if their president does not.

That’s why the most common message people held up on their protest protest posters were the words written in 1883 by a 34 year-old Jewish woman in New York, Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Those posters were heartwarming, but they were my second- favorite posters I saw at the rally.

My favorite?   It was held up by a quiet young woman inside the terminal.  It read: “INVEST IN SHARPIE STOCK BECAUSE WE’RE NOT STOPPING.”

img_4107

Activists gather at Portland International Airport on Jan. 29. Photo by Steve Dipaola/Reuters

Invite a Muslim for Shabbat


It will be a very long time before I forget the news I heard this week of a 5-year-old Muslim child handcuffed at Dulles Airport on Saturday because he was deemed a security threat. News outlets later reported that this boy is a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland.

While that news continues to disturb me, I can only imagine what it does to Muslim children living in our country.

This past Monday night my wife came home and told me that a Muslim acquaintance of hers who she knows through work told her that his child is very scared and is crying non-stop since Saturday.

We started talking about what we could do to help this child.

Every Friday night we host lively Shabbat dinners in which we usually entertain members of our congregation.  But after hearing that story, my wife and I decided that we should invite this Muslim family for Shabbat dinner.

A Shabbat dinner is a powerful opportunity to connect while breaking bread together.

Recently the Washington Post wrote a story about a former white supremacist who changed his racist views and entire world view after celebrating Shabbat dinners with his classmates.

In our case we would have a different goal. Our goal in inviting Muslims would not be to convert each other or to engage in interfaith dialogue or to give each other political litmus tests. Indeed, the best Shabbat meals we have are the ones that accept an informal policy of not talking politics.

Rather, we must simply demonstrate that we are embracing and giving respect to our Muslim neighbors.  In this specific case, our goal would be to tell this Muslim child that there are people in this country who are not Muslims but who care very deeply about him and his well-being. Not only do we not want him to leave our country, we want him to grow up and be one of our future leaders. Nothing says I care about you and I believe in you like freshly baked challah bread and homemade bread.

From the perspective of Jewish law the Talmud specifically authorizes inviting a non-Jew to a Shabbat meal (Beitzah, 21b).

Indeed the Midrash (Bereishit 11:4) tells of the time that the Roman ruler, Antoninus went to visit the great sage of the Mishnah, Rebbe for a Shabbat meal. He was so impressed with the lukewarm Shabbat food that was served that he returned during the week for another meal. But this time the food was served piping hot and it wasn’t good. He asked Rebbe what was missing. Rebbe said, “We are missing one spice. The spice of Shabbat!”

We should all follow Rebbe’s lead and share the spice of Shabbat.

Now that I think about it I am embarrassed to admit that through no specific intent or plan it so happens that we have never had a Muslim join us for Shabbat dinner. We just don’t run in the same circles.

It feels like now is the time to change that. Now is the time for people of all faiths to reach out and give some extra love to our Muslim neighbors.

The President campaigned on the promise of putting a ban on Muslims coming into this country. This past week through his Executive Order many law abiding Muslim citizens including green card holders, students, and people who have served the US Army, were handcuffed at airports and detained like criminals. Even though many were released, I don’t remember hearing an apology.

In light of what happened this week, Muslims in this country have every right to feel scared and marginalized.

It is our job as citizens, whether we are Republicans or Democrats, to reach out and embrace our Muslim neighbors. We must tell them that having a 5-year-old boy in handcuffs is not what we want our country to be. We must say to our Muslim neighbors  that we want you in this county.

For this reason, I am asking my fellow Jews this week to reach out and invite a Muslim family to their own Shabbat meal this week.

Now is the time to show our love to those who are scared and marginalized.


Shmuel Herzfeld is the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C.

The many faces of the Jewish refugee


Since the global refugee crisis took over front pages and cable networks, a popular statistic in the Jewish world has been the number 36. It’s mentioned frequently by politically attuned and progressive-leaning clergy as the number of times, at minimum, Jews are commanded in the Torah to care for the stranger in their midst, for they were strangers in the land of Egypt.

But there’s no need to look as far back as the Exodus to remember a time when Jews were strangers in a strange land. The face of the modern refugee is kaleidoscopic: Syrian, Afghan, Rohingya, Yazidi, Sudanese, Congolese. This effect is found in miniature within the many colors of the Jewish refugee over the last century: Persians, Russians, Iraqis, Poles, Germans, Algerians, and others who have sought respite in America.

In the few days since President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting refugee admissions, the anti-Nazi theologian Marvin Niemoller has enjoyed a new vogue for his verse: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. … Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” Today’s body politic has reimagined these lines as, “First they come for the Muslims, and then we said, ‘Not this time!’ ”

By compelling them to reach outward, to march for and alongside Muslims, the recent protests have caused American Jews to look inward and to draw on their own past. A look inside the very long — and yet very recent — history of Jewish refugees reveals a diversity that reflects today’s global refugee crisis, as well as its pervading narrative of persecution and hardship.

Collected below, edited for clarity and length, are six of these Jewish refugee stories, in their words.

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From left: Simon Ebrahimi, his daughter Maryam and wife, Nahid, in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, shortly after arriving from Iran. Below: the portrait for his 2012 novel.

cov-ebrahimi-useAfter a few months, we arrive at the New York airport. I’m with two little children and my wife. And my wife, who knows my temperament, she said, “You just don’t argue with anybody. Let’s go through this.” I said, “Fine.” So the guy calls me and says, “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” I said, “Excuse me?” “You Iranians,” he says. “Why didn’t you let go of our hostages?” … The third time, which is, you know, typical, he came and he said, “You still didn’t respond to me.” I said, “You know what, why don’t you and I go to Iran together and release the hostages? It’s a simple solution!” 

— Simon Ebrahimi, 79, Woodland Hills

 

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Milana Vayntrub as a toddler, newly arrived from Soviet Uzbekistan. As an adult, she has earned national fame in a series of AT&T commercials.

cov-milana-vayntrubThis is little me on the front steps of our apartment building in West Hollywood, in my coolest athletic gear. Most people living in that community were immigrants and it brought us so much closer together knowing we had this generous network of friends and babysitters we could rely on. A few years after arriving to America, my grandparents immigrated and moved in next door. My grandmother used to make Russian dumplings by hand and sell them to delis. She used her earnings to pay her way through school, where she studied English and accounting. Last year, she was able to comfortably retire. She’s a huge inspiration.

— Milana Vayntrub, 29, Hollywood

 

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Igor Mikhaylov (center) in 1983 with his family in Kiev. Below: Mikhaylov with his wife and sons in 2013.

cov-igor-mikhaylov-yom-kippur-2013-75-of-1My family and I left the Soviet Union in 1989 when I was 10. We were escaping anti-Semitism, which was rampant. Jewish refugees could not go directly to the U.S., and places like Austria, where we were initially settled, were overrun with refugees. The situation could get very heated, with Austrian protestors holding picket signs that said, “Shoot the Jews!“ and yelling “Sterben!” — “Die!” Later, we settled in a beautiful Italian coastal town, Santa Marinella. It had magnificent views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, palms, beach and a medieval castle, but none of it was really enjoyable since we were living in limbo. People had heart attacks, aneurisms, nervous breakdowns. Then came the vetting process and questions such as, “Were you ever members of the Communist party?” The only correct answer was “No!”  Who would check? How can you prove it?

— Igor Mikhaylov, 38, Granada Hills

 

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Penina Meghnagi Solomon (above, second from right) with her family in a refugee camp in Italy in 1967, after fleeing Libya. Below: in 2013.

cov-penina-nowI can remember the black sky from the burning. And we were in terror because they were looking for the Jews. … We lost everything. We had property, we had money in the banks. … I remember coming in [to the refugee camp in Italy] and not knowing where we’re going to sleep, what we’re going to eat, whatever. I was 17. And my mom was a widow at that time. … But maybe because my personality is I’m always looking to the positive on anything, I was happy to leave [Libya]. I was happy to leave to a place where I was subjugated to always worry, always with the head half turned back, you never know when you’re going to be pinched or someone’s going to try to kill you. So for me, we were on our way to freedom and it was a good feeling.

— Penina Meghnagi Solomon, 67, Valley Village

 

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Bob Geminder (right) with his brother George and cousin Muriel shortly after he arrived with his family in the U.S. after the Holocaust. Below: Geminder in Los Angeles in 2016.

cov-geminder-nowI was 12 years old. Knew no English pretty much, just some really bad words that the soldiers taught me at the German [displaced persons] camp. … This [photo above] was in East Orange, N.J. — that was kind of our first stop in America. … We were at that DP camp in Germany in Regensburg for about a year and a half, and that was kind of my first schooling. That’s where I learned the alphabet, I learned what two plus two is — you know, some math.. … The big joke in the Regensburg camp was, “Don’t worry about it — you’re going to find money on trees in America.” Me, being a foolish 12-year-old, I started looking at the trees.

— Bob Geminder, 81, Rancho Palos Verdes

 

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Tabby Refael (left) with her mother in the 1980s, shortly before emigrating from Iran. Below: Refael with her son in 2017.

cov-tabby-nowThe black-and-white photo features my mother and me in Iran in the mid-1980s. Iran printed the word “Jew” next to our names on our passports. Months later, on the same document, the Americans printed the three greatest words that have ever been written about us, stamped in a miraculous, indisputable promise: “Protected Refugee Status.” That alone should tell us something about the differences between repressive theocracies and redemptive democracies. I am eternally grateful to Congress and to HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) for the gift of a renewed life, as this photo of my son and me in America in 2017 conveys. It also captures my inner joy at not having had to wear a mandatory Muslim head covering in more than 28 years.

— Tabby Refael, 34, Pico-Robertson

Twitter account tells tragic tales of Jewish refugees killed after US turned them away


In May 1939, as the Holocaust was beginning, the United States turned away the M.S. St. Louis, a ship carrying 937 mostly Jewish refugees from Europe. Returning to Europe, 288 were taken in by Great Britain; of those trapped in Western Europe when Germany conquered the continent, 254 died.

Now a Twitter feed is recalling their names and their deaths, one by one.

@Stl Manifest, launched Friday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, goes line by line through the ship’s manifest, or list of passengers, then tells how each passenger was killed. Some of the posts include photos.

The St. Louis set sail from Hamburg carrying 937 Jewish refugees on May 23, 1939. Twenty-nine were able to disembark in Havana, though the Cuban government wouldn’t allow the rest to enter. Subsequent appeals to the United States to let the refugees enter through Miami were rejected. A 1924 law severely restricted immigration from Germany, and anti-immigrant sentiment was prevalent in the United States at the time.

The feed, a project of Russel Neiss, a Jewish educator, comes as the question of whether to admit refugees is again roiling the country. A draft order expected to be signed soon by President Donald Trump would temporarily bar all refugees from being admitted to the United States, and also would ban nationals of several Muslim-majority countries from entering.

Several Jewish groups have opposed the ban, citing the Jewish experience as refugees. In the description of @Stl_Manifest, Neiss wrote #RefugeesWelcome.

Tales of transformation emerge at Muslim-Jewish storytelling slam


The lights dimmed at the Pico Union Project, an interfaith space just across the 110 Freeway from downtown, and Aziza Hasan climbed onstage. The pews in the historic former church and onetime home of Sinai Temple were packed with nearly 300 people. It was standing room only.

The organization that Hasan leads, NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, is built around members of both religions sharing their experiences to foster mutual understanding. So the evening’s event cut to the heart of her mission.

One by one, Muslim and Jewish storytellers climbed onto the empty stage, lit by a multicolored spotlight, to speak from the heart about transformative experiences in their lives.

“If you really want to soften people’s hearts, you can’t call them bullies, you can’t call them names,” Hasan said. “You actually have to listen.”

“Awww,” came a sarcastic cry of protest from the crowd, as in, “Awww, do we have to?” A wave of chuckles rose from the audience. Hasan smiled and pressed on.

But listen they did, to stories of mental illness, family strife and inner turmoil. The program was planned long before this month’s presidential election, but in the wake of Donald Trump’s upset victory — alluded to frequently but never mentioned directly — the evening’s message seemed to strike close to home.

 “We have to do the really hard work of figuring out how we’re going to make it through this moment together,” Hasan said. “And so tonight I hope that every single one of us can rise to the occasion.”

The evening’s theme was “Transformations,” and the audience was treated to a range of transformative experiences: external, internal, personal, communal and otherwise. Below are three of those stories. 

Umar A. Hakim: ‘My Appointment’

In his nine years working as a cable technician in Los Angeles, Umar A. Hakim normally got New Year’s Eve off. But on Dec. 31, 1997, his supervisors (or, depending on how you look at it, fate) intervened. So he headed out early for his first appointment, to the home of woman named Rebecca Smith.

 “To my surprise, Rebecca Smith answered the door in a full hijab, covered,” he said.

He quickly fixed the problem (“put the TV on [channel] 3”) and was preparing to leave when, by chance, he caught sight of it: a framed picture of the so-called “prophetic family,” the holy men recognized by Islam as God’s messengers, from Adam to Moses to Muhammad.

 “I asked the sister to explain the picture to me. She said, ‘We are all family under one God,’ ” he recalled.

Hakim had been raised in the Episcopal Church as an acolyte and altar boy, but his curiosity was piqued. The woman handed him a copy of the Quran. It would be the first book he had read since sixth grade.

After that, Hakim visited “Sister Rebecca” frequently to ask her about the precepts of Islam and to discuss his beliefs. Soon, she asked him if he was ready to take the shahada.

 “I was like, ‘sha-who?” he said to laughs from the audience.

She explained it was the declaration of faith that constitutes conversion of Islam. He said he was ready — but first, he had to get something out of his system.

 “I gathered my then-family, which was my oldest son and my mom, and I told them, ‘I’m going to embrace Islam,’ ” he said. “But the thing I had to get out of my system was the pepperoni and sausage pizza we had for dinner. There’s been no pork since then.”

Eliana Kaya: ‘That of Which We Do Not Speak’

“Most people don’t even know I have a father,” Eliana Kaya began. “They don’t ask, we don’t tell. Ever since I was small, the way he raged, the way he lay in bed for hours, for days, thinking.”

In both the Israeli and observant Jewish communities, mental illness was not a topic that was easily broached.

“Still, he suffers,” she said. “Still, he struggles. And we don’t talk about it.”

During one visit to her father’s apartment, he told her he’d been reprimanded by his rabbi for doing the one thing that brought him peace: praying loudly during dawn prayers, with great joy and enthusiasm. 

Enraged and needing somebody to talk with, Kaya’s instinct was to call two Muslim friends. An interfaith organizer, she was used to talking about difficult subjects with them.

 “I didn’t have words,” Kaya said. “I could barely breathe. I was trembling with rage. My friends listened. They wept with me.”

Since then, she’s become more open about her father’s illness. Of late, she’s taken to spending more time with him.

One day, after seeing him a number of times in a couple of weeks, she asked him, “Aren’t you sick of me yet?”

He looked up from the shakshuka they were preparing together and answered, “I haven’t even begun to enjoy you.”

Henry Wudl: ‘My Rules’

Henry Wudl’s decision to begin keeping kosher put him in an awkward position. He had always liked participating when his mother cooked, but since his decision, that dynamic had changed.

 “You see, I’m Jewish and my mother is not,” he said. “That means I can’t eat her food. Those are the rules. Food a non-Jew cooks is not kosher, unless a Jew supervises.”

So, at 17, he was no longer participating — he was supervising. He knew this was uncomfortable for his mother, but those rules were important.

 “Without those rules, my stories don’t matter,” he said. “Without those rules, I’m not a real Jew. Without those rules, I’m just an average American teenager. Blah!”

The situation soon became untenable. One day, he came home to Los Angeles on vacation from college to find his mom had been using his kosher pots and pans to cook non-kosher food. A confrontation ensued. His parents issued an ultimatum: This has to stop, or you can no longer stay with us.

Back at college, he immersed himself in studying religious philosophy as he pondered his dilemma. He came across a line from Maimonides that struck him: “We don’t pay attention to the damage done to a person on account of the Torah’s decrees.”

 “Damage. He says following the Torah can do damage,” Wudl said. “I won’t be welcome in my parents’ home because of following the Torah — my parents who I love and who love me. This is not for my own good.”

The day came when Wudl was to return home from college for good. He slipped into his home a day early, hoping to surprise his parents. His found his mother in the kitchen with a freshly broiled chicken — an non-kosher chicken. He took a strip from the chicken’s thigh and ate it.

 “It was good,” he said. “It was really good.

Jews and Muslims: Lessons from Moroccan history


It is hard for anyone paying attention to relationships between Jews and Muslims to be optimistic these days. Hope for a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to recede further and further, and mutual suspicion and prejudice among Israeli Jews and Palestinians has risen accordingly. Many Jews in France feel uncomfortable being identified as Jewish in their homeland, citing rising anti-Semitism among Muslims in particular. Since the attacks on a kosher supermarket in January 2015, record numbers of French Jews have made aliyah. And in the United States, the rise of pro- and anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements has often pitted Jews against Arabs and by extension Muslims, perhaps especially on college campuses.

There are many things we must do to combat rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But as a Jew, I believe that this work must start at home, in our own communities. We cannot convincingly educate others about the dangers of anti-Semitism — which have been on upsetting display this election season here in the United States — without seriously addressing prejudice in our community. To be blunt: Jews must do everything we can to educate ourselves about Islam, and about Jews’ historic relationship with Muslims.

Fortunately, there is a long history of Jews and Muslims living together that can help change the way many in the U.S. — including many Jews — think about Muslims and the Islamic world. Unfortunately, this history is too little known. The vast majority of students who learn Jewish history are still taught an Ashkenazi-centric narrative, from Hebrew schools to day schools to universities. Even a cursory lesson in the way Jews and Muslims lived together in the Middle East before the creation of the State of Israel can challenge many of the negative stereotypes about the history of Jewish-Muslim relations.

My research focuses on Jews and Muslims in modern Morocco. Morocco’s Jewish community was and remains the largest in the Arab world: In 1950, about 250,000 Jews lived in Morocco (today, there are only about 3,000 Jews left). Before their gradual exodus, Jews lived in every single major Moroccan city, as well as in many remote towns and villages. Jews were a small but highly visible minority; even in rural areas where few Jews lived, Muslims expected visits from Jews who worked as traveling salesmen.

Jews and Muslims in pre-colonial Morocco lived largely separate lives; they rarely intermarried, they lived in segregated quarters, they celebrated different holidays and lived according to distinct sacred calendars. And the distinctions between Jews and Muslims were not those between equals: Muslims occupied a higher rung on the social and legal hierarchy, and various aspects of Jews’ daily lives reminded them of their inferior status.

Nonetheless, if one were transported back in time to Fez in, say, 1900, it probably would be difficult to tell Muslims and Jews apart. They spoke very similar dialects of Arabic; they dressed in the same style; they ate the same kinds of food; and they hired the same musical ensembles for their celebrations. But Jews and Muslims were by no means indistinguishable to one another, even if they participated in a culture that was largely shared.

Despite their differences, Jews’ and Muslims’ lives intersected frequently — often in ways we might find surprising. One of the places that brought Jews and Muslims together on a regular basis was nothing other than the Shariah courthouse. Given the demonization of “Shariah law” by so many in the United States, this might seem shocking to some. Yet in Morocco, Jews made frequent use of Shariah courts as part of their business dealings, both with Muslims and with other Jews. Indeed, in some instances Jews sought out the jurisdiction of a Shariah court, believing that they would get a more just decision from a Muslim judge than from a Jewish one.

The Assarrafs, a wealthy Jewish family from Fez, offer an excellent case study of how Moroccan Jews used Shariah courts. The Assarraf family patriarch, Shalom (1830-1910), was extremely familiar with Islamic legal institutions; at the height of his career, he visited them on average once a week. And his regular appearances in court made him an expert in Islamic law. In fact, Shalom was so knowledgeable that some Muslims appointed him as their lawyer in a Shariah court.

The past is not meant to provide a template for concrete policy proposals. But the past is instructive in its ability to change the way we think about the present, and therefore imagine different possibilities for the future. If we believe that Jews and Muslims have always been enemies and have lived in strife since the dawn of Islam, then there is little hope for improving the dynamics among Jews and Muslims today. But if we as Jews fight ignorance about the ways in which Jews lived with Muslims for hundreds of years, we can stop projecting the current dire state of Jewish-Muslim relations onto the past and the future. 

We as Jews have a responsibility to educate ourselves and others about the nuanced, complex history of Jews living among Muslims. Jews and Muslims — indeed all Americans — should know that families like the Assarrafs existed; that Jews were regular customers in Shariah courts; that Muslims hired Jewish lawyers to navigate Islamic law. With narratives like these, we have a shot at changing the conversation about Jewish-Muslim relations — past, present, and future.


Jessica Marglin is an assistant professor of religion at USC and author of “Across Legal Lines: Jews and Muslims in Modern Morocco” (Yale University Press, 2016).

Ban the burqini?


A few months ago, I posted a picture on Instagram that I particularly cherish. I was crossing the street toward the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills when I noticed a woman in a white niqab walking toward me. Every part of her head but her two quite pretty eyes was covered. Just before the woman passed me, I looked down and noticed what she was carrying — a copy of that week’s Jewish Journal.

Of course I whipped out my iPhone and took the shot. Women in niqabs, which cover everything but the eyes; hijabs, which cover just the head; and even burqas, which cover everything including the eyes, have become more and more common in Beverly Hills, at the Grove and even in Venice Beach these days. But wearing one of them and carrying the Jewish Journal — not so much.

The moral of that story is you never know what’s under the burqa. A terrorist bent on blowing you up? Or a curious, open-minded soul eager to find out what the Jews are thinking? Or — cue the “Homeland” theme music — both?

Many in the West want to settle the question by banning the burqa and its beach-ready spinoff, the burqini. In 2010, the French Senate banned the burqa, and Belgium and the Netherlands have followed suit. Now municipalities in southern France want to ban the burqini, as well. In an age of suicide terrorists — especially the female suicide terrorist —their fear is understandable. Last week, we saw again the devastation that this new form of terror can wreak when a bomber blew himself up at a wedding in Turkey. Of the 54 people killed, nearly half were children. 

But before we are tempted to go down the road of banning one form of religious garb or the other — a road that would inevitably detour to observant Jews, and nuns, and, of course, the Pope  — we ought to make a stop in Israel.

If you’ve ever been to the beach there, you’ve swum among the burqinis, or, as I call them, SPF 1000. No one freaks out. Though Israel suffers from terrorism far more than most developed nations, there’s never been a serious call to outlaw  Moslem garb in Israel. All of which has to make you wonder: When it comes to banning burqas, what does Israel know that Europe doesn’t? 

“It’s so stupid,” Dr. Anat Berko told me earlier this week, flatly, definitively.

Berko is a member of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. While in Los Angeles for a conference on terrorism, she stopped by the Jewish Journal offices, and, naturally, with the burqini debate raging, the conversation veered toward suicide bombers and how to stop them. 

And when one of the world’s experts on suicide terrorism dismisses banning the burkini as stupid, maybe it’s time to listen.

Berko, who is 56, spent 25 years in the Israel Defense Forces, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. She earned her doctorate in criminology and in 2014 wrote “The Smarter Bomb: Women and Children as Suicide Bombers.” Next month, Rowman & Littlefield will release the book in paperback.

Twenty years ago, when suicide bombers first let loose in Israel, Berko predicted Muslim terrorists would start using the technique against other Muslims, and that women and children would become suicide bombers themselves.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Because,” she said, “nothing stops with the Jews.”

Berko spent years interviewing suicide bombers who survived or were apprehended in the course of their missions, and the people who dispatched them, including, famously, Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin. What she learned informs what she believes is the right strategy for dealing with this kind of terror.

It’s not despair, she said, that motivates the perpetrators. 

“The reward of an afterlife is the most important thing,” she said. “They hate the West, but they want to live in the West once they die — with the women and the alcohol.”

Berko tells the story of a young would-be suicide bomber who survived his blast and woke up instead in an Israeli hospital.  When he opened his eyes, he saw the beautiful Israeli nurses dressed in white. 

“Am I in heaven?” he asked.

“No,” a doctor said.  “Hadassah.”

The ideology is blinding. So a woman suicide bomber will wear a sexy, skimpy dress just to pass undetected — another reason the obsession with burqas makes no sense.   

“Who cares about the burqini?” Berko said. “We are focusing on the real things. They are focusing on peanuts. Israel has what to teach Europe, but Europe isn’t listening.”

Berko reeled off three approaches to countering suicide bombers that have nothing to do with bathing suits. 

First, she said, define the enemy.  Leaders must understand the issue is extremist Islamic ideology.

“You need to say the word ‘Islamic,’ ” she said.

Second, distinguish between terrorists and ordinary people.  Making the lives of non-terrorists harder, punishing populations rather than terrorists, only increases the chances of the next attack.  

Finally, target incitement, whether in the mosques or on the internet.   

There are a of good arguments against a burqini ban, but for people truly concerned about terror, what about this: the people who know best say it doesn't work.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

London’s Muslim mayor hit with anti-Semitic messages for not backing Corbyn to lead Labour


London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a European capital city, has been bombarded with anti-Semitic messages since he said he would not support Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election.

Several of the messages suggested that he had been influenced by Jews, the London-based news website Jewishnews.uk reported.

The mayor “spends his time writing articles to help his masters in Tel Aviv,” read one tweet.

“Who owns you @sadiqkhan?” read another, which included a photo of Khan wearing a kippah while eating matzah at a Jewish community event.

Last week, Khan threw his support behind Owen Smith, who has been a Parliament member since 2010 and is Corbyn’s only challenger for the party leadership. Smith previously worked as a radio and television producer for the BBC.

Khan, a Labour member, wrote an op-ed published Saturday in The Guardian newspaper in support of Smith. He said in the London-based daily that if Corbyn remained party leader, Labour would be unlikely to win the next general election. Khan also said Corbyn “has already proved that he is unable to organize an effective team, and has failed to win the trust and respect of the British people.”

In a June op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, Kahn pledged to root out anti-Semitism in London and in the Labour Party.

Some 500,000 ballots for the leadership race were sent out to party members on Monday; the results will be announced next month.

How Paris public schools became no-go zones for Jews


Twenty-five years after he graduated from a public high school in the French capital, Stephane Tayar recalls favorably his time in one of the world’s most thorough education systems.

As for many other French Jews his age, the state-subsidized upbringing has worked out well for Tayar, a 43-year-old communications and computers specialist. Eloquent but down to earth, he seems as comfortable discussing the complexities of French society as he is adept at fighting — curses, threats and all — for his motorcycle’s place in the brutal traffic here.

“You learn to get along with all kinds of people – Muslims, Christians, poor, rich,” Tayar said in recalling his school years. “You debate, you study, you get into fistfights. It’s a pretty round education.”

But when the time came for Tayar and his wife to enroll their own boy and girl, the couple opted for Jewish institutions — part of a network of dozens of private establishments with state recognition, hefty tuition and student bodies that are made up almost exclusively of Jews.

“Enrolling a Jewish kid into a public school was normal when I was growing up,” Tayar said in a recent interview as he waited with two helmets in hand to pick up his youngest from her Jewish elementary school in eastern Paris. “Nowadays forget it; no longer realistically possible. Anti-Semitic bullying means it would be too damaging for any Jewish kid you put there.”

This common impression and growing religiosity among Jews in France are responsible for the departure from public schools of tens of thousands of young French and Belgian Jews, who at a time of unprecedented sectarian tensions in their countries are being brought up in a far more insular fashion than previous generations.

Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third of them do so. The remaining two-thirds are divided equally between Jewish schools and private schools that are not Jewish, including Catholic and Protestant institutions, according to Francis Kalifat, the newly elected president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

The change has been especially dramatic in the Paris area, which is home to some 350,000 Jews, or an estimated 65 percent of French Jewry.

“In the Paris region, there are virtually no more Jewish pupils attending public schools,” said Kalifat, attributing their absence to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults” against Jews because of their ethnicity, and to the simultaneous growth of the Jewish education system.

Whereas most anti-Semitic incidents feature taunts and insults that often are not even reported to authorities, some cases involve death threats and armed assaults. In one incident from 2013, several students reportedly cornered a Jewish classmate as he was leaving their public school in western Paris. One allegedly called him a “dirty Jew” and threatened to stab the boy with a knife. A passer-by intervened and rescued the Jewish child.

The increase in schoolyard anti-Semitism in France, first noted in an internal Education Ministry report in 2004, coincided with an increase in anti-Semitic incidents overall. Prior to 2000, only a few dozen incidents were recorded annually in France. Since then, however, hundreds have been reported annually. Many attacks — and a majority of violent ones — are committed by people with a Muslim background, who target Jews as such or as payback for Israel’s actions in what is known as the “new anti-Semitism.”

In 2012, payback for Israel’s actions in Gaza was the stated motivation of a jihadist who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Since then, Jewish institutions across Europe and French Jewish schools especially have been protected by armed guards – most often soldiers toting automatic rifles.

In neighboring Belgium, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism has documented multiple incidents that it said were rapidly making Belgian public schools “Jew-free.” Some blamed Belgian schools for being more reluctant than their French counterparts to punish pupils for anti-Semitic behavior.

The latest incident there involved a 12-year-old boy at a public school outside Brussels. Classmates allegedly sprayed him with deodorant cans in the shower to simulate a gas chamber. The boy’s mother said it was an elaborate prank that also caused him burns from the deodorant nozzles.

In April, another Jewish mother said a public school in the affluent Brussels district of Uccle was deliberately ignoring systematic anti-Semitic abuse of her son, Samuel, in order to hide it. She enrolled him specifically at a non-Jewish school because she did not want him to be raised parochially, the mother said, but she had to transfer him to a Jewish school due to the abuse.

In addition to charting anti-Semitism among students, watchdogs in France and Belgium are seeing for the first time in decades a growing number of incidents involving teachers – as victims and perpetrators.

Last month, the Education Ministry in France began probing a high school teacher who shared with her students anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook — including ones about the clout of the Jewish lobby in the United States and another about French President Francois Hollande’s Jewish roots (he has none).

In 2012, a teacher from a suburb of Lyon said she was forced to resign after her bosses learned that she had suffered anti-Semitic abuse by students. Days later, two teenagers were arrested near Marseilles on suspicion of setting off an explosion near a teacher who had reported receiving anti-Semitic threats at school.

The atmosphere is pushing many French Jewish parents to leave for Israel, which is seeing record levels of immigration from France. Since 2012, 20,000 Jews have made the move. Their absence is already being felt in Jewish schools and beyond, said Kalifat, because “the people who are leaving are exactly the people who are involved in the Jewish community.”

Some of those who left were responsible for developing France’s Jewish education system long before anti-Semitism became a daily reality for French Jews, said Kalifat. More than 30 years ago he enrolled his own two children in a Jewish school “not because of anti-Semitism, which was not a problem back then, but simply to give them a more Jewish education,” he said.

Jewish immigrants from North Africa to France had a major role in the growth of Jewish schools from a handful in the 1950s and ’60s to the formation of Jewish education networks with dozens of institutions, said Kalifat — himself an Algeria-born Jew and the first North African Sephardi to be elected CRIF president.

Arriving in a country where a quarter of the Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Jewish newcomers from former colonies of France were more traditional and religious than many French-born Jews.

“They developed all sectors of Jewish life, but Jewish schools more than anything,” Kalifat said.

The effort has paid off in several ways. Last year, Jewish schools topped two French media rankings of the country’s approximately 4,300 high schools. One was a Chabad institution; the other was part of the more liberal Alliance network.

Some French Jews, including Yeshaya Dalsace, a Conservative rabbi from Paris, say the rise of Orthodox religious schools and other institutions is part of a trend toward insularity that comes at the expense of openness at a time when Jews should be more engaged in French society than ever.

But to Tayar, the growth of Jewish schools amid anti-Semitism is a much-needed silver lining.

“That parents like me effectively can’t send their children to public schools is tragic,” he said. “The only positive aspect I can see here is that anti-Semitic hatred drives us to make the financial sacrifice that will raise a generation that has much more Jewish culture and knowledge than our own.”

The hate narrative and Muslims in America


On the sixth night of Ramadan, June 11, I broke my fast at a synagogue during a Havdalah-Shavuot celebration. Around 10:30 p.m., at almost the same time that Omar Mateen opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., I called an Uber to get from the Westwood synagogue to my apartment in midtown Los Angeles. The driver took an unusual route. “I’m not going through West Hollywood,” he said. “I don’t want to see all that gay parade stuff.” He was a white, middle-aged, Christian man. A beaded cross dangled from his rearview mirror. He asked me where I was from. I said I was Pakistani. “You don’t look like them,” he laughed and added, “That’s a compliment.”

Let us be frank about what it is. The two most acceptable forms of discrimination in America today are discrimination against gays and Muslims. It is politically, socially, legally acceptable to be a bigot with regard to practicing Muslims and a person’s sexual orientation. In the past six months alone, countless politicians backed by the Christian right have pushed for hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills through state governments. These include bills like North Carolina’s sweeping HB2, which denies even basic legal protections to gay and transgender people. 

At the same time, Muslims in the United States have to tolerate the racist ravings of presidential candidates and television anchors. The word “terrorist” is now reserved exclusively for Muslims, a dubious indignity that the 1.6 billion Muslims of the world must accept as theirs alone. The political causations behind the rise of ISIS are no longer debated, but every time a madman pledges allegiance to it, the rest of the Muslim world is immediately answerable for his motivations. 

There are more than 3 million Muslims in America, and some of them, like some Orthodox Jews and orthodox Christians, do not support gay rights. The route to acceptance has been a morbidly slow evolution across all major world religions, made worse by the lack of political and legal institutions to contradict widely held religious beliefs. 

The four major schools of Islam are in utter disagreement on homosexuality and challenge one another on the legal premise of punishment, if any. Islamic literature has been rife with homoeroticism over the ages, and in modern narratives, progress is being made as global acceptance increases. It is also true that the state of gay rights is most abysmal in seven Muslim majority countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death. In yet others, including Indonesia, Turkey and Jordan, homosexuality is legal and LGBTQ rights are improving. 

But is homophobia in Islam relevant to the case of Omar Mateen, a non-devout, possibly gay Muslim man with unproven links to any fundamentalist organization?

Yes and no. It should not be completely ignored that Mateen’s violent motivations might have found their root in his parents’ religion, or that he declared allegiance to multiple (albeit contradictory) terrorist organizations in a last-minute 911 call. Having said this, that cannot be the primary or even secondary point of focus.

Religious leaders at the Islamic Center of Southern California speak about solidarity in the wake of the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Amal Khan

Once more, much of the conversation in America disowns what is inconvenient to include in its political and cultural narratives this election year. Mateen was a gay-hating, gun-touting Muslim terrorist with Afghan parents, according to the media narrative. But what Mateen was, was a mentally unstable American terrorist with legal access to assault rifles.  

The only thing that separates Omar Mateen from Adam Lanza, from Aaron Alexis, from James Holmes, Timothy McVeigh, Christopher Harper-Mercer or Dylann Roof is his name. That this point needs to be raised in 2016 America is a humiliating measure of the state of racism in this country. On Saturday night, it was Omar Mateen, born to Afghan parents, who killed 49 people. On the morning of June 12, James Howell, born to white parents and from Indiana, was arrested with a cache of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and ammunition in Santa Monica on his way to the West Hollywood gay pride parade.

The fact is that homophobia, like hate, is not a Muslim problem. It is a global problem. Legal and immediate access to automatic assault weapons, however, is solely an American problem.

So, no, America should not get to choose who it owns. America should not get to embrace the Muhammad Alis as its own, but reject the Omar Mateens as somebody else’s. It should not get to turn a debate about its own gun laws, its intelligence failures and its homegrown homophobia into a hate-filled, racist narrative about immigration and Islamic fundamentalism, which is exactly what political opportunists like Donald Trump are now doing.

On June 13, one day after the murders in Orlando, the Islamic Center of Southern California was a champion of common sense and solidarity. In the settling chill of dusk, an interfaith vigil welcomed speakers from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Sikh clergies, gay and straight, who denounced violence, oppression and the war of religions in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Arik Greenberg, founder of the Institute for Religious Tolerance, Peace and Justice, identified himself as a secular Jew. He expressed concern over a systematically instilled anti-Islamism, likening America today to the climate of hostility in Nazi Germany, when ordinary Germans were brainwashed into believing that there was not a single decent Jew who lived among them. “I see this tactic used by many American leaders, making people believe that if they scratch the surface of any Muslim, they’ll find a terrorist underneath,” he said. 

For over an hour, people in headscarves or kippahs, tattooed women and priests, police officers, gays, lesbians, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims and Christians spoke of a common human dignity. “To the wicked opportunists,” said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, “you are on the side of ISIS because you believe in a war of religions and getting cheap political votes through fear and violence.”

With an array of rainbow flags fluttering behind them, the gathering was solemn. Stephen Rohde, chair of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), ended the vigil by saying, “It is a matter of our survival as a nation, as a widely decent and good people to stand here together.” 

And stand they did, long after the day’s Ramadan fast broke, and the sun set. When people finally dispersed, it was in the silent spirit of hope, holding white candles and reflecting upon the true diversity of America’s greatness.