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.”

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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.

Most Jews have no Jewish message to the world


Ask just about any Christian — whether Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical or Eastern Orthodox — “What is your purpose as a Christian? What is your message to the world as a Christian?” 

You will receive some variation on this response: “To spread the good news of Jesus Christ and bring as many people as possible to salvation through faith in him.”

Ask any Muslim — Sunni or Shiite — the same questions, just changing “Christian” to “Muslim.” And you will receive this response: “To bring the world to the one true religion, Islam.”

Ask a Mormon the same questions, substituting “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint” for “Christian” and you will be told: “To convert as many people as possible to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” That’s why tens of thousands of young Mormons are sent around the world to make Mormon converts.

Then ask any Jew the same questions. 

Of course, unlike these other religious groups, Jews do not seek to convert the world to their religion (though we should certainly make the case for Judaism and announce that we welcome converts). 

Here are likely responses:

Response 1: “What do you mean?”

This would be the response of many Jews from the secular to Orthodox. The reason is that the idea of bringing a Jewish message to the world is just not part of their vocabulary.

Response 2: “Our first task is to talk to fellow Jews. So many Jews are alienated from Judaism and the Jewish people, we have to concentrate all our messaging on them.”

Response 3: the Orthodox response: “Our task is to keep the mitzvot that God has commanded us to observe. Then we will be a light unto the nations.”

This is the general Orthodox response. There are, of course, individual Orthodox Jews who believe Jews are obligated to reach out to the non-Jewish world with a Jewish message. But they are rare. The only institutional Orthodox exception is Chabad, which preaches the “Seven Noahide Laws” to non-Jews. 

Response 4: the Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and secular response: “Our task is tikkun olam, to repair the world by working for social justice.”

Regarding the Jewish responses, the first point worth noting is that, unlike Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and Muslims, there is nothing approaching a unified Jewish response to questions about the task of a Jew or the nature of the Jewish message to the world.

The second, and even more important point, is that none of the Jewish responses actually answers the questions. The first two obviously don’t. 

The third response, the Orthodox, acknowledges that Jews have a purpose, but no obligation to talk to the world. 

But if that is the case, for what purpose did God choose the Jews? Chosen to do what? 

Again, the Orthodox answer is “to keep the commandments.” That suffices, we are reassured, because when Jews do that, Jews will be a light unto the nations.

But how can you be a light if almost no one can see you? The most observant Jews are also the most cloistered Jews. How many non-Jews see the Jews of Orthodox enclaves such as Monsey or New Square in New York, Bnei Brak in Israel, or anywhere else the most observant Jews live? The answer is close to zero. Moreover, I am not certain that when non-Jews see Charedi or ultra-Orthodox Jews, they leave with a message.

So, with few exceptions, Orthodoxy has opted out of providing a Jewish message to the world.

Finally, we come to Response 4, the tikkun olam response given by most Conservative, Reform and Jewishly-identifying secular Jews.

Now, there is no question that Judaism wishes the Jew to help repair the world. But what religion doesn’t want to repair the world? Do committed Christians not want to repair the world? Just look at all the charities and hospitals created by Protestants and Catholics. For that matter, what decent secular ideology doesn’t want to repair the world? Do the great majority of liberals and conservatives not want to repair the world?

Obviously, then, since Jews from the left to the right want to repair the world, when Jews speak of the Jewish message as tikkun olam, they must be referring to something more specific than simply wanting to repair the world.

And they are. They are referring specifically to progressive politics. Tikkun olam for these Jews means extending taxing the rich, increasing the size of the government, creating new and enlarging existing welfare programs, fighting carbon emissions, supporting same-sex marriage, greatly increasing the minimum wage, providing free college tuition, criticizing Israel and supporting every other left-wing policy.

But if the Jews’ message to the world is identical to the left’s message to the word, there is no Jewish message to the world. Nor, for that matter, would there be any compelling reason to be Jewish. 

All one would have to do to in order to fulfill what Judaism stands for is become active in left-wing causes. Which is precisely what most young Jews have concluded, and have therefore become leftists without Judaism.

In Part Two, I will suggest what ought to be the Jews’ messages to the world.


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

Protests planned for Trump speech at pro-Israel conference


Some rabbis and Jewish students are planning protests against Donald Trump's speech on Monday at a conference of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC over what they say are his belittling comments about Muslims and other groups.

About 18,000 people are expected to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's three-day annual conference in Washington. It is not clear how many will either boycott or walk out of the Republican presidential front-runner's address.

“He has taken every opportunity to vilify women, Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants and the disabled,” said Jeffrey Salkin, a rabbi in Hollywood, Florida, who asked rabbis across the country to join him in a boycott. He said 40 had agreed and signed a protest letter he hoped to distribute at the conference.

Another group of rabbis and students called Come Together Against Hate is planning to walk out of the room after Trump takes the stage. Jesse Olitzky, one of its organizers, said he did not know how many people would participate. The group's Facebook page had 300 members.

Some of the students received an email earlier this week from AIPAC warning that if they disrupted the speech, they would have their conference access revoked. An AIPAC official said on Thursday the message “went out in error and was not authorized.”

“I know nothing about that,” Trump said in a Reuters interview on Thursday when asked if he had heard about the planned protests and whether he intended to respond.

When he announced his candidacy last summer, Trump said some people crossing the U.S. border from Mexico were criminals and rapists, and promised to build a wall along the border.

In December, he called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, on national security grounds. Last week, he told CNN: “Islam hates us.” The Anti-Defamation League and an organization of Reform rabbis condemned his comments.

AIPAC, which is non-partisan, routinely hosts presidential hopefuls at its conference. Trump's remaining Republican rivals, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, will address the group as well.

“The job of AIPAC is not to decide whose policies we like or look into the souls of people,” said Seth Siegel, an AIPAC veteran who said he was not speaking on behalf of the organization.

“It's the organization's job to try to educate elected officials about how to deepen the U.S.-Israel relationship for the benefit of both parties,” he said. “Having Trump speak at the policy conference is unambiguously part of that mission.”

What’s really important to take away from the new Pew study


The Pew report on Israel’s Religiously Divided Society should be a source of alarm to both Israelis and world Jewish leaders. It was of particular interest to us at. Hiddush–Freedom of Religion for Israel, which is a trans-denominational Israel-Diaspora partnership that places much attention on polling public opinion regarding religion and state in Israel, focusing on  findings regarding the Jewish population.

I fear that few will fully study this vast report. Most will instead rely on the media, which primarily focused on the alarming data regarding widely held anti-Arab sentiments among Israeli Jews. The report, though, raises a number of issues of religious import that have received predictable reactions. As expected, the Orthodox media triumphantly declared that the report validates the religious/traditional character of Israeli Jews, pointing to the low rates of Reform and Conservative affiliation in Israel. The findings that I mentioned present only a partial picture of the Israeli reality, offering only a narrow perspective on what should occupy a much greater place in Israel’s public and political discourses and among responsible world Jewish leadership. Unfortunately, some people have lost sight of the broad scope of the study and have instead focused on these narrow issues. Two key general alarming areas demand to be addressed. : The real threat to democracy on the religion-state and the Jewish-Arab fronts, and the painful correlation between these threats and the religion-secular divide.  

While the study shows that a majority of Israeli Jews believe Israel’s Jewish and democratic characters are compatible, the truer picture is quite different. Pew shows that a majority of Israel’s religious Jewish population supports halacha becoming the binding law of the state for Jews; but the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support religious freedom and oppose the government’s coercive policies on religious affairs. Nevertheless, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox politicians continue to maneuver toward realizing this theocratic vision, as it works to strengthen the powers of the fundamentalist state rabbinate.

Addressing the issue of marriage freedom, the report regrettably does not explore Israelis’ support for civil marriages, but rather focuses on support for Reform and Conservative weddings. If civil marriage had been included, it would have demonstrated, as Hiddush’s extensive polling does, that a clear majority supports marriage freedom and an end to the Orthodox monopoly over marriage and divorce. Israel is the only Western democracy that denies its citizens the right to marry. Hundreds of thousands cannot legally marry in Israel, and this would apply to the majority of children growing up in the American Jewish community, if they wished to reside in Israel.

Fortunately, there has been a recent, unprecedented awakening among mainstream Jewish leadership on this issue: The seminal JPPI study of Diaspora Jewish leadership views on Israel as Jewish and democratic, the JFNA’s new iRep project aimed at promoting freedom of marriage in Israel, and AJC’s J-REC coalition to advance religious pluralism, marriage freedom, and Jewish status issues in Israel.

Such initiatives have been influential in promoting liberal approaches to religious issues. Diaspora Jewish pressure led a majority of the ministers in Netanyahu’s government to vote for the recent historic Western Wall agreement. However, Religious Services Minister Azoulay (Shas), following his rabbi’s instructions, has announced that he will not sign the regulations required for its implementation. Now Netanyahu and his Cabinet are trying to appease the ultra-Orthodox political and rabbinical leadership while trying to save face with the non-Orthodox Diaspora movements.

Similarly, following the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing access to public (State funded) ritual baths for non-Orthodox conversions, the chair of the Knesset finance committee, Rabbi Gafni (UTJ), assaulted the Supreme Court, stating that it has declared war against Judaism and will not rest until it sees Judaism fully destroyed in Israel. He submitted a bill to undo it, and received full support from haredi parties and some of the Orthodox Jewish Home party. Health Minister Rabbi Litzman (UTJ) announced that the Charedi parties will topple the government if his bill is not passed, and that Netanyahu has to choose: either the Reform in America or the Charedi in Israel.

These two events are but very recent examples of the Orthodox attempt to suppress the non-Orthodox streams. Still, both non-Orthodox movements have grown considerably in Israel. It should be noted that several credible studies, done recently, indicate higher percentages of Israelis who identify as Reform and Conservative, than reported by Pew.

The Pew study’s categories do not do justice to Israel’s Jewish identity mosaic. It is unfortunate that Pew chose to maintain the older religious categories of Jewish identity, including only one “masorti” label. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics had previously made two designations:  “masorti leaning towards religious” and “masorti not so religious.” This distinction is of great importance because traditional practices are prevalent among Israeli Jews, including the hiloni. Those classified as “masorti not so religious” (approximately 25 percent of Israeli Jews) are far closer to the hiloni (secular) population on positions of religion and state than to those held by the religious population.

The Pew study also reflects on the Jewish-Arab conflict, but the pollsters chose a rather sensational question: support for the expulsion and transfer of Arabs. The results indicate a clear divide between the majority of religious Jews who support this and the majority of the hiloni and masorti that oppose it. Oddly, majorities in all subgroups of Jews in Israel support Pew’s question on “preferential treatment of Jews in Israel.”  This may depend on wording, and I would direct your attention to the better (IMHO) framing of the IDI Democracy Index of 2014: “Do you agree or disagree that Jewish citizens of Israel should have greater rights than non-Jewish citizens?” The division along religious identity lines is once again evident in the responses to this question: the majority of Orthodox agreed, while the majority of non-Orthodox disagreed.

This clearly does not reflect the position of all those who identify as “religious.” Some of the leading champions for human equality come from the Orthodox community. Yet, disturbingly, repeated statistical data indicates an alarming level of correlation between religious education with anti-democratic and anti-gentile views.

The Pew study should act as an urgent reminder that Israel must return to the inspiring and healing spirit that permeates through its Declaration of Independence, prescribing its Jewish and democratic characters as guided by the prophetic “precepts of liberty, justice and peace,” and ensuring “full social and political equality for all regardless of religion, gender, or race.” It is my sincerest hope that Pew findings will help open the eyes of policymakers and public opinion molders throughout the Jewish world to understand the dire need to address such threatening trends, and re-commit to fully realize Israel’s founding vision.


Rabbi Uri Regev heads Hiddush — Freedom of Religion for Israel, Inc. — a transdenominational Israel/Diaspora partnership for religious freedom and equality in Israel.

This is what it takes to resettle a refugee


San Diego could hardly be more different from the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement.

When Sebazira Amatutule, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, arrived in California on June 10, 2015, after spending nearly two decades in a refugee camp in Uganda, he found a world where the rules were foreign to him, often in ways that surprised and pleased him.

“In Africa, you can’t move,” he said in a recent interview. “You’re supposed to have your ID, and people are supposed to know where are you going. But here, you just have your bus pass, you board your bus, not even the driver is asking you where you’re going, you just stop, you go out and you reach home.”

Though thrilled with his newfound freedom, Amatutule at first found the new rules bewildering. He needed somebody to teach him how to cross the street, how to use the bus, how to shop at the market.

Amatutule is neither Iraqi nor Syrian. Nonetheless, his story is typical of the challenges and logistical acrobatics required in plucking an individual from one part of the world as a candidate for immigration to the United States.

Refugees hoping to come to the U.S. are heavily vetted before getting permission to enter; many wait three years for their application to be processed. According to officials, if Tashfeen Malik, the Pakistani-born San Bernardino terrorist who with her husband killed 14 people, had tried to enter the U.S. as a refugee rather than with a fiancée visa, she would have had a much longer wait and more than likely the vetting process would have disqualified her.

Settling refugees here can also be a yearslong commitment.

And that’s where Jewish Family Service (JFS) of San Diego comes in. Along with a handful of other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, Jewish Family Service branches are offering crucial initial help to refugees — whether from Africa, Asia or Syria or Iraq — in finding homes and establishing a life for their families the U.S.

San Diego’s JFS is among those on the ground floor of an international operation seeking to resettle refugees currently living in dangerous or squalid conditions. When Amatutule arrived, for example, the nonprofit connected him with a case manager, who helped him enroll his two children in elementary school, enrolled him in temporary government aid programs and helped him find a job as a landscaper.

For many TV news viewers in the United States, the current refugee crisis seemed to begin last September, when grim news began to appear of massive numbers of migrants escaping Syria to Europe, many of them dying in waterlogged rafts or unventilated trucks.

The media frenzy erupted just in time for last fall’s High Holy Days, and rabbis took to the pulpit to encourage congregations to take note. By that time, Amatutule had already spent some 18 Yom Kippurs and Rosh Hashanahs displaced by war from his homeland, which he left because of its long-running civil war.

“Six months ago, we felt we were shouting into the wind trying to get people to understand there’s a refugee crisis,” Riva Silverman, vice president of external affairs for HIAS, a Jewish refugee aid organization, told congregants at a Shabbat lunch in January at Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard.

Silverman spoke at a crucial, if understated, moment for Jewish activism on the issue. Suddenly alert to the crisis, synagogues across the Southland are now trying to decide how, if it all, they can help.

HIAS was founded in 1881, originally as a group dedicated solely to Jewish refugees — thus its name, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. By the time the number of displaced Jews had trickled to a halt after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, HIAS’ leadership decided that rather than close up shop, it would continue by serving non-Jewish refugees.

Now, HIAS is part of the United States Refugee Admission Program, a roundtable of nine nonprofit organizations that together with the State Department form the government apparatus for refugee resettlement.

The refugee admission system varies greatly from country to country. In Canada, for example, a group of five or more people can sponsor a refugee or family of refugees to come settle in their area by taking full financial responsibility for those individuals.

The system in the United States is much more rigid. When the United Nations decides refugees should go to the United States, HIAS and the other eight nonprofits divide responsibility for the immigrants, then turn to local partners to coordinate their living arrangements.

The Refugee and Immigration Services office of JFS San Diego is one of those local partners; each month, it helps resettle about 30 refugees. (Los Angeles’ high cost of living means the government has excluded it as a destination for refugee placement, Silverman said.)

Thirty refugees may seem like a drop in the bucket when compared with the nearly 60 million refugees that today remain in international limbo. (This week, Austria came under criticism for taking only 80 refugees per day.) But for the people and organizations across North America who devote their time and resources to finding safe havens for these families, every drop counts.

“The only consolation we find is, ‘one person at a time,’ ” said Etleva Bejko, director of the JFS San Diego refugee office.

In fact, in San Diego, the diverse neighborhoods of City Heights and El Cajon have become home to robust and growing refugee communities.

For those refugees who do not have family in the region, JFS arranges airport pickup and leases them an apartment, stocking it with groceries and basic household goods. For those with families offering some help, the process starts the day after the refugees arrive, when a case manager briefs them on how resettlement works and determines their eligibility for a variety of government services.

Case manager Husam Salman, 30, likes to begin by telling clients those services are only temporary, so they are not shocked when government aid dwindles down the line.

A non-practicing Muslim from Baghdad, Salman can speak from personal experience. In 2013, he arrived as a refugee, joining a sister who had settled in San Diego with the help of JFS.

At first, he, his sister and two brothers shared a studio apartment in El Cajon, east of San Diego. He struggled to find an apartment of his own without an income stream. Soon, though, JFS helped him get a job — first at a door-to-door advertising company and later at Walmart, where he made enough income to afford to live on his own.

Six months after starting work at Walmart, his cellphone rang during a work break. It was Becky Morines, then a JFS employment specialist, calling to offer him a job as a case manager.

Salman has a law degree from Iraq, and getting an office job was a palpable step up for him. But from the beginning, he felt the U.S. was a better fit than his native country, since the legal system here works fairly and, he said, “everybody is equal here.”

“I just feel I belonged to this country because it’s so fair,” he said during a recent interview at his office. “In our country, like, no, the logic is sick. The values are different — it’s upside down.”

Salman has become something of a poster child for JFS San Diego: gainfully employed and upwardly mobile.

Despite his degree, he never practiced law in Iraq, fearing that career would make him a target for violence. But now, he hopes to find a way to obtain credentials to practice here. Morines, who has since left JFS, offered to put him in touch with her husband, a lawyer, to assist with the process.

“It was so nice [of her],” Salman said. “It’s so nice to have friends.”

Salman’s current job is part social worker, part employment agent, part therapist and part friend.

JFS San Diego is a full-service family nonprofit, providing goods and services ranging from a food pantry to a “Big Pals” program for Jewish teens.

But the program generating the most buzz these days is the Refugee and Immigration Services office, which relocated in 2015 to a satellite office in Mission Gorge, a 10-minute drive from the JFS San Diego headquarters, to be closer to the immigrant communities the organization serves.

When Saad Dawood first immigrated to San Diego from Baghdad in 2010, his JFS case manager took on the role of an informational hotline on life in America.

“I was calling him and asking if I need, like, to go somewhere, how can I get there, how to use the bus, everything, all the questions you can think of,” he said.

A college graduate in computer engineering, Dawood had no desire to leave Iraq, but then he and his sister were victims of a car bomb in Baghdad, leaving him with shrapnel wounds in his neck. Shortly after that, he was injured again in yet another improvised explosive detonation.

“After that I said, ‘That’s it.’ I mean, ‘I have to leave,’ ” he said. He left Iraq for Turkey, spending a year and nine months there before being allowed to resettle in the United States.

Even then his transition to the U.S. was not an easy one: At first, he was able to find only menial jobs.

About a year ago, he applied for a position on Craigslist for an IT support job — at JFS San Diego. In 2015, he was named the JFS San Diego employee of the year.

“There’s a reason why he was selected the employee of the year, and it goes beyond that he does great work,” CEO Michael Hopkins told the Jewish Journal during a recent visit to JFS San Diego’s newly remodeled headquarters on Balboa Avenue, about 10 miles north of downtown.

“I think in so many ways he’s an example of the work that we do, and it’s almost a reminder, when he’s fixing our computer, what we do here,” he added.

Hopkins said JFS has been flooded of late with requests for its leaders to come speak at synagogues and other local organizations about the work JFS does with refugees.

“We have had more requests than ever to be speakers, to be presenters, to better understand what’s going on,” he said. “For me, that’s the sign that there’s conversations happening outside, in our community, and people want to have the facts.”

Likewise, in Los Angeles, some synagogues are taking steps to educate themselves on the crisis.

At Temple Beth Am, HIAS’ Silverman came from Connecticut to speak at the invitation of a synagogue committee established to coordinate a response to the refugee crisis.

Taking the pulpit to address a joint service of the temple’s two main minyanim on Jan. 23, Silverman emphasized the Jewish responsibility, both historical and scriptural, to care for strangers in their midst.

“The moment we began our lives as a free people, we were commanded to have empathy for others,” she said, citing that week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, which describes the escape from slavery in Egypt: “You shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Even as attention to the crisis runs high, HIAS is now hedging against a backlash. Silverman reminded the audience that 31 governors had pledged to bar refugees from their states, and, in Congress, the House of Representatives passed a bill in November that would increase hurdles for refugees from Iraq and Syria seeking entry to the United States (the Senate rejected the House bill in January).

Silverman urged the congregants to help counterbalance that political tide.

“If there is only one thing you take away from my remarks this morning, it is to please educate yourselves more about refugee issues and be a voice of reason and compassion in your community,” she told the congregants seated in the synagogue’s main sanctuary.

So far, Beth Am has taken little definitive action in response to the refugee crisis. Members of the ad hoc refugee committee said it is still determining exactly how it can best help.

A few blocks east on Olympic Boulevard, IKAR, the nondenominational congregation that meets for services at Shalhevet High School, is in a similar exploratory process.

“We’re very much awake to this issue right now, and we’re just planning in a very thoughtful way where we can have the most impact in a sustained way,” said Jason Lipeles, IKAR’s community organizer.

IKAR has been scouting partner organizations that can translate goodwill into education and action.

As at Temple Beth Am and elsewhere, IKAR’s activism began around the High Holy Days, galvanized by stark images such as the photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore.

“All of the sudden, we are awake,” Rabbi Sharon Brous, the congregation’s founding rabbi, sermonized on Rosh Hashanah. “The world’s shofar blast. What all those numbers, stats, warnings couldn’t do — wake us up — the picture of Aylan did in an instant.”

The Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, which is independent of JFS San Diego although part of the same loosely affiliated national network, also has a long history of working with immigrant communities. Its current focus is on the Russian and Iranian immigrant communities, according to David Gershwin, a spokesman for JFS LA.

The L.A. nonprofit’s Immigrant and Resettlement Program will work to help any immigrant in need of social services, regardless of origin and religion, Gershwin said: “If they show up at our doorstep, we will help them.” But, he said, at this time they are not involved with an expansive refugee aid program of the sort being done in San Diego.

Even more refugee resettlement is going on in Canada, where immigration law allows for a group of five or more people to sponsor a refugee family by paying for the family’s expenses for one year.

If San Diego shows what can be done — albeit on a limited basis — to help refugees, a congregation in Vancouver, Canada, shows what can be done when the forces of government, faith and philanthropy align.

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz moved to Canada in 2013 from Temple Judea in Tarzana to take the post of senior rabbi at Temple Sholom in Vancouver.

Within 48 hours of Moskovitz’s 2015 Kol Nidrei sermon exhorting his congregation to respond to the refugee crisis, the congregation raised $40,000 — enough to sponsor one refugee family, he said. Subsequent fundraising matched that amount, enabling the synagogue to sponsor an additional family, as well.

The temple has entered into a partnership with the local Anglican Diocese, which was already a “Sponsorship Agreement Holder,” a status that enables it to invite refugees to resettle in the community after the Canadian government has vetted them.

On Dec. 1, 2015, congregants met the two families via Skype during a town hall meeting. At that point, Moskovitz said, any apprehensions they might have had about inviting strangers from an active war zone into their community evaporated.

“You could hear an audible sigh of relief, and you could hear people saying in a murmur, ‘They look just like us; they could be my neighbor,’ ” he said.

After completing some paperwork — several lawyers from the congregation pitched in, including an immigration lawyer — the synagogue won approval to host the families, and expects them to arrive sometime in the next three months.

Closer to their arrival, synagogue members will be called upon to assist with tasks ranging from furnishing apartments to teaching the children to ski and play hockey. “Good Canadian stuff,” Moskovitz said.

Among about 30 of the larger Reform congregations in Canada, roughly 20 have agreed to sponsor at least one family, according to Moskovitz.

“This is a mitzvah that’s repeated 36 times in the Torah, to love the stranger because we were once strangers in the land,” Moskovitz said in an interview. “I couldn’t fulfill that mitzvah in Los Angeles, but I can do it in Canada.”

Providing a welcoming countenance and a helping hand for strangers has long been part of the organizational DNA at JFS San Diego.

The organization was founded in 1918 to assist Jewish asylum-seekers fleeing the first world war in Europe, who showed up at the Mexican border with the United States, CEO Hopkins said.

About a year ago, JFS San Diego developed a strategic plan that included boosting its involvement in refugee resettlement.

“We’re actually aware of some JFS [branches] that because they are no longer resettling Jews, decided to get out of the resettlement business,” Hopkins said. “As a result of our strategic plan, we actually deepened our commitment to doing refugee work.”

He said he recognizes concerns from some community members about security, heightened by recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, but he said those fears generally arise from a mistaken notion that “there’s some quick way to get into the United States.”

“It’s a really arduous, long, tedious process with numerous checks along the way,” he said.

Certainly, it was no easy journey for Sebazira Amatutule. But less than a year after his arrival, he now has a regular job with a landscaping company, and his children — a fourth-grader and a seventh-grader — go to a school within walking distance of their home near El Cajon.

In fact, Amatutule now helps other refugees get acclimated to San Diego; relatives at the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement have circulated his telephone number, and now he sometimes gets calls from fellow refugees asking for assistance and information.

Recently, he got a call from an acquaintance from Kyangwali who said he was being resettled by JFS in Pennsylvania.

“I replied that you have a good chance,” he said. “Other people are crying, but you have a good chance. If they assisted you the way they assisted me, your life is going to be better.”

Has Bernie Sanders’ Jewishness been overhyped?


Bernie Sanders is on the verge of making political history on Tuesday night. Sanders, a self-declared socialist senator from Vermont, is expected to beat Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary of 2016. That in and of itself would be an achievement. Sanders would reach another milestone by becoming the first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary.

The chatter about Sanders’ Jewish faith and prospects of potentially becoming the first Jewish president began in late 2015 when he touted his faith to demonstrate his personal commitment to fight against racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric. During a town hall meeting with students at George Mason University in Virginia in October, Sanders left the podium to embrace a Muslim-American student who complained about the rising tide of Islamophobia in the U.S. and the hurt she feels when she hears anti-Muslim rhetoric from other presidential candidates. “Let me be very personal here if I may,” he said. “I’m Jewish. My father’s family died in the concentration camps. I will do everything that I can to rid this country of the ugly stain of racism which has existed for far too many years.”

The conversation about Sander’s religion intensified when Jewish outlets rushed to celebrate his accomplishment in winning nearly half the Iowa Caucus delegates last week. Since then, profiles have been written about him and the Jewish pride has been on full display, despite the fact that Sanders himself doesn’t talk too much about it. Not to mention that he considers himself secular and non-religious. Ha’aretz even dug through their archives to find an interview in 1990 in which Sanders revealed the name of the Kibbutz where Sanders volunteered after graduating from college in the 1960′s – to the joy of the many reporters struggling to find Sanders’ first connection with the Jewish State. And, of course, the nation of Israel was kvelling.

“The flurry of reports about Bernie’s Jewishness are clearly a reaction to the possibility that he may win today in New Hampshire,” Professor Alan Abbey, director of internet and media at Shalom Hartman Institute, told Jewish Insider. “The late-to-wake-up media pack is running in its usual lockstep fashion, taking cues from each other. And the wide-eyed coverage of how much Bernie’s Jewishness doesn’t matter puts paid to the obvious – it does matter. The likelihood that Bernie may be the first Jew to win a Presidential primary is an awesome thing to contemplate and should be a source of pride.”

Many Jewish Democrats, however, haven’t been “feeling the bern” as Hillary remains the favorite. “Nobody cares that Bernie’s Jewish and that’s great,” says Steve Rabinowitz, head of Bluelight Strategies and a close friend of the Clintons. “I just wonder some days if I enjoy more Jewish pride in Bernie’s successes this election cycle than he does.”

According to Rabinowitz, the candidate himself is the one who doesn’t feel comfortable with the excitement surrounding his candidacy. “For me, Bernie doesn’t need to be more Jewishly observant or more communally involved; I only wish he showed more of a willingness to talk about his Jewish identity except when asked,” Rabinowitz told Jewish Insider. “He doesn’t hide from it and for my money never says the wrong thing – he just doesn’t seem to ever like or want to talk about it.”

Nevertheless, Bernie’s rise to the top and the fact that he’s polling better than Hillary in a general election is giving people the chance to realize that Sanders may be making history in an unconventional way. “I am not surprised that there would be a focus on Sanders’ Jewishness given that no Jew has been elected vice president much less president,” said Dov Zakheim, who served in various Department of Defense posts during the Ronald Reagan administration (and throughout both bush administrations). “The fact that Sanders is a totally secular Jew adds to the media’s fascination with him.

To that end, the question begs: is the media overhyped about this component in Sanders’ candidacy more than the average voter who’s ‘feeling the bern’?

According to Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, it’s actually surprising how little chatter there is about it. “I think it’s partly because people haven’t really focused on the possibility that he might actually be president at all — much less the first Jewish president, as well as the first non-observant Jewish president,” Smith explained in an email to Jewish Insider.

“I think if people start taking the idea of his presidency seriously, I think you’ll see both more serious chatter about what the first Jewish president would mean and in particular what a president who comes from this part of Judaism would mean to Jews,” he opined.

Smith also believes that if Sanders manages to defy the skeptics and emerge as a strong contender for president, some ugly anti-Semitism would be directed at him “in an election that has already seen more overt bigotry than I’ve ever seen in national politics.” 

The Hillary campaign has been treading on thin ice when it comes to the challenge posed by Sanders. In recent weeks, surrogates and experts have been criticizing his credentials and lack of foreign policy experience in making the case against him becoming Commander in Chief. “The vituperative nature of the Clinton campaign’s attacks and its surrogates suggest to me just how much they are worried by this perennial outsider’s appeal, and a too-late realization of Bernie’s appeal,” said Abbey. “Politics ain’t beanbag to quote Bob Dole, but so much for a civil discourse on the issues. That Gloria Steinem, Madeline Albright, and even Bernie’s fellow Vermonter Madeleine Kunin have been drafted as shock troops, show the extent of the Clintons’ panic.” 

Rabinowitz disagreed with that notion. “What foreign policy? Bernie doesn’t have a single campaign staffer advising him on foreign policy,” he stressed. “He called for normalizing relations with Iran, for Iranian ground troops in Syria and for close cooperation between bitter enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran. And he never talks about Israel. Like ever. What’s that about?”

Blitzer asks Sanders if being Jewish complicates relationship with Muslim world


CNN host Wolf Blitzer suggested on Wednesday that Bernie Sanders becoming the first elected Jewish president may complicate the U.S. relationship with Muslim and Arab leaders in the world. 

“You, of course, are Jewish. Do you think that potentially could be a problem, working with the Muslim world out there and trying to get help – for example – in the war against ISIS?” Blitzer asked Sanders during a live interview on CNN. 

“No, I don’t,” Sanders responded. 

Blitzer’s question was a follow-up question after Sanders commented on President Barack Obama’s speech earlier in the day at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit to a Mosque since taking office. 

Meanwhile, CNN reported that starting Wednesday Sanders will be receiving Secret Service protection. The campaign requested a Secret Service detail last week, according to the report. 

Sanders is the fourth presidential candidate to receive Secret Service protection this campaign cycle. Donald Trump and Ben Carson requested it last fall. Hillary Clinton has lifelong Secret Service protection as a former First Lady of the United States.

Jewish New Yorkers call on GOP to reject Trump


Jewish leaders and elected officials on Wednesday called on the Republican Party to reject Donald Trump and forcefully denounce his recent call to bar the entry of Muslims into the United States.

“It is simply unacceptable for someone to say – in America – that because someone has a faith that they simply should not be allowed to come to our country, our democracy. It is simply unacceptable,” Rabbi Bob Kaplan, founder director of the New York Center for Community and Coalition Building of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said during a rally against the Republican presidential frontrunner at City Hall Plaza. “During Hanukkah we light candles in an increasing manner rather than in a decreasing manner. And the message is that we are here to increase the light and not to increase the darkness. And we have to ensure that those who are there to increase the darkness are overshadowed and illuminated by that light that believes what America is truly about.”

The interfaith rally on the steps of City Hall was organized by NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who called Trump a “disgusting, racist demagogue who has no business running for president.”

“His rhetoric this election cycle has gone from mean to hateful and now, dangerous,” she said. “What Donald Trump has called for, banning Muslims from entering our nation, is xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic. His fear-mongering is fanning hate.”

Mark-Viverito’s remarks were interrupted for several minutes by a supporter of Donald Trump, an Orthodox Jewish woman, who identified herself as Rose Rosenberg. “Long live Donald Trump! I love Donald Trump!” she yelled in front of the some 200 people, including over 20 cameras, gathered in the plaza. “He’s a peaceful man. He didn’t mean anything. He’s a peaceful man, okay? Don’t demonize him.”

“I love Muslims too, but we have to use our ‘sechel’ (brains). We are dummies,” she continued. “He’s not afraid to stand up against any of you.” The crowd burst into a chant, “Enough is enough” before she was removed by plainclothes security officers.

State Senator Liz Krueger, representing the East Side of Manhattan, called Trump a “demagogue and fascist” who’s doing what others tried in the past. “We learned the lessons of history – this is the United States,” Krueger said. “When I listen to Donald Trump, I think of the fact that I am a proud Jew. And if it was 60 years ago and I was in Europe, as my family was, I’d be scared as hell about where this country might be going.”

Added Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the NYC Jewish Caucus, “The anti-immigrant and anti-religious bigotry of Donald Trump is just all too familiar to anyone who knows the painful lessons of the 20th century. “In the early 30′s to the 40′s, this country passed xenophobic laws that barred Jewish refugees from Europe from seeking safe harbor here. And by some estimates, that left to the death of 2 million Jews who would’ve been given asylum here to escape the horrors of the Nazis. Shame on Donald Trump for failing to learn the lessons of the past.”

NYC Comptroller and Public Advocate Tish James also spoke at the rally, calling on the Republican Party to reject Trump before its too late.

 

Also on Wednesday, American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) President Jack Rosen called on Trump to reconsider his statement. “The idea of singling out any ethnic or religious group in a condemnatory light is antithetical to both this country’s founding principles and the quintessential values of the American Jewish Congress,” Rosen said in a statement. “Even amid periods of great tragedy and heartbreak, as the seams of the Middle East have been torn open and anxiety fills the consciences of many Americans, we must be mindful of the way we approach these incredibly sensitive issues. We must keep in mind that only a tiny sliver of those who practice Islam are extremists or hold ties to extremist groups, and combat a status quo where Muslims are stereotyped or hated by the average American.”

Jews against Trump


In ways direct and subtle, the Jews of America and the Jews of France, the Jews of the left and the Jews of the right, the Jews of the Reform movement and the Jews of the Orthodox movement, have sent Donald J. Trump a message: Feh.

“Feh” is a Yiddish expression of disgust.  And the fact that Trump could provoke such a uniform reaction from such a fractious people is a credit to the dumbness and darkness of his ideas.

His increasingly xenophobic and racist rhetoric reached a low point this week when he declared that under a Trump administration, America would close its borders to Muslims.   

“We need a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on,” Trump said to cheers of approval from his supporters.

If Trump thought Jews, so often the targets of Islamic terrorism, would join the cheers, he really doesn’t get Jews.   The reaction from Jewish organizations and leaders was immediate and uniformly negative. 

Trump’s plan was “unacceptable and antithetical to American values,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a written statement.

“The U.S. was founded as a place of refuge for those fleeing religious persecution, and religious pluralism is core to our national identity,” Greenblatt continued. “A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values.”

Greenblatt’s words echoed similar statements from across the Jewish political, religious and ideological spectrum.  Last month, even the Orthodox Union joined in opposing Trump’s call to keep Syrian refugees out of America.

Trump must be scratching his – insert your own hair joke here. Jews are a particular target of Islamic terror.  The coward who shot up the disabilities center in San Bernardino was “obsessed” with Israel, his father told reporters. 

According to the FBI’s most recent statistics, Jews still are the prime target for hate crimes in America—59 percent are directed at Jews.  Second place, but rising faster, are Muslims.

But Jews understand that the democratic safeguards built into America’s Constitution, including the separation of church and state, form our strongest safeguard against hate and discrimination.  When those crumble, we all fall down. 

Beyond the danger posed by the threat to civil liberties and religious freedom, there is the practical issue.  In Trump’s mind, the best way to stop Islamic terror is to target all Muslims.  But that just encourages Muslim radicalism, creates the “holy war” between Muslims  and non-Muslims that the extremists pray for, and pushes moderate believers to the extremes.   

Liberal claptrap?  Ask the French Jews and the Israelis. 

When Trump’s recent foulness exploded across the Web, I was having coffee with an Israeli official.  Israelis, he told me, are simply bemused by Trump’s antics.   If Muslims in and of themselves are the problem, how to account for the success of Israel, a democratic Jewish state with a 20-percent mostly Muslim Arab minority ?  

Israel faces threats from Islamic extremism that, to use a Trumpism, would make your head spin, but Israeli leaders from David Ben Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu have known that the best way to increase radicalization is to persecute the majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens, or to insult the Muslim religion itself.

French Jews have seen their own and their fellow countrymen slaughtered on the streets of Paris and Toulouse at the hands of Muslim terrorists – but they know the moral and practical dangers of a discriminatory France are a far greater threat.

This week, the Jews of France issued a stinging rebuke to their homegrown anti-democratic forces, and, by extension, to Trump.

On the eve of the upcoming regional elections in France, the Alsace chapter of CRIF, the umbrella Jewish organization, came out strongly against the Muslim-baiting National Front, led by Marine Le Pen.

“The Alsace chapter, strongly attached to the values of the Republic,” the statement read, “calls upon all voters to participate at the upcoming elections – since so much is at stake. We are calling to reject the extremist parties that advocate hatred and try to prosper at the expense of the divide within the society created by fear.”

CRIF president Roger Cukierman called on the Jewish community to vote “in order to block the National Front, a party of xenophobia and populism.”

It was heartening this week to see Republican presidential candidates and Party leaders all denounce Trump’s ideas.  And it was especially thrilling to hear the silence and jeers that met Trump at the recent meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

If Jews in America, France and Israel can all agree on the danger to their countries and their liberty in the kind of ideas Donald Trump espouses, then there’s not a lot more to be said about Trump or his candidacy.

Except, feh.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

The refugee dilemma: Fighting to defend the defenseless


On Nov. 19, less than a week after the deadly series of terrorist attacks in Paris, Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, the 134-year-old refugee resettlement organization, was summoned to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress. The topic was the swelling Syrian refugee crisis.

Hetfield, 48, a lawyer and policy specialist in refugee and immigration resettlement, had been tracking the Syrian crisis since it began in 2011. What started as a civil war between Syrian president Bashar Assad and a handful of rebel groups seeking to unseat him had morphed in large part into a religious war with the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) leading the rebellion, internally displacing 11 million Syrians and pushing another 4.1 million out of the country.  

Hetfield hoped to convince Congress to take in 100,000 Syrian refugees “over and above” the United States’ annual refugee quota of 70,000, a number far exceeding the additional 10,000 Syrians President Barack Obama had already agreed to welcome. (In Hetfield’s address to Congress, he called the American gesture “tepid.”) Hetfield knew a green light was unlikely: In the week after the Paris attacks, the revelation that a fake or stolen Syrian passport may have been used by one of the terrorists to infiltrate the refugees streaming into Europe set off panic among some Americans that Syrian refugees are indistinguishable from the Islamic State terrorists they are fleeing. As the U.S. election cycle continues to heat up, the refugees have become a political flashpoint, with distortions and fear-mongering shifting focus away from their desperate situation.

As civil discourse last week descended into talk of Muslim registries and permitting only Syrian Christians to enter the U.S., Hetfield prepared to fight the toxic political climate of xenophobia and fear. 

“Politicians who fixate on the refugee crisis — it’s perplexing,” Hetfield said from his office in New York the night before his hearing. “They do it because it’s easy. Refugees are defenseless; they don’t have a constituency, they don’t vote. And it’s lot easier dealing with refugees than it is dealing with ISIS.”

The day before Hetfield testified, a number of U.S. governors had announced that their states would not host Syrian refugees, prompting a bill in Congress that would make passage into the United States even harder (the bill later passed, although President Obama has promised to veto it). National polling revealed that a majority of Americans were overwhelmingly opposed to taking in any Syrian refugees.

“It’s totally unacceptable and irrational to us,” Hetfield said. He was especially disappointed in the governors. “They just haven’t done their research,” he said. “Every refugee [admitted to the U.S.] is vetted right side up, upside down and sideways — they’re vetting these people to death. It would be so painful and so difficult and so slow for [a terrorist] to go through that, they’d have to be nuts. There are so many other, easier ways to get into this country.”

Hetfield earned his law degree from Georgetown University and practiced immigration law at a Washington, D.C., law firm before moving to the nonprofit sector. He joined HIAS in 1989, where he has spent the majority of his career, working in Rome, New York and now Washington. His credentials in refugee resettlement work also include a stint as senior adviser for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he directed a study on the treatment of asylum seekers. He also worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington and Haiti. 

Hetfield said the current Syrian crisis is among the worst humanitarian disasters he has seen in his 25-year career. Most Syrian refugees not only have the requisite “well-founded fear of persecution,” they have a well-founded fear of slavery, torture or death. Desperate to flee Islamic State barbarism, as well as Assad’s indiscriminate bombing and air strikes by the U.S., Russia and other Western countries, many families braved the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. This year alone, an estimated 3,329 people died journeying toward freedom. 

At the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security hearing, Hetfield pointedly described HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) as an “agency of the American Jewish community.” Founded in 1881, HIAS was created to help Jews fleeing pogroms and other acts of violence in Russia and Eastern Europe, and calls itself the oldest refugee protection agency in the world. Although the matter of allowing Syrian refugees to immigrate to the U.S. has found both support and antipathy among American Jews, Hetfield believes Jews have a moral obligation to help. 

“Let’s face it, people turned away [refugees] because they were Jewish in the 1930s,” he said. “Refugees were not desirable, and it was specifically Jewish refugees that were not desirable.”

A Syrian refugee boy is seen shortly after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in a raft overcrowded with migrants and refugees, Nov. 20, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

The current crisis has inspired a wave of comparisons between the plight of Syrian refugees and Jews fleeing Nazism. The Washington Post unearthed a 1938 article from the British Daily Mail archives lamenting, “The way stateless Jews and Germans are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage.” The Guardian noted the “rabid intolerance” with which Great Britain treated Jewish refugees in need. And in the U.S., the American Institute of Public Opinion found that, in 1939, 61 percent of Americans were opposed to taking in even 10,000 Jewish children. The same sort of xenophobia that has accompanied talk of Syrian refugees — conflating their identity as Muslims with terrorism — also afflicted the Jews. 

“Part of [the] hostility [toward Jews] was fueled … by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology,” The Washington Post reported, noting that many Europeans perceived Jews to be inclined toward communism and “anarchist violence.”

“Perhaps as many as half a million German Jewish asylum seekers were turned away by authorities ahead of the outbreak of World War II,” the Post reported. According to the Guardian, the only countries that took in Jewish refugees were Canada (5,000), Australia (10,000), South Africa (6,000) and the U.S. (33,000 before the war; 124,000 during the war), bringing the total to less than 200,000, while 6 million perished in the Holocaust.

“So, oddly enough, we find ourselves to be in solidarity with Muslim refugees,” Hetfield said. “Particularly when they’re targeted because they are Muslim. That makes us even more sympathetic, as a Jewish agency, to their plight.”

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) President E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney specializing in the reclamation of Jewish goods stolen by the Nazis and a central character in the recent film “Woman in Gold,” wrote a Facebook post citing connections between the Jewish plight of the 20th century and the Syrian plight of today.

“Whenever there is anti-immigrant rhetoric, I am reminded of how our country refused entry to so many Jews during the Holocaust,” Schoenberg wrote. “Our own State Department instructed American consulates to withhold even the limited visas permitted under our strict immigration quotas. … ”

Schoenberg recalled, in particular, a satirical ad film director and producer Ben Hecht took out in the Los Angeles Times declaring, “For Sale to Humanity: 70,000 Jews” — that is on display at LAMOTH. Published in 1943, the ad called for the U.S. to rescue 70,000 Jews from Romania, promising, facetiously, that there would be “no spies smuggled in among these Jews.” “If there are,” read the ad copy, “you can shoot them.”

Then, as now, the stateless refugee was considered a dangerous threat. 

“Obviously, many American[s] in 1943 felt the same as many do today — that we cannot risk admitting enemy agents among the throng of refugees,” Schoenberg wrote. “During World War II, this type of fear meant that millions of honest, innocent people were unable to escape their murderers. … I hope we don’t make the same mistake again.”

After the Paris attacks, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, the French-based Human Rights Watch executive director for advocacy, took to the airwaves to debunk the myth that one of the Paris attackers was Syrian. “That’s a false association,” he told MSNBC. “The evidence points to the fact that … this ghastly attack here on [Nov. 13] was homegrown terrorism. It was planned, organized and executed by people born and raised in Europe [and] does not discredit the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are fleeing violence. These are people that need our compassion; these are people that need international protection.”

“It simply does not make sense for U.S. lawmakers to react to the situation in Paris by proposing drastic legislative changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.” — Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS

In Congress, however, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared a need for caution. “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than to be sorry,” he said. “[S]o we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

Already, all refugees hoping to enter the U.S. are subjected to rigorous security screenings that can take from 18 months to two years to complete. Much of this is the result of a program overhaul that took place after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the Department of Homeland Security inherited the refugee program from the Justice Department’s immigration office. “Their entire focus is on making sure we’re safe,” Hetfield said of Homeland Security. 

The typical refugee screening includes a series of intensive, detail-oriented interviews that are recorded and sent to Washington, where each is vetted for consistency and truthfulness. Refugees are also required to submit a set of fingerprints, which are checked against law enforcement databases and intelligence agencies, international and domestic. “The [Paris terrorist] with the Syrian passport was actually French, and he was a criminal,” Hetfield said, noting differences in the procedures for U.S. refugees versus European ones. “In [the U.S.], a case like that would have been picked up. In Europe, [migrants] are showing up uninvited — they’re asylum seekers. So they can’t be vetted until after they are already on European soil.” 

According to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, the U.S. has taken in 784,000 refugees since 9/11. “Only three have been arrested subsequently on terrorism related charges,” Canadian politician and historian Michael Ignatieff wrote in the New York Review of Books.

“Refugees who arrive in the United States have undergone extensive security vetting prior to setting foot on U.S. soil,” Hetfield told Congress. “Refugees to Europe are not screened until after they enter. This is the distinction. It simply does not make sense for U.S. lawmakers to react to the situation in Paris by proposing drastic legislative changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.” 

In 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) introduced eye scans of the iris into the refugee program, mainly for identification purposes in the distribution of aid. These days, however, Hetfield said the practice can also serve other important identification and tracking purposes — with nearly 100 percent accuracy. By this point, the scrupulousness of U.S refugee screenings has severely slowed, or in worse cases stopped, the ability to process refugees. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, only 1,854 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. “So they’re not, like, pouring in,” Hetfield told the Journal.

He was blunt in his address to Congress: “[T]he security protocols in place [today] are stronger than anything I have seen in my 26 years of working in this field. So strong that it has made the refugee resettlement program into more fortress than ambulance, causing massive backlogs of holds of legitimately deserving and unnecessarily suffering refugees.” 

Where else can refugees go? Camps in Jordan and Turkey are massively overwhelmed, and aid is dwindling. An underfunded World Food Program has forced food rations down to 50 cents per person per day, and the UNHCR has amassed only half its projected budget for Syrian needs. A cease-fire in Syria does not seem likely anytime soon (a prospect Ignatieff’s New York Review of Books piece called a “cruel mirage”), and even if one comes, the country has been ravaged, leaving little left to return to in Syria.

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, 1939.

If U.S. allies such as France and Germany are left alone to shoulder the majority burden of the refugee crisis, that, too, could lead to disaster, empowering far-right nationalist groups such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front that are calling for closed borders. “If Europe closes its borders, if the frontline states can no longer cope, the U.S. and the West will face millions of stateless people who will never forget that they were denied the right to have rights,” Ignatieff wrote.

The UNHCR has asked the U.S. to take in half of the 130,000 most vulnerable refugees they’ve identified at a Turkish camp — among them orphans, disabled and the badly injured. But in the current climate, as calls to monitor Muslim immigrants or accept only non-Muslims into the country have grown, this request seems unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon. 

The path is brighter after refugees are inside the U.S. Despite protests from Congress and governors, only the president and the Department of Homeland Security can determine a refugee’s path once he or she is resettled in America. State legislators cannot refuse refugees placed by Homeland Security in their state. And even if a state is hostile to refugees, refusing aid or other subsidies available through the refugee program (such as federal money for public education), they are still obligated to help refugees, who have legal protections and can ultimately decide to live wherever they want.

“Refugees have rights,” Hetfield said. “Unlike an undocumented immigrant, a refugee has the right to be here, and they have access to certain public benefits that other noncitizens may not have access to.” 

In Hetfield’s view, the problem with hostile rhetoric, particularly when it comes from state leaders, is that it sets the tone for the state. 

“We’re seeing a similar thing in Israel,” Hetfield said, “where the Israeli government sets the tone for asylum seekers they’re getting from Africa, calling them ‘infiltrators’ and ‘illegal work migrants.’ That tone trickles down and has an impact on way people are treated. Our concern is that you’re going to see a similar thing happen here, now that governors are say[ing] ‘Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise — particularly Syrian Muslims.’ It creates a very poisonous environment.” 

Last week, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington issued a statement drawing parallels between World War II and today, calling on Americans “to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group.”

“Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism … we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.

“It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.”

But even in the United States, distrust exists between Jews and Muslims. Hetfield does not deny this tension. “I don’t want to be totally Pollyannaish about it. Some Muslims we work with make assumptions about us,” he said, citing occasional verbal clashes between right-leaning Jews and pro-BDS Muslims who accuse Jews of oppressing Palestinians. “Those two sides reinforce one another,” he added. But antagonism “is definitely the exception, not the rule.” 

Hetfield said he is not bothered by the idea of helping Muslims. “We resettle people who need help. We do it on the basis of their protection needs, and that’s it. That’s the criteria of a refugee.”

What he fears most is that all this xenophobia is playing directly into the hands of the so-called Islamic State. “That’s a tactic of ISIS,” Hetfield said. “They’re trying to turn us against helping these refugees; they’re trying to make it look like the West hates all Muslims, to make them more vulnerable to recruitment and susceptible to that psychological warfare. They want to terrorize us; they want to scare us; they want to make us hate Muslims.

“That’s the most dangerous thing being done right now. The real threat to our national security and national character is the xenophobia and anti-Islam rhetoric that all these leaders are spewing.”