Downtown Whitefish, Mont. Photo by wbuckner/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Lawyers for Jewish woman in Montana can’t find the neo-Nazi she is suing


Lawyers for a Jewish woman in Montana say they are unable to track down a neo-Nazi she is suing for launching a harassment campaign against her and her family.

Tanya Gersh of Whitefish, Montana announced in April a suit against Andrew Anglin, the founder of the white nationalist website, The Daily Stormer, for revealing her personal information and inflicting “emotional distress.” After a three-month search, Gersh’s lawyers are still trying to find Anglin to deliver the suit.

Anglin launched a campaign in December against Gersh after Sherry Spencer of Whitefish, mother of another white supremacist, Richard Spencer, posted an article on Medium targeting Gersh, a real estate agent, over a real estate dispute. The next day, Anglin made a post for his subscribers titled “Jews Targeting Richard Spencer’s Mother for Harassment and Extortion – TAKE ACTION!”

Gersh claims that anonymous internet users harassed her family after Anglin revealed her her home address and phone number, her husband’s business contact information and her son’s Twitter handle.

The suit accuses Anglin of invading Gersh’s privacy and violating a Montana anti-intimidation law. The Daily Stormer created a campaign on WeSearchr to pay for Anglin’s legal expenses, raising more than $152,000 in donations from nearly 2,000 contributors. According to The Associated Press, Anglin has yet to reveal his whereabouts to face Gersh’s claim.

Gersh’s lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center have said that, based off procedure, her suit must be dismissed if Anglin isn’t served a copy of it by July 17. Her team is asking the court for an extended deadline.

Josef Hader (right) plays the title character in “Stefan Zweig: “Farewell to Europe.” Photo courtesy of First Run Pictures

In exile, writer Stefan Zweig bids ‘Farewell to Europe’


In the early decades of the 20th century, Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig was one of the world’s most popular, prolific and translated authors.

In 1934, discerning the dark political clouds drifting across the border form Nazi Germany, Zweig left his beloved Vienna and went into permanent exile — first in England, then in the United States before finally settling in Brazil.

In the film “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe,” German writer-director Maria Schrader follows the geographic and psychological route of Zweig’s exile, from initial celebrity status to his despairing end.

Although he traveled widely, Zweig chose to move to Brazil, a nation he visualized as the country of the future. The film opens with a lavish reception for Zweig at which members of Rio de Janeiro’s elite vie for a word with the world-famous author and even, for the lucky ones, his autograph.

In 1936, Zweig attended the PEN Congress in Buenos Aires, at which the literary and human rights organization for poets, essayists and novelists welcomed him as a literary star. However, one incident there, depicted in the film, made him the object of lifelong controversy and criticism.

After one conference speaker after another denounced the Hitler regime in Germany for its persecution of dissenting writers and forcing Jewish ones into exile, Zweig is asked at a press conference for his comment. The writer responds by declaring, “I would never speak out against any country. And I’ll make no exceptions. … I cannot write out of hatred. … And if my silence is a sign of weakness, I am afraid I must live with that stigma.”

Schrader analyzed Zweig’s pronounce-ment in a phone interview with the Journal. “Zweig was a radical pacifist and he refused to use language to condemn any country,” the director said. “He felt it was the duty of the intellectual to achieve an understanding of any opponent.”

Zweig considered himself mainly as a universal humanist but never renounced his Jewish heritage. He spent considerable effort and money to help Jewish writers reach the U.S. and a number of his short stories focused on Jewish themes and characters.

Schrader, who is not Jewish, has had a successful career as an actress, screenwriter and director, with strong artistic ties to Israel and Jewish life in Germany. Her debut film, “Love Life,” was based on the novel of Israeli author Zeruya Shalev and was shot in Israel. She directed an episode in the documentary “24h Jerusalem” as well as the film “Meshugge.” In “Rosenstrasse,” she played a German woman who stands up against the Nazis after they arrest her Jewish husband.

Dominating “Farewell to Europe” is veteran actor Josef Hader as Zweig, with Barbara Sukowa and Aenne Schwarz as his first and second wives, respectively.

The movie is not entirely without humor. In one scene, as Zweig and his spouse tour the Brazilian hinterland, they are met in one small town by a flustered mayor and welcoming musical ensemble, consisting of a trumpet and an off-key tuba, playing “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.”

Overall, this is a thought-provoking, somber film, culminating in the 1942 double suicide of Zweig and his second wife, Charlotte Altmann, in the Brazilian town of Petropolis. Zweig left a farewell note explaining that at the age of 60, he lacked the strength to build a new life “now that the world of my language has disappeared for me and that my spiritual land, Europe, is destroying itself.”

He concluded by writing, “I greet all my friends. May they still see the dawn after the long night. I am too impatient, I go before them.”

Schrader said she sees some parallels between Zweig’s era in the 1930s and ’40s and the present time.

“Hitler came to power by promising to drastically change Germany,” she said. “Today, many people in Europe and the United States seem to feel again that any change is better than staying with the status quo. In Europe, countries are turning to the right politically and the American president wants to build a wall between countries.”

At Zweig’s memorial service in Los Angeles, not depicted in the movie, fellow author and exile Franz Werfel eulogized Zweig by saying, “His heart, spoiled by humanist optimism, suddenly realized the entire, piercing, unsolvable tragedy of the human being on Earth.”

“Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” opens June 16 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles.

Andrew Anglin runs the anti-Semitic Daily Stormer website. photo from Wikimedia Commons

Jewish woman sues Daily Stormer founder for invasion of privacy and emotional distress


A Montana Jewish woman, backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is suing a neo-Nazi white supremacist for launching a harassment campaign against her and her family.

Tanya Gersh, announcing her lawsuit Tuesday against Andrew Anglin, the founder of the Daily Stormer website, said in a conference call that she has lost income and has suffered because of the attacks unleashed on her after Anglin posted her personal information on his neo-Nazi website in December.

“We got terrorized,” she said, describing multiple death threats, including photoshopped pictures of her and her 12-year old son being murdered by Nazis, and phone calls that included gun shots.

“I’m no longer working, I’m in trauma therapy twice a week, I’m losing my hair,” she said. “I’m having anxieties I never had before. Most importantly I’m never feeling safe.”

At times during the call organized by the SPLC, a hate groups watchdog, she broke down.

The federal lawsuit seeks compensation for Gersh’s losses and punitive damages and cites Montana state and federal laws protecting individuals from the invasion of privacy and from “intentionally inflicting emotional distress,” according to an SPLC release. It does not list damages, but in the conference call, Richard Cohen, the SPLC president, said: “We’re going to also seek a very, very substantial monetary damage award to punish Anglin.”

Anglin launched the campaign against Gersh after Sherry Spencer, the Whitefish, Montana-based mother of another white supremacist, Richard Spencer, posted an article on Medium accusing Gersh of threatening her with harassment if she did not sell the commercial building she owns in the town. Richard Spencer spends time in Whitefish, and there was talk at the time of staging protests outside the building.

Gersh, a realtor, contends that Sherry Spencer initiated contact, seeking to sell her building to head off the protests and to calm the town roiled by the rising profile of her son, who garnered media attention for his support of the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

Nothing in the email exchanges Sherry Spencer attached to her Medium post suggests Gersh was trying to coerce Spencer; instead, Gersh’s tone is deferential and sympathetic, and she says she is cutting her commission to the lowest percentage possible in order to facilitate the sale.

Anglin, on Dec. 16, a day after Sherry Spencer’s claims appeared on Medium, posted a screed titled “Jews Targeting Richard Spencer’s Mother for Harassment and Extortion – TAKE ACTION!” He included Gersh’s home address and phone, her husband’s business contact information, and the Twitter handle of her 12-year old son, whom he referred to in abusive terms.

“Please call her and tell her what you think,” Anglin said. “And hey – if you’re in the area, maybe you should stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions.”

Referring to Gersh’s son, Anglin advised his readers to “hit up” the boy’s Twitter account. “Tell them (sic) what you think of his whore mother’s vicious attack on the community of Whitefish,” Anglin wrote.

Anglin, in a subsequent post three days later, accused the “lying Jew media” of distorting his original post, citing liberal news websites that reported that he had called on his followers to harass Gersh and had posted her home address.

He said he “purposefully” left out home addresses, although the address he included is listed as the Gersh residence, and insisted, “I called for people to express their feelings about these threats and this harassment and extortion to the people responsible – and somehow I’m the threatener and harasser!”

JTA asked Daily Stormer over Twitter if it had any comment. There was no reply.

Ellen Umansky. Photo by Sam Zalutsky

Ellen Umansky weds story of Nazi looted art with modern L.A.


There’s a stark, modern house that hangs off a cliff in Mandeville Canyon. Growing up, novelist and Los Angeles native Ellen Umansky drove by it nearly every day on her way to school. “I knew that’s where they would live,” she said, referring to the Goldsteins, the fictional Jewish family at the center of her debut novel, “The Fortunate Ones.”

Set in Vienna, London and Los Angeles, “The Fortunate Ones” tells the story of Lizzie Goldstein, a privileged Jewish lawyer who went to high school at “Avenues” (read: Crossroads), and Rose Zimmer, a Holocaust refugee who escapes Vienna via the Kindertransport to London and eventually settles in L.A. 

What binds these two women’s fates is a Chaim Soutine painting — first stolen by the Nazis from Rose’s childhood home, and later taken from Lizzie’s father’s posh house in Mandeville Canyon. The painting disappeared when Lizzie threw a party while her doctor father was out of town, and its unsolved theft has haunted her since high school.

Umansky, 47, found inspiration for the book in a real-life story from her West L.A. childhood. Her brother’s ophthalmologist was a wealthy fine art collector, and one day, both a Picasso and a Monet painting were stolen from his home. Seven years later, the works turned up in a storage locker at the Cleveland airport; the doctor, it turned out, had coordinated the heist.

Umansky was fascinated by the tale, and what stood out in her mind was the fact that the doctor had failed to destroy the evidence. “I was really compelled by the idea that if you’re going to go ahead and do something like this, you would destroy the paintings ” said Umansky, who now lives in New York City. “That’s what ensnared him.”

Meanwhile, looted Holocaust art was a hot-button issue in the late 1990s when Umansky was features editor at the Forward newspaper, where I was a cub reporter and, briefly, her colleague. Fresh out of Columbia University’s MFA program in creative writing, Umansky took note of the many tales filtering to the surface, as family members stepped forward to claim their lost treasures from private collections and museums around the country.

Several years later, when Umansky set out to write a novel, the story of the crooked ophthalmologist’s insurance fraud, and tales of families whose prized works had been pilfered by the Nazis, intertwined in her imagination.

onesThe book that became “The Fortunate Ones” took 15 years to write and went through multiple drafts (and agents), before it was finally published in February by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. But from the beginning, Umansky said she sought to portray Los Angeles as something more than just a backdrop. “I don’t live there anymore, but L.A. is still this incredibly vibrant, important, exasperating city, which has a real history,” she said. “And I wanted that to come to the fore.”

Rich with descriptions of greater Los Angeles, from Venice Beach, where Lizzie’s beau lives along the canals, to Grand Central Market, which Umansky visited as a kid, “The Fortunate Ones” reads like a paean to L.A. “My love for Los Angeles, and the fact that I miss it, rises to the surface in my portrayal,” Umansky said.

In recent years, as her mother was battling cancer, Umansky traveled back-and-forth from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to Brentwood, where her mother still lived in Mandeville Canyon. It was a period of intense writing, Umansky said, and precious time spent with her late mother. “It felt less fraught than poignant,” she said. “The time I spent there mattered.”

In fact, writing about L.A. while living in Brooklyn with her two daughters, now 8 and 11, and her psychiatrist husband, gave Umansky some comfort. “It was fun for me to conjure up, while I was sitting in New York, what the canyon was like, or what that fire that I wrote about was like,” she said, referring to an actual fire that swept through Mandeville Canyon and is recounted in “The Fortunate Ones.”

Other parts of the novel are set in wartime Vienna and postwar London, where Rose lands after her parents put her on a Kindertransport train. Umansky said she was nervous about writing the historical chapters, so she did a lot of research to make sure she had the details right.

At a certain point, she knew she’d be writing about L.A. in the 1950s and ’60s — when a Chaim Soutine retrospective was held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — and initially, that scared her, too. “I thought it would be hard,” Umansky said, “but it wasn’t. It was still my L.A., and I could still imagine that.”

Sarah Silverman in "The Last Laugh." Tangerine Entertainment/Journeyman Pictures

Finding humor in Hitler and the Holocaust


Comedians — many of them Jewish — have poked fun at Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, even dating back to the days of the Third Reich. But is making fun of the Holocaust itself going too far?

Documentary filmmaker Ferne Pearlstein explores that question with comedians, critical thinkers and Holocaust survivors in her new film “The Last Laugh.” A special screening, along with a Q-and-A session with the director and cast members, will be held March 16 at Ahrya Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, sponsored by the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival in cooperation with Laemmle Theatres; it opens in theaters March 17.

One of the big surprises in making the film, Pearlstein said, was that comedians draw a distinction between making jokes about Nazis and making jokes about the Holocaust.

“It’s OK to make jokes about the perpetrators. It’s not OK to make jokes about their victims,” Pearlstein said in a phone interview. “That’s the bottom line for people — for most people.”

As several comedians point out in the film, the first rule of telling a joke about the Holocaust — or AIDS or 9/11 — is that it has to be funny.

“You can’t tell a crappy joke about the biggest tragedy in the world,” says comedian Judy Gold.

Several comedians, such as Joan Rivers, do cross the line with groan-inducing jokes about Jews and ovens.

“Comedy puts light onto darkness, and darkness can’t live where there’s light,” says comedian and actress Sarah Silverman. Otherwise, she says, taboo subjects that don’t get discussed “become dangerous.”

The film opens with a quotation by Heinrich Mann: “Whoever has cried enough, laughs.” It’s followed by an image of a uniformed Nazi officer figure skating. The film then reveals the ruins of Murphy Ranch in Pacific Palisades, an abandoned camp built by Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s that becomes the improbable setting for a picnic between a Holocaust survivor, Renee Firestone, and her daughter Klara Firestone.

The older Firestone recounts meeting Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. After inspecting her mouth, he told her that if she survived the concentration camp, she should think about getting her tonsils removed.

“Most people don’t expect survivors to have much humor after the Holocaust. And that’s really not the case at all,” her daughter says. “The survivors actually have some of the worst gallows humor ever.”

The film was inspired by a thesis paper written in 1993 by Pearlstein’s friend, Kent Kirshenbaum. He gave Pearlstein the paper and told her to make it into a movie. Because the subject was so provocative, it took her and her husband, Robert Edwards, nearly two decades to find funding for it. “We kept meeting people that said, ‘Great idea! Come back when somebody else says yes,’ ” Pearlstein said.

In the meantime, Roberto Benigni’s Holocaust comedy “Life Is Beautiful” came out in 1997, and the very off-color comedy-documentary “The Aristocrats” was released in 2005, giving Pearlstein hope that a film about Holocaust humor could gain an audience. While working on another documentary about poets who survived genocide, she met a wealthy Jewish woman “with a very dark sense of humor” who wound up providing almost all the funding for “The Last Laugh” (Pearlstein said her investor has asked to remain anonymous).

The film includes interviews with major comedians, including Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Comedy writer Larry Charles, who directed three films starring Sacha Baron Cohen — “Borat,” “Bruno” and “The Dictator” — and many episodes of “Seinfeld,” offers his insights about what types of jokes cross the line.

The interviews are woven together with clips from films and TV shows ranging from “The Producers” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to Jerry Lewis’ never-released Holocaust comedy “The Day the Clown Cried.” It even has rare footage of cabarets from inside concentration camps.

In a surreal scene, Pearlstein attends a Holocaust survivors’ convention in Las Vegas and joins two of the survivors on a gondola ride through the canals of The Venetian hotel. As a gondolier serenades them in Italian, Renee Firestone and her friend Elly Gross argue about the possibility of finding humor in the Holocaust. Firestone insists that humor is an important tool for survival, while Gross has a hard time finding anything funny, 70 years after the camps.

Though the movie questions the limits of good taste, Pearlstein said it was important to treat the material in a respectful manner.

When the movie premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, Gross was in attendance.

“In front of everybody, [Gross] talked about how much she loved the film and how tastefully she thought it was made — and could she have tickets to the next screening?” Pearlstein said. “That was my goal.”

Alan Zweibel, a veteran comedy writer and producer, said in a phone interview that gallows humor plays an important role in helping people deal with painful memories.

“We’ve got to keep alive the memory — the painful memory — that this took place, with all the deniers out there and the passing of time and the fewer and fewer survivors,” Zweibel said. “We’ve got to keep alive the fact that there was a Holocaust, and Jews deal with what everybody has been handing out to us for generations. We’ll survive, and this is how we do it.”

“The Last Laugh” screens March 16 at Ahrya Fine Arts, followed by a Q-and-A with Ferne Pearlstein, Sarah Silverman, and Renee and Klara Firestone. It opens in theaters March 17. For information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com. 

T-shirts with swastikas were sold at USC on Wednesday until the university had the vendor removed. Photos courtesy of Ilana Morgan Spiegel

Vendor found selling swastika t-shirts at USC


T-shirts emblazoned with swastikas that were being sold at USC by a vendor created a stir on campus the morning of Feb. 15 after a student discovered them at a central area of campus, near the Tommy Trojan statue.

A university official said the vendor was asked to leave as a result.

The shirts may have been referring to the historical significance of the symbol before its appropriation by the Nazis. One shirt featured the phrase, “To Hell with Hitler! I’ve been a Good Luck Sign Since the Beginning of Time” and different styles of swastikas appeared above the words “Buddhist,” “Greek,” “Christian” and more. The design featured the phrase, “Friends of the Swastika” as well as an image of a Jewish star with a swastika inside.

According to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the swastika “was used at least 5,000 years before Adolf Hitler designed the Nazi flag. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means ‘good fortune’ or ‘well-being.’ … To this day it is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism.”

That didn’t stop some on campus from expressing their dismay at the symbol’s appearance. Among the first to discover the T-shirts was USC student Ilana Spiegel, who notified campus officials. USC had a contract with the vendor, whose name was not immediately available to the Journal, she said.

Spiegel took to Facebook to express her dismay at the incident.

“I’m shaking as I write this,” she wrote in a post on Facebook around 11:30 a.m., accompanying a photograph of one of the shirts. “I was walking to class this morning and saw this T-shirt for sale at this vendor.”

Chabad of USC Executive Director Rabbi Dov Wagner also denounced the shirts. He said the swastika’s connections to Nazism can’t be ignored and therefore the shirts were inappropriate to to be sold on campus.

swastika-at-usc2

“I think some symbols can’t be reclaimed. If it’s something clearly provocative, and I believe whether that was the intention of the guy — the vendor — or not, the intention of such material is to offend and many students were commenting they were grandchildren of [Holocaust] survivors, etc., and it triggered a deep emotional response to see such material displayed openly on campus,” he said.

A statement from USC Hillel said the shirts “have no place on our campus.”

“These items are anti-Semitic and trivialize the Holocaust, an incredibly dark period in history in which more than six million Jews perished,” the Feb. 15 statement signed by Bailey London, executive director of USC Hillel, says. 

Eddie North-Hager, USC director of media relations, confirmed that the incident occurred: “A vendor was asked to leave because the items he was selling led to the vendor causing a disruption on campus. The merchandise the vendor was selling did not meet community standards, per USC guidelines for vendors who wish to sell goods and services on campus.”

North-Hager said the shirts were in violation of a USC campus policy that says, according to policy.usc.edu, “Approval for on campus sales will only be considered for those vendors whose products or services are not considered obscene as defined by community standards.”

Spiegel, 21, a junior who describes herself as a “mixed-race Jewish women,” characterized the instance as an exception to the rule in terms of what the campus atmosphere at USC is like.

“I feel like USC is supportive of the Jewish community … I’ve never felt unsafe on campus as a Jew before,” she said.

From left: Carol Bishop captures “Bishop10 Aharonovitz St., Brazilai-Haussmann 1937” and "35 Petah Tikvah Rd. Rekanati House, Shlomo Leaskovsky-Yaakov Orenstein, 1935." Photos courtesy of Carol Bishop

Lifting the veil on the ‘White City’


The famed modernist apartment buildings that line Tel Aviv’s streets have earned the Israeli port city the nickname the “White City.” Influenced by the International Style of modern architecture in the 1930s, the buildings reflect the prevalent vision that shaped the city’s creation and left an architectural legacy recognized with a World Heritage Site designation.

Two Los Angeles-based photographers, Susan Horowitz and Carol Bishop, examine that legacy in an exhibit called “Tel Aviv — The White City + Beyond,” now on display through May 28 at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California in Koreatown.

“The style came from the idea of ‘new’: a clean slate. And what was more new than these ideas about buildings?” Bishop said.

“When they needed to accommodate so many people streaming into Israel, they felt that that would be the newest style and one without reference to older design and other cultures,” Horowitz added.

When Jewish settlers came to Palestine in the early 1900s, they worked with British colonial administrators to build a new city on the sand dunes north of the ancient city of Jaffa. The architects of that era drew inspiration from the International Style of architecture that took hold in Europe immediately after World War I. The style emerged from the Bauhaus School of Arts, Design and Architecture, which Walter Gropius founded in Weimar Germany in 1919. (The Nazis closed the school in 1933.)

The rise of Nazism led to a mass migration of European Jews to Palestine in the 1930s. Tel Aviv’s rapid growth meant an immediate need for housing and no shortage of work for architects. Among them was Arieh Sharon, a Bauhaus-educated architect who designed workers’ housing, private homes, cinemas, hospitals and government buildings.

Approximately 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings were built in Tel Aviv in the 1930s and ’40s — the largest collection in the world. The buildings were collectively recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 2003, and guided tours of the White City are still popular with tourists.

Bauhaus-style architecture emphasizes functionality and eschews decorative elements. The Tel Aviv buildings resemble white blocks with clean, flowing lines and smooth surfaces, the facades interrupted only by inset windows and balconies. The architects adapted their style to the sunny Mediterranean climate, maximizing ventilation by placing the buildings on pilotis, or ground-level support columns, to create shady outdoor areas.

Horowitz and Bishop, longtime friends and colleagues, combined their images in one show to reveal two different perspectives on Tel Aviv.

Susan Horowitz’s photograph “Meier on Rothschild.” Photo courtesy of Susan Horowitz

Susan Horowitz’s photograph “Meier on Rothschild.” Photo courtesy of Susan Horowitz

 

Bishop’s part of the exhibit, called “Colors of the White City,” is made up of color photos, with green palm trees and bright, blue skies framing the gleaming buildings. She also includes a sepia-toned series of photos of Jaffa’s old buildings, and a conceptual series focused on the use of limestone bricks.

Horowitz’s photos, in her part called “Perspective — The White City,” are black and white and often include nearby buildings to juxtapose the white Bauhaus-style apartments with their more contemporary (and far less stylish) neighbors.

One photo by Horowitz shows a billboard promoting “Meier on Rothschild,” a mixed-use complex designed by American architect Richard Meier (designer of The Getty Center in Los Angeles) that opened in 2015 and includes a 39-story building — Meier’s take on Bauhaus architecture. The billboard displays a quote from Meier: “Building this white tower over the white city is a dream come true.”

When she first arrived in Tel Aviv, Bishop said, she was struck by its similarities to Los Angeles, such as the climate, the culture, the age of the buildings and the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. She also noticed another parallel: Just as L.A. is attempting to preserve modernist buildings that have fallen into disrepair, so, too, is Tel Aviv rehabilitating some of its decaying Bauhaus-style buildings.

Horowitz, during her research, discovered another connection between Tel Aviv and L.A. through the work of architect Ben-Ami Shulman. He was born in Jaffa in 1907, studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and became one of the noted modernist architects in Tel Aviv in the 1930s. After moving to Los Angeles in 1960, Shulman built residential and commercial buildings in a nondescript style often referred to as “vernacular architecture.”

Horowitz photographed all 17 documented Shulman buildings in L.A., as well as eight Shulman buildings designated as landmarks in Tel Aviv, and organized them into a mini-exhibition she calls “Some Shulman Architecture,” which is included in the “White City” show. (The title is a reference to artist Ed Ruscha’s iconic photographic series “Some Los Angeles Apartments,” that draws attention to easily overlooked or banal elements of the built environment.) Horowitz’s Shulman project was previously displayed at the American Institute of Architects’ Los Angeles office in 2015.

Not everyone accepts the historic narrative of the White City, however. In his book “White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa,” dissident Israeli historian and architect Sharon Rotbard notes that only four Bauhaus students ever emigrated to Palestine, and they were more influenced by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Tel Aviv began as a suburb of Jaffa, but its population boom in the 1920s soon came to overshadow the Arab economic and cultural hub. Since Jaffa’s annexation to Tel Aviv after the 1948 war, most of Jaffa’s residents were pushed out and its neighborhoods were bulldozed.

“Tel Aviv eagerly appropriated the Bauhaus brand name in order to develop the local myth about the rebirth of Bauhaus in Palestine,” says Rotbard, who contends that the story of a gleaming white city built on sand dunes is a “fable” created to serve “obvious political and economic agendas.” While the Bauhaus school emphasized utopian social ideas, Rotbard argues that Tel Aviv’s modernist architecture was used for colonial purposes: to whitewash the dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians.

But to label the White City as a “colonial” architectural project is inaccurate, Bishop argued.

“I think the word ‘colonial’ is a little tricky,” she said. “I would say utopian. A dream that, finally, in our own power, we can visually — and, of course, culturally — start anew.”

“Tel Aviv — The White City + Beyond” by Carol Bishop and Susan Horowitz is on display through May 28 at the offices of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, 3250 Wilshire Blvd., No. 550, Los Angeles.

A spray-painted swastika was discovered on the concrete next to a baseball field at Dos Vientos Community Park in Conejo Valley. Photo courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties

Anti-Semitic graffiti discovered in Conejo Valley park over the weekend


Three spray-painted swastikas were discovered over the weekend at Dos Vientos Community Park in the Conejo Valley — two on the wooden boards on the perimeter of a baseball field, and one on the concrete next to it, according to Cyndi Silverman, regional director of the Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Residents of the area discovered the graffiti at the Newbury Park site and notified authorities on Saturday, according to Steve Gold, a congregant of Congregation Am Hayam in Ventura County. It has since been removed.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department could not be reached immediately for comment, but the Ventura County Star reported that the incident is not being investigated as a hate crime but rather as a misdemeanor vandalism incident.

“We called it into the police department to have them investigate it, which they did, and it wasn’t registered as a hate crime, because it was not addressed to anyone in particular,” Gold told the Journal.

Gold said he was surprised to find the swastikas in his neighborhood in the first place.

“I really think this is just an independent person who probably has anger issues. I don’t feel in my neighborhood polarizations occurring,” he said.

Silverman said the three swastikas discovered at the park were only the latest incidents she has seen in the area. She declined to draw a correlation between the uptick and the election of President Donald Trump.

It’s “definitely a concern, seeing an uptick in hate symbols, especially in public parks,” she said.

Ed Jones, a member of the Conejo Recreation and Park District board of directors, wrote on his Facebook page, “Such a shame that this symbol of hate would appear in one of our parks.”

Anti-Semitic graffiti discovered in West Los Angeles references Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman's portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. Photo by Jennie Fahn via Next Door

Anti-Semitic graffiti discovered in West Los Angeles references Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. Photo by Jennie Fahn via Next Door

The incident followed a mid-December instance of an anti-Semitic scrawl discovered in West Los Angeles, near Temple Isaiah. The phrase, “Why is Jackie O being played by an Israeli Jew?” — a reference to Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in the recent film, “Jackie” — was discovered at a bus stop on a poster of the film “Assassin’s Creed.” A slashed-through Jewish star appears next to the scrawl.

Los Angeles’ ADL Associate Regional Director Ariella Schusterman said the West L.A. incident was “taken care of pretty quickly.”

Both incidents were documented via the neighborhood-centric social network app Nextdoor, which provides a platform for residents to describe positive and negative activity in their respective neighborhoods.

In separate interviews, Schusterman and Silverman said they appreciated people using Nextdoor to document instances of hate but also reminded people it is important to inform local law enforcement agencies and report them to the ADL, which compiles a record of reported hate incidents and crimes.

“Obviously we want people to call us when we have anti-Semitic incidents or crimes,” Schusterman said, “or to call the police.”

The main entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau

Progressives now trivializing Hitler, Nazism, Auschwitz


Those who wish to perpetuate the sacred memory of the Holocaust have long guarded against the misuse of the terms “Nazi,” “Hitler,” “Fascist,” “Goebbels,” “Auschwitz” and the like.

Jews and Jewish defense agencies have understood that the cheapening of these terms cheapened the suffering of those who endured the true horrors of the Nazi era.

Not anymore.

It is so common to call President Donald Trump and conservatives Nazi, Hitler and fascist that Jews have not only stopped condemning the practice, they have led it. And Jewish defense agencies have largely remained silent.

I could fill this whole issue of the Jewish Journal with examples. But I will suffice with only a handful.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC interviewed in The Hill:

Maddow: “I’m studying Hitler to prep for Trump.”

The Hill: “How?”

Maddow: “By studying the first few months of Adolf Hitler’s tenure as German chancellor, beginning in 1934.”

Richard Cohen, Washington Post: Trump “is Hitlerian in his thinking.”

Henry S. Rosen, Daily Kos: “Any student of history can compare current times to the rise of fascism in the 1930s — when an electorate reeling from The Great Depression brought to power Hitler and emboldened Mussolini.”

Richard Cohen, Washington Post: “The differences between Weimar Germany and contemporary America are significant but so, increasingly, are the similarities.”

Natasha Lennard, The Nation: “To call Trumpism fascist is to suggest that it demands from us a unique response. … It is constitutive of its fascism that it demands a different sort of opposition.”

Neal Gabler, BillMoyers.com: “Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood that they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality.”

Dana Milbank, Washington Post: “Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody. … When the election returns come in Tuesday night, it will be Nov. 9 in Germany — the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ at the start of the Holocaust when Nazis vandalized synagogues and businesses.”

The Hill: “MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said Friday that President Trump’s inaugural address was both ‘Hitlerian’ and meant to mimic Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

New York Daily News: “A group of Cypress Hills High School (Texas) students gave the Nazi salute and shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Heil Trump’ while their class photo was being taken.”

University of Wisconsin Education Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab: “My grandfather, a psychologist, just walked me through similarities between [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker and Hitler. There are so many — it’s terrifying.”

Charles Blow, New York Times: “[Trump is] the demi-fascist of Fifth Avenue … an arguably fascist and racist demagogue.”

Paul Krugman, New York Times: “It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare.”

Germany’s leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, headlined: “How Much Mussolini Is There in Donald Trump?”

To be fair, Donald Trump, too, recently tweeted about “leaked” fake news depicting him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. … Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

Then Jewish spokesmen raised their voices in protest.

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, intoned: “It is a despicable insult to Holocaust survivors around the world, and to the nation he is about to lead, that Donald Trump compares America to Nazi Germany.”

And Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also weighed in: “No one should cavalierly draw analogies to Nazi Germany, especially the next leader of the free world. It is not only a ridiculous comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust.”

What we have here is a cheapening of the unique evils of Hitler, Nazism and fascism. If Donald Trump is a Hitler, a Nazi or a fascist, then Hitler, Nazis and fascists were nothing special.

Even Auschwitz.

The most recent issue of the Forward, the oldest Jewish progressive newspaper, presented the nadir of the left wing draining Holocaust terms of their meaning in an article by a writer named Sophia Marie Unterman, titled “Is This Sugarcane Plantation ‘America’s Auschwitz’?”

After a visit to a Louisiana plantation serving as a museum of slavery, Unterman wrote:

“The phrase ‘America’s Auschwitz’ was used by now-mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu in 2008, when he visited the site and spoke to the museum’s creators. … Landrieu used the term ‘Auschwitz’ to encapsulate the darkest part of a country’s history; in that, he was correct to call slavery our Auschwitz.”

“… Landrieu’s description was apt: Slavery is our country’s darkest chapter; and 150 years after Emancipation, we still don’t know how to talk about it.”

That Jews, the people who endured the unique evil of Nazi genocide, would align themselves with those who cheapen that evil, is just one more tragic testament to the poisonous effect of the left on 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).

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

Popular neo-Nazi blogger resigns over revelation his wife is Jewish


The founder of the popular right-wing blog post The Right Stuff resigned over the revelation that his wife is Jewish.

Mike Enoch, who also co-hosts “The Daily Shoah” weekly podcast, was outed over the weekend as Mike Peinovich, a website developer from New York. On the podcast, which has about 100,000 regular listeners, Peinovich as Enoch talked about killing Jews and spouted neo-Nazi invective.

The release of Peinovich’s personal details came after the identities of the other podcast panelists were made public earlier in the week by a rival website called 8chan. The invented surname reportedly is a reference to Enoch Powell, a far-right British politician and Nazi sympathizer.

Enoch was considered one of the three most influential figures in the “alt-right” movement along with Daily Stormer creator Andrew Anglin and Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank. Spencer is a co-creator of the alt-right label, which describes a far-right movement whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”

Peinovich came clean with readers of The Right Stuff, posting a message in a password-protected forum that was reprinted in part by Salon.

“As I am sure you all know, I was doxxed and an ill advised attempt to fool the media about my identity led me to not talk to you people and to try to simply ride it out by being silent,” he said. “This was irresponsible and a disservice to all of you. Yes my wife is who they say she is, I won’t even bother denying it, I won’t bother making excuses. If this makes you want to leave the movement, or to have nothing to do with TRS, then I understand.

“Don’t lie for me. Don’t try to defend me to those attacking me. Don’t jeopardize your own reputation by defending things that you don’t think you can. I could try to explain my whole life for the last ten years to you but what difference at this point would it make. Life isn’t perfect.”

The Right Stuff has popularized many right-wing memes, as well as the triple parentheses known as the echo symbol used by white supremacists and anti-Semites on Twitter to identify Jews.

Open letter: Rabbi Hier, please do not go to the inauguration


January 12, 2017

Rabbi Marvin Hier
President, Founder, and Dean
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Los Angeles, CA

Dear Rabbi Hier,

I write to you out of respect for the work you’ve done in fighting intolerance, bigotry, and specifically anti-Semitism in Los Angeles and in this country.  While you and I have serious political differences in some areas, that does not detract for a minute from my admiration for you, Rabbi Cooper, and your team in making the Museum of Tolerance an important shield against prejudice in this country. 

I have resisted writing to you because I had believed that you have the right to choose whom you bless.  Your decision to offer a benediction at the inauguration of Donald Trump reflects, as you’ve stated, not a political preference, but your own commitment to the peaceful transition of power, a hallmark of democracy in this country.

And yet, what changed my mind was Mr. Trump’s tweet yesterday—and follow-up comment at his “press conference”—suggesting that his treatment at the hands of the press was reminiscent of Nazi Germany.  This was the last straw for me.  And, frankly, it should be for you.  As someone who has dedicated his life to fighting to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, you cannot be associated in any way with this kind of cheap and inaccurate invocation of Nazism.

There were clear warning signs about the danger Mr. Trump posed when he refused to denounce unequivocally the alt-right antisemites supporting his campaign.  And many of us, yourself included, were jolted to attention by his hinting at the prospect of a registry of all Muslims in this country.  And of course, his dismissive or inappropriate comments about women, African Americans, disabled people, and Jews shocked us to the core.

All of this was cause for grave concern.  But now the claim about Nazi Germany.  In the first instance, this remark betrays a complete ignorance of history.  Shortly after assuming the role of Chancellor on January 30, 1933, Hitler began to suspend the normal rules of democracy by granting himself the power to override parliament; boycotts were introduced in April of that year against Jewish businesses and then Jewish civil servants, professors, and university students.  As we know well, his assault on democracy, the rule of law, and the Jewish people bore ahead with ferocity from that point onward.  While there are danger signs about the health of democratic institutions in America today, we are a long way from the oppressive dictatorship of Hitler’s Germany.  To lend your support to someone with such blatant disregard for an historical chapter so central to your life’s work would be, I’m afraid, a very serious error of judgment on your part. 

What is perhaps more galling—though sadly consistent with Mr. Trump’s bullying personality—is that he is not the victim here.  To the extent that there are new authoritarian trends in American society, they do not emanate from the free press or supporters of Hillary Clinton.  They emanate from Donald Trump himself.  He is not the chief victim of fake news, damaging insinuations or disparaging rhetoric.  He and his team are the perpetrators of all of these tactics, and in a way rarely seen in American political culture.  And in a starkly personal way, these tactics add up to the opposite of what stands at the heart of your institution: tolerance. 

In light of Mr. Trump’s most recent degradation, I urge you, Rabbi Hier, to announce that you will not grace his inauguration with your presence.  I fear that if you were to go to offer a benediction, you would lend credence to Mr. Trump’s willful distortion of history and bring injury to the principles and institution on whose behalf you have labored so tirelessly.

Sincerely,

David N. Myers

Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History, UCLA

Whitefish, Montana, rally held in solidarity with Jewish community


A rally was held in Whitefish, Montana, to show solidarity with the Jewish community, which has been targeted by a neo-Nazi website.

The rally Saturday was sponsored by the Love Not Hate organization, which the Daily Stormer has accused of threatening white supremacist leader Richard Spencer’s mother, who lives in the town along with him.

Several hundred people reportedly turned out for the rally — billed as a block party — in sub-zero degree weather, according to Montana Public Radio. The rally included speeches from city and faith leaders, local singers and storytellers, according to the report.

“This is indeed a community where the voices that speak love and acceptance are so many more numerous than those that speak for hate and division,” Jessica Loti Leferrier, a Love Not Hate rally organizer, told Montana Public Radio.

The neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer, said last week that it had filed the paperwork for an armed neo-Nazi march designed to harass the Montana Jewish community of Whitefish.

The march was moved to Monday, Jan. 16, which is Martin Luther King Day this year. The march had originally been set for the day before.

Andrew Anglin, who runs the Daily Stormer website, posted a photo Thursday of the filed application. The Whitefish City Clerk’s Office told the Forward that it had not received an application, and that what was on the website appeared to be incomplete.

Anglin wrote in a post published Thursday that nationalist groups from the United Kingdom, Sweden, France and Greece will attend the march. He also confirmed that “a representative of Hamas will be in attendance, and will give a speech about the international threat of the Jews.”

He said that participants will march through the center of Whitefish and end at Memorial Park, where several people will speak.

Spencer is the president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank. In November, he spoke at a white supremacist event in Washington, D.C., to celebrate President-elect Donald Trump’s election. He called out “Hail Trump!” and was greeted by Nazi salutes.

The Daily Stormer published a blog post last month calling for followers to “take action” against Jews in Whitefish by writing and calling them with anti-Semitic messages. The post claimed that Jewish residents were “threatening” the business run by Spencer’s mother in the town.

The post included the names, phone numbers and addresses of Jewish Whitefish residents, as well as their photos emblazoned with yellow stars. It also showed the Twitter handle and photo of a child. Along with using a number of anti-Semitic slurs, the post warned readers against using “violence or threats of violence or anything close to that.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald  Lauder is demanding that authorities in Montana immediately put a stop to an armed march being planned by neo-Nazis in the town of Whitefish on January 15, calling it “a dangerous and life-threatening rally that puts all of America at risk.”

“When notorious and self-professed neo-Nazis announce that they are planning to march through a town carrying ‘high-profiled rifles’ in an action targeting ‘Jews, Jewish business, and everyone who supports either,’ the local authorities must respond with quick alarm and vigilance,” Lauder said in a statement.

“This rally crosses the line between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred. The intention of these neo-Nazis is not just to send a political message – they are organizing a dangerous and life-threatening rally that puts all of America, including the local Jewish community, at risk,” he said.

There are about 100 known Jewish households in Whitefish and nearby Kalispell, part of the Flathead Valley.

Montana lawmakers and faith leaders have issued statements in support of the Whitefish community.

Whitefish has a population of about 6,000 full-time residents and is home to a ski resort on Big Mountain called Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Ukrainian marchers in Kiev chant ‘Jews out’


Ukrainian nationalists in Kiev chanted “Jews out” in German at a New Year’s Day march celebrating the birthday of a Nazi collaborator whose troops killed thousands of Jews.

Thousands attended the event in the center of the Ukrainian capital celebrating Stepan Bandera, a leader of Ukraine’s nationalist movement in the 1930s and ’40s. They held up his portrait while an unidentified person shouted the anti-Semitic slogan on a loudspeaker, prompting many participants to repeat it, a video published by the Federal News Agency showed.

Bandera’s movement included an insurgent army which fought alongside Nazi soldiers during part of World War II. Supporters of Bandera claim they sided with the Nazis against the Soviet army, believing that Adolf Hitler would grant Ukraine independence. Bandera was assassinated in 1959 by Russia’s KGB in West Germany.

Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian Jewish lawmaker and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, called on authorities to investigate the march and prosecute those responsible for the hateful slogans.

“I still can’t get over hearing it at the rally in honor of Stepan Bandera’s birthday,” Feldman wrote in an emotional post on Facebook Tuesday. “I admit, I’m choking up with tears. I love Ukraine, love the Ukrainians.”

Adding that the chants came from a “gang of a few idiots who don’t represent anyone,” he nonetheless wrote: “I can’t ignore it when I, a man who worked so much for my country and city, created the hundreds and thousands of jobs, am being screamed at by some bastards to leave my homeland.”

Feldman also accused the Svoboda party, a far-right movement whose leaders and followers often have engaged in anti-Semitic hate speech, of being responsible for what he termed “a provocation” during the march.

Bandera is being celebrated across Ukraine as a national hero. In July he had a street named after him, also in Kiev, despite protests from the Jewish community.

Several other Ukrainian nationalists with ties to anti-Semitic acts and policies before and during the Holocaust have been the subject of veneration in Ukraine in recent years, especially after the ousting in 2014 of President Viktor Yanukovych in a bloody revolution over his alleged corruption and ties to Russia.

Montana rabbi speaks out on anti-Semitic harassment


From his youth in a western Pennsylvania steel town, Rabbi Allen Secher recalls having his head “broken open with rocks thrown behind the phrase ‘Jew bastard.’ ” But since moving to Whitefish, Mont., in 2000, he’s experienced anti-Semitism exactly once — in an off-color comment from a car dealer — and never again.

That changed after a Dec. 16 post on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer that called for the harassment of Jews in Whitefish, hometown of white supremacist hero Richard Spencer.

Since then, Andrew Anglin, the website’s founder, has called for an armed march on the town to take place on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

But so far, the saga has played out primarily on the internet. Secher and the other Jewish residents of Whitefish named in the post have been “inundated” with cyberattacks, he told the Journal.

“Hundreds, not just a few,” he said. “Hundreds, and the cyberattacks are brutal.”

Secher, 81, lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade before moving to Chicago in 1980. While here, he served as rabbi of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge. He said the recent harassment brings his life “full circle” from the anti-Semitism he experienced as a youth.

The original Daily Stormer article went up after Sherry Spencer, Richard’s mother, wrote in a Medium.com post that she was considering selling a commercial property she owns in Whitefish. The elder Spencer said she felt pressure to sell her building due to a backlash against her son’s extremist views, which include establishing a white ethno-state in the United States. 

“Whatever you think about my son’s ideas  —  they are, after all, ideas  —  in what moral universe is it right for the ‘sins’ of the son to be visited upon the mother?” she wrote on Dec. 15.

The next day, Anglin implored his readers to unleash an “an old fashioned Troll Storm” on Montana’s Jews and provided contact details for five Whitefish residents, including Secher and his wife, as well as a local child. The post also included photographs of some of those residents, superimposed with a yellow Star of David bearing the word “Jude,” the German word for Jew.

“Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda to attack and harm the mother of someone whom they disagree with,” Anglin wrote.

In a follow-up article, he posted the names and numbers of Whitefish businesses he said were associated with a local anti-hate group. 

On Jan. 5, he posted a permit application for a march from the town’s Memorial Park to Whitefish City Hall titled “James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza,” named after the man who assassinated King. In addition to “two hundred skinhead Alt-Right Nazis,” he wrote that a representative of the terror group Hamas would be on hand to speak.

The Daily Stormer posts have suggested that the group Love Lives Here, co-founded by Secher and his wife, Ina Albert, pressured Sherry Spencer to sell her building. In her Medium article, Spencer said local realtor Tanya Gersh, who Spencer said has ties to the group, threatened to call for a picket of Spencer’s building unless she sold it.

Secher unequivocally rejected the claim that Love Lives Here approached Spencer, saying that Gersh was not speaking on the group’s behalf. Gersh did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

“Nothing was further from the truth,” Secher said of the allegation that his group pressured Spencer. “Love Lives Here never contacted her.”

Nonetheless, Anglin’s posts and others on similar websites whipped up a frenzy of anonymous internet haters, who tossed out a flurry of ethnic slurs against Jews and added “The ovens are waiting” and “Too bad they only killed 6 million.”

Secher said he reported the incidents to the police, the FBI, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“ADL has been in almost daily contact with the families and law enforcement authorities to address the ongoing anti-Semitic harassment being perpetrated by white nationalists against the Jewish community in Whitefish, Montana,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, wrote the Journal in an emailed statement. “The security of the families involved is our paramount concern.”

Richard Spencer has distanced himself from the harassment while stopping short of denouncing it. 

“I don’t feel personal responsibility” for the hate messages, he told a Whitefish-area newspaper, the Daily Inter Lake.

Responding on Twitter to a question from this reporter, Spencer wrote, “Tanya Gersh attempted a nasty shakedown of an innocent woman.” In a second tweet, he wrote, “I will certainly condemn violence. I will never condemn free expression.”

Spencer gained widespread attention during the recent presidential campaign as one of the founders of the alt-right movement. His think tank, National Policy Institute, has been described by the SPLC as a leader of “academic racism.”

His prominence has cast a shadow on Whitefish, sowing division in public forums and the local press in a town previously known mostly as a pleasant vacation destination close to Glacier National Park.

Secher, for his part, is no stranger to staring down racism.

As a civil rights activist, he was arrested twice while demonstrating with the Freedom Riders: once in Albany, Ga., in 1962 and again in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1964.

This time, he’s received support from Whitefish and across the globe, as far away as Austria.

“The community of Whitefish has been spectacular in their outreach,” he said. “Spectacular. We just got boxes of letters and drawings from the community. Boxes! I have received maybe 500 emails from all over the country of people supporting us, people we don’t even know. I’d say half of those emails are from people we don’t know.”

In general, he said, Whitefish is a welcoming place where he doesn’t feel any different from others due to his religion.

“In this town, in this atmosphere, I’m Allen Secher, who happens to be a rabbi.”

Survivor Michele Rodri: Shuttled from place to place until danger passed


On a Thursday afternoon in April 1942, Michele Rodri (née Rosenberg) was playing hopscotch with three non-Jewish girlfriends outside her family’s home in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine when two SS officers approached them. 

“That’s a beautiful child,” one of them said, lifting Michele’s chin. 

Danke schoen,” answered the 7-year-old, who was fluent in German, French and Yiddish, which was her first language — and who also was wearing a yellow star.

The officer then blew a whistle, summoning a German military truck with a canvas-covered cargo bed that pulled up beside them. As the soldier hoisted Michele over the truck’s tall tailgate, she glimpsed the silhouette of her mother in their living room window being steered away from the partially opened drape. 

The truck was packed with adults and some children, crowded together on benches lining the sides or on the floor, many of them crying. “They were making a roundup, a razzia,” Michele said. A woman came over and held her. “Don’t cry,” she told her in Yiddish. But Michele did not feel reassured. “I was very scared,” she said.

Michele was born on March 26, 1935, to Chaim and Hana Rosenberg, who had moved to Paris from Krakow, Poland, around 1920. She had three older brothers: Abel, born in 1922, David in 1923 and Maurice in 1925. 

Chaim owned a business manufacturing threads. “He was very kind and generous but very strict in terms of behavior,” Michele said. Hana cared for the family. “She was an angel,” Michele said. “She could do anything.” 

The family, who was comfortably middle class and religiously observant, lived in a two-story house in a quiet, residential neighborhood, with a garden in back. The neighbors, who were mostly Christian, knew the Rosenbergs were Jewish, but, Michele said, “Everybody lived very harmoniously.” Her family was well-respected, and her father and brothers were especially friendly with the town’s police commissar, Monsieur Sigean.

Everything changed, however, when Germany attacked France on May 10, 1940, eventually entering Paris on June 14. 

Soon after, Michele’s older brothers, Abel and David, joined the Maquis, the French resistance. “They were very patriotic,” Michele said of her brothers, though she didn’t know their destination at the time. Her youngest brother, Maurice, remained at home to help the family. 

The few Jewish students who attended Michele’s public school began being harassed. Other children refused to sit with them or accused them of killing Jesus. Michele, however, was never physically harmed. 

In 1942, when the German military truck transporting Michele pulled up to Drancy, an internment camp in a northeast Parisian suburb of the same name, she and the others were led into a large hall, with the children clustered in one area. They were fed coffee and a piece of worm-infested bread in the morning — “I picked [the worms] out,” Michele said. “I had to eat the bread” — and in the evening, “horrible” soup with rutabaga or potato peelings. During the day, they were allowed outside in the yard, where they played ball. 

Michele talked only to a 5 1/2-year-old girl named Nicole, the daughter of a non-Jewish political prisoner, whose mat lay next to hers. The girl constantly wept, but, Michele said, “I felt a little humanity.” 

One day in July 1942, after Michele had been at Drancy for three months, she saw her oldest brother, Abel, walk in, wearing an SS uniform. “He looked at me — he had these beautiful green eyes — and I knew I was not supposed to move,” Michele recalled. “Schnell, machen,” Abel said in perfect German to the SS soldier following him, one who worked at the internment camp. “Let’s do this quickly.” Abel pointed to Michele and Nicole. “I want these two children,” he said.

Michele and Nicole followed Abel and the SS soldier outside, where what looked like an official German car awaited. “Get in,” the driver ordered, pushing them a bit roughly into the back seat. Abel sat in the front, silent. Finally, after they had driven several kilometers, he turned to face the girls. “I’m going to take you to safety,” he said. 

They drove to a convent, which Michele believes was near Grenoble. There, she and Nicole lived with the nuns, attending public school in the town, though Michele didn’t talk to other girls, afraid she would divulge her identity. At the convent, Michele sang in the choir, which she loved. But she refused to kneel, as she had heard her father say, “Jews don’t kneel,” and she feared something terrible would happen. Meanwhile, the nuns, who were otherwise mostly kind, punished her for each transgression, lashing her lightly with a martinet, a leather whip, which she found embarrassing. 

One day her youngest brother, Maurice, visited her. “It was really dangerous,” Michele said. He had come without wearing his yellow star or telling their parents. But he brought her a pair of roller skates, something she had long coveted, that he had purchased on the black market. “They were so beautiful,” Michele recalled. 

Then, after 13 months at the convent, Michele and Nicole were picked up by a man who drove them to a small villa in Épinay-sur-Orge, a village about 20 miles south of Paris, where they lived with Monsieur and Madame Godignon, an older couple who had agreed to take the girls in exchange for money from Chaim, Michele’s father. 

Madame Godignon was very strict, slapping the girls if they broke a glass and feeding them meager portions, even though Chaim had paid handsomely for their room and board. “I was always hungry,” Michele said. And while Michele found extra pieces of bread at the bakery when she was sent there on errands, she also suffered stomachaches from eating unripe fruit from the backyard trees. “You dirty Jews have all the money,” Madame Godignon taunted her on a daily basis.

Monsieur Godignon, however, showed the girls kindness, such as tucking them into their beds every night. “He had a heart,” Michele said. And one day in fall 1943 or spring 1944, he took Michele to the train station to see her mother, who had undertaken the dangerous journey to visit with her daughter for only the few minutes the train was stopped. Hana hugged and kissed her — “My whole neck was full of tears,” Michele said — and also brought her a meatloaf sandwich, Michele’s favorite. 

In late August 1944, Michele was listening to the radio when she heard Winston Churchill announce that Hitler had capitulated and American troops had reached the outskirts of Paris. Soon after, her parents and two older brothers came to fetch her.  

Once home, Michele looked everywhere for Maurice, thinking he was playing hide-and-seek. She then learned that he had been picked up while riding the train to school in May 1943. A non-Jewish friend who had been riding with him reported to Chaim and Hana that the Germans had boarded the train, ordering all the males to drop their pants. Maurice and the other Jewish men were rounded up and taken to Drancy. 

After Maurice’s capture, Monsieur Sigean, the police commissar, protected Chaim and Hana, who hid in their house behind blacked-out windows. He also brought them food that he bought on the black market with money Chaim gave him. 

After the war, the Rosenbergs, who had changed their name to Lambert, learned that Maurice had been murdered in Auschwitz. Michele’s parents never recovered from that news. Hana lit a yahrzeit candle for Maurice every day for the rest of her life. And, Michele said, “There isn’t a day that I don’t think about him.”

In addition to Maurice, Michele lost 207 relatives in the Holocaust, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and first and second cousins. Her two grandfathers, who lived in Krakow, were hanged, separately, by the Nazis because they were Orthodox. 

In 1956, Michele traveled to Los Angeles to visit her brother David, who was living there at the time, and stayed. The following year, she married Robert Lazaruk, and their son, Kirk, was born in December 1958. The couple divorced in 1960. 

On July 4, 1962, Michele married Jack Cohen-Rodriguez (aka Rodri), a survivor from Holland who had been imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen. She helped Jack in his various businesses, including representing sports figures and running a medical oxygen company. 

Jack died in 2004, preceded by Chaim in 1972, Hana in 1984 and David in 1996. Abel died in 2014. For Michele, now 81, her family members, including her son, daughter-in-law and grandson, are most precious to her.

Around 2009, Michele began talking about her Holocaust experiences, first at the Stephen Wise Religious School and later at various public and private schools as well as the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. “I want to speak as long as I’m here,” she said. 

Michele encourages the young people she addresses to speak up, as citizens of the world, if they see something that is not right.

“Being silent,” she said, “is the most terrible thing.”

The chief of staff behind Portman’s come-from-behind 2016 victory


His father’s first trip outside his small village on the Ukrainian-Slovakian border was when the Nazis shipped him to Auschwitz in 1944. His mother spent the tumultuous years of World War II secretly stored away as a hidden child in Central Europe. Against all odds, this child of two Holocaust survivors, Mark Isakowitz, rose to become the influential Chief of Staff for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “The idea that a mere few decades after my parents stepped off the boat that I could do jobs like this, I was deeply honored,” noted Isakowitz to Jewish Insider in a wide ranging interview from his Capitol Hill office.

A graduate of Ohio State University and father of three children, Isakowitz played a critical role in one of the most important Senate races of 2016. With the Democrats pushing to take back the Senate, Portman’s seat appeared vulnerable. In the first public poll of the race, the Ohio Republican’s challenger led by nine points, but by the night of November 8, Portman coasted to victory by an astounding 21 percent.  Working with Campaign Manager Cory Bliss, Isakowitz and the team orchestrated a strategy of reaching out to groups generally distant from the Conservative party: achieving a tie with Democrats among millennials and obtaining the endorsements of labor unions. Isakowitz and his staff highlighted the Senator’s work, which they believe directly improved the lives of Ohioans such as combatting heroin addiction and protecting local steelworkers.

Isakowitz cites his father for pushing him towards the Republican Party. With no more than a middle school education, the elder Isakowitz, who was trained as a plumber in Europe, managed to create a small business that lasted his entire adult life. Mark emphasized, “Having an economic system under free enterprise where people have a chance to do that, I think is the greatest kind of system that you could set up.”

In addition to his public sector service, Isakowitz worked as a lobbyist for over a decade as President of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock. When Portman asked him to return to Capitol Hill and run his Senate office, Isakowitz walked away from an almost $7 million salary, according to a Roll Call report. What motivated the Ohio native to abandon such a lucrative salary? Isakowitz explained his passion for public service, but as with many in Washington, relationships are critical. “I was a friend and a huge admirer of Rob Portman, and I always had in the back of my mind that if he asked me to do something for him, I would need to find a way to do it,” he added.

Judaism and Israel remain important elements of his identity. Having visited Israel approximately 20 times, Isakowitz proudly displays pictures with former President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu on his office wall. He is fluent in biblical storytelling. As if recalling details from yesterday’s legislation, Isakowitz enumerates various biblical examples of Jewish leaders from Abraham to heroes of the Purim story positively interacting with local political authorities. Isakowitz cited how Joseph counseled Pharaoh to “make the Egyptian economy work,” which sounded almost like a GOP campaign advertisement.

Colleagues are quick to praise Mark. Vincent Harris, CEO of Harris Media and former Chief Digital Strategist for Senator Rand Paul, highlighted the Chief of Staff’s commitment to public service. “To be involved in politics out of conviction rather than selfish ambition is rare in the Beltway,” Harris noted.  Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, who has collaborated with Isakowitz on Israel and religious liberty issues, praised his Capitol Hill experience. “Mark has a mastery of the politics and policy around the issues. He’s a great partner. “

Off Capitol Hill, Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, emphasized Isakowitz’s lighter side. He recalled the times their joint passion for the sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” watching the comedy show together when on work trips overseas. On a more serious note, “He is an uber-Mensch, the definition of a giving and caring person,” admired Brooks. “Mark represents the very best that Washington has to offer. He is a consummate professional…  and a great listener,” gushed Norm Brownstein, a prominent attorney and lobbyist active in national Democratic politics.

Climbing the ranks and running the Senator’s office, Isakowitz remains staunchly loyal to Portman. “I work for a really good United States Senator,” he asserted when describing the role of Chief of Staff. “I feel that a big part of my job is help set up his day so he can achieve what he wants to achieve.”

Pasadena trial focuses on Nazi-looted masterpiece


When David Cassirer was a child, he and his sister, Ava, would make voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to England on the Queen Mary to visit their great-grandmother, Lilly, a German Jew who fled Nazi Germany in 1939.

“It was great fun to do this trip. Imagine … playing shuffleboard, getting into trouble on the ship, swimming in the pool,” remembered Cassirer, who is now 62 and splits his time between California and Colorado. “It was a great adventure.”

Decades later, Cassirer has found himself embroiled in a much more serious exploit involving his late great-grandmother. Playing out in federal appeals court instead of an ocean liner, it involves a Nazi-looted piece of art worth more than $30 million and the dramatic story behind how it came to hang in a Madrid museum.

At the center of the court case — David Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, which began Dec. 5 in Pasadena at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — is an 1897 impressionist masterpiece by Camille Pissarro. Known as “Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain,” the Paris streetscape belonged to Lilly before she fled the Nazis. In fact, she and her second husband, Otto, traded it for exit visas in 1939 following Kristallnacht.

Later, the piece was smuggled into the United States, where it was traded among specialists in Nazi-looted artwork in galleries in Los Angeles and New York until 1976, when it was purchased by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, “an individual whose family had long-standing ties to the Nazi regime and who had trafficked in Nazi stolen art,” according to Cassirer’s attorneys.

In 1992, Thyssen-Bornemisza opened a museum with his extensive collection, the Pissarro included, in a building offered by the Spanish state. In 1993, the Spanish government acquired the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.

The Cassirer family discovered the painting’s existence in 1999 after a friend of Cassirer’s late father, Claude (Lilly’s grandson), saw the painting in a museum catalog and notified the family. The family had thought the piece was destroyed during the war.

The current appellate case follows a 2015 decision that dismissed Cassirer’s claim that the Cassirer painting belongs to him and his family.

The family has been trying to reclaim the painting for close to two decades. It is one of many instances of Jewish families affected by the Holocaust attempting to gain back artwork that was taken from them due to the circumstances of the Shoah.

Local attorney Randy Schoenberg — whose grandfather, Arnold, knew the Cassirers before the war started, at a time when the Cassirers were active in Berlin’s cultural scene — is famous for winning back the Gustav Klimt painting popularly known as “Woman in Gold” for his survivor client Maria Altmann. He told the Journal he hopes the outcome is similar for the Cassirers.

“Anything can happen in these cases at any time,” he told the Journal. “It’s very tough and sad. This is a case where the painting was forced away from the Cassirers originally and never been returned. I think if you look at it from that simple perspective — property taken, never returned — it would be very, very sad if no legal remedy recognized that wrong.”

In 1958, the German government gave $13,000 to Lilly to cover the painting’s loss. However, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter, who concluded in 2015 the painting belonged to the museum, acknowledged Lilly accepted this payment without knowing the painting still existed.

Cassirer’s current defense team includes notable attorney David Boies, who argued on the side of Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and for the unconstitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Their argument is that the museum’s claim to the painting — that it has been in the collection for more than six years and thus, under prescriptive Spanish law, belongs to the museum — is void: The museum, even if it purchased the piece not knowing it was looted work, benefits by having the painting and is thus an accessory to the theft, Boies said in court on Monday.

No one is disputing that the painting was stolen from Lilly, not even the museum’s attorney, Thaddeus J. Stauber.

Lilly died in 1962, and her only child, Eva, became her heir. When Eva died, Claude, who used to play in Lilly’s parlor in Berlin in the 1920s, where the Pissarro painting hung on the wall, became the heir. Claude died recently and David Cassirer, his sister and the Jewish Federation of San Diego County became the heirs.

As to what the family plans to do if they win back the painting, Cassirer said he does not know for certain yet. All he knows is that the museum, what with its name being associated with a family that helped finance the Nazis, is not the place for it.

“No matter what happens, I hope it will continue to be able to be seen by people but not in the hands of the Spanish government and the Thyssen museum. My family feels very strongly the museum knowingly accepted this painting into their collection when they would have easily and no doubt did know this was Nazi-looted art when they took it in. We don’t think that behavior should be rewarded on our level, a Jewish level, the case level, the Holocaust level,” he said. “On so many levels this behavior should not be rewarded and is one of the reasons I feel so passionately about the case.”

‘Man in the High Castle’ billboard shows Statue of Liberty giving Nazi salute


A new advertisement in New York City for the second season of the Amazon TV series “The Man in the High Castle” shows the Statue of Liberty giving a Nazi salute.

An ad campaign last year for the Amazon Studios show’s first season offended many Jews and non-Jews, and the new Times Square billboard in the heart of Manhattan is doing the same, Gothamist first reported Monday.

“I can think of a million better ways to promote this show, and I can’t even imagine how a Holocaust survivor who lives in the city would feel if they saw that,” New Yorker Uri Katz told Gothamist.

Others have called out the ad as representing “what American politics have become.”

The series, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, depicts an alternate version of the United States in the 1960s after the Axis powers won World War II.

Last November, Amazon covered an entire New York City subway car with an advertisement for the series that featured the Nazi eagle and cross symbol. After the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director and others called the campaign insensitive, the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority pulled the ads.

Santa Monica artist part of ‘Golem’ revival in Berlin


Urban legend has it that a golem lived in the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin during the Nazi era, protecting the Jewish landmark from destruction while Jews successfully hid among its tombstones. Now the golem has returned to Berlin, this time for more auspicious purposes — as part of a celebration and examination of this Jewish mythical creature, traditionally made out of inanimate matter and brought to life through mystical Hebrew incantations and rituals. 

The legend of Weissensee forms one room of the expansive, multimedia “Golem” exhibition running through Jan. 29 at the Jewish Museum Berlin, and is among several thematic explorations of Judaism’s own action figure as it has crept into art, literature, film, pop culture and even video games. The philosophical question running throughout the exhibition is the one that gripped the rabbis who first experimented with its creation: What are the limits of man’s creative power? 

Dominating the chamber exploring the golem’s Jewish origins is a life-size installation by Santa Monica artist Joshua Abarbanel. Looking like a gingerbread man (also a golem figure, according to Abarbanel), it lies on the ground, hands raised — either in impending life or looming death. 

Abarbanel created the golem out of 6,129 carved wooden Hebrew letters, mem and tet, which together spell met (death). The 6,130th word (evoking the 613 mitzvot) is a large aleph that dangles from a chain on his neck, the key to the golem’s heart that will operate it, channeling it from met (death) into emet (truth). Abarbanel likens this aleph to the Arc Reactor set into the chest of the superhero Iron Man. 

“For me, the golem is a universal question or theme for people about power and creation and those sorts of things which aren’t specifically Jewish, really,” Abarbanel told the Journal via Skype from his Santa Monica studio.

Growing up as a Reform Jew, he became fascinated with the Hebrew alphabet thanks to a book lying around the house that anthropomorphized each letter. Today, he is a lay leader at the Ohr HaTorah Synagogue in Mar Vista. This work was commissioned as a large-scale replication of the 18-inch version that appeared as part of the 2013 show “Sacred Words, Sacred Texts,” co-organized by the Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California and shown at American Jewish University. 

“It’s a story that as a folktale is set up to be a metaphor that we could apply to every age, in our own time and experience,” Abarbanel said. “It’s essentially the story of harnessing power with the intention of using it for good, but with the understanding that the power you’re putting into it is so great that you may not be able to control it.” 

This idea is firmly expressed at the exhibition entrance with a display about an Israeli mainframe computer that renowned scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem dubbed “Golem Aleph,” with the hope that computer technology would be used for good. 

Just as artificial intelligence is a popular metaphor for the golem, so are political movements. In that vein, the exhibition displays one of the “Make America Great Again” caps made popular by United States President-elect Donald Trump. Canadian journalist Neil Macdonald is quoted as likening Trump’s campaign slogan to the letters animating the golem. 

Other parts of the exhibition focus on the “Golem of Prague,” the classic myth in which Rabbi Judah Loew (the Maharal) was said to have created a golem to protect the Jewish ghetto, and  German filmmaker Paul Wegener’s 1920 silent horror classic, “The Golem: How He Came Into the World,” in which Wegener plays the clumsy, robot-like golem. 

The exhibition is the fulfillment of the personal ambition of professor Peter Schafer, who served as director of Princeton University’s program in Judaic studies before becoming director of the Jewish Museum in 2014. It grew out of his interdisciplinary golem course at Princeton, which achieved the sought-after distinction of the “cool course” sunglasses symbol in the college catalog.  

“These courses gave rise not only to scholarship — such as an excellent study of the golem in German Romanticism — but also to poems, music and stories that carried on spinning the thread of the golem legend,” he said in the preface of the exhibition catalog. 

Assistant Curator Anna-Carolin Augustin said the exhibition is a “phenomenal” success, having even introduced the word back into the German vernacular as a metaphor. 

“In the German language, the word ‘golem’ wasn’t so popular, and now, since the exhibition opened, more German newspapers are using the term ‘golem,’ ” she said, speaking with the Journal at the museum.

During Abarbanel’s first visit to the German capital as part of the opening on Sept. 22, he became impressed with the many ways in which the German government and people address Nazi history and the fact that Berlin is one of the few European cities with a growing Jewish population.

“That said,” Abarbanel said, “it still feels good to create a work that has historic implications as a ‘protector’ of Jews and have it on display in Berlin.”

What happens after Trump?


Everybody who didn’t vote for Donald Trump is in a panic over what will happen during his time in office. 

I’m worried about what happens after.

The fact that Trump already has begun to backtrack on so many core promises gives me a smidge of hope. It proves his positions didn’t arise out of any ideology other than the need to get elected. Locked in a room with his buyers — the voters — Trump did what any successful businessman does: He said anything necessary to get to yes.

Now, it appears, Trump is open to reason. For the near future, the second-most powerful person in the world will always be the last person Donald Trump spoke to. With any luck, that person will always be Barack Obama.

The fact that Trump is meeting with Obama frequently, that the neo-Nazis — otherwise known as the “alt-right” — already have expressed some disillusionment with him, and that he has backtracked on many promises are signs that he is not the destructive force they prayed for. 

To Trump, the only thing more important than the size of his fingers is the size of his portfolio. He will always stop short of doing anything that will put at risk an economy and system that works all too well for him. I imagine Obama explained global warming to Trump in exactly those terms: You can have all the coal-fired power plants you want, but get used to pumping seawater out of the first floor of Mar-a-Lago.

Because of his plastic belief system and ultimate self-interest, Trump’s rule doesn’t worry me these days as much as the dangerous low standard his victory has set for American politics, and what that means in the not-too-distant future.

Last week, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens tweeted his concern that the leading candidate for Democratic National Committee chairman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was once a member of the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.

 “How is this not disqualifying?” Stephens wrote.

And I thought: How quaint. How positively 2012 to think there remains such a thing as disqualifying in American politics. 

In so many ways, Trump has set the bar so low that he has paved the way for the next person, who may have fewer scruples, less restraint and more nefarious intentions. 

That, to me, is the darkest legacy of Trump’s victory.

Never again will a candidate be expected to be financially transparent. Trump refused to release his tax returns, and no one seems to care, or even question that, anymore. From now on, voters won’t even be assured of having that basic level of transparency. Post election, he has refused to untangle himself from his business interests, which may or may not include countries antagonistic to the United States.

Never again will a candidate’s immoral, criminal behavior toward women automatically be out of bounds. Trump survived the “Access Hollywood” tape and the accounts of women who claim he molested them. The fact that he received almost half of the women’s vote is cover for the next guy. 

Never again will widespread neo-Nazi support be considered un-American. Trump used neo-Nazis, which media sources refer to euphemistically as the “alt-right,” to help fuel his campaign, and the neo-Nazis used Trump to gain legitimacy (hence the anodyne-sounding “alt-right”). As conservative commentator Ben Shapiro explained this week in Slate, “I don’t think Trump is particularly racist. I think he’s an ignoramus. [He] is willing to pay heed to and wink at anybody who provides him even a shred of good coverage.”

Never again will singling out a religious or ethnic group be disqualifying. Trump ran on an anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim platform. But racism, like love, knows no boundaries. In the future, a candidate just as easily can direct that hate toward other groups.

Never again will a demagogue believe Americans won’t buy a Big Lie. Trump told one whopper after another and got elected. He told another this week — that there were “millions” of fraudulent votes. What won’t voters swallow?

The real problem with Trump is not that he is Don the Barbarian, come to destroy us, but that he is the harbinger of someone far, far worse than himself. His victory has lowered the standards for what we expect of major presidential candidates and will enable far less savory characters to make common cause with neo-Nazis, build coalitions of hate, hide their personal interests and claim precedent while doing do.

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a novel about a young man who returns to America after a long absence to find that a second Holocaust is taking place there. This week, I reread it. The perpetrator of what the protagonist calls “Time 2” is a plump-faced multimillionaire TV celebrity who promises to restore America’s greatness once all races and colors unite — against the Jews. 

The agents I sent it to way back when rejected it as far-fetched and paranoid. These days, it doesn’t even read like fiction, but like what’s next.


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 ” target=”_blank”>@RobEshman.

A tempered Ayaan Hirsi Ali preaches Muslim integration in the Age of Trump


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Somali-born author and activist best known for her outspoken and sometimes-incendiary critique of Islam. 

Throughout four books, she has compared Islam with Nazism, described it as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death,” and suggested that well-meaning Muslims “pick another God.” 

Her overblown rhetoric has gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion — but that was before overblown rhetoric could pave a path to the White House. Based on her statements, Hirsi Ali could easily fit in with the next administration’s anti-Islamist foreign policy. But at age 47, she’s recently begun softening her critique, publicly distinguishing Islamic culture, with its 1,400 years of tradition, from political Islam, the fuel of extremists.

Given her intellectual evolution, I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d agree with Donald Trump’s rhetorical jihad on Muslims — including calls for a nationwide Muslim registry and a ban on Muslim immigration. So when she visited Los Angeles last week to speak at the women’s-only salon series Inher Circle, founded and curated by philanthropist Beth Friedman, I thought I’d ask her.

“If I look at just the Islamic statements [Trump] made during the campaign, he’s someone who knows that something is up,” Hirsi Ali said to the room of 100 women who paid $135 each to hear her speak at The Peninsula. But then she digressed into a prolix answer that belied her accord with the president-elect.  

“If he had said, ‘Let’s ban all Hindus until we figure out what is going on,’ I think everyone would have thought, ‘What’s up with the Hindus?’ 

“After 9/11, I think we should be very specific about making a distinction between Islam and Muslims. I take the position that not all Muslims are violent or misogynistic; I think in fact that the majority of Muslims are like all other people — many are peace-loving and many suffer because of Sharia law. And it’s crucial that we understand this diversity — those who are advancing an agenda that is hostile to our way of life, [those] who are on the fence, and [those] who are risking their lives to reform Islam from within,” she said. “If we fail to make that distinction, then we are lost. Then we get into a place where we start to make really bad policy mistakes.”

Behold, the woman who has called for Islam to reform its views has modeled moderation by reforming her own. This is to her credit; a capacity for critical thinking that enables even critical self-reflection is disabling to critics who accuse her of being radical herself. And it’s no secret Hirsi Ali was declared persona non grata by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which labeled her an “anti-Muslim extremist,” which caused considerable backlash of its own. Is a staunch critic of Islam necessarily anti-Muslim?  

“I grew up in a Muslim household, and I have the common sense to say I can distinguish between those who mean harm, those who don’t, and those who are in between,” she said. “President [Barack] Obama, and before him President [George W.] Bush, stood before us on world platforms and said, ‘Islam is a religion of peace.’ Excuse my language, but that’s bull—-. It is not bigoted to say that that is bull—-.”

So she hasn’t softened entirely. But one expects a devoted fearlessness from a woman whose biography tested her will at every turn. Having spent her childhood crisscrossing between Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, Hirsi Ali was thoroughly indoctrinated into the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Shortly after she was born, her political activist father was imprisoned for opposing the ruling government in Somalia. While he fulfilled his prison sentence, Hirsi Ali’s grandmother defied his wishes and arranged for 5-year-old Hirsi Ali to undergo female genital mutilation. 

By the time she was a teenager, Hirsi Ali had adopted a lifestyle in compliance with the strictest dictates of the Quran. But the final straw was when she was forced into marriage with a cousin in Canada. “If I went to Canada, I would then live as the wife of that man, I would have children with him and I would be forever miserable just like my mother was miserable, just like all the women around me were miserable.”

On her way there, she seized the opportunity to escape the Sharia shackles of her youth, skipped her connection in Germany and took a train to the Netherlands where she was granted political asylum. 

What if a Muslim ban had prevented her from the liberation she relishes now? 

“I have been in the place where I had to knock on the door of a free country and say, ‘Please let me in,’ ” she said, responding to a question from former CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin. “And as soon as I was let in, I started to adapt.” 

Hirsi Ali differentiated, however, between different kinds of immigrants — those who adapt, those who are ambivalent about integration and “fanatics” who want to impose their way of life on their host country. Not everyone uses their new freedom to fight for the rights of others as she has for oppressed women, “but the minimum is that you adjust.” 

“One has to remember that whatever [immigration] policy is applied, it’s applied to human beings. It changes lives — it’s men, it’s women, it’s children, it’s families.”

I asked her privately if, now that she has a free life in America, she fears what the next administration might bring. “Trump isn’t regime change,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You know what keeps me up at night? [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan.”


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

Alt-right conference in Washington quotes Nazi propaganda, says media protects Jews


Speakers at an event of the white supremacist think tank the National Policy Institute quoted Nazi propaganda and said the media protects Jewish interests.

The day-long event of speeches and panel discussions attended by about 200 people was held Saturday in Washington, D.C.

The New York Times reported Monday that the final speaker of the evening, the institute’s founder Richard Spencer, railed against Jews, quoted Nazi propaganda and said that America belonged to white people.

The Times called Spencer the “leading ideologue of the alt-right movement,” a loose far-right movement whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”

Spencer used a Nazi term to describe the mainstream media, calling it “Lügenpresse,” or lying press.

Spencer suggested that the news media had been critical of presidential candidate Donald Trump in order to protect Jewish interests, and referred to the political commentators as “soulless golems.”

One speaker, Peter Brimelow, the founder of Vdare.com, an anti-immigration website, said that Trump and his White House chief strategist Steve Bannon are “not alt-right people,” but that they capitalized on issues important to the movement, including stopping immigration and ending political correctness.

Spencer called Trump too beholden to Israel and said his movement is not necessarily opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, according to the Times.

As Spencer finished speaking, several audience members gave a Nazi-like salute. “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the people in the room shouted, according to the Times.

Houston gunman was wearing Nazi paraphernalia, sources say


The gunman who carried out Monday morning's shooting that wounded nine people was wearing what appeared to be Nazi paraphernalia, two law enforcement sources told Channel 2 Investigates' Robert Arnold.

The shooting was reported just after 6 a.m. near a shopping center on the northwest corner of Weslayan and Bissonnet streets.

Read more at click2houston.com.

ADL calls on Trump Jr. to retract ‘gas chamber’ comment


The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is calling on Donald J. Trump, Jr., the oldest son of the Republican presidential nominee, to retract an inappropriate Nazi reference he made in an ” target=”_blank”>Twitter, “An unsurprising Nazi reference from the ‘alt-right’ movement’s presidential campaign. This is the real Trump.” Hillary Clinton retweeted it on her official account.

“>tweets, the ADL called on the Trump Jr. to  retract his comments, which caused an internet firestorm. “We hope you understand the sensitivity and hurt of making Holocaust jokes. We hope you retract,” the ADL said in a tweet directed as Trump Jr. “Trivialization of the Holocaust and gas chambers is NEVER okay.”

“Your comment about gas chambers is out of line. Trivialization of the Holocaust is never acceptable,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt chimed in.

Trump Jr. has been accused in the past for tweeting alt-right and anti-Semitic memes. gone down similar paths before. Last week, he “>appeared along with a white supremacist while giving an interview on a conservative radio show.

I got hate mail: Anti-Semitism on Twitter


On Aug. 31, I sat and listened to Donald Trump’s eagerly anticipated immigration speech in Phoenix. And tears began streaming down my face.

Trump’s speech was filled with racist, xenophobic slurs and fear-mongering. It was counter to the founding values of our country. It was also contrary to the primary teachings and values of Judaism. Providing welcome to the stranger (because we were once strangers) is mentioned more than 36 times in the Torah. 

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34).

I needed to speak out as a human being, as an American and as a Jew.

I went to Twitter, where I began to “live tweet.”

For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, a “tweet” is a comment of a maximum of 140 characters. To “live tweet” means that you are commenting on an event currently in progress. It’s like having a huge group of people discussing together from all over the world. It’s usually awesome.

Your tweets show on your Twitter friends’ “feed” and evidently, they are also public. I am uncertain about the algorithms of Twitter.

I’m conscious about who I accept as “Twitter friends.” I check to make sure someone is not racist or sexist or lurid. If so, I decline.

By the end of the night, I had begun to receive, from people I do not know, and with whom I am not “Twitter friends,” hateful messages that stunned me. I tweeted, sarcastically:

“Well that was fun. Just blocked 10 ppl with Hitler/racist/white supremacist/ views.”

I went to bed after posting a beautiful photo with the words, “I can’t go to bed without putting love & beauty out into the world,” because I didn’t want the ugliness of the evening to be how I ended the day.

By the next morning, my Twitter wall was littered with hundreds of messages, many accompanied by photos of Hitler, crematoriums, swastikas, caricatures of Jews, and transport trains.

These messages were not from friends. I don’t know these people.

It was landslide of enormous hatred.  Even though I was tweeting about immigrants and refugees from around the world, what was directed at me was about being a Jew. Maybe because my twitter handle is @RabbiJill. Maybe because Donald Trump’s candidacy has emboldened a sick undercurrent of hatred to emerge.

In my entire life, I have never experienced this volume of anti-Semitism. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago. However, as an adult, we lived in places where we were the only Jews on the block.

At first, I literally felt sick to my stomach. 

And then, I got angry.

These people, who don’t even know me, wanted to silence me.

And it’s not going to happen.

My husband and family were concerned. My grown kids checked my privacy settings to be sure our home address or phone numbers were not public. A few of the messages were absolutely threatening (like the one where someone took my profile photo and superimposed “Jewish Propaganda” on it.)

After some research, I had a plan. I took screenshots of each tweet. I blocked people and I reported many to Twitter. If a tweet is offensive or harmful, you can ask Twitter to investigate. If the user is found to be violating Twitter decency rules,  the account can be closed. 

I reported more than 60 people. I haven’t heard a word from Twitter (yet.) Its employees might be busy. There is an uptick in the amount of hate speech being reported. I’m not alone.

Some friends advised me to ignore the tweets and to not give them any attention.

I don’t agree. 

I believe it is our duty to expose this hate.

People need to know that Donald Trump’s candidacy has made it legitimate to spew this vileness. He has made it acceptable to be “politically incorrect.” The dike has broken and it’s ugly. Better that it be out in the open.

We say in Jewish circles, “Never again.” 

It’s not only “never again” for the slaughter of millions.

It is also “never again” to let this kind of hate spill over without comment.

Here are a few other gleanings from this experience: 1) Facebook is a love-fest compared with Twitter. When I posted about this situation on Facebook, I received so much loving support it made me cry (with gratitude).

I’m not quitting Twitter. I have made friends — Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists from all over the world. Good, kind, funny people. I’m not going to be chased away from relationships that give me hope and make me laugh. I also learn things on Twitter that I don’t elsewhere. Why let them win?

Except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants. The prosperity we enjoy in this country is only possible because our ancestors were able to come here and thrive.

When I see the pictures of the children of Aleppo, Syria, and other refugees wandering, looking for a safe place, my heart opens. It is my deep belief that we are better because of our diversity.

Our job on planet Earth is to build bridges, not walls. The country that I want to be in, is one that welcomes all, and where love is stronger than fear.


Rabbi Jill Zimmerman founded the Jewish Mindfulness Network (JMN). She was rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Temple Beth El in Riverside and Etz Rimon in Carlsbad. In Jerusalem, she worked at the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Her website is ravjill.com.

New generation shifts Holocaust conversation in ‘Germans & Jews’


There is one line in the documentary film “Germans & Jews” that illustrates, better than statistics or scholarly studies, the difference between Hitler’s Reich and present-day Germany.

Given the Nazis’ racial ideology, the absolutely worst and most unforgivable insult one could level at an “Aryan” German was that he “looked” or “acted” like a Jew.

Discussing such a scenario, but set in the present, Susanne Suermondt, a German Catholic, observes in the film, “The biggest compliment you could give me is to say that I look Jewish.”

This praiseworthy change has another, perhaps more uncomfortable, side. Rebecca Gop, a Jewish journalist and mother in Berlin, tells of her soccer-playing teenager who represented Germany at the 2011 European Maccabi Games in Vienna.

He and his fellow Jewish teammates marched into the stadium behind the German flag, occasionally shouting a lusty “Deutschland, Deutschland.” Gop, perhaps like most Jews of previous generations, could only wince at the image.

The concept and production of “Germans & Jews” grew out of a conversation initiated by Tal Recanati, an American-born Jewish entrepreneur, and her longtime friend Janina Quint, a German gentile.

Both were interested in films and initially thought of doing a documentary about the present Jewish community in Germany. Eventually, though, they decided to focus on a more “dynamic” topic, the relationship between Germans and Jews among the second and third post-Holocaust generations.

Dividing the responsibilities, Quint became director and producer, and Recanati executive producer and producer.

The film’s primary location is a large dinner table in a Berlin home around which sit five German Jews, three non-Jewish Germans, one American Jew and one Israeli, all living or working in Berlin. Their back-and-forth discussions are augmented by a number of individual interviews.

The film’s creators and participants are impelled by different and often complex motivations and backgrounds. For instance, Quint said in an interview with the Journal that her maternal grandfather was an early member of the Nazi Party and was seriously wounded during World War II while fighting against American troops.

By contrast, her paternal grandfather was an early opponent of Hitler and in the mid-1930s left Germany for Spain to fight against the fascist insurgency of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

Quint has lived in New York for many years with her Jewish husband. Their three children have been raised with a “dual heritage,” she said.

Some statistics about Jews in Germany are quite precise, while others fall within broad ranges. During the Weimar Republic, Quint said, the national 1925 census counted some 523,000 respondents who identified themselves as Jews (while likely omitting a considerable number of born Jews who converted to Christianity).

Surprisingly, more than 3,000 German Jews survived the Holocaust by living underground, passing as Aryans or being married to gentiles. There are no precise and authoritative figures on how many Jews live in Germany now, though Quint believes the number ranges from 200,000 to 250,000.

Germany’s largest concentration of Jews is in Berlin, now cited as the fastest-growing Jewish community in Europe, followed by such German cities as Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich. Among their Jewish populations, some are descendants of German Jews who left after 1933, but the major increase is due to immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.

Also noticeable has been a considerable influx of Israelis, many of them artists, although their exact number is not known. Rough estimates put their number as between 10,000 and 40,000, although some cite much higher figures.

For the first two decades following the end of World War II in 1945, Germans were largely in a state of denial about their country’s war and Holocaust atrocities. Starting in the early 1960s, German attitudes shifted. Among the factors were the trial of Adolf Eichmann and, five years later, the sentencing by a German court of many of the men and women who ran the Auschwitz death camp.

Adding to the confluence of events were the release of powerful television and movie productions on the Holocaust, and rebellions against the old order throughout Germany and much of Europe, fueled by a new generation.

Young Germans started to question their parents and grandparents about their roles during the Nazi era and the war, and an anti-nationalist wave swept the country, to the point, in the words of one German, “If you were patriotic, you were considered a weirdo.”

Participating in the lively discussions was the recently deceased historian Fritz Stern, author of “Five Germanys I Have Known.” In a not uncommon German-Jewish scenario during the pre-Hitler era, Stern declared, “My grandparents converted, but the Nazis made me a Jew again.”

A renowned historian at New York’s Columbia University, he returned to Germany in 1950, and, at the time, was struck by the citizenry’s “capacity for self-pity, sense of darkness and state of shock.”

Some other illustrative observations in the film, made during discussions and interviews with various people, include the following:

“When my (Jewish) father returned to Germany right after the war, he was not accepted by either the Germans or Diaspora Jews.”

“In 1979, when I was a German boy of 13, I sat in front of the television set, without my father, for hours and hours watching the NBC series ‘Holocaust.’ I was appalled and asked my parents if this really happened.”

“Hitler tightened the vise on German Jews, a little step at a time. One day there was an edict that Jews could buy bread only between 4 and 5 in the afternoon. Then came another order that Jews could sit only on special benches, painted yellow, when visiting a park.”

“Like many young Israelis, I felt repulsed by Israeli politics. As a musician, I was drawn to life in Berlin and came here 20 years ago.”

 “It’s not sexy to be German,” says a young German. “If I say instead that I’m a European, it shows that I’m progressive.”

A Jewish tour guide: “Most Germans never meet a Jew … Jews will never be accepted as Germans.”

In the eyes of many Germans, the fighting and killing in 2014 in the Gaza Strip turned the image of Jews from victims into perpetrators, giving rise to some “unacceptable” anti-Semitism.

“As an Israeli, I feel much safer in Germany than anywhere else.”

And, as a final comment: “As a Jew, I have met quite a few philo-Semites in Germany. … They embrace us so tightly that you can’t breathe.”

Today, it is the rare German who is not reminded of the Holocaust on a daily basis. There are memorials throughout the country, constant articles in newspapers, and, in Berlin, the massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the “Topography of Terror” exhibits at the former Gestapo headquarters.

Across Germany and other European countries, there are some 56,000 stolpersteine (“stumbling blocks”) embedded into the walkways in front of homes, each inscribed with the names of Jews and other Nazi victims who once lived there, including birth and deportation dates, and the dates and locations of their murder in concentration camps.

The memory of the Holocaust remains so strong that, to this day, it influences aspects of German foreign policy. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently opened her country’s borders to 1 million refugees from Syria and other countries, the underlying message was that Germans are a good people now, as one German academician wrote. There is no way these refugees would be put on death trains and sent back. 

After finishing her film, Quint observed that Germans continue to feel a sense of responsibility for the Holocaust, an “event of biblical scale, whose meaning will never go away,” she said. But, she added, for the third post-Holocaust generation of Germans, the sense of personal responsibility is gone.

She doesn’t know whether the relationship between Germans and Jews ever will become completely “normal,” but the Jewish people need to realize that today’s Germany has shed the legacy of Hitler’s Reich, she said.

In an odd way, Quint added, Germans and Jews are now connected forever by the horror of the Holocaust.

“Germans & Jews” opens Sept. 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Town Center in Encino.

With gratitude toward Donald Trump


No one compares to Adolf Hitler. He was incomparably evil.  Nothing in American politics compares to Nazism. Nothing, not now – and hopefully never!

And yet, I am grateful to Donald Trump because he has made my job of explaining the rise of Nazism and political support for Hitler so much easier.

Permit me to explain: 

When I would tell my students that many of Hitler’s supporters did not regard themselves as antisemites or racists, they would look at me quizzically. “How could they not?” they ask. After all, Hitler made secret of his anti-Semitism. He spoke of it openly, directly and repeatedly. He did not use dog whistles but said what he meant and meant what he said.

When I would mention that many did not believe that he would carry out what he had been saying, they were skeptical. After all, he had repeated his threats against the Jews time and again, how could they believe that once in office he would not follow through?

When we would learn that some of his voters were put off by his antisemitism but liked other parts of his platform such as his strong nationalism, his return to national pride, his attacks on the ineffective Weimar Republic and their leaders, his anger at German humiliation with the defeat of World War I and the foreign imposition of the Versailles Treaty. They craved his projection of strength and decisiveness after what many had viewed as ineffective leadership from the German political class, My students would protest. But he was antisemitic and racist. And you are telling me that his supporters did not regard that as disqualifying? They roll their eyes when I tell them that had he not been an antisemite he might have gotten even more support.

When I would mention that Hitler came to power with a minority of seats in a coalition Cabinet and his political partners assured one another and the President that once in office he would be forced to moderate and move toward the center. They would whisper: “he knows nothing and we are men of experience, seasoned, reasoned, disciplined and informed, we can control the man and force him to bend to our will. They would look skeptically at me. Given what they know happened shortly after Hitler took office, they wondered: how could they be so sure, how could they be misguided?

When I would describe the reasoning of Germany’s Conservative political leadership: better to bring this angry man and his angry hordes inside the tent looking outward that outside the tent continually raging, they would throw up their hands in frustration: how could they be so naïve as to imagine that the rage would not continue and once in power become institutionalized, bureaucratized, legalized? Couldn’t they understand that power would only embolden them and that such power would only entice them to use it effectively and cruelly?

And finally, when I would say that no one in his inner circle could stand up to Hitler, could tell him to stop and cut it out, change direction or that Germany did not have, at least not after the Emergency Decrees of March 1933 have the checks and balances and the separation of powers that restrained the exercise of power. I would show them two pictures, one of Hitler receiving a briefing from his Generals in 1939 — when the wars were proceeding well for Germany he listened attentively to what they were telling him — and another in 1942 when Hitler was making decision after decision that would bring them to defeat, the Generals listened obediently to what he was instructing them. My students would ask timidly, did the man have no friends, could no one tell him the truth?

Again Hitler was Hitler and Trump is Trump. No equivalence is possible. Trump does not have a coherent vision positive or negative to implement. He only has himself and his sense of self-aggrandizement.

And yet now my students now will have much easier time understanding that while everyone hears Trumps tirades against Muslims and Hispanics, Mexicans in particular, his promises of exclusion and deportation, for many that simply is not disqualifying. 

They do not regard themselves as racists and could not imagine themselves to be and are uncomfortable if not distraught by his racism but other aspects of his program appeals to them: America First, the “lousy” trade deals, the reversal of globalization, the restoration of American greatness, the hatred of the political class – Washington that evil, awful place – and the promise of American jobs.

My students will now be able to see first-hand how the wise men of Germany could be so mistaken. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan condemned the Republican nominee’s statements about an Indiana born Federal Judge as racist and speaks with rightful respect about Gold Star mothers and fathers who children died in the service of our nation. He is not in favor of excluding Muslims or deporting Mexicans and yet supports his party’s nominee because Trump will advance Conservative causes and appoint a Conservative Supreme Court. I do not know what he is feeling in his heart of hearts but if I judge by his actions, I presume that he believes he and not Trump can set the agenda, the Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Senate can moderate Trump and negate the racist and un-American aspects of his agenda.

I have no such confidence. I suspect that the Presidential nominee of the Republican Party believes that he will bend the Ryans and McConnells to his will just as he broke 15 other candidates for President and made the toughest of them Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey appear like a lap dog, taking scraps off the master’s table.

While I have no confidence in Republican leadership who are deluding themselves and the nation with the notion that they will triumph in a contest of ideas; and while I am appalled by the so-called  “religious leaders” who want to make the nation more Christian – Jesus preached a gospel of compassion and human dignity, gratitude and grace, he reached out to the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the dispossessed — while they support a man who is the embodiment of values antithetical to religiosity. , 

I do have confidence in the American people who, no matter how angry, will reject the politics of exclusion and bigotry and vote for inclusion and decency. I pray that I am not deceiving myself,

Let me conclude with a story: many years ago Steven Spielberg and I met with a man who spent the meeting telling Spielberg how important he was. When the meeting concluded and we stepped outside Spielberg turned to me and said:

 “What was that about?”

“He wanted to tell you how important he was,” I answered. 

He said: “I know he was important, otherwise I could not have met with him.” 

I said: “he has a big ego.” 

Steven corrected me immediately. “No, he has a small ego in need of enlargement. I have a big ego and need not enlarge it at another’s expense.”

I keep remembering that story whenever I hear Trump speak of size of hands, of private parts, of height and or fortune. Only a man with a small ego in need of enlargement would become obsessed by size. 

Beware of such man and most especially so such man preaching such a philosophy.

Is Israel an apartheid state?


I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid years, born to parents who had survived the Nazis. Thus, I heard firsthand what they experienced, which shaped my sensitivity to social justice and support for civil disobedience against that regime.

In 1948, the South African government, under Prime Minister Daniel Francois “D.F.” Malan, introduced apartheid laws, many of which were based on the 1935 Nazi Nuremberg Laws, building on the race-based discriminatory laws that had existed for a century under British rule.

Thus, in 1949, the Mixed Marriages Act forbade marriages between whites and nonwhites, while the Immorality Act of 1950 criminalized sexual relations between whites and other races. In the same year, the Suppression of Communism Act effectively silenced those who opposed the regime’s racial policies. The Group Areas Act (1950) made residential separation compulsory, which forced nonwhites into ghettoes. The Separate Amenities Act (1953) enforced separate public premises, vehicles and services along racial lines. The Population Registration Act (1950) had already classified every citizen into his or her racial group as determined by the government. Blacks were required to always carry with them their passbooks, which included a photo, fingerprints and other information. Being caught without the passbook resulted in immediate arrest. I remember talking to a Black woman, who then went to buy cigarettes across the street. Leaving her passbook in her handbag on a table, she was immediately arrested by passing police and jailed for two weeks.

 In 1953, Minister of Native Affairs Hendrik Verwoerd, who became prime minister in 1958, introduced the Bantu (Black) Education Act, which legalized inferior ad hoc education for Black people. Verwoerd wrote, “There is no place for the Bantu in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … ” 

Apartheid laws also extended to the Dutch Reformed Church, known as “the (apartheid) government at prayer.” Black employees were often barred from attending the funeral services of their white employers, in addition to regular Sunday services at white churches.

These apartheid laws were by no means exhaustive. Their purpose was to isolate and depersonalize South Africans of color, just as Germany had done to its Jews.

Israel has nothing that remotely resembles the apartheid laws. On the contrary, Israel has attempted to level the playing field by introducing affirmative-action programs that represent the diversity of Israeli society. While not perfect, these programs are class-based rather than race-based, so as to include as many disadvantaged citizens as possible regardless of ethnic background. The result is that many Arab Israelis have benefited, together with Jewish Israelis from poor non-European backgrounds. By contrast, South Africa emphasized and exploited racial distinctions among its own citizens in order to promote discrimination and impoverishment, thereby ensuring the regime’s own racial hegemony.

In apartheid South Africa, Blacks were mostly barred from the professions and kept as unskilled “labor units,” as Verwoerd outlined. By contrast, in Israel, where Arabs comprise 20 percent of the population, 35 percent of Israeli pharmacists are Arabs. The director of emergency medicine at Jerusalem’s famous Hadassah Medical Center is Dr. Aziz Darawshe, an Arab Israeli whose mother was illiterate and whose father had four years of schooling. His siblings include physicians, a dentist, an engineer and five sisters also attended college.

In 2013, a female Israeli Muslim, Mais Ali-Saleh, graduated as valedictorian from Israel’s top medical school, the Technion. Recently, Education Minister Naftali Bennett congratulated Mohammed Zeidan on being Israel’s top high school graduate (he posted the highest score on a standardized test). He will join his sister at the Technion. By contrast, Black South African students were generally not permitted on campus except as janitors.

In South Africa, the police and military played a key role in supporting apartheid — often violently. In Israel, Arabic-speaking Israelis such as Brig.  Gen. Imad Fares and Col. Ghassan Elian, commander of the elite Golani Brigade, have risen to positions that were unthinkable for Blacks or Indians in South Africa. Recently, Arab-Israeli Jamal Hakrush was appointed deputy police commissioner.

Although life-saving measures such as the security barrier and checks on Arabs are in place to save lives from terror attacks, these do not apply to Arab Israelis but to those who are not Israeli citizens outside the cease-fire lines. By contrast, the South African apartheid regime discriminated against its Black citizens. An American or German tourist could attend a theater or stroll on the beach — activities denied to Black South African citizens.

Recently, Israeli-Arab Ta’alin Abu Hanna won the Miss Trans Israel pageant. She remarked that had she been in an Arab country, she probably would have been murdered. In apartheid South Africa, a person of color could not even enter an art or music competition, let alone a beauty pageant.

Bishop Desmond Tutu and those organizations that promote events such as Israel Apartheid Week are not only misleading, they insult the memory of apartheid’s victims just as Holocaust distorters/deniers do. Unfortunately, they have also profoundly embarrassed genuine liberals by misrepresenting and distorting the truth through misguided political correctness and devious populism.


Ron Jontof-Hutter is senior research fellow at the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He is also the author of a satire on populist anti-Semitism titled “The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist.”

94-year-old Nazi war criminal deemed unfit to stand trial in Germany


Prosecutors in Stuttgart are shelving their war crimes investigation of a 94-year-old man who already was convicted of Nazi war crimes in Italy.

Former SS soldier Wilhelm Kusterer of Engelsbrand —  who was found guilty of involvement in the massacre of 770 civilians in Marzabotto, Italy, in 1944 and sentenced to life in prison in absentia in 2008 — was too ill to stand trial, the prosecutors said. A spokesman for the prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to get a conviction in Germany, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The German investigation was launched in 2013.

In March 2015, Kusterer, who had served for years in the Engelsbrand parliament as a member of the Social Democratic Party, received an honorary medal for social services from his town. But he returned the medal last March following protests mounted from Italy against honoring a convicted war criminal.