September 26, 2018

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Iris Cohenian

“Friends” is part of the book and international exhibition “Passage to Israel” (passagetoisrael.org).

“Friends,” by Iris Cohenian

Muslim girls chat on the roof of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, a popular place to see friends in the Old City of Jerusalem. The hospice opened its doors in 1863 for pilgrims. Today, it is a guesthouse that aims to bring together different cultures through art and music.

“Friends” is part of the book and international exhibition “Passage to Israel” (passagetoisrael.org).

Israel gears up to host prestigious Italian cycling race

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center, bicycling with retired cycling champions Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the Giro.

Stressing the chance to show off Israel to the world, Israeli officials joined with their Italian counterparts in announcing Monday that three stages of the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling race will be held in the country, starting in Jerusalem.

It will mark the first time that any leg of cycling’s Grand Tour races — the Giro, the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta — will take place outside of Europe, and just the 12th time the Giro had gone outside of Italy in its 101-year history.

Israeli officials said the race will be the biggest sporting event ever held in their country and touted it as an opportunity to showcase the Jewish state — and its capital — to the world.

“Hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe will watch as the world’s best cyclists ride alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City and our other historic sites,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the hotel gathering. “Our message to the world is clear: Jerusalem is open to all.”

The race will bring more than 175 of the world’s best cyclists to Israel along with tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.

Culture Minister Miri Regev called on “everyone who loves the Giro to come here to Israel.”

“This bike race across the Holy Land will be a fascinating journey through time covering thousands of years,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a thrilling experience for everyone.”

Israel will host the first three stages of the Giro, or “the Big Start,” on consecutive days from May 4 to 6. Stage 1 will be a 6.3-mile individual time trial in Jerusalem, passing the Knesset and ending near the walls of the Old City. Stage 2, in the North, will start in Haifa with riders pedaling 103.8 miles down the Mediterranean coast to the Tel Aviv beach. Stage 3, in the South, will cover 140.4 miles through the arid Negev from Beersheba to Eilat on the Red Sea.

Italian officials told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz earlier this month that they were being careful to avoid crossing into politically sensitive areas, like the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem, which they feared could spark protests. An official map of the Stage 1 route shows it approaching but not entering the Old City, which is located in eastern Jerusalem — where much of the world, but not the Israeli government, envisions a future Palestinian capital.

According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the route will pass the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as part of a tribute to Gino Bartali, an Italian cycling champion credited with saving hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. While ostensibly training in the Italian countryside, Bartali, who won the Giro four times and the Tour de France twice, would carry forged papers in the frame and handlebars of his bicycle to Jews hiding in houses and convents. He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar.

In 2013, years after his death in 2000, he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem.

Alberto Contador, left, and Ivan Basso, right, former winners of the Giro d’Italia, with race and Israeli officials including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, fourth from right. (Courtesy of the Giro)

Italian Sports Minister Luca Lotti said Monday that the race would celebrate Bartali’s memory. In addition to being a great sports champion, he said, Bartali “was also an extraordinary champion of life, and a man of heroic virtues, and this needs to be commemorated, and shared, especially with the young generations — never to be forgotten.”

Retired Giro champions Alberto Contador of Italy and Ivan Basso of Spain, both two-time winners, also were on hand for the Jerusalem announcement.

Sylvan Adams, a Canadian real estate magnate and philanthropist who recently immigrated to Israel, helped bring the Giro to Israel and will serve as its honorary president. Adams said he was motivated by love of cycling and a desire to help his adopted country.

“I would call this the antidote to BDS,” he told JTA, referring to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. “The media sometimes portrays our country in a negative way, and this is a way to bypass the media and go straight into the living rooms of 800 million people. They’ll see our country exactly as it is, and my experience is people almost universally have positive experiences when they encounter Israel.”

The Giro is just part of Adams’ larger plan to make Israel a cycling powerhouse. A co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy, Israel’s first professional cycling team founded in 2014, he is building the first velodrome in the Middle East in Tel Aviv to be finished in time for the race.

“My plan is to bring Israeli athletes to the highest level of the sport,” he said.

Ran Margaliot, an Israeli former professional cyclist and the general manager of the Israel Cycling Academy, said the team has applied to compete in the Giro and will find out if it qualified in December. It is among 32 second division teams jockeying for a wild card spot, but he is hopeful.

“I certainly think we deserve an invitation,” Margaliot told JTA. “No one can tell me we’re not good enough, and we work as hard as the Europeans, even harder.”

Margaliot said that while he failed to achieve his ambition of becoming the first Israeli to race in a Grand Tour, the next best thing would be for an Israeli member of his international team to do it.

“You can imagine what it would mean for an Israeli rider to be racing in his own country, passing near his home and friends and family,” he said before catching himself. “But we have a lot of work to do to get ready.”


Israeli police officer killed in Jerusalem stabbing, attackers killed

Staff Sgt. Hadas Malka, 23, was killed in a knife attack at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, June 16.

An Israeli policewoman was killed in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Two assailants attacked a group of officers with knives on Friday at Damascus Gate, The Times of Israel reported. Both were shot and killed. One of the attackers was reportedly holding a gun, but it jammed.

Staff Sergeant Major Hadas Malka, 23, was evacuated to Hadassah University Medical Center in critical condition from her stab wounds. Hospital officials later pronounced her dead.

Israeli security services later identified the attackers as 19-year-old Bara Ibrahim Muhammad Saleh; Adel Hassan Ahmad Anakush, 18; and Osama Ahmad Mustafa Atta, 19. All are from the West Bank.

The first attack occurred near Damascus Gate at the entrance of the Old City, resulting in the death of the Border Patrol officer.

The second attack reportedly occurred near Zedekiah’s Cave, located in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.

Life on the Jerusalem homefront

It is that time of year. I am on my bi-annual pilgrimage to Israel. For the past fourteen years, I have come at least annually, most of the time bi-annually and sometimes three or four times a year. I love it here. I get a spiritual lift; I see friends; sometimes I even take a friendly swim in the Mediterranean.

As it happens, today I am in Jerusalem. I do as I often do. I get up, grab a coffee and make my way to the Old City. It is a crisp morning, I walk through Jaffa Gate and everything is normal. Workers take out the trash, small children play and tourists take selfies. I was seeing an old friend when I got a panicked text: “Terrorist attack in Old City.” At that moment, I was sitting in the Rova; to me it is likely the single best pedestrian square in the world. There’s no terrorism here. Birds are chirping, kids are playing and yes, tourists walk by with phones attached to long poles.

But of course, only a few hundred yards away, there was a terrorist attack. Three people were stabbed; two civilians are dead; two terrorists also dead. It happened where I had been only minutes earlier. I am left with a conundrum.

Danger is strange. Until one is directly confronted with it, danger is a state of mind. At that very moment, I was in absolutely no danger. I was sitting in a calm, peaceful, loving pedestrian square. Everything around me was familiar – the epitome of safety. But am I safe? Only steps from here, minutes earlier, terror. This is an event I would have read about 10,000 miles away, but it is happening in front of my eyes. Yet, I don’t see it. I only see birds, kids and tourists. What does this mean? How do I behave? How does this affect me? Is this even real?

The way I see it, I have three choices:  1. Go home. 2. Stay inside. 3. Continue as though this isn’t a concern.

1. In the United States terrorism doesn’t affect us there the way it does here… or does it? I live in Los Angeles. We have terrible crime, but really, I don’t see it. It happens on the other side of the city. There are gang wars and gang initiations and theft and vandalism and lots of crime. But that doesn’t scare us like terrorism. Crime is somehow controlled, anticipated. Terrorism is random and that sort of random violence doesn’t really affect us – until three weeks ago. San Bernardino a sleepy town, completely off the radar screen, was hit, 14 people murdered and many more injured. Clearly, going home has no logic.

2. But staying inside? Really? What’s the purpose of being across the globe if I am going to be locked inside an apartment or a hotel lobby. That is not why I came all the way here.

3. Carry on – clearly this is the only option that makes sense.

In the digital age, it is bizarre that something as analogue as a knife should engender so much fear. In fact, I believe it is the actual low-fi nature of a knife that makes it so terrifying. Stabbing someone with a knife is personal – you have to get up close. It is brutal – it requires personal force. It exposes the ultimate in vulnerability – a blade goes for the soft under-belly. Anyone who wields a knife with deadly purpose has to get close, so that means, they have to look normal. Anyone who looks like a terrorist will be ineffective – the victim will see him/her coming and will move away. A knife from ten feet away can’t do too much damage. That means that a terrorist using a knife looks like a friend.

This is the real terror. In a world where people are dying from knife attacks, can we really trust anyone? This is the terror. It is the deterioration of trust, of neighbors, of goodwill.

I am not leaving Israel. Even as an American, this is my country. I refuse to surrender my trust or my vacation to nefarious forces. What is most amazing about Israel and Jerusalem in particular, is that they continue on. Admittedly, I am now hyper aware of everyone around me, but I will still go to my favorite places like the shuk, even if it means I will be deep in crowds. I will not allow my life to be driven by fear.

Funerals held for two Jerusalem stabbing victims

Thousands attended the funerals of two Jewish-Israelis who were stabbed to death in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The funerals for Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, 41, and Aharon Benita, a 22-year-old soldier, were held in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon. They were stabbed to death on Saturday night by a Palestinian assailant who was shot to death by Israel Police.

Lavi, a rabbi at the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva and a father of seven from Jerusalem, had rushed to the scene of the attack. At the funeral, his father praised his bravery.

“Without any hesitation or delay, you ran to save an innocent family that was on its way to the Western Wall,” Yehezkel Lavi said, the Times of Israel reported.

Benita’s wife, Adele, and 2-year-old daughter also were injured in the attack and are hospitalized.

At the funeral for Benita, directly after Lavi’s, Adele’s mother, Miriam Gal, said in a eulogy that passers-by yelled that they hoped Adele would die too as she ran, seriously injured, for assistance.

“Aharon promised her that he would make her the happiest Sukkot ever. What promises he promised her,” Gal said. “Whoever speaks about peace is stupid. There’s no other word. The people of Israel need to wake up.”

In his eulogy for Lavi, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged Israelis to continue to visit the Old City and Western Wall, despite the violent attack.

“We cannot stop going to the Western Wall, the remnant of our temple,” he continued. “I urge the pilgrims — don’t forsake the Old City, we must march in the footsteps of Nehemia and Aharon and prove that they [the terrorists] will not harm our way of life,” Rivlin said, according to the Times of Israel.

PA condemns Israel for killing 2 Palestinian attackers

The Palestinian Authority condemned Israel for the killing of two Palestinian attackers in Jerusalem and called on the United Nations to intervene to protect its citizens.

In a statement published Sunday on the website of the Wafa Palestinian news and information agency, the P.A. called on the international community to intervene following “the killing of two young men in occupied Jerusalem and the series of incursions into cities and villages in the West Bank.”

The statement by P.A. government spokesman Ihab Bseiso did not say that the two Palestinian men were killed by Israeli security services in the wake of attacks on Jewish-Israelis.

Muhannad Shafeq Halabi, 19, a law student from the al-Bireh village near Ramallah in the West Bank, killed two Jewish-Israeli men on Saturday night in the Old City of Jerusalem in a stabbing attack. He was killed in a shootout with Israeli troops after he grabbed one of his victim’s guns and started firing.

Fadi Aloon, a resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, was killed Sunday morning while being pursued by Israeli police officers after stabbing a 15-year-old Israeli teen in Jerusalem.

“The only solution is the end of the Israeli occupation of our occupied Palestinian land and the establishment of our independent state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” Bseiso said in his statement, according to Wafa.

On Sunday, the Israel Police announced that Palestinians would be banned from the Old City for two days in the wake of the stabbing attacks.

Israeli far-right activist shot and wounded in Jerusalem

A far-right Israeli activist was shot and wounded in Jerusalem on Wednesday as he left a conference promoting a Jewish campaign to permit praying at a flashpoint Old City compound holy to both Jews and Muslims, Israeli officials said.

Police confirmed that an unnamed man on a motorcycle had shot a Jewish man in his 50s outside the Menachem Begin Centre complex located near the walled Old City, and named for the late Israeli prime minister.

Jonathan Halevy, director of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, said the wounded man was in serious but stable condition, undergoing surgery for gunshot wounds in the chest and abdomen.

Israeli officials identified the man who was shot as Yehuda Glick, a U.S.-born activist who is part of a movement to grant Jews permission to pray at the site known to them as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary.

The elevated marble and stone compound is the third-most sacred site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism, where two ancient Jewish temples once stood. It contains the 8th century al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, where the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven.

Seeking to avert friction, police took the exceedingly rare step of shutting the flashpoint holy site to all worshippers and visitors until further notice, after far-right Israeli activists urged adherents to respond to the shooting by heading en masse to the site on Thursday.

Tension has risen steadily in the eastern side of Jerusalem since just before a Gaza war that ended in August, with almost nightly clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters throwing rocks and petrol bombs.

A major focus of Palestinian anger in the past few weeks has been Jewish settlers moving into largely Arab neighborhoods and increasing numbers of visits by Orthodox Jews, including some politicians, accompanied by Israeli police to the sacred Old City compound.

Moshe Feiglin, a prominent lawmaker in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, said Glick was shot after exiting a conference entitled “Israel returns to the Temple Mount.”

“What happened tonight is the attempted murder of (our)organization head, Yehuda Glick,” Feiglin said. He said he had seen Glick shot at close range several times by a man who spoke to him in Arabic-accented Hebrew before opening fire.

“This is a very serious incident,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the scene of the shooting. “We will hold those responsible fully accountable.”

While the Old City compound is ultimately administered by Jordanian religious authorities, Israeli police secure it. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit under close monitoring but are not allowed to pray, a prohibition at the heart of the tensions.

Netanyahu has promised the “status quo” governing Jerusalem's holiest site is not about to change despite the lobbying of his political allies to enable Jewish worship there.

Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital, all territories Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.

Reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker

Jerusalem high on new skyline

Ten years ago, Jerusalem was just starting to emerge from the Second Intifada, which scared away local residents as well as investors. Many shops and restaurants closed during that period, leaving hundreds of storefronts with “for sale” signs. 

Fast-forward 10 years, and Jerusalem feels like a vastly different city. Many trendy stores, restaurants and hotels have opened in the city center; there is a world-class shopping district in Mamilla, as well as the adjoining Alrov residential complex, right next to the Old City; and the suddenly chic Mahane Yehuda open-air market is now a huge tourist attraction. 

 An equally important sign of Jerusalem’s rebirth is the number of luxury apartment projects being built downtown and elsewhere. Several luxury buildings, some of them high-rises, have gradually changed the skyline and brought a sense of stability and affluence to a city not known for either.  

The city has approved several of these high-rises, sometimes to the chagrin of local tenants accustomed to Jerusalem being a low-rise city. The impetus came in 2006, after former Mayor Uri Lupolianski acceded to environmentalists’ pressure to scuttle the Safdie Plan, which would have expanded Jerusalem westward and added 20,000 housing units. Unable to move outward, the city had nowhere to go but up. 

In truth, the new luxury homes haven’t made a dent in the city’s chronic housing shortage because the average Jerusalemite can’t afford to purchase one. But no one denies that the projects have created numerous jobs, brought hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and generally improved the city’s atmosphere. 

Shay Lipman, a real estate analyst at Excellence Nessuah Brokerage Services in Petach Tikvah, said the city “began to turn around” about five years ago. 

“Today, we’re seeing demand from many foreigners, including Russians, who also like Tel Aviv, [and] Americans and Europeans, especially from France and Belgium, partly due to rising anti-Semitism. Many are religious Jews.” 

Some Israelis invest as well.  

Lipman said buyers may be businesspeople who spend several weeks or months in Israel for work “and want a home base and the high standard they’re used to.” 

Others are empty-nesters, often in their 50s and 60s, who want a spanking-new apartment with condo-style services — no more mowing the lawn or repairing the roof — with an on-site maintenance team. 

Still others are families with young children who visit Israel regularly, or new immigrants who’ve decided to make their home in Jerusalem.  

While most purchase apartments as their second — or third or fourth — home, many eventually use them as their primary residence, Lipman said. 

In Jerusalem, the most sought-after properties tend to be within easy walking distance of the Old City and the center of town. 

One of the most luxurious projects is King David’s Crown, located across the street from the King David Hotel, directly adjacent to the landmark Jerusalem YMCA building. The apartments, with three, four and five bedrooms and large balconies, have direct underground access to the YMCA sports center and overlook a 1.25-acre park. The buildings feature 24-hour security, Shabbat elevators and a beautiful synagogue. 

The homes range from more than $1 million to several million dollars. 

Another luxurious property is the Saidoff Houses project, a 23-story residential building close to the Mahane Yehuda shuk on Jaffa Road. It offers 90 penthouses and duplexes (three to six rooms), a pool, spa, gym and synagogue. The views are stunning.  


Some of the penthouses in the africa-israel Residences at 7 rav Kook St. cost more than $5 million. Their spacious terraces offer fantastic views of Jerusalem.  Photo by Michele Chabin

For sheer location, nothing beats the Africa-Israel Residences at 7 Rav Kook St., a surprisingly quiet street perpendicular to Jaffa Road. The other side of the building adjoins the Ticho House, the famed restaurant, museum and former home of the artist Anna Ticho.  

The project, which was jointly initiated by Africa-Israel and Shainfeld Investments, has 131 apartments, including 112 “premium” apartments, eight penthouses and 11 “grand” apartments. The ground floor offers 11 hotel rooms and has 12 retail stores. All of the premium apartments, with one to four bedrooms, have been sold; marketing has begun for the grand ($1.28 million to $2 million) and penthouse homes ($3.4 million to $5.7 million), the latter boasting large terraces. 

Despite being in the heart of the city, the building has the feel of an inner sanctum. The apartments are sunny and quiet, and offer marvelous views. The property includes a hotel-standard exercise room, a large event room for tenants and many other amenities, said Dalia Azar Malimouka, a spokeswoman for the residences. 

During a tour, she showed two penthouses. The first was unfinished, to enable prospective owners to design the apartment to their taste and specifications. The second, a nearly 800-square-foot apartment with a 155-square-foot balcony, was completely furnished. The wood-decked terrace, which comes with a huge wooden pergola (or sukkah frame), provides a fantastic view of much of the city. 

In a phone interview, Oren Hod, CEO of Africa-Israel, recalled the intifada years, “when the city was neglected.” Today, he said, “people feel safe and confident, and you see [this] in the amount of investment” in infrastructure and real estate. 

Hod acknowledged the new luxury homes being built in Jerusalem aren’t for everyone: “All of us have a budget, and not everyone can live in the heart of Jerusalem.”

Grave situation, as youth vandalism rises in Jerusalem

This story originally ran on themedialine.org.

The Mount of Olives, a 2.2-mile ridge of three mountains to the east of Jerusalem’s Old City, is a holy site for Jews and Christians. It’s dotted with countless churches and is home to the world’s largest Jewish cemetery, with approximately 150,000 graves.

Three miles from here is the Protestant Cemetery of Mount Zion, where some of Jerusalem’s most influential Christian leaders from the 18th and 19th centuries are buried.

In recent weeks, both sites have been attacked, most recently at the Protestant cemetery, where tombstones topped with crosses were toppled by unknown vandals, leaving religious leaders worried about the state of relations among their Palestinian and Israeli constituents, even as renewed peace talks in the region are underway.

That the perpetrators are believed to be adolescents complicates matters further. Four Jewish youths were arrested following the vandalism on Mount Zion, but all were released when their alibi — that they were visiting a cistern for ritual purposes — checked out.

Search for Common Ground (SCG) is an American non-governmental organization that looks for peaceful, collaborative solutions to violent conflict and has 50 offices in 30 countries. In Israel, they have tracked every reported instance of vandalism and physical violence on holy sites since 2011. It’s unclear if such attacks are on the rise, or business as usual.

“There’s no real pattern,” Kevin Merkelz, a project coordinator for the organization in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “Our data goes up and down. There’s troughs and there’s peaks.”

In 2013, SCG has counted five attacks on cemeteries in Jerusalem — Christian, Jewish and Muslim sites included. Compared with two attacks each in the years 2011 and 2012, attacks certainly seem to be trending upward.

Still, the jury is out. One Israeli radio station, Arutz Sheva, published a story in early September saying there was a “marked reduction” of vandalism and physical attacks on visitors to the Mount of Olives cemetery.

“There used to be many, many attacks,” Harvey Schwartz, co-chairman of the Israel branch of the International Committee for the Preservations of Har Hazeitim, as the Mount of Olives is known in Hebrew told The Media Line. “The statistics at that time seemed to show that there was a reduction of attacks — not an elimination, a reduction. Shortly after that article came out, there was an increase in attacks.”

During the recent Jewish holiday of Sukkot, for example, the preservation committee received reports of cemetery visitors being attacked with rocks, and earlier this week Shwartz got a call about another incident. A group of Arabs, he said, smashed the visitor’s car window with bricks, one of which landed in the car, next to the man’s young child. “Six inches away,” Schwartz explained.

“Everybody talks about stones and rocks. No, these are big bricks that are used to smash car windows,” he said, adding that when Jews carry out so-called “price-tag” attacks on Muslim and Christian sites, the Israeli government responds quickly, but when Jewish visitors to a Jewish holy site are attacked, the response takes much longer. The “price-tag” perpetrators are often young, disaffected Jews from communities in areas that Israel acquired in 1967 with extremist political views. They are angry about what they perceive as Israel’s concessions to the Palestinians.

“Those attacks (by Palestinians) are clearly acts of terrorism, very different from painting ‘price tag’ on a door,” Shwartz said. “They don’t seem to be paying a similar amount of attention to physical attacks against Israelis and Jews. That’s very worrisome. When those acts are committed against Jews, those acts should be called terrorism. That’s what it is.”

Schwartz indicated that there may be a correlation between the increase of attacks on holy sites and the renewed peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and said that his committee deplores vandalism of any cemetery.

“Jewish, Arab, Christian, non-denominational — no cemetery should ever be vandalized or attacked,” he said.

Jeff Taube, who serves with Schwartz as co-chair of Mount of Olives Israel committee and is Director of the Israel Office for the Zionist Organization of America, explained that vandalism within the Har HaZeitim cemetery itself – which included desecrated tombstones much like those at the Protestant Cemetery of Mt. Zion — has all but been eliminated since 142 cameras were installed to monitor the site 24/7. However, Jews are now being attacked on the drive toward the complex – where the security precautions don’t reach.

“When you squeeze a balloon in your hand on one side, it’s gonna pop on the other side,” he told The Media Line.

Some preliminary steps are being taken within the Israeli parliament to address this issue, including various committee hearings and a proposed bill. But the topic is a sensitive one for the government to deal with, as much of the vandalism and stone-throwing — at Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites — is carried out by boys between the ages of 12 and 14.

“I don’t know whether I would like to see adolescents thrown in jail with hardened criminals,” Taube said. “Perhaps what I would like to see is some system of accountability with the parents.”

At Search for Common Ground, Kevin Merkelz is coordinating the Universal Code on Holy Sites project, which lays out a plan for the protection of all sacred spots around the world. He says the documented attacks, by and large, do seem to be coming from young people.

But while it doesn’t offer a solution the youth vandalism problem, the Universal Code, by “codifying issues of definitions, access, education, sharing, establishment, reconstruction, memoriali­zation, expropriation, excavation, research and monitoring of holy sites,” could go a long way in avoiding these kinds of incidents all together.

“May it inspire the hearts and minds of all who read and support it to advance the path of peace, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation,” it reads.

Jerusalem’s First Station: All aboard for fun

Jerusalem’s First Station may be more than 120 years old, but its smart new look, trendy shops and daily events have transformed it from an abandoned skeleton of a railway station into a place where young — and young-at-heart — locals as well as tourists, come to decompress.  

The First Station (HaTachana in Hebrew) and its wide plaza, once the city’s hub for rail traffic from all over the country and, until recently, just another example of urban neglect, have been refurbished and expanded. Now they’re one of the city’s newest attractions.

The building’s period architecture featuring Jerusalem stone and graceful curves has been carefully preserved, and so has a section of the station’s original railroad tracks. Following a campaign by local residents, another, much longer section of the tracks was recently turned into an ultra-popular walking/bicycle trail that originates at the Station.

The refurbished venue, where train service ended in 1998, is full of nostalgia for older Israelis, some of whom once traveled from the Station to points north and even Damascus.

“That used to be where we would buy tickets,” said Jerusalem-born Shlomo Levi, 59, pointing to the modern visitors center on the newly refinished wooden platform.

Visiting Jerusalem from Finland, where he now makes his home, Levi gazed at customers enjoying a late-night meal.

“There were benches there that I’d sit on with my parents and wait for the train to take us to Nahsholim, all the way up the coast just below Zichron Yaakov,” Levi said, referring to two beaches up north. “Look how busy it is.” 

The Station is located at the corner of Rehov David Remez, just across the street from the Liberty Bell Park (another great place to bring the kids). It’s close to the city’s major hotels, restaurants and theaters and just a 20-minute walk to the Old City. Parking is available at the First Station parking lot and the Liberty Bell Park parking lot.

Visitors can stroll into one of the boutique shops and restaurants, view the multimedia exhibitions and art installations or buy items at more than two dozen quaint stands selling Israeli-made crafts and ceramics, kids’ clothes, gifts, jewelry, books and fabrics. It’s especially crowded on Thursdays and Fridays, when visitors come to buy fresh produce, baked goods and wines directly from the growers and manufacturers.

“I like the open atmosphere here,” said Laurie Goldberg from St. Louis, on her third visit to the Station in a month during an extended vacation. “I especially loved coming here on Friday, to the musical Kabbalat Shabbat. It was beautiful,” she said of the lively musical performance that, in the summer, takes place a couple of hours before candlelighting,

Goldberg, who lived in Jerusalem until two-and-a-half years ago, said she appreciated seeing Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, all enjoying themselves.

“There are people from so many different walks of life. The atmosphere is nonjudgmental, and that’s something you don’t find everywhere in Jerusalem.”

The Station project is just one example of efforts by Jerusalem officials to create a more progressive, post-intifada Jerusalem. Other examples include the Mamilla shopping promenade, which transformed the abandoned buildings alongside the Old City into an upscale, open-air mall, and the forthcoming Cinema City, a 15-screen cinema complex that is under construction across from the Supreme Court. 

The Station’s management has made a great deal of effort to provide a street-fair environment seven days a week, with special events scheduled each month. In June, it played host to the city’s first international Formula 1 road show, and the following month featured a model train display for train enthusiasts. 

The Station offers a number of restaurants and cafés as well, including Italian-Mediterranean-style Landwer Café, open seven days a week, and Kitchen Station, a kosher dairy restaurant closed on Shabbat and holidays. Vaniglia sells ice cream while re:bar offers a wide variety of healthy drinks, shakes and yogurts.

One store that is always packed is Gaya, where young and old can test their mental dexterity against one of the store’s dozens of wooden puzzles (or buy one and take it home). 

There are many free events, including yoga classes, concerts and the child-friendly Kid Space, where kids can blow huge soap bubbles, play with wooden trains and oversized blocks or just run around and have fun.

Once you’ve experienced the Station, cycle or stroll down the well-lit, well-paved rail trail that winds through the German Colony, Baka and Beit Safafa and links Jerusalem’s original railway station to the city’s sports center at Teddy Stadium, the Jerusalem intercity rail station and the Malcha shopping mall.   

No bike? No problem. You can always rent one from Smart Tour at the visitors center, which offers regular, tandem or electronic bikes — helmet included. Or you can rent a Segway if that’s your speed.

Marilyn Behar, who was visiting the Station for the second time, said her two toddlers love the sense of freedom. 

“The kids can be free to run around here because there are no cars,” she noted.

But it isn’t just the safe space that brought her back. She and her husband, both secular Jerusalemites, said there aren’t enough places in Jerusalem that are open on Shabbat. 

“We want Jerusalem to keep its traditional identity, but we also want the city to promote equality,” she said.

For Goldberg, the Station is one example of how Jerusalem is much more alive than when she lived there. 

“There are more things to do now,” she said. “It’s a more interesting place to live.”

Israeli forces clash with Palestinians over Temple Mount visits

Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem's Old City, reflecting growing tensions over an increase in Jewish visits to the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Palestinian militants and youth groups have called for a general uprising in response to the entry by Jewish groups under police escort to the Jerusalem holy site, which is revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Police threw stun grenades to disperse small crowds of youths outside Jerusalem's medieval walls, and dozens of protesters marched on a crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip before being driven back by volleys of tear gas.

Protests also flared in the West Bank, at an Israeli-manned checkpoint outside the northern city of Nablus and in the flashpoint holy city of Hebron, where a Palestinian sniper shot dead an Israeli soldier on Sunday.

Witnesses reported several injuries in the clashes and police said they had arrested 12 Palestinians in Jerusalem for throwing stones at security forces.

Palestinian protests over a visit to the al-Aqsa mosque compound by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon in September 2000 spiraled into deadly clashes and a five-year Palestinian uprising, known as the second Intifada.

Palestinians oppose Jewish worship at the plaza, which overlooks Judaism's Western Wall, seeing it as a first step toward restricting access to the area for Muslims and a deepening of Israeli control over the Old City.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks in late July, ending a three-year stalemate.

But friction on the ground has risen during September's Jewish festivals, with Palestinian leaders complaining about swelling numbers of Jewish visitors, saying some of them try to defy an effective ban on praying on the vast esplanade.

THIRD INTIFADA?

“The uprising (in 2000) erupted when al-Aqsa mosque was stormed. They (the Israelis) are now raiding al-Aqsa every day,” a senior official with the Islamist Hamas group, Mushir Al-Masri, told thousands of supporters at a Gaza rally.

Activists burnt effigies of Israeli leaders and set fire to three coffins, one bearing the words “Death to Israel”.

“We call upon our people to revolt against tyranny and aggression. Let a third Intifada be declared because this is the best way to teach the aggressors a lesson,” said Masri, adding that “every Jew” would be extracted from Jerusalem.

Despite his calls for a revolt, the protests within Hamas-controlled Gaza were low-key. There was also little sign of major confrontation looming in the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exercises partial rule.

In a speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Abbas made a public appeal for a halt to the al-Aqsa visits.

“There must be an end to the near-daily attacks on the religious sites in Occupied Jerusalem, at the forefront of which is al-Aqsa mosque, where the continuation of such attacks will have dire consequences,” he said.

Allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been among the most vocal advocates of Jewish prayer at the 35-acre site and the government has done little to stem the flow of visitors to the area.

Religious Jews revere the compound as the location of their ancient biblical temples. For Muslims, it is the place where Prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven – the third holiest site in Islam.

Israel captured the site, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Middle East war. The Jewish state then annexed East Jerusalem as part of its capital in a move never recognized internationally.

Reporting by Noah Browning in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

United and divided: Inside ‘Like Dreamers,’ Yossi Klein Halevi’s extraordinary new book

The stirring scene that opens “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation,” by Yossi Klein Halevi (Harper, $35), is a flashback to the night of June 6, 1967, when the 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces crossed the no man’s land from West Jerusalem and approached the Old City, a sacred place that had not been under Jewish sovereignty for nearly 2,000 years.

“They changed the history of Israel and the Middle East,” Halevi observes. But Halevi has not written a hagiography of those courageous young men. Some of them were secular kibbutzniks and some were religious Zionists, a fact that strikes Halevi as emblematic of the tensions that have reshaped Israel during the half-century that followed what is now known as the Six-Day War. Their story, he insists, is really about “the fate of Israel’s utopian dreams, the vast hopes imposed on this besieged, embattled strip of land crowded with traumatized Jewish refugees.” In that sense, “Like Dreamers” is as much about the future of Israel as it is about what the author describes as “Israel’s most transcendent moment.”

Halevi is a journalist, memoirist and commentator with a unique perspective on both Jewish history and the destiny of Israel. Born in Brooklyn, he was an early follower of the late Meir Kahane, a member of Kahane’s controversial Jewish Defense League and an activist in the movement to liberate Soviet Jews. As he recounts in his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist,” he gradually moved from the far right of political Zionism into Orthodoxy and ultimately emerged as an advocate for rapprochement among Jews, Muslims and Christians, as he advocated in “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden.”

Today, at 60, Halevi lives with his family in Jerusalem, where he serves as a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. His byline is familiar to readers of many publications, among them the New Republic — where he holds the position of contributing editor — The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs magazine. He is much sought after as a commentator on the Middle East, and he brings a hard-edged, highly realistic perspective to his work. To his credit, he refuses to mythify or idealize the people whose exploits he is writing about, and yet he is capable of showing how seemingly ordinary men and women are capable of doing great things.

Thus, for example, Halevi is quick to point out that all of the main characters in his book are Ashkenazim — Jews of European ancestry — even though nearly half of Israel’s Jewish population today is of Middle Eastern origin. And he emphasizes that the seven members of the 55th Brigade whom he interviewed over a period of 10 years are markedly unsentimental; he is impressed by their “faith in human initiative and contempt for self-pity,” and “their daunting quest for solutions to unbearable dilemmas that would intimidate others into paralysis.” Above all, their feat of arms in 1967 — which united Jerusalem as an Israeli city, taking what had been ruled by Jordan — can be seen as an augury of the problems Israel still must resolve: “To a large extent,” he writes, “Israel today lives in the partial fulfillment and partial failure of their contradictory dreams.”

Halevi uses the biographies of those seven Israeli soldiers as a device to tell a much larger tale about the influences and pressures that shaped them. Avital Geva, for example, grew up on a kibbutz that belonged to Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist movement with distinctly Marxist values.  “Avital and his friends had been raised to revere the Soviet Union as the ‘second homeland,’ ” he explains, and he reminds us that Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 was mourned on the front page of the movement’s newspaper. By contrast, Yoel Bin-Nun was a member of a religious Zionist youth organization Bnei Akiva, and when he confided his “deepest longing” to a girl of his acquaintance, it was to see the construction of a third Temple.  “With animal sacrifices and blood and all of that?” she asked. “That’s what is written in the Torah,” he answered.

Halevi allows us to see the conflicting Israeli views of the Holocaust barely 20 years after the liberation of the camps. Some native-born Israelis were astounded by and contemptuous of the survivors, whom they called sabon — the word for soap, a reference to the notion that corpses were rendered into soap. Only when Arik Achmon, chief intelligence officer of the 55th Brigade, met the survivors who had founded Kibbutz Buchenwald did he come to see that they were worthy of his respect: “They’d survived through not passivity but constant alertness,” Achmon came to realize. “Sabon: what jerks we were.” But Halevi reminds us that one of the enduring victories the 55th Brigade achieved was to “[replace] skeleton heaps in death camps with paratroopers at the Wall as the enduring Jewish image of the century.”

The centerpiece of the book, of course, is the operations that took place on the night of June 6-7, 1967, when the 55th Brigade was assigned a mission that had been a failure when it was tried during the War of Independence, in 1948. A tactical map of the battle lines will come as a shock to anyone who has since visited Israel as a tourist and strolled through the streets of Jerusalem where, on that night, the trenches and minefields were laid out. At the headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces, the fast-changing situation on multiple fronts was under constant scrutiny, but at least one order was clear and unequivocal: “Be prepared to take the Old City,” Gen. Uzi Narkiss, commander of the central front, told Arik Achmon. “I hope you will erase the shame of 1948.

Exactly here, I think, is where we glimpse the unique importance of the battle for Jerusalem, and the various reasons why it was so consequential. For the battle-hardened officers of the high command, the taking of the Old City was a point of honor as well as a crucial strategic objective. For others, it was a religious undertaking with messianic implications: “Next year in Jerusalem,” sang a group of soldiers, echoing the closing words of the Passover seder. A student watching them provided a new lyric: “Next week in Jerusalem — in Jerusalem rebuilt.” For just about everyone, including the largely secular popular of the Jewish state, the strains of a new hit song called “Jerusalem of Gold” represented “the nation’s suppressed anguish for the Old City of Jerusalem.”

But Halevi presses on in his search for the layering of meanings contained within the taking of the Old City. The tensions within the 55th Brigade are now writ large in Israel — the divisions between the religious and the secular, the settlers and the kibbutzniks, and the arguments over whether and how to change the “facts on the ground” that were first established in 1967. We read of how the veterans of that fateful mission go on to live their lives, to reinvent themselves, to enter and leave relationships, to pursue careers and enterprises in civilian life, to endure illness and confront death, and Halevi shows us how the same urgent issues that stirred in their hearts and minds in the heat of battle remain the same issues that the whole nation confronts today, often with heartbreaking and even fatal consequences.

That’s why “Like Dreamers” is such a rich, complex and eloquent book, both challenging and enlightening, an extraordinary effort on the part of the author to capture a vast historical saga through the lens of the lives of seven flesh-and-blood human beings.  

“In their disappointment, some Jews had forgotten to celebrate, how to be grateful,” Halevi concludes. “It was a recurring Jewish problem, as ancient as the first Exodus.” His achievement in “Like Dreams” is his own ability to celebrate the courage of the men of the 55th Brigade, without for a moment overlooking the perplexing aftermath of their victory on that remarkable day.

Rabbi David Wolpe and Sinai Temple, together with the Jewish Journal, host a discussion with Yossi Klein Halevi on Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (310) 481-3243 or visit 

-->

Women of the Wall call alternative site a ‘wall of misfits’

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

About a dozen women sit underneath a large Israeli flag at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall. They’ve been here close to 24 hours, and are getting tired. They are members of Women of the Wall (WOW), a 25-year-old group of women from all denominations that wants equality for women at the Western Wall.

Currently the Western Wall is run as an Orthodox synagogue, meaning men and women are separated by a barrier called a mechitza. Women are not allowed to read aloud from the Torah, the scroll of the Old Testament, on their side.

This week, Israel’s Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett, inaugurated a large wooden desk as a prayer plaza for men and women to pray together, as is the custom in Conservative and Reform synagogues. In Israel, Conservative and Reform Jews are a small minority of Jews, while in the US, they are the vast majority.

“I have huge news for the Jewish world,” Bennet said in a youtube clip published by his office. “Today, for the first time ever, we’re opening at the Western Wall, a new “azhara” (prayer section). Until now, we had a men’s plaza and a women’s plaza, and today we have “azharat yisrael” open for families and for all of the people of Israel.”

The new plaza is at the nearby Robinson’s arch, an archaeological park. It is the continuation of the Western Wall, and the site has been used for the past few years by Reform and Conservative Jews for mixed prayer. In his youtube clip, Bennet says the site is “the direct continuation of the known Western Wall which is about 100 feet north.”

He said the site is free and open 24 hours a day. There are wooden tables and Torah scrolls available.

While some Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders cautiously welcomed the new prayer section, WOW’s chairperson Anat Hoffman was angry, calling the new site “the wall of misfits.”

“The Wall belongs to all Jews,” Hoffman told The Media Line. “You can’t take the keys to the holiest site of the Jewish people and hand it over to one extremist minority faction,” she said, referring to the Western Wall Foundation, which runs the site.

The Foundation was not available to comment.

WOW has battled for decades for women to be able to pray at the Western Wall wearing a prayer shawl and phylacteries usually worn by men, and reading from a Torah scroll. They have been cursed, spit at, kicked and punched by ultra-Orthodox Jews who disagree with their method of prayer. For the past two months, they’ve been unable to even get close to the wall, as thousands of young ultra-Orthodox girls heeded the call of their rabbis and filled the women’s side of the plaza at 5 a.m. so there was no room for the women to pray.

The group, many of them US-born Jews, has been battling for the right to pray they want for 25 years. A few months ago, a judge ruled the women can wear prayer shawls and phylacteries, but not read the Torah aloud. To do that, they have to go to Robinson’s Arch.

Some of the women say the new plaza will not meet their needs.

“I am an Orthodox woman and I can’t pray without a mechitza (the barrier that separates men and women,” Ella Kedar told The Media Line. “It is not a good solution for me.”

Israeli officials insist this is only a temporary compromise and discussions will continue to find a more permanent solution. WOW members worry that the court ruling granting them permission to pray aloud wearing prayer shawls could be rescinded now that the $80,000 platform has been finished.

“It looks like a sunbathing deck,” Hoffman told The Media Line. “We refuse to accept this misfit wall for misfit people.”

Ella Kedar, her hair wrapped in a green scarf according to the laws of modesty says she wants to pray at the Western Wall.

“The real kotel is right here,” she said, using the Hebrew name for the site. “In this place are the prayers of our mothers and grandmothers. There’s energy here.”

On Jerusalem’s streets, little excitement about peace talks

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

In the oppressive heat of a Jerusalem afternoon, neither Israelis nor Palestinians could summon much enthusiasm for the peace talks that are set to resume on Wednesday for the first time in three years. Each side believes the other is not serious about peace and almost nobody thinks there will be any real progress.

“There will never be peace here – trust me,” Hani Keri, a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem’s Old City told The Media Line. “In 1948 (when Israel was created), my father said, ‘tomorrow will be OK’ and we’re still waiting. Nobody wants to make peace. Israel takes money from the Americans in the name of security. If there was peace, they wouldn’t have any reason to do that.”

A few blocks away at the crowded outdoor Mamilla mall, Nomi Magency agrees that peace is unlikely but she blames the Palestinians. Magency lives in a Jewish community built on land Israel acquired in 1967 and has come to Jerusalem to take her four young children to a new park with fountains built in memory of long-time Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kollek.

“They don’t want peace,” she told The Media Line. “We already tried everything. Every time we negotiate with them they just want more and more. They want us out of here and not alive.”

Magency recalls Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Afterwards, the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza and fired thousands of rockets from there into southern Israel.

At Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, Zaki Sabah is selling long sesame-dusted breads as he has done for decades. Sabah became a celebrity in Israel recently when he was sentenced to 10 years in jail for unpaid fines for selling without a license. After public pressure, he was released, although he said he still has to pay the fine.

“I love peace – everybody loves peace — but let’s wait and see,” he told The Media Line. “Yesterday the Israeli government announced they want to build 1,000 new houses in the ‘West Bank’. We have to sit seriously and talk, or there will be never-ending violence here.”

The peace talks are set to restart after almost three years in which there were almost no official contacts. The Obama administration has pushed hard for these talks, with Secretary of State John Kerry racking up frequent flyer miles trying to convince both sides to return to the table.

A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University found that 79 percent of Jewish Israelis think the negotiations have little chance of yielding a peace agreement. Arab citizens of Israel were more optimistic with 47 percent saying there is a good chance for a peace deal.

Almost two-thirds of Israeli Jews and more than half of Arab citizens of Israel believe the Israeli government is truly interested in returning to the peace table. Less than one-third of Israeli Jews believe the Palestinian Authority is similarly interested.

Israelis are also skeptical because of the ongoing political feud between Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank. Even if Israel is able to reach an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, they say there is no guarantee that Hamas will honor it. Palestinian officials say that like Israel, they have agreed to hold a referendum on any peace deal and to see the results as binding.

In advance of the talks, Israel agreed to release 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners who have killed or seriously wounded Israelis. That provoked anger among many citizens who saw it as giving the Palestinians a prize for terrorism.

“We’re letting 26 murderers out of prison and they want more, it’s ridiculous,” Howie Lebow, a visitor from Chicago told The Media Line. “They won’t be happy until they get every piece of this land.”

Lebow has a daughter and grandson living in Israel and visits three times a year. He points out Israel’s significant economic achievements but is skeptical about the chances for peace.

“If you walk around the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Arabs and Muslims walk around the streets freely,” Lebow said. “There won’t be peace until the Arabs realize how good they have it here to compared to other Arab countries.”

Polls on both sides have consistently indicated that a two-thirds majority support an agreement based on an Israeli withdrawal from most post-1967 land. The outlines of a deal are well-known and follow what are called the “Clinton parameters,” guidelines for a permanent status agreement presented by President Bill Clinton in 2000 after negotiations foundered.

“We could make peace yesterday, today or tomorrow if we really wanted to,” Palestinian Hani Keri said. “How many meetings have we had? How many millions of dollars have been sent? It’s all for nothing.”

Even those Israelis who support a Palestinian state have little hope that these talks will produce a breakthrough.

“I want to see the leaders meeting and talking and then maybe I’ll get optimistic,” Israeli Aya Porat told The Media Line. “I support a Palestinian state but it’s much more complicated than just saying it. Sadly, I don’t think that the Palestinians are serious enough about making peace.

Charedim need more Judaism

I saw two opposite ends of Jewish tolerance last Friday night in Jerusalem’s Old City. As I walked through the Jaffa Gate on my way to a Shabbat dinner, I noticed some black-hatted Charedim kicking a taxicab while yelling, “Shabbos, Shabbos!”

A little while later, at the home of my friends Pamela and Aba Claman, I sat at a joyful Shabbat table with a group of about 40 people — who included secular, religious, Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, as well as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and even a non-Jew. No one worried whether anyone had to drive to get there.

Of all the contradictory images coming from Israel in recent years — Start Up Nation, Palestinian occupation, gay parades, corrupt politicians, humanitarian rescue efforts, a fierce army, a vibrant arts scene and so on — perhaps the most potent and divisive image has been of Charedi intolerance.

For American Jewry, which takes tolerance and religious pluralism for granted, these images have been especially vexing. It’s inconceivable to imagine, for example, Charedi Jews in Pico-Robertson or Hancock Park kicking the car of another Jew on Shabbat.

On Monday, I was at the Knesset attending a conference for a women’s empowerment group called WePower — where my daughter has been volunteering — and at one point, as I took a break to wander the halls, I heard a man yelling inside another conference room (the Knesset is like a shopping mall, but instead of popping into Banana Republic stores, you pop into arguments).

The yeller, a Charedi man with a gray beard and black velvet yarmulke, was seated at a large oval table with about 20 other politicians and their assistants. I could barely make out his words, but his yelling was what got to me — his tone a mixture of familiarity and contempt.

I thought: Here in the Israeli Parliament, Charedim are fully engaged with secular society, but as soon as they return to their neighborhoods, that same secular society becomes a source of potential contamination that must be avoided at all cost.

Charedim will engage with the secular world, I thought, but only to gain political power and secure government money to strengthen their isolationist way of life.

One of the secrets to Israeli success has been cultural integration. It’s easier to tolerate people who are different from you when you’ve served together in the army or engaged with them in the workplace.

Without this kind of human contact, it’s all too easy to demonize the stranger.

Just as Charedim might see secular society as Sodom and Gomorrah, they, in turn, are seen by others as hypocritical parasites who care only about their way of life. And just as there’s some truth to the accusation of excess hedonism and commercialism inherent to a free society, there’s also plenty of truth to the corrosive nature of Charedi isolation and intolerance.

I wonder sometimes whether Charedim realize how many thousands of Jews they might be turning off from Torah and Judaism when they spit at women wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall; or when they attack one of their own who decides to join the army; or when they hide instances of sexual abuse in their communities; or when the corrupt Chief Rabbinate they run makes life miserable for people trying to convert to Judaism. 

If they don’t realize the extent of this chillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name), then it is precisely their isolation that makes them tone deaf.

Legislation and private efforts are now in the works to compel and encourage integration of Charedim into Israeli society — through school curricula and by requiring that they enter the workforce and join the army. It will be a long, complicated and agonizing process, and no one can say for sure how it will end. 

In public, Charedim who are against integration are making most of the noise. But from what I hear, in private many of their leaders are fully aware that the current system of widespread all-day Talmud learning is unsustainable.

“I wish those Charedi leaders who are open to change would speak up more,” my friend Yossi Klein Halevi said to me over Shabbat lunch. “That’s what bothers me the most.”

What bothers me even more is that Charedim believe that they practice the purest and holiest form of Judaism.

They don’t. They practice talmudic Judaism. 

But Judaism is a lot broader and bigger than that. Judaism is also Jewish history, Jewish literature and Jewish poetry. It’s also Jewish philosophy from Martin Buber and Maimonides and Jewish mysticism from the kabbalah masters. It’s also the talmudic fiction of Agnon, and the lyricism and social activism of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

And it’s also the Judaism of Chabad, whose thousands of black-hatted emissaries around the world see other Jews not as sources of potential contamination, but as children of God full of holy sparks ready to be ignited.

Hardly any of these defining aspects of Judaism ever enter the study halls of the Charedi world.

It may take a century, but when Charedim finally lose their fear of the outside world and open their doors to different Jews and different views, they might discover a Judaism that’s even richer and more beautiful than they ever imagined.

They might start by inviting IDF soldiers to their Shabbat tables and giving them a blessing.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Father and daughter at the Wall: Battle of the heart

On July 8, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, attended a Woman of the Wall prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with his 11-year-old daughter, Noa. The Journal asked them to write about the experience, each from their own perspective.

Recently, I went to a Women of the Wall service for Rosh Chodesh Av. It was my first time at one of their services, and I thought I was prepared for the ugliness I would see on the other side. I wasn’t.

Charedi leaders bussed in more than 7,000 yeshiva girls my age and filled up the Kotel plaza to ensure that there was no room for us to pray. Jeering and yelling, blowing whistles and making faces, calling us Nazis and throwing eggs, with their eyes full of such hatred, it terrified me. These girls didn’t even know me, yet they despised me. They had been brought up to loathe all of the women I was praying with, and it was somehow deemed a positive learning experience for them to protest against us. Among the men, there was a 2-year-old boy being lifted up to view the spectacle, and it made me want to scream. How dare they? I thought. How dare they bring their children up to support such spiritual violence? How dare they intrude upon my religious beliefs? 

What was beautiful about the service was the power of the women. They stood through the protesting and raised their voices, never backing down. When they read Torah from a Chumash, the reader stood on a chair for all to see, including a bat mitzvah. When I saw this, I felt stronger, and more able to withstand the terrible. A group of girls were making faces at me and taking pictures of me with their cellphones. I blew them kisses.

[Read the other side of this story here: “Amid whistles, prayer endures” by Rabbi Adam Kligfeld]

That night, my father and I sat down and discussed what had happened. I expressed to him how upset the experience made me, only to be met with a compelling argument: If Jews wanted to bring instruments to the Kotel on Shabbat, to enhance the prayer, would our pluralism demand we support that? If Messianic Jews wanted to organize a prayer service at the Wall, how would we feel? Everyone has their lines, and everyone’s lines are different. Does pluralism mean anything goes?

I went to hear Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin speak about this topic at the Hartman Institute. Afterward, I decided that it is hard for me to accept that the Israeli government has taken my beliefs, my Judaism, our shared Wall, locked all of it up and handed the keys to a rabbi who has announced that the only way is his way. How can the State of Israel allow only one leader for such an important site? I believe that the government should take back the keys, and distribute them one by one to rabbis of different denominations of Judaism so that all movements are represented.

The worst part about this war is the fact that it is Jew against Jew. We all love the Torah, we all embrace mitzvot, we all believe in one God. So why this fighting? It hurts like mad to witness fellow Jews calling you names. Women of the Wall has been struggling for 25 years. Will the battle of the heart never end? 

Father and daughter at the Wall: Amid whistles, prayer endures

On July 8, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, attended a Woman of the Wall prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with his 11-year-old daughter, Noa. The Journal asked them to write about the experience, each from their own perspective.

I went to the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer service at the Kotel. I had been there in February, standing in the men’s section to join the group protecting the women in the back-left section of the women’s section from potential eggs, chairs and slurs coming from Charedi men. I came back this time with my mother and my 11-year-old daughter, Noa. Several things amazed me about this visit on different ends of the emotional spectrum.

All the (legitimate) critique of the police and government aside, they closed off a major one-way artery outside of the Old City to permit busses ferrying Women of the Wall (WOW) participants, traveling in the opposite direction, to drop us off right inside the Dung Gate. That itself is worthy of praise. 

[Read the other side of this story here: “Battle of the heart” by Noa Kligfeld]

Alas, we were outgunned. Or, should I say, out-bussed. Charedi busses brought thousands of yeshiva girls to the Kotel, one hour before we arrived, who completely filled up the women’s side. Credit them for an effective maneuver, though I can see this devolving into a war of alarm clocks rather than a battle of ideas: They arrived at 6 a.m. this time … we’ll get there at 5 a.m. next time! 

The result was that for the first time in nearly 25 years, WOW participants never reached the part of the Kotel designated for prayer. Our service took place in the back-right courtyard, adjacent to the parking lot. And yet there was some sweet lemonade squeezed from those bitter lemons: With nowhere else to go, the men and women there prayed together in a fully egalitarian, mixed-”seating” (“standing”?) minyan. And instead of having to merely conjure it, I got to see the earnestness on my daughter’s face as she attempted kavanna — focus — amid the cacophony of boos and heckles. As I looked around, I saw that many of us had successfully drowned out the intrusions and focused on one thing only: prayer. 

But the sounds and images I will most remember from this Rosh Chodesh Av were those of whistles — shrill, inflammatory, intended as interruptions between the prayers of Jews and the heart of heaven, and yet ultimately impotent. Several Charedi women positioned themselves as close to our minyan as possible. They stood there for over an hour, closed their eyes to our display of idolatry, wrenched up their faces to focus their efforts, and they blew whistles. They blew and they blew. My left ear heard a young American girl read verses from the Torah out of a book, in the absence of a Torah scroll, to celebrate becoming bat mitzvah, as my right ear was assaulted by a whistle that brought me back to 10th-grade phys ed. My left side was embraced by the harmonies of Hallel while my right side tried to ignore the ignorable — the loud shrieks of anger, hatred and suspicion. My left side was davening while my right side was going deaf even as it ached for temporary deafness. I studied one whistler’s face. What motivated her? What neshama (soul) informed all those powerful neshimot (breaths) she blew? Would she ever stop?

And then it hit me — an avalanche of certainty and optimism. An epiphany filtered through a story from my religious education. When I was a student at his Yeshivat Hamivtar, I once asked Rabbi Chaim Brovender, an extraordinary teacher and tzadik who courageously began teaching Talmud to women in the face of threats of excommunication from fellow Orthodox rabbis, whether one could whistle on Shabbat. He looked at me quizzically, and then gave me an answer I will never forget: “I can only answer that question by quoting my grandmother: A yid fiyf nit. A Jew doesn’t whistle. It’s meaningless. A waste of time. Sunday. Wednesday. Shabbes. Why are you whistling? Go do something productive. Go study Torah. A Jew doesn’t whistle.”

But we do pray. And prayer will triumph.

A shrill whistle cannot be maintained. It eventually will lose steam, because ultimately it stands for nothing, for a vacuum, for vacuous hot air. But prayer pierces through boundaries. And the Torah of pluralism, embedded in the very sacred texts both we and the Charedim hold so dear, lives through the undying breaths of those who have embodied it, believe it today and will never stop praying. One can only whistle for so long. But prayer endures. 

Jews should get offended by Palestinian insult

If there’s one thing the Palestinians are great at, it’s saying no. For years now, many peace-loving Jewish heads have been bruised from banging against the brick wall of Palestinian rejectionism.

Well, these Jews and others will now have another wall they can bang their heads against: the Western Wall. 

In case you missed it, the Palestinian Authority announced last week that they are adamantly opposed to Natan Sharansky’s plan to build an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel. Specifically, they will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount — which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza — in order to expand the area for an egalitarian service.

As Jonathan Tobin writes in Commentary, “The motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already gone on record as denying a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and, in a conference in Ramallah this week covered by JPost, he pointedly excluded the Jews when he said:

“The responsibility for defending and restoring Jerusalem and purifying its holy sites is not that of the Palestinians alone, but the entire Arab, Islamic and Christian nation.”

Where does this chutzpah come from?

If you ask me, I think it’s been nourished by the fact that Jews rarely get offended by Palestinian insults that touch the core of our identity.

What does Israel do when its so-called “moderate peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas publicly and brazenly denies any Jewish connection to Jerusalem? Instead of acting insulted, we prefer to act like stoic Zionists.

Given that Israel has let such insults and lies slide by for so long, is it any wonder that the Palestinians are now acting as if the whole Kotel area rightfully belongs to them?

Ever since Israel’s birth 65 years ago, way before any occupation, Israel has been putting up the two fingers of peace and getting a Palestinian middle finger in return.

Those insults haven’t just been about the four times Palestinians have said NO to having their own state — in 1948 with the United Nations partition plan and three times since. It’s more than that.

These rejections are symptoms of something deeper: a contempt for Jews, especially successful Jews who have their own state and claim a deep and historical connection to the Holy Land.

Having failed to express its own contempt for libelous insults, Israel has allowed the emotional narrative to slip away. It’s gotten so bad that there was hardly a peep in the Jewish world last week when Israel received the latest Palestinian middle finger denying the plan to make the Kotel more egalitarian. 

As Evelyn Gordon wrote in the Commentary blog, this might turn out to be a “teachable moment” for liberal American Jewry, who might now better understand that “dealing with the Palestinians isn’t quite so simple as they seem to think it is.”

I would go a step further. I would call this an “offendable” moment, a moment when Jewish groups the world over ought to draw a big, fat, red line and say loudly and clearly: “We are deeply offended that the Palestinian Authority is denying the 3,000-year Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and adamantly opposing our noble effort to add egalitarian prayer at our holiest site.”

Every Jewish group, including J Street, Peace Now and the Zionist Organization of America, should sign that statement. We might have honest disagreements about other areas, but all Jews should unite around this issue.

Jews are extraordinarily good at being offended by other Jews, but when it comes to responding to Arab insults, we clam up. Maybe we feel it’s just not “practical” to get too emotional in public.

But here’s the point — acting insulted when you feel insulted helps your case by making you look more real and more human. The Palestinians learned that lesson a long time ago.

In communication theory, one of the first things you learn is that people react more to emotion than to reason. And if there’s something Jews can get emotional about, it is certainly Jerusalem and the Kotel.

Whether or not the Palestinian objection can kill Sharansky’s plan (and the jury is still out on this), if a Palestinian leader has the chutzpah to tell the world that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem, we have every right to be deeply insulted and to call him on it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not only the right, but the obligation, to deliver this message to his Palestinian counterpart: “Jerusalem runs through the blood and bone marrow of the Jewish people. It has been that way for more than 3,000 years. When you say that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem, you know it is a lie. But for us it is more than a lie. It is an insult of the highest order and we kindly request an apology.”

That sounds pretty reasonable to me.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israeli police, Palestinians clash at Jerusalem mosque

Israeli police fired stun grenades to disperse Palestinian worshippers who had thrown rocks and firebombs at them after Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, police said.

Dozens of officers entered the politically sensitive area, one of Islam's holiest sites to break up several hundred protesters.

A number of policemen were lightly hurt, a police spokesman said, and Palestinian media said at least 15 protesters were injured.

A surge in violence in the West Bank over the past several weeks has raised concern in Israel that a new Palestinian uprising could erupt.

Tension is rising before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Jerusalem and Ramallah at the end of the month and the possible resumption of peace talks that have been stalled since 2010.

Clashes were also expected in the West Bank at the funeral of a Palestinian who died of his wounds on Thursday after being shot by Israeli soldiers during a confrontation with stone-throwers two weeks ago.

The violence has focused around the plight of Palestinians held in Israeli jails but it largely subsided last week after Israel agreed to release two hunger-striking inmates in May and they ended their protest. Palestinians seek statehood in territories Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Peace talks broke down over Palestinian objections to Israel expanding settlements on disputed land. 

Israel has called for resuming the talks without preconditions.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Riots break out in Jerusalem, West Bank over Palestinian prisoners

Palestinian protesters reportedly fired flares and hurled stones at Israeli troops in the Old City in Jerusalem amid violent protests in the West Bank.

Several dozen Palestinians began hurling rocks at troops stationed outside the Mugrabi Gate after Friday prayers, Ynet reported on Feb. 22.

When the troops pursued the men into the Temple Mount compound, other men fired flares at them. None of the Israeli soldiers was injured.

The Temple Mount, the site of Judaism's ancient temple which overlooks the Western Wall, is home to two mosques considered among the most holy in Islam. Clashes there have sparked extended conflict in the past.

In parallel, riots broke out in Hebron as dozens began to march int he direction of Beit Hadassah, an area inhabited by Israeli settlers. Protesters also hurled stones outside Ofer Prison near Jerusalem, where dozens of Palestinians prisoners are held, some under administrative detention.

The protests, according to Ynet, were over the detention of Samer Tareq al-Essawi, Ja’far Ibrahim ‘Izz-al-Din and Tareq Husein Qa’dan and Ayman Isma’il Sharawna.

Ynet quoted unnamed officials in Israel’s General Security Service, or Shin Bet, as saying that Sharawna and Essawi were released along with 1,025 in 2011 in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier abducted by Hamas, but “returned to practice terrorism.”

Israel radio said the protests also marked the 1994 anniversary of the massacre of 29 Muslims at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews and Muslims, by Baruch Goldstein, a settler from Kiryat Arba.

Protests were also held on Thursday in which several Palestinians and two Israeli journalists sustained light injuries, Ynet reported.

E. Jerusalem Arabs arrested for attacking Jewish man

Three Arab teenagers from eastern Jerusalem were arrested on suspicion that they attacked a haredi Orthodox Jewish man.

The teens, all 16, told police after they were arrested Thursday that they attacked the Jewish man because they had been attacked previously by Jews, according to Israel Radio.

They are accused of injuring the 20-year-old man on Wednesday evening as he walked through the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

‘Come back [to Israel] and bring a lot of people with you’

“No Shopping!” guide Nadav Kersh admonished his charges as they entered the crowded Old City of Jerusalem. “I mean it. No shopping! It’s just too easy to get lost here.”

Kersh was guiding a group of tour operators from the U.S., U.K. and South Africa on a whirlwind tour of the holy places in Jerusalem. Simultaneously, other tour groups were listening to guides speaking Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German. They are part of a group of 160 tour operators invited by the Ministry of Tourism for a week-long trip to Israel.

The day began at the Israel Museum, and a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls housed in a special building shaped like a giant white Hershey’s kiss.

“Scrolls are like money,” Kersh told them. “The more they get used, the more worn out they get. Anyone know which book of the Bible is the most popular?”

“Psalms?” asks Tony Lock from the UK.

“Right!” answers Kersh. “Even today, if you go on a bus in Israel you see old ladies reading Psalms. Here you’ll see one of the oldest versions of Psalms.”

After a quick circuit of the museum, the tour operators were given a preview of an upcoming exhibition on the Roman king of Judea, Herod the Great, who ruled the area from 40 BC to 4 BC and has been described both as a genius and a madman.

“It will be the first exhibition in the world about Herod,” David Mevorah, the museum’s archaeology curator, told the group. “It took us 40 years to find his tomb, but that convinced us to do the exhibit. Herod was a massive builder in stone and the [Second Jewish] Temple [in Jerusalem] was his greatest project.”

After a detailed PowerPoint presentation, the group headed off to the Old City of Jerusalem. At the fifth station of the Via Dolorosa, the path that Christians believe Jesus walked on the way to crucifixion, Kersh points out a stone handprint, which tradition says belonged to Jesus. Many in the group touch their hand to the stone.

“To me, this whole city has a special feeling,” Phyllis Brown told The Media Line about her first trip to Israel. “I’m really very impressed. Jerusalem is simply breathtaking. I expected it to be flatter and more desert-like, but it is so pretty.”

Brown, from Santa Barbara, California, has sent about 10 clients on trips to Israel each year, but now hopes to increase that.

“I definitely feel more capable now to organize a group,” she says.

The trip came just a few days after the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after eight days of heavy fighting. Brown says that while she was not afraid to visit Israel, her adult children were concerned and asked her to cancel her trip.

“There was about a week when I didn’t hear anything from the Tourism Ministry and I wasn’t sure if the trip was on,” Brown says. “But within 24 hours of the cease-fire they sent a barrage of emails making sure we were still coming.”

Another tour operator, Douglas Kostwoski from Travel People in Miami, Florida, agreed.

“As soon as I saw the cease-fire was holding, I started packing,” he told The Media Line. “I already send about 100 people each year to Israel, but my mind keeps racing with new things to add to the itinerary and what I’ll tell potential clients.”

Israeli tourism officials said the group’s visit became even more important after the fighting in Gaza.

“There is no doubt that Operation Pillar of Defense affected incoming tourism,” Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said. “But we are already taking steps toward swift rehabilitation, minimizing damage and renewing the momentum of incoming tourism over the last three years.”

Tourism is a key economic sector in Israel. In 2010, some 3.45 million tourists visited Israel and 2012 was set to bring even more. Officials are also targeting previously untapped markets, including India and China. In 2009, according to the Ministry of Tourism, the sector brought $3.3 billion into Israel’s economy. More than half of the tourists visiting are Christian, while 40 percent are Jewish.

“There are some church groups coming from Mumbai,” Sarah ReSello, from Go Beyond Travels India, told The Media Line. “But we will be trying to get them to also go to the Red Sea resort of Eilat and the Dead Sea.”

It is impossible to visit Israel without some talk of politics. Tour guide Kersh told the visitors how the Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters – Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim – but how the residents of the quarters are also mixed.

“Take the Muslim Quarter, for example, which is the largest with 20,000 inhabitants,” he said. “You can have Christians living there, and even some Jews. If you see Israeli flags there, it means that a Jewish Israeli bought the house and he wants to annoy his neighbors.”

“Are all four quarters safe?” Kostowski asks.

“Yes,” replies Kersh. “The whole country is safe.”

Police push back rioters on Temple Mount

Israeli police reportedly pushed back rioters on the Temple Mount.

Police used shock grenades to subdue hundreds of rioters throwing stones after the end of Friday prayers, Israel Radio reported.

There were no reports of injuries, it said.

The site in Jerusalem's Old City, overlooking the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, is home to two mosques and is considered the third holiest area in Islam. It is also the site of the Jewish Temple of ancient times.

Israeli authorities have discouraged Jewish prayer on the mount since Israel captured the area in 1967 during the Six Day War, but in recent weeks a number of groups of Jews have attempted to enter the area for prayers.

Suicide car bombers strike in heart of Aleppo, killing 48

Three suicide car bombs and a mortar barrage ripped through a government-controlled district of central Aleppo housing a military officers' club on Wednesday, killing 48 people according to activists.

The coordinated attacks hit just days after rebels launched an offensive against President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria's biggest city, leading to heavy fighting and a fire which gutted a large part of its medieval covered market.

The state news agency SANA said suicide bombers detonated two explosive-laden cars in the main square, Saadallah al-Jabiri, which is lined on its eastern flank by the military club, two hotels and a telecoms office.

The explosions reduced at least one building to a flattened wreck of twisted concrete and metal, and were followed by a volley of mortar bombs into the square and attempted suicide bombings by three rebels carrying explosives, it said.

Another bomb blew up a few hundred meters (yards) away on the edge of the Old City, where rebels have been battling Assad's forces.

State television showed three dead men disguised as soldiers in army fatigues who it said were shot by security forces before they could detonate explosive-packed belts they were wearing. One appeared to have a trigger device strapped to his wrist.

Another pro-Assad station, al-Ikhbariya TV, broadcast footage of four dead men, including one dust-covered body being pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building and loaded onto the back of a pickup truck.

The facades of many buildings overlooking the square were ripped off and a deep crater was gouged in the road. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 48 people were killed, mostly from the security forces, while SANA put the death toll at 31.

Wednesday's attacks in Aleppo followed last week's bombing of the military staff headquarters in Damascus, another strike by Assad's outgunned opponents against bulwarks of his power.

In July, rebels killed four of Assad's senior security officials including Assad's brother-in-law, the defense minister and a general in a Damascus bombing which coincided with a rebel offensive in the capital.

Government forces have since pushed rebel fighers back to the outskirts of Damascus. But they have lost control of swathes of northern Syria as well as several border crossings with Turkey and Iraq and failed to push the fighters out of Aleppo.

A pro-Assad Lebanese paper said on Tuesday that Assad was visiting the city to take a first-hand look at the fighting and had ordered 30,000 more troops into the battle.

Many rich merchants and minority groups in Aleppo, fearful of instability, remained neutral while protests spread through Syria. But rebels from rural Aleppo swept into the city in July and still control districts in the east and south.

REGIONAL CONFLICT

Opposition activists say 30,000 people have been killed across the country in the 18-month-old uprising, which has grown into a full-scale civil war with sectarian overtones and threatens to draw in regional Sunni Muslim and Shi'ite powers.

Sources in Lebanon said seven members of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian president, were killed inside Syria on Sunday in a rocket attack. Three were killed instantly while four others were wounded and died subsequently, they said.

The sources said the Hezbollah fighters were operating in the border area, monitoring the flow of weapons into Syria from Lebanon.

Hezbollah's website and television station said the group held funerals this week for two fighters killed while performing “jihadi duties”, but gave no further details.

Hezbollah has given strong public political support to its ally in Damascus but has not confirmed a military presence on the ground in Syria – wary of inflaming sectarian tensions in Lebanon, where many Sunni Muslims support the anti-Assad rebels.

The mainly Sunni rebels are supported by Sunni powers including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and have attracted Islamist fighters from across the Middle East to their cause.

Assad, from the Alawite minority which is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, is backed by Iran and Russia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Tuesday NATO and world powers should not seek ways to intervene in the war or set up buffer zones between rebels and government forces.

He also called for restraint between NATO-member Turkey and Syria, after tensions flared when a mortar round fired from inside Syria struck the territory of Turkey. Ankara has threatened to respond if the strike were repeated.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that hostilities in Syria could engulf the region and accused some Syrians of trying to use the conflict to settle scores with Tehran.

Ahmadinejad said that a national dialogue and elections – rather than war – were the only way to solve the Syrian crisis.

Efforts to address the conflict at the United Nations have been blocked by a standoff in the Security Council between Western powers seeking a tough stance against Assad and Russia and China, which fear a U.N. resolution against Syria would be the first step towards military intervention.

An Egyptian attempt to bring together Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia to search for a regional solution to the crisis also appeared to be going nowhere after Saudi Arabia stayed away for a second time from a meeting of the four countries.

Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Angus MacSwan

Police quell Temple Mount riots

Police dispersed Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount who apparently had been spurred by reports that Jewish extremists planned to enter the site.

Reports said the rioters, among the Friday worshippers at the site’s mosques, hurled rocks at the Mughrabi Bridge entrance, prompting a rare incursion by police, who used stun grenades.

At least 11 police and 15 rioters were hurt and four Palestinians were arrested.

The rioters were spurred, police said, by a Jewish extremist website that promised a mass incursion into the enclave this Friday, Israel radio reported.

Police have arrested one man for alleged incitement, and further arrests are planned, the report said.

A plan by Jewish extremists to enter the site in 1990—one that also was thwarted by police—sparked some of the deadliest riots in the site’s history.

The 2000 visit by Ariel Sharon, then the opposition leader, to the site preceded riots that launched the Second Intifada.

The site of the ancient Jewish temple now houses two mosques Muslims believe to be the third holiest in Islam. Below it is the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

Israel closes Jerusalem holy compound footbridge

Israel on Monday closed a footbridge it deemed unsafe at Jerusalem’s holiest and most volatile religious site after fears that demolition of the structure, used mainly by non-Muslim tourists, could spark Arab anger.

The wooden ramp was erected by Israeli authorities as a stopgap after a snowstorm and earthquake in 2004 damaged a stone bridge leading up from Judaism’s Western Wall to the sacred compound where the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine stand.

Any construction at the site can be politically explosive. During Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, his opening in 1996 of a new entrance to an access tunnel for tourists near the compound touched off Muslim protests and gun battles in which 60 Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed.

The footbridge was to have been torn down last month but Netanyahu postponed the demolition on the advice of Israeli diplomats and security officials, government officials said.

Netanyahu was cautioned that removing the structure and building a new bridge could enrage Muslims – especially in turbulent Egypt – who might believe the work could damage al-Aqsa, said the officials, who insisted no harm would come to existing buildings.

A police spokesman said the bridge was closed after Jerusalem’s city engineer declared it unsafe. It had been used mainly by tourists. Muslim worshippers use other entrances to the holy compound. Jews pray outside at the Western Wall.

Israeli media reports said Israel would consult with the king of Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, on the future of the bridge.

The city’s senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, said Islamic religious authorities opposed demolition of the existing structure and construction of a new one.

The holy compound is in the old walled city of Jerusalem.  Jews revere the compound as the site of their Biblical Temple, destroyed by Roman troops in the 1st century. Surviving foundations of its Western Wall are now a focus of prayer.

For Muslims, who captured Jerusalem from the Christian Byzantines in the 7th century, the Dome of the Rock marks the spot from which Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller

U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem warns travelers of violence

The U.S. Consulate General has banned its personnel from visiting the Old City of Jerusalem due to fears of violence.

In an emergency message sent to Americans registered with the consulate who are visiting or living in Israel, the consulate also urged U.S. citizens to avoid “areas of traditional conflict during this time.”

The letter, dated Sept. 21, said that the consulate would prohibit its official mission personnel from visiting the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday.

“This prohibition is due to the potential for demonstrations and large gatherings inside the Old City that day,” the letter says.

While it does not specify why there is this potential, it is likely because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on that day is due to speak before the United Nations General Assembly and present a request to make Palestine the 194th member of the United Nations to the U.N. Security Council.

“The U.S. Consulate General reminds U.S. citizens that even peaceful marches and demonstrations can turn violent with little or no warning,” the letter warns. 

“U.S. citizens in Jerusalem are encouraged to exercise caution and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety and security, and to report any suspicious or unusual activity immediately to Israeli authorities. U.S. citizens should, as always, maintain a low profile in public.”

Briefs: Palestinians riot near Jerusalem dig; Brandeis threatened with loss of donations

Palestinians Riot Around Jerusalem

Palestinians rioted at entry points to Jerusalem to protest a ban stemming from previous riots over an Old City dig. Police banned Palestinian males under age 50 from attending Friday prayer services at mosques on the Temple Mount, and extended a ban on Raed Salah, leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement. Police arrested 15 people in scuffles in and around the city. Worshipers have rioted in recent weeks to protest a construction project near the Temple Mount.

Israeli authorities say the renovation of a staircase leading to the Temple Mount does not threaten the integrity of the site, but Salah, who has frequently concocted imaginary Jewish plots against the Temple Mount to incite his public against Israel, has led protests at the site and scuffled with police officers. Last Friday, he called for a Muslim intifada to “save” the mosque from the Jews. The Israelis “want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water,” Salah said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter asked the attorney general to investigate whether Salah’s comments constitute incitement and sedition.

Brandeis Threatened With Loss of Donations

Mideast scholar Daniel Pipes called on donors to reconsider their support of Brandeis University. In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Pipes claimed that his planned appearance at the university had been put on hold pending approval from a new committee created to vet potential speakers on the Middle East.

The committee also reportedly is holding up an appearance by Norman Finkelstein, a noted critic of Israeli policy who has argued that the Jewish state exploits the Holocaust for political purposes. Evidence that pressure on the university may be intensifying came from a report Friday in the New York Jewish Week that “more than a handful” of major donors told Brandeis they would no longer contribute following a recent controversial visit by former President Carter, who discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which is harshly critical of Israel. A Brandeis spokeswoman told the Jewish Week that she wasn’t aware of any communication from donors.

Hezbollah Seen Expanding Arsenal

Hezbollah aims to stockpile more weapons than it had before last year’s war with Israel, a top Israeli intelligence analyst said.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, chief of research in Israel’s Military Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing Monday that the Lebanese terrorist group was smuggling in rockets to replace the thousands it lost fighting Israel during the summer war. Once it receives new shipments from neighboring Syria, Baidatz said, Hezbollah will have a larger rocket arsenal than it did before the war.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz interjected that this should not be a gauge of the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah. Peretz noted that Hezbollah deprived of its border positions was in far less of a position to launch attacks.

Hezbollah admitted it has resumed stockpiling arms on Lebanon’s frontier with Israel.

“We can reveal that we have arms, and of all kinds,” Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said last Friday in a speech. “We move them covertly, and Israel does not know about it.”

Nasrallah said the smuggling would continue in defiance of Israel, foreign peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, which deployed in southern Lebanon as part of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended last year’s war.

“We are not a burden to the Lebanese army but rather a supporter of its mission,” Nasrallah said.

Iran Defies U.N. Demands

Iran signaled that it will not honor a demand by the United Nations to halt sensitive nuclear projects. The Foreign Ministry in Tehran announced Sunday that Iran has no intention of meeting a Feb. 21 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for suspending uranium enrichment. Under Security Council Resolution 1737, which was passed in late December, Iran was subjected to limited international sanctions that could be expanded if it defied the 60-day deadline on uranium enrichment, a key potential process for making nuclear bombs.

While China and Russia surprised other Security Council members by backing the original resolution, it was unclear whether they would support further sanctions given their robust trade ties with Tehran and public skepticism over whether the Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons.

Feinstein Reintroduces Cluster Bomb Bill

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein cited Israeli cluster bombs left behind in Lebanon in introducing legislation to restrict the sale of the devices.

“What gives rise, in part, to my bill are recent developments in Lebanon over alleged use of cluster bombs by Israel,” Feinstein, a Jewish Democrat who is seen as strongly pro-Israel, said last week in introducing the legislation with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Israel dropped some 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and 1 million failed to explode, she said.

“As Lebanese children and families have returned to their homes and begin to rebuild, they have been exposed to the danger of these unexploded bomblets lying in the rubble. Twenty-two people, including six children have been killed and 133, including 47 children, injured.”

Israel said it used the weapons in areas where civilians had already fled, and says the postwar casualty rate is due to U.S.-made bombs that have a high rate of delayed explosion.

Human-rights groups have noted that Hezbollah also used cluster bombs during the war, firing them directly into Israeli cities. Feinstein and Leahy introduced similar legislation immediately following the war, but it failed.

Jerusalem Opens Alcohol-Free Bar

An alcohol-free bar opened in Jerusalem with municipal funding. Lugar opened its doors in central Jerusalem on Monday with a teetotaling format geared toward minors.

The initiative was conceived by Mayor Uri Lupolianski following growing evidence that youths in Jerusalem, including many foreigners on study visits, were increasingly abusing lax controls on alcohol consumption in public places.

Lupolianski said he hoped other cities in Israel would emulate the Lugar pilot.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

War enhances intensity of Israel trip

The siren went on for at least a minute.

It was a Friday evening in early July 2006, during the war with Hezbollah, and I was sitting on a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, getting ready to welcome in the Shabbat with the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers.

Unlike the previous week, when we quickly evacuated the north, the siren we were hearing now was not an air strike or emergency alarm. It was the customary siren sounding the start of Shabbat, unique to Jerusalem.

Along with 44 other teenagers and six staffers, I was on the Eastern Europe-Israel Pilgrimage, sponsored by the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth. We had arrived in Israel that week after spending two weeks traveling through Prague, Warsaw, Lublin, Krakow and Budapest, and everyone was so enthusiastic and completely ecstatic that the air was charged with happiness and excitement. As we sat there, we had a moment of silence listening to the alarm.

We had been supposed to spend our first week on the banks of the Kinneret, but the plans were canceled after five rockets hit a town 15 minutes from our hostel. Even though it was Shabbat, we were immediately evacuated back to Jerusalem. Later, our free time in public places was suspended because a suicide bomber was caught right before entering the Old City through Jaffa Gate, which we used regularly.

While our family and friends back home voiced concerns for our safety when we called them, nobody in our group felt in danger or unsafe. Nobody wanted to go home. Instead of fear, I felt anger that there was a war and anger that Israel still has to fight for her existence.

Being at that hilltop as we welcomed the Shabbat and listening to the siren and watching the Old City’s walls as the Holy City went dark, I felt so many emotions. Though we had been there a week, the realization that I was in Israel — the country of the Jewish people — our land — hit me hardest at that moment. I held back tears of gratitude, joy and happiness as we went around the circle we were sitting in, discussing our favorite part of the week. Mine was that moment.
The strong feelings I had came not only from the realization that we were in Israel. It was the magic of the moment or the magic of the city — the lights were so astoundingly beautiful, the walls gave off an air of age, history and religiousness and the view could not have been more perfect. The breeze ruffled the treetops, and I felt that God was hovering over us, watching.

What made this unforgettable experience even more irreplaceable was the two weeks that came before renewed my understanding of how much Israel means.
While traveling in Eastern Europe, our close-knit group visited the concentration camps, sites of mass murder and mass graves, the ghettos and places of resistance. Viewing all these places where history made its horrific mark was actually proof of what we had been learning since elementary school. We saw the gas chambers, the crematoria, the indentations in the earth that formed years after a mass grave was filled.

We saw what happened, and it became real in our eyes. It was no longer something we read about in textbooks — the ashes kept at Majdanek were once people, Jewish people; at Mila 18 in Krakow, the bunkers where the partisans of the Krakow ghetto had once fought. I understood more about the Holocaust and the resistance. I also understood how much Israel means to our people and to me.

I looked at the partisans, the resistance fighters, the Zionists, the Haganah fighters, the early halutzim or pioneers, and I saw the determination and love they had for Israel. I understand now that Israel is not just the place toward which we face when we pray daily, or the distant homeland, or the place where our forefathers lived but our haven and our land. It is the place where Jews from all over the world look to for hope in seemingly hopeless times.

Especially the week after being in Krakow, when the war started, I felt so lucky to be there, so lucky to actually have an established Jewish state.

Instead of making me feel cautious and insecure, being there during a time of war allowed me to connect more with Israel. I only realized with stronger effect that Israel truly is my homeland and haven — the one place in the world I can be a Jew in the land of my forefathers.

While I was in Jerusalem, I bought a ring that I hope to wear at least until I return. On it is engraved a passage describing my sentiments exactly: “Libi be’mizrach, veanochi b’sof ma’arav,” meaning, “My heart lies in the east while I am far to the west.” Especially after my journey, Israel will never be far from my heart.

Daniela Bernstein is an 11th grader at the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.

Meditate on Shabbat in the Old City

Â

Minutes from the Western Wall, brilliant bougainvillea grace the courtyard of an Old City apartment encased in Jerusalem’s signature stone. This is where participants in Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s women-only meditation retreats symbolically leave the rest of the week behind to embrace the healing, nurturing powers of Shabbat.

One powerful way to harness these transformative qualities of Shabbat is through stillness.

“Stillness resonates with stillness,” Schneider said. “Hashem ‘rested’ on Shabbat and ceased from creating form and vibration. When we ‘rest’ in silent retreat and meditation, we create a vessel for receiving the precious flow of Divine peace that is uniquely available on this holy day.”

Schneider is the founding director of A Still Small Voice, a correspondence school that provides weekly teachings in classic Jewish wisdom to subscribers around the world. The program has earned the endorsement of many respected leaders, including Rabbi Levi Y. Horowitz, the Bostoner rebbe; Rabbi Noah Weinberg, dean of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah; Rabbi David Refson, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Neve Yerushalayim; and Rabbi Meir Schuster of Heritage House.

Schneider, who says she “has pursued the study and practice of religion, meditation and comparative mysticism since the early 1970s,” moved to Jerusalem in 1981. She has studied at Neve Yerushalayim and with Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a noted teacher of chasidut and kabbalah.

She teaches privately to individuals or small groups and is the author of “Eating as Tikkun,” “Purim Bursts ” and “Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine.”

Observing traditional halachic guidelines for Shabbat, Schneider said, usually fosters an atmosphere in which to access the “healing, guiding and enlightening potential inherent on Shabbat.”

Taking this experience to a heightened level is the goal of her meditation retreats, which are also halachic.

“There is a whole other wealth of ‘light’ and bountiful resource that … remains untapped. Shabbat is a healer. Shabbat is a counselor. Shabbat is a teacher. Shabbat is a loyal and beloved companion,” Schneider said. “It is a taste of the world to come — a taste of perfect clarity, health, knowledge and ecstatic satisfaction.”

The typical retreat takes place monthly before Rosh Chodesh. It begins two hours before Shabbat candlelighting and continues two hours after to allow for journal writing. Sitting and walking meditations complement traditional Shabbat davening. Save for meditation instruction and meals, when conversation focuses on the weekly Torah portion, the group maintains an otherwise silent environment.

Schneider leads participants through specific meditation exercises focusing on the Shem Havaya — the Ineffable Name — based on traditional Jewish sources. She also encourages participants to label thoughts that arise in meditation and, in a subsequent exercise, to respond to these thoughts with short affirmations or prayers, including the following examples:

All-encompassing prayer for those who come into one’s thoughts during meditation, whether for good or bad: Please Hashem, bring light and love, trust and healing into this place [or into that person].

A potentially helpful prayer for thinking or planning: Hashem, please engrave this thought into my memory so that when I sit down to plan it will be there.

Remembering (positive): Thank you for all the sweet experiences of my life but help me stay in the present.

Remembering (negative): Hashem, help me find a way of healing this memory, perhaps by just letting it go. In the meantime, help me to stay in the present.

These small retreats accommodate four or five guests. Advance registration is required. Fees include vegetarian/dairy meals and modest accommodations. It also requires shared responsibility for clean-up and other tasks. For more information, contact A Still Small Voice, Correspondence Teachings in Classic Jewish Wisdom, at POB 14503, Jerusalem, 91141; phone (02) 628-2988; fax (02) 628-8302, smlvoice@netvision.net.il or visit

-->