Nelson Mandela remembered by L.A.’s South African Jews

Video of American gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral

[UPDATE: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]

A clip from NBC showing Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents’ reaction to her uneven bar routine has garnered more than 25,000 hits on YouTube.

The clip shows Raisman’s mother and father commenting on Raisman’s routine from the stands. Her mother, Lynn, says, “Let’s go, let’s go,” and “Come on, come on” while shifting in her seat, and her father, Rick, remains silent until yelling “Stick it, please, stick it!” at the end of Raisman’s routine.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., is Jewish and has been honored by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Her performance in the qualifying round in the London Games earned her a spot in the all-around finals on Tuesday.

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: One LA community organizer

Skip Koenig, a Temple Judea congregant and co-chair of the community organizing group One LA’s health strategy team. Koenig said he is “thrilled” and “excited” about the court’s decision to uphold the mandate that requires all Americans to buy health insurance.

But “I’m not quite sure what the full impact is going to be on the …part of the decision where they said states could not be compelled to participate in the Medicaid expansion,” he said.  “That’s one of the things that One LA will be working closely with our elected officials [on],” he said.

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: Chief executive officer of Bend the Arc

“This is a huge win for the American people,” said Alan van Capelle, chief executive officer of Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice organization. “The Supreme Court has validated the ACA [Affordable Care Act].”

The court’s decision is good news for everybody, including the Jewish community, Capelle said. “The Jewish population is not immune to poverty, and there are many Jews in this country who are living just above the poverty line, so our community is affected in the same way that every other community is affected,” he said.

Instating the health care law will also lead to a more equitable distribution of medicine that reflects Jewish values, Capelle believes. “Jewish law, practice, has always considered health care a communal responsibility,” he said.

L.A.’s French Jews react to Toulouse killings

French Jews in Southern California reacted with sadness and disgust, but not surprise, to the shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, that left three children and one teacher dead.

“In France you are scared – you cannot even wear a kippah on the street,” said Francky Perez, who moved with his wife from Paris to Los Angeles three years ago to allow their children, now 6 and 7, to express their Judaism in a safe environment. “Even if what happened in Toulouse turns out not to be anti-Semitism, you cannot pretend that hate doesn’t exist in France. It’s a reality.”

At press time Tuesday, the gunman remained at large. On Monday, a man on a motorcycle opened fire as students and parents were entering Ozar Hatorah at the start of the day, then chased students into the school as he continued shooting. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two sons, Gavriel, 3, and Aryeh, 6, were killed. The school’s principal, Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego, saw his 7-year-old daughter Miriam killed in front of him. A 17-year-old boy is in critical condition.

The area in southwestern France remains under heavy security.

“We’re all absolutely shocked. A tragedy like this shows the worst of human nature, if we can still talk about human nature in this case,” said David Martinon, France’s consul general in Los Angeles.

French investigators have linked the shooting at the 200-student school to two shootings in the area last week that killed three soldiers and left another critically injured. The soldiers were of North African and Caribbean descent.

[UPDATE: More on this story

Local Iranian Americans Protest Iranian Election

The ties that bind Los Angeles’ Iranian community to its roots a half-world away have been in full view this week, as protesters cried out in reaction to the June 12 Iranian presidential election, calling it fraudulent and a sham. Within the Iranian Jewish community in particular, the belief remains that none of the candidates can be expected to effect real change in Iran — not the rabidly anti-Israel, Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nor the so-called moderate candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. 

“Iran’s presidential elections are far from democratic or legitimate,” Bijan Khalili, a local Iranian Jewish activist and publisher, said even before Iran’s Interior Ministry announced the incumbent had won the election by a nearly two-thirds margin on Saturday. “For example, religious minorities like Jews and women in general cannot run for that office.” Anyone who does run does so at the discretion of the supreme leader and Islamic clerics, Khalili said, and “they have the final say as to who will win.”

On Friday, nearly two dozen local Iranian Americans, among them a smattering of Iranian Jews, protested as voters cast their ballots at an official Iranian government polling station inside a Westin Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport. Citizens of Iran who live outside the country, including those holding dual citizenship, were allowed to participate in the election. According to the current Iranian law, citizens outside Iran must simply present a valid Iranian passport and be over the age of 18 to vote.

Protesters said they were surprised to see roughly 1,000 local Iranians come to vote, including what looked like a handful of Iranian Jews. “I witnessed some Iranian Jewish female college students who showed up to vote,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian Muslim protester among those protesting at the hotel. Farahanipour is head of the Marse Por Gohar Party, an Iranian political opposition group based in Westwood.

The official Web site of the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, D.C., named only four polling centers in Southern California — the LAX Westin, the Hyatt in Irvine, the Embassy Suites in La Jolla and the Ayres Hotel in Ontario.

But even the validity of such polling stations should be questioned, according to Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran. He charged that renting polling space to the Iranian government means these hotels engaged in an illegal business transaction with the embargoed regime.

“Managers of two of these local hotels said they had knowingly rented their facilities for the official use of the presidential elections of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Nikbakht said. “Therefore these hotels had entered into financial transactions with persons and entities connected to the Islamic Republic of Iran and were very possibly in violation of various U.S. laws prohibiting financial transactions with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The Web site of the Iranian government’s Interior Ministry names a total of 41 voting locations in the U.S. where Iranians with duel citizenship could go to vote.

When Ahmadinejad’s government declared victory so quickly, the reaction inside Iran was swift and passionate, and locals in Los Angeles followed suit. On Saturday and Sunday, dozens of Iranian Americans of various faiths gathered in protest outside the Federal Building in Westwood. They included both those opposed to all aspects of the Iranian regime as well as supporters of the reformist Mousavi.

Ahmadinejad’s forces worked in Los Angeles in advance of the election, according to Nikbakht, who has long monitored the activities of the Iranian government’s proxies in Southern California. Nikbakht said a small contingent of pro-Ahmadinejad supporters had been speaking to crowds of Iranian American students at UCLA recently as well as at campuses in the Los Angeles area in an effort to encourage them to vote for the incumbent.

In addition, two weeks ago, as many as seven pro-Ahmadinejad supporters stood in front of the Borders bookstore in Westwood waving Iran government flags, Nikbakht said. The supporters chanted slogans in favor of the Iranian president.

Iranian Jews here remain reluctant to speak out on the outcome of the election, saying they are fearful of possible retaliation against the approximately 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. Yet all said they believe the current anti-Israel and anti-American attitudes of the Iranian government would not change, regardless of who is named Iran’s president.

“No one really believes that the policies of Iran would change with a new leader, because the real policy comes from the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei, and not from the so-called president, no matter who is elected,” said Jimmy Delshad, an Iranian Jew who is currently serving as vice-mayor of Beverly Hills. “Iran’s president is only the propaganda mouth of the regime.”

Likewise, local Iranian Jews said officials in the Obama administration as well as members of the news media have been duped into painting a positive image of Iran’s “reformist” presidential candidates, including the moderate Mousavi.

Khalili points to history as a guide: “If you look at the track record of these supposed reformists, like [former president Mohamad] Khatami — they not only made Iran less free, but they were more oppressive to the population than all the past hardliners.

“Journalists and political voices opposed to the regime were executed under the reformists in the late 1990s,” Khalili added. “Khatami’s government killed, tortured and imprisoned hundreds of opposition student leaders during the 1999 student uprisings. The nuclear weapons program was also secretly going forward at full speed during Khatami’s reign, and he knew all about it.”

Southern California Iranian Jews’ disdain for the “reformist” government officials in Iran is deep-seated. In September 2006, seven Iranian Jewish families in Los Angeles and Israel filed suit against Khatami, holding him responsible for the arrests and disappearance of their loved ones between 1994 and 1997 — 12 Jews who were arrested by the Iranian secret police while attempting to flee from southwestern Iran into Pakistan and have since disappeared.

Likewise during Khatami’s presidency in 1999, 13 Jews from the city of Shiraz were imprisoned on charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Ultimately, the international exposure of the case put pressure on the Iranian regime, and the “Shiraz 13” were released.

Nikbakht believes the Obama administration miscalculated the outcome of the elections in Iran and was naïve in failing to foresee the potential for fraud in the voting process.

“The U.S. administration, clearly misled by their Iran advisers and analysts, apparently believed that the real power in Iran would stay neutral in the elections and would let the people actually elect someone without fraud and vote-rigging,” Nikbakht said.

Local Iranian Jews said that regardless of who becomes the winner in the election, they will continue to educate Americans about the evils of the current Iranian regime, using their first-hand experience of the tyranny of Iran’s religious leadership.

“Perhaps the biggest misconception in the West is the gross underestimation of the depth of this regime’s commitment to its fundamental belief that the entire world must eventually come under the rule of Islam and Iran’s ‘supreme leader,” said Sam Kermanian, former secretary general of L.A.’s Iranian American Jewish Federation and current executive vice chair of the Center For Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights in Los Angeles.

U.S. State Department officials and representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls for comment.

For more about the Iranian elections and the Iranian Jewish community, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at

Remember the victims, hate their killers

All terrorism is monstrous, but the murder of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, by religious Islamic extremists stands out for its unspeakable infamy.

The deliberate targeting of a small Jewish center and its married young directors, whose only purpose it was to provide for the religious needs of a community and feed travelers, proves that those who perpetrated this crime are bereft not only of even a hint of humanity, but every shred of faith as well.

Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackThe world’s most aggressive atheists are more religious than these spiritual charlatans and pious frauds. When Osama bin Laden, whose beard masks the face of the ultimate religious hypocrite, attacked the World Trade Center in New York, the target was purportedly chosen as the very symbol of American materialism and excess.

But what could these “religious” people have been thinking in exterminating a twenty-something couple with two babies, who moved from the world’s richest country to India to provide religious services and faith to the poor and the needy? What blow against Western decadence were they striking by targeting a Chabad house, whose entire purpose it is to spread spirituality to people whose lives lack it?

Now is not only a time to remember the victims, but to hate their killers. One cannot love the innocent without simultaneously loathing those who orphan their children.

I know how uncomfortable people feel about hatred. It smacks of revenge. It poisons the heart of those who hate. But this is true only if we hate the good, the innocent or the neutral. Hating monsters, however, motivates us to fight them. Only if an act like this repulses us to our core will we summon the will to fight these devils, so that they can never murder again.

I am well aware that my hero, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” But surely, the great man never meant for this to apply to people like Hitler, who was never going to be stopped by love but only by an eloquent loathing as articulated by Winston Churchill, which summoned an allied campaign to carpet-bomb his war-making apparatus into oblivion.

Indeed, had King’s nonviolent movement not been protected at crucial times by federal marshals and the National Guard, the terrorist thugs of the Ku Klux Klan might have killed every last one of them.

As for my Christian brethren who regularly quote to me Jesus’ famous saying, “Love your enemies,” my response is that our enemies and God’s enemies are different parties altogether. Jesus meant to love those who steal your girlfriend, cut you off on the road or swindle you in a business deal.

But to love those who indiscriminately murder God’s children is an abomination against all that is sacred. Is there a man who is human whose heart is not filled with moral revulsion against terrorists who target a rabbi who feeds the hungry? Would God or Jesus ask me to extend even one morsel of my limited capacity for compassion to fiends, rather than saving every last particle for their victims instead?

Could God really be so unreasonable; could Jesus be so cruel as to ask me to love baby killers? And would such a God be moral if He did? Could I pray to a God who loves terrorists? Could I find comfort in Him knowing that He offers them comfort as well?

No. Such a god would be my enemy. He would abide in Hades rather than heaven. And I would be damned before I would worship him. I will accept an eternity in purgatory rather than a moment of celestial bliss shared with these beasts.

Now is the time for our Muslim cleric brethren to rise in chorus and condemn the repulsive assassins who use Islam to justify their hatred. One such courageous imam, and one of the North America’s most prominent, is my friend Imam Shabir Ali of Toronto, who courageously responded to my call with a public statement the day after the murders:

“Such terrorist attacks are not justifiable on any grounds. Islam cannot condone such murder of innocent civilians. From what you have described, Rabbi and Mrs. Holtzberg are of great service to humanity.

“Our knowledge of their service adds to our sense of loss and grief that such bad things can happen to such good people. Islam is built on the monotheist foundations which the Jewish people struggled for many centuries to maintain in the face of much severe opposition.

“Muslims and Jews should work together for a better world in which the terrorist acts we have seen in Mumbai … are a thing of the past. I pray that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, and that the Lord will compensate the victims with a handsome reward in this world and the next.”

But as the next world is reserved for God, who also has much to answer for as to how He can allow righteous people like the Holtzbergs and all the other Mumbai innocents to die, it is for us the living to recommit to their work. I suggest that best possible response by the world Jewish community to this travesty is to implement a program of a Jewish peace corps to Chabad houses the world over.

Young people, especially students ages 16 to 30, should offer to spend two weeks of each summer volunteering for a Chabad house somewhere in the world to help the emissaries with their very difficult and important work.

This past summer, three of my teen children volunteered to work for Chabad in Cordova, Argentina, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives as they shared in the isolation of a dedicated Chabad family, who have lived there for 20 years to cater to the spiritual needs of the local community.

Finally, the world witnessed how the Holtzberg’s non-Jewish nanny, Sandra Samuels, saved their 2-year-old Moshe’s life, running out with the child while risking being mowed down by machine-gun fire. In that instant, we saw how the religious differences among people pale beside the higher truth of us all being equally God’s children, Indian and Jew, Muslim and Christian, and how acts of courage and compassion are what unite us.

As I write these lines, the State of Israel is being lobbied by the Holtzbergs’ remaining family to grant Samuels immediate citizenship. A hero of her caliber would be an honor to the Jewish state and the request should not be delayed by even a single day.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Jewish Values Network. His upcoming book, “The Kosher Sutra,” will be published in January by HarperOne. His Web site is