Dr. Sima Goel

Advice from a Jewish Refugee in Canada


Like all Canadians, I am fascinated and horrified by the news of desperate refugees seeking asylum in Canada.

These stories are too close to my heart. Over thirty years ago I came to Canada as a young refugee, but to get here I had to first walk over sand, not snow. I left my native Iran in the middle of the night, crossed the most dangerous desert in the world and made my way to Pakistan where I lived an uneasy life for nearly a year, a reluctant guest of the United Nations Political Refugee program. I eventually made my way to Canada on an Alitalia jet. At the airport in Montreal, I made my declaration of intent known to the RCMP immigration officers, who promptly detained me.

Not much separates me from those frightened refugees who trudge through waist- deep snow to get to Canada. Not much separates them from the refugees who tried to escape Hitler’s Europe and find haven here. When asked how many Jews could be accepted during the terrible years of Hitler’s reign, representatives of the Canadian government famously replied, “None is too many.” It was believed that Jews could not or would not be assimilated, nor would they change their ways to adapt to their new country.

When I reflect on this chapter in the Canadian story, I always feel stunned. I see the Jewish community as diverse, respectful, traditional and modern. We defy one- word descriptions. We are complex. Why are the new refugees any less?

In the 1940s, Canada was a predominantly Christian society lead by white European men. When I arrived forty years later, it was still predominantly white and Christian, but the word “Jew” had earned some respect in the increasingly diverse Canadian landscape. I came here, secure in the knowledge that as a member of a minority I was entitled to live life as I chose, to adapt and modify my ways to the Canadian ethic and to create a healthy life for myself, always respecting the values of others.

I delighted in Canadian freedoms. I was glad to leave behind the “one size fits all” of Iranian life, where everything, from music to literature to style of dress was controlled by the religious government.

I came here prepared to work hard. Having just turned eighteen, I spoke only Farsi. I had neither family nor friends in Canada and neither money nor contacts. Canadian and Jewish agencies guided and supported me as I went to school, worked several jobs and learned Canadian ways.

I faced challenges. Life was at times hard and austere, confusing and lonely. But it was always good because I was living life as a free person and learning how to be Canadian.

All refugees are running from something, and today those crossing the invisible border are running to us, the Canadians of 2017. Where once Canadian officials slammed the door, we now welcome the lost and oppressed.

Are we afraid of these new immigrants? Apparently some of us are. When we welcome refugees we need to integrate people of different faith and culture, some of whom have different attitudes towards women, health care and child-rearing. They may hold different political views and they come with their own prejudices. We certainly do.

But if history shows us anything, it shows us that human beings adapt. The current American president comes from German stock. The one before him had a Kenyan father. Our own prime minister has French Canadian, English, Scottish and Dutch forbears. He is quintessentially Canadian in his expression of the importance of human rights and freedoms.

When I read stories of these terrified refugees, I wonder what other Canadians think. I am sure some are compassionate, while others fear potential terrorists and welfare loafers. Some focus on a possible economic burden, saying that charity begins at home. Others see eventual economic growth from the influx of new immigrants.

I came here, determined to make a place for myself. I knew I was not going to be a burden. I came here to learn what it means to be Canadian, to embrace two new languages, to learn new ways. It was my intention to work hard and repay Canada and Canadians for every kindness, good deed and act of support.

And I have.

Forty years ago Vietnamese and Romanians came to our borders. In later years, we received waves of asylum seekers from El Salvador and other South American points. Thirty years ago, I arrived. Canada has always kept its doors open to newcomers who want to join the Canadian way of life.

It’s hard to change worlds. I struggled with my new reality. I remembered the sweetness of my home country, but I had no desire to replicate Iran’s terror, intolerance and oppression. I fled Iran for the opportunities here, and I was free to choose for myself how much of my Iranian past I took with me. I chose to embrace Canadian freedom because I wanted to be the captain of my own life. I did not want the government to control who I befriended, what I studied, what music I listened to and how I presented myself to the world. If there were things I did not like about Canada, I accepted them. I did not expect people to adapt to my needs, upbringing and desires and nor should any immigrant or refugee. I left because I needed change and change I found here in Canada. All those who enter Canada must learn what it means to be Canadian and the values that entails. We are all free to practice as we please in our personal life, but for the respect of all Canadians the charter of rights prevails.

Thirty years later, I am Canadian to the bone: my background is diverse but my focus is laser- sharp; nobody can touch my freedom. I live in a world of diversity and I respect that we are bound by our shared desire to live with dignity and to express our individuality. We have no right to impose our values on other Canadians, but we do share the common ethic of respect and tolerance. We live and let live, within the framework of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which clearly accepts that the human being is entitled to self-expression, self-control and acceptance.

Integration is not a new concept to Canadians, we have always embraced it and we shall continue to allow it to thrive within our diverse society. Remember, for all of us to feel at home, we must not change the rules of the house.

Dr. Sima Goel is the author of Fleeing the Hijab: A Jewish Woman’s Escape from IranAuthor, inspirational speaker, freelance writer and chiropractor, Iranian-born Dr. Sima Goel has dedicated her life to promoting the importance and fragility of freedom. 

 

President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban on Jan. 27. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Jewish groups decry Trump’s new immigration executive order


Jewish groups condemned an executive order issued by President Donald Trump banning new visas for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries.

Trump on Monday signed an order blocking for 90 days new visas for citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Iraq, which was included in an earlier version of the order that was blocked by federal judges, was not included in the new order.

The order, which is effective March 16, also bans all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days.

HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, urged Jews to fight back against the order.

“We will resist all attempts to vilify refugees,” the group wrote on Twitter. “The U.S. Jewish community owes its very existence to a tradition of welcoming refugees.”

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights also condemned the measure.

The executive order “continues to effectively close our borders to Muslims, and flagrantly violates America’s longstanding, values-driven commitment to serving as a safe haven for refugees,” said a statement by the rabbinic group released Monday. “Masked as an effort to ensure national security, this new executive order is more of the same Islamophobia that targets Muslims by reinstating the discredited vetting procedures, established after September 11, 2001, aimed at men from Muslim-majority countries.”

Jewish groups came out almost unanimously in opposition to the earlier version of the executive order last month, including organizations representing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews. The Zionist Organization of America was the only major Jewish group to unreservedly support the executive order.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order restricting immigration. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Broad-based L.A. Jewish coalition forms to respond to Trump actions


A Los Angeles-based coalition of more than 1,800 self-identified Jews launched this week by releasing a statement that responds to executive actions on immigration and refugees and affirms a commitment to Jewish and American values.

“Frankly, I’ve never seen in my life in L.A. a coalition this broad, that’s come together for this single purpose,” said former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, one of six members of the organizing committee at the helm of the new group calling itself Jews United for Democracy and Justice (JUDJ).

The other committee members are former L.A. Congressman Mel Levine, civics scholar and social entrepreneur Shawn Landres, UCLA Jewish history professor David Myers, political consultant Dan Loeterman and attorney Janice Kamenir-Reznik.

On Feb. 28, the six organizers sat down over breakfast in Myers’ Pico-Robertson home, the coalition’s impromptu command center, to explain the group’s goals to a reporter.

“We’re not aspiring to be another Jewish organization in the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations. … We certainly imagine ourselves not displacing, but working alongside other organizations that are engaged in the same kind of work,” Myers said.

The group’s statement of principles doesn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but addresses a perceived threat to democratic institutions posed by his administration.

“JUDJ is deeply concerned about rising threats to religious tolerance, equal rights, a free and fair press, human dignity, and long-held norms of decency and civil society,” the statement reads. “We will speak out and take action when our shared Jewish values require us to counter those threats.”

It lays out, in broad strokes, values it sees as threatened by the executive branch, including “America is a nation of laws” and “America is a nation of immigrants.”

“There’s an almost daily assault on one or another foundation of our democratic tradition — kind of aerial bombardment,” Myers said. “And I think what we’re saying is that in the midst of the confusion that is sown, we want to be a voice of clarity.”

The coalition came together after a Feb. 5 meeting of Jewish leaders in Myers’ living room, called in response to a Jan. 27 executive order by Trump that restricted admissions of refugees to the United States. After that meeting, members formed five working groups: immigration, long-term strategy, coalition building, lawyers and rabbis.

The statement of principles, first circulated widely on Feb. 24, represents the coalition’s public debut. By Feb. 28, the list of signatories included more than 110 clergy members, 55 current and former elected officials and 270 board officers and senior executives of Jewish communal groups and philanthropies.

The list incorporated members of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, as well as other Jewish membership organizations; elected officials in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.; all three citywide elected officials in Los Angeles, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Controller Ron Galperin and Mayor Eric Garcetti; philanthropists; university professors; and clergy from every major denomination.

The move to establish a new coalition comes as some members of the Jewish community see a lack of organized leadership opposed to Trump’s actions. After Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson sent a community-wide email that addressed the refugee order without denouncing it, for instance, alumni of Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Project wrote a letter expressing their disappointment and requesting that he take a stronger stance.

But members of the JUDJ organizing committee insisted the group wouldn’t compete with Federation or any other Jewish organization, but rather lend political capital to groups that can use it.

“We are not in competition with anybody else,” Levine said. “We’re inclusive and draw people from all of these organizations.”

Levine said one of the primary purposes of the coalition would be to support and join with communities targeted by the administration, naming in particular the Muslim and Hispanic communities. But it also seeks to unite Jews across political and demographic lines in support of democratic values.

“A lot of people in my generation weren’t around for the fights that Zev was around for,” said Loeterman, who is 28. “We weren’t around for the fights that David and Janice and Shawn and Mel were around for. … They see this as kind of our generation’s chance to join with other generations.”

About 700 people attended a New York City rally in support of refugees organized by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on Feb. 12. Photo by Josefin Dolsten

Jews gather at rallies across U.S. urging support for refugees


Over 100 years ago, Barnett Levine was greeted by the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty as he arrived in the United States, having fled anti-Semitism and pogroms in his native Poland.

On Sunday, his grandson saw those very same sights when he joined about 700 others in this city’s Battery Park downtown at a rally protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order banning all refugees from the country for 120 days.

“I am the grandchild of four immigrants who came here when the gates of the United States were wide open and they made a life here,” Harold Levine, a 60-year-old marketing consultant, told JTA. He added: “I think that it is the duty of the Jewish community to pay this forward to other immigrants who are trying to come to the United States.”

The rally was organized by HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, part of an initiative by the immigrant resettlement group called the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees.

The president issued his order last month, which also banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. On Thursday, a federal appeals court ruling upheld a stay on the ban, a move praised by Jewish groups, including HIAS.

Harold Levine brought a poster to the New York City rally showing his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States over 100 years ago, fleeing anti-Semitism in his native Poland. (Josefin Dolsten)

Thousands attended rallies on Sunday as part of the HIAS initiative, including in Boston, Washington, D.C, and other major cities, a representative for the group told JTA. The demonstrations had more than 20 co-sponsors, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Mark Hetfield, the CEO of HIAS, said the rallies were a rare moment of joining together in support of refugees.

“I haven’t seen anything like this since I got my start [with HIAS] in 1989, which was at the height of the Soviet Jewry movement,” he said. “This is a galvanizing moment like that, but the difference is that then we were standing up for Jews, and now we are standing up as Jews.”

At the New York rally, participants braved icy wind, hail and rain to join in chants of “When refugees are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back” and “Never again means never again for everyone” between speeches by rabbis and clergy members, politicians and leaders of Jewish groups. Among the speakers were Mayor Bill de Blasio; Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the ADL, and Sana Mustafa, a Syrian refugee.

In Boston, speakers at a rally with several hundred participants included City Councilor Josh Zakim, whose father, the late Lenny Zakim, was the longtime director of the New England Anti-Defamation League; Imam Faisal Khan, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Wayland, and Fred Manasse, a child Holocaust survivor who was brought to the U.S. by HIAS.

Speeches — even those given by non-Jewish speakers — were peppered with references to Jewish history and traditions.

“In this city we believe we can live in harmony,” de Blasio said in New York.” It’s not perfect, but we believe we can do something that the whole world is struggling to do, that we can all be together … people of all religions and backgrounds, that is what we’re fighting for — doesn’t that fit beautifully the profound Jewish concept of tikkun olam, of healing the world?”

Elianna Kan, left, said the fact that her family members came to the U.S. as refugees from the Soviet Union motivated her to attend the New York City rally with her friends Will Hunt and Sarah Rosen. (Josefin Dolsten)

Ellison, who told JTA that the rally was “one of the main reasons” for his visit to New York, talked in his speech about the MS St. Louis, a ship with 900 Jewish refugees from Germany that tried to enter the United States and other countries but was turned away. He called the incident “a shameful time in our country.”

“All of our officials who worked with this stuff knew about it. We can’t say we didn’t know — we knew,” said Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a front-runner to lead the Democratic National Committee. “We didn’t want to get involved, we wanted to just mind our own business, we just kind of thought, ‘Oh, this is not our issue.’”

Jewish ritual featured prominently. At one point during the New York rally, representatives of 10 of the co-sponsoring groups went on stage and tore pieces of cloth, mimicking a Jewish ritual in which mourners rend their clothing. The tearing was done to remind attendees of refugees who had died before being able to reach safety, as well as those who are now facing dangerous circumstances.

Bill de Blasio HIAS

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the HIAS rally in New York, Feb. 12, 2017. (Gili Getz)

In addition to co-sponsoring the New York event, the ADL on Sunday also launched a campaign to rally opposition to Trump’s executive order urging people to share on social media their family stories of coming to the U.S. and tagging posts with #ThisIsARefugee.

“We remember that we were once strangers, too, that Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and oppression during the Holocaust were often denied entry with claims eerily similar to some of the claims that are being made today to deny entrance to refugees, and we think that’s wrong,” Greenblatt told JTA on the phone before the rally.

Participants at the rally said they were compelled to attend for a variety of reasons, both personal and historical.

Lisa Davidson, a 41-year-old professor who attended the New York event, said she saw historic parallels between the Holocaust and the civil war in Syria.

“What’s going on in Syria right now is criminal, and it is sort of reminiscent of what happened in the Holocaust in the ’30s and ’40s, and I think that we don’t want to repeat that again, and we don’t want to sit and say that we did nothing,” Davidson said.

Lisa Davidson, seen at the New York rally, says she sees parallels between the Holocaust and the civil war in Syria. (Josefin Dolsten)

For some the motivation came from their family history. Levine, the marketing consultant whose grandfather immigrated to the U.S. over a century ago, brought with him a poster saying”This is personal” and showing a photograph of his grandfather and his immigration paperwork.

“I couldn’t not come here. The minute I heard about it, I thought I had to come,” he said.

Elianna Kan shared similar reasons for coming. The 28-year-old translator and journalist said her family came to the U.S. in the 1970s as refugees from the Soviet Union, receiving financial and logistical help from HIAS.

“I’m here and have the privilege of being born in a free country because people who were concerned with the plight of my family, whether or not they had a personal connection, were out there, and this seems like an even more extreme case,” she said. “It’s a different case, but the parallels are far too obvious to me.”

(JTA correspondent Penny Schwartz contributed reporting from Boston.)

Rabbi Naomi Levy

Jews against the Muslim Ban


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Listen to Rabbi Naomi Levy’s sermon:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Demonstrators at Chicago’s O’Hare airport protesting Donald Trump’s executive order on Jan. 29. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Jewish groups praise court for upholding stay on Trump’s travel ban


Jewish groups welcomed a federal appeals court ruling upholding a stay on President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees and of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“We applaud the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and hope that it sends an important message to the nation and the world that the United States is a nation that does not exclude people based on their faith and welcomes those seeking refuge,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement it posted on Twitter just minutes after the court ruled on Thursday.

The tweet noted that the ADL had joined an amicus brief in the legal action originally brought by the State of Washington against the ban.

The unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit panel of three judges was a narrow one, upholding last week’s decision by a federal court in Seattle to stay the ban pending further consideration of its legality.

Also commending the ruling was the American Jewish Committee. “We welcome the 9th Circuit ruling–an important moment for U.S. democracy and values,” it said on Twitter.

HIAS, the Jewish group advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees, tweeted links to the decision. It also has joined an amicus brief against the ban, in Maryland.

One of the HIAS tweets was a reminder that its battle against the ban is not over; Trump’s ban may yet be upheld by the courts.

“We will continue fighting Pres. Trump’s executive order until we’ve re-secured the American tradition of #WelcomingRefugees to our shores,” it said.

HIAS is spearheading rallies on behalf of refugees to take place in nearly a dozen states this Sunday. A focus will be Trump’s executive order. Also backing the rallies are the ADL, the American Jewish World Service, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the rabbinical associations of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called the court’s ruling “a victory for American freedom over Presidential tyranny.”

“The court has sided with refugees who thirst for hope over a president who yearns to hate,” the center said in a statement.

Trump appeared ready to take his case to reinstate the ban pending further legal review to the Supreme Court. “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” he said on Twitter.

Neither Trump nor his team has explained what imminent danger cannot withstand the temporary stay on his order, issued about a week after he assumed office last month; no terrorist committing a crime on U.S. soil has hailed from any of the seven nations listed in the ban.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, called on Trump to give up on the executive order.

“President Trump ought to see the writing on the wall, abandon proposal, roll up his sleeves and come up with a real, bipartisan plan to keep us safe,” he said on Twitter.

Alan Dershowitz, the noted constitutional lawyer, had similar advice.

“Precedent trumps President Trump,” he said on CNN.

A young Yazidi girl rests at the Iraq-Syrian border. Photo by Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

The forgotten genocide: While Yazidis struggle for existence, the world does little to help


It was well before dawn on Aug. 3, 2014, when fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) streamed out of the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tal Afar, heading east. By daybreak, the Kurdish forces protecting the region’s civilian population had melted away. They fled with few warnings to the villagers, most of them Yazidis, members of an ancient and oft-persecuted religious minority.

The hundreds of settlements dotting the region, known together as Sinjar, are the locus of the global Yazidi population, which counts about 1 million souls worldwide. Across the arid expanse, the ISIS fighters who overran it seemed to follow the same script: Men and women were separated. Prepubescent boys were kidnapped for indoctrination as ISIS fighters. Women and their young children were sequestered into sexual slavery. And the men — those older than  12 — were forced to convert or else murdered, either shot in the head, sprayed from behind with bullets or beheaded as their families watched.

The picture painted in United Nations reports is dim. Within days, 5,000 were dead and about half a million displaced from their homes. One report, in June 2016, called the genocide “on-going,” estimating that 3,200 Yazidi women are still held as sex slaves by ISIS — bought, sold and raped by some of the same men who murdered their husbands and fathers. The bulk of Yazidis in Iraq who remain free stay in squalid refugee camps where basic needs are met barely or not all, while an untold number have embarked on the journey west, over perilous seas to the uncertain promise of refuge in Europe or the United States.

What’s worse is that the genocide of this tiny religious group didn’t take its victims by surprise. “We had a sense that it’s going to happen,” one Yazidi activist in Houston, Haider Elias, told the Journal.

In fact, ISIS has been remarkably forward about its genocidal intentions. “Unlike the Jews and Christians, there was no room for jizyah [ransom] payment,” explained an article in Dabiq, a glossy ISIS propaganda magazine. “Their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates who the majority of the fuqaha [Islamic jurists] say cannot be enslaved.”

A group of Islamic law students reviewed the Yazidi question, Dabiq reported, and ruled that unlike Jews and Christians, who are monotheists, Yazidis are pagans to be exterminated in preparation for Judgment Day. (In fact, Yazidis are monotheists whose Mesopotamian creed predates Islam by thousands of years.)

The Obama administration helped break a siege that stranded thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar shortly after the Aug. 3 massacres, but it was a brief show of American airpower. The United States has done little else to ameliorate the situation; the West can claim neither ignorance nor impotence.

A handful of Jewish organizations have raised the alarm, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and at least one, IsraAID, has even offered on-the-ground assistance (see sidebar). But with the global population of forcibly displaced people topping 65 million, most of civil society is tuned to the larger picture. A network of Yazidis in the U.S. seeks its aid and protection for their coreligionists, but their numbers are few.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to ISIS in the town of Sinjar, walk toward the Syrian border on Aug. 11, 2014. Photo by Rodi Said/ Reuters

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to ISIS in the town of Sinjar, walk toward the Syrian border on Aug. 11, 2014. Photo by Rodi Said/ Reuters

 

Iraq is one of the seven countries whose citizens are banned from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days, according to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order.  The order makes an exemption for religious minorities, but at present, the procedures for exercising that exemption are unclear. At press time, the order had been blocked by the courts and was awaiting appeal, but the constitutionality of a religious exemption appeared murky in the first place. Meanwhile, the president has promised “safe zones” in Syria but the majority of Yazidis in the Middle East are in Iraq.

The persistence of genocide into the second decade of the 21st century makes a cruel joke of “never again,” just as Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia did in the second half of the 20th century. More than two years after the Yazidi genocide began, the question remains: Shouldn’t we do something about it?

‘Nobody helped’

Salem Daoud is Mir of the Yazidis in the United States, the community’s chief religious functionary, serving alongside a council of elders. He speaks a halting English that would be difficult to fully comprehend even if he weren’t describing some of the most trying days of his life. So his son, Seif, who goes by Sam in the U.S., and Rabbi Pamela Frydman, an activist in Los Angeles, joined him on a recent conference call from Glendale, Ariz., to make sure he was understood.

Salem Daoud at the Castle of Mir Ali in northern Iraq. Photo by John Murphy.

Salem Daoud at the Castle of Mir Ali in northern Iraq. Photo by John Murphy.

In such a tiny community, no family is unaffected by an event on the scale of the genocide. Salem’s sister and brother-in-law were kidnapped and then rescued six months later; they’ve never been quite the same since, Salem said. It’s hard to know what to ask a person who sat, more or less helplessly half a world away, while his relatives and countrymen were slaughtered and enslaved.

When Salem’s phone began to ring in early August 2014, there was little he could do to help the man on the other end, a local leader in Sinjar by the name of Ahmed Jaso.

“Till the last minute, till before they killed him, he was calling my dad, like, every, I would say, hour,” Sam said on the phone. “And he’s saying, ‘Do something for us, to save us from their hands.’ ”

Jaso was in a village called Kocho, where ISIS troops were lining up the villagers in groups of 60 or 100 and demanding payment to spare the locals’ lives. When the ransom was not forthcoming, they killed residents in a hail of gunfire, Jaso told Salem. Sam explained that his father has many contacts, people who might have been able to help, “whether here in the U.S., in Iraq, Russia, to people in Germany” — even people close to the White House. “Everybody put their hands on their eyes and their ears,” Sam said.

“[Jaso] would call, ‘[ISIS] said they just killed a hundred, so we need support to save the rest. … They killed another hundred, they need money.’ ” he said. “But nobody wanted to pay.”

“We give the information to a lot of people,” Salem added in his imperfect English. “Just nobody helped. No government, and nobody.”

The village of some 1,800 people was cleared out — the men slaughtered, the young boys kidnapped, the women enslaved.

“Very hard time, that was,” the Mir said. The last time he called Jaso back, the local leader was awaiting his turn at the death squad. “The last time, I hoped I’d be one of these people with them,” Salem said.

The activist

Frydman — known more commonly as Rabbi Pam — is a recent arrival to Los Angeles from Northern California, having moved here in May. There, she started the San Francisco congregation Or Shalom Jewish Community 25 years ago and spent a decade as a social justice activist and educator.

One January morning, Frydman sat down in front of her laptop at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Pico Boulevard. In front of her, a manila folder contained a manuscript of a book about the Holocaust she’s writing that she put on hold two years earlier, when she first learned about the genocide of Yazidis and Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. She finally was finding time to get back to work on the book. Asked to describe how she became active in the struggle for Yazidi survival, she scribbled an impromptu timeline on the back of the manila folder.

Rabbi Pam Frydman. Photo by Bret Putnam

Rabbi Pam Frydman. Photo by Bret Putnam

In November 2014, Frydman saw an email from the Board of Rabbis of Northern California about an event at a Jewish Community Center in the Bay Area. “It said, ‘Act before it’s too late,’ ” she recalled. At the gathering, she saw footage of Yazidis being marched up to the heights of Mount Sinjar, where they were trapped.

“We heard about children who were dehydrated because there just wasn’t enough water,” she said. She heard a story about a woman being driven up the mountain by ISIS forces and struggling to carry both of her children — one of many such stories to emerge from these forced marches. When this particular woman grew too exhausted to hold both children, she put one of them down.

“As soon as she put that child down, the child was slaughtered, was killed, and I said to myself, ‘This is a death march! This is what our people went through in the Holocaust!’ ” Frydman said, her voice wavering. “The fire was in my belly and my heart was shattered, and I felt that I had to do something. And I returned to my home and I started to contact Jewish and interfaith colleagues, and I said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ ”

Soon, she organized a program called Save Us From Genocide, a consciousness-raising campaign for the plight of the Yazidis and Assyrians, hosted by four Bay Area interreligious councils in concert with the United Religions Initiative, a global interfaith network. A project of Save Us From Genocide administered by the Northern California Board of Rabbis, called Beyond Genocide, hopes to gain attention and relief specifically for atrocities perpetrated against Yazidis.

In addition to helping finance university scholarships for Yazidis studying outside Iraq, Beyond Genocide assists in Yazidi migration and resettlement. On that last score, Frydman could describe her efforts only in vague details, out of abundant caution against putting Yazidis in danger.

Asked how much Beyond Genocide had raised for resettlement, she responded, “A very small amount. But with this very small amount, we have performed miracles.”

‘My brother’

Frydman’s resettlement and advocacy work runs primarily through tight-knit networks of American Yazidis such as the one operated by Saeed Hussein Bakr, whom she calls “my brother.” Bakr arrived in the U.S. about five years ago and found his way to Phoenix, where currently he works as a cook for a local Panda Express. As the disaster in Sinjar unfolded, groups quickly sprang up among American Yazidis to help those fleeing for their lives in the Middle East, managed by people like Bakr.

“Yazidis are not a big community,” he said. “So, almost, we all know each other.”

Saeed Hussein Bakr

Saeed Hussein Bakr

Headquartered in places such as Lincoln, Neb., the largest American Yazidi population center, these networks raise money when possible, though the community is in large part newly arrived and not a wealthy one. More often, they deploy contacts in the United States, Europe and the Middle East to help Yazidi migrants who find themselves in trouble.

Bakr’s group, Yazidi Rescue, will alert Coast Guard officials in Greece, for example, when a boatload of Yazidi refugees is abandoned or waterlogged in the Mediterranean or Aegean sea. In other cases, they’ll help Yazidi women escape from slavery or help refugees who are imprisoned abroad. There are no rules or standard operating procedures for this type of operation, only dire phone calls to anybody who might be able to do something, whether civilians or government officials.

“Some nights, I can say we help 1,000 people in one night,” Bakr said.

Bakr first became involved after one of his sons, Layth, on his way to the U.S., got on a boat headed to Greece from Turkey. His boat capsized, and some of the refugees on board with him drowned. “That’s why I work to help those people,” Bakr said.

Remarkably, though, his son’s near-death experience in the Aegean Sea was not the most harrowing episode for Bakr. That would be earlier, in August 2014, when Bakr’s son and other relatives were turned out of their homes and driven up Mount Sinjar.

“For seven days, they were in the mountains, no power, no communications. We don’t know at any time if ISIS, they captured them,” he said. “It was horrible days. Those seven days, they were the worst seven days in my life.”

An ancient people long oppressed

The Yazidis are an ancient people, born in the cradle of civilization. Consecrated to one God, they survived through the ages. In each generation, the yoke of oppression found them, and they cried out for deliverance — except sometimes their savior was a long time in coming.

Sound familiar?

“In each and every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us,” Jews recite each Passover. It would be equally true on the lips of a Yazidi.

The parallels between Jews and Yazidis become uncanny at a point. Both are ethnically distinct religions dating to the birth of monotheism. Both have been singled out by Muslim rulers for persecution based on their strange and foreign faith, slandered as perversions of Islam.

But somewhere along the ages, the historical arcs of the two people diverge. Whereas the history of Jewish genocide ends after the Holocaust, Yazidis have had no such luck.

Since the 15th century, Yazidis count 74 farmans against them — literally, decrees, calls by rulers for their destruction that inevitably result in mass slaughter. They’ve faced genocide at the hands of Kurds, Turks and Arabs, mostly Sunni Muslims backed by the Ottoman Empire. ISIS is only the most recent in a long line of persecutors.


More: A sex slave survivor fights back


Invariably, Yazidi customs and belief are offered as the reason for their oppression. The religion has no central texts that have survived the ages, but its folklore is vivid and distinct from any other faith. Adherents claim to descend not from Abraham but from Adam. Their legend has it that Adam and Eve, as a sort of competition, each placed their seed in a jar. When Eve’s jar was opened, it held an unpleasant stew of filth and insects. Adam’s contained a beautiful baby boy, ibn Jar, literally the son of Jar, who became the ancestor of the Yazidi people.

Ironically, it is their guardian angel that has earned them the fanatical ire of radical Islamists. Yazidis regard as sacred Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel, a fallen angel who refused to bow to Adam when God requested he do so, and who consequently gained dominion over the fates and follies of man. This origin story bears a similarity with that of the Islamic legend of Iblis, the archdevil in Muslim theology. The resemblance between the tales has historically motivated the slander of Yazidis as devil worshippers, a kind of Middle Eastern blood libel that continues to claim the lives of its subjects.

“They have made Iblis — who is the biggest taghut [idolator] — the symbolic head of enlightenment and piety!” the article in the ISIS magazine Dabiq exclaims. “What arrogant kufr [infidels] can be greater than this?”

One irony to emerge from this account is that peacocks don’t exist in the region where Yazidi civilization arose. If the community of nations is not watchful, it’s not inconceivable to imagine a Middle East with no more Yazidis, either.

‘Never again requires a lot of energy’

Google searches for “Yazidis” saw a massive spike in early August 2014 and then returned, but for a few small flutters, to a flatline. But things never went back to normal for Haider Elias, a Yazidi activist in Houston who is the president of Yazda, an advocacy, aid and relief organization.

That’s not the role he’d imagined for himself before ISIS began to wreak catastrophe. A former translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq who immigrated in 2010, Elias was raising three children and studying biology as an undergraduate in the hopes of attending medical school. When his brother was murdered in Iraq and the rest of his family displaced from their homes, he dropped his medical school dreams to dedicate himself to advocacy.

Haider Elias

Haider Elias

Elias and his peers at Yazda run a gamut of programs aimed at helping those displaced by the genocide. They’ve presented on the catastrophe in more than 10 states, including California, and in Europe. In Iraq, the group offers psychological and psychosocial therapy to help reintegrate women who have escaped or been rescued from ISIS. On top of all that, Yazda runs documentation projects to record video testimonies about the genocide and document mass graves.

Elias is still a full-time student at the University of Houston, though he’s switched majors to psychology at the recommendation of some American friends. A social science degree would better suit him for advocacy work, they told him. His days are long and busy, but he’s motivated by the knowledge that his people still face imminent danger.

“Many people want to come back [home] but they’re afraid that the security forces again are going to fail and run away, and this time it’s going to be more fatal, more catastrophic,” Elias said.

And so Yazda now is advocating for international protection for Yazidis, without which resettling Sinjar is unfeasible. “Without some form or guarantee of protection, this community is terrified,” he said.

Elias admits to still being angry. He’s angry with ISIS, naturally, and with the world for standing idly by; but more specifically, he’s angry with the Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga, for abandoning their posts before the Islamists’ murderous advance.

“It’s not a battle and they lost — they ran away,” he said. “They did not tell the population. When you lose many lives and you think you lost the battle, the first thing you do, you inform the population. The second thing, you run away.” To hear Elias and other Yazidis tell it, the Peshmerga didn’t quite bother with the first.

Though most Yazidis are behind Kurdish lines for the moment, their situation remains precarious and their advocates few. Elias made note of a chilling silence in Congress, broken only on occasion by legislators who represent Yazidi population centers, including two Republicans, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“We need a campaign in 2017 to help the Yazidis, whether to advocate for international protection or accepting Yazidi refugees in the U.S. or sending more humanitarian aid to the areas,” Elias said.

Responding to the genocide, Yazda took up “never again” as a rallying cry. But Elias is not naïve about the prospects of his people.

“Never again requires a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of work,” he said.

‘Save us!’

The Yazidi call for aid is neither subtle nor nuanced. Even before the genocide, theirs was a struggle for existence. There is no conversion into the community, and a child with even one non-Yazidi parent is considered to be outside the faith. The massacres and enslavement of Yazidis compound an already dire population problem.

“An entire religion is being exterminated from the face of the earth,” Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, told the legislature on Aug. 5, 2014, in a tearful plea that briefly went viral on the internet. “Brothers, I appeal to you in the name of humanity to save us!”

Before she could finish the next sentence, she collapsed, weeping.

The Yazidis interviewed for this story made clear they are open to any help they can get — military, political, financial and otherwise. Currently, Frydman and her colleagues are advocating for a real immigration pipeline to allow Yazidis to come to the U.S. notwithstanding the Trump administration’s refugee policy.

Three men prepare to leave Mount Sinjar. From left: Saeed Hussein Bakr’s sons, Layth Saeed Hussein and Hussein Saeed Hussein, and his nephew, Fuad Shaker Hassow.

Three men prepare to leave Mount Sinjar. Saeed Hussein Bakr’s sons, Layth Saeed Hussein (right) and Hussein Saeed Hussein (left), and his nephew, Fuad Shaker Hassow.

 

The Trump order, before a federal judge blocked the bulk of it on Feb. 3, in theory allowed Yazidi immigration to continue largely unimpeded. In practice, though, the International Organization for Migration, which coordinates refugee admission, has told Yazidi refugees their immigration has been canceled until further notice, Reuters reported. A faith-based exemption raises constitutional questions and its legality is a matter for the courts to decide.

But not all displaced Yazidis want to leave Iraq, anyway. Many simply want to resume their lives in the villages where they were born and escaped death, according to Salem Daoud, the Yazidi Mir. Much of that territory is still held by ISIS.

For now, the totality of a people’s homeland lives in limbo and its diaspora finds only limited means to help them. Often, prayer is the only recourse. Frydman recalled a joint prayer group near Phoenix with Yazidis, Jews and Universal Sufis. After the prayers were over, a Yazidi elder approached her and showed her a tiny book in a plastic pouch. Peering through her bifocals, she discovered it to be the Book of Psalms. A Jewish friend had given it to the elder, he told her, shortly before immigrating to Israel after the declaration of the Jewish state. “He said the prayers in this book will protect me,” the elder told Frydman.

The themes reflected in the Book of Psalms, as it happens, are more topical now for the Yazidi people than they ever have been in recent memory. As it says in Psalm 7:

O Lord, my God, in You I seek refuge; deliver me from all my pursuers and save me, lest, like a lion, they tear me apart, rending me in pieces, and no one to save me.

How to help

LEARN more about the plight of the Yazidis by reading reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International or other news articles.

CALL or write your elected representatives to request that they act on behalf of the Yazidis.

DONATE to organizations working to assist Yazidis through advocacy and direct aid, listed below:

Beyond Genocide
norcalrabbis.org/yezidi-fundraiser
(415) 369-2860

Yazda
yazda.org
(832) 298-9584

IsraAID
israaid.co.il
info@israaid.org

Photo from Facebook.

HIAS sues Trump over refugee order in first for resettlement agency


A Jewish refugee resettlement agency filed a lawsuit against the federal government Feb. 7 on behalf of Muslim immigrants, a first for the 138-year-old organization.

HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, sued President Donald Trump in a Maryland district court Wednesday. As one of nine State Department sponsors, HIAS provided services to 350,000 refugees and asylum seekers last year.

The class-action suit also names the Departments of Homeland Security and State and their chiefs as defendants.

In the filing, HIAS alleges the president’s Jan. 27 order restricting entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries “was intended and designed to target and discriminate against Muslims.” The order also freezes global refugee admissions.

By suing the government over the order, HIAS joins a number of parties that have taken Trump to court, most notably the state of Washington in a case currently under consideration by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A ruling from a lower court in that case blocked Trump’s order. In a tweet, Trump said that ruling was “ridiculous and will be overturned!”

HIAS and its co-plaintiff, the International Refugee Assistance Project, are represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The complaint alleges that the order violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of Muslims in the country by singling them out based on their faith.

It names as plaintiffs several Muslims legally residing in the U.S. who are negatively impacted by the order, for instance, because they can’t leave the country without fear of being permanently barred.

“Our history and our values, as Jews and as Americans, require us to fight this illegal and immoral new policy with every tool at our disposal—including litigation,” HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield said in a statement.

The suit quotes the Torah as commanding Jews to “love the stranger because ‘we were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

“The Executive Order severely impedes HIAS’s religious mission and work by intentionally discriminating against Muslims,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit acknowledges that the order has been temporarily blocked by the Washington case, but notes that a reversal of the judge’s ruling would “reinstate the Executive Order in its entirety.”

The day before HIAS filed suit, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle filed an amicus brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Washington case, referencing Jewish refugee migration in the 20th Century and asking that the appeals court “heed the lessons from the past and uphold the district court at this historic juncture in our nation’s history.”

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

When an executive order prompts civil disorder


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Let them in!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mollie Goldberg from Los Angeles

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

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

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

Clergy respond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling over security, Holocaust memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took umbrage with comparisons to Jewish refugees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galvanizing young Jews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Rob Eshman

Trump’s anti-American immigration ban


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this time, the xenophobes are in charge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) congratulates Ahmed Hussen after he was sworn-in as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Jan. 10. Chris Wattie/REUTERS

The Promise of Ahmed Hussen


He came to Canada as a 16-year-old refugee from Somalia. He’s highly regarded across the Canadian political spectrum. He was just appointed as immigration minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Now 40 years old, Ahmed Hussen has a promising career in front of him. And in these polarized, fragmented times, he is exactly the kind of public figure we need when it comes to clarifying the wider debate about immigration and Islamism, human rights and national security. 

Trudeau, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, often has been lampooned as a “Kumbaya” do-gooder, devoted to his liberal conscience and slow-witted when it comes to recognizing that fanatics across the world with diametrically opposed views to his are gaining strength and power. I will leave it to readers to judge whether any of that criticism is fair, but I will say that Trudeau’s appointment of Hussen shows a boldness that contrasts markedly with the approach of former President Barack Obama, despite their broadly similar worldview. 

Obama, remember, regards the word “Islamist” as an insult rather than a descriptor. But Hussen has a record of actually tackling Islamism in his own community, engaging in the kind of political fight that Obama would most likely have dismissed as a sop to the radical, nationalist right.

Writing in the Toronto Sun, columnist Tarek Fatah, a close friend of Hussen’s — “though we disagree on much,” he noted — related the time the two first encountered each other. In 2004, Muslim activists in Ontario launched a campaign for the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the province’s family courts, arguing formally that they simply wanted the same rights that were granted to the Catholic and Jewish communities under legislation passed in 1991.

They were supported in this demand by Marion Boyd, a former attorney general who authored a report arguing that it was impossible to sustain Catholic and Jewish law-based family courts while denying them to the Muslim community. But Fatah and others weren’t buying it.

“Opposing them was a much smaller group of secular and liberal Muslims — including yours truly — for whom this was a do-or-die moment,” Fatah wrote. “We knew how the U.K. had let this happen many years before, only to discover, too late, the Muslim community of Britain being held hostage by Islamic clerics.”

For Fatah and his fellow secularists, permitting Sharia courts in Canada would have effectively involved legal surrender to a conservative clerical establishment. Homa Arjomand, a Canadian-Iranian human rights campaigner, eloquently summarized the problem as she pushed back against Boyd’s recommendations. “Our lawyers are studying the decisions of several arbitration cases and will bring them to court and expose how women are victimized by male-dominated legal decisions based on 6th century religion and traditions,” she said at the time.

Eventually, a decision was reached that neatly reflected the dilemma that all liberal democracies face when balancing the need to strengthen secular values against the demands of a vocal religious minority. Sharia courts were not permitted in Ontario, which meant that other religions also were prevented from resolving family disputes in faith-based courts.

As Fatah tells it, Hussen played a diligent, behind-the-scenes role in this episode. Newly minted as a Liberal Party staffer, he introduced the secularists to prominent Ontario politicians, allowing them to present their case directly. 

The importance of having someone like Hussen countering Islamist encroachment among Muslim communities in the West cannot be overstated. As a child, he had seen firsthand the horrors of the conflict in Somalia, which triggered an Islamist surge in that country nearly a decade before the 9/11 atrocities. In Canada, he became a community activist, helping to secure $500 million in funds to revitalize the community in which he lived in Toronto. Moving into immigration law was perhaps the natural next step for him to take.

Now that he’s in Trudeau’s cabinet, Hussen is well positioned to drive home a key message that is increasingly being lost in the global agonizing over national security, particularly in America. Simply put: Islamism and Islam are distinctive concepts.

“Distinctive” does not mean, of course, that they are entirely separate. The imperative of waging jihad in order to impose the rule of Sharia law did not suddenly appear out of nowhere; rather, that struggle is grounded upon authentic Islamic texts, Islamic laws and Islamic traditions. The argument over whether Islamic radicalism is a distortion of Muslim teachings (a default position held by politicians as diverse as George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Obama) or a faithful reflection of them (as argued by nationalists in America and Europe) will continue to rage. 

My own perspective, based on nearly two decades of observing Islamists and their fellow travelers in the West, is that a sledgehammer approach to the more fundamental issue of Muslim integration may play well politically in the short term but is highly destructive in the long term. 

Nobody could seriously argue that Islam is a united body, after all. It is more accurately understood as a culture in the grip of a brutal civil war — between Shia and Sunni, between secular authoritarians and radical clerics, between competing jihadi schools — that is simultaneously linked, ideologically and operationally, to monstrous acts of terrorism against non-Muslims inside and outside the Muslim world. There were plenty of warnings before the 9/11 attacks that this trend was growing, such as the 1994 Iranian-sponsored bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, but Western politicians by and large ignored or misunderstood where this tide was heading.

If we are to avoid repeating these same errors, we need to learn from the past by understanding that Islam’s internal fissures can work to our advantage. But there is nothing to be gained from a situation in which the very word “refugee” becomes a pejorative, as is more and more the case in America, or when we face legislative proposals that could, for example, prevent Kurdish Muslims from Iraq and Syria — traditionally our close allies — from entering our country.

In that sense, we can learn much from people like Ahmed Hussen about the importance of nuance and compassion. As a former refugee, he instinctively understands the plight of those driven from their homes by war and genocide. As a human rights advocate, he grasps that some groups are far more vulnerable than others — which is why he just announced that Canada will allow entry to an unspecified number of Yazidis from Iraq, who have been horribly persecuted by Islamic State, within the next four weeks.

At the same time, Hussen’s record suggests that he recognizes the clear difference between practical support for the victims of extreme cruelty on the one hand, and sinking into nebulous cultural relativism or knuckleheaded bigotry on the other. Partisans of both left and right would do well to consider that.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org and The Tower magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism”  (Edition Critic, 2014).

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

Invite a Muslim for Shabbat


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Khudeeda Rashowka Naif and his family, from a minority Yazidi community, at a refugee camp in Iraq on Jan. 29. Photo by Ari Jalal/Reuters

We must protect refugees and protect national security


The refugee crisis arising from the often savage conflicts raging in the Middle East and North Africa poses one of the great moral dilemmas of our time. On the one hand, we have an affirmative obligation to offer protection to people who are in imminent peril. On the other, we have an affirmative obligation to protect the security of the American people.

To be sure, the vast majority of people fleeing Syria and other war-ravaged countries pose no immediate threat to national security (although, as we have seen, some become susceptible to radicalization through Saudi-financed mosques after arriving here). But as officials within the Obama administration testified, including National Intelligence Director James Clapper, we do not presently have the capacity to identify and screen out security threats. We have seen the tragic consequences of these intelligence gaps in Europe, where ISIS operatives posing as refugees helped carry out the deadly attacks in Paris in November 2015.

President Donald Trump’s temporary cessation of refugee admissions is not without recent precedent. In 2002, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) co-authored the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act that, among other things, stated that “IN GENERAL – No nonimmigrant visa under section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C.1101(a)(15)) shall be issued to any alien from a country that is a state sponsor of international terrorism unless the Secretary of State determines, in consultation with the Attorney General and the heads of other appropriate United States agencies, that such alien does not pose a threat to the safety or national security of the United States.” The bill was passed by a 97-0 margin in the Senate and 411-0 in the House.

In 2011, President Barack Obama suspended the admission of refugees from Iraq for six months in response to evidence that terrorists had entered the United States under the guise of being refugees. The Obama administration also launched a re-examination of the records of some 58,000 Iraqi refugees already settled in the U.S. Going farther back, President Jimmy Carter banned the admission of Iranian nationals after our embassy was seized in 1979.

President Trump’s order will delay, not prevent, some legitimate refugees from being resettled in the United States. Those slated for resettlement, who are deemed not to be security risks, will continue to receive protection under the auspices of the United Nations and other international organizations in the interim. The delay is regrettable; the cost of leaving gaps for ISIS or other terrorist groups to exploit could be catastrophic.

Reasonable people might disagree with President Trump’s decisions to temporarily halt refugee admissions. But some are making unreasonable and facile comparisons between the president’s executive order and this country’s denial of admission to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi onslaught in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Jews seeking to get out of Europe during that era posed no security risks to the United States or any of the other countries to which they were seeking admission. There was no Jewish ISIS or al-Qaida, working with or without state sponsorship. There is no equivalent Jewish concept of jihad. None of the Jews who were in peril in Europe was on the losing side of sectarian power struggles. They were simply innocent targets of a hateful, genocidal ideology.

Most of the people fleeing places such as Syria want nothing more than to live their lives free from the terror and tyranny of brutal dictators like Bashar Assad, or the unspeakable savagery of groups like ISIS. But some have other motives in mind. Some, probably a small number, are seeking to take advantage of the situation to infiltrate the United States and wage their ideological battle against us on our soil, and we must take reasonable precautions to prevent that from happening. As we have learned from bitter experience, a small number people can cause a lot of damage.

Ironically, despite all of the heated rhetoric, there is unanimity of agreement about what we are trying to achieve. We must protect people who are in imminent danger without endangering the security of the American people. The debate is about how to balance these moral imperatives.


Dan Stein is President of FAIR.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Why I’m for vetting, but against Trump’s ban


I wanted to take the time to lay out clearly why I dislike Trump’s executive order on immigration. I think there’s been too much of people (including me) getting angry about it without explaining why. You can’t have a debate that revolves around anger, it has to be about ideas and facts.

I want to start by saying that I support vetting people coming to the US. I particularly support vetting people who want to become permanent residents here. That’s both logical, and moral. I have no argument against that.

The reason Trump’s order troubles me is two-fold. The first part that troubles me is that it’s focused on the wrong places. Trump chose to ban entry from seven countries that certainly have major terrorist activity, however they’re not the countries that have posed the most threat to America. Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria certainly have their problems, but the sad truth is that American allies like Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia have produced far more terrorists over the years. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in American history, was a mostly Saudi Arabian affair.

Lets look at the attacks since 2010 and see the origin or familial background of the attackers:

2010 Times Square Bombing
– Faisal Shahzad (Pakistan)

2010 Arlington Bomb Plot
– Farooque Ahmed (Pakistan)

2010 Virginia Military Shootings
– Yonathan Melaku (Ethiopia)

2010 Portland Car Bomb Plot
– Mohamed Mohamud (Somalia)

2013 Boston Bombings
– Tzarnaev Brothers (Chechnya)

2014 Seattle/NJ Shootings
– Ali Muhammad Brown (African-American Convert to Islam)

2014 Vaughn Foods Beaheading Incident
– Alton Nolen (American Convert to Islam)

2014 NYPD Killings
– Ismaaiyl Brinsley (African American Muslim)

2015 Islamic Art Contest Shooting in Texas
– Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi (American Convert & Pakistani Descent)

2015 Chattanooga Shootings
– Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez (Kuwait)

2015 UC Merced Stabbings
– Faisal Mohammad (Pakistani Descent)

2015 San Bernardino Shooting
– Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik (Pakistan)

2016 Columbus Melee
– Mohamed Barry (Somalia)

2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting
– Omar Mateen (Afghan Descent)

2016 Roanoke Stabbings
– Wasil Farooqi (American-born Muslim of unknown origin)

2016 Minnesota Mall Stabbings
– Dahir A. Adan (Somalia)

2016 NY/NJ Bombings
– Ahmad Khan Rahami (Afghan)

2016 Ohio State Attack
– Abdul Razak Ali Artan (Somalia)

Looking at that list, it would seem like Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan would be the three countries of origin of most concern, however only Somalia is on Trump’s list.

In fact, Somalia is the only country on Trump’s list that had US terrorists that hailed from it in this decade. The other countries had ZERO. Countries like Kuwait, Chechnya, and Ethiopia have produced terrorists that attacked the US, but they’re also not on the list.

This is the first reason I dislike Trump’s ban. It’s poorly targeted. It’s not even hitting the places that have hit us the hardest. That’s either foolish, or willfully stupid.

I’ve heard some people comment that the seven countries were chosen because their governments are either in shambles, or state sponsors of terror. That doesn’t explain why Afghanistan isn’t on the list — its government is no more well-organized than Iraq’s. It also doesn’t explain the absence of Pakistan, whose government has repeatedly been shown to have been infiltrated by extremist elements, even in their security service, the ISI. It also doesn’t explain why Palestinians using PA-issued passports, or temporary Jordanian passports aren’t banned. Any Israeli would tell you that a ban that doesn’t target those passports is not a good one.

The second reason I dislike Trump’s executive order is because it’s incredibly heavy-handed. In an attempt to not actually make it a “Muslim ban” in word, he made it a clumsy Muslim ban in practice. By banning all visa holders from those seven countries from entering the US, Trump managed to hurt Persian Jews, Yazidi Christians, Kurds, and Sudanese Christians, none of whom are, or have ever been a threat to the US. Rather than exempting them from the ban, Trump made it a blanket ban to avoid a court ruling the ban was illegal because it specifically targeted Muslims. We needed a surgeon, we got a butcher.

When you combine those fundamental weaknesses of the executive order with the fact that it was poorly rolled-out, rushed, and that the details of it were vague and not double-checked with the agencies who were supposed to enforce it, it’s an abject failure.

The central premise of the ban is also questionable. Will it make America safer? That’s not terribly clear. It most certainly will make Americans traveling abroad less safe. They’ll be even bigger targets now. ISIS is already using it as a recruitment tool. But will it even make us safer at home? Most of our Muslim terrorists in the past decade have been American citizens, who wouldn’t have been affected by the ban. The ban also likely increases the chances that one of the 3.3 million Muslims already in America will become radicalized, or that a non-Muslim who converts will become radicalized. Does that make us safer?

Vetting is important. Security is important. No one disagrees with that, but it needs to be done well. It needs to be done intelligently. This ban is neither intelligent, nor well implemented, and in that respect, it’s a clear failure.

Even if you support a blanket ban, you should be asking Trump to add Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Chechnya and Turkey to the list. If he doesn’t, you know he actually doesn’t care.


Jonathan Maseng’s work has appeared in LA Weekly, The Press Enterprise, The Jewish Journal, and the Jerusalem Post Magazine. He also writes regularly about the New York Mets for SB Nation’s Amazin’ Avenue.

President Donald Trump

When recklessness kills debate


A few minutes before his daughter lit the Shabbat candles last Friday night, President Donald Trump signed a rushed executive order regarding immigration and refugees.

Did Trump deliver on his campaign promise of a Muslim ban to America until we figure out “what the hell is going on”? Actually, he backed down considerably from that promise, signing instead a more narrow order regarding travel restrictions from jihadist conflict zones.

As David French writes in National Review Online, “Trump’s order isn’t a betrayal of American values. Applied correctly and competently, it can represent a promising fresh start and a prelude to new policies that protect our nation while still maintaining American compassion and preserving American friendships.”

But here’s the problem: It wasn’t enacted correctly or competently. There was no serious vetting with legal and security experts, no coordination with foreign governments or the multiple agencies in charge of execution, no cooperation with key allies in Congress. As David Brooks wrote in The New York Times, “To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs.”

As a result of his blundering impulsiveness, Trump nourished the anti-Trump frenzy that already is sweeping much of the country, especially among liberal circles.

So, instead of having a smart debate over how best to protect our country and still live up to our ideals, we have the spectacle of confused immigration officials, visitors stranded in limbo, protestors swarming airports, lawyers rushing to courts and a gleeful media happy to rake in the ratings.

You could never tell through all the hysteria that the Trump orders were hardly a radical departure from past policies. For example, according to the Migration Policy Institute, Trump’s annual cap of 50,000 refugees is higher than the caps allowed by President George W. Bush in 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007, and only moderately lower than the caps allowed by President Barack Obama before 2016. In 2011 and 2012, Obama admitted barely more than 50,000 refugees.

As far as the indefinite hold on admission of Syrian refugees until the United States has “determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP [United States Refugee Admissions Program] to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest,” as the executive order states, let’s not go crazy. In the four years after the start of the Syrian civil war, confronted with a refugee crisis that ballooned into the millions, Obama allowed 29 Syrian refugees in 2011, 31 in 2012, 36 in 2013 and 105 in 2014.

You could never tell through all the hysteria that the Trump orders were hardly a radical departure from past policies.

The order imposing a temporary 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen may drive a lot of people nuts, but it’s also not a radical departure from the past. The ban, which allows for special exemptions, is in place while the Department of Homeland Security determines the “information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat.”

Obama’s State Department imposed its own six-month ban in 2011, when it stopped processing Iraqi refugees after a Kentucky case involving two al-Qaida terrorists. Unlike Trump’s order, though, the ban did not apply to tourists and immigrants.

Where does the list of seven countries come from? That’s right — from the Obama administration. Beginning in January 2016, travelers from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria were blocked from entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows foreign citizens to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Libya, Somalia and Yemen were added soon after due to “the growing threat from terrorist fighters.”

Under Obama’s restrictions, people still were able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process. Nevertheless, it hardly feels like a radical departure to impose a 90-day ban on countries identified as a growing threat by Obama himself while the U.S. reviews and potentially strengthens the vetting process.

My point is this: Trump’s reckless disregard for the slow, deliberate process of shaping policy, and the ensuing chaos he breeds with his “fire, ready, aim” approach, is killing debate and making it virtually impossible to see any hint of sanity in his policies, even when it’s there.

If he wants to avoid becoming a loser president, maybe he ought to put down his pen once a week and light the Shabbat candles with his daughter. If Shabbat can’t slow him down, nothing can.


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

Demonstrators protests outside Terminal 4 at San Francisco International Airport on Jan. 28. Photo by Kate Munsch/Reuters

Make America just (again)


At the height of the escape from Egypt, the Israelites are encamped on the banks of the Reed Sea and the Egyptians are bearing down on them. The Israelites and Moses are crying out to God. In a surprising twist God answers Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!” Rabbi Eliezer expands God’s words thus: “The Holy One of Blessing said to Moses: ‘Moses, my children are in trouble! The sea is closing in on them, and the enemy is chasing them, and you are standing and praying?!!’”

There is a time for prayer and a time for action. We are now in a time that demands action.

Donald Trump has made immigration, refugees, and immigrants a target since the beginning of his candidacy. He now seems to be fulfilling his promises to build a wall (which the American taxpayer and not Mexico will end up paying for); deny entry to refugees based on their religious belief; establish a belief and values test for entry; empower local police to act as immigration and deportation agents; renew and expand contracts with private prisons to imprison immigrants without trial or representation for the sole “crime” of being undocumented.

This is all inimical to Jewish tradition and American values.

The great 12th century philosopher and jurist, Moses Maimonides, OBM, taught that the commandment to not return a runaway slave to his master (“You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.” (Deut. 23:16)) is given to “makes us protect and defend those who seek our protection and not deliver them over to those from whom they have fled. It is not even enough to protect those who seek your protection, for you are under another obligation toward him: you must consider his interest, be beneficent toward him, and not pain his heart by speech.” Maimonides further taught that this law is imposed upon us in regard to all who seek refuge regardless of their relative status in society. (Guide for the Perplexed III:39)

While the history of the United States is spotty at best in regard to welcoming strangers, and giving comfort to the weak—Native Americans were subjected to genocidal treatment; Africans were brought to this country by force as chattel to produce wealth for their masters and die—the ideals of the country give hope for its perfectibility. The preamble of the Constitution sets out as its task the creation of a more perfect Union—that is, the admission that the current Union is not perfect but perfectible. The first way that this more perfect Union might be established is by establishing Justice. Justice might reasonably be defined in line with the Declaration of Independence as: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” When one group is discriminated against systemically, by denying them entry to the country or by denying them the privileges of citizenship once they are in the country, the country is no longer pursuing justice. To quote Martin Luther King “America has defaulted on this promissory note [which guarantees these unalienable rights].” However we must with King “refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

In order to walk in the way of righteousness and prove that the bank of justice is not bankrupt, the Jewish community must stand with all right-minded communities to

– Support the creation of “Sanctuary Cities” across the country which will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the involuntary deportation of undocumented residents;

– Urge cities and states to set aside resources which will guarantee access to counsel to insure due process for all those involved in deportation proceedings;

– Support the permanent extension of DACA until such time as a path to citizenship is created;

– Support a broad immigration reform which would allow eleven million undocumented residents of this country a path to becoming US citizens;

– Oppose the creation of a deportation force, or the channeling of extra funds to ICE or the Border Patrol so that they act as a deportation force;

– Support the closing of detention centers where immigrants are held in prison-like conditions despite the fact that they are not charged with any crime;

– Oppose the use of private prisons in general and specifically for incarcerating undocumented immigrants.

We have entered upon dark times, but we cannot despair. We must act justly and then “God will cause your vindication to shine forth like the light, the justice of your case, like the noonday sun.” (Psalms 37:6) This is how we make America great.


Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Cohen is Professor of Rabbinic Literature at the American Jewish University and Rabbi in Residence at Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

Jewish presence felt at LAX protest on Trump refugee order


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

Shock and anger had been building in the Jewish community since a draft order was released days beforehand. On Saturday, those sentiments exploded onto Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s cellphone in concerned messages from her congregants at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“When Shabbat ended last night, my phone was blowing up – emails, photos,” she said Jan. 29 as a crowd milled past her at the arrivals gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). “For Jews, there’s a clear line that’s been crossed. People felt kind of not okay. But now, it’s different.”

Thousands gathered at LAX, where a number of travellers had been detained because of the order. Police cut off traffic through much of the airport and largely gave protesters the run of Tom Bradley International Terminal.Many protesters were Jews from congregations across the city, and even on signs held aloft by non-Jews, a certain Jewish influence could be detected in references to 1930’s Germany and proclamations of “Never again.”

“There are a lot of Jews here – a lot,” Goldberg said, her husband translating from sign language, since she’d lost her voice. Her three children joined the pair at the Jan. 29 protest.

As weary travellers emerged to boisterously chanting crowds, Adam and Noah Reich held a sign reading, “Two Jewish brothers standing with our Muslim brothers.” While they spoke with a reporter, a short woman with olive skin, a total stranger, walked up and hugged both of them. That type of thing had been going on all afternoon.“Maybe like, a dozen so far,” Noah said. “We’ve been here for a couple hours and people just come up to us.”

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

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

twit3“Kol ha’kavod,” he told the pair, using a Hebrew expression for “Well done!”

Gabriel was one of dozens of attorneys swarming the terminal, many with signs reading “lawyer” and announcing their foreign language proficiencies, hoping to be of help to stranded travellers or those recently released by immigration and customs officers.“When you have individuals whose rights need to be protected, that’s when lawyers need to step in,” Gabriel said. In fact, there was little work for the attorneys at the terminal, since those detained were stranded elsewhere, in the bowels of LAX, incommunicado. The crowds were chanting, “Let them in!” but lawyers were struggling even to make contact with those stranded.

“Our understanding is that there are a number of people with legal travel documents who are being detained in customs and borders patrol, in custody,” said immigration attorney Michael Hagerty. Hagerty was serving as ad hoc media liaison to a group of attorneys at the airport (as announced by a cardboard sign reading “media liaison”). Among his charges were representatives from legal aid clinic Public Counsel and the local American Civil Liberties Union. But information about those trapped – even a basic head count – proved difficult to come by.

twit4“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know exactly what their legal status is on an individual basis, but in all likelihood they are legal permanent residents, they are refugees with legal refugee travel documents, people with student visas,” Hagerty said.As he spoke, wayfarers cut through surging crowds, pushing carts and lugging suitcases. For those just arriving, it must have presented an overwhelming scene: shouts of “USA!” from flamboyantly dressed protesters, their signs decorated with everything from the Statue of Liberty to Trump with a Hitler mustache, and outside, drums banging out an incessant beat.Marchers mobbed the sidewalk on both the upper and lower levels, along with the international terminal itself. The crowd lined the curb, waving signs at passing cars, and some took to the upper levels of facing parking garages to look down over the scene.

Yet some travellers decided to join the protest, including Zoe Lister Jones, a filmmaker who had just stepped off the plane from screening her new comedy “Band Aid” at the Sundance Film Festival.

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

Many Jewish protesters made their religious identity abundantly clear for passersby.

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

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

Senior writer Danielle Berrin contributed to this report.

Several Jewish families affected by Trump’s refugee ban, says HIAS


The U.S. ban on refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries has affected several Jewish families, according to the refugee support and advocacy group HIAS.

The ban, which came Friday in an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, has plunged into further uncertainty the lives of a Jewish Iranian man in his late 20s and his middle-aged mother, who for the past year have been waiting in an unnamed country for a reply on their application for asylum in the United States, HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield, told JTA Sunday.

Citing privacy concerns and a desire not to further complicate the application process, Hetfield declined to name the applicants or reveal their whereabouts. The man and his mother, he said, are trying to reunite with two of the mother’s daughters who are already in the United States.

Last year, HIAS handled 159 applications by Jews for asylum in the United States, among them 89 Iranians and several Jews from Yemen.

Founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, HIAS was recognized in 1976 by the Justice Department as an agency authorized to assist immigration. It now has hundreds of staff and is active in over 30 countries, processing more than 4,000 refugee asylum applications annually – most of them for non-Jews.

HIAS applicants from the Middle East — who are vetted and screened in a process which can take as long as two years – often travel to the United States through Ukraine or Austria if they have a visa.

HIAS is among several American Jewish groups that have protested Trump’s executive order.

“The ban affects hundreds of our clients, for whom it may be the difference between life and death,” Hetfield said.

The executive order prohibits refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, with an indefinite ban on those fleeing war-torn Syria. Citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are barred from entry for 90 days.
Hetfield also noted a case involving a non-Jewish family of asylum seekers from Syria, which despite having obtained on Jan. 20 visas to enter the United States as refugees following a Homeland Security Department vetting, were turned back in Ukraine to their camp in Jordan on Jan. 27. Airline officials cited Trump’s executive order in nixing the family’s flight to the United States.

The mother and her daughters, ages 5 and 8, seek to reunite with the father of the family, who is already in the United States. They were allowed back into Jordan, “but in such cases, there is a risk that people who leave to become refugees in the United States will not be let back in, or worse,” Hetfield said.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump bans refugees, singles out Muslims


On Friday, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camps, President Donald J. Trump signed executive orders closing the country’s borders to refugees and blocking men, women and children escaping the carnage in Syria from finding safety in the United States.

His order also temporarily suspended immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries.

Many Jewish organizations reacted swiftly to condemn the orders, which echoed 20th century laws that barred Jews seeking refuge from aazi Germany.  Many of those turned away were murdered in the concentration camps.

In a press release, the non-partisan American Jewish  said it views with, “profound concern the Trump Administration’s plans to pose unjustified new obstacles in the path of refugees and asylum seekers.”

Trump called his actions part of the “extreme vetting” of potential Islamic terrorists that he promised on the campaign.

At the same time, Trump ordered that Christians and other non-Muslims from these same countries be granted priority over Muslims.

“We don’t want them here,” Mr. Trump said of Islamist terrorists during a signing ceremony at the Pentagon. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country, and love deeply our people.”

The executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days and directs officials to determine additional screening ”to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”

The order also stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and bars entry into the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries linked to concerns about terrorism. Those countries are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

Numerous critics of the move took to Twitter to point out that the majority of perpetrators of the most serious terrorist attack on American soil, on 9/11, came from Saudi Arabia, which is not one of the countries listed.

In its rare, strongly worded response to Trump’s ban, the AJC pointed out that, “refugees from Syria, Iraq and other states in violent upheaval are already laboriously and intrusively vetted by U.S. immigration authorities, assisted by U.S. intelligence agencies, in cooperation with other nations’ intelligence services. For those approved, it generally takes 18 to 24 months to gain U.S. admission.”

“The terrorist threat attributed to refugees is a cruel and distracting fiction,” the AJC said,  “especially when viewed against the actual incidence of mass violence committed with chilling frequency – in schools, churches, shopping malls and other venues – against Americans by Americans. In the 14 years ending in October 2015, a period in which 784,000 refugees were resettled in the United States, there were exactly three arrests for planning terrorist activities (none of which occurred).”

5 things you can do to help Aleppo


The news from Aleppo is unbearable. Cease-fires that do not hold. The indiscriminate bombing of civilians and a horrific nightmare that is only getting worse. We have known about this epicenter of human anguish for years, and now the stories of profound suffering come to us on a daily basis on the nightly news. I am sick at heart and my soul aches in disbelief that this is happening now. How do we justify our inaction? How do we rationalize what has happened to millions of human beings? Years from now, when asked, “What did you do during the brutal massacre in Syria?” what will be our response?  

This is not the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda or Darfur. Regrettably, we learned little from them. This is 2016 and the epicenter of inhumanity is in Aleppo. We so often lament our inactions of the past yet fail to act when our time comes. We still can do something for the people of Syria and for ourselves. As Einstein once said: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

For many years, during the genocides in Darfur and South Sudan, there were national movements with strong local organizations and individuals speaking out. Although the killing goes on in these places, we can feel that we did a lot as citizens to try to stop the genocide in Darfur. Why has no large and popular national or active local movement, like the Save Darfur Coalition, taken root with voices of conscience speaking out about Syria?  

Is this even comprehensible? Five years ago, Syria had a population of 22 million people. More than half of them have since been forced to flee their homes, been tortured or killed. A human being can never be a statistic. Who can forget the picture of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh pulled from the rubble and sitting in an ambulance waiting to be treated?

We cannot wallow in our guilt, offer pleas that the situation is too complex to understand, ask what difference our actions or words will make. Syrian President Bashar Assad is not a humanitarian; he is a cruel dictator. When he took over from his father in 2000, there were high hopes as he was Western educated as an ophthalmologist in London. Under his leadership, he has been implicated in a multitude of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On Dec. 12, the United Nations confirmed that 82 civilians, including women and children, were murdered in Aleppo. Yes, Aleppo will again be unified but how many more innocent people will be forced from their homes or killed as revenge for the rebellion?

What can we do?  

1. We can write to our congressional leaders that we want them to take immediate action on civilian protection measures. 

2. We can write to the president and our Senate and House leaders to seriously consider sanctions and no-fly zones in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry has shared his frustration with the lack of action by the United States.  

3. We can contribute to humanitarian groups that are doing everything they can to help refugees and internally displaced people. Groups such as HIAS, International Medical Corps, the White Helmets — the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated group of rescue workers in Syria — the  International Rescue Committee and many others are doing lifesaving work inside and outside of Syria. (Please always review an organization on Charity Navigator before giving).  

4. We can watch the situation carefully and discuss it with our family and friends. We can make sure that we are vigilant in being informed and doing whatever it takes.  

5. We can do more to increase the number of Syrian civilians being allowed into the U.S.

Most of all, we can see the Syrians as human beings, people like you and me, who deserve medical attention, food, security and a place to live. More than anything, they want something that we can give them: the knowledge that the world cares about them  — and hope.   

Shmuel Zygelbaum, the Polish politician in exile in London during World War II, wrote about the Holocaust:  “It will actually be a shame to go on living, to belong to the human race, if steps are not taken to halt the greatest crime in human history.” A year later, he took his own life as his final form of protest. 

We who pride ourselves on uplifting human beings are being called to halt the greatest crime of our time. Can we halt it? I don’t know. Can we show that we have a conscience and that we care? I have no doubt. 


Rabbi Lee Bycel is rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Napa and an adjunct professor in the Swig program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco where he teaches Holocaust and Genocide.  He spent two weeks last summer with Syrian refugees in Berlin and Amsterdam.

Syrian refugees are just like us — it’s time we started welcoming them


I recently spent three weeks in Greece volunteering to assist Syrian and other refugees. This is what I learned: these people are just like me. They had homes and good lives, and loved their countries before they were turned to war zones. They had never dreamed that one day they would flee with little more than the clothes they were wearing to make a dangerous exodus with their children. Who would risk such a thing? Only people who feared for their lives and the lives of their children.

The horrible experiences of fleeing their homes and their countries and the conditions in which they are forced to live in exile are not what I am focused on, as awful as those are. I want to see us give them a future. To get their children back into school so they can build lives.

Since returning home, I have stayed in touch with some of the individuals I met. Two in particular are always in my thoughts. They are sisters; Rima* is 24 and Haya* is 19. Rima is a pharmacist and speaks English quite well. They have a brother in Germany whom they hope to join, but the rest of the family is still in Syria. Although their mother and sisters have moved to a safer area, their father remains in danger in their home town because that is where he can earn enough money to support the rest of the family and, slowly, pay smugglers to take them all out of the country.

Rima told me about their frightening journey, during which she believed she was going to die on the inflatable boat in which they crossed from Turkey to Greece. She worries constantly about her father’s safety. At the refugee camp in Chios, she and Haya live in a container shared with four other people. They were strangers before they were forced to sleep next to each other. They have no privacy and no idea of when or if they will be able to move on.

Americans think that these refugees would be thrilled and unbelievably fortunate to gain acceptance to the United States. This may be true, but what they really want is to return home to rebuild their lives in the communities they love. It doesn’t look as if that will be possible, so don’t they deserve to go somewhere to start over in safety and dignity? 

I try to imagine what I would do in a similar situation. Where would I go? What if there was no country that would take me and my family? How would I protect my children? What would I tell them? How would I explain to them that people are afraid of us, that they believe we are dangerous? 

What would you tell your children?  

I would hope for someone to offer us the opportunity to reclaim our lives. I would not want charity – I would want the opportunity to work and support my family, send my children to school. I want to give this to the refugees I met, and to all those I didn’t meet. If the United States had a sponsor system like Canada, my husband and I would sponsor families to come here. That is why I am doing what I can to support legislation that allows U.S. citizens to do this and that provides for more—many more—to be welcomed to this country.

The United States has a luxury that much of Europe does not have – we can be selective about the refugees we accept. The vetting process is so much more efficient than it was a generation ago because of technology and social media. If there is even the slightest suspicion about someone seeking entry, they can be denied. The reality remains: there are many, many families and individuals seeking refuge who are clearly no threat to our security.

How many times will our nation make policies out of fear that in retrospect are acknowledged as shameful before we learn our lessons? I have no doubt that the U.S. response to the current global refugee crisis will be added to the list which includes the internment of Japanese Americans, the refusal to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Europe, and the denial of civil rights for African Americans.

What is it going to take for us to open our doors to a significant number of these people who just want what we all want – to raise our families and contribute to our communities? The people I met are proud and responsible. They are teachers, engineers, pharmacists. They do not want to accept handouts. What little they still have, they want to share. They are respectful of others, and we would be lucky to have them living in our communities.

Our elected officials need to know that this is important to us, that we care about refugees and that we want policies to become more welcoming. If you care, if you know that this could be, or that at one time this was your family, reach out to your members of Congress. Call, send an email, organize others to set up a meeting so that together, we can clarify priorities and be the welcoming country our Founding Fathers established and left it up to us to fulfill. 

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals.

Gail Dratch, MSW, is a resident of Orange and a member of University Synagogue in Irvine, one of more than 200 synagogues nationwide that participates in the Welcome Campaign organized by HIAS, the Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees.

In real-life Anatevka, Ukraine’s Jewish refugees build a community


At the age of 53, Sergey and Elena Yarelchenko fled their native city of Lugansk with three suitcases and moved into a wooden room in a muddy refugee camp outside Kiev.

Like hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine’s war-torn east, life for this Jewish couple in 2014 went from a normal bourgeois existence to a hellish struggle for survival and flight from a city that within days became the arena for vicious urban fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

But unlike many refugees, the Yarelchenkos’ story is no tearful account of rootlessness.

Thanks to one rabbi’s unique project for Jewish refugees from the east, the Yarelchenkos are part of the nascent community of Anatevka, a small village that sprang into existence six months ago near the capital, where 20 families are now building a future based on Yiddishkeit and self-reliance.

Named after the fictional hometown of Tevye the Dairyman from the famed Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” – and the iconic Sholom Aleichem short stories on which it was based – Anatevka is a tribute not only to that town but to the real Jewish shtetls that dotted Eastern Europe before the Holocaust.

Spread on a plot the size of three football fields, Anatevka features a wooden synagogue with two mikvahs. A rickety path made of splintered wooden pallets connects the three-story synagogue building to a dormitory-style residence with 20 apartments and a central kitchen. A ways off is a school newly built from concrete with 25 classrooms.

“Our son in Israel is pressing us to make aliyah, but Anatevka looks like a better option for us,” said Elena Yarelchenko.

Jewish refugees at Anatevka celebrate the opening of the community's new synagogue on Feb. 29, 2016. (Courtesy of the office of Rabbi Moshe Azman)Jewish refugees at Anatevka celebrate the opening of the community’s new synagogue, Feb. 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of the Office of Rabbi Moshe Azman

Her husband, Sergey, is a carpenter making a small salary in Anatevka, which is largely built from wood. As she helps prepare food for all the other residents, Elena gestures at her husband’s small workshop outside the residential complex.

“Sergey’s a workaholic who either sleeps or works,” she said. “Do you think Israel’s holding its breath for a 53-year-old carpenter who doesn’t speak Hebrew?”

Between the school — the only structure in town that is not made of wood — and Anatevka’s muddy access road are the fresh concrete foundations for a clinic and rehabilitation center that workers, some of them local residents like Sergey, are laying under the watchful eye of the man who created Anatevka: Rabbi Moshe Azman of Kiev.

A burly man with a bushy gray beard and a full head of hair, the 50-year-old Azman comes into the residential complex and peels off several layers of thick snowy clothing in the foyer of the building, whose design is reminiscent of a rustic ski lodge.

“It can get pretty hot in here,” he notes with satisfaction at the effectiveness of the central heating system.

Working with money from his own pocket and private donors — they include the Moscow-born kosher food supplier Michael Zelman of London and the Dubinsky family from Kiev — Azman has spent more than $1.5 million on Anatevka, which he designed not only to serve as a refugee center, but as a living, breathing community.

A maverick rabbi who remained influential here even when he broke with the official institutions of the Chabad movement over a contractual dispute, Azman says he is “trying to survive from day to day” because of debts he incurred while realizing his plan for Anatevka, which critics doubted would ever come to pass.

“I’m aware of the risks I’ve taken,” Azman said solemnly, adding that he recently had to borrow money from a friend for gasoline so he could remain mobile throughout this week.

“I’m in debt to my eyeballs, but I’m not afraid because this is God’s mission. Besides, each day that Anatevka is running is another day that my community lives in dignity. Builds a future. You can’t put a price tag on that,” he said.

Carpenter Sergey Yarelchenko at his workshop in the Jewish refugee community of Anatevka near Kiev on March 13, 2016. (Cnaan Liphshiz)Carpenter Sergey Yarelchenko at his workshop in the Jewish refugee community of Anatevka, near Kiev, March 13, 2016. Photo by Cnaan Liphshiz

To keep Anatevka running, Azman has relied on donations also from members of his own community in Kiev, whose children account for the majority of the 150 pupils attending Anatevka’s school.

While residents provide much of the labor force at Anatevka, not all of them can work. Isaak Mohilevsky, an octogenarian from Lugansk who used to be the caretaker of that city’s synagogue, can barely walk. But he, too, is pulling his own weight: On Feb. 29, he received the keys to Anatevka’s new synagogue, which opened that day in a ceremony attended by Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Eliav Belotsercovsky.

“When I left, I never thought I’d have another synagogue under my care,” Mohilevsky said.

In its present (and unfinished) form, Anatevka is a confounding mix of novel and antiquated. The central heating system, for example, uses wood as fuel – not out of nostalgia but because it is cheaper than either gasoline or gas in a country that has been under sanctions from mineral-rich Russia ever since the 2013 revolution that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin regime and triggered the fighting in the east.

The wooden logs that were used to build the walls of Anatevka’s synagogue and residential area are sealed with fireproof chemicals and high-tech insulation from Germany that help keep the place warm in winter.

Still, Anatevka isn’t for everyone. Noisy, dirty, inaccessible and devoid of even basic amenities such as a grocery shop and postal services, it is deemed unsuitable to their housing needs by even some of the refugees involved in the project.

“I’m a city person,” said Svetlana Koznitsova, a refugee from Lugansk who helps Azman run Anatevka but lives in a rented apartment in Kiev with her daughter. “I need to stay in the city and I will for as long as I can earn a salary.”

In one of the first-floor apartments in Anatevka, Meshulam Kolesnik, a web designer who was forced to leave Crimea after its annexation from Ukraine by Russia, is using Anatevka’s fast WiFi connection to improve thewebsite he built to solicit new donations for the project.

“I’m not a carpenter like Sergey, but I build what I can for this place,” said Kolesnik, an observant Jew who lives here with his wife and has an office in the room of their two boys, 5-year-old Yitzhak and his little brother, Leib. Their colorful drawings are plastered all over the wooden interior of their room.

Kolesnik, 35, left his apartment in Simferopol last year because he had refused to trade in his Ukrainian passport for a Russian one. When his children were prevented from attending school, Kolesnik broke down and asked for the Russian nationality, but by then he was deemed ineligible because he wasn’t in the country when a majority of the population voted for annexation in a referendum that was deemed illegal by the international community.

When he moved to the Kiev region, Kolesnik left behind a successful business and a central apartment in sunny Crimea. But he says he is not bitter over the loss.

“We are once again living among equals in our own Jewish community and country,” he said. “And like this, I think we can face whatever lies ahead.”

German Jews fear rising antisemitism during Mideast refugee influx


When Judith G. helped out at a refugee centre near Frankfurt last October and identified herself as Jewish, she was spat on and insulted.

German Jews say the case of Judith G., a 33-year-old optician who asked not to be fully named, isn't isolated and underlines concerns many have about the record arrivals of asylum seekers, largely from Muslim countries in the Middle East.

Official figures show German-born far-right supporters commit the vast majority of anti-Semitic crimes in the country, and Muslim leaders say nearly all asylum seekers – who can be targets of hate crime themselves – are trying to escape conflict, not stir it up.

Nevertheless, Jews across Germany are hiding their identity when volunteering at refugee shelters for fear of reprisals, adding another layer of complexity to a social, economic and logistical challenge that is stretching the fabric of German society.

“Among the refugees, there are a great many people who grew up with hostility towards Israel and conflate these prejudices with hatred towards Jews in general,” Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, told Reuters in an interview conducted in October.

Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed last week that anti-Semitic attitudes among some young people arriving from countries where “hatred towards Israel and Jews is commonplace” needed to be dealt with.

The safety of Jewish communities is particularly sensitive in Germany due to the murder of over 6 million Jews by Hitler's Third Reich, which is marked on Wednesday by the international Holocaust Memorial Day. Today, the German Jewish community numbers around 100,500.

According to a 2013 study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 64 percent of German Jews avoid the public display of symbols that would identify them as Jewish. It also found that only 28 percent of them report anti-Semitic incidents.

Such incidents, as recorded by the Interior Ministry, dropped in 2015 but Jews still remember chants by young Muslims proclaiming “Jews to the gas” on German streets in protests against the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian Gaza War.

Concerns rose earlier this year when two suspected asylum seekers from Syria and Afghanistan attacked and robbed a man wearing a skullcap on the northern island of Fehmarn, a crime the local prosecutor treats as anti-Semitic.

“We don't approach the issue of refugees with negative expectations in general,” said Walter Blender, head of the Jewish community in Bad Segeberg, a town on the mainland about 100 km (60 miles) from Fehmarn. “But we are very worried and sceptical, and anecdotal evidence so far showed that we have reason to be scared.”

Preliminary Interior Ministry figures show that far-right supporters were responsible for well over 90 percent of the anti-Semitic crimes recorded last year up to the end of November. People with a foreign background were blamed for little more than four percent, although this category does not reveal their country of origin or immigration status.

Starting from this month, however, the ministry will produce a breakdown that includes a refugee category.

FINGER POINTING

Germany, which took in 1.1 million asylum seekers from mainly Middle Eastern countries last year, saw crimes against refugee shelters quadruple to 924 incidents in 2015 and Muslim advocacy groups warn against finger-pointing.

“The vast majority of people coming here are fleeing war and terror themselves,” said Aiman Mazyek, president of Germany's Central Council of Muslims. “All they want is peace and quiet.”

There is little research on the scale of antisemitism in Arab countries, but a Pew poll from 2011 shows a large majority of people there hold unfavourable opinions of Jews.

Researchers say too little effort is put into teaching Western and German values to asylum seekers, including the country's relationship with Jewish communities.

“There is a lack of a deeper understanding of the culture in many Middle Eastern countries and this results in Western stakeholders being taken by surprise over the fervent anti-Semitism there,” said Wolfgang Bock, an expert in Islamism and Middle Eastern politics.

In Germany, refugees with recognised asylum claims learn about the country's history and values alongside language tuition. But some experts say there is nothing about contemporary political issues, such as relations with Israel.

“Education can't just be about the Holocaust and the Third Reich. Schools also need to talk about the Middle East conflict, antisemitism based on religious argumentation and conspiracy theories,” said Ahmad Mansour, an Arab-Israeli researcher with the European Foundation of Democracy.

But communities across Germany are overwhelmed with processing the hundreds of thousands of asylum applications and are struggling to provide shelter and food to the arrivals.

Some Jewish groups, such as the Berlin-based “Friends of the Fraenkleufer Synagogue”, have taken the cultural exchange issue into their own hands with around 40 volunteers helping out at a local refugee centre.

“We want to send a message to all the Jews who sit at home and build big fences around their synagogues that it's possible and necessary to approach one another, because if we don't try, things can only turn for the worse,” said Nina Peretz, head of the initiative.

An American Immigrant Family’s Responsibility


Last week, we had the honor of celebrating Chanukah at the White House. Joined by President and Mrs. Obama, we watched as the candles of the festival of light were lit by Rabbi Susan Talve. As the lights danced, we couldn’t stop reflecting on how remarkable it was that we, children of refugees, were taking part in such an occasion.  The illumination emanating from the White House Menorah seemed to symbolize the lights of the Statue of Liberty shining on our parents and other family members who escaped Nazi Europe to land in New York on boats in 1939.

We the children of refugees, along with other descendants of immigrants, have accomplished incredible things as Americans—and that is why we feel compelled to call on this country to open its borders to the tired, hungry, and poor from Syria and elsewhere. That is our proud history as Americans, to welcome those without a home. 

Our parents had no idea what our family’s future would hold when they arrived on American shores. They only knew that America offered freedom, safety, and generosity. Our parents escaped from Nazi rule; from places like Germany where our mother’s childhood ended so young, and from Vienna where our father and his friends were forced to clean the streets with a toothbrush as Hitler readied to enter the city. Coming to America was literally a matter of life or death for our family; our great-grandmother was told she could not stay in the United States after she arrived here and was forced to return to Europe where she was murdered by Nazis. That’s what happens when America closes its doors to refugees.

As children growing up in California, social justice and Judaism were intertwined in our household – but not abstractly. And the issues weren’t partisan, they were not matters of being a Democrat or Republican. They were matters of right and wrong. They were matters of saving lives.

Our parents instilled in us a sense that in America each person is valued as an individual. They instilled in us a sense that all are welcome in the great American mosaic. They instilled in us a sense that anything is possible here.

And anything is. In 1980, we became the first brother-sister in history to be ordained as rabbis. Karen was a pioneer, the first female rabbi to work for the Reform Movement, the first woman congregational rabbi in Los Angeles—and the fourth in all of Jewish history. She served at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles as a rabbi for 25 years and today she continues to teach rabbinic students. As head of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Steve is honored to lead the largest organization of Rabbis in the world, with colleagues not just in North American but in Jewish communities in Europe, the FSU, and Israel.  Both live full Jewish lives that our parents or grandparents could only have dreamed of.

None of this would have been possible without American generosity. More specifically, none of it would have been possible without Americans who opened their borders to our family.

That’s precisely why our family feels a special obligation to call on America to live up to its highest ideals, to live the words of the Statute of Liberty, and to offer its blessings to refugees from around the world. It is especially vital for America to maintain a humane immigration policy when we hear ignorant, demagogic calls to close our borders to people simply because of their religion or nationality. Our family knows those fears well, and we know what happens when America acts on them.

We also know what happens when America is truest to its best traditions. Our ancestors in Europe who often were forbidden even to practice their Judaism could never have imagined their children – their direct descendants – being rabbis and being invited by the leaders of most powerful country in the world, into the home of our President, to celebrate Chanukah.

That’s what America has done for us. And we need to make it possible for others to come here and realize the American dream. That’s the Jewish way. And that’s the American way. 

Rabbi Steven A. Fox is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Karen Fox is Rabbi Emerita at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Welcome the refugees


In the 1940s, politicians and the State Department saw the war ravaging Europe and said only Christians could enter this country as refugees, and only a select few at that. No Jews welcome here. A favorite argument for turning away Jews fleeing Europe was that they somehow had been infiltrated by Nazis.

With ISIS on the rampage and war devastating Syria, among other places, many politicians today are singing a similar tune. Only a select few refugees can come in, and they must all be Christians, say Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.

“No Muslims welcome here” is the theme frequently invoked in the name of national security.

No Syrian refugees in my state, said 26 governors — all but one Republicans — who refuse to admit any Syrian refugees, whatever god they worship. That includes Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Rick Scott, whose states have some of the country’s largest populations of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Christie said not even “orphans under the age of 5 should be admitted.” Taking care of them would be too much of a burden, he complained.

Jewish-American leaders are struggling with the question of refugees. Many organizations have been raising money for humanitarian groups, particularly in Jordan, helping Syrian refugees, reports New York-based The Jewish Week, but when it comes to admitting them to this country, they urge caution.

Rabbi Mark Dratch of the Orthodox movement’s Rabbinical Council of America told The Jewish Week that Muslim countries should be pressured to take greater numbers. He’s right. Jordan and Turkey are overwhelmed with refugees, but the others could and should do a lot more.

But that does not mean our own doors should be slammed in their face, and Jewish leaders, more than most, should know that.

HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is virtually alone among Jewish organizations supporting President Barack Obama’s decision to admit 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that although Israel has treated some 1,000 wounded Syrians, it will not take in any Syrian refugees because the country is “too small.” Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog disagrees. “Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven.”

Some Republicans who aspire to be the leader of the free world sound like bigoted xenophobes. Most conspicuous are ones whose own parents were refugees from brutal dictatorships or are married to immigrants.

Their rationale is that some jihadi terrorists may sneak in with the refugees (one apparently who did was among those in the French attacks on Nov. 13), so all refugees should be banned. 

Critics like to point to the 9/11 hijackers to justify anti-immigration attitudes. Sen. Marco Rubio, who favored immigration reform before he was against it, said “some” of the hijackers “had overstayed [their] student visas.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said all 19 were here on expired student visas.

Neither presidential wannabe did his homework. All 19 had entered the country legally; only one on a student visa, which he did not overstay, and the others on tourist or business visas, according to Factcheck.org.

The only Jew running for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), pledged to stand against Islamophobia and racism and backed Obama’s decision to admit some 10,000 refugees. So have his two Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, both of whom suggested raising the number to 65,000.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said, “We can protect our safety and our humanitarian values,” and we shouldn’t “slam the door on them.”

But that’s exactly what Republicans want to do.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would shut down the government in order to keep them out. Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee have written to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding he block all funding for Syrian refugee resettlement.

Donald Trump, warning that Syrian refugees could be ISIS’ “Trojan horse,” said if he were president, he’d consider closing American mosques that have radical clerics and limiting civil liberties for all Americans.

Sen. Cruz (R-Texas), the son of a Cuban immigrant, said we should permit only Christian refugees because, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”

Has no one told Ted or Jeb about Dylann Roof, who killed nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C.; neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Cross, who got the death penalty last week for killing three people in 2014 in Kansas who he thought were Jews; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; or the Unabomber?

Or about those law-abiding folks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, the Army of God and the Phineas Priesthood?

And what about the mass murderers responsible for shootings at Newtown, Conn.; Virginia Tech; Aurora, Colo.; Centennial, Colo.; and Roseburg, Ore., to name only a few?

Ted and Jeb, there wasn’t a foreigner among them. No Muslims, as far as I could learn. All Christians.

Obama said, “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion. That’s not who we are.” He may not, but many of those who want his job do, and that should scare a Jewish community that remembers — or should — what it’s like to be shut out when the alternative is discrimination and maybe death. 

Douglas Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist; Washington, D.C., lobbyist; and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Jewish groups ‘disappointed’ over GOP’s stance on refugees


Republican governors and presidential candidates came under fire on Monday by their Democratic counterparts and several Jewish organizations for suggesting to halt any effort of welcoming Syrian refugees into the United States, citing the fear of ISIS infiltrators, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on Friday.

At least 18 governors — mostly Republicans — have said they do not want the 10,000 or more refugees – as proposed by the federal government – settling in their state. “The first and foremost responsibility of government is to keep its people safe,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Monday. “We are working on measures to ensure that Texans will be kept safe from those refugees.”

“I do not believe the U.S. should accept additional Syrian refugees because security and safety issues cannot adequately addressed,” Kasich, who is also running for president, wrote in a letter to President Obama Monday. “In light of what happened last week, our government should not continue to grant refugee status to individuals from any country who have no personal information in federal databases or official papers.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, took a step further and declared that the United States should not admit any refugees – not even “orphans under age 5.”

The statements, as the debate shifted from the war on terror to humanitarian immigration relief, were met with harsh responses from the Democratic side.

“Scapegoating an entire religious community and rejecting those fleeing ISIL’s terrorism and persecution is what the terrorists want,” former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “We need to step up and act like Americans, in accordance with our principles. There are women and children dying and fleeing the same sort of carnage that was unleashed on the people of France. This is a time for American leadership, not a time for us to cower.”

Speaking to an audience of more than 7,000 at the Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center Monday evening, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said, “Now is not the time for demagoguery and fear mongering. What terrorism is about is trying to instill terror and fear into the hearts of people. And we will not let that happen. We will not be terrorized or live in fear. During these difficult times, we will not succumb to Islamophobia. We will not turn our backs on the refugees who are fleeing Syria and Afghanistan. We will do what we do best and that is be Americans – fighting racism, fighting xenophobia, fighting fear.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also came out with a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed” that in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France, the governors have locked their doors during this humanitarian crisis.

“This country must not give into fear or bias by turning its back on our nation’s fundamental commitment to refugee protection and human rights. Now is precisely the time to stand up for our core values, including that we are a proud nation of immigrants,” ADL’s national director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

“The current refugee crisis in Europe is the worst since World War II. The Jewish community is particularly affected by the images of men, women and children forced to flee their homes only to find they are unwanted anyplace else,” he added.

In fact, it was pointed out, that a Gallup Poll from Nov. 22, 1938, nearly two weeks after Kristallnacht, showed that 72 percent of Americans were opposed to the idea to allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live. Results from another poll in January 1939 — well after the events of Kristallnacht — showed that 61% of Americans said they would not take in 10,000 German Jewish refugee children.

“Of course, the United States must continue to rigorously screen refugees to ensure that terrorists are not disguising themselves as refugees to gain access to resettlement. But as a rule, refugees do not bring terror, they flee terror. And at this tragic time in human history, where there are more refugees and displaced persons than at any time since the Second World War, we must take care to protect refugees and asylum seekers, not scapegoat them,” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, said in a statement. “We at HIAS are saddened to see politicians citing these tragic events as a reason to put safe haven further out of reach for refugees. The world needs to stay focused on fighting terrorism and hatred, not on building walls of brick as well as paper to keep refugees out.

Some fear refugee center planned for Amsterdam’s Jewish heart


In Buitenveldert, a quiet residential area of the Dutch capital, special forces soldiers are watching over a Jewish school from inside unmarked cars.

About half of the Netherlands’ 40,000 Jews live here and in the adjacent suburb of Amstelveen, the only areas of the country with a large and recognizable presence of Jews. The area has six synagogues as well as the community’s main offices, three schools and nearly all its kosher shops.

The absence of any major recent assault on Dutch Jews, coupled with government subsidies to secure Jewish neighborhoods and institutions, means life has continued pretty much unchanged here since 2012, when Europe saw the first of several fatal or near-fatal attacks on Jews by Islamists. That’s a marked contrast from France, where many Jews are staying away from kosher supermarkets they used to frequent, and Denmark, where Jews have been advised to take off their yarmulkes near Copenhagen’s Jewish school.

But representatives of Dutch Jewry warned this month that a plan to open a center for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Amstelveen could puncture the community’s sense of relative safety.

Just two days after the Oct. 12 announcement about the planned opening of the center, the Central Jewish Board, Dutch Jewry’s main umbrella group, said it had “grave concerns” about it, citing “extremely negative attitudes to Jews” in Syria and Iraq.

According to Esther Voet, a former director of the community’s main watchdog on anti-Semitism, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, 70 percent of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the Netherlands were committed by immigrants.

The statement from the community board added a Jewish voice to the polarizing debate within Dutch society on whether to welcome or turn away the stream of migrants that this year brought hundreds of thousands of Muslims into the European Union — and 15,000 into the Netherlands — from the war-torn Middle East. It has also triggered a wider discussion about the validity of the Jewish community’s security concerns.

Jeroen Pauw, the host of a popular talk show, suggested it was a classic not-in-my-backyard attitude.

“You say that you want to do your best for refugees — as long as they’re not too nearby,” he charged, addressing a local rabbi who came on his show on Oct. 15 to defend the Jewish opposition.

No anti-Semitic incidents involving Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been reported in the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe. And concern about the center is not universally shared among Dutch Jews.

Natascha van Weezel, a Jewish documentary filmmaker who also appeared on Pauw’s show, said that Syrian refugees are likely not jihadists and that “they have bigger concerns than beating up Jews,” adding that the need to help refugees “should trump fear.”

Chantal Suissa-Runne, a board member of the Reform Jewish community in Amsterdam, said in a televised debate Oct. 18 that while she understands the concern about the refugee center, it should be seen “as an opportunity to meet these people, show them the Dutch context of positive diversity.”

As for the refugees themselves, several said they had nothing against Jews.

“They are distant family, they are the reason we have halal meat in this country. We are thankful to them,” said Hassan abu-Ghaish, a 28-year-old from Syria living at a center in central Amsterdam. (Halal meat is butchered according to Islamic standards; many Muslims consider kosher meat halal, but Jews don’t generally accept halal as kosher. In 2012, Jews were instrumental in defeating a Dutch ban on both kosher and halal slaughter.)

But for the broader Jewish leadership, security remains a pivotal concern in a community that lost 75 percent of its 140,000 members to the Nazis – the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. And unlike other European communities, which have seen their numbers partially replenished by immigrants from the east, Dutch Jewry has seen no significant influx.

Dennis Mok, a security adviser to the Jewish community, said the arrival of countless refugees from the Middle East poses a security concern to Dutch Jews, regardless of where they are housed.

“Would-be attackers can easily travel there from any part of the Netherlands and beyond,” Mok said.

But Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who supports assisting the refugees, nonetheless warned that housing the newcomers in a heavily Jewish area increased the risk of “a spontaneous attack by an incited person, who might well cool off” if getting to Jews involved more effort than simply going out into the street.

The Jewish discussion about the Amstelveen center mirrors the larger debate about how to handle the influx of Middle Eastern migrants.

Prior to the announcement about the center, the Netherlands had seen several demonstrations by opponents of housing refugees in their communities. In the city of Purmerend, near Amsterdam, popular opposition led to the defeat of a proposal to open a refugee center there. But while some homeowners have worried about the depreciation of real-estate value around refugee centers, in Buitenveldert, many Jews feel the plan carries risks for their own personal safety.

Asked about the planned center, Michiel Cornelissen, owner of the Mouwes kosher deli in Buitenveldert, compared it to housing sex offenders near a kindergarten before quickly correcting himself, noting the refugees have not been convicted of anything. Still, he said, “Jew hatred in Arab countries means an unwarranted risk.”

The Jewish presence in these areas of southern Amsterdam traces to the 1950s, when young families chose to settle there because they are close to city’s old Jewish quarter, which even after the Holocaust still had some synagogues and Jewish institutions. Buitenveldert, which has hundreds of Orthodox Jews, attracted Jewish families from the city who wanted a house with a garden near the center. And Amstelveen appealed particularly to Jews from small communities outside Amsterdam that were destroyed during the Holocaust.

The establishment in 2008 of Amsterdam’s eruv – an area where observant Jews can carry objects on the Sabbath – increased the street presence on weekends of haredi families in southern Amsterdam. Today, dozens of haredi families can be seen picnicking in parks on Shabbat or walking the four miles that separate their neighborhood from the city center.

In Amstelveen and Buitenveldert, Jews are relatively isolated from the city’s heavily Muslim areas. As housing prices in the area rose, southern Amsterdam became largely unaffordable to Muslim families who immigrated to the Netherlands in the 1970s and settled instead in the western and eastern parts of the city. This distribution would help reduce friction between the two religious groups as the rate of anti-Semitic attacks rose across Western Europe over the past decade, much of it perpetrated by Muslims angry over Israel.

“It seems to me that the Jewish community in Buitenveldert and Amstelveen enjoys a higher level of safety there than the one experienced by Jews in other parts of Amsterdam,” said Bart Wallet, a historian of Dutch Jewry at the University of Amsterdam.

Still, under the surface, the attack on a Paris supermarket in January and the killing of four people at the Brussels Jewish museum last year remain fresh in the minds of local Jews.

“I thought, and I still think, I could be next,” said David Bar-On, 29, the owner of David’s Corner, a Jewish deli in Buitenveldert.

Should Europe take in a million Muslim refugees?


Should Europe take in about a million Syrian and other Muslim refugees? Should America take in tens of thousands? 

In a recent column in the British newspaper The Guardian, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the distinguished former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, argued passionately in favor of Europe doing so, comparing the situation to that of Europe’s Jews before and during the Holocaust:

“One of the dark moments in that history occurred in July 1938, when representatives of 32 countries gathered in the French spa town of Evian to discuss the humanitarian disaster that everyone knew was about to overtake the Jews of Europe wherever Hitler’s Germany held sway. Jews were desperate to leave. … Yet country after country shut its doors. Nation after nation in effect said it wasn’t their problem.”

It is emotionally difficult to differ with this argument. How can the argument not tug at the heart and conscience of anyone, especially a Jew? 

Little seems more obviously moral than to allow these benighted Syrians, Iraqis and others to flee from hell into what is comparatively heaven. And, as a Jew, one is particularly sensitive to any parallels to the Holocaust. Looking at photos and videos of families trying to escape Syria, where two monsters — the Assad regime and the Islamic State — are devouring each other, along with hundreds of thousands of civilians, how can a Jew not think back to a time when Jews sought to escape the Nazi monster devouring them?

How, then, does an ethical person — Jew or non-Jew — deal with the emotionally powerful Holocaust argument?

Here are some ways:

First, every Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe — man, woman, child, baby — was targeted for death. The Syrian nation is not targeted for extermination. The only such targets in the Middle East — aside from the Jews of Israel — are Christians and Yazidis, every one of whom should most definitely be allowed into Europe and the United States. 

Second, the majority of the Jews of Germany and many other European countries were assimilated citizens of their respective countries, who — more importantly — thoroughly embraced Western culture and values. In contrast, many of the Muslims of the Middle East — and the largely Muslim population (from non-Arab countries) already in Europe — hold values that are not merely different from, but opposed to, those of Europe. 

Third, it is not as if Europe has no experience with large numbers of Muslim immigrants. And the experience has been largely negative. Most European countries are bad at assimilating people from other cultures, especially from Muslim cultures. And large numbers of religious Muslims from Muslim cultures are bad at assimilating into non-Muslim cultures. Many Muslim immigrants in the U.K., France and Sweden live in Muslim ghettos.

Fourth, and of particular importance, children of the immigrants — the ones born and raised in European countries — are usually the most radical and anti-Western. Many of the children of these immigrants will not remember Bashar Assad or ISIS, but they will resent their likely inferior socioeconomic status and lack of full integration into European society. Some of them will then undoubtedly cause havoc in Europe.

It is worth recalling that the 9/11 terror attack on America was planned by young Muslim immigrants living in Germany. Muhammad Atta (the leader), Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad Jarrah, Said Bahaji and Marwan al-Shehhi had lived in Germany for between five and eight years, respectively. And Bahaji was born in Germany. 

Fifth — and of particular interest to Jews — just about all Syrian and other Middle East Muslims seek Israel’s destruction. Why would any decent person, let alone any Jew who cares about the Jews of Europe and Israel’s survival, want to import into Europe hundreds of thousands of people carrying the world’s greatest hatred?

And if one denies that these Syrians and other Middle East Muslims seek Israel’s annihilation, why not argue that Israel offer to take in its proportional share of Syrians? Israel, after all, is richer than some European countries and one doesn’t have to cross a sea to get from Syria to Israel.

Sixth, on what moral basis can the European Union object to bringing in the million and a half mostly non-Muslim Nigerians who have fled their homes because of Boko Haram terror and the Islamist government war in that country? 

Seventh, the economic growth and unemployment rates of the EU countries — Germany included — are not robust enough to handle a vast number of destitute newcomers. And as the British writer Janet Daley pointed out in The Telegraph, what about “the pressures on their hospitals and GPs’ surgeries, and of shortages of housing and school places …”?

Eighth, it is as certain as night follows day that the Islamic State and other terror groups will place terrorists among the refugees coming into Europe.

Ninth, as a result of all of these factors, some European countries will be threatened by far-right political movements that will arise in opposition to the threat to their national identity, values and economy.

So, then, why does any European leader assume that things will turn out better with a million or more new Muslim immigrants from the Middle East? Or assume that the number will stop at 800,000? 

Europe means well in taking in a million refugees from the Middle East. But when good intentions trump experience and wisdom, you’re asking for trouble — in this case, civilization-threatening trouble. 

None of this means Europe and America should do nothing. Indeed, it was precisely Europe and America doing nothing about Assad that helped to create this horror. The West should supply the good guys in the Muslim Middle East — the Kurds — with the military hardware they need. And we should spend — and demand rich Arab states spend — upward of a billion dollars to help feed and clothe Syrians who flee to neighboring countries. One day, after all, the Syrian civil war will end, and they can again be financially aided to return home. Then real good will be done. And Europe will be spared the choice of Islamization or civil war.

Finally, as always, some will label this outlook racist. But that would be a libel designed to avoid confronting the real issue — values, not race. America welcomed — and was right in welcoming — the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people and other Vietnamese escaping communist totalitarianism. Ultimately, America took in well over 1 million Vietnamese — people of another race. Why? Because the Vietnamese refugees share our values. Too many Syrians and others from the Arab world do not. That, not race, is all this is about. 

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com

Citing Kindertransport, British Jewish clergy urge UK to take in more refugees


More than 100 British Jewish clergy signed a letter urging the United Kingdom to take in more Syrian refugees.

In a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, the rabbis and cantors referenced the 10,000 Jewish children that the United Kingdom rescued from the Nazis between 1938 and 1940.

Two of the people delivering the letter Monday were themselves members of the Kindertransport rescue operation that brought Jewish children to the U.K.,  the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

Many of those who signed identified themselves as the children of Holocaust refugees.

“(W)e know that now it is our turn to open our gates to refugees who are fleeing from tyranny and evil, often with only the clothes on their backs, and their children in their arms,” the letter stated.

“We were heartened to hear that 20,000 refugees will be welcomed into the U.K. over the next five years. Yet we look again to World War II, where we find that immediate action could have saved many more children’s lives. Let the Kindertransport be our inspiration. 10,000 legitimate refugees, at the very minimum, should be offered asylum in Great Britain in the next 6 months.”

The letter, which also urged the government to allow refugees to work in the U.K., said the British Jewish community is willing to find homes for refugees and raise money to feed, clothe and educate them. It was organized by Tzelem UK, an activist group that organizes Jewish clergy on social and economic justice issues.

The letter also referenced the Exodus from Egypt.

“As Rabbis and Cantors we regularly read the story of a band of refugees who escaped from a tyrant with only the clothes on their backs and a bit of flat bread,” it said. “They crossed a sea, and they dreamed of a promised land. We call this the exodus, and it is our founding beacon for hope, and our constant reminder in every generation to open our hearts and our doors to the stranger at our gates.”