Knesset Members stand up in solidarity with Reform Jews

Charedi Member of the Knesset Israel Eichler’s comparison on Feb. 23 of Reform Jews to mentally ill patients diminishes not only Reform Judaism, but all who suffer mental illness and who struggle with disabilities of all kinds. 

The best response is to quote from the Knesset members representing different political parties who, one day after Eichler’s remarks, addressed 330 Reform Rabbis representing 1.7 million Jews worldwide at a special meeting of the Israeli-Diaspora Knesset Committee. 

Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union and leader of the opposition): “I congratulate all of you for the recent decisions on the Kotel to create an egalitarian and pluralistic prayer space and the Supreme Court decision giving rights to Reform and Conservative converts to use state-sponsored mikvaot. The decisions of the Israeli government and the High Court of Justice are not acts of kindness. They are based in Jewish responsibility and democratic principles, which is what the state of Israel is meant to advocate. Religion in the state cannot be monopolized by the ultra-Orthodox. You in the Reform movement are our partners and will always be our partners.”

Tamar Zandberg (Meretz): “Those who are a provocation are those who prevent religious freedom, not those who demand it!”

Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union): “There is an excitement today because you Reform rabbis have come to the Knesset. Judaism is about values, about being inclusive and not being closed by hatred. We are one Jewish world family. Every Jew must be made to feel at home in the state of Israel because Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people.”

Amir Ohana (Likud): “A Jewish state should not be halachic. We cannot do to others what has been done to us. We should not slander each other. We need more respectful discussion. Israel is the home for all the Jewish people.”

Rachel Azaria (Kulanu): “Every day, all the tribes of Israel awake each morning hoping that another will disappear; but no one will disappear. We’re all here. Our task is to create a country where everyone has a place around the table.” 

Dov Khenin (Joint List): “One of the great struggles in the State of Israel today is the struggle for democracy, which is under serious threat. We need to stop the censorship, which is contrary to the foundations of the state.”

Michal Biran (Labor): “We are partners. We share the same Jewish and Zionist values. Our democracy must fight against racism, discrimination and bigotry.”

Nachman Shai (Labor): “The Charedi MKs don’t understand democracy.”

Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union): “Judaism isn’t just for people dressed in black. People who call you names don’t understand Judaism or democracy. You are partners in our struggle.”

Michael Oren (Kulanu): “Zionism is faith in the nation state of the Jewish people. We are committed to implementing the government’s agreement at the Kotel.” 

Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union): “As the only Arab MK in a Zionist party, I want to say that you [Jews] deserve a nation state and the Palestinians, too, deserve a state. How is it possible that Jews can recognize that they suffer and that the Palestinians do not? I cannot deny the pain of a Jewish mother or the pain of a Palestinian mother. Do not overlook the universal values we share.” 

Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid): “Jewish pluralism means that there are various ways to explore our souls and to be on the journey of being a Jew. We are part of you and we bless you.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, president of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, made an important point in telling the story of the funeral of Richard Lakin, who was killed in a knife attack by a Palestinian terrorist. Kariv officiated at the funeral in a Charedi cemetery. Though Lakin was a Reform Jew and a member of Kol Haneshama synagogue in Jerusalem, he was lowered into the grave by Charedi Jews.

This is an example of what ought to be the relationship between our different streams, not the sort articulated by Eichler, a member of United Torah Judaism.

We concluded the meeting by rising with the Knesset members to sing “Hatikvah,” a moment I will never forget. 

Rabbi John Rosove is the senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood. 

Rallies across U.S. support Israel’s right to defend itself, as others head for Israel

Israel solidarity rallies were held in  venues across the United States as several groups sent missions to Israel to experience the siege on Israel first-hand.

Some 2,000 Chicagoans gathered in downtown Chicago Tuesday to show their solidarity with Israel. The rally was sponsored by the United Fund and JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council, in cooperation with the Chicago Board of Rabbis and JUF's Rabbinic Action Committee.

Demonstrators waved Israeli flags and held signs which read “I Stand with Israel,” “Israel has the right to defend itself,” and “Hamas the Aggressor, Israel the Beacon of Freedom.” Young people in the crowd sang “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Hatikvah.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a statement of support that was read at the rally: “There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.  So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself,” his statement said. 

Meanwhile, on Sunday in Los Angeles, some 1,400 demonstrators voiced their support for Israel's right to defend itself and its ramped-up operation against escalated rocket attacks on its South from the Gaza Strip. 

In New York, hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators are expected to rally across from the Israeli Consulate in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon in an event sponsored by Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum.

Also in New York, in suburban Westchester County, a rally was scheduled for Tuesday evening at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey, Nan Hayworth and Eliot Engel are scheduled to attend.

Other rallies were scheduled Tuesday in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and West Hartford, Conn.

At the Los Angeles rally, the demonstrators gathered outside the Westwood Federal Building in West Los Angeles to voice their support for Israel at a rally organized by pro-Israel organizations StandWithUs, the Israeli-Leadership Council and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple told the crowd.

Some 100 pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators carried signs that read “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine,” “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel,” and “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.” 

In Boston, some 1,000 pro-Israel demonstrators rallied Monday night in an event organized by synagogues, schools and Jewish nonprofit organizations, including the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, J Street, the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC.

The Boston rally “is a statement to our sisters and brothers and cousins in Israel that we’re supportive and we feel your pain,” Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, Mass., told The Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, lay and professional leaders from The Jewish Federations of North America arrived in Israel on Nov. 18 for a two-day emergency solidarity mission. 

The leaders from New York, Chicago, Boston, New Jersey, Cleveland, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis and Birmingham, Ala., visited southern Israeli cities under fire, including Ashkelon, Sderot and Beersheva, offering solidarity with the residents and examining areas of need.

“The ongoing crisis being faced by the people of Israel, particularly those in the South, will not be fought by the Jewish state alone,” Michael Siegal, JFNA's incoming chair, said upon arriving in Jerusalem. “We are here to express our firm solidarity and to say that as always, when Israel is in need, we are here.”

The JNFA already has committed $5 million in assistance to the Jewish Agency's Israel Terror Relief Fund for the immediate needs of the people living under fire.

Organizations representing Orthodox Judaism — the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel — on Monday called on “all Jews to increase their Torah study as spiritual support and merit for those Israeli soldiers and civilians on the front line of battle.”

A Conference of Presidents leadership delegation, led by Richard Stone, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman, together with 30 leaders representing a wide spectrum of organizations, landed in Israel on Wednesday.

The group is scheduled to meet with soldiers, civilians, and visit communities affected by Hamas rocket fire. The mission participants also will meet with top government and IDF officials to discuss the latest progress in addressing the attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The RCA instructed its members to hold special classes and lectures in their communities on Wednesday and Thursday “dedicated to the support of the IDF and the State of Israel.” 

“In the merit of our increased study of Torah, may we merit the promise recorded in the Talmud, Sotah 21a, that the study of Torah protects and rescues those who engage in it,” said a statement from the three organizations.

A delegation of 20 rabbis from across North America toured areas of southern Israel Tuesday as part of an emergency solidarity mission of the Rabbinical Council of America. 

The rabbis paid condolence calls to the families of the three Israelis killed in a rocket attack on an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi.

“Visiting this shiva house was a truly moving experience and allowed us to assure those who lost family members that their deaths were being felt by all of Klal Yisrael,” said Rabbi Doniel Kramer of Brooklyn.

Egypt uprising carries echoes of Poland’s Solidarity movement 30 years ago

The day after Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a widespread public uprising, I found myself presenting a lecture about Solidarity, the mass trade union movement that convulsed Poland 30 years ago and paved the way for the collapse of the Iron Curtain a decade later.

It also helped land me in jail in 1983, eventually resulting in my expulsion from Poland.

I had covered Solidarity—Solidarnosc in Polish—as a correspondent for United Press International, and my lecture came at the opening of an exhibition at Yale University about the dramatic strikes and public protests that gave birth to the movement in August 1980.

It got me thinking about people power—its nature and the long, complex reach of its legacy.

The so-called Polish August was the first mass protest movement to achieve some success in challenging Communist rule in Eastern Europe.

When the strikes broke out, the Communists had been in power in Poland since the late 1940s—similar to the length of Hosni Mubarak’s tenure. And as in Egypt, the protests forced radical changes in less than three weeks.

But freedom and democracy were by no means the automatic outcome of what seemed at the moment a victory; indeed, what’s happening in Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East, is still very much in flux.

Thousands of workers went on strike at the Gdansk Shipyard on Aug. 14, 1980. The walkout was sparked by the firing of crane operator Anna Walentynowicz, a longtime dissident worker activist.

Her dismissal was really just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hikes in food prices and other economic hardships, as well as heavy-handed political and social repression, were behind the discontent, and over the years there had been sporadic failed attempts to challenge the regime.

This time, circumstances were different.

For one thing, the election of Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II in 1978 had galvanized the nation and instilled a sense of national pride. When John Paul triumphantly returned home to visit in 1979, millions of Poles turned out to greet him as a national hero.

Strikes and protests spread across Poland within days of the Gdansk Shipyard walkout. Prayers and outdoor masses in the overwhelmingly Catholic country were a key part of the protests.

Significantly, too, workers and strike leaders formed an unprecedented strategic alliance with dissident intellectuals. Their list of 21 demands included labor reforms but also freedom of expression, freedom of religion and other civil rights.

These formed the basis of the Gdansk Agreement, a landmark social accord eventually signed on Aug. 31, 1980 by the charismatic strike leader Lech Walesa and a senior government representative. Walesa used a jumbo souvenir pen that bore a likeness of John Paul II.

Five days leader, the Polish Communist Party axed its longtime leader, Edward Gierek.

Various commentators have compared the events in Egypt with the fall of communism across Eastern Europe in 1989-90. The comparison is valid—and perhaps increasingly so, given the spreading protests across the Middle East.

But in some ways the Polish August and the birth of Solidarity may be a more telling comparison, at least for now. As with Egypt, the Polish August was a huge global news story that sparked ecstatic heights of optimism, exhilaration and punditry. And as with the Egyptian uprising, it took us into utterly uncharted waters: No one really knew where it was all going to lead.

Confidence and expectations were high, but martial law crushed Solidarity less than a year-and-a-half after the Gdansk Agreement was signed. The movement was banned, hundreds of Solidarity leaders and activists were jailed, censorship was re-imposed and harsh controls were put in place.

In January 1983, I myself was arrested, accused of espionage, jailed, interrogated and expelled from Poland because of my journalistic activity—apparently as a warning to both the international media and local Polish contacts.

Martial law, however, did not stop the process begun with the Polish August.

Dissent and efforts to foster civil society went underground, where they continued to build momentum as deteriorating economic conditions fueled mounting popular anger.

In Warsaw, for example, young Jews who tentatively had begun rediscovering their roots and religious heritage met in a semi-clandestine Jewish study group they called the Jewish Flying University because each meeting took place in a different apartment.

It took nearly eight years, but in 1989 round-table negotiations between the underground opposition and the government enabled a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

The images on the panels of the Solidarnosc exhibit at Yale this winter portray events that happened more than 30 years ago, but the pictures look uncannily similar to the images of the protests in Egypt. They show huge crowds, banners, slogans and confrontations between protesters and authorities.

Much has been made of the role of the social media in Egypt. Back in 1980, however, there were no social media. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no mobile phones, no Internet, no e-mail, no 24/7-hour news cycle (except for us wire service folks). CNN was the only cable news network, and it had only just been founded.

The government, moreover, cut communications between Gdansk and Warsaw during the August strikes, so that in order to file their stories, some reporters actually commuted back and forth between the two cities on domestic flights. Information was carried by word of mouth or clandestine Samizdat newsletters, or shortwave broadcasts on the BBC or Radio Free Europe.

Still, word got out. Protests engulfed a nation and all but brought down a hated regime.

If enough people want to create change, they will, Twitter or not.

One image in the Yale exhibition shows the enormous sea of people gathered in downtown Warsaw to celebrate outdoor Mass with Pope John Paul II in 1979.

“I was in that crowd,” Polish-born Yale professor Krystyna Illakowicz told me. “I remember feeling that we were not afraid any longer.”

(Ruth Ellen Gruber’s books include “National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe,” and “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.” She blogs on Jewish heritage issues at She is currently a scholar in residence at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute.)

Sunday rally planned to support Israel

Exclusive video: Dueling demonstrations –Muslim students led by Amir Abdel Malik Ali, Imam of Masjid Al-Islam in Oakland and a pro-Israel crowd in front of the Israeli Consulate Friday noon. Rabbi Daniel Bouskila leads the singing of “Ya’aseh Shalom.”

Exclusive video: Press conference at Israeli Consulate, Friday afternoon, March 7. Speakers, in order: Consul General Yaakov Dayan, City Councilman Jack Weiss, Rev. Billy G. Ingram, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila.

UPDATE FRIDAY 1:40 p.m.:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and Young Israel of Century City are holding a memorial rally on Sunday, March 9 at 4 p.m., in honor of the eight yeshiva students killed in a terror attack at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem.

The rally is set for Young Israel of Century City at
9315 W. Pico Blvd.

Invited to the memorial rally are City Councilman Jack Weiss, Mayor Antonio Villairaigosa and Israel Consul General Jacob Dayan.

The gathering is “to demonstrate outrage at what happened in Israel, to show solidarity with Israelis, and to protest the international outcry [saying] that Israel has overreacted in its defense,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Rabbi of YICC.

StandWithUs and others will demonstrate in support of Israel in front of the Israeli Consulate at noon on Friday in response to a protest scheduled at the same time by the UC Irvine Muslim Student Union.

The protests will come one day after a terrorist attack on Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in west Jerusalem, in which eight people were killed and dozens wounded.

Los Angeles Jewish organizers are calling upon the community for a strong opposition presence at the local protest.

“Please come and show your support for Israelâ€(tm)s right to defend herself,” Allyson Rowen Taylor, an L.A. community organizer unaffiliated with any organization, wrote in an email blast sent out on Thursday. “Over seven yeshiva student murdered today in Jerusalem while the Arabs cheer,” she wrote about the students from Mercaz Harav, a religious Zionist yeshiva in Jerusalem killed Thursday.

“Itâ€(tm)s clearly going to be an out-of-context demonstration,” Roz Rothstein, president of StandWithUs, said of the MSU protest. “They will undoubtedly fail to recognize the reason that Israel was led to have to go into Gaza — these rockets are being launched indiscriminately everywhere,” she said, referring to the hundreds of rockets that have hit Israel since the withdrawal. “Israel has a right to protect her citizens.”

In response to the Jerusalem shooting, Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City and the Religious Zionist of America in Los Angeles are encouraging Los Angeles area rabbis in their Shabbat sermons to say tehilim for the murdered students, and to read their names aloud. A spokesman for the Rabbinical Council of America said the group is considering a rabbinical mission to the Jerusalem yeshiva to console the families and students there.

Support for Sderot is strong at L.A. benefit concert

Republican presidential candidate John McCain pronounced the name “Sharat.” Latina actress and singer Maria Conchita Alonso added a throaty “ch” sound to the end of the word. Even several Israelis, including Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, couldn’t get it quite right.

Nevertheless, the name of the city of Sderot (pronounced sde-ROTE), located near the border of Gaza, was on everyone’s tongue at the sold-out Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills on Tuesday evening, Feb. 26.

Politicians, Hollywood stars, Israeli celebrities, Jewish community leaders, high school students and local dignitaries all were talking about this small, rocket-riddled town in Israel’s western Negev region, whose plight has largely been ignored by the international media for the past seven years.

“Live For Sderot,” a benefit concert organized by the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles and the Israeli Leadership Club (ILC), aimed to raise awareness of one of Israel’s most painful, ongoing issues, along with funds for children’s educational programs.

“That night, Sderot stood alone in the spotlight,” said Gilad Millo, Israeli Consul for Media and Public Affairs and one of the main architects behind the “Live For Sderot” gala. “For the first time, an Israeli humanitarian issue was brought to light without balancing it with Gaza. Until now, Sderot has been an illegitimate cause. We wanted to change that.”

More than $300,000 has been raised so far to fund four educational projects in Sderot that will bring the latest technology to classrooms, provide assistance through an online network that will allow students forced to stay home to continue their learning, improve English-language studies and help bring test scores up to national standards.

Haim Saban and the Jewish Federation were two of the largest donors, it was announced at the concert. They each donated $100,000.

The high-profile event, which also marked the beginning of Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebration in Los Angeles, did much to bring the suffering of Sderot residents to the forefront of many people’s consciousness — in Los Angeles, in the United States and even in Israel. From non-Jewish public school students on up to one of Israel’s brightest stars, the word ëSderot’ penetrated hearts and infiltrated minds.

As part of the “Live For Sderot” public awareness campaign, the ILC funded a weeklong diplomacy trip for ten 15-year-olds from Sderot. The shell-shocked but resilient young ambassadors visited several high schools and universities in Los Angeles, including Kadima Hebrew Academy, Taft High School, Milken Community High School and USC, sharing terrifying as well as universal teen experiences from their daily lives and answering questions about their imperiled town.

“We hear Qassam rockets every morning and night,” said Yarin Peretz, 15, to a large gathering at USC Hillel on Monday, Feb. 25. “If we don’t get hurt, someone we know will get hurt. We have no solution to the security problem.”

Moved by their words and the connection they felt to their peers from the other side of the world, 200 students from Milken attended the “Live For Sderot” concert and made their support known to everyone in the theater by howling enthusiastically from their seats in the balcony.

Milken student Joey Freeman spoke at the concert, expressing his solidarity with Sderot on behalf of his enthused classmates. Freeman took the opportunity to show off his Hebrew skills in front of his Hebrew teacher, also in attendance, one of many on stage that night pledging support for the long-ignored crisis.

Twenty-four speakers and musicians were part of the lengthy, but impressive, salute to Sderot and Israel’s 60th Independence.

Among the highlights was Noa Tishby, an Israeli model, actress and producer — she is the executive producer of HBO’s “In Treatment” — who stepped in at the last minute to replace Paula Abdul as the master of ceremonies. Abdul rushed to the Wilshire Theater after an “American Idol” taping and was all set to host, but backed out an hour before show time because she was feeling sick, according to the Israeli Consulate.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple led the audience in the “Shehecheyanu,” a prayer thanking God for bringing us this far, and reminded everyone that though we are celebrating 60 years of a Jewish homeland, we should not forget to commemorate 3,000 years of a unified existence.

Other sentiments of solidarity with Israel, and specifically Sderot, were expressed by Hollywood, as well as Holy Land, celebrities: actress Valerie Harper, who played Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony”; Jon Voight, an Academy Award-winning actor who is a frequent contributor to Jewish causes and events such as the Chabad Telethon; Aki Avni, one of Israel’s biggest stars; Jonathan Lipnicki, who played the charming kid in “Jerry McGuire”; and stage actor Mike Burstyn, a legend in Israeli theater who received much acclaim for his recent one-man performance in the U.S. as Meyer Lansky in “Lansky.”

With his strong ties to the Jewish community of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio

Celebrity-studded event to raise funds for Sderot

Ninette TayebTwo days after Hollywood’s biggest night — the 80th annual Academy Awards — the Los Angeles Jewish community will be treated to a celebrity-studded red carpet event of its own: Ninette Tayeb, Israel’s reigning pop idol (photo, left), as well as Israeli-born hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort” delegation; and the creme-de-la-creme of the Jewish and Israeli communities will gather at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills for an important benefit concert, “Live for Sderot.”

The Feb. 26 concert, sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles-based Israeli Leadership Club (ILC), is the official kickoff event of what will be a series of celebrations in Los Angeles leading up to Israel’s 60th Independence Day in May. It is also the first major event marking the anniversary in the United States, according to a Los Angeles consulate spokesperson.

“This is definitely one of the events which we expect will have the largest impact in the media and in the community at large on the Jewish community and on the people in Israel,” said Gilad Millo, Israeli consul for media and public affairs. “We expect a sensational event.”

The second, more sobering objective of the “Live for Sderot” campaign is to raise awareness about the continuing siege of Sderot, a small city near the Gaza Strip terrorized by daily rocket attacks for the past seven years. The nonpolitical, humanitarian effort focuses specifically on the children of Sderot and the trauma caused by constant “red alerts,” widespread destruction and the difficulty of carrying out normal activities, such as attending school.

All of the proceeds from the concert will go directly to funding educational programs in Sderot, according to ILC co-chair Eli Tene. The ILC, he said, is working with the Israeli Ministry of Education, Knesset member Mickey Eitan, and the Center for Educational Technology in Israel, among others, to build computer labs, create resources for the increasing number of children forced to study at home, build protected education centers and generally improve the quality of education in the rocket-battered city.

As part of the campaign, which featured the release of a video titled “Everyone Deserves to Live in Peace” and the launching of a Web site, 10 teenage representatives from the city will arrive on Feb. 22 for a weeklong dream trip/press tour. The teens, who were selected based on their English skills, among other criteria, will tell their stories to American audiences at UCLA, Kadima Hebrew Academy and a public high school yet to be determined. The “dream” part of the trip will include visits to Universal Studios, Disneyland and a Lakers game — all in the presence of Israeli megastar Tayeb.

Tayeb became a household name in Israel when she won the first season of “Kochav Nolad,” Israel’s version of “American Idol.” Since winning in 2003, she has parlayed her success as a singer into a thriving television acting career in Israel. Most recently, the beauty caused a major splash by shaving her head for a cellphone commercial, for which she received $100,000 for the live stunt.

To their credit, the Israeli media have been giving just as much press to Tayeb’s heart as to her now bare head. The star’s Los Angeles appearance, which will be her U.S. debut, and her enthusiastic public support of the children of Sderot have been widely reported in Israel, including articles in the country’s largest newspapers and through her appearances on its biggest talk shows.

During a live broadcast of this season’s “Kochav Nolad,” Tayeb was featured in an interview and performance from Sderot. Sitting among a group of children, she spoke of the upcoming concert, for which she waived her fee, and about “giving her entire soul to the cause.”

In an e-mail forwarded by the Israeli consulate, Tayeb added, “Israel’s security has often been an issue for the media, but there is a feeling that the tragedy of Sderot isn’t on the global agenda, and it is a very important issue. We have to do everything we can to turn attention towards Sderot, where people live in distress, have no where to go and no solution.”

Performing the first song of the evening will be Ben-Ari, already a recognizable name and face in the American music scene for her Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Kanye West and numerous other musical liaisons with artists such as Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5 and Israeli rapper Subliminal.

Based in New York, the violinist considers herself an American artist but still holds close ties to her homeland and is involved in many organizations benefiting causes in Israel.

“I really care very deeply for Sderot, and I think it’s a scandal that people around the world don’t know what’s going on there,” Ben-Ari said in a telephone interview. “When I heard about the benefit concert, I was so touched. I cannot think of a better way to start the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel.”

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Life on the picket lines — a striking writer reports

When I was asked by The Jewish Journal whether I’d like to write something funny about the WGA strike, I thought — hey, there’s nothing funny about this:
corporate bullies refusing to pay writers for their work. This is serious.

But as my friend Rob Lotterstein, creator and executive producer of Fox’s “The War at Home” says, “Just because we’re not writing doesn’t mean we’ve lost our sense of humor.”

I see Rob at Friday’s rally in Fox Plaza, and he says: “This is like Yom Kippur for writers. We run into many of the people we would prefer not to see; I thought we hated each other but on a day like today … all is forgiven. We smile a too-broad smile, ask how they’re doing and wish them well.”

I can’t help but notice that we’re standing next to a table piled high with bagel halves spread with cream cheese schmears. It’s no secret that the Writer’s Guild has a greater-than-the-general-population proportion of Jews in its membership. Did the grocery store workers or the janitors union have bagels when they went out on strike?

I bet they had doughnuts. We have doughnuts, too — Krispy Kreme — and gourmet churros — but they’re being passed out by assistants, not rank and file. We know they’re assistants because they’re wearing baseball caps with agency names embroidered on them. They’re here to lend support, sent by the people who really stand to lose money in this strike: the agents. The cute 20-somethings from United Talent Agency proffer jumbo-size plastic trash bags filled with Power Bars. On the picket line two days ago at Sony, I watched a frail young man balance a cardboard tray of Starbucks cups offering, in a distinctive lilt: “Mocha? Anyone want a mocha? I’ve got one mocha left.” This is Hollywood; the privileges don’t die easy.

We have welcome support from SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild). The actors’ contracts come up in June, and they will have the same issue on the table: payment for work sold to new media. We know who they are, because they look so much better than we do. Writers tend to be dough-y and out of shape — all that compulsive eating to stem the anxiety of the blank page — we generally wear ill-fitting, faded T-shirts and “relaxed fit” jeans. Actors have to maintain a better body image. It’s their job. They work out and dress in clothes that show off their toned muscles. Anyway, we’re glad they’re here. More bodies — especially beautiful ones — on the line are a good thing.

The actors also draw the media. Here in Fox Plaza there are 4,000 writers, and yet all the cameras are trained on the two actors from “Reno 911” who’ve shown up in their sheriff’s costumes. Have you watched the show? They wear official-looking shirts and hats, but micro-mini shorts — at least the guys do. Well, I have to say, he does have great legs and an adorable butt. I can only imagine that casting call. Then there’s a gorgeous young actress, dressed in a diaphanous black cocktail dress appropriate only for an awards show. She’s floating through the crowd carrying a large sign, trimmed in ostrich feathers, that reads “DAY 5.”

The rally does what it’s supposed to: Make a lot of noise, buoy spirits, solidify determination and get us more coverage in the press and on the Web. Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine sing us a couple of “fight songs” — OK, not exactly Pete Seeger singing to coal miners, but I take a picture with my cell phone and call my daughter Molly at college to tell her. She gets off to call her boyfriend because apparently he’s a major R.A.T.M. fan. Later that night she sends me an e-mail of support telling me the O Bar in West Hollywood is offering Strike Specials. Solidarity!

The R.A.T.M. guys finish and Jesse Jackson speaks. I call my son, whose name is also Jesse, to tell him. “What’s Jesse Jackson doing there?” my Jesse asks, with his natural-born instinct to cut to the chase. The only answer I come up with is, “It’s win/win. Everybody gets a picture in the paper.”

Then the speeches from our leadership — our Executive Director David Young recalls how the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has made the identical disingenuous claims, over and over, every time there is a new development in entertainment: videocassettes, DVDs, cable and reality TV. They whine, “We don’t have a business model yet…. We aren’t making any money.” The crowd spontaneously erupts in a chant of, “Bulls–t! Bulls–t!”

Our chief negotiator, John Bowman shouts, “Come back to the table, baby! We can work it out.”

Seth McFarlane (creator, executive producer of “Family Guy” and the voice of Stewie) speaks with humor but decided strength when he tells us that on the third day of the strike all “Family Guy” assistants were fired by Fox. “Instead of negotiating, they lashed out at the little guy. What a classy move.”

Then he urges all show runners (executive producers like himself) to personally continue to pay their assistants while we’re out on strike. A truly classy move.

The best speaker is, no surprise, an actor! Alan Rosenberg, president of SAG (and Jewish, if you’re keeping score) pulls in cheers with lines like: “They worry about profit margins and we worry about paying our bills!”

I wonder, is the White House in his future? Or at least the California governor’s mansion? You may remember, Ronald Reagan started out as president of SAG. Of course, Reagan sold out the actors on residuals, while Rosenberg is fighting for them. A nice Jewish boy. Last, we hear from the much-venerated Norman Lear who buttons up the speeches with a laugh when he says, “I was here when we struck against the Pharaoh.” So I guess there is a Jewish influence on this strike line.

That’s my personal report from the ground. If you’d like a simple explanation of the real issues this strike is about, I recommend this YouTube video:

Elmau & Dachau: A Muslim’s Testimony

Barbed wire, loaded with death
is drawn around our world.
Above a sky without mercy
sends frost and sunburn.
Far from us are all joys,
far away our home, far away our wives,
when we march to work in silence
thousands of us at the break of day.
But we have learned the motto of Dachau
and it made us as hard as steel:
Be a man, mate,
stay a man, mate,
do a good job, get to it, mate,
for work, work makes you free!
— Jura Soyfer (Dachau survivor)

I am a Muslim intellectual woman who teaches Judaism and Islam, a Muslim who seeks dialogue with Jews, a Muslim who sympathizes with Jews and understands the need for the state of Israel.

The past year has been an intense one for me and my family. On March 30, I gave birth to a beautiful girl, Ruya, who happens to share her birth date with Moses Maimonides, the great 12th century Jewish philosopher and physician. At the end of June, I was invited to present a paper at a conference in Elmau, a small resort town 50 miles south of Munich. The conference was organized by the University of Munich’s department of history and Jewish studies and co-sponsored by University of California. It was titled, “Judaism Through Muslim Eyes and Islam Through Jewish Eyes.” I teach at a variety of Southern California universities, and I was honored by the invitation to be part of such a unique international conference, which included esteemed scholars and intellectuals whose work has had a deep resonance for me, in terms of both my political and religious thinking.

But my trip became much more than the academic experience, because while I was in Germany I took the time to travel with my husband and daughter to Dachau. My intention at the conference was to try to make some connections with Jews and Muslims from Europe, Asia, South America, Israel, America and the Middle East who were also in some manner involved with Jewish-Muslim relations. In post-Holocaust Germany, Muslims (mainly Turks) are treated with disdain, and the memory of Jews has become a distant past. Yet the uncanny coincidence of Muslim and Jew in Europe has fascinated me for some time.

As I watch post-Sept. 11 American and European images of Muslims, I am reminded of how Jews were depicted in 18th century British caricature: the Maltese Jew in his oriental turban. By the 19th century, the classic picture of the Jew was Lord Rothschild in formal wear receiving the Prince of Wales at his daughter’s wedding in a London synagogue.

This image of a people turned over in a blink of a century. Religious identity (as a Jew or a Muslim) replaced national identity — although very few people, I imagine, except perhaps the anti-Semites, remembered that the Rothschilds were once a Frankfurt family who escaped the Yiddish-speaking ghetto. For a time, Jews were imagined as all alike. Today, Muslims also are beginning to all look alike in the popular eye. My role at the conference — to help differentiate these images and to connect with colleagues — was clear.

But why did I want to visit Dachau? For whose memory? Perhaps I wanted to be a witness, a Muslim witness, who could testify against the outrage of Holocaust denial in the Islamic world and point out the deep danger in ignoring history and the memory of narrative.

It was the pairing of these two journeys that made this trip so pivotal for me.

The conference organizers hosted about 25 scholars at Schloss in Elmau, a luxurious castle surrounded by mountains, hiking trails, lakes and breathtaking beauty. My husband and Ruya roamed through the exquisite settings and enjoyed the hospitality of the University of Munich as I attended the sessions. It was my first conference with a baby along and I was filled with trepidation, but she was such an inspiration when I would catch her smile during coffee breaks.

The conference lasted two days and was filled with intense papers on Jewish and Muslim history, religion, politics, literature, poetry and art. Many of the scholars present were seasoned teachers, writers and intellectuals who brought with them an earnest desire to see Jew and Muslim as equals. They sought to describe the co-existence in many different realms of life, love, art, literature and religion. Muslim scholars openly critiqued their own cultural biases and the prevalent anti-Semitism in Islamic countries, and Jewish scholars were generous in their understanding of the contribution of Islam upon Judaism.

The most intriguing night was the last roundtable dialogue, when a local journalist put several personal and political questions to both the Muslim and Jewish scholars. Interestingly, the five scholars did not answer the questions, but each expressed deep and provocative sentiments of what it meant to have a Jewish or Islamic history, respectively. In response to their responses, the following questions were asked: How can there be real reconciliation? Memory and the effect of narrative are raw, so perhaps we need to deconstruct the images of one another, especially in the media? The conclusion of the conference remained open-ended, like most academic meetings tend to be, but there was a chill in the air that last night as some of the participants sounded pessimistic and some cynical.

A deep anxiety surfaced within me as I saw a sudden personal testimony rear amid the scholarly masturbation we had engaged in over the last two days — in other words, how can a group of scholars end the mistrust between Jews and Muslims? Well, we can’t. We have no power to resolve the problems of the Knesset or the Fatah or Hamas parties, but we can at least create dialogue and influence from these types of meetings.

But what is dialogue? It is a conversation between two willing parties. However, the willingness of many Jews and Muslims has become buried beneath the memory and effect of narrative and images, as well as death and fear. As the only Muslim woman at this conference, I witnessed some sincere thoughts from Jewish and Muslim men, as well as two Jewish women, who created a dialogue and understanding of how simply human both Jews and Muslims are.

Villagairosa tells Sderot’s mayor he longs for end to violence

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villagairosa reassured Eli Moyal, Mayor of Sderot, of his continued support Friday, after Palestinian rocket attacks forced a partial evacuation of the city.

In a letter to Moyal, released by the Mayor’s office (full text below), Villagairosa said”the thoughts of peace-loving people everywhere are with the people of Sderot.” The Mayor first spoke with Moyal last Summer.

“We yearn,” said the letter,”for the time when violence ceases, when families gather together for celebrations instead of huddling in bomb shelters, and when the pictures painted by the youngsters of Sderot and throughout the Middle East both beckon and uplift.”

On July 6, 2006, Villaraigosa was on the phone with Moyal — in his Sderot office just outside Gaza — as rockets rained on the small Israeli city. According to Villaraigosa, that event “shook all of us to the core.”

Text of letter:

Dear Mayor Moyal:

When Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss and other Los Angeles community leaders returned from their visit to Sderot last autumn, they brought back to our California city several dozen paintings and stories created by Sderot’s youngest residents.

These youthful works of art reach across time and space to speak volumes, for they express a hunger for quiet and peace from Sderot’s elementary and middle school students — against the backdrop of dozens of brutal qassam [sic] rockets falling on their schools, houses, community centers and neighborhoods.

Mayor, I will never forget our telephone conversations last year, punctuated by rocket blasts. It was with great sadness and outrage that we learned that after a period of relative calm, dozens of qassam rockets again fell on your city on a single day, just yesterday.

You should know that the thoughts of peace-loving people everywhere are with the people of Sderot.

We yearn for the time when violence ceases, when families gather together for celebrations instead of huddling in bomb shelters, and when the pictures painted by the youngsters of Sderot and throughout the Middle East both beckon and uplift.

Very truly yours,

Antonio R. Villaraigosa

We dare not murder memories of genocide

Amnesia of the past foreshadows amnesia of the future. Forget yesterday's tragedy and the threat to tomorrow is denied. Forget the first genocide of the 20th century — the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 — and the memory and atrocities of the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur turn invisible, and the world response is muted.

The Polish Jewish jurist, Raphael Lempkin, who coined the term “genocide,” defined it in large part by what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Armenia was the cautionary record of a mass murder of a people, which tragically and shamelessly the world has and continues to repress.

Amnesia is a sickness and feigned amnesia is a blasphemy. To choose to forget what happened to the martyrs is an insult to their memory and a danger to our children. As the philosopher Cicero sagely observed, “Not to know what happened to you before you were born is to remain forever a child.”

Infantilizing ourselves and our progeny is dangerous, and silence is lethal. We dare not murder memory.

The Hebrew term for remember (zachor) appears 169 times in the Bible. Memory is a sacred mandate. Jewish World Watch, founded almost three years ago and comprised of over 50 synagogues of every denomination throughout Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange counties, was formed to use its energies to make people aware of and stop genocide. Its initial focus has been on the ongoing genocide of the persecuted people of Darfur.

It continues its work in Darfur and Chad by building and supporting medical clinics; creating water wells; sending solar cookers for women intimidated, branded, tortured and raped by the Janjaweed in the fields where they have to forage for scraps of firewood to cook; providing educational materials to children desperate for any sense of normalcy, and a social worker dedicated to providing grief counseling to a population where every single family has lost at least one of its members.

No two dyings are the same. No two holocausts are the same. Darfur is not Rwanda; the killing fields of Cambodia are not the crematoria of the Nazi death camps.

Every genocide is singular. But a kinship of suffering unites us all. To play the shameless game of “one-downsmanship” is an invidious sport. My blood is not redder than yours, my suffering not more painful than yours. Hatred consumes us all indiscriminately.

We have enough tears to shed for others. Our tear ducts are not dried up. Our hearts are not so small that they cannot beat for and with another.

We join together to remember and to bind each other's wounds. In memory, we together raise our collective conscience and act out our resolve. “Never again” will we allow the threat of genocide to terrorize any nation, religion or ethnic community. Together we demonstrate our solidarity and mutual support.

On Friday, April 27, at Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino, Jewish World Watch will honor Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, a joint service of memory, including Armenian and Jewish choirs, liturgy, song and reflection. Prior to the 8:15 p.m. service, an Armenian Sabbath dinner will be served at 6 p.m. (by reservation only).

Harold M Schulweis is a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and founder of Jewish World Watch.

I Ate the Whole Thing!

I Ate the Whole Thing!

Rap music and matzah balls? Hey, Jews can rap. Just ask the group, Chutzpah, which showed up in full rapping gear for the weighing of the 26-pound-matzah ball at Canter’s Deli last week to celebrate the DVD release of “When Do We Eat?” The weights and measures officials arrived in uniform to record the official weight to send to Guinness, and guests and regulars ogled the giant treat. Not exactly like grandma used to make, but in this case bigger was better.

The matzah ball weigh-in was all part of the 75th anniversary celebration for the legendary L.A. deli, with Assemblyman Paul Koretz doing the honors of presenting an official proclamation from the state of California. Alan Canter, representing the second generation of family ownership, accepted the honor; he has spent practically his whole life keeping Canter’s one of Southern California’s most beloved and long-lasting dining establishments.

Koretz saluted the restaurant for its many years of great food, legendary service and extensive community involvement.

Two longstanding employees, head waitress Jean Cocchiaro and manager and main sandwich man George Karkabasis — considered by many to be the fastest and best sandwichmaker in town — were also surprised with certificates of commendation.

Together, they have worked at Canter’s for more than 100 years! Jacqueline, Gary and Mark Canter were on hand to celebrate their family’s famous fressing history with Dad, Alan.

The Canters reminisced about old times with Koretz, noting the table where Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller sat on Friday nights, the visits from sports stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Hank Aaron, the joking of regulars like Jack Benny and Buddy Hackett.

Solidarity Brother

Responding to the crisis in Israel, Rabbi Eli Herscher, senior rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple, and the synagogue’s director of education, Metuka Benjamin, quickly organized a solidarity mission to Israel. The group of 21 congregants met with high-level military and political leadership for a crisis update, visited military bases directly involved in the conflict and experienced first-hand the mobilization of essential services for Israelis in the north who were directly affected by this war. Herscher and Benjamin led the temple’s leadership as they brought gifts to wounded soldiers at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. They also visited a summer camp organized by the Joint Distribution Committee to serve children affected by the bombings in the Haifa area and met with handicapped Israelis who were evacuated to hotels in the center of the country. The temple has scheduled three other Israel missions for the coming year and raised $1.4 million dollars toward meeting Israel’s immediate crisis needs.

Zev on the Mount

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries named Bob Zev director of marketing. Zev, who has a bachelor’s from CSUN and an MBA from USC, has more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience serving as the vice president of marketing for a financial institution.

Zev grew up in Los Angeles, became a bar mitzvah at Sinai Temple, and attended Hillel Hebrew Academy, Hebrew High School, Camp Ramah and spent a year in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

‘Lost’ in the Art World

Even though Jack Bender didn’t win the best director Emmy Sunday night for his work on “Lost,” he was very much a winner at the premiere of his one-man show, “Found” at the Timothy Yarger Fine Art Gallery in Beverly Hills on Aug. 26. The exhibition was a “lost and found” of sorts for Bender’s friends, colleagues and admirers, who all converged onto the swanky gallery floors to view his colorful, explosive mixed-media paintings and, of course, to socialize.

The paintings could hardly be viewed through the talkative crowd of well-dressed art lovers, gallery clients and Bender’s circle of friends, who were sipping vodka-based cocktails named in Bender’s honor, such as “On a Bender” and “Castaway.” Across from “The Hatch Painting,” made famous for its appearance in “Lost,” students from View Park Prep in South L.A. played smooth jazz for the guests.

Among the celebs present to gush over Bender’s artwork were actress Blythe Danner; Jacqueline Bisset; J.J. Abrams, creator of “Lost”; Carlton Cuse, “Lost” producer; “Lost” star Evangeline Lily (who plays Kate) and “Sex and the City” actor Evan Handler (Charlotte’s Jewish husband).

“I don’t know how he did all of these,” Danner enthused to Entertainment Tonight, at the gallery.

Works exhibited are those he completed during breaks from filming “Lost” in Hawaii these past two years. Bender has been painting ever since he was a teen.Lilly, however, wasn’t surprised by Bender’s creative output on display: “It’s an expression and extension of himself,” she told The Journal in the gallery’s backroom, where Bender shared exhibition space with Chagall and Picasso. “He’s very spontaneous as a director and doesn’t like to premeditate things.”Bender summed up the evening: “It’s wonderful to be in this extraordinary environment. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long ride.”

— Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer

Beit T’Shuvah’s New President Honored

Brindell Gottlieb recently opened her home to celebrate Nancy Mishkin as the new president of Beit T’Shuvah. Mishkin’s two-year term with the Westside congregation and rehabilitation center began in July. The annual Steps to Recovery Gala on Jan. 28, 2007, honoring Ron Herman, Dr. Susan Krevoy and Diane Licht, will be the first event highlighting Mishkin’s presidency. Beit T’Shuvah’s mission is to insure the physical, emotional and spiritual health of individuals and families within a supportive Jewish community. For more information, call (310) 204-5200, ext. 211.

Sderot Attack Interrupts Villaraigosa’s Call

On Thursday, July 6, at 9 a.m., Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a longtime supporter of Israel, was interrupted twice in attempts to place a call to Eli Moyal, mayor of the Israeli city of Sderot.

Palestinian terrorists have been attacking the city almost daily with Kassam rockets in recent weeks. Moyal had to interrupt both calls because of rocket attacks.

Villaraigosa wanted to reach out to the people of the Jewish state, and he chose Sderot, just outside Gaza, which has a population of 20,000, after conferring with local Jewish leaders. On hand for the pre-planned call were City Councilman Jack Weiss, Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch.

The conversation barely got beyond the introductions.

Just as Villaraigosa began to move to substantive matters, Moyal interrupted, saying: “I’m sorry. We’re going to have to have this conversation some other time. We’ve just been attacked by seven Kassam rockets,” he said over speaker phone.

Five to 10 minutes later, Consul General Danoch called Moyal a second time and reached him on his cell phone. Just as Danoch was about to push the speaker phone button, Moyal again cut the conversation short because of another barrage of rockets.

“This experience shook all of us to our core,” Villaraigosa said in a statement. “I have tremendous respect for Mayor Moyal and the people of Sderot, who live their lives in the shadow of terror. It makes you grateful for the peace and safety that we have here in Los Angeles.”

The attempt by the mayor of America’s second-largest city to reach out to the people of a nation he so admires became a lesson in the explosiveness and unpredictability of the Middle East.

Weiss said that the immediacy of the circumstances behind the termination of Villaraigosa’s call with Sderot’s mayor “really brought home the suddenness of terrorism.” Weiss represents Los Angeles’ Fifth Council District, which includes such heavily Jewish areas as West Los Angeles and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

The Kassam attacks also underscore the escalation of Palestinian attacks on Sderot and elsewhere in the region, and the dangers these attacks represent to Israeli citizens, Fishel said.

“Most folks here in Los Angeles don’t necessarily understand Israel’s geography and how close Sderot is to [Gaza] and the attacks’ impact on the normalcy of the lives of men, women and children,” Fishel said.

Sderot, which is located less than a mile from the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip, has seen an upsurge in attacks since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year. The targets have recently included schools during school hours, Jewish Telegraphic Agency has reported, causing Sderot’s student population to drop by more than 15 percent over the past year.

In response to news of the call, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Southern California Chapter said that Villaraigosa has every right to call city officials around the world to express his solidarity with them, especially when they face the consequences of war and natural disasters. But given that the mayor has called Israeli civic leaders, he has an obligation to call Palestinians, Ayloush said.

“When it comes to the Middle East, it is important to remember that there are two sides who are suffering due to this conflict,” Ayloush said. “But there is one side that’s suffering even more: that is the Palestinians, because of the occupation.”

To date, Villaraigosa has not yet called any Palestinian officials but hasn’t ruled out doing so in the future, spokesman Ben Golombek said.

Los Angeles’ mayor has twice visited Israel and hopes to make another trip there again soon.

Pink Floyd’s Waters Caught Red-Handed

“No thought control.”

The famed lyrics from rock band Pink Floyd’s much beloved “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” make for a powerful statement regardless of context. Scrawled last week in red paint on a concrete segment of Israel’s security fence in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters himself, though, the poignancy of the verse is undeniable.

Waters visited Israel to play a concert June 22 at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (literally Oasis of Peace), a cooperative Jewish-Palestinian Arab village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Originally scheduled to perform at the much more mainstream Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Rogers moved the concert to the fields of Neve Shalom in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian musicians.

“I moved the concert to Neve Shalom as a gesture of solidarity with the voices of reason — Israelis and Palestinians seeking a non-violent path to a just peace between the peoples,” Waters said in a press release.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the concert in its makeshift venue drew more than 50,000 attendees and became the cause of one of Israel’s worst traffic jams to date. Waters performed the album “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety, along with many of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits, including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and the especially iconic “Another Brick in the Wall.”

“We need this generation of Israelis to tear down walls and make peace,” Waters told the audience before his post-midnight encore.

Waters’ performance received much acclaim in Israel, but it is his spray-painting stint at the security fence in the West Bank the day before the showcase that is making lasting waves there and abroad. The artist’s paint and pen additions to the already graffiti-laden wall marked Waters’ first stop after arriving in Israel. According to reporters present at the Palestinian town of Bethlehem when he made the markings, Waters likened the barrier to the Berlin Wall, adding that “it may be a lot harder to get this one down, but eventually it has to happen, otherwise there’s no point to being human beings.”

The musician’s deliberately provocative gesture prompted right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir to call for the artist’s detainment.

The pair submitted an accusation to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court June 23 alleging that Waters destroyed Israel Defense Forces property, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Israeli authorities have not yet issued a response to the singer’s graffiti or to Marzel and Ben-Gvir’s retaliatory petition.

The fence that Waters dubbed “a horrible edifice” is being constructed in the hopes of preventing Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, who have killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis in the last six years, from entering Israel proper.

Additional information courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.


Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes

When former Democratic Congressman Mel Levine agreed to chair the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), he hoped to infuse it with the passion and purpose of its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In those days, the JCRC — which is one of the major voices and faces of The Federation to the non-Jewish world — was a high-profile entity. It took up the cause of Soviet Jewry and Ethiopia’s Jews. It was assertive locally, too, whether in denouncing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 or reaching out to non-Jewish communities in need.

But something has happened during the John Fishel era at The Federation.

Critics say that starting in the mid-1990s, the JCRC slowly began losing its voice and shirked a core mission: to be as visible and forthrightly active as possible.

As Levine saw it, the community relations committee could once again become a powerful voice by taking principled stands on controversial public policy issues, thereby strengthening coalitions with African American, Latino and other ethnic groups.

Levine’s appointment came at a time when JCRC staff morale was low. The committee had largely abandoned public policy advocacy in favor of its more traditional roles of ardently supporting Israel, reaching out to other religious and ethnic communities and lobbying for government dollars for social programs. Under Fishel, the JCRC has seen its influence, as well as staff and budget, shrink.

“John Fishel doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it,” said Howard Welinsky, a former JCRC chair. He said that Fishel constantly pushed to downsize the JCRC during Welinsky’s two-year term in the late ’90s.

But Fishel’s view is that the political climate simply evolved. The JCRC has “a unique function,” he said, but the community itself no longer always coalesces, through the committee, as one voice. There are no longer such issues of broad agreement, such as support for Soviet Jewry.

“I think it’s become much more difficult for the JCRC to define what becomes an issue of Jewish concern,” Fishel said.

To be sure, JCRCs across the country have seen budgets shrink as federations’ resources dipped. After the successful immigration to Israel of nearly 1 million Soviet Jews — a Herculean undertaking that community relations councils around the nation helped orchestrate — several JCRCs experienced periods of “searching for meaning,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the New York-based parent organization for 125 community relations councils nationwide.

Which is why the appointment of former Rep. Levine was so welcomed. Given his political connections in Sacramento and Washington and his energy and dedication, JCRC supporters believed Levine would restore the committee’s lost luster.

When the Israeli embassy contacted Levine, seeking JCRC public support for Israel’s planned withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza, he set about building consensus. Although Levine eventually succeeded in putting the JCRC on record as favoring the withdrawal — a position shared by the majority of American Jews — he said he felt frustrated that it took so long for The Federation to sign off on the public pronouncement. And by this time, The Federation was following the train of opinion shapers, rather than leading it.

Time was, the local JCRC, with The Federation’s blessing, took controversial stands on issues of the day, said Steven Windmueller, the committee’s director from 1985 to 1995. In those heady times, the JCRC opposed the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and spoke out in support of abortion rights, he said.

Although those positions angered some Jews in the community, Windmueller said the committee’s views reflected those held by the majority of the Southland’s liberal-leaning Jews. The JCRC’s willingness to take those and other positions, Windmueller said, attracted scores of young people to the committee, which served as a gateway to the Jewish community for many. Some later went on to became Federation donors, he added.

About a decade ago, however, the L.A, Federation, like some others around the country, began discouraging the local JCRC from venturing into controversial public policy matters, Windmueller said. With competition for charitable dollars heating up, many federations concluded that the risk of alienating conservative donors outweighed the benefit of taking liberal stands. Increasingly, most JCRCs left political advocacy, whether liberal or conservative, to other groups.

In Southern California, that void was filled by the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, StandWithUs, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), among others. Ironically, the PJA’s willingness to fight against sweatshops and the exploitation of hotel workers along with its boldness in embracing the sort of left-of-center causes once championed by the local JCRC has helped swell its ranks to 3,500. With half its members under 30, the alliance, which just opened a second office in the Bay Area, has succeeded in reaching a demographic coveted by Fishel’s Federation.

“What we find is that pursuing a positive, progressive Jewish response to the issues of the day is profoundly inspiring , especially to young people who one day will be our community leaders and donors,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

Two of the nation’s most robust JCRCs are among the most politically liberal. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has a staff of 24 and a $3 million budget, while the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council employs 20, with a budget of $2.1 million. By contrast, the local JCRC has five full-time and two part-time staffers and an annual budget of $1.2 million. Unlike Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco have taken bold policy stands recently, with San Francisco, for instance, coming out in favor of same-sex civil marriages.

A left-leaning JCRC wouldn’t fly everywhere, but the formula has consonance with liberal Los Angeles.

Levine had expected the L.A. JCRC to take positions on ballot initiatives, legislation and other political issues, provided he could build consensus. But The Federation’s new chairman of the board, Michael Koss, worried about alienating donors. Koss said he also thought the JCRC would benefit if led by someone who was not strongly identified with either liberal or conservative politics. Koss, who had the authority as Federation chair, did not reappoint Levine. The former congressman, for his part, said he had no interest in a second term given the lack of support.

“Losing Mel Levine for the JCRC or anyplace Mel puts his hat is a loss,” said Harriet Hochman, a former Federation chair.

Fishel said he respects Levine but added that Federation chairs make their own appointments. Fishel’s critics counter that it’s his job to show leadership.

Koss tapped corporate attorney Ron Leibow as Levine’s successor. Leibow, former chair of The Federation’s Planning and Allocation Committee, said he plans to revitalize the JCRC and has made reaching out to ethnic groups, especially Latinos, a priority.

Those involved with JCRC are determined to make a positive difference. Under new JCRC Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, the committee has added paid staff and seen its budget increase. Several JCRC programs have grown in importance. The Holy Land Democracy Project, for instance, has helped teach thousands of area Catholic high school students about Israel, while, simultaneously, tightening links between Jews and Catholics. The JCRC continues to take elected leaders on trips to Israel — to expose them to the Jewish state and to Jewish issues.

But a recent, tentative step back into the political fray was telling, when the JCRC encountered some Federation resistance and withdrew, for now, a pro-immigrant statement. The scenario unfolded in mid-May, when the JCRC board approved a statement saying that it supported better border security but opposed legislation that would criminalize illegal immigrants. The statement also favored normalizing immigrants’ status, insiders said. JCRC members had hoped the resolution would demonstrate solidarity with the Latino community, she said.

The Federation board, however, barely approved the JCRC resolution, so the JCRC has pulled back, while it develops new wording that could attract more support, Schwartz-Getzug said.

That the JCRC still hasn’t come out with a statement weeks after one of the largest pro-immigration demonstrations in U.S. history reflects the committee’s — and, by extension, the Federation’s — cautious approach. Critics might go farther, arguing that this reluctance to take a public stand on immigration illustrate that those institutions no longer speak for the local Jewish community.

“If the Federation isn’t going to take a position on something as important to the Latino community as immigration, even after the huge marches all over the nation, then what in the world do they have to say to the Latino community?” commented Michael Hirschfeld, formerly the top JCRC staff member. Hirschfeld was himself the focus of an earlier JCRC furor: His unexpected 2003 dismissal, after 24 years with the JCRC, generated a firestorm of criticism, and a few calls for Fishel’s resignation.

Levine believes that until Fishel’s Federation either allows the JCRC to become independent or have more autonomy, the committee will serve as little more than an administrator of such programs as KOREH L.A, a well-regarded tutoring program.

“The CRC and Federation are no longer a meaningful political force in the structure of Los Angeles,” said Levine, now a partner in international law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “That’s unfortunate.”


There’s a Lot About Eilat That’s Hot

The shores of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, are densely populated with sun-kissed foreigners from around the world. Here, on the crimson-colored shoreline hugging the Red Sea, everything appears uncomplicated and picturesque — exactly the way a resort town should.

But early on in the second intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2005, the scene became too tranquil. In a region where nearly half the tourists came from abroad, particularly from Europe, traffic from foreigners dropped to near zero.

“Europeans were very important to Eilat, especially Northern Europeans. They had regular charter flights to Eilat, but this all stopped after the start of the intifada in September 2000,” said Ari Morris, Israel’s director of marketing for North America. “In the year 2001, it came to a halt.”

It was not only security-related fears, he said, but also a tendency to blame Israel for the violence.

In response, officials and business leaders mounted a massive push to make Eilat even more of a prime vacation destination for Israelis themselves. And last year, Israelis singled out Eilat as their favorite vacation city in a survey conducted by the Tourism Ministry.

But what finally spurred a turnaround was the discovery — or rediscovery — of Eilat by non-Israeli Jews. While Eilat’s livelihood was under attack, the Jews of Europe were themselves feeling embattled. Anti-Semitism was prompting many European Jews to abandon traditional holidays in North Africa, for example, in search of safer alternatives.

“Things changed for us in France,” said 60-year-old Yves Boutboul, a Tunisian-born Jew who lives in Paris. “You cannot go out of your home with a kippah anymore and feel secure.”

Boutboul and his family now spend half the year in France and half in Israel. He even bought an apartment in Ranana, a city situated just outside Tel Aviv. “We started coming here more often during the intifada because we felt it was very important to help the Israeli people,” he said while sitting down to a family dinner on the veranda of the Herods Palace Hotel. “For us, Eilat is really special.”

Morris, the tourism official, said the trend was unmistakable. “Tourism from France rose nearly 300 percent,” he said. “French Jews were coming here because of the anti-Semitism and also as a sign of solidarity. Without them, it would have been a tremendous crunch.”

At times, it seems the official language of Eilat, a city of 55,000, is in fact French. Ask any one of the French Jews lollygagging on the city’s main drag how they feel about Eilat and Israel, and you’re likely to get a quick effusive response.

“This city has gone through some fabulous changes over the years,” said Monique Ansellem, who first visited Eilat in 1967. “It’s getting worse in France. More and more of my family are actually moving here. I hope that when I retire in two years, I can make this place my permanent home.”

Eilat’s reputation as a haven from terrorism and its spate of music festivals, most notably the Red Sea Jazz Festival, also draw visitors. In recent years, the city has added a film festival, classical music festival and an underwater photography festival.

“Most resort towns are not working throughout the entire year, but here in Eilat we are. So we need to do as much as we can to keep upgrading the city,” said Yossi Ani, general manager of the Red Sea Resort Tourism Administration. “The festivals are really a demand that we created. We saw the popularity — the people who wanted it.”

The newest offering, a three-day chamber music festival, Classic Winter in Eilat, debuted in February.

Eilat is also known for what may be the world’s northernmost coral reef, which lies just offshore, and continues to be a popular attraction for divers.

One idea currently on the table is to make Eilat a gambling center in Israel. Currently, Israelis must leave Israel proper to gamble legally.

Tourist numbers to Eilat have increased 24 percent each of the past three years, officials said. Direct international flights have resumed to Ovda International Airport, located 40 miles north of the city. Air traffic is also picking up at Eilat’s city airport, which connects to Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport.

Susan Schneorr, a 38-year-old French native, gave up her tourist status to become an Eilat resident working in the tourism industry. At her office on Eilat’s boardwalk, she markets day trips and package tours.

“Yes, Eilat was empty during the years of the intifada,” Schneorr said, “but I still came because this is the place I want to raise my children.”

It is still early in the morning, yet Schneorr’s phones are constantly ringing. “It is a small Garden of Eden here,” she said, grinning, “filled with Jewish people.”

” target=”_blank”> offers a more family-friendly experience. Just 10 minutes by taxi from the center of town, this lush compound offers snorkeling and diving with dolphins, in addition to a handful of relaxation pools filled with salt, rain or seawater.

SHOPPING: A bonus of Eilat is its tax-free status, although some boutiques are still quite pricey. The promenade is chock full of fashionable boutiques with European and American duds. Be sure to make a stop at Le Boulevard, located in the Isrotel Royal Garden Hotel, for a wide selection of trendy boutiques, including L’Occitane and Tommy Hilfiger.

HOTELS AND SPAS: Check out the Herods Vitalis Spa Hotel, which caters to visitors serious about relaxing. The hotel’s “no cellphone” and “no children” policy really help to maintain a serene environment.

For a particularly atypical experience, check into the Orchid Hotel (

Europe’s Jews Caught in Cartoon Furor

European Jews have expressed a mixture of anger and frustration as the furor over a Muslim cartoon erupted into violence in Europe and the Middle East.

As frequent targets of anti-Semitic cartoons — many of them in the Arab press — Jews on one hand sympathized with the Muslim outrage over depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.

But Jews joined many others in expressing shock at the level of violence the controversy sparked.

“Of course, we condemn all forms of propaganda that carry prejudice toward any faith. But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.

In Denmark, Jews felt solidarity with their country as it came under attack after a Danish newspaper printed the controversial cartoons, including one that depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

“Usually the Jews are always in the center of things, but here we feel we are part of the Danish population,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi.

Other newspapers across the world — in France, in Australia and in the United States — printed one or more of the cartoons. In France, the editorial director of France Soir, was fired after running at least one of the cartoons. At least one Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, also reprinted the cartoons. A German Jewish Web site, haGalil, was hacked after it posted some of the Danish cartoons.

The fallout took on specific Jewish overtones as the Muslim reaction intensified. As Muslims rioted across the Middle East, the Web site of the Arab European League printed anti-Semitic cartoons and Iran’s largest newspaper requested cartoon submissions that question the Holocaust.

“The cartoon was made by a Danish newspaper, not a Jewish one. But once again, someone does something and we as Jews are guilty,” said Petr Kadlcek, the head of Poland’s Union of Religious Jewish Communities.

Most European Jews, led by France’s chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, saw the original cartoons as a needless provocation.

Following a meeting with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sitruk said, “We win nothing by disparaging religions, humiliating them by making caricatures of them.”

Jews are no strangers to racism dressed up as humor, said David Ruzie, a French university professor and international law specialist.

“There is humor, and there is humor,” Ruzie said. “It was through derision that Germany, and in France as well, before World War II, began to attack Jews.”

There was widespread condemnation of the Muslim reaction, which in addition to the anti-Semitic cartoons, included Muslim violence, throwing rocks at Danish and other European institutions abroad and, in some cases, setting buildings ablaze.

“I don’t believe in absolute freedom of expression,” said journalist Jean-Claude Baboulin, writing in Guysen Israel News, a news service, “but I certainly don’t defend the Muslims who believe they have a right to forbid others what their religion forbids them,” he wrote, referring to the Muslim prohibition to depict Mohammed.

This is not the first example of religious slander in the European media, but the reactions are exaggerated, said Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, a Paris official.

“There is something to be angry over, just like when Catholics were furious over caricatures of the Holy Trinity in the French press,” he said, “but the Catholics did not go out and burn buildings.”

Others reacted with more equanimity.

People of all faiths must work to defuse the situation, said Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, complementing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her call “for prudence and de-escalation.”

For some elderly Danish Jews, the violence brought back some historical nightmares, said Lexner, the Danish chief rabbi.

“I think that there are some kinds of fear, especially of those people who have seen this burning of flags and violence in the many countries, and they compare” that to the 1940s, fretting that “things are repeating themselves,” he said.

In England, both lawmakers and Muslim leaders condemned a demonstration last Friday in front of the country’s largest mosque, during which some Muslims threatened terrorism and another “7/7,” referring to the July subway and bus bombings that left 56 dead.

Most Muslim protests in Europe were peaceful, however.

Many European and American Jewish observers noted the irony of Muslims and Arabs objecting to an offensive characterization of Mohammed when anti-Jewish characterizations are rampant in the Arab world.

Some in the secular French Jewish community revealed bitterness at the anger expressed against France, particularly concerning demonstrations that took place in Gaza.

Ruzie wrote on the Web site “The traditionally welcoming attitude of France toward the Palestinians” has not exactly “paid off.”

Underlying much of the reaction was an anger that efforts at tolerance and dialogue could now be jeopardized.

“Some people have worked for trying to integrate the Muslim community in the Danish society, and I think that, in that way, many years of work were destroyed,” Lexner said.

JTA staff writer Chanan Tigay in New York and correspondents Dinah A. Spritzer in Prague, Lauren Elkin and Brett Kline in Paris and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.


We Must Work to Build Solidarity in U.S.

Do you know anyone serving in Iraq? I intend to ask this question this year at Yom Kippur services. Of the 1,500 people who will hear it, I expect no more than a handful to say they do. I, for one, do not. Do you?

As it is for most of America, the Iraq war is an abstraction to many American Jews. We don’t know by name anyone in uniform on the ground. And so, like most of America, it is hard for us to become motivated to take action. After all, what do we personally have at stake?

Contrast this scene with the historic events in Gaza two months ago: 53,000 soldiers and police were deployed — 1 percent of the population or the equivalent of 3 million Americans. Even if an Israeli did not have a son, daughter or husband immediately involved, they likely had a friend who did. And even if they didn’t have a friend connected to the events on the ground, just watching the pictures created a certain sense of inevitability: That could have been me in uniform.

Compulsory military or national service is the greatest factor in cementing solidarity between the citizens of Israel. Every child in Israel is raised with the assumption that they share the same future as their friends and neighbors: They will all go into the army. They are included in the same fate.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik termed this concept of shared fate brit ha-goral. In his work, “Kol Dodi Dofek,” the rav argued that in light of the Holocaust, every Jew shares the same fate as every other Jew, no matter his or her connection to the Jewish people: “The individual, against his will, is subjected and subjugated to the national, fate-laden reality. He cannot evade this reality and become assimilated into some other, different reality.” The implications of this reality include a shared sense of suffering with, responsibility for and action toward fellow Jews.

Times have changed in the nearly 50 years since Soloveitchik wrote “Kol Dodi Dofek.” Israel, though threatened, is vastly more secure. Here in America, we are two generations removed from the Holocaust, and the concept of brit ha-goral rings hollow with this generation. Today, we are all about choice, not fate. Unlike in Israel, where the typical child orients his or her entire life around wearing a uniform in service to the nation, the American child is brought up to orient his or her life around — in the words of the U.S. Army — being all he or she can be.

In Israel, the disengagement provoked a national therapy session, a shiva house spanning the entire country. The tone of Israeli society was unbelievable: shared suffering, responsibility, fate. Israelis witnessed their children crying with each other, praying with each other, tending one another’s wounds. And in those moments, all of Israeli society psychologically channeled itself into the homes in Gush Katif, and assumed collective responsibility for whatever fate had in store.

And here in America? Despite its mounting toll in lives and treasure, the Iraq War has still not overtaken American society as the No. 1 topic of conversation. The lives of celebrities, sports and entertainment are still further toward the center of our national consciousness. The suffering lies with the families of the soldiers; the responsibility lies with the administration; the fate simply lies.

American Jews have been looking for a meaningful way to respond to the disengagement. Some sent money to the evicted families. Others sent pizzas to the police.

Let me propose something much more immediate and demanding: That we, who have not chosen to move to Israel, engage our civic duty and develop in American society the exemplary kind of solidarity that our brothers and sisters in Israel displayed last summer.

In its most substantial form, this would mean advocating for reinstatement of compulsory military service, with a national service option for conscientious objectors. If we immediately shy away from this notion, we must at a minimum confront the moral question and explain why someone else’s child should be asked to risk his life, while our own children lie sleeping 10,000 miles away.

Independent of this debate lies the clear moral and religious obligation to identify with those who are putting their lives on the line, and to support and sympathize with their families. Our synagogues should host returning soldiers and invite them to share their stories. Our communities should provide forums for anxious and grieving families to share their pride and their pain. We must make the effort to share their fate.

The central ritual of Yom Kippur in Temple times was the offering of two goats: One was sacrificed to God; the other thrown off a cliff in the wilderness. The goats were identical. All that separated them was a goral, a lot, an act of fate.

We no longer perform this sacrifice, but we read the story as part of the Yom Kippur service. Let us resolve this year to embrace the brit ha-goral that binds us as Jews here and throughout the world, and to create a society of shared fate here in America as well.

Rabbi Joshua Feigelson is a graduate of YCT Rabbinical School and campus rabbi at the Fiedler Hillel Center of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. For more, visit

Bracelet Bandwagon


Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve — wear it on your wrist. And with the new Shalom bracelet, you can. The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles is distributing 25,000 of the blue elastic bands adorned with a white dove and the word “Shalom” throughout the community.

It carries a simple message: Israel wants peace.

Yael Swerdlow, director of media relations at the consulate, said the target audience for the bracelets is a universal one.

“They are for anyone who wants peace,” Swerdlow said. “We are getting requests from all over the country, from yeshivas in New Jersey to human rights activists that vilify Israel. It’s an opening to dialogue.”

The public relations department at the consulate came up with the idea for the bracelets using Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong” bracelet as their inspiration. Bracelets are all the rage this year, with the yellow bands leading the pack. Although unlike the free blue Consulate bracelets, the yellow ones sell for $1 in Nike stores with profits benefiting cancer patients. Similar bracelet campaigns include several varieties of pink bracelets that support cancer research. They include the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation bracelet (five for $5), the Melissa Etheridge bracelet (one for $5), and Target’s Share Beauty, Spread Hope bracelet (10 for $10).

Jewish organizations may have been ahead of the craze. is currently selling silver memorial bracelets, engraved with the name of victims of terror, for $2. Hillel and various synagogues nationwide began selling the bracelets in 2003, a concept created by the Israel Solidarity Fund in 2000.

“People wear this jewelry to make a statement,” Swerdlow said, “and we hope to make ours.”

To get your Shalom bracelet send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, 6380 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1700, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Attention: Consul Yariv Ovadia.


Fear and Loathing on the Left


It has only been in recent months that I’ve found the courage to speak to some of my Jewish and non-Jewish friends within the Palestinian solidarity community, and the broader anti-globalization/anti-war movement, about the difficulties I have experienced as a Jew within that movement. And to name that experience: anti-Jewish racism, or Judeophobia.

The first time I joined the struggle for Palestinian rights was at a rally in Trafalgar Square in 2002. Here was a place where I could be anonymous yet stand up in solidarity for what I believed in. I watched in horror, however, as the reactions unfolded to an Israeli Jewish peace activist who took the platform.

“The occupation is terror!” she said. “It breeds despair in the hearts of young Palestinian boys and girls. But the suicide bombings are not helping the Palestinian struggle. Whoever is sending these kids — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or Tanzim — plays into the hands of Sharon.”

At this, a group of young Muslim fundamentalists, some of them with empty toilet rolls strapped around their stomachs like dynamite, surged forward throwing bottles at the podium and chanting, “Scud, Scud, Israel! Gas, Gas, Tel Aviv!” — and in Arabic: “Death to Jews.” I was even more horrified to see that woman struggle on with her speech, unsupported. No one sitting on the platform raised a finger to challenge such blatant racism. When she stepped down, the chair took the microphone from her, commenting: “Well not all of us agree with the last speaker.”

The overwhelming feeling that I got from the mainstream British left that day was not so much solidarity with the Palestinians as virulent hostility toward Israel, and, by extension, toward anyone who didn’t express shame to be Jewish or utterly reject a Jewish state.

The notion of racism against the Jewish people has been so exclusively linked to the Holocaust that its more subtle and everyday manifestations often pass people by. Of course, Jews are not being carted off to the gas chambers and, thankfully, in Britain actual racist attacks on people and buildings are rare. However, there are instances, especially around the Israeli-Palestinian issue, where attitudes and expressions of Judeophobia often surface. Criticism of Israel’s policies is not Judeophobic. The way in which it is conducted, however, sometimes is. Judeophobia is present in careless and inflammatory language; in black-and-white attitudes that polarize the debate; in gross insensitivities to Jewish concerns and collective memory; in the level of hatred expressed toward Jews and Israelis; and, on top of it all, in a blanket denial that the problem of anti-Jewish racism exists.

Perhaps, predictably, a lot of the tensions revolve around the Holocaust, and the failure to realize how deep and unresolved a pain it is for my community. My grandfather tells vivid stories of how, as a young Jewish British sailor transporting Holocaust survivors from Odessa to Marseilles, he gave his coat to the starving and penniless Otto Frank, Auschwitz survivor and father of Anne Frank. Her diary was my companion in my own adolescence. This bright young Jewish woman, so enchanted by and prescient about the world around her, died horribly of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at 15. I grew up conscious of the possibility that if I had been born 40 years earlier in Europe, that would have been me. Of course I get emotional when I feel disrespect around this very real pain.

In certain circles on the left, talking about the Holocaust elicits nothing but groans and sighs — it’s called “Holocaust fatigue.” There are various stock responses that seem to dismiss the whole experience out of hand: “Yes it was terrible, but it was used by Zionist leaders as an excuse for the foundation of the illegitimate Jewish state of Israel on land stolen from the Palestinians.”

Yet, within those same circles, very deliberate comparisons are made between the current situation in the Palestinian areas and the Holocaust: a banner equating a Star of David with a swastika and cartoons of Israeli soldiers in SS uniforms. I have been to the Palestinian areas several times over the last couple of years and seen the appalling situation with my own eyes. It is a massive over-simplification to say that the Israelis are repeating history and have “become the Nazis,” yet some Palestine solidarity activists constantly make that comparison. It is as though Jews must be collectively punished for the behavior of the Israeli state by the use of inflammatory symbols and language, and a widespread denial of our experience of persecution. It taps into a profound trauma that immediately and inevitably puts me on the defensive — which is ironic because I don’t support Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Five million Jews live in Israel today; many have a deep emotional connection to the place they were born in and call home. This connection to the Land of Israel has been a profound part of our consciousness throughout history; a connection that I too have felt through my upbringing as a Reform Jew. I remember, as a 16-year-old, feeling the weight of what it means to be Jewish, and my responsibility for the continuity of the Jewish people, when for the first time I put my palm on the cool stones of the Western Wall, all that remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Does this mean I’m a Zionist? Many Jews who disagree with Sharon’s policies are Zionists. They disagree with the occupation and believe in a workable and just two-state solution. The term “Zionist” has become so confused and contested on the left, that it’s sometimes hard to know what others mean when they use it. For me, Zionism has always meant Jewish nationalism — the belief that the only way in which Jews can ensure their survival in a hostile world is through a Jewish homeland, essentially a Jewish state. In this sense, I am not a Zionist. While I feel a historical and emotional connection to the land where the Israeli state exists, I want to see a world in which Jews and all peoples can live securely anywhere and be celebrated for their culture without recourse to states. In a world full of states, however, Jews surely have as much right to self-determination as any other people.

That’s why I find it extraordinary that for many on the left the term “Zionism” drips from their lips like venom while they embrace the Palestinian flag. It seems that Zionism has become synonymous with arch-imperialism. If you are a Zionist (and “all Jews are Zionists”), it is implied that you are clearly a supporter of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair and have some global imperialist agenda to control the world on behalf of the Jews. Not only is this untrue, but it implies that Zionists are worse than any other nationalist. Surely, if you believe that nationalism is problematic because it must be inherently racist, then we should be challenging all forms of nationalism and all colonial projects, not just singling out Zionism for special attention.

British Jews don’t look like a typical oppressed minority, so it is easy to miss the genuine fear that we feel about our safety and security as Jews in this country. I grew up with parents standing guard whenever our synagogue was in use and today many Jewish institutions are guarded by police, barbed wire, closed-circuit television and intercoms. I know also that I am not the only Jew to have walked through the predominantly Jewish London neighborhood of Golders Green and suddenly felt that flash of fear — “We are so vulnerable here to a hate attack.” I know that the racism experienced by asylum-seekers and Muslims in this country is much more acute. But does this mean that my feelings and experiences of racism should be belittled or ignored?

Yet for some groups on the left, any talk of anti-Semitism is automatically dismissed as a convenient and manipulative strategy to deflect criticism away from Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza. Other times, when Jews claim they have experienced anti-Semitism, there follows the predictable semantic debate about the term “anti-Semitism”‘ excluding Arabs (which is why I prefer to talk about “Judeophobia” to begin with), or a lecture about how the Jews are not the only victims of war and oppression. The only time I challenged someone directly for an anti-Jewish comment, she looked at me incredulously and said: “What are you talking about? You’re the racist here!'”

Being stuck in the middle of this complex debate is not an easy place to be, yet you begin to see that both “sides,” the pro-occupation Jews and the anti-Zionists operate in exactly the same way: not listening to each other; using emotive language; belittling each other’s pain; dehumanizing each other; learning stock responses; being highly selective in the use of facts; and making huge generalizations about “the Jews” or “the Palestinians.”

I hear that at one point in Belfast, Catholic neighborhoods sported Palestinian flags, and Protestant ones hung up Israeli flags. Some people use the imagery of a conflict that they know so little about in order to polarize their own. Somewhere in there you forget you are talking about real people and that calling into question a people’s religion, history or identity is bound to cause deep pain, liable to result in a closing off and defensiveness rather than an openness to your ideas.

As Jews we have been left with deep patterns of behavior as a result of centuries of oppression including its most recent terrible manifestation in the Shoah. These patterns include fear, defensiveness, anger and a determination not to be victims again. If we feel attacked for having these patterns, we will just retreat into them. If the left fails to take Judeophobia seriously then the opportunity for countless potential allies in the fight for justice for the Palestinian people will be lost. What’s more, it will push us into the arms of false friends such as the Christian Zionists.

On the other hand, it’s surprising how far a small act of solidarity can go. I felt immense trust and relief on the anti-war march of Feb. 15, 2003, when a non-Jew took down a Judeophobic banner. Suddenly fighting anti-Jewish racism wasn’t just my struggle anymore.

There is so much more to being Jewish than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When I hear people celebrating Jewish culture, my heart sings. For me, and for many other Jews, campaigning for a just peace in the Middle East has reawakened our Jewishness and our pride in our religion and the diversity of the Jewish identity: our music, food, art, literature, symbols and language. I look forward to the time when the society I live in also celebrates my Jewishness and doesn’t merely consider me a “good” Jew for challenging the occupation.


This Year in Jerusalem

For the past decade, members of Shaare Shalom, a Persian synagogue in Great Neck, N.Y., have traveled en masse to Miami each Passover.

This year, however, many synagogue members are passing up the Fontainebleau Hilton for the Jewish state — where they’ll combine the springtime holiday with bar mitzvah celebrations at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for children in the community.

"It’s like a solidarity trip," said Robert Hakimi, a jeweler in Manhattan’s diamond district whose son, Kevin, is among those having a bar mitzvah.

The group hopes to make Passover in Israel a new tradition. Already, 200 of them have made reservations for the holiday at an Eilat resort, Hakimi said.

The Persian posse may be a dramatic example of a tourism revival in Israel this Passover, but they’re not alone.

Two years after what is known as the "Passover massacre" — when a suicide bomber killed 30 people at a seder at a Netanya hotel and changed the course of the intifada by prompting the return of Israel’s military to the West Bank — tourism officials report a serious upswing in travel to Israel for Passover.

In any case, Passover is considered among the "high seasons" of Israel travel, but officials say the holiday demand this year reflects a general trend of U.S. Jews returning to Israel in an act of solidarity.

"Tourism to Israel is up in a tremendous way," said Rami Levy, Israel’s tourism ambassador to North and South America.

In fact, 2003 broke an all-time record in American Jewish tourism to Israel, Levy said. Some 221,000 American Jews visited Israel last year, he said.

General tourism to Israel is down, however. Slightly more than 1 million people visited Israel in 2003. That’s up at least 25 percent from 2002 but down from its peak in 1999, when 2.7 million visited the Jewish state, Israel’s Tourism Ministry said.

The increase in U.S. Jewish travel comes from close coordination between Israel’s Tourism Ministry and American Jewish synagogues and groups, Levy said.

For example, the North American Jewish federation system held its annual General Assembly in Israel last year, drawing 4,300 North Americans. Synagogues also have distributed pledge cards and rabbis have delivered sermons encouraging Israel travel.

To sustain the trend, Israel’s Tourism Ministry has appointed a coordinator for 475 tourism committees within American synagogues.

The effort seems to be working.

Susan Blum, manager of the Israel Department of Gil Travel, a Philadelphia-based travel agency that specializes in Israel, partly attributes the increase to Israeli prodding.

"One of the ads that the Israel Ministry of Tourism had last year was ‘Make your pledge to go back to Israel next year for 2004,’" she said, referring to ads Israel placed in Jewish publications and synagogues across North America. "Well, it’s 2004 now, and it looks like people are living up to their pledges."

"We’re doing quotations left and right for synagogues," she said. "It’s really, really rejuvenating."

While Israel’s Tourism Ministry will not tally its records until the end of April, there are several signs that tourism this Passover will pass previous years. Continental Airlines has added seven flights to Israel each week in April, and El Al has added a host of new flights to accommodate demand, Levy said.

Blum figures that Passover travel will climb 30 percent to 40 percent this year but says those levels are still 30 percent below what they were before the intifada.

At, "What we have noticed is a major increase in people inquiring about Pesach in Israel, compared to last year," CEO Raphi Bloom said. "Hotels in Israel who advertise with us are selling out five to six weeks before Pesach, and even if a hotel has room left, flights are increasingly hard to find."

Bloom noted that 70 percent of his site’s users are North American.

Bloom ascribes the increased interest to a calmer security situation in Israel coupled with the end of major hostilities in Iraq. Others say people simply are getting used to the ongoing intifada or feel inspired to show solidarity with a Jewish state still under siege.

"More people want to get more involved in showing solidarity with Israel, and Passover’s a great time to come," said Rabbi Isroel Chanin, head of hospitality services for Chabad-Lubavitch in Jerusalem.

The number of e-mails and phone calls he receives inquiring about arrangements for Passover has doubled, Chanin said. This April, he has booked 15 bar mitzvahs at the Western Wall, triple his usual bookings for this time of year.

Hakimi and his Persian group are taking their cues from Israel.

The Israel consulate is "sending us signals," he said. "They’re telling us to go to Israel and visit."

Solidarity Makes for Strange Bedfellows

"Anybody who supports Israel will be my friend, even though they may be Christian fundamentalists." — Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air

As Israel enters the third year of the Al-Aksa Intifada, L.A. Jews are reaching out to pro-Israel Christians to express solidarity for Israel.

On Oct. 2, an estimated 1,500 Jews and Christians are expected to attend an evening "solidarity gathering" of The Israel-Christian Nexus, a Jewish community-supported outreach to evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

"I never thought there would be a time when I’d see Christians and Jews hugging each other," said the Rev. George Otis of the Assembly of God in Simi Valley and a longtime Christian broadcaster in the Middle East. "That’s what motivates me — the opportunity to help people in real trouble."

Otis’ Kingworld Ministries is one of 21 Christian ministry sponsors of the Oct. 2 event, which will feature speeches plus music from a combined Jewish/Christian choir.

Long known as a bulwark of Israel’s religious tourism industry, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants have, in the past three years, become stalwart political allies supporting the besieged nation.

Though politics makes strange bedfellows, and there are those in the Jewish community opposed to the alliance with the Christian right, calling it shortsighted and exploitive, given that these groups ultimately believe that Jews will have to convert in the End of Days.

The last alliance between Jews and Christians in the 1960s was forged from common social goals, when Jews, Catholics and Protestants marched arm in arm during the civil rights movement. But today’s coalition starkly differs, because the very evangelical and fundamentalist Christians that pro-Israel Jews are reaching out to often have very different social values; this is particularly true with Reform Jews who are political opponents of the Christian right when it comes to social issues such as gay rights or affirmative action.

"Jewish coalitions in the United States are formed with other communities on specific issues," said Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple. "People that we work with on social issues are liberal Christians. The people that we work with on Israel issues are fundamentalist Christians. And in these times, when even American Jews don’t visit Israel as tourists, the fundamentalist Christians do, so more power to them."

The Israel-Christian Nexus is being coordinated by two Jewish groups — the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and retired Israel Gen. Shimon Erem’s Promoting Israel Publicity and Education Fund — which currently share a 2002 $50,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. That money is being used to reach out to Southern California’s large but largely unnoticed evangelical and fundamentalist Christian communities, according to Lewis Groner, the foundation’s marketing and communications director.

The 28 Jewish sponsors of the gathering include all facets of local Jewish life including 10 Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues, The Jewish Federation, plus Persian, Russian, Democratic and Republican Jewish groups, the American Jewish Congress and UCLA’s Bruins for Israel. At Thursday’s event, the Rev. Jack Hayford will speak as will Reform, Orthodox and Conservative rabbis such as Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, plus Ambassador Yuval Rotem of the Israel Consul-General in Los Angeles.

Beyond this gathering, the $50,000 grant for the "nexus" work supports a pro-Israel speakers bureau and educational materials about Israel for churches, schools and media. About 20 local, private evangelical and fundamentalist schools will have workshops on Zionist history and the Middle East conflict. The foundation this year also is funding the Holy Land Democracy project, brining awareness of Israel to Catholic high school students and speakers.

"We need to build coalitions where the opportunities present themselves," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

But to Steven Jacobs of Reform Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, the danger of any gathering to create unabashed support for Israel stems partly from how Jews view their new Christian allies.

"There’s a patronizing attitude toward us as God’s children that they [Christians] stand up for us," he said.

To some conservative, pro-Israel Christians, Jacobs said, "Nothing that Israel does is wrong — they’re entitled to do anything they want. There’s a difference between an anti-Semite and a philo-Semite. A philo-Semite is one who loves Jews categorically, and that’s dangerous to me."

Erem, who also has met with Lutheran congregations in Minnesota and Michigan, spoke at pro-Israel evening rallies in Sacramento on Sept. 18-19, supported by Christians and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"We reached the conclusion that it has to be done on a broader base and it cannot rely on a once-in-a-blue-moon appearing in a church," said Erem, who lives in Beverly Hills. "I found out that once the meeting is on a one-to-one basis with pastors and priests, you break the ice and mobilize friendships."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "promised that when he comes again to Los Angeles, he’ll find the time to meet again with Christian pastors," Erem said.

Outreach also is occurring with some Mormons and Eastern Orthodox churches, but Erem said that because the Roman Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal continues to "occupy their attention, for the time I don’t think it would be beneficial to get in touch with them."

But are Jewish members of this alliance being shortsighted, as critics both here and in Israel have claimed? How do they justify the fact that evangelical and fundamentalist support for Israel is based on Christians’ deep hope that a Book of Revelations-predicted, end-of-times future will bring forth a Christianized Israel, with some Jews there, but mostly Christians witnessing the return of Jesus?

"I couldn’t care less what are the ulterior motives of the evangelical community," Erem said. "For the time being, they are a meaningful supporter for the State of Israel."

Many Christians downplay their eschatological plans. Otis, of Kingsworld Ministries, said Christian end-of-time views or even some Christian desires to convert non-Christians, including Jews, are not central to current support for Israel.

"It doesn’t have that as its bullseye — the conversion of Jews but rather the helping of Jews, and Israel, in this hour."

Fishel said he likes his new Christian allies because, "They’ve been very strong advocates on behalf of the State of Israel. They have a very strong sentiment for our Jewish State…. One does not necessarily have to agree with all of their ideological beliefs to work together."

And despite Jacobs’ wariness of Christians who gush over Israel, he has a natural, less politically driven relationship with Church on the Way in Van Nuys — an Israel-Christian Nexus event sponsor.

"We hold High Holiday services at Church on the Way," said Jacobs, who noted he has been traveling recently and was not alerted to the Oct. 2 event. "Had I been asked, I probably would have joined because of my respect for the people at the Church on the Way."

Erem said this will not be the first odd couple sitting together for Israel. He noted that in 1947, "I went to Czechoslovakia for arms. They had probably their own motives, why to provide the arms, but I couldn’t care less because it saved us, it absolutely saved us. We did not look what are the motives of those who supported us. We should not look at what are the motives of those who support us now."

Time for Something Sweet

Platters of apple slivers prepared for dunking in honey are a holiday ritual symbolizing hope for a sweet New Year.

The Jewish Federation of Orange County is on its way to starting another New Year tradition by again urging residents to buy Israeli-made honey for their own Rosh Hashanah tables as well as contributing a jar to an Israeli family.

This year, six other Jewish communities in Western states are joining in the “Honey for the Holidays” promotion, started by the broad-based O.C. Israel Solidarity Task Force, said Bunnie Mauldin, the Federation’s executive director. “We are with you in sweetness and sorrow,” reads the card that will be attached to hundreds of honey jars expected to be distributed in the Israeli communities of Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon.

Some of the nectar-filled jars, produced by the Hof Askelon apairy, Yad Mordechai, are also available for sale at several distribution points through October. Sites include Costa Mesa’s Jewish Community Center, Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School, Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom and Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedek. A donation in multiples of $18 is requested, with extra funds going toward worthwhile projects in Israel.

For several years, Orange County has sent aid and visitors to the two Israeli towns. Last year, their cumulative gifts provided scholarships for higher education to four families, Mauldin said.

For more information or to order jars, call the Jewish Federation of Orange County at (714) 755-5555.

Palestinians Show Iraq Support With Bombing

Palestinian support for Iraq took on a new dimension this
week with a suicide bombing in Israel that Islamic Jihad said was aimed at
showing solidarity with Baghdad.

Dozens of people were wounded, six seriously, when a suicide
bomber blew himself up March 30 next to a crowded restaurant in the coastal
city of Netanya. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility and identified the bomber
as a resident of Tulkarm.

The group’s secretary, Ramadan Shalakh, said the attack
commemorated Land Day, which itself marks the deaths of six Israeli Arabs
during protests in 1976 against state confiscation of Arab lands in the
Galilee. Shalakh also said the bombing was a show of solidarity with the Iraqi

Israeli security officials have warned that the U.S-led
military campaign in Iraq could prompt a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Solidarity with Iraq was a prominent theme in March 30 Land Day demonstrations.

Large numbers of police were stationed around Arab
population centers in northern Israel but were instructed to keep a low
profile. The Israeli Arab leadership had called for peaceful demonstrations,
and there were no violent incidents.

The March 30 bombing was the first in Israel since a March 5
suicide bus bombing in Haifa that killed 17 people. The attack came as Israel
continued to closely monitor the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq to
determine whether to alter the level of civil alert in the country.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Cabinet March
30 that the army would begin to reduce the number of reserve soldiers who had
been mobilized. Mofaz said this included reducing the number of reservists
stationed at gas mask distribution centers, because most Israelis had already
refreshed or replaced their kits.

At the same time, Mofaz said an Iraqi attack on Israel was
still possible, and Israelis should continue to carry their gas masks with them
and maintain sealed rooms.

For Israelis wondering about when the civil alert for Iraq
may be lowered, the attack in Netanya was a reminder of the ongoing security
threats close to home. The attack occurred around 1 p.m., when a suicide bomber
blew himself up on a pedestrian mall near the entrance to a restaurant that was
crowded with diners.

According to reports, the terrorist was prevented from
entering the London Cafe by a group of soldiers who were assigned to a security
detail in the area. One of the soldiers who approached the bomber was very
seriously wounded in the explosion, the daily Yediot Achronot reported.

One witness, Amos Harel, said he caught a passing glance of
the terrorist before the explosion, but there was nothing that raised his

“I saw the terrorist, but not with focus. He didn’t look
suspicious,” Harel told Israel Radio. “Apparently when he saw the soldiers
passing by, he decided to blow himself up.”

Another Netanya resident, Ilana, told Israel Radio that she
heard the explosion and went running to the scene, knowing that her sister was
eating there.

“There were people lying on the ground, lots of flesh
everywhere,” she said. “This is the fifth attack I’ve seen. Every terrorist
attack is more painful and more frightening, and we wait for the next one.”

Among the 50 wounded were 10 Israeli soldiers. One person
sustained very serious wounds; five others were listed in serious condition.
Police said the casualties were not as large as they could have been, because
the bomb used in the attack was relatively small and because the terrorist was
not able to get into the restaurant.

Israeli police, border police and troops were out in heavy
force the day of the bombing, as part of the deployment for Land Day, as well
as the civil defense alert because of Iraq. Police Commissioner Shlomo
Aharonishky said that preventing terrorist attacks is difficult, despite
intense efforts by security forces to thwart attacks.

“There is motivation and desire to carry out attacks,” he
said. The public “should be ready for additional attacks.”  

One Night for Israel

Maybe only seven nights of gifts would be enough for your family? The Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund (IESF) hopes so — they’d like you to save the eighth night for an Israeli family in need. It is easier than ever to bring a little Chanukah light into the holiday for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers or victims of terror and their families. Instead of wrapping up one more PlayStation2 game, put a smile on a child’s face in Israel.

The new Toys for Chanukah campaign comes hot on the heels of IESF’s Rosh Hashana Honey campaign — when you, dear readers, sent honey for a sweet new year to Israeli victims of terror, IDF soldiers and friends and family in Israel.

Four different gift packages are available, from the $18 Soldiers’ Package to a $72 basket filled with latkes, sufganiot and other goodies. All the products are made in Israel, so when you give a Chanukah gift to an Israeli family, you give a gift to the Israeli economy as well. Packages include popular Israeli games and toys, like a Hebrew version of Monopoly, dreidel kits, and candies. When you send a gift through the Toys for Chanukah campaign, you can also send a personal note, letting an Israeli family know that the Jews of Los Angeles remember the spirit of the miracle of Chanukah

To order a Toys for Chanukah gift package, visit or call (800) 672-8411.

‘United We Flourish’

Putting his own twist on a frequently invoked slogan, Lou Weiss, the newly elected president of Orange County’s

Jewish Federation, intends to make inclusiveness a priority during his tenure.

Rather than "united we stand," Weiss is adopting the motto, "united we flourish." His other goals are to demonstrate solidarity with Israel, support a soon-to-break- ground Jewish campus in Irvine and better the organization’s fund raising.

"I love being a Jew here in Orange County," says Weiss, 54, a marketing consultant and 18-year Federation board member who outlined his aims for the coming year recently from the ocean-view deck of his Laguna Beach home. Over two decades, he has played a role developing many of the county’s Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox shul in a former bank branch that is walking distance from his own home. "Anyone who is a clear thinker can rise to where ever they want to here," he says. "You don’t have to be rich."

While other regions have a more concentrated Jewish population and more established institutions, Weiss sees a benefit in the area’s relative immaturity. "There is amazing growth potential. Where there is a large Jewish population, you can’t stand out. This is the ideal critical mass."

Weiss assumes leadership of the county’s highest-profile Jewish organization as its annual campaign, which supports Jewish schools and services, grew by 12 percent to a record $2.06 million, even as the community contributed another $457,000 to an Israel emergency fund. Any improvement runs counter to a national survey of annual giving released in June, which shows a 2.3 percent drop in charity last year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That marks the first time in seven years that contributions have dropped in inflation-adjusted terms and shows the affects of the recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The campaign gains by the Costa Mesa-based Federation permit budget increases of 15 percent to the Bureau of Jewish Education and Jewish Family Services, a counseling agency, which both rely on Federation fundraising for a portion of their operations. Among the other Federation-supported groups, financial support of college and high school social clubs declined and support for a teen task force and community chaplain eliminated, according to the group’s annual report.

"Our goal was to meet $2 million and we exceeded it," says Bunnie Mauldin, the executive director, describing the year as "unusual" due to the Sept. 11 attacks, a stock market downturn and increased financial needs by Israel.

Even so, the Federation set aside funds to recognize special needs in the local Jewish community, such as the national Hillel Foundation, for its Birthright Israel trips for college students; the Jeremiah Society, for people with developmental disabilities; the Jewish Educators’ Association, for ongoing professional development of religious school teachers and principals, and the Community Scholar Program, for countywide Jewish adult education programs.

Weiss, a former member of the allocations committee that divvies up Federation funds, describes the process as "wrenching" decision-making. The results, though, reflect the organization’s efforts to distribute funds equitably while closely examining the recipients’ operations, he says.

While raising a dollar may take twice as much effort as it did when the economy was booming, Israel’s crises opened hearts and wallets here more swiftly than experimenting with new approaches to appeals. "Five-hundred-dollar checks came from people who were small givers to the [Federation] campaign," points out former Federation President Charles Karp.

Karp, a retired businessman from Newport Beach who served three years as Federation president, concedes he fell short of his own fundraising goal. It took longer than anticipated, he says, to overcome hard feelings he encountered in people who previously responded to Federation appeals. "I thought we would get to $3 million. I’m glad we got as far as we did, but I’m sorry it didn’t go further."

Weiss believes the success of his own aspirations – — particularly at unifying the community — will get a boost from the visibility of a spacious new campus for Jewish agencies on Irvine’s outskirts adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Day School. Construction is expected to start this fall. "I want it to be the blessing it should be," he says.

Mixed Message to Bush

One message from this week’s rally at the Capitol was clear — solidarity with the State of Israel and its people. Much less clear was the message to the Bush administration.
Signs, speakers and more than 100,000 demonstrators touted support for the U.S. war on terrorism. But few expressed support for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s current mission in the Middle East, his meetings with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and the Bush administration’s call for Israel to end its military incursions into the West Bank.

A handful of U.S. senators and non-Jewish political leaders mentioned the Powell mission. American Jewish and Israeli leaders skirted it.

But while the Jewish leadership tried to stick to positive tones, a State Department official said the lasting image of the rally will be the negative response to the Bush administration’s sole representative, who spoke from the administration’s playbook.

Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense who is considered one of Israel’s staunchest advocates in the administration, was drowned out by chants of “Down with Arafat” and at times, booed when he spoke of an eventual Palestinian state and the death of innocent Palestinians.

“The fact that Paul Wolfowitz is booed for talking about the sufferings of innocent Palestinians, in many ways reinforces the deep divide between many people in government — even those sympathetic to Israel — and the pro-Israel community,” said a State Department official.

But the real question is, what impact, if any, the rally will have on administration policy.

The Bush administration is engaged in a delicate balancing act, trying to walk a fine line between supporting Israel’s position that its offensive in the territories is part of the U.S. global war on terrorism, and asking Israel to withdraw its forces and return to political negotiations with the Palestinians.

Within the administration, the response appears mixed. One State Department official said he did not think the Powell team was about to change course because of the rally.
“Given his immersion in this problem,” the official said of Powell, “I am not sure he is worrying about what tens of thousands of people gathering on a spring day are saying.”
Others in the administration, however, said policy may not change, but the numbers that turned out can’t be ignored. “This is not going to change policy because policy is not based on what’s popular,” said a Bush administration official. But he added, “We hear so much from Jewish leaders. To see that many Jews turn out for this will just speak volumes.”

Solidarity to Mark Independence Day

Sometimes, a simple act can make an enormous impact. At this time in the history of our people, there can be no greater demonstration of solidarity with the state of Israel than to show up and be counted at this year’s Israeli Independence Festival on April 21, organizers say.

“This is the biggest support for Israel happening anywhere in the world, and if we cannot show we stand with Israel, who will?” asked Yoram Gutman, executive director of this year’s event. “It is critical for people to come.”

Haim Linder, former festival chairman, who now heads the event’s security team, agreed, saying, “It is a boost for our brothers and sisters in Israel, because they will know about the event.

“Politically, the people of the United States need to know about Israel and its right to exist and about the huge support that it has outside of Israel. The local and national politicians need to know the Jewish community will not roll over and be a lame duck for what’s going on in Israel. This is one way for us to voice our support in a civilized way,” he stressed.

The 2002 festival, celebrating 54 years of Israel’s independence, will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Woodley Park in Encino.

This year’s host for the official Independence Day ceremony is radio and television personality Larry Elder of KABC. Elder has been a staunch supporter of Israel since he visited there in 1973 during his junior year in college. He has made the recent Middle East crisis a major topic of his radio talk show.

“I feel very strongly about the state of Israel and what is going on, and most of my callers feel the same way,” Elder said in a recent interview. “The celebration of the state is important, as is people getting together and understanding why Israel exists and enjoying the culture.”

Some features of this year’s event include:

  • A children’s area with an arts and crafts, pony rides, giant slides and child-oriented entertainment
  • A newly created teen stage, featuring seven disc jockeys (including such favorites as the Century Club’s DJ Omar) playing everything from hip-hop to salsa
  • The Heritage Pavillion highlighting art, dress and music of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions in Israel
  • “One Nation Many Faces,” an exhibit by photojournalist and Journal contributor Peter Halmagyi exploring the diversity of the people
  • An Israeli art and a fashion show coordinated by designer Rafi Yakobson

The Israeli Independence Festival is being co-sponsored by The Jewish Journal, the Council of Israeli Organizations of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel. Parking will be free and attendants will help prevent bottlenecks.

Festival planners are taking measures to make the event as secure as possible. The entire park area used for the festival will be fenced, with only two main entrances. Each entrance will have a metal detector, and security staff will be searching bags. Gutman said anything that triggers the metal detectors will cause delays at the gates.

Organizers anticipate the system may slow down the lines of people coming in to the festival but believe most visitors will understand the need.

“We are taking this very seriously, especially after Sept. 11 and in view of what is happening in Israel,” said Gutman, adding that he hopes the measures will encourage more people to attend rather than fewer.

Linder said that in addition to physical security, such as the fences, the festival will have manpower to watch for trouble.

“We’re going to have special agents at the entrances, Israeli and LAPD, who know what to look for,” he said. “We are aware of the valid concerns of people, but from our consultation with all the agencies and our experience from the last 15 years, we don’t think anything is going to happen here. “

Organizers are also asking the public to help out by being more aware of their surroundings. “Don’t leave a bag without someone being next to it, that’s the main thing,” Linder said.

Even the skies above the festival will be secure: the opening act of the festival is the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Golden Stars Skydiving Team.

Of course, the primary aim of the event is to enjoy Israeli culture, food and to join in the celebration of Yom HaAtzma’ut, which this year occurs on April 17.

“Traditionally, for us Israelis, this is one of the happiest days,” Linder said. “It is our Day of Independence, and no matter what is going on in Israel, we’re going to celebrate it louder, stronger and with more emphasis!”

Admission to the festival is $2 (children ages 2 and under are free). For more information, call (818) 757-0123 or visit

Bring the Noise

An Israel solidarity rally, organized by the grass-roots association Stand With Us, attracted several hundred local Jews and other supporters of Israel to the intersection of Wilshire and Veteran boulevards in Westwood. What made this rally particularly impressive was how large the turnout was on a weekday, especially since the rally was a product of e-mail and word of mouth. Also notable was the preponderance of young American Jews and Israeli ones, many in their 20s and 30s.

Another Israel solidarity rally will be held in front of the Federal Building, on the corner of Wilshire and Veteran boulevards, on Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m.

Stand With Us is a loose configuration of people that began last May when about 40 organizational leaders, lay leaders, rabbis and other members of Los Angeles’ Jewish community banded together to find ways of escalating support for Israel during the intifada. The credo on the affiliation’s Web site proclaims: "We are a grass-roots organization encompassing all branches of Judaism, Jewish organizations and friends of the Jewish people. We are not part of any religious or political organization, and we will not attempt to influence Israel’s government policies."

"It was very effective," Roz Rothstein, an activist involved in Stand With Us, told The Journal following the rally. "It goes to show that people do want to get together if given the opportunity. This is not about politics, this is about murder. We cannot have peace when people sitting around a restaurant are getting murdered."

Stand With Us organized the rally in concert with a wide range of supporters, including Temple Beth Am, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, and Beth Jacob Congregation. Rothstein added that in addition to support from the Israeli and Persian communities, a group of devout Christians also took part.

Beth Jacob spiritual leader Rabbi Steve Weil and Marc Rohatiner, the synagogue’s president, were among those lined up along Wilshire Boulevard.

"For a midweek rally, there’s a lot of people," Rohatiner said. "It’s a pretty decent turnout."

Weil and Rohatiner were also impressed by the short time it took for the rally to be assembled in the midst of the Passover holidays. The word went out Friday.

Although this particular rally was not a Jewish Federation event, many Federation executives, staffers, and board members and their families came down to support the movement, including Federation President John Fishel; Federation Chair Jake Farber; Jewish Community Resource Center directors Michael Hirschfeld and Elaine Albert; South Bay Federation Director Margy Feldman; and Cheri Morgan, vice chair of the United Jewish Fund.

Also supporting the solidarity rally was Los Angeles’ Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem. On April 1, he held a media conference in which he presented Israel’s position on the Middle East conflict to local media representatives. Rotem decried the recent escalation of Palestinian suicide bombings, and called for the condemnation of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, whom he labeled a faux leader who has failed repeatedly to exercise leadership over extremists and to demonstrate a true interest in peace.

"In the meantime, we must exercise our right — the right of every country on earth — to defend its people," Rotem said.

At the Westwood rally, people waved Israeli and American flags, and carried signs with slogans such as "We Stand With Israel," "There Is No Excuse for Suicide-Murder," and "We Ji-Had Enough."

With the situation in Israel turning grislier, many of the young locals present were very concerned about what the future has in store for both Israel and America.

"My whole family is in Israel," said Sean Hashem, an Angeleno in his early 30s who attended Fairfax High School. "All my mother’s side of the family, my father’s side. It’s very frustrating. There’s a feeling of hopelessness, that nothing will be fixed soon, that it’ll escalate. I had to come here and show my support."

Hashem expressed his dismay in "the United States’ indecisiveness" and wants to see the American government "taking a more pro-active approach" in its support for Israel.

"I didn’t think there would be this many people," said Ilona Fass, in her 20s, who says she felt it was vital to demonstrate her support of Israel against the waging of terrorism. "I think that what is happening in Israel can happen here. It’s just a matter of time."

Limore Twena, a recent Angeleno raised in Toronto by Israeli parents, said that if Jews become cowed into not expressing their rage at the violent campaign being unleashed on innocent Israeli citizens, the terrorists have won.

"They want to make people scared to congregate," said Twena, in her mid-20s. "I’m here to show my support to Israel and stand up against terrorism."

Such sentiments and concerns spanned the generations of demonstrators. Blanka Lifshin, a Holocaust survivor in her 70s, has been on edge since the suicide bombings in Israel escalated in recent weeks.

"It’s heartbreaking," said Lifshin, who has family and friends living in Israel. "I call every night."

She added that she has been disappointed by the lack of high-profile Jews, such as those in the entertainment industry, making a vocal statement against what is happening in Israel.

"A lot of Jewish people have influence," she said, "and they don’t do anything."

Locals were not the only people participating in the rally. Out-of-towners visiting Los Angeles for the holidays, such as the Gruens of Boston, were also on hand to lend their support.

"We had other plans for fun in L.A.," Dan Gruen said, "but we thought that this was more important."

"Everybody’s really trying hard to get what we want, and we’ll probably get it,"said Dalia, Gruen’s 10-year-old daughter.

"What do we want?" Gruen asked his daughter.

Dalia, with a shy smile, replied, "We want peace."


Children of Freedom

For those who are looking for something different this year for the High Holy Days, B’nai Horin-Children of Freedom, a Jewish Renewal Synagogue in West Los Angeles, is offering a unique opportunity. Rather than holding services in their synagogue, it will be holding them at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. The inspiring, natural grounds of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute will hold 400 people for Rosh Hashana, some of whom are coming from as far way as the East Coast and Northern California to take part in the celebration. Many of them will be sleeping at the institute, while even more will be coming to eat all their meals together as a community.

Services will be led by B’nai Horin’s Rabbi Stan Levy, together with Debbie Friedman, who will also serve as cantorial soloist. Services will include an array of music and singers, including a performance by Rebbe Soul, a singer of ancient and modern Jewish music. — Merav Tassa, Contributing Writer

Solidarity Through Pluralism

Perhaps there is no time like the High Holy Days to remind us how central food is to our community’s traditions. This is not lost on the people at Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a Los Angeles-based national nonprofit dedicated to helping those without food in America, Israel and around the world.

“At this time of year we urge many rabbis on Yom Kippur, when observing the fast day, to appeal to their congregants to remember the millions of people around the world fasting not by choice,” Mary Krasn, Mazon’s director of communications, told The Journal.

Since Boston-based Moment Magazine founder Leonard Fein started Mazon (Hebrew for “food”) in 1985, the national organization has given more than $24 million in grants. That’s $3 million annually given to 250 hunger-fighting organizations nationwide, helping Jews and non-Jews alike.

H. Eric Schockman, who came aboard as Mazon’s executive director in January, runs the West Los Angeles-based outreach agency, where a dedicated staff of 12 allocates $3 million a year to hunger relief organizations such as food banks and social services.

Mazon has come a long way since the $20,000 raised its inaugural year. These days, that amount is the higher end of individual grants donated to anti-hunger programs at places such as Chicago’s National Center on Poverty Law, Atlanta’s Jewish Family & Career Services and the Kansas City Metropolitan Lutheran Ministry.

Mazon itself has subsisted on a diet of diligent participation from a nationwide partnership with 800 synagogues. Through the donations of 50,000 individuals attending Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations, Mazon has been able to help the hungry, which includes 31 million Americans, more than a third of them children. According to the organization’s administrators, Mazon’s recipe for quelling world hunger is an old Jewish one: a combination of good old fashioned tzedakah and tikkun olam.

“The Jewish tradition of helping more needy people,” Krasn said, “comprises a large support.”

For more information, call (310) 442-0020 and visit . — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Israel Is Not Alone

This past Sunday thousands of individuals, representing the full spectrum of the Jewish community’s diversity of thought and opinion, gathered on Wilshire Boulevard to express solidarity with the people of Israel. Those who came to the rally helped to send a loud and clear message to Israelis who have increasingly felt a sense of physical and emotional isolation from the rest of the world. To each of you who stood with us on the streets of Los Angeles, let me say that we appreciate what you did, and we value it.

As much as the demonstration sent an important message to Israel, it also served a significant function to our community. It is undeniable that deep rifts exist between various segments of the Jewish community (as they do in Israel). In that respect, there is no doubt in my mind that solidarity with the people of Israel can serve a unique role as a unifying force. Sunday’s rally demonstrated exactly that point, providing an all-too-rare opportunity to bring all such diverse groups together with a common purpose and shared resolve.

Perhaps Sunday’s rally will cause all of us to pause and consider that despite our differences in religious observance and political affiliation, there are many initiatives in which all of us can cooperate for the common good of the Jewish people. Such an occasion compels us to remember that we are one people, with only one Israel — the only place where Jews can defend themselves, by themselves.

Lastly, the solidarity rally sends a critical reminder to local, state and federal elected officials that America’s friendship and alliance with Israel is tremendously important to their constituents. When the political leaders and broader community of American citizens see thousands of people demonstrating in the streets of Los Angeles on behalf of the Israeli people, it makes an indelible statement in their hearts and minds.

Still, I cannot help imagining that if we could accomplish so much with the thousands who were present, what could we have done with 20,000, or 50,000, in attendance? That would actually represent only a small portion of the Jewish population in this area. To all of you who did not participate, I challenge you to reconsider your decision.

During the past 10 months of violence, the diplomats at the Consulate have met with thousands of individuals in this community who express frustration as to why more is not being done. This past Sunday, something important was done, and far too many did not rise to the challenge. If you want to have a place at the table — if you want to be among those standing with Israel in the good times — you can’t remain disengaged in the times of sorrow. It is an issue of credibility.

For those who did not participate in the rally due to some disagreement with a certain Israeli policy, I believe you erred in judgment. We never ask that our friends and supporters agree with all of Israel’s policies, for diverse viewpoints can only strengthen our people. Your disagreements should not have prevented you from attending. I believe that we are all in agreement about the right of the Jewish people to live securely in Israel. We are certainly united in the conviction that young people can go to a disco without being blown up in a suicide bombing. At the rally, we were joined by two teenagers from the Shevach Moffet High School in Tel Aviv. They were among the youngsters who saw their friends and classmates murdered at the Dolphinarium. How can someone express reservations about offering sympathy to them?