The post-wandering Jew


What does it mean to be a nomadic people? For most of our long history, Jews have been nomads. It’s only recently that we’ve started to settle down. But have we lost something in that process? Has Judaism lost some of its vitality in the absence of movement, which has defined so much of its history? 

In a challenging essay in the academic journal Sh’ma titled “I Wander, Therefore I Am,” professor Shaul Magid confronts these questions and explores the essential role the nomadic life has played in the Jewish experience. 

Naturally, in his portrait of the wandering Jew, Magid starts with the Bible: “Abraham is called ‘to go out.’ Jacob, Joseph and Moses become who they are by wandering, by being homeless. Think of the names of the portions in Genesis: ‘Go out’ (Lekh lekha) ‘He sent’ (Vayishlakh), ‘He went out’ (Vayetze).

“Homelessness, being always in search of a home,” he writes, “becomes the very trope of Israelite existence. The Israelites become a people as they wander in the desert. In the final portion of the book of Numbers (33:1-36:13), every time the Israelites get settled, God commands them to move, to uproot, to decamp. Their identity is forged in motion.

“Israel experiences God while wandering in the Sinai Desert, homeless. Even when Jews stay in one place, they are always prepared to move, always on the precipice. Their ‘house of God’ (the Mishkan/Tabernacle) is a portable dwelling.”

After the destruction of the Second Temple, this biblical impulse of being on the move follows the Jews into exile.

“The Wandering Jew,” Magid writes, becomes “one of the oldest Jewish stereotypes, one that was used by Christians to define Jews’ centuries of exile and dispersion. The stereotype renders the Jew a perennial wanderer who learned the hard lesson of survival while ‘on the road.’ ”

These lessons of the road, however, didn’t just help the Jews survive — they seeped deeply into the Jewish psyche and helped shape the collective Jewish identity.

We often talk about the pain of Jewish exile. What Magid probes in his essay is what Jews gained in exile.

 “So much of Jewish life and creativity,” he says, “have been about wandering, homelessness, and exile. While there has been pain and oppression, there was also magic, mystery, and energy. Motion has been the engine of Jewish creativity.”

Intuitively, this feels true. There’s an edge to being “on the road” that makes one more creative and resourceful. Once you settle down and feel safer, it’s natural to become more complacent. 

So, it’s worth asking: Now that Jews have become settled as never before and are embracing the power of nationhood, do we risk losing this magic, this energy, this creativity?

There certainly are troubling signs. Just look at the power-hungry Chief Rabbinate in Israel. You can make a strong case that their heavy-handedness is directly related to how “safe” they feel now that they have a home in Israel and the authority to wield enormous power. The arrogance of ownership has replaced the humility and nimbleness of exile.

But, as Magid reminds us, “God promises settlement, but infuses our blood with the desire to wander.”

That’s why it’s not surprising that a spiritual renaissance in Israel is being sparked by a new generation of wandering Jews — young Israelis who trek off to the Far East after their army service. Desert festivals, which have sprung up in Israel during the Jewish holidays and share a mystical bent with Eastern spirituality, are the fruits of this wandering.

Here in America, our sense of physical permanency has contributed to a loss of Jewish identity and growing assimilation. The safer Jews feel, it seems, the more they lose their uniqueness. 

As the Jewish story moves forward, then, Jews will face this challenge: How do we stay planted in one place without losing the special edge of the wandering Jew?

In other words, if we assume that we’ll  stay relatively settled, can we take the positive attributes of the wandering Jew and internalize them as a mindset?

Maybe it’s one of history’s great coincidences that after centuries of wandering the globe, Jews finally unpacked their suitcases just before the digital revolution.

Could this be the modern tool that re-energizes our wandering character? Could technology that allows us to interact in real time with anyone on the planet be the new tonic that nurtures Jewish restlessness and creativity?

It’s an enticing thought.

In Israel, for example, there is a growing movement to introduce more religious pluralism; just as in America, we’re seeing a major wake-up call to strengthen Jewish identity. These movements, and many others, are in part being fueled by the instant access of the digital revolution — by Jews wandering off into digital lands like Google, YouTube and Facebook and encountering new ideas, new communities, new problems to fix and new ways of challenging the status quo.

How this digital wandering will shape the Jewish story is an open question. What we know for sure is that in the era of the post-wandering Jew, there is nothing we can’t see — if we care enough to look.

Letters to the Editor: Settlements, Rice, Jewlicious, Secularism


The Two-State Solution

David Suissa has been writing a brilliant monologue, telling Los Angeles Jews that Israel’s settlements are legal and Israel’s enemies are so very afraid. The problem with his monologue is that it will convince no one who is not already convinced.
 
Legal or illegal, we all know that the presence of settlements makes contiguous Palestinian territory ever more difficult and thus the possibility of a two-state solution ever more contorted and disruptive for Israel. Two out of three Israelis believe that a two-state solution is imperative for the future of a Jewish democratic Israel, and far more than two in three American Jews concur; two thirds also believe that it is not on the horizon.
 
But if the strategy — not the tactics — is to search for a two-state solution, then the settlements are unwise at least. I personally believe that they are catastrophic, not because I believe in the peace process but because I think that a divorce between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the only way to preserve a Jewish and democratic state.
 
But keep telling us, my dear friend David, what we want to hear and we may end up like the Republican Party without appeal to any demographic except our own.
 
Michael Berenbaum
Los Angeles
 
David Suissa responds: If someone accuses me unfairly of being a thief, and then tells the whole world that I’m a thief, I’m going to push back and defend myself, even if it’s not “practical” or “strategic.” If Israel doesn’t start defending itself against these lethal accusations, it will become the most boycotted and delegitimized country on the planet. And that’s not good for the Jews or for the peace process. Please read my complete response to critics here.

Rice, U.S. Champions of Human Rights?
 
How dare Condoleezza Rice defile the podium at UCLA by lauding the United States as “a worldwide champion of human rights,” when she personally approved the use of waterboarding, prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994 (“Rice Dissects American Policies,” March 8).
 
According to a declassified 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, in July 2002 Rice approved the CIA’s request to subject alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding and personally conveyed the administration’s approval to CIA Director George Tenet. The next month Zubaydah was illegally waterboarded at least 83 times.
 
The Senate Armed Services Committee also released an exhaustive report detailing direct links between the CIA’s harsh interrogation program and abuses of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. While Rice admitted that she had attended meetings where the CIA interrogation request was discussed, she omitted her direct role in approving the program in her written statement to the committee.
 
Instead of giving high-priced lectures, Rice should be huddling with her lawyers preparing her defense to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
 
Stephen Rohde
Chair, ACLU Foundation of Southern California 
Founder, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

Jewlicious: He Gets It
 
I found Rob Eshman’s article about the recent Jewlicious Festival insightful and encouraging (“Whatever Works,” March 15). It took just one visit and Rob got it. He understood clearly the Jewish outreach value Jewlicious brings to our Jewish community. And while I think it’s important to mention that The Federation and Valley Alliance have been supportive of Jewlicious in the past, there has been very little organized or overall support of Jewlicious. If reaching out beyond the usual suspects and reinvigorating Jewish life for young people is a priority, it would be a tragedy if this turned out to be the last Jewlicious Festival.
 
Larry Cohen
West Hills

Prager on Secularism
 
In the first sentence of his article, Dennis Prager writes, “Most non-Orthodox Jews venerate secularism” (“Secularism,” March 15). If I were a rabbi at a Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or nonaffiliated temple, I think I would be quite surprised to find out that I am really a closet atheist who is hostile to religion. And I would be even more dismayed to learn that “most” of my congregants are just as deluded as I am. 
 
Michael Asher
Valley Village
 
Dennis Prager responds: First, “most” does not mean “all.” Second, “non-Orthodox Jews” does not mean “non-Orthodox rabbis”; they compose a fraction of 1 percent of non-Orthodox Jews. Third, sarcasm is not argument.

Corrections

The article “Slavin Library to Close” (March 22) incorrectly indicated that the decision to close the Slavin Children’s Library was made jointly by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and BJE, Builders of Jewish Education. The decision was made exclusively by Federation.

Letters to the Editor: Settlements, Response Policy, Secularism


Will PR Help Israel?

David Suissa’s suggestion that Israel shift its PR efforts toward legal definitions sounds reasonable but is in reality quite futile (“Israel Needs a Lawyer,” March 15). The so-called 1967 boundaries were actually the cease-fire lines of 1949, in effect everything that Israel was able to take during the War of Independence. World opinion regarded this as Israel, and the Green Line was a de facto international border. This is still the case.

Legalities or legal questions not withstanding, world opinion ever since U.N. Resolution 242 (calling on Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied” in 1967) regarded Israel’s 1967 conquests as occupied territories. Nothing Israel has done or said since has changed that widely held view. I suspect the Israeli government ignored the Levy Commission report cited by Mr. Suissa because it felt it would have little or no impact on world opinion.

The question facing Israel is, to what extent does its continued possession — regarded as occupation — of the 1967 conquests impact not only Israel’s image but its character as well? And to what extent does the continuing occupation (whether legal or illegal) assist those who are seeking to undermine Israel’s legitimacy within the 1967 boundaries? The negotiated two-state solution that would probably solve the problem may not be possible at the moment, but what is the alternative?

Rabbi Gilbert Kollin
Pasadena


 

Right of Reply

Why does the Journal routinely let Dennis Prager reply — often at length — to letters to the editor about his column? It is standard journalistic practice to let letters speak for themselves, limiting responses to those rare instances requiring factual clarification. Prager has a column every week. He should use it as he wishes, but he should not take the space allotted to readers’ opinions. Allowing Prager to respond means he always gets the last word. Prager should have the humility to let letters stand on their own, and the Journal’s editors should demonstrate fairness and have faith in readers’ ability to draw their own conclusions.

Tom Fields-Meyer
Los Angeles

Rob Eshman responds: The Journal’s policy is to encourage free exchange of ideas whenever possible and practical. We offer all columnists the right of reply and clarification. We’ve followed this practice since our founding 26 years ago. These days, we encourage letter writers and columnists to continue their dialogue online at jewishjournal.com through our new Facebook commenting feature.


 

God: Reality or Invention

In Dennis Prager’s latest column, a strong attack on secularism, he states, “… because people who don’t believe in God don’t want to go crazy, they make up meanings.” (“Secularism,” March 15). (His examples included work, family and self-sacrifice for country.) Although I am not an atheist, my very basic question for Mr. Prager is simply this: Isn’t it equally possible that other groups of people — also in order to avoid going crazy — made up God?

Larry Garf
Topanga

Dennis Prager responds: Mr. Garf is almost entirely right. Yes, it is “possible that other groups of people — also in order to avoid going crazy — made up God.” But it is not “equally” possible. The idea that in one place at one time, people made up the idea of an invisible, supranatural, moral lawgiver as depicted in the Torah is extremely unlikely. Moreover, while atheists make up whatever meanings they give to their lives, those who believe in God did not necessarily make God up. He might really exist.


 

Fermentation Foment

Uri Laio is filled with vim and vinegar in his enthusiasm for things fermented (“Preparing for Spring and the Festival of Indigestion,” March 15). There is a downside to fermentation that includes carcinogens (N-nitroso compounds) and salt, both of which are associated with gastric cancer. The fermentation of yogurt with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria is very different as it enhances our immune systems and without carcinogens. One who has stomach trouble or heart disease could find Laio’s suggestions dangerous. All fermentation is not alike. All fermentation is not healthy.

Dr. Jerome P. Helman
Venice


Corrections

The article “Is the Newsweek Rabbis List Good for the Jews?” (March 15) incorrectly stated a portion of Gabrielle Birkner’s work experience before becoming a researcher for the list. She previously served as an editor and director of digital media at The Forward, not as a reporter.

The article “Man Behind Iron Dome Addresses Milken Students” (March 15) incorrectly stated that Metuka Benjamin is director of education of Stephen S. Wise. She is the president of Milken Community High School.

Shabbat without religion


How do you talk about Judaism in a way that's not too “Jewish”? How do you convey Jewish ideas to Jews who might get turned off by religious ideas? Is it possible, in other words, to talk about the Jewish religion in a nonreligious way?

Those questions were on my mind last Friday night when I was asked to speak to a group of Jews who had gathered for a wedding weekend. Because many of them were disconnected from the Jewish religion, I thought: Why disconnect them even more? A “religious” talk on the parasha of the week would surely have risked doing that.

Still, I confess, I had an agenda. I wanted every nonobservant Jew in the room to come out of the evening thinking: “Wow, we ought to try this Shabbat thing ourselves once in a while. It was quite enjoyable and it made a lot of sense — religious or not.”

Knowing that their minds were already tainted by the idea of anything too “religious,” I had to find ideas that transcended religious language. 

So, I focused on two ideas: gratitude and peoplehood.

The gratitude part was easy. I spoke about the annual American ritual of Thanksgiving and how Shabbat took that great idea and made it a weekly ritual.

The weekly Shabbat meal, I said, was a time to gather with family and friends and thank our Creator for all our blessings. No matter how difficult or complicated our lives can be, Shabbat comes to remind us that there are always reasons to be grateful.

I could see many heads nodding. Gratitude is one of those great universal ideas. And a meal of gratitude works on so many levels: It brings families together, adds warmth to our homes and injects meaning into our lives. How can anyone be against that?

By the time I brought up specific Shabbat rituals — lighting the candles, welcoming the angels of peace, blessing the woman of valor, blessing the children, the blessing over wine, washing our hands, blessing the bread, etc. — each ritual glowed under the umbrella of a universal idea.

The rituals were not in the service of “religion,” but in the service of the human idea of gratitude.

The next part is where it got trickier, because I connected the rituals to Jewish peoplehood.

Why was this tricky? Well, because Jewish peoplehood can easily be interpreted as a religious idea. If Jews gather to do religious things like pray in synagogues and make blessings at a Shabbat table, doesn't that mean that being Jewish is, first and foremost, a religious idea?

And if I'm not crazy about the idea of “being religious,” why should I be crazy about belonging to a people that worships religion and religious rituals?

So, I decided to go Hollywood and speak about a mind-blowing miracle: How is it possible that the Jewish people could be scattered around the globe for about 1,900 years — since the destruction of the Second Temple — and then, when they finally meet up in a place like, say, Pico-Robertson, they discover that they're all still using the same holy words?

How could it be that after not seeing one another for 1,900 years, we're still reciting the same blessings at the Shabbat table and reading from the same Torah? How is that possible?

“We probably do more editing in one day at The Jewish Journal than the Jews have done to their holy texts in 2,000 years,” I told them, only half in jest.

Again, I saw many heads nodding. The idea that we were all there, gathered at a Shabbat table, doing what our ancestors have been doing for centuries, was not a sermon or a religious idea.

It was simply a moving historical fact.

I spoke about how, after the destruction of the Temple, Jews became a “people of software rather than hardware,” and how the Shabbat table became the weekly centerpiece of this idea, serving to honor “software” ideas like gratitude, holiness and family togetherness.

The rituals of the Temple evolved into the rituals of the Shabbat table, and without this Shabbat table, it's hard to imagine how the Jewish people could have survived.

Our gathering on that Friday night, then, was a continuation of this miraculous story of survival.

The two ideas had merged: We were gathered in a joyous atmosphere to express our gratitude for all our blessings, and one of those blessings was the very idea of Shabbat.

In the same way that the Shabbat ritual has helped to protect and nurture individual Jewish families, it has helped to protect and nurture the Jewish people for centuries.

And, as far as I could tell from all the head nods, you didn't have to be too religious to appreciate that miracle.


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

John and Paul, still alive


Last week, I started writing a column about John Sullivan, a former drug and alcohol addict who restarted his life, thanks to Beit T’Shuvah. But then I got interrupted by another great story, in a documentary called “Paul Williams: Still Alive,” directed by my friend Steve Kessler. I wasn’t planning to write about the film — until I saw a packed house at the Nuart on Saturday night give it a standing ovation.

What were those filmgoers so crazy about?

My simple theory is that they fell in love with the story of a singer-songwriter, a star of the 1970s and early 1980s whose life unraveled through drugs and alcohol and who is now sober and taking gigs wherever he can, at local Holiday Inns or even music halls in the Philippines.

I found both men’s stories irresistible, so I decided to combine them. What caught my attention in particular is that both Williams and Sullivan hate looking backward.

In the film, Kessler is constantly nudging Williams to look back. As they wander through hotel lobbies and small-town gigs, Kessler tries to get Williams to talk about his glory days, when he was one of the most revered entertainers in the country — picking up Oscars and Grammys and being a regular fixture on “The Tonight Show.”

This is the emotional core of the film: Williams wants to look forward, while Kessler wants to look back. Williams grudgingly humors Kessler, until a breaking point happens at the end (I won’t spoil it by telling you).

Sullivan also humored me and talked about his past (I didn’t give him much choice). He spoke about dropping out of high school at age 16 and spending the next 17 years of his life caught in a downward spiral of drugs, alcohol and petty crimes that often landed him in jail.

There was one episode especially that stood out. It happened about four years ago, while he was in a holding cell at a local courthouse. He had agreed to a deal from the prosecutor to do 16 months for a theft charge. But unbeknownst to him, his brother had appealed to the judge to send Sullivan to a rehabilitation center. The judge gave the brother 10 minutes to find a place that would take Sullivan.

The brother immediately called a friend, who put him in touch with Beit T’Shuvah, a faith-based residential treatment center and full-service congregation that has grown quickly over the past few years.

Beit T’Shuvah took him in, helped him get sober and, eventually, helped him enroll in a graphic design program. Today, Sullivan runs a marketing and design firm, under the auspices of Beit T’Shuvah, called BTS Communications.

Maybe that’s why his eyes light up when he talks about the future. “I have something to look forward to now when I get up,” he told me.

But what on earth could Williams have to look forward to, considering he fell so far from the top of the Hollywood food chain?

This is where Kessler’s film touches a nerve. Williams hates looking back, not because he loves and misses the old Paul Williams who was on top of the world, but because he’s repulsed by that person.

“Look at that guy, so smug and arrogant,” he tells Kessler in the film.

And also, as we learn, so phony. The old Williams, short, chubby and insecure, was obsessed with being “special” and with pleasing others, especially that elite club of Hollywood players, where he was never sure he belonged.

But body language doesn’t lie. The extraordinary thing about Williams today is that he looks genuinely happy. Not just sober and at peace, but happy.

He doesn’t miss the old days. He’s quite happy signing autographs in hotel lobbies and eating his favorite food, squid, with an order of Diet Coke instead of gin. His voice is raspy, but he still gives his all playing to tiny crowds, who adore him. He loves his wife and kids, and he still writes pretty songs (he wrote the song that plays at the end of the film, titled, appropriately, “Still Alive”).

Needless to say, Sullivan doesn’t miss the old days, either. All he wants to talk about now are the new design campaigns he and his team are working on. He’s especially excited about the possibility of creating a branding campaign for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to promote its education-based incarceration programs.

“We’re perfect for this assignment,” Sullivan told me. “Everyone who works at BTS has had a troubled past. We know the value of rehab. We understand the mentality of the convict.”

Williams and Sullivan both abandoned their pasts, although those pasts were sharply different. Sullivan left behind the lost, unproductive life of a small-time criminal addicted to booze and drugs; Williams abandoned the hyper-productive but empty life of a high-flying Hollywood star who filled his emptiness by seeking the approval of others.

In the end, though, they followed a similar journey back to personal redemption: Instead of looking backward or forward, they looked inward.

Sullivan looked inward and discovered he had a talent for art.

Williams looked inward and discovered he had a talent for being human.


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

Drama queens


One of the biggest and most obvious challenges in raising Jewish awareness and building Jewish connection is finding ways of getting your point across. Every week, across Los Angeles, there are hundreds of classes and sermons that aim specifically to do that: get a Jewish point across.

This could be a Shabbat sermon on the parasha of the week, or weekday classes on raising Jewish children, improving your marriage, refining your character, connecting to Jewish peoplehood and so on.

These classes convey plenty of valuable information, but rarely will they use the device of drama. And by drama, I don’t mean a speaker using a dramatic tone. I mean real drama, as in professional theater drama.

Like the drama I saw the other night at Rosanne Ziering’s home, performed by the Jewish Women’s Theatre (JWT).

For almost two hours, professional actors performed mini-plays that dealt, in dramatic ways, with the kind of subjects I often hear about in sermons and classes. The only difference is that here, I was spellbound. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the performers or wait to hear the end of the stories.

There was a woman whose husband had personal habits that drove her nuts, but who discovers the depth of her love for him on a birthday card; a daughter who was disappointed that her mother didn’t share words of wisdom as she was dying—until the very end, when the mother spoke about her lifelong preoccupation with her weight.

There was a single mother whose teenage son ignored her—until she was diagnosed with breast cancer; a husband who admitted to his wife that, 50 years earlier, a woman they both knew almost seduced him, and that he still had the ticket where she wrote down her room number; a Jewish woman who shows up at a local fair at a Catholic high school and realizes how much she needs a community of her own.

There was a dancer-turned-successful lawyer who has an epiphany and ends up quitting her profession; a Jewish family traveling with a Palestinian family who were stopped at the Jordanian border when the Jewish women’s vitamins are thought to be drugs; a Christian woman in jail who discovers Judaism and leaves behind her mother’s oppression.

There was a woman reading a communist manifesto who learns from her father, who lived under Stalin in the 1940s, not to take words at face value but to question. She remembers this on his yahrzeit. 

There were stories like that all night long. The title of the show was “The Moment You Knew,” and it was billed as “Jewish women share stories of discovery and awakening.”

The theater group started pretty much the same way—with three Jewish women sharing stories around a kitchen table. It was in spring 2007 when theater lovers Ronda Spinak, Ellen Sandler and Deena Novak gave birth to JWT as a way to explore themes of Jewish identity for women in America.

The format is what they call “salon theater,” and it is usually performed in intimate home settings for audiences of about 50 to 100 people, depending on the size of the home. Over the years, they have attracted many volunteers and professionals from the theater and entertainment worlds as well as community funders, who have helped them grow their program.

They now have several shows a year based on different themes. Their previous show was titled “Saffron and Rosewater,” and it explored the search for Jewish identity among Persian women. They’ve also produced shows dealing with the theme of gratitude and one titled “Eden According to Eve,” which re-examined Bible stories from a woman’s perspective.

Last year, the group performed at the Museum of Tolerance a play titled “Stories From the Fringe: Women Rabbis, Revealed!” which used interviews with female rabbis in Los Angeles and was written by Spinak and Rabbi Lynne A. Kern.

Themes for upcoming shows will be “The Art of Forgiveness,” “Woman Plans, God Laughs” and “Oh Mother.”

A big key to their success is that they use theater professionals. Most of the plays are based on true stories, but these stories can’t simply be told: They must be produced, written and performed for dramatic effect.

That’s why the stories enter you.

The dialogue, the body movement, the timing, the delivery of the words, the pacing: Just like on a Broadway stage, everything is geared to getting you to listen to a story and absorb it.

By “adding” to reality, they deepen it. By “performing” the truth, they help you understand it.

Maybe it was the fact that they weren’t trying to teach me anything that made me feel I learned a few things that night, in addition to being entertained. Among other things, I learned that a “women’s” show must absolutely be seen by men, if for no other reason than that the sexes need to understand each other better.

At the end of the show, I went over to Spinak, who runs the group and is the artistic director, and made a suggestion: Create a show for next year on “Receiving the Torah” and perform it on Shavuot night in an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson. The only restriction, I said, would be no music.

She smiled, and without any hint of drama, said it would be a great idea.

Peter Beinart and David Suissa debate Zionism’s ‘Crisis’


When Peter Beinart’s new book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” was published earlier this year, it was met with a tsunami of responses — from reviews, to op-ed pieces and a fury of blogging.

The dissemination and dissection of Beinart’s argument — that the future of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state is in serious danger because of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — has now moved into a second phase. In addition to the usual stops on a book tour, Beinart has participated in public debates staged in Boston, New York and, on May 16, in Los Angeles, at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

In L.A., Beinart faced off against David Suissa, president of The Jewish Journal and a weekly columnist for this newspaper and its Web site, jewishjournal.com. The Journal co-sponsored the event, which was moderated by Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel’s senior rabbi. Beinart began the debate with an opening statement, followed by Suissa’s, and then Rosove addressed questions to the two without taking any audience questions.

Beinart, editor-in-chief of Open Zion, a blog about Israel, Palestine and the Jewish future at The Daily Beast, used his opening statement to outline his book’s basic argument: that Israel, by continuing its policy of settling Jewish citizens in areas beyond the country’s pre-1967 borders, is approaching a point when more Arabs than Jews will be living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, potentially putting Israel in the undesirable position of having to choose whether it will continue as a Jewish state or as a democratic one.

Beinart argued that unless Israel acts decisively soon to end its occupation of the West Bank, the majority of Palestinians who currently support a two-state solution will instead embrace a vision of a single bi-national state.

Calling that a “terrifying outcome,” Beinart described the Palestinian argument as: “The birth rate is on our side, the world is increasingly on our side, let’s just have the 100-year struggle for the character of that one state,” adding, “and, ultimately, we will divest it of its Jewish character.”

While acknowledging that the Palestinian leadership deserves “significant blame” for the current impasse in peace negotiations between the two sides, Beinart claimed the Israeli government deserves the lion’s share of responsibility.

“It is not the Palestinians who are essentially paying Israelis to move into the West Bank,” he said.

For his part, Suissa disputed Beinart’s basic assertion, arguing that Israel’s current situation is not a crisis at all, and, if a crisis did exist, it is incumbent upon the Palestinians, not the Israelis, to change their ways in order to resolve it.

While Beinart says a settlement like Ariel, a city of about 18,000 that sits 13 miles east of the Green Line, represents a dangerous encroachment by Israel on land that would likely make up any future Palestinian state, Suissa countered that Israeli settlers only occupy about 1 percent of the West Bank. No new settlements have been built in the past 14 years, Suissa said, arguing that successive Israeli governments — including the current government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have shown a willingness to make territorial concessions in pursuit of peace. Suissa pointed to the Palestinian leadership as the recalcitrant party, unwilling to prepare its people for what a peace settlement might require.

[WATCH THE RECORDING OF THE LIVE BROADCAST DEBATE BETWEEN PETER BEINART AND DAVID SUISSA HERE]

Suissa also argued that Beinart is hoping for a peace settlement that is unlikely to materialize, and, with that in mind, Suissa criticized Beinart for taking Israel to task as publicly and fiercely as he has.

“It’s criminal that this miracle country has become the world’s most favorite and most popular punching bag,” Suissa said. “So what do you want me to do? Do you want me to join in?”

As the evening went on, Beinart, who had started off speaking slowly and methodically, increased his pace, marshaling facts to respond to Suissa’s questions. Yet he also peppered his presentation with emotional notes, paying particular attention to the intergenerational nature of this discussion.

“The Crisis of Zionism,” Beinart said, was inspired by his very personal worries that the future State of Israel that will exist for his own children and grandchildren might not be the same Jewish and democratic state for which he repeatedly expressed his love.

Beinart also acknowledged that many Jews, even within his own family, disagree with his perspective, often vehemently.

“My mother said it’s a good thing my grandmother doesn’t know how to blog,” Beinart joked.

The audience of about 400 included people from across the ideological spectrum on Israel. After the two-hour debated concluded, many people lingered in the temple’s auditorium to discuss what had occurred.

“I thought he was rather anti-Semitic,” Frieda Beer, 85, said, referring to Beinart. “If the Arabs were in power, how would they treat the Jews? And I don’t think that the Jews treat the Arabs that badly.”

Alan Breslauer, meanwhile, said he felt Suissa failed to mount a convincing counter-argument to Beinart’s.

“Obviously, I do tend to side with the Beinart position,” Breslauer said. “But let’s have a debate about it, let’s talk about the truth, what’s on the table and what’s not.”

Breslauer was referring to disagreements that emerged during the debate over some seemingly straightforward facts. At one point, for instance, Beinart said the Palestinians have continued to negotiate with Israelis, mostly in secret, even as recently as the beginning of this year. He cited reports of these negotiations. Suissa repeatedly dismissed Beinart’s assertion, arguing that the next step on the road to peace must involve Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returning to the negotiating table, without preconditions.

Other disagreements stemmed from the two men’s different ideas about what Israel should do now about the settlements.

Admitting that a final peace deal may be years, or even decades, off, Beinart nevertheless believes Israel should eliminate the government’s current economic incentives that often make it cheaper for Jewish Israelis to move to settlements in the West Bank than to live within the borders of pre-1967 Israel, in the hopes of preserving the possibility that a Palestinian state could be created there.

In stark contrast, Suissa believes Israel should tighten its hold on the territory in the hope of strengthening its negotiating position.

“If Peter Beinart really wanted to help the peace process, he would help Israel make a legitimate claim for its rights in Judea and Samaria,” Suissa said, using the biblical Hebrew names for areas that would, under the Oslo Accords, become part of a new Palestinian state. 

Even as the differences between the two speakers became ever clearer, audience members expressed positions both further to the left of Beinart and to the right of Suissa.

Among Beinart’s most-discussed arguments is his proposal for a boycott of products made by Jews living outside the 1967 borders. This proposal didn’t seem achievable to Estee Chandler, the leader of the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. Chandler, who said she has read all three of Beinart’s books, believes a boycott exclusively targeting products from the settlements cannot happen because items produced within the settlements are labeled “Made in Israel” and are, therefore, indistinguishable from other Israeli goods.

“It makes it difficult to boycott settlement products,” she said.

And while Suissa — after repeated questioning from Rosove as to what he would choose if Israel had to become either a Jewish state or a democratic one — appeared to conclude that Israel could not just choose one, his supporters disagreed.

“There are rabbinical talmudic imperatives for Jews to live in Israel as a Jewish nation,” said Scott Jacobs, a video journalist who runs the Web site JooTube.tv.

“[Beinart] may call himself a Zionist, but he’s not a learned enough Jew to recognize the halachic need to keep Israel Jewish, not democratic.”

Judaism in two minutes


Can you “sell” Judaism in a few minutes? This question came up in a piece in The Forward by Leonard Fein, who was commenting on a recent debate in New York City between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart. In the debate, as Fein quotes, they were asked this question: “Both of you have written about the tragedy of young American Jews who have no connection to Judaism and the fate of the Jewish state. So let’s say you were stuck in an elevator with one of the people from that demographic, and you had two minutes to sell them about why they should re-engage with Jewishness and Zionism and the Jewish people. What would you say?”

Gordis responded: “I wouldn’t engage in that conversation. When in the Gemarrah, the ger [stranger, heathen] comes to Hillel and Shamai and asks them to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot, Shamai throws him out; the question itself is an outrageously obnoxious question. It’s dismissive. I wouldn’t take two minutes while standing in an elevator to try to explain everything that makes my world meaningful or to try to convince somebody to be a moral human being, and I wouldn’t take two minutes in an elevator to try to convince another person why a life spent loving another person is a life that, although more complicated, is infinitely worthwhile. And I wouldn’t try to convince a person why a life spent being a patriot is a noble thing. There are certain conversations that don’t deserve two minutes; they deserve years of upbringing. I think we’ve gotten too used to the idea that important things can be summarized on the screen of an iPhone or a BlackBerry…”

Beinart then said: “On questions of Israeli policy and how we should respond to them, Daniel and I have very substantial disagreements. But when he gives answers like that, though I could not have stated it so eloquently, I could not more profoundly agree with what he said. I think he’s entirely right: It’s too late at that point, and the kids who ask that question have in fact been failed by our community, which says today to most American Jewish parents, ‘The most important thing you can do is to raise children with knowledge of, joy in and fascination with Judaism — but, by the way, if you’re interested in the possibility of a full-time Jewish school, you’re going to have to take a second mortgage on your house and the school’s not likely to have a gym and we don’t even know whether it’s going to be around in three years. Go for it!’ That’s precisely why we end up with kids who would ask such an insulting question in the elevator.”

Are Gordis and Beinart being too dismissive? Fein thinks so, and I very much agree with him. The sad state of Jewish education today is even more reason why Judaism can’t afford to be too dismissive or pessimistic. As Fein says, our approach should be that it’s never too late to try to light a Jewish spark.

I have a little story that connects with this idea.

A few years ago, I was confronted by a young Jewish copywriter in an ad agency who knew about my Jewish activities but who himself was totally disconnected from Judaism. He challenged me to explain why he should bother with a tradition that held little interest for him.

Instead of a sales pitch, I started with a few questions:

“Do you love your grandparents?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” he replied.

“If you could meet your great-great-great grandparents, would you love them as much?”

“Yes, absolutely,” he said.

“Now, let’s go further back. If you could meet your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, would you still love them as much?

“Yes, I still would. Why?”

“Well, close your eyes and imagine if all these grandparents whom you love were standing in a long line holding hands. Imagine that this line would stretch all the way back to the destruction of the Second Temple. Consider that for almost 2,000 years, this great line of grandparents, no matter where they lived or how much they suffered, held on tightly to their Jewish tradition. And every time they opened a prayer book or celebrated a bris, wedding or Passover seder, they expressed their deep yearning to return home to Zion and Jerusalem.

“Now open your eyes. You, my friend, are privileged to live in the generation that can get what your ancestors prayed and died for; you can see and touch the miracle of Zion they yearned for during all those centuries; you can be free to be Jewish without any fear or embarrassment.

“Imagine that this long chain of grandparents are all looking at you, hoping and praying that you will take your place in the chain. What will you do? Will you stay in the chain, or will you be the one to break it off after 2,000 years?”

I could see from his face that my words lit a spark. I don’t know if he ended up connecting to his Jewish tradition, but I do know this: It took me less than two minutes to connect him to 2,000 years — and it was worth every second.

LIVE BROADCAST: Suissa vs. Beinart – “Is Zionism in Crisis?”


Moderated by Rabbi John Rosove

This is a recording of a live broadcast from Wed. May, 15, 2012.

In defense of acquiring material things


Every year around Christmas and Chanukah time, writers, commentators, pundits and many rabbis, priests and ministers exhort Americans against spending money on things. We are too materialistic, we are told every year. Happiness, not to mention a meaningful life, depends on our having non-material things, not material things.

Thus, Americans are told to spend little or nothing on holiday gifts. Give your children love and time, we are told, not train sets (are they still given?), dolls or electronic devices.

The problem is, this advice is built on platitudes. And as is always the case with platitudes — or they wouldn’t be platitudes — the words sound nice but mean very little.

Before defending material things, let me make clear where I do agree with the joy-deniers. First, there is no question that no material thing can compete with love, religion, music, reading, health and other precious non-material things. And second, experiences contribute more to happiness than things do. If you only have x amount of money to spend on yourself, traveling to new places is usually more contributive to happiness than a better car. When I had almost no money through my early 30s, I still traveled abroad every year — which meant that I could only afford an inexpensive car. I have now visited a hundred countries, and that has given me more meaning and happiness than a luxury car or any other material thing.

But having said all that, material things matter. They can contribute a great deal to a happier and more meaningful life.

A grandmother once called in to my radio show to tell me that instead of giving her grandchildren Christmas gifts, she wrote each of them a special poem. I respectfully suggested to the obviously sweet woman that I could not imagine any normal child preferring a poem to a material gift.

With all my love of family, of friends, of music and of the life of the mind, I have always loved material things, too. On any happiness scale, it would be difficult to overstate how much joy my stereo equipment has given me since high school. I so love music that I periodically conduct orchestras in Southern California. And I now own a system that is so good that its offerings sound only a bit less real than what I hear from the conductor’s podium. I bless the engineers and others who design stereo products, and it is my joy to help support their noble quest of reproducing great music in people’s homes.

Since high school, too, I have written only with fountain pens. Buying new pens and trying out new inks are among the little joys of life that contribute as much — and sometimes more — to one’s happiness than the “big” things. There is incomparable joy at attending a child’s bar mitzvah or wedding. But those great events last a day. I write with a beloved fountain pen every day, listen to music every day, smoke a pleasure-giving cigar or pipe every day (except Shabbat, for the halachically curious). I love these things. What a colorless world it would be without them. So, too, I love my house. And I love the artwork and furniture and library that help to make it beautiful.

Sure, I could write with a 29-cent Bic. Yes, I could hear great music on a $50 radio. Of course I could give up cigars. Certainly, I didn’t have to buy the 5,000 books and 3,000 classical music CDs I own, and I understand that I don’t need to live in a house when my “needs” could have been met in an apartment a third its size.

But, thank God, most Americans don’t think that way. We like things. And liking things doesn’t mean you love less or read less or appreciate sunsets less. Life isn’t a zero-sum game between free joys and purchased joys. Moreover, the American economy and that of most other nations depend on our buying considerably more than our minimum needs.

Can people overdo purchasing things? Of course they can. People can also overdo taking vitamins, exercising and even reading books or studying Talmud.

So, then, when do we need to control our buying things?
a) When it becomes a compulsion — when one cannot stop buying things because the buying gives more pleasure than the things that are bought.
b) When the primary purpose of the purchase is to impress others with one’s wealth.
c) When one cannot afford what one is buying.

But beyond those caveats, don’t let the killjoys get you down. “Work hard and play hard,” my father always said (and still does at 93). When he bought a new Oldsmobile every few years, the family stepped outside the house to marvel at it — and even as kids we understood this was his reward for working all day and many evenings six days a week.

May your holidays be filled with lovely gift receiving and giving and may your New Year be filled with both wonderful experiences and wonderful things. Both contribute to a fuller and happier life.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project
is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

David Suissa: Fair-weather Zionists


What do you do if an annoying and exasperating friend gets in trouble and really needs your help? And what do you do if that friend is also a blood relative, like Israel? I often ask myself that question about progressive, pro-Israel Jews who are furious at the direction in which their beloved Israel is going.

Is there a point when they will just decide to “dump” Israel?

I got a sobering answer last week when I read in Haaretz about a Jew whose “resume reads like a love poem to the world of Jewish activism.” According to the article by Adam Chandler, this Jew has been “an extremely visible advocate for progressive Israeli and Jewish causes as well as an outspoken watchdog against anti-Semitism.”

It turns out that a few weeks ago, this progressive, pro-Israel Jewish activist, Daniel Sieradski, announced to his 2,400 followers on Twitter that he had had enough.

“I’ve decided that after 10 years of fighting for a progressive Israeli course correction, that our efforts are futile,” he wrote in June. “I officially give up. As the Jewish nation proceeds to march off a cliff, I will now go back to caring about everything else I cared about before Israel.”

Sayonara, Israel. I’m done with you, and I will make sure all my followers know that I’m done with you.

As Chandler warns us: “Considering Sieradski’s large following and his pioneer status, one might expect his declaration to precipitate a similar wave of emotional and ideological disengagement from Israel by other young, like-minded American Jews.”

But in Chandler’s view, Israel had it coming: “It’s no surprise that progressives are disillusioned. The continuing expansion of settlements and the Boycott Law are manifestations of trends in Israel that make it increasingly difficult for many of us to speak in its favor in public forums abroad, on college campuses, even at kitchen tables.”

Well, what do you readers think? Does Israel really have it coming? Has it screwed up so badly that it deserves to be “dumped” by disappointed Jewish progressives?

I took that question to my friend Gerald Bubis’ house last week, where he was hosting a salon in honor of Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund.

After hearing Sokatch rattle off a long list of progressive projects that his organization supports in Israel — programs dealing with civil and human rights, social and economic justice, religious pluralism and tolerance, Israeli Arabs and Bedouin citizens, the environment and women’s rights — the only question on my mind was: Is Sieradski out of his mind? Has he not seen the progressive activity happening all over Israel?

Sokatch didn’t try to hide his dismay with some recent decisions by the Israeli government. But the extraordinary effect of his presentation was this: Government policy notwithstanding, there’s a whole lot of democratic action going on in Israel.

In fact, I think a great PR idea to engage young liberal Jews would be to have Sokatch go on college campuses and talk about how his group is helping advance progressive efforts in Israel: helping disadvantaged children of immigrants integrate into Israeli society; promoting empowerment activities for women and youth in Arab villages; providing legal help to establish and protect civil and human rights throughout the country; advancing the status of Jewish women whose rights have been violated by religious laws; helping protect the environment in the Galilee; and so on.

Sure, critics on the right have accused the New Israel Fund of supporting groups with anti-Israel views — but that kind of extreme liberalism is even more of a reason for progressives like Sieradski not to jump the Zionist ship.

Even a paper like the Los Angeles Times, while reporting on the Boycott Law, tried to keep things in perspective: “Examples of free speech in Israel are easy to find. Arab-Israeli lawmakers frequently attack the government as ‘racist’ on the Knesset floor … newspaper pundits don’t hesitate to launch character attacks against the prime minister.”

So, here’s my question. You’re a progressive supporter of Israel and you see the government doing things that really upset you. What do you look at — the government’s mistakes or the “corrective mechanism” that’s working on the ground to correct these mistakes? Do you get demoralized by the faults or rejuvenated by the freedom to fight these faults?

When you look at the thousands of people protesting right now throughout Israel, many of them sleeping in tents, do you think only of criticizing the government or do you also think of helping the protesters?

Someone like Sokatch looks at Israel’s faults and says, “What can I do to help?” Someone like Sieradski, after years of helping, now looks at Israel’s faults and says, “What can I do but bail?”

The truth is, Israel is a mess in progress. It is a country surrounded by enemies that has nevertheless created a civil society like no other in the Middle East. For all its many faults, there is a restless energy to make things better — what Sokatch calls “democracy in action.”

Progressive Zionists who don’t appreciate this duality, and who end up bailing on Israel, are like friends who only love you when you’re not around.

Bringing Shalit home


One of the most ironic obstacles to peace in the Middle East is what I call the Jewish disease of “ifonlyitis.” This is the school of thought that says “if only” Israel would do this, or “if only” Israel would do that, then we finally might resolve the conflict. I suffer from the syndrome myself, and for that I blame my mother. She convinced me from a very young age that “if only” I put my mind to something, there’s nothing I can’t do. 

Well, Mother, it turns out there’s plenty I can’t do, and one of those things is make my enemies like me.

I was thinking of this last week when I read about the plan to increase pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since June 2006. According to reports, the plan in the Shalit camp now is to “take the gloves off” against Netanyahu. That might include politicizing the cause and having more disruptive demonstrations throughout the country.

In an editorial in Haaretz, Nehemia Strassler wrote that the Shalit family has to “wage a personal war against the prime minister” and be “much more militant.” They must “organize mass protests and bring the country to a standstill. They must not give Netanyahu one moment of quiet.”

Evidently, because Bibi has failed to convince Hamas to return Shalit in exchange for the release of almost 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, he’s now the bad guy and must be punished. If you ever needed more proof of the Jewish instinct to blame ourselves for everything, this is it.

This is a sure sign of the “ifonlyitis” disease: The belief that everything is on our shoulders. It’s all about us. We can achieve anything. If only we would release a few hundred more terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands, we might finally free Gilad Shalit.

If only we did this, or if only we did that.

There is a wonderful psychological benefit to this disease. It gives us the illusion that we are in control; that we can affect our situation, no matter how bad it might seem. It empowers us. And when we’re in a hostile and unpredictable environment, we desperately need to feel we are in control of our destiny.

But we pay a heavy price for this illusion of control. First, it leads to tremendous tension and mutual animosity among Jews. Because we assume we are the ones who are always responsible for any situation, we end up constantly beating each other up.

Second, we get so busy beating each other up that we lose sight of the real obstacles to peace. To the Haaretz writer who is calling for a “war” against Netanyahu because Shalit is still not free, I want to scream: “Why on earth are you declaring war against Bibi? In case you forgot, he’s not the one who kidnapped Shalit and is holding him hostage!”

What Jews need, it seems to me, is less hatred of one another and more hatred of evil. Any group that will target a guided missile at a children’s school bus is evil. Any group that will codify the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel in its charter is evil. Those, my friends, are real obstacles to peace.

If we didn’t have this obsession with blaming ourselves for everything, we might focus more of our energies against the real bad guys — and maybe even come up with some imaginative ways of getting what we want.

For example, instead of pressuring the Israeli government over Gilad Shalit, why not transfer some of that pressure to the Palestinians?

A Syrian Jew who sat next to me at the first Seder this year had this idea: Take the names of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whom Israel has already offered to release and promote those throughout the Palestinian territories. Drop millions of leaflets with their names and pictures. Promote them on the Internet and social networks. Buy ads in Palestinian newspapers. Film some prisoners pleading for their freedom and run the clips on Al Jazeera.

In other words, put the real pressure on Hamas, not on Bibi. Humiliate Hamas for refusing to obtain the release of its own Palestinian brothers. Have them answer to the hundreds of Palestinian families who would love nothing more than to see their own Gilad Shalits returned home. Expose Hamas for turning its back on its own people.

Think that wouldn’t be more effective than starting a “personal war” against the Israeli prime minister?

It’s ridiculous to keep beating Bibi up over Gilad Shalit. His offer to release hundreds of prisoners is already risky — going beyond it would be reckless and irresponsible. He’s done his part. Now we must do ours.

Just like the global movement to free Natan Sharansky focused on pressuring the Soviet Union, the global movement to free Gilad Shalit must focus on pressuring the Palestinians. Ideally, we ought to find someone with international credibility who could spearhead this effort — someone highly motivated to do something special for Israel and the Jewish people.

In fact, I have a name in mind: Richard Goldstone.

Now “if only” I can convince him to go after the bad guys.

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”suissa@olam.org” title=”suissa@olam.org”} or davidsuissa.com.

Letters to the Editor: Egypt, women’s rights, Palestine


Eshman’s Siren Song

The Egyptian people clamoring for a voice in “one brief shining moment” historically and presently, by all accounts, share one thing in common — their hatred for Israel and for Jews (“Siren Song,” Feb. 11). Yet Eshman and his political mentor, Tom Friedman (the “father” of modern Jewish journalistic Israel bashing), are upset that we can’t embrace this revolutionary movement with a full heart. Yes, it’s true we don’t know how this will all turn out for Israel, but we would be extremely naive and shortsighted not to view these events with trepidation. Friedman and Eshman may think “realist” is a bad word, but “dreamer” is a whole lot more dangerous. Really, Rob, we only know Arabs from TV? Tell that to the families that have suffered over generations due to Arab hatred and violence up close and personal.

Allan Kandel
Los Angeles


Mr. Eshman seems to be annoyed at the skepticism of many Jews and certainly Israelis at the true authenticity of the freedom movement in Egypt, fearing it may be a similar blueprint to the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979. Eshman punctuates his argument quoting a Facebook statement by Rabbi Wolpe, citing Plato: “We can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark … the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.” Perhaps I might offer another platitude that may better evoke the feelings of many Jews: “What if the only light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train?”

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles


I want to thank Rob Eshman for his superbly written article. By taking a deeper look at why many of us Jews have had difficulty supporting the Egyptians in their fight for freedom, he has revealed some uncomfortable and painful truths about us as a people. His insights into our underlying fear, suspicion and mistrust of the Other (who most of us have had very little, if any, direct contact with), as well as the heavy baggage we continue to carry from the Holocaust is so refreshing. I, for one, am tired of the same old finger-pointing and dehumanizing views that too many of us Jews have toward Arabs. And I am ashamed and saddened that we Jews, who have had centuries of being the target of finger-pointing and dehumanization can so easily do it ourselves. Thank you, Mr. Eshman, for holding a mirror up to us and helping us see a part of ourselves we would rather not see, but can hopefully help us grow a little.

Renee Sandler
Culver City 


Understanding the numerous and ever-present threats to the very survival of Israel, both from the inside and the outside, it is easy to sink into the same black hole of pessimism over the dangers inherent in the Egyptian uprising.

But there is a beacon of light in the spirit of this true citizen uprising.  Watching the Egyptian “man in the street” interviews on television was often inspiring as they spoke from their hearts about their battle for freedom and hopes for the future.  

It seems to me there is a lesson in the courage of that citizen struggle for Israel in it’s own issues and for each of us in our own lives. Amid the often black scene there is the possibility of a high road, but it takes commitment and courage.

Maybe the world has hope after all.

Dick Gunther
via e-mail


Israel-Palestine Relations

Kudos to David Suissa (“Israel Never Looked So Good,” Feb. 4) , who channels what I consider t o be responsible anger in thoughtful, intelligent and powerful words.

Alice Greenfield
Sherman Oaks


David Suissa’s expression of pride in Israel misses the mark on Israel’s very urgent need to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Rightfully and thankfully, Israel has not been the focal point of the demonstrators in Egypt. But when the dust settles, Egypt will almost certainly have a government that will be more populist in its approach. At that point Israeli-Palestinian relations will have an even greater impact on Israeli-Egyptian relations.

It is because the “geniuses” at Peace Now share Suissa’s pride in Israel, that we focus on a resolution that will secure Israel’s future as a Jewish state and a democracy in the rough neighborhood in which it exists. Think how good Israel will look then.

David Pine
West Coast Regional Director
Americans for Peace Now


Egypt and Women’s Rights

Nina Burleigh’s article (“Egypt and the Universal Rights of Women,” Feb. 11) struck a chord. The West neglects the crimes against women. At the risk of sounding like a naive college student again: Aren’t women’s rights human rights? Greg Mortenson explains in “Three Cups of Tea” that building schools to educate girls will help Pakistan develop. “Sex and the City 2,” on the other hand, shows discrimination in Saudi Arabia as fact. But, if they were given full social, political and economic equality tomorrow, the wave of energy unleashed would be so powerful, it would wash away much of the male-dominated extremism. This is what we need to be fighting for in the West.

Deborah Fletcher Blum
Los Angeles


Thank you for an excellent piece in The Journal on the situation in Egypt. Great challenge: “How dare we, in our response to the courageous, suffering people of Egypt, turn freedom into the ‘F’ word?” (Feb. 4).

Your editorial was courageous and honest and needed.

Andrea Houtman
via e-mail

Mind-State Solution


I’m not sure, but I think I have a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least another way of looking at it. It hit me the other day after I broke bread at Pat’s Restaurant with some people connected to Americans for Peace Now, a leftist Jewish organization that actively promotes the two-state solution.

Now, you should know that whenever I hear the words “peace now,” something inside of me cringes. I have never understood how Israel could make peace now with an enemy that hates her no matter what she does.

Over the years, I’ve asked this question of a number of people across the ideological spectrum: “If Israel dismantled all the settlements in the West Bank tomorrow, would it stop Palestinian hostility and violence toward Israel?”

I never once got a yes.

Why? I think it’s because most people intuitively understand that dismantling settlements is not the same thing as dismantling hatred. The hatred that has been taught for years in Palestinian schools and summer camps, through television shows and billboards and in mosques is not just aimed at Jewish settlers but at all Jews and at all of Israel. This kind of hatred is too deep to be washed away by well-meaning gestures.

So I came to my Peace Now lunch with some apprehension — and a lot of prejudice.

I can’t say I connected ideologically with my lunchmates, but I did end up connecting emotionally. The reason was that I trusted their deep commitment to Israel and their sincerity in their search for peace.

There was something very Jewish about their attitude toward the conflict. First, the idea of hope, of never giving up. Where would the Jews be today if we didn’t have hope?

There was also the idea of taking responsibility for our situation — of not blaming others for our fate. Again, where would the Jewish nation be today without that character trait?

My peace-loving lunch companions are not naive. They know about the spread of Jewish hatred in Palestinian society, and they understand the fear many of us have that a Palestinian state could easily become a terrorist state. But they believe the ideals of peace and a two-state solution are so valuable to Jews and to Israel that it is worth pursuing relentlessly, even if it means paying a significant price.

It’s this idea of paying a price for peace that made a lightbulb go off.

For nearly two decades, Israel has gone to one failed peace meeting after another with this question in mind: How much are we willing to pay for peace? In doing so, they have acted as if the Palestinians actually have something to sell.

Apparently, no one ever stood up during one of those meetings to say to the Israelis: “Wait a minute, you’re not the buyers, you’re the sellers!”

Why sellers? Because everyone knows that when Israel signs an agreement with an Arab country, it is capable of honoring it. On the other hand, it’s no secret that the Palestinians, with or without Hamas, are in no position to deliver peace to Israel.

It follows that if any party should be selling, it is Israel. Yet, incredibly, it is always the reverse: The Palestinians are selling a peace they can’t deliver, while the Israelis are buying a peace that doesn’t exist.

Is it any wonder that all the peace plans keep failing? That groups like Peace Now keep banging their heads against the wall, hoping that more concessions from Israel will somehow bring us closer to that elusive solution?

The problem with pressuring Israel to buy peace through concessions is that it perpetuates the illusion that the Palestinians have something to sell.

What the peace process needs more than anything is for the Palestinians to be able to deliver their end of the bargain. Until that happens, any question of creating a Palestinian state is moot.

My solution? Have the sides switch roles or mind-states.

Israelis should act like “peace owners,” and Palestinians should act like “peace buyers.” With a buyer mentality, Palestinians will be more likely to make their own offers, rather than passively rejecting Israeli offers, which is what they often do.

As buyers, Palestinians would also learn that Israel needs a minimum security deposit: Stop teaching Jew-hatred to your children. Palestinians can’t offer peace while they’re teaching war. Tragically, the anti-incitement clause was the great ignored clause of Oslo — so for more than 15 years, Palestinian society fell back on its habit of demonizing Jews, which contributed to the growth of terrorism and rejectionist forces like Hamas.

Israel is hardly blameless in this picture, and it has made its share of mistakes. But settlements or no settlements, the fact remains that the great majority of Israeli Jews have been more than ready to pay a huge price for peace, including evacuating most of the West bank.

Had the Palestinians been smart, had they taken more responsibility for their situation and developed a culture of co-existence, they would have long ago made Israel an offer it couldn’t refuse. They would have called Israel’s bluff and made the process real.

Instead, we’ve all been treated to the continuing and sorry spectacle of global diplomats parachuting into Jerusalem to coax adversaries into yet another round of the “let’s play peace process” game.

Leading the latest charge is our new can-do president, who believes that a solution is possible if only the U.S. becomes more “engaged.” He will soon learn that no amount of American engagement or Israeli concessions can undo the reality that for the foreseeable future, the Palestinians are utterly incapable of delivering peace to Israel. 

All this, of course, is very sobering for those of us who fear for the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. Going forward, the one thing we can be sure of is that groups like Peace Now will continue to pressure Israel to make concessions, and people like me will lament that the whole process is upside down.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine, Meals4Israel.com and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

No money, no cry


I gained one of the deepest insights about money when I worked on a marketing project for a casino resort in Lake Tahoe. The client had asked our advertisingagency to come up with a television campaign that would dramatize their resort and new summer program. They loved our idea for a commercial, until they saw what it would cost — about six times what they had in mind.

When I brought the news back to the troops at the agency, one of the junior copywriters, who had just joined us fresh out of college, asked a question: “If they can’t afford $300,000, how much can they afford?” I told him the most they had budgeted was $48,000, which was a joke if you wanted to shoot a fancy commercial with lots of elaborate sets and many actors and even a few helicopter shots.

“Forty-eight thousand?” he said. “That’s serious money. In college, we can make three movies for that.”

The next day, the junior writer came into my office and showed me an idea for a commercial. It was radically simple — and hysterical.

The client approved it, and the commercial turned out to be not just very funny, but very successful. And it cost even less than $48,000 to produce.

That little episode came to mind recently as I’ve been hearing heads of Jewish organizations complain about the current economic crisis. Fundraising seems to be down everywhere, pledges are not being met, building campaigns are being put on hold, and the conventional thinking is that things will only get worse.

So what’s a nonprofit organization to do? If you depend on fundraising to fulfill your mission, how can you continue that mission if donations are drying up?

There’s no easy answer, of course, but there is that insight I picked up from my Lake Tahoe experience: The hidden blessing of having less money is that it forces you to be more creative and resourceful.

In my Pico-Robertson neighborhood, a classic example of resourcefulness is the husband-and-wife team of Nouriel and Yaelle Cohen, the neighborhood angels who for years have been feeding and helping hundreds of needy families. They have no staff, no overhead, no marketing budgets, no committees and no consultants working on grant applications. They take things from people who want to donate them and give those things to people who really need them. It’s mostly food (from restaurants, markets and simchas) but also furniture and household goods.

Their staff is their children and volunteers. Their warehouse is their living room and backyard. Their conference room is their kitchen table. Sure, they dream of one day having a real warehouse and doing a lot more, but, until then, their “mitzvah house” will have to do. As it happens, this mitzvah house is starting to fall apart, so a group of local volunteers is now trying to raise money on their behalf for repairs and renovations.

But regardless of how much they’ll be able to raise, the key point is this: With very little money and plenty of moxie, the Cohens have managed for years to serve thousands of free meals and help hundreds of needy families.

Everyone’s cause is different, but I think this kind of resourcefulness can come in handy for the Jewish community during these difficult times. Like the Stanford economist Paul Romer once said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

A good first step would be to learn from groups that do a lot with very little. One of the most lively and stimulating Jewish experiences in the city is located in a nondescript storefront on the Pico strip. It’s called The Happy Minyan. They’ve been singing and dancing and inspiring hundreds of people for 15 years, and they’ve never had a building fund or a mortgage. Maybe that’s why they’re so happy.

Organizations that thrive with little overhead are usually great at providing experiences — singing, learning, debating, poetry reading, Torah salons, meditating, community organizing, social activism, etc. — that really move people’s hearts.

If your organization is having trouble raising funds for a building or a major physical expansion, now might be a good time to consider more creative and less costly ways of fulfilling your mission.

Let’s say, for example, that you need many millions to build a Holocaust memorial, but you’re having trouble raising the money. You might want to scratch those building plans for now, and, with a fraction of that money, take the Holocaust message to every school in America — backed up with minifilms on YouTube and on social networks. Be nimble and think big: Play up not just the Holocaust itself but the Holocaust idea of survival against all odds, and recruit spokespeople from all walks of life who have overcome impossible challenges. Have people create their own films.

In other words, focus on the emotional software of your cause rather than the hardware, and you’ll come up with more inspirational ideas — and save lots of money.

Here’s what I would do if I were the head of a Jewish organization and my fundraising was hurting. I’d pick the five brightest people connected to my organization, and one very creative person not connected at all, and take them off campus for a four-hour brainstorming session.

During the session, I would have an easel with this simple question written on it: What meaningful things can we do to fulfill our mission with little or no money?

After four hours, at least five good ideas should emerge. Since they won’t be money-driven, they’re likely to be creative, soulful ideas that will potentially strengthen the organization (and, ironically, even your future fundraising).

And when you do this, try to include in your brainstorming group a hungry and eager college student who knows how to make killer commercials for very little money.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Shame on Rabbis for Obama, hooray for Amy Klein, thanks for Marty Kaplan


Online Dating Addict

True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict” — “Cathy” it’s not (Sept. 26). It’s brilliant, and one of the smartest singles columns I’ve read. I love reading each week’s adventure. Klein’s journey is familiar, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. This strip is so innovative, and I can’t think of another comic or column like it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it winds up with a following like “Bridget Jones Diary,” which also started as a weekly column. I hope you continue to publish it for a long time, barring Amy meeting her “Prince Charming” online.

Alycia Witzling
Los Angeles

Rabbis for Obama

I take exception with the group “Rabbis for Obama” (“Rabbis for Obama Seen As First in American Politics,” Sept. 19). When one obtains the title of rabbi, he is obligated to keep religion and state separate. A rabbi is not just an ordinary citizen. His public statements carry a subliminal message that all Jews think as he does. The separation of church and state is the foundation for religious freedom in our great country. Shame on you Rabbis for Obama.

Hershey Gold
via e-mail

Economic Atonement

God has a sense of irony (“The Crash,” Sept. 26).

In the next few days, we’ll conclude the Shmita year, the seven-year agricultural cycle. Among the rules of the of the Shmita year, at the end of the one, all debts are nullified.

In the past few months and weeks, and especially the past few days, we have witnessed the collapse of many financial behemoths, and the devaluation of hundred of billions of dollars of debt instruments. Many hundreds of billions of dollars of debt are being wiped off the books.

In a similar vein, Jewish law prohibits charging interest on loans. There was something unseemly about making money from money. Thus, at the same time as massive loans are being written off, we are observing a free fall of our economy due from many obscure, and obtuse, derivative financial instruments (such as credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations), which brought about the redundant pledging and excessive leveraging of financial instruments.

Interest on a loan was the first step that led to derivative financial instruments.

God indeed has a sense of irony.

Jeffrey Rabin
via e-mail

Presidential Politics

I must commend The Journal for the two informative articles on Sarah Palin (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” “Sarah Palin, Chabad Share Same Appeal,” Sept. 19).
However, I cannot believe that not a single letter in favor of the articles was received.

Allow me to correct this discrepancy by saying that the articles were superb illustrations of a uniquely capable woman.

Larry Schlesinger
Encino

Two McCain advisers recently stated that a McCain administration wouldn’t “actively [engage] in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” (“McCain Advisers: ‘No’ to Syria Talks,” Sept. 26).

Not only has a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict been the consensus position of the U.S. government for the last 10 years, but more than 70 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution, according to a recent poll commissioned by the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street. It is unclear what McCain seeks to gain by taking such an unpopular position.

Real peace and security for Israel and the United States will only come through a negotiated end to the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and either of these peace agreements are unlikely to happen without strong leadership from an American president.

We need a president who understands this basic fact.

Cathy Colloff
Toluca Lake

Post-Palin Depression

Since Marty Kaplan believes Democrats are far more educated than Republicans, who he says embody the antithesis of intellectual pursuit, he might benefit from learning a short history lesson he obviously missed during his academic career: That the senior Nazi officials attending the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 held advanced university degrees, including doctorates (“Post-Palin Depression,” Sept. 12).

Apparently being highly educated and cultured did not prevent them from enacting the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

While Kaplan is entitled to his misguided beliefs, he should realize that those of us who support McCain-Palin, especially in liberal territory, must do a lot of research to back up our views.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize many highly degreed professors on the left are babbling fools, while lacking a college degree is no barrier to possessing common sense.

Leslie Fuhrer Friedman
Venice

Rosh Hashanah and Change

Marty Kaplan evoked all the feelings and thinking that I’ve been stumbling to communicate — to my friends on both the left and the right (“Is Change Possible,” Sept. 26).

Our tradition and our government both offer us a mirror to reflect and an opportunity to transform what we don’t like. Of course, Kaplan said so much more, so much better. Still I wanted to let him know I’m profoundly moved and grateful for his eloquence.

So what are you working on now?

Bett Lujan Martinez.
Executive Director
The Possible Society of CA

Tashlich on the Beach

To set the historical record straighter concerning Tashlich on the beach (“Best Tashlich Custom Is a Toss-Up,” Sept. 26).

In 1985, when our rabbi, Jeffrey Marx, arrived at Santa Monica Synagogue, he brought 60 of us to the edge of the water on Rosh Hashanah to toss away our sins.

Over the years, in addition to meditations and music, we have written our sins on helium balloons and then released them up into the heavens; recorded them on edible paper which we fed to a live scapegoat; put them in a collection bag held by a scuba diver who came up out of the sea; and built a Western Wall of sand onto which we scratched our sins.

For more than two decades, we have freely shared our Tashlich ideas and services with other Los Angeles congregations. Now, each year, as more than 800 of us gather on the beach, we kvell that Jewish communities from Malibu down to Venice, from Agoura to as far east as Hollywood, have followed our example.

Lori Daitch
Director of Education
The Santa Monica Synagogue

StandWithUs Responds

The five academics sidestepped the issues we raised, instead focusing on issues we didn’t raise (Letters, Sept. 19). Our concern was never traditional anti-Semitism on campuses, but rather anti-Zionism, which distorts facts to demonize and incite prejudice against Israel and its supporters, a well-documented trend in academia.

Dissenting faculty — let alone students — have difficulty speaking out for fear of ostracism and possible penalties in their reputations, grades, promotions and opportunities for publication, grants and participation on academic committees and review and editorial boards. Yet, these five academics take refuge in speaking about “negligible anti-Semitism,” thereby denying the painful experiences of many students and faculty — in effect, abandoning them.

Our attempts to cooperate have repeatedly resulted in the attitude expressed in their letter — they alone know about campus life, and campuses are their exclusive turf.

They disrespectfully dismissed 20,000 SPME [Scholars for Peace in the Middle East] academics, StandWithUs and students and other faculty at UCLA and across the country who believe the problem is serious. The five should at least have the modesty to admit they do not represent all students and faculty and perhaps are unaware of some information available to others.

People can interpret situations differently. Consider UCLA. Several professors continue promoting their anti-Zionist agenda in and outside the classroom and under the guise of “Middle East history” courses with no history courses offered with alternative perspectives. On Yom HaZikaron in May 2008, students on Bruin Walk encountered a mock “apartheid wall” covered with photos of IDF soldiers aiming their guns at Palestinian women and children.

The five academics may believe these incidents have no short- or long-term impact, and should be ignored. StandWithUs respectfully disagrees, but recognizes that this debate is important and has been occurring on many campuses. Therefore, in a spirit of cooperation, we invite the five to a private and/or public discussion about these issues.

Roz Rothstein,
International Director
Roberta Seid
Director of Research/Education
StandWithUs

Sarah Palin

David Suissa’s praise for Sarah Palin, “A likable adrenalin junkie,” “folksy charm” (unlike Hillary’s “steely demeanor”), “flirting with her husband,” a woman who can cause a tough Israeli war hero to “fall under her spell,” was certainly fitting if she was an “American Idol” contestant (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” Sept. 19).

But Palin is running for the second highest office in our land, one that is, literally, a heartbeat away from the presidency.

What does Suissa have to say about her total lack of foreign policy and national experience? She’s a “quick study.” She has enough “street smarts” (how about education and experience?) “to quickly improve herself.” But this is the running of a country that we’re talking about here not a local business. The issues now facing our nation are far too serious and complicated for on-the-job training.

This is not the time for any candidate for high office to begin their studies.

Our tradition teaches us: “Don’t look at the container but what’s inside of it.”

Suissa and all of us would be better served by looking at the political track record and experience of our candidates, not their looks and personalities.

Rabbi Jeff Marx
Santa Monica

Now that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s running mate, has visited the United Nations and met with representatives of several countries, the McCain campaign can claim that she has international relations experience with countries in addition to Russia, the “neighbor” she understands well because she can see it from Alaska.

No doubt, meeting some world leaders, even for the first time, makes her well-qualified to become vice president and to be just a heart beat away from the presidency. In fact, whenever the issue of Palin’s experience for the position arises, McCain’s campaign spokesmen respond immediately that she has more “executive” experience than Sen. Barack Obama.

However, since when does having been in an administrative position guarantee that the individual has developed or demonstrated the qualities essential to being an effective executive? After eight years, is there anyone who still believes that George W. Bush’s executive experience as governor of Texas qualified him to be president?

Given Obama’s extensive educational background and varied work experiences — graduation from Columbia University and Harvard University School of Law, a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, a two-term Illinois State senator, a first-term U.S. senator and almost two years on the campaign trail, he has already demonstrated the leadership, organizational, problem solving and prudent decision making abilities essential to being an effective executive. In a word, there is simply no contest between the experiences of Palin compared with those of Obama.

As David Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column, “Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.”

Rachel Galperin
Encino

Torah Slam: Post-denominational, multi-rabbi Bible salon draws overflow crowd [VIDEO]



Watch the Torah Slam in this video from our friends at the

Awakening schmawakening, Darfur’s hope is grass-roots action


The Great Awakening

ALTTEXT

Am I the only reader who finds your celebration of the Rev. Rick Warren’s interviews with our presumptive presidential candidates very chilling (“The Great Awakening,” Aug. 15)?

The first nationally televised meeting of these candidates in a religious setting is frightening. It indicates again the growing erosion of our valued separation of church and state.

Is no one outraged by Rev. Leah Daughtry’s Faith Based Convocation before the Democrat’s Convention in Denver? Since when are Democrats the party of the religious? I thought Republicans had that franchise.

This is such pandering to religious voters right, left and center, it makes me wonder, where are our civil libertarians?

Please, wake up. Warren is not bringing the “Great Awakening.” He is dismantling our Constitution while too many of us sleep.

June Sattler
via e-mail

I almost always enjoy your column, and I did this one too. But to the best of my knowledge, including Internet research, Billy Graham is not “the late.” He is reported to be alive at age 89 and retired.

Michael Leviton
via e-mail

Dear Condi:

As your readers well know, Jewish World Watch has been at the forefront of Darfur activism in Los Angeles for the past four years. During those four years, our coalition of almost 60 synagogues has demanded from President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese President Hu Jintao and many others, immediate and significant action to stop the ongoing slaughter of innocents in Darfur, Sudan. We have done it through letters, phone calls, rallies, marches, and vigils. Those actions have led to incremental successes.

We are pleased to now have David Suissa participating in our calls for action, through his “Live in the Hood” column. (“Dear Condoleezza Rice,” Aug. 15)

We all know the frustration of continuing to watch this genocide enter its sixth year. In fact, last year we witnessed first-hand the suffering of the survivors by visiting the Darfuri refugee camps in Chad. The Darfur activist community knows that Sudan will not be stopped without significant international pressure, not only from the United States, but from China, Russia and, significantly, other African and Arab nations.

The only way to get this kind of international pressure is through persistent grass-roots movements, like ours, that make action in the face of genocide a domestic issue, with political consequences. It is the grassroots work that will, more likely than not, serve as the impetus for and foundation of whatever action our government takes in response to genocides like the one in Darfur.

We welcome Suissa’s letter and hope that it contributes to re-energizing our community in what may well continue to be a long road ahead.

Janice Kamenir Reznik
Co-Founder and President
Tzivia Schwartz Getzug
Executive Director
Jewish World Watch

In his column, David Suissa wrote movingly about his recent experience learning about the horrors of the Darfur genocide from a Darfuri refugee speaking at Beth Jacob Congregation. Suissa was so moved he felt compelled to write an open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to intervene.

I couldn’t agree more with his passionate plea, but I was taken aback by his cavalier dismissal of the community-wide efforts that are so crucial to persuading policymakers here and at the United Nations. Suissa writes that when people asked what can be done, “The answers, of course, were weak. How could they not be? … typical activist ideas like ‘write a letter to your congressman’ (sic) ‘get on the Web and make a donation’ and ‘tell everyone you know’ are simply no match for this level of crisis.” I beg to differ.

While it’s possible that all it will take to move Rice to act is to hear from Suissa, those of us who have been working to end the genocide for years are in our turn skeptical of this strategy. I have the privilege of representing Temple Israel of Hollywood on the Jewish World Watch Synagogue Council, and we are among those thousands of activists who have been writing letters to our members of Congress, making donations and organizing community events and activities to tell everyone we know.

As someone who has been an advocate for civil rights for more than 25 years I know that success is not only difficult but a long-term proposition. Ending the genocide in Darfur is only possible if we are working on all fronts because this is what keeps the pressure on policymakers and leaders like Rice. It is our thousands of voices, letters and postcards that create an atmosphere in which it is impossible for Rice to turn away. Without them, it’s just Suissa’s voice crying in the wilderness, and while he’s both persuasive and important it’s hard to believe his column alone can do what all these other voices have yet to be able to accomplish!

Abby J. Leibman
Los Angeles

David Suissa’s open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strikes a personal chord. As a member of the board for Jewish World Watch, I have struggled with similar frustrations throughout these long years of combating genocide in Darfur. The work to end the genocide is daunting to say the least — it is difficult to continue work when successes are small, infrequent and feel only slightly incremental.

Within the already daunting task of ending genocide, it is easy to discount a donation to refugee relief as a Band-Aid solution. But Band-Aids serve their purpose — they staunch bleeding while we wait for a doctor. Refugee relief work in Darfur is having a very real — and very essential — impact. Solar cookers are protecting women and girls from rape by reducing their reliance on firewood.

Water reclamation projects are teaching long-term skills of conservation and helping to irrigate much-needed vegetable patches. Backpacks filled with school supplies and hygiene items are giving children an opportunity to see a future as doctors, teachers and translators, not soldiers in rebel armies.

Relief work won’t end the genocide. We must certainly continue our education and advocacy work worldwide in an effort to bring long-term solutions to Sudan. We must continue pressure on our government and international players to implement these long-term solutions. And in the meantime, we must work to ensure that the people of Darfur stay alive, safe, and are able to live with dignity while the work to end genocide continues.

Joy Picus
Board Member
Jewish World Watch

David Suissa adds his voice to the chorus demanding that something be done to stop the genocide in Darfur. He advises Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “go to Darfur” and “make a stink. Knock a few heads. Expose the criminals…. Create an urgent global coalition to save the Darfurians.”

The criminals have already been exposed. A global coalition to do what? I am still waiting for a prominent Darfur activist to call for what would actually stop the killings: A U.S./NATO-enforced no-fly zone, and U.S./NATO peacekeepers who would shoot back if the janjawid attacked them or attacked the refugees.

Without these, the genocide will go on until the killers decide to stop. Let’s not pretend; let’s not fool ourselves.

Paul Kujawsky
Valley Village

Dear Condoleeza Rice:


Last Saturday, on the Jewish Sabbath, I was attending prayer services at one of the big synagogues in Los Angeles, Beth Jacob Congregation, when something unusual happened that made me think of writing you this letter.

After the services, a young black man named Adam Akabar got up to speak. He was a Muslim refugee from Darfur, and he came to tell us his story and ask for our help.

His cause, he said, was to expose and protest the genocide going on in his homeland.

Akabar is a sweet-looking man, maybe in his late 20s or early 30s. In front of a few hundred members of the synagogue, he looked a little awkward, even intimidated. But he got more comfortable as he began telling his story. It started several years ago, when he was in college in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and he heard troubling reports from his home area of Darfur.

He got a digital camera and headed south to Darfur, where, at first, he worked as a translator in the camps for displaced persons. While interviewing people in the camps, he saw the extent of the atrocities, so he made it his mission to document them. For a few years, he secretly investigated and documented the genocide, until he was caught, shot and tortured by the Sudanese government.

By a stroke of luck, he was able to retrieve his memory cards when his camera was confiscated and destroyed and his pictures survived. Through the help of a U.N. official, he managed to flee Sudan, and, for the past year, has been traveling the United States with his photos and personal accounts to expose the ongoing nightmare happening to his people.

The pictures are so gruesome that the activist who accompanied him to the synagogue decided they wouldn’t be appropriate for an audience that included families with children.

The absence of pictures, though, didn’t stop members of the audience from expressing their sadness and frustration at the state of affairs in Akabar’s homeland.

When it came time to ask questions, one person after another, many of them children of Holocaust survivors, wanted to know: “What can we do to stop this genocide?”

The answers, of course, were weak.

How could they not be? When an estimated 400,000 people have already perished, and millions are still being “cleansed,” typical activist ideas like “write a letter to your congressman,” “get on this Web site and make a donation” and “tell everyone you know” are simply no match for this level of crisis.

It’s when I heard those weak answers, Ms. Rice, that I felt compelled to write to you.

Personally, I’ve been hearing about the crisis in Darfur for longer than I want to remember, and I’ve seen how celebrity activists and numerous groups around the world have done their best to expose and protest the genocide.

Yet, somehow, the years go by and the tragedy continues.

In the Jewish community, the word “Darfur” has become a shorthand for tikkun olam (healing the world). Sadly, though, we have reached the point where the infuriating absence of real progress has brought many of us close to “Darfur fatigue.”

So I am calling on you, Ms. Rice, for the obvious reason that as the top diplomat for the most influential country in the world, you have real power.

Still, while I am envious of that power, I confess that when I look at your sense of priorities, I’m not very optimistic.

I don’t understand, for example, how you could go to the Middle East 21 times over the past few years, and agonize for weeks on end on the Israel-Palestinian conflict over things like roadblocks, building permits and border crossings, and, while millions of Darfurians are going through a historical genocide, make only one short, ineffective trip in four years to that part of the world.

Even accounting for my innate cynicism about politics and politicians in this case, you probably not wanting to upset China, which owns a huge chunk of U.S. government debt and which sucks up 80 percent of the oil in the Darfur region your lack of a concerted response to this crime against humanity is disheartening.

Nevertheless, it’s still not too late to save the Darfurians who are still alive. Congress has already passed legislation expressing its outrage and empowering you to act. Your boss would love nothing more than a foreign policy accomplishment to salvage something to his tarnished legacy. And you can bet this won’t come from Jerusalem: You probably realize by now that in the present circumstances, a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians has the same likelihood of happening as Louis Farrakhan becoming an Israel-loving Christian evangelist.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that Jews don’t appreciate your 21 trips to the Middle East. It’s just that there are other areas, like Darfur in Africa, where millions of people are in clear and present danger, and they also need your immediate and undivided attention.

So go to Darfur, Ms. Rice, and make a stink. Knock a few heads. Expose the criminals. Do what you should have done a long time ago: Create an urgent global coalition to save the Darfurians.

You’ve already shown how you can bend over backward for the Palestinians, who have been under special U.N. care for decades, and who are easily the most coddled refugees in history.

Now show the world what you can do for the Darfurians, whose cause may not be as “politically relevant” as the Palestinians’, but whose humanitarian crisis has no modern-day parallel.

In the little time you have left, you can still make a difference. Just be as tenacious with Darfur as you’ve been with Jerusalem and Ramallah.

And if you decide to go, I suggest you contact Adam Akabar and ask him to show you some of his pictures. Just make sure there are no kids around.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Zell it, Sam; Cool it, Orit; 40 million Frenchmen





Sell It, Sam

Nice editorial on the demise of the L.A. Times as we have known it and loved to hate it all these years (“Sell It, Sam,” Aug. 1).

Didn’t anyone realize when Sam Zell bought the Tribune Co. that real estate value was at the top of his list?

And as to the problems of loss of ad sale revenue and loss of subscribers, all print publications are suffering. One only need to look at the bottom of the Letters page in your paper to realize that every newspaper has competition from themselves in the form of their own Web site.

Many love to read the news on the Web. I don’t understand that peering at a screen can replace relaxing with the Times or Wall Street Journal or Daily News and The Jewish Journal in my lap.

Milt Cohen
Chatsworth
Not sent via e-mail

Oh, if only I was rich instead of … I would give you the money to buy the L.A. Times to manage. But then I might lose you, our weekly treasure, in The Jewish Journal. Oh, sometimes doing something for the greater good is painful.

Rita Lowenthal
Santa Monica

Gogle

Orit Arfa writes that she Googles all her prospective dates (“Go ahead, gogle me” Aug. 1).

She may end up as a single woman all her life unless she learns that love isn’t a treasure found on Google. It is found in a certain electricity between two people who meet in person and in time find that they can’t live without one another.

The only electricity she’ll find in googling her prospective dates is the electricity that turns on her computer, not the electricity that turns her on. I’m single and live in Los Angeles, so Orit may want to Google me, but I don’t think it would be worth her while to fly from Israel to Los Angeles to date me.

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Prisoner Swap

Rabbi David Ellenson bases his view that the Olmert government made the right choice in releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped (dead) Israeli soldiers on the argument that Israeli soldiers who know that they will be redeemed are more likely to fight fearlessly and less likely to retreat to avoid capture (“Prisoner Swap: Morale Issue Spurs Hard Choice,” Aug. 1).

However, even if this were true, releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis is a terrible mistake for at least two reasons.

First, releasing terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israelis provides a rock-solid incentive for more such kidnappings. Indeed, the practice of making such releases since the late 1980s has increased kidnappings. Worse, Israel’s willingness to release terrorists in exchange for bodies acts as a virtual death warrant for any future Israelis kidnapped.

Second, and even more important, freed terrorists return to terrorism and claim more Israeli lives. A 2006 detailed report issued by the Almagor Terror Victims Association (ATVA) shows that between the years 1993-1999, Israel released 6,912 terrorists within the context of “confidence-building measures” and prisoner deals. Of that number, 854 (12 percent) were arrested subsequently for lethal terrorist acts that claimed the lives of 123 Israelis.

Also, Col. Meir Indor, director of ATVA, disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years were killed by Palestinians who had been previously released from Israeli jails (Jerusalem Post, April 10, 2008).

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

I was extremely disappointed that Israel would swap its dead soldiers for live Arab prisoners. I understand the thinking that the Israel Defense Forces need to uphold soldiers’ morale, but where is the incentive for the Arabs to keep Israeli prisoners alive?

I feel that they should have agreed to swap dead soldiers for dead prisoners. Otherwise, there is no advantage or incentive for the Arabs to keep Israeli captives alive.

Arlene Cohen
Los Angeles

Rabbi Meier

Thanks for David Suissa’s obituary on Rabbi Levi Meier (z’l), chaplain of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (“Rabbi Levi Meier, Whose Pulpit Was Hospital Rooms, Dies at 62,” July 18).

He is very precious to so many in the community. I hope that at some point you can do a special feature on him.

Koby Levy
Los Angeles

Broken (Political) Heart

In Fairfax High School, I had a brilliant and wise instructor of advanced placement European History who used to say: “Do not put all your faith in one man. For surely he will disappoint you.”

And he also said: “40 million Frenchmen can be wrong” (“On Having Your (Political) Heart Broken,” Aug. 1).

Elizabeth Kruger
Los Angeles

Correction
In "Southland Olympians Hope to Join Roster of Winners," (Aug. 1), Sasha Cohen came in second at Torino in 2006, not Salt Lake City in 2002. We regret the error.

Yossi and Dror


It took me a while to see the connection between Yossi Samuels and Dror Dagan. I met them a few days apart on my recent trip to Israel — Yossi in a poor, ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem, Dror in a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv.

I met Yossi first. Immediately, he wanted to know what kind of car I drive. He knew all about Volvos, but I stumped him with the Acura NSX. Then he wanted to know who I was going to vote for. He likes McCain, and he warned me about Obama. He also loved talking about wines — he’s a big Merlot fan.

We were sitting and schmoozing on a sunny patio deck in a residential center for kids with Down syndrome, a place I wrote about last week (Shalva). It turns out, though, that Yossi doesn’t have Down syndrome.

He’s deaf and blind.

It was one of those horrible accidents: At 11 months, a routine DPT vaccination from a “bad batch” rendered him blind, deaf and acutely hyperactive.

His parents, American ba’ali teshuvah who had made aliyah, decided to return to New York because the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel had no specialized care for kids like Yossi, and it was against their tradition to hand him over to the state.

In New York, he attended a special school during the day, but nothing helped. For years, while his mother had one baby after another, Yossi was the “wild animal” in the bunch. Nobody could figure out what to do with him. So his parents returned to Jerusalem. His mother made a plea to God: “If I see any sign of hope for Yossi,” she said to the Almighty, “my husband and I will stay in Jerusalem the rest of our lives to help disadvantaged kids.”

One day, Yossi met an expert who specializes in working with the deaf. After a few days of working with him, the expert told Yossi’s parents that he had the ability to learn Hebrew words and letters through the feel of his hands and fingers. Within a few weeks, Yossi’s five fingers were joyfully pressing against the hand of his teacher to spell words like “water,” “glass,” “bread” and even “wine.”

Slowly, Yossi went from being a wild animal to a wild lover of life. He wanted to know everything. People who knew “finger Hebrew” took turns volunteering to read him the news, to teach him how to pray and put on tefillin, to tell him about the latest Corvette in a car magazine, and, more than occasionally, news of the latest vintage of Merlot.

That was 24 years ago, when Yossi was 8. A few years later, his parents opened the Shalva center.

When I met him, his left hand was virtually glued to the hand of a translator. Apparently, Yossi is so bright that over the years, by feeling the vibrations around people’s mouths and throats (à la Helen Keller), he has figured out how to make certain sounds. One of those sounds is a loud, primitive grunt that lets you know he’s happy. He was happy when he told me that he’d love one day to meet a pretty blonde — and, also, when he showed me how to finger-spell “I love you” (index and pinkie sticking out), which I did several times.

A few days later, I was standing in front of a mansion in a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv, when a blue sedan pulled up. As the trunk opened automatically, an unmanned folded wheelchair, secured by a mechanical contraption, slowly came out and snaked its way to the driver’s door, which was already open. The driver, Dror Dagan, opened the wheelchair with his left hand and, with a quick motion of his powerful arms and torso, pushed himself into the chair.

For the next few hours, at an afternoon party, I nudged him into telling me his story. He had been in an elite commando unit during the Second Intifada. On his last mission, he tried to help a terrorist’s wife who was pregnant and had fainted, and got a bullet in his left eye and one in his chest. Bleeding profusely and semi-unconscious, he remembers hearing “Dror is dead.” After several weeks in intensive care, he survived, but the doctors told him he would probably be paralyzed for life. He fought the prognosis and recovered some motion in his hands and upper body, but a year later his condition remained precarious.

He did tons of research and found the top surgery center in the world for his condition (in Denver), but he needed $300,000 for the operation. Because the operation was so rare, the army bureaucracy balked at paying for it, so Dror raised the money himself by going door to door in a wealthy neighborhood.

Eventually, with the help of a phone call to the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, he got the army to pick up the tab. He tried returning the money he’d raised to the donors, but they wouldn’t take it. He flew to Denver for the operation, which removed traces of the bullet from his spinal chord. The operation was successful, and he spent many months in rehabilitation.

Today, still in a wheelchair but vigorous and healthy, Dror has used the money that the donors refused to take back to launch the Dror Foundation, which helps injured war victims navigate through the complex bureaucracy to get the best possible care.

Dror Dagan’s dream is to walk one day. When he’s not working with the foundation, he spends hundreds of hours exercising his paralyzed legs in a pool.

Yossi Samuels’ dream is to keep meeting people and talking about cars, wine, Israel and the American elections — and, maybe one day, to meet a pretty blonde.

Yossi and Dror may not know each other, and they might live in two different worlds, but they share something in common — a character trait Jews of all stripes seem to have picked up from centuries of simply being Jewish.

We never give up.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Suissa on the edge, gay marriage, ice on Mars


Same-Sex Marriages

In the cover story (“Same Sex Marriage and the Fabric of Society: What Does it All Mean?” June 20), the section, “The End of Morality,” is devoted to anti-gay viewpoints (including Dennis Prager, perhaps inserted as deference to some aberrant sense of balance).

The argument made by Rabbi Daniel Korobkin that “broadening the definition of [marriage] actually weakens it, just as broadening the definition of homicide to include animals would weaken the crime of murder” has the ring of a nice soundbite but is both bigoted and specious, with at least two fallacies.

1) The premise behind Korobkin’s argument is that a human life is worth more than that of an animal, a point few would contest. Notwithstanding, logic might just as easily have led Korobkin to the opposite conclusion: If it is forbidden to kill an animal, how much more is it objectionable, then, to murder a human being, an interpretation which would strengthen his homicide law.

2) Because Korobkin’s aim is to use his homicide argument to justify the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage, the working principle here is the assumed inferiority of a class of people. In Korobkin’s paradigm, heterosexuals would be the “human beings” and gay men and lesbians would the “animals.”

His is the psychological threat felt by members of an established, dominant group with regard to the exclusive sense of entitlement for rights that only they have long been afforded.

Scott Portnoff
Los Angeles

Thriving on the Edge

David Suissa presents his recent column as covering all Israeli worldviews on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“Thriving on the Edge,” June 27). But he misses a worldview that provides a way forward that combines the dovish view of Rabbi Michael Melchior with the pragmatism of Michael Oren. I call this worldview “halfway,” to suggest that Israel can create a secure future if it responds to Palestinian needs.

I think Israel can create a secure future by cooperating with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Obvious first steps would:

1) Extend the Gaza truce to the West Bank.
2) Stop all settlement expansion, even in those settlements that Israel thinks will eventually become part of Israel.
3) Remove settlement outposts.
4) Remove checkpoints and roadblocks that do not contribute to Israeli security.
5) Stop extrajudicial execution of Palestinian leaders.
6) Find a compromise on a prisoner exchange to free Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jeff Warner
L.A. Jews for Peace

Qassams for Israel; IDF intrusions into Gaza. Is it possible that for more than a year, this cycle of violence is the result of Israel’s military encirclement of Gaza, resulting in its peoples’ escalation of human misery?

Now a fragile truce. Enter David Suissa’s article titled “Thriving on the Edge.” Being pro-Israel, pro-security and pro-peace, the article satisfied none of these sensibilities and left me feeling hung out to dry.

Moving from one frame of reference to another, Suissa disavows Knesset member Rabbi Michael Melchior’s “let’s give truce a try” to the philosophy of Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post denigrating the government’s efforts to engage Hamas, identifying Israel as charged in fighting a global jihad that can only be won militarily, to Michael Oren, a historian of merit who contends Palestinians unable to manage their own country are in no position to offer a substantive peace.

In the end, Suissa throws up his hands, in a sense advocating a policy of do nothing, which in effect is what the Israeli government has done since the Annapolis agreement in late October of 2007 — this despite endless negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel.

During this period of time of negotiation, Israel has offered the PA not one iota of hope — no withdrawals of illegal outposts, no removal of checkpoints that seemingly exist only to harass and intimidate, no letup in the continued planning and construction of settlements in the West Bank or the numerous archaeological digs in Silwan, East Jerusalem.

In order for the Jewish people to assert its moral claim as being a light unto the nations, it must first employ courage when taking the necessary risks involved in fostering peace with its neighbors.

Wally Marks
Los Angeles

David Suissa responds:

Wally Marks chides Israel for not employing “courage when taking the necessary risks involved in fostering peace with its neighbors.” If uprooting 8,000 settlers and risking a Jew vs. Jew civil war is not an example of employing courage and taking risks for peace, I don’t know what is. Perhaps he should spend more time watching the hatred for Jews that is regularly spewed in official Palestinian media, schoolrooms and summer camps, and ask our Palestinian peace partners why they don’t have the courage to teach peace to their people.

Marks and Jeff Warner both seem to suffer from what I call “if-only-itis.” If only Israel would do the six “obvious first steps” Warner outlines, then Israel could “create a secure future.” The problem is that those steps have nothing to do with the Palestinian desire to eliminate the Jewish state. Accepting a Jewish presence in their neighborhood is something that can only be taught by Palestinians to Palestinians. When our Palestinian partners start teaching peace to their people, they will find a courageous partner in Israel.

New Columnist: Marty Kaplan

I have enjoyed your blogs on Huffingtonpost.com for some time. Your insight (“Ice on Mars: Good for the Jews?” June 27) was a special gem, and I thank you for it. So clear, so educated, so down to earth and accessible to any thoughtful person. A wonderful reminder of the possibility of wonder and of heartfelt thanks, both in the morning and when paradigms are cracked open.

Daniel O. Dugan
via e-mail

I enjoyed your article on cosmological breakthroughs, as I do all your articles (and movies). It is one of the rare articles written on the subject without a snicker of condescension and that does justice to its subject.

If the phylogenetic journey from bug to man is but the beginning of the beginning of consciousness, whither goeth evolution and destiny? Personally, I believe there is intelligent life on Earth, and that some of its beings walk among us. Quite frankly I suspect you are one of them.

Walter Miale
via e-mail

Thriving on the edge


Is there any hope for peace in Israel? Are things getting better or worse? Does war and conflict dominate Israeli consciousness? After spending a week in the Holy Land with very little sleep and lots of Turkish coffee, talking to bright people from the left to the right, I can report with absolute certainty that I have no idea.

This is true conflict — not being able to reach clear and coherent conclusions.

It’s what happens when you meet very smart people with very different worldviews.

Let’s start with Rabbi Michael Melchior, head of the dovish Meimad Party. This is the original man from hope. Over several coffees late one night in the lounge of the David Citadel Hotel, Melchior riffed on the importance of introducing spiritual values and a common God when trying to find common ground with our enemies. He spoke of numerous encounters he’s had over the years with religious and political Muslim leaders, and how the picture is not as dark, or black and white, as it often seems.

He senses a growing (if grudging) tolerance of the Jewish presence among some of Israel’s bitterest enemies, including Hamas. He is by no means naïve or a pacifist; he repeated to me several times that “even one rocket on Sderot is unacceptable.” But he asked a tough question on the day the controversial cease-fire with Hamas was announced: “Why is it so bad that there is now hope that bombs will stop falling? We could have gone in and lost a hundred soldiers and achieved the same armistice we are getting now.”

The next morning, before my first coffee, I heard a withering rebuttal from Caroline Glick, the Jerusalem Post columnist with an intense following in right-wing circles who had just published a column, “Israel’s Darkest Week.”

Glick, who showed up for breakfast with a lingering cold, has a crystal-clear worldview. The enemy’s primary and enduring interest is Israel’s destruction; hence, it must be defeated. Israel is run by “corrupt and incompetent wimps” who prefer half-baked measures to decisive action, a weakness that has emboldened our enemies. She believes that real peace will only come after military victory.

She considers the Gaza cease-fire a disaster because it legitimizes and strengthens a terrorist entity, which in the end will result in a greater loss of Jewish lives.

Glick’s real genius lies in her deep knowledge of geopolitics. In her new book, “Shackled Warrior: Israel and the Global Jihad” (Gefen) she argues that Israel is fighting an existential war with both hands tied behind its back, and she elucidates as well as any political analyst the rationale for her uncompromising views. If Glick were one of those right-wing crazies whose favorite punctuation mark is the exclamation point, she wouldn’t be taken so seriously. But she’s an articulate and hard-nosed analyst who has little patience for mushy optimism and who believes Israel is on the front line of a global war against radical Islam.

I got yet another worldview when I visited the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and sat down with historian and best-selling author Michael Oren.

Shalem is one of those powerhouses where you walk down the halls and bump into people like Nathan Sharansky (which I did), Yossi Klein Halevy or any number of deep Zionist thinkers. Michael fits right into this world. When I entered his office, he mentioned that he’d been up late the night before finishing an editorial for the Wall Street Journal titled “Israel’s Truce With Hamas Is a Victory for Iran.”

Oren’s conclusion was similar to Glick’s on the cease-fire, but the more I spoke with him, the more I noticed the nuance in his views. He recalled a meeting he had recently with American Army generals, who, at the end of the meeting, asked him: “So what’s the solution?”

To which he answered: “Solution? Since when are there solutions in the Middle East?”

Oren doesn’t believe the Palestinians are ready or able to sustain a sovereign state, and he harbors no illusions as to their acceptance of a Jewish state, but he’s highly informed about the military and is anything but cavalier when talking about potential military solutions.

He melds the finesse of Melchior with the no-nonsense quality of Glick. He sees the Palestinian conflict as requiring careful managing, rather than a desperate search for a fix, and he’ll take Israel’s problems any day of the week over the Palestinians’ privileged position as the world’s most coddled victims.

Like I said, smart people, different worldviews. The funny thing is, while I personally lean to the Glick view, I found myself nodding enthusiastically to all the views I heard, even to the dovish and soulful optimism of Melchior. Maybe it was the caffeine overdose.

Whatever it was, it took a pre-wedding reception in Tel Aviv, of all places, for me to hear something that brought it all home.

My friend Gidi Grinstein of the Re’ut Institute was asked to say a few words in honor of the bride and groom: Israeli actress Noa Tishby, who was marrying an Australian television personality. In front of a crowd that included many first-time, non-Jewish Australian visitors to Israel, Grinstein spoke of the miracle of the little Jewish state; how Israel has managed to succeed beyond all expectations despite being surrounded by existential threats — and he concluded with a simple but powerful idea.

Israel thrives on the edge.

Amid the chaos of living a life of never-ending conflict, Grinstein explained, Israel has developed the resourcefulness and unique skills one can only develop when living on the edge. These skills have fueled Israel’s ability to thrive under any circumstances.

He could have added that maybe another skill of thriving on the edge is having very smart people with very different worldviews.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Gay marriage, Persian tragedy, Israel @ 60


Elias Eshaghian

Your story about Elias Eshaghian’s memoirs is a worthy reminder of the powerful commitment to education that Persian Jews brought with them to Los Angeles (“Memoir Recalls Educator’s Hardships, Success in Iran,” June 20).

As head of a Jewish day school, where a significant minority of students are of Persian background (at this point second and even third generation), I have seen firsthand this community’s warmth, as well as its determination to acculturate and participate fully in the larger community, while maintaining its sense of tradition.

As Persian, Ashkenazi and Sephardi children play, learn and grow up to achieve together in Jewish and secular institutions in America, clearly they are building on a foundation laid for them by Eshaghian and others like him.

Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin
Headmaster, Sinai Akiba Academy

Sderot

Rob Eshman wrote that during his visit to Sderot, “it became clear that the residents of Sderot reserve their anger for their government and for their fellow citizens” (“In Sderot,” June 13).

Unfortunately, Eshman did not mention one of the main causes for this anger: the increasing awareness that there is a better solution to the missile attack problem than either invading enemy territory or continuing to just accept the attacks. The better approach is to rapidly install an effective and currently available anti-missile system near Sderot.

It is hard to imagine that not a single person mentioned this possibility during Eshman’s visit, since Ha’aretz reported that in March 2008, a group of Sderot residents petitioned the Jerusalem District Court against the defense minister, requesting that the court instruct the minister “to install and operate in the city of Sderot, within six months from today, the laser-based intercept system (known as Nautilus).”

The Nautilus system (known as THEL in the United States) was jointly developed by the United States (Northrop Grumman Corp.) and Israel and very successfully tested against Katyusha rockets and mortar shells. In early 2007, the developer offered to put a system in place within 18 months to defend Sderot. After initially rejecting the idea, the Israeli government has recently begun more serious consideration.

The Jewish Journal missed an opportunity to inform Los Angeles readers concerned about Sderot, and Israeli security more generally, that there is a better option than invasion or indefinite acceptance of vulnerability to missile attack. Readers can learn more about this option from the Israel Missile Defense Association’s excellent Web site at www.imda.org.il.

Carl Sunshine
via e-mail

Israel at 60

Judea Pearl’s “Israel at 60: Confronting Denial” (June 20) is so true and so sad, too. We are talking about American newspapers who left truth, fairness and objectivity behind.

I thank Pearl for his article. It should be read by all.

Batya Dagan
Los Angeles

A Persian Tragedy

David Suissa, let me quote your own words from your article, “A Persian Tragedy” (June 13): “Speech has been compared to an arrow: once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.”

It seems like you don’t consider your words and writings as “speech.”

You wrote: “I came to this story and met Dora and her family….”

Have you met Bianca’s family? Why not?

I think it would have been prudent for you to meet Bianca’s family, too.

Hersel Babajoni
Brentwood

Just wanted to let you know that David Suissa’s entire article has been translated word [for] word in a Farsi magazine by the name of Tehran Magazine.

Thank you for such a beautiful and powerful article that will continue to inform and educate the people of this community.

Your words went beyond language barriers, as well as religious groups. It will reach everyone. Thank you.

Jasmine Afrahim
Los Angeles

Same-Sex Marriage

Watching the first legal gay marriage in Los Angeles be between two Jewish women, with their rabbi and their Jewish lawyer, fills me with extraordinary pride as a Jew (“Same-Sex Marriages and the Fabric of Society: What Does It All Mean?” June 20).

Our people have been at the forefront of this civil rights battle, just as Jews were at the forefront of black civil rights, women’s rights and so many other vital causes. In a few years, when society looks back with amazement that there was ever an issue about gay marriage, Jews will be able to stand up with pride to say that we were once again the vanguard of human rights.

This entire country should thank our rabbinic leaders, such as Denise Eger, for standing for morality, dignity and justice. Once again, we can take enormous pride in being Jews.

Grant Arthur Gochin
Winnetka

A Persian tragedy


Few things in life are as tragic as the death of a child. Bianca Khalili died on Memorial Day when she fell off a balcony on the 15th floor of an apartmentbuilding in Century City. Bianca was 17 and was in her senior year at Beverly Hills High School. The tragedy occurred late at night. The only other person with her was Dora Afrahim, 18, who lived in the apartment.

Bianca and Dora were close friends. Dora told me that Bianca was like a “sister” to her. In the moments after the tragic fall, Dora went into a state of shock.

In their investigation, the police found no evidence of foul play. There were no signs of a struggle. Dora was never held, arrested or charged. The police released a statement saying that Dora was not a suspect.



Karmel Melamed’s latest article reports on discussions in the Iranian Jewish community about violence.



This, however, did not stop the beginning of a second nightmare. This was the nightmare of a community acting out its grief through anger and accusations.

Immediately after the tragedy, rumors started to spread that Dora was responsible for Bianca’s death. Dora and her family were asked not to show up at the funeral or the shiva. People in the Persian community were saying that Dora had been arrested and was in jail. Wild speculation and angry messages started flying around the Internet.

Within days, Dora received a death threat.

Dora and her family have been holed up in their homes, afraid to face the wrath of many members of their community. On the few occasions that some family members have ventured out, they have been subjected to hostile stares and accusatory remarks.

For security reasons, Dora has moved into a gated community. She has stopped going to school and rarely goes out. The day I met her, she had a dazed look on her face. She was obviously still traumatized by everything that was happening.

I came to this story and met Dora and her family through my friend Rabbi David Wolpe. We had set up a lunch last week to discuss his upcoming book, but when we sat down he immediately brought up the Bianca Khalili tragedy.

The rabbi was quite shaken by the death and its ugly aftermath in the Persian community. He had met with Dora and her family and had read the police statement and other reports. He had no reason to doubt Dora’s innocence. In his Shabbat sermon, he had urged the community to resist the temptation to engage in lashon hara, which was deepening an already tragic situation.

He asked if I would meet with the family, and then see if I might write something for the Persian community to help calm things down. Stopping a campaign of wild rumors is like trying to unring a bell, but I agreed to write.

The first thing I should say is that on the basis of the police statement alone — which absolves Dora Afrahim of any guilt — people should stop making spurious accusations against Dora and harassing her family. This is putting an unfair stain not just on the Afrahim family, but on the whole Persian community.

Jewish law goes even further: Even if there is suspicion as to someone’s guilt, it is a grave sin to bear false witness and spread slanderous rumors about that person.

In fact, slander is so serious that the Torah considers it like murder.

Of course, it’s easy for me to talk. I didn’t know Bianca Khalili. She wasn’t my friend or my sister. I never laughed or cried with her. Losing someone you are close to — especially a young girl in the prime of her life — can make anyone lose their head.

Also, the notion of someone possibly taking their own life (which hasn’t been determined in this case), is not only taboo, but hard to fathom. So I can understand how some people might want to point fingers and find someone to blame. It’s human nature. It helps us cope. It gives us a safe place to detonate our grief and anger.

And it’s profoundly un-Jewish.

The Jewish way is not to be slaves to our emotions. We’ve survived for millennia as the People of the Book by leading with our heads; our sages have taught us the importance of controlling our passions.

I am a Jew from the Middle East (Morocco); I know how easily human emotions can explode in that part of the world.

But before I am from the Middle East, I am a Jew. That means I have an obligation to follow the Jewish way, even if it goes against my nature.

When someone dies, there is a dignified Jewish way to honor the passing. No matter how angry we might be, we channel our emotions toward the solemn rites of grieving that our ancestors have followed for generations, from the souks of Persia to the shtetls of Poland.

The most important thing I can say to all my Persian friends is that before we are anything, we are all Jews. What binds us together is not just our humanity, but the collective Jewish identity we forged at Sinai some 3,300 years ago. It’s from that painful birth that we gained the Jewish values that have sustained us to this day.

One of the greatest of those values is to be extremely careful when we talk about other people. Our words can honor, but they can also destroy.

We should honor Bianca Khalili’s memory not by spreading rumors and destroying someone else, but by spreading her goodness and praying to God — the same God who made us a people at Sinai.

The Khalili tragedy is one of those times that begs all of us to be quiet and respectful.

That’s not just Jewish — it’s human.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Paris with a Jewish accent


I’m sitting in a Paris courtroom, and I might as well be in an art museum. There are huge windows, high ceilings, old chandeliers, and a very nervous group ofpeople awaiting a decision.

We’re in the Cour d’appel, the French Appellate Court, on the day the court is to render its decision in the case of Philippe Karsenty against the government-funded Channel 2 television station. For the past six years, Karsenty has devoted his life to proving that the station’s report claiming that the IDF was responsible for the death of young Mohammed Al Durrah at the beginning of the second intifada was part of a staged hoax. The station was so taken aback by Karsenty’s public attacks that it sued him for defamation, and won. That was two years ago.

Karsenty appealed the decision and has made a serious comeback, introducing additional evidence and garnering more public support. Six years of his long fight against one of France’s most distinguished reporters, Charles Enderlin, came down to this moment.

Once the panel of judges took their seats, it took less than 60 seconds for the head judge to announce the decision: The case against Karsenty had no merit. Evidently, he had introduced more than enough doubt regarding the credibility of the report. Little David had prevailed against the Goliath of French media. In the controlled chaos that ensued, opposing lawyers wore a look of shock, while everybody else just sort of looked at each other, as if to say: “What just happened?” There was enough legalese in the judge’s verdict that many people on Karsenty’s side, myself included, were asking questions more than actually celebrating — wondering whether there were any legal strings attached.

But there weren’t. It was a clean victory. Outside, on the courthouse steps, cameramen and reporters were clinging to Karsenty’s every word, including his demand that the station make a public apology in reparation to the worldwide Jewish community, which had been slandered by the original report.

That night, after celebrating the victory in a kosher restaurant in a Jewish neighborhood of Paris, I reflected on the difference between perception and reality. It’s true that there’s plenty of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment in France, and in fact, the opposition that Karsenty faced during his long trial showed some of that sentiment.

But it’s also true that justice prevailed for a little Jew against an icon of French media and culture. Considering all we hear about the precarious situation for Jews living in France, that kind of result shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Beyond the high drama of this Jewish victory for truth and justice, however, there is another, quieter drama unfolding for the Jewish community of Paris. This is the silent drama of neighborhoods, the kind I often write about in Los Angeles.

During my week there, I visited two of these neighborhoods, each one going in a very different direction.

The first was the oldest Jewish neighborhood in Paris, known as Le Marais, home to the renowned Jewish Museum, a yeshiva, kosher markets, Judaica stores and anything else you’d expect to find on Fairfax or Pico.

But with one big difference: this neighborhood is disappearing.

The manager of the Mi-Va-Ni kosher grill, Benny Maman, lamented the decline. Five years ago, he told me, there were about 20 small kosher restaurants in the area; today there are only three. Same thing with synagogues, kosher butchers, Jewish bookstores, etc. There is only a handful left, mostly on one street, Rue des Rosiers.

Where Jewish merchants once stood are now trendy boutiques with names like Koo Kai and Custo Barcelona. A storefront with the faded name of a Jewish bakery is now a gay bar. Of the remaining Jewish shops, several have “for lease” signs on them.

Where did the Jewish life go? Did Jews scramble out because of the anti-Semitism we hear so much about? Actually, according to Maman, it’s mainly about the parking. When they turned Rue des Rosiers into a pedestrian walkway, it made a bad parking situation even worse. As a result, significantly fewer Jews have patronized the area, and businesses and residents have wandered off to other neighborhoods.

Like, for example, the neighborhood where I spent Shabbat, the 17th “arrondissement.” This is becoming the Pico-Robertson of Paris. There’s practically a Shilo’s Restaurant or Delice Bistro on every corner. I spent Shabbat with my all-time favorite chazzan, Ouriel Elbilia (you must hear his Shabbat CD), who runs a synagogue called Beth Rambam in an ornate old building. The community here is on the upswing, but are residents afraid of anti-Semitism? I asked a few people, and they all told me the same thing: The fear is mostly in the racially charged suburbs. But they still watch their backs around here, and several of them complained about the difficulty of making a living in modern-day France.

So those were my Jewish encounters in Paris. I met a Jew in an old neighborhood who lamented the passing of the good old days and complained about parking. I heard a Sephardic chazzan singing beautiful melodies in a thriving Jewish neighborhood, where Jews aren’t afraid to be Jews, but where they still find plenty to kvetch about.

And I hung out with an outspoken and articulate Jew who annoys the establishment with his relentless pursuit of truth and justice, and who wouldn’t mind, by the way, turning his story into a Hollywood motion picture.

Really, if it hadn’t been for the gorgeous architecture, I might have felt right at home.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.



MUSIC VIDEO: French rapper Francky Perez and Broadway: ‘Hatikvah’

The Great Shave, the anti-Semitic professor in the U.S. Mail, Barack, Orit, Hillary and Suissa


The Great Shave



Loved your video on getting a haircut and shave on Lag b’Omer. I think it’s great that you raise awareness about our customs and traditions.

I think you made one faux pas, however. Religious Jews don’t allow a razor to come in contact with their face when shaving, which is why Orthodox Jews use only electric shavers instead of razor blades.

Your barber wasn’t allowed to shave you, according to Jewish law. Jews who observe the custom of not shaving would’ve shaved using a Norelco or Remington instead.

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin
Community & Synagogue Services Director
Orthodox Union West Coast Region

Professor Anti-Semites Love

Why the righteous indignation (“The Professor Anti-Semites Love,” May 9)?
The fact is that we are clannish, have a history of marrying within and not thinking positively of much of the outside culture. We do tend to select for mates along either intellectual or financial lines.

Historically, we have tended to benefit from niche businesses, such as banking during the primacy of Catholicism, when it was prohibited to Catholics, and entertainment during the primacy of Protestants, when they looked down on such businesses. We do tend to be far more visible, disproportionately to our numbers.

What professor Kevin MacDonald has done is to provide a laundry list of reasons why the losers can’t successfully compete against Jews and Jewish culture. I read the article, and I came away thinking that this bitter man is like many others who resent the need to change in order to compete.

It is true: Jews want to chuck the morally bereft outside culture. It is our mandate to be first a blessing to the world, then a kingdom of priests and a light unto the nations. Why be Jewish if Jewishness serves no purpose? We feel a moral elevation compared to outside culture based upon the mandate for our existence.

Of course, we are in conflict with non-Jewish culture. Our mandate requires us to influence the others, to convert outside society not to Judaism but to an enlightened Noahide society. Jewish culture and Jewish society developed in a direct response to the mandate.

It is most certainly benefiting our survival. When we are persecuted, we strengthen our ties with each other and to Judaism. When we are not persecuted, we rise to visibility in the face of non-Jews.

MacDonald is perfectly correct in many of his assumptions and observations.
Rather than feel hurt from the truth, I would feel proud that even the least observant Jews have the spark to influence outside society, as seen by MacDonald’s assessment.

Craig Winchell
via e-mail

Bad Cover Choice

After working for the U.S. Postal Service for 34 years, I retired recently. In high school, I was the school paper’s compositor for one year and its sports editor for two years. The Jewish Journal definitely needs my help in improving on whoever decides the covers of your paper.

I was upset and disgusted that you had a professor that anti-Semites love grace the cover [on May 9]. I purposely would turn the paper upside down so as not to look at his puss. And I wasn’t interested to read the article, even though my friend read it and asked if I had.

Please send me an employment application before you lose any more readers and advertisers due to your yellow journalism.

Joseph Hammer
Los Angeles

Eshman and Suissa

I would like to combine my thoughts on two articles in the May 23 Journal — Rob Eshman’s “Wednesday With Ben” and David Suissa’s “Israel Fest or Jewish Fest.

First, I hope I am not the first person to point out in Eshman’s column that he presented one Jewish point of view — and in my opinion, not the best — as to the nature of God and suffering. He consulted a rabbi who says, “I do not believe in a God who gets involved in the activities in individual human beings.”

Well it’s no wonder people abandon God — they feel like God abandoned him.

I love Suissa’s idea to have a Jewish festival. That way, once and for all, we can put it out on the table what are the different categories of Jewishness and what do they believe about that lifelong question that we have about God and religion: Why do bad things happen?

The answer we will get from the rabbi Eshman consulted will be clear. Yet, the answer from hopefully every other brand will hopefully have something a little more inspiring that will actually make someone want to connect to God.

Perhaps some people forget where the name “Jewish” comes from. It comes from the tribe of Yehudah, the name given to Leah’s fourth son. It was a name, meaning thank you — as in, Leah was thanking God for remembering her and giving her that fourth son. Remembering her — an individual.

So if someone wants to say they don’t believe in a God who gets involved in individual suffering, they have every right. But if they do, I wonder if they should be calling themselves Jewish.

But, of course, that is just my opinion. Everyone can figure it out for themselves at Jewish Fest 2009.

Liane Pritikin
via e-mail

Regarding Rob Eshman’s article depicting the slowly destructive disease of ALA (Lou Gehrig’s disease), our cousin in Israel, David Cohen, was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, and one of the first things he did was to create a research and support organization called IsrALS.

I invite you and your readers to learn more about how we can increase research, especially with stem cell research, which is more accessible in Israel, to battle this “orphan” disease.

A birthday gift


Here we are, Jews in every corner of the world, awash in a frenzy of celebrations for Israel — all because of a birthday. And not just any birthday, mind you, but one that ends in a zero.

In a marketing-obsessed world, milestones give us an easy way to promote our brands. For lovers of Israel, promoting the brand of Israel is important business, especially since the country has taken a real beating over the years. So naturally, when a chance comes up to give that brand a little shine — like a 60th birthday — we run with it.

That’s why this year, Israel@60 has become the hot Jewish brand.

Every Jewish newspaper in the world has devoted a special section. Every Jewish community is doing multiple celebrations. Israeli embassies and consul offices are busy squeezing every ounce of Israel@60 good will from their local communities. World leaders are sending messages of congratulations. Elites from everywhere are gathering in Jerusalem at the invitation of President Shimon Peres. And, of course, every Jewish writer of note is weighing in with their personal reflections on the state of the Zionist project. (My favorite is Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in this week’s issue.)

There’s something intoxicating about all this activity. I feel like I’m getting drunk on Israel. The Jewish world is rising up and giving my cherished Israel a celebration for the ages.

So why, then, do I also feel a certain emptiness?

Is it because I’m too aware of the growing dangers that Israel faces? Or that I know most of the world will go right back to hating us once the party’s over, or that these kind of big-bang celebrations just leave us with one big hangover?

Maybe, but I think there’s more. I see a missed opportunity. I love the sense of pride that the celebrations have fired up, but I wish someone had launched the Israel@60 campaign with this theme: “What will you give Israel for her birthday?”

That’s right: What will you give Israel for her birthday? What I think is missing from all the hoopla is a birthday gift from each of us to the Israel we love.

And I don’t mean money. Money is the gift for normal times. A 60th anniversary is not a normal time. It’s a time to celebrate, yes, but also to reflect, take stock, look deep inside of ourselves — and offer a special gift.

Imagine going to celebrate your parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. What kind of gift would you bring? Would it be personal? Would it have special meaning?

Now imagine going to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. What’s the most personal and meaningful gift you can make? What is your unique passion or talent? What can you bring to the party to show your love for the honoree?

Whatever your thing is, it’s worth bringing. If you’re a musician, organizer, writer, artist, environmentalist, cook, teacher, activist, comedian, doctor, architect, rabbi, Web designer, business tycoon or filmmaker, whatever your passion, it can become your personal gift to Israel.

Make a film. Write a poem. Start a Web site. Help at a soup kitchen. Organize a trip to Israel. Find a cause dear to your heart. In short, look at what Israel needs, and see how your talents match up.

So, what about me, what’s my “thing” for Israel?

These days, the advertising guy in me would love to promote a side of Israel the world rarely sees — the good side. God knows the anti-Israel propaganda machine has done a remarkable job of turning Israel into a globally reviled country. And God knows Israel has more than enough critics who expose her many mistakes and weaknesses. But who is balancing the picture? Who is showing the other side? Who is spreading the word on Israel’s many contributions to the world?

Of the $1 billion a year in Jewish philanthropy, how much do you think goes to advertise in the mainstream media the numerous contributions Israel makes to humanity? Virtually zero.

So this is my birthday gift to Israel: Ads4Israel.com.

It’s a new organization whose mission will be to create and run ads worldwide that show Israel’s incredible gifts to the world, in such areas as combating disease, developing alternative fuels, fighting world hunger, creating life-changing technologies, revolutionizing agriculture and much more. There are literally hundreds of areas where Israel has helped make the world a better place, and Ads4Israel will do its share to let the world know. The Web site will offer a variety of ads that donors will be able to support and help run.

Why ads? They’re dramatic, quick and efficient. You can reach 100 million people with a powerful message in a few seconds. Grass-roots efforts, conferences, articles, books, Web sites, etc., are all valuable, but when 99 percent of the planet has been poisoned by three-second visual sound-bites about Israel, the best way to fight back is with equally powerful sound-bites.

Will this solve Israel’s image problem overnight? Nothing can. But we can at least raise immediate awareness of Israel’s value to the world, and that’s a gift.

We each have a gift. What will be your birthday gift?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

The other refugees



Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Reading ‘Jewish’


I heard recently that some people have complained that this column is too “Orthodox” — that there’s too much focus on the frum and kosher side of Judaism. Since thiscolumn is about an Orthodox neighborhood, that’s like complaining that a hockey writer spends too much time writing about hockey, but nevertheless it got me thinking about how Jews read about other Jews.

This was on my mind when I walked into Delice bakery the other day and saw a copy of Jewish Life magazine. Jewish Life is a monthly published by The Jewish Journal to appeal to religiously observant Jews. I’m not here to critique it or promote it, but it struck me that the magazine is like a microscopic view of the world that I write about every week.

If you think this column is too religious, wait until you see Jewish Life. If I snorkel into observant Judaism, then it goes deep-sea diving. If this column is “the hood,” then Jewish Life is the hood on steroids.

Take the latest issue. At first glance, it looks like another general-interest magazine with a self-help cover story: “Why Aren’t We Happier?” But open it up and you’ll see the kind of things that matter most to observant Jews.

On Page 4 of the first column (Ask Dr. T, a parenting advice column), a reader worries about the “chronic” problem of what her children should do with their Chanukah gelt. (Dr. Sara Teichman gives a six-paragraph answer to this “complex” problem).

In the next column, Marriage Matters, a “lovely single girl in her 20s” laments her single status:”The wait is killing me. It feels never ending and hopeless. Isn’t there something I can do? I mean, I know I have to daven hard, network with people and hope for the best, but isn’t there any more?”

Below the article is a little section on a new book titled, “Shidduch Secrets,” which includes practical advice on using one’s time productively while waiting for one’s beshert.

On the next page is a column called Shirmas Halashon with the headline, “Beware: Words Can Hurt” and this announcement right below: “With this column, Jewish Life begins our regular column on Hilchos Lashon Hara.” Below the announcement are these untranslated words: “Lilui Nichmas Masha Ruchama bas Shmuel.” The author of the column — across from an ad for Frumster.com that has a picture of a happy-looking newlywed couple (“Idith and Eli, match No. 93”) — is the dean of Valley Torah High School.

As you continue flipping through Jewish Life, you see these kinds of headlines: “What Exactly Is Mussar?” (Hint: it’s a system of ethics, not a new kosher hair gel), “The Advent of Chasidism” under the column History L.A. and in the society gossip column is the headline “A Tzadik Pays a Visit,” about Rav Yitzchak Grossman’s visit to Los Angeles.

In the food section, there’s a “Grateful Letter From a Duncan Hines Fan,” thanking my former employer (Procter and Gamble) for bringing back Duncan Hines pareve cake mixes (“They are a great resource for us here in the Orthodox Jewish community”), and a recipe called “Nat’s Brownies/My Frosting.”

In the Kashrus Concerns column, you’ll find a series of announcements from the Kosher Information Bureau, such as: “Salad Mate Salad Dressing is no longer under CRC certification,” “Flora Foods Italian Breadcrumbs bears an unauthorized OU,” and “Sandy Candy Co. now produces cotton candy sugars certified by the Star-K.”

The last section, Kosher Road Trip, is on travel, and here you’ll see a column by a homemaker and mom named Cinnamon Shenker on winter trips, with the headline: “Grab Your Sled and Head for the Hills.” She even quotes Tehillim to help make her point that it’s “a glorious thing that we can experience snow and ice first hand, rather than just look at pictures.”

So you can see I’m not kidding when I tell you that Jewish Life is the Jacques Cousteau of Orthodox Jewish reporting in Los Angeles. But there’s another side to this story.

If you read Jewish Life without any preconceptions about Orthodox Judaism — out of simple curiosity, for example, or even a desire to learn something helpful and interesting — it will probably surprise you.

For example, once you get past the annoying absence of translation in the beginning of “Beware: Words can Hurt,” you can’t help but be moved by the life-changing possibilities of the message, whether you are ultra-Orthodox, Reform or even a Zen Buddhist.

The same can be said for several articles in Jewish Life, like the idea of “living in the moment without acting on impulse” in the cover story on happiness, or the universal system of ethics developed by our very Orthodox sages, called Mussar.

Even the reader’s question on the “chronic” problem of what kids should do with Chanukah gelt — which I poked fun at — actually led to an incisive take on the complicated relationship between people and money.

That’s why I’m ambivalent about this whole notion of having different publications for different Jews. There is so much we can learn from each other, why can’t we all read the same paper?

The marketing side of me — the one that learned at places like Procter and Gamble the importance of “market niches” — understands why having different publications makes good business sense. People like to read about themselves.

But the “Jewish unity” part of me would love to see Jews of all denominations show more curiosity towards one another, whether it’s nonobservant Jews reading about Orthodox ideas, or Orthodox Jews reading things that have nothing to do with Orthodoxy, but that are still very much part of the Jewish experience. It’s like the interest you would show toward a beloved family member who has a completely different lifestyle from your own.

And of course, the self-absorbed part of me would love to see every Jew read this column, even if it’s a little too, you know, Orthodox.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.